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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