WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN?  PART SIXTEEN

 

The Millennium:

        Many Christians believe Christ will return in the future to establish a one-thousand-year reign called the millennium.  The word thousand is translated from the Greek kilioi, which means “one thousand.”  The word millennium is not an English translation from the Greek.  Millennium is a word from the Latin which means one thousand years.  The concept of a one-thousand year reign of Christ is obtained from several passages in Revelation 20.

Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, Amillennialism

      We presently find three basic views expressed in the Christian community regarding the millennium.  All three views are based on a belief in a future to us return of Christ.  These views differ as to when the millennium occurs relative to the return of Christ.  Some believe that Jesus will initially return to “rapture” Christians off the earth.  Following such “rapture” will be a time of great tribulation involving catastrophic world events.  Jesus will then return to establish His Kingdom and begin a literal thousand-year millennial reign.  Those who believe in this approach are called Premillennialists which simply means a return of Christ before the millennium.

       Other Christians believe that the millennium is to follow the evangelizing of the world, leading to a period of peace on earth for a thousand years or more.  Christ will then return after this period of time. This position is known as the Postmillennial view.  A third view is called Amillennialism.  This view postulates that the present church age is the millennium and Christ will return at some point in our future to facilitate resurrection and a final judgment.  As can be seen, this last view sees the millennium as a period of time longer than a thousand years.     

       Is this one-thousand-year time frame presently occurring (Amillennialism) something yet in our future (Premillennialism/Postmillennialism) or has it already happened?  Is this thousand-year time frame a literal one-thousand years or does it represent a different period of time?

       If you have read this far in this series, you have seen a great deal of evidence presented to establish a first-century return of Christ and the associated events of resurrection, judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom.  The one-thousand-year reign of Christ is also associated with His return.  How can this association be defined within the context of a first-century return?  Should we be seriously considering a position called Pastmillennialism? 

Pastmillennialism:

       The Revelation given to John is contextually positioned in the first century.  This is established in verse one of the first chapter of Revelation where John is told that the events contained in the message he is about to receive are to soon take place.  In verse three of this chapter, John writes that the time is near for the events in the Revelation to take place.  In verse nineteen of chapter one, John is told to write about what is about to take place. The Revelation is written to seven first-century churches.

       After John records the events revealed to him, his final words in chapter 22 reflect more admonition from Christ that these events will soon take place, that He is coming soon and the time is near.  Three times, in chapter 22, Christ is quoted as saying He is coming soon.

       Unless one is willing to blatantly ignore these time statements that identify the time frame for the events of the Revelation to occur, the evidence is inescapable that these events were to occur during and soon after John received this revelation.  In Revelation 1:19, John was told to write, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will (Greek: mello, "is about to") take place later.” John was told to write about what he had seen, what was now happening and what would shortly come to pass.

       The thousand-year reign is seen in Revelation 20 as being tied to resurrection.  As explained in the chapters on resurrection in this series, resurrection is a restoration to life from sin death. Sin death is the eternal death of the physical/biological body. This death is resident in all humans because all humans have sinned. Belief in the sacrifice of Christ and a commitment to live righteously allows for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is seen as eternal life provisionally dwelling within one while still a mortal body. Before the return of Christ, Christians are seen as being sealed by the Holy Spirit which acted as a deposit guaranteeing the salvation that would be revealed at His return.

       Ephesians 1:13-14: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession.

      Hebrews 9:28: So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

       1 Peter 1:3-5: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. Peter goes on to say in verse 13, "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed."

       Prior to the return of Christ in the first century, first-century Christians had resurrection life abiding in them. It is seen as a new birth. This appears to be the born again experience Jesus spoke about with the Pharisee Nicodemus as seen in John 3. The first century Christians who died before Jesus returned were resurrected at His return and given spirit bodies. It appears all the righteous dead from throughout history were also resurrected at this time.

      As discussed throughout this series, the Scriptures clearly reveal a first century return of Christ. The millennium and the two resurrections discussed in Revelation 20 appear to be tied to the return of Christ.  Therefore, we need to examine the passages in Revelation 20  within the context of a first century return of Christ.

The thousand years and resurrection:

       Revelation 20:1-2: And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. For those who believe in a first century return of Christ, a common view relative to the thousand years is that the thousand years represents the 40 year period between either the cross or Pentecost and the return of Christ around AD 70.  Pentecost to the return is the more common view. 

       Revelation 20:3:  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. It is believed this passage shows Satan was prevented from deceiving the nations so that the gospel could be preached without undue resistance during the supposed 40 year time frame represented by the thousand years.

       The problem with this perspective is that Satan is seen as being very active during the 40 years between Pentecost and the return of Christ. (See Acts 5:2, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5, 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and 1st Timothy 1:20, 5:15).  Therefore, this perspective is very problematic. 

       Revelation 20:4: I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  

       Who are those that are given authority to judge? Are they the twelve disciples of Jesus? In Matthew 19:28, Jesus appears to be speaking to the twelve disciples when He says, "I tell you the truth, 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. The disciples judging the twelve tribes is seen taking place at the renewal of all things when Jesus is sitting on His glorious throne. This appears to be a reference to the time of His return.  

       Historically it would appear the beheading of believers took place during the reign of Nero who is generally recognized as the Beast pictured in Revelation 20. It is said these who did not worship the beast were resurrected and reigned with Christ for 1000 years.  If the 40 years between Pentecost and Christ’s return is the thousand years, this resurrection would have had to occur at the beginning of the period between Pentecost and Christ's return in order for this reign to have occurred during this period.  However, this appears quit problematical and here is why:

       If the thousand years is representative of the 40 year time frame between Pentecost and the return of Christ, this 40 year period would have largely come and gone by the time these beheaded saints were brought back to life to reign with Christ. Pentecost is believed to have occurred in AD 30. Forty years later would have been AD 70.  Nero reigned near the end of the 40 year period (AD 54-68).  His persecution of Christians (including beheadings) didn't occur until late in his reign (AD 64). This would have been 34 years into the 40 year period between Pentecost and the return of Christ.  The return of Christ occurred after the reign of Nero and during the reign of Vespasian who was the Emperor at the time of the destruction of the Temple and it is at that time that resurrection occurred.  

       Revelation 20:5: (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. The first resurrection appears to refer to the beheaded dead spoken of in verse 4.  Since the resurrected beheaded saints reigning with Christ during the 40 year time frame is problematical, some see this first resurrection as the righteous dead being brought back to life at the conclusion of the 40 year time frame and reigning with Christ in the heavenly realm. Under this perspective, the thousand years are seen as representing an indefinite period of time. However, we do know from 20:5 that whatever the thousand years is, it does come to an end at some point. 

       Such resurrection is seen as the righteous dead having life restored and acquiring a transformed spiritual body in the heavenly realm. This resurrection is seen as occurring for those who had died in Christ during the 40 year time frame.  Some believe this is also when Old Testament saints were resurrected and given a transformed body.  Some believe living saints at the return of Christ also experienced this bodily transformation (the rapture view). 

       Those who take the Corporate Body View (CBV), discussed in Part Eleven of this series, see the thousand years as the 40 year period between Pentecost and the return of Christ but see the first resurrection not as a singular event occurring at the return of Christ but as a process of spiritual transformation occurring during this 40 year time frame.  This spiritual transformation is seen as moving from spiritual death to spiritual life and is seen as tied to the covenantal change that was taking place. 

       As discussed earlier in this series, resurrection is seen by CBV as movement from spiritual death to spiritual life for those who accepted Christ.  CBV see the first resurrection as spiritual resurrection to life for converts to Christianity during the 40 year period between Pentecost (AD 30) and the return of Christ (AD 70). CBV believes those who had died in Christ during this 40 year period were restored to life and given spiritual bodies when Christ returned. CBV believes this also was when the resurrection of OT saints occurred. Living saints at the return of Christ are seen as receiving guaranteed eternal life to abide in them.  Upon their physical death these Christians are seen as being given a spiritual body as well.       

       Revelation 20:6 speaks of a second death which has no power over those raised in the first resurrection.  It also speaks of those in the first resurrection reigning with Christ a thousand years.       

       Revelation 20:6: Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.    

       Revelation 20:6 records that those who are part of the first resurrection will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.  1 Peter 2:9 speaks of first century believers being a royal priesthood.  Revelation 1:6 speaks of believers being priests serving God.  Second Timothy 2:11 speaks of reigning with Christ.  Revelation 5:10 speaks of believers being made a kingdom of priests to reign on the earth.

       All this is seen as evidence that the 40 years between Pentecost and the return of Christ is the thousand years spoken of in Revelation 20. However, as already discussed, it is beheaded saints coming back to life at the first resurrection that are seen as reigning with Christ. Historically such beheading occurred during the Neuronic persecution of Christians which occurred shortly before the AD 70 events. This would make this reigning with Christ occur at the end of the 40 years, not during the 40 years. As already stated, this is problematic for the 40 year view. 

The second death:

       Who are the rest of the dead spoken of in verse 5?  The rest of the dead are seen as coming back to life after the thousand years. This is seen by some as the resurrection of those appearing in the white throne judgement discussed in Revelation 20:11-13 and as a fulfillment of Daniel 12:1-3.

       Revelation 20:11-12: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

       Daniel 12:1-3: "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.     

       What is meant by the second death and what is meant by the second death having no power over those involved in the first resurrection?  The second death is mentioned three times in addition to 20:6.

       Revelation 2:11: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

       Revelation 20:14: Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

       Revelation 21:8: But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

       The second death appears to be associated with the white throne judgement of the rest of the dead who are resurrected after the thousand years were ended.  This appears to be the second resurrection although the writer doesn’t call it that. This white throne judgement appears to be a fulfillment of Daniel 12:1-3 where it is recorded that multitudes that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake and be judged and everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered.  

       If the first resurrection is the resurrection of all the righteous who have died to that point in time, one would think these are the ones whose names are written in the book of life.  If this is the case, who are the ones being resurrected in the resurrection connected with the “white throne judgement”?  Daniel indicates that both righteous and unrighteous are part of this resurrection.  However, this appears odd if indeed the righteous were part of the first resurrection. Who are the righteous involved in the second resurrection?

       Moreover, none of this makes any sense relative to the teaching of Paul as to how we gain salvation. Paul plainly taught the granting of salvation is a gift of God and is not at all dependent on what we do or don’t do.  Scriptures reveals that it is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us that facilitates salvation, not our righteousness or lack thereof.

       The second death appears to define the fate of those who had died and failed to meet God’s standards and be included in the book of life. They had already died once for their sins and now they are resurrected to be judged and apparently die a second time for their sins. They are thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where the Devil, beast and false prophet had been thrown. The Devil, beast and false prophet are seen as being tormented day and night forever. 

       Revelation 20:10: And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

      Revelation 20:15: If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 

       Revelation 21:8: But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

       Those who were part of the first resurrection are not seen as in danger of the second death because they have already been granted eternal life (Revelation 20:6). Their names are written in the book of life spoken of in Revelation 20:15. The devil, beast and false prophet are seen as being tormented day and night for ever and ever in this lake of burning sulfur.  Those described in verse 8 appeared to be the resurrected unrighteous who are thrown into this same lake of burning sulfur.      

       Both Jesus and Paul spoke of a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.  Jesus appears to say the resurrected righteous will live while the unrighteous will face condemned/damnation/judgement, depending on how the Greek krisis is rendered.  Is facing this process equivalent to being denied life and if so are we seeing here the annihilation of the wicked?       

        John 5:28-29: "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 good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (NIV).

       Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (KJV).

       Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice  and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment (RSV). 

       Acts 24:14-15: However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.   

        Hebrews 9:27: Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.

       The Greek word rendered condemned/damnation/judgement is krisis (κρίσις) and has a broad range of meaning. Its basic meaning is to separate, select, or render a decision (make a judgement). Krisis appears 48 times in the NT narrative. By context krisis appears to mostly be referring to the rendering of a decision.  However it can also reference someone being condemned.

       Matthew 23:33: "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned krisis (κρίσις) to hell (gehena)?  

       You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced krisis (κρίσις) to hell (gehena)? (RSV).

       In Matthew 23:23 we see krisis (κρίσις) used to signify condemnation leading to severe punishment. Is Jesus here speaking of the second death we see described in Revelation 20 and 21?  Is Jesus using gehena, the literal garbage dump south of Jerusalem in the first century, as representative of the "lake of fire" spoken of in the Revelation? Is the "lake of fire" a real lake of fire or is this being used figuratively to represent punishment of the wicked?  If the "lake of fire" is being used figuratively to represent punishment of the wicked, what kind of punishment is it? 

       Revelation 20:10 speaks of the devil, beast and false prophet being tormented day and night for ever and ever.  The devil is seen as a spirit Being in Scripture.  If the beast is indeed Nero, we are looking at a physical Being. We don't know who the false prophet is. Day and night are time frames that relate to the physical world. Is this "lake of fire" part of the physical world? If the "lake of fire" is literal, how would literal fire affect a spirit Being such as the devil? If the beast is Nero, we are looking at a physical being who we know died a physical death. Was he resurrected as a physical Being and thrown into the "lake of fire"? Wouldn't that just burn him up?  Was he resurrected as a spirit Being?  

       In Revelation 21:8 the wicked are seen as being thrown into the "lake of fire" which is called the "second death."  Is this death as we know it which is cessation of life or is it some kind of eternal separation from God in a conscious state?  Are these wicked resurrected as physical Beings and then annihilated by being tossed into a literal "lake of fire" or are they resurrected as spirit Beings and then consigned to eternal punishment represented by the "lake of fire"? 

       Paul clearly said that all die in Adam and all are made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22) and that there is a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (Acts: 24:15). Therefore, it appears that staying dead is not an option. All humans physically/biologically die and all humans are restored to life at some point.  Jesus is seen as being raised from the dead to immortal life (Revelation 1:17b). 

        Since immortal life is the kind of life that Jesus was resurrected too, it would appear that to be "made alive in Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:22) is to be made immortal as is true of   Christ. However, while Jesus said that all are resurrected, the indication is that some are resurrected to life and others are resurrected to condemnation (John 5:28-29). Since life is contrasted with condemnation, it would appear the condemnation is the opposite of life which is death.  The big question for us today is how the events related to the first century return of Christ relate to us today and what is the evidence for how they relate?  For a more comprehensive discussion of these issues, go to "What Happens After Death."

PART SEVENTEEN