The Millennium (Rev. 20:1-6)
We come today to the famous millennium text. I must confess that I come at it with a sense of trepidation, though I must also say that I do not find the interpretation of this text as troublesome as other passages, particularly some of those found in chapter 11 and 17. In the preparation of sermons on those chapters in this series on the book of Revelation, at times I felt a sense of panic rising in me over problems of their interpretation. After all, it’s impossible to prepare an expositional sermon when you still aren’t sure what the text it is saying, and there were many moments when I was puzzling painfully over these hard-to-understand texts. I am more sure about this passage. However, I still come at it with a sense of fear and trembling because there is so much disagreement over it, and people can tend to get worked up when you disagree with them!
How much disagreement can we allow on issues like the Millennium? First of all, we need to affirm that there are things about the last days that we must believe as a church, that we need to have unity on, that we need to agree upon. We must believe in the future, visible, personal, and glorious Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must believe in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust. We must believe in the general judgment when every knee will bow before Christ and the Lord will make all things right. We must believe in the future eternal glorious state of the righteous and the future eternal misery of the wicked. We must believe these things because the Scriptures speak so clearly about them.
However, there are other things about the end times that I would argue are okay to disagree about, and I would say disagreements about the millennium belong in this category. In this church we don’t require you to affirm a particular position on eschatology (apart from the things just mentioned) in order to be a member of this church. For one thing, you can have serious disagreements about the millennium and still affirm the Second Coming, future resurrection, general judgment, and the eternal happiness of the righteous and misery of the wicked.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to come to a position on it. The Bible does talk about it, and it does so very clearly in the text before us. I’ve heard that some folks have said that in our denomination, we’re not supposed to believe in the Millennium. But that reminds me of those Christians who say they don’t believe in predestination. That’s a problem because if you believe the Bible, you have to believe in predestination because it’s in there. Well, so is the Millennium. Here it is right here in Rev. 20:1-6. It’s not a matter of believing in it – we must if we are believers in the Bible – but it’s a matter of what we believe about it.
Now some folks say that since the Bible doesn’t explicitly speak about the millennium anywhere else, we shouldn’t use this passage to expand on what the Bible says about the end times everywhere else. The argument is that you shouldn’t base a Biblical doctrine upon a single passage in Scripture. There is some wisdom in this. For example, one thinks of the surely wrong practice of baptizing for the dead among the Mormons, which is a practice based off a single obscure verse in 1 Cor. 15. But it is possible to press this principle too far. For example, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews builds a pretty big case for the priestly identity of Jesus Christ, as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, based on a single text in the OT (Ps. 110:4). In other words, just because a something isn’t mentioned all over the place in the Bible doesn’t mean the one or two places it is mentioned can’t make a significant contribution to our understanding of theology. The NT use of the OT cautions us against such a view.
Actually, the problem with the practice of baptizing for the dead is not that it is found in a single passage. The problem is twofold: that it is (1) relatively obscure (there’s no consensus exactly what Paul means there) and (2) that such a practice contradicts the teaching of other clearer passages in the Bible. At the end of the day, it is a sound rule to always interpret the Bible in light of the Bible, the obscure by the clear. The problem is not whether or not this is the only text that explicitly mentions the millennium, but whether or not our understanding of what it says is faithful to the text itself and whether or not it fits with the rest of the Biblical teaching. Certainly, whatever we say about the millennium in this passage, we want to do so in a way that is consistent with the overall message of the Bible on the end times.
Now I must say here at the outset that I am a premillennialist, and I am going to make a case for that. However, I’m not going to blame you if you hold to a different position, such as amillennialism or postmillennialism. There are just too many good and wise people who have held to differing positions on the end times to be dogmatic over the details. We do need to have some humility here. There have been godly men who hold and have held to the premillennial position (among the Baptists, for example, John Gill and C. H. Spurgeon in the past, and John Piper in our day). The Puritans for the most part were postmillennial; so was Jonathan Edwards. A great many in the Reformed faith are amillennial, a point of view that was championed all the way back in the fifth century by the great African bishop Augustine of Hippo. A very interesting case was that of James Montgomery Boice, the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, who was a dispensationalist Presbyterian! Putting those two words together is almost like putting peanut butter and mayonnaise on the same sandwich. So I just can’t get too excited if someone disagrees with me over this. In fact, I for one will be happy no matter how it pans out. You’ve probably heard some people say that they are panmillennialists – those who believe that it’ll all pan out in the end! Well, in some sense that is the correct position to take. And the fact of the matter is that if the amillennialists are right, I’m not going to be disappointed, right? If the postmillennialists are right, praise God! And if the premillennialists are correct that will be wonderful too.
But I think there is another reason we need to have humiity here. It is this (I think it was Charles Hodge who pointed this out in the nineteenth century): everyone – and I mean everyone – got the first coming of our Lord wrong. What makes you think that we won’t get at least certain aspects of his second coming wrong? I don’t think the addition of the NT to the canon of Scripture fixes the problem – I mean, if it did, why are there still so many disagreements over the end times? No, I think you should be wary of those who are absolutely confident that they have it all figured out. Humility and tentativeness are appropriate and needed here.
Why then come at this text at all? We do so because just the fact that we do so says something important. When there are a thousand things competing for our attention at this moment, even things that are very important cultural issues, it says something when we stay true to the path laid out for us in the regular, faithful exposition of Scripture. I am doing this because I want it to be clear that what is determining the subject matter in this pulpit is not the thousand voices around us clamoring to be heard, but the word of God itself. Let God’s word itself tell us what is important and relevant, and let us listen. That’s not to say that there aren’t times when it is appropriate to preach specific sermons dealing with topics or issues of the day. I agree that there are times when this needs to be done. But generally, it is most appropriate for the church that sits under the authority of God’s word to let Scripture itself not only determine what truth is, but also what truths we need to hear, in the order and with the weight given to them in God’s word. Expositional preaching gives us that, and this is why we are here at this text in Revelation 20 dealing with the Millennium.
An Explanation of Terms
If you don’t know what some of these terms mean that I’ve been using (amillennialist, premillennialist, postmillennialist), before we go on, let me briefly explain them to you. First of all, it might be appropriate to start by saying a word about the word millennium itself. “Millennium” comes from the Latin (mille annis) for a thousand years, and it is a reference in this case to the fact that here the saints “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (20:4). The millennium is the time when God’s people will reign with Christ.
Now a premillennialist is someone who believes that the millennium will follow the Second Coming, or that the return of our Lord precedes (hence the prefix pre-) the millennium. The premillennialist believes that Christ will return to earth, raise his people (the elect) from the dead, and set up his kingdom on the earth in its fulness. They believe that during this period of time (“thousand” is probably figurative but certainly indicates some lengthy period of time, whatever the specific length is) there will be unprecedented peace and justice and prosperity on the earth as the elect reign with Christ. Following this period of time, the devil will be allowed to deceive the non-elect who are still living, and they will engage in one last final battle with God. After being overthrown, there will be a general judgment and the millennium will merge into the eternal state in a new heavens and new earth.
On the other hand, an amillennialist is someone who believes that we are in currently in the millennium. Probably many of them don’t like the term itself because it’s not as if they don’t believe in the millennium (which the a- prefix meaning “not” or “no” might seem to indicate) but rather that they believe that it began to be realized when Christ rose from the dead, and that the believer even now reigns with Christ who is already seated at the Father’s right hand and is reigning over all things for the good of his church. They thus believe that the millennium precedes the Second Coming and the eternal state.
The postmillennialist also believes that the millennium precedes the Second Coming, or that the return of our Lord happens after or is posterior to the Millennium (hence the prefix post-). However, they differ from amillennialists because they believe it is yet future. In particular, they argue that before the return of our Lord, the gospel will not only go to all the earth but that it will have success in the sense that through the gospel all the nations will turn to Christ and be converted. When the nations have been converted, then the Lord will return, raise the dead, judge all men in a final judgment, and inaugurate the eternal state.
One added perspective that needs to be mentioned is that of the dispensationalist. This is a species of premillennialism which, in addition to the points made above, makes a hard and fast distinction between Israel and the church, and argues that the millennium is an earthly rule of Christ during which the nation of Israel will enjoy the literal fulfillment of many of the OT promises to Israel in an earthly kingdom. They also believe that there will be a secret rapture of the church before the tribulation of the last days; hence, there are two “second” comings of Christ – the first secret and the second visible.
I am personally not a dispensationalist and don’t affirm these added distinctives in my understanding of the end times. This position to which I hold is sometimes called historic premillennialism which is distinguished from the later accretions of the system developed in dispensationalism which really doesn’t have a history before the nineteenth century. However, although dispensationalism as such is of recent origin, premillennialism is very old, going back to the early church fathers. For example, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Papias, and Tertullian were premillennialists. So we are not being novel or eccentric or independent for embracing such a view. Nor are we being unbaptistic, for some of the earliest Baptist theologians and pastors were also premillennial in their eschatology. In fact, the formation of my thinking on this subject was very early on influenced by the eighteenth-century Baptist theologian John Gill in his teaching on this in his Body of Divinity.
In what follows, I plan to give arguments for both the amillennial and the premillennial positions. I apologize for those of you who subscribe to some other position, but I am limited in time here, and I think that the cases for the amillennial and premillennial views are the strongest. I will, however, be arguing ultimately for the premillennial position and try to show why I think the case for amillennialism is weaker overall. We will then end with a word about the nature of the millennium. Of course, fundamentally our task in all of this is to give a faithful exposition of the Biblical text of Revelation 20:1-6.
The Case for Amillennialism
The real test of course is this: what does the Bible say? What does this passage here in Revelation 20 say? What we will see is that the main question in deciding between the amillennial and the premillennial positions here is whether or not this chapter is in temporal sequence with the previous chapter or whether it is a recapitulation – that is to say, an overall repetition of the same basic events from a slightly different perspective – of the events of the previous chapter. This is not a stretch because we’ve seen that the book of Revelation several times over recapitulates the same events from different perspectives. Thus, those who are amillennialists argue that this chapter recapitulates the events of the previous chapter. For example, they argue that the battle of 20:8-9 recapitulates the battle of 19:19-20.
One of the main reasons given for this is the problem of the origin of the devil’s army in chapter 20 when the army of the beast in chapter 19 was completely decimated. The argument is this: they argue that the army against the Lord in chapter 19 is said to include every non-believer on the earth. Those who take the amillennialist position point especially to 19:18 to make their point: “That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.” They would argue that this list includes everyone on earth who is not following Christ. If that is the case, then the only people left on earth in chapter 20 are the righteous who are raised from the dead in verse 4. The problem and the question then is this: Where then do the wicked come from who are deceived by Satan in 20:8? They can’t come from other wicked people because they were all killed. And they can’t come from the resurrected righteous because our Lord makes it very clear that those who are raised from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven – and this almost certainly means they don’t have children (see Mt. 22:30). This would strongly imply that the two battles really have to be the same and therefore that the millennium mentioned several verses before the battle in 20:8-9 is not referring to something that is inaugurated after the Second Coming of our Lord but before it.
How then would they interpret the dead coming to life in 20:4? What is the “first resurrection” (20:5)? They would argue that it is either a reference to the new birth (as in Jn. 5:24), or a reference to the intermediate state. That is, to “live” in the sense of Rev. 20:4 means: (1) to be made spiritually alive in Christ, or (2) to be alive in heaven in a yet disembodied state.
They would also argue that the rest of the Biblical teaching seems to put the resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous together, whereas, if we take Rev. 20 to be referring to a literal millennium that would mean the righteous are raised at the beginning and the wicked at the end of the millennium, separating them by the duration of the millennial reign of Christ. They will point to verses like this one in John 5:28-29 where our Lord says, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” They would argue that this is a reference to a single resurrection, rather than to multiple resurrections, which is required by the premillennialist position.
One more argument for the recapitulation position is the claim that the sealing of Satan in the abyss in 20:1-3 is parallel to the fall of Satan in chapter 12, where he is thrown from heaven, no longer able to accuse the brethren in the presence of God. This is clearly something that happens at the beginning, rather than the ending, of the story of the church, for it is after the devil is cast out that he attacks the woman who had given birth to the Messiah and her seed (the church). They would argue then that the sealing of Satan in the abyss no longer able to deceive the nations is therefore coordinate with the history of the church between the first and second comings of our Lord. Hence, the devil’s inability to deceive the nations in chapter 20 should also be interpreted in light of the history of the church in all of the period of time between the first and second comings of our Lord. At least some of them would say that this is a reference to the fact that the gospel has gone into all the nations and that Satan can’t deceive the nations in the sense that he is no longer able to keep the gospel from them. So the millennium is not something in the future, but something we are experiencing right now.
There are other points that they make, but it seems to me that these are some of their most powerful arguments. What are we to say to these points?
The Case for Premillennialism
First of all, let’s come to the objections raised against this by the amillennialists. The objection that the army in chapter 19 includes every unsaved human being seems to me to be unnecessarily literalistic, especially when you consider that this is an apocalyptic book written in symbolic language. I find it a bit ironic to say it this way because this is the very charge which amillennialists cast against the premillennial position. For example, they say that by insisting the millennium to be a real period of time after the return of Christ we are being too literal in a book full of symbolism, especially in regards to the apparent order of things in the narrative. Well, I say that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
In fact, I don’t think we need to assume that the army of the beast in chapter 19 included the entire population of unbelievers on the planet. The language of chapter 19 is meant of course to convey the broad base of support for the beast in his war against Christ, and that it included people from the highest to the lowest classes. But to imagine that every single human being on the planet is in the same battle is a bit much.
What about verses like those in John 5 that seem to imply a single resurrection event instead of two separated by the millennium? Well, the answer is that, strictly speaking, our Lord’s words are fully consistent with two resurrections: one a resurrection of the righteous – which we have in Rev. 20:4 – and the other a resurrection of the wicked – which we have in Rev. 20:5. There is no inconsistency here as far as I can tell.
What about the supposed parallel between Rev. 12 and 20? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. That may be entirely my fault, but there it is. There seem to be just too many differences between the two accounts for me to be able to believe that they are parallel accounts of the same thing. For instance, in chapter 12, the devil being thrown from heaven explains the persecution of the church – whereas in chapter 20, the devil being sealed in the abyss explains the peace of the church! Not quite the same thing, I think.
But what about the positive case for the premillennial position? Let me give you three reasons why I think we should understand the millennium of Revelation 20 to refer to a period of time, inaugurated by the Second Coming of our Lord, when the elect will reign with him upon the earth before the Final Judgment and the eternal state.
Reason 1: Chapters 18-20 are in sequence rather than being recapitulations of each other.
Let me give you two arguments for this. First, in these chapters, we see that the judgments of God upon the Harlot, the Beast and False Prophet, and the Dragon are different events because they are different characters with different roles. These characters are introduced in Revelation in the following order: the dragon (chapter 12), the beast and false prophet (chapter 13, though alluded to in chapter 11), and finally the harlot (chapter 17). The dragon is the devil, of this there is no doubt. He is further referred to here in chapter 20 as “the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan” (20:2). He is the original enemy of God and of the people of God, a murderer who murders with his lies (Jn. 8:44). He is the inspiration behind the beast and false prophet, who together represent the Antichristian kingdom at the end in its political and religious aspects. The devil gives his power to the beast (13:2). The city Babylon is the harlot, the commercial and political center of the world in rebellion against God and the seat of the beast. It was prefigured by Rome in John’s day, but will almost certainly be fulfilled in a future capitol city of the Antichrist, wherever that will be.
What we then see is that these enemies of the Lord and his people are toppled in the reverse order that they were introduced. First the city of Babylon falls, the harlot, in chapter 18. This is followed by the fall of the beast and false prophet in chapter 19, followed by the fall of Satan himself in chapter 20. One of the implications of this is that each fall is distinct from the next because these characters, though connected, are still distinct. And that implies, in my mind at least, that each of the events in chapters 18-20 are distinct events, rather than recapitulations of each other.
Second, we see that the events of chapters 18-20 depend upon each other in a certain order, rather than recapitulating each other. What we have in these chapters are not events that tell the same story from different vantage points. What we have are events in one chapter that must happen before the events in the next chapter can happen. This strongly implies a sequence of events, even if that sequence is told in highly symbolic language.
For example, one reason I find it incredibly hard to accept that the battle in chapter 20 is a retelling of the battle in chapter 19 is that in chapter 19 the beast and the false prophet are captured and thrown alive into the lake of fire. But then the outcome in the battle in chapter 20 is this: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (10). In other words, something had already happened before this battle took place; and what had already happened is that the beast and false prophet had been cast into the lake of fire. They were already there, and Satan joins them there at the end of the battle in chapter 20; he doesn’t recapitulate or reprise their being cast into the lake of fire. One thing had happened (the beast and false prophet were thrown into hell) followed by another thing (the dragon is then cast into hell). This is not the same story from different perspectives, like a football play which is replayed from various vantage points. Rather, these are like two different football games altogether, where one had to be played before the next could be played.
If this is the case, then the sequence we have here in theses chapters is this: there is the personal, visible return of Christ in glory to earth to destroy the persecutors of the church (19:11-21). This is what we looked at a few Sundays ago. Then there is the arrest and imprisonment of Satan and his being cast into the abyss where he is able no more to deceive the nations (20:1-3). This is associated with the First Resurrection when the saints who had died are raised from the dead and they rule and reign with Christ upon the earth for a thousand years (20:4-6). This is followed by the release of Satan who stirs up the nations to one last, final battle, when he is decisively defeated and cast into hell (20:7-10). This is followed by the resurrection of the wicked and their final judgment before the throne of God (20:11-15), and this is followed by a new heavens and new earth (21:1-22:7).
Reason 2: It’s very hard to see how the cessation of the deception of Satan in 20:3 can be harmonized with the present condition of the church.
We read in verses 1-3: “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” To say that this is a reference to the results of the world-wide evangelism of the nations is to stretch things a bit, in my opinion. The reason for the world-wide evangelism of the nations had nothing in fact to do with Satan; it had everything to do with the purpose of God in salvation history.
Now some will argue that our Lord referred to this in the parable of the strong man in Mt. 12:29. But this had a very specific reference: it referred to the exorcism of demons by the personal ministry of our Lord. It was not meant to act as a description of the entire period of church history between the first and second comings of our Lord.
The fact of the matter is that the devil has never been bound at any point in church history in terms of his ability to deceive to deceive the nations. The apostles taught the opposite, didn’t they? Here is what the apostle Paul said about the devil’s prowess to deceive: “such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Or, to the Ephesians, he warns them of “the wiles of the devil,” and goes on to say, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:11-12). Or, the apostle Peter has this to say about the present danger of the devil: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). What about Paul’s words to Timothy about the last times: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). Does this sound like a devil who has been bound so that he can’t deceive the nations any longer? Really?
Rather, we ought to say what the text says. Even taking into consideration the symbolism of the passage (we don’t, for example, have to affirm a literal chain and a literal bottomless pit), the very least this means is that the kinds of things the apostles warn us against in the passages just cited will no longer be worries for God’s people on earth during the millennium. The very things the devil is allowed to do in Revelation chapter 12 will no longer be possibilities. God’s kingdom will have come. Praise the Lord!
Reason 3: The coming to life in Rev. 20:4 can only refer in this context to physical resurrection.
We read: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (4-5).
“They lived” is translated in some versions as “came to life” (ESV), and I think that is a good translation. The fact is that it is called a resurrection in verse 5, an anastasis. In the NT, this word means physical, bodily resurrection, and even when it is used in a metaphorical sense (as, perhaps, in Luke 2:34) the metaphor is taken from physical, bodily resurrection. We should therefore take it to mean this unless we have overwhelming reasons to do otherwise. I don’t think such reasons exist here. Those who say that “first” resurrection is meant to place it in the order of the current age, as opposed to the age to come (in order to make it a spiritual resurrection of some sort), do so, it seems to me, by downplaying key elements in the context. It is the first resurrection because there is yet a resurrection to come when the rest of the dead will be raised and stand before God in the general judgment (5, 12-13). Note that the same word is used for both resurrections: in verse 4, those who participate in the first resurrection come to life (zao) and in the second resurrection the rest of the dead come to life (same word, zao). If the second resurrection is a physical one, so is the first one.
That it is physical resurrection is also seen in the description of those who are raised. They “souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus” – these are the one who “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Thus, resurrection can’t mean living in heaven in a disembodied state, nor can it mean regeneration. For this coming to life happened to people who had already been regenerated (i.e., born again, given spiritual life) and who had already died and gone to heaven. These are the ones who came to life.
Frankly, to say that resurrection means to die and go to heaven is practically to equate resurrection with death. This is not just paradoxical, as one scholar put it; it is impossible. It is to join together things that God has put asunder.
There is some disagreement as to the identity of the group that experiences the first resurrection. Our translation (KJV) makes it sound like this is one group of people, described in two different ways. However, it’s possible that this is a description of two groups of people: the first being the martyrs and the second being the more general category of those who did not worship the beast.
Regardless, I don’t think we should read this as if it were to say that only martyrs participate in the life which is here granted. The reason is that throughout the book of Revelation, the promise to participate in the reign and rule of Christ is not just reserved for martyrs but to all who faithfully serve the Lord. Thus, our Lord himself makes this promise to the church in Thyatira: “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father” (Rev. 2:26-27). This is a promise to all the faithful, that is, to all the elect.
By the way, some argue that the placement of thrones in verse 4 indicates that this is happening in heaven (in light of Revelation 4:4 and Daniel 7:9-10), and make this another argument for a spiritual interpretation of the first resurrection. However, a comparison with chapter 5 points in a different direction. There, our Lord is being praised for redeeming a people: “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10). Those who are redeemed by God are all believers of every age, and the promise is that they “shall reign.” Where will they reign? – “on the earth.” So this shows that thrones are just another pointer to the future earthly, millennial reign of all believers with Christ.
The Millennium in other passages of Scripture?
These are the reasons from the text of Revelation 20 that I think point strongly in the direction of a premillennial interpretation. However, one of the things that is often said against the premillennial interpretation is that it is found nowhere else in the OT or NT. However, though it is true that this is the only explicit place in Scripture where the idea of a millennium is found, there are passages elsewhere that seem to strongly hint at it.
One such place is 1 Cor. 15:22-26. There the apostle Paul writes, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Notice that there is an order here: first Christ comes and those who belong to Christ are raised. Also note that this is not a general resurrection here: it is only the resurrection of the righteous. It is only after this that the end comes. I agree that this text doesn’t prove the premillennial position; I’m not arguing that. What I am arguing, however, is that it is consistent with it. According to Paul, it is after the resurrection of the righteous that Christ puts down all his enemies, the last of which is death. This is perfectly consistent with the premillennial timeline: first the Second Coming of our Lord, when the righteous are raised from the dead, then the overthrow of all Christ’s and our enemies in the millennial reign, then the general judgment when death itself will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
I would also argue that promises like that in Rev. 2:26-27, where the believer is promised that he or she will rule the nations with a rod of iron is more consistent with a millennial interpretation than the amillennial. Who are these nations that we are to rule over? If the general judgment happens right away and the wicked are immediately cast into hell, precisely whom are the saints ruling over? One possibility is that these nations are the unrighteous who are left on the earth who will eventually comprise Gog and Magog with whom our Lord will fight in the battle preceding the white throne judgment (20:8-15). This again is most consistent with the premillennial position.
The Nature of the Millennium
What will the millennium be like? Well, there is not a lot of detail here. And though we might try to dip into some OT prophesies to flesh out what it might be like, I am personally content to abide by the brevity of verse 6: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” Here is another one of the seven blessings of the book of Revelation, and the fact that it is reserved for the millennium shows us that this is no little matter. The nature of the Millennium is summed up in three ways. First, “on such death hath no power.” A parallel passage to this can be seen in our Lord’s words to Martha when her brother Lazarus had died: “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (Jn. 11:25-26). Wait a minute…what? Lazarus had already died! What then does Jesus mean? I agree with James Hamilton, who, in his commentary on John, writes: “Those who believe in Jesus may experience physical death, but it will not be permanent, and those who believe will not undergo the second death (cf. Rev. 20:6). This is what Jesus means in John 11:26 when he says that those who believe in him will never die.” And this is what John means here. It does not mean that these people didn’t die, but that they didn’t remain dead but were resurrected and that they would not be subject to the second death, spoken of in verse 14.
This means that those who are raised from the dead and enter into the blessedness of the Millennium will never be in danger of losing this blessedness. There is no way from heaven to hell. Those whom God saves, he saves for good.
Second, we are told that “they shall be priests of God and of Christ.” In other words, they will have direct access to God and of Christ. Priests minister and serve in the presence of God. That will be the privilege of the people of God in the Millennial state. Finally, they will “reign with him a thousand years.” Right now, the righteous live in a world dominated by the wicked. The whole world, John tells us, lies under the power of the wicked one. We have to live with that. And though we are to shine our lights in the midst of the surrounding darkness, and though we should expect to see the gospel embraced by others with whom we share it, the reality is that until Christ returns this world will always have wicked men ruling over the godly. There will be persecution until the meek inherit the earth. But there is coming a day, my friends, when the meek will inherit the earth. There will come a day when the reverse of things will come about, when the righteous will rule over the nations, when the godly will exercise dominion over the earth. And whereas we have to bear the brunt of the iniquity of the wicked during a short span in this life, in the Millennium, we will be able to enjoy this wonderful turn of affairs for a very long time.
Brothers and sisters, regardless of where you fall on the continuum of options as regards the theology of last things, surely we can rejoice together that, however the details work out, there is coming a time when Babylon will no longer rule over the nations of the earth. There is coming a day when the beast and false prophet will be cast into the lake of fire. And there will come a day when even the devil himself will join them in eternal punishment. There is coming a time when all the enemies of God and of his people will be overcome. Death will be dead, and there will be no more sin, no more opposition to the people of God! Yes, the Millennium ends, but it ends in a final battle and a final judgment that then merges into the eternal state, a new heavens and new earth. If you belong to Jesus by faith through the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart, this is your inheritance. If we really believed that it would enable us to do what Paul commands us to do in his epistle to the Philippians: “Rejoice evermore!” Place your problems in the perspective of the wonderful and eternal blessedness of the people of God in Christ.
Recently, we partook of the Lord’s Supper together as a church. I am so thankful for this means of grace. In Communion, we are reminded of the words of our Lord to his disciples the night he instituted the supper for the church: “As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this wine, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” Every time we take the Lord’s Supper, we are not just looking back to the death of Christ that brought us pardon before God, but we are looking forward to the final victory when he returns. The book of Revelation is helping us to do that, too. Brothers and sisters, let this passage and this Supper help us to anticipate and wait with eagerness the return of the Lord and the everlasting victory of the people of God.