1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(Revelation 20:1-6, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)
We call the period of one thousand years described above in which Satan is bound and confined to the pit and certain people come to life and reign with Christ the millennium, millennium being the Latin word for “thousand years.” There are three major views on the time and nature of the millennium: amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. I’ll describe each of them in this post, and in my next post I’ll consider the two main types of premillennialism, which differ on whether Christ will return before or after the great tribulation.
According to this view, Revelation 20:1-6 describes the present church age and not some future period of time. It holds that the binding of Satan in verses 1-3 refers to his influence being reduced during Jesus’ ministry and through the church age so that the gospel can be preached to the whole world, that those reigning with Christ in verses 4-6 are Christians who have died and gone to heaven, and that Christ’s and their reign in the millennium is a heavenly rather than an earthly reign. It holds that “thousand years” is a figure of speech for a long period of time and that the church age will last until God’s purposes for it are fulfilled and Christ returns. And it holds that when Christ returns both believers and unbelievers will be resurrected, the bodies of believers being reunited with their spirits in heaven and unbelievers rising to face the final judgment and eternal condemnation.
Two arguments given for the view are that only one passage in the Bible (Revelation 20:1-6) appears to teach a future earthly millennial rule of Christ and that the Bible speaks of only one resurrection rather than of the separate resurrections of believers and unbelievers required by premillennialism (see below). However the Bible only needs to say something once for it to be true and “the first resurrection” of verse 6 implies that there will also be a second resurrection. See pages 1114-22 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), which my family and I are currently reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading, for a full consideration of these two and other arguments for amillennialism (he gives six) and of responses to them.
According to this view, Christ will return after the millennium. It holds that Christian influence on society will continue to increase so that gradually a millennial age of peace and righteousness will occur on earth. And it holds that this millennial age will last for a long period of time, not necessarily a literal one thousand years, and finally Christ will return to earth, believers and unbelievers will be resurrected, the final judgment will occur, and we will enter into the final state.
Two arguments given for the view are that the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 suggests that, since Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth and promises to be with the Church in following the commission, it will result in the conversion of the world and that the parables of the mustard seed and leaven in Matthew 13:31-33 indicate that the kingdom of heaven will eventually fill the whole world with its influence. However the Great Commission doesn’t specify that Jesus will use his authority to convert the world and the parables of the mustard seed and leaven don’t specify to what extent the kingdom will grow. See pages 1122-24 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology for a full consideration of the two arguments (and another one) for postmillennialism and of responses to them.
Grudem also observes that several New Testament passages seem to explicitly deny the postmillennial view, most conclusively Matthew 24, in which Jesus talks about his returning just after a period of great tribulation rather than after a millennium of peace and righteousness. See pages 1124-27 of Systematic Theology for Grudem’s explanation of how Matthew 24 and other passages seem to deny the postmillennial view.
According to this view, Christ will return before the millennium. It holds that the present church age will continue until a time of great tribulation occurs, followed by the return of Christ to establish a millennial kingdom. It holds that when Christ returns Satan will be bound and cast into the pit, believers who have died will be raised from the dead, and they and believers who are alive when he returns will reign with him. And it holds that at the end of the millennium Satan will be loosed and lead a rebellion against Christ but will be defeated and the final judgment will take place, as described in Revelation 20:7-10.
Reading Revelation 20:1-6 as a literal account of events leads naturally to seeing the millennium as a future reign on earth by Christ rather than to the church age. Moreover several Old Testament passages indicate a future period of time greater than the present age but inferior to the eternal state and there are New Testament passages besides Revelation 20 which suggest a future millennium. Grudem cites Isaiah 65:20; Isaiah 11:6-11; Psalms 72:8-14; Zechariah 14:5-17; and Revelation 2:26-27. See pages 1127-31 of his Systematic Theology for a consideration of those passages and for a demonstration of how Revelation 20:1-6 is best understood as referring to a future millennial reign by Christ.
These considerations combine to make a case in favor of premillennialism…. And although we may not have much clarity on all the details of the nature of the millennium, we can be reasonably certain that there will be a future earthly reign of Christ that will be markedly different from this present age. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1131)