The Millennium (Part 1)
The Transition Period
There will be a transitional period of 45 days that apparently separates the beginning of the millennial kingdom from the end of the Tribulation period. There will be several events that take place during this transition period.
Daniel 12:11 says, “From the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.” The second half of the Tribulation lasts only three and a half years (or 1,260 days), which means that the abomination that makes desolate (the image of the antichrist) is removed from the Jewish temple 30 days after the Tribulation ends.
Daniel 12:12 then says, “Happy is the one who waits for and reaches 1,335 days.” This means that 45 days needs to be added to the prophetic timetable (1,335 minus the 1,290 days in verse 11). It appears that the judgment of the nations spoken of in Matthew 25:31-46 takes place during this 45-day period.
Six additional events that appear to take place during this transition period:
- Antichrist and the false prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire.
“But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with it the false prophet, who had performed the signs in its presence. He deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur” (Revelation 19:20).
- Satan is bound from this point until the end of the millennial kingdom.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time (Revelation 20:1-3).
- Old Testament believers will be resurrected from the dead according to Isaiah and Daniel.
Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For you will be covered with the morning dew, and the earth will bring out the departed spirits (Isaiah 26:19).
Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to disgrace and eternal contempt (Daniel 12:2).
- Tribulation believers who died are resurrected from the dead.
Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).
- The marriage feast of Christ will take place at the end of the transition period, with the invitation to the marriage feast mentioned in Revelation 19 (which just precedes the second coming).
Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These words of God are true” (Revelation 19:9).
- In his book Maranatha: Our Lord Come, Renald Showers notes that,
“After the saints and unbelievers have been separated and the unbelievers are removed in judgment, it will take time to appoint saints to different government positions and inform them of their various responsibilities.”1
The suggestion is that the setting up of the millennial kingdom governmental structure will take place during the transition period. Scripture tells us that in the millennial kingdom, the saints will reign with Christ.
Christ sets up his millennial kingdom following the transition period (Isaiah 2:2-4; Ezekiel 37:1-13; 40–48; Micah 4:1-7; Revelation 20).
A significant division in the study of eschatology has to do with the question of whether there will be a 1,000-year reign of Christ before or after His second coming. Paul Enns explains that,
“In conservative theology there are three major views concerning last things: amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. The word millennium comes from the Latin mille, meaning “thousand,” and relates to the statement in Revelation 20:4, “… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Should this statement be understood literally or symbolically? The answer determines in part one’s doctrine of last things.”2
Postmillennialism and amillennialism hold that fulfillment of the Millennium is achieved prior to His second coming.
There is no question that the different millennial views result from different hermeneutics. Unlike premillennialists, amillennialists employ a nonliteral or spiritual principle as it relates to eschatology.
“Amillennialists do not believe in a literal kingdom on the earth following the second coming of Christ. They tend to spiritualize and allegorize the prophecies concerning the millennium and attribute yet un-fulfilled prophecies relating to Israel to the church instead…Those who hold to this view do not adhere to a simple and plain literal interpretation of Scripture.”3
The prefix “a” means no, so it is the “non-millennial” view. Amillennialists do not deny the literal second coming of Christ, but they do reject the idea of an earthly thousand-year reign of Christ. They argue that God’s kingdom is present in the church age, thus the “millennium” is fulfilled entirely in the present age. According to this view, we are in the “last times,” therefore the only millennial is the one in which we are now living.
The Church inherits the millennial blessing promised to Israel, and Christ reigns through the Church right now in an allegorized millennium. Norman Geisler explains that,
“… proponents are quick to point out that they do not deny the statements (in Rev. 20) about a thousand-year reign but, rather, deny that there will be a literal, physical, earthly millennial reign of Christ following the Second Coming. They often prefer to label their view “realized millennialism,” “realized eschatology,” or “inaugurated eschatology”… for, unlike dispensational premillennialists, amillennialists hold that the unfulfilled Old Testament predictions made to Israel are fulfilled spiritually in the New Testament church.”4
In denying the earthly thousand-year reign of Christ, they spiritualize all prophecies concerning the Kingdom and maintain that they are fulfilled in the Church.
When Christ comes back, there will be one general resurrection that will be immediately followed by the eternal state or heaven.
This is the most recent of the three millennial views. It was introduced in the 17th century by a Unitarian named Daniel Whitby and became quite popular in the nineteenth century. It holds that Christ’s second coming will take place after the millennium. Loraine Boettner defines postmillennialism as,
“That view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world eventually is to be Christianized, and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the ‘Millennium.’”5
Postmillennialism teaches that through the preaching of the gospel and the church’s influence, the whole world will become gradually Christianized; society will be permeated by Christian principles. A golden age on the earth will develop more and more through the progress of mankind religiously, morally, socially, and technologically. As more and more people across the globe are converted, the world will gradually be conquered for Christ. Then there will be a “millennium” (of undetermined length, not simply 1,000 years) of righteousness. This period of righteousness will be followed by an apostasy, a tribulation, an Armageddon and a “little season.” Once man’s efforts have succeeded in ushering in this Utopia, Jesus will at last return to take up the throne won for Him by His Church. The general resurrection and the general judgment will take place upon His return.
Postmillennialism lost much of its popularity, and Paul Enns explains why:
“The occasion for this view is noteworthy, inasmuch as it followed a period of optimism and progress in science, culture, and the standard of living in general. It was also prior to World Wars I and II. Postmillennialism declined considerably following the world wars because the conflagrations militated against the optimism of the doctrine.”6
Premillennialism was the view of the early church, referred to then as “chiliasm,” coming from the Greek word for one thousand. This view was the view held by such early church fathers as Papias, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr. Christian apologist Tertullian (AD 160–230) vigorously defended the notion of an earthly kingdom that would last one thousand years.
The term premillennialism means that Christ will return before establishing His earthly reign of one thousand, which is the Millennium. There are two distinct forms of premillennialism:
Regarding the Millennium, Christ, as the Messianic King, is reigning now from heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. George Eldon Ladd explains that,
“The New Testament does not make the reign of Christ one that is limited to Israel in the Millennium; it is a spiritual reign in heaven which has already been inaugurated… Christ began His Messianic reign as his resurrection-ascension; but his present reign is invisible…the order of the Age to Come will involve a new heaven and a new earth, and will be so different from the present order that we can speak of it as beyond history.”7
Historic premillennialists hold that:
- Jesus Christ is presently on His throne ruling (Philippians 2:5-10).
- David’s throne has been transferred from Jerusalem to heaven (Acts 2:34-35).
- The triumph of Christ’s kingdom is seen in three stages: (1) the resurrection of Christ. (2) The second coming of Christ and resurrection of believers. (3) The subjugation of His enemies (1 Corinthians 15:23-26).
Three basic features identify dispensational premillennialism (what Ryrie calls the Sine Qua Non of Dispensationalism8): (1) a distinction between God’s program for Israel and for the church; (2) a system of hermeneutics referred to as literal interpretation; and (3) the underlying purpose of God in the world, namely, His glory. Ryrie explains it this way,
“To the normative dispensationalist, the soteriological, or saving, program of God is not the only program but one of the means God is using in the total program of glorifying Himself. Scripture is not man-centered as though salvation were the main theme, but it is God-centered because His glory is the center. The Bible itself clearly teaches that salvation, important and wonderful as it is, is not an end in itself but is rather a means to the end of glorifying God (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).”8
Christ will return to the earth literally and physically to establish His kingdom over which He will rule for a thousand years. His second coming will occur after the Tribulation and will end with the establishment of the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 20).
There are three views within premillennialism of the church’s position with regard to the Tribulation period that precedes the Millennium: pretribulationism—the church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation; posttribulationism—the church will be raptured after or at the very end of the Tribulation; and, midtribulationism—the church will be raptured in the middle of the Tribulation). The pre-wrath Rapture is a modified midtribulational view.
Dispensational premillennialists believe that:
- Prior to the Tribulation period, the church will be raptured (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
- Unbelieving Gentiles and disobedient Israel will be judged during the Tribulation (Revelation 6-19).
- Christ will return with the church at the end of the Tribulation and establish the millennial kingdom on earth. Following the thousand-year reign, Satan will be released from his prison, after which he and his followers will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10). The eternal state will follow.
This is the position this author personally holds, since I believe without question that the Bible best supports this view.
1 Renald E. Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Come! (Bellmawr: Friends of Israel, 1995), pp. 57-58.
2 Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Op. cit., p. 380.
3 Tim LaHaye, in The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, ed., Tim LaHaye and Ed Hinson (Eugene: Harvest House, 2004), p. 234.
4 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology – Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2005), p. 548.
5 Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1966), p. 14.
6 Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Op. cit., p. 384.
7 George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism” in The Meaning of the Millennium (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), pp. 29-30, 39.
8 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), p. 37.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at KnowingChristianity.blogspot.com.
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