Reprinted from eParousia #3, April, 2003
“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, and shut it and sealed it over him, 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.”
In this issue of eParousia, I want us to look at the various views on the passage above. The term “millennium” means 1,000 years. But, how are we to understand this millennium? Should we understand this passage as a literal 1,000 year reign on the earth, or should we allegorize this passage and take it to mean something different? Within larger Christendom, there are three basic views of the millennium, spoken of in Revelation 20.
This view is usually traced back to Augustine (354-430 AD); however, Origen (185-254 AD) from Alexandria, Egypt, who was greatly influenced by Greek philosophy, taught that the kingdom was not physical but spiritual. It is interesting to note that all the other early church fathers were premillennial (see below). A basic teaching of amillennialism is that the kingdom began with Christ’s first coming and will continue until His Second Coming. Christ is seen as reigning now in heaven through the hearts of believers. This view teaches that there is no literal 1000-year kingdom on earth. Amillennialists use an allegorical system of interpretation of prophetic events. The Olivet Discourse and the greater part of the book of Revelation are largely viewed as past historical events (a view known as Preterism) or are spiritualized out of existence. The amillennial view does believe in a Second Coming of Christ for His own, which takes place at the end, which is immediately followed by the judgment of the wicked and the eternal state. This view believes that conditions in this world will continue to deteriorate up until the time of the coming of Christ. This is the basic view held by the Catholic church and many of the traditional reformed churches.
Download a PDF file of Parousia #19 for an in-depth look at the “Origens” of Amillennialism.
This view found its beginnings in England and was first taught by Unitarian minister Daniel Whitby (1638-1726). This view basically teaches that the return of Christ takes place at the end of the millennium. They do not take the 1000 years in Revelation 20 literally but suggest it is speaking of a long period of time when the church will have “christianized” the world and we will enjoy a “golden age” of righteousness. Loraine Boettner, a postmillennialist, in his book “The Millennium” states, “The millennium to which the postmillennialist looks forward is thus a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, the Church Age. This is to be brought about through forces now active in the world. . . . The changed character of individuals will be reflected in an uplifted social, economic, political and cultural life of mankind. The world at large will enjoy a state of righteousness which up until now has been seen only in relatively small and isolated groups… This does not mean there will be a time on earth when every person will be a Christian or that all sin will be abolished. But it does mean that evil in all its many forms eventually will be reduced to negligible proportions, that Christian principles will be the rule, not the exception, and that Christ will return to a truly Christianized world.” There is a new form of postmillennialism known as “Reconstuctionism” which teaches how the world will eventually be Christianized. David Chilton writes in his book, “Paradise Restored”, “Our goal is world dominion under Christ’s Lordship, a world takeover if you will; but our strategy begins with reformation, reconstruction of the church. From that will flow social and political reconstruction, indeed a flowering of Christian civilization.” There are other similar forms of postmillennialism such as “Dominion Theology” and “Kingdom Now Theology.” The postmillennial view became popular in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, but lost many adherents after World War I and today this is the minority position of the church at large.
This view, which is the view of nearly all of the early church fathers, is the only view that takes a face value approach to the Scriptures. Premillennialists teach that after the Second Coming of Christ, which will occur at the end of this age, Christ will establish His kingdom here on earth and reign for 1000 years with His saints. The primary subjects of this kingdom will be the surviving remnant of Israel that will eventually turn to Christ as their true Messiah and King. There will also be a remnant from among the surviving Gentile nations, none of which will have taken the mark or worshiped the beast or his image. Premillennialists have various views on the timing of the Rapture, but they all place that momentous event, the catching away of the Church, before the 1000-year reign of Christ and His kingdom. This is the primary view of most evangelical and fundamental churches today.
Last month we looked at the proper way to understand Scripture. We saw that only a face-value approach to the bible can insure a proper understanding of what God intended to communicate to us. When God says that the saints will reign on the earth with Christ for 1,000 years, then that is what we must believe (Luke 1:31-33; Rev. 5:9-10; Rev. 20:6). Saying that we are in the millennium now just does not pass muster with the biblical text. And saying that the Church will bring in the millennium doesn’t square with Scripture, which speaks often of bad times coming (Matt. 24:4-14; 2 Thess. 2:3-12; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1). No, it is only the physical return of Christ that will end the rebellion of mankind, and inaugurate the reign of Christ when He will “rule the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15).
We can look forward to the literal fulfillment of prophecy in the future: The rescue and resurrection of the righteous, the destruction of the wicked, and the 1000-year reign of Christ on earth. What a future God promises for those who trust Him!
This article was originally published through eParousia, Sola Scriptura’s monthly end-times e-newsletter.