At last we will look at Revelation 20 in order to see where the term the “millennium” originated and what is its meaning.
In Revelation 20, we see the phrase “thousand years” mentioned by John six times. The words in the Greek and Latin Bibles, chilias and mille, give us the words “chiliasm” and “millennialism” (or the archaic, “millenarianism”) – a one thousand year reign of Christ. This is the only place in the Bible where the “millennium” is mentioned. There are, of course, other passages in the Bible that speak of a prolonged era of prosperity and peace. But there is only this passage that speaks of the “thousand years.” Therefore, most postmillennialists are not dogmatic about the literal length of time of the “thousand years.” It is interpreted to mean simply a long time.
Postmillennialists view the number “thousand” as a symbolic and not an exact or literal number. This is consistent with other passages in the Bible, such as when God says that He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalms 50:10). Surely what is meant here is much more than exactly one thousand hills, but all the cattle in the world.
Postmillennialists teach that Jesus will return after the millennium is completed in order to judge the world. Premillennialists teach that Jesus is to return prior to a literal one thousand year reign of Christ on earth. Does Revelation 20 state that Jesus is to return prior to the thousand years? No, neither explicitly nor implicitly does Revelation 20 state that Christ has returned to the earth prior to the millennium. Premillennialists believe that Revelation does imply this because Jesus is on the throne and Satan is bound. However, we know that Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father shortly after His resurrection and ascension (Hebrews 8:1; Revelation 4:2). Christ is already seated on a throne and is even now the ruler over the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5).
Is Satan really bound now?
Yes, Satan was bound in the first century during the first coming of Jesus. Scripture teaches this.
“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28-29).
The New Testament speaks of the binding of Satan in various places. Satan falls from heaven (Luke 10:18); he is cast out of heaven (John 12:31); he was crushed under our feet (Romans 16:20); he was disarmed (Colossians 2:15); he was rendered powerless (Hebrews 2:14); his works were destroyed (1 John 3:8).
Note that John doesn’t say that Satan is bound in every respect. Christ binds Satan for a well-defined purpose: “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore” (Revelation 20:3b). In the Old Testament only Israel knew the true God. But Christ’s coming changes this as the Gospel is preached to all nations (Isaiah. 2:2,3; 11:10; Matthew 28:19; Luke 2:32; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:47).
So if Jesus is on the throne of heaven and if Satan is bound from deceiving the nations, then we are now in the millennium. The “millennium” is a figurative term for the period of time in which the Gospel is being preached and the nations of the world are being converted. We are in the midst of the “millennium” now and have been for about 2000 years.
The Common Church Doctrine is that the millennium is a metaphor for Christ’s kingdom on earth. First, the millennium will be completed. Then simultaneously, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment will occur.
The General Resurrection
As the Apostle’s Creed suggests and Scripture strongly maintains, three great eschatological events occur one time at the Second Coming of Christ.
- The New Heavens and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1,4)
- The simultaneous resurrection of living and the dead, redeemed and unredeemed (John 5:28-29)
- And the last enemy (death) will be conquered (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Does the resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous occur simultaneously?
Or – does the pretribulational rapture view have the scriptural upper hand in the debate over eschatology?
Again, the method for discerning the truthful answer to this controversy ought to be the historical-grammatical method, scripture interpreting scripture.
In John chapter 5 there appears a passage in which Jesus speaks of the resurrection of the dead:
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28,29).
The sense is that there will be a simultaneous resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. How can we reconcile this with the popular belief that the Church will be raptured first, and then the rest of the world at some later point – possibly as much as 1000 years later? Actually, it would be 1007 years to be exact if you accept the dispensationalist premillennial view of the rapture.
Then we should compare this with other Second Coming passages that indicate that when Christ does return, human history as we know it will be over. The earth will be transformed, our works will be judged and time will be subsumed into eternity.
We should also consider the current popular dispensational view did not appear until 1830. Prior to this time, most of the giants of the faith such as Augustine, Athanasius, Calvin, Luther, Knox, Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield and Hodge believed in a simultaneous rapture, general resurrection, judgment and consummation of history. This was the unified, general view of the Church for many centuries.
This certainly doesn’t fit with what many popular evangelicals believe about the end-times – with a dispensationalist scenario that has the Second Coming of Jesus taking place before a future 1000 year reign of Christ from an earthly throne and then a final resurrection that would take place after the millennium is fulfilled.
It has only been since the 1830s that the idea has originated that a small remnant of the Church would escape the growing darkness of this present evil age in a “secret rapture.”
Now it is important to note that even though dispensationalism has only been around since the 1830s, a more orthodox version of the premillennial view has been around since the early centuries of Christianity. Some Church Fathers were premillennialists while others held to the amillennial or postmillennial view.
If they were right, then the prevailing eschatology of our modern era doesn’t just have problems it is a problem.
It is important to remember that the pre-, a- and post- prefixes are fairly modern adaptations to describe millennial thinking. The Common Church Doctrine on the end-times did not distinguish between amillennialism and postmillennialism for over 1500 years.
In fact, until the time of the Protestant Reformation, premillennialism was called either “chiliasm” or “millenarianism.” Both phrases mean literally, “belief in the thousand years” (from the Greek and Latin, chilias and mille). Proponents held that there would be an earthly kingdom of God that would only appear at the Second Coming of Jesus in the future and would last for exactly 1000 years.
Postmillennialism is a phrase that came into being after centuries of Reformation influence in creating a Christian social theory from a biblical perspective. Prior to the 1600s, there was no distinction between postmillennialism and amillennialism. Postmillennialism was first called “progressive millennialism,” to distinguish it from both amillennial and premillennial thinking.
To summarize the postmillennial age that is even now occurring prior to the resurrection, A.A. Hodge wrote:
Christ has in reserve for his Church a period of universal expansion and of preeminent spiritual prosperity, when the spirit and character of the “noble army of martyrs” shall be reproduced again in the great body of God’s people in an unprecedented triumph of their cause, and in the overthrow of that of their enemies, receive judgment over their foes and reign in the earth; while the party of Satan, “the rest of the dead,” shall not flourish again until the thousand years be ended, when it shall prevail again for a little season.
The Three Pillars of Postmillennial Optimism
There are three promises or signs of Christ’s return spoken of in the Bible that are undeniable biblical truths.
Promise #1 – The unity of the faith
Till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).
We are to expect and work for, prior to the coming of Christ, a unity of the faith within the Church throughout the entire world.
How can such unity come to pass?
Only the postmillennial view contains such optimism as to suggest that Church unity within history will occur. All other eschatological views see the Church as a fragmented minority at the time of the second coming of Christ. To the contrary, although we seem at present to be very far from the unity that is foretold in the Scriptures, we have reason to believe, that these things will be fulfilled. As Joshua said to the children of Israel, “that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you” (Joshua 23:14).
We do not know exactly what form this unity will take. Will there still be a division between Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. Will Roman Catholicism be reformed, destroyed or become obsolete? Christians now disagree as to what this unity should be based upon. Yet it will occur in history. The Body of Christ will be built up into a mature man.
Promise #2 – A glorious Church without spot or wrinkle
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).
The Apostles made the connection between the glory and holiness of the Church and the Second Coming. “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11,12).
Only the postmillennial viewpoint contains this optimism concerning the holiness of the Church. Nearly all other views emphasize rather the evil state of the world and the final apostasy to come.
While most postmillennialists do not deny that, according to Revelation 20, there will be a final apostasy, we do not think it to be prevalent or long lasting. Nor do we think that it will destroy the holiness of the Bride on earth who is prepared to meet her Bridegroom. In keeping with John’s warning that everyone who hopes to see Christ “purifies himself” (1 John 3:2-3), we also read, “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
Peter and John paint this picture of the Church preparing herself prior to Christ’s return. Therefore, there will be a worldwide revival of holiness in the Church preceding Christ’s return.
Promise #3 – The Gospel will be preached in the uttermost parts of the earth
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).
Almost all Christians believe that the Great Commission will be accomplished at least to some extent in history. However, few place a great stress on discipleship. Yet the instructions our Lord left us were: “Teaching them [the ethnic nations of the whole world] to obey all that I have commanded you.”
Which commandments are we to teach the nations to observe? These are found in the whole Bible. These commandments deal with individuals, families, churches, businesses, schools, arts, sciences, civil governments, and all of society.
Not only do we believe that the Great Commission includes preaching the Gospel of salvation to all creation, but we also include the idea that this Gospel of the kingdom will take root and thrive in the whole world. There will be a resulting kingdom influence in all human institutions. There will be great victory for Christ and the hurch before He comes again.
Thank you for this brief exposition. I have some questions that I was hoping you could answer. I have come to agree that the millennium is not a literal one thousand years. Also, I have become optimistic about the church and the gospel going forward, taking dominion of the world. I’m currently reading Chilton’s ‘The Days of Vengeance’, but I just haven’t got to chapter 20 yet. My questions are about the timing of the first and second resurrections. In verse 4, it says “the souls of those who had been beheaded, etc.” came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Are these (Christians) who died during the great tribulation of the 1st century, or are they broader than that, including up to every redeemed person who had already died? It says they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (I agree with your statement above about there being nothing to indicate that this is on earth.). If it’s just those 1st century Christians or some smaller subset of all believers throughout time who are dead, would this mean they were resurrected prior to THE first resurrection (2 different resurrections which begs the question why the 2nd resurrection is being called the first resurrection) mentioned in verse 5? If it’s all believers mentioned in verse 4, wouldn’t this verse be saying that the first resurrection is at the onset of the millennium rather than at the end of it? That would seem to make sense given verse 5, where it appears to mean that the 2nd resurrection (those resurrected to judgement and eternal torment) happens at the end of the millennium. If the first resurrection is at the onset of the millennium, is it in Heaven, rather than on Earth, at this point? If verse 5 is talking about the first resurrection when it says the rest of the dead didn’t come to life until the millennium was over, I’m back to my first question about it looking like there’s 2 first resurrections rather than just a singular one. Is verse 5 parenthetically speaking of those who are raised to judgement and eternal torment as a different resurrection and then afterward restating that those who are part of the first resurrection in verse 4 are blessed? Another possibility is that the NASB doesn’t due justice to verse 4: instead them ‘coming to life’, I see other translations that just say they lived, thus no resurrection is being talked about. It’s just simply saying these were already alive and they began ruling with Christ at the onset of the millennium (from Heaven). Aside from all of those questions, is the 2nd resurrection those who are raised again to condemnation and eternal torment? Thank you for your insights.