Not a Simple Matter
by Burk Parsons
About ten years ago I had breakfast with one of the finest Old Testament scholars of our generation. A confessional Presbyterian, he has fought many battles for doctrinal orthodoxy and biblical fidelity, and since the 1970s has written numerous articles in theological journals, has authored several books (some of which are now considered modern classics), and has taught in some of the most doctrinally faithful seminaries in America. At that breakfast, one of the men who was with us asked the esteemed scholar to explain his view of the millennium and to identify which millennial position he affirmed. I will never forget his immediate response. He said, “It’s not that simple.” He went on to explain why it is not a simple answer and why we must first understand the more foundational biblical concept of kingdom before we can begin to properly understand the inauguration, continuation, and consummation of the kingdom of Jesus Christ and the millennial language of Revelation chapter 20.
In Revelation 20, we encounter John’s vision as he records it according to the superintendence of the Holy Spirit: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while” (vv. 1–3). The millennium and the binding of Satan have been the source of controversy for almost two thousand years. The interpretation of this chapter, the only place in the Bible that speaks explicitly of a thousand-year reign of Christ, is made particularly difficult because it is found within a book that is filled with imagery, symbolism, and allusions to Old Testament prophetic and apocalyptic texts. Well-meaning Christians, therefore, have interpreted the millennium of Revelation 20 in a number of different ways, and all of those views cannot be right.
If you are among the many Christians who find it difficult to understand eschatology (the doctrine of last things) and have found yourself in a quandary in the millennial maze, you are not alone. Even some of the church’s greatest scholars, past and present, have admitted their own struggle to understand the Bible’s teaching on the last things and the millennium. It is not a simple matter. Nevertheless, it is a biblical matter and therefore an important matter, one we should never stop studying as we continually strive to rightly divide the Word of Truth for our edification and for God’s glory as we eagerly anticipate the return of our conquering King, Jesus Christ, when we will see Him and reign with Him coram Deo, before His face forever.