The centerpiece of Revelation 20 is the millennium. It’s hard to imagine a doctrine or place in the Bible more disputed than the millennium. What the heck is it? There are three basic options, each with variations: 1. Premillennialism: a literal reading of the passage in which Jesus returns and established God’s kingdom for a literal 1000 year period. This is the newest viewpoint and the most popular in North America. According to Craig Blaising premillennialists “believe that when Jesus comes. He will raise the dead in two stages. First, he will raise some to participate with him in the millennial kingdom. After the Millennium (the thousand-year period) is over, he will raise the rest of the dead and institute the Final Judgment. Then will come the final and eternal destinies of the saved and the lost.”
The problems with this view are:
1. You must now read the entire revelation “literally” something no one actually does.
2. The Old Testament says nothing about a thousand-year reign. Instead it points to the Day of the Lord, a decisive day of judgment and salvation. This would be the only major image in Revelation not drawn from the Old Testament.
- 3. The “thousand” in this passage becomes the only completely literal number in the Revelation. According to Darrell Johnson, ““The one thousand years is not a statistic. It is a symbol. The millennial reign could turn out to be exactly one thousand years. But that is not what John is saying… in the last book of the Bible… all numbers have turned out to be symbols, not statistics.”
2. Postmillennialism: this view interprets the thousand years symbolically and teaches that Jesus will return after the church dominates the world and establishes a golden period.
Kenneth Gentry writes, “Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind.” In other words the church will bring about an age of righteousness that will immediately precede Jesus’ return.
Gentry adds, “Postmillennialists emphasize the covenantal crushing of Satan in history at Christ’s first advent, with its results being progressively worked out in history on the plane of Adam’s original rebellion, Satan’s consequent struggle, and Christ’s incarnational intrusion. “
An adaptation of postmillennialism called “theonomic postmillennialism” is currently growing in popularity. According to this view the church will influence a gradual return to the Mosaic Law though evangelism and discipleship.
The biggest problem with this view is history, which doesn’t bear it out at all. The church is not gaining control of the world and reforming it “for Jesus.”
3. Amillennialism: The millennium is not a literal 1000-year reign but reflects the Bible’s now and not yet tension.
- Currently all authority belongs to Jesus (Matt. 28.18) but the fullness of that is yet to come. Amillennialists believe that all things will conclude with Jesus second return.
- Amillennialists see the promises made in the Old Testament of a righteous kingdom and glorious temple fulfilled in the church. Robert Strimple writes, “With regard to the New Testament revelation concerning the future, however, we must say even more than that. Not only does the New Testament not teach a future millennial kingdom, in what it teaches us about Christ’s second coming, the New Testament rules out an earthly millennial kingdom following Christ’s return, because the New Testament reveals clearly that the following events are all concurrent; that is, all will occur together in one cluster of end-time events, one grand dramatic finale of redemptive history: the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of believers (and the “change” of living believers, 1 Cor. 15:51), the resurrection of the unjust, judgment for all, the end, the new heaven and new earth, and the inauguration of the final kingdom of God, the blessed eternal state of the redeemed. “
- Also amillennialists draw on several NT verses that seem to teach one resurrection and one judgment (John 5.28-29; 2 Thessalonians 1.5-10; Rom. 8.17-33; 2 Peter 3.3-14; 1 Cor. 15.20-26)
Then what is the millennium described in Chapter 20?
The millennium is an image describing the role of the saints in the kingdom now before the final judgment. It is one more angle or perspective on the events of the previous few chapters. According to Robert Strimple, “…Revelation 20:1-10 is a figurative representation of Christ’s victory over Satan at each of the two climactic points. At the cross Satan is bound—but not absolutely. Revelation 20:2-3 does not say that Satan is bound, period. He is bound in one respect only, namely, “to keep him from deceiving the nations [the Gentiles] anymore.” The age of salvation for the Gentiles has arrived. Prior to Christ’s ministry Israel was the one nation called out from all the nations of the world to know God’s blessings and to serve him. There were exceptions, of course—those who came to know God’s grace even though they were not of the children of Abraham after the flesh. But essentially all the nations on this earth were in darkness, under Satan’s deception. But then, praise God! Christ came and accomplished his redemptive work. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out “on all people” (Acts 2:17), signifying the fact that the gospel of Christ is a gospel for all the nations, not just the Jewish people. The age of world missions had begun, and Satan’s deceptive work on that grand scale over so many centuries had come to an end.”
- So the millennium is the age in which the Gospel goes forth to all people. This is how the saints “rule.”