In this post, I want to look at two issues of the millennial reign of Christ, namely, where and when does it take place? This is not going to be an in depth look, but rather a few notes on problems I have with the premillennial view. [Editor's note: turned out to be longer than I expected]
The premillennial view of the millennial kingdom states that it will take place after the second coming of Jesus Christ, where he will reign on earth. The amillennial and modern post-millennial views say that Christ is reigning now, and has been since his ascension, until he comes back, and that the location of that reign is in heaven. The historic post-millennial view says that the beginning of the reign coincides with a Christianized world sometime in the future, but prior too the second coming. It is my view that the amillennial and modern post-millennial are correct both in their timing and in their location.
First, let us look at the location. The text that gives us the most detail is obviously Revelation 20. This is the only text that mentions the millennium specifically, which I will quote here:
“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who 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 for 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 is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” (vv. 4-6)
There are a couple of things here that keep me from agreeing with the premillennial view. The first one does not seem very convincing at first, but I will attempt to explain. It is the use of the word “thrones,” where John sees in his vision thrones where those “to whom the authority to judge” were seated. The overwhelming use of the word thrones in Revelation involves heavenly scenes (some 40 times out of 47 occurrences, including God’s throne, Jesus’ throne), with the rest referring to Satan’s throne (2x) or the beast’s throne (1x), and God’s throne on the new earth which comes down from heaven (4x, obviously after the events in question). However, we must be cautious with this as we should not make or break a doctrine based on a word study, even one that is strictly Johanine. Everything else considered, I do think it makes sense that John is using the word here to set the vision in a heavenly scene. The second, and more weighty, of the two is John’s use of the word “souls” in verse 4. This would make perfect sense if John was seeing a vision that was taken place in heaven where he could be given a look into the intermediate state, but not so if he was seeing the kingdom on earth, after the resurrection at the second-coming as premillennialists hold to. A heavenly scene would sit in stark contrast to the location given right before this one in vv1-3 of the abyss.
Another argument is that Revelation 20:1-6 is a recapitulation of 12:7-11. The resemblance is striking. I will point you to Kim Riddlebarger’s book A Case for Amillennialism for more information, and I will make the table that is shown in his book at the bottom of this post.
While I think that these issues are pointing to a heavenly scene, the most I can say at this point is that the text, though possibly pointing to a heavenly scene, simply does not say, especially if we deny the apparent recapitulation (though I think that it is there). Certainly, to say that this is a scene on earth is a presupposition that is brought into the text, as is saying that it’s a heavenly scene, though I think with slightly better reasons.
The question of when does the reign occur, I think will offer up a clearer picture of where the reign occurs as well. First, let us look at Paul’s discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
“20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
In this passage, Paul is addressing the fact that some people are saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. He places the resurrection here at the second coming– a pivotal moment for every millennial view. The a- and post-millennialist would say that it is at the second coming that the kingdom is consummated, while the premillennialist says that this is when the kingdom begins (accepting that some would also hold to an already/not yet scheme). Paul has some interesting things to say here that I think point to the a-/post- interpretation. First, is that Paul says that after the resurrection of the dead at His coming (I do not take this section to refer to 70ad, but the future second coming), Jesus will “deliver the kingdom to God the Father,” which presupposes that it was already in his possession. The premillennialist would say that 1) that this is when the kingdom is given to him, not given away, and that 2) this occurs after the millennium. But the time frame here does not mention a 1,000 year gap– that must be inserted by us. Paul’s time frame has 1)second coming of Christ/resurrection of the dead, 2)the end, wherein Christ’s enemies are destroyed by 3)the giving of kingdom back to the father. There seems to be little to no temporal difference in these events. Furthermore, Paul says that Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Because it seems that Paul is equating this event with the second coming, it seems as if Paul is saying that Christ must reign until he comes back, at which point he gives the kingdom back to the Father. It seems that these verses are best understood in the a-/post- understanding of the millennial kingdom. This begs the question, if Christ hands the kingdom back over at his second coming, when did he receive it? Two sets of verses come to mind, one from the Old Testament, one from the New.
Let us look to the Old first. I think the answer to when Jesus receives the kingdom is plainly answered in Daniel 7.13-14.
“13I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.”
Notice the movement in this verse. The “one like a son of man” [Jesus] goes to the Ancient of Days [God the Father]. When many folks read this verse, they see the use of coming on clouds, and think the second coming. I don’t think this is the correct interpretation however. If that were the case, it seems like the prepositional phrase would be “from the Ancient of Days.” He would be coming from the Father in heaven to earth, but this is not what the text says. Instead, it says that Jesus is going to the Father. I don’t see any other event that this could be referring to except the ascension of Christ. This is important, because look at what happens at His ascension: “and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom.” I think that it is this kingdom that Paul tells us that Christ must reign in until his enemies are defeated, and will be given back to the Father in 1 Corinthians 15. If this is so, then the reign of Christ in His kingdom lasts from His ascension till His second coming, just as amillennialists and modern post-millennialists affirm. This is why I also reject historical post-millennialism, which says that the millennium did not start at His ascension, but some later time (if at all yet).
There seems to be a couple of allusions here with Revelation 20. For instance, the image of Christ reigning in heaven fits in well if the vision of Revelation 20 is set in a heavenly scene, where martyrs and other believers reign with Christ. The idea of authority and judgment seems to find its place both here and John’s vision. Also, I think another allusion can be made here between the content of the kingdom of Daniel 7 and the binding of Satan in Revelation 20. Revelation 20.3 tells us that Satan is bound, and even tells us in what way he is bound: from “deceiv[ing] the nations.” Here, in Daniel 7, we see that the content of the kingdom and dominion is all people, nations and tongues. As we all know, the nations were united in hearing the Gospel through the miracle at Pentecost after Christ’s ascension, and we follow the expansion of the Gospel to the nations as we continue throughout the book of Acts. It seems, from this passage at least, that Christ is reigning in His kingdom, that it will last until the second coming (1 Cor 15), and that the place of this reign is with the Ancient of Days, in heaven.
There is yet one more passage I want to look at, this one in the New Testament. Right after the miracle at Pentecost, Peter begins to describe what has happened in terms of the prophecy in Joel and then gives the first evangelistic sermon. In the sermon, he mentions the fulfillment of an Old Testament promise- that the Christ will sit on David’s throne. This is interesting for a couple of reasons: 1)The mention of a throne makes us think of Christ reigning, 2)it is mentioned in respects to what happened at Pentecost, and 3) premillennialists say that Christ will take David’s throne in the future, earthly millennium, thus bringing a “literal” fulfillment of the prophecy. Here is what Peter says:
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand,
35until I make your enemies your footstool.'”
It seems that Peter recognized the fulfillment of that prophecy in the resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of Jesus Christ. He even brings into account the prophecy that Paul says will be fulfilled fully at His second coming– the destruction of His enemies. This part of Peter’s sermon fits in well with what we have seen thus far, which can be summarized thus:
1) At Christ’s ascension, He sits at the Father’s right hand (a place of power and authority) wherein He receives dominion, glory, and a kingdom. (Daniel 7.13,14; Acts 2.29-35)
2) The Gospel will go forth, from Judea, Judah, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth, thus saving people from every nation, tribe, peoples and tongue- shown dramatically at the miracle of Pentecost- due to the binding of Satan from deceiving the nations (Daniel 7.13,14; Acts 1.8, 2.1ff [including 29.35]; Revelation 7.9, 20.3;)
3) That Christ will continue to reign in heaven until all enemies are under his feet (Acts 2.29-35; 1 Corinthians 15.20-28; Revelation 20.4-10;)
4) That Christians reign with Him (Revelation 20.4)
5) That Christ will consummate His kingdom at His second coming, where all enemies including death will be defeated, and Christ will hand the kingdom over to His Father (1 Corinthians 15.20-28; Revelation 20.4ff)
It seems then that the evidence points to the a-/modern post-millennial interpretation of the events. Of course, there are disagreements within the camp of who reigns with Christ (only the dead, or all Christians), and I haven’t dealt with the two resurrections in John (which I have mentioned briefly before in light of John’s other writings), but it seems that it is the broad understanding of the a-/post- positions that make the most sense of the texts- that Christ is reigning now until He comes back, and that the reign is heavenly in location, not physically.
Here is the chart on the recapitulation of Revelation 12 and 20. I hold that Revelation is a series of visions, that are actually recapitulations, as opposed to a straight chronological view. That is another discussion however, so I did not want to dwell on it here.
|Revelation 12:7-11||Revelation 20.1-6|
|(1) heavenly scene (v. 7)||(1) heavenly scene (v. 1)|
|(2) angelic batthel against satan and his host (vv. 7-8)||(2) presupposed angelic battle with Satan (v. 2)|
|(3) Satan cast down to earth (v. 9)||(3) Satan cast down into the abyss|
|(4) the angels’ evil opponent called “the great dragon…that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (v. 9)||(4) the angels’ evil opponent called “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan,” restrained from “deceiving the nations anymore” (vv. 2-3), to be released later “to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth” (vv. 3, 7-8)|
|(5) Satan is “filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (v. 12)||(5) Satan to be “set free for a short time” after his imprisonment (v. 3)|
|(6) Satan’s fall, resulting in the kingdom of Christ and His saints (v. 10)||(6) Satan’s fall, resulting in the kingdom of Christ and His saints|
|(7) the saints’ kindship, based not only on the fall of Satan and Christ’s victory but alson on the saints’ faithfulness even to death in holding to “the word of their testimony” (v. 11)||(7) the saints’ kingship, based not only on the fall of Satan but also on their faithfulness even to death because of their “testimony for Jesus and because of the Word of God” (v. 4)|
Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillennialism, pg 202.