Eschatology Study Lecture Six
First, right up front, I know the Millennium is not mentioned in the New or Old Testament. The term “thousand years” is found six times (including Apocrypha) outside of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Revelation. The symbolism of the Number 1000 is that it symbolizes “immensity,” “fullness of quantity,” or “multitude.” In a vision in which numeric symbolism is obvious and rampant, this factor should not be ignored.
The Millennium, 1000 years mentioned in the Revelation written by the Apostle John is perhaps one of the most controversial terms used in theological discussions. There is no mention of it in any creed, yet Christians have been known to label, villainize, and separate over how this term is interpreted within Scripture.
So, the challenge for us is, “How are we to approach this subject that is so controversial without either making a straw man of one position to try to prove another?” Also, is there an approach to discussing the millennium that can be embraced in our understanding of personal eschatology, or is it limited to general eschatology?
I believe the approach I take toward more of a teleological orientation rather than an event-centered eschatological orientation offers a new way to consider in facing the “millennium dilemma?”
To begin, however, I believe we need more background information. For a good portion of the debate on this issue of the millennium, there have been three primary positions: pre-millennial, post-millennial, amillennial. I will assume there is prior knowledge of these positions.
In my research, it is the overall acceptance of scholars that the early church, up until the 4th century was primarily pre-millennial in their interpretation due to the influence of the Jewish apocalyptic writings of the time and from the teaching of those church fathers’ highly influence by the Apostle John. However, the concept of the millennium was not a major concern in the earliest days of the church. I deeply appreciate the quote from Hans Schwartz who writes, “The emerging Christian community was not about speculation but preparedness, not about out-guessing the Lord but being faithful to the call.” The early church felt the Lord was coming back soon, so their eschatological focus was more in line with a personal imminent eschatology than a general, long-term-focused eschatology.
With Augustine’s influence, the church then move more toward an amillennial stance which has been prominent in the church until late in the 19th century saw a strong movement in Protestantism toward the premillennial position based on a theological system known as dispensationalism popularized by the Scofield Bible.
In chapter twenty of Revelation, looks at the events, but also looks for a purpose for this chapter in line with a teleological orientation. This chapter is part of John’s vision, and he uses a testimony approach to his experience. John gives us a detail of events, but John also uses the vision to point out blessings and to offer instruction and explanation of the facts he relates.
I believe what John may be giving us is a dual-dimension witness, a mystical/material witness to an actual experiential vision (like Paul’s in the body/out of the body unknown – 2 Corinthians 12:2) in which John includes prophecy and future history that demonstrates God’s sovereignty over time and space even while allowing human beings to have the power of free will/choice that determines our destiny. In this, we still exercise the image and reality of God.
We always need to remember that John writes for those who first read this letter and would do so from and out of his experience. Taking John’s descriptive language and trying to apply it to our context is a mistaken use of the Scripture and leads only to speculative error. I cannot stress this emphasis enough.
Chapter twenty comes after a description of an attempted struggle on earth between the unholy trinity, the evil that does not love nor god, comprised of Satan, the Anti-Christ (beast), and the False Prophet. The attempt is in total defeat (future history) and the beast and false prophet are cast into a lake of fire.
In verses 1 & 2 John gives witness to the easy detention of the dragon identified by two of his names (Devil meaning the accuser, and Satan, meaning the adversary). I need to make a point here, he is not God’s accuser or adversary, he is our accuser and adversary. The Enemy comes at us out of hatred for God.
The dragon is bound and put into a pit that already exists in a dimension or part of reality we cannot physically with our senses perceive (Found in Job – the Pit is seeming different that Sheol). This designation is also found in Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Revelation, Sirach, and 4 Esdras and is mostly referred to as a place for those who have defied or opposed God by their behavior. It is identified as not the last place of Judgement.
In Luke chapter 8, the demons beg not to be sent into the abyss (Pit) which is the same place the dragon will now be bound. The Pit, the abyss is shown in Revelation to be a place where horrible evil is currently bound but will be released as an event of the last days. This evil, however, does not have the power to harm the faithful.
It is the binding of the dragon and the sentence (imprisonment) of 1000 years that provides the framework for the time known as the Millennium. John explains the purpose of this confinement is to prevent the dragon from continuing his work within the political realm, (The dragon has this power implied by the temptation of Jesus in Luke, “And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you, I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” (Lk. 4:5-6 RSV) Jesus did not dispute the Devil’s authority. John reports that the dragon will be released (for a little while) at the end of the thousand years.
The account of Satan’s binding and imprisonment for the 1000 years is a tie between the struggles faced in life between our own sinful nature and the forces attempting to influence it and oppose those who are working out their salvation with fear and trembling. As an instrument of instruction, it points out that not all the evil we face is from without. This evil resides in our own fallen nature as well. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 RSV) It is only through the gift of faith that comes from revealed grace by the Holy Spirit is a human being able to enter the process of salvation through new birth.
Next, John gives an eyewitness account of thrones and individuals who are given the authority to judge. We are not told where these thrones are located or given the identity of the individuals. They are not told what the nature of their authority is. Perhaps with the binding of Satan, these individuals now are given the authority to influence the kingdoms of this world. This would make these thrones a position of trust like that which was given to Adam before the Fall. The overall purpose of God is not destruction but redemption and transformation. This would make a key aspect of the millennium to be part of the teleological purpose of God and not just another event of the ending of the age of the Fall.
John then witnesses and reports on the bringing to life those who had been killed (beheaded) and did not worship the beast nor take its mark. John then states they reign with Christ, the 1000 years (Millennium). It is implied that the rest of human life is still going on during these 1000 years. This would seem to indicate a continuance of the current reality of the creation of human souls by God and humanity (our co-creation with God) and the potential for additions to the eternal community God is creating. This would appear to be a higher position than those who will sit on the thrones if indeed they are different. We cannot make this discernment from the text, however, in those who seek the contemplative life, the goal is to be in the presence of God in worship and adoration as much as possible.
Then John states this is the first resurrection. The rest of the dead will not come back to life until after these thousand years. Here I need to refer to a passage from Paul:
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this, we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord, himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18 RSV)
This makes it difficult to speak of a “rapture” before the end of the Millennium. (Rapture, not in the sense of ecstasy but the idea of living Christians being taken up into heaven at some point before, during, or at the end of the tribulation spoken of in John’s vision). The word from which this concept is taken is the word Parousia, a word meaning the coming presence. It is a word found in Matthew 24:3 when the disciples are asking about Jesus’s coming. It is also used in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 in reference to the coming of the antichrist.
In the second resurrection, the souls of those who have died will rise with their new bodies as those remaining on earth (in Christ) will be transformed. Once we die, if we are in Christ, we are with Christ. At death (personal eschatology) Christ comes for us. At the second resurrection, Jesus comes to earth not as the lamb, but as the Lion (victor).
*It seems in heaven there is a sense of time by those who have died (“they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev. 6:10 NRS) Also, the twelfth chapter of Hebrews indicates they are aware of what is happening. Still, I do not think they are bound in time like we are. They are not yet in their resurrected state in which we will have a body like Jesus, unbound by our current physical time/space limitations. They could, since they are with the Lord, also be experiencing an insight that transcends time/space as we currently know it. (For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. (1 Cor. 13:12 RSV).
Those in heaven are more teleological aware of the coming last days.
Verse six is a beatitude, a blessing, promise. Those who reign with Christ shall be priests to God and to Christ. Christ is the word for Messiah. Using the concept/title of priest (one who officiates at or performs sacred rites) for God and (Christ) Messiah for 1000 years is an interesting testimony by John. Obviously, these words would be of encouragement to individuals who were put in the position of facing such martyrdom during the chaos and evil John gives witness and perhaps this is the only purpose, but it also lets us know that there is much that is still a mystery in this mystical/material millennial process. However, it does give an indication of the teleological/relational process of humanity learning to love God as God loves humanity.
What is implied by verses 7-9 and perhaps by the existence of the thrones of authority is that human life is continuing through this 1000-year period still under the effects of the Fall. Even after Satan (Adversary) is released from prison, human beings are still willing to follow his insanity and seek to destroy those who are identified with God. The adversary still believes in the possibility of an impossible event, the defeat of God. To accomplish this the Enemy has a continuing desire to inflict pain upon God through the destruction of human beings.
There is no battle (God does not fight battles- God decrees and it is), just the destruction of these bazaar attempts to destroy those who are identified with God. This is just a grand view of the everyday reality that surrounds us in the mystical/spiritual world. We are in a struggle, God is not. The more we can draw near to God, the less influence the enemy has on us. Spiritual maturation is a strengthening of faith. Faith is our shield. Spiritual maturation is a strengthening of our salvation as we become more assured in our relationship and more committed to that relationship.
Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:13-17 RSV)
John then reports Satan is then thrown into a place that exists for his final punishment. It is spoken of by John as a yet-to-be-future place of eternal suffering.
John continues by speaking of the white throne and both heaven and earth (all souls) trying to flee, the scrolls (books) being opened for responsibility and accountability. This would seem to indicate there are still living beings on earth as well as beings who have died that will face final judgment.
Why would God need a book? God doesn’t, we do. John is giving us a written record that Jesus determined we need. Part of that record is a reminder that all actions/acts are recorded. We get our life from the Word. We are known, a record is kept, and we are not simply items in a cosmic struggle, we are the reason for the struggle. We are key characters in a drama written for us. It is our certificate of belonging. If we are in the book, there is no question about our having found our purpose. If we are not, it proves God is love and allows the choice of our life to be what we decided without faith despite grace.
In closing, John speaks of two places identified with the dead as also being judged, Death and Hades. They are identified as enemies. They are personified. This implies the existence of other sentient actors. Perhaps they of those whom Paul writes, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12 RSV) and, “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” (Col. 2:15 RSV)
So, what we see from this examination of chapter 20 is that the 1000 years has a priestly function (mystical) in the changing reality of the final last things contained within the past/present/future history of the Fall, a history of death and deception.
In the language of the mystical, time is but a part of creation, and is not definitively defined for God or God’s acts.
The following Scriptures are profitable for meditation and contemplation:
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. (Ps. 90:4 NRS)
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. (2 Pet. 3:8 NRS)
This is the Lord’s judgment for all beings: Why should you reject the good pleasure of the Most High? Whether ten or one hundred or one thousand years, there’s no arguing about life in the grave. (Sir. 41:4 CEB)
This is the Lord’s decree for all flesh; why then should you reject the will of the Most High? Whether life lasts for ten years or a hundred or a thousand, there are no questions asked in Hades. (Sir. 41:4 NRS)
4 Esdras 10:45 And as for her telling you that she was barren for thirty years, the reason is that there were three thousand years in the world before any offering was offered in it.
4 Es. 10:45 NRS) And after three thousand years Solomon built the city, and offered offerings; then it was that the barren woman bore a son. (4 Es. 10:46 NRS)
1000 years is representative of an extended period in human thought. This revelation is given likely around 60-69 AD. John is revealing the final end of the current human dilemma is not just around the corner. Materially, the 1000 years is a reminder of God does set time limitations on the Fall and its certain eventual end.
Tribulation, suffering, deception, violence, and human-AI (arrogance and ignorance) are a constant. They have been, are, and will be until God’s teleos in this stage of eternity reaches its purpose and then will continue beyond what we can comprehend in our non-resurrected state. I believe instead of seeking to define our view of this 1000-year period in the light of any of the theological constructs that are current, it should be defined in the light of purpose rather than event. I believe there is much to be gained from the Revelation of Jesus written by John as the beatitude at the end of the book states. I believe this blessing comes from finding guidance for our own personal eschatology while always having in mind the promise of Jesus’s return, our own limitations by our human AI, and the overall directives of a disciplined life to be alert, aware, and prepared at all times while our battle with the evil without and within continues until the Lord’s return.
 Schwartz, H. Eschatologv. p. 321.2000. Grand Rapids. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.