20 Studies in Bible Prophecy
Study 17 - The Millennial Kingdom
Having consummated His purpose for the church in the rapture (see Study 3), God will bring in His kingdom of peace and righteousness. Psalmists and prophets speak of this in most inspiring terms, while Jesus taught His disciples to anticipate the climax of redemption's story. What a prospect! Jesus Christ in supreme control, reigning from shore to shore. This golden age can be realised only when Jesus returns to the planet as King.
The term "millennium" is of Latin origin and denotes in theology the thousand years of Christ's administrative reign referred to in (Rev. 20:1-7). The phrase "a thousand years" is used six times in that section. Millennarianism is belief in the thousand year reign of Christ between Christ's coming for His church (the rapture) and the end of the world. The crucial passage relative to millennial teaching is (Rev. 20:1-7). Indeed here we have the first and only reference to the chronology of the reign, but this is not the sole reference to an earthly kingdom. This truth is the subject of Old Testament prediction and the content of much in the New Testament. It is clear from (Rev. 20) that there is to be an interregnum, an administrative kingdom which will precede the finality of the human race and give place to the eternal state. An honest examination of both Testaments serves to direct our hope forward to a Messianic kingdom on earth, to a throne with a royal occupant of the house of David (Luke 1:32-33).
There is a clash of opinion among prophetic scholars on this particular issue, and we must look at this by way of introduction.
The Major Eschatological Views Concerning the Millennium
Theologians have held three major views about the millennium.
First, the post-millennial view, as the name suggests, is derived from the idea that the thousand year reign of Christ will take place before Christ returns. Hence the term "post" millennial. During this period Christianity will be practically universal and at the end of this period there will be an outbreak of sin and rebellion, followed by Christ's second coming, the general resurrection, and the final judgment and eternal state.
The first exponent of this position was the twelfth century Roman Catholic writer, Joachim Mons. Walvoord says of him "His view of the millennium is that it begins and continues as a rule of the Holy Spirit. He had in view three dispensations, the first from Adam to John the Baptist; the second began with John; and the third with St. Benedict (480-543), founder of his monasteries. The three dispensations were respectively of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit. Joachim predicted that about 1260 the final development would take place and righteousness would triumph."
Adherents to this postmillennial position are chiefly 19th century scholars such as Charles Hodge, A. H. Strong, C. A. Briggs and David Brown. These could trace their stand to that of Daniel Whitby, a 17th century Unitarian controversialist. Indeed Prof. Walvoord styles him something of a heretic since his work on the Trinity was publicly burned by the Church of England. He taught that eventually the whole world would be Christianised. By means of preaching, a Christian civilisation would be realised throughout the world equalling the level of universal peace and blessedness predicted by the prophets. The view became most popular despite the fact that it was propounded by a heretic, and, states Dr. Tatford, "Since this teaching made the golden age dependent, not upon a Divine intervention, but upon the conversion of the world through human effort, it is not surprising that social reformation began to take the place of the gospel."
The emphasis on the social side of the gospel increased at the expense of truth, and soon this particular view became allied with humanistic and evolutionary tendencies. Thus post-millennialists tended to line up with modernism. Two world wars largely brought about the demise of this system, causing many of its followers to turn towards the a-millennialist position, and post-millennialism now finds little place in any eschatological debates within the theological field. The seriousness of this particular viewpoint is underlined in a statement from the late Dr. Scroggie, "If by any process of evolution, or civilisation, or promulgation of Christian principles, the world could be brought into the moral or spiritual state which we associate with the idea of a millennium, there would be no need for Christ to come." We hold that man cannot build the millennium, Christ will bring it.
Secondly, the a-millennial view which really negatives an earthly kingdom following Christ's second coming. According to this view the expression "a thousand years" represents ideas rather than arithmetical values; the kingdom is spiritual rather than earthly and is but figurative of the inter-advent period between the resurrection of Christ and His return at the end of time.
The "first resurrection" (Rev. 20:5) is made to represent the new birth of the believer, since such are described in the New Testament as "risen with Christ" (Col. 3:1). In this, a-millennialists conserve the views of the Protestant Reformers, who formulated their findings on the allegorisation of Origen and Augustine; findings which refuse to distinguish between the spiritual as it relates to the church and the earthly manifestation of the kingdom as it touches upon Israel and the world. Therein lies the danger of the present upsurge of a-millennialism, in that it distorts the original meaning of Scripture under the cloak of seeking to produce a deeper and more immaterial meaning.
For the a-millennialist the New Testament church inherits all the covenant promises and prophecies of the Old Testament Israel. One writer comments on his inability to accept such views by stating, "In this view Isaiah's beautiful prophecy of the bear and the cow lying together, and the lion eating straw like the ox (Isa. 11:7) simply doesn't mean what it says at all! However, if the eleventh chapter of Isaiah cannot be taken literally, what proof do we have that the magnificent fifty-third chapter should not likewise be allegorised away?"
Thirdly, the pre-millennial interpretation of "kingdom theology". As the name suggests, pre-millennialists hold the advent of Christ as preceding His thousand-year reign on the earth. During this reign the covenant promises made to Israel will be literally fulfilled. At first Augustine held to the literal reign of Christ on earth. Subsequently, however, his views radically changed in a violent reaction against what G. E. Ladd refers to as "the gross sensual interpretation of contemporary chiliasts." In this he made the mistake of seeking to counter one extreme by swinging to another equally indefensible.
Space does not permit an extensive review of the history of belief in a golden age. Suffice it to state that the concept of a millennium is older than the Christian church. If we understand the Old Testament it seems clear that there we find the basis for the doctrine of the millennium. It is admitted that the chronology of the kingdom appears only in (Rev. 20), but this is understandable since it is the final reference to the subject.
The idea of a Messianic kingdom is a prominent thesis of Old Testament prophecy, and the ultimate goal of New Testament eschatology. If the many Old Testament prophecies are to find fulfilment, there must be a literal kingdom established within the context of time.
In the New Testament we find the kingdom aspect of prophecy central in the teaching of Christ and His followers. The chief emphasis of our Lord's teaching is that the kingdom "is yet to be" a literal manifestation with earthly dimensions, inaugurated at His appearing. The same stress is latent in the Epistles, until we meet up with the more emphatic language of the Apocalypse.
The Millennium - A Necessity
Those who reject the idea of an earthly kingdom as being a carnal hope, exult in the fact that Augustine is supposed to have laid to rest "the ghost of pre-millenarianism."
The so-called "ghost" has appeared rather convincingly from time to time, and is the belief of our Movement. There can be no man-made millennium since there can be no kingdom without the King. The Bible knows nothing of a hope for the world apart from the coming of the Lord.
First, the millennium will be necessary to bring about the literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. These promises relate to the origin, history and eventual lot of Israel, and surely it is impossible to visualise such fulfillment other than literally. Apart from an earthly kingdom the covenants made to this nation would fail to find fulfillment. That would imply that God would break His Word to His earthly people and thus deny Himself. Such an idea is unthinkable. Herein lies the deception of the a-millennial position. There must be a literal kingdom if God is to make good His pledged Word.
Secondly, the millennium will be necessary to witness the emancipation of creation. Man's disobedience resulted in a curse coming upon creation (Gen. 3:17, 18), and the establishment of God's rule on earth will see that curse lifted. This will be God's answer to man's failure and the whole creation will be gratified. Paul in (Rom. 8:18f) refers to creation's subjection to bondage, its present groaning and final expectation. Indeed the fact of Christ's glorification at God's right hand is the divine guarantee that all will one day be placed under His beneficent sway.
Thirdly, the millennium will be necessary to witness God's publicly expressed delight in Christ - "God's answer to the thirty and three years of suffering and reproach borne by the Blessed One." (Walter Scott in his book AT HAND).
(Hebrews 2:5) sets before us proof of an earthly kingdom and reign. It reads, "For He hath not given the administration of the inhabited earth to come, to the angels."
The word "world" in the A.V. is a translation of the Greek which literally means "the inhabited earth", the millennial kingdom of the Messiah. That kingdom will not be administered by angels. Lucifer, once the chief angel, the first ruler of God's original creation, struck at the throne of God and forfeited the regency of that creation (Isa. 14:12; Ezek. 28:11-19). This exalted chieftain of light became the prince of darkness, and, as a result of his insubordination, earth was desolated and he, with his cohorts of angels, was banished. Later in Eden he sought to thwart the Divine plan for the human race. Man surrendered the sceptre to Satan, who is now styled the "god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4). But Jesus Christ, "the last Adam", through death and resurrection has regained for man the dominion over the earth, and will, in the millennium, dethrone Satan and rule as supreme Sovereign. The redeemed will be associated with Him in this reign (Rev. 5:9, 10; 20:4-6). The very honour of the Lord is at stake here, and the scene of Christ's humiliation and suffering must one day witness His exaltation and glory.
The Marks of the Millennial Reign
In the first three centuries, the early church was largely millenarian. This is to be expected since many had been instructed orally in such teaching, and expectation. It was when this expectation began to die that the church entered into a wilderness of wandering in its understanding of Advent Truth.
Let us look at some of the characteristics of this earthly reign.
First, the millennium will be the personal and glorious reign of Christ on earth, preceding the finality of the age. Before the apocalyptic revelation of (Rev. 20) we have the descent of Christ to earth described in (Rev. 19:11-16), to effect His victory over the Devil's fake-Messiah. We cannot but see the vivid contrast between this coming and the rapture of the church as outlined in (1 Thess. 4:13f). In the rapture He comes to receive His bride to be! His coming to earth is in the context of judgment and the establishment of His equitable and legitimate reign. This will be the coronation of coronations (Zech. 2:10; Isa. 9:7; 24:23; Luke 1:32).
Secondly, the millennium will see the banishment of the Devil. The first great move in the prophetic drama will be the binding of Satan and his dispatch to the abyss for the duration. A world without the Devil! What a prospect! This will be the "stone kingdom" of (Dan. 2:44), which will break in pieces earthly kingdoms and become a universal dominion. The Devil is thus rendered completely inert.
Thirdly, the millennium will realise the fulfilment of all that man has vainly sought for apart from God. Prof. Walvoord suggests that the millennium will be God's answer to "the longing for perfect government, righteousness, equity, economic prosperity, and deliverance from insecurity and fears, which plague the modern world." John does not furnish us with any details of the millennium; these we get from many Old Testament portions. One writer suggests that (Rev. 20:1-6) "is to be regarded as providing the New Testament frame for the Old Testament picture of the future kingdom of God on earth."
Then the world will enjoy universal peace and prosperity, not as the result of peace conferences or treaties, but by the appearance of Him "Who maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth" (Psa. 46:9).
This is the final goal of the divine plan for the earth, and is the only adequate confirmation and explanation of the Old Testament promises made to Israel. An earthly kingdom over which Jesus shall reign is woven into the fabric of both Testaments.