A Name Which is Above Every Name By Randy Nettles The word/name “Jesus” in the…
John’s Revelation of the Millennium – Part 1
By Randy Nettles
Millennialism is a Christian doctrine based on the Book of Revelation (20:1-7) in which Jesus Christ will establish a kingdom on earth for a duration of 1,000 years. The term comes from “millennium” (Latin mille ‘one thousand’ and annum ‘year’), which means “one thousand years.” There are three different interpretations regarding the timing and nature of this 1000-year kingdom. Some believe that the return of Christ occurs before the millennial kingdom is established on earth. This is known as premillennialism. Others think His return will happen after the millennial kingdom. This is known as postmillennialism. There is a third view called amillennialism, which has a symbolic interpretation of the millennium kingdom. The adherents to this view believe it is simply the duration of the imperfect church on earth between Christ’s first coming and His return, and that the real kingdom of God is in heaven after the millennium kingdom is completed on earth.
The Jews also believe in a Messianic Kingdom (although Jesus is not considered the Messiah) and it is prophesied throughout the Old Testament. This kingdom is not given a specific duration as the one found in Revelation, so it is assumed to be eternal. One of the most famous passages of scripture regarding this kingdom is found in Isaiah. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:6-10).
The Three Views Regarding the Millennium
Premillennialism is the view that Christ’s second coming will occur prior to His millennial kingdom, and that the millennial kingdom is a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth. Most modern premillennialists are also dispensationalists. Dispensationalism is a theological system that recognizes different ages ordained by God to order the affairs of mankind. Dispensationalism has two primary distinctions: a consistently literal interpretation of Scripture, especially Bible prophecy, and a view of the uniqueness of Israel as separate from the Church in God’s program. The last age or dispensation is the millennial kingdom. The dispensational system results in a premillennial interpretation of Christ’s second coming and usually a pretribulation interpretation of the Rapture. Modern premillennialism associates the establishment of a literal, future 1000-year reign of Christ, with complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic land promise to national, ethnic Israel. This author’s theological and eschatological view is one of dispensational premillennialism.
However, some premillennialists are classified as “historic premillennialists.” They believe the Rapture will occur after the seven-year tribulation at the same time as the Second Coming. Historic premillennialism does not require that apocalyptic prophecies be interpreted literally. Adherents to historic premillennialism believe that the Old Testament foretold of the church of the New Testament and that the age of grace was predicted in the Old Testament. This is completely opposite to what dispensational premillennialists believe. What they have in common is the belief in a literal 1000-year millennium reign of Christ on the earth.
Postmillennialism is an interpretation of Revelation chapter 20 which sees Christ’s second coming as occurring after the “millennium.” However, they believe the millennium kingdom is a golden age of Christian prosperity and influence in which Christians dominate the world and set up the conditions for Christ to return to the earth. They will set in motion the millennial kingdom by converting all of society to Christianity. They don’t believe in a literal 1000 years but think it means a long period of time. Those who hold to postmillennialism use a non-literal or allegoric method of interpreting unfulfilled prophecies. There are both preterist and historicist views regarding postmillennialism (more on these views later).
“The prefix a of amillennialism does not mean that it does not believe in a millennial kingdom at all. It only denies the existence of a literal 1000-year kingdom on earth. The millennium is a metaphor for the age of the church on earth, and the kingdom is spiritual as Christ’s reign at the right hand of God in heaven. For amillennialists, the church’s millennial kingdom points to the kingdom of God in heaven. This kingdom of God in heaven does not involve a direct, personal reign of Christ on earth, rather this kingdom in heaven is manifested only in the hearts of believers as they receive the blessings of salvation (Col. 1:13-14) in the church. The age of the church, symbolized by the millennium, began with Christ’s first coming and will continue until his return, and the church as a reflection of God’s kingdom in heaven is considered to be far from perfect and still characterized by tribulation and suffering.
According to amillennialism, it is only at the return of Christ when the final judgment takes place that the tribulation will be overcome and Satan and his followers will be destroyed. Also, the physical resurrection of all will take place for the final judgment, and the eternal order will begin. For amillennialists as well as postmillennialists, the first resurrection of the righteous (Rev. 20:4-5) simply refers to spiritual resurrection, i.e., conversion or regeneration that occurs during the millennium. Amillennialism was popularized by Augustine in the fifth century and has dominated Christian eschatology for many centuries. Many mainline churches today continue to endorse amillennialism.”
The Four Interpretive Views of Revelation
“There are also four major approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation and its meaning for the end time: the idealist, preterist (full and partial), historicist, and futurist view. The idealist view teaches that Revelation describes in symbolic language the battle throughout the ages between God and Satan and good against evil. The preterist view teaches that the events recorded in the book of Revelation were largely fulfilled in AD 70 with the fall of the Jerusalem Temple. The historicist view teaches that the book of Revelation is a symbolic presentation of church history beginning in the first century AD through the end of the age. The prophecies of Revelation are fulfilled in various historic events such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the Protestant Reformation, and the French Revolution. The futurist view teaches that Revelation prophesies events that will take place in the future. These events include the rapture of the church, seven years of tribulation, and a millennial rule of Christ upon the earth.”
The idealist view, or the spiritual view, uses the allegorical method to interpret the Book of Revelation. The allegorical approach to Revelation was introduced by ancient church father Origen (AD 185-254) and made prominent by Augustine (AD 354-420). According to this view, the events of Revelation are not tied to specific historical events. The imagery of the book symbolically presents the ongoing struggle throughout the ages of God against Satan and good against evil. In this struggle, the saints are persecuted and martyred by the forces of evil but will one day receive their vindication. In the end, God is victorious, and His sovereignty is displayed throughout the ages.
The second view is called the preterist view. Preter, which means “past,” is derived from the Latin language. There are two major views among preterists: full preterism and partial preterism. Both views believe that the prophecies of the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24 and Revelation were fulfilled in the first century with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Chapters 1-3 describe the conditions in the seven churches of Asia Minor prior to the Jewish war (AD 66-70). The remaining chapters of Revelation and Jesus’ Olivet Discourse describe the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans.
Full preterists believe that all the prophecies found in Revelation were fulfilled in AD 70 and that we are now living in the eternal state, or the new heavens and the new earth. Partial preterists believe that most of the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem but that chapters 20-22 point to future events such as a future resurrection of believers and the return of Christ to the earth. Partial preterists view full preterism as heretical since it denies the second coming of Christ and teaches an unorthodox view of the resurrection.
The third view is called the historicist approach. This view teaches that Revelation is a symbolic representation that presents the course of history from the apostle’s life through the end of the age. The symbols in the apocalypse correspond to events in the history of Western Europe, including various popes, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and rulers such as Charlemagne. Most interpreters place the events of their day in the later chapters of Revelation.
Many adherents of this position view chapters 1-3 as seven periods in church history (although some premillennialists do as well). The breaking of the seals in chapters 4-7 symbolizes the fall of the Roman Empire. The Trumpet judgments in chapters 8-10 represent the invasions of the Roman Empire by the Vandals, Huns, Saracens, and Turks. Among Protestant historicists of the Reformation, the antichrist in Revelation was believed to be the papacy. Chapters 11-13 in Revelation represent the true church in its struggle against Roman Catholicism. The bowl judgments of Revelation 14-16 represent God’s judgment on the Catholic Church, culminating in the future overthrow of Catholicism depicted in chapters 17-19.
Prominent scholars who held this view include John Wycliffe, John Knox, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon, and Matthew Henry. This view rose to popularity during the Protestant Reformation because of its identification of the pope and the papacy with the beasts of Revelation 13. However, since the beginning of the twentieth century, it has declined in popularity and influence.
The fourth view is the futurist view. This view teaches that the events of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation chapters 4-22 will occur in the future. Futurists divide the book of Revelation into three sections as indicated in 1:19: “what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” Chapter 1 describes the past (“what you have seen”), chapters 2-3 describe the present (“what is now”), and the rest of the book describes future events (“what will take place later”).
Futurists apply a literal approach to interpreting Revelation. Chapters 4-19 refer to a period known as the seven-year tribulation (Dan. 9:27). During this time, God’s judgments are actually poured out upon mankind as they are revealed in the seals, trumpets, and bowls. Chapter 13 describes a literal future world empire headed by a political and religious leader represented by the two beasts. Chapter 17 pictures a harlot who represents the church in apostasy. Chapter 19 refers to Christ’s second coming and the battle of Armageddon followed by a literal thousand-year rule of Christ upon the earth in chapter 20. Chapters 21-22 are events that follow the millennium: the creation of a new heaven and a new earth and the arrival of the heavenly city upon the earth.
Futurists argue that a consistently literal or plain interpretation is to be applied in understanding the book of Revelation. The literal interpretation of the Bible means to explain the original sense, or meaning, of the Bible according to the normal customary usage of its language. This means applying the rules of grammar and staying consistent with the historical framework, and the context of the writing. Literal interpretation does not discount figurative or symbolic language. Futurists teach that prophecies using symbolic language are also to be normally interpreted according to the laws of language.
The futurist view is widely popular among evangelical Christians today. One of the most popular versions on futurist teaching is dispensational theology, promoted by schools such as Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. Theologians such as Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, and Dwight Pentecost are noted scholars of this position. Tim LaHaye made this theology popular in the culture with his end times series of novels.” This author agrees with the futurist view regarding Revelation and other scripture regarding eschatology.
Historic Premillennialism and the Early Church Fathers
Historic premillennialism was held by a large majority of Christians during the first three centuries of the Christian era. Many of the church fathers such as Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and others taught that there would be a visible kingdom of God upon the earth after the return of Christ. This early view of historic premillennialism taught that the Antichrist would appear on earth and the seven-year tribulation would begin. Next would be the post-tribulation rapture, and then Jesus and His church would return to earth to rule for a thousand years.
Many Christians in the early church (mentioned below) believed that the millennium reign of Christ would involve mostly Gentile Christian believers (the Church), as the Jews had been punished by God for their unbelief, through the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 AD and their dispersion in 135 AD. The faithful spend eternity in the New Jerusalem.
The earliest fathers of the church (before 300 AD) primarily believed in a literal millennium. The fourth-century church historian Eusebius considered Papias to be a primary source for the millennial views of early fathers. Papias was evidently associated with Polycarp and John the apostle. Irenaeus said, “And these things (a futuristic, restored, Jewish kingdom) are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book.” Polycarp appears to have been a disciple of the apostle John and to have met other eyewitnesses of Jesus as well. He was martyred in 155 AD when he refused to deny his faith.
Chiliasm is the Greek equivalent of millennialism. However, it has a broader meaning when used in regard to the earliest Christian eschatology. Chiliasm is not just the last 1000 years of Jesus’ millennial kingdom but is the belief in the Millennial Week. Not only is Jesus’ kingdom reign on earth for exactly 1000 years, but the whole time of man’s struggle under the curse has been confined to six millennial “days” (6000 years). The seventh millennium is the seventh-day Sabbath rest. This belief by the early church fathers was reinforced by the following scripture.
“For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4).
“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
Some of the ancient church fathers are identified by modern scholars as “premillennialists” simply because they mentioned either Christ’s return at the end of six thousand years, or refer to the Kingdom as the “Seventh Day.” These learned Christian men believed the return of Christ was imminent as they believed that the world was rapidly advancing towards the end of the sixth millennium (according to the LXX chronology) when Christ would literally return to literally set up His millennium kingdom. Below are some quotes from these early historic premillennialists regarding this subject.
The writer of the Epistle to Barnabas wrote (cir. 117/132 AD), “Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.” This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifies, saying, “Behold, today will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. “And He rested on the seventh day.” This means: when His Son, coming again, shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.”
Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho (written cir. 155) wrote, “But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.” Justin did mention that, “many who belong to pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.” Evidently there were already others who did not believe in a literal millennium at that point in history, but Justin does not supply their names. Justin became one of the first Christian apologists, explaining Christianity as a reasonable system. Justin incorporated Greek thought with Jewish prophecy, presenting Christ as the fulfillment of the Hebrew tradition.
Irenaeus wrote in his Against Heresies (written from 180 to 199 AD), “These [promises given by Christ] are to take place in the times of the kingdom, that is, upon the seventh day, which has been sanctified, in which God rested from all the works which He created, which is the true Sabbath of the righteous, which they shall not be engaged in any earthly occupation; but shall have a table at hand prepared for them by God, supplying them with all sorts of dishes.” Irenaeus followed Paul more closely than did the apostolic fathers after him. Theologically biblical rather than philosophical, he was the first theologian who wrote for the church. He saw himself as a shepherd of God’s flock.
Tertullian wrote (207-212 AD), “But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that ‘many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Tertullian was one of the first to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity, stating that God is one substance and yet three persons.
Hippolytus (cir.170-236) of Rome, in his literary work, Commentary on Daniel, wrote “For the first appearance of our Lord in the flesh took place in Bethlehem, under Augustus, in the year 5500; and He suffered in the thirty-third year. And 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day ‘on which God rested from all His works.’ For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they ‘shall reign with Christ,’ when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for ‘a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.’ Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled. And they are not yet fulfilled, as John says: ‘five are fallen; one is,’ that is, the sixth; ‘the other is not yet come.’”
Hippolytus employs the creation-week typology widely accepted in the west until Augustine. He sets the time of Christ’s return in 500 AD. This would be the “sixth day” or 6000 AM (anno mundi) according to the Septuagint chronology. Hippolytus was the church’s most important theologian in the third century. (Note: the Septuagint LXX is about 1600 years longer than Ussher’s Masoretic chronology. Usher’s chronology is about 44 years longer than my reckoning.)
So, the prevailing view among early (1st – 3rd century AD) Christians like Papias, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus was that history would end with a Messianic rule centered in Jerusalem that followed the return of Christ (i.e. premillennialism). However, after the Roman empire under Constantine embraced Christianity in the early 4th century, it became more common to spiritualize the concept of the millennium as the reign of Christ in the hearts of his people and the reign of the Christian dead in heaven. The millennium and church history became synonymous in this burgeoning new eschatological interpretation.
We will finish our study in part II and look at allegorical interpretations by Origen, Augustine, and the early Roman Catholic Church regarding the book of Revelation.
Image Credit: Pete Garcia