Christ’s Millennial Reign

Although there are many theologians who contend that the apocalyptic period of a “millennial reign” will immediately follow the still future 2nd Coming of Christ, and will be a time of universal peace on earth as Christ governs all nations from a physical location, a “New Jerusalem”, this is NOT entirely consistent with all interpretations of scripture.

Revelation 20 provides a chronological order of events that includes “two resurrections” and a culmination of the millennial period with the “2nd death”. Note that the term “New Jerusalem” is NOT specifically mentioned in this passage. Neither is there a clear indication that the millennial reign (“the thousand years”) is a literal period of time.

While most of the imagery regarding the 2nd coming of Christ is found in the books of the prophets and Revelation, Peter declares this warning about overlooking the figurative application of proper interpretation.By His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” – 2Pt. 3:7-9.

Whenever we read Scripture, we are faced with a choice: Did God intend this passage to be taken literally or figuratively? Are we to accept ONLY a strictly physical sense, or is the meaning perhaps symbolic or metaphorical? Is the language used to be properly construed as absolutely literal, or is it intended as merely a figure of speech?

Our goal in understanding the Bible must never be to prefer either literal or figurative meanings, but always to understand what God intended the words to mean. Sometimes God intended a literal meaning, sometimes a figurative meaning, and occasionally both. Therefore, we must explore each individual context with sincere objectivity, devoid of anyy bias or preconceptions.

Many of the words Jesus used in referring to Himself are perfect examples of why a proper distinction must be considered. Jesus called himself a shepherd, a gate, a light. Some of the most theologically important words in the Bible are figures of speech. We should not interpret them literally, because they aren’t meant to be read literally.

In everyday speech, we often use figurative language. We might say, “He was green with envy,” or “She really got my goat.” By using such figures of speech, we can communicate better than if we had to use words literally.

In proper interpretation of Scripture, if we always prefer a literal meaning, we may miss the point. The disciples made this mistake when Jesus told them to beware of the “yeast” of the Jewish leaders (Mt.16:6). The disciples thought He was referring to their failure to bring any bread.

Biblical prophecies often include figures of speech. Some predictions came to pass exactly as written. Others were fulfilled in type — one thing representing another.

Isaiah 40:3-4, for an extreme example, predicts that valleys will be raised and mountains brought low. Luke 3:4-6 indicates that this prophecy in Isaiah was fulfilled by the preaching of John the Baptist. The valleys and mountains of Isaiah 40:3-4 are therefore apparently merely symbols for something else, and so not to be taken literally.

The apostle John (in Rev. 13:1-11) saw a beast coming out of the sea and another beast from out of the earth. Were these real animals, or only a vision? Were they  to be perceived as literal or merely symbolic?

If we interpret the prophecy literally, we might expect mutant dinosaurs. But few Biblical scholars interpret these beasts literally as fearsome wild animals. Rather, the beasts symbolize a typological fulfillment of large entities such as organizations, governments, empires, or kingdoms.

Consequently, it is dishonest to reject figurative meanings where they are intended, just as it is dishonest to render them where they shouldn’t be. We should not be hasty to seek a figurative interpretation, nor should we be hasty to reject one. We need to cautiously examine each verse in its original context, and exercise patience both wwithin ourselves, and with interpreters who arrive at different conclusions.

Isn’t figurative interpretation an immature attempt to offer other explanations for hard to accept teachings, a “plan-B” approach to the interpreting scriptures? In these cases, certainly NOT! It is instead more likely what God actually intended!

According to John’s vision, AFTER the “2nd death”, the earth passes, and a new earth is revealed (Revelation 21:1). According to Revelation 20:4-6, the saints will “reign” with Jesus for “1000 years”. Contrary to popular opinion, Rev. 20 does NOT say they will rein ON EARTH during that time, nor that the duration is a literal thousand years.

        “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in
         the night”
– Psa. 90:4.
   “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day
is like
a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day”
2Pt. 3:8.

According to scripture there are dramatic differences in the way that heaven and earth perceives time. We know this because these two passages provided the same information regarding the differences, one Old Testament, the other New. In order to apply this prophetic principle of “one day is like a thousand years” further, we must compare proof in scripture.

In Genesis, a good example of the prophetical application and fulfillment of this principle exists:
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you
eat
from it you will surely die”
– Gen. 2:17. Did Adam and Eve die THAT day?

It is no coincidence that those who lived before the Flood died just short of a 1000 years of age. Thus figuratively speaking, Adam, and all his offspring before the flood, died within a “day”— that is, within a thousand years. It should be quite obvious to every sincere seeker of truth, that God did NOT mean a literal 24 hour period of time. If so, Adam and Eve would have died the very DAY that they ate the fruit, but of course – they did NOT!

So, can it properly be assumed that whenever the word “day” is used, it could mean a thousand years? Hopefully you see how absurd that is; it is far more complex than that. But as always, context is of utmost importance when properly interpreting scripture.

Scripture says that the world was created in six days. Does this declare that the world was actually created in six literal 24 hour days as we count time, or in a literal 6000 years; or something totally different in a figurative sense of interpretation?

Another key scripture is “And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” – Gen. 6:3.

This passage points to a prophetic time period. It refers to the period of man on earth before Messiah returns. In the calculation 120 x 50 = 6000 years, the 50 refers to the amount of years of a Jubilee cycle. So, the time of Messiah’s return was prophesied.

“So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Do return, Lord; how long will it be? And be merciful unto Your servants” – Psa. 90:12,13.

These passages all speak about the return of our Messiah. Therefore, the phrase one day is like a thousand years” can indeed be applied in a prophetic context.

Scripture also says when Christ returns we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and SO SHALL WE EVER BE with the Lord” – 1 Th. 4:17; that Jesus will take us to where He is I go to prepare a place for you & if I go and prepare a place for you, I will COME AGAIN & RECEIVE YOU UNTO MYSELF; that where I am, there ye may be also” John 14:2,3.

This is a direct fulfillment to the prophecy delivered to those who witnessed Christ’s literal, physical ascension into heaven. Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” – Ac. 1:11. The indication is that the return of the Lord shall be in “like manner”, a literal, physical return.

That the saints shall rule & reign with Christ during the millennium (Rev. 20:4) also agrees with Paul’s admonition “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” – 1Co. 6:2, 3.

According to scripture the New Jerusalem, the home of the saved (Rev. 3:12; 21:10), descends from heaven to the earth (Rev. 3:12; 21:2) PRECEDING the second resurrection. If “the new Jerusalem” is a reference to a literal, physical city, does settle upon the existing city of Jerusalem in the exact geographcal location? If this is to be understood figuratively, it makes sense that when the LORD descends with a shout, He receives His saints to Himself, and they REMAIN there with HIM (in HIM). The LORD is that city ( Rev. 21). It is the “tabernacle of God”, “the bride, the LAMB’S wife”, “foursquare”, “made with “all manner of precious stones”, in the midst “the tree of life”. As the saved are said to be “in Christ”, so shall they ever be “in the city”.

Scripture further declares THEN I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” – Rev. 21:1.

Are the termsnew heaven & new earth” to be construed as synonymous with “New Jerusalem”? If so (& scripture definitively declares nothing to the contrary), then the New Jerusalem is the habitation to which Christ referred in Jo. 14 and it continues throughout eternity, but it is NOT an EARTHLY headquarters during any  literal millennial reign.

Is it mere coincidence that similar terms are used to descibe the “household of faith”? Peter declares of the saints “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house” – 1Pt.2:5. New Jerusalem is made of “all manner of precious stones”.

Scripture teaches that the return of Christ results in the resurrection of His saints.

In 1 Corinthians 15:23, 51-55, Paul tells us plainly that it is at “His coming,” when “the trumpet sounds”, that “the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Paul also wrote, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and SO SHALL WE EVER BE the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” – 1Th. 4:16-18.

According to Paul, “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” This is the same as “the first resurrection” depicted in Revelation 20:6.

Revelation 20 begins the Millennium with the resurrection of the saints, who are called “the dead in Christ”, and occurs when Jesus Christ returns, “the 2nd Coming of Christ” (1 Co. 15:51-55; 1 Th. 4:16-17). Jesus returns, the righteous dead are raised, and along with the righteous living they all are “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. This is great news for true believers! But what about those who are NOT “caught up,” those who are left behind?

This is where many doctrines differ from scripture. Several popular movies have been made speculating about this theme. But are they consistent with what scripture teaches? Some popular teachings say those left behind will have a second chance during a “seven-year tribulation,” an idea heavily promoted but, is such truly biblical theology?
Scripture does record that immediately after Paul describes true believers being “caught up,” he then declares, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. For when they shall say Peace and Safety, then SUDDEN DESTRUCTION cometh upon them … and they shall not escape” – 1 Th. 5:2-3. Thus, according to Paul, those who are not “caught up” will reap “sudden destruction” from which there is no escape.

How widespread this “sudden destruction” is, Jesus Himself explained. “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” – Lk. 17:26 -30.

In Noah’s day, all who refused to enter the ark were left behind, and PERISHED in the deluge. In Lot’s day, everyone except Lot and his family were consumed by falling fire. Jesus said, “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”

Scripture makes clear that when Jesus returns, those left behind will be destroyed, not given another chance during a “seven-year tribulation” (which, by the way, is nowhere specifically referred to in the Bible). Scripture does refer to a “great tribulation” but ONLY in the following New Testament passages.
“Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” – Mt. 24:21, 22.

“Immediately AFTER the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” – Mt. 24:29, 30; Mk. 13:24.

“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation TEN DAYS: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” – Rev. 2:10.

“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds” – Rev. 2:22.

“Because you have patiently obeyed me despite the persecution, therefore I will protect you from the time of great tribulation and temptation, which will come upon the world to test everyone alive” – Rev. 3:10.

“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” – Rev. 7:14.

NOTE: Nowhere in scripture is the duration of “the great tribulation” designated as seven years. To the contrary, one passage states it will last ten days (Rev. 2:10).

What is clearly designated in scripture is that AFTER the “great tribulation” when Jesus returns in flaming fire, the lost will be DESTROYED.

“When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” – 2 Th. 1:7-9.

During this “great tribulation” (referred to by OT prophets as “the time of Jacob’s trouble”) the earth is totally devastated, with “no man” left alive.

“I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger” – Jer. 4:23-26.

Jeremiah’s prophecy coincides with John’s: Those slain by the Lord lie dead, unburied, all around the world and birds eat their flesh.

“And the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground” – Jer.25:33.

“And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great … and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” – Rev. 19:17-21
.
At the culmination of “the great tribulation”, when Jesus returns in flaming fire, all the lost will be DESTROYED.

“When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” – 2 Th. 1:7-9.

The flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the son of man be” – Mt. 24:39.

These verses teach that those not “caught up” when Christ returns will be destroyed, and the destruction will encompass all the earth, as it did during Noah’s flood. Jesus Himself taught this. Notice the phrase “everlasting destruction” is used, NOT everlasting torment or punishing. [read more about this in my article “Eternal Separation from God”]

Then, when the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison, and will set out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth and to lead them into battle. They will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Scripture explicitly declares this in Rev. 20:8, but who are the nations as numerous as the sand on the seashore and are we to understand the “thousand years” literally or figuratively?

This must be the wicked dead, resurrected to face the final judgment, although Satan attempts to lead them in an assault against God and His saints.

“And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city (New Jerusalem?): and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them” – Rev. 20:9.

Notice: fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.” That’s their eternal destin, cast into “the lake of fire”.

But just before the fire falls, a vast cosmic judgment scene unfolds.

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it … And I saw the [resurrected] dead standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it [another description of the resurrection of the lost], and Death and Hades [the grave] delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged each one according to their works” – Rev. 20:11 -13).

This judgment occurs while Satan’s army is gathered around “the beloved city”; it concerns only the lost, who are then judged “according to their works”. As books are opened above them, they are allowed to see the complete record of their lives. They are shown why they are lost, why they are outside God’s City, why they have forfeited eternal life with Jesus.

As the Book of Life is opened, they discover their names are missing. Then Jesus will undoubtedly show them how much He loved them, how He tried to save them, and yet how by their own persistent efforts they resisted His loving appeals. Yes, they will see that Jesus Christ died for them, that on the cross He paid the full penalty for all their sins, and that they could have been inside “the beloved city” with His saints; but now they are outside with another master, the master of their own choosing. They will see that, though Jesus willingly took upon Himself the punishment that was theirs, they spurned Him, and now they are forced to stand before His holy majesty in the shame of their spiritual nakedness, with every wrong thought, every wrong word, and every wrong deed bearing down upon their consciences to condemn them, and there is no longer any Mediator to represent them and intercede for them.

After sentence is pronounced, the “fire of God” brings final retribution upon the lost. By this time, all the unsaved understand why they are lost. This destruction is an act of justice, not cruelty. As is the case with all destruction, it is final, NOTHING remaining.

The book of Revelation is very clear about God’s uprightness. “Just and true are your ways, O King of the saints” (Revelation 15:3); “You are righteous, O Lord ... Because you have judged these things” (Revelation 16:5); and “For true and righteous are His judgments”  – Re.19:2.

Revelation 20:8 says the lost will march across “the four quarters of the earth” right before the fire falls upon them. Thus we conclude that God’s fire will descend all over planet Earth. This unquenchable downpour will become a “lake of fire” (14-15) boiling everywhere.

Malachi 4:1, 3 says that entire fateful day will “burn as an oven”. 2 Peter 3:10 adds “…the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up”.
Thus God will totally purify and cleanse our sin-polluted earth with flames. In fact, 2 Peter 3 parallels the destruction of the world by water in Noah’s day with the purification of the earth by fire at the end of “the 1000 years” (2 Peter 3:5-7).

In Noah’s day, the whole earth was under ‘a lake of water’; at the end of “the 1000 years”, this planet will be wrapped in “a lake of fire”. In Noah’s day, God’s people floated in the midst of the water but were protected inside the ark; at the end of the Millennium, when a lake of fire envelops our planet, God’s saved “saints” will be right there, riding the storm safely inside “the beloved city” (New Jerusalem), a spiritual location, obviously NOT on earth because those “caught up” by Christ have remainedEVER with Him in the air” -1Th. 4:16-18.

Revelation 20 concludes with these solemn words,Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” – Rev. 20:15. Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The next verse reads: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”  –  Rev.21:1).

New heaven, new earth! What happened to the old ones? The lake of fire consumed them. When the Bible says, “…the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”, this must include the lake of fire. After God’s fire completely purifies this planet and its atmosphere, He will perpetuate life in “a new heaven and a new earth”. Just as he replaced the Old Covenant with a far better New Covenant, so shall the old physical realm be replaced with new and better.

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”2 Pt. 3:13.

Revelation 21 also adds, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make ALL things new.’ He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful’” – Rev. 21:4-5.

“Write, for these words are true”, says God Almighty. When this finally happens, the lake of fire, death, sin, sorrow, crying, and pain will have passed away”. There will be no more crying over a million wretched things like deception, slander, murder, natural disasters, sickness, adultery, child abuse, death, or hell. These will ALL have eternally passed away”.

As Noah and his family finally walked out of the ark onto a cleansed new world, so will God’s faithful saints finally step out of this present realm into a brand new eternal world.

Regarding the “thousand years” of Revelation 20, it should be observed that the opening of the book itself provides caution that this is a document characterized by symbols. The apocalyptic document begins with the notation that Christ “signified” the message, via his messenger, to the apostle John (1:1). The verb “signified” derives from “semaino”, which in early Greek meant “to show by a sign, indicate, make known, point out”.

In addition, the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is nestled in the midst of a number of other dramatic figures —a pit, a great chain, the dragon/serpent, thrones, a beast, a mysterious mark, resurrections, etc. Why should the pit, chain, dragon, etc., be viewed as figures, and yet the “thousand years” be singled out as literal? That simply defies common sense.

The numeral “thousand” is found more than twenty times in Revelation, and not once is it employed in a literal sense. In Chapter 20, the most likely interpretation of the number is that of “completeness.” The “thousand years” mentioned in the passage express no exact period of time. They embody an idea; and that idea, whether applied to the subjugation of Satan, or to the triumph of the saints, is the idea of fullness or perfection.

The number “1000” is often used figuratively elsewhere in Scripture. The Israelites were to keep the covenant for 1000 generations – Dt. 7:9; God owns the cattle on 1000 hills – Ps. 50:10; God will remember His word for 1000 generations – Ps. 105:8. Are these passages proclaiming literal periods of time, actual quantities, or setting specific limits? They definitely must, if we understand them as strictly literal. But is that what God intended? Were the Israelites allowed to disregard the covenant after 1000 generations? Which 1000 hills are Goood’s catle restricted to, and who owns all the cattle n  l the other hills? Does God forget His Word after 1000 generations? Obviously, it is absurd to apply any literal interpretation.

Throughout modern Christendom, three basic views of Christ’s millennial reign prevail.
1. Pre-millennial – Jesus returns before He reigns a literal 1000 years on the earth.
2. Post-millennial – Jesus returns after He reigns a 1000 years (literal or figurative),
but from heaven.
3. A-millennial – Jesus reigns now and may return at any time; 1000 years is figurative.

So, what of “the thousand years”? Are those who interpret scripture regarding this period as a literal earthly rein of Christ correct? Or are we to understand a more figurative application of the events leading up to the final destruction of ALL that opposes God, including the present physical universe? What does scripture really say?

As always, I encourage a careful study of scipture and related  research materials before concluding any teaching to be sound doctrine.

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3 thoughts on “Christ’s Millennial Reign

  1. Even sort of skimming through this, it appears to be pretty much “spot on”. I have an “A-Millennial” view myself, and all that you have placed here appears entirely valid. It’s good to see one’s own thinking confirmed by such a studious offering. Thanks!.

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    • As is the case with so many doctrines I have not found sufficient scriptural support to completely align myself. Amillennialism holds that while Christ’s reign during the millennium is spiritual in nature, at the end of the church age, Christ will return in final judgment and establish a permanent reign in the new heaven and new earth. With that, scripture ALLOWS such interpretation, but does NOT emphatically proclaim it. However, when compared to actual historical records reporting 1st century events, there is much that corresponds with this view. Amillennialism is sometimes associated with Idealism as both teach a symbolic interpretation of many of the prophecies of the Bible and especially the Book of Revelation. However, many amillennialists do believe in the literal fulfillment of Biblical prophecies; they simply disagree with Millennialists about how or when these prophecies will be fulfilled.

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  2. Pingback: Is Hell a Literal, Physical Place? | MJThompson's Theology Blog

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