Pastor & Bible teacher T. J. de Ruiter in The Netherlands
Many are still interested in the subject of the thousand years, the millennial reign, of Jesus Christ. This interest is aroused by new prophetic utterances about a soon return of the Lord. Those who know the Bible are aware of the fact that prophets and apostles spoke about an ideal era, in which under the reign of the Jewish Messiah - Christians believe this is Jesus Christ - peace, justice, righteousness and prosperity will prevail on the whole earth.
The doctrine of this peaceful era of a thousand years is called 'Chiliasm.' This word comes from the Latin 'chiliade,' a word that means a quantity of thousand. We also speak about this end time of worldwide peace, as the 'Millennium.' The word 'millennium' comes also from the old Latin language and is composed of 'mille' - thousand - and 'annus' - year.
Within Christianity, even within the evangelical sector, there are different ideas about the how and what of this future time of Messianic peace and prosperity. Many, mostly outside the evangelical sector of Christianity, ask the question if there is indeed going to be such a thousand years with Christ as King as a 'between period' on the way to the definite, eternal state of perfection and peace. It would take me beyond the plan and purpose of this article to discuss elaborately all aspects of this subject. In this article I intend to deal briefly with the two most important theories of the thousand years of Christ's Kingdom: The Pre millennial and the Post millennial theory.
This doctrine of the millennial kingdom had already many adherents in the first centuries of the church. Theologians as Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and others believed in the pre millennial return of Jesus Christ.
In short this theory claims that the Lord returns to earth prior to the period of a thousand years of peace. This theory is built on a number of prophetic words in the Old and New Testament. Many of the prophets of Israel that lived in the difficult centuries after the period of king Solomon, witnessed that the power, prosperity and stability of the nation decreased continually. But they received the inspired vision that once there would come a time in which Israel would be the head of the nations and reign over them. It would become a time of great peace, prosperity and justice; read e.g. Isaiah 9:6, chapter 11 and Zechariah 14:16-21. These prophets did not have an insight in the 'church period,' but only had vision on the wonderful future of the people of Israel. The apostle Paul, himself a Jewish convert to the Christian faith, understood the mystery of the church. Please; read Ephesians 3:1-6 and also 1 Peter 1:10-12.
Most evangelical Christians believe that the Lord will first unite with His church in the air, before he returns definitely to earth to take up His Messianic kingship. This meeting with the church is called the rapture, as the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: "Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds of the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord." The Lord himself seemed also to point to a taking up, a rapture of believers; read the teaching in Matthew 24:39-44. Those who died in faith will be raised when the Lord returns and then all believers of all the ages will meet the Lord in the air; read 1 Thessalonians 4:16. This must be the first resurrection to which Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 15:23 and John in Revelation 21:4,5. The other dead will come back to life after the period of a thousand years in which Christ reigns with his saints over the whole earth; read Revelation 20:5. More Scripture can be produced for the support of this teaching of two resurrections, the first one for the saints and the second one of all people; read Daniel 12:3 and John 5:29.
When the Lord and the believers are united in the sky there will be a time of judgment. Their way of life and loyalty to the Lord will be evaluated and be rewarded. On the ground of this judgment each believer will receive his future state in the Kingdom. I quote 2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ - in Greek the 'bema' - so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body."
While the Lord is organizing his church for her future responsibilities, the nation of Israel comes in great tribulation. Armies of many nations march to the holy land to invade and occupy it. Israel will come in great distress, cry to its God of the covenant and ask for the promised Messiah. God will then send Jesus back to earth, together with His saints; read Zechariah 14:5. All Israel will accept Jesus Christ as their long promised Messiah, who was first rejected and crucified under the Roman government.
Jesus will descend in the same way as He once ascended into heaven; read Acts 1:11 and His feet shall stand again on the Mount of Olives. This mount will split in two - read Zechariah 14:4. The Lord will immediately fight the occupying and oppressing powers, that are present in the Holy Land and He shall destroy the enemies of his people. Christ shall then become the King of His own nation and the whole earth. This will start the thousand years reign, the messianic millennium. The members of the church shall be installed in governmental positions and be responsible for law and order; please read the parables, as e.g. the one about the servants in Luke 19:11-17. These are the main points of the pre millennial teaching and vision about the coming era of peace, right and order.
As already said: Many prophets of the old Israel have seen the vision of the reign of the Great Son of David, King of Israel. They knew by prophetic insight that Israel would become the head of the nations in that time.
The end of this millennial reign of peace, prosperity and justice is brought about by a release of satan, who was bound in during this period; read Revelation 20:3-7-11. God evidently permits this new attempt of satan to try to destroy the kingdom of God in order to seal his final, fatal judgment and doom, a punishment for all eternity; read Revelation 10. After this eternal judgment of satan and his evil agents the final and last judgment of all men, the living and the dead, will be held. Is the name not written in the book of life, the person will be condemned to sharing the same judgment of satan; Revelation 20:15. After this last judgment everything will be renewed and the eternal state of the earth and creation will be established
The Roman Catholic Church officially condemned the chiliastic theories as erroneous in A.D. 373. The Roman Church regards till today all faith in a peaceful millennial reign of Christ as heretical teaching. It maintains that the period of a thousand years mentioned the book of Revelation must not be understood in a literal sense. This view is called 'A-milleniumism.' The Roman Church holds that the present era of the Church will end with the coming of Jesus Christ, who will destroy the antichristian powers. After this He will judge all men and the eternal blissful state for all who believed in Jesus will begin after this judgment. With the Reformation of 1517 the theory of the millennial peaceful reign of Christ came to new life. Reformers as Luther, Melanchton, Calvin and Knox believed in a soon return of Jesus.
The pre millennial vision on the messianic reign of peace dominated in the three first centuries of church history. But in the fourth century an African theologian, Tyconius, a member of the Donatist sect, came with a different view. He taught that Christ would return after the period of a thousand years. This theory states that since the ascension Christ is establishing his reign from his heavenly throne. He will with all powers at His disposal work until a perfect peace is achieved and His church will be assisting Him to reach this goal. Through the church, his body on earth, He will establish his Kingdom of peace and righteousness.
This theory was adopted by the great and influential church father Augustine and was very popular in times, in which the Gospel was successful and the church prosperous. Augustine taught indeed that the thousand years of messianic peace was not lying in the future, but that it had already begun, Christ was in fact reigning through His church. The key verse he used for this theory was Marc 3:27: "But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds that strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house." Augustine taught that with the strong man satan is meant and the goods, that need to be plundered are the men, that are bound by him. He taught that satan was bound by Christ when He was on earth and will remain bound till His return. According to this doctrine satan is not able to bind the nations in this era and this is the cause of the success of the preaching of the Gospel. After this time satan will be released for a short time and in a final battle be definitely conquered and bound. The prayer in the Lord's Prayer: "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," will - according to this doctrine - be answered and realized in this period of the church.
The post millennial doctrine is optimistic of nature because it expects that conditions on earth will improve in this period and not deteriorate as the coming of the Lord draws near. Those who adhere to this doctrine are able to conquer the setbacks of the influence of the Gospel and the church as is now seen and felt in the western countries with believing that those setbacks are of temporal nature. They believe that the Gospel will conquer the whole earth in this time of the church
Those who adhere to this post millennial theory overlook however a number of Scriptures. In Luke 18:8 the Lord Himself was wondering if He would find faith on the earth at His return. The apostles foresaw an increasing falling away from the faith as the end of this era was approaching.
In the early post millennial theory, especially in the first thousand years of the existence of Christianity, many took the thousand years in a literal way, but in the second millennium many left this literal interpretation. They had two reasons: Firstly, the first thousand years of the church were passed without clear indications that the reign of peace was being reached or was at hand. Secondly, many came to believe that the numbers in apocalyptic literature, as here the number of a thousand, should not be taken in a literal sense, because this kind of literature is full of symbolic and mystical expressions. Thus many stated that the apocalyptic writer of Revelation was pointing with the number of a thousand to a time of completion of all processes of history and divine purposes.
It does not seem wise to speak with dogmatic certainty about details of events that might happen in future days. The theories about the future God has in mind for mankind I dealt briefly with in this article, are based on texts and portions found here in there in the Holy Scriptures. Though some prophetic utterances may be taken in a literal sense, there are serious questions about the interpretation of other texts, especially those found in apocalyptic literature, for that is pregnant with figurative, symbolic pictures and other mystical descriptions. Church history itself shows how former theories were found to be inadequate and had to be adapted to the realities of the ongoing process of world history. A critical attitude is necessary with regards to present prophetic utterances that tell of a very soon return of the Lord, especially those naming an actual date. All have been proven to be absolutely false during the last two centuries.
As the future, briefly dealt with in this article, will come closer no doubt the Holy Spirit will make plain and clear to those who ask Him, what needs to be known to understand the developments in Gods Great Plan for this world. This insight in the actual development of Gods plan, that covers all ages, will always help the believer to stand firm in the faith in Him, who is the great central and dominating figure of history, past, present and future, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory now and for ever more, throughout all ages, world without end.
The Netherlands, July 2004
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