God's Word about the Millennium
††††††††††† As we enter the 21st
century and the third millennium, it seems like more and more people are
preaching that the time is ripe for the world to come to an end. †Bumper stickers tell us that the driver of the
car in front of us will vanish when the rapture comes.† Hundreds of different books are telling us
that soon the antichrist will appear and everyone who hasnít been raptured will
be stamped with a number on his or her forehead or hand.† A popular series of novels relate the lives
of people who missed out on the Second Coming of Christ and now experience
great tribulation under a satanic government. Preachers on TV have been telling
us for sixty years that the present‑day nation of
††††††††††† Those who believe this tell us that these ideas are clearly taught in the Bible, and are signs that the end of the world is about to occur. Their ideas are being preached so fervently, and are being "backed up" by quotations from scripture so skillfully, that many Christians today are completely unaware of other interpretations of the prophecy sections of the Bible.† But one thing is certain, all Christians have been commanded to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1).† We therefore ought to study more than just our own denomination's interpretation of any part of scripture, to see which interpretation holds to scripture, and which is built on the ideas of men.† Let us remember how the spiritual leaders of Jesus' day clung to their own ideas of prophecy, which required a Messiah to rule their country.† In so doing they dismissed the true meaning of Old Testament prophecies, and rejected the Messiah who had come to rule in their hearts.
††††††††††† In this booklet we will take a brief look at one of the most familiar Bible prophecies, Revelation chapter 20, the only part of the Bible which mentions a 1000 year reign of Christ, which is the basis for the millennium teachings of so many today.† By comparing what is written there with the teachings of the rest of scripture, we will discover an interpretation which coincides squarely with the rest of God's Word, and which is surprisingly unlike what is taught by many popular preachers today.
††††††††††† To make best use of this study booklet, read it with your study Bible in hand, looking up the supporting passages, and writing in the margins the ideas you find most useful.
Revelation 20, vv. 1,2:
††††††††††† And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss, and holding in his hand a great chain.† He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
††††††††††† Since the book of Revelation is a book of prophecy, every time we encounter an event which on the surface does not appear to have occurred yet, we are tempted to interpret those lines as referring to an event which is still in the future.† So it is with these two verses.† Although it is easy for us to understand what is being described, namely, that Satan's power is being taken away, it is hard to consider this to be anything other than an event of the future.† After all, we see the forces of evil so very active around us, how could this be a past event?
††††††††††† Yet it is not to our
human reason or to the events around us that we turn as we attempt to
understand these lines.† Rather we let
other, clearer passages of scripture interpret this prophecy for us.† And what we see there is interesting
indeed!† For scripture clearly teaches
that the binding of Satan is an event of the past!† John tells us: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's
work." (1 John 3:8)† At Jesus'
first coming, then, he destroyed Satan's power.†
How?† Paul clarifies:† "He
forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its
regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us;† he took it away, nailing it to the
cross.† And having disarmed the powers
and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by
the cross." (
††††††††††† It was through the crucifixion of Jesus that Satan and his forces were disarmed (see also John ,32).† The word "Satan" means "accuser," and no longer can he accuse us of sin before God (see ).† Jesus explained to his followers as he was driving demons out of the demon‑possessed, that he was overpowering Satan, and taking away his armor (see Luke 11:14‑22, esp. v 22; Matt 12:22‑29, esp. v 29).
††††††††††† But the outward miracles of exorcising demons from people is a very minor part of removing Satan's power.† Satan's real power lies in his subtle control over people.† He controls people through the influence of worldly pleasures, capitalizing on our inborn willingness to forsake God and follow the directives of our sinful human nature.† But the Gospel is the good news that Jesus has freed us from this subtle influence of the devil!† †We are assured that the Gospel is the power of God, (Rom 1:16) which we use to defeat Satanís influence.† As the Gospel is preached, Satan's empire crumbles.† Indeed, when Jesus was training His followers to go out, two‑by‑two, to preach the good news of His kingdom, he saw Satan being thrown out of heaven (Luke ).† So it is through the Gospel that Satan is being disarmed, bound, and stripped of his power.
††††††††††† With this clear teaching of scripture, we see Revelation 20, verses 1 and 2, as a picture of something happening right now.† Since the word "angel" in Greek means "messenger," the angel who binds Satan could represent the messengers of the New Testament era, from the great preachers in packed cathedrals, to the missionaries in far away lands, to the person sharing the good news of Godís love with a neighbor over coffee.† Everyone who shares the Gospel with another uses the power of Christ to bind Satan.† The great chain which ties up Satan, then, we interpret as the Gospel, the preaching of the wonderful sacrifice of Jesus for us on the cross, and the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sin (Luke 24:46,47).
††††††††††† But what about the Abyss, how do we understand this?† The location of the Abyss where Satan is bound is not interpreted in other, clearer parts of scripture, but we do know that demons greatly fear being thrown into the Abyss (Luke ).† We are wisest not to speculate too much on its location, although it is probably safe to conclude that the Abyss is a holding place where demons are held to await the Day of Judgment. (see Jude 6)† But we cannot be sure except where God's Word tells us for sure.† It is through speculation on what God's Word does not say, that many people have added to what he does say.† This is contrary to his Will (1 Cor 4:6; Prov 30:6).
††††††††††† The mention of Satan as
being the "ancient serpent" reminds us of the temptation in
v.3†††††† † "He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended.† After that, he must be set free for a short time."
††††††††††† † If we let our reason be the standard by which we interpret this passage, we are unable to see how Satan can be bound and kept from deceiving the nations in this present age.† We can look around at society today and clearly see his influence.† Yet Scripture declares that Satan and his followers are indeed already bound in dungeons of darkness, with everlasting chains, awaiting their day of judgment (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6).† By faith we accept this to be true.
††††††††††† On the other hand, Peter tells us that Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).† Paul calls Satan the "god of this age" who blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Co 4:4).† Apparently Satan's present state of bondage is more like a dog who is restrained by a leash than a prisoner who is locked in a small cell.† In line with this, Revelation chapter 13 tells us that the dragon (Satan) gives his power to the two beasts from the earth, indicating perhaps that Satan is not able to operate directly in this world, but works through intermediaries, called the "beast" and "his image" in Rev 13:4.† We can certainly see Satanís influence around us, even though we cannot see him.
††††††††††† That Satan is bound could also mean that he simply is not able to work as openly today where the influence of the Gospel is felt as he once could work before Christ had come.† As the Gospel is preached around the world, the old forms of paganism give way to the light of Christianity.† Even though this is true, Satan is still able to work through the subtler evils of hypocrisy, apathy, and agnosticism.† We do not fully understand how scripture can say both that Satan's powers have been taken away and that Satan still works.† We know by faith that both are true, because God's Word tells us so.† When we come to passages like this that are hard to understand fully, we must simply confess that God's thoughts and ways are higher than our understanding (Is 55:8,9), and be content with that.
††††††††††† Although we don't understand fully how Satan can be locked up at this time, we can at least take comfort in knowing from this passage that Satan can do nothing outside the control of God.† This binding will last until the thousand years are ended.† Then he must be set free for a short time.† The thousand year period is explained more fully in verses 4 to 6, the "short time" in verses 7 through 10.
v.4a†††† † "I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge."
††††††††††† Without God's Word to guide us, we may be tempted to think that this is a picture of Judgment Day, with perhaps a certain group of believers who have a special privilege in judging.† But God's Word tells us that all Christians will be granted a place to sit with Christ on His throne, not just a select few ().† Jesus told His disciples that he was conferring on them the kingdom that God the Father had assigned to him, and that they would sit on thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Luke 22:29,30).† Paul also assures us that God's people will judge the world, even the angels (1 Cor 6:2,3).† When this judging is to take place is not mentioned, but we should not restrict our understanding of this passage to mean only Judgment Day, for on Judgment Day we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10‑12).
††††††††††† The time period over
which the Christian exercises judgment is during this life, during the New
Testament era.† Paul says that the
spiritual man makes judgments about all things (1 Cor ), because he has the mind of Christ.† We are to judge only those who profess to be
God's people, those within the visible church (1 Cor† ),
those whom Jesus referred to as the "12 tribes of
††††††††††† Jesus even prescribes an orderly four‑step method in which Christians are to judge other Christians (Matt 18:15‑17).† Judgment is to be passed upon those who, though within the assembly of believers, yet live in disobedience to one or more of God's commands (e.g. 1 Cor 5:9‑13).† Just as in the Old Testament times, we are to purge the evil from the visible church (see Deut 17:2‑7), yet we always hold out to every sinner the Gospel of forgiveness.† As we search for the meaning of this portion of prophecy, we must keep in mind the way the rest of scripture sheds light on the phrase "those who had been given authority to judge."† Christians are given the authority to make judgments now in this life, as long as the judgments agree with God's Word, the source of the authority given to us.† This alone is not enough for us to conclude that the judgment being depicted occurs during the New Testament era, but when we see how scripture sheds light on the next verses, especially verse 5, we will realize that our present day is being pictured.
v.4b†††† † "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 worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands."
††††††††††† There is a serious error being proclaimed today by preachers who are eager to sensationalize the Gospel message.† They say that someday all mankind will be branded with a number, somehow stamped upon their foreheads or hands.† Revelation 13:16‑18 tells us that the mark is the name of the beast who blasphemes God, or its number 666.† Many Christians today are preoccupied with looking for the number 666 in UPC labels and credit card numbers and in the names of world leaders.† Many authors are making large sums of money by writing books which do little more than promote man‑made speculations of terrible things to come.† Using the words above, some have even taught that the days will come when beheading will again become a popular form of execution.† Then, they say, Christians will be beheaded for their faith.
††††††††††† But just as the rest of scripture teaches us to take a non‑literalistic interpretation of verses 1‑3 of this chapter, so with this passage the symbolic interpretation continues.† Paul says in 2 Cor 4:11 that "we who are alive", that is, we Christians "are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake."† And quoting Psalm 44, he adds, "we face death all the day long, we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." (Rom )† Paul also explains in Romans chapter 6 that Christians have died with Christ, and have risen from the dead with him. These are clear teachings of scripture.† If what is being described to us in Revelation 20:4 by the word "beheaded" is more than this, we can only say that it is not interpreted for us here or elsewhere in scripture.
††††††††††† Now concerning the mark on the forehead or hands.† As we look to scripture to try to find the meaning of this mark, we ought to consider the ancient Jewish practice of sacrificing the first‑born male animal of all of their livestock, and the consecration to the Lord of each first‑born son.† This is explained in Exodus 13:1‑16.† This practice is said to be a "sign" on their hands and a "symbol" on their foreheads (Ex ).† Now they had no physical mark on their heads or hands because they kept the Lord's command to set aside each first‑born male.† But because of their obedience by the things they did and believed, God marked their hands and foreheads with a mark that only he could see, which set them apart as his very own people.
††††††††††† New Testament Christians too, are marked with a seal known only to God.† Scripture tells us that all Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph ; ).† The seal that is meant is a sign of ownership.† In other words, God has given us the Holy Spirit as a sign that he owns us, we no longer belong to this sinful world (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13,14).† In Romans chapter 8 we are told how the Holy Spirit guides our thoughts and actions to help us serve God (also Gal 5:13‑26).† By our thoughts and our actions we are shown to be followers of Christ and not of the world.
††††††††††† This we believe is the scriptural interpretation of the marks on the foreheads and hands of people mentioned in Revelation chapters 13 and 20.† Recalling Jesus' words that "He who is not with me is against me" (Mt ), we can conclude that, in God's eyes, all people are either marked as being owned by God or owned by Satan.† Those who follow this evil world are "marked" by their thoughts and actions to be followers of the beast and his image, the opposite of those who are marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit.† And just as the mark on the Christian is visible only to God, so the mark of the beast is known only to God, and invisible to man.
vv.4c,5††††††††††† "They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.† (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)† This is the first resurrection."
††††††††††† Here is the passage
which forms the basis of the many teachings on the millennium.† God's people come to life and reign with him
for 1000 years.† Many people today have
been misled by those who add their own ideas to what scripture teaches, and
therefore look forward to some future earthly
††††††††††† So, what is being described here?† First of all, this passage says God's people "came to life."† By comparing this with Jesus' words in John 5:25, we find that the time "has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."† John tells us that Christians have "passed from death to life" (1 John ).† The early Christians sang, "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Eph 5:14).† Scripture clearly tells us that unbelievers come to life when they begin to believe the message that Jesus is the Savior.†† (see also 2 Cor 4:11,12)
††††††††††† Secondly, this passage says God's people reign with Him.† Here too, scripture tells us not to restrict our understanding to only a future event.† Even though we were born dead in sin, and objects of God's wrath (Eph 2:1‑3), God made us alive with Christ, and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:5,6), where Jesus rules now and in the age to come (Eph 1:20‑23).† God's Word does not explain the many questions we may have about how it can be that we are reigning with Christ in heaven even as we are suffering for him here on earth.† But we accept it as true because it is clearly taught in scripture.
††††††††††† Thirdly, the passage says that the "rest of the dead did not come to life until after the 1000 years."† And that the coming to life of believers is the "first resurrection."† Some Christians say this passage teaches that there will be two bodily resurrections, separated by 1000 years of peace.† But this would contradict God's Word in John 5:28,29.† There we read that "a time is coming," not "two times are coming" ďwhen all who are in the graves will hear the voice of Christ and come out."† Daniel 12:2 also tells us that all people, believers and unbelievers will rise from the dead simultaneously.† Some will rise to live with him forever, others will rise to be condemned.† Scripture clearly teaches that the bodily resurrection is one event in which all people, saved and unsaved, will participate at the same time.
††††††††††† The only interpretation allowed by God's Word is that the term "first resurrection" means the spiritual resurrection that comes to believers as we are given new birth through the Word of truth (James 1:18).† Clearly, unbelievers have no part in the first resurrection.
††††††††††† To summarize the way other passages in scripture interpret the 1000 year period then, we are left with only one interpretation: the millennium is now.† We are now in the period of time when God's people are coming to life and reigning with Christ 1000 years.† We must therefore understand the number 1000 literally, that is, the way it was written, and not literalistically, which has no regard for the context.† The book of Revelation is a book of symbols.† The images and numbers which are portrayed are symbolic of what occurs as Christ struggles with and defeats the forces of evil on our planet.† One thousand equals 10 x 10 x 10 and apparently represents the "complete time period" for the work of Christ through the Church on earth.† We believe this to be the only interpretation of the 1000 year reign which does not contradict the clear teachings in other parts of Scripture.†††††
v.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."
††††††††††† Having compared scripture with scripture to obtain the proper viewpoint on this first 5 verses of this chapter, this verse is now quite clear.† We who are believers have no reason to fear the second death.† The term "second death" is explained in .† The second death is hell, the lake of fire, where all the disobedient will go on Judgment Day (see Matt 25:41).
††††††††††† The term "second death" implies that there is a "first death."† By comparing what is written in Eph 2:1‑5 and Col 2:13, we find that death is the state into which all people are born.† Death came as a result of Adam's disobedience, for God told him that in the day "when you eat of [the tree of knowledge] you will surely die." (Gen 2:17).† Adam ate, and Adam died at that very moment.† We learn that God does not restrict the meaning of death to the ceasing of breathing and thinking.† From God's viewpoint, all who do not know him are dead.† All who have come to the wisdom he has revealed are alive with Christ.† It is this viewpoint which gives us the full meaning of Jesus' teaching:† "If a man keeps my word he will never see death." (John 8:51)
††††††††††† Revelation 20:6 also says that believers will be priests of God.† Scripture tells us that this, too, has already been fulfilled.† Christians are a kingdom of priests (Rev 1:6; ), a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9).† Through Jesus all Christians have access to the Father, there is no need for a priesthood such as existed in Old Testament times.
††††††††††† Verses 4c and 6 are the only places in scripture which talk of a 1000 year reign with Christ.† Christians who teach an actual future 1000 year period usually also teach that it will be a time of peace.† But no where in all of Revelation 20 does it say that this reign will be a reign of peace.† But by comparing an Old Testament scripture which talks about the reign of Christ, Psalm 110, we learn more about this kingdom.† We know Psalm 110 talks of Christ, because Jesus himself said so (Mt 22:41‑45), as well as the writer to the Hebrews (; ).† Psalm 110:2 states clearly that Christ will "rule in the midst of [his] enemies." †This is the situation that the Christian Church finds itself today, reigning with Christ as his royal priesthood, yet surrounded on all sides by enemies of the Christian faith.
††††††††††† There are, of course, passages of scripture which predict a peaceful kingdom which will be ushered in at the coming of Christ, for instance, Isaiah 11.† These passages are best interpreted as referring to the real peace we will experience after Judgment Day, when we will live on "a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pet 3:13).† It is also possible that these passages picture in symbolism the peace with God which Christ brings to all who come to faith in him (John 16:33; Ro 5:1; Col 1:19‑23).
v.7‑9††† † "When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth ‑‑ Gog and Magog ‑‑ to gather them for battle.† In number they are like the sand on the seashore.† They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves."
††††††††††† In these verses we see Satan being released at the end of the millennium.† This was mentioned in verse 3.† What the actual events that these words predict will finally be, we do not know, but apparently a world‑wide assault on the people of God is pictured.† The scene is similar to that described in Ezekiel 38 and 39, but since the context of this chapter is one of symbolic picture language, we do not know exactly what is being pictured here.† Those who attempt to identify Gog and Magog with modern‑day states are simply going beyond what God tells us in scripture, and are teaching their own man‑made ideas.
††††††††††† There are passages of scripture that we can refer to, however, which will help us understand what is pictured here.† Jesus said that as the final days of earth's history draw near, wickedness will increase and love for others will grow cold (Matt 24:12).† People will be lovers of themselves and lovers of pleasure (2 Tim 3:1‑5), and will not put up with the true doctrines of Christianity (2 Tim 4:3).† Jesus even questioned if, when he returns, he would find any faithful on the earth (Luke 18:8).† Jesus promised, however, that the time of these terrible last days will be cut short, so that the elect -- those whom God has chosen from the beginning (Eph 1:4,5) -- would not be lost (see Matt 24:22).† As we seem to see evil more and more prevalent in our society today, we understand that this is just as God has told us it would be.
††††††††††† Satan is pictured as
gathering the entire world to do battle against "the holy city, the camp of God's people."† Let us not be deceived into thinking that the
holy city is the present day city of
††††††††††† Satan assembles the whole world against the Church to destroy it.† But these words should not cause us to fear, for we Christians have the promise that nothing Satan can come up with will ever be able to separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:37‑39).
††††††††††† One more false teaching
needs to be addressed at this point.†
Those who teach that the holy city is present day
††††††††††† Scripture clearly says that
not all descendants of
vv.9b‑10†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† "But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.† And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.† They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
††††††††† Despite the last days attempt by Satan to deceive the world and destroy the Church, our Lord quickly disposes of him and calls the history of our world to a halt.† We should not suppose that this means that Christians will totally escape suffering during the time when Satan gathers the whole world against them.† Nowhere does scripture say Christians will be spared tribulation coming from this world.† Jesus said, "No servant is greater than his master.† If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." (John 15:20)† The teaching of some today that Christians will be raptured away without seeing tribulation is clearly unscriptural.
††††††††† The devil is finally pitched into the lake of fire.† Jesus also tells us that all people who do not believe in him will be thrown into this fire (Matt 25:41).† This is a sobering teaching indeed, one which should make each of us realize how serious a matter rejecting Jesus is.† Although the picture of eternal torment may make us shudder, it is meant as a comfort for us.† The cause of all our problems in this life, the devil, will be thrown into hell, never to tempt or harm or bother us again.† The eternity we will share with Christ our Savior will be free of any influence of the devil, the father of lies.
vv.11‑15†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† "Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.† Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.† And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.† Another book was opened, which is the book of life.† The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.† The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.† Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.† The lake of fire is the second death.† If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of† fire."
††††††††† Here we see a vision of Judgment Day.† Jesus also described this day in Matthew 25.† God in all his glory is seen sitting on a great white throne.† All people who ever lived are assembled before that throne, also called the "judgment seat of Christ." (2 Co 5:10)† In verse 12 above we read that all the dead are judged according to what they have done while they were alive.† There are many other passages which say that we will be judged according to our works, such as Matt 16:27;25:14‑46, 2 Co 5:10, Ps 62:12, .† But we must not have a humanistic idea of what kind of works are acceptable to God.† Simple charity toward others will not qualify us for heaven.† "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6).† The work God requires is that we believe in him (John ,29).† We are saved by faith in Jesus, not by our good works (Eph 2:8,9).
††††††††† But our definition of faith must be one which understands that saving faith produces good works in the life of a Christian, for faith without works is dead (Jam 2:17).† Salvation is given to those who obey (Heb 5:9; Acts ; 2 Th 1:8; 1 Pet 4:17; 1 John 2:4‑6).† A judgment based on the works a person did in his life will result in the same verdict as a judgment based on a person's faith, because a tree is known by the fruit it bears (Mt 7:16‑20).
††††††††† When it says the "books were opened," it does not mean that God keeps a record of our works in actual books.† God knows everything and so has no need for record books.† We understand the picture of books to mean simply that all our actions in this life are fully known to God (1 Co ), and all our actions in this life will be brought to light on Judgment Day (1 Co 4:5).
††††††††† And just as the devil was thrown into the lake of fire in verse 10, here we read that death and Hades are also thrown into the lake of fire.† Hades is best understood as meaning "the grave."† Death and the grave will be destroyed because after Judgment Day there will never again be unbelief or physical death.† The believer is given life and immortality through Jesus Christ! (2 Tim 1:10)
††††††††† This, then, is the conservative Lutheran interpretation of the subject of the millennium.† We hope you agree that it is the scriptural interpretation.† It is this symbolic view of the 1000 year reign of Christ and the Church which has been considered by the Church to be the proper interpretation for nearly 2000 years.† Only during the past one hundred years have such a large number of people rejected this interpretation in favor of a literalistic 1000‑year, future earthly reign of Christ.
††††††††† It is our prayer that this booklet has clarified some of the questions you may have had about this subject which occupies so many minds today.† We urge you to reread this booklet, looking up all the passages cited, writing cross references and notes in your Bible, so that your understanding of God's Word may be made more complete.
††††† (This booklet
has been prepared for your spiritual growth as part of the personal ministry of
Robert Fink of
†††† Scripture quotations
throughout this paper are from the Holy Bible, New International Version,
c 1978 by the International Bible Society,