The undeniable characteristic of Scripture is the fact that it is perfect and it is to be taken seriously. Everything in the Bible is trustworthy, and it is the only thing that we have in this life that is altogether truthful. Therefore, it would make sense for a person who would believe in the literal view of Scripture to look at Revelation 20:4 and conclude that “thousand years” means exactly what it says.
Premillennialism is not to be confused with dispensationalism (which is the view that God will restore the nation of Israel as they were His primary focus), for there have been many theologians and ministers that held the view of premillennialism yet denied dispensationalism. These people include great men of the faith such as John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, and George Elden Ladd.
The view can be best defined in three points: 1) Christ’s second coming will occur before the millennial reign, 2) Christ’s millennial reign will literally be for 1000 years on earth, and 3) Eternity will be set up after the reign. Many evangelicals have come to accept this as the norm and as an eschatological truth. Most of the believers that I encounter cannot see the interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 in any other way but through the premillennial view.
There has been speculation, especially among the youth that have come to Reformed theology, that the view described cannot be biblical because it is a new idea, but that is not the case. The premillennial view can date back even to the times before the first coming of Christ. Rabbis speculated that at the coming of the Messiah, an earthly kingdom would be established. Though this view is obviously flawed, some church fathers still retained this view, but applied it to the texts written in Revelation. I believe that this is when the first problem began.
Now I do not believe that views of eschatology are an issue worth dividing the body of Christ, but one can’t deny just how fascinating these events are. Usually the premillennial groups boast in the fact that they believe in taking the Bible literally, yet the fundamental view of Christ establishing an earthly reign at His coming is not a biblical interpretation, but rather an opinion that has been applied to a text. This was my first encounter with the problems of the premillennial view (keep in mind I once held the view of premillennial dispensationalism). It puzzled me how the eschatological view hinged on someone’s assumptions on the future rather than looking at the context of Scripture.
My curiosity grew as I began questioning the view that I held to be true, as well as many of my closest friends and mentors to this day. I decided to read an old book I found at home called Revelation Expounded written by Finis Jennings Dake, a Pentecostal premillennial dispensationalist, to try to understand this view much more clearly, and possibly convince me to hold to the view. It only did the opposite. The idea that death, the fall of man, and unsaved people will continue to be present in the kingdom didn’t make any sense. Why would Christ allow these things to continue upon His coming when the Bible makes it clear that all ungodliness is vanquished at the presence of Christ?
In essence, the premillennial kingdom is not as triumphant as many would perceive it to be. Death is not vanquished in the kingdom, sin goes on in the kingdom, and sinners can deny Christ in the kingdom. Another point is that in this view Christ dwells among us; why are those who are unregenerate still living in the kingdom that was made clear in 2 Samuel 7:10-13 to be exclusive to believers. In 2 John 1:9-11 (ESV) John clearly writes, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” It doesn’t make sense that God would tell us to not accept those who practice lawlessness to be considered one with us, but yet they are allowed in to the kingdom that is set apart for those who are granted salvation.
These contradictions almost led me to the point in which I had to stop believing in the perfection of scripture; how can the scriptures contradict each other so much? Little did I know what the Bible truly said about the 1000-year reign. The secret lies in the number 1000. Over and over again we see in scripture how the number is used: it is a symbol of immensity and a vast quantity.
Several scriptures indicate that the figure 1000 is not always to be taken literally. In Matthew 1:1-13 it mentions that from Abraham to Jesus there were 42 generations, yet in Psalms 105:8 it mentions that he commanded His covenant to a thousand generations. It is because the psalmist was trying to say that God keeps the promise of His true covenant to a large amount of people. Again generations are mentioned in Deuteronomy 7:9 and 1 Chronicles 16:15, indicating that God doesn’t literally mean that His word will only last for 1000 generations or that the 1001st generation is hopeless. God is trying to symbolically say that His word applies to all people for all time.
Another example of a non-literal use of the number 1000 is much more subtle. The Roman standard for mile was understood as 1000 footsteps (ergo the Latin root word millennium). When Jesus preached His sermon on the mount, He makes a remarkable statement on kindness, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Jesus didn’t bring up the mile because it was long distance, but to prove a point: even if your enemy asks for something in abundance, double the request. Jesus wasn’t just trying to tell someone to take a long walk, but to give abundantly even when it seems as if more couldn’t be given.
I strongly believe that John used the number 1000 in the same symbolic manner that was used in other passages of scripture. It would make much more sense since the only time John mentions the figure is in Revelation 20:1-6. Not only that, but it would fulfill the prophecy of an everlasting Kingdom that would come at Christ’s triumphant return in 2 Samuel 7:10-13. Therefore, the literal view of the premillennial kingdom is not only confusing, but it also doesn’t fit the structure that was given in the scriptures. The only views that would make sense would be the ones that would hold the non-literal view: postmillennialism and amillennialism.
There are many great men of the faith who hold this view in good conscience, but it doesn’t seem to hold up when compared to the Scripture’s interpretation of the 1000 years. Nevertheless, Jesus is coming soon to establish eternity, but the manner in which He comes will be examined in part two of the series: postmillennialism.
Soli Deo Gloria.