Revelation: inspirational drama of poetic symbols, or multi-genre prophecy?

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Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
In a recent thread I was presented with an unusual (actually anomalous) view of the Book of Revelation, which, as the title of this thread indicates, holds forth that Revelation is “a book which presents in a highly poetic and symbolic form the general principles that mark the Church's history in the world” but without any reference to events in time (Lectures on the Apocalypse, by Dr. William Milligan, pp 176). In other words, this portion of Scripture is reduced to the status of a mere poetic drama of symbols, albeit highly inspirational, so as to give comfort to the suffering, struggling church.

The modern proponent of this view is our own Rev. Matthew Winzer. In the most recent of three previous threads (2010, 2011, and 2012) where he and I have discussed this, Rev. Winzer has seemed to intimate a lack of godliness (or at least a sound view of Christ and His work) is involved in any other than the “absolute idealism” he holds, this despite Dr. Milligan’s askance view of Dispensationalism when “it regards as impiety every interpretation but its own” (Ibid., p 1). When “greater spirituality” arguments are used to justify unusual hermeneutical stances and their exegetical outcomes, this would seem to be a tactic to make them more difficult to challenge. As in, if you disagree with this, you have not attained to wisdom. I certainly would not attribute to you, Matthew, any ill motives, for I am assured of your godly character; yet, good intentions are no reason for me to accept invalid methodology. I know that cuts both ways, but I want to serve notice that I will be objecting strongly to “greater spirituality” arguments if a discussion with you ensues. Such assume an exegetical and doctrinal accuracy yet to be proven.

In the last discussion we had I was taken aback at the sheer strangeness of your type of idealism, and also at the tenor of your critique of my view. Since then I have had time to think, and to pray, and to study, and so I am returning to the fray refreshed.

On the one hand, you are a godly brother, Matthew, and of great use to the kingdom of Christ, as well far more theologically learned than I; on the other, this issue of the right exposition of the Revelation Jesus Christ gave to John is vitally important to the church in the days we are in, and neither friendship nor esteem ought intrude upon the unfettered shedding forth of God’s light by His word in the encroaching darkness of our times. I may not be theologically learned as you, yet I have the Spirit of God, and His word, and do not defer to what I perceive as clear error.

When giving an exposition of the thousand years in Revelation 20, Dr. Milligan says,

“It is impossible to defend at length the interpretation of this difficult passage here proposed. One or two very brief remarks may be permitted. The writer would ask his readers to bear in mind in considering it, (1) that no interpretation hitherto proposed has succeeded in commending itself to anything like general acceptance” (Ibid., p 223).​

At that time – it was 1892 – the interpretations he mentioned as not finding “general acceptance” were the pre- and postmillennial. Now, some 120 years later, there is an interpretation that is finding general acceptance in a sector of the Reformed community: the amillennial school that takes upon itself the idealist name – albeit modified idealist – does hold to this modified view with general consensus, while denying the validity of Milligan’s “absolute idealism”. Here is a listing of the most well-known amillennial writers who hold this “modified” view (though there are many others):

G.K. Beale, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Revelation, and, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 1-2 Thessalonians
Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb
Cornelius Venema, The Promise of the Future
William Hendriksen
, More Than Conquerors
Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation
Kim Riddlebarger, The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist, and, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End times
David J. Engelsma, Christ’s Spiritual Kingdom: A Defense of Reformed Amillennialism (A shortened online version)
Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation To John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse
Vern Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation
R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation
Samuel E. Waldron, The End Times Made Simple
Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Revelation
Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future
Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Revelation
Arturo Azurdia, An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (81 MP3 sermons)
William E. Cox, Amillennialism Today
Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation (Revised Edition)

I do not mean to commit the fallacy of argumentum ad populum – for a majority do not make a thing right – only to show the direction the amil scholarship of these times has taken. It is this scholarship, particularly studies in the Old Testament and its use in the New, most notably in the Book of Revelation, that has afforded new insight into the structure and meaning of this book. One of the leaders in this field of study is Dr. G.K. Beale (now at WTS East). Here is a review by Vern Poythress of Dr. Beale’s, The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation, for those interested in the Daniel-Revelation connection.

I would like to mention at this point – an issue we will likely discuss more fully later – your assumption that your and Milligan’s “absolute idealism” is the only valid idealist stance, and that those who vary from its strict adherence to absolute trans-temporality are allegedly not “consistent idealists”. I must say that an “absolute idealism” is but a theoretical construct applied as a literary analysis, and may or may not reflect an appropriate hermeneutical approach to the genres comprising Revelation. In other words, it is just an idea applied as a literary-theological analytic tool of discernment. It is not a sacrosanct thing, such as the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ, but rather an unproven hermeneutic, and in the scholarship of these days, an unpopular one. Even so, you carry on as though it were indeed both proven and sacrosanct, and assert that those who do not adhere to it fail to attain to true wisdom. You really have come across like this!

In the previous thread discussing this matter (which is still active – and which I have linked to this thread), I referenced a number of contemporary amil scholars and you dismissed them all as mere inconsistent idealists who were self-contradictory and not true idealists at all. But that’s just throwing labels around and not interacting with other takes on an idealism seeking to do justice to the Biblical data of Revelation.

Cornelius Venema, author of The Promise of the Future (which work has replaced Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future as the standard seminary textbook on eschatology), has written on the newer idealism:

“As noted previously, a preterist reading of the book says that the events described in its language of vision and prophecy were events occurring or about to occur at the time the book was first written. These events are, from our vantage point, past events, things that have already occurred — hence the term. A futurist reading of the book says that the events described in its prophecy are events yet to occur in the future, primarily in the period just prior to Christ’s coming at the end of the age. An historicist reading of the book identifies the events in the visions of Revelation with historical developments throughout the history of the church. An idealist reading of the book says that the visions and prophecy of Revelation refer to events that typify the principles and forces at work in the entire period of history between Christ’s first and second comings. See G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, pp. 44-49. Following Beale, who argues for an eclecticism or ‘redemptive-historical form of modified idealism’, it is best to read the book of Revelation, not exclusively in terms of one of these approaches, but inclusively in terms of the insights of each. The book, though addressed originally to the circumstance of the church in the first century of the Christian era, certainly speaks of events that will occur prior to the return of Christ and as well of events that are typical of the entire period of history in which we now live.” (From the article, Revelation 20: Part II – The Millennium is Now)​

In our earlier discussion, Matthew, you said (here) that factors in Revelation itself gave a “very clear mandate provided in the book for its interpretation” – that is, the one you espouse. You continued by saying,

“it is obvious that the two points from which and to which each vision is to be understood is the first and second coming of Christ. To suggest that there is any other event of significance is to raise principalities and powers to a temporal level with Christ and to defeat the overall thrust and message of the book.”​

Now that sounds very spiritual, but is what you say in fact the intent of what John and the Lord meant for us understand and take from the book? Simply (that is, solely) “to raise our affections to Christ as the Lord of history”? Or may we look for additional purposes the Lord had in mind for us to apprehend in this prophetic work? That the visions, symbols, and the very language used refer us back to the book of Daniel – especially chapters 2 and 7 – as a source, and perhaps an interpretive foundation, brings other elements into play in seeking to understand. This is a growing consensus among amillennial scholars.

Speaking of Daniel, I noted something you said earlier,

“What is the problem with interpreting the different parts of the image as successive empires? First, exegetically, in both the dream and its interpretation the focus is upon the image as a single figure. The different parts of the image are regarded as standing and falling together. V. 35, "broken to pieces together." V. 44, "in the days of these kings." Secondly, historically, one must create facts in order to make Babylon the superior and Rome the inferior of these empires. Thirdly, theologically, it carnalises Christ's kingdom to teach that it comes to take the place of a political empire.

On the issue of fulfilment -- if one divides the visions according to their details then obviously Jesus cannot be the fulfilment of the visions. The visions of Daniel and Revelation, however, were never intended to be divided in this way. If they were understood in general terms -- as visions, like parables, are intended to be understood -- it would be obvious that Jesus is the only historically significant figure. That is the point of the visions.”​

Your mentor in idealism, Dr. Milligan, does not hold the same view with respect to Daniel:

“Daniel (the Apocalyptist of the Old Testament) was, not less than Isaiah, a prophet in the first place for his own age. Take, for example, his visions of the Four World-Empires which were to usher in the establishment of the kingdom of God. These giant powers began in Daniel’s time. They were not only something new in world history; their rise involved of necessity a great change in the outward form of the Theocracy. With them in the field such a monarchy as David’s was impossible. Moreover, they had attractions of their own which might seduce men’s hearts from their true allegiance. They awed the imagination by their magnificence and pride; they gave to the nations peace, though at the expense of liberty. Under them even faithful souls might be tempted, on the one hand, to despair of the Theocracy; on the other hand, to ‘wander after’ them, and to worship their rulers as earthly deities. Daniel’s position as a high minister of state under the two first of those World-Empires—the Babylonian and the Persian—gave him an intimate knowledge of them. He was just the man, therefore, for his two-fold function, (1) to reveal the really brutal and earth-born character of these imposing powers (even the fairest of them—Alexander’s—he showed had the insatiableness, if it had also the beauty, of the panther); and (2) to promise that under them all Jerusalem should be preserved till the erection of an everlasting kingdom in the hands of a Son of man. It is indeed much more as unveiling the essential character of the world’s kingdoms and of Christ’s respectively than merely as seeming to fix beforehand the date of Christ’s appearing, that Daniel holds his high rank in the prophetic college. Commentators have estimated aright, or have undervalued, his importance precisely as they have disconnected him from, the position and the needs of Israel at the time when God raised him up.

In three respects the position of Daniel resembled that of St. John. Both stood at the beginning of long periods of anti-theocratic empire. Both had personal experience of persecution under these imperial foes of God’s kingdom. Both had revealed to them the inmost character (and out of that the fortunes) of the powers whose conflict they beheld.” (Lectures on the Apocalypse, by William Milligan, pp 19-20 fn 2)​

In seeking to apply your brand of idealism to Daniel, you go against not only the general scholarship of the Reformed community, but also against the one person who holds to the sort of Absolute idealism as yourself.

Getting back to Revelation, the modified idealist view agrees that the visions within it, for the most part, recapitulate, that is, they deal with the same themes in parallel appearances, and they are not to be taken as though they were in chronological succession. They also hold that these recapitulated themes display indications of increasing intensity as the end draws near. They cover the same thematic material, but there is progression.

You call your view “consistent idealism”, and I would venture to say that it is indeed consistent – with only your own view, i.e., internally so. But that does not warrant that your brand of idealism accurately reflects idealism as it is in Revelation. The “consistency” of your type of idealism constricts it as though it were in a cage of abstract ideation. It is better to call what you hold to as “absolute idealism”, a position that denies a number of other valid approaches to understanding what Revelation is about.
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Puritan Board Senior
Thank you for this post. The title of your post reminded me of a commentary on the Apocalypse, which I do not recommend, John Wick Bowman's The First Christian Drama: The Book of Revelation.
It had escaped my attention that Cornelius Venema had written a work on this topic. Thank you for bringing his work to our attention.
I still find Leon Morris work The Revelation of St. John which Eerdmans issued many years ago as part of its Tyndale New Testament Commentaries to be one of the most helpful commentaries on the Apocalypse. Hendricksen's More Than Conquerors and Hoeksema's Behold He Cometh are also excellent.

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
Once again Steve I am in awe of the time, care, and effort you put into your posts. You have truly been a blessing to me and I have greatly profited from the knowledge that you have shared. This is an important discussion and I am glad to see that both you and Rev. Winzer are approaching it in a serious but civil manner. While I cannot say which of you is correct, I can say that all of us on the PB have been and continue to be blessed and enriched by both yourself and Rev. Winzer and the wealth of knowledge that each of you possesses

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Thanks for your kind remarks, Bill.

Thomas, thanks for the reminder about Leon Morris' work (I added it to my list above) – I had overlooked it, perhaps because it's a smaller volume. I agree that Herman Hoeksema's Behold He Cometh! An Exposition of the Book of Revelation is good; it's just that his views of Babylon (only being apostate Christendom) and Armageddon (the non-Christian nations attacking the nominal Christian western nations) are not up to par with the rest of his work, and thus I didn't list it with the others.

This is a vital topic for this day; I agree with Milligan (and the other amil writers) that we shall need
encouragement when hard times hit us (we already see the impact of smaller events such as hurricanes on our lives), and the Apocalypse is a work that affords that in abundance. I disagree with Milligan (and Rev. Winzer) in that it is not only "a symbolic poem of encouragement" but – as with the book of Daniel – has in some few places specificity with regard to events, persons, and progression/development in its major recapitulated themes of witness, warning, protection, persecution, judgment, and the sovereign control of events by our Almighty God.

This book
– and Daniel need to be unpacked rightly, for the times demand it (and for this purpose our Saviour gave it to us).


Staff member
This is not my strongest form of Biblical literature, and I have tremendous respect for both you and Rev. Winzer, but I wonder if Revelation may be taken both to give comfort to the suffering church and to give us information as to what will occur over time and in the new heavens and the new earth. This would be akin to what we see in the Old Testament prophecies where you have an underlying message to the present church (you're in a heap of trouble, get right with God and His ways!) prophecy regarding the near future (the defeats by Assyria and Babylon), and the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah in both his advents. Though Christ's kingdom is established, the church faces considerable suffering and it makes sense that God would use His precious word to comfort and guide us. It also makes sense that we would keep our eyes solidly forward to the future world where there will be no suffering.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
As I read Steve's post I fail to see anything new which has been raised for consideration as to the interpretation of Revelation 20. I only find a couple of polemical points aimed at my presentation of facts.

First, we are provided with another smokescreen. In the previous thread it was the illusion that I taught absolute idealism, a philosophical theory which denies the real existence of phenomena. I cut through this screen with the simple observation that our discussion concerns the interpretation of visions, not metaphysics, and that two real events --the first and second coming of Christ -- are essential to the idealist interpretation. This was accepted by Steve, and he withdrew the charge. Now he has repeated it when he says, "but also against the one person who holds to the sort of Absolute idealism as yourself." Either his withdrawal of the charge was genuine or it was not.

Now, in this thread, we have a second smokescreen -- the illusion that I have tied "godliness" or "spirituality" to my view of the Revelation, as if to deny it makes one less than godly or spiritual. Moral culpability is relieved somewhat by the fact that I, apparently, did not intend such, but the insinuation is made nonetheless that this is part of my presentation. Now, to refute all this, I simply ask it to be shown where this has been done. As Steve's post nowhere quotes me to this effect, I can only conclude it is all in his imagination. He does say, This sounds spiritual, which suggests a subjective impression rather than an objective fact. But the fact is, I do not think there is anything more godly or spiritual about suggesting a consistent interpretation of Scripture. Given that a natural man is able to arrive at the proper sense of the letter of Scripture, spirituality does not really enter into it.

Secondly, we have Steve's reiterated argument that I am in a minority, together with his reiterated list of interpreters who disagree with me. I accept that. So far as the interpretation of the loosing of Satan in Revelation 20 is concerned, I am in a minority. What bearing does this have on the discussion? None at all. The fact of the matter is, I can show from these writers themselves, as well as from all reformed theologians and interpreters, that when Christ bound Satan He did so in such a way that he shall never be loosed again. Furthermore, they teach that the loosing of Satan to raise opposition against the true church of God has been apparent throughout the present era. So while it is true that I am in a small minority when it comes to the precise interpretation of Revelation 20, the doctrine which Steve and his majority are seeking to establish from Revelation 20 is so obviously contradictory to the great majority of reformed theologians and commentators, that Steve's appeal to the majority turns against him.


Puritan Board Doctor
The fact of the matter is, I can show from these writers themselves, as well as from all reformed theologians and interpreters, that when Christ bound Satan He did so in such a way that he shall never be loosed again. Furthermore, they teach that the loosing of Satan to raise opposition against the true church of God has been apparent throughout the present era.

Good point. Great discussion on this great book of the Bible.

I say this as an extremely mild preterist, postmillennialist, who believes in some kind of falling away just before the Eschaton.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
I say this as an extremely mild preterist, postmillennialist, who believes in some kind of falling away just before the Eschaton.

A postmillennialist, having committed himself to an historicist interpretation of the binding of Satan, will naturally tend to acknowledge a loosing of Satan of the same kind, so that is fairly consistent with the overall scheme.

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Matthew, I think you’re right when you say you don’t “see anything new which has been raised for consideration as to the interpretation of Revelation 20.” It is that I wish to revisit some points previously discussed after further reflecting on them. I’m sorry if this is annoying, but the stakes are high. Nor is it improper.

You say that my remarks are a smokescreen (I have no problem with our playing hardball – do you have that expression down under?) when I refer to your view as “absolute idealism”, although your lack of precision re the terms has let you down. What I had originally said (here) was that your view was a “radical idealism”, but when you objected, saying, “The radical idea comes from philosophical idealism which denies the reality of the world” and your “consistent idealism” was not to be mistaken for that, I understood and agreed to abide by your terms. And I still keep withdrawn my “charge” (your term) that yours is this radical philosophical view, for it is not. I use the word “absolute” from

Stephen S. Smalley, in his, The Revelation To John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (IVP 2005), where he writes,

The history of the interpretation of the Apocalypse has been marked by a sharp division between those who have treated the work and its imagery literally, and those whose perception of the drama is entirely metaphorical, and therefore spiritual. . . In my view, it is impossible to take the symbolism of the Apocalypse literally, and to do so is to misread John totally. At the same time, I would suggest that it is equally misguided to attempt an interpretation of John’s symbolism in absolutely ‘spiritual’ terms, without any reference to the physical realities which are their counterpart; for the one level consistently points to the other, and informs it . . . (p 14)​

It is an absolute spiritual idealism which holds there are no temporal or historical realities in the thousand years of Revelation 20 apart from the terminus a quo (Christ’s first advent) and the terminus ad quem (His second advent).

Warfield has, in part, the same objection when he says, “We can scarcely go the length of Dr. Milligan, nevertheless, and say that the time-element is wholly excluded from our passage [Rev 20:1-3]. After all it is the intermediate state that is portrayed and the intermediate state has duration.” (from his essay, The Millennium and the Apocalypse). He does, though, agree with much of Milligan’s interpretation.

Concerning the word “absolute” with reference to idealism, William Hendriksen, speaking of the binding of Satan and the casting of him into the pit, says, “What is the meaning of this symbol? . . . We reject the following views on the binding of Satan for a thousand years: a. That Satan is absolutely bound (see W. Milligan, op. cit., VI, p. 913). . .” (op. cit., p 186, fn 1).

I hope the first allegation of smoke-screening has been dispelled. Absolute idealism, as I have used it, is not to be identified with radical idealism, which we have both agreed is not in use here. I also have deemed it improper to call your type of idealism, “pure idealism” (as I naïvely called it earlier), as this gives the impression that this is the true and accepted view of the term.

With regard to the second alleged smokescreen, wherein I “tied ‘godliness’ or ‘spirituality’ ” – and the lack thereof in opponents – to your view of Revelation. I think that is the necessary implication in these following remarks:

“ . . . it is obvious that the two points from which and to which each vision is to be understood is the first and second coming of Christ. To suggest that there is any other event of significance is to raise principalities and powers to a temporal level with Christ and to defeat the overall thrust and message of the book. Other realities there are, but these are always described in demeaning terms so as to raise our affections to Christ as the Lord of history.”​

The implication I see here is if I “suggest that there is any other event of significance” in a vision besides Christ (the two events of His 1[SUP]st[/SUP] and 2[SUP]nd[/SUP] advents) I am demeaning Him and lowering Him to the level of “principalities and powers”, and doing other than raising our affections to Him. Is it not to be understood that you imply one who proceeds in this manner is dishonoring Christ? You continue:

“It is on this basis that amillennialism teaches that each series of symbols begin and end with Christ, and that each series recapitulates that which has gone before. To modify this commitment to recapitulation at a point where the interpreter feels it is important to introduce another historical reality, and to demand a sequence which culminates in an event other than the second coming of Christ, is, in effect, to exalt the historical element to a level that is equal with the Lord of history.” (From this post)​

What I understand you to be saying here is that if a school of exegesis adds to the recapitulation pattern an historical event discerned within a recapitulated symbol they are lowering “the Lord of history” to equality with an “historical element”, again demeaning the Creator by bringing into a sacrosanct symbolism a creaturely event. This way of phrasing an argument, to me smacks of the idea, “my eschatology is holier than thine.” And this is precisely the outcome of positing a highly abstract “spiritual” interpretation as per se superior to an eclectic interpretation involving temporal and historic elements: disagree with the “spiritual” view and you reflect a spiritually inferior hermeneutic, and a relatively ungodly esteem of Christ. Am I wrong to understand it thus?

As I said, Matthew, I don’t believe this was your intent, but it is inherent with the paradigm you hold.

To your second point (in the same post): What bearing does “the interpretation of the loosing of Satan in Revelation 20” have on the discussion? You say that – supposedly contra me – you can show “from all reformed theologians and interpreters [including the amil writers I listed above –SMR] that when Christ bound Satan He did so in such a way that he shall never be loosed again”, and this is supposed to work against my argument. You neglect the Scriptural nuance of this truth, as well the view of the Reformed generally. To wit: these amillennialists I have noted, myself included, would agree that the Lord Jesus bound Satan once and for all by what He did in His first advent. We agree here. Where you and I disagree – and these others I list with me – is that the almighty Sovereign purposed to set His mad dog free for a little season, still in complete control of him during his rampage, to effect an aspect of His eternal purpose. If God is in absolute control, His loosing of Satan does not reflect an undoing of Christ’s all-sufficient work in behalf of His people. When I said this before, you replied,

“Do you know what you have just committed yourself to, from an amillennial perspective? The binding of Satan is understood to refer to the once-for-all, perfect, and all-sufficient redemptive work of Christ for His people. If you claim that Satan is loosed at some subsequent period, you are in fact declaring that the work of Christ can be undone. I am sure you would not want to go there, so I hope you will re-examine your interpretation.”​

Christ’s people cannot be spiritually overcome or hurt by the loosed devil as this age has abundantly shown. His loosing is, in part, like as to the fire underneath the goldsmith’s crucible as he refines his gold by separating the dross from it. The devil can kill the bodies of the saints, but he cannot hurt the souls of them whom the Lord has sealed. We shall no doubt continue this aspect of the discussion.

I will also elucidate the Biblical view of the “pessimism v. optimism” issue, and your assertion that (what you wrongly label) pessimism “finds no warrant in the Revelation of Jesus Christ” and is an imposition of “paralysing” negativity upon the church. But later for that, as it’s late here in NYC.

Matthew, I have the sense I have made you cross by revisiting this material, and taking a strong stand against your view. If I am right in this sense, I really am sorry – and it is grievous to me. I only do this because a) my former presentation of the modified idealist/amillennial position was not satisfactory to me, and b) the issue is crucial. I have really tried to be fair in how I present your position and refute it; it would do me no good to knock down a straw man, in the sight of all! If I have misrepresented you and am shown where, I will retract any erroneous statements, and give apology to you and the onlookers.

I desire we abide in peace and brotherly love even in the midst of our contending for the truth.
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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Steve, I call it consistent idealism. You keep shifting terms to try to make an appearance of something I have not said. I clearly stated that the idealist view is not a-historical because it is all-historical. That is, it pertains to all of of history, not simply to some events within history, excepting the two terminal points of Christ's first and second coming. If you are going to start another thread to interact with my view then you should make an attempt to properly represent my view rather than present one of your own devising. It is not annoying that you started another thread but that in starting it you have given little to no credence to the clear statements I made on the previous thread.

As for your "spirituality" charge, you have now gone from saying it "sounds like" to "I see." In either phraseology, this is subjective. It is not anything I have said to that effect. If you would like to have an open discussion on the subject it is your duty to take my words as are, not as you feel they impact on you. A person who advocates a doctrinal position has the right to show how his position affects the Christian faith in comparison with other positions. A reader should maturely deliberate on what is said without importing subjective feelings into it.

You claim, quite inconsistently with what you have taught in the previous thread, "these amillennialists I have noted, myself included, would agree that the Lord Jesus bound Satan once and for all by what He did in His first advent." If this were truly your position there would be no further debate; but you have consistently claimed that there will come a period prior to Christ's second advent in which Satan shall no longer be bound.

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Hello Matthew,

I will seek to present my views in as inoffensive a manner as possible. I persist in interacting with your type of “consistent idealism” because for three years you have opposed my presentations of the generally accepted amil position. I admit these exchanges have been edifying to me, especially with regard to deepening my understanding of idealism, both from Milligan’s viewpoint (which commentators other than myself have attributed the adjective “absolute” to), and from the eclecticism or modified idealism of Beale, Smalley, Poythress, etc. There was a time, some years ago, when I did not understand the relationship between idealism and amillennialism, and no one (here at PB) answered my queries concerning it.

I do acknowledge your view as a “consistent idealism” – with the caveat that it is “a” and not “the” consistent view of eschatological idealists. In your case, and Milligan’s, its consistency pertains to its being an internally consistent system. I surely do not accept that it is the consistent form of idealism, as there are other forms that are consistent with their own understanding of a viable idealism. I would admit that it is a “full idealism” as distinguished from the “modified” form.

If you do not want me to interact with – examine – your idealist stand, please do not oppose my presentation of amillennialism. The critiques of other commentators I have posted vis-à-vis Milligan’s idealism are the equivalent of peer review (although his is 120 years old), and I have sought to apply these critiques to your view. I really have tried to fairly present what you think, usually including links to your posts so that others may see the full context of your remarks. I apologize if I have failed in this, and I will endeavor to the utmost henceforth to do this.

Your last paragraph in the immediately above post (#10), takes me to task for, on the one hand affirming “that the Lord Jesus bound Satan once and for all by what He did in His first advent”, and then saying that Jesus loosed him at the end of the thousand years. A couple of comments on this: first, what I am saying is exactly what Scripture declares in Rev 20:

1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season . . . 7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 And shall go out to deceive the nations. . .​

Indeed, we are dealing with symbols here and not literal realities. The consensus of amil scholars today is that at the first advent of Christ Satan was bound, once and for all, as concerning what He did for the saints, and that, as regards the world, during this symbolic millennial period, Satan’s effectiveness was limited in that he could not deceive the nations en mass to cause them to attack the saints. And after the millennial period God will loose him as regards the world, so as to deceive the nations qua nations. Now what Milligan says of this passage is this,

“There is no point in the future at which he is to be loosed. He has been already loosed. Hardly was he completely conquered for the saints before he was loosed for the world. . . In other words, no sooner was Satan, as regards the saints, completely bound than, as regards the world, he was loosed” (William Milligan, The Book of Revelation, pp 183-4)​

In his commentary Milligan was aware of the “formidable” problem with this exegesis: if Satan is loosed all through the millennium to deceive the nations, why then is he loosed at the end of it to deceive the nations? Supposedly he was already loosed to deceive them. His attempt to explain this doesn’t wash.

I think, Matthew, that you and I agree that Satan – as regards the saints – was completely bound at the first advent, and nothing can undo that. What is in dispute between us concerns the nature of his being bound or loosed as regards the unconverted world in the millennial period. [I should add that Christ at the cross and His subsequent resurrection completely destroyed the works of the devil (1 Jn 3:8; Heb 2:14; Col 2:15), and the various aspects of His allowing the devil to be active after this thorough defeat is to serve certain purposes of His.]

I think I will take a break from this thread for a little while, as my upsetting you has disturbed me. (My earlier expression, for those looking on, about “taking the gloves off”, did not mean I would become combative or aggressive with my friend, but that I would prosecute my own case vigorously, as he was.) But I will continue it, as in the book of Revelation is an important part of “the whole counsel of God” – especially for these times we are in. When I do continue I will be dealing with so-called pessimistic versus optimistic amillennialism. I need not do this in relation to you, Matthew, if you find this discussion distasteful to you.
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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Dear Steve,

You are a good brother and I always find it a pleasure to speak with you of the things of God. I am more than happy to have my view sifted and for anything that is not pure wheat to be removed. I value all the benefits an open and objective discussion/debate can bring. But I would like to see my actual view being examined, and not some other view which I care nothing for.

First, Cornelius Van Til, in the Encyclopedia of Christianity, 1:33, identifies "Absolute Idealism" as "German Idealism because its main protagonists were the German philosophers Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel." Now, if your authorities call a view "absolute idealism," which evidently accepts the reality of historical events, it is obvious that your authorities cannot be depended upon to use terms in a responsible manner.

Secondly, if the indefinite "a" enables you to accept my adjective "consistent" as a valid qualifier for my position, then it is all yours, as long as you continue to accurately reflect my position. I do not see how the indefinite serves your purpose, when, by your own admission, you insist that idealism needs to be "modified." On your own admission, then, you do not see consistency as a virtue to be maintained, so it should be much of a muchness whether the consistency is definite or indefinite.

Thirdly, Milligan saw no problems with his consistent idealism. I am not sure what you are trying to prove by saying that he did. He had no "historical" axe to grind, and regarded the visions and symbols of Revelation as requiring "interpretation" before they were made a point of "application." The text must be permitted to speak for itself. In allowing the text to speak for itself he freed Revelation from the numerous abuses and perversions with which it had been fettered. It is not true that he was novel. He took numerous insights from many other approaches and combined them. Recapitulation, for example, had been taught by Augustine and other fathers, the schoolmen, and the reformed David Pareus. Milligan simply applied it consistently.

Fourthly, there is no difficulty with interpreting Revelation as teaching that Satan is simultaneously bound and loosed. It is the nature of apocalyptic vision to present a scene as absolute in its own sphere. In one sphere Satan is bound; in another he is loosed. As this vision is parallel with that of chapter 12, it fully accords with the picture of Satan being cast out of heaven and being active on earth. Furthermore, as the subsequent visions are intended to be seen through the lens of the original letters to the seven churches, a loosened Satan is consistent with the situation in Pergamos, which is where Satan had his seat, and yet was bound in relation to the faithful martyr.

Lastly, I ask you to review the basic propositions in William Hendriksen's More than Conquerors, especially Propositions 5 and 6. In advocating "consistent idealism," I am simply urging the reader to be consistent in applying these propositions.

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Hello Matthew,

With regard to your thoughts about Van Til and his views on the “absolute idealism” of the German philosophers, I would think you’d acknowledge that different disciplines use terms differently. Philosophical idealism is a different thing than literary-theological idealism, even as Machen’s theological use of “liberalism” is distinct from its political or monetary uses. As a literary term, per its use for describing a work of symbolism, absolute (or full) may legitimately be used. And for you to deny the use of “modified” with regard to idealism – in this literary context – is to impose your definition on those who would view idealism differently. Of course you may do it, but it would lack credibility in the eyes of others. You may denigrate them and their usage all you please – calling them irresponsible – but this just isolates you from the scholarly community.

Your tendency to view any concept of idealism other than your own as inconsistent involves your imposing conceptual parameters on differently structured concepts. To illustrate, when Beale et al call their views eclecticism or modified idealism they mean to say that they will draw from other interpretive approaches when they deem the text requires it (hence eclectic) and still hold to idealism as the overall interpretive strategy, although not absolutely or fully. They have modified the original concept and use of the term.

The “modified” qualification means that idealism is the primary but not the exclusive interpretive strategy. For you to assert that modified idealists are inconsistent idealists is to disregard their hermeneutic method and judge them according to yours. According to yours they would be inconsistent, according to theirs they would not.

“much of a muchness”? You do love abstraction and the ethereal, don’t you? Matthew, how can you think to hold me to the standard of a hermeneutic method I don’t agree with, and call me inconsistent for my consistency to a differing method? The world of scholarship doesn’t revolve around your mind and its assessments. Others define things differently than you, and your ideas are not the standard by which we must judge what is valid or invalid. You want to stay in this little labyrinth differing definitions? It’s not profitable.

When you say Milligan allowed “the text to speak for itself”, I will acknowledge this to a point, that being, he brought a sound hermeneutic method to bear on the overall approach to Revelation. Beyond that point is the reality of other sound approaches that must supplement the idealist. We differ on this; need we belabor it to death? (Death by boredom for those on-looking.)

Here is an excerpt from Leon Morris’ commentary, The Book of Revelation (who wrote before Greg Beale coined the terms eclectic or modified idealist with reference to Revelation):

“The ‘idealist’ view

Idealists maintain that there are few or no references in Revelation to happenings, whether at the time of the writer or subsequently. On this view the whole book is concerned with ideas and principles.* It sets out in poetic form certain theological conceptions. It is not particularly concerned with the situation of the early church, nor with that of the latter days, nor with that of the end-time. It simply sets out principles on which God acts throughout human history. This secures its relevance for all periods of the church’s history. But its refusal to see a firm historical anchorage seems to most students dubious to say the least.

It seems that elements from more than one of these views [he has just surveyed the ‘preterist’, ‘historicist’, and ‘futurist’ –SMR] are required for a satisfactory understanding of Revelation.

* Cf. W. Milligan, ‘While the Apocalypse thus embraces the whole period of the Christian Dispensation, it sets before us within this period the action of great principles and not special incidents’; ‘we are not to look in the Apocalypse for special events, but for an exhibition of the principles which govern the history both of the whole world and the Church’ (Revelation, pp. (153, 154 f.).” (p 20)

Even though the terms eclectic or modified were not applied to this field of study when Morris wrote, he is advocating the same thing as Beale and co. Matthew, I really think you’re stuck back in the 1800s. Recapitulation, and some few historical references added, are not mutually exclusive interpretive strategies. Yes, back in the 1800s there were some few who thought they were.

You say, “Milligan saw no problems with his consistent idealism. I am not sure what you are trying to prove by saying that he did.” I enter this statement of Milligan's into the record:


It is not to be denied that difficulties attend the interpretation of the thousand years suggested in the text. The writer would advert in a note to the two which appear to him to be the most formidable.

1. In ver. 3 we read that Satan was cast into the abyss, etc., “that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished.” Let it be granted that “the nations” here referred to can hardly be understood in any other sense than that common in the Apocalypse: the heathen, the ungodly, nations or the wicked in general. We then seem to read that there must be a time during which Satan does not “deceive the nations,” while the explanation given above has been that he was no sooner subjugated for the righteous than he was let loose to deceive the unrighteous. In his Lectures on the Revelation of St. John (p. 224, note) the author was disposed to plead that the words in question may not have been intended to indicate that action on Satan's part was for a time to cease, but rather to bring out and express that aspect of Satan by which he is specially distinguished in the Apocalypse. In deference to the criticism of the Rev. H. W. Reynolds (Remarks on Dr. Milligan's Interpretation of the Apocalypse, pp. 9, 27), he would yield this point. Notwithstanding the irregular constructions of the Apocalypse, it is at least precarious; and it is better to leave a difficulty unsolved, especially in a case where difficulties surround every interpretation yet offered, than to propose solutions of the sufficiency of which even the proposer is doubtful.” (Milligan, The Book of Revelation, pp 184, 185)​

Not trying to “prove” anything, only that Dr. M himself saw difficulties in his exegesis with regard to the loosing and binding of Satan. And you talk as if everything is so solid and settled with his idealist interpretation.

Fourthly, there is no difficulty with interpreting Revelation as teaching that Satan is simultaneously bound and loosed. It is the nature of apocalyptic vision to present a scene as absolute in its own sphere. In one sphere Satan is bound; in another he is loosed.

Uh oh, there you go using that “absolute” word again! Anyway, it seems where we differ is on verse 7, “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison”. What you propose is as far-fetched to me as Milligan’s was to Reynolds. And Milligan did stand down, which you won’t do.

I ask you to review the basic propositions in William Hendriksen's More than Conquerors, especially Propositions 5 and 6. In advocating "consistent idealism," I am simply urging the reader to be consistent in applying these propositions.

I suppose the question is, apply these propositions as Hendriksen would, or as you would?

Hendriksen’s propositions 5 & 6:

Proposition 5. The Book of Revelation consists of a unified series of visions like moving pictures. The details of each picture should be interpreted in harmony with its central thought. We should ask two questions: First, what is the entire picture? Second, what is its predominant idea?

With regard to this proposition Hendriksen says, “As a rule the details belong to the picture, to the symbol. We must not try to give a ‘deeper’ interpretation to the details unless the interpretation of these details is necessary in order to bring out the full meaning of the central idea of the symbol.” [Emphasis added] I will return to this exception to the rule later.

Proposition 6. The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles—of human conduct and of divine moral government—that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the Christian dispensation.

It will become clear that Hendriksen does not apply his propositions as you would. Of course you will just dismiss this as his inconsistency, as you do with all modified idealist amillenarians – the entire school of them I have listed above! Only you are consistent!

Discussing Revelation 20-22 in chapter 14, Hendriksen says,

. . . Revelation 20 is not difficult to understand. All one needs to do is remember the sequence: Christ’s first coming is followed by a long period during which Satan is bound; this, in turn, is followed by Satan’s little season; and that is followed by Christ’s second coming, i.e. His coming in judgment. It should be clear immediately to anyone who carefully reads Revelation 20 that the ‘thousand years’ precede the second coming of our Lord in judgment. (p 185)​

Later in the chapter, discussing Rev 20:7-10, he writes,

The meaning, then, is this: the era during which the church as a mighty missionary organization shall be able to spread the gospel everywhere is not going to last forever; not even until the moment of Christ’s second coming. Observe what is happening in certain countries even today [note, he wrote this around 1962 –SMR]. Are certain regions of this earth already entering Satan’s little season?

In other words, we have here in Revelation 20:7-10 a description of the same battle—not ‘war’—which was described in Revelation 16:12 ff. and in Revelation 19:19. In all three cases we read in the original, the battle. Thus 16:14 : ‘to gather them together for the battle of the great day of God, the Almighty’. Again, Revelation 19:19 : ‘gathered together to make the battle against him. . . .’ Similarly, here in 20:8 : ‘to gather them together to the battle’. In other words, these are not three different battles. We have here one and the same battle. It is the battle of Har-Magedon in all three cases. It is the final attack of antichristian forces upon the Church. The ‘new’ thing which Revelation 20 reveals is what happens to Satan as a result of this battle.

The final onslaught is directed against ‘the beloved city’, also called ‘the camp of the saints’. Thus the Church of God is described here under the double symbolism of a city and a camp.

‘And fire came down from heaven and devoured them.’ Notice the sudden character of this judgment upon Gog and Magog. It is as sudden and unexpected as the lightning which strikes from heaven (cf. 2 Thes. 2:8). Thus, suddenly, will Christ appear and discomfit His enemies! This is His one and only coming in judgment. Satan had deceived the wicked world. He had deceived the wicked into thinking that a real and absolute victory over the Church was possible and that God could be defeated! So the Devil, that deceiver, is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone—indicating hell as a place of suffering for both body and soul after the judgment day—where the beast and false prophet are also. (pp 194, 195)​

No doubt you will say that Hendriksen is not being consistent to his own propositions, but that is only because you do not allow anyone to differ from your idealized view of idealism.

This is not the place for me to go into detail with respect to Babylon, and the identity of its final and full manifestation as another empire, such as Chaldean Babylon, Tyre, and Rome were in their days. The world system in opposition to God and His people (see this thread on Babylon) in those days was headquartered in actual nations and cities. For the possibility this could happen again we have historic Biblical precedent. One of Hendriksen’s comments concerning the 5th proposition above is that an exception to the general rule may be taken if a detail in a symbol is to be interpreted “in order to bring out the full meaning of the central idea of the symbol.” That unusual detail is the appearance of the phrase describing one (of a number of) reasons for Babylon’s lethal judgment: “for by thy sorceries (pharmakeia) were all nations deceived” (Rev 18:23). More on that later. This response is sufficient for now.
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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Steve, This will have to be my final post.

First, in the OP you used the term "absolute idealism" in the following way: "I must say that an “absolute idealism” is but a theoretical construct applied as a literary analysis." If our discussion now helps you to see that the theoretical construct has nothing to do with the literary analysis, as your last post seems to suggest, then you should disown your original statement.

Secondly, over the last two threads you have now quoted Venema, Beale, and Morris to the effect that idealism is not adequate in the interpretation of Revelation and that other approaches need to be employed. In other words, you have quoted them for the purpose of showing the inadequacy of consistent idealism as adopted by Milligan. Throughout this thread you have readily acknowledged that my position is essentially Milligan's position. Yet, for some reason, you take offence at my use of the term "consistent idealism" to characterise my view. This makes no sense to me. My use of the adjective "consistent" merely qualifies "idealism," as your use of the adjective "modified" qualifies "idealism." I would have thought that the two terms, "consistent" and "modified," serve to illuminate the different use of "idealism" in our system of interpretation.

Thirdly, you quoted Milligan as expressing a "formidable" problem with this exegesis. Yet, in entering Milligan's testimony into the record, you quote him as saying every interpretation has its difficulties which must be borne. That is not a "formidable" problem but one he could obviously live with.

Fourthly, Hendriksen's propositions, consistently followed, lead to the view I have advocated respecting the loosing of Satan. Let Hendriksen's 6th proposition be stated as the major premise. Let his interpretation of the sixth bowl and his view of "the battle" be taken as the minor premise. The necessary conclusion is the position that Satan's loosing is not a specific event but a principle operating throughout the history of the world. Again, observe the clearest parallel he sees between chapter 12 and chapter 20. In chapter 12 Satan is let loose on the earth but cannot touch the woman and so makes war on her seed. If the parallel is consistently drawn, as his principles require, the obvious conclusion is that the loosing of Satan and the war on the saints must take place throughout the history of the church. Hendriksen himself did not come to this conclusion. I accept that. I am only seeking to consistently apply the principles of interpretation which he has clearly demonstrated to be necessary for the correct understanding of the visions.

Steve, I think I have given more than enough time and energy to answering the criticisms against my presentation. There comes a point when further statement looks like nothing more than self-justification, so I feel it is time to give the subject a rest. Please feel free to have the final word. Blessings!
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Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor

I will own that absolute or full idealism is more than merely a theoretical construct, as it has proven to be of great value as a tool for literary-theological analysis, although not to the exclusion of other approaches.

I wasn’t objecting to your use of consistent idealism as describing your view, but to the assessment that all other approaches that used idealism were inconsistent. I can understand where you’re coming from, I just didn’t think yours was a valid critique of the modified or eclectic view.

I think Milligan’s formidable problem reflected the ‘Achilles heel’ of his approach.

We differ as to whether Hendriksen was or was not consistent in observing his own propositions.

I’m sorry if I have been too rough on you, Matthew – I surely mean no disrespect to a brother better than I – it is that this is a matter too important to contend feebly over. I’ll let the thread drop here too, unless someone else picks it up. Thanks for bearing graciously with my occasional shortness of couth!
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