That John Gill believes in a 1000-year personal reign of Christ on earth is without question. He wrote a discourse on it called “Of the Millennium.” That he sees a glimpse of this 1000-year reign in Revelation 7:9-17 is somewhat surprising. The Apostle John sees a great multitude clothed in white robes. Most interpreters see this scene as occurring in the invisible, heavenly realm. Gill sees this as a preview of worship in the Millennial Kingdom, and he provides some exegetical justification for this position.
The Justification for Gill’s Position
First, Gill suggests the purpose of the vision is to relieve John’s mind because of the horror of the trumpet and vial judgments he is about to witness (see Gill’s comments on Rev. 7:9). Therefore, he receives an advanced showing of the Millennial Kingdom.
Second, he suggests Revelation 7:14b parallels Revelation 20:4b:
Revelation 7:14b: And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Revelation 20:4b: Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Third, he suggests Revelation 7:15 parallels Revelation 22:3:
Revelation 7:15: Therefore they are before the Throne of God, and serve Him day and night in his temple; and He Who sits on the Throne will shelter them with His presence.
Revelation 22:3: No longer will there be anything accursed, but the Throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him.
Note this: Gill takes the new heaven and new earth not as the eternal heaven, our final destination; but rather “the glorious state of the church during the thousand years of Satan’s binding” which ushers the saints into the eternal heavens (see Gill’s comments on Revelation 21:1).
Fourth, he suggests Revelation 7:16-17 parallels Revelation 21:4, 6:
Revelation 7:16-17: They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the Throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 21:4, 6: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. . . . And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. . . .”
Thus, Gill concludes, this scene fast-forwards John to the Millennial Kingdom to see all true believers, from all of time, worshiping before the Throne of Christ. Gill describes it this way:
[W]herefore many interpreters understand this vision of the saints in heaven: but it rather respects the millennium state, or the thousand-years’ reign of Christ with his saints on earth. . . . [A]ll the elect of God, that ever were, are, or shall be in the world; the great tribulation, out of which they came, is not to be restrained to any particular time of trouble, but includes all that has been, is, or shall be.John Gill, comments on Revelation 7:9, 14
As we track through book of Revelation with Gill, our echoing critique has been his arbitrary connections of text to history. He calls this “prophetic history.” We find less of that in this exposition. A few thoughts . . .
First, we can grant, exegetically, many of the parallels he points out. At times, they are nearly word for word. For example, “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” is exactly the same construction in Greek in both Revelation 7:17 and Revelation 21:6. This is strong exegetical evidence Gill may be on the right track. However, . . .
Second, if we follow Gill into the millennium here, it seems we are adopting the amillennial “recapitulation” view. That is, the events in Revelation are not chronological. Others, like Grant Osborne (primarily a futurist premillennialist), preserve the chronology by suggesting the 144,000 who are sealed “are next seen in heaven wearing white robes” 1Grant Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 316. The obvious concern with the “recapitulation” view is there are no controlling parameters. We can mix and match texts to make our preferred view (or timeline) work.
Third, we detected an apparent inconsistency in Gill’s position, which is unusual for Gill. Human creatures wearing “white robes” are mentioned earlier in Revelation 6:9-11. There, Gill sees them as a different group entirely: namely, martyrs slain before the 6th seal is opened. I suppose Gill might argue that those seen in Revelation 6 ultimately join those in Revelation 7 in the Millennial Kingdom, but it doesn’t completely solve the dilemma. Revelation 6:9-11 “seems” to delineate these blood martyrs from non-martyred Christians who might have passed away of natural causes or otherwise. There are ways around this, I suppose; but we have to dance around it, and dancing rarely aligns with sound exegesis.
Gill certainly has given us some things to ponder. We appreciate his more exegetical approach to this paragraph than his usual “prophetic history” approach, which sees the vision as representing Emperor Constantine’s victorious, pro-Christian reign. A glimpse of the Millennial Kingdom in Revelation 7:9-17 is not outside the realm of possibility, yet we are not entirely convinced. His view will trigger other interpretational decisions which we will come to in due time.
|1||Grant Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 316.|