Revelation 20:2–3: And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and thew him into the pit and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended.
Until now, Gill has said much which pleases the ears of amills, postmills, and many progressive dispensationalists, too. Yet, here, he will upset all three groups. For Gill, several events happen simultaneously at the commencement of the thousand years. It is impossible to determine the precise sequence of events, but I will separate them to discuss. Just know some events will overlap.
The Binding of Satan
Once Revelation 19 ends and all the wicked are slain,1See Gill’s comments on Rev. 20:2. only Satan stands in the way of Christ’s glorious Kingdom. Christ will shackle Satan in the bottomless pit for a thousand years. Many amills and postmills suggest Jesus bound Satan at his first coming. Gill disagrees. He documents Satan’s busy activities throughout history such as: (1) persecuting the apostles in Judea; (2) blinding the Jews to this day; (3) subjugating the Heathen world through the first three centuries; (4) masterminding the mystery of iniquity at work since the apostles’ times; and, (5) unleashing, from the bottomless pit and into the world, Islam and hundreds of false religions. Gill concludes: “[W]hen considered, no man in his senses can ever think that Satan is bound.”2See Gill’s comments on Rev. 20:2.
The First Resurrection
The first resurrection refers to the bodily resurrection of the righteous. It occurs after Armageddon as Christ descends to earth to inherit his Kingdom. Many amills suggest the first resurrection is a spiritual resurrection of the soul at conversion. Gill disagrees for at least three reasons. One, John specifically places this at the commencement of the thousand-year period. Two, the spiritual resurrection is never called the first resurrection. Three, he states:
[I]f the first resurrection is to be understood in a spiritual sense, then the second resurrection of the wicked dead, at the end of the thousand years, must be understood in like manner.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:5
The first resurrection, he concludes, is a bodily resurrection of the righteous at the commencement of the thousand-year reign. The second resurrection, then, is a bodily resurrection of the wicked at the end of the thousand-year reign.
The Post-Tribulation Rapture
Gill suggests the rapture of the existing saints on earth occurs at the same time as the first resurrection. He states:
Christ being descended from heaven, and having bound Satan, and the dead saints being raised, and the living ones changed, he will reign among them personally, visibly, and gloriously, and in the fullest manner.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:4
Progressive dispensationalists jokingly call this a “half” rapture, as the saints are snatched up only to come right back down! Yet, Paul said they will be “caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thess 4:17). There is a purpose for this suspension in the air: namely, to protect them from the great conflagration.
The conflagration is the burning of the present earth to purify its elements, atmosphere, and works from all sin. This is necessary to make it inhabitable for Christ and his glorified saints. Gill passes over this briefly in his commentary, but explains it more fully in his systematic theology. Once the saints are risen and/or raptured, only the wicked who survived Armegeddon remain on earth. They are destroyed by this conflagration fire. Gill states:
[T]he wicked living will be destroyed in the conflagration of the world, and neither of them shall live again until the end of these [thousand] years.John Gill, comments on Revelation 20:5
In his theology text, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, he gets more specific. First, he proves the doctrine of the conflagration from the combined testimony of the Psalms and the OT prophets.3See Psalm 50:3; 97:3–5; Isaiah 24:6, 19, 23; 66:15–16; Zephaniah 1:2–3, 18; Malachi 4:1–3; and more. Next, he points to NT passages which confirm it. Of course, 2 Peter 3:10 is the most vivid description. Last, he concludes this great conflagration is a purification by fire of the old creation. It results in a new (or renovated) heavens and earth:
[T]he present heavens [i.e., atmosphere] and earth will be burnt up before this kingdom takes place; this world is not good enough for the second Adam, and his saints, to dwell in; the curse must be removed from it, and it must be refined.John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, 645
After the thousand years, Gill speculates the new heavens and new earth will act as something of an apartment to the eternal heaven, which remains available for the saints’ enjoyment throughout eternity. His reasoning is: this aligns with many other scriptures which speak of the saints dwelling on and inheriting the earth forever.4See Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, 665.
At this point, I can almost hear the howls of every amill, postmill, and progressive dispensational reader! Personally, I really like Gill’s views here. I hope he’s right. He makes a good faith effort to begin with the OT revelation and trace it through the NT all the way to the book of Revelation. That said, I detect a couple of issues.
First, he takes the thousand years as literal here while he takes other numbers in Revelation as figurative. Remember how he took the 144,000 as “a certain and determinate number for an uncertain and indeterminate one” in Revelation 7:4? In other words, he took 144,000 as a representative number for believers alive during the times of Constantine (between the 6th and 7th trumpets). Here, he states 1,000 is literal. The only justification he cites is that the definite article, “the,” sets it apart as literal.5See Gill’s comments on 20:2. His inconsistency is problematic. I could detect no interpretive controls to these arbitrary assignments.
To that point, Gill demands consistency in other areas. For instance, he suggests that, if the first resurrection (of the righteous) is understood as spiritual, then the second resurrection (of the wicked) must be understood as spiritual, too. It seems like he wants consistency when it’s convenient.
In his defense, Gill likely would turn it around on us. Every view has its interpretational inconsistencies. These jots and tittles aside, though, there is much to like about Gill’s view. First, it’s the simplest and most natural reading of Revelation 20: (1) a first resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of the thousand years; (2) a thousand years in which the saints enjoy the new heavens and new earth; and, (3) a second resurrection of the wicked after the thousand years is over. Second, it is rooted in the Psalms and OT prophets. As we’ve said often, we appreciate how Gill reads the Bible forward, not backward. Third, the timeline matches up nicely with Jesus and the other NT authors as well (Matt 24; 1 Thess 4; 2 Pet 3:10; etc.).
One of my amill friends once exclaimed, “If Revelation 20 weren’t in the Bible, I’d have a lot easier time with my eschatology!” I suppose that holds true for all of us, despite our confidence and bravado in our preferred position. Just about the time we think we have it all figured out . . . God calls to mind an obscure chapter or verse somewhere, which throws a wrench in our seemingly perfect system! All we can do is marvel at the glory of God’s infinite wisdom. This is where we all end up: premill, postmill, amill, progressive dispensational, preterist, and otherwise.
Read Gill’s view. Listen to his reasoning. Keep an open mind. If you disagree with him after that, good. You’ll know his position better; and yours. That is good thing, not a bad one.