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4.11.2 - Allegorizing and Spiritualizing the Truth

One reason we spent considerable time discussing topics such as Systems of Interpretation before we began our verse-by-verse commentary was because of the importance of interpretation when reading the Scriptures. Although most believers read the same Bible text and agree that the Scriptures are God’s Word, views concerning the meaning of the text vary enormously. These variations in meaning attributed to the text are not the result of differences between different Bible texts, which are very minor, but are due to differences in how the text is interpreted. This is especially true for the book of Revelation and chapter 20.

Although premillennialists read Revelation 20+ and the book of Revelation using normal interpretation, which recognizes figures of speech, amillennialists and postmillennialists generally do not. They tend to spiritualize or allegorize elements to fit their own ideas about what the text should mean:

The allegorizing trend was also advocated by A. A. Hodge, who writes, “The Old Testament prophecies, . . . which predict this [Davidic] kingdom, must refer to the present dispensation of grace [the church], and not to a future reign of Christ on earth in person among men in the flesh. The spiritual interpretation of this difficult passage (Rev. 20:1-10+) is as follows: Christ has in reserve for his church a period of universal expansion and of pre-eminent spiritual prosperity. The New Testament is entirely silent on the subject of any such return [of the Jews to the land of their fathers]. . . . the literal interpretation of these [Old Testament] passages is inconsistent with what the New Testament plainly teaches as to the abolition of all distinctions between the Jew and Gentile.”1

Possibly the most extreme example of how far amillennialists will go in their twisting of the plain meaning of a passage is found in their interpretation of the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3+. According to amillennialists, Satan was bound at the cross, but his “binding” is in such a way that he can still deceive. Although they play subtle word games in an attempt to mask the illogical implications of their teaching, the result is a denial of the plain reading of the text. The text says Satan is bound, shut up, and sealed in the bottomless pit, where he cannot deceive the nations for the duration of the thousand years. In contrast to the text, the amillennialist teaches that his binding is incomplete so he can still deceive while “bound.” This sort of binding is no binding at all. See our commentary on Revelation 20:2.

Ultimately, the disagreement between interpreters concerning whether Satan is currently bound and whether Scripture teaches a future Millennial Kingdom on earth reflects pervasive differences on foundational issues:
  1. Interpreting the OT - How are OT promises to be understood? Must they be fulfilled as they were understood in the context of those who originally received them, using the normal meaning of language in their day? Premillennialists generally say, yes, but amillennialists and postmillennialists usually say either, no or, it depends. Walvoord observed: “A literal promise spiritualized is exegetical fraud.”2
  2. Kingdom Now - Are all of God’s kingdom promises already active in the present age? Amillennialists and postmillennialists generally say, yes, whereas premillennialists say, no—there are major aspects of God’s kingdom which require a future literal reign on earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Amillennialists and postmillennialists will generally say that Christ is reigning from the Davidic throne in heaven now, whereas premillennialists say he is seated to the right hand of His Father’s throne and does not take up the Davidic throne until His literal return to earth (Mat. 25:31; Rev. 3:21+).3
  3. Who is Israel - Amillennialists and most postmillennialists believe that the church is the “new Israel” and has inherited the OT promises originally given to the nation Israel. They minimize any distinctive role for the nation of Israel in the plan of God. Most Premillennialists believe that the church is a new spiritual creation which began on the Day of Pentecost and is separate and distinct from Israel. Also: that the OT promises given to national Israel still await a future literal fulfillment.

There are many other differences between these systems of interpretation, but these are among the most significant.

Notes

1 Mal Couch, Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications), 12-13.

2 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), 200.

3 “A theology which sees the church fulfilling the OT kingdom promises of Israel continually raises the question of how much the church should invade the realm of Caesar’s government.”—Robert L. Saucy, “Israel and the Church: A Case for Discontinuity,” in John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity And Discontinuity (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 259.


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