The doctrine advocating the return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish an earthly kingdom over which He will reign for 1000 years from Jerusalem is known as Premillennialism. It is one of the most popular religious doctrines of our day. It is a doctrine in which many denominational churches hold common bond as a large percentage hold to the doctrine. At any hour one might tune his radio to hear a premillennial preacher expounding upon "the signs of the times" - the imminent return of the Lord. The doctrine rests primarily upon the misunderstanding and misapplication of Revelation 20:1-7.
Will Christ reign on earth? Premillennialists cry "yes" but we respond with a resounding "no." Our reasons are twofold:
First, God never promised an earthly reign! It is true that prophecy after prophecy of the promised Messiah were interpreted by materialistic thinking Jews to mean that the Christ would rule the world upon David's earthly throne (cf.Jn.6:14,15; 7:27,40-44; 12:33,34), but the Jews totally misunderstood the prophecies. This is obvious when we consider that all prophecies concerning the Messiah necessarily had to be fulfilled in Jesus (Lk.24:44; cf.Mk.14:49; Lk.24:25-27). The inspired record affirms that all those prophecies were fulfilled in and by Him (Acts 3:18-26; 13:26-37). If this is true and He did not reign on earth, then it is apparent that an earthly reign was not promised. Add to this the declaration of Jesus that the destruction of Jerusalem, which was to take place during the lifetime of the generation living when He spoke (Lk.21:32), would constitute "days of vengence, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Lk.21:22); you have the formula which demands that everything God promised in the Old Testament be fulfilled totally by 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was destroyed. If an earthly kingdom was contemplated according to Old Testament prophecy, then that kingdom had to be established no later than 70 A.D. Since an earthly reign of Christ was not in evidence by that day, it is apparent that none was intended. The fact is, God never promised an earthly reign!
Second, the Scriptures precluded an earthly reign! The Scriptures not only do not promise an earthly reign, they teach that Christ will not reign on the earth. Consider the following:
(1) God decreed that no descendant of Coniah (Jeconiah or Jehoichin) "shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah" (Jer.22:28-30). Since Jesus is a descendant of Jeconiah through Salathiel (Matt.1:12; Lk.3:27), His throne must therefore be somewhere other than Judah, or His kingdom will fail. This excludes an earthly reign of Christ from Jerusalem.
(2) According to prophecy, the Branch of David (Jer.33:15-18) would be "a priest upon his throne" (Zech.6:12,13). Jesus is the Branch of David (Rev.5:5; 22:16) and a priest upon His throne (Heb.6:20; 7:1), yet He cannot be a priest on earth (Heb.8:4). Therefore, His reign as King cannot be on the earth!
(3) The Jews readily admitted that Christ would be "The son of David" (Matt.22:42). So, Jesus cast them a dilemma. "How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his Son?" (Matt.22:43-45; cf.Psa.110:1). The Jews could not answer because they did not understand the true nature of the kingdom. Yet Peter explained its meaning on Pentecost (30 A.D.) when he said that Jesus was raised from the dead to sit on David's throne at the right hand of God where He rules as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:29-36). David, Jesus and Peter understood that the reign of Christ would be in heaven at God's right hand. Since Jesus is to reign at the right hand of God till the end (1 Cor.15:24-26), there can be no earthly reign of Christ!
(Please read the text). For centuries this passage has been used to support the various theories of millennialism. The reasons are apparent. A period of 1000 years is mentioned six times. Satan is bound for 1000 years (v.2) that he should deceive the nations no more until the 1000 years (v.3) are fulfilled. During this 1000 years (v.4), souls lived and reigned with Christ, while the rest of the dead lived not again until the 1000 years (v.5) were finished. Those who have a part in the first resurrection shall reign with Christ the 1000 years (v.6), and when the 1000 years (v.7) are over Satan will be loosed from his prison to deceive the nations once more. The passage is perplexing and challenging.
According to premillennialists, the millennium will be ushered in by (1) the second coming of Christ. The living saints will then be (2) raptured and the dead saints (3) bodily resurrected to meet Him in the air. Then, after the (4) marriage of Christ to His bride (the church) and a concurrent period of seven years of tribulation, He will return to earth to (5) reign on the literal throne of David in (6) Jerusalem for (7) 1000 years. If you have read the text, you realize that this passage mentions only the 1000 years. It does not mention or hint at the second coming of Christ, the rapture, a bodily resurrection, Christ on earth, Christ reigning on earth, the throne of David or Jerusalem. All of this has been assumed by premillennialists. There has never been a doctrine more void of proof than premillennialism. We should understand that, since the Scriptures preclude an earthly reign of Christ, any interpretation of Revelation 20 that calls for an earthly reign is in error.
It is one thing to expose premillennialism's erroneous use of Revelation 20 and quite another to give a satisfactory, harmonious, scriptural explanation of the passage. To be successful in understanding this text, we must bear in mind that we are dealing with an apocalypse in which truth relative to "things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev.1:1; cf.1:19; 4:1; 22:6) were signified to John (1:1). We must remember that what is said must be viewed in relationship to the context of the apocalypse. If we do this, we shall find understanding.
The first three verses of Revelation 20 depict the binding of Satan. He is chained, cast into the bottomless pit and restrained from deceiving the nations until 1000 years are fulfilled. It is essential that we understand the reason for his binding because this is not to be understood as the total restraining of all his power and influence in the world. Satan is bound only "that he should deceive the nations no more."
In the Apocalypse Satan is pictured deceiving the nations as he calls forth the "sea" and "land" beasts (13:1,11). Satan gave each his power (13:2,11). Together these gather forces for the battle of the great day of God Almighty (16:13,14). They war against the Lamb and His armies (13:7; 17:14; 19:19). The beasts represent the Roman Empire and the false religions which served the empire; both served Satan's designs. Satan deceived them into warring against God and His people. In the Apocalypse they are finally defeated and cast into the lake of fire (19:20), signalling the end of the Roman Empire. The scenes of chapter 20 continue the presentation as Satan is bound "that he should deceive the nations no more," as he deceived them in the days of Romes's glory, until the 1000 years are finished.
Following the binding of Satan, John views the realm of the dead (hades) to see righteous souls living and reigning with Christ the 1000 years, i.e., the period of Satan's incarceration. John saw those to whom judgment was given sitting upon thrones and he saw the souls of saints martyred because of their faith as they continued to live and reign with Christ after their death.
The scene before us reminds one of Jesus' description of the hadean realm when He pictured the rich man in torment while righteous Lazarus was comforted in Abraham's bosom (Lk.16:19-31). The only difference in the two scenes is that Jesus reveals the Old Testament view of hades as it existed prior to Christ's atonement for the sins of the world and the subsequent redemption of the righteous, while John described hades as it was to exist hundreds of years after the atonement was offered. When John views hades the righteous dead are living are reigning with Christ. They had begun their life and reign with Christ on earth (Rev.1:6; 5:10). All Christians reign in life by Jesus Christ (Rom.5:21; 1 Cor.4:8); this life and reign with Christ continues after death (2 Tim.2:12). Paul said, "To be absent from the body" is "to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor.5:6-8; cf.Phil.1:23).
"The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (v.5). This identifies the other side of hades, the unrighteous dead. They do not live or reign with anyone. The second death, which is the lake of fire (20:14,15; 21:8), still holds power over them (v.6). Since there is a second death there must be a first. What is the first death? It is physical death by which every person (Heb.9:27) is separated from life and the source of life, God. No one escapes the first death. The unrighteous dead in the torments of hades are separated from life and from God, the source of life, and shall remain in this dead state until the bodily (1 Cor.15:52-54) or second resurrection (20:12). However, on the other side of the "great gulf" the righteous dead have been raised to continued life with God as righteous souls in paradise where they life and reign with Christ the 1000 years, or until the time of Satan's imprisonment is complete. This is the first resurrection! On such who have part in it, the second death has no power (v.6).
How marvellous are the assurances of God! Just think how comforting these words were to those being threatened with death (cf.13:15). The promise that physical death would not interrupt their life and reign with Christ would have been most rewarding. Evidently our ancient brethren accepted these assurances, girded their loins and died holding firmly to their faith. How comforting these same assurances should be to us today if we should likewise be called upon to die for our faith.
Other explanations of these verses have been given by brethren but are fraught with difficulties. This explanation is scriptural, free of textual problems and most satisfying.
Will Christ reign for 1000 years on the earth? No, but Jesus is reigning now. He has been reigning for 1950 years, and the book of Revelation presents Him as reigning. Jesus said of Himself, "I am the root and the offspring of David" (22:16); "he that hath the key of David" (3:7). John saw Him as "the Root of David" (5:5) appear at the right hand of God (5:7) with the atonement (5:6) for the redemption of mankind (5:9). He assumed the authority of heaven at the right hand of God when He received the completely sealed book (5:7). All of heaven (5:8-12) and earth were subjected to Him (5:13,14), "and he shall reign for ever and ever" (11:15). Salvation, strength, the kingdom of God and the power of His Christ is come (12:10), and men are redeemed with His blood and reign on the earth (1:6; 5:10). When death comes to the saints, they are resurrected as souls in paradise where they continue to live and reign with Christ the 1000 years, or to the end of time, "and they shall reign for ever and ever" (22:5).
This article originally appeared in Guardian
of Truth, January 14, 1982.
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