The Millennium: When Is It?
“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years” (v. 2).- Revelation 20:1-15
Revelation 20:1–6 mentions a thousand-year reign of Christ with His saints: the millennium. This is the only passage in the Bible that speaks of this, and because it is not obvious what is being spoken of, it has become a matter of controversy down through the ages.
There are two main ways to understand the millennium. Some theologians believe that the millennium is a symbol for the reign of the saints in heaven during the gospel age. Others take it as referring to a reign of Christ with or through His saints on the earth. Here there are three possibilities: Amillennialists (amils) believe that the entire gospel age is the millennium; premillennialists (premils) believe that the millennium comes after Christ’s return but before the Last Judgment and lasts one thousand years; postmillennialists (postmils) believe that the millennium is a golden age (no specified length) of spiritual influence on the earth, captained by Christ ruling from heaven, before His second advent.
There are variations in each view. Some amils put the millennium in heaven, while others include the church on earth. Some premils add other features, such as a rapture and seven-year tribulation period before the millennium starts (this is a feature of dispensationalism). Some postmils say that the millennium is the whole gospel age, but still look forward to a time of prosperity for the Gospel based on other passages.
The three positions generally boil down to a kind of historical pessimism versus optimism. Premils usually believe things are going to get worse and worse until finally a great tribulation breaks out, and then Jesus will return to set up His thousand-year rule. Postmils believe that, in spite of ups and downs, the kingdom of Christ will spread over the world and leaven all of human culture, prior to a final rebellion at which point Jesus will return to end history. Amils see the ups and downs, but don’t see any kind of “golden age.” They stress that Christ could return at any moment, without any preceding signs or events.
Most of the Reformers and the Puritans were postmils. Calvin, though, was an amil, and Dutch Calvinism, after a postmil start, has tended to be amil. Fundamentalism of the last 150 years has tended to be premil. In light of such diverse “biblical” positions, resist the temptation to be dogmatic on this issue. Avoid the scandal of division over doctrinal nuance which is not relative to salvation.
Passages for Further Study