Before I begin the main part of this post I would like to acknowledge sources that have shaped and influenced my thinking. One of the first is The Last Days Handbook by Robert P. Lightner, which I have not read per se, but whose charts on different millennium theologies are reproduced by kind permission in my study bible, New Spirit Filled Life Bible (published by Thomas Nelson). Another is Jack Kelley’s excellent site http://gracethrufaith.com/ – there the reader can find articles setting out his position but also discussing the other view points. A third is Joel Richardson’s article on Dominionism, which can be found here: http://www.joelstrumpet.com/?p=2505. Lastly, there is David Pawson’s book When Jesus Returns – this is an informative read, but also a challenging one: the reader will find something of fire and brimstone about it.
It is difficult to know where to begin with this topic, but I shall be upfront about a couple of things. The first point to make is that strictly speaking there are a number of separate issues that people often combine with their understanding of the Millennium to create a label for themselves and other like-minded people. One of these is when the Rapture/Resurrection occurs. This is really so big a topic in its own right that it requires a separate post, so I won’t go into the Rapture too much here. The second point is to state my own position on the Millennium so as not to mislead anyone who reads this post: I am what is popularly termed a ‘pre-Millennial’, meaning I believe the Millennium is a defined period of time before Eternity, which comes after Jesus Christ has returned to the earth. This topic is discussed at length in books and internet sites boasting more learning than mine; my hope is that this post will serve as an introduction to get people thinking.
Before I go into the different positions, the Millennium pure and simple needs to be introduced. This may surprise some readers, but the term ‘Millennium’ is first found in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. (That doesn’t mean that it isn’t discussed earlier in the Bible – a careful reading of the Prophets and Gospels will show hints of it – but that specific term and its accompanying chronological context are found in Revelation.) Revelation 20 is the chapter in which this doctrine may be found. ‘Millennium’ means ‘a thousand years’, and this second phrase is probably the wording you will find in most English translations of the Bible; in Greek it is χιλια ετη (neuter plural, nominative or accusative in form – for case see the context), in Jerome’s Latin translation (aka the Vulgate) it is mille anni (masculine plural, nominative), so you can see our term ‘millennium’ is Latin in origin rather than Greek. Now for the positions.
This position has the following points about the Millennium:
- it is a defined period of time
- that period comes after Christ has returned to the earth
- during that time Satan will be confined to the Abyss, unable to exert the influence over Earth he currently enjoys and will enjoy under the Antichrist’s rule
- the Millennium is still future to us
The reasoning behind these beliefs comes from the text and position of Revelation 20 itself. Those who subscribe to this view tend to believe that Revelation is generally chronological: thus the Seal Judgements lead to the Trumpet Judgements; the Trumpet Judgements lead to the Bowl Judgements; the Bowl Judgements are followed by the Second Coming; the Second Coming is followed by the Millennium; the Millennium is followed by Eternity. Or simplified:
Judgements > Second Coming > Millennium > Eternity
Under this scheme – but not exclusive to it – Revelation 19:11-21 is identified as a description of the Second Coming: Christ comes with His armies from Heaven to defeat the Antichrist and set up His reign on Earth. Holding to the view of Revelation as essentially in chronological order, the fact that the description of the Millennium comes after Christ has ended the Antichrist’s rule, some have assumed that the Millennium comes after the Second Coming.
The first clue in the text itself is the word ‘then’, meaning ‘next‘ in Revelation 20:1 – ‘Then I saw an angel coming down…[who] bound [Satan] for a thousand years’ (Revelation 20:1-2, NKJV). The word for ‘then’ in the Greek is και, which usually means ‘and’. Here it gets tricky because ‘and’ in Greek, as in English, can be used to imply sequence: e.g. ‘he peeled the orange and ate it’, meaning, ‘he peeled the orange then ate it’. So St John could simply be linking the binding of Satan with the defeat of the Antichrist as a thematic unit or he could be saying that the binding of Satan (and therefore the Millennium, which is defined as the duration of his imprisonment) follows the defeat of the Antichrist.
A second clue is in verses 4-6. This describes the Resurrection of Christ’s followers. Verse 6 says that those who have part in the first Resurrection will reign with Christ for a thousand years – in other words, for the duration of the Millennium. From this it is clear that the Millennium follows the Resurrection of the Saints, but since that has not fully happened yet (it began with Christ’s Resurrection and those who burst from their graves at that time – Matthew 27:51-53), it follows that the Millennium has not happened yet. There is more that could be said, but I’ll leave it at that.
Here are some potential consequences of adopting the pre-Millennial position. One area that is affected is the believer’s attitude towards Satan. Those who do not believe he will be bound until after Christ returns are potentially more wary of his schemes and future persecution. Furthermore, this belief helps them to account for part of the current troubles of the world (leaving aside the general consequences of the Fall and the sin of individual humans). It is hard to believe, with all the evil in the world, that Satan is bound now.
A second area that is affected is hope. Those who believe the Millennial, earthly reign of Christ and His Saints is still future tend to be keenly aware of the contrast between the bliss of that future period and the atrocities of our own age. This hope can be a two-edged sword. If it is proper, it will draw us closer to God and remind us that we are in the world, but not of the world – our home is in the New Jerusalem. If we obsess about eschatology and the future age, then we will forget and fail to live the life we are in right now. An insult that is often levelled against such ‘dreamers’ – rightly or wrongly – is that they are not interested in fixing the world now – they have forgotten social justice.
It is my opinion that it is possible to be a pre-Millennial and remember those in need. There is a difference between trying to solve a ‘system failure’ by human means and trying to help people by God’s love and grace.
This position holds that the Millennium is realised in a ‘spiritual’ sense: Christ reigns on earth through His Church, who model the Kingdom to outsiders. Within the Church-Kingdom Satan is bound as his influence is curbed by the righteousness, diligence, and prayer of the Saints, who are empowered by God through His Spirit. In defense of this interpretation Matthew 16:17-19 is cited. Whatever the Church binds on Earth will be bound in Heaven; it is inferred from this that the Church can bind Satan, and thus the Millennium, the time of Satan’s bondage, is already happening.
Thus the sequence for post-Millennials runs:
Millennium > Second Coming > Eternity
Here are some potential consequences of adopting this view. The first is that it focusses the believer on the success of the Church in the face of her foe, Satan. Some confirmation and consolation can be taken from the undeniable fact that Christians have curbed Satan’s influence in the world by charitable works, converting unbelievers, and individually leading righteous lives. Believing that Jesus empowers them to reign with His authority on the Earth to curb evil and promote good, believers of this persuasion can be spurred to turn their energy to improving the world and blessing the Church; such people can bring Christian concerns to the world of politics.
A negative consequence is that this position can lead to the belief that the Church must conquer the world for Christ before He returns (Dominion theology). This is potentially dangerous since the Bible says that times will be bad for Christians just prior to Christ’s return. They will be persecuted and betrayed by apostates (Matthew 24:9-14); the Antichrist will make war with the Saints until Christ throws him into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 13:7). Note that war does not mean defeat – but it can mean temporary setbacks or painful trials. Post-Millennials, if they are not aware of the coming of the Great Apostasy and Man of Lawlessness/Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2), are potentially setting themselves up for a fall.
This position is similar to the post-Millennial one. For amillennials the number one thousand is symbolic in the context of Revelation 20. For them the Millennium began with the birth of the Church at Pentecost, and thus their sequence is similar to that of post-Millennials:
Church Age/Millennium > Second Coming & Last Judgement > Eternity
Like post-Millennials, amillennials interpret the message of Revelation 20 to be that the Church, empowered by Christ, can bring God’s goodness to Earth and curb the activities of Satan.
The positive consequences of this viewpoint are similar to those of the post-Millennial viewpoint, but there are some further negative consequences that can creep in. The first is the danger of treating symbolic language in an overly vague way. If pre-Millennials are accused of treating Revelation as a code to be broken, like a schoolboy’s game, then a-Millennials (and post-Millennials to some extent) are accused of allegorising the text away.
So far I have given near-caricatures of the views held by people in the different camps. One can also see that my field of knowledge tends to be focussed on the pre-Millennial position, which is the camp I belong to. I would like to issue a cordial invitation to my Catholic brethren on this site to write similar posts explaining St Augustine’s post/a-Millennial position. For my next post, I shall try to write an introduction to the different Rapture positions in a style similar to this post.
I would like to end by saying that there is something to be gained from each camp. I believe the pre-Millennial position makes the most sense of the text and protects us from surprise at the rise of Antichrist and from trying to unduly manipulate governments in the Dominion theology style. The post-Millennial teaches us to remember that the Church has done good in the world and in some sense restrains Satan (see 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 for the Holy Spirit through the Church restraining lawlessness), encouraging us to remember the poor and afflicted. The amillennial reminds us that Scripture has a broader, allegorical message as well as a literal fulfillment.