Frequently these days I receive papers, or read articles, which fight shy of accepting the thousand-year reign of Christ, as stated in Revelation 20. It is as though a new consensus of opinion is gaining ground amongst evangelicals and charismatics, whereby it is now in vogue to spiritualise the words of Rev.20, so that the “thousand years” can mean any length of time, as long as it’s not 1,000 years. In this article I wish to give my reasons for maintaining a belief in a literal Millennium.
I am aware of the fact that the Book of Revelation contains vast amounts of figurative material. Of this there cannot be any doubt. But expositors very often adopt extreme positions. Some are prone to takeeverything figuratively, whilst others try their best to take everything literally. One prominent writer in the USA has recently pronounced his opinion quite vigorously in favour of total spiritualization, thereby getting himself into knots from the outset, because one simply cannot spiritualise Jesus, God, the throne of God, and various other factors that require no effort of the imagination to require alternative meanings. On the other hand, another well-known writer has tried his level best to engender fear and terror in the minds of his readers by presenting “apocalyptic nightmares” of colossal magnitude. I would suggest that neither of these extremes are worthy of further thought. A balanced approach is needed when reading the Revelation. Some of John’s visions are figurative, but many statements that read in a simple straightforward manner can be left as literal.
So let’s investigate the subject of the Millennium. Is it literal or figurative? First of all, here are the actual references, on which the assessment has to be made.
20:2 The Devil is bound for a thousand years.
20.3 At the end of the thousand years the Devil is released.
20:4 The faithful overcomers reign with Christ for a thousand years, in resurrection.
20:5 The rest of the dead have to wait for resurrection until the thousand years is over.
20:6 The faithful overcomers will act as priests and kings in their thousand-year reign with Christ.
20:7 When the thousand years expires, Satan will be released from his prison.
Here is a period of time which has a beginning and an end. To assume otherwise would be to create nonsense out of these words of Scripture. Furthermore, we are given no less than six items to ponder, which reduce to three theological statements, namely
1. The Devil is imprisoned for 1,000 years, and thereafter released.
2. The faithful overcomers reign with Christ during this period of 1,000 years.
3. The rest of the dead have to wait until the 1,000 years is over before attaining resurrection status.
We, as human beings, have no certain knowledge of future dates. We cannot specify when this period of time will begin. And it is doubtful whether anyone will be able to pin-point the starting date even afterit has started. Ultra-literalists would then be unable to calculate the terminal date. We must avoid this type of exercise.
However, in the mind of God, there is both a beginning and an end to this period of time, and it remains in His authority both to begin and to end the period. If this were not so, then words would have no meaning.
On this basis, to assume the necessity of spiritualising the time period becomes questionable, to say the least. What valid reason can anyone have for saying that 1,000 years does not mean 1,000 years but some other (often unspecified) time interval? What better contender for rational thought can arise by saying that 1,000 years means 500 years, 10 days, or 10,206 years? If we have authority to change a simple statement to mean something “better” in our own estimation, then we are taking a dangerous liberty. Without very cogent reasons to the contrary, simple statements of Scripture should be allowed to mean what they say. To do otherwise would be to adopt the position of the Serpent in the Garden, – “Can it really be that God should have said . . .?”
There are other reasons for considering the Millennium to be 1,000 years.
- At the beginning of Revelation, John said that he was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day.” I know there has been a lot of speculation about the meaning of “the Lord’s day”, but I find it passing strange to think that John merely meant Sunday (the usual interpretation). In fact there is much to be said for “the Lord’s day” being Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. But even this is without very much clout. I think Dr. Bullinger had the correct view when he declared that John was in the spirit in “the Day of the Lord,” that period of time specified by Old Testament prophets, which equates exactly with the contents of the subsequent visions in Revelation.
This being so, it suggests that there is a hidden symbolism within the plan of the “week” in Genesis. Each of the “days” is prophetic of 1,000 years, the seventh period being that of the Sabbath, which is called “the Day of the Lord,” and referred to as Rest (a Sabbatism) in Hebrews 4.
- In ancient times there were many Hebrew scholars who espoused this concept, and became known as Chiliasts, a word deriving from the Greek for ‘one thousand.’ I’ll mention some passages that support this. First of all, in the apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas, where we find the following. (Chapter 12.) “At the beginning of creation God makes mention of the Sabbath . . . Consider what that signifies, He finished them [i.e. works] in six days, that is in six thousand years the Lord will bring all things to an end. For ‘one day with Him is as a thousand years’, . . . And what means it, ‘He rested on the seventh day’? The Son shall come and abolish the season of the wicked one . . and shall gloriously rest in that seventh day. . . . When resting from all things He shall begin the eighth day, the beginning of the other world, for which we observe the eighth day with gladness, in which Jesus rose from the dead.”
Barnabas mentioned the verse in Psalm 90, quoted by Peter in one his epistles, that “one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
Then we have the Feast of Tabernacles, the time of rejoicing after harvest gathering. It was a seven-day feast, followed by an eighth day, “the last day, the great day of the feast.” This caused Martha to say to Jesus, concerning Lazarus, “I know he shall rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” She believed, along with many in Israel at that time, that the “general resurrection” would beafter the 7,000 years were over, corresponding to the eighth thousand years. John, in Rev.20, stated that “the rest of the dead” would have to wait until the 1,000 years expired. This was confirmed to the Hebrew mind by circumcision, the ‘putting away of the flesh, ‘being required on the eighth day.
- Chronologists who try to assess the time interval from Adam to Christ find their calculations more or less agreeing with Archbishop Ussher, in other words approximately 4,000 years. (I am aware of the many who prefer the longer period deduced from the Septuagint, but after doing some extensive research on this subject, I found that there were many flaws in the LXX chronology.) I believe the 4,000 years was shown in type by the days of Passover. The Lamb was chosen on the 10th day, and slain on the 14th day. Our Lord was “chosen from before the foundation of the world”, but only appeared“in the fullness of the times,” 4,000 years later. And if Scripture gives warrant to there being eight “days”, then the Crucifixion occurred exactly midway in history.
- Using the same system of interpretation, we find the prophet Hosea saying, (Chapter 5:15-6:2) “I will go and return to my place, till they have borne their guilt, and seek my face. In their affliction they will seek me earnestly, saying, Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn and He will heal us; He has stricken, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us, onthe third day He will raise us up that we may live before Him.” Have these “two days” represented the 2,000 years from Calvary until now?
- The life of Noah is full of typological meaning. His name means “Rest.” He lived 600 years before the flood, and therefore his seventh century was on the renewed earth, after passing unscathed through the judgment of the flood. If his 600 years symbolise the 6,000 years of millennial history, then at the end of 6,000 years we may expect a time of judgment, followed by a different order in the world. This is exactly what the prophets tell us.
- The “Cluster effect.” This is the name I give to significant events that cluster round Millennialboundaries. God told Adam that he would die “in the day that you eat” from the tree of knowledge. In point of fact he died twice, first of all when he “fell”, and finally when he died at 930 years of age. Some 57 years later (in 987) Enoch was translated, and in 1056 Noah was born. These three important events “cluster” around the first millennial boundary.
The second millennial boundary finds Abram born at 1948, and Noah dying at 2006.
The third millennial boundary is marked by the building of Solomon’s Temple.
The fourth millennial boundary has the Lord being born BC2 and dying AD33. Israel ceases as a nation in AD70.
The fifth is uneventful, but the sixth millennial boundary is noted for the re-establishment of the Nation of Israel in AD1948.
As a result of this study, it is clear that no major event actually clicks on millennial boundaries, but the presence of “clusters” show us the importance of millennial typology. It leaves us with the high probability of the Lord establishing His Millennial Rest sometime during the next 50 or so years, as history has shown that significant events only tend to cluster, rather than fall on millennial boundaries. We are now living approximately 6,000 years from Adam. Nobody can produce a reliable date, however much research they do, but we can be sure of the approximate duration. Hence we are living in exciting times. The Millennial Rest could begin at any time and there is therefore an added urgency for serious-minded believers to be much before the Lord, to act like the wise virgins who were ready for any eventuality, because “they knew not the hour”. The foolish virgins thought they knew, and therefore restricted their oil supply accordingly.
In writing the above, I am indebted to Dr E.W. Bullinger and his book, “The Apocalypse, or the Day of the Lord”, 1902. Also to J. Eustace Mills and his excellent booklet entitled “Sabbatical Typology”, written in 1937. It is long since out of print. I had the privilege of meeting brother Mills in 1962 during a holiday in Devon, and I remember with joy the brief time of fellowship we had together.