Reigning With Christ (Millenial Reign)
Introduction to Premillenialism:
Nearing the close of the prophetic and apocalyptic Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John a startling and exciting revelation takes place. In chapter 20 John records:
(1) I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. (2) He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (3) 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. (4) 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 for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (5) (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy are those who have part 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. Revelation 20:1-6 NIV
As the Lord has commanded him, John records the sayings of the Revelation. In 20:4-6 we see those of the “first resurrection” or those who had not compromised their “testimony of Jesus” coming to life and reigning “with Christ a thousand years.” (v. 4) Being a Jew by birth John was doubtlessly raised being faithful to the Torah and the writings of the prophets. One whom he was familiar with could no doubt be the prophet Zechariah and his prophecy in 14:9:
The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. Zechariah 14:9 NIV
John was very aware and familiar with prophecy that related to a Messiah coming to earth to rule and reign. Zechariah makes this clear, “The LORD will be king over the whole earth.” This kingdom will be set up when Christ returns a second time, in the clouds of the sky, just as He departed (See Matthew 24:30; Revelations 1:7). His coming is a blessed hope. J. D. Pentecost has stated, “That to which all Scripture looks forward and to which all history presses is the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth.”1
The People of The Millennium:
The people enjoying the millennium will be comprised of Old Testament saints and the saved Jews and Gentiles. Throughout Scripture we see that the Bible distinguishes true Israel from the Church. Israelites can be saved here, and now. However, there are distinctions that must be made. Most of the Old Testament prophecies foretell of an earthly rule of righteousness and peace. This is satisfied soteriologically and universally but not all the promises and prophecies have been fulfilled. Removal of the curse on the earth and the elimination of sickness hasn't occured yet (see Isa. 11:6-9; 33:24) nor harmony in the animal kingdom (see Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25). The fact that a number of years is not mentioned in the prophetic writings is not needed because a reign will occur in which the explanation of a millennium is coherent. It is consistent from Old Testament to New Testament.
There is much Old Testament prophecy relating to the regathering of Israel (See Isaiah 27:12; 43:5-7; Jeremiah 12:15; 24:6; Hosea 12:9; Micah 4:6; Zephaniah 3:20). This hope of restoring Israel will occur when Christ comes again, and during the Reign of Christ for a millennia. In order to avoid confusion, we should not make Gentile Christians the recipients of Israelite prophetic fulfillment (See Romans 11:1ff.) I have addressed this more here in a post entitled Abrahamic Covenant.
The Nature of the Millenium:
The Reign of Christ is vividly prophesied of in Revelations 20—“one of the great chapters of the Bible”2 Indeed when Christ returns it will be in triumph, victory and setting up a thousand years of peace. Just prior to His return (v. 2 ff.) however an angel from heaven seizes “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” and binds him for the duration of the “thousand years” (NIV). Biblical scholar Donald G. Bloeshe suggests that many passages foretell of a future, in space and time, which "embodies millennial expectations":
"When we turn to the Old Testament, we find many passages that depict a future within history that embodies millennial expectations. The prophecies of the restoration of the Davidic kingdom and the return of the Jews to the holy land all have a distinctly millennial ring (cf. Is 2:1–4; 11:6–16; 49:7–26; 51:4–6; 52:10; Jer 16:16–21; 23:1–8; 32:36–44; Ezek 34:11–16; 36:24; Micah 4:1–5; 7:11–20; Joel 2:28–32; Zech 8:1–8; 14:16–21; Amos 9:14–15)."
Bloesche also explains that for scholars such as Paul Tillich the nature of the millennium is “the kairos or fulfillment of time when history will witness the dawning of righteousness and peace.”3 The timing of this righteousness and peace comes on the heels of bloodshed and tribulation. The righteousness comes when it seems unrighteousness has had the final say. It is during this millennial reign that Christ will rule over the affairs of men, from the throne of David (c.f. Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:32).
During this much longed for peace those who have lived by faith, including Old Testament saints and believers who died during persecution—the redeemed—will reign with Christ. Verse four is quite clear that those who with Christ will reign with Christ. The ability to judge is committed to these very ones. This suggests that “they participated with Christ in the judicial rule of the nations during the Millennium.”4
The Psalmist declared, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalms 108:5 ESV) The nature of this millennial reign will be one characteristic of peace and righteousness. The glory of God shall literally be “over all the earth!” This time of peace will be a demonstration of man’s failure and God’s ability to triumph. The peace that man has only longed for cannot be achieved till the triumphal entry of Christ.
Indeed the principal focus of the millennium will not be on satan, since he is bound and rendered inactive. The focus and attention of this time will be upon the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be a time of revelation and manifestation by our great God and Savior. His reign will put to shame the reign of carnal men who attempted to do so apart from His wisdom.
The Reign of Christ will be a political and spiritual rule. It will be “over all the earth” or better yet it will be universal. It will be in authority and power. The Psalmist decalres: May your glory shine over all the earth. Psalm 108:5 NLT
Amillennial and Postmillennial Views:
Not everyone is convinced of a future millennial reign at all. Since the Ascension of Christ various views have emerged. This vacillation will no doubt continue as the landscape of time and history changes. Certain climactic views on earth might cause one to reconsider his or her views.
Postmillenialism is comparatively recent in origin.5 Daniel Whitby and A.A. Hodge are some of the most notable men who hold this view. This view would suggest that we are fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) and that a kingdom of heaven, on earth, is flowering and coming to fruition today. They would point to the Parable of the Mustard Seed (See Matthew 24) and certain other parables; the successes of the Church in history are evidence as well. For the postmillennialist Christ will come after the millennium. Dr. Ed Hindson notes that “those who hold to this perspective believe that the world will continue to get better and better until the entire world is Christianized”.6
Amillennialism, meaning no millennium, would suggest a spiritual or allegorical interpretation of the relevant texts. St. Augustine is the popular founder of this view in his book, The City of God. In this work he reframed Christian understanding to believe that the church age was indeed the thousand year reign. William Hendriksen is another notable who held to this view. Adherents to this view also sees the spiritual kingdom being fulfilled now in a spiritual sense—on earth or in heaven. To the amillenialist heaven follows the Second Coming of Christ, not a literal millennial kingdom. “Those who hold to this view do not adhere to a simple and plain literal interpretation of Scripture.”7
“It is generally agreed that the view of the church for the centuries immediately following the Apostolic era was the premillennial view of the return of Christ.”8 In his Systematic Theology Robert Culver states: “It is not surprising therefore that chiliasm (belief in the thousand-year reign) was widely spread, if not universal, in the first three centuries.”9 Phillip Schaff, in his voluminous History of the Christian Church writes:
“The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment.1160 It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius; while Caius, Origen, Dionysius the Great, Eusebius (as afterwards Jerome and Augustine) opposed it.”10
Here Schaff, who was not a proponent of premillenialism, cites men such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin, and Irenaeus as early teachers of that very view. Not long after Romish doctrines began to take root in the primitive church amillenarianism became popular. It seemed the hope of Christ’s return where man rule and reigned with Christ was misplaced. At this point amilleniarianism began to ascend and eclipse premillenialism. In the post-Reformation era however postmillennialism began its rise. Postmillennialism would lose its luster during WWII.
Using a literal method of interpretation one cannot deny that the Second Coming of Christ is both literal and accompanied by a millennial reign. It is the place, nature, and timing of these events that believers have debated for some time.
The Millennium is always possible and maybe necessary because not all of the promises given to Israel have been fulfilled. A literal reading of Revelations 20 will produce a premillenial view. Other views will have to spiritualize this unit of text. Unlike the present condition of earth, which is full of confusion and chaos, Christ will usher in a “golden era of peace and prosperity”11 This Reign of Christ will be marked by allegiance and devotion to Him alone. As a result of truly Godly leadership (Christ) joy, peace, healing, protection, and justice will flourish.
In his work The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgement, Glory Bloesch rightly warns premillennialist. He suggests:
In addition an egocentric strand runs through premillennialism. The Christian goal sometimes appears to be experiencing the pleasures of the millennium rather than glorifying God in lowly service. Our service to the world should be fueled by hope in the second advent of Christ, but this hope should turn us ever more to the world in its poverty and misery rather than away from the world toward an idyllic kingdom that lies on the other side of history.
Christians must not just sit by idle and complacent as though we must wait to experience pleasure and life in Christ only in the Millennium. The Kingdom of God has come and is coming. Jesus has come* and will come again but this does not mean believers must simply wait and do nothing. We should fuel and not stifle our "service to the world" by this "hope". It is all the more reason to do something for the Kingdom now. This side of history.
1 Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come (p. 370). © 1958 by Dunham Publishing Co. Zondervan
2 Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p 282). © 1966 by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.
3 Bloesch, Donald. G. (2004). The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory (91). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
4 Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Re 20:4-6). Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers.
5 Culver, Robert D. Systematic Theology © 2005 by Robert Duncan Culver. All rights reserved.
6 Hindson, Ed. Et al. The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy (p. 234). © 2004 by Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson
7 Ibid. p. 234
8 Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come (p. 373). © 1958 by Dunham Publishing Co. Zondervan
9 Culver, Robert D. Systematic Theology © 2005 by Robert Duncan Culver. All rights reserved.
10Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1997). History of the Christian church. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
11 Hindson, Ed. The Book of Revelation: Unlocking the Future (p. 200). Twenty-First Century Commentary Series © 2002 by Tyndale Theological Seminary
* In some way Jesus was active and present in the judgment of Jerusalem in AD 70 which He foretold. This however should not cause us to not look for His final return.