The return of Christ & Will there be a literal Millennium?
A coming in salvation
A coming in judgment
Will there be a literal Millennium?
The Millennium in Church History
Arguments for a literal Millennium
~God will fulfil his promises to Israel
~God has promised the church that it will rule on earth
~God has promised worldwide peace
~Jesus came to proclaim a spiritual kingdom unlike his Jewish contemporaries
~The OT prophets prophesied an eternal, not thousand year, kingdom
~There is no hint of a millennium in Jesus prophecies on Olivet
~The NT seems to focus on anticipating the new heavens and new earth
~The NT teaches that Satan is already bound
~The NT teaches there is only one resurrection not two separated by the Millennium
~The NT teaches that the Second Coming is followed immediately by the judgment
~How can perfect saints in glorified bodies live alongside sinful humanity in the millennium?
~It seems strange that Christ should come back to rule over an earth which is not glorified and which still contains those who oppose him.
~How is it that such rebellion as that described in 2 Thess. 2 could take place after the millennium?
~The key, the chain, the dragon, the snake and the binding in Rev.20:1-2 are symbolical, why not the whole passage?
- I have already written at some length as to why I do not believe Scripture teaches a pre-tribulational appearance of Christ meeting the church “in the air” and rapturing it to heaven, ensuring it does not experience the Great Tribulation. Instead I believe it teaches that Jesus will return once only at the end of the Great Tribulation. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=422#_Will_there_be.
- It is important to examine what this event will be like, in so far as we can imagine it on the basis of the teaching of Scripture.
- Jesus said he will appear “on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matt 24:30). His coming “will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other” (Luke 17:24). It is “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). He will be accompanied by a host of angels (Matt 24:31) and everyone on earth will see him (Matt 24:30). Paul adds that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God ….” (1 Thess 4:16).
- It is good to meditate on the glory we shall see that day. “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain” (Ex 24:17). Ezekiel described a vision of the Lord: “I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down” (Ezk 1:27-28). Similarly, John describes Jesus: “I saw … someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Rev 1:13-16). At the Transfiguration the disciples described that “as he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (Lk 9:29).
- In Isaiah’s vision the seraphim “were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isa 6:2-4). Speaking of the awesomeness of the clear night sky, the psalmist said: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa 19:1). How much more awesome is the one who created them.
- When the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle or the temple Moses and the priests could not enter it (Ex. 40:35; 1 Kings 8:11). When the glory of the Lord shone around them, the shepherds were terrified (Lk. 2:9). When Moses asked God to show him his glory the Lord said “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:18-20).
- The Psalmist says “The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; …. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, Glory!” (Psa 29:7-9). “The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake” (Psa 99:1). Jesus foretells “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Matt 24:29). Even if not entirely literal this speaks powerfully of the glory of the Lord.
- It is this awesome, radiant, glorious Lord who will appear on that day. His voice will shake the earth.
- Zechariah foretells: “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem…” (Zech 14:4). It seems clear that this refers to the Second Coming. From then on Jerusalem will be holy and never invaded again (Joel 3:17-21).
- The most wonderful thing about that day will be seeing our awesome, radiant, glorious Lord. But the second is that he is coming for us believers. Jesus says “he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:31). Paul adds: “the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. (1 Thess 4:16-17). This is the Rapture. What a prospect!
- The saints will then accompany the Lord to earth where he will take up his rule. We have already noted that it seems likely that he had in mind the Greek approach to an official visit to a city by some dignitary. When such an important person visited, the leading people and others would go out to meet him then escort him back into the city. It seems likely therefore that 1 Thess 4:16-17 means that believers are caught up to meet the Lord and escort him back to earth (not disappear with him to heaven). Many scholars agree with this view and the general teaching of the NT seems to support it.
- However, we need to prepare for that day, in fact to live in the light of that day. We must “continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). John means that we must live in union with Christ, loving and obeying him. Then we can be confident about that day.
- We can also live in the light of that day when we are facing suffering and persecution. Peter writes: “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
- What Jesus is saying is that those who endure suffering and persecution will receive praise honour and glory from him at his return. They will hear him say the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21). As Paul puts it: “Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Cor 4:5). Elsewhere he writes: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life …. There will be …. glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good” (Rom 2:7, 9-10). What a prospect: to hear the Lord honouring us for endurance! What a day that will be!
- However, the Second Coming of Christ is also a time of judgment. Jesus himself foretold that “then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. (Matt 24:30). In fact, he said, “People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Lk 21:26).
- Paul writes that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thess 5:2-3). He says that on that day “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Thess 1:7-10). (It should be noted that, as is sometimes the case with the prophets, this is a summary statement. Not all the judgment will take place on the day Jesus returns. We shall come back to this issue later).
- Jesus will return at the high point of the rule of the Antichrist (“the lawless one”). “The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming” (2 Thess 2:8). The Greek word Paul uses for “destroy” does not mean annihilate but to make completely powerless.
- So we await and prepare for the great day when Jesus returns to earth. We shall see our awesome, radiant, glorious Lord whose voice will shake the earth. We shall be caught up to meet him in the air and return with him in glory to earth, never to be separated from him. He will give praise, honour and glory to those who have endured. He will descend to the Mt of Olives, showing his intention to fulfil his promises to Israel (which meanwhile has turned to him and been saved) within the wider Body of Christ. He will defeat the Antichrist and begin to bring judgment to humanity as he establishes his rule of peace and justice throughout the world.
Will there be a literal Millennium?
- The teaching about a thousand year rule of Christ on earth is found in Revelation 20:1-6 but there are different interpretations of this passage. Some take it literally (whether or not as exactly 1000 years) and say it takes place between the Second Coming of Christ and the last judgment. Others say it precedes the Return of Christ and refers to the eventually conquest of the world by the Gospel. Others take it symbolically of the period between the first and second comings of Christ. We need to examine the arguments for and against these different views but first we look back at opinions held in the history of the church.
The Millennium in Church History
- Professor Donald Fairbairn stresses that belief in a literal Millennium was the dominant eschatology among the early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian in the late 2nd century AD. He says it was part of a battle against heretics called Gnostics, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, who belittled the material world in favour of the spiritual and so denied the idea that Jesus could have an earthly kingdom as part of the process towards a new Earth. Irenaeus said the Gnostics were denying the goodness of God in creating the physical universe. Fairbairn wrote that for most of the early church until the early 3rd century AD “an earthly kingdom following the return of Christ is not merely what Revelation 20 teaches. It is also a central tenet of the faith because it functions to reinforce the central truths of Christianity—that there is one God who in love has created this world for us and us for it, who has personally entered this world in order to redeem us for a future in this world, and who will ultimately triumph in this world over the forces that are arrayed against him.”
- Other Early Church Fathers who believed in a literal Millennium include Papias (who was “a hearer of [the Apostle] John” and wrote in 95-120AD), Justin Martyr (100-165AD), Clement of Alexandria (c 150-215AD), Hippolytus (170-235AD), Cyprian (c 200-258). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Irenaus spoke of other church leaders who had seen and heard the Apostle John and believed in a literal Millennium.
- However this view was not universal. For example, no mention is made of it in the letters of Clement of Rome, written to Corinth c 90 A.D nor in the letters of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch c 100 A.D.
- This dominant view of the early church, some proponents of which were contemporaries of the Apostles (an important point), is called Historic (or Classical) Premillennialism. It means they believe Jesus would return before a literal Millennium. There are important differences between this view and Dispensational Premillennialism which is linked with a sudden secret Rapture of the Church.
- However Origen of Alexandria (185-254AD) opposed the idea of a literal Millennium. He was strong advocate of allegorical or symbolical interpretation of Scripture. He had a widespread influence on the church. But it was Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD) who had the most influence in undermining the idea of a literal Millennium. One of the influences on Augustine was that, in his day, there had been a radical change in the relationship between the church and the Roman Empire. When the Book of Revelation was written and during the first centuries AD the church was being persecuted. Then in 312AD the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and Christianity became the dominant religion in the whole empire. So the old need to believe that Jesus would soon come and overthrow the persecuting power and set up the Millennium faded.
- Instead millennial views of the Roman Empire developed and it was seen as a positive eschatological force against the Antichrist. There was even a myth that the Last Emperor would be a superhuman figure who would unite the whole of Christendom and rule in peace and justice for 120 years prior to a brief rule of the Antichrist. Dates were set for these events and revised when they did not happen on those dates.
- Augustine taught that the Millennium had already been inaugurated by Christ in the “heavenly city” the new Jerusalem. The earth was Babylon where the Millennium could not be seen. So the idea of God’s kingdom coming on earth was excluded.
- Another influence on Augustine was his understanding that those believing in a literal millennium held that it would be a time of carnal enjoyment. He wrote of them: “And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God. . . But, as they [the millenarians] assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal.”
- The fact that belief in a literal millennium dominated the early church, including some who were contemporaries of the apostles is an important point and gives some credence to that belief. But there are other arguments for belief in a literal millennium
- Paul predicts that: “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess 1:7-10).
- Isaiah prophesies: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples” (Isa 2:2-4). Zechariah says that on the day when Jesus descends on the Mt of Olives “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. (Zech 14:9).
- Given the humiliation of Jesus on earth and his rejection by many over the centuries it seems likely that God will vindicate him in a millennial kingdom, as Rev 20 foretells.
- God has made important promises to Israel over the centuries and he keeps his promises. Some think these promises are all fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the church but it seems clear that God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and Israel as a nation but it is dependent on her obedience to God and turning to Messiah. It is therefore to be expected that there will be a fulfilment of those prophecies in an earthly kingdom. He is already fulfilling biblical prophecy about the return of the Jews to Israel. (It should be noted that, at that point, Israel would be part of the Body of Christ, the church. I have made it clear, though, that I do not believe that God has purpose for Israel which is totally separate from his purpose for the church and includes the renewal of the sacrificial system).
- We noted that the Antichrist will arise and be defeated in Israel and there will be an unprecedented time of “great distress” culminating in an international attack on Jerusalem. The Lord will return to the Mt of Olives and will bring judgment for the wicked and blessing for the obedient. We also said that it is possible that the Temple will be rebuilt and that representatives of all the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship (but this could not mean a resumption of the sacrificial system, as that has been fulfilled in the Cross. However it is not impossible that these could have been resumed earlier before the majority of Jewish people turned to their Messiah).
- Another aspect is that it would be a final correction of anti-Semitism, vindicating and fulfilling God’s choice of the Jewish people by displaying his rule over believing Israel within the wider Body of Christ.
- Paul writes: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12). Jesus says: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations –that one “will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Rev 2:26-27). The heavenly host worship Jesus with the words: “With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10).
- (It should be noted that it is not, as some say, just the martyrs who will enter the Millennium. All the saints, whether or not they have experienced death, will have been raised from the dead or received transformed bodies before the Millennium – 1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:21-23, 51-53, cf Matt 24:31. We shall return to this later).
- This all supports the idea of an earthly millennium.
- Isaiah prophesies: “In the last days …. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more” (Isa 2:2, 4).
- Paul writes: “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:20-23).
- As I wrote above, the Lord will establish peace on earth. “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more” (Isa 2:4 cf. Mic 5:2-4). There will be harmony in nature: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:6-9). There will also be supernatural fertility in nature: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Isa 35:1-2 cf 32:15-20; Ezk 34:25-31; Ezk 36:29-30, 34-36; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-14).
- Some say that all this is referring to the ultimate new heavens and new earth but it includes references to settling disputes and judging between nations which seems more appropriate to an earthly millennium. We have noted how prophecy can have lesser fulfilments before an ultimate total fulfilment and this could be the case here, namely a lesser fulfilment in the millennium and an ultimate fulfilment in the new heavens and new earth.
- However, we must take seriously the reasons people give for rejecting the idea of a literal millennium.
- That presupposes that the references elsewhere to great blessing, peace and fruitfulness all refer to the (ultimate) new heavens and new earth. Also the concept of progressive revelation (that God reveals more details of his purposes as time goes on) is important. For example, the OT prophets did not know that the Messiah would come twice. They saw the whole series of events from the cross to the second coming as one. The NT revealed much more detail. Hence there is no reason why Rev 20:1-6 should not reveal more detail than what earlier prophets ‘saw’ i.e. that there is a millennium as well as a new heavens and new earth.
- “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place’” (John 18:36). “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” (Luke 17:20-21).
- Jesus also resisted the attempt of people to make him an earthly king. “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15).
- However, the Jewish prophecies of a glorious kingdom on earth were still in place and when the disciples asked him “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) he didn’t say he wasn’t going to do so. Rather “He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 1:7-8).
- Also Paul predicts: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:24-25). This could refer to a millennial kingdom on earth.
- “When Jesus said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ he did not mean that his kingdom takes no physical form, but that it differs from the world’s kingdoms in its origin (from God), its goals (true worship free from idolatry, true harmony in diversity) and its methods (no violence, but victory through suffering).”
- Daniel prophesied: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever” (Dan 2:44). This does not seem to be a kingdom in three phases: the first almost destroyed by the Great Tribulation, the second lasting only for 1000 years and the final eternal phase.
- However, it is clear that biblical prophecy can initially seem to be predicting a single event and then later prophecy reveals that apparent single event is, in fact, more than one event.
- “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28). The renewal of all things sounds like the new heavens and new earth, rather than the millennium.
- However, the word Paul uses for “renewal” is also used in Titus 3:5 of our (current) renewal by the Spirit. So there it is used of a pre-final state: the ultimate renewal by the Spirit has not yet happened. It could therefore be used of a pre-final state in Matt 19:28, rather than of the ultimate renewal of the new heavens and new earth. Similarly, Paul speaks of our already being seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). Again, that is not the ultimate experience of being seated with Christ.
- John writes: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge” (Rev 20:4) and this is in the context of Satan not yet having been finally removed from the scene (Rev 20:3, 7). Yet he will have been finally removed by the time of the new heavens and new earth. Similarly, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus predicts he will sit on his throne judging the nations. Are the saints involved in this judgment (they are said to judge the world in 1 Cor 6:2)? Again, this judgment clearly precedes the creation of the new heavens and new earth.
- It does not seem convincing to say that Matthew 19:28 cannot apply to the millennium.
- Peter says of Jesus: “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). Yet the millennium does not restore everything because sin is still around and leads ultimately to a huge crisis.
- Peter also predicts: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare …. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13). Again the day of the Lord brings destruction of the present earth and we look forward to the new heavens and new earth. There is no reference to a millennium.
- However, we have noted that biblical prophecy can initially seem to be predicting a single event and then later prophecy reveals that apparent single event is, in fact, more than one event. Thus Peter’s prophecy of God restoring everything cannot exclude the possibility that it is referring to a process rather than a single event. The same can be said for 2 Peter 3:10-13. The day of the Lord is not to be limited to a literal day but is a period of judgment with a prospect (not necessarily immediate) of the new heavens and earth. After all Peter says in verse 8 “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” The passage does not necessarily exclude the possibility of the inclusion of a millennium in the process.
- The NT says that the prince of this world was driven out by the death and resurrection of Christ (John 12:31). Jesus broke the power of the devil (Heb 2:14); he came to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). Yet the devil is clearly still a very strong influence in the world. He is not utterly destroyed. He is not already totally bound and helpless. In fact, Peter writes that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
- John, however, writes that the angel “threw [Satan] into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended” (Rev 20:3). This is surely speaking of a total removal of Satan’s influence in the world and so cannot refer to the present situation. It refers to a time in the future.
- We should mention here Postmillennialism. This is the view that the return of Christ follows, not precedes, the millennium. Some postmillennialists believe we are already in the millennium (which I find difficult to believe). Others believe that there will be a future golden age of worldwide godliness, i.e. a millennium. I have to say that I find it difficult to believe in the arrival of a millennium without very special divine intervention, such as the premillennial view teaches. Also the parable of Parable of the Weeds is that the wheat (believers) and weeds (unbelievers) will grow together until the day of the Lord (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43).
- Jesus said: “ ‘Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). Some say this proves that believers and unbelievers will be raised together but the text does not in fact prove that. It could be referring to an extended period of time or two different occasions. Rev 20:4-6 requires this interpretation. Paul makes it clear in 1 Thess 4:16-17 that all believers are raised at the second coming.
- Some say that Rev 20:4 is referring only to Christian martyrs being raised and that the rest of the believers are raised after the millennium. However the text is not clear and the first sentence could refer to other believers who are not martyrs.
- Jesus says: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matt 25:31-33). He also said: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).
- Paul wrote that on that day “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess 1:7-10).
- Some claim these passages do not allow for there to be a millennium between the second coming and the judgment.
- However, none of these passages rule out the interpretation that they are summary statements and don’t mean the judgment all happens as soon as Jesus returns. As we have already noted, it is well-known that the prophets often compressed together events which actually take place at widely different times.
- This is an interesting point but we cannot say this is impossible.
- Some say it is more logical that he returns to final perfection. Again, this is an interesting point but we cannot say this is impossible.
- Again, we cannot say that this is impossible. It shows the persistent tendency of human nature towards rebellion against God and the implacable opposition of Satan to God’s purposes. But the millennium provides a wonderful opportunity for unbelievers to repent, in particular because the conversion to Christ of huge numbers of Jewish people is bound to make a massive impact. See Paul’s comments: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob’” (Rom 11:25-26).
- It is important to remember that the use of some symbolism in a prophecy does not mean everything in it is symbolical. The angel, Satan, the martyrs, ruling with Christ and the resurrection in this passage are not symbolical. We should follow the principle of taking a passage literally unless there is very good reason not do so.
- We have noted that belief in a literal millennium dominated the early church, including some who were contemporaries of the apostles. We have also argued that a literal millennium is to be expected to vindicate Jesus on earth, to fulfil God’s promises to Israel and his promise to the church that it will rule on earth, and because he has promised worldwide peace.
- We have examined twelve arguments against a literal millennium and found them all unconvincing. We therefore conclude that there is good reason to believe that the biblical promise of a millennium is literal, although there is no requirement, as with all numbers in biblical prophecy, to believe it means exactly a thousand years.
- I therefore believe there is one coming of Christ in glory, resulting in believers being clothed in risen bodies and returning with Christ for the earthly millennium. This is followed by a very brief rebellion leading to the last judgment, the final destruction of sin and death, and the new heavens and earth.
 Donald Fairbairn, “Contemporary Millennial/Tribulational Debates,” in “A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to ‘Left Behind’ Eschatology, ed. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 128–31.
 Augustine, City of God 20:7.
 Geoffrey Penn, “Eschatology and Politics: the last things we want to talk about?” Jubilee Centre Cambridge Papers, Volume 19 Number 3, September 2010
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