Millennium

  • Series: Single Messages
  • Author: Ray C. Stedman

The place to start in studying a biblical doctrine is with the words of Jesus, for he enlightens the Old Testament prophecies and authorizes and validates the teaching of the New Testament.  Let's begin this study of the millennium question with the words of Jesus to his disciples, recorded in Matthew 19:28:

Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The critical word in this text is regeneration. What does it mean? In Greek, the word is palingennesia of which Thayer says, Commonly the word denotes the restoration of a thing to its pristine state, its renovation. Admittedly, taken by itself, the word could refer here to the promise of a new heavens and earth, the restoration of the earth as it was before the fall of man, or it could refer to the promised restoration of the kingdom of David to Israel, i.e. the millennium.  Which is the true meaning?

We are immediately helped by noting several important elements mentioned in the verse. First, the promise clearly relates to Israel (judging the twelve tribes of Israel.) Second, it speaks clearly of judgment. This implies the presence of sin and disagreement, which is very difficult to identify with the new heavens and new earth wherein righteousness dwells.

Further, what would this promise mean to those who actually heard it spoken, the disciples? Beyond question their minds would go to the many prophetic passages that speak of a kingdom to be restored to Israel. Here are a few:

Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Also, the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. — Deut. 30:1-3,5,7

Behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land. — Joel 3:1,2

At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you together. Yea, I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. — Zeph. 3:20, 19

He will set up an ensign for the nations and will assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth ? and the adversaries of Judah will be cut off. — Isaiah 11:12,13

Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they will dwell in their own land which I gave to my servant Jacob. And they will dwell securely in it, and they will build houses and plant vineyards. They will dwell securely, when I execute judgments on all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. — Ezek. 28:25,26

Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he will reign as king and deal wisely, and will execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely. — Jer. 23:5,6

Note that in all these passages there are recurring themes of the repossession of a land which once was Israel's, and of judgment being carried out, both within Israel ad among the nations. These are the very two themes found in Jesus' promise in Matthew 19. Can we be surprised, therefore, that after the resurrection the disciples would ask Jesus: Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? In his answer he dealt only with the question of time. The time when the kingdom would be restored is not for men to know, he stated, but he makes no attempt to correct the disciples' clear expectation that there would be a fulfillment of the Old Testament promises in this regard. Rather, he suggests, a new program of God is to occupy their attention for the time being, the coming of the Holy Spirit to enable all the Gentile nations to hear the gospel of grace.

The apostle Paul argues at length in Romans 11 that it is the conversion of Gentiles that God will use to bring Israel to its senses so that He may give them the promised kingdom and fulfill all the glowing promises of the prophets.

I say then, have they (Israel) stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. — Romans 11:11

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with then when I take away their sins. — Romans 11:25-27.

That this is also the understanding of the apostle Peter is apparent in his message to the people after the healing of the lame man at the temple:

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. — Acts 3:19-21.

A few more promises of the prophets will suffice to show the enormous extent of Old Testament prediction concerning the coming kingdom.

And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be My people, and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent me to you. — Zech. 2:11,12

Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of Hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. — Zech. 8:20-23

This last passage seems impossible to place in a new earth setting, for in the new heaven and earth there will be none but the redeemed, all of whom know God intimately, and will have no need of help in enjoying his fellowship. Further, Isaiah depicts a scene of great blessing and change, and yet sin is still present and death is still at work.

No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. — Isaiah 65:20

Amillennialists suggest that these are but figures of speech, used to describe by contrast the bliss of eternity. But since when were death and sin ever used to describe life and righteousness? It would be a violation of the use of symbols to do so, since every symbol must stand for something that is characteristic of the symbol's own nature. Isaiah has already stated before this: On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever — Isaiah. 25:6. This is clearly a picture of the new heavens and earth, and the prophet's picture in chapter 65 must, therefore, describe the millennial scene.

Also, Zechariah describes a happy scene where yet men and women grow old, and children are born and grow up, quite unlike the eternal scene where there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage.

Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, the mountain of the Lord of Hosts, the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of Hosts: Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand for very age. And the streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. — Zech. 8:3-6

Note that we have quoted only a very few of the hundreds of passages that describe a kingdom to be given again to Israel, identified with the eternal kingdom promised to David and his descendants. And yet no mention has been made of the one passage which amillennialists claim is the single passage premillennialists base their position upon, namely Rev. 20. I have deliberately left this till the last to show clearly how the case for premillennialism can be established long before Rev. 20 is reached.

It is true that this passage does give us an aspect of the millennium that is not revealed anywhere else, and that is the length of the kingdom reign of Christ over the restored nation. We are told that the saints who are murdered by the Antichrist during the tribulation are raised again to reign with Christ for a thousand years. Further, that Satan will be bound in a bottomless pit for this thousand year period, and that there will be a resurrection of unbelievers at the end of the thousand years. Six times in only ten verses the phrase thousand years occurs, and it is this phrase from which the word millennial comes.

Without attempting an exposition of this passage, it is, I think, crystal clear that if one has been convinced from the Old Testament and our Lord's references to its promises, that a literal kingdom will be restored to Israel, then Revelation 20:1-10 makes perfect sense and fits exactly the predictions of the prophets and the Lord. Why then must it be subjected to a tortured exegesis to try to make it fit an amillennial scheme? Only those who have failed to note God's program for both Israel and the Church will attempt it.

Let me summarize then, in closing, the reasons why God's program for earth includes a millennium.

  1. If many of the predictions of the prophets for an earth where Israel is the head of the nations, and the curse is removed from nature, shall ever find a literal fulfillment it must be before the new heavens and the new earth are created, since they include descriptions of sin, death, and judgment.
  2. Israel cannot return to the land promised to Abraham, Jacob, and David once the new heavens and earth is created, for then it would be an entirely new and different land for the old will have been burned up with fire (2 Peter 3:10).
  3. Since all the promises in the prophets which point to the first coming of the Messiah were all fulfilled literally and to the letter, it is only reasonable to expect that those connected with his second coming will likewise be fulfilled literally.
  4. It is unfair exegesis to take the curses that the prophets mention and apply them to Israel, but apply all the blessings to the church. If Israel endured the curses, it will also enjoy the blessings.
  5. It is clear that the apostles who lived with Jesus and heard him expected the promises of the kingdom to be fulfilled literally to Israel, even though they also learned that these promises pictured, in a general fashion, the spiritual blessings of the church.
  6. If the literal fulfillment of the prophetic promises be denied it leaves huge sections of the Old Testament meaningless, as for instance, chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel which describe in detail a future temple, complete with priests, rituals, sacrifices, and precisely measured courts. Also topographical changes in the land of Palestine itself are meaningless unless they point to a millennial scene.
  7. Finally, it is commonly agreed by modern church historians that from the death of the apostles till the time of Origin (third century) premillennialism was the faith of the church fathers.  A few quotations will illustrate this.

    But I and whoever are on all points right-minded Christians know that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare. — Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, martyred 165 AD

    But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem. And then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who followed him into the lake of fire, but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day, and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared that many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. — Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (France), died 202 AD, Against Heresies

    But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem. — Tertullian, Against Marcion, died 225 AD

    They shall come also who overcame cruel martyrdom under Antichrist, and they themselves live for the whole time, but from the thousand years God will destroy all those evils. — Commodianus, Instructions about 225 AD

It was not till Origen began his extreme spiritualizing interpretations that the premillennial view faced any serious attack. Under the influence of Constantine and his takeover of the Roman empire as a Christian realm others began to veer from the post-apostolic fathers, and Augustine swung the church to amillennialism with his treatise on the church as the City of God.

Clearly, God has two programs: one for Israel, the nation, and one for Christ's body, the Church. They move on parallel tracks, and reflect similar values. Eventually they will coalesce when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever! Let us then, neither confuse things that differ nor reject what God has promised to fulfill, but believing in his power and grace, proclaim the whole counsel of God!

See also: Concerning the Future and the Millennium

Title: Millennium Author: Ray C. Stedman
Series:Single Messages Date:Unknown
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