Millennial Reign of Christ — Why?
The Bible teaches that there will a thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth before the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth is established. What is the scriptural evidence for the Millennium and what differentiates it from the coming eternal age? Most importantly, what’s the purpose of the Millennium?
The Scriptural Evidence for the Millennium
While there are several biblical references to the Millennium, such as Zechariah 14:1-9 and Isaiah 11, Revelation 20 is the most detailed passage in the New Testament:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. (2) He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (3) He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
(4) I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 a thousand years. (5) (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
(7) When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison (8) and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. (9) They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. (10) And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
The sequence of events is as follows: 1. After the Tribulation the devil will be seized and locked in the Abyss for a thousand years. As such, he will not be able to deceive the nations, which suggests that all demonic entities will be powerless over people during the Millennium. 2. The third stage of the first resurrection takes place wherein martyred believers will be bodily resurrected and reign with Christ for a thousand years. Other passages show that mortal believers will not receive their glorified bodies, but will enter the Millennium as mortals (Isaiah 65:20-25). We’ll consider why momentarily. 3. Glorified believers will be priests of God and will reign with Christ during the Millennium. Such believers will not be able to propagate because, as Jesus taught, “they will neither marry nor be given in marriage… for they are like the angels” (Luke 20:34-36). 4. At the end of the Millennium Satan is released and immediately deceives the nation, inciting a mass attack on the righteous government of Christ in Jerusalem. 5. The rebellion is easily defeated and the devil is cast into the lake of fire forever.
Those who deny a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth argue that Revelation is full of symbols and therefore the millennial reign is symbolic of one thing or another. While it’s true that Revelation contains a lot of symbolism, the symbols are usually interpreted. For instance, the first chapter of Revelation speaks of seven stars and seven golden lampstands, which Jesus later explains are seven designated angels and seven churches of Asia Minor (verse 20).
Another example of symbolism from Revelation 1 can be observed in verse 16 where a sharp, double-edged sword is said to be coming out of Jesus’ mouth. Since this is obviously a symbolic statement, what does the symbolism refer to? Ephesians 6:17 shows that it’s a reference to the Word of God. Scripture interprets Scripture.
Secondly, not everything in Revelation is symbolic. After all, Is Jesus Christ symbolic? Is God symbolic? Heaven? The earth? John?
So how do we know the “thousand-years” isn’t symbolic? Several reasons: 1. There’s nothing about the phrase “the thousand years” that would indicate it’s figurative as is the case with the sharp sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth. In other words, you don’t interpret something allegorically when there’s no indication in the passage or elsewhere that it’s non-literal. 2. Nowhere does the book of Revelation say that the “thousand years” refer to something altogether different, like it does with the seven stars and seven churches in 1:20. 3. Since there’s no interpretation of what the “thousand years” refer to then it must refer to—you guessed it—a thousand years! 4. Lastly, notice that I underlined “thousand years” six times in verses 2-7 above. Keep in mind that, while this is John’s vision, it’s actually the “revelation of Jesus Christ” to John via the vision he’s given (Revelation 1:1). The point? The Lord stresses six times in six verses that there will be a literal thousand year reign of Christ on this earth. What more do we need to know that Jesus is referring to a literal thousand years? It goes without saying that anyone who uses theological mumbo jumbo to say that there won’t be a literal Millennium is getting precariously close to “taking words away” from this divine prophecy (Revelation 22:18-19).
What Differentiates the Millennium from the Coming Eternal Age?
With the understanding that a literal Millennium is scriptural, what distinguishes it from the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth? Several things, including:
- While believers with glorified bodies will reign with Christ during the Millennium, there will be nations of mortal people who will breed throughout the thousand years. These people are the “sheep” and their ensuing offspring that Jesus allows to enter the Millennium after the Judgment of Living Nations detailed in Matthew 25:31-46 (Also called the Sheep and Goat Judgment or the Pre-Millennial Judgment of Christ.). The “sheep” are promised eternal life and are allowed to enter the Millennium—as mortals—because they assisted believers during the Tribulation, which would include the 144,000 Jewish evangelists and their innumerable converts. These mortals will breed throughout the thousand years all over the world and, despite the completely righteous government of Christ, many of these will be susceptible to the devil’s deception when he’s released from the Abyss at the end of the Millennium to “deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth” (Revelation 20:7-8). Thankfully, this won’t be the case with the eternal age-to-come because there won’t be any mortals with ungodly natures.
- While life during the Millennium will be a veritable utopia compared to our current age because of 1. the righteous government of Christ and 2. the absence of the devil and his filthy spirits to deceive people, there will still be sin because mortals will still have sinful natures, which explains why many of them will be open prey to Satan’s deceptions when he’s released from the Abyss. There will also be aging, pain and death. Not to mention the earth and universe will yet be burdened by the bondage to decay, which is entropy.
Lastly, the function of glorified believers during the Millennium will be focused on assisting the King of kings as priests of God, reigning in love over the nations of the earth (Revelation 20:6). While this is wonderful, it’s a limited purpose compared to the literally universal scope of eternal life detailed in the article Eternal Life—What will it be Like?
There are other differences, of course, but these are the most obvious.
What’s the Purpose of the Millennium?
Some answer this by saying that the Millennium is the fulfillment of Scripture prophecy in that promises to Israel, the church and Jesus Christ will be fulfilled. While this is true it doesn’t satisfactorily answer the root question: What is God’s actual purpose for the Millennium? I’ve heard it said that the Millennium is a transitional phase between this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and the eternal righteous age-to-come (Luke 18:29-30). While this is also true (not to mention obvious) it still doesn’t answer the root question.
Hal Lindsey offers a fascinating explanation: The Millennium is the LORD’s irrefutable proof to humanity that the religion of secular humanism is a lie. As you may or may not know, secular humanism is atheistic in nature and therefore anti-God. To those who embrace this godless religion there’s no sin problem because there’s no God with whom to sin against. To them, the problem of evil isn’t humanity’s sin nature and alienation from our Creator, but rather a negative environment. As such, they believe evil, crime, poverty, war and other ailments will largely be eradicated when the right government is in place and every person is provided an education, a decent job, a nice living environment, protection from crime, and so on. While these things are good they don’t actually remedy the sin problem or reconcile people to their Creator. After all, a white collar man living in a rich suburb is still perfectly able to commit fraud due to a greedy heart, not to mention be a drunkard, drug addict, wife-beater, slanderer, hypocrite, adulterer, murderer, blowhard, oppressor, porn addict or practicing homosexual.
In the Millennium the LORD is going to provide nations of mortals the perfect government and environment—a veritable worldwide utopia. Since Jesus will be the King over all the earth and his assistants will be glorified believers who don’t have a sin nature there will be zero corruption in the government (imagine that!). Yet as the population increases over the course of the Millennium many of the offspring of the original “sheep” will just go through the motions of being faithful to Christ while their hearts aren’t in it. This is legalism—putting on the airs of godliness without the heart of godliness. Because legalism is an “outward job” it’s decidedly inauthentic. As such, when the devil is unleased at the end of the thousand years these covert rebels will naturally embrace the lies of the kingdom of darkness and unite for war in an insane attempt to take over the completely righteous government of Christ!
Of course the rebellion is quickly quelled (Revelation 20:9) and, after the Great White Throne Judgment, the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth will manifest (Revelation 21-22).
So the Millennium is the Most High’s eternal showcase in disproving the religion of secular humanism. Chew on that!
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