All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
(Full context: Rev 20:1-10)
Throughout our “Kingdom of Christ Now” series, we’ve seen over and over that the NT does not teach a 1000 year earthly kingdom, that it doesn’t allow room for an earthly kingdom of any length. Nowhere in the NT – or even in the OT – do we get the idea of a millennial kingdom, except in this one passage of Revelation 20.
The Premillennial teaching that there’s a future 1000 year earthly kingdom to look forward to, is based on this one passage. Without this, no one would ever see a millennial kingdom in the NT — a kingdom that premillennialists see as being established between the Second Coming of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev 21 & 22).
Old Testament Prophecies
In regard to the OT prophecies that seem to speak of an earthly kingdom, there’s a temptation to allow those scriptures to lead the way. However, I believe it’s a serious mistake to interpret the NT according to the OT, because the NT is the fulfillment of the OT. Everything written in the OT has Christ and the NT (New Covenant) in view. We can only understand the OT because of our understanding of the NT. That’s why the Jews to this day cannot understand their own scriptures. They don’t accept or understand the NT.
Therefore, using the OT as one’s theological foundation over the NT, can only lead to error. It forces one to be dishonest with the NT texts. It forces one to set aside normal and correct rules of interpretation. What I mean by that is, that it forces one to see things in the NT texts that one wouldn’t see without a preconceived notion of an earthly kingdom. It requires one to give meaning to NT texts that one would not see when using normal and sound rules of interpretation.
To be even more clear, to see an earthly kingdom in the NT, one has to be looking through the lens of a position that’s already set in stone….namely, Premillennialism. A natural reading and study would never, otherwise, reveal such a kingdom. As we’ve seen throughout the “Kingdom of Christ Now” series, when we just allow the texts to speak naturally, they do not give any hint of an earthly kingdom (kingdom of this world), nor do those texts even allow room for one.
Therefore, we must resist the temptation to allow the OT to form our positional foundation. We must start with a NT hermeneutic. Once we understand what the NT teaches, only then are we prepared to interpret the OT prophecies regarding a future kingdom, which are types and shadows of something far more glorious than an earthly kingdom. What they point to is spiritual in nature — which is the Church, of whom Christ our King is Head. The full glory of the Church will be realized in the Eternal Kingdom, which many of those OT prophecies point to.
So how do we explain the mention of the 1000 year “reign” (by implication, a kingdom) in the book of Revelation? First of all, it’s a serious mistake to allow one passage to override and interpret the rest of the NT teaching on this subject. It’s contrary to the normal rules of interpretation to set aside all those other scriptures that teach otherwise, and depend entirely on one passage…..especially when it’s in the most difficult book of the NT, which is characterized by symbolism.
One of the most important rules of interpretation when dealing with any subject is to interpret the more difficult verses/passages according to those that are clearly stated and understood. When you have an abundance of scriptures that are clearly saying the same thing (as we’ve seen throughout this series), we must allow those scriptures to form our foundation to build upon. If we get this backwards, we will come to wrong conclusions, which lead to incorrect theological positions.
So what do we do with this number “1000” in the book of Revelation?
We first have to realize that Revelation is full of symbolic numbers. I’ll briefly touch on those numbers:
Consider how many times the number seven is mentioned in Revelation:
Seven: churches, Spirits, golden lampstands, stars, seals, trumpets, bowls, plagues, horns, eyes, angels, thunders, heads, diadems, mountains, kings.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that there’s so many sevens in this book. I think it’s obvious that that number is symbolic, that it has meaning. There’s a reason why the number seven is mentioned so many times and associated with so many different things. Few would disagree that the number seven in the Bible has the meaning of perfection or completeness.
Consider all the times where three and a half is mentioned. That’s half of seven. Is that not significant? Does that not suggest that that too is symbolic, as seven is?
Consider these other numbers in Revelation:
“and for ten days you will have tribulation.” (2:10)
“authority as kings for one hour” (17:12)
“in one hour your judgment has come” (18:10)
“for in one hour such great riches come to nothing” (18:17)
“in one hour she is made desolate” (18:19)
“the hour of trial” (3:10)
“the hour of his judgment has come” (14:7)
“144,000” (7:4; 14:1)
Note the numbers: 12, 24, and 144,000. 24 is 12 twice. 144,000 is 12,000 12 times.
In regard to 666, 6 is less than 7, which, as we already discussed, represents perfection or completeness.
In regard to the number “three,” that’s half of the number six.
All the mentions of “one hour” can’t be taken as a literal one hour period.
“Ten days” is likely not a literal 10 day period, considering the symbolism of numbers in this book (see Sam Storms quote below).
In regard to the 1000 years. Consider the OT reference “cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps 50:10). We’re obviously not to take that number literally. It’s a reference to all of the cattle on all of the hills. Consider also what Peter said:
2 Peter 3:8
“But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
I believe the evidence strongly suggests that “1000” is to be taken as symbolic for a long period of time. In a book full of symbolism and symbolic numbers and figurative language, it’s absolutely reasonable to regard this number in that way.
Sam Storms, in his book “Kingdom Come,” gives a good explanation of this number:
(Bold print by me)
Finally, the premillennialist insists that the words “one thousand years” (chilia ete) must mean literal years, which is to say, arithmetically and chronologically precise years. As anyone who has studied Revelation knows all too well, deciphering numbers in this book is an incredibly difficult task. One need only observe the dispute down through the centuries over the meaning of 666!
In other texts “one thousand” rarely if ever is meant to be taken with arithmetical precision. This is true whether the context is non-temporal (Ps. 50:10; Song 4:4; Josh. 23:10; Isa. 60:22; Deut. 1:11; Job 9:3; Eccles. 7:28), in which case the usage is always figurative, indeed hyperbolical, or temporal (Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 16:15; Pss. 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; 2 Pet. 3:8). What is the significance of the number 1,000 here? According to David Chilton, just “as the number seven connotes a fullness of quality in Biblical imagery, the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands for manyness. A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (10 x 10 x 10), in order to express great vastness (cf. 5:11; 7:4-8; 9:16; 11:3,13; 12:6; 14:1,3,20) For example, we are told in Psalm 50:10 that God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” Obviously, this “does not mean that the cattle on the 1,001st hill belong to someone else. God owns all the cattle on all the hills. But He says ‘a thousand’ to indicate that there are many hills, and much cattle.” Benjamin B. Warfield takes much the same approach:
“The sacred number seven in combination with the equally sacred number three forms the number of holy perfection ten, and when this ten is cubed into a thousand the seer has said all he could say to convey to our minds the idea of absolute completeness….[Therefore] when the saints are said to live and reign with Christ a thousand years the idea intended is that of inconceivable exaltation, security and blessedness as beyond expression by ordinary language.”
I think it’s reasonable to take the number “1000” as being symbolic. I think it’s sensible that this number refers to the idea of a long period of time and “absolute completeness.” All things considered, I think the idea that the number 1000 should be taken literally is most unreasonable. The evidence weighs heavily against that idea.
If the NT doesn’t teach a literal 1000 year kingdom that’s to be established between the return of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom of Rev 21 & 22, then what kingdom (“reign”) does this passage (Rev 20:4-6) refer to? As commonly interpreted by amillennialists, as already mentioned, I believe it refers to the Church and the Church Age. In other words, I believe the Church is the long awaited Kingdom of Christ that the Jews were looking forward to, and still are today. As John, the writer of Revelation, says:
5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; 6 and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
9 And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, 10 and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.
And as Paul says:
13 who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love;
In short, I believe all the promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ and His Church, and that the long awaited Kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom.
Jesus reigns as King, and we reign with Him:
20 which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ:
This kingdom has its ultimate fulfillment in the Eternal Kingdom, the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-2). In other words, the kingdom of the Church continues into and throughout eternity.
The 1000 years of Rev 20:1-10, is taking place right now, which is the Church age. At the end of the Church age, Jesus will return. At that time we’re resurrected where we will stand before Him, at which time we will be ushered into our eternal state — the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-3).
There is no earthly, millennial kingdom of this present sinful world between the return of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom. Jesus reigns now within His Church, over His people. And we reign with Him, as those who serve Him and represent Him in the world with His truth and light. Truth and light reign over falsehood and darkness. Servants of Christ reign over those who don’t belong to Him, regardless of what harm the world may inflict upon us. Jesus Himself – as our King – was crucified. But He rose from the dead. We too, no matter what becomes of us in this world, we will one day be raised from the dead, at which time Jesus will lead us into the everlasting kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-3).