Wed May 3rd, 2017
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time.4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:1-6
We believe the testimony of the book of revelation itself, that it is an apocalypse
The apocalypse of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place (Rev 1:1)
Apocalypses are a particular literary style that are rich in metaphor and are often written from exile to pass the ‘censors’, e.g. Daniel. If you like, they are ‘coded’, and they were very much in vogue around 200BC to 200 AD, a period of time in which the Jewish nation was living under an oppressive regime. Despite this statement of 'apocalypse' in the first verse, which is often translated as 'revelation', there have been attempts to over literalise this whole book. As the word of God, we believe that Revelation is true and faithful, but if we over literalise it we miss the whole point of what is meant.
The interpretation of this passage in
Revelation has obsessed bible interpreters and has resulted in a whole load of
different beliefs, which are mainly divided into four camps - Historic Pre-Millenialism,
Dispensational Pre-Millenialism, Post-Millenialism, and A-Millenialism. Then
there are the pan-millenialists who just believe it will all pan out in the
end! However, there are different beliefs under each of those headings, and
some Christians in the past have refused to worship with others who have a
different view, even though this doctrine is based entirely on 6 verses in
Revelation 20. There are other verses that are often linked to Revelation 20,
but none of them mention a period of 1000 years and so any connection is
tenuous at the least. E.g.Isaiah 2:2-4
The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established
at the top of the mountains
and will be raised above the hills.
All nations will stream to it,
3 and many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us about his ways
so that we may walk in his paths.”
For instruction will go out of Zion
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will settle disputes among the nations
and provide arbitration for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughs
and their spears into pruning knives.
Nation will not take up the sword against nation,
and they will never again train for war.]
The idea of 1000 years is mentioned 5 times in 6 verses in Revelation 20, but not mentioned at all in Isaiah. So what does it all mean?
Of all sections of Revelation this is perhaps the hardest to be certain about. What can we be sure of?
These 6 verses are the only place in the Word of God where a 1000 year reign is mentioned.
Because of the nature of the book, no other numbers in the book of Revelation are ‘literal’ but rather apocalyptic
Historic Pre-millennialists believe Jesus will return then reign on earth for a literal 1000 years before the dead are raised for judgement.
Dispensational Pre-Millennialists believe similarly but see two totally different destinies for what they believe are two distinct peoples of God – the Church and Israel.
Post-Millennialists believe that Jesus returns after a period of time where his church have had a productive period of time preaching the gospel. Some would say the millennium started when Jesus ascended, others would say it starts at a different time. Their belief is that slowly Christianity dominates the world – and then Jesus returns.
A-millennialists do not believe in an earthly kingdom for any period of time, but may not dismiss the idea of a millennium altogether- seeing it as a spiritual time. The variance of belief in A-Millennialism is enormous, but suffice it to say the distinctive feature is no literal earthly reign for 1000 years. As I see an apocalyptic approach to the whole book then I suppose it puts me in this category too.
We know that Dispensational premillennialism is a new concept that has surfaced in the last 200 years, and Post-millennialism is also fairly new from the late 17th/early 18th century an Englishman named Daniel Whitby and an American named Jonathan Edwards.
The early church fathers all took either the historic pre-millennialist or a-millennialist view, and it would seem the former was the earliest.
Two things worry me about taking the 1000 years literally-
1. This requires a non-apocalyptic view of these verses. There is danger in over-literalising the numbers and taking them at face value instead of taking their meaning. We open up the church to the conspiracy theorists – if we do that then the next thing we will be doing is looking for UFO’s together
2. Some of the details offered by the ‘over-literalists’ are drawn from other writings than the bible – particularly 1&2 Enoch, 2 Esdras and 2 Baruch
Apocalyptically, 1000 years means 'as long as can be',
1000 years is longer than the reign of the first Adam.
Methuselah himself didn’t quite make 1000 years.
1000 years is therefore a very long time indeed.
1000 years is symbolic but must be separated from a millennial concept. There are many writers about millennia but none of them 1000 years. In Jewish/Christian writings the millennium only means one thing a temporary messianic reign on earth before the final judgement and new creation.
The idea is seen in Isaiah or Daniel but nowhere in the OT is there a 1000 year period.
Dan 2:44 "In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever.
Isa 11:6 The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat.
The calf, the young lion, and the fatling will be together, and a child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze ,their young ones will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 An infant will play beside the cobra's pit, and a toddler will put his hand into a snake's den.
9 No one will harm or destroy on My entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water.
Nowhere in scripture are we taught to directly overlay these on Revelation – although some preachers tell us to!
The only other Jewish writings that contain this are 2 Esdras and 2 Baruch which were both written a few years after Revelation.
2 Esdras - mentions a 400 year millennial period.
2 Baruch also mention a millennium but not 1000 years.
Some of the rabbinical writings mention a millennium of 40 years, 70 years, 100 years, 365 years, 600 years, 1000 years, 2000 years, and 7000 years.
The Real Millenium?
What can we be sure about John’s writing in Revelation? He uses the Old Testament all the time to make his point, reinforce his point and underpin his point. Remember that the chapter number change and the headings were inserted by the translators, we are wrong footed by the change in chapter from 19 to 20.
This section of Revelation 19:11- 20:10 mirrors Daniel 7:8-27.
Dan 7:8-27 – the rise and destruction of the little horn of the fourth beast, who makes war against the saints and defeats them (v21)
- And is defeated by the ancient of days and throws him into a blazing fire
- His sovereignty (kingdom) is given to the son of man and the saints
John reinterprets that material prophetically about the future of Rome. – because the Roman empire is about to do the same thing to the present saints as Daniel had described.
Besides the defeat of the saints by the 4th beast, there are 2 other matters in the Daniel narrative that are essential to understanding Rev 20 1-6
Dan 7:9-10 – thrones are set in place & the books were opened.
Daniels beast is now destroyed by Christ and the saints, and is cast into the blazing fire. The ultimate enemy not mentioned by Daniel must also be destroyed before the end can come.
Remember that John is writing to a generation of martyrs in waiting. John is concerned about our theology here, what we believe about God when we are facing a death sentence and this is how he makes sure we know. He takes the language of Daniel that we trust and use it to encourage those “martyrs to be”.
19:11-21 followed by 20:1-6
Those who sat on the thrones (kings of the earth) are now in the fire, and those killed by those who sat on the thrones are now themselves reigning!
The kings of the earth are now killed and eaten until the birds are gorged with them, the martyrs now live in what is called the first resurrection.
What John has done is to envision the vindication of the martyrs in conjunction with the binding of the final enemy.
The only people mentioned in the millennium are those who have been beheaded or martyred
The rest get their vindication at the end.
There is not going to be a sequence of many resurrections, this passage is about justice and vindication for the martyrs – comfort for those who are about to give their lives for the name of Jesus.
So, I believe firmly that the book of Revelation is an apocalypse, as it claims to be (and also the last half of Daniel). This belief system leads me to interpret the text on the page, without adding to it other texts from other books. So, the mythology of a Millennium, is just that – a myth, one that has grown up primarily in the last 300 years. To suggest that the church has only had this revelation in that time is frankly preposterous, as Revelation as written to Christians at the end of the first century, who got the message loud and clear.
There is an upcoming change of rule – not just in the UK (upcoming general election) but in the whole world. The kingdom of our God and of His Christ is coming – we are here to announce it and help establish it. The truth is that we need His kingdom in York and in the 21st century – and I believe that we should follow His exemplary prayer, continually asking that His Kingdom may come, knowing that ultimately, He will reign for ever and ever.