The  return of Christ  & Will there be a literal Millennium? Summary

  •  
  • I do not believe Scripture teaches a pre-tribulational appearance of Christ meeting the church “in the air” and rapturing it to heaven, ensuring it does not experience the Great Tribulation. Instead I believe it teaches that Jesus will return once only at the end of the Great Tribulation. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=422#_Will_there_be.
  •  
  • The return of Christ: a coming in glory

  •  
  • Jesus will appear “on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matt 24:30). His coming “will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other” (Luke 17:24).  He will be accompanied by a host of angels (Matt 24:31) and everyone on earth will see him (Matt 24:30).
  •  
  • We shall see the glory of the Lord which the Old Testament describes as looking “like a consuming fire” (Ex 24:17). Ezekiel said in his vision the Lord looked “like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and … brilliant light surrounded him” (Ezk 1:27-28). Similarly, John says of Jesus: “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev 1:13-16). At the Transfiguration “his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (Lk 9:29).
  •  
  • When the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle or the temple Moses and the priests could not enter it (Ex. 40:35; 1 Kings 8:11). When the glory of the Lord shone around them, the shepherds were terrified (Lk. 2:9). God said to Moses “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:18-20).
  •  
  • It is this awesome, radiant, glorious Lord who will appear on that day. His voice will shake the earth. “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zech 14:4).
  •  
  • The return of Christ: a coming in salvation

  •  
  • Jesus says “he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:31). Paul adds: “the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. (1 Thess 4:16-17).  This is the Rapture. What a prospect!
  •  
  • The saints will then escort the Lord back to earth where he will take up his rule. They do not disappear with him to heaven. Many scholars agree with this view and the general teaching of the NT seems to support it.
  •  
  • We need to prepare for that day “so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). John means that we must live in union with Christ, loving and obeying him.
  •  
  • Jesus also says that those who endure suffering and persecution will receive praise honour and glory from him at his return. They will hear him say the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21). What a prospect: to hear the Lord honouring us for endurance! What a day that will be!
  •  
  • The return of Christ: a coming in judgment

  •  
  • Jesus says “all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. (Matt 24:30). “People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Lk 21:26).
  •  
  • Paul writes that on that day “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Thess 1:7-10).  (It should be noted that, as is sometimes the case with the prophets, this is a summary statement. Not all the judgment will take place on the day Jesus returns. We shall come back to this issue later).
  •  
  • Jesus will return at the high point of the rule of the Antichrist (“the lawless one”) whom he will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming” (2 Thess 2:8). The Greek word Paul uses for “destroy” does not mean annihilate but to make completely powerless.
  •  
  • The return of Christ: conclusion

  •  
  • So we await and prepare for the great day when Jesus returns to earth. We shall see our awesome, radiant, glorious Lord whose voice will shake the earth. We shall be caught up to meet him in the air and return with him in glory to earth, never to be separated from him. He will give praise, honour and glory to those who have endured. He will descend to the Mt of Olives, showing his intention to fulfil his promises to Israel (which meanwhile has turned to him and been saved) within the wider Body of Christ. He will defeat the Antichrist and begin to bring judgment to humanity as he establishes his rule of peace and justice throughout the world.
  •  
  • Will there be a literal millennium?

  •  
  • The teaching about a thousand year rule of Christ on earth is found in Revelation 20:1-6 but there are different interpretations of this passage. Some take it literally (whether or not as exactly 1000 years) and say it takes place between the Second Coming of Christ and the last judgment. Others say it precedes the Return of Christ and refers to the eventually conquest of the world by the Gospel. Others take it symbolically of the period between the first and second comings of Christ. We need to examine the arguments for and against these different views but first we look back at opinions held in the history of the church.
  •  
  • The millennium in church history

  •  
  • Scholars point out that belief in a literal Millennium (rule of Jesus on earth) was the dominant view in the early church. Christian leaders in the 2nd and 3rd centuries such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus and Cyprian taught this view. So did Papias who is described as “a hearer of [the Apostle] John.”  However it was not universally held.
  •  
  • Origen of Alexandria, who was a strong advocate of allegorical or symbolical interpretation of Scripture rejected a literal Millennium. So did Augustine of Hippo who had great influence in the church. By his day the Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity and Christianity became the dominant religion in the whole empire. So the old need to believe that Jesus would soon come and overthrow the persecuting power and set up the Millennium faded. In fact, people came to believe the Roman Empire would defeat the Antichrist and that the Last Emperor would be a superhuman figure who would unite the whole of Christendom and rule in peace and justice before the brief rule of the Antichrist.
  •  
  • Arguments for a literal millennium

  •  
  • 1.    God promises that Jesus will be vindicated by ruling on earth
  •  
  • Paul predicts that: “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess 1:7-10).
  •  
  • Isaiah prophesies that “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples” (Isa 2:2-4). Zechariah says that on the day when Jesus descends on the Mt of Olives “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. (Zech 14:9).
  •  
  • Given the humiliation of Jesus on earth and his rejection by many over the centuries it seems likely that God will vindicate him in a millennial kingdom, as Rev 20 foretells.
  •  
  • 2.    God will fulfil his promises to Israel
  •  
  • God has made important promises to Israel over the centuries and he keeps his promises. Some think these promises are all fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the church but it seems clear that God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and Israel as a nation but it is dependent on her obedience to God and turning to Messiah. It is therefore to be expected that there will be a fulfilment of those prophecies in an earthly kingdom. He is already fulfilling biblical prophecy about the return of the Jews to Israel. (It should be noted that, at that point, Israel would be part of the Body of Christ, the church. I have made it clear, though, that I do not believe that God has purpose for Israel which is totally separate from his purpose for the church and includes the renewal of the sacrificial system).
  •  
  • Antichrist will arise and be defeated in Israel and there will be an unprecedented time of “great distress” culminating in an international attack on Jerusalem. The Lord will return to the Mt of Olives and will bring judgment for the wicked and blessing for the obedient. It is possible that the Temple will be rebuilt and that representatives of all the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship (but this could not mean a resumption of the sacrificial system, as that has been fulfilled in the Cross. However it is not impossible that these could have been resumed earlier before the majority of Jewish people turned to their Messiah).
  •  
  • Another aspect is that it would be a final correction of anti-Semitism, vindicating and fulfilling God’s choice of the Jewish people by displaying his rule over believing Israel within the wider Body of Christ.
  •  
  • 3.    God has promised the church that it will rule on earth
  •  
  • Paul writes: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12). Jesus says: To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations –that one “will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Rev 2:26-27). The heavenly host worship Jesus with the words: “With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10).
  •  
  • (It should be noted that it is not, as some say, just the martyrs who will enter the Millennium. All the saints, whether or not they have experienced death, will have been raised from the dead or received transformed bodies before the Millennium – 1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:21-23, 51-53, cf Matt 24:31. We shall return to this later).
  •  
  • This all supports the idea of an earthly millennium.
  •  
  • 4.    God has promised worldwide peace
  •  
  • Isaiah prophesies: “In the last days …. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more” (Isa 2:2, 4).
  •  
  • Paul writes: “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. …” (Rom 8:20-23).
  •  
  • There will be harmony in nature: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:6-9).  There will also be supernatural fertility in nature  (Isa 35:1-2 cf 32:15-20; Ezk 34:25-31; Ezk 36:29-30, 34-36; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-14).
  •  
  • Some say that all this is referring to the ultimate new heavens and new earth but it includes references to settling disputes and judging between nations which seems more appropriate to an earthly millennium. We have noted how prophecy can have lesser fulfilments before an ultimate total fulfilment and this could be the case here, namely a lesser fulfilment in the millennium and an ultimate fulfilment in the new heavens and new earth.
  •  
  • Arguments against a literal millennium

  •  
  • 1.    An earthly millennium is only mentioned in Rev 20:1-6
  •  
  • This argument presupposes that the references elsewhere to great blessing, peace and fruitfulness all refer to the (ultimate) new heavens and new earth. Also the concept of progressive revelation (that God reveals more details of his purposes as time goes on) is important. For example, the OT prophets did not know that the Messiah would come twice. They saw the whole series of events from the cross to the second coming as one. The NT revealed much more detail. Hence there is no reason why Rev 20:1-6 should not reveal more detail than what earlier prophets ‘saw’ i.e. that there is a millennium as well as a new heavens and new earth.
  •  
  •  
  • 2.    Jesus came to proclaim a spiritual kingdom unlike his Jewish contemporaries
  •  
  • Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place’” (John 18:36). He also said “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21). Jesus also resisted the attempt of people to make him an earthly king (John 6:14-15).
  •  
  • However, when the disciples asked him “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) he didn’t say he wasn’t going to do so. Rather “He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority’” (Acts 1:7).
  •  
  • Also Paul predicts: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:24-25). This could refer to a millennial kingdom on earth.
  •  
  • When Jesus said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ he did not mean that his kingdom takes no physical form, but that it differs from the world’s kingdoms in its origin (from God), its goals (true worship free from idolatry, true harmony in diversity) and its methods (no violence, but victory through suffering).”
  •  
  • 3.    The OT prophets prophesied an eternal, not thousand year, kingdom
  •  
  • Daniel prophesied: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever” (Dan 2:44). This does not seem to be a kingdom in three phases: the first almost destroyed by the Great Tribulation, the second lasting only for 1000 years and the final eternal phase.
  •  
  • However, it is clear that biblical prophecy can initially seem to be predicting a single event and then later prophecy reveals that apparent single event is, in fact, more than one event.
  •  
  • 4.    There is no hint of a millennium in Jesus’ prophecies on Olivet
  •  
  • Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28). The “renewal of all things” sounds like the new heavens and new earth, rather than the millennium.
  •  
  • However, the word Paul uses for “renewal” is also used in Titus 3:5 of our (current) renewal by the Spirit. So there it is used of a pre-final state: the ultimate renewal by the Spirit has not yet happened. It could therefore be used of a pre-final state in Matt 19:28, rather than of the ultimate renewal of the new heavens and new earth. Similarly, Paul speaks of our already being seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). Again, that is not the ultimate experience of being seated with Christ.
  •  
  • John writes: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge” (Rev 20:4) and this is in the context of Satan not yet having been finally removed from the scene (Rev 20:3, 7). Yet he will have been finally removed by the time of the new heavens and new earth. Similarly, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus predicts he will sit on his throne judging the nations. Are the saints involved in this judgment (they are said to judge the world in 1 Cor 6:2)? Again, this judgment clearly precedes the creation of the new heavens and new earth.
  •  
  • It does not seem convincing to say that Matthew 19:28 cannot apply to the millennium.
  •  
  • 5.    The NT seems to focus on anticipating the new heavens and new earth
  •  
  • Peter says of Jesus: “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). Yet the millennium does not restore everything because sin is still around and leads ultimately to a huge crisis.
  •  
  • Peter also predicts: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare …. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13). Again the day of the Lord brings destruction of the present earth and we look forward to the new heavens and new earth. There is no reference to a millennium.
  •  
  • However, we have noted that biblical prophecy can initially seem to be predicting a single event and then later prophecy reveals that apparent single event is, in fact, more than one event. Thus Peter’s prophecy of God restoring everything cannot exclude the possibility that it is referring to a process rather than a single event.
  •  
  • 6.    The NT teaches that Satan is already bound
  •  
  • The NT says that the prince of this world was driven out by the death and resurrection of Christ (John 12:31). Jesus broke the power of the devil (Heb 2:14); he came to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). Yet the devil is clearly still a very strong influence in the world. He is not utterly destroyed. He is not already totally bound and helpless. In fact, Peter writes that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
  •  
  • John, however, writes that the angel “threw [Satan] into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended” (Rev 20:3). This is surely speaking of a total removal of Satan’s influence in the world and so cannot refer to the present situation. It refers to a time in the future.
  •  
  • We should mention here Postmillennialism. This is the view that the return of Christ follows, not precedes, the millennium. Some postmillennialists believe we are already in the millennium (which I find difficult to believe). Others believe that there will be a future golden age of worldwide godliness, i.e. a millennium. I have to say that I find it difficult to believe in the arrival of a millennium without very special divine intervention, such as the premillennial view teaches. Also the parable of Parable of the Weeds is that the wheat (believers) and weeds (unbelievers) will grow together until the day of the Lord (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43).
  •  
  • 7.    The NT teaches there is only one resurrection (not two separated by the Millennium)
  •  
  • Jesus said: “ ‘Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). Some say this proves that believers and unbelievers will be raised together but the text does not in fact prove that. It could be referring to an extended period of time or two different occasions. Rev 20:4-6 requires this interpretation. Paul makes it clear in 1 Thess 4:16-17 that all believers are raised at the second coming.
  •  
  • Some say that Rev 20:4 is referring only to Christian martyrs being raised and that the rest of the believers are raised after the millennium. However the text is not clear and the first sentence could refer to other believers who are not martyrs.
  •  
  • 8.    The NT teaches that the second coming is followed immediately by the judgment
  •  
  • Jesus says: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matt 25:31-33). He also said: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).
  •  
  • Paul wrote that on that day “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess 1:7-10).
  •  
  • Some claim these passages do not allow for there to be a millennium between the second coming and the judgment.
  •  
  • However, none of these passages rule out the interpretation that they are summary statements and don’t mean the judgment all happens as soon as Jesus returns.  As we have already noted, it is well-known that the prophets often compressed together events which actually take place at widely different times.
  •  
  • 9.    How can perfect saints in glorified bodies live alongside sinful humanity in the millennium?
  •  
  • This is an interesting point but we cannot say this is impossible.
  •  
  • 10. It seems strange that Christ should come back to rule over an earth which is not glorified and which still contains those who oppose him.
  •  
  • Some say it is more logical that he returns to final perfection. Again, this is an interesting point but we cannot say this is impossible.
  •  
  • 11. How is it that such rebellion as that described in 2 Thess. 2 could take place after the millennium?
  •  
  • Again, we cannot say that this is impossible. It shows the persistent tendency of human nature towards rebellion against God and the implacable opposition of Satan to God’s purposes. But the millennium provides a wonderful opportunity for unbelievers to repent, in particular because the conversion to Christ of huge numbers of Jewish people is bound to make a massive impact. See Paul’s comments: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob’” (Rom 11:25-26).
  •  
  • 12. The key, the chain, the dragon, the snake and the binding in Rev.20:1-2 are symbolical, why not the whole passage?
  •  
  • It is important to remember that the use of some symbolism in a prophecy does not mean everything in it is symbolical. The angel, Satan, the martyrs, ruling with Christ and the resurrection in this passage are not symbolical. We should follow the principle of taking a passage literally unless there is very good reason not do so.
  •  
  • Will there be a literal millennium? - Conclusion

  •  
  • We have noted that belief in a literal millennium dominated the early church, including some who were contemporaries of the apostles. We have also argued that a literal millennium is to be expected to vindicate Jesus on earth, to fulfil God’s promises to Israel and his promise to the church that it will rule on earth, and because he has promised worldwide peace.
  •  
  • We have examined twelve arguments against a literal millennium and found them all unconvincing. We therefore conclude that there is good reason to believe that the biblical promise of a millennium is literal, although there is no requirement, as with all numbers in biblical prophecy, to believe it means exactly a thousand years.
  •  
  • I therefore believe there is one coming of Christ in glory, resulting in believers being clothed in risen bodies and returning with Christ for the earthly millennium. This is followed by a very brief rebellion leading to the last judgment, the final destruction of sin and death, and the new heavens and earth.
  •  

 



© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page