Overview
A 1000 years earthly kingdom of Christ?
by Wolfgang Schneider

A rather major point in any study and discussion of eschatological matters is the topic of the so-called "millenial kingdom", "millenial rule of Christ", "thousand year reign of Christ on earth", etc. The vast majority of Christians has been taught that there will be, at some undetermined and unknown to us time in the future, an earthly kingdom set up of which Christ will be the king, and he will reign the world from Jerusalem, and the saints supposedly reign with him. Many Christians view this idea as a vital part of their Christian hope, and they are very much looking forward to then reigning with Christ and finally "beating the devil on the head". Now, as with all things, we should take a close look at the Scriptures and see if the Bible even teaches such an idea, else we might be prone to be deceived into a rather false hope. It would certainly not be the first time to learn that commonly accepted ideas among the Christian denominations actually are nothing more than man's ideas and traditions and have very little or nothing to do with the Biblical truth concerning the matter.

A look for "thousand year reign of Christ" or "millenial reign of Christ" or even "millenium" and "thousand year kingdom" in the Bible produces nothing ... in other words, such terms are not even used in the Scriptures. This may come as a surprise for some. Now then, the question arises whether or not such a thousand year reign of Christ on earth is mentioned in some other way in the Bible. Is there such a thing as a thousand year earthly reign of Jesus? Is the kingdom of Christ and God limited to a thousand years? How can it be that such an idea is so widespread among Christians and be widely accepted seeing that the Bible does not even use such terminology?

The Bible actually does not mention a kingdom with a thousand year duration. There is one passage in the Book of Revelation where the terms "thousand years" and the verb "reign" are used together several times.

Revelation 20:3-8
And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.

Do these verses teach a thousand year kingdom in which Christ will reign on earth as a king in a political sense? Is this whole section not rather part of a vision of events which do not even occur on earth but which happen in heaven (execution of judgment)? There are also quite a number of figurative expressions which must be observed. Also, who are those that "reigned with Christ" and what was the point of that reign? How can this period of "a thousand years" fit into the overall context of the Book of Revelation that John was shown "things which must shortly come to pass" (cp. Rev 1:1-3)? A reign of "one thousand years" in a literal sense would not fit with other time statements made in the book ... Should one base such a theological concept as a "millenium" or "millenial [earthly] kingdom of Christ" on just one passage, especially in light of the fact that there are other passages in Scripture which would clearly contradict such an idea of Jesus as a political world ruler? We must be careful not to fall for man's imagination but to carefully attend to God's inspiration; in other words, let's detect and distinguish what man's imaginations have made of this and other sections in Scripture and distinguish it from what the Scriptures actually do say and what is actually written.

We do note immediately that Rev 20 does not speak of a thousand year reign of Christ. We do read the following in Rev 20:4:

Rev 20:4
... and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, ... and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

This verse does not say that Christ reigned one thousand years, it does say that those witnesses who had been killed for their witness of Jesus and the word of God reigned "with Christ a thousand years". This is important to note! Christ's reign is here not said to be "a thousand years", we are told that those who had suffered death for the witness of Jesus reigned together with Christ for a thousand years. To further illustrate: When someone reigns together with a king for a certain period of time, that does not mean that the king himself only reigns for that period of time. The king may have already reigned prior to the other person coming on the scene, and the king may reign long after the person leaving the scene again. The important point here is: Rev 20:4ff does not say anything about how long Christ's reign lasts, it only informs us that those witnesses who had been beheaded for their witnes of Jesus and the Word of God "reigned with Christ a thousand years." One cannot deduct from these verses of scripture that Christ would have a thousand year reign on earth ruling as king in a political sense over all the nations on earth.

One of the reasons why this passage is often declared to show the thousand year reign of Christ on earth, is that there are quite a number of things read into this passage which are not really there. Consider for example the following points.

  1. There is no mention or indication that this reign is an earthly reign over a kingdom in a political sense.
  2. There is no mention about the resurrected witnesses living again in a human body on earth (a "bodily resurrection").
  3. There is no mention about Christ coming or returning to earth or Jerusalem.
  4. There is no mention that Christ and the resurrected witnesses live on earth at that time.
  5. There is no mention of Christians or the church in general as having been resurrected and living on earth.
  6. There is no mention of the believers being resurrected a thousand years before the unbelievers.

I have already mentioned a few questions above which present themselves when we consider this passage in Rev 20, here are some more to explore, for example: Who are those sitting on thrones and to whom judgment had been given? What judgment is this? Are those sitting on the thrones identical to those whose souls John saw and who had at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation suffered a violent death for their witness of Jesus and the word of God? What is meant with "the first resurrection", a resurrection in which not all have part but only some? Who are those that have part in the first resurrection and who will be priests of God and Christ and who will reign with Christ?

We do recognize that the passage in Rev 20 is concerned in a special way with those who had been beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God, those who had died a violent death as martyrs for their Christian faith before John had received this vision and written the book. There is another passage in Rev 6:9-11, where in a vision the souls of those who had been killed for their testimony of the word of God are seen underneath the altar and who were calling for the Lord to avenge their adversaries.

Rev 6:9-11
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

It seems that in Rev 20 these are now seen on thrones and as reigning with Christ exercising the judgment as the time for God's wrath upon their adversaries had come.

Another point that should be rather clear from what we read in Rev 20 is this: The scene is not about an event that is happening in a physical sense on the earth, but rather of something that is happening in the heavenly realm, the spiritual realm. The record concerns not those who live on earth but those who suffered a violent death for their witness to the word of God and who had been resurrected and now "reigned with Christ a thousand years".

It seems that there is a contrast made between the first resurrection and the second death. The verses in Rev 20 differentiate between a resurrection of some, that is, those who are then mentioned as "reigned with Christ a thousand years", and all others are said to be resurrected after that period of reign and judgment. Also, as already briefly mentioned, there is no teaching here that all the righteous are resurrected prior to the establishment of an earthly political kingdom of Christ on earth in which they then supposedly reign with Christ, nor is there a mentioned that "the rest of the dead" who are resurrected after that supposed "millenium" are all unbelievers and unrightous. The main point of the passage is about judgment and that the cause of Christ, for which those martyrs gave their lives, eventually is victorious over the evil.

The verses in Rev 20 do not contain information about Christ returning to the earth to then establish himself as a political ruler at Jerusalem over a re-established political nation (kingdom) of Israel or a kingdom comprised of all the nations of the earth. We do perhaps hear such ideas in various Christian circles and groups, but we should note that such are not more than speculations based on a certain interpretation given to particular sections of Scripture, such as the one in Rev 20. We must be sober and watchful, circumspect, when such ideas are brought to our attention and we are told that such and such passage "proves" whatever idea is being propagated. An unemotional look at the passage in Rev 20 reveals quickly that we are not reading about a worldwide political rule of Jesus and his saints (the church) over a period of one thousand years.

The idea and expression of a "millenium" most likely does come from the words "... lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years" in Rev 20:4. Concerning the "millenium" teachings, there are several major branches of doctrines. The "pre-millenialists" believe that they will be conquerors and overcomers with Christ when Christ comes to the earth for a thousand years. We should however note, that such an idea does not quite harmonize with some other scriptures, e.g. Paul's words in Rom 8:37 where we can read about believers in Christ already being ""more than conquerors through him that loved us". There is no reference to the need for the establishment of an earthly or political reign of Christ first, before believers can be more than conquerors. They already could be more than conquerors before an earthly kingdom of Christ was established.

The main point from Rev 20:6 is that the righteous saints that have died reign with Christ after the first resurrection. That, however, does not exclude that those who believe in Christ already now can be more than conquerors on earth and receive blessings of Christ in their lives now. This truth sometimes gets almost lost in teachings and ideas of "pre-millenialism" where almost all seems to be concentrated on a yet future earthly kingdom lasting for a thousand years.

Now, who are those involved in this "first resurrection"? They apparently were believers who had lived at that time and died and who reigned with Christ during those figurative "thousand years" in expectation of the final judgment and the general resurrection of both the just and the unjust. The "second death" is the final death, what those who are lost receive at their final judgment; the first death is the physical death. The just, the true believers do experience this first deaht, but the second death has no power over them anymore.

What about the "thousand years"?

A major difference concerning the different understandings about this so-called "millenium" ("thousand years") is in how people understand the term "a thousand". Some insist this is a reference to a literal "1000", in other words a period of literally 1000 years, a millenium. Others recognize that "a thousand" in this context cannot be meant literally to refer to a time period extending over exactly 1000 years (that is, not 999 years, not 1001 years, etc.). So then the question to answer is this: Is the term "a thousand" here meant to be understood literally or as part of a figure of speech in some way?

To gain a better understanding of these "thousand years", a look at other scriptures where "thousand" is used in a simliar manner is helpful. We can gain insights from observing how the term has been used in other places. We will notice that the number "thousand" is used exclusively as part of a figure of speech in this tpye of use and with such type of expressions; in none of these cases is it a reference to a literal exact "1000". Actually, we today use the term "thousand" at times in exactly the same figurative manner, for example, when people say "a thousand thanks!" Do we mean that they say 1000 times the word "Thanks!" (and not 999 nor 1001 times)? Obviously not!

Some examples from various passages of Scripture will illustrate the use of the word "thousand" in this type of expression.

Deu 7:9
Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

1 Chr 16:15
15 Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;

Job 9:3
If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.

Psa 50:10
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.

Psa 90:4
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

Psalm 105:8
He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.

Eccl 7:28
Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.

Dan 5:1
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

Dan 7:10
A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.

2Pe 3:8
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

So we read about "thousand years", "thousand generations", "thousand hills", "thousand (people)" etc. In each of these passages it is clear that the reference is not to a literal "1000" of these things, people, years, but that the number is meant figuratively or symbolically. "Thousand" them can mean "many", or "something whole or complete", etc. but not exactly 1000 of whatever is in view in a literal sense.

When we now read in Rev 20 that certain of the saints who had died a violent death "reigned with Christ a tousand years", why do we think this is a literal reference to a exactly 1000 years, not one day less or more? Even more interesting, why do people who want to use 2Pe 3,8 as some kind of time calculation formula and then claim that the almost 2000 years since the time of Christ until now are only about 2 days and therefore explain the "soon" and "at hand" terms) not apply the same calculation method and claim that the thousand year reign will actually only last one day? Such interpretations of scriptures do not properly recognize the figurative use of the term "thousand" in these types of statements.

What about an earthly kingdom?

Another point to consider in a study of this topic is the matter of "an earthly kingdom". People assume that this "thousand year reign" is an earthly reign, a rule as a political leader or king over an earthly kingdom. Now, why would people have that idea?

The Jewish leadership at the time of Jesus expected a political, an earthly kingdom, a re-establishment of the nation of Israel in a physical or political sense under the rulership of the Messiah. They were not satisfied with a spiritual kingdom (cp. Jesus' words to Pilate, where he described his reign, his kingdom as "not of this world (age)") but rather insisted in their conviction of how they (mis)understood the Scriptures that Messiah would establish an earthly kingdom with Messiah as a literal political king.

Could it be that Christians today who are expecting an earthly kingdom with Jesus as a political world ruler who will reign the world from a physical throne at Jerusalem are making the same or a very similar mistake as the Jews in Jesus' day? Why would Jesus come back as an earthly world ruler when he did not come as such when he first was present as a physical person? Are people perhaps overlooking the general truth that the Old Testament period had earthly and physical things as types and shadows, while the New Testament realities corresponding to those types and shadows are of a heavenly and spiritual nature?

is the truth not rather that Jesus after his ascension into the presence of God (heaven) received his reign over his spiritual kingdom from the hands of his Father (cp. Dan 7:13-14) and that he since reigns and that indeed -- just as the angel Gabriel had announced to his mother Mary -- of his kingdom (reign) there shall be no end (cp Lk 1:33)? Why should Christians wait for the beginning of Christ's reign at a yet undetermined time in the future, if he already reigns and we are to submit our lives to him already now? Also, if that kingdom of Christ has not come as of yet, we would still be living in the same age as Christ lived, the Old Testament age, and the end of that world (that age) would not have come as of yet ... do those who teach a yet future coming of the kingdom and coming of the king realize such implications of their teachings?

From what we can read in the NT scriptures overall, it seems to me that Christianity is a "spiritual" rather than a "physical" matter. The time of the physical temple, worship procedures, etc. is all past and we are a spiritual body in Christ, we are to worship in spirit and in truth, etc. Christ already reigns, and of his reign there shall be no end, as was promised. If Christ already reigns, he must also have already come, or else the end of that OT age has not come either.

Conclusion

It seems that in the study of these matters relating to the coming of Christ and coming of his kingdom, the major difference between those who teach a yet future fulfillment of those prophecies and those who consider the fulfillment of those prophecies to already be past, is the following: One party considers the various statements about "reign" and "kingdom" as literal statements about an earthly, political kingdom, and they then interpret any time statements like "soon" or "at hand" in someway as figurative or a mystery; the other party considers the time statements such as "soon" and "at hand" and "this generation" as literal and in light of that then understand statements about the "reign" and "kingdom" as referring not to literal earthly kingdom but a spiritual kingdom, a reign in the spiritual realm.

May we all diligently search the Scriptures to discover and then decide which of the two makes more sense and is in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures.

 

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Copyright © 2009 by Wolfgang Schneider
Source: http://www.bibelcenter.de · E-Mail: editor@bibelcenter.de
Last changed: 10.02.2009