The Bible Knowledge Commentary (TBKC) as a two volume set on the whole Bible has some advantages and some disadvantages. Let us examine the advantages.
First, TBKC is written from a conservative perspective. The contributors do not subscribe to the anti-supernatural bias of liberal commentators. Conservative commentators, furthermore, tend to reject novel, avant-garde interpretations proffered by more liberal commentators. For example, liberal commentators used source criticism to develop the documentary hypothesis (JEDP) with regard to the authorship of the Pentateuch. But conservative scholars have always rejected such approaches because those approaches assume the fallibility of Scripture. The New Testament, for example, is consistent in its witness that the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses, not edited by some brilliant anonymous redactors with scissors and paste operating centuries later. The conservative Bible scholars who contributed to TBKC are committed to an inerrant Scripture. They reject views of Scripture that pit one part of the Bible against another or deny the possibility of God's supernatural intervention into the affairs of man.
Second, TBKC was written from a dispensational, premillennial viewpoint. Amillennialists may attempt to deny it, but too often, they deny the plain, literal meaning of eschatological portions of Scripture. Dispensationalists more consistently apply a literal hermeneutic to eschatological passages. While they acknowledge the symbolism in apocalyptic literature, they affirm that the symbols have literal referents. Additionally, dispensational interpreters hold to testamental parity. They deny, for example, that God's promises to Abraham and his physical descendants in the Old Testament can be abrogated by God's promises to the Church in the New Testament. In other words, the Church is not spiritual Israel, and cannot inherit all the promises God made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Third, TBKC was written by scholars associated (at that time) with Dallas Theological Seminary. Edited by Roy Zuck and the late John F. Walvoord, the commentary enjoys, for the most part, a consistency of theology and treatment not always found in such a collection of commentators.
The greatest disadvantage of a two volume commentary is that it simply cannot do justice to individual books of the Bible. Commentaries that adequately analyze longer books of the Bible, such as Psalms or Isaiah, must comprise at least one complete volume and sometimes two or even three volumes for that book. Too often, TBKC is sketchy in its coverage of a particular book. The reader gets help on the broad flow, but often, just where one might wish a more detailed exegesis, that detail is lacking. And understandably so. The commentary does what it was designed to do, but one volume each is insufficient coverage for the 39 books of the OT and 27 books of the NT.
Another disadvantage is that the commentary is by now somewhat dated, having been published in 1985. There have been many developments in theology and exegesis in the last quarter of a century which are not reflected in these two volumes. Nevertheless, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
The reader is the beneficiary of a plethora of maps, charts and tables (pp. 3-5). On p. 13 of the introduction, there is An Overview of Old Testament History. The chart declines to date creation, but gives a conservative date for the Exodus of 1446 B.C. In keeping with its literal hermeneutic, the volume includes, in Genesis, an Artist's Concept of Noah's Ark (p. 38) and a Chronology of the Flood (p. 39). Diagrams in Ezekiel include The Gate to the Millennial Temple (p. 1305), The Millennial Temple Proper (p. 1306), The Millennial Altar (p. 1308), and The Division of the Land During the millennium (p. 1314). Between the books of Ezekiel and Daniel is sandwiched an Outline of End-Time Events Predicted in the Bible (p. 1319). Helpful tables include Rituals for Levitical Offerings (pp. 168-169) and Other Features of Levitical Offerings (pp. 170-171).
There are areas that I personally check to determine the theological and philosophical bent of particular commentators. In Genesis, Allen P. Ross holds to the Mosaic authorship of the book (p. 18). He rejects the notion that Genesis is myth (pp. 18-19), and maintains that Genesis is factually and historically accurate (pp. 19-20). He holds that the days of creation "are literal 24-hour days of divine activity" (p. 28), and believes in the historicity of Adam (p. 30). He identifies the tempter as "Satan in the form of a snake" (p. 32). Ross holds to a universal flood (pp. 37-40) and the historicity of God's confusion of languages at Babel (pp. 44-45). Ross correctly identifies the covenant God made with Abraham in Gen. 15 as a unilateral covenant whose promises are absolutely secure (p. 56).
The biggest weakness of the Genesis commentary is that Ross espouses the "Chaos Theory of Origins" in Genesis 1:2 (p. 28). Ross apparently believes that God created planet Earth at some undated, unspecified, and unrevealed time in eternity past. Satan then fell and brought sin into God’s original universe. Genesis 1:2 describes the chaotic, ruined state of the world as it existed because of Satan’s sin. Genesis 1:3-31 describes God’s reclamation of a world ruined by Satan. What this amounts to is a variation on the discredited Gap Theory theme.
Elsewhere, John D. Hannah treats Jonah and his experience of being swallowed alive by a great fish before preaching to Nineveh as authentic and historical (p. 1462-63).
John Martin holds to the unity of the entire book of Isaiah, citing Isaiah as the author (pp. 1029-31). Martin correctly states that the prediction of idyllic conditions of world-wide knowledge of Yahweh in Zion and global peace will be fulfilled in Christ's 1000-year reign (Isa. 2:1-5) (pp. 1037-38). Martin also takes literally the harmony in the animal kingdom that will prevail during the Messiah's global reign (Isa. 11:1-10) (pp. 1056-57). He identifies Isaiah's Little Apocalypse (Isa. 24-27) as describing "the earth's devastation and people's intense suffering during the coming Tribulation and the blessings to follow in the millennial kingdom" (p. 1072). Commenting on Isaiah 60, Martin writes, "When the Lord returns to live among His people (Isa. 60:2) the nations will be attracted to the light of His glory (cf. vv. 19-20) and will flock to Israel for the light (the blessings of salvation from spiritual darkness). This will occur in the Millennium. Though everyone entering the Millennium will be saved, people will be born during that 1,000-year period of time. Many of them will come to salvation because of God's work on Israel's behalf" (p. 1115).
Charles Dyer, writer of the commentary on Ezekiel, commenting on "A New Temple" (chaps. 40-43) (pp. 1303-1304), rejects the notion that Ezekiel predicted a rebuilding of Solomon's temple; rejects the view that "Ezekiel was prophesying about the church in a figurative sense" and that "he did not have a literal temple in mind." He correctly concludes, "A still-future literal temple will be built during the millennial kingdom." Commenting on Ezekiel 47:1-12, Dyer writes, "One feature in the Millennium will be a life-giving river flowing from the temple. Many think this refers only symbolically to the blessings that flow from God's presence. But nothing in the passage suggests that Ezekiel had anything in mind other than a literal river" (p. 1313).
Allen P. Ross, author of the commentary on Genesis, also wrote the commentary on Psalms. Ross acknowledges the modern challenge to the traditionally-held view that the lamed preposition in the superscriptions of the psalms indicates authorship (p. 782). He concludes, "Though a translator could interpret the preposition otherwise, sufficient evidence supports its usage in designating authorship." Thankfully, Ross comes down on the side of conservative scholarship rather than on the side of speculative scholarship. He remarks, "It must also be remembered that Christ and His apostles considered them [the superscriptions] as witnesses to the individual psalms' authorship" (p. 782). By contrast, for example, John Goldingay, writing twenty years later, "is unsupportive of Davidic authorship of any psalm" (Vol I, 26-28). Ross correctly places Psalm 2 in its historical context as authorization to rule for any obedient Davidic king (pp. 791-92). He does acknowledge its typological significance as referring to Christ (p. 793), but, it seems to me, he could have done a great deal more to link the psalm to Christ's Second Coming and Millennial Reign. Ross does slightly better at linking Psalm 22 to Christ - specifically, to His death on the cross (pp. 809-11). Again, he could have made a stronger case. In Psalm 110, Ross links the text of the psalm to Christ more explicitly than he did in either Psalm 2 or 22. His approach in that regard, though skimpy, is far superior to that of John Goldingay and his non-linkage of the psalm to Christ (Psalms, Vol. 3, Psalms 90-150, pp. 290-300). (In fairness to Goldingay, he does state that linkage to Christ is a topic for NT discussion of the psalm rather than OT discussion.)
J. Dwight Pentecost wrote the commentary on the book of Daniel. He argues that Daniel is the author of the book that bears his name (p. 1323), for the unity of the book (p. 1324), and for the date of its writing in the sixth century B.C. (pp. 1324-25). In that regard he notes, "Critics reject an early date for the writing of Daniel mainly because they reject predictive prophecy" (p. 1324). Pentecost cites five purposes of the book. Of particular interest is the fourth purpose:
"The book was also written to outline graphically the prophetic period known as "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). The Book of Daniel marks the course of Gentile history through that extended period in which Israel was and is being disciplined by Gentiles. Also the consummation of God's program for the Gentiles will come to its conclusion in the coming Tribulation period. The book carefully and in detail shows the effect the Gentile nations will have on Israel while she is waiting for God's covenants to her to be fulfilled under the Messiah's reign" (p. 1327).His fifth purpose reads as follows:
"Daniel's book also reveals Israel's future deliverance and the blessings she will enjoy in the coming Millennial Age. As God covenanted with Abraham, his descendants will occupy the land God promised them. Even though the nation must be disciplined because of her disobedience, she will be brought to repentance, confession, and restoration. God remains faithful. He preserves His covenant people and guarantees them ultimate blessing in their covenanted kingdom on this earth" (p. 1327).In Daniel 2:44-45,
"Daniel explained that the four empires which would rule over the land and the people of Israel would not be destroyed by human means, but rather by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the striking Stone. When He comes He will establish the messianic kingdom promised to Israel through David (2 Sam. 7:16). At His return He will subjugate all . . . kingdoms to Himself, thus bringing them to an end (cf. Rev. 11:15; 19:11-20). Then He will rule forever in the Millennium and in the eternal state" (p. 1336).
In the pivotal passage of Daniel 9:24-27, Pentecost interprets the revelation that the angel Gabriel gave to Daniel. The period of the prophecy is seventy sevens of years (p. 1361). "This prophecy, then," Pentecost states, "is concerned not with world history or church history, but with the history of Israel and the city of Jerusalem." (1) Israel's transgression will be ended when she repents and turns to Christ as her Messiah at His Second Coming. (2) At Christ's Second Coming, God will put an end to Israel's sin (p. 1362). (3) God would atone for the sin of Israel through the death of Christ. (4) God will bring in an age of everlasting righteousness, the millennial reign of Christ. (5) God will "seal up vision and prophecy" when He fulfills His covenant with Israel in the millennial kingdom. Until then, the prophecies are "unsealed." (6) God will "anoint the Most Holy." "This may refer to the dedication of the most holy place in the millennial temple," or it may refer to the enthronement of Jesus Christ in the Millennium as "King of kings and Lord of lords" (p. 1362). In Dan. 9:26 Gabriel predicted that the people of the ruler who will come would destroy the city of Jerusalem as a judgment for Israel's rejection of her Messiah. This was fulfilled when Titus destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (p. 1364). "The ruler who will come is that final head of the Roman Empire, the little horn of (Dan.) 7:8." Dan. 9:27 "unveils what will occur in the 70th seven years. This seven-year period will begin after the Rapture of the church (which will consummate God's program in this present Age). The 70th 'seven' will continue till the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Because Jesus said this will be a time of 'great distress' (Matt. 24:21), this period is often called the Tribulation." The ruler will make a seven-year covenant of peace with Israel, but he will break his covenant midway through the seven years (p. 1365). "After this ruler gains world-wide political power, he will assume power in the religious realm as well and will cause the world to worship him (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:8). To receive such worship, he will terminate all organized religions. Posing as the world's rightful king and god and as Israel's prince of peace, he will then turn against Israel and become her destroyer and defiler." Jesus referred to this incident in Matt. 24:15 (p. 1365). Finally the world ruler himself will be destroyed.
In summary, the Old Testament volume of The Bible Knowledge Commentary does what it is supposed to do. From a conservative theological and exegetical point of view, the volume ties the entire Old Testament together in a coherent point of view that permits the text to be understood as people of that day would have understood it to mean. It looks ahead to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promises and covenants made to Abraham and to David. It envisions a future millennial kingdom in which Jesus Christ will rule the world from Jerusalem on this present earth. It acknowledges that the ultimate rule of Christ will take place in New Jerusalem in connection with New Earth. In other words, the commentators do not "spiritualize" prophetic portions of Scripture and apply them to the Church when they obviously were meant to apply to the nation of Israel. It represents a consistent, conservative, dispensational, premillennial interpretation of the Old Testament.
I could not recommend this volume more highly for the pastor or Bible student. It serves as a bedrock foundation for the academician, despite its brevity.
Individual Books Reviewed:
Louis A. Barbieri wrote the commentary on Matthew. He discusses the Synoptic Problem, in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a great deal of material that is similar; however there is material in each gospel that is unique to that gospel. How can we account for the similarities and the differences? Barbieri rejects the liberal German solutions to the problem. He acknowledges that Matthew and John were disciples of Christ. They would have witnessed much of what they wrote about first-hand. Mark would have received much information from Peter, and Luke from Paul. Moreover, they did utilize some oral tradition. In addition, Luke freely admitted he used written sources (Luke 1:1-4). Nevertheless, Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would guide his disciples into all truth, reminding them of elements to include in their gospels (John 14:26). According to Barbieri, Matthew wrote to evangelize unbelieving Jews and to encourage believing Jews. Barbieri notes that Matthew made heavy use of OT quotations and allusions. This is consistent with Matthew's desire to demonstrate to Israelis that Jesus is the Anointed One, and that He is destined to reign over Israel as King. Barbieri catches that theme in his outline: Introduction of the King (Matt. 1:1-4:11); Communications from the King (Matt. 4:12-7:29); Credentials of the King (Matt. 8:1-11:1); Challenge to the King's Authority (Matt. 11:2-16:12); Cultivation of the King's Disciples (Matt. 16:13-20:34); Climax of the King's Offer (Matt. 21:1-27:66); Confirmation of the King's Life (Matt. 28:1-20).
Barbieri correctly understands that the coming "kingdom of heaven" John announced (Matt. 3:2) was to be a rule upon earth, not one up in heaven. The same is true of Jesus' identical announcement (Matt. 4:17). Jesus' miracles authenticated His role as Prophet proclaiming the good news of the kingdom that was to come upon earth (Matt. 4:23). The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-7:29) showed Jesus' audience the standards of righteousness necessary to enter the Messiah's kingdom. Jesus' miracles (Matt. 8:1-11:1) demonstrated His power over disease, demons, nature, sin, traditions, death, darkness, dumbness, and to delegate workers to recruit people for His kingdom. Challenges to the King's authority (Matt. 11:2-16:12) included Jesus' condemnation of Israeli cities who failed to repent despite witnessing His miracles; and controversies over the way in which Jesus and His disciples observed the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:22-32 the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus accused them of committing the unpardonable sin – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That passage is the major turning point of the book.
Jesus changed tactics – He began teaching in parables in order to communicate to His disciples the secrets or mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, the time between the two advents of Christ. At the same time, the parables would conceal truth from those who rejected Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 13:1-58). During that time there will be a profession of faith in Christ, but also a counter-profession. Only the judgment at the end of the age will determine the true status of people.
In Matthew 16:27-17:13 Jesus gave his followers a picture of Messiah's kingdom. In Jesus' "Triumphal Entry," He offered Himself as Israel's King, but the people were largely uncomprehending (Matt. 21:1-11). Thereafter Jesus had repeated confrontations with the priests and elders, the Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees, and again, the Pharisees. In Matthew 24:1-25:46 Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, along with the signs of His coming and the end of the age. After a time of great Tribulation, Jesus would return to judge all the survivors of the Tribulation. This would include judgment of the nation of Israel followed by a judgment of all the Gentiles.
Matthew 26:1-27:66 marks the national rejection by the Israelis of Jesus their King. The King is betrayed, arrested, tried, crucified, and buried. But His miraculous resurrection in Matt. 28:1-20 confirms the reality of His continuance as Messiah. Possessing all authority in heaven and upon earth, Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples of all nations, going, baptizing, and teaching new followers to obey Him completely. Jesus promised to be with them to the end of the age.
The commentary on Revelation was written by the late John F. Walvoord, formerly prophetic lecturer and President of Dallas Theological Seminary. He correctly takes the futuristic interpretation of the book (the literal approach adopted by most conservative scholars, especially those who are premillenarian -- that the book depicts yet future events to take place during the Tribulation, Second Advent, Millennium, and Eternal State), as opposed to the allegorical, or nonliteral approach advanced especially by Augustine (who interpreted the book as a chronicle of the spiritual conflict between God and Satan in the present church age), or the preterist approach (which interprets the book as symbolic of past conflicts of the early church), or the historical approach (that the book represents all of church history between the two advents of Christ). He writes, "The futuristic interpretation, however, is demanding of the expositor as it requires him to reduce to tangible prophetic events the symbolic presentations which characterize the book."
Walvoord is a strong Pre-Tribulational, Dispensational Premillennialist. He acknowledges Revelation 1:19 as the inspired outline of the book. John is commanded to write (1) what he had just witnessed, his vision of the glorious risen Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:1-20); (2) that which is now – the messages to the seven churches (Rev. 2:1-3:22); and finally, (3) that which will take place in the future, the events of Revelation 4:1-22:21.
Letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2:1-3:22). Walvoord believes these messages were directed to specific local churches of John's day. He also believes there are many applications for all churches and individuals throughout church history to take to heart. He also believes there may be some credibility to the notion that the seven churches correspond with successive periods of church history. However, he recognizes that that interpretation cannot be validated from Scripture, and that one must exercise caution in that regard.
The scene up in heaven (Revelation 4:1-5:14). Walvoord believes the presence of the 24 elders in heaven represent the church raptured prior to this time and rewarded up in heaven. Thus he holds to a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. I agree with him in that regard, but believe that 12 elders represent the Church and 12 represent the redeemed nation of Israel. (Both the Church and Israel are represented in New Jerusalem as evidenced in Rev. 21:10-14.) He correctly understands that the main point of Revelation 4:1-5:14 is to introduce the scroll sealed with seven seals, each of which will be opened by the Lamb (i.e. Christ), the only one worthy to open the seals and unleash fearful judgments upon the earth (Rev. 6:11-17; 8:1).
Take it as literally as possible. Walvoord interprets the text as literally as possible, while still acknowledging symbols.
Since there is no mention of the Church in Rev. 6-18, he believes the Church has been raptured before the events beginning in Rev. 4:1. (Personally, I think John's call up to heaven [Rev. 4:1] symbolizes the Rapture of the Church.)
A fourth of the earth's population will be killed with the breaking of the fourth seal (Rev. 6:7-8). Today that would mean nearly 2 billion people.
The events of the breaking of the sixth seal - earthquake and celestial disturbances - are to be taken literally (Rev. 6:12-17).
The twelve tribes are twelve tribes of Israel, and do not represent the Church (Rev. 7:1-8; Rev. 14:1-5). Neither the 144,000 (Rev. 7:1-8) nor the innumerable multitude (Rev. 7:9-17) represent the Church. The latter are martyrs killed during the Tribulation.
The seven trumpets sounded by seven angels are to be distinguished from the trumpet of God (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16).
The sea turned to blood (Rev. 8:8-9) kills a third of the sea creatures, so the judgment is to be taken literally.
The star (or perhaps meteor) falling to earth is to be taken literally (Rev. 8:10-11), as is the darkness of the fourth trumpet (Rev. 8:12).
The locusts released after the fifth trumpet are demonic locusts and have the capacity to inflict enormous pain on humans (Rev. 9:1-12). They able to harm anyone who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads (Rev. 9:4).
The sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:13-21) will result in the deaths of one third of the surviving human population. By now a minimum of half the earth's population will have been killed. In today's terms that would approach 3.5 billion people, carnage impossible for the mind to comprehend. Still, people will refuse to repent of their great evil (Rev. 9:20-21).
In Rev. 11:1-2, the city of Jerusalem and the rebuilt Israeli Tribulation temple will be desecrated for 3.5 years. Two witnesses will prophesy on God's behalf for 3.5 years (Rev. 11:3-14). Like the prophets of old, they will have power to perform supernatural miracles. They will be killed, but will be resurrected and called to heaven (Rev. 11:7-13).
The woman symbolizes Israel (Rev. 12:1-2); the dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:3-4); the baby boy is Jesus, the one who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:5-6). The war in heaven shows Satan and his demons defeated and cast down to earth. There he redoubles his efforts, knowing that his time is short (Rev. 12:7-12).
The 10-horned Beast coming out of the sea (Rev. 13:1-2) is to be identified with the revived Roman Empire, represented by the10-horned fourth beast of Daniel 7:7-8. This evil ruler becomes the object of worship (Rev. 13:4-6) and rules the earth (Rev. 13:7-8). The Beast out of the earth forced earth's inhabitants to worship the first Beast. This worship will include the use of an identification system without which no one can buy or sell (Rev. 13:16-18).
The 144,000 on Mount Zion (Rev. 14:1-5) are to be identified with the 144,000 Israelis of Rev. 7:4-8. The one like a Son of Man who swings his sickle to judge the earth is Christ (Rev. 14:14-16). The plagues induced by seven angels pouring out seven bowls of the wrath of God, though similar to the judgments initiated by seven angels blasting their trumpets, are not identical to them. Rather the bowl judgments follow the trumpet judgments. The kings of the East will lead their armies to battle in the final world war (Rev. 16:12), better termed "The War of Armageddon" (Rev. 16:16). The 100-pound hailstones (Rev. 16:21) are to be taken literally.
The great prostitute (Rev. 17:1-2) speaks of the religious system of Babylon. The waters upon which she sits symbolize "peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages" (Rev. 17:15). Walvoord concludes that during the initial part of the Tribulation, there will be an alliance between the Middle East ruler (the Antichrist) and the apostate world church of that time. [Personally, I believe there is a more likely explanation of the Great Prostitute.] The ten horns of the beast astride which the Prostitute sits will unite their power to support the Beast, the Middle East Ruler (Rev. 17:12-13). Together, they will destroy the false religion (Rev. 17:15-18). Walvoord believes the destructions of Babylon as recorded in Rev. 17:15-18 and Rev. 18:1-24 are two separate events. I believe the two are one and the same. At least Walvoord believes that Babylon refers to the city of Babylon and not the city of Rome.
Saints up in heaven rejoice over the destruction of Babylon (Rev. 19:1-6) because the false religion of Babylon has been filled with the blood of the saints, and God is avenging the blood of His slaves (Rev. 19:2). There is cause for great rejoicing in heaven because the bride of Christ, the Church, has made herself ready for her marriage supper with the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). Walvoord has an appropriate comment at this point:
One of the false interpretations that has plagued the church is the concept that God treats all saints exactly alike. Instead, a literal interpretation of the Bible distinguishes different groups of saints, and here the bride is distinguished from those who are invited to the wedding supper. Instead of treating all alike, God indeed has a program for Israel as a nation and also for those in Israel who are saved. He also has a program for Gentiles in the Old Testament who come to faith in God. And in the New Testament He has a program for the church as still a different group of saints. Again in the Book of Revelation the Tribulation saints are distinguished from other previous groups. It is not so much a question of difference in blessings as it is that God has a program designed for each group of saints which corresponds to their particular relationship to His overall program. Here the church, described as a bride, will be attended by angels and by saints who are distinct from the bride.
The Second Coming of Christ is detailed in Rev. 19:11-21. Walvoord makes some significant comments here:
Among conservative interpreters, however, the question has been raised whether the Rapture of the church, as revealed in such major passages as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, is fulfilled at the time of the second coming of Christ to the earth or, as pretribulationists hold, is fulfilled as a separate event seven years before His formal second coming to the earth.
It should be noted that none of the many details given in Revelation 19:11-21 corresponds to the Rapture of the church. In Revelation Christ returns, but in none of the Rapture passages is He ever pictured as touching the earth, for the saints meet Him in the air (1 Thes. 4:17).
Most significant is the fact that in Revelation 19-20 there is complete silence concerning any translation of living saints. In fact the implication of the passage is that saints who are on earth when Christ returns will remain on earth to enter the millennial kingdom in their natural bodies. If the Rapture were included in the second coming of Christ to the earth, one would expect to find reference to such a major event in Revelation 19. But no such reference is to be found. For these and many other reasons chapter 19 is a confirmation of the teaching that the Rapture of the church is a separate earlier event and that there is no translation of the living at the time of His second coming to the earth. (For further discussion see John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question.)
Christ's Second Coming is as a Judge, indicated by His blood-dipped robe (Rev. 19:13; Isa. 63:2-3; Rev. 14:20). Christ is accompanied by the armies of heaven (Rev. 19:14-16), which Walvoord, in this brief commentary, does not identify. The wicked who oppose Christ in battle are destroyed (Rev. 19:17-21), and His later judgments and destroy the unsaved from other parts of the earth as well (Matt. 25:31-45). Walvoord comments as follows:
The same inspired Word of God which so wonderfully describes the grace of God and the salvation which is available to all who believe is equally plain about the judgment of all who reject the grace of God. The tendency of liberal interpreters of the Bible to emphasize passages dealing with the love of God and to ignore passages dealing with His righteous judgment is completely unjustified. The passages on judgment are just as inspired and accurate as those which develop the doctrines of grace and salvation. The Bible is clear that judgment awaits the wicked, and the second coming of Christ is the occasion for a worldwide judgment unparalleled in Scripture since the time of Noah’s flood.
Revelation 20:1-6 describes the Millennial Reign of Christ upon earth. The comments of Ryrie are germane to this point:
This chapter presents the fact that Christ will reign on earth for a thousand years. If this chapter is taken literally, it is relatively simple to understand what is meant. However, because many Bible interpreters have rejected the idea that there will be a reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years after His second coming, this chapter has been given an unusually large number of diverse interpretations, all designed to eliminate a literal millennial reign. In general there are three viewpoints, each with a number of variations.
The most recent view is what is known as postmillennialism. According to this view the thousand years represent the triumph of the gospel in the period leading up to the second coming of Christ. The return of Christ will follow the Millennium. Usually traced to Daniel Whitby, a controversial writer of the 17th century, this view has been advanced by other prominent scholars in the history of the church including Charles Hodge, A.H. Strong, David Brown, and more recently, Loraine Boettner. Basically it is an optimistic view that Christ will reign spiritually on earth through the work of the church and the preaching of the gospel. This view has largely been discarded in the 20th century, because many anti-Christian movements have prospered and the world has not progressed spiritually.
A second major view is amillennialism, which denies that there is any literal Millennium or reign of Christ on earth. The millennial reign of Christ is reduced to a spiritual reign in the hearts of believers. This reign is either over those on earth who put their trust in Him or over those in heaven. Both the amillennial and postmillennial views must interpret Revelation 20 in a nonliteral sense. Often there is wide difference among amillenarians in their interpretations of various passages in the Book of Revelation. Amillennialism historically had its first important advocate in Augustine who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. Before Augustine, it is difficult to find one orthodox amillenarian. Modern advocates include such respected 20th-century theologians as Oswald Allis, Louis Berkhof, William Hendriksen, Abraham Kuyper, R.C.H. Lenski, and Gerhardus Vos.
A third form of interpretation is premillennialism, so named because it interprets Revelation 20 as referring to a literal thousand-year reign of Christ following His second coming. As the Second Coming occurs before the Millennium, it is therefore premillennial. Twentieth-century advocates of this position include Lewis Sperry Chafer, Charles L. Feinberg, A.C. Gaebelein, H.A. Ironside, Alva McClain, William Pettingill, Charles C. Ryrie, C.I. Scofield, Wilbur Smith, and Merrill F. Unger. Other premillenarians can be found from the first century on, including Papias, Justin Martyr, and many other early church fathers. Arguments for this position are based on the natural sequence of events in chapter 20 following chapter 19, viewing them as sequential and as stemming from the second coming of Christ. Many passages speak of the second coming of Christ being followed by a reign of righteousness on earth (Pss. 2; 24; 72; 96; Isa. 2; 9:6-7; 11-12; 63:1-6; 65-66; Jer. 23:5-6; 30:8-11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; Hosea 3:4-5; Amos 9:11-15; Micah 4:1-8; Zeph. 3:14-20; Zech. 8:1-8; 14:1-9; Matt. 19:28; 25:31-46; Acts 15:16-18; Rom. 11:25-27; Jude 14-15; Rev. 2:25-28; 19:11-20:6).
Revelation 20:7-10 records the final doom of Satan. The resurrection and judgment of the wicked dead are described in Rev. 20:11-13. The gruesome, but literal lake of fire is described in Rev. 20:14-15. Walvoord comments,
Though many have attempted to find some scriptural way to avoid the doctrine of eternal punishment, as far as biblical revelation is concerned there are only two destinies for human souls; one is to be with the Lord and the other is to be forever separated from God in the lake of fire. This solemn fact is motivation for carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth whatever the cost, and doing everything possible to inform and challenge people to receive Christ before it is too late.
Revelation 21:1-22:5 describes the New Heaven and the New Earth, "the dwelling place of the saints for eternity." Walvoord leans towards the idea that New Jerusalem will be a satellite city which will be present even in the Millennium. Personally, I believe that New Jerusalem is to be associated with New Earth only. Walvoord wisely takes the dimensions and accouterments of the city literally (Rev. 21:12-27). He correctly understands the city to be the home of both Israel and the Church (Rev. 21:12-14). I agree with him that the city is more likely a pyramid than a cube. Walvoord notes the presence of Gentiles who will have access to the city (Rev. 21:24, 26). The he does not mention it, it makes more sense to me that the capital city, New Jerusalem, is the home of both Israel and the Church, while New Earth is the home of redeemed Gentiles of all ages who are neither part of redeemed Israel or the Church. Furthermore, I believe that there will be a literal land of Israel perpetually in existence upon New Earth. All on New Earth will, however, have perpetual access to New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:2). Walvoord seems a bit reluctant to ascribe literalness to the River of Life, but I see no reason to waver in that regard. He seems less reluctant to conclude that the Tree of Life is literal, and will contribute to the "physical well-being of those in the eternal state." Rev. 22:3-4 describes the throne of God and Rev. 22:5 to the saints' reign with God and Christ forever.
Christ is coming certainly (Rev. 22:6-7); there is the command to proclaim the prophecy of the book (Rev. 22:10-11); there is coming judgment and reward (Rev. 22:12); Christ is the eternal One (Rev. 22:13; there is a coming blessing and judgment (Rev. 22:14-15); there is an invitation from the Spirit and the Bride (Rev. 22:16-17); there is a final warning (Rev. 22:18-19); and there is a final prayer and promise (Rev. 22:20-21).
Walvoord concludes with the following words:
Probably no other book of Scripture more sharply contrasts the blessed lot of the saints with the fearful future of those who are lost. No other book of the Bible is more explicit in its description of judgment on the one hand and the saints’ eternal bliss on the other. What a tragedy that so many pass by this book and fail to fathom its wonderful truths, thereby impoverishing their knowledge and hope in Christ Jesus. God’s people who understand and appreciate these wonderful promises can join with John in his prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Used by Permission.)
Published December 21, 2013
Updated April 6, 2016