The “Thousand Year” Debate
Read Revelation 20:4-5 (ESV)
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.
Which view of the millennium do you think follows Scripture the best? Why?
The timeline of the return of Christ is an area in which many respected theologians disagree. Unfortunately, these disagreements have led to hostile debates and sadly, Christians have even parted fellowship over these issues. Today, I am going to explain the three main views regarding the timing of Christ’s return. But I want you to remember that all three views fall under the umbrella of historic, Biblical Christianity. None of these are considered heresy. Even if we disagree on this issue, all Christians should be able to agree on the most important issues—Christ is coming back, Satan will be conquered, believers in Christ will be with Him forever, sin and death will be no more.
In today’s passage, John saw thrones and people sitting on them who had been given the authority to judge. God promised that His glorified saints would reign with Him one day. Specifically, John saw the saints who were executed during the tribulation. Because they testified that they believed in Jesus Christ and would not worship the beast or its image and would not receive the mark of the beast, they were beheaded. John saw them rise from the dead and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
This thousand-year period, referred to as the “millennium” is debated. There are 3 main positions that theologians take in regards to the millennial timeline. Amillennialists believe that there won’t be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ. They believe it is an unspecified amount of time that Christ reigns on the earth. In fact, they believe that we are living in the millennial period right now. They believe that Satan is bound right now but once his sentence is up, Christ will return and all of the dead will be raised.
Postmillennialists believe that Jesus will return after the millennium. They believe that the Gospel is going to continue to go to the ends of the earth and have a drastic positive influence on society. At some point, the world will be so peaceful and righteous due to the Gospel influence, that the millennial period will begin. They don’t necessarily believe it to be a literal thousand years of peace but it will last for an unspecified amount of time. At the end of this peaceful and morally righteous time, Christ will return, the dead will be raised and judged, and then there will be the new heaven and the new earth.
Finally, premillennialist believe that Jesus will come back before the millennium. This is the viewpoint that has a long history in the early church. This is the viewpoint that believes that we are presently in the “church age” and that will continue until the time of the great tribulation is over. Then Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom. Some premillennialists believe that Christians will be raptured prior to the tribulation and others believe that Christians will endure the tribulation. But we’ll look at that more closely tomorrow.
Friends, it’s easy to get caught up in this great debate. And there is certainly value in studying the Scriptures and theological books in order to understand these viewpoints. But at the end of the day, this is not a primary issue. Our views about the millennial period do not determine our salvation! If this is an area that interests you, I’d encourage you to study it more closely. Feel free to ask questions in the comments. But we need to be able to discuss our differences of interpretation on this issue humbly and with good-will toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The truth is, no matter when He returns, Christ is returning and believers will reign with Him forever. That return should be something that we long for and anticipate. It should be something that encourages us to keep going and gives us hope when the world gets too hard. So no matter what your view is about the millennium, take heart. Jesus will return for us. That much is certain.
Lord, thank You for what You have revealed to us in the Scriptures regarding Your return. And yet, some of the details remain a mystery. But Lord, I don’t have to know all of the details to know that I trust You. You said that You will return and I believe that You will—in Your perfect timing and in Your perfect way. I am looking forward to that day with great hope. Amen.