Millenium

On Sunday, we discovered that Satan’s power is finite and temporary as we looked at Revelation 20:1-6. This is the primary point that we should take away from those verses. Pastorally this makes it a deeply encouraging passage.

However, as I pointed out in the sermon.

  1. These verses have been the source of controversy over the years as people have debated exactly when and how Satan’s power will be limited
  2. Although we have just a short passage here, people have often decided their interpretation of the book of Revelation and indeed the Bible’s whole teaching on eschatology from these few verses.

In a sermon, I don’t really have the time to unpack all the options, nor do I think that would be the best use of my time. However, it may be that some would like a little bit more background and explanation. So here it is. My plan is to first of all give an overview of the different positions taken and then give a short explanation of why I’ve landed on the interpretation I have.

Millennialism 3 views

The question centres on John’s description of a 1000-year period during which Satan is bound and the saints who have been martyred reign with Christ.

  1. Pre-Millennialism

Jesus will come back to earth and reign for 1000 years with the church including all who have died. They will be raised to life again.  During that time, Satan will be bound. The millennium will in effect be a golden era matching the descriptions in Isaiah 11 of the lion lying down with the lamb etc.  At the end of the 1000 years, Satan will be set free for a period and gather the nations to fight the final battle against God. He will be defeated and then there will be the final judgement day.

Note that there are a few variations on the theme here. First of all, in the 19th and 20th Century, this view was particularly linked with Dispensationalism, an approach to Biblical Theology which divides time into different epochs of dispensations. Each epoch is governed by a particular relationship between God and the world. For example, prior to Christ coming, we lived under the dispensation of Law and came to know God through the Law. Since Christ’s death and Resurrection, we have had the Dispensation of the Church and live under grace. There will then be a further dispensation when the Church will be absent from the World and the Jews will be given the chance to repent. Finally, you have the Millennium as a dispensation when Christ reigns on earth.

Dispensationalism assumes that specific Scriptures are given for specific times. For example, the Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s future glory and a new temple are to be taken as literal promises to a future state of Israel that will obey God. This also treats much of Revelation as being not for today but rather coded messages for a future period when the end-times have properly begun.

This leads us on to the other variations on a theme. Pre-millennialism assumes that the church will be raptured prior to Christ’s return. In other words, believers who are still alive at that point will suddenly be taken to Heaven. There will be a period when the Church will have disappeared completely (hence a new dispensation for the Jews). Then Jesus will return with the saints.

The book of Revelation describes periods of trial and tribulation as God’s judgements are poured out and as the Beast and the Anti-Christ take power.  Some Pre-millenialists believe that the rapture will happen before the tribulation so that the Church will be saved out of the suffering. Others believe that the Church will go through the Tribulation and then be raptured for a short period.

Pre-millenialists often tend to emphasise discontinuity between the Old Creation and the New Creation that will follow the Final Judgement. Their view is that the existing universe will be destroyed and then we will experience a new creation. They are likely to describe this in terms of “going to heaven.”

  1. Post-Millennialism

This view assumes that the Millennium will happen before Christ’s return. In other words, there will be a period of history when the world will be increasingly under God’s sovereign rule.

This will be a period when we see increasing numbers of people become Christians and when this will lead to governments seeking to follow God’s ways.  Christ will reign from heaven but will be represented on earth by his church.

It is possible to envisage the Millennium as still being a literal 1000 years.  However, many Post-millenialists today would treat this as a figurative word describing a long but unspecified period of time.

Post-millenialists are likely to emphasise continuity between the old creation and the new. After all, believers will be at work in this world and in positions of authority, stewarding creation, bringing in wise rules, judging evil, influencing culture.  Therefore, they emphasise the New Creation as renewal.

  1. A-millennialism

This view emphasises that much of the language in Revelation is symbolic. We treat numbers symbolically. For example, 7 represents holiness and perfection, 144,000 the complete number of God’s people.  A thousand years represents a great epoch of time.

A-Millenialism simply means “without a millennium.”  Or, in other words without a literal 1000 years.  A-millenialists view Revelation as offering a number of different perspectives on the time between Christ’s first and second coming.  From one perspective, Satan has great power, earth is under judgement, the darkness is getting greater. However, from another perspective, Christ has defeated sin and death already and those who have died are now with him. God’ saints reign with Christ.  So, The Tribulation offers one perspective of suffering, persecution and judgement whilst the Millennium offers another perspective of Christ’s reign and the Gospel advancing

Evaluation

As I stated in my sermon and above, I believe that the important lesson for us today is that Satan’s power is limited. So, I am not too worried if people interpret the chronology differently. However, as you read these verses you are going to take a view on the chronology so I want to share here my position and how I came to it. Hopefully this will be helpful as you think through this and other sometimes controversial matters.

First of all, I start with the principle that because:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” [1]

That this means the whole of Scriptures relevant to life now.  It means that we cannot cut off parts of the Bible and say “they are just talking about some future distant events.”

Secondly, I look at the type of literature that Revelation is. It is a description of a vision with picture language offering vivid metaphors and symbols. It is “prophecy” which means that it is bringing God’s word to us which often includes a look forward to future events.  It is “apocalyptic” which is a particular genre often written to help people make sense of the particular struggles that they were facing in their day.

For those reasons, we’ve talked about the book of Revelation as “God’s heavenly perspective, from the end of time, on the whole of history, in order to help us live faithfully now.”

Thirdly, I am aware of how our own circumstances can affect our interpretation. This is about exegeting our own hearts before we teach God’s Word. I note that people living at different times have tended to lean towards one or other of the positions.

–          Post-millennialism has often been associated with people living in times of great awakening and revival such as Jonathan Edwards. It takes a highly optimistic view of the church’s prospects in the world.

–          Pre-millennialism and especially the Dispensationalist form became particularly prominent during the 20th Century. The context was two world wars and the Cold War, the growth of secularism and increased reports of persecution alongside a decline in church attendance in the West.  It takes a highly pessimistic view of the church’s prospects in the world.

–          A-Millenialism was something of a reaction to that form of pre-millennialism that at times because obsessive, divisive and speculative.  The risk is that this position becomes the “opt-out” position for those who want to stay clear of the controversy. One wag once said “I’m pan-millenialist… I believe it will all pan out in the end!”

These points warn me to be cautious in my pronouncements and careful in my exegesis. They might also alert me to helpful perspectives that those who take the other positions may bring, even if I don’t agree with their conclusions.

The question of “What and when is the Millennium” comes down to two exegetical questions.

  1. What does it mean to say that Satan is bound for a time?

Satan’s power is in his ability to deceive and accuse.  What we see here is a limit on that.  Satan is unable to deceive because God’s truth is out there. Christ has sent his disciples into the World with his gospel. His word is readily available to refute Satan.  No-one has any excuse given the clear revelation of God’s Word. Does that mean that there aren’t any people who are taken in? No. However, it does mean that they are without excuse.

  1. What does it mean to say that those who were dead live again?

My understanding here is that this describes the way in which those who belong to Christ are with Christ as soon as they die. They may die physically but immediately go to be with the Lord awaiting the physical resurrection. Note that this means I don’t believe in “soul sleep” I believe our existence in eternity prior to the Second Coming will be conscious. That is why Jesus tells the thief on the Cross “today you will be with me in eternity.”[2]

So, I have come to an a-millenialist position and I think this gives a fair description of what we see around us in the World. Yes, there is terrible persecution, yes there are many places where we have seen churches abandoning the Gospel and the number of professing Christians seeming to decline. Yet, that’s not the whole picture. Christ is at work through his Holy Spirit. The Gospel is reaching further and further around the World. In many places, the church is growing.

Conclusion

I want to come back to the main application point from on Sunday. Whether or not you think that Revelation 20 describes the situation now or some future events, the point remains. Satan is not all powerful and all present. His time is limited, his power is limited. “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the World.”

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16

[2] For further discussion and different interpretations see https://faithroots.net/2016/10/21/interpreting-revelation/

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