There has always been debate among Christians about the end time. Today the dominant beliefs are called Premillennialism and Amillennialism. The difference is important for they are based on different ways of reading of the Bible. Millennialism indicates that we are talking about a period of 1000 years mentioned in Rev 20:1-10. Premillennialism teaches that we are living before the millennium. Amillennialism teaches that we are living in the millennium from the time of Christ’s ascension to just before His return.
Premillennialism has given rise to various versions, the wildest speculations and has created false expectations that can only be detrimental to the faith. Basically it believes in a rapture of believers from this world before or during the great tribulation. It also believes that there will be Christians killed in the great tribulation when Antichrist reigns. He will be defeated by Christ, who will come again to reign here on earth for one thousand years from Jerusalem with some saints. Christ will then ascend to heaven a second time. Then Satan will be released for a short time to fight against Jerusalem, but he will also be defeated by the Lord in a final showdown. Then Christ will return another time and the end of this world will come.
Amillennialism understands that the 1000 years are symbolic for a long but complete era marked by the rule of Christ from His ascension until near the end of the world. Just before Christ’s return Satan will be released and the great tribulation will happen. It teaches that Christ will come again at the end of this age only once, when He has defeated the Antichrist and Satan. Then the end of this world will come.
The question is which is right. The general presentation of the NT is more in line with the Amillennialist position. The Premillennialist position is too reliant on a fairly obscure text, Rev 20:1-10, and misreads the Book of Revelation. If it can be shown that this text does not adequately support their understanding their theory is suspect to say the least.
This text tells us that Satan will be imprisoned for 1000 years. During that period Christ will reign with His martyred saints. Then Satan will be released to deceive the nations and attack the church. After this he will be defeated by God and the end will come.
Premillennialism maintains that Rev 20:4-6 speak of thrones set in the earthly Jerusalem, but the thrones Revelation speaks of are all in heaven and so what John saw are thrones in heaven. There is no indication at all that they are on earth.
Who sat on those thrones is left vague. There are two options. It could be the heavenly court mentioned in Dan 7:9,14,22,26,27, in which case these thrones will never be on earth. Judgement was given to them and that judgement was that the kingdom should be given to the Son of Man and to the saints, who would reign with Christ. This then would be a fulfilment of the prophecy that the kingdom was given to the Lord Jesus Christ and His people in Dan 7:13,14.
The other option is that those mentioned later, the souls who were beheaded for their witness to Jesus and on account of the word of God, sat on these thrones. These souls had the kingdom given to them as Dan 7:9,14,22, 26,27 foretell and they lived and reigned for 1000 years.
Since Revelation should be read out of the OT prophecies it is more likely that those who sat on the thrones were the heavenly court. Even if it is the souls of the martyred saints who are to sit on these thrones, the thrones are still in heaven and not on earth. In other words Christ and these souls will not rule in Jerusalem, here on earth for 1000 years.
The next question is when these souls were martyred. Rev 17:8-11 says that five of the seven heads of the beast had fallen, one was and one was yet to come, so the beast must have existed already in the OT time in various forms. Four of these are mentioned in Daniel 7. The one that is in John’s time is Rome. These souls have been martyred for their testimony to Jesus and on account of the word of God throughout the long history of God’s people cf Gen 32:28-30; 48:16; Ex 23:20-22; Jh 8:56; Heb 11:26.
These lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Lived is further called the first resurrection, but what sort of resurrection is not specified. If we compare Jh 5:25,28, which are also written by the apostle John, then live can mean a spiritual resurrection. If we draw in Mat 17:3,4; 22:32 we can see how Moses, who died and Elijah, who didn’t, both appear bodily to Christ on the mountain. If we compare with Rev 6:9-11 we can see strong parallels with this passage as both groups, who have been martyred for the faith, live. We can also draw in Rev 2:10, 26,27; 3:21 where the saints are urged to remain faithful unto death and they will receive the crown of life and reign with Christ on His throne. Therefore, we are probably not looking at a full physical resurrection, but at the intermediate state about which we do not know much, but is not complete cf Jh 11:25,26; Heb 11:40; 12:23. If this is correct these souls definitely will not be living and reigning on this earth, but in heaven.
The thousand years that they will reign is understood literally by Premillennialism, but symbolically by Amillennialism. Given the strongly symbolic nature of numbers in Revelation the burden of proof is on the Premillennialists to show that it is meant to be taken literally. That they cannot do, but perhaps they are forced into this by the dispensationalist understanding of history that many of them have.
The thousand years are the time of both Satan’s imprisonment and Christ’s reign together with the saints. The question is when did this 1000 years begin and when will it end. Before and after it Satan can deceive the nations Rev 20:3,8, but this is not possible during the 1000 years because of Christ’s reign. That reign began at His ascension Mat 28:18. During this period Christ would extend His rule to the ends of the earth Is 9:6,7. However, after this period Satan would be released and the man of sin would be revealed and destroyed by the Lord 2 Thess 2:3-12; Rev 12:5. The appearance of the beasts in Rev 11:7; 13:1,11 is at the same time as Satan is released. The demise of the beasts is also at the same time as Satan is defeated. Those who read chapters 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 as separated by the 1000 years fail to see that these are developments of the event already portrayed in 16:12-16. The grammar of 20:8 bears this out for the word ‘battle’ has the article ‘the’ and that suggests that it is the battle previously spoken of. Also in 20:10 there is no verb in the Greek. It only says “where the beast and the false prophet.” This could mean, where the beast and the false prophet were, are, or will be. The verb is added in translation and it depends on the position of the translators which will be chosen.
Consequently, from an examination of the main text it is not likely that Premillennialism is correct in its understanding of redemptive history. It seems that the thrones are not on the earth, but in heaven. The 1000 years are symbolic of Christ’s complete reign. The first resurrection is to an intermediate state. There is only one battle in which the beast, the false prophet and Satan are all finally defeated. The theory then cannot be easily supported from Rev 20:1-10, nor from the rest of Revelation. This book does not follow a strictly chronological presentation, but it is repetitive, looking at matters from different perspectives. The end is already portrayed in Rev 6:12-17 and various times after that. Neither can this be proved from the rest of Scripture, which only speaks of one other coming of the Lord. The effort to establish this theory is because the dispensationalist understanding of history demands that all the promises to the nation of Israel must be literally fulfilled, which would happen in the millennium. This is a failure to understand that the promises of God about Israel – the people of God, the land, temple and king point to a spiritual fulfilment far greater than any earthly fulfilment. They are types pointing forward to a spiritual reality that was partially realised in the King, Jesus Christ, and the church – the Israel of God Gal 6:16 – and will be completely realised only in the world to come when we will receive our land.
May this summary exposition of this complicated subject serve for a better understanding of God’s word.
Rev John Kroeze