This article will seek to put forward the case that the one thousand year period referred to in Revelation chapter 20 is a literal period of Christ’s reign on earth following the present age, rapture, tribulation, and second coming. Although the thousand years is only mentioned here, it is referred to six times in seven verses and used for three purposes: the period of Satan being bound; of Christ’s reign; and between the resurrections of the just and unjust.1 Now why should the thousand years not be taken literally, as with most if not all the other time periods in the book?
The view expressed in this article is generally called ‘premillennialism’ because it views Christ’s coming as before, or pre-, a literal kingdom on earth. The main opposing view to premillennialism is amillennialism, which suggests the kingdom is spiritually fulfilled during this age by the church. Dating back to Augustine, around the 4th century, this view proposes that Satan was bound at the cross, thus commencing the ‘reign’ of Christ and His church who will spread the ‘kingdom’ until it achieves worldwide acceptance prior to Christ’s second coming. The view, of course, fitted in nicely with the spread of religious Rome, which continued even after the demise of Imperial Rome. The end of the first millennium AD led to the period being spiritualized to represent a longer period of time, now 2000 years and still going. Even a superficial look at this poses some serious questions:
However, the case for a literal earthly millennium can be built on much firmer foundations than these obvious shortcomings in the alternative views. We will now consider some of these.
The first of these is the scriptures themselves. Not only is it consistent to interpret Revelation chapter 20 literally but this also applies throughout the scriptures. The Old Testament prophets contain many very specific prophecies concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus in incarnation. For example, Isaiah foretells the virgin birth, Micah identifies Bethlehem, Jeremiah tells of the massacre of infants, and Hosea of the flight into Egypt. The historical books predict His coming from a woman, and descent from both Abraham and David. Similarly, passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah chapter 53 predict, in detail, His crucifixion, suffering, humiliation, burial, and resurrection. In all, over one hundred detailed prophecies were fulfilled at His first coming.
Remarkably, these same Old Testament writers have made over two hundred detailed prophesies concerning His second coming. Why should these not also be literally fulfilled? Like the first prophecies they identify locations: Jerusalem, Zion, and Israel. Unconditional covenants or promises made to Abraham, regarding the land, and David, regarding the throne, are to be fulfilled. Geographic changes are outlined: Israel’s borders, the areas of land for the nation, priests, and Prince are all found in Ezekiel, as well as eight chapters of essential detail of a temple yet to be built. Take Zechariah as just one example of this. He very accurately prophesied of the Lord’s piercing, betrayal, the thirty pieces of silver, and the buying of the Potter’s field. He also tells of His feet touching the Mount of Olives, its splitting in two, a new and miraculous river from Jerusalem, Israel’s national repentance, renewal of the land, blessing on the whole earth, and David’s throne being re-established. Why should these prophecies not be taken as literally as the ones already fulfilled?
The New Testament also has over 150 references to a coming kingdom with over 75% found in the three synoptic Gospels, which often have Jewish character and tie in closely to Old Testament prophesies. While a few identify the kingdom as then being present in some aspects, the majority point forward to the future. Similarly, when we come to the remaining thirty plus references in the New Testament a few do speak of the kingdom in its present revelation,2 but, again, the majority look to the future, speaking of ‘inheriting’, or being ‘heirs’. Peter speaks of a future ‘entrance’ to an ‘everlasting kingdom’, 2 Pet. 1. 11; Paul looks forward to ‘the end’ when the Lord Jesus delivers ‘the kingdom’ to God, after He has reigned in righteousness so that, as Peter again tells us, righteousness may then ‘dwell’ eternally on a new Heaven and new Earth. These terms distinguish the 1000 years’ kingdom on this earth from its eternal continuance on the new one.3 Paul looks forward to it in the final chapter of his final book.4
Secondly, vindicating Christ requires a literal reign on earth. The last public glimpse this world saw of Him was hanging on a Roman cross under the mocking title ‘King of the Jews’. Even His disciples were confounded by this, for they had been promised His ‘coming in glory’, and as ‘Son of man’, ‘Coming in his kingdom’, Matt. 16. 27-28. It had been prefigured on the Mount of Transfiguration, but still awaits fulfilment. Daniel chapter 7 verses 13-14 also requires fulfilment, and can also only truly be fulfilled by Christ as God’s ‘man’ reigning on this earth, not only as King of Israel but King of kings and Lord of lords over all ‘peoples, nations, and languages’. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, not only promises them a ‘coming’ to raise them at the rapture, but also a ‘coming’ of manifestation.5
This manifestation is not only for Christ but also for His bride, the church; they will also be blessed in a literal millennium. Peter uses the word for manifestation three times in his First Epistle to encourage saints whose faith and hope are being tried, assuring them of reward when He appears and is fully revealed.6 In Romans, the word is also used to warn of judgement on the ungodly, and to assure ‘the sons of God’ that they will share in His ‘manifestation’.7
The same verse introduces another demand for a literal millennium, that of the creation. Paul’s graphic description depicts this fallen creation groaning under the effects of mankind’s sin. Poverty, famine, injustice, abortion, pollution, war, and many other ailments beset this present earth, but Christ will rectify them all, when, as God’s man, He exposes the failure of every other form of government. Having witnessed in a few short decades the collapse and failure of communism, capitalism, and even so-called democracy, surely we can now see that only a literal millennium will demonstrate what adherence to God’s commandments can produce. Not only that, but man’s eventual further rebellion, when Satan is loosed, will prove conclusively that man’s sin is a product of his nature, not environment.
Finally, we must address one more demand for a literal millennium: the nation of Israel! It is a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s purpose for this nation which has caused many to reject a literal millennium. It is a fact of history that Christendom as a whole has, at best, been indifferent to the fate of the Jews, and, at worst, involved in their vilification, isolation, and even persecution. The reformers, great men though they were, were largely unable to get over the centuries of long engrained anti-Semitism which the mediaeval church had developed. This is evident from the writings of many of them.8 Yet, in addition to all the scriptures promising a future restoration of Israel, surely the great principle of God’s sovereignty must demand a future for Israel? The covenants to Abraham and David demand it. So does the land bought by Jeremiah, the Temple described in detail by Ezekiel, and the great prophecies of Daniel. The intricate detail given by Zechariah, and the other prophets, demand it, and, in addition to all this, history demands it. How else can we explain the preservation of this tiny nation, despite the successive might of world powers trying to wipe it out? It is not the ingenuity or strength of their secular government, nor the false faith of their Christ-rejecting religious leaders that has preserved them. It can be nothing other than the sovereign purpose of the God who chose them. His word is ‘yea and amen’, and He will fulfil every promise made to them. As He has always done, He will judge the nations that persecute them, even the nations He raised for the purpose of disciplining them. They have been preserved so that a remnant of the true ‘Israel of God’ will ‘look on him whom they pierced’ and be restored. Then, they will be ‘at the head of the nations’ and Christ will reign on David’s throne from Jerusalem for a thousand years.
Only this literal millennium fulfils the requirements of Satan restrained, scripture realized, Christ reigning, the church rewarded, the creation released, and Israel restored. Well might we pray, as a remnant soon will, ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’.