THE MILLENNIUM, A THOUSAND-YEAR REIGN
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans )
Just as certainly as Jesus ascended into heaven, He will come again
14:3; Acts ). What will
place after He returns? Will there be a millennium reign, a
of Jesus? Does the thousand years include a literal thousand-year reign
Jesus, or is it symbolic of a period of time? Will He return as a
monarch to set up a kingdom and rule over the earth for a thousand
David's throne in
The passage which generates the most discussion concerning the millennia, or thousand-year, reign is Revelation 20:1-10:
“And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss...so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
“And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four comers of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war... And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Certainly, a thousand-year reign is mentioned in this passage, but what is the thousand-year reign? When and where will it take place? Who will reign during the thousand years? Is the thousand-year reign literal or figurative?
An Explanation of Millennialism
Variations appear in each of the three major views
concerning the thousand-year reign. They are classified according to
chronological relationships to the thousand years:
(1) Amillennialism (the prefix "a" means "not"),
(2) Postmillennialism (the prefix "post" means "after"), and
(3) Premillennialism (the prefix "pre" means "before").
These include the Historical and Dispensational views.
Amillennialism (No literal thousand-year earthly reign of Jesus takes place.)
a. Satan was bound by Jesus' death and resurrection.
b. The first resurrection is the new birth.
c. The symbolic thousand-year reign of Jesus began with the Church Age. The thousand years is a symbol for a long period of the Church Age.
d. Satan will be loosed to be more active but will be defeated.
e. Jesus will return to raise all the dead and to judge all the living and the dead.
f. Eternal life or punishment will be the destiny of all.
Postmillennialism (After the thousand years, Jesus will return.)
g. Some think the world will become progressively more righteous
Christian Age, while others do not accept the progressive theory.
h. Those who accept the progressive theory believe that this will result in a thousand years of a golden age of righteousness, but others believe the thousand years symbolizes a long period of peace for Christians, when they will be free from severe persecution by all the nations such as that which occurred in the first two centuries.
i. Satan will be released to begin a short period of wickedness, but others believe this will be a time Satan will try again to lead the nations in a severe persecution of Christians.
j. Jesus will return to raise and judge the dead and deliver Satan to be punished.
k. Eternal life or punishment will be the destiny of all.
Premillennialism (Before the thousand years, Jesus will return.)
1. The period before the thousand years is the present Christian
m. Jesus will suddenly appear in the sky and raise the righteous dead.
n. They will be raptured, caught up, with the living righteous to be in heaven with Jesus.
o. Jesus will judge them, but so as to give rewards to them according to their works.
p. The Antichrist will gain control over the earth and cause a great tribulation for seven years. During this time the Jews will all turn to Jesus.
q. At the end of seven years, Jesus will return with the saints without previous signs, defeat the Antichrist, and begin reigning with the Jews on David's throne in
r. Jesus' reign will be a thousand years of peace on earth, during which Satan will be bound.
s. Satan will be released after the thousand years.
t. For a short time, Satan will lead the nations in a final battle against Christians but will be defeated.
u. Jesus will resurrect the wicked and gather with them all others.
v. God will judge in the great white throne judgment.
w. Eternal life or punishment will be the destiny of all.
II. Dispensational (includes seven dispensations, with the
x. No sign will be given of Jesus' return.
y. Jesus' reign on David's throne will be a reign along with the nation of
z. Some believe the wicked will be annihilated.
Note: All groups believe in a final judgment, eternal life for the righteous, and eternal punishment for the wicked except for the Dispensational Premillennialists.
So in review:
Amillennialism is the view that the figure "one thousand" is symbolic of completeness and is not to be thought of as a literal thousand-year reign. Like the Postmillennialists, those who hold this view believe in the return of Jesus, the resurrection, and a final judgment.
Postmillennialism is the view that the thousand years is figurative of the Christian Age, in which Jesus' reign is a present reality that will end with His return, the resurrection of the dead, and final judgment. Some differ on this, in that they believe that the thousand years is figurative of a long period of peace and/or righteousness within the latter part of the Christian Age, and that period will be followed by Jesus' return.
Premillennialism is the view that Jesus will return to earth and reign for a thousand years on David's throne in
The viewpoint of this work is that the thousand years is symbolic of peace for Christians from persecution by the nations, symbolized in Revelation 20 by their being pictured as on thrones reigning with Jesus. During this period Satan will be bound so that he can no longer influence the nations, as he did through
What Revelation 20:1-10 Does Not Say
If Revelation 20:1-10 is read carefully, it will be seen that the basic tenets of the Premillennial view are not found in this passage:
(1) It does not mention Jesus' returning to earth. His return is not a concern of this passage.
(2) It does not say that Jesus will reign on earth. The place of the reign is not mentioned.
(3) It does not say that Jesus will reign for a thousand years. Only the length of the saints' reign is mentioned.
(4) It does not say that the reign of the martyred saints will be an earthly reign. The location is not stated.
(5) It does not mention anything about Jesus' second coming. This has been assumed by Premillennialists.
(6) It does not say that the reign of a thousand years will be after Jesus' second coming. This has been assumed.
(7) It does not say that Jesus will reign in
(8) It does not say that Jesus will reign on David's throne. David's throne is not mentioned.
(9) It does not mention anything about Jesus' throne. While the thrones of the martyrs are mentioned, Jesus' throne is not. The thrones are symbols that the saints will no longer be the downtrodden, but will be respected as leaders among men and known as servants of Christ. In this spiritual sense, they will reign with Him during the thousand-year period; they will not reign on literal, earthly thrones.
(10) It does not say that the saints will have a bodily resurrection. Only their souls are mentioned.
(11) It does not say that all the righteous dead will reign with Christ. The martyred saints are said to reign.
(12) It does not mention anything about a Battle of Armageddon.
God will rain fire from heaven to prevent Satan from starting the battle he seeks to begin against the camp of the saints. Even Revelation does not say that the battle will actually take place there; it only mentions the armies gathered there: "And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.” Revelation 20 speaks of the souls of the martyrs who had not worshiped the beast (v. 4). They are the ones who are described as reigning with Jesus for a thousand years. Nothing is said about how long Jesus will reign - only how long the martyrs will reign with Him. I could tell a friend that a relative lived with me in my house for two years. From this statement he could learn how long my relative lived with me, but he could not learn how long I had lived in the house. This is also true concerning Jesus' reign. All one can deduce from this passage is that in some sense the saints will reign with Jesus one thousand years and that Jesus will reign for at least a thousand years, no less; however, the statement does not limit His reign to only a thousand years. His reign could be thousands of years, so far as this passage is concerned. The length of the martyred saints' reign is all we can learn from Revelation 20, not the length of Jesus' reign.
What Other Scriptures Say
Since Revelation uses highly symbolic language,
interpretation of the book must harmonize with the teaching of literal
of Scripture and not vice versa. Any interpretation that does not
Revelation 20 with other plain Bible teaching is false teaching.
us ask, "What do other Scriptures say about the reign of Jesus?"
Prophecy foretold that the
The preparation made for the coming of the kingdom implied that it would be set up in the days of the Roman rulers. Jesus, who lived on earth while
Any system that makes the first coming of Christ a failure - which it was if Christ did not ascend to reign over His kingdom as He promised and as His followers preached - must be false. If He failed the first time, why should we expect Him to succeed if He comes again? The reality of Jesus' reign began when He ascended to power over heaven and earth at the right hand of God (cf. Matthew 28:18; Acts -34; ; Romans ; Ephesians 1:20-23; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 3:22). This fulfilled Daniel's prophecy that one like the Son of Man would ascend to the Ancient of Days and receive an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). What Jesus taught, He corroborated with what Daniel wrote. In the parable of the nobleman, Jesus evidently is representing Himself as the one who would depart in order to receive His kingdom and then return (Luke -15). When Jesus departed, He left to receive His kingdom.
Those who expect Jesus to reign over an earthly kingdom do not understand the nature of His kingdom. Jesus stated that His kingdom is not of this world (John ). Since His rule is not an earthly reign, it must be a heavenly reign.
Zechariah prophesied concerning Jesus, "Thus, He will be a priest on His throne" (Zechariah ). Hebrews 8:4 says, "Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest." If He cannot be a priest on earth, then He cannot reign on earth, for the prophecy declared that He would be a priest on His throne. Since He cannot be a priest on earth, the only place He can be a priest is heaven; therefore, He can reign only on a throne in heaven. Heaven is the place to which He ascended and where He now reigns (1 Peter ).
Paul wrote that the kingdom of God is not like earthly kingdoms with eating and drinking, but is a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), a peaceable kingdom portrayed in figurative prophecy by adversary animals living peaceably together (Isaiah 11:6-7). As a kingdom, it is for those who are persecuted for righteousness (Matthew ).
The kingdom was not to begin with a great worldwide battle, but would start small, as a mustard seed begins, and quietly influence its environment as does leaven hidden in meal (Matthew 13:31-33). God's Word, not the sword or other military hardware, would be the basis of its expansion and growth (Matthew ; Luke ). This is the way it would spread, because it would be God's rule within the human heart, not God's rule through an earthly government. "The
The kingdom was in existence when Paul wrote to the Colossians. He said that God had delivered Christians from darkness and transferred them into Jesus' kingdom (Colossians ), which would not have been possible if Jesus' kingdom did not exist. He also stated that all things, except God Himself, had already been placed under Jesus (1 Corinthians -28). In the present age, the Christian Age, we can become members of Jesus' kingdom (John 3:3-5), a kingdom that extends throughout all heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).
At His return, Jesus will not be coming to begin His reign, for He now reigns over all (1 Corinthians , 27). When He comes again, He will raise the dead, end His reign, and return the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians -28). The Scriptures plainly teach that Jesus is now ruling over heaven and earth. He will reign until He comes again; then the end will come (1 Corinthians -27). Such a current reign leaves no time for Jesus to reign for a thousand years on earth. Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus will return to earth to reign for a thousand years. His reign began when He returned to the Father after His resurrection. Any speculation and interpretation that violates so many Scriptures must be false.
What Revelation 20:1-10 Does Say
Though we may be uncertain about everything
20:1-10 means, we are sure what the passage does not say. It does not
Jesus will return to earth to reign for a thousand years on the literal
of David in
It is obvious that this text should be interpreted symbolically, not literally. How can a literal key and chain bind Satan, a spirit being? Can souls sit on literal thrones? The whole of Revelation is steeped in symbolic language. Why should this chapter be considered an exception?
The meaning of this passage may have begun to unfold earlier in Revelation (6:9-11). The souls under the altar are the same group described as being on thrones in 20:4. They raise the question of how long it will be until their blood will be avenged (). In response, they are told that they must rest a little while before this will happen (). Their blood is said to be avenged (19:1-2) with the fall of
What does the binding of Satan mean? His being loosed must be the opposite of his being bound. When loosed, he immediately sought to gather the nations and bring them against the camp of the saints (20:7-9). His being bound must mean that for a thousand years he could not bring the nations against the saints in persecution, as he had done before being bound.
The thousand years may be symbolic of a long period of time. God owns "the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10), and a day in God's courts is "better than a thousand outside" (Psalm 84:10). Surely, "a thousand" in these passages is only representative of a large number. While "a thousand" could be taken literally in 20:2-7, what rationale do we have for making a number literal when it appears in a book filled with symbols?
That the souls of the martyrs are on "thrones" symbolizes that during the thousand years their cause will live and triumph. As long as they are "underneath the altar," which will be a "little while longer," killing of their fellow Christians will continue (). Their being given "thrones" (20:4) must mean that the "little while longer" had ended, national killing of saints had stopped, and a thousand years of respite from persecution had begun. In this passage, the Greek word “ezesan”(an indicative, aorist, active verb from the root zao) literally means "lived" (KJV, RSV). "Came to life" (NASB) does not do justice to the verb tense or fit the context. For this reason, it cannot be said that these souls literally "came to life." However, "lived" is accurate, for earlier John indicated that this same group was "underneath the altar" (6:9-10) and was conscious which must mean they were already living as souls some time before Revelation 20.
Paul used the same word and verb tense in referring to his life before becoming a Christian. He said, "I lived as a Pharisee" (Acts 26:5). His statement does not mean that he came to life as a Pharisee; rather, it means that this was how he "lived" before becoming a Christian. Instead of Christianity's dying out because of martyrdom, the blood of Christians will be avenged. The Christian community will, so to speak, "live and reign" with Christ for a long period of peace. Those of the "first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5) are the ones who will triumph and reign with Christ for a thousand years. As God caused the nation of
The instigator of their persecution, Satan, would be restricted, the saints' blood would be avenged with the fall of the great city, and Christianity would live for a long period of time without waves of national persecution. After that, Satan, when released for a little while, would try to lead the nations into another wave of persecution; but God would stop his effort and cast him into the lake of fire (20:3, 7-10).
The "second death" in 20:6 does not imply a second resurrection followed by another death. The "second death" is symbolic of the punishment in the "lake of fire" (). The first death is physical death, and the second death is the lake of fire.
Instead of a future thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth, the Bible teaches that He is now reigning from heaven over His kingdom, which extends throughout heaven and earth. King Jesus now sits on His heavenly throne, where He has been reigning ever since He ascended to the Father. When He comes again, He will not come to begin a thousand year reign on earth; rather, He will come to end His present reign. Any interpretation that contradicts this view is built on an incorrect interpretation of symbolic language and contradicts literal passages.