CHAPTER TWENTY is the most controversial as far as interpretation. Today, three schools of interpretation take over—amillennial, postmillennial, and premillennial at this point. The four interpretive approaches of the previous chapters fade as no approach adheres to a single method of interpretation of the last three chapters. Since the first century, Christians have agreed that Christ is coming again—and there agreement ends! The exposition of these final chapters is arguably the chief controversy in eschatological studies. The student who desires to explore the Scriptures and doctrines on this subject will find valuable The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views edited by Robert G. Clouse.
Historic Premillennial also known as Chiliasm (from the Greek word for a “thousand years”) was the view of most of the early Christians. Perhaps Papias (A.D. 60-120) was the first post-biblical author to describe the thousand-year visible Kingdom of Christ. Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) shared Papias’ millennial expectation in his Dialogue with Thrypo, when he affirmed his expectation that the faithful departed would rise from the dead and reign with Christ for a thousand years in a rebuilt Jerusalem. In his book, Against all Heresies, Irenaeus of Lyons (A.D. 130-200) maintained that when the faithful departed are raised, they would reign with Christ for a thousand years of bliss. Jerusalem would be rebuilt, famine would be unknown, and animals would live in harmony with each other and with man. He expected this to happen after the coming of the Antichrist and the second coming of Christ.
Amillennialists believe there is no thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Augustine of Hippo, who was converted in A.D. 386, changed his views during his forty-five year writing career. He previously followed the view of most of the earlier Christians, which was known as “Chiliasm,” which he translated into Latin as “Millenarianism.”
In City of God, Augustine viewed the thousand years not as some special future time but “the period beginning with Christ’s first coming,” that is, the age of the Christian Church. Throughout this age, the saints will reign with Christ—not in the fullness of the coming kingdom prepared for those blessed by God the Father, but “in some other and far inferior way.” He said that if God’s people did not now reign with Christ, the church would not now be the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of heaven; however, he did distinguish different meanings for “kingdom” in the Scripture. Because of his newly proclaimed view, the church was viewed as the place where God’s rule was exercised on earth though a papal monarch during the Middle Ages. Augustine’s teaching was so fully accepted that the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 condemned belief in the millennium as superstitious.
Augustine said the “first resurrection “of which John speaks is a spiritual resurrection, and it takes place throughout the church’s history as the spiritually dead hear the voice of the Son of God and pass from death to life.” At the second resurrection, those who have not come to new life in this era will pass into the second death with their bodies.
Hence, the thousand years of chapter twenty became a symbolic term for the preaching of the Gospel and the control of Satan’s power between the first and second coming of Christ. Satan was bound at the Cross, but not entirely. He cannot stop the advancement of the Gospel (Luke 11:17-23; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14). He will be loosed briefly to wreak havoc and to persecute the Church in the end of this present age. The new heavens and new earth will be created immediately after this present age without the reign of Christ on earth. The reign of the departed saints takes place in heaven prior to their resurrection. The older Amillennial view is that of the spiritual reign of believers on earth in the present age (Romans 8:37).
Postmillennialists believe the thousand years (literal or symbolic) immediately precede the return of Christ. Hence, the Gospel will be triumphant in the last thousand years of Church history. Christians, with God’s help, will gradually convert and reform society into a blessed, though not perfect, state. Satan will be bound at some future time when the Gospel reduces the Evil One’s influence to nothing. His final attempt to win the world will fail and a general resurrection and judgment will occur at the coming of Christ. This was the predominated view of most nineteenth century evangelicals and is still held by some Reformed people today. However, with World War I and II, this view lost its popularity among Christians since the world was becoming worse instead of better.
Dispensational Premillennialists believe Christ comes immediately before His thousand-year reign on the earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem. There will be a restoration of the earth. Satan will be bound for this period and his loosing will close the Millennium. A final battle is followed by the resurrection of the dead and judgment of the unrighteous at the Great White Throne. The new heavens and new earth will be created after the Millennium.
HOW LONG IS A THOUSAND YEARS? A thousand years appears three times outside of the Book of Revelation:
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4).
Even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place? (Ecclesiastes 6:6).
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8).
Amillennialists and Postmillennialists say a “thousand years” is never used elsewhere in Scripture for an actual number of years, but only to suggest the idea of a very long time; hence, the entire Church Age.
Premillennialists say a “thousand years” is to be taken as literally as three and one half years, forty-two months, and 1,260 days. No number in Revelation has any evidence, which would cause it to be taken other than literally.
ALMOST HEAVEN ON EARTH. For centuries, people have prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For all practical purposes, this prayer is answered with the return of Christ. He will come to reign, with an iron scepter, on David’s throne in Jerusalem, as King of kings and Lord of lords. Quoting Amos 9:11-12, James assured the Jerusalem Council that when Christ returns He will restore the kingdom of David.
Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things” that have been known for ages (Acts 15:14-18; cf. the Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel 7:8-16).
Prior to Christ’s ascension, the burning question on the mind of the apostles was “Lord, are you at this time going to restore [apokayisthmi = restore to former state] the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). After Pentecost, Peter still looked for this restoration:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets (Acts 3:19-21).
“Times of refreshing” and “restoration of everything” include the theocracy and the perfect state before the Fall of Adam and Eve.