“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”John 5:22-30
We are looking at how the judgment of God works. If you have not read previous parts of this study, we have linked to each one at the bottom of this article and invite you to read them.
In recent parts of our study about God’s Judgment we learned about two primary ways to interpret the Book of Revelation and four ways to view the timing of God’s judgment.
We move now to the first of three primary views about the thousand-year reign of Christ – known as the Millennium.
Christ’s Millennial Reign
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. And 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. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”Revelation 20:1-15
Here’s a quick reminder about the biblical concept of Christ’s Millennial Reign:
The Hebrew word for ‘thousand’ is ’ă-lā-p̄îm (אֲלָפִים֮). The Greek word for ‘thousand’ is chilia (χίλια). The Hebrew word is not used in the Old Testament to describe the period of time that Messiah will reign, but the Greek word is used in Revelation multiple times.
Here are the highlights –
- Satan will be bound and cast into a bottomless pit for a thousand years
- Satan not be allowed to deceive the nations until the thousand years are finished
- The souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years
- Those souls will be part of the first resurrection and will be priests of God and Christ and reign with Him for a thousand years
- The rest of the dead won’t live again until the thousand years are finished
- Satan will be released from his prison at the end of the thousand years and will go out to deceive the nations and gather them together to battle against Christ
The next event we see in Revelation is that fire will come down from God out of Heaven and devour those who will surround the camp of the saints and the ‘beloved city’ (Jerusalem). Satan will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and false prophet were also cast. “And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
The first view about the thousand-year reign of Christ we’ll look at is known as Amillennialism. The word – amillenialism – tells us something about their belief system. The prefix “a” means “no” or “not.” Amillenialism means ‘no millennium.’
Amillennialists believe that the reign of Christ began with His resurrection from the dead. That’s when He won the victory over Satan and the curse of sin and death. Christ is reigning now at the right hand of the Father. The thousand-year reign mentioned in Revelation 20 is symbolic of the Church Age. The Church is experiencing the Millennium in this present age. Christ will return to the earth when this present age has ended and will reward Christians and judge the wicked.
It’s important to look for a moment at Church history to see when this view of the millennium began and why.
“From the 4th century on, the belief in the millennium declined. There were several reasons for this decline. (1) The persecutions against the church drew to an end with the conversion of Constantine, and the church saw a new day of peace dawning. (2) There was a change in biblical interpretation, from the literal hermeneutic to the allegorical method. The predictions of the millennial kingdom were spiritualized. (3) Many began to interpret the binding of Satan and the resurrection and reign of saints (Rev. 20:1-4) as the personal victory of believers over Satan. In that sense, believers are, in this present life, reigning with Christ.”Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Clarence Thiessen, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949, p 362
A Donatist theologian by the name of Tyconius lived during the end of the 4th century AD and early part of the 5th century. He wrote Seven Rules of Interpretation along with a commentary of Revelation. His view on Revelation was amillennial. He took the figure ‘thousand years’ in Revelation 20 to be symbolic.
“Tyconius and his chief follower Augustine established amillennialism as the reigning eschatological view. Tyconius paved the way for this new understanding by means of his Book of Rules for correctly interpreting the prophecies of Scripture: They will be fulfilled spiritually, not literally as premillennialists imagined. When he applied this method to Revelation 20:1-6, Tyconius focused on a spiritual millennium corresponding to the current church period. Those as pictured as reigning with Christ are believers who overcome sin and live righteously.”Systematic Theology/Historical Theology Bundle, Wayne Grudem and Gregg Allison
“Augustine adopted Tyconius’ interpretation of Revelation 20 and produced the earliest form of amillennial theology. Thus, Augustine, in Book XX of The City of God, was the first to actually spell-out a positive statement of amillennialism, which at the same time produced some incipient principles upon which postmillennialism would later arise.”The Unscriptural Theologies of Amillennialism and Postmillennialism, Thomas D. Ice, Liberty University
“First, Augustine owed a lot to a remarkable African Christian writer named Tyconius, who died around A.D. 400. We know too little about him, but enough to be sure that his writings shaped Augustine’s beliefs.
Second, Augustine increasingly focused on the life of heaven, both now and hereafter. Earthly and historical realities were less and less important to him. True fulfillment lay beyond this world. The idea of a literal Millennium on earth after Christ’s return was, to him, too crass.
Third, Augustine was wrestling with reactions to the sack of the “eternal city” of Rome by the Goths in 410. Too many Christians, in his view, had invested too much spiritual capital in the permanence of the Roman Empire-and hence had been distraught when the city fell. Augustine wanted to cut all secular history down to size. All that mattered was the story of the City of God.
Fourth, Augustine had come to see the whole period between the first coming of Christ and his second coming as a single era—uniform and uninterrupted by any special events initiating new eras in salvation—history. Thus, he showed remarkably little interest in ‘the Constantinian revolution.’
Augustine believed God’s purposes were always being fulfilled, the gospel was always advancing into ‘the nations at the four corners of the earth.’ The saints who had been spiritually raised to life were always reigning with Christ—and always suffering from demonic hostility.”Amillennialism: Millennium Today, Christian History Institute
Augustine of Hippo lived during the same time period as Tyconius and quoted some of his writings in De doctrine christina. Augustine changed his view on the Millennium after becoming disillusioned with the Chiliasts and addressed some of those views in City of God, Book XX. Chiliasts believed that Jesus would return to earth to reign physically for a thousand years. Augustine disagreed and believed that the millennium was spiritual in nature, rather than physical and political. Augustine’s amillennial view became dominant in the Church for centuries.
Amillennialists believe we are currently in the ‘millennial’ rule of Christ who rules from Heaven. The one resurrection and judgment will be at the end of history and the beginning of living in eternity.
“A thousand years’ is a figurative, or symbolical, description of the entire age of the new covenant. The number 1,000 is a symbolical number, made up as it is of the number 10. In the Bible, 10 is the number of completeness. The symbolical nature of the thousand year period is in harmony with the symbolical character of the book of Revelation, e.g., the depiction of Satan as a great red dragon ( Rev. 12). It is also in harmony with the obviously figurative character of the binding of the spirit, Satan, with a great chain. In addition, Revelation 20 is a vision (‘and I saw,’ vv. 1, 4), not historical observation.
The binding of Satan represents the sovereign control and restraint of the devil by the Lord Jesus that prevents him from deceiving the nations. During the present age, Satan cannot unite the nations under Antichrist. This restraint is related to the ‘withholding’ and ‘letting,’ or restraining, of II Thessalonians 2:6, 7 that assures that the man of sin, ‘that Wicked’ (v.8), will be revealed in his proper, God-appointed time (v.6).
Throughout this same age, the martyrs – those who were beheaded on account of the witness of Jesus and on account of the Word of God – live and reign in heaven with Christ. The vision of the thrones in Revelation 20:4-6 refers to what theology calls ‘the intermediate state, that is, the life and glory of elect saints at death and until the second coming of Jesus.
This is plain.”A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism, Professor David J. Engelsma
“Advocates of this millennial view maintain that no millennium is to be looked for except that which, it is claimed, is in progress now in this gospel age. This theological interpretation spiritualizes or, rather, gives a mystical meaning to the vast Kingdom promises in the O.T. Zion is construed not to mean Zion but refer to the Christian Church.”Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, 1957, pp 731-732
Here are some other examples of amillennial views of Revelation –
- 24 elders — 12 patriarchs and 12 apostles symbolize all redeemed
- 144,000 — redeemed on earth protected against God’s wrath
- Great tribulation — persecution faced by Christians in Asia at the end of the 1st century AD and symbolic of tribulation Christians have faced throughout history and continue to face to this day
- 42 months — an indefinite period of pagan desolation
- 2 witnesses — the spread of the Gospel in the 1st century
- Sodom and Egypt — Rome as the seat of the empire
- The Woman — true people of God under the old and new covenants (true Israel)
- 1260 days — an indefinite time
- Sea Beast — Emperor Domitian and personification of the Roman Empire
- 666 — Domitian, imperfection and evil
- Babylon — historical Rome
- Seven Mountains — pagan Rome which was built on seven hills
- Seven Heads — Roman emperors from Augustus to Titus
- Ten Horns — Vassal kings who ruled with Rome’s permission
- One on White Horse — Christ victorious over pagan Rome
- Battle of Armageddon — symbol of power of God’s Word over evil
- Binding of Satan — symbol of Christ’s resurrection victory of Satan
- Millennium — symbol of time from Christ’s first coming to His second coming
- New Jerusalem — God dwelling with His people in the new age after all other end-time events
[Our thanks to Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for examples.]
If you have not read all of the parts of this study, we invite you to do that now for the Scriptural background to Christ as Judge.
We will look at the Post-Millennial view in the next part of our special series “God’s Judgment: How It Works.”
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.