Eschatological Confusion Part 3: The Millennium

millennium

In Part 1 we surveyed the issues surrounding eschatology. Part 2 focused on the timing of the rapture. Now in Part 3 we will turn our attention to the millennium.

The “millennium” refers to a one thousand (1,000) year period, more specifically, the 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6.

“1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time.

“4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the people who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years.”

This is the only place in Scripture where the millennium is explicitly mentioned. Scholars find other places they think it might be mentioned, but that is highly debated.

As you can tell from the text of Revelation 20 above, the millennium concerns Satan’s binding and Christ’s and the saints’ reign on earth. The concept of a “reign” carries with it the idea of a kingdom. In this case, that would be the kingdom of God, the good news of which Jesus spent His entire ministry proclaiming (cf. Luke 4:43). Therefore the questions surrounding the millennium are questions surrounding the kingdom of God. The questions are many:

-Have we experienced this kingdom in its fullest sense or is there more to come?

-Is this 1,000 year period literal or figurative?

-When will this period of time begin?

-Could we currently be living in the millennium?

These and more are the questions we will wrestle with in this post.

The Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God has been around since the creation of the world. Adam and Eve had a chance to obey God and make a good kingdom decision, but instead listened to the voice of Satan. Noah did listen to God’s voice and was a part of His kingdom, while the others of his generation were not. In Genesis 12 Abraham was chosen to be the earthly father of this kingdom, eventually leading to the 12 tribes. In Genesis 49:10 it was prophesied that “the scepter will not depart from Judah,” suggesting one from this tribe will be the earthly king over God’s kingdom. This prophecy was realized when King David was installed as king over Israel and it held true as his sons continued to reign over Judah (the southern kingdom) for years to come.

When we fast forward to the New Testament, we learn that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy. Luke 1:32-33 tells us that Jesus (who is from the family line of David) will “be given the throne of His father David” and that “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” God sent Jesus to this earth to be the final and perpetual king of His kingdom. During His earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed this kingdom (Luke 4:43), told parables concerning this kingdom (Luke 13:18-21), performed signs of this kingdom (Luke 7:21-22), and talked of this kingdom’s final and coming consummation (Luke 13:28-29; 22:16).

But when will that consummation be? When will believers experience God’s kingdom in all its fullness? Historically (and to keep it simple), there have been three answers to that question. Premillennialists posit that the end of the seven year tribulation will bring about the millennium, and that after those 1,000 years God’s kingdom will be consummated. Postmillennialists believe we are currently in the millennium, a span of time that will be concluded when Jesus returns and brings the kingdom. Finally, amillennialists suggest that the millennium is not a literal thousand year period, but that it lasts from Christ’s first to second comings.

Premillennialism
There are a few differing types of premillennialism, but I will focus on historic premillennialism. Those from this camp understand the 1,000 year reign of Christ spoken of in Revelation 20 to be literal and believe it will occur after Christ’s second coming and prior to the final consummation of God’s kingdom. Most historic premillennialists also believe in a pretribulation rapture, so here is the way they see the end of time playing out: (1) rapture of the church, (2) seven year tribulation, (3) second coming of Christ, (4) millennial reign of Christ, (5) eternity (kingdom of God fully consummated). This position presents the most literal and straight-forward reading of Revelation 20.

Postmillennialism
The postmillennial position involves the belief that the kingdom of God is currently being extended into the world through the proclamation of the gospel. As a result, the world will eventually be Christianized and enter into a prolonged period of peace and righteousness. As believers fulfill the Great Commission, the kingdom grows and this world is redeemed.

Following this period, Christ will return, setting into action the resurrection, the judgment, and the rest of eternity (the consummation of God’s kingdom). According to this view, the millennium, which involves the reign of Christ over this earth, is not necessarily a future event that will commence after His return, but is something this world may currently be experiencing. As a result, there is no need to believe that the millennium refers to a literal thousand year period.

Postmillennialists have differing views on other events, such as the rapture and the tribulation, but the main thing is that they place the millennium of Revelation 20 before any of them.

Amillennialism
Much like postmillennialists, amillennialists do not believe that the 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20 is literal. As apocalyptic literature, the book/letter of Revelation uses symbolism to convey its message, therefore suggesting it cannot be understood literally (as the premillennialist understands it). Here is an amillennialist’s interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6:

Christ’s birth and death is what bound Satan, what secured the victory over sin and death for all believers. Yet that victory is not yet fully realized. Satan still has some say in this world, but he can no longer keep people from believing the good news of Jesus Christ. These earthly events are what Revelation 20:1-3 depicts. Moving on to the next three verses, which take place in heaven during this time period, we see people sitting on thrones and reigning with Christ. In these verses the word resurrection does not refer to a literal and bodily resurrection but to the fact that believers who die are not really dead, for their souls are in heaven with Christ. This first resurrection refers to a believer’s spiritual resurrection immediately following death. “The rest,” who do not come alive until the end of this unspecified period of time, are all the non-believers, whose end will be the second death and the lake of fire. But for all those who experienced the first resurrection, they will also experience the second one (which will be a bodily resurrection), and the second death will have no power over them. This refers to the fact that all believers will be made alive and transformed and will reign with Christ forever.

Because they do not hold to a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ, amillennialists have differing perspectives on other eschatological events.

Where Do I Stand?
I hope that I am never forced to choose between any of these positions because I have difficulties with each of them. They each have elements with which I agree and disagree, or at least question. So instead of naming the view I hold to, let me briefly sketch the conclusion I have come to.

Christ’s first coming, including His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, ushered the kingdom of God onto this earth in a way it had never been experienced before. When He ascended into heaven, He did not take the kingdom with Him. It is still here for you and I and Jesus is still the King, ruling and reigning from the Father’s right hand. Therefore the kingdom is a present reality; it has been realized in some sense. We can experience its power here and now on this earth. Yet there is more to come. The kingdom has not reached its full potential (it has not been fully consummated/experienced). There is no doubt that Satan still has some say in the matter. Christ’s death and resurrection won the war, but there are still some battles to be fought.

At some point, believers will reign with Christ. In my book Revelation 20:4-6 makes that clear. The question, though, is two-fold: how and when will they reign? Will this be a literal 1,000 year reign that will take place after Christ returns? Or is this a symbolic rule taking place now in which living believers serve as Christ’s vice-regents on this earth and sleeping believers reign with Him from heaven? Obviously the answer depends on your interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, which depends on the hermeneutic (method of interpretation) used.

As the amillennial position points out, Revelation is highly symbolic and cannot always be interpreted literally. If I absolutely had to make a decision, I would choose to understand the millennium as symbolic. Satan is currently bound and believers are currently reigning with Christ. At some point Satan will be released (Rev. 20:3, 7-8), which could possibly begin the tribulation. After the tribulation, which will be limited because of the elect (according to Jesus; Matt. 24:22), the Son of Man will return to rapture His children while the current heavens and earth are burned up and the new is created (2 Peter 3:10-12). Then the kingdom of God will be consummated and, according to Revelation 22:5, we will “reign forever and ever.”

As you can tell, my view concerning the millennium is not set in stone. Therefore my purpose in writing this is not necessarily to sway you any certain way. Instead, my goal is to educate you on the issues and inspire you to dive deeper into them on your own. In the end, my prayer is that you would be challenged and changed by God and His Word.

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The Bible and Eating

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When I recently told someone I was going to speak on the Bible and eating, they quickly responded, “Will your focus be on fellowship or gluttony?” Both topics are discussed in Scripture, but I assured the person I would not be touching on the gluttony aspect, and that will be the case for this article as well.

Take a second to consider all the times the Bible discusses food and eating. If you do some good brainstorming, you might be surprised how often the topic actually comes up. Think about it…

What did the very first sin involve? Adam and Eve eating fruit from the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6).

What do many of the Old Testament purity laws involve? Which foods a good Jew could and could not eat. They were to eat “clean” animals, but were to refrain from “unclean” ones (Lev. 11:1-23).

What did Daniel and his three friends request after being taken to Babylon? To not be fed the royal food and drink of the king and instead to be given vegetables and water (Daniel 1).

Fast forward to the New Testament…

What does Jesus so often compare the Kingdom of God to in the Gospel of Luke? To a banquet or a feast (Luke 13:28-29; 14:7-24; 15:23-24, 32).

What was one of the last things Jesus did with His disciples before His death? He shared a meal, the Passover supper, with them (Matt. 22:17-30).

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, what was one of the four things the members of the first church devoted themselves to? The breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), which involved not only the Lord’s Supper but a full meal for everyone in the church.

What were the New Testament authors Peter and Jude worried about in their respective letters? Outsiders (non-believers) eating meals with the local church and disrupting the fellowship and unity of the believers (2 Ptr. 2, see especially vv12-14; Jude, see especially vv12-13).

Finally, how does the book of Revelation describe the end of time when all believers (the church; the bride) will be joined with Christ (the groom)? As a marriage feast (Rev. 19:9), which includes a banquet and a full meal.

So you see, the Bible is full of discussion about food and eating. The question is, why? Why does the Bible have so much to say on this topic?

Of course, there is not just one answer to that question. There are many reasons why the Bible discusses food and in places even commanded people which foods they could and could not eat. But there is one reason in particular that I want to focus on. The Bible, especially the New Testament, says so much about food and eating because it was a huge part of the Roman Empire’s culture.

The background and setting for the entire New Testament is the first century Roman Empire. During this time period, Rome and king Caesar ruled the world. Rome loved to control its citizens, and there were a number of ways they did that. One way they controlled the masses was through the institution of voluntary associations, which, functionally, were supper clubs. Essentially everyone in Rome, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, was part of a voluntary association. But there were divisions. The wealthy joined associations with other wealthy members. The poor did the same. Artisans associated with other artisans. Other craftsmen did the same. This being the case, everyone in Rome had their place and knew their place in society, and it was seldom subject to change.

These associations would gather, either weekly or monthly, to have a meal (called the deipnon) and a time of discussion and/or entertainment (called the symposion). At these banquets, people would form their identity as individuals based on the identity and beliefs of the group as a whole. So in all reality, the identity of the individual was based on that of the group. As these people bonded around the supper table, they became one.

Now what does all of this have to do with the Bible? When Jesus left the apostles behind to begin the New Testament church, and when Paul and others began planting churches all over the Roman Empire, they each took the form of a voluntary association. Church gatherings consisted of a group meal followed by a time of discussion and teaching. During these banquets, which served as the early church’s “worship services,” fellow believers would sit around the table with each other, create a bond, and form an identity. And who was that identity based on? None other than Jesus Christ the resurrected Lord.

Because society as a whole, and especially the church, centered on these meals/banquets, the authors of the New Testament made sure to give food and eating plenty of attention. 2 Peter 2 and the entirety of the letter of Jude focus on the presence of outsiders (non-believers; false teachers) at the meal table with the church. Consider 2 Peter 2:13, “They are blots and blemishes, delighting in their deceptions as they feast with you.” Also consider Jude 12, “These are the ones who are like dangerous reefs at your love feasts.” These authors could not bear to see the Christian identity of these churches and their members compromised by outsiders who were feasting with them at their weekly meetings.

The New Testament gives so much weight to these banquets that it uses them as an analogy for the Kingdom of God. What will it be like at the end of time when believers from all ages and locations are gathered together with their King? According to Jesus, there will be people coming from all over the place to “recline at the table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). According to Revelation, it will be like a “marriage feast” (Rev. 19:9).

When this earth is destroyed and we enjoy life in the new heavens and earth, will we really sit around a table with other believers and enjoy a meal? That I cannot be certain of. But what I am certain of is that this meal concept is a great way to live life now and a great way to describe how it will be for all eternity. Whether we sit around a meal table, a conference table, or a Sunday school table, we should be spending time with brothers and sisters in Christ creating bonds and forming an identity based on Christ. And when we reach eternity, what a joy it will be to worship and fellowship with our Christian family forever.

Is anybody hungry now?