One thousand years; in Scripture, the thousand-year earthly reign of Jesus Christ.
"I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." - Revelation 20:4
As the apostle John gazes into the future, he is privileged to see the glorious day we all long for—the day when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on this earth. It is impossible for us to comprehend what it will be like to see Jesus face-to-face. Yet the Scripture declares that Jesus will come again and take up residency on earth. The next time He appears, however, He will come not as a babe in a manger but as the Ruler and King of all creation! The peace that has escaped the world thus far will be the benchmark of the thousand-year reign of Christ known as the Millennium. Satan will be bound, and Christ will be in charge.
Yet, just as is true with all prophecy, until the time is fulfilled, there will be questions and debate over particular meanings and whether these prophecies can be taken as literal or as a figurative expression of what is to come. With increasing interest and growing debate over future events, many have taken sides on the issue of the Millennium. Some doubt that there will be a literal millennium. Others are divided over questions concerning when and where it will transpire.
Among those who debate these questions, there have evolved three positions regarding the Millennium. The three positions are (1) amillennialism; (2) premillennialism; and (3) postmillennialism. As you will discover, these positions are hotly debated by their proponents and are vastly different in their conclusions. However, there is almost universal agreement that this period of time is the fulfillment of promises made in both Old and New Testaments. Jews and Christians alike believe that this is the promised time when Jesus (or another Messiah) will reign for a thousand years. As to when this will take place, these three positions have garnered their own debate teams with Scripture in hand and knowledgeable scholars to validate their positions.
A Closer Look
Where do you stand on the millennial question? Perhaps you believe, as I do, in the premillennial position. However, unless you have done considerable study on the subject, you probably don’t know where you stand. Therefore, a quick look at each of these positions will equip you to make an informed decision.
One position is amillennialism. The roots of amillennialism can be traced as far back as the third and fourth centuries, to Augustine and others. The general point of agreement among those who hold to this belief is the denial of a literal reign of Christ on the earth. Holding to the belief that Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ, amillennialists believe that this present age (between the first and second coming of Christ) is the fulfillment of the millennial kingdom. One area of tension among amillennialists is the question of whether or not the Millennium is being fulfilled at this moment here on earth or whether it is being presently fulfilled by the saints in heaven.
There are obvious divisions among those who hold to this belief that affect the relevancy of major portions of Scripture and its impact on this present age. If the Millennium is presently being fulfilled on earth, the conclusions drawn from Scripture would take on an entirely different meaning than if it was being fulfilled spiritually by the saints in heaven. With so much debate even among those who hold to this position, their points of agreement are few: (1) a millennial age after the second coming of Christ is denied, and (2) prophecy regarding this subject should not be taken literally.
The second position—premillennialism—is the oldest of the three positions. Premillennialists support their view by a more literal interpretation of Scripture. For example, when the apostle wrote, “They lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years,” those holding to a premillennial understanding believe that verse refers to a literal one-thousand-year period of time on earth. Premillennialists take the Scripture’s description of the chronology of events literally as well.
Specifically, premillennialism derives its meaning from the belief that the second coming of Christ will occur before (pre) the Millennium—the thousand-year reign of Christ. Therefore, it is called premillennial.
Premillennialists believe that the present age will end suddenly when Christ appears. At that time, the wicked will be judged, the righteous will be rescued, and Satan will be bound. Furthermore, God will pick up where He left off in His dealings with Israel. In the premillennial scheme of things, Israel and the church are two distinct entities. Premillennialists hold to the belief that the Jewish nation will be restored—including the repossession of their ancient land when Christ returns to earth. Furthermore, they believe that Satan will be bound, that a theocratic kingdom will be established, and that those who have died “in Christ” will be raised to share in the blessings of this time.
The premillennial position concerning the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth holds to a plain interpretation of the prophecies that speak of a righteous kingdom of God on earth.
The third of the three primary positions regarding the Millennium is postmillennialism. Daniel Whitby, a Unitarian, is often given credit for originating this view. Those holding a postmillennial view believe this present age will end with a worldwide spiritual revival resulting from the gospel being preached to all nations. Essentially, the postmillennial position adheres to the belief that the whole world will be Christianized and brought to submission to the gospel before the return of Christ. Those who adhere to the postmillennial position believe that the Millennium will occur prior to the second coming of Christ. Postmillennialism is based on a more figurative interpretation of scriptural prophecy.
Those holding the postmillennial position do not believe in a literal reign of Christ on the earth. They are confident, however, that the world will be Christianized by the successful preaching of the gospel, that the kingdom of God will triumph in this world in this age.
The postmillennial and amillennial positions hold in common a belief that the final judgment of people and angels is one single event that will occur after a general resurrection of all people and before the eternal state begins.
One thing is clear: there is considerable difference in opinions and theology concerning the millennial kingdom. The most literal viewpoint concerning this subject is found within the position of premillennialism. As I concluded earlier, all the questions surrounding this subject (and other subjects that concern prophecy) will be answered only when the actual prophecy is fulfilled. However, one constant throughout Scripture gives us all rest in the middle of the debate. Our sovereign God knows the future and is in control of it. Whatever happens in that day and time will be in His time and under His control. That should give us all peace when we seem to have so many questions that elicit so many different answers.
As with all the Scripture passages that concern prophecy, study can be exciting and can lead to a much greater dependence on God for what we know and understand—and what we leave in His hands. If you find the subject of prophecy interesting and want to know more, I encourage you to find a study group that makes use of the many excellent studies written on biblical prophecy.
As with any study or study group, it is essential to accurate understanding and teaching that two elements be held to without fail. The first is to be sure that the material being used is reliable and comes from a source that is committed to belief in the inerrant Word of God. Second, be sure that the one who teaches is a godly person who has studied Scripture thoroughly and has drawn conclusions from what the text says rather than from opinions.
If you feel somewhat overwhelmed and out of your league when it comes to Bible prophecy, don’t give up. Keep reading. Keep learning. Seek God’s guidance in finding a good Bible study or Sunday school class that can lead you through your fear and insecurities concerning Scripture.
Adapted from “Charles Stanley’s Handbook for Christian Living,” 1996.