Read: Revelation 20
The real shame about chapter 20 is that one feels the need to dispel so many misunderstandings that arise out of this chapter that you can’t spend as much time simply enjoying it for what it does say.
The most unfortunate misunderstanding that has been produced by those who misread this chapter is the supposition that there is to be a literal millennium (a thousand year period) in which the shape and character of world history will be distinct and different from all other periods. This book of visions which is stuffed full of so many symbolic and fantastic images that cannot be taken literalistically is abruptly and inexplicably treated as a map for this future with a thousand year reign.
Are you serious?
Part of the confusion comes because people have a tendency to read chapter 20 as if it is the chronological sequel to chapter 19. Chapter 19 presents a depiction of a sort of–final scene. And then what comes next is presumed to follow after what preceded it.
But, again, that procedure violates everything to we have seen and which has recurred again and again in the book of Revelation; namely a series of sequential visions are stacked, one on top of the other, which simply describe again and again the same sort of phenomena from a slightly different perspective and with different nuances.
Chapter 20 is simply going back and telling the same story that we have been told before in a different light.
The detail that really throws folks for a loop in chapter 20 is the talk about a first resurrection (implying that there is to be another), and a first death and a second death. This is where theologians get out their charts and rulers and start graphing this all out. That’s why theologians should not be allowed to play with rulers and pencils.
Listen, when you are in a dream-world of fantastic visions and images, do you expect them to conform to some rigid and regulated sense of sequence, sense and chronology? Do you complain that your dreams are not logically consistent?
Lutheran theologians are not exempt from subjecting this chapter to unfair treatment and beating it all out of shape either. Lutherans just tend to mess this chapter up in different ways then the televangelist-type.
What Lutheran theologians are wary about in chapter 20 is the implication of there being a first death and a second death; a first resurrection and, maybe, another resurrection; and however this all works out, what Lutheran theologians don’t want to say or allow anyone to think is that there might be second chances for people. We don’t want anyone to suppose that they might get a second chance. If they suppose such might be possible then they won’t feel the urgency involved in making the right choice the first time around. This tactic I find to be disturbingly similar to a sales pitch that screams at you about being for a limited time only. Get it while supplies last. The impetus behind such urgent pleadings is to get you to act fast. If you don’t buy today, it will be gone tomorrow. Is that the way to present our Lord’s grace and mercy to people?
Why would our Lord’s granting us a second chance, if such is the case, be deemed unfortunate by us? Is it that we don’t want anyone who didn’t get in at the ground floor like we did to be allowed to share in the windfall of God’s grace? If such is our attitude, doesn’t that sound like cause for our own conversion to be deemed questionable? Why not a second chance? Why not a third one and a fourth one and a fifth? Why not an infinity of chances? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to hope that when hell is finally closed for business and thrown into the lake of fire that there won’t be anyone in there anymore anyway? At that point, hell is just taking up a lot of space and not doing anyone any good, so–the hell with it.