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TEXT: Revelation 20:1-10
SUBJECT: Eschatology #6: The Millennium
This afternoon, with God's help, we'll continue our monthly study of Eschatology or the Doctrine of Last Things. The End Time doctrines can be divided into two categories
A few of them are necessary and non-negotiable. They are the Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Last Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. If you deny these things or explain them away, you're a heretic. You might be a nice guy, but you're still a false teacher and a menace to souls. This is not my private opinion, but the consensus of the Church Universal.
Most of the doctrines, however, are not necessary for salvation and should be studied with an open mind and not break the fellowship all believers have in Christ. Under this heading are the Rapture, the Millennium, the Antichrist, the Falling Away, and other things that have long fascinated-and aggravated-the Lord's People.
Do you want to understand End Time Prophecies? If you do, you must do two things-not only one of them, but both of them! You must (1) study End Time Prophecies, and (2) study the rest of the Bible!
If history teaches anything at all, it teaches that when a person studies Eschatology only, he is sure to become a heretic, a nut, or both!
By all means, read Daniel and Revelation, but don't read Daniel and Revelation only! Mix in the Proverbs, the Gospel of John, and Ephesians as well. If you do that, you can't go too far wrong.
Today's topic is The Millennium. Before we get to what the Bible says about it, let me define the word and survey what the Lord's People believe about it.
The word itself is from the Latin and means a thousand years. There's nothing especially Christian or Biblical about it. Three or four years ago, everyone was talking about the new millennium, which began January 1, 2001 (if you can count) or one year earlier if you can't!
The word, Millennium, is not in the Bible, but the thing it stands for is. It is taken from the second verse of Revelation chapter 20. There John sees an angel coming from down from heaven with a chain in his hand. With it, he locks up the devil for a thousand years. That's the Millennium, and I don't know of any scholar, preacher, or private Christian who says otherwise.
We all agree that there is or will be a Millennium, and that it's a Golden Age of some kind or other. We must always stress the core agreement all believers have on the doctrine and not forget it when we come to the parts on which we don't see eye-to-eye.
There are three major views of the Millennium. Some would object to that number, and add a fourth, a fifth, or maybe a millionth, but three is my number and I'm sticking with it! If you don't like it, preach your own sermon!
The best-known view is Premillennialism. I know of three separate camps in the movement and they differ from each other in significant ways, but their basic idea is the same. They believe that Jesus Christ will return before the Millennium. That, at the Second Coming, a Millennial Kingdom will be set up on earth and the Lord will reign over it for a thousand years.
Fine scholars hold to this view, including George Eldon Ladd, Darryl Bock, Robert Thomas, Marvin Pate, and George Beasly-Murray.Famous preachers have also taught it, including John MacArthur, James Montgomery Boice, Donald Grey Barnhouse, and my hero, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. This view is central to The Scofield Reference Bible, and has been popularized by Hal Lindsey and Tim Lahaye.
Premillinialism was the dominant view of the Early Church, before St. Augustine (b. 354).
Keep this in mind: Premillinnialism teaches that the coming of Christ is before the Millennium. That's where the prefix, pre, refers to.
The second major view is postmillennialism. It teaches that Jesus Christ will return after the Millennium. It foresees a long Golden Age before the Lord comes again. Most Postmils allow for a short tribulation just before the Second Coming, but to their way of thinking, this is a brief interlude, and that the era before the Lord returns will be full of grace and truth.
Most of the Puritans believed this, and it was championed by their number one genius, Jonathan Edwards.
Postmillennialism is often confused with the Social Gospel. For decades many Christians believed that the United Nations would end all war, schools would wipe out ignorance, laws would make love each other, and science would save the world from starvation, disease, and-maybe-death.
This view has nothing to do with the Bible! And you should not equate believing Postmillennialists with the unbelieving Liberals!
So, what's Postmillennialism? It is the belief that Jesus Christ will return after a long and happy age on earth (excluding the short tribulation at the very end).
The third major view is the one I accept. It suffers from the negative and misleading name, amillennialism. The prefix, a, means not. Amils are often accused of not believing in the Millennium, but we very much believe in it! I do, at least! With all my heart, I want to confess my belief in the thousand year reign of Christ on earth!
Amillennialism breaks with the other views on two main issues:
Pre and Post Millennialism teach that the Millennium begins in the future. The Pre's all believe it is still future to us; the Postl's are less sure about it. Some think it is still in our future, while others say we're already in it.
Amillennialism teaches that the Millennium began with the First Coming of Christ, and in particular, with His Enthronement at God's Right Hand and with the outpouring of the Spirit ten days later.
It also differs from the other views on what the Milliennium looks like.
Premillennialism teaches that it will be a nearly perfect age. Underline the word, nearly. It does not teach that the Millennium is heaven on earth! It teaches that the Millennium is as close to heaven as we can get on earth. In this system, evil is not wiped out, but it is very largely restrained. Not everyone is a Christian, but all show an outward respect for Christ. Nature is also renewed; there are no earthquakes in the Millennium, and the desert blossoms as a rose.
Postmillennialism is not nearly as optimistic about the future. It sees the Millennium as a Golden Age on earth, but it allows for a lot more unsaved people in the world and far more sin. But, like the other view, it sees the Last Days as full off happiness, health, and prosperity. And more to the point, it sees the the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea!
Amillennialism sees the future as more of the same. It will be full of grace and full of sin; there will be times of revival and days of decline. Some have called it pessimistic, but I call it realistic. The Parable of the Wheat and Tares captures the spirit of Amillennialism: Let them grow together!
Amillennialism is largely held to by the Lutherans, Dutch Calvinists, Reformed Baptists, and is the official stance of.the Roman Catholic Church!
The key passage in understanding the Millennium is Revelation 20:1-10. If this were not in the Bible, there would be no doctrine of the Millennium. The Lord's People might fuss and fight over other end time issues, but not this one. Other passages are said to be Millennial, of course, but without this one, they wouldn't be.
What does the chapter say about the Millennium? It says three main things:
First of all, the Millennium begins with the binding of Satan, vv.1-3,
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years are finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
Satan is put in jail for the Millennium. This has led many fine people to say the Millennium must be future because today the devil is running free! I heard John MacArthur scoff, If Satan is on a chain, it must be a long one! After all, if the devil is bound, how do you explain terrorism? Or the 50,000,000 abortions in America since 1973? Or the cults? Or the other appalling things we see around us every day?
If the verse said Satan was bound so that he could do nothing, we'd know the binding has not yet occurred. But it doesn't say that! It says he is bound so that he should deceive the nations no more.
The nations are the Gentiles, who in 30 AD were in total darkness. But, within three or four years, the Gospel had reached them and was winning them to Christ. First the Samaritans, then the Ethiopian eunuch, then the household of Cornelius, and before long, there were churches all around the known world. By the 50's AD, Paul said
Have they not heard? Yes indeed: Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Romans 10:18).
The worldwide success of the Gospel means Satan has been bound. That began with the First Coming of Christ. Read the Gospels, and you'll find the Lord taking on the devil, and breaking him time after time after time.
Secondly, the Millennium is characterized by the saints enthroned or reigning with Christ, vv.4-6
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark of their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.
.Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Where are the thrones and who are sitting on them? Some say the thrones are in heaven and are occupied by dead saints. Others say they're on earth and filled by living saints. It is not clear to me where they are or whether the saints sitting in them are alive or dead. But on the question of the Millennium, it doesn't matter where they are or who are in them.
For the Bible teaches that all the saints-living and dead-are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Ephesians 2:6 says God has raised us up together and made us to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. If living Christians are enthroned with Christ, then so are dead Christians, especially the ones who have suffered and died for Christ! Revelation 3:21 says, To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me in my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
Thirdly, the Millennium ends with a short parole for Satan followed by his final judgment, vv.7-10.
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sane of the sea. They went up the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
The devil's release-it seems to me-is still future. For the nations are still being saved and the Church is still safe in most parts of the world. But, at the end, Satan will regain his freedom, turn the whole world against the Gospel, persecute Church with renewed vigor, and be destroyed by God!
This, in outline, is the Bible doctrine of the Millennium. You notice that nothing in the chapter requires us to accept all the popular ideas that have been put into it. It says nothing about:
These things are simply not in the Millennium Chapter! And there's quite a lot in the rest of the Bible that makes them unlikely, if not impossible.
THE PARADISE PASSAGES
There are other passages that describe a Golden Age to come. The one I know best is Isaiah 11 (though there are many others, especially in the Old Testament prophets). Here's a small sample from the chapter,
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together.They shall not hurt not destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
How should we read this part of God's Word and to what does it refer?
Premillennialism says it ought to be taken literally and applied to the Millennium, by which it means, after the Lord's Second Coming, but before the Eternal Age. It looks for a time when the Curse is removed and when predators and their prey will live happily ever after.
Postmillennialism takes the images less literally, but sees in them a future full of peace and prosperity. Neither will be perfect, but both will be far wider and deeper and longer lasting than anything the world has known since the Fall of Adam.
A good deal can be said in favor of both views. I agree with the first in that this describes life on earth-and not in heaven. I agree with the second in that the images foresee an age of great happiness some time in Isaiah's future.
But both views fail-to my way of thinking-by undervaluing what Christ has done for the world already. Both say the Lord is going to do something great some day, but I say He already has!
In other words, what the prophet is describing in this lovely chapter are the coming of Messiah, the outpouring of His Spirit, and blessings of the Gospel.
This is agreeable to the first verse of the chapter, which sees the Millennium coming with.A rod from the stem of Jesse, and a branch growing out of his roots.
By the First Century, the trunk of David's line was old and dry and dead and rotting. But out of the dead wood, sprang our Life, the Lord Jesus Christ! B.B. Warfield said,
When our Lord came down to earth, He drew heaven with Him.
You might think the doctrine of the Millennium is a minor issue that has no effect on living the Christian life. But if you think that way, you need to think again. Salvation does not depend on what you make of the Millennium, but it still matters.
The right view of the Millennium promotes evangelism. If Satan is bound, then our preaching and personal witnessing will win souls. The devil still has power and cunning, but both are curtailed, and so the Gospel will succeed.
The right view of the Millennium promotes happiness. The great promises of the Old Testament are not for the Jews only and only in the future, but for all of God's People now.
The right view of the Millennium promotes realism. The world is not going to hell in a hand basket or to heaven in an elevator! There will be ups and downs, lights and shadows, revivals and apostasies till the Lord comes again. Knowing this means we will not become drunk with success or failure. Like David, we serve our own generation by the will of God, and leave the results to heaven.
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