The Millennium in the Old Testament
By Dr. David R. Reagan
The Amillennial viewpoint of end time Bible prophecy is the majority view within the Church today — held by both the Catholic church and most mainline Protestant denominations.
Amillennialists are those who believe that Jesus is currently reigning over all the world from Heaven through the Church. They therefore believe that we are in the Millennium now — that it began at the Cross and will continue until the Second Coming. They do not believe that Jesus will ever return to this earth to reign from Jerusalem.
To sustain their viewpoint, Amillennialists must spiritualize most end time prophecies, arguing that they do not mean what they say. Thus, for example, they dismiss the fact that in Revelation 20 we are told six times that the Millennium will last 1,000 years. Amillennialists reject the thousand years as being “figurative in nature,” meaning only a long period of time.
One interesting thing I have noticed over the years about Amillennialists is that they have little or no knowledge of the end time prophecies contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. Most Amillennialists I have encountered believe that the only place in the Bible that the Millennium is mentioned is Revelation 20.
A Personal Experience
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Several years ago I was invited to make a presentation to a very large Christian convention. Specifically, I was asked to speak on the topic, “Why I Believe Jesus Will Return to Reign on the Earth.”
I was told I would have 30 minutes to make the presentation. When I asked why I was being allotted such a short period of time, I was told, “It’s because there is going to be another speaker who will tell why he does not believe there will be a future reign of Jesus on the earth. Each of you will speak 30 minutes, and then there will be 30 minutes for questions and answers.”
I accepted the invitation. The other speaker turned out to be a distinguished professor of theology from a Bible College.
I knew my audience would be made up of people who believed that a future reign of Jesus on this earth is mentioned only one place in the Bible — in Revelation 20. So, I decided to spend all my time talking about one passage in the Old Testament — the prophecy contained in Zechariah 14:1-9.
This prophecy states that a day will come when Jerusalem will be surrounded by enemy forces. Half the city will fall, and then the Lord will return to the Mount of Olives. When His feet touch the mountain, it will split in half, and the Jewish remnant will flee from the city and hide in the cleavage of the mountain. The Lord will then speak a supernatural word, and all the enemy forces will be instantly destroyed. And at that point, “…the Lord will be king over all the earth” (verse 9).
The other speaker, who followed me, totally ignored my presentation. He read an academic paper based on the opinions of theologians and not the Scriptures.
When the time came for questions, the other speaker was asked, “What is your explanation of Zechariah 14:1-9?” His exact words in response were, “I have no idea what that passage means, but I can assure you that it has been fulfilled somewhere at sometime.”
A Strange Doctrine
I was not surprised by his bizarre response because I had grown up among the churches which were hosting the conference, and I was very familiar with their attitude about Old Testament prophecies.
In their attempt to defend their Amillennial viewpoint, they had developed a doctrine which stated that “all Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.” To justify that assertion, they always pointed to the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 24:44 —
These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.
The problem with using this passage to justify their dismissal of Old Testament prophecy is that it does not say that all Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled. It says they must be fulfilled. The First Coming prophecies have been fulfilled. The Second Coming prophecies are yet to be fulfilled, and Zechariah 14:1-9 is one of those prophecies.
At least my opponent did not spiritualize the passage, as most Amillennialists do. Take, for example, the 20th Century theologian Lorraine Bettner. In his book, The Millennium, he argued that the Mount of Olives is a symbol of the human heart. The enemy forces are a symbol of the evil in the world attacking the heart. When a person receives Jesus as Lord and Savior, He comes into their heart, causing the heart to split in repentance. He then defeats all the enemy forces and begins to reign over that person’s heart.
This, of course, is an utterly ridiculous interpretation of this passage, but it represents the kind of games that Amillennialists have to play with the Scriptures in order to sustain their position.
In summary, Amillennialists either ignore the Old Testament passages about the Second Coming and the Millennium, or they spiritualize them, or they argue they have already been fulfilled.
A Major Spiritual Problem
But the bottom line is that most Amillennialists simply do not know the Old Testament Scriptures, and this is a major problem in the Church today because it affects not only prophecy but all doctrine.
I grew up in what was called a “New Testament Church.” We focused all our Bible study on the New Testament because we were taught that the Old Testament had been “nailed to the Cross” and was therefore no longer valid. Most of us did not own a complete Bible. When we went to a Bible study, we took our New Testaments.
The idea that the Old Testament had been “nailed to the Cross,” and was no longer relevant was based on a statement in Colossians 2:14 which reads, “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the Cross.” This verse is speaking of a “certificate of debt,” not the Old Testament. It is talking about the debt we owed God for our sins. By taking our sins upon Himself, Jesus, who was sinless, paid our debt through His crucifixion (1 Peter 2:24).
The Relevance of the Old Testament
This spiritual malady of ignoring the Old Testament is epidemic in the Church today, and it is a serious problem because there is no way to understand the New Testament without knowledge of the Old Testament.
For example, Jesus is referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20 as the “first fruits” of those to be resurrected. There is no way to understand that expression apart from a knowledge of the Old Testament sacrificial system.
In like manner, Jesus is referred to in the book of Hebrews as the “High Priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1) and as “a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:10). These terms have no meaning apart from a knowledge of the interaction between Abraham and Melchizedek and the role of the High Priest as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Another Personal Experience
Let me give you another example of the significance of Old Testament ignorance. When I was growing up in an Amillennial church, one of the statements I heard in sermons over and over again was, “There is not one verse in the Bible that even implies that Jesus will ever put his feet on this earth again.”
You can imagine how surprised I was when, at the age of 12, I accidently discovered Zechariah 14:1-9 where it states point blank that the Messiah will return to the Mount of Olives and that when His feet touch the ground, the mountain will split in half.
I took this passage to my pastor and asked him what it meant. He studied it in silence for a long time, and then he said, “Son, I don’t know what these verses mean, but I can guarantee you that they do not mean what they say!”
Later I discovered that Zechariah 14 is not the only place in the Old Testament where the Scriptures state that Jesus will return to this earth. Consider, for example, Ezekiel 43:7 where Jesus, in a pre-incarnate appearance, takes Ezekiel on a visionary tour of the Millennial Temple, and in the midst of that tour, He says, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever…”
I think it is also significant to note that the prophet Ezekiel states that when the Lord returns, the name of the city of Jerusalem will be changed to “Yahweh-Shammah,” meaning “The Lord is there.”
A knowledge of Old Testament prophecy is particularly necessary to the understanding of New Testament prophecy. Revelation and Daniel fit together like a hand in a glove. Neither one can be understood apart from the other.
The book of Revelation contains more than 300 quotes or references to Old Testament passages, and not a single one is identified. A person without knowledge of the Old Testament could read the book of Revelation and never realize how interlaced it is with Old Testament prophecy. Consider the theme of the book that is found in Revelation 1:7 —
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.
This statement is made up of two quotes from the Old Testament put end-to-end. The first is found in Daniel 7:13 and the second in Zechariah 12:10.
The Significance of the Old Testament
The Apostle Paul emphasized the importance of the Old Testament when he wrote the following words to Timothy:
…from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).
Most Christians read these words and assume that Timothy must have had a New Testament that he studied from. Not so. The New Testament had not yet been written and compiled when Paul addressed these words to Timothy. When Paul referred to “the sacred writings,” he was talking about what we call today the Old Testament. And the point he was making is that Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about His First Coming was sufficient to produce faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Paul proceeded in that letter to Timothy to state that “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16). The term, “all scripture,” means exactly what it says. It refers to both the New Testament and the Old Testament.
Evangelism Based on the Old Testament
The very first Gospel sermon ever preached — Peter’s sermon on Pentecost — was based entirely on Old Testament prophecies. All Peter did from the beginning of the sermon to the end was to quote an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah and then proclaim that Jesus had fulfilled it (Acts 2:14-36).
Phillip the evangelist took the same approach when he was confronted with the Ethiopian eunuch, a devout Jew who had been to Jerusalem to observe the feasts and was returning home to Africa (Acts 8:26-39). He discovered that the man was reading an Old Testament passage from Isaiah about the Messiah coming as a “suffering lamb” (Isaiah 53:1-9).
Phillip explained the passage to the Ethiopian, and the man accepted the fact that Jesus had fulfilled it. In response, he was baptized. He then continued on his way, rejoicing that he had found the Messiah.
There are over three hundred prophecies in the Old Testament that pertain to the First Coming of the Messiah, but many of these are repetitious. Those that are separate and distinct total 109. There are many more than this that relate to the Second Coming and the Lord’s Millennial Reign.
All the First Coming prophecies were literally fulfilled, and there is no reason to assume that the fulfillment of the Second Coming prophecies will be any different. We need, therefore, to take the Old Testament seriously, and we need to study what it has to say prophetically about the end times.
The Second Coming
The Bible teaches that Jesus will establish His personal reign over all the earth at the time of His Second Coming, and the Old Testament contains many prophecies about that event. As we have already seen, Zechariah 14 says the Lord will return to the Mount of Olives from which He ascended into Heaven. In Isaiah’s account of the same event, he refers to the Lord returning to Mount Zion, which is an alternative name for Jerusalem: “So will the Lord of hosts come down to wage war on Mount Zion and on its hill. Like flying birds, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem. He will protect and rescue it; He will pass over and rescue it” (Isaiah 31:4b-5).
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah portray the Lord returning in wrath. Jeremiah says He will “roar” from the heavens (Jeremiah 25:30-31). Isaiah says He will be “filled with indignation” and His tongue will be like “a consuming fire” (Isaiah 30:27-28). Zephaniah says the day of His return will be one of “trouble and distress” and “destruction and desolation” (Zephaniah 1:14-18).
The Millennial Reign
Once the Messiah has poured out the wrath of God on the enemies of God, He will establish His reign over the earth, and He will begin to manifest His glory:
Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and His glory will be before His elders (Isaiah 24:23).
All the various aspects about the Lord’s millennial reign are spelled out in detail in the book of Isaiah. The book of Revelation is about the Tribulation. It is the book of Isaiah that reveals the details of the Millennium.
Political Characteristics — The reign will be world-wide (Isaiah 2:2 and 9:6-7). It will be peaceful in nature (Isaiah 2:4), and the world will be blessed with righteousness (Isaiah 11:4-5) and justice (Isaiah 42:3-4).
The Lord’s throne will be established in Jerusalem, for He will occupy the throne of David (Isaiah 2:3). His government will be a theocratic one in which He will serve as king, legislator and judge (Isaiah 33:17-22). The Redeemed will reign with the Lord as princes (Isaiah 32:1). And because the Lord will be reigning from Jerusalem, the nation of Israel will be the prime nation in the world (Isaiah 2:2-3, 49:22-23, and 60:1-62:7).
Spiritual Characteristics — Isaiah spends a great amount of time outlining the spiritual blessings of the Millennium, the greatest of which is the fact that the glory and holiness of the Lord will be manifested (Isaiah 40:3-5, 52:13-15, 61:3 and 66: 18). Holiness will abound (Isaiah 4:2-4) and an attitude of joy and praise will prevail:
And the ransomed of the Lord will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 35:10).
A rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem will serve as the worship center of the world (Isaiah 2:2-3, 56:6-8, and 60:7b,13). Incredibly, the Shekinah glory of God will hover over the city of Jerusalem like a canopy (Isaiah 4:5). And “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
The Redemption of Nature — One aspect of the Millennium that is heavily emphasized by the Hebrew prophets is the redemption of nature. The land of Israel will no longer be a place of desolation (Isaiah 62:3-5). Instead, “the fruit of the earth” will be the pride of Israel (Isaiah 4:2). “Waters will break forth in the wilderness,” and the deserts will become pools of water (Isaiah 35:6b-7).
In addition to agricultural abundance, the animal kingdom will be restored to its original perfection. Poisonous animals will cease to be poisonous, and meat-eating animals will become herbivorous. All members of the animal kingdom will live together in perfect peace with each other and with Mankind (Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25).
The Quality of Life — In a thrilling passage in Isaiah 65, the prophet reveals that lifespans for those in the flesh will be greatly expanded to “the lifetime of a tree” (Isaiah 65:22). Accordingly, anyone who dies at the age of 100 will be considered a youth (Isaiah 65:20).
Every person will have his own home and vineyard. There will be no homeless or hungry people (Isaiah 65:21-22). All labor will be redeemed (Isaiah 65:23) in the sense that it will be productive, and it will not be confiscated by others.
Disease will be curtailed (Isaiah 33:24) and persons born with physical handicaps will be healed:
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout with joy (Isaiah 35:5-6).
Isaiah was given so many glorious visions and words of knowledge concerning the majestic reign of the Lord that he was almost bursting with anticipation by the time he got to the end of his book. This prompted him to suddenly cry out:
Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains [kingdoms] would quake at Your presence — as fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil — to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! (Isaiah 64:1-2).
Now, keep in mind that I have only shared with you a few passages from the book of Isaiah. There are many other passages regarding the Millennium that are scattered throughout the Old Testament.
Prophecies of the Major Prophets About the Millennium
Jeremiah pictures the Millennium as a time when Israel and Judah will be united in peace, and the city of Jerusalem will be called “The Throne of the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:17-18). Jesus, “the righteous Branch,” will “reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5). And because of His new role as king, the name of Jesus will be changed to Yahweh-Tsidkenu, meaning, “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6).
David, in his glorified body, will serve as the king of Israel (Jeremiah 30:9), and all the enemies of Israel will be destroyed (Jeremiah 30:11). The city of Jerusalem and the Temple will be rebuilt (Jeremiah 30:18), and the population will be multiplied (Jeremiah 30:19). The mourning of the Jewish people will be turned into joy (Jeremiah 31:13).
The Jewish people will repent of the rejection of their Messiah and will enter into a new covenant with God that will be written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34 and 32:37-40). The streets of Jerusalem will be filled with “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness…” (Jeremiah 33:11).
Ezekiel confirms that the Jewish people will enter into a new covenant with God that will be written on their hearts (Ezekiel 11:19-20 and 16:60-62). He also confirms that the Lord will guarantee their security and will “execute judgments upon all who scorn them round about them” (Ezekiel 28:26). The land of Egypt will be particularly punished for its treatment of Israel and will remain a desolation during the first 40 years of the Millennium (Ezekiel 29:9-16).
Ezekiel also confirms that David will be made king of Israel (Ezekiel 34:23-24 and 37:24). The Lord will pour out “showers of blessings” on Israel, including agricultural abundance (Ezekiel 34:26-29) and the rebuilding of their Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-27). The result is that the Lord’s glory will be set among the nations (Ezekiel 39:21).
From chapter 40 through chapter 46, Ezekiel focuses on describing the Millennial Temple. It is much larger than any of the previous Jewish temples, and the Holy of Holies in the Temple contains no ark. Jeremiah had already prophesied that the ark would not be rebuilt or remembered (Jeremiah 3:16).
One of Ezekiel’s end time prophecies that has already been fulfilled relates to the Eastern Gate. He says it will be shut up and will not be reopened until the Messiah returns (Ezekiel 44:1-3). The gate was closed in the 1500’s and remains closed to this day.
Ezekiel reveals that part of the redemption of nature will be the conversion of the Dead Sea into a sea of fresh water (Ezekiel 47:8-9). He concludes his book by telling how the redeemed and greatly expanded land of Israel will be divided among the 12 tribes (Ezekiel 48).
Daniel’s end time prophecies focus on the Tribulation and the Antichrist. His first mention of the Millennium occurs in chapter 2 where he interprets the dream of Nebuchadnezzar about the sequence of Gentile empires. He reveals that the last Gentile empire will be destroyed by the return of the Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom “which will never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:44-45).
In chapter 7, Daniel emphasizes that the Redeemed will reign with the Messiah: “Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One…” (Daniel 7:27). Daniel concludes his book by indicating there will be an interregnum of 75 days between the time of the Lord’s return and the establishment of His worldwide government (Daniel 12:11-12). This is most likely the period of time when the Messiah will judge all those left alive at the end of the Tribulation to determine whether or not they will enter the Millennium in the flesh. This time period will also likely be used to organize the Messiah’s government, part of which will be to make governing assignments to the Redeemed who will be in glorified bodies.
Prophecies of the Minor Prophets About the Millennium
Hosea talks about how God will use the Millennium to fulfill all the promises He has made to the Jewish people (Hosea 1:10-11, 2:14-20, and 14:4-7).
He confirms that God will establish peace in the animal kingdom and peace between the nations (Hosea 2:18). And he makes it clear that God’s blessings will also be poured out on the Gentiles (Hosea 2:23).
Hosea’s most fascinating prophecy has to do with the timing of the Lord’s return. He indicates that it will be “two days” after His ascension into Heaven (Hosea 5:15 – 6:2). The context of the passage indicates that the two days represent 2,000 years. Hosea says that after the two days, the Messiah “will raise us up” (the resurrection) that “we may live before Him” for “the third day” (the 1,000 years of the Millennium).
Joel’s end time prophecies focus mainly on “the day of the Lord” which, in his context, is the day of the Messiah’s Second Coming (Joel 1:15, 2:1,13 and 3:14). But he does give us a glimpse of the Millennium when he states that when the Messiah returns, He will dwell “in Zion, My holy mountain” and that Jerusalem will be characterized by holiness (Joel 3:17,21). He also confirms that the land will be revitalized for great agricultural production: “The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water” (Joel 3:18). He also affirms that Egypt will be a desolation (Joel 3:19).
Amos presents a picture of the Messiah returning as a roaring lion (Amos 1:2). The only thing he has to say about the Millennium is that it will be characterized by agricultural abundance (Amos 9:14) — so much so that “the plowman will overtake the reaper” (Amos 9:13).
Obadiah’s only significant comment about the Millennium is his statement that it will be characterized by holiness (Obadiah 17).
Jonah has nothing to say about the Millennium.
Micah begins his prophecy with a vision of the Second Coming (Micah 1:3-4). Regarding the Millennium, Micah presents a glorious vision of it and does so in words that are almost identical with Isaiah’s (Micah 4:1-7 and Isaiah 2:2-4). He emphasizes the peace and prosperity that will characterize the Millennium (Micah 4:3-4). He also underlines the promise of God that He will make the Jewish people the primary nation of the world during the Millennium (Micah 4:6-7).
Nahum echoes Joel by focusing his prophecies on “the day of the Lord” (Nahum 1:1-8). The only thing he has to say with regard to the Millennium is that the Jewish people will enjoy perfect peace (Nahum 1:15) and the splendor of their nation will be restored (Nahum 2:2).
Habakkuk begins his book by assuring the reader that God will be faithful to send the Messiah back “at the appointed time” (Habakkuk 2:3). He follows that by presenting a very dramatic vision of the Second Coming (Habakkuk 3:3-13). He does not have anything to say about the Millennium.
Zephaniah begins his book by presenting a powerful and frightening vision about the Second Coming (Zephaniah 1:14-18). He concludes his book with a brief prophecy about the Millennium (Zephaniah 3:14-20). He reveals that the Lord will regather all believing Jews back to the land of Israel and that He will live in their midst (Zephaniah 3:17-20). And he promises that God will make the Jewish nation the prime nation of the world (Zephaniah 3:20).
Haggai asserts that at the time of the Second Coming, God will shake the heavens and earth (Haggai 2:6-7), overthrowing all Gentile kingdoms (Haggai 2:22). The wealth of the nations will be transferred to Jerusalem, and the Temple will be rebuilt in glory (Haggai 2:7). And then, using Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, as a prophetic type of the Messiah, Haggai says that God will give him His “signet ring” — meaning that he will become the King of kings and Lord of lords (Haggai 2:23).
Zechariah says that the Lord “will return to Jerusalem” and will rebuild the Temple (Zechariah 1:16). He calls upon the Jewish people to “sing for joy and be glad” because the Lord has told him that “I am coming and I will dwell in your midst” (Zechariah 2:10).
Concerning the nature of the Lord’s reign, Zechariah says He will be “a priest on His throne,” confirming that the government will be a theocracy (Zechariah 6:12-13). The city of Jerusalem will be called “The City of Truth” and “The Holy Mountain” (Zechariah 8:3). Believing Jews will be regathered from all over the world (Zechariah 9:14-17), and the population of Jerusalem will live in peace and prosperity (Zechariah 8:8,12). The Jewish people will be so greatly blessed that when a Jew walks by, ten Gentiles will grab his robe and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).
Zechariah further states that during the Millennium, all the nations of the world will be required to send delegations to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16). Those nations that fail to do so will receive no rain (Zechariah 14:17-18).
Zechariah concludes his book by emphasizing the holiness that will abound during the Millennium. He says that the bells on the horses’ bridles will be engraved with the words, “Holy to the Lord” (Zechariah 14:20-21).
Malachi contains several passages about the Second Coming, but the only thing it says about the Millennium is that the name of the Lord “will be great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11).
Other Old Testament Prophecies
There are scattered references among the history books of the Old Testament concerning both the Second Coming and the Millennium, and the Psalms are full of them, but I do not have the space to list them in detail. You can find such a listing in my book, The Christ in Prophecy Study Guide. Suffice it to say that I believe I have presented more than enough evidence to prove that the Old Testament is full of prophecies about the end times and the Millennium.
Some Final Points
So let me emphasize once again that Revelation 20 is not the only chapter in the Bible where the Millennium is prophesied. It does, however, present us with some new information that is not mentioned elsewhere:
1) Satan will be bound during the Millennium.
2) The Lord’s reign will last 1,000 years. (This is strongly implied in figurative language in the book of Hosea.)
3) The Millennium will end with a great revolt that will be led by Satan and which will be put down by God.
We are told in the book of Acts that after His resurrection Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). At the end of those 40 days, when He gathered His disciples on the Mount of Olives for His ascension into Heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He did not respond by telling them there would be no kingdom. Rather, He told them that it was not for them to know the time (Acts 1:7).
Jesus left us with many signs to watch for that would mark the season of His return. Those signs are everywhere we look today. Jesus is returning soon. He is going to reign in majesty from Jerusalem, and the Redeemed will share that reign with Him (2 Timothy 2: 12 and Revelation 2:26-27). We are living on borrowed time.
Are you ready?