home > articles > What’s the deal with “the Millennium”?
Where is human history going? Many people believe that the Bible has not only accurately predicted human history to this point, but that it predicts a coming ‘Golden Age’. This possibly impending event is called: “The Millennium”. But there are very devout Bible readers who think this kind of reading of Scripture is actually a gross misreading of the Bible, and that what the Bible really says about the future may surprise – and even shock people today.
The “Millennium” is the touchstone for how people label themselves when it comes to interpretting Bible prophecy. Depending on how they regard the Millennium, they will classify themselves either as, (i) Premillennial; (ii) Amillennial; or, (iii) Post-Millennial. Within these Millennial categories there are people who take a “fundamentalist” view, generally known as “Dispensationalists” and there are others who take a “Reformed” view, generally known as “Historicists”, or the position I will argue for- “Preterist”.
The term “Millennium” doesn’t actually occur in the Scriptures. But like many things that the Bible teaches, we shouldn’t be hung up on terms because there are many Biblical truths which do not employ the terms we have identified them with. That is, there are things that the Bible teaches which it doesn’t say with the terms we have given them. For example, the Bible does not say that God loves you, but it does teach it. The expression, The Millennium, means 1,000 years. It is based on a reference in Revelation 20.
And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. ¶ Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Most commentators agree that this is a reference to “the Kingdom” which Christ repeatedly referred to. For those who think that this Kingdom will be an earthly, physical Kingdom, it is yet to come. This view is called Premillennialism. Most proponents of Premillennialism take the view that the Bible should be taken quite literally when it refers to Christ reigning “for a thousand years.” Premillennialists are critical of any other views regarding the reference to the one thousand year reign of Christ. Added to this, they state, there are Old Testament prophecies which speak of God ruling on earth in a Kingdom for a long time.
¶ In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
This idea that Christ will return and establish a literal one thousand year reign from Jerusalem also incorporates the notion that God will re-establish Israel as a nation with reclamation of its Biblical boundaries in preparation for this impending earthly reign of Christ. Appeals are made to Old Testament prophecies which speak of the restoration of Israel to a glorious national state with Jewish people being drawn back to the Land of Israel to repopulate the Promised Land. This view has been by far the most popular view over the last century or so. It has been the seedbed of the rise of modern Zionism and for this reason has been very supportive of the State of Israel.
During the Reformation, the subject of the Millennium was made to fit into a different viewpoint. Many of the Reformers read their current events into the Book of Revelation and developed a system which became known as Historicism. This view considered that the prophecies of the Book of Revelation were written about the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, and that it predicted the rise of the Reformation and its eventual overthrow of the Papacy. The Reformers hope that they would indeed accomplish this goal was buoyed by their Historicist reading of the Book of Revelation. Out of this came a new way of looking at the Millennium. Most of the Reformers considered that the Biblical prophecies found in the Book of Revelation were yet to be fulfilled. But as the idea of a Rapture hadn’t been invented yet – and therefore a “two-stage” return of Christ was unheard of – these Reformers considered that the Millennium was a future event, and that the Book of Revelation depicts Christ returning just before the Great White Throne Judgment event. Therefore, Christ could only return after the Millennium. That’s why this view is called Post-Millennialism.
In this scheme, the Millennium would be a Golden Age for the Church where Christians would govern the earth through its various institutions and instrumentalities on behalf of Christ. Christ will only return after there has been a great harvest of the world’s souls and His Church has been made glorious in the earth. Because Christians will assume responsibility for the running of society, the laws of God will have to implemented at all levels of society (the Parliament, the Judiciary and the Head of State). This will require that Biblical justice will also need to be introduced including corporeal and capital punishment (the abolition of prisons as institutions of punishment would also be necessary).
Not all Historicists have adopted Post-Millennialism. Some Historicists hold to a form of Futurism. But for those Historicists who do subscribe to Post-Millennialism, they have an honest expectation that the Church is yet reach its Zenith on earth. Not all Post-Millennialists agree that the precise period for the Millennium will be a literal 1,000 years, but they do regard it as a definite and long period of time.
I’ve already alluded to Pre-Millennialism. This is a ‘Futurist’ concept of Bible Prophecy. It regards the Millennium as a literal 1,000 year period in which Christ will physically rule the earth from a restored, reclaimed, Jewish Jerusalem. Pre-Millennialists are almost invariably Dispensationalists of one kind or another. They consider that Christ will return in two stages: firstly, to “rapture” the New Covenant Church, and then secondly, to establish His earthly rule (either 3 1/2 or 7 years later). The primary idea behind Pre-Millennialism is that Christ must return to fulfil the promises made to Israel, and in particular, to King David. This idea demands that Scripture is read with God as currently having two Covenants and therefore two Covenant people-
Applying these principles of biblical interpretation, it must be seen that Israel (Abraham’s physical descendants) and the church (all New Testament believers) are two distinct groups. It is crucial to recognize that Israel and the church are distinct because, if this is misunderstood, Scripture will be misinterpreted. Especially prone to misinterpretation are passages that deal with promises made to Israel (both fulfilled and unfulfilled). Such promises should not be applied to the church. Remember, the context of the passage will determine to whom it is addressed and will point to the most correct interpretation.
WHAT IS PREMILLENNIALISM?
Great emphasis is placed on the “Literal” reading of Scripture by Pre-Millennialists. But critics of Pre-Millennialism claim that this is based not on a literal reading of Scripture, but rather a wooden literal reading of Scripture. It did have a brief time in the sun around the third century under the name Chiliasm (pronounced “Killyasm”) but roundly condemned by church leaders and eventually a Church Council.
Chiliasm was, however, according to the interpretation of non-chilliasts, condemned as a heresy in the 4th century by the Church, which included the phrase whose Kingdom shall have no end in the Nicene Creed in order to rule out the idea of a Kingdom of God which would last for only 1000 literal years. Despite some writers’ belief in millennialism, it was a decided minority view, as expressed in the nearly universal condemnation of the doctrine over a gradual period of time, beginning with Augustine of Hippo. It is vigorously disputed whether or not caesaropapism had a role in the virtual annihilation of millennialism from the 4th Century onwards.
Millennialism is strongly rejected as a heresy by the Orthodox Church. In AD 230, the Synod of Iconium declared that baptisms performed by the Montanist sect were invalid. The Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in AD 381 supported the Synod of Iconium and further declared millennialism to be a heresy.
But, this view has become by far the most popular view among Christians over the past 150 years thanks to the embracing of mass publishing and the use of media by Pre-Millennialist preachers. So ingrained in Evangelical (Bible-believing) Christian thinking that it could be easily argued that it has affected US Public Policy when Evangelicals have resided in the Whitehouse or Capitol Hill. It’s therefore not too difficult to imagine that the US Government’s attack on Iraq was justified by some as “putting down the rise of rebuilt Babylon” – based on a Pre-Millennial reading of the Book of Revelation.
What might this “Golden Age” look like to a Pre-Millennialist? Do people die in the Millennium? Do people marry in the Millennium? Since Pre-Millennialists teach that the Righteous are resurrected at the beginning of the Millennium, and therefore dwell on the earth during the Millennium with those who have not yet died and been resurrected, what happens to those resurrected saints who die in the Millennium? Pre-Millennialists speculate about how to resolve these questions. Vague references are cited from Isaiah about a child living to a hundred and still being considered a child. References to wolves and lambs both eating grass are taken to be a literal prophecy of global dietary transformation among animals previously considered predators. All of this conjecture about the Millennium by Pre-Millennialists is mere speculation and considered to be largely implausible by many theologians.
But Post-Millennial Historicism is guilty of the same speculative conjecturing. One common and obvious criticism of Pre-Millennialism is that today’s newspapers are read into the text of Revelation. In this practice, current events are forced into the imagery of Revelation’s apocalyptic language. For example, when 9/11 happened, some Pre-Millennialists saw this foretold in Revelation 18. New York, they speculated, was described as Babylon, the centre for commerce, which had become arrogant and apostate and thus would incur judgment.
¶ And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,
“Alas, alas, for the great city
where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.
However, if you read the entire chapter of Revelation 18 it becomes apparent that what was foretold doesn’t fit the events of 9/11. This interpretation of the passage is being clumsily forced into the text and fails to be convincing.
Historicism can be indicted with the same charge as Futurist Pre-Millennialism. During the Reformation, many (if not all) of the Reformers interpreted the events of Revelation 18 as depicting the fall of the Roman Catholic Church and the Rise of the Protestant movement. This chapter of Church history is still read back into the message of Revelation which has given rise to the label, Historicism.
Some Historicists even see the rise and fall of Napoleon foretold in the pages of Revelation! It seems that the Reformers’ ideological and theological struggle with the Papacy, however veritable, coloured the way they interpreted the Book of Revelation. The predictions this Historicist model makes, based on its interpretation of the Book of Revelation, have largely failed. This is yet another thing that it shares in common with Futurist Pre-Millennialism!
Hyper-Preterists (as distinct from Classical-Preterists) regard the 1,000 years referred to Revelation 20 as being literal and commencing with King Solomon’s reign in 930BC. One ardent promoter of this view explained it to me this way-
The 1000 year ‘anomaly’ fits into a wider pattern of Old Testament usage –like the wider context of the solar system- that began in 930BC and was completed en toto in 70AD.
…A brief synopsis of the Davidic covenant and the 1000 year reign shows the logical and typo-logical parallels. …
1. The Davidic covenant factually entailed:
Solomon’s reign as King 1 Kgs 2
Solomon reigned 40 years in Jerusalem 1 Kgs 11:42
Solomon to sit on his throne in Jerusalem 1 Kgs 2
Solomon to rule over his people from Jerusalem 1 Kgs 2
Solomon built the Jerusalem temple 1 Kgs 7
JHWH dwell in the Jerusalem temple. 1 Kgs 8
Solomon lost his kingdom from disobedience. 1 Kgs 11:12-13
Jesus was a part of the Davidic covenant in Jerusalem temple which started c.930BC.
Jesus reigned as the Messiah – Davidic descendant- in the C.1st –
Jesus greater than Solomon Mt 12:42, Lk 11:31
Jesus reigned as King; ‘another Solomon.’ Acts 2; Eph 2:20ff, Mt27
Jesus reigned 40 years in Jerusalem 1 Cor 15:24-25;
Jesus to sit on his throne in Jerusalem 1 Cor 15:24-25
Jesus to rule over his people from Jerusalem Acts 2:33-35
Jesus superior to the Jerusalem temple “type” Heb 9:8-11
Jesus to destroy and build the temple. Mt 27:40, Acts 7:35-49
Jesus kept His kingdom from obedience. Rom 14:17, Col 4:11,Thess 2:12
Argument from facts –
Jesus began to reign from Acts 2 in AD 30 (+ or – 3)
Solomon reigned 40 years
Therefore Jesus reigned from 30-70AD = 40 years. (40 numerical symbol as period of trial. Ex).
Jesus began to reign from 30 AD as a descendant of the Davidic covenant
The Davidic covenant reigned from 930BC to its end in AD 70
Therefore Jesus typologically/covenantally reigned –
. as descendant for 1000 years from 930BC
. as David’s Father for 40 years to complete the 1000.
(1000 as numerical symbol for totality. Never literal but a symbol of totality or completion: eg. OT usage is symbolic. These cannot be literal.
. God owns ONLY 1000 hills? – Ps 50:10
. Happiness is ONLY 1000 days? – Ps 84:10
. Only 1000 flee at God’s rebuke? – Is 30:17
Also, further integration of a single typo-logial them that is logical, coherent, and
The Davidic covenant began with Solomon in 930BC to His descendant
Jesus was a descendant who ruled over the Jerusalem temple till 70AD
Therefore Jesus reigned:
i. In typology Jesus ruled thru Solomon for 1000 years
ii. In typology Solomon reigned thru Jesus till 70AD (1000)
iii. In prophecy Solomon predicted temples end1 Kgs 9:6-9
iv. In prophecy Jesus fulfilled it.Mt 24:1-3 cf. Rev 18-19.
There are several serious problems with this intricate attempt to make the data fit Revelation 20. Firstly, if the 1,000 year reign of Christ began with King Solomon, in what way was Satan bound then? Clearly he was not bound then. He was still active in tempting Christ, motivating the crucifixion of Christ and the persecution of the Church (especially refer to Christ’s own words in Luke 22:31), and was known to be active by the apostles who wrote to the churhces warning them to be guard against him (Eph. 6:12ff; 1Peter 5:1ff). Secondly, the references given citing Solomon are not at all convincing that they are meant to indicate the starting point for the 1,000 year reign of Christ. In fact, this kind of interpretation makes a mockery of the Doctrine of Perspicuity (the clarity of Scripture – the Bible does not contain mysterious / hidden / vague, messages). Thirdly, Revelation 20 indicates that the kingdom, or one thousand year reign of Christ, was just about to commence (not end). Revelation 20 says that this was to coincide with the binding of Satan. The New Testament teaches that Satan’s doomed was sealed by Christ’s Cross (Heb. 2:14; 1Jn. 3:8) and Christ also taught that the “kingdom was at hand”. The apostles wrote of the kingdom of God being a present reality (eg. 2Thess. 1:5) but it was yet to “appear” (2Tim. 4:1). The context of these passages fits well with the interpretation of Revelation 20 that the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD was the realising or “appearing” of Christ’s Kingdom and the binding of Satan because it is from this point that the only Covenant God offers mankind (the New Covenant) means that the redeemed are also “regenerated” (Titus 3:5) which Revelation describes as “the first resurrection”. Clearly, this did not commence with the reign of Solomon!
Regarding the Millennium as a yet future event creates unnecessary and avoidable difficulties. Certain events which Scripture seems to make clear are singular events have to be artificially made to double up. For example, the return of Christ. The Pre-Millennialist has at least two returns of Christ and possibly three: (i) A Pre-Tribulation Rapture Return of Christ; (ii) A Post-Tribulation Return of Christ and (iii) a return of Christ to rescue the ‘Camp of the Saints’ and vanquish His enemies in order to set up the Great White Throne Judgment. Added to this is a double-up of the Physical Resurrection: (i) For those who had previously died prior to the Millennium who will be resurrected at the start of the Millennium; and (ii) For everyone else, at the end of the Millennium. We could go on and mention that many Pre-Millennialists believe that the Bible predicts that the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt just prior to the commencement of the Millennium, then destroyed just prior to the commencement of the Millennium, then rebuilt for the Millennium!
Hopefully it becomes apparent that what we are really dealing with is not just “Eschatology” (what the Bible predicts about the end) but we are actually engaged in a discussion about how we understand the Bible itself! If we tolerate such wild speculating when it comes to interpretting the Bible’s prophecies we are prone to error. By using the same sound principles that we would use for any other Biblical passage-
(i) Read a passage in its entirety and appreciate its full context (textual-type, geopolitical backdrop, occasion for it being written);
(ii) Use Scripture to Interpret Scripture (appreciate not just the words of Scripture but the language and manner of speaking of Scripture);
(iii) Discover the understanding of the original audience (appreciate that the Bible was not written to us, but for us); and
(iv) do not interpret a text in a way that contradicts the overall message of Scripture,
-then we will go a long way further down the road of correctly interpreting the Book of Revelation and other prophecies in Scripture.
By doing this we would soon discover that the Bible’s usage of the term “one thousand” frequently and consistently means “too big to count”, or not meant to be counted. For example, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. God’s love and faithfulness lasts for a thousandgenerations. One day in your court is better than a thousand elsewhere.
One wonders who owns that cow on the thousand and first hill, or who the poor soul is who was born in the one thousand and first generation, or whether dwelling in the house of a pagan for a thousand and one days might just be better than one day in God’s house?
In this light we ask, When the Bible says that Christ shall reign for a thousand years, is it saying that His reign will one day end?
and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
When did Christ tell His disciples that His Kingdom, established at the Cross, would be inaugurated? It seems that He gave them pretty clear statements that His Kingdom, what the Book of Revelation describes as “a thousand years” would commence within their lifetimes.
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
In predicting the fall and destruction of Jerusalem (described in Revelation as “Babylon”, “Egypt”, “Sodom”, “the city where they crucified the Lord”)-
and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.
- Christ is clearly telling His disciples that He would “come” (note, not “return”) in judgment to close the Old Covenant and commence His Kingdom- one covenant between God and Man, forming one people, under one Saviour and King. In this “Preterist” scheme, the ‘Millennium’ commenced when the Old Covenant’s elements (the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sacrifices) was brought to an end in AD70. People enter into this Kingdom spiritually.
nor will they say, “See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
In this sense, the first resurrection is salvation. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they were dead in trespasses and sins but have now been made alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). Without Christ, a person is spiritually dead. In Revelation 20 it states that for those who have partaken of the first resurrection the second death will not touch them-
Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
In coming to Christ a person enters into the Kingdom of Christ (the “Millennium”) and begins to exercise Christ’s influence in the earth today. The offer of salvation will one day come to an end. As this happens, the forces of anti-Christ(ian) influences muster to wage spiritual war against the Church (“the camp of the saints”) and it is at this point that Christ will return like flaming fire from heaven-
And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them,
Proceeding the return of Christ will be the final judgment, “the Great White Throne”, where all will be physically resurrected and judged.
11 ¶ Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This interpretation is the most Biblically consistent. It is also the most conservative as it avoids speculating, appeals to verifiable historical events (such as the fall and destruction of Jerusalem), and fosters a realistic worldview for how Christians should engage with culture today. If this view is wrong, nothing is lost. If Post-Millennialism is wrong much ground is lost by waiting for Christ to promote His Church to a position of worldly power. If Pre-Millennialism is wrong, vast ground is lost by discrediting Christ, the Scriptures and Christians’ generally. There is one other major treatment of the Millennium promoted by Hyper-Preterists who regard the Millennium as the time between the Cross and the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD70. But this view is discredited for so many other reasons all of which become apparent when we read Scripture with the four sound principles of Biblical interpretation.
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
– – –
I have written a fuller explanation of the book of Revelation in my eBook- THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE (click here to read a preview). The application from the Book of Revelation is that despite what appears to be an impotent Church struggling to serve an apparently impotent Christ, the Church is in reality made up of overcomers who lay down their lives gladly to promote Christ and His Gospel. In so doing, the Kingdom of Christ is extended, prayers are offered and heard, miracles are graced, and the believer can die with infinite hope that their Lord will keep them for eternity and clothe them with a new body which can not be subject to pain, injury, sorrow, or sin. With this knowledge we can endure momentary hardship during the brevity of this life on earth. We can be assured that our greatest delights and deepest moments of fulfilment are yet to come in the life to come.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia August 26th 2010