Half the Church believes the 1000 years of the Kingdom is a figurative number. So is the Millennial Kingdom a literal 1000 years or is it symbolic?
Is the Millennial Kingdom a literal 1000 years?
This is the second article in this series on Amillennialism which is a theory believed by 1/2 of Christian denominations that there won’t be a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth after his return. This is an incredibly difficult issue to debate. If one individual says the Bible’s prophecies are literal and another says they are not, how does one debate this? We will examine that in this article.
Our first article in this series (CLICK HERE) discussed the forgotten biblical teaching about the 6000 years of man’s dominion and the following 1000 year Sabbath rest that correspond to the days of creation from creation week. In this way, the creation narrative from Genesis 1 acts a prophecy of God’s 7000 year plan of redemption. If you have not read this fundamental article, please read it first before continuing.
If you have already read it, you realize that reference to a future 1000 year period is found in multiple places in scripture and the writings of the Early Church fathers. The length of time of 1000 years is not arbitrary, but rather is very specific and biblical. It is not only found in Rev. 20, as many Amillennialists believe, but is indicative of a Scripture-wide plan of redemption. This previous article demonstrates God’s consistent division of time (based on the creation account) is a pattern of 6+1
- The Week is divided into six days of toil and a Sabbath rest
- Years are divided into six years of toil and the land laying fallow in a seventh year of sabbatical rest. The scriptures refer to this as a Shabua. There is even a further division of 7 Shabuim into a Jubilee cycle of 49 years.
- God’s restoration of all things are divided into 6000 years of Satan’s dominion followed by a Sabbath rest of 1000 years in which the Lord alone will be exalted.
- Even the 70th Week of Daniel will be divided into a pattern of 6+1 as well. Six years the saints will toil upon the earth presenting the love of Jesus under persecution, and in the seventh they will rest in heaven.
This fundamental biblical principle is what premillinnialism is based on; a literal “young earth based on God’s creation” followed by a literal 1000 year Kingdom of Jesus reigning from Jerusalem on earth. Although this was the opinion of the apostles, this literal interpretation of scripture changed over time.
In the last article we quoted numerous early Church Fathers (see article) who believed and taught a literal 1000 year reign of Christ from Jerusalem after the defeat of Antichrist. These included the original apostles and disciples, Bishop of Hieropolis, the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas, and Justin Martyr,.
In the second century, however, several notable Christian teachers such as Clement and Origen began to deny the literal 1000 year Kingdom. Origen (who is now considered a heretic) in particular espoused a view that prophecy only referred to the “spiritual” realm and not the physical . This Amillennial, spiritual view expanded under the teaching of Augustine.
Many Christians after the time of Augustine believed this view and supposed that the Kingdom of Jesus would last 1000 years; that this is the Kingdom John referred to in Rev. 20. When the year 1000 AD came and went, this view was forced to fully assume Origen’s “spirituallized” 1000 year kingdom since a literal 1000 years was no longer possible. The early protestant reformers Luther and Calvin were Amillennialists favored a symbolic 1000 years. This is why many main line protestants still favor Amillennialism.
In the 1700’s and 1800’s, however, Pre-Millennialism began to rise again and it is the predominant view of most evangelicals today. The Church is then divided. Catholics and main line protestants favoring Amilllennialism and a symbolic 1000 year Kingdom, and most evangelical protestants favoring a literal 1000 year Kingdom on earth.
Many Amillennialists suggest that ALL of Revelation (and Rev. 20 specifically) can be considered symbolic because of verse that opens that book:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated (lit. signified) it by His angel to His bond-servant John. (Rev. 1:1)
These believers suggest that the word “signified” in this verse demonstrates that the entire book is symbolic. Certainly there are many symbols in Revelation and all of apocalyptic prophecy in general. However, if we are going to interpret ALL of Revelation based on this one word (signify), we had better examine it closely.
The Greek word defined as signify is SEMAINO. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon clearly defines this word as “to make known” in its usage in Rev. 1:1 and it is the same exact usage of the word as in Acts 11:
One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate (SEMAINO) by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. (Acts 11:28)
In ancient times, signet rings were used to seal a document to show it was authentic. This is the meaning of SEMAINO (signify) here; that Agabus (and John in Revelation) were claiming their prophecies were from the Lord and authentic. It has nothing to do with symbolism.
Amillenialists will point to this verse to dispute that claim:
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate (SEMAINO) the kind of death by which He was to die. The crowd then answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:31-34)
In this passage, the word takes on a slightly different meaning. This is not a symbol or symbolic language, but it is allegory or indirect language. (It also was clear to the listeners of his day who asked a very understandable question.) So SEMAINO has two meanings. One is to authenticate, one is to use indirect language.
So, which meaning is found in Rev. 1:1? Look at the first prophecy found there:
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. (Rev. 1:7)
This is a very clear, non-symbolic statement! So this Amillennial claim that all of Revelation is symbolic is not a valid interpretation. Revelation has symbols, but not all of it is symbolic. Each supposed symbol must be evaluated separately on its own merit.
The Literal 1000 Years
Because Jesus’s Spiritual Kingdom has now existed for nearly 2000 years, the argument about whether the 1000 years is literal or figurative has come to the forefront of eschatology. Edward Morris summarizes the Amillennial view:
In my view, then, the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation 20 is a picture of what we might call the church age, beginning with the monumental accomplishment of Christ Jesus. It is the new form of the kingdom of God that Jesus had said was about to come. We are now living in this era of the inaugural form of the kingdom, which will continue for an indefinite period of time (symbolized by a thousand years) until the final form is set up in the age to come. I find this amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 much more consistent with the overall pattern of Scripture – Ed Morris
The Pre-millennial view agrees with Mr. Morris that the kingdom was initiated when Jesus rose from the dead. These Pre-millennial believers consider the “Kingdom” to be where ever Jesus is King. It is currently within the hearts of believers, but they believe that obviously Jesus is not currently ruling the nations right now given the chaos and evil that exists. Premillennialists believe Satan and the powers and authorities under his command are ruling the nations. Premillennialists believe Jesus will return to earth as its King and at that time will rule the nations. In order to understand which position is correct will take several weeks of biblical exegesis. Expect future articles to slowly unpack this issue.
We will begin this process looking at whether the Bible is literal when it mentions a 1000 years six times in Rev. 20.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 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. 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. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 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. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 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. 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. 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. (Rev. 20:1-10)
This is the passage at the heart of the debate.
A. The Pattern
First let’s notice the pattern of usages of “thousand years.” There six usages grouped into three occurrences of “a thousand years” followed by “the thousand years.” The Holy Spirit that inspired John’s words was insistent in its usage of “thousand years.” Six usages in 10 verses is a lot of repetition. And the repetition of the pattern of indefinite and definite articles is also striking. The Holy Spirit wanted to make a point, He wanted us to notice the time period. And He made it specific.
B. Symbols are Defined
Scripture is to be taken literally unless there is good reason to assume a symbol is intended. For instance, in Rev. 1:7 that we looked at above, when it says Jesus will return on the clouds, this is not a symbol. We are to assume he will literally come on the clouds. When it says he was pierced, we know this literally happened. Pierced is not a symbol.
And the Bible defines its symbol for us. For instance, Jesus is the rock. “There is no one holy like the Lord, Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God” 1 Sam. 2:2. Satan is the dragon. “The great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9) Both of these symbols are clear and unambiguous.
A symbolism regarding “a thousand years” is given in the Bible, but it is a “day” (in the Genesis Creation account) that equals this number. This is why God says in Isaiah, “
Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done. (Isa. 46:9-10)
The Hebrew word “beginning” here is the same as in Genesis’s “In the beginning.” God is clearly telling us that he declared the end of all things from the Creation account; “in the beginning.”
Nowhere in the Bible does it say a “thousand years is the time of grace” or any other such thing. Because we already have a symbolic “day” equaling a thousand years, if this thousand years equaled something else as well, it would create mass confusion. Amillennialists have constructed this symbol on their own. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is there a symbol in which a specific number of years means something else.
Revelation supports this. When John does indicate an indefinite number for an amount of time in Revelation, he calls it an hour, a half an hour, or a short time. Indefinite numbers of things are given such as “the sand on the seashore,” “a vast multitude,” etc. When John means to be specific he uses specific numbers such as 42 months, 1260 days, etc.
There is no scriptural support whatsoever for the symbolism Ammillennialists claim . Their symbolism in regard to the 1000 years is totally a man-created symbol not a biblical one (from the mind of God).
C. The Binding of Satan
Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Amillennial view is that in order to claim we are in the 1000 years, they must also claim that Satan is currently bound and not deceiving the nations.
He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed. (Rev. 20:2-3)
Amillennialists say this binding of Satan is said to have happened at the first coming of Jesus at the cross as prophesied by Matt. 12:29 and the binding of the strong man. This binding they say permits us to evangelize the nations today when this previously was impossible.
The first problem with this is that evangelism was entirely possible before the cross! Niniveh upon the preaching of Jonah, the Queen of Sheba, and even Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon are among the numerous examples of gentiles who were open to God’s Word prior to the cross.
A second major problem with this thinking is the Amillennialist view of the binding of Satan ignores the Chapter and verse divisions that did not exist in the original manuscript. Look at what the context of Rev. 20:1-2 looks like without the Chapter division:
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (Rev. 19:20- Rev. 20:2)
The binding of Satan happens after the events of Rev. 19 when Jesus rides the white horse and fights Armageddon. In order to say Satan is bound now, the Mark of the Beast already had to be instituted, the Beast and False Prophet and all their activities in Revelation had to have taken place and Armageddon and the great feast of dead bodies had to have happened already. This is an insurmountable problem and disproves the historic binding of Satan apriori.
If this were not enough, not only is Satan bound in Rev. 20:2, but he is chained and sealed in the Abyss. He is imprisoned and has no ability to have any activity on the earth. Is this what we currently witness?? Is the wickedness of this world happening devoid of Satan?
Additionally, the supposed binding of Satan contradicts the testimony of the epistles written years after this supposed binding.
The god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
(Satan) prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8)
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19)
These and other similar passages show that Satan is not bound, is still the ruler of the world, and is very active during the Church Age.
D. Old Testament References to the Millennial Kingdom
Amillennialists claim that all Old Testament references to a period of peace and righteousness are references to the eternal state (in heaven). Some may be, but others cannot be. Some reference death that cannot describe our eternal home:
No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,Or an old man who does not live out his days;
For the youth will die at the age of one hundred
And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred
Will be thought accursed. (Isa. 65:20)
Obviously this cannot be fulfilled after death is abolished. It must take place previous to that; in the Millennial Kingdom. And the extended lifespans make sense in a 1000 year kingdom.
Other references mention sin and punishment:
And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one. . .Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. (Zech. 14:9, 16-19)
Here we witness a time after the return of Jesus when He is king over all the earth, but sin and punishment are still taking place. This cannot be the eternal state either. But it isn’t today’s world either. It must be the Millennial Kingdom.
Finally other passages mention the regathering of Israel by foot and by beast of burden after Jesus returns with chariots of fire.
Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord. For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me, declares the Lord, So your offspring and your name will endure. (Isa. 66:20-21)
This certainly doesn’t seem the way the regathering into heaven that Amillennialists suppose is to happen. Other Old Testament prophets also reference a physical regathering by foot and by boat.
The reason that this regathering is mistaken by Amillennialists and even by Pretribulation Rapture enthusiasts is that both camps usually mistake Matthew 24:31 as the physical Second Coming. It isn’t, it’s the Rapture. The “gathering together” by angels is the rapturing together of the resurrected and living saints to meet Jesus in the air. The regathering of Jews does not involve angels.
E. The Resurrection of the Dead
Another great weakness of the Amill. position involves the First and Second Resurrections.
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. (Rev. 20:4-5)
In order to claim we are currently in the 1000 years, Amillennialists must claim a resurrection of the dead has already taken place. Some Amillennialists claim this “coming to life” and “reigning” happens in heaven after someone dies. Others claim this First Resurrection is the regeneration after someone comes to faith. We will devote the entire next article to this topic-stay tuned.