The Millennium

Things to Come – The Millennium

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Rev 20:1-10

We turn our focus now to the Millennium being fully aware of the difficulties this teaching presents, and the various schools of thought which to some degree cause differences and divisions with the church. However the subject cannot be ignored, because if it was important enough for John to receive this revelation and write it down then it should be important enough for us to come without prejudice or preconceived mindset to examine with sound biblical exegesis the meaning and implications of this particular passage, and the other scriptures which fit into this category. In addition, as we have said previously, if Time Out Mission mandate is concerned about preparing now for what will happen in the future, and specifically for the return of Jesus the Bridegroom King, then the Millennium fits into the core of our teaching.

There are many facets to this and apologies are offered again for the brevity given here, but it sufficient at this foundation level to present the different views and our own particular view, whilst giving enough scripture reference for you to engage further biblical study in your own time. One could ask why is it necessary to explore this at all? Perhaps the shortest answer is that our view on the future and therefore the Millennium affects our attitude, perspective and priorities on how we live today.

For anyone studying the Millennium to form their own conclusion there are some primary questions to be answered.

  1. Does the Rev 20 passage refer to a particular span of time in earth’s history or to a time in the future
  2. Does Jesus return before or after the thousand years (or other length of time)?

The different answers to these questions have led to the different interpretations which as a generalisation fall into three categories: A-millenniumism, Post-millenniumism and Pre-millenniumism. Each view has difficulties associated with it and some more than others, which makes the task even more problematic, and so we must approach with great caution and also respect for others views, especially when such views have been formed through diligent study and prayer. So we do not teach here as an absolute, but only as our personal interpretation which we hold lightly. Neither is it our aim to force any scriptures to give us conclusive answers in the danger of losing the purpose and context for which the scripture is given, and in this case we uphold that the Book of Revelation and other eschatological scriptures are not given so much for chronological analysis but as encouragement and warning of what the future will bring when God so determines.

A-millenniumism (No millennium)

This view generally sees the Rev 20 passage as a retelling of church history up to and including Rev 19 and therefore it is not seen as a separate event. The use of A in A-millenniumism means “no”, i.e. no millennium, so is a rejection that Jesus will have a thousand year long reign upon the earth. The reference to a thousand years is not seen as literal but symbolic, and that the millennium is synonymous with the “church age” which began after the first coming of Jesus. It is held that Jesus is currently reigning upon the earth, but through the church, whilst he remains in Heaven seated at the right hand of God the Father. A-millenniumism also teaches that Satan has already been bound from deceiving the nations. The reign of Jesus is not seen as physical or external but a reigning on the heart or within.

Post-millenniumism (After millennium)

This view sees the return of Jesus after a victorious rule of the church upon the earth either for a literal or symbolic thousand years, and is similar therefore to the A-millennial view. The fundamental belief is on a triumphant church that will overthrow Satan (and the anti-christ) through social and religious advancement of the Kingdom of God leading up to the second coming of Jesus, that good will triumph over evil before Christ returns. The majority of postmillennialists do not therefore believe in the apostasy, with many falling away, but see these biblical texts as referencing Israel rather than the church. Post and A-millenniumism are similar but differ in that A-millenniumism does not recognise the millennium at all, only the symbolism, hence the use of “A” meaning “no”.

Pre-millenniumism (Before millennium)

This view interprets Rev 20 as separate from any other time and is therefore a unique event yet to happen. It sees the millennium as being initiated upon the second coming of Jesus after the Battle of Armageddon, when Jesus returns to reign in person together with His church for the final restoration of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. The final judgement does not take place until after the thousand years are ended. It is at this point that Satan is bound from deceiving the nations. This view means that the church will not be triumphant in the same way as the post-millennial view, but neither does it mean that it will be defeated, only that for the final triumph it will require the literal return of Jesus who will come as both Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Presenting the Pre-Millennial View

Context

If reading Rev 20 on its own there is generally no problem. There is little use of symbols here except reference to “the dragon, that ancient serpent” and “They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.” Otherwise the passage is relatively straightforward, Satan is bound, there is a first resurrection when those who had not received the mark of the beast, reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The passage follows naturally on from chapter nineteen. After great distress and tribulation Jesus returns triumphant and defeats the enemy, at which point the beast and false prophet are thrown into the fiery lake of sulphur. Then in chapter twenty Satan himself is bound and those that were faithful and especially those martyred, not receiving the mark of the beast will reign. Except for the release of Satan at the end, the passage is very encouraging, unparalleled demonstration of victory, and dominance of good over evil.

This passage is about reigning. It is the restoration of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Yet we know from our earlier sessions that this will take place upon the second coming of Jesus, not as the suffering servant but as the son of David as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus made it abundantly clear that there would be a restoration of the Kingdom but that time was only known by His Father in Heaven Acts 1:7

He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. Dan 7:25-27

Even though this is the only passage that explicitly teaches on the millennium we are warned not to take or add anything away from this prophecy Rev 22:19.

Where is this taking place?

This is taking place upon the earth. Prior to this in chapter 19 we know that Jesus returns to defeat the kings of the earth and their armies who come to wage war on the rider on the horse and his army. It is shown elsewhere that the saints will reign upon the earth Rev 5:10. Satan’s later release is upon the earth those who overcome will be given authority over the nations Rev 2:26. The Kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our God and His Christ Rev 11:15. None of these have been fulfilled until Chapter 20. To ascribe this passage to church history and not to the future seems highly inaccurate, given the recorded facts about the history of the church, its persecution, the dark ages and so on.

Reigning upon the earth – are we truly reigning upon the earth today?

 

The binding of Satan

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. Rev 20:1-3

Notice the action taken here against Satan. There is an angel who comes down out of heaven, and with a great chain, Satan is seized, bound, thrown down, locked and sealed.

Note also the location of where he is imprisoned. It is not upon the earth. It is in the Abyss. The word here is “abyssos” meaning bottomless, immeasurable depth, a very deep gulf or chasm in the lowest parts of the earth used as the common receptacle of the dead and especially as the abode of demons. It is used elsewhere

And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. Luke 8:31

“or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). Rom 10:7

This presents a problem for the A-millennial and post millennial viewpoints, who believe that we are now in the millennium, and that therefore Satan has already been bound. The explanation given that his binding is partial to not deceiving nations. But taking the plain sense meaning in the passage itself, there is great emphasis on the extent to which Satan is bound. It seems to me that the description of his binding here is complete and not partial. He is seized, bound by a great chain, thrown down, locked and sealed. This is a picture of total imprisonment not parole! In addition is it feasible to say that the nations today are really not deceived? On this particular point we suggest that this binding of Satan has not yet taken place and though he has been defeated upon the cross, he is still very active upon the earth today. To think otherwise makes very difficult reading of many other scriptures.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Pet 5:8

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. 2 Cor 2:4

Who are those that will reign?

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Rev 20:4

Those given authority to judge. This is fulfilment of earlier promises to the saints. Matt 19:28, 1 Cor 6:2, but in each case the fulfilment is after the return of Christ

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. Rev 2:26

Special mention is given here to those who had been beheaded. This is not the entirety of those given authority to judge but a section of them.

What was the qualification to reign? From this passage we read specifically that they had not worshipped the beast or its image, neither had they received its mark on their foreheads or hands. We know that this is a specific reference to the great tribulation in the final three and a half years when the antichrist is revealed and the forced imposition of the mark of the beast. Again there are problems with the A-millennial and post millennial viewpoints, which state that we are already in the millennium, so the question arises how can we be reigning with Christ now upon the earth when we haven’t yet entered into the final great tribulation with the obvious revelation of the antichrist and mark of the beast? The approach taken by these positions is to allegorise the passage rather than a literal translation even though there is no justification to do so because the passage is simply stated. The interpretation held by the A-millennialist and Post-millennialist is a spiritual one rather than a physical one in that we have been raised from the dead and seated with Christ in heavenly places. In my opinion this is forced and doesn’t account for the qualification of those who have refused to receive the mark of the beast. In addition we read “they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years”. This coming to life is not a spiritual regeneration as many would believe, but a physical resurrection. We are told

(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. Rev 20:5,6

The word resurrection here is “anastasis” meaning rising from the dead or resurrection. It is used 42 times in the New Testament and always refers to a physical miracle, the raising of a body and is never used for regeneration or the new birth as believers.

And so I suggest that this passage is referring to people reigning upon the earth in a physical body after the first resurrection, to see it any other way is in my opinion to change the meaning of the very passage itself. It follows that if those who are reigning have received their resurrected bodies this is after the second advent of Christ, because it is not until then that the resurrection will take place

There are two different resurrections

(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. Rev 20:5,6

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13,14

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thess 4:16

The Main Difficulty

Perhaps the biggest problem in understanding what the Bible teaches when it comes to the Millennium is the presence of various scriptures which appear to place events simultaneously without a thousand year interval. Such passages appear to directly oppose accepting Rev 20 in its plain sense meaning, which has led to various hermeneutical juggling to get the passage to fit, inevitably this has taken the passage out of its sequence in chapter 20 and allegorised or spiritualised its meaning to something other than what the passage is teaching.

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. John 5:28,29

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Matt 25:31,32

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 2 Pet 3:10-12

These are just a few examples which illustrate the challenge of reconciling the different passages to form a solid exegetical interpretation. But it should be noted that the Millennium is no way unique to “at first glance” contradictions. There are many such instances throughout scripture which are known as a paradox. A paradox may be defined as “A seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement (or statements) or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” Not least of course is our understanding of the Trinity, that God is both one and three persons. We accept this not on the basis of rational understanding but by faith. We cannot dismiss either that God is one, or that He is three persons, but we accept that both are true. Without going deeper into this, we should apply the same approach to our understanding of the millennium here. That even though there may appear to be contradiction, we should avoid the trap of trying to make one passage fit into another to make them easier to understand, especially when we change the actual context, essence and teaching that such a passage may contain, which is what I believe we do when trying to fit Rev 20 into other scriptures rather than letting the passage speak for itself.

One final point which should be included in our discourse is what scholars term “prophetic foreshortening”. This may help to alleviate some of the difficulties discussed. A classic example of prophetic foreshortening is that Old Testament prophecy accounts for one coming of Christ and not two. It was this that caused so much confusion and disbelief in the Jews because they had not seen the coming of their Messiah at two different times but only once, which would be for the restoration of the Kingdom when the Messiah would re-establish the Davidic throne.

Isaiah 61 demonstrates this principle clearly. The first verse is well known and used by Jesus when commencing his earthly ministry in the synagogue.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners Isa 61:1

But He stopped reading at this point, rolled up the scroll and sat down. The next verse reads “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God …” and the feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast”. There is no pause in the text, no suggestion of any time interval between these promises, which would lead to the conclusion that they are simultaneous. Now with hindsight and two thousand years since Jesus first read verse one, we can see indeed that there is a great deal of time elapsed between the final completion of this entire prophecy.

If we adopt this approach to understanding scripture it can help greatly. In the 2 Pet 3:10-12 text, Peter talks about “the Day of the Lord”. This phrase or variations of it like “on that Day” is used many times in both the Old and New Testament. But what Peter also teaches right in the middle of his teaching is “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Pet 3:8 This leads to greater insight when talking about “the Day of the Lord”. There are two primary ways in which this “Day” can be seen. First as a single day comprised of twenty four hours, and second as a day referring to an extended period of time, for example “the day of steam is over” or “a modern day revolution” or as in the Biblical sense “a thousand years”. Some refer to the difference of days as the short day and the long day of the Lord. So what we cannot do is presume that just because there is no indication of a time interval between the verses that a passage is necessarily simultaneous. We must hold on to scripture firm but lightly ensuring that we give room for the text to breath and speak for itself before reframing it into a different context than the one given.

In conclusion we do hope this discussion has been helpful and not served to confuse further the subject of the millennium. There are many books written on the subject which go to great depths to present the various viewpoints. It is not possible or necessary for us here to repeat what others are saying, but hopefully have brought our own specific belief and why we believe in a pre-millennial return of Christ, and our means of how we have conducted our study. Let us be reminded that the book of Revelation is for encouragement. That we can have great hope and assurance that what lies ahead of us is something worth living for now no matter how difficult that may be and ultimately what cost we may pay.

This is our assurance that

“if we endure, we will also reign with Him” 2 Tim 2:12

About the author: Mike Pike

Live with my wife Jo in Cornwall UK, together we have raised five children and have served the Lord for over thirty years within the UK and in many other nations. My passion is for the coming of Jesus the Bridegroom King, and I long to see the Bride call upon Him to come.