The Thousand Years of Revelation 20
By TaI Brooke
Chuck Smith and I were both leaders on
Now, on the plane back to
Christ was to rule the earth from
Now imagine trying to set up shop and pick up the pieces from there to jump-start a millennium of universal bounty!
The incongruity of Christ occupying a third temple didn’t fit the Jesus in the pages of the Bible. His only prediction about the temple was its certain destruction within that generation (which happened in A .D. 70 when Titus destroyed the city and the temple). Many believe that Christ, in His new role as Messiah, would reinstitute animal sacrifices. The very Lamb of God, who was once foreshadowed by such temple sacrifices, had Himself annulled them by His ransom sacrifice on the Cross-indeed, their final fulfillment. The idea that He would once again oversee these same Old Covenant animal sacrifices was unthinkable!
apocalyptic vision was trumping the long-accepted Christian view of the
On a practical level, if we take the literal interpretation route, the millennial survivors would need centuries to clean-up the oceans and lakes and rivers (imagine filtering out the heavy metals and toxins in Lake Erie alone—much less the vast Pacific), and to bury the millions of dead, just to make the planet livable.
To me, a figurative symbol was being forced into a literal context with a convoluted timescale along with many incongruous pieces. The practical problems of going from symbol to literal are massive, if not insurmountable.
The only thing you can do with a world in utter ruins like that is remake it, I thought, and it’s exactly what the Second Epistle of Peter said and what the early church believed: “The elements will melt in fervent heat,” and a new heavens and a new earth will come (2 Peter 3:7-12). It doesn’t imply just a surface-cleaning of the old world during some post-Judgment Day millennium.
After returning from
In the 1800s began the Dispensationalism movement, based on a peculiar reading of prophecy that the church had never quite seen before. A key point in its system was what it termed “premillennialism,” or the expectation of a future earthly millennium. When the term “millennialism” is used, it usually refers to the various doctrines of premillennialism, and more specifically to Dispensational Premillennialism. This thousand years, or “chiliad,” is applied to a single verse in the entire Bible, to the period of time mentioned in Rev. 20: 1-7. Specifically, premillennialists use the word to refer to a supposed thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth after the “rapture of the saints.” Literal earthly millennialism teaches that the Jews rejected Jesus in the middle of His earthly ministry, thus making it impossible to fulfill at that time the prophecy and the purposes of God. So He stopped the prophetic clock, and postponed the fulfillment of His promise until the Second Coming. Thus the Church is now seen as an interim measure. Chiliasm, or premillennialism in its simple form foreseeing a Jewish world kingdom, originated in the Jewish apocalyptic writings of rabbis of the intertestamental period during the development of the Babylonian Talmud, the “traditions of the elders,” which Jesus condemned. By invoking “postponement theory,” this Dispensational appropriation of the
Jewish millennium negates Christ’s final proclamation on the Cross that “It is finished.” No, they would say to Christ; “You are wrong. It is not finished.”
implies that for the 1800 years of the church’s long history, the very
of Truth who was promised to bring believers into all truth, failed to
church the truth, and that not until Darby,
But this paradox is a red flag in itself. The late arrival of this novel teaching is the real red flag, not the failure of the Spirit of Truth. Later on, I discovered the early church fathers didn’t miss it at all; they rejected millennialism at its root from the earliest beginnings of the church. The Rapture was not yet a teaching at that point.
An invaluable clue emerged in the research of Curtis Dickinson in his paper, “Millennialism”: According to Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Book III, a heretic named Cerinthus first introduced the millennial doctrine into the early church. The result? The Apostle John, the very disciple who recorded the book of Revelation, refused to bathe in the same bathhouse as Cerinthus the millennialist, calling him “that enemy of the truth.”
The Apostle John, and not a contemporary named Cerinthus, would have the best understanding of the meaning of Revelation 20. John—the great Apostle who recorded the book of Revelation, including chapter 20—rejected millennialism.
Professor George Fletcher, in his lengthy paper “The Millennium: What It Is Not,” has provided another important clue: Millennialism never was supported by any of the great creeds, but on the other hand, was condemned by the Second Helvetic Confession, the Augsburg Confession (Article 17), and the original, articles of the Church of England, where it says:
They that go about to renew the fable of heretics called Millinnarii be repugnant to Holy Scriptures, and cast themselves to a Jewish dotage. (Article XLI)
Fletcher notes that the Second Helvetic Confession is also very strongly worded. The article on Judgment contains this sentence:
Moreover we reject the Jewish dreams that there will be before the day of judgment a golden age upon the earth and the pious will take possession of the kingdoms of the world after their enemies, the ungodly, have been subdued.
The Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 had also condemned millennialism as superstition, and the doctrine of the Millennium was officially discarded by the church as heresy. Of heresy, Dr. Donald W. Richardson, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, says:
If we define heresy as ‘doctrine that contradicts the historical universal Christian faith,’ or as ‘an opinion opposed to the commonly received doctrine, and tending to division or dissension,’ then Darbyism, or Dispensationalism, as it is widely taught today, is heresy.
So what is the commonly received doctrine from the early church on that repudiates millennialism? Maybe there is a clue in the words of the New
Christ distinguished His eternal kingdom from an earthly millennial kingdom in His confession before Pontius Pilate, declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world” ‘(John ,37). This is unmistakably clear.
Wasn’t that the very reason the Jews of Christ’s day rejected Him as Messiah?—that He was not bringing their long-awaited earthly kingdom?
In the words of John, Christ’s Kingdom is not of a worldly origin or nature, nor is the world its end or object. It is not defended by worldly power, influence or carnal weapons; but by bearing witness to the truth, the preaching of the Gospel with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven. None can enter it except those who are born from above. It is beyond this world (John 3:3,5).
Fletcher notes in his abovementioned paper:
Christ is silent about a
corporeal reign in a world kingdom of Jewish supremacy for a thousand
with headquarters in Jerusalem AFTER His Second Advent. Neither the
the book of Acts speak of a thousand-year kingdom on earth in which
be mingled both mortals and immortals. The Epistles give no hint of a
As classic commentators agree, the early church’s view of the “thousand years” described in Revelation 20 was accepted as figurative of Christ’s spiritual reign in the present Gospel Age of the church between the First and Second Comings.
As we shall see in more detail later, the Old Testament promises of the Messiah were fulfilled in Christ; Satan was “bound” at the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ; there is now only one, “Israel,” which is the Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles; the Resurrection and the Second Coming are all one single simultaneous event, followed immediately by the one general Judgment and then the eternal state (the “new heavens and new earth).
“When I was a premillennialist, I saw the millennium all over the Scriptures as I read and studied. However, as my eschatological views began to change, I realized that all those passages from the OT prophets that I took as descriptions of “the millennium” were arbitrarily jammed together. I had never stepped back and taken a look at this jigsaw puzzle that premillennialists had put together in my mind. Rather than presenting a clear picture, premillennialism had put together a jumbled mess!:
Killgore asks, “If the thousand years are literal, why is Rev. 20 the only passage in all of Scripture that specifically mentions a millennial kingdom?” He adds, “It’s not as if the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Apostles simply didn’t mention the millennial kingdom, but rather in several places where it could have appeared, it is positively excluded from the entire prophetic picture!”
Killgore lists what he found:
1. All of the OT passages
normally linked with the “thousand years” of Rev. 20 to produce “the
are already interpreted for us under inspiration within the NT itself.
passages are—Isa. 2, 9:6-7, 11,25-27,49,
65; Jer. 23, 30-31; Eze.
34-37; Joel 2-3; Amos 9; Zech. 12-14; and Mal. 3-4. Also, none of the
used in these passages (“lambs w/lions,” “heating swords into
etc.) is even mentioned in Rev. 20, the only passage to mention
years”! The nation of
2. Without question, 2 Peter 3 mentions absolutely nothing of a millennial kingdom. In fact, such a notion is ruled out by placing the destruction of this earth and the creation of the new earth within the same time frame as the Second Coming (2 Peter 3:7-12). This reforming of the planet occurs just before the eternal state per Rev. 6-7.
3. Paul sets forth only one Second Coming, one Resurrection, and then the end-I Cor. 15. The only reign of Christ mentioned is the present one.
4. Scripture teaches one resurrection of all men, both saved and unsaved, at the last day (John , ; Heb. w/Rev. 20:11-12).
5. The gathering together with Him occurs at His coming in John 6:39,54; 1 Cor. 15:23; Col. 3:4; 1 Thes. 4:14-17; 2 Thes. 2:1; 1 Peter 1:13; 5:4. Further, there’s nothing “secret” about it! (cf. Matt. 24:27, Luke 17:24)
6. Both the righteous and the wicked are separated at His coming per Matt. 13, 24:37-40, 25:31-46; Luke 17:29-35. Note especially the word “then” in Matt. 25:31. It is at this time that saint and sinner alike are judged —not after 1,000 years! See Ecc. 12:14; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 16:27, 24:41-46; Rom. 2:5-6; 1 Cor. 3:13; Ccl. 3:4; 1 Thes. 5:1-10; 2 Thes. 1:1-10; 2 Tim. 2:4; 4:1; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 John 2:28; 3:2. Thus the Second Coming is the same day as “the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:9}—the same day this earth is destroyed per 2 Peter 3:7-12! Where is this “thousand-year” earthly kingdom in all of this? It is this day that is pictured in Rev. 6: 16-17 and -18. Note the parallel between Rev. 11:15 and 1 Cor. 15:24-28, where Paul describes “the end” immediately following His coming. This is why the next consciOus moment after death is the Judgment, not the millennium—Heb. .
7. If God’s people are reigning with Christ on the earth during a literal 1,000-year kingdom, then how can the Kingdom be descending from heaven in Rev. 21:2?
Looking at Revelation 20
itself reveals more problems with the idea of a literal millennial
First, while earthly events are mentioned (v. 3, 9), no earthly reign
mentioned. Christ is not described as on a literal throne, reigning in
literal earthly kingdom. Furthermore, we find nothing about national
While it is obvious that the “thousand years is mentioned in the text, the picture presented in no way matches the dispensational picture. Further, the Judgment occurs in v. 11-15, after the “thousand years”! This fact alone destroys premillennialism, as the passages above clearly show that the Judgment occurs at His coming with no mention of an intervening time period, much less some 1,000-year kingdom.
There is still the matter of the “thousand years” in Rev. 20. Killgore discovered what others before him had already found: Numbers are often symbolic. The number of the angels in Rev. 5:11 is “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” Yet we know that the number of angels is actually “innumerable” (Heb. ).
We see “thousand(s)” used symbolically all over Scripture-Gen. 24:60; Ex. 20:6, 34:7; Lev. 26:8; Deut. 1:11, 5:10; 7:9; 32:30, 33:2; Joshua 23:10; 1 Sam. 18:7-8; 1 Chron. 16:15; Job 9:3, 33:23; Ps. 3:6, 50:10, 68:17, 84:10, 90:4, 91:7, 105:8; Eec. 6:6, ; Song 5:10; Isa. 30:17, 60:22; Jer. 32:18; Eze. 48; Dan. 7:10, 11:12; Micah 6:7; 1 Cor. 4:15, 14:19; 2 Pet. 3:8; Jude 14.
So then, what exactly does the “thousand years” of Rev. 20 refer to?
It refers to the present kingdom, the reign of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God now, during the church age between the First and Second Advents— as most of the early church believed. The Apostle John certainly believed in a present kingdom (Rev. 1 :9). Rev. 20 has believers reigning as
“kings and priests” (verse 6) - a future reality? Not according to the same book! John clearly sees this reality coming to be in the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ (Rev. 5:10). Being “kings” and “priests” to God is something that is comprehended in our redemption in Jesus Christ, which is why John speaks of this very thing as a present reality (Rev. 1 :6). Paul clearly taught the same in 1 Cor. 15:24-28.
Paul teaches that Christ’s Second Coming will signal the end, not the beginning, of His role as Messiah. Jesus stated that He now possesses “all power” in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). Consider this important statement carefully. What can be added to “all”? Does our Lord have “all power now, or doesn’t He?
Meanwhile, adding to present-day confusion, premillennialists have consistently given wrong dates for the Christ’s return, though this hasn’t given them pause to reflect on whether they might be deemed as false teachers: date-setting, in defiance of Scripture, and getting it wrong at that!
Curtis Dickinson, in his paper “Millennialism,”
It would take a large volume to list all the people who have preached that Armageddon and Christ’s return would have already happened by the year 2000.... Salem Kirban wrote in 1970 that Christ would come for the Rapture in approximately 1989, and that the Millennium would begin in the year 2000.... Jack Van Impe has given various “end time” dates and scenarios, with judgment about to fall in 1976, the tribulation beginning by 1980, chaos in the Sun and the Earth in 1982, the world running out of food by 1984 and finally an end time date of 1996. Hal Lindsey, in his “Countdown to Armageddon,” had the end set in the 1990s. Pat Robertson had Armageddon pinpointed for 1982. W.S. McBride wrote that his study indicated that Jesus would return before 2000. A.D. Edgar Whisenant’s book
claimed that the Rapture would take
The truth is, for the system to work there must be a third coming. That they define the Second Coming as “secret” for the Rapture to take place requires a third public and universal coming later in the calendar.
whom the Apostle John called “that enemy of the truth,” others
millennialism. In A.D. 255 Nepos, an
advocated that “there would be a certain Millennium of sensual luxury
earth” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, Philip Schaff;
As many have noted, if such a thing as a thousand years of Christ’s political rule on Earth were to be in the Christian’s future, it is unthinkable that Jesus and the Apostles never had anything to say about it. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any reference to a “millennial” kingdom after the return of Jesus.
Rather, Jesus and the apostles all taught that at His coming there would be an immediate final judgment, leaving only the genuine believers, who will be made immortal to live in the new creation of God for eternity. They allowed neither time nor place for a “thousand-year” physical reign on this present Earth.
Christ’s Kingdom is not a natural earthly kingdom but a spiritual one. As William Killgore observed in his quest, if we examine the following New Testament passages-Luke 17:20-21; John 3:3, 5-7, ; Rom. ; 1Cor. ; ; Col. 1:13; 1Thes. ; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 12:28; 2 Pet. 1:11- they expressly teach that the Kingdom:
1. Does not come “with observation” (lit., ‘with outward show’).
2. Is “within” believers.
3. Cannot be entered, nor even seen apart from spiritual rebirth.
4. Is not of this world.
5. Has nothing to do with substances like “food and drink,” but rather is manifested in the changed character of individual Christians.
6. Is not simply a message, but a demonstration of spiritual power.
7. Is an incorruptible Kingdom that cannot be inherited by corruption-our mere “flesh and blood.”
8. Is the present reality where we are “translated” when we are delivered from the powers of darkness.
9. Is where God has “ called” us in saving us.
10. Is not earthly, but “heavenly.”
11. “Cannot be moved” -i.e., is of a spiritual nature.
12. Is “everlasting” even in its final manifestation.
Appeals to the Old Testament
To defend their view of a future
millennial kingdom, premillennialists
citing passages of Scripture in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which foretell
rebuilding of the temple and other aspects regarding the nation of
But as Bible scholars have known since
the early church, these passages are not about the millennium at all.
about the ancient remnant of Jewish exiles returning to
Jeremiah prophesied before the Babylonian captivity and foretold its 70-year duration. Ezekiel also wrote during that time. These great prophets were referring to the restoration of the temple and city immediately after the Babylonian captivity, 500 years before Christ, as did Daniel. They were not
writing about some distant future millennium.
Incidentally, the very same
passages are also used to justify a third return of the Jews to the
God allowed a remnant of the ancient
Israelites to return in repentance from their Babylonian captivity to
the temple in
1. Now in the first year of
Cyrus king of
2. Thus saith
Cyrus king of
3. Who is there among you of
all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to
Skipping ahead to verse 5...
5. Then rose
up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and
Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build
of the LORD which is in
God was answering the repentant prayers
of the Hebrews who were in Babylonian captivity. They were granted a
return to restore
Historians tell us the second temple was completed between 520 and 516 B.C. It was dedicated with great rejoicing. The prophecy of Jeremiah 33:7-8 did come true as stated below:
7. And I will cause the
8. And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and where by they have transgressed against me.
Jeremiah 33, having been fulfilled, cannot be reapplied again and again. It was satisfied to the letter after the Babylonian captivity. God made good on His promise of the return to the land!
The establishment of the modem nation
But only one return to rebuild the
The ancient prophecies cited to justify
But wait! Rewind the tape to Joshua’s time. Here is what the Bible states to refute the modem claim that not all the land was given by God:
And the LORD gave unto
And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
There failed not ought of
any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of
Here it is: “And the LORD
“All came to pass,” and God’s promise
was fulfilled then and there! So the present charge that the full land
was never fulfilled is wrong. Yet some dispute this, and the land-claim
continues. Related to who might be entitled to a land claim if it still
existed, I noticed, during the visit to
The above factors would complicate the
Dispensational view of the present “return” of modern-day Jews to
My thought then was that a remnant in today’s world might qualify as being of the pure bloodline of the ancient Hebrews, but it would be no more than a very small remnant; and only the mind of God would know who they were.
There are many variations of the premillennial theme, but they are all overshadowed by the Jewish apocalyptic vision of a culmination of history in an exclusively Jewish-ruled world centered in Jerusalem in which material goods are supplied in abundance; all want, crime, and sickness are eliminated; and their Messiah will sit on David’s throne and rule over all. As has been observed, this doctrine is a plain denial of the claims of Jesus and the apostles that Jesus already reigns as Lord and King and is the present fulfillment of all these very messianic prophecies.
The very Old Testament prophecies that foretold the establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom and his reign upon the throne of David were announced and applied at the birth of Jesus, in Luke 1:32:33.
New Testament Scriptures also unmistakably declare that these prophecies were fulfilled in Christ’s Ascension when “He sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). At that time, “[God] made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority, and power, and dominion” (Eph. 1:20,21).
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter announced that Jesus was the one whom God raised up to sit on David’s throne (Acts -36; note also Acts ). It was an accomplished fact; not something waiting to be fulfilled thousands of years later. Both John the Baptist and Jesus announced that the Kingdom was “at hand,” and never suggested that “at hand” meant that it was to come some 2,000 years later. (Matt. 4:17, Mark ).
Just before His Ascension, Jesus declared, “All authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:19). That’s why Paul tells us in Col. 1:13, “God has delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His son.” He is not referring to some distant future millennial reign, because Christ was reigning in Paul’s day, and continues to reign in the midst of His foes and with His people in willing subjection. John wrote that Jesus “made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). This is Christ’s Kingdom of which we are already part in the present.
According to Paul, Jesus was already reigning and will reign until the Day of Resurrection and Judgment, when death will be abolished. Then comes the end.
When Christ comes again it will be in judgment of all who have opposed and denied Him (2 Thes. 1:7-10) as well as those who believed in Him. The latter He will award eternal life, so that “the kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11: 15).
As the early church realized in leaving Old Covenant expectation, it is time to stop looking for an earthly physical millennium and believe the Old Testament prophecies which have been fulfilled in Christ and His eternal Kingdom.
During the return flight from Israel, I was grateful for the fact that when I first read the Bible in India it was without some gradient of interpretation that had been overlaid on the text-one that forced a pattern of belief rather than allowing the text to speak in plain meaning so a pattern could emerge on its own.
After the gradient of interpretation reveals the intended schema it is like an optical illusion. You might see it one way briefly at first, but then it shifts to the dominant view, and that becomes the only way you can see it. You are now trapped in seeing the pattern only one way, though you may know there is another perspective. This can happen to doctrines. One view can take precedent, blinding you to other interpretations. In the realm of deception, this is a formidable thing. It’s also how deception works.
It made sense to me that a one-way doctrinal “optical illusion” might deceive millions in the Christian subculture who have read Scripture with the same gradient of interpretation placed over the text-now locked in on a single paradigm. When big names push this view in bestsellers and in TV appearances, the system gains even more ground. No one dares suspect it might be flawed. On the tour I saw countless copies of the Scofield Bible marked up by avid readers. I noticed it interprets the text in the printed margin notes on every page, this great Dispensational Bible. It was like being handed special glasses to help you read the Bible. The Apostle Paul warns us that ‘‘strong delusion” will come, decimating the church by inundating believers in waves of deception. This delusion will grow in intensity as we approach “the end” of the age. It. is a process that might explain “the great falling away” predicted as the church age reaches its end. The terrible shape of this delusion could well be growing before us.
So we must each discern for ourselves. We can’t make a critical decision based on some famous authority or because the great herd of believers went along with a belief because it was popular. We must be able to think for ourselves when being guided by the Word of God. When people awaken from deception, they find the answer was there in Scripture all along if they’d only checked.
Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords in the present, “Wherefore, receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).
From CHRISTIAN NEWS November 11.2013 Page 13
Reprinted with permission from the SCP Journal
Volume 32:2-32:3 2008; pp 14-23
Tal Brooke is the President & Chairman of SCP.
authored nine books and his work has been recognized in Marquis Who's Who in the World and Who’s Who in America. He has won three first place
EPA awards in the nationwide contest. A
graduate of the
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