inform - inspire - unite
What about Judgment Day and the 1,000-year Reign?Graham Wall
The term ‘judgment day’ has an ominous ring to many people. For Christians, it refers to a time when humanity will stand before the Creator and everyone will give an account of their lives (Matthew 25:31-46). Those who rejected the Gospel will be confronted with their foolishness in spurning God’s Word. However, for faithful Christians it’ll be different. Although there’s accountability (2 Corinthians 5:10), Christians also have expectations of receiving a glorious inheritance and dwelling with our heavenly Father forever – as noted in 1 Peter 1:3-13.
Most people who claim to follow Christ generally agree with the words of 1 Peter. Where there’s often disagreement concerns the interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10 which speaks of a 1,000-year reign of Christ with martyred believers (20:4-5). One reading of Revelation suggests that this 1,000-year reign will take place before the universal last judgement (20:11-15) which is then followed by the coming of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ (21:1-8). But we should be careful of holding rigidly to such a chronological order of events. In the visionary passages in Revelation, John often refers to the same event in different places. Here, the 1,000-year reign (20:1-10) occurs in the middle of a set of seven visions marked off by the term ‘I saw’ (19:14-21:1-2). In this section all sorts of eschatological events (many echoing the order of Ezekiel 38-39) take place. Despite the difficulties surrounding this visionary text and its chronology, many wild speculations have arisen about the 1,000-year reign. Regarding this millennial period, three main interpretations are discussed here: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. The arguments for each interpretation are complex; below is a brief sketch and a short evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each interpretation.
Premillennialists generally take the 1,000-year reference to be a literal millennium. At some point, Jesus is believed to return to earth and will thereafter reign in righteousness on earth for 1,000 years over his opponents.1 But several questions arise about this view. First, the New Testament teaches that Jesus inaugurated his kingdom in the first century (Matthew 4:17, 13:44; Acts 14:22; Colossians 4:11), not at his second coming. Second, a literal 1,000-year reign before judgment appears inconsistent with other New Testament passages which suggest that judgment comes immediately upon Christ’s second coming (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Third, many figures and images in Revelation are symbolic (e.g. the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12:1). If so, why does it make sense to demand that the 1,000 years be taken literally?
Postmillennialists typically believe that Jesus’ second coming comes after a period when Christianity has flourished.2 As such, postmillennialism sounds optimistic and attractive. These interpreters take the millennium to be a climactic period of success demonstrated by the Gospel advancing. But precisely for this reason it’s difficult to reconcile postmillennialism with certain New Testament teachings. For example, it suggests that Christianity is a relatively easy road – which appears contraryto Acts 14:22. It foresees a time when there isn’t a narrow way to eternal life – which appears to contradict Matthew 7:13-14. It also appears inconsistent with texts such as 2 Timothy 3:1-13 that warn about growing opposition to Christianity in the last days (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
Amillennialists tend to interpret the 1,000-year not as a literal millennium but as a symbolic period for the vindication of God’s people from persecution. This is the age of the kingdom; hence, the millennium is the current time: ‘the present age of the Church between the first and second comings of Christ...’3 Many also believe that the binding of Satan for 1,000 years refers to the limitations placed on Satan by the work of Jesus on Calvary (cf. Matthew 12:25-29). That is, through Jesus’ work, the Spirit helps God’s people to limit Satan from fully deceiving the world. It thus acknowledges that Christ’s present reign is expressed symbolically as the 1,000 years in Revelation 20. Amillennialism is probably the view held by many in non-denominational Churches of Christ.
Another perspective associated with amillennialism views Revelation 20 in light of Satan using the Roman Empire to persecute and kill Christians. According to this view, Babylon, the beasts, and the prostitute all refer to Rome and her emperors. Despite the church looking like it would be destroyed, the visions in Revelation revealed that the church would ultimately prove victorious over Rome as God eventually brought judgment and destruction upon the Roman Empire. The 1,000-year reign of the saints with Christ then symbolically emphasises the victory of those who died for their faith under Rome (20:4-5).
So, what can we conclude if it’s not likely that Revelation 20 refers to Christ reigning for a literal 1,000 years on earth? I believe the millennium is more likely a reference to the current church age or it may refer to the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire (or both). If so, this means God’s kingdom is already established and that when Jesus returns humanity will immediately face judgment. Scripture tells us that Jesus will appear suddenly, like a thief in the night. When he appears, every eye will see him and every knee will bow at his name (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Philippians 2:10-11). Those who rejected the Gospel will go to eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). The faithful will enjoy eternal life in a new world where they’ll be in the presence of God forever (Philippians 3:20-21).
1 Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Christian Publications, 2019) 135.
2 Kenneth Gentry, “Postmillennialism,” quoted in Storms, Kingdom Come, 363.
3 Storms, Kingdom Come, 424.
Graham Wall is an evangelist based at The Border Church in Albury-Wodonga. He focuses his ministry primarily among churches in Victoria. email@example.com