Circle arrowPMW-2020-073 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Revelation is a powerful, intriguing, and confusing book. Some of the confusion arises from its internal structure. John often engages in recapitulation, that is, rehearsing earlier visions in later portions of his work. However, he does not always recapitulate his material.

One significant area of concern for proper interpretation involves the question as to whether Rev. 20:1–3 recapitulates Rev. 12:7ff regarding Satan’s judgment. Satan, of course, is a big player in Revelation’s drama, so this issue is a big question for the reader’s understanding. I will engage the matter in two articles. I hope you find these helpful to your interpretation of Revelation.

Contrary to the opinion of many, I do not believe that the vision in 12:7ff is restated in Rev 20:1–3 (as per Harrington 199; Aune 1078; Beale 992; Venema 320). Let me explain why, by considering and critiquing the evidence for re-capitulation.

When we read Rev 12 we see Satan being cast from heaven to the earth (12:9), with his angels (12:9), resulting in his furiously persecuting the saints for a short time (12:12, 14). Whereas in 20:1–3 we see Satan alone being cast from the earth into the abyss and being constrained from harming the saints — for a long time (see discussion at v 3). This in itself should quickly undermine the recapitulation argument in this text.

In fact, in 12:7ff Satan’s casting down to the earth results in his actively raising up the sea beast (13:1), who employs his own subordinate: the land beast. This sea beast engages in deception (13:14; 19:20), along with the harlot (18:23). But this is precisely the sort of activity Satan’s binding prevents, according to Rev 20:3: “he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.”Revelation early date SMALL

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Furthermore, except for 2:20 (and not counting Rev 20), the planē (“deceive”) word group only appears after Satan is cast down (12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20). Thus, the directions of his movements, their results, and their longevity differ, when we compare Rev 12 and 20.

G. K. Beale is perhaps the leading evangelical commentator on Revelation (The Book of Revelation, Eerdmans, 1999). His argument (p. 992) for seven points of parallel with Rev 12 is not persuasive. In the final analysis we will discover that “the chapters are not identical at every point” (Beale 992), so that even Beale (993) himself admits they are “possibly different.” I will summarize each one he enumerates and briefly respond:

(1) That both involve a “heavenly scene” (12:7; 20:1) does not require a parallel. This book presents us with many heavenly scenes — and they are not all parallel (e.g., 4:1–2; 8;1, 10; 10:4, 811:12, 15, 19; 14:2, 13, 17; 15:1; 18:4; etc.). Indeed, in 20:1 the angel has to come “down” out of heaven in order to secure Satan for binding: he does not bind him in heaven. Actually then, the scene where the event occurs is not a “heavenly scene” but an earthly one. In 12:7 John sees the “war in heaven” (12:7).

(2) Regarding the “angelic battle against Satan” (12:7–8), Beale can only suggest that 20:2 involves a “presupposed angelic battle with Satan.” But the text neither mentions nor seems to imply it. It appears to be a simple, easy transaction so overwhelmingly powerful that no struggle at all ensues. If John were intending a parallel we would expect a repeat of the battle in heaven, rather than his leaving it for our surmising. Besides, in ch 12 the war in heaven involves “the dragon and his angels” (12:7), who are all “thrown down with him” (12:9). Whereas in ch 20 we read that the dragon alone is cast down (20:2–3).Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues

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(3) Neither does Satan’s being “cast to earth” (12:9) parallel his being “cast into the abyss” (20:3). The earth is the place where men normally dwell and are at home (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 18:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8), for “the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Ps 115:16). Whereas the abyss is a place of terror (9:1–3, 11) and prison-like confinement (20:2, 7; Lk 8:31). In Rev the beast “comes up out of the abyss” to make war with the saints on earth, which informs us that it is below the earth and distinct from it (11:7; cp. 17:8). In fact, the abyss appears to represent a place “under the earth” (5:3, 13) rather than the earth itself (cp. Eze 26:20; 31:14; 32:24; cf. Php 2:10). At 17:8 Beale (865) himself states regarding the abyss that “the beast’s origin, the abyss, both here and in 11:7, suggests the demonic origin and powers of the beast (as in 9:1–2, 11; cf. 20:1–3, 7).” S. Thompson (199: 266) notes three stages in Satan’s fall: from heaven (12:7–9), into the abyss (20:1–3), and into the lake of fire (20:10) (see also Swete 260).

(4) Beale points out the lengthy name given Satan appears only in these two texts: he is called “the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan” (12:9; 20:2). This is certainly an exact parallel in name — but only partially. In ch 12 Satan is also called “the one deceiving the whole inhabited earth” (12:9), though he is not so-called in 20:2. Furthermore, in 20:2–3 he is being sealed so that he cannot do that very thing, whereas in 12:9 the present participle highlights his ongoing activity in deceiving.

In my next article I will continue my reply to Beale and those who see recapitulation in Rev 20:1–3.
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2 thoughts on “IS REV 20 A REPETITION OF REV 12 (1)?

  1. Joshua September 17, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Agh! Cliffhanger ending! Looking forward to your forthcoming commentary on Revelation. I’m going to write a letter to Santa Claus asking him for a copy of The Divorce of Israel for Christmas.

    In all seriousness though, I am very interested in hearing your interpretation of Revelation 20. Personally, I would see Revelation 12 as pointing to Satan’s defeat with regard to his ability to accuse the saints before God’s throne (as an immediate result of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension). And I would see Satan’s binding in Revelation 20 as his defeat with regard to being able to keep the Gentiles from believing the gospel as it goes forth into the world (also as a result of Jesus’ ascension and session at God’s right hand). Regarding Satan’s responses in both passages, I would see Satan’s response in chapter 12 and following as corresponding to the persecutions under Nero (the beast) and the Jews (false prophet) in the 1st century, and I would see Satan’s loosing at the end of “the millennium” as some kind of brief final attempt to deceive the nations immediately prior to the second coming of the Lord. However, I have not worked out the details of how that interpretation of the loosing of Satan corresponds with a postmillennial hope.

    I do appreciate Beale extensive work, but again, looking forward your commentary!

  2. Kenneth Gentry September 17, 2020 at 9:30 am

    You are not far from the kingdom! 😉

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