Our passage this morning has been called one of the most "hotly debated" sections of the entire Bible (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, p. 972). Leon Morris says, "There have been endless disputes, some of them very bitter, over the way to understand this chapter" (Revelation, p. 227). Another scholar refers to these 10 short verses, in Revelation 20, as "a war zone" (Gordon J. Spykman, Reformed Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics, p. 531). I think this is a somewhat fitting description because it really does, unfortunately, divide believers.
And while there are many thingsabout the Millennium that Christians differ over, the battle line that keeps us apart begins with the question of what, specifically, John meant by the term, "a thousand years?"
The popular Millennial systems of our day present us with two options in answer to this question:
A) The "thousand years" of Revelation 20 is a literal one thousand year period of time. This is approach of Premillennialism and Old-School Postmillennialism, or
B) The "thousand years" of Revelation 20 is symbolic of a much longer period of time. This is the approach of Amillennialism and Modern Postmillennialism.
So, which view is correct? Is it a literal "thousand years," or is the phrase really a massive understatementfor a period of time that is actually much longerthan a literal "thousand years?" My own answer to this question is: c) none of the above.Rather than choosing one side or the other in this "war zone" (as it's been called), I'd like to suggest that this is one of those "wars" in which bothsidesare wrong.
WHAT IF THERE'S A THIRD APPROACH?
The question I'd like to ask this morning is: What if neither conventional approach to the time length of the Millennium is right to begin with? What if there is another choice that's rarely even been considered? Another way to look at the "thousand years" of Revelation 20? What if there's a third option?
An option that better comports with Revelation's own time-statements in particular, and the Bible's own over-all usage of large numbers in general? To even begin to think about such a possibility is difficult because we're accustomed to approaching the text with the popular systems of our day floating around in the back of our heads.
PUTTING OURSELVES IN THE POSITION OF THE ORIGINAL AUDIENCE
We tend to forget that the original recipients of John's letter would have never heard of Pre-, Post-, or A-millennialism. With that in mind, I'd like us to place ourselves in their shoes and imagine we're hearing these words for the very first time. Revelation chapter one, verse one: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His Bond-Servants, the things which must shortly take place…"
As an original recipient of the letter, would you even begin to imagine that the prophecy you're hearing concerns itself with events that would take place in the far-distant future, thousands of years after you've passed away? This seems unlikely. The events were to take place "shortly." In fact, it says they "must" take place shortly. David Bentley Hart, in his very literal translation, renders the phrase this way: "the things must occur extremely soon." Revelation 1:3 reinforces this, stating that "the time is near," and revelation 3:11 says He is coming "quickly." This sets the tone for the entire book and all the prophecies it contains.
Furthermore, these time statements, in the opening words of the prophecy, are repeated for us in the closing words of the prophecy, in the final chapter. Revelation 22:6 reiterates that the events spoken of "must shortly take place." In 22:7, John repeats the fact that Jesus is "coming quickly" and, in 22:10, it is re-emphasized that "the time is near." What Johns says in the early chapters, then, is echoed in the final chapter. The repetition of these time-statements brackets the prophecy like bookends, and it's difficult to see any textual justification for removing any portion of the prophecy "from this bookshelf" (so to speak). Everything in the Book of revelation, is sandwiched between the bookends of Revelation.
And this includes the events that conclude and close the Millennium: The loosing of Satan to once again deceive the nations, the Battle of Gog & Magog, fire coming down from heaven to consume God's enemies, the final judgment and the inauguration of the New Heavens and New Earth. These are all things which "must occur extremely soon," in the first century.
This is all strengthened by the words of Revelation 1:19, which reads: "Write the things which you have seen, and the things that are, and the things that are about to come after these things."
Joseph M. Vincent II puts it well, when he says: "If this period of time (the millennium) is supposed to last for a very long period of time (thousands of years or more), yet all of the things in the book were to be fulfilled soon (including the judgment and new creation), how could the millennium extend beyond John's day or the immediate future?" (The Millennium Past, Present, or Future? A Biblical Defense of the 40 Year Transition Period, pp. 97-98). Vincent's conclusion is hard to ignore if the time texts are to be taken seriously. Therein lies the problem: Are we taking them seriously?
Sadly, many today have, more or less, made a joke out of what these words mean. For example, with regard to Yeshua coming "quickly," you'll often here that this is not a chronological indicator telling the reader when He'll return, but a qualitative indicator describing how He'll return. In other words, the events of the Lord's Return will happen really fast, whenever they finally do begin to take place (Paul Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, Kindle Edition, Location 2737; Tommy Ice, HAS BIBLE PROPHECY ALREADY BEEN FULFILLED? by Thomas Ice (ldolphin.org)).
ALLOWING THESE TERMS TO DEFINE THEMSELVES
Amazingly, Acts 22:18 is often used as an example to justify this approach:
Acts 22:18 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
And I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.'
In this passage, Yehsua is telling Paul: "Get out of Jerusalem and get out now!" He's clearly NOT telling him: "Go ahead and stay in Jerusalem as long as you want, just make sure you move really fast once you finally do decide to leave." The urgency of the moment is obviously what is at stake in this passage. And it's really a distinction without a difference when you try to parse the HOWof the action with the WHEN of the action.
Furthermore, if this interpretation is correct, and Yeshua's coming "quickly" only refers to the HOW of the action, and not the WHEN of the action, what possible comfort would this have been, for the suffering and persecuted Christians in the first century? "Don't worry, relief is coming. It's over 2,000 years away but, when it finally does come (long after your dead and gone), things will finally begin to ‘move really fast?'" Rather than comforting them, this does the opposite. It actually mocks their situation, if you really think about it.
THE TIME IS "NEAR"
Attempts to deal with the word "near" suffer similar distortions of meaning.
For example, Vern Poythress recognizes the fact that Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 "are like bookends enclosing the whole prophecy of Revelation. The fulfillment of everything, not just a part, is near." So far so good. Unfortunately, however, he sees this "nearness of time" in terms of a "carnival."
"Think of a carnival," he says. "People using a sledgehammer try to propel a weight up to hit the bell at the top. The rising of the weight is like the rising of…persecution and antichrist activity. The weight gets near to the top, that is, near to the Second Coming. It may rise and fall several times before someone finally succeeds in ringing the bell. Likewise, there may be many crises before the end, and each is nearer to the Second Coming" (The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (frame-poythress.org)).
While this is clever and ingenious, it's doubtful that John's original readers would have "thought of a carnival" when he told them the time is "near." More to the point, this just isn't how this word is used. For example, in the Gospels, when it says, "the Passover was near" (John 2:13), it doesn't mean every generation gets nearer and nearer to the Passover as time goes on. It means the Passover was right around the corner. In like manner, Christ's coming was "right around the corner." The "carnival analogy" just doesn't work, obviously, so other writers come up with different ways to try and get around the time texts.
Steven Whitsett, for example, completely abandons the idea that time that was "near" or "soon" was the time of the prophecy's fulfillment. According to Whitsett, it was simply the time to read and hear the prophecy that was "near." He writes: "The place in time is now, or here right now to read the words and hear the message …This does not imply ‘soon' is the time these events are going to happen …" (The Cold Case Against Full Preterism: AKA Realized Eschatology, pp. 55-56).
So basically, according to Whitsett, John is writing to seven, first-century churches, and he's telling them to hurry up and read about these things that have nothing whatsoever to do them or their current situation. So, you have to ask: what would even be the point of reading it in the first place? Why would it be so urgentand so necessary that they immediately know about things that aren't even going to happen for another 2,000 years or more? More to the point: Why would they even care? How is it even relevant to their current situation?
Again, we need to place ourselves in the position of the original audience and ask: What would the words "quickly" and "near" mean to me, as a first-century believer who is receiving this letter from John?
"SHORTLY" IS INCOMPATABLE WITH EVEN 70 YEARS
Having said that, another thing we'd understand, as original readers of John's letter who are familiar with the Old Testament, is that a term such as "shortly" is incompatible with a period of even 70 years – much less 1,000 or more. We would instantly know that the "thousand years" of Revelation 20 must, not only be symbolic, but symbolic of a much shorter period of time.
Speaking during the time of the Babylonian Exile, the Prophet Jeremiah says:
Jeremiah 27:16 (NASB)
16 Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, "Thus says the Lord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who prophesy to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the Lord's house will now shortly be brought again from Babylon'; for they are prophesying a lie to you.
Jeremiah 29:9-10 (NASB)
9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,' declares the Lord.
10 "For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.
Did you catch that? A period of 70 years or more is incompatible with a term such as "shortly." It's absolutely imperative that we grasp this point: According to the Prophet Jeremiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, events prophesied to happen "shortly" must, at the very least – the absolute bare minimum- be less than 70 years in the future. Unless God suddenly switched gears in the New Testament, it would behoove us to assume His standards have not changed.
This being the case then, let me just say: If our understanding of the events of The Book of Revelation cannot accommodate a first century fulfillment, I would suggest that it's our understanding that needs adjustment; not the text of Scripture. We shouldn't manipulatethe time texts because they don't comport with some elaborate scheme we've created. You don't make Scripture fit your system; you make your system fit Scripture.
In light of Revelation's own time statements, and the placement of those time statements within the Book Itself, I would maintain that the "thousand years" of Revelation 20 cannot possibly be a literal thousand years. And, the idea that the term is symbolic of an even longer period of time only compounds the problem and makes it worse! The very context of Revelation itself constrains us to understand the term, "a thousand years," as hyperbolic of what was, in reality, a much shorter period of time.
With regard to this, most of us who take Revelation's time- texts seriously, and understand those time-texts to include the Millennium, interpret the "thousands years" of Revelation 20 as symbolic hyperbole of the 40-year period extending from the time of Yeshua's earthy ministry, and His binding of the strongman in AD 26, to the outbreak of the Roman-Jewish War in AD 66. In Revelation 20, the Millennium beginswith the binding of Satan and ends with a war. So, the circumstances of AD 26 to 66 really do seem to fit the demands of Scripture rather nicely.
THE HYPERBOLIC INTERPRETATION UNDER FIRE
Having said that, however, those of us who do understand the "thousand years" in this manner, as hyperbole for what was in reality only 40 years,have come under fire for "minimalizing" the Millennium, and "diminishing" its significance. For example, Peter J. Leithart writes: "…the ‘hyper-preterist' must reduce the Millennium of Revelation 20 to a symbolic description of a forty-year period …Whatever the difficulties of Revelation 20, one clear conclusion is that the ‘thousand years' symbolizes a significant period of time. When not used literally, the number one thousand is used consistently to describe things that are literally far more than one thousand…It is nonsense to use ‘one thousand years' to symbolize a generation" (Leithart, Peter J..The Promise Of His Appearing: An Exposition Of Second Peter [pp. 6-7], Canon Press. Kindle Edition).
Pastor Brain Schwertley conures. He says:
"The full preterist cannot adequately explain the description of the millennium in Revelation 20. The term ‘a thousand' can be used two ways. It can be either literal, or symbolic of a very long indefinite time. The full preterist chronology explicitly contradicts Scripture; it is impossible. The 1000 years cannot be explained away." The Full Preterist view of the Millennium is, according to Pastor Schwetley, "especially absurd" (Full Preterism Refuted (reformedonline.com) P. 8).
There are plenty more quotes like this, but you get the idea. It is simply not acceptable, according to our critics in the Religious Establishment, to understand the "thousand years" as symbolic of a much shorter period of time. For them, hyperbole is just nota valid approach, regardless of what Revelation's own time statements clearly and unequivocally say.
SOME UNBIASED QUOTATIONS
So, how do we respond to this?
First, I'd like to point out that, when scholars don't have an ax to grind with Full Preterism, they have absolutely no problem whatsoever conceding that the "thousand years" of Revelation does not automatically indicate a period of long duration in time. Case in point: Dave Mathewson, in the JOURNAL OF EVAGELICAL THEOLOGY (2001), writes:
"As most commentaries recognize, what is important about the number one thousand (χίλια) is its symbolic value. It emphasizes not so much the duration of the millennium but its character…Thus, what is important is not a duration of time … Consequently, to conclude that the one thousand years refers to a literal period of one thousand years, or even to ‘a very long period of indeterminate length' is in fact premature" (Mathewson, A RE-EXAMINATION OF THE MILLINNIUM IN REV 20 1-6, pp. 246-247).
Even G.K Beale, has stated: "The primary point of the 1000 years is probably not to connote figuratively a long time but the thematic idea of the ultimate victory of Christians who have suffered" (Beale, John's use of the OT in Rev, p. 388).
Now I don't want to misrepresent either of these scholars. In the end, they're both going to argue that the "thousand years" is in fact "a long duration of time." But their point is that it's illegitimate to come to that conclusion automatically, based upon the "thousand year" symbol itself and/or the usage of the word "thousand." If this is the case, the hyperbolic view cannot be automatically ruled out or immediately dismissed. There is nothing inherent about the term "a thousand years" that necessitates understanding it as long duration of time. That might seem odd to us today, but we are far removed from the ancient world and the literary devices that ancient writers used.
Having said this, I would suggest that, not only is the hyperbolic understanding of large numbers Scripturally legitimate (having strong precedent in the Old Testament), but this is exactly what John's original audience would have assumed precisely because they were familiarwith their Old Testament, as John expects them to be! Our problem today is we're not! Hyperbolic numbers are literally all over the place in the Hebrew Bible.
THE ORIGINAL EXODUS EVENT (EXODUS 12:37)
Let's start by going all the way back to the original Exodus event. Exodus 12:37 says: "And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children." Verse 38 adds that a "mixed multitude went with them, along with flocks and herds, and a very large number of livestock."
Eugene Carpenter, in his Exodus Commentary, writes: "The number of persons involved is huge, so huge in fact that it has tried the genius of exegetes for centuries as to how to interpret the figure of 600,000 men on foot, apart from children, women, and other men of various age groups" (Eugene Carpenter, Exodus 1-18: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, [Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA, 2016] p. 469). The "huge problem" caused by this "huge number," that Carpenter speaks of, can be illustrated many different ways.
What Would they have to Fear?
First and foremost, The Book of Numbers tells us that these 600,000 men, who left Egypt were, "from 20 years old and upward, who were able to go out and fight in war" (Num. 1:3, 45). Exodus 13:18 informs us that they were armed and ready for battle. History informs us that the Egyptian Army "of this time was comprised of just under "twenty thousand" soldiers (IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, p. 86).
And yet Exodus 14:10 says the Sons of Israel were "very afraid" of this army, whom they vastly outnumbered? As Cornelius Houtman points out, in his commentary, it is indeed strange that Israel would "fear Pharaoh's relatively small army" if in fact they had a fighting force of 600,000. (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament: Exodus. P. 70).
In other words, what's the problem? The IVP Bible Background Commentary puts it this way: "What would they have to fear?" (P. 88). Think about it, if that number, 600,000 fighting men (armed and ready for battle), was literal, Moses should have just told Pharaoh: "We're leaving now, and you're welcome to try and stop us!"
Now, the most common answer to this is that, even though the Hebrew fighting force vastly outnumbered Pharaoh's army, the Hebrews were "untrained" and "inexperienced," and the Egyptians had better weapons.https://www.biblehub.com/exodus/14-10.htm. Well, the Hebrews outnumbered the Egyptians 30 to 1 if the "600,000" figure is literal. Unless the Egyptians had machine guns, these are just impossible odds (I don't care what kind of weapons they had). And the better commentaries recognize this. They're honest with the data.
Six Hundred Thousand Men Yields a Total Population of 3 Million!
Second, assuming these 600,000 young able-bodied men had only one wife, that number doubles to 1,200,000 people total. If each couple only had 3 children, we need to add an additional 1,800,000 to the 1,200,000, for a grand total of 3 million people at the time of the Exodus, at the very least! Remember, the original 600,000 figure doesn't include the elderly and the mixed multitude that went with them. Thus, Nahum Sarna, in his Exodus commentary, states that the initial number, 600,000, "poses intractable problems" and raises "serious questions" (The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, p. 62).
Just to put this into perspective, here's aerial photograph of only a small portion of an actual crowd of three million people, attending a Catholic Mass led by the Pope in 2013. This took place at Copacabana beach, and it's regarded as "one of the largest human gatherings in history" (Rabbi Michael S. Bar-Ron, (9.1-FINAL-THE-GOOD-TORAH-SENSE-OF-THE-ALPHA-ELEPH.pdf (torathmoshe.com), p. 3).
Rabbi Michael S. Bar-Ron, in the making the comparison to the Exodus event, notes "that the group," listening to the Pope, "is clustered tightly together for a prayer service. They're not there to march or encamp. A fleeing Israelite nation of that size would include an equivalent number of animals, tents and supplies. To march, the group would need about four times the space compared to the congregation at Copacabana beach. To encamp, you would need much more" space than that.
Rabbi Bar-Ron also makes the point that the movie screens and massive speaker systems were insufficient for the gathered masses to see and hear the pope. "What was the sound system of the nation of Israel in the desert?" he asks. "Two silver trumpets." His point? How could such a sound be heard by 3 million people with no amplification? So hearing the number, 3 million people, is one thing. To visualizeit, and put it into perspective, is quite another.
Lack of Archeological Evidence
A third major problem with taking the 600,000 figure literally (yielding a total population of 2-3 million) is identified in the Faith Life Study Bible, which says "these figures are difficult to reconcile with …. the archaeological record…" (Q: NBP 271, Transcript, p. 5). This is putting it mildly.
As scholar Lester L. Grabbe notes: "No event of the size and extent of the exodus could have failed to leave significant archaeological remains… According to the book of Numbers (10:11; 12:16; 13:26; 20:1, 22; 33:36) much of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was spent near Kadesh Barnea. This and related sites in Sinai and southern Palestine should yield ample evidence of a large population in this region." He notes, however, that the area has been "extensively excavated … Yet we find nothing" ("Exodus and History," in The Book of Exodus, Dozeman, Evans and Lohr, Ed., pp. 79-80).
The IVP Bible Background Commentary concurs: "…if a couple of million people lived in the wilderness for 40 years, and half of them died there, archeologists expect they would find at least some traces of them – especially in places like Kadesh Barnea where they stayed for some time" (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, p. 88).
The Logistics of the Trek
A fourth major problem, with understanding 600,000 literally in this passage, would be the simple matter of logistics and the trek they would have taken. Again, this is from The IVP Bible Background Commentary: "As it traveled, the line of people would stretch for over two hundred miles. Even without animals, children and the elderly, travelers would not expect to make twenty miles a day…When families and animals move camp, the average would be only six miles per day. Whatever the case, the back of the line would be at least a couple of weeks behind the front of the line. This would create" serious "difficulties in the crossing of the sea" which is said "to have been accomplished overnight" (P. 88). Basically, the front of the line would have reached Mount Sinai long before the back of the line had even finished crossing the Red Sea!
They're Not Building Skyscrapers: 49 Square Miles (Numbers 33:49)
Fifth, the problem goes much deeper than the lack of archeological evidence or the impossibility of 3 million people making this trek so quickly. According to Numbers 33:49, "They camped by the Jordan, from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab." A note in the Faith-Life Study Bible says that, "Beth-jeshimothand Abel-shittim were approximately seven miles from each other, the area of the Israelite encampment then would have been about 49 square miles" (Q: NBP 271, p.7).
Did you hear that? 49 square miles! You have to fit 2-3 million people, plus all their animals, in 49 square miles in a livable way.
The Faith Life Study Bible continues: "By comparison, New York City (with a population of 8.1 million in 2010) covers 305 square miles. Taking the number 2–3 million at face value therefore requires that the Israelite camp had a greater population density than New York City— without any multi-level living accommodations" (Q: NBP 271, p.7).
In other words, they're not building skyscrapers. They're not in high-rise apartments. They're not even building two-story houses. They're in tents. They're on the ground. All of them. Three million people and all their livestock.
New York City has a population density of about 27,000 people per square mile. If you do the math, the Israelite encampment in Numbers 33:49 would yield a population density of about 61,000 people per square mile!
The only thing that makes the population density of places like New York City, Paris and Hong Kong even possibletoday is our modern way of living in the structures that we build. This was just not in the picture back then.
Trying to Fit Texas into New Jersey!
Finally, add to all of this the fact that Deuteronomy 7:7 informs us that Israel was the least numerous nationin Canaan at the time of the conquest. It lists 7 other nations that were larger(Deut. 7:1-6).
Michael Heiser illustrates the problem: "This means that if the figures in Numbers (and Exodus) are to be taken literally, the total population of these eight nations collectively would have had to range from 16 to 24 million people, roughly the 2010 population of Florida or Texas, respectively. The size of Canaan, however, is closer to that of New Jersey than either of these two states." Heiser continues: "So, take the whole population of Texas and stick it in New Jersey and assume that every square foot of it is livable, and you can see the problem. New Jersey is about 35 times smaller than Texas. There's just not enough room. And you need water, so you can't just have every square foot occupied. You have cattle. Where are they going to go? Are you riding them the whole time? Can you imagine the human and animal waste?" (Remember this is before sewage systems) "It's ridiculous to imagine this at these numbers," continues Heiser, "There literally isn't the square footage—the square mileage—in this place that we call Canaan to have eight nations, the smallest of which is roughly three million people" (NBP 271, Transcript, p. 6).
What all of this Means
So, what does all of this mean?
What all of this means is that this original number back in Exodus 12:37, six hundred thousandfighting men on foot, cannot possibly be literal. Whatever the real number was, it was much, much smaller. In fact, in Genesis 15:16, Abraham is told that his descendants would return to the land of Canaan in four generations. John Wenham did the math here and, if the birthrate "quadruples the population every generation, we should get" somewhere between 17 and 18 thousand "in four generations" (LARGE NUMBERS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, Tyndale Bulletin 18  , p. 28). It goes without saying, this is a far cry from 3,000,000.
It seems rather clear, then, that the Biblical Writer, in Exodus 12:37, is clearly using hyperbole. And, this isn't the only time this is going to happen in the pages of the Old Testament. In fact, this is just the beginning. Examples abound.
Number of Enemies Slain
Take for instance, the number of enemies slain in many passages. Judges 12:6 is a good case-in-point. According to the passage, 42,000 Ephraimites are slain at the River Jordan for mispronouncing the word "Shibboleth." Now, I'm not entirely sure I'm pronouncing that right, so I'm glad I'm not living back then! Anyway, scholars point out the problem here: the census total for the tribe of Ephraim, back in Numbers 26, is only 32,500. Heiser puts it this way: "You really can't kill more people than actually exist" (NBPC 271, p. 8). (Sources: David Fouts, A DEFENSE OF THE HYPERBOLIC INTERPRETATION OF LARGE NUMBERS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, p. 378; Michael Heiser, Naked Bible Podcast, Episode 271).
David Fouts notes that, "Even" if we allow "for an increase" in the "Ephraimite warrior population" between the book of Numbers and the book of Judges, this "does not alleviate the problem of the enormity of the number of those slain" (Dissertation, p. 378).To put what David Fouts is saying here into perspective, 42,000 slain is almost 10,000 more than the total amount of US Combat Deaths in the entire Korean War and only about 5,000 less than Vietnam. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war ).
With this in mind, consider 2 Chronicles 28:6, where Pekah, the son of Remaliah kills 120,000 in Judah in one day, for following Ahaz, the King of Judah, in forsaking the Lord. To get some perspective on this, think about the fact that it took an atomic bomb to kill 80,000 people in one day in Nagasaki!
As Raymond Dillard says, in his commentary on 2 Chronicles: "The numbers of the dead…are higher than is historically probable…" and "would amount to the complete depopulation of Judah." Thus, Dillard says, "…it appears…that the Chronicler intends to be using these large numbers…as hyperbole.." (Dillard, Raymond B., 2 Chronicles, Volume 15 [Word Biblical Commentary], p. 222. Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition).Again, your better commentaries are just honest with the data.
A Really Long Wall
Another Example: In 1 Kings 20:29, we are told that "7,000 sons of Israel" (vs. 15) killed "100,000 Aramean foot soldiers in one day." Now, if these numbers are literal, the Israelites were pretty tough indeed! And this has to make you wonder: If 100,000 foot-soldiers are no problem for 7,000 fighting Israelites, how on earth could Pharaoh's small army of 20,000 have posed any sort of a threat for the 600,000 fighting Hebrews when they were leaving Egypt back in Exodus? In the ratio in 1 Kings, you have every one Israelite taking down 14 Arameans each but, back in Exodus, thirty Israelites couldn't handle one Egyptian?
The real problem, however, comes in the next verse. It says an additional 27,000 Arameans were killed when they fled to the City of Aphek and a "wall fell on them." Now, that had to "be a really long wall to kill this many people." (Michael Heiser, NBPC 271, Transcript, p. 9). Those who've done the Math point out that we're looking a structure comparable to The Great Wall of China (A DEFENSE OF THE HYPERBOLIC INTERPRETATION OF LARGE NUMBERS, p. 379).Again, we're obviously looking at an embellished, exaggerated and hyperbolic number. There is simply no archeological evidence of a wall this large, at any time, in this area, much less an entire city big enough for such a wall to surround!
Solomon's Great Sacrifice
It's very easy to simply gloss over many of these large numbers, and pay lip serviceto interpreting them literally, no matter what. Our problem is all-to-often that we read the numbers, but we don't take time to run the numbers. When you do, it literally becomes impossible to take these impossible numbers literally!
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than Solomon's Great Sacrifice on the Day of Dedication of the House of the Lord. According to 1 Kings 8:62-63, and the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 7:5, Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. And 1 Kings indicates that it all took place in a single day. This is total of 142,000 animals sacrificed in one day.
Ed Walsh has a post on the PuritanBoard.Com, called: "Some Facts in the Bible Bother Me." Walsh is a civil construction estimator by trade. So, working with numbers, and total area, is what he does for a living (Some Facts in the Bible Bother Me - Example: 2 Chronicles 7:5 | The Puritan Board ).And Walsh puts this in perspective for us: The area of Solomon's Temple itself was about 1/3 of an acre, and an acre of land will fill 2/3 of a modern football field. So, this is basically this what we're looking at if we compare Solomon's Temple to a modern football field.
Having said that, it would take over a hundred football fields to contain the 142,000 sheep and oxen waiting to be sacrificed. The sheer amount of animal flesh after the sacrifices is staggering to even think about. Walsh writes: "Assuming an average weight for oxen at 1,000 pounds and 200 pounds for sheep," that's 46,000,000 pounds of sacrificed animal flesh! The total blood volume would be over 400,000 gallons. That's enough to fill three hundred and sixty-two 26 foot above ground pools.
Aside from this, think about the time factor involved here. In a 24-hour period, almost 2 animals would have been sacrificed per second. Some scholars, seeing the problem here, try and stretch the whole thing out over an extended period of time. And that extended period of time period varies from scholar. The longest of which, however, would still "require twenty sacrifices a minute, for ten hours a day, for twelve days." So that's as far as you can stretch it, and it still doesn't alleviate the problem.
Dillard, in his commentary, interacts with some of this and simply concludes by stating: "…the Chronicler probably intends these figures as hyperbole," and he simply moves on to the next verse. Dillard does this because it's patently obvious that, if we insist on taking these large numbers literally, we have a real problem. And no amount of extended time, or complex calculations, really resolves the problem (Dillard, Raymond B, 2 Chronicles, Volume 15 [Word Biblical Commentary], p. 57, Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition)
The Chronicler's Numbers
Further exasperating this "problem" is the way in which the Chronicler handles many of these large numbers in comparison with parallel accounts elsewhere in the Bible. All too often, the Chronicler's numbers not only don't match what the other Biblical Writers record, but he inflates them even further.
For example, in 2 Samuel 8:4 David captures 1,700 horsemen, but in 1 Chronicles 18:4 the number is 7,000 horsemen. In 2 Samuel 10:18, David kills 700 charioteers, but in 1 Chronicles 19:18 the number is again 7,000. In 1 Kings 7:26, Solomon's house could hold 2,000 baths, but in 2 Chronicles 4:5, it's 3,000 baths. In 2 Samuel 24:9, Joab's census has the "number of valiant men in Israel" at 800,000, while the Chronicler puts the number at "1,100,000" (1 Chronicles 21:5).
What these last examples show is that the literal approach to these numbers is simply not an option because it would make the Bible contradict Itself.
WHAT ARE THE BIBLICAL WRITERS DOING?
So, at this point, we have to ask ourselves: What are the Biblical Writers doing? Exactly WHAT is going on in these passages? Are they being intentionally deceptive? If that were the case, they wouldn't be very competent deceivers, would they? The very people they're writing TO, are the same they're writing ABOUT!
Thus, John Wenham, asks the question: "…who would make up figures which are so patently absurd?" He makes this modern comparison: "Would any man in his senses (today) invent a story of a bus crash in which 16,000 passengers were killed?" (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans' Handbook to the Bible, p. 191.)
Just like we all know today that 16,000 people aren't going to die in a bus crash, or that you can't fit the entire population of Texas into the state of New Jersey, in any sort of realistic or livable way, they would have surely known that you can't fit 24,000,000 people into the land of Canaan, or three million people into an area of only 49 square miles. They would have surely known that you can't kill more people than actually exist, that there was no wall big enough to fall on 27,000 men, and it's impossible to sacrifice 142,000 animals in one day.
The ancient people weren't ignorant. They weren't stupid. They could comprehend, both, numbers and geography. They knew where they lived and how big it was. They were aware of their surroundings.
So, deliberate deception can't possibly be the aim here because no one in the ancient world would have bought it. Something else must be going on here. And indeed, there is.
A Common Rhetorical Device in the Ancient World
David Fouts has done much research in this area and, as it turns out, embellishing or exaggerating numbers in this manner was actually a very common rhetorical device in the ancient world. Mathematical accuracy wasn't the aim at all, and literate readers of the time were actually expecting numeric hyperbole (JOURNAL OF THE EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY : A DEFENSE OF THE HYPERBOLIC INTERPRETATION OF LARGE NUMBERS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT). https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-3/40-3-pp377-387_JETS.pdf
Fouts cites numerous examples where large numbers are employed, in a hyperbolic fashion, in the epic literature of the ancient world. For example, an Assyrian war text, dating around 1300 BC, speaks of one of their warriors, with only an army of 90 chariots plundering 254,000 men (Dissertation, pp. 81-82). In an Assyrian Banquet inscription, the king boasts of bringing over 69,000 people into his palace at once and feeding and bathing them for 10 days (Dissertation, pp. 88-89).
There is an example of an Elamite warrior who conquers seventy cities in one day. Historians recognize this as a clear example of Ancient Near Eastern hyperbole (L. Lawson Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts, p. 216). Fouts also gives examples of the same sort of thing that's going on in Samuel and Chronicles, where two accounts of the same battle with give different totals: 14,000 warriors slain in one account, but it's 20,500 in the other (Dissertation, pp. 88-89).
Fouts cites a particular Ugartic Text, "The Legend of King Kirtu," who is said to have had "the mightiest army," numbering over three million (Diss. P. 108). To put this into perspective, in our modern world, China has the largest number of active military personal, and it's just barely over 2 million. Ugarit was a Canaanite city and, remember, Canaan is comparable in size to New Jersey. A far cry from the size of China. As Fouts notes, the language of this Ugaritic epic, an army numbering 3 million, is clearly meant to be understood as "hyperbole." (Diss. Pp. 108-109; see also: David M. Fouts, "ANOTHER LOOK AT LARGE NUMBERS IN ASSYRIAN ROYAL INSCRIPTIONS," JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES, Vol. 53, No. 3 [Jul. 1994], p. 209).
Probably the most relevant example of numeric hyperbole, for our purposes here, would be the Sumerian Kings' List…where various kings were said to have had impossibly long reigns, to the tune of 28,000 years, 36,000 years, 43,000 years and so forth. These are just a few examples, Fouts has quite a number of them.
And he makes this observation: "It is evident from a study of the literature available from the Ancient Near East that in the royal inscriptional genres, purposeful embellishment of numbers was the norm rather than the exception" (Dissertation, P. 128). And the point of this purposeful embellishment, the use of these obviously hyperbolic numbers, was to magnify the greatness of the reigning monarch or deity of any given culture. In other words, it was meant to exult the king or god of the people, or nation, of whom the literature was being written about, and for.
Fouts concludes that Scripture is no different than other ancient literature in that it uses large numbers hyperbolically, and that "the ostensible purpose of this usage is to demonstrate the relative magnitude of a given leader or king." "The large numbers are … simply figures of speech employed to magnify King Yahweh, King David, or others in a theologically-driven historiographical narrative."
"The hyperbolic use of numbers in the Old Testament," says Fouts, "anchors the biblical text to the writing conventions of the time" (Fouts, Q: NBP 271, p. 9). Fouts' research demonstrates that the Biblical Writers are using a well "known literary device" of the ancient world "to draw attention to the might of Yahweh, King of all kings, earthly or divine" (Q: NBP 271, p. 10).
Eryl Davies concurs. He writes: "In attributing such large numbers to the Israelites" the Biblical Writer is "merely observing a well-recognized literary convention, which is widely attested" to… "in the literature of the ancient Near East" (A Mathematical Conundrum, p. 467).
There seems to be "little doubt" that the Biblical Writers were simply following "this same literary convention" (p. 468). "The use of such grossly inflated numbers in the Old Testament," continues Davies, was to serve "a specific theological purpose" (p. 467). That purpose being, to signify "the miraculous power of Yahweh" (p. 486), just as other cultures used this exact same literary device to signify the greatness of their king, or god, or whichever servant of that god the text might be speaking. This is what literate readers of the time were expecting.
Consequently, Godawa writes: "It is no heresy, or leap of logic, to conclude that Hebrew scribes would write in a similar genre as those around them when they wanted to glorify their God and their king in comparison" (Godawa, Brian. When Watchers Ruled the Nations: Pagan Gods at War with Israel's God and the Spiritual World of the Bible, p. 89). In other words, if they want to glorify Yahweh, and magnify the accomplishments of His People, of course they're going to do it in a way that comports with the literary conventions of their own time.
Thus, in 1 Samuel 18:7, after David himself had killed just one man, a giant named Goliath, the women of Israel sang … what? They sang: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands!" So, maybe we've been familiar with this ancient literary device all along, we've just never stopped to think about it! (Hyperbole, Preterism, and the Great Tribulation - The American Vision).
WHO IS REALLY MINIMIZING THE MAGNITUDE OF THE MILLENNIUM?
That being said, I take great exception to the charge that we are somehow "reducing" or "diminishing" the Millennium by taking a hyperbolic approach to the thousand-year symbol in Revelation 20. No one would say we're diminishing the magnitude of David's victory over Goliath by conceding the obvious fact the women are using hyperbole in their song. Yet we're somehow diminishing the magnitude of the Millennium by suggesting that John just might be using hyperbole here?
If hyperbole is the way the Biblical writers do it, is it really so "absurd" to suggestthe possibility that John's doing the same thing? And that he's doing it in order to magnify the accomplishment of Christ and His People, in a single generation? Especially when the time texts seem to demand it!
More to the point, I think it's the other approaches that reduce or dimmish the Millennium by not recognizing the use of hyperbole. According to Amillennialism and modern Postmillennialism, it's already taken God 2,000 years and He still hasn't accomplished what was signified in a thousand-year symbol?
Max King put it this way: "There is nothing too impressive about that kind of performance…To need two thousand literal years in order to accomplish a symbolic thousand-year reign is the picture of incompetency, to say the least" (Max King, The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, p. 214).
King makes an excellent point here. Yahweh is not incompetent. Yeshua is not inept.
If the A-Mil or Post-Mil view is correct, it's already taken twice as long (2,000 years) to accomplish what is signified in a 1,000-year symbol. If mankind perseveres for another thousand years, then the symbol will equal 1/3 the actual time being symbolized. If 4,000 years, then ¼ the time. And, so on and so forth. The significance of the symbol diminishes incrementally as time goes on.
Think of it this way: If your boss gives you 8 hours of work to do, and you get it done in less time, that's impressive. If it takes you twice as long, or 3 or 4 times as long, you're going to be looking for another job.
With that in mind, Yeshua gave His Disciples a job to do. After His resurrection, He commissioned 11 men saying: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation" (Mark 15:15). By the time Paul penned his letter to the Colossians, he could say with confidence: "the hope of this Gospel" has been (past tense) "proclaimed in all creation under heaven" (Col. 1:23).
The purpose of the "thousand years" was to bind Satan from deceiving the nations (Rev. 20:3). Yeshua bound the strongman and sent His Apostles out to reclaim those nations; in other words, to bring people from all ethnic groups back into the fold.
They were to let the Gentiles know that they too are welcomed into Yahweh's family. That was their mission, that was their job, and they crushed it! Thus, the magnitude and magnificence of the Millennium is not that it's going to take 2,000, or 3,000, or even 10,000 years or more, to accomplish what is signified in a thousand-year-symbol. This is turning the significance of the symbol on its head.
Who speaks or thinks this way, even today? If I say, "Bill has the strength of ten men," Bill is a pretty strong guy. If I say, "Those ten men have the strength of one man," those are ten pretty weak guys! "Ten" (the larger number) is hyperbolic for "one" (the smaller number). This is how hyperbole works, not the other way around.
If you want to express the fullness, the grandeur, or the greatness of something (in a non-literal way), you overstate it; you don't understate it. The magnitude of the Millennium is that it took Yeshua's first-century followers less than 40 years to accomplish what, by rights, should have taken 1,000 years to accomplish.
So, this approach does not "reduce" Christ's Millennial reign to 40 years, it "recognizes" the enormity of the task that was accomplished in such a small fraction of time, beginning with a small handful of men. It recognizes the status and importance of the first century believers and martyrs, as they reigned at Christ's side, while He was abolishing His enemies and putting them under His Feet. It recognizes the strong Biblical tradition of hyperbole as a means to magnify and glorify the Lord, as He works through and in His People, in order to accomplishes His purposes.
And, finally, this approachrecognizes the time constraints that the Book of Revelation itself places on the fulfillment of the prophesied events it contains. They were "close," "near," and "at hand" in the first century. They were to happen "shortly" and "quickly." They were "about to" to occur. Against that backdrop, Yehsua's first-century followers completed their mission in record time. A "thousand year" accomplishment in 40 short years.
And that, I would propose, is what the "thousand years" of Revelation 20 signifies. I would suggest that John is simply repurposing a well-known and ancient rhetorical device. He's using hyperbole in order to magnify the greatness of Yeshua and the accomplishment of His first-century followers.
So hopefully this has some practical value in terms of apologetics. Critics often use the large numbers in the Old Testament as a stumbling block to accepting the Bible as historically accurate. But the large numbers actually anchor the Biblical text to the writing conventions of the time and, as such, validate its authenticity.
And with respect to the New Testament and the Book of Revelation, the time texts demand a first-century fulfillment. This is something else critics clearly recognize. If John is in fact using hyperbole with regard to the Millennium, the "thousand years" of Revelation 20 poses no problem in this regard.