I know some people think that the visions in Revelation 20 are a chronological continuation of the one at the end of chapter 19, while others think that the visions in chapter 20 are a re-framing and recapitulation of the visions before it. Is there anyway to tell from the text how these visions relate to one another?
First, there is an incongruity between the narrative at the end of 19 and at the start of 20 that should be observed. The visions in 19:11-21 culminate with the death and destruction of the nations.
19:15 - Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.
19:17b-18 - Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.
19:21 - The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
(NIV 2011, emphasis mine)
We see these from these verses that by the time the rider on the white horse is finished, all that is left of the nations is the corpses on which the birds of the air gorge themselves. Yet, when we come to the next vision in 20:3, an angel is locking up Satan "to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore." If all the nations have just been destroyed in the coming of the white rider, it's hard to see much purpose in keeping them from being deceived. This suggest then, that this vision in 20:1-3 is not meant to be taken chronologically after the one in 19:11-21.
Second, there is a strong congruence between the battle in 19:11-21 and 20:7-10, suggesting that they are one and the same battle. For instance, both of these battles share a common structure:
- The nations are gathered as armies by a member of the anti-trinity (19:19; 20:7)
- Destruction comes down from heaven and destroys the armies (19:17,21; 20:9)
- The members of the anti-trinity are thrown in the lake of fire (19:20; 20:10)
But even more apparent is that both of these battles seem to share Ezekiel 38-39 as a background text. There, the prophet is told to prophecy "against Gog, the land of Magog" (cf. Rev. 20:8). In that prophecy we see that the people of many nations were gathered as a great army advancing against the mountains of Israel (Ezek. 38:7-9). In verses 15-16 of chapter 38, the armies come riding against God's people on horses (cf. Rev. 19:19, "of horses and their riders"). God tells Ezekiel to prophecy against Gog in 39:4-6, "I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds" (cf. Rev. 19:18,21) and that, "I will send fire on Magog" (cf. Rev. 20:9). Again in Ezekiel 39:17-20 God promises a great supper for the birds much like in Revelation 19.
Both the chapter 19 battle and the chapter 20 battle seem to rely heavily on the prophecies in Ezekiel as a background text. I conclude, therefore, that the battles depicted in 19:11-21 and in 20:7-10 are in fact one and the same battle: a once more cataclysmic shaking of the earth at the end of the age.
Given, therefore, the incongruity between the end of 19 and the start of 20, it seems best not to read the visions in 20 as a chronological continuation of the ones in 19. And given the congruence between the two battles, it therefore seems best to see the visions in chapter 20 as a re-framing and recapitulation of the visions that precede it.