Views On The Millennium

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CHRIST’S REIGNAnd I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his 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 have part 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. (Revelation 20:4b-6)

Viewpoints on The Millennium – The word millennium is derived from the Latin words mille meaning a thousand, and annus meaning year, or a period of one thousand years. Although the concept of the millennium has its foundation in certain unconditional covenants in the Old Testament, Revelation 20:4–6 specifically mentions that Christ will reign on earth for a thousand years following His return to earth.(1)

While it is true that Revelation 20:1–6 is the only passage that mentions the specific period of one thousand years, it does so six times, and repetition is always significant in the Bible. During this time, Satan is imprisoned in the Abyss and is unable to mislead the nations. The saints, meanwhile, reign with Christ. The Millennium seems to occur before the creation of a new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1–2). Three primary viewpoints on the nature of the Millennium exist.

Premillennialism Viewpoint – Premillennialism asserts that Christ will physically return to inaugurate the Millennium. Since He has not come back yet, this must be a future promise and cannot be equated with anything occurring in the present Church age. It is during this future age that God will fulfill the promises made to Abraham for Israel and the world (see Isaiah 11:1–16; 27:1–12; Hosea 1:7–11; 2:15–23; Joel 3:1–21). Some believe that these promises are to be fulfilled distinctly for a national Israel (dispensational premillennialism), while others believe that the Church and Israel will share in these promises equally (historic premillennialism).

During the Millennium, Satan will be bound (Revelation 20:2), the earth will be fruitful, resembling the way the world was before the fall (Isaiah 11:6–9; 65:20; Hosea 2:21–23; Amos 9:13), the lion will lay down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6–8), and the martyred tribulation saints will be bodily raised to reign with Him (“the first resurrection,” Revelation 20:5–6).

God’s Millennial Kingdom will certainly be physical, as promised in the Old Testament, but it will also have its spiritual aspects. As a literal interpretation, Revelation 20:1–6 depicts what will physically happen in the future (compare Revelation 1:3, 19), while still allowing for some metaphors and figures of speech. For example, premillennialism does not insist that a physical chain will bind Satan. Satan is a non-physical being, which indicates that the chain is not likely physical. Premillennialism also holds that metaphors may have been used to link to the imagery used in other Biblical books, so that the original audience could easily identify such imagery (see also Revelation 13:1; Daniel 7:3–7). In the case of one thousand years, however, the repetition argues that it is a literal period. Furthermore, these phrases are not used metaphorically in other Biblical books, suggesting that the text is describing a real thousand-year period of history yet to come.

Following the thousand years, Satan is released, and evil will once again exist on earth. God will heavily restrict its effects (Isaiah 65:20; Zechariah 13:3; Revelation 20:7–15), but there will be a rebellion in which God will be victorious. He will then judge all those who do not trust in Christ at the Great White Throne judgment.

The beliefs of early church fathers such as Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian reflect premillennialism. These church fathers asserted that God has planned the thousand years to fulfill His promises. They argue that this reflects an ancient tradition based upon consistent hermeneutics applied to the entire Bible.(2) Twentieth-century advocates of this position include Lewis Sperry Chafer, Charles L. Feinberg, A.C. Gaebelein, H.A. Ironside, Alva McClain, William Pettingill, Charles C. Ryrie, C.I. Scofield, Wilbur Smith, and Merrill F. Unger.(3)

These proponents of premillennialism argue that it is consistent with other Old Testament and New Testament passages. The descriptions in Revelation 20:1–6 reflect Old Testament texts which describe how God will overcome the Serpent, enable Israel to rule, and reverse the curse (Micah 7:7; Isaiah 2:1–4; 11:1–16; Amos 9:13–14). In Acts, the Lord also seems to promise a future restoration for Israel, and Paul proclaims the salvation of Israel when Christ returns (Acts 1:6–8; Romans 11:25–32). Premillennialists argue that Revelation 20:1–6 satisfies these expectations within the Old Testament and New Testament, making a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1–6 important in God’s plan.(4)

Amillennialism Viewpoint – Amillennialists believe that the thousand-year period should be taken metaphorically, and that John may have intended the entire book of Revelation as a metaphorical presentation of God’s final victory in Christ. Under this view, the Millennium is not a future promise but is a continuing reality that takes place spiritually between Christ’s first and second comings. As such, Christ’s victory over sin in His death and resurrection inaugurated the Millennial age. It founded a new way to understand the Old Testament promises and how God will spiritually deal with evil during the Church age leading up to Christ’s physical return. This approach overcomes complexities such as multiple resurrections, unbelievers possibly still living during Christ’s reign on earth, and harmonization of end time events.

Amillennialists believe that Satan was not only conquered at the cross, but that he was also bound. This ushered in the period for the saints to proclaim the gospel. Christ reign is from Heaven, while the saints reign with Him on earth as they submit their lives to Him and evangelize the nations. Thus, Christ’s rule and the fulfillment of God’s promises are primarily spiritual in nature.

Amillennialists believe that the New Testament apostles approached the Old Testament with a degree of interpretive freedom. If the apostles spiritualized the Old Testament, then it is consistent to do so with Revelation 20:1–6. Thus, it follows that Christ’s reign in heaven can fulfill all God’s promises spiritually.(5)

Amillennialism’s first important advocate was Augustine, who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. Before Augustine, it is difficult to identify one orthodox amillenarian.(6) Since Augustine, various figures such as Origen, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin have taken the amillennial viewpoint.(7) Modern advocates include such respected 20th-century theologians as Oswald Allis, Louis Berkhof, William Hendriksen, Abraham Kuyper, R.C.H. Lenski, and Gerhardus Vos.(8)

Postmillennialism Viewpoint – Postmillennialists believe that the Millennium is a distinct period (though not necessarily one thousand years) that is inaugurated by the Church, and that it encompasses both spiritual and physical characteristics. Under this interpretation, Christ comes after the millennial period is complete.

Proponents of this viewpoint argue that the Church will be so effective in evangelism and discipleship that it will influence the entire world to such an extent that Christ will have dominion (spiritually, culturally, politically, and economically) through the Church. This dominion will last for a long time, but not necessarily for one thousand years. Afterwards a rebellion will take place and Christ will return to earth to judge the world and create a new heaven and earth.

Postmillennialists believe that the Church has replaced Israel, receiving both its promises and purpose. The Church now has the responsibility of priesthood to the rest of the world (1 Peter 2:9–10). Thus, Old Testament descriptions of Israel’s global mission are now the Church’s mission, or Great Commission. The Church’s purpose to evangelize and make disciples of the entire world corresponds to God’s guarantee to Israel that it would be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:1–3). Postmillennialists believe that parables such as the parable of the mustard seed depict the Kingdom growing progressively over time (Matthew 13:31–32), implying that the Church will have a growing influence over the entire world and eventually become the dominant institution.

Interpretations of Revelation 20:1–6 are split within postmillennialism. Some view the context of Revelation as already fulfilled in 70 AD. This is known as preterism. Consequently, Revelation 20:1–6 was an event that was about to happen rather than being connected to a future period of tribulation. Others view the book of Revelation as an idealistic or theological presentation of the nature of God’s victory. The Millennium is more a theological ideal than a literal era of history.(9)

Relatively speaking, postmillennialism is a recent interpretation in Church history and is usually traced to Daniel Whitby, a controversial writer of the 17th century. The view has since been advanced by other prominent scholars in the history of the church including Charles Hodge, A.H. Strong, David Brown, and more recently, Loraine Boettner.(10) The puritans were notable supporters of postmillennialism.(11)

Extra-Biblical Viewpoint – The apocryphal books have also influenced how some interpret the Millennium. Second Enoch considers the earth’s time to be measured in “weeks,” each of which represents one thousand years. A new age commences at the eighth week (year eight thousand), and is described as timeless (2 Enoch 32:1–33:2). Other sources describe a period of renewal of the earth and where Israel will rule over all nations in fulfillment of God’s promises. The Messiah is expected to inaugurate this period, where good will overcome evil (2 Baruch 39:3–40:4; 29:1–30:5). Early Jewish sources seem to point to a distinct climax of history; however, they do not express its length. Fourth Ezra 7:26–31 describes a period brought about by the Messiah where the saints rule with Him. After this, the earth returns to chaos awaiting judgment and a new creation.(12)

Summarizing the Viewpoints – Because the Biblical references to eschatology are scattered throughout the Old and New Testament, developing a systematic theology has been somewhat of a challenge throughout Christian history. As a result, the differing viewpoints described above (and summarized in Figure 24.2) emerged.(13)

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While different, each view has something to commend it.

Postmillennialism – Accurately captures a significant theme in Biblical prophecy that we must live and preach hope. We must preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth in the expectation and belief that God will somehow use our witness to increase His Kingdom and that He will ultimately triumph over Satan and his demons. Though we certainly cannot bring the Kingdom of God on earth through human means, the preaching of the Gospel does indeed offer hope for the transformation of life.

Amillennialism – Is to be commended for its emphasis upon the current reign of Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation makes abundantly clear that Christ has already overcome, having been raised and exalted to the right hand of God. He is currently Lord of the Church and of the cosmos. He is the one into whose hands all power in Heaven and on earth has been given. He has been raised far above all rule and authority and power and every name that is named (Ephesians 1:19–21).(15)

Premillennialism – Consistently interprets the teachings of Scripture in a plain, normal, or literal way, whether applied to history, doctrine, or prophecy. It is normally viewed as unwise to take the words of the Bible in a nonliteral sense, unless the context obviously calls for a metaphorical, allegorical or spiritualized interpretation. For example, promises that were made to Abraham and David concerned the physical descendants of Abraham. Why, unless by sleight of hand, would we expect them to be fulfilled by the Church? Since the New Testament continues to distinguish the Jews from the Church, it appears that we should expect these promises to be fulfilled through the Jews rather than through the Church (1 Corinthians 10:32; Romans 11:26).(16)

Christian interpreters seeking to develop a coherent and systematic doctrine of the last things must synthesize various portions of Scripture, including the apocalyptic elements of Old Testament (especially the Book of Daniel) and New Testament (especially Matthew 24–25; Mark 13; 2 Peter; Jude; and the Book of Revelation) prophecy, Paul’s writings about the final coming (especially 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1–11—the man of lawlessness) and his views about the relationship of Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9–11), as well as John’s references to anti-Christ(s) (1 John).

These (including the debate about pre, post or amillennialism) can sometimes obscure a crucial point that concerned John very much. Followers of Christ, those who have suffered the afflictions and persecutions of this present evil age, will one day be rescued and vindicated by the appearance of Christ. With His coming He will destroy the powers of evil. The promise of this future hope should exert an influence upon our present behavior and moral devotion to Christ (see Romans 8:18–25). Indeed, a major point of Revelation is to encourage Christian perseverance in the present age in light of the triumph of God through Jesus Christ in the coming age.(17)

Up Next – The Purpose of the Millennium.

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References

  1. Enns, P. P. (1989). The Moody handbook of theology (p. 641). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
  2. Chou, A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Millennium. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  3. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 978). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  4. Chou, A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Millennium. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  5. Chou, A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Millennium. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  6. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 978). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  7. Chou, A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Millennium. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  8. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 978). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  9. Chou, A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Millennium. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  10. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 978). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  11. Chou, A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Millennium. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  12. Chou, A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Millennium. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  13. Sloan, R. B. (1998). The Revelation. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (pp. 678–679). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  14. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  15. Dockery, D. S., Butler, T. C., Church, C. L., Scott, L. L., Ellis Smith, M. A., White, J. E., & Holman Bible Publishers (Nashville, T. . (1992). Holman Bible Handbook (p. 803). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  16. Ryrie, C. C. (1972). A survey of Bible doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press.
  17. Sloan, R. B. (1998). The Revelation. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (pp. 678–679). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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