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  • Writer's pictureBlake Barbera

What Is the Millennial Reign of Christ in the Bible? The Three Main Views Explained

Everything You Need to Know About the Thousand-Year Reign of Jesus (Revelation 20)

Podcast Episode 186:

Revelation 20:1-6 “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 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. 4 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. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”

The Millennial Reign of Christ is one of the Bible's most talked about future events. Many Christians know that Revelation 20:1-5 states that Jesus Christ will one day reign on earth for a thousand years. What many do not know is that there are three major views held by theologians regarding the timing of this 1,000-year reign of Christ: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism.

Believe it or not, valid arguments can be made for each view. It is important to state that arguments for each of the three views have been around for centuries, and Christ-followers have been discussing and debating this topic all the while. If you’re a person who is convinced that your view of the Millennial Reign of Christ is the only valid one that a believer should hold, try to practice patience as you read about the three major views we are about to unfold. There have indeed been mature, spiritually sharp, faithful Christians who have held to each of these three views throughout most of church history. Hopefully, the following will help you understand each view better so that you can come to your own conclusion while simultaneously practicing charity to those with opposing views.

What is the Postmillennialism Viewpoint?

Postmillennialism is the view we’ll start with since it is by far the least popular view held today and the one we’ll say the least about. Postmillennialists believe that the Millennial Reign of Christ will take place before the second coming of Jesus. The name postmillennialism comes from the fact that this group believes that the second coming of Jesus happens after, or post, the Millennial Reign.

One thing that many postmillennialists have in common with amillennialists is a belief that the Millennial Reign started with the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God the Father—that Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God, as prophesied by the prophet Daniel, must have kicked off the reign of Jesus over the earth. However, not all postmillennialists believe that the thousand-year reign of Christ started with the ascension of Jesus. Some believe it started around 70 A.D., while others suppose it started at various times throughout church history.

The most crucial factor in postmillennialism is this: postmillennialists believe that the world will become an increasingly better and better place as time goes on. When Jesus returns, he will return to a subdued and redeemed earth and to a church that has spiritually conquered the world in his name.

Postmillennialist critics point out that this belief has major exegetical problems. Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and John of Patmos all seem to indicate a declension in the state of the world and human morality in the days leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus, not an improvement.

What Do Premillennialists Believe?

Premillennialism is the view that is the most contrary to postmillennialism and the view that is by far the most popular today. It is the belief that the thousand-year reign of Christ will take place after his second coming. Folks who hold this view often interpret Revelation 20 as a sequential, literal description of events that will occur when Jesus returns and Satan is bound in chains and thrown into the bottomless pit.

While there are several different views held within the premillennialist camp as to the timing of other events that will be taking place around the time of Jesus’ return, like the rapture, historic premillennialists believe that the bodies of the saints will be resurrected from the grave and transformed into glorious new bodies at the Second Coming of Jesus. Thus, the people of God from throughout history – from Noah, Abraham, and Deborah to saints living today – will reign with Jesus for a thousand years on a restored and Satan-less earth.

Premillennialists also believe that after the thousand-year reign, Satan will be unleashed for a short period, according to Revelation 20:7-10, culminating in his final judgment and defeat after which he will be thrown into the lake of fire for all eternity. Additionally, premillennialists believe that the rest of the dead (those who refused to love God and obey him during their life on earth) will be resurrected after a thousand years. They will then be judged for their works and ultimately thrown into the lake of fire, along with Satan and death itself. This is what the Bible refers to as the second death.

While this view holds to a literal reading of Revelation 20, premillennialism also seems to fit with the witness of the church epistles. The apostle Paul tells us that the dead in Christ will be raised when Jesus returns. In opposition to the postmillennial scheme, Jesus himself also seems to indicate that the world will fall more into sin and destruction until the king himself comes back to destroy his enemies, deliver his people, and restore his earth.

Amillennialism and its Commonalities with Pre and Postmillennialism

Amillennialists point out something very particular in the premillennialist scheme that serves as an excellent segue into our discussion on the third and final view of the millennium.

In many of the passages found outside the Book of Revelation, it appears that the deliverance of God’s people and the final judgment of the unbelievers will happen simultaneously at the Second Coming of Jesus. Passages like 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 and Matthew 25:31-46 make this clear. In these passages, Jesus can be seen separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, and judging the world's people at his return, without mentioning a thousand-year gap between his coming and these events.

The question that premillennialists must ask themselves about this common amillennialist objection is this: Do descriptions of the events surrounding Jesus’ second coming outside of the Book of Revelation leave room for a thousand-year gap between Jesus’ return and final judgment? Or do the thousand years in Revelation 20 have to be read symbolically precisely because there is no apparent gap elsewhere in Scripture? And how is this decision affected by the fact that the Book of Revelation falls into the genre of Apocalyptic Literature, since nearly everything in the Apocalypse could be considered symbolism of some sort?

This is precisely the point that amillennialism makes. They believe there is no future thousand-year period primarily because no gap exists between the Second Coming of Jesus and the Final Judgment elsewhere in Scripture. Because of this, they consider the thousand-year period described in Revelation 20 to be a recapitulation of the events already described elsewhere in the book. Most amillennialists also rightly believe that the events described in Revelation represent not only a future period of great tribulation but also the entire period between Christ’s first and second coming.

The hallmark of amillennialism is that the Lord Jesus is currently reigning through the witness of his beloved church and that any tribulation the church is presently suffering will ultimately result in her purification and the Lamb’s glorification. This means that the glorious reign of Christ, the Millennium, is happening now. Jesus’ reign, according to amillennialists, is a spiritual one. They do not believe that Revelation 20 teaches that there will be a literal thousand years of perfect economy in a restored earth before a new earth appears out of heaven and becomes our dwelling place for eternity.

One objection to the amillennialist scheme that many premillennialists make is this: if the millennial reign is currently underway, that must mean that Satan has already been bound and thrown into the bottomless pit, as described in Revelation 20:2-3. However, this is not congruent with other passages in the New Testament, which teach us that Satan is still roaring about like a lion, seeking to devour anyone he can. According to amillennialists, the binding of Satan in Revelation 20 is not a description of Satan being entirely rendered powerless, but rather, a symbolic description of the fact that Satan is no longer deceiving the nations as he once did since the light of the gospel has gone out into the world. Many premillennialists, however, find this response unsatisfying.

Deciding Between Premillennialism and Amillennialism

You may have gathered by now that what amillennialism has in common with postmillennialism is that neither views Revelation 20 as describing a literal thousand-year period. Both see the thousand years as symbolic, and most who hold these views see the millennial reign as being already underway. What amillennialism has in common with premillennialism is that both schemes see the world suffering through a period of moral and spiritual decline leading up to Christ’s return and that when he comes, he will deliver his people and destroy his enemies.

The central questions one must answer when deciding between premillennialism and amillennialism are these: Is Revelation 20 describing Christ’s current reign through the witness of his church? Including her purification through tribulation? Or is there more in store for the church before the eternal kingdom comes? Does Revelation 20 describe a future thousand-year period that will take place before final judgment? And is there room in the witness of Scripture outside of Revelation for a gap between the Second Coming and the Final Judgment?

While many church leaders throughout history starting in the fourth century have held to an amillennialist view, it is clear from several sources that the early church believed in a literal, future thousand-year period. While the amillennialist view certainly holds significant weight for containing many valued arguments and is mainly based on a faithful understanding of Scripture and the nature of Christ’s reigning now, I believe that the premillennialist view is correct. It is more likely that Revelation 20 is describing a literal thousand-year period than Christ reigning from heaven now. However, I reserve the right to change my mind!

Jesus is Coming Back!

While much of the Book of Revelation uses symbolism to describe present and future end-time events, chapters 19-20 depict the events surrounding Jesus’ Second Coming, all of which have yet to occur. In this passage, Jesus returns, Satan is bound, and the king reigns for a thousand years. While there are many reasons to believe that this passage could be offering a symbolic description of the current state of affairs, we believe, along with early church fathers like Papias, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr, that Revelation 20 is describing a literal event that will take place in the future.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the witness of the Old Testament, which contains an array of prophetic passages that discuss a time in the future when this earth is restored and God himself reigns over it. Or passages elsewhere in the New Testament that talk about the Second Coming, the First and Second Resurrections, Final Judgment, etc.

However, it is safe to say that we believe that the Bible must be read synoptically, and that all the records that discuss Jesus’ Second Coming work together to form a complete picture of end-time events. Thus, Revelation 20 is true! Jesus is coming back, and we believe that a future thousand-year period of celebration, restoration, and rest awaits the earth and the people of God. All those who love Jesus and are anxiously awaiting his appearance.

The most important question of all is a simple one: Will you be part of it?


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