There can be few subjects as divisive in conservative Christian circles as the millennium. Entire lifetimes have been devoted to researching it, and entire books have been written upon the subject. The various camps and factions hold as exclusively to their beliefs as they did before the conversations began. All sides descend to vitriol and conspiracy theory to discredit those that don't agree with them and the result is that many good believers are turned away from the subject entirely on the basis that the truth is unknown, unknowable or irrelevant.
The thought of adding one more essay to the fray is in some ways unappealing except that I hope to take a slightly alternative approach and hope that we may shed some light, rather than heat, to those with a genuine desire to understand what the millennium is.
My angle is this, rather than focus initially upon when the millennium is I aim to focus upon what the millennium is. I shall do this by first examining in some detail the one passage that unequivocally deals with the millennium and then linking in a number of other passages that may answer some questions we commonly have.
Once we understand the nature of the millennium we can profitably ask whether those conditions have existed previously, are extant today, will appear in the future or are actually a characterization of something else completely.
The Thousand Years
The first shock for any new student seeking to research the millennium in his Bible is that it is a term that is completely a-biblical. Search as you may you will not find the expression upon the pages of holy writ.
This may lead some to immediately question if we should be pursuing the subject at all. If the Bible doesn't devote space to the controversy then why should we? The answer is that Christianity is essentially a forward-looking religion. In fact if it were not for our future Christianity would be a complete failure. Thus as our hope is for the future we need a clear understanding of what that future holds.
So to find what the controversy is about we instead search for the expression 'thousand years'; this will yield 9 results. Six of them in Revelation 20, one in 2 Pe 3 related to another in Ps 90 and a seemingly obscure reference in Ec 6:6. The six references of Revelation 20 clearly mark this as the passage that needs to be understood and we shall devote a significant piece of time to expositing those verses in the following sections.
In this chapter however I want to look at one of the other verses that is one of the pivots upon which the controversy hinges. But I also aim to show that the treatment of this verse gives a clear insight into the mind of the respective expositors and may even give us an indicator of the source from which some of these expositions arise.
Here is the verse: -
2 Pe 3:8 ¶ But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
First: to show that this verse is linked with Revelation 20 is easy. It is one of only nine verses containing the expression 'thousand years' and the verses around it (2 Peter 3) are all full of information pertaining to the 'last days' and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus we need to ask, what is this verse trying to tell us? It is usually approached in one of three ways: -
- It is giving us a formula we can apply to any time span in prophetic scripture to convert between 'prophetic time' and 'actual time'.
- It is an indicator that time scales in prophetic scripture are to be ignored completely, or at least those mentioning a thousand years.
- That the expression 'a thousand years' is symbolically meaningful (as for example '40 days') and that 2 Peter 3 is sharing a symbol with Revelation 20 and not a period of time.
To those fond of discovering the deep mysteries of the Bible, and to those with heavily scientific minds option 'a' seems appealing. We are given a formula that allows us to unlock a mystery of scripture. The problem with this key is that it does not bear any mathematical scrutiny. Essentially, in mathematical parlance, the verse would be reduced to two equations: -
1 LordDay = 1000 ManYears
1000 LordYears = 1 ManDay
Assuming a LordYear is 365 LordDays and 1 ManYear is 365 ManDays then these formulas are insoluble. In other words, if we try to treat these mathematically then we deduce that the Bible gets it wrong.
Someone defending position a) would then claim that you use one equation or the other. So using the first we would get that Revelation 20 is referring to a period of 365 million years. That would appear to be a very long period of time for a period that clearly precedes the eternal state and that is dealt with in seven verses.
To apply the other equation one would get that this period is simply one-man day. This would appear to be a very short period of reign for those that have received that reward. (Rev 20:6)
Both of these time periods appear very extreme, and we further have to deal with the issue of how do we know when to apply and equation and which one? What about the 1260 days of the great tribulation? Does that become 1,260,000 years? The five months of torment by the scorpions, that is a fairly fearful event anyway, if we consider it as lasting for 150,000 years it becomes intolerable. In fact we know that the great tribulation cannot last for that long, we know it has been shortened.
I believe that holding to option a) shows a mind that wants to use human wisdom as an adjunct to spiritual understanding. We love to believe that through our own intelligence we will find some deep mystery that is hidden from lesser mortals. This is a mistake. Scripture is deliberately written so that the humanly wise will misunderstand it, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised if they do!
We are thus left with the conclusion that treating 2 Pet 3:8 as a mathematical equation simply doesn't work. Which leads some to proposition b). If we cannot use 2 Pet 3:8 as an equation, if it proves mathematically invalid, then it is really trying to warn us that time spans in scripture are unreliable.
In some ways this is the hardest kind of error to refute because it is almost self-fulfilling. If you go through scripture assuming it is vague and woolly then probably it will not contain anything that will do you any good. Further, if your disrespect for scripture is coupled with a confidence in your own interpretations then any number of statements can be bent to suit the interpretation you prefer. However, for those that have not yet sunken into the morass I pose a simple question. If God does not mean anything by the numbers he uses then why does he use so many of them? And why use so many different ones. In Rev 20 he uses the expression a 'thousand years' six times; if he meant 'a long time of undetermined length' why drive home the expression 'thousand years' in six of the nine verses describing the subject?
Outside of Time
The third option is actually the simplest, and once accepted the most obvious. In 2 Pe 3 the real subject is the doubt of some that the Lord is coming. They are claiming that He has broken his promise. Thus to understand the verse we need to know what the promise was.
We find in various scriptures that the promise was of the Lord's return 'quickly and without tarrying'. In the modern vernacular we would say he was going to come 'without delay'. Note that nowhere in scripture to we find any numericprediction of when he would return. In fact we are specifically told that there is no precise knowledge of when he would return. Put another way the promise of the time of his return was given qualitatively, not quantitatively.
Now even in normal parlance we need to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative expressions. If a stranger says to you that an item costs $50 then you know it costs fifty dollars. If someone says to you that a given item is 'cheap' then unless you know the financial background of the person you don't have much idea as to the price of the item.
The point of 2 Pe 3 is that some scoffers we looking at the promise and using their own term of reference to measure 'quickly' and declaring that God had fallen short. Peter was thus trying to set the record straight as to what God might mean by 'quickly'. To do this he took two periods of time at opposite extremes and declared that to God either could appear as the other. He is showing that God is outside of time and thus when he says 'quickly' he does not necessarily mean that there will not have been a delay of calendar time he means that it is utmost on his mind to do it. It could also be suggest that when it occurs it will do so with a 'strike' rather than as a gradual event.
Whilst that might seem like a reasonable argument I still have to justify; if God wasn't using those numbers to mean something literal (as in option a) then surely he was using them without real meaning and the proponents of option b have a point. Here we land on one of the more interesting, but also dangerous, areas of scriptural interpretation. Symbolism.
As we go though our Bibles we cannot but help be struck by the way periods of time reoccur we similar events. Most Sunday school children can tell you that it rained upon Noah for forty days and forty nights. They also should be able to tell you that the Lord was in the wilderness fasting for forty days. Some may know that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Whenever we see a test we see 40. This leads us to believe that the number 40 may be a symbol for testing rather than a literal period of time. But if these numbers are symbols then how long did these events actually take?
We can trivially solve this seemingly impossible riddle by adjusting our perspective of God. God created the universe and holds together every law and force that we rely upon. He is not forced into deciding whether to talk about the actual length of an event or whether to write down a number with symbolic significance. He can simply alter reality so that the actual length of an event and the symbolically pleasing length of an event are actually the same.
So, I suggest in 2 Pe 3:8, Peter is using two numbers to represent two symbols that God can equate in his mind as similar. The first is the day. This is the shortest cycle that scripture recognizes and an amount of the solar system was put into place so that we could mark it. The day is our unit of labor. God performed his work of creation in a series of days and mans wage is seen as being upon a daily basis. I suggest, and I will attempt to enforce it during my chapter on Ec 6:6, that the 'thousand years' is the longest recognized cycle in scripture and it is the lifetime.
2Pe 3:8 thus becomes clear. We are in time and thus we measure a waiting period using chronology, which is essentially a measure of decay. We measure by what we still have to do and by how long we have left. God has nothing left to do and he never ends. Thus God is out of time and he measures the wait by the number of events that need to take place. He is coming quickly because there are not many events to happen, although the calendar duration of them may be significant.
Finally, having established that we have to be careful in interpreting God's qualitative statements we can go back and review his quantitative ones. In my example of the $50, we would not doubt anyone's word that an item cost $50 if they said it did, simply because we were not sure what they meant by 'cheap'. It is the same for us in interpreting scripture. Whilst I may not understand what God means by 'quickly' I have no reason to doubt what he means when he says '1000 years'.
So as we now progress through Revelation 20 I shall assume that scripture means what it says and can be relied upon to be accurate and understandable unless we have strong reason to believe otherwise.
Rev 20:1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
These verses must not, of course, be taken in isolation. We have progressed through the majority of Revelation and have seen the church age, the tribulation and great tribulation. We have seen a mighty battle, tremendous destruction and the fall of Babylon. I don't want to assume the conclusion by stating what those mean but I do want to notice that Rev 18 & 19 both start with the phrase 'after these things'. Rev 19 ends with the beast and false prophet being cast into the lake of fire and their armies being destroyed. By any reasonable system of interpretation we must see Rev 20 as heading towards a new 'post tribulation' era in which, at least for a time, good is triumphing over evil.
Having established that this verse is ushering in a new era we need to see what the hallmark of this new era is. To do this we need to ascertain if these verses have a literal meaning or need to be taken figuratively. Verse 2 is probably the start here; we see an extremely detailed and unambiguous description of Satan. There is only one other verse in scripture that is quite this inclusive in its view of the adversary and that is Rev 12:9. Further we see that this verse also refers to a restriction of Satan's capabilities, he is being cast from heaven and restricted to the earth.
Thus from Rev 12:3 where Satan is seen standing in heaven to Rev 20:3 we see that Satan goes through three separate sets of eras:
- Angels upon the earth Satan present in heaven
- Satan restricted to the earth
- The 'binding' implied by these verses
Any attempt to overlap these periods makes the verses in Revelation futile, either these actions signify something and Satan is being restricted or they don't and he isn't.
We know from Job that period a) was in process during the Old Testament. Rev 12:5 appears to refer to the birth, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus which would place era b) sometime after that. In fact Rev 12 in general shows that era b) is to be the period of Great Tribulation which makes era c) some time after that.
So having shown that the character can be taken literally we simply need to see if the action of verse one can be too. I will assume we believe in angels and will accept that the chain is almost certainly figurative of some binding agent that we don't understand. It is the bottomless pit that gives us our most interesting clue however; this appears elsewhere in Revelation in chapters 9,11 & 17. Here we discover that the angel of Rev 20 is actually the fifth angel of the seven trumpets. We also discover that the bottomless pit is already the abode of many fallen angels that do not otherwise have free range over the earth and there is an implication that dead evil people go there.
From these verses I take it that in era c) Satan is restricted to a 'holding zone' that has already been used for evil angels and that possibly is another dimension of the 'hell' that we naturally associate with unsaved people.
Is Satan An Excuse For Sin?
3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
Whilst this verse appears to relate the same information as the previous two, it actually contains a few extra pieces of important information.
- Satan is not simply to be bound in that he cannot have physical effect for the thousand years, he is to be 'shut in' and 'sealed'. It is hard not to picture the similar situation where the Jews and Romans attempted to 'shut in' and 'seal' the Lord before his resurrection. The difference of course is that man cannot shut in God; God will have provided the power to shut in Satan.
- There will be nations during the millennium. This is important as it curbs certain utopian notions of the millennium being some 'brotherhood of man'. It also shows that this is not an oblique description of heaven and it also shows that it is not purely a Jewish concern. This is a period of world government in which the basic unit of people is not that different to what we have today. In fact, although it is not stated and it is not necessary, it suggests there will still be some physical boundaries, and possibly even cultural differences that will render the different 'types' of people still distinct.
- The thousand years are to be fulfilled. The Greek word is teleo that suggests that an end had been accomplished. Put another way this thousand years wasn't simply noting abstractly that it took a thousand years to do something, but that this is a time period with a purpose. It may even indicate that the thousand years means something, although in fairness that is a stretch.
- Satan is coming back! To me this is one of the simplest yet most overlooked features of the millennium. It is transitory. Satan, the adversary, the tempter, and the old serpent will still be viable; he will just be in a holding pattern. We therefore have to be very careful with any metaphoric interpretation of what may be binding him. It cannot be that he is bound by the ‘pervasive influence of the gospel’ because why would the effect of the gospel suddenly cease?
The factual conclusion of this chapter is that the Devil is to be deliberately bound for a set period of time during which the nations will be able to continue their normal actions in a Satan free environment.
The question is: why? If the devil is to be freed to go about his business for a short period at the end of the millennium then why not simply tag that time on to the end of the tribulation and get it all over with in one go? Why go through all the effort of setting up seemingly idyllic conditions only to get them all messed up?
I suggest the answer is: justice. If we go back to the fall of man in Gen 3 we find Satan as the serpent already hard at work deceiving Eve. There was always going to be the open question: if Satan had not been around to deceive man, or if man had actually known the mess that following Satan would get him into, would man have done it? Suppose man was given a completely clean slate and the chance to build upon all the lessons of history then might he not get it right? What if man actually had lots of time to observe justice close at hand and a good upbringing and knowledge of right and wrong; might he not choose right?
Whilst God had the power and right to leave those questions hanging his purpose is not to do so. His purpose is to show unequivocally that even without external bad influence when given a straight choice of obeying God or not he will generally choose not.
Those That Reign
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
This verse is probably pivotal to many peoples understanding of what the millennium is and yet it is one of those few verses of the new-testament scripture that is completely vague. The issue, of course, is who are the 'they' and 'them' of the first clause?
The second part of the verse is much simpler, we get a detailed description of those that had not followed the beast and had thus been martyred. This is a group detailed with similar language in the opening verses of Revelation 15. They are referred to earlier under the fifth seal, in fact that reference shows that the company can actually be divided into two, those that die during the tribulation for the word of God, and those that die in the great tribulation for not taking the mark of the beast. However I wish to leave aside, for the purposes of this essay, the details of the tribulation and instead note that was is envisaged in the second half of this verse is the tribulation martyrs.
The second half of the verse also makes clear, at least to the open and literal minded, that the named groups in this verse are to form part of a ruling group in conjunction with the Lord Jesus Christ. Again we often skip over the subtleties to get into the controversy; but let us just drive home a couple of points:
- This group is going to live with Christ. The rest of the verses we shall see denote a physical existence, therefore the natural reading of this verse is that for this period Christ will actually be physically dwelling, at least from time to time, upon the earth.
- This group is going to reign with Christ. We often confuse the human notion of progress with the promises of God. We may envisage the millennium, and maybe even heaven, as some form of democratic nation. We may have in our minds that everyone will be independent and answerable only to God. The truth is very different. God's view of perfect government is an absolute dictatorship with power invested in trusted dependants.
- The existence of rulers implies the need for rule and the existence of an underclass. Again modern western man holds up a 'two-tier society' as an epitome of all that is bad in a system of government. Yet the millennium is formed from a number of groups and one of them is the group that 'just got through'. The group that is ruled is the collection described in the latter half of Revelation 7 that we will deal with presently.
Now we must deal with the question of whom the first half of this verse refers to. In order to answer that question it is necessary to scan scripture to see if there are any other groups promised an opportunity to rule upon the earth. Further, to attempt to ensure that any similarity of language comes from similarity of intent we need to search the start as near to our present passage as possible. The first clearly matching group comes from Revelation 5:9-10.
There can be little doubt that this group will reign; so the question is who are they? Verse 9 shows these are people that are redeemed and are gathered from the whole earth. Many who read Revelation equate this group with the group in the latter part of Revelation 7. Both groups are described as having been cleansed by blood and both are gathered from the world and both seem to be hovering around the four beasts and four and twenty elders. However there are some compelling differences:
Another clue is available from verse 10 of Revelation 5 where the group states they will be kings and priests. This is exactly the claim John makes of the church in Rev 1:6.
This would imply there are two distinct groups of gentiles involved in the millennial kingdom, one selected before the tribulation and one that results from the tribulation. The one selected before the tribulation would appear to correspond to the church. In fact we find that the church has already been promised that it will judge the world and Rev 2:26 suggests it, or at least part of it, will have power over the nations and this power is described as reigning in 2Ti 2:12.
Intriguingly we find the apostles themselves singled out and given thrones and particular rule over the twelve tribes of Israelites. This clearly tells us that Jews will be present during the millennium, that they will be distinct as Jews, and that the apostles will be particularly responsible for that race.
The inclusion of the Jews also links us to the most clear and yet contentious passage to relate to Rev 20:4 and that is the seventh chapter of Daniel, especially verses 22 & 27. There can be no real doubt that those verses refer to this time; the question is whether the references to the saints in Daniel refer to the church or to old-testament saints. Without a full excurses on Daniel 7 which is handled elsewhere it may be enough to point out that verse 27 refers to the people of the saints of the Most High.Rev 5 & 7 both refer to being from a number of peoples, in Daniel 7 but one people is in view. As this vision was given to Daniel it would suggest that Daniel would have interpreted this to be his people, and so should we.
In fact, unless we believe that pieces of scripture will remain unfulfilled for all time, then we know that a time is coming when all nations and kingdoms will serve the Jew thus we may assume that the millennium is this time.
Following the same reasoning we have one more 'group' to add and that is King David. There are at least five passages of scripture that suggest he will be co-regent with Christ upon the earth with special duties towards the Jewish people.
However we now have a problem, we have identified five groups of people that are to be in positions of rule and only one group that isn't, we may be tempted to ask if ruling will actually mean anything during the millennial kingdom. I suggest it does and that the five ruling groups each have a marginally different function based upon their location and history.
- The Jewish nation will be the exalted nation upon earth; all other nations will be forced to bow down to it and to visit it for religious function and education.
- The apostles. As members of the church but also Jews they will be in heaven but shall have administrative rule over the Jewish nation.
- David. In the passages that say he will be regent it suggests he will be the shepherd of Israel. This is more personal and spiritual than administrative.
- The tribulation martyrs are primarily gentile and they will have administrative and practical rule over the gentile nations and kingdoms.
- The church will be in heaven but shall judge and have religious rule over the gentile nations.
5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
If there is a single verse that delineates the degree and severity of the theological gulf that exists between pre-millennialists and others then it may well be verse 5. I suggest this not so much because this verse is twisted more than another other but because of the catastrophic result of the twisting.
This verse deals with the resurrection. The resurrection is an absolute cornerstone of our faith. Without the resurrection Christianity is meaningless. The resurrection is the proof of the Lord Jesus' deity. It should also be noted that the Greek word used is anastasis, which is exactly the same Greek word translated resurrection in the other places noted. It is also a resurrection used in contradistinction to death (nekros) as it is in the other places noted. The suggestion offered by many commentators is that this is suggestion of some form of spiritual rebirth either of individuals or of the church. Of course it is difficult to work out why someone that is born again needs to be born again again so some of the commentators have gone to far as to suggest the term resurrection really just means being particularly happy.
If we look at the use of anastasis in the remainder of scripture we see the word is used of literal physical resurrection and nothing else. For example:
- When disputing with the Sadducees they and the Lord both refer to the resurrection. If there were multiple types of resurrection the distinction would be made.
- In Luke 14:14 speaks of the resurrection of the just, this suggests all the just get resurrected at the same time. John 5:29 goes further and refers to two different resurrections, the resurrection of life and damnation. Given that verse we would have to assume both resurrections are physical, or both spiritual. It is hard to imagine a spiritual resurrection to spiritual death so we must assume they are both physical.
- In Acts the resurrection is mentioned again and again, of both the just and unjust. It was used this way before gentiles and Paul's argument with the Sadducees shows that it was a similar resurrection to the one the Lord debated with them in Mt 22 et al.
- Romans 1:4 is a crucial verse in scripture. The Lord Jesus proved deity through resurrection. That verse looses all force if it just means that his followers became jubilant.
- Rom 6:5 says that we shall be resurrected like him. If he had a bodily resurrection then so do we! 1 Co 15 drives this point further home and suggests that Christianity doesn't really hang together without it. Peter points out that our hope is based upon this same resurrection.
One final comment upon why resurrection is not just a spiritual birth. Anastasis means to rise up again. Anisthmi is used to stand up for the first time. If this is a spiritual rebirth then at what point did these souls die after being born?
In fairness most of the commentators do believe in a literal resurrection too but they place that at some other time even though this passage in Revelation is the only time resurrection is mentioned in that book.
If we step aside from the controversy and look at the verse plainly then the meaning is clear. Those not included in the reigning groups of verse 4 and those not yet dead do not get resurrected at this time but at the end of the millennium.
We may wonder why Godly men have taken such pains to mutilate such a fundamental scriptural concept. The answer is that if we accept the literal interpretation; that resurrected human beings will be on earth during the millennium, then it immediately becomes clear that the millennium is still future.
Verse 6 gives us some additional characteristics of this reigning group. First we are told that those taking part in the resurrection are blessed and holy. The latter is particularly important. Holy is a strong word; it tells us that these saints are accounted righteous. Thus we must assume that they are not part of the group that eventually rebels against God. This statement is further emphasized by the fact that none of them will be cast into the lake of fire (the second death). Finally verse 6 brings out the priesthood of the reigning group. This shows us that as well as administrative rule there will be a spiritual separation between the rulers and the ruled. Incidentally, it also shows that intercession is again possible during the millennium; this possibility having been suspended during the latter part of the great tribulation.
7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison 8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
Any interpretation of the millennium that views it as the steady universal acceptance of Christian principles have to accept that this long-haul Christian growth eventually results in catastrophic failure! True, the failure is quickly reversed by the Lord himself; but the fact still remains that the majority of those going through the millennium are not saved!
In fact whilst this essay is really supposed to differentiate my millennial position from others, these verses are a little chilling even for those of us that view the millennium as a literal future event. The temptation is to think of all evil as being purged during the tribulation and then us appearing with the godly Jew to spend a happy thousand years upon the earth before moving in to the eternal state. Whilst that may be a cheering view, and in some ways a spiritually accurate one; it is not what is physically going to happen. The millennium, with the Lord himself on earth, with the Lord ruling with our assistance, with the earth returned to a beautiful possibly Edenic state, with everyone knowing about God and obeying him, is actually a huge failure.
After the thousand years God allows the devil out. People have tried the world with and without Satan and they are going to be able to choose which one they prefer. They will have known truth for 1000 years and they are now going to be offered lies, and accept them. The scale of verse 8 is horrific. This is not a slight turning of one or two; the suggestion is that all of the nations that have been under messianic rule, a huge multitude of people, are going to be gathered to battle in Jerusalem. This is almost going to be a rerun of the battle at the end of the great tribulation.
The reference to Gog and Magog is suggestive. It is the same grouping referred to in Ezekiel 38 where a detailed attack and battle is outlined. Most conservative commentators place this attack at some point during the tribulation (or just before). The reason is that the aftermath of the attack leaves the Jews burying dead for 7 months and then burning the weapons for 7 years. There are also suggestions that this event is one that helps form the Hebrew nation as a nation.
However there is some language in Ezekiel 38 (as opposed to 39) that is intriguing. In verse 8 we are told that Gog descends upon a land brought back from the sword. If this is referring to a time at the beginning of the millennium (as many suppose) then it what sense has Israel been brought back from the sword? Verse 8 also suggests conditions of bliss, especially when combined with verse 11. Now we know that the beast signs a covenant with the Jew, at the beginning of the tribulation, to remove widespread persecution but do we really think that covenant can be so strong that the Jews will be dwelling without doors? Verses 8 & 11 of Ezekiel 38 seem to hearken back to Ezekiel 36 and that chapter must surely refer to the millennium for the Jews have already been converted and are following God. Also verse 11 speaks of those that are at rest. If the attack from Gog and Magog occurs in the very opening days of the tribulation then the Jews will not have had time to remove all walls, doors and gates and will not have had time to be at rest. If the attack from Gog and Magog happens later in the tribulation then the seven years of weapon burning has to span the persecution of the beast, huge earthquakes and the setting up of the millennial kingdom.
I wonder if the attack of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 isn't actually a direct reference to the attack at the end of the millennium. The separate prophecy in Ezekiel 39 could then be referring to the attack at the start of the tribulation. Certainly the fiery end in Ezekiel 38 is the same predicted in verse 9 of the present passage.
Physical Conditions During The Millenium
Whilst attempting to analyze Revelation 20 I have skipped over a number of incidental descriptions of conditions during the millennium that can be profitably chased. In Revelation 7:15-17 we have the conditions as promised to the heathen: there will be a temple accessible to them which will shield them from the sun, ample food and water, no extreme of temperature, and that tears will be quenched by God personally.
The reference to the temple and shielding from sun is a link to Is 4:5-6. Is 60:19&20 suggests further than the normal sun / moon pattern has been disturbed. Is 60 also tells us that people will be physically able to reproduce which also tells us this passage cannot refer to the eternal state.
The reference to the temple in Revelation 7 is almost certainly a link to the famous section of Ezekiel that describes the template and the sacrificial system in some detail.
We get many details within the Ezekiel chapters; one important one is the reference in Chapter 47:1-6 to the rivers of flowing water. This is a link to Zec 14:8 which shows the direction in which the river shall flow, but also that the river comes from Jerusalem that had undergone significant physical re-arrangement. We also find that the physical change, together with the water causes tremendous fertility within Judea. Note that some of the physical blessings only apply to certain areas within the millennial kingdom.
Is 11:6 & 65:25 takes this idea of physical blessing a little further. As well as geographic and cosmic changes that render the area of Jerusalem fertile we find that there have actually been some biological changes to the way nature works. Specifically the carnivorous animals become vegetarian and the dangerous animals become safe.
Whilst these may all be treated as side issues to the question of when the millennium is they do actually raise an important issue. These are all physical descriptions of everyday, understandable objects. The people reading these passages would have looked forward to a time when these blessings became real in the way described. If these verses meant something completely different, or nothing at all, then those obeying God and looking forward to this time were being misled.
The Millenial Positions Considered
We will now take a little time to consider the various millennial positions in light of the scriptures we have looked at.
The millennium is taken in a purely symbolic sense and does not refer to any period of time whatsoever. The references to wolves and lamb, swords and ploughshares are figurative references to the peace that settled upon humanity as a result of Christ’s first advent. The first resurrection refers to being born again with the second resurrection being a general resurrection of all.
The binding of Satan for a thousand years refers to the completeness of the victory of Christ at Calvary. Indeed the number 1000 is simply a symbol of the complete pervasiveness of the Divine in world affairs since the cross.
There are many flaws in this view. We have already looked at the 1000-year issue in detail and the whole idea of rendering thousands of verse completely null and meaningless will be repulsive to most people reading this essay. Additionally this view does not allow for the rebellion of the world at the end of the millennium.
However I think there is a simpler argument. Even if these scriptures are a pure figure and metaphor does our life experience really suggest they could be a metaphor of now? Do the wolves and lambs, swords and ploughshares, blessing from Jerusalem accurately figure two thousand years where the Jews have been persecuted endlessly and where, even today, Jews live in fear of the latest suicide bombing attempt? The figure just plain doesn't work.
The past millennial view, pushed by Hammond and Grotius, is that the millennium was from the fourth century to the fourteenth century. This view does tackle the rebellion of Satan but it suffers from having to water down most of the physical blessings promised and also fails to explain the meaning of the resurrection in a meaningful way.
Present Millenniallism (or Amillennialism)
The view here is that the millennium is a description of the Christian era. It was popularized by Augustin and is the standard Catholic position. The resurrection mentioned is a spiritual one.
The flaws in this system are: -
- Those that will reign. Of the five groups detailed only one of them is alive today, and even we have not been around for most of this period.
- All of the promises to the Jew become void.
- The physical blessings promised become void or grossly misrepresented
- We have to assume that Revelation 20 is a description of something that happens before the tribulation and the release of Satan brings the tribulation.
- Or we have to assume the tribulation doesn't happen or that the language is severely watered down.
- We have to assault the whole meaning of resurrection
- The promises that the messiah and David will be upon the earth become void.
- The 'thousand' years becomes some unknown length of time that is certainly more than a thousand years.
- This view implies Satan is bound today and that the earth hears nothing from him. This suggests that the instances of demon possession we see are bogus and that we are currently living in an era of unsurpassed peace and tranquility with the Lord ruling directly from Zion. Yeah, right.
This view, popularized by Whitby takes the first resurrection as a resurrection of cause, spirit, doctrine and character of Christianity. This will usher in a thousand years of blessedness, although the Lord will not have come. At the end of the thousand years the second resurrection is a resurgence of evil that will prompt the return of Christ and the introduction of the eternal state.
Note that this view is essential identical to amillennialism with the exception that objections h & i are solved.
The teaching here is that the great tribulation ushers in a period where the world is different with significant geologic, cosmic and biologic changes to nature. The Jew will be exalted; five different groups of saints, some resurrected, will reign over a population of gentiles that came through the tribulation and their children. After a thousand years of Godly justice Satan will be loosed to deceive the world that will result in a huge battle that will begin to usher in the eternal state.
Why The Millennium?
In closing I would like to ask the question, why does their need to be a millennium anyway? I think the answer may come from Romans 3. God is going to judge people permanently; the lake of fire is a very real and terrible place. God's justice requires proof that man is inherently evil and defiant of God.
The whole of our Bible is full of circumstances in which man chose to defy God. First there was the Edenic state, the world was perfect and man rebelled. Then the ante-deluvian state where man knew right from wrong, and chose wrong. Then the Noaic covenant, human government was in place, and man chose wrong. Then came the promise to Abram, man chose wrong. The era of the law, man did wrong. The monarchy and unsurpassed wisdom, man went wrong. Then there is the Christian era, free salvation offered, the glories of God fully revealed, and man ignores it and chooses wrong.
However, the lawyer for the defense still has one counter argument. During each of these eras there has been an adversary, a deceitful malignant being that has been trying to make man go wrong. Additionally living conditions have been such that man may not have been given a fair chance to understand the choices he was making. Even in our courts the nature verses nurture argument holds.
We are not really bad Your Honor, if only we had been taught how to do things properly and hadn’t had the adversary it would have been ok.
I actually think this is the basis of Eccl 6:6
6 Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
The thousand years is a good length to describe a lifetime. It is a top end on what any man has ever achieved and allows for 10 generations of grandchildren. I propose that this verse is thus saying 'suppose man had a second lifetime'. Suppose Satan were put away, Edenic conditions restored to the earth, God visibly ruling in the center of things, a sacrificial system in place so that sin could be atoned for. What would man do?
Some of those alive during the millennium will be getting a second lifetime, for a few of them both will have been approaching a thousand years. Yet with spiritual perception they will look around them and realize that whilst the people are not rebelling, they would if given the chance. I believe Ecc 6:6 is actually prophetic and is describing the complete depravity of man under any and all circumstances. If justice is to be done, under any circumstances, then we will all go to the same place, the lake of fire.
In many ways I think the millennial debate is one of Satan's masterpieces. It is a topic that will split and absorb the energies of many conservative Christians. Meanwhile we will all miss the point which is very simply that man is evil, we cannot get back to God ourselves under any circumstances and therefore we must be extremely grateful for his gracious offer of full salvation and we must be diligent in telling others of it.
- McAllister, David Amillennialism Examined, Spread The Word.
- Anderson, Robert The Coming Prince Kregal
- Barnes, Albert. A new testament commentary Power Bible
- Biederwolf. The Prophecy Handbook. World Bible Publishers.
- LaHaye Time. Are We Livingn in the End Times Tyndale
- Strong. Greek dictionary. Power Bible
- Vine, W E. Expository dictionary of new testament words. Hendrickson
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