Will there be a millennial kingdom on earth? That is, will there be a thousand year kingdom on earth that Jesus will set up upon His return, where He will reign over all the earth from the capital of Israel (Jerusalem)? Will Jesus really reign over a kingdom that has a physical temple where animal sacrifices are again practiced, as it was in the Old Covenant?
This is a belief held by many Christians. This is known as Premillennialism. But is this what the Bible actually teaches? I’ve already written extensively about this subject, and from my perspective, the New Testament is clear that there will not be a millennial kingdom on earth. Rather, when Jesus returns, it will not be to set up an earthly kingdom, but to judge this world and to receive all of His people into the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 and 22.
The writer of Hebrews agrees. In fact, the book of Hebrews is one of the most important books in the Bible regarding the events of Christ’s return, and what occurs at that time.
23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (ESV)
One of the reasons why this passage is so important is because of who wrote it. The book of Hebrews was written by a believing Jew, a Jewish follower of Christ — whoever that was (subject of debate). The important thing to realize is that this writer was a Jew who understood the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures. He was well aware of what the Jews believed about an earthly kingdom. When reading certain OT passages, it does seem to indicate such an idea. However, the OT has to be interpreted according to the light of the New Testament (NT), and that is exactly what this author does. If anyone could have confirmed the idea of an earthly kingdom, it would be this writer of the NT. However, he does no such thing. In fact, in every place where end time and eternal events are spoken of, he gives no indication whatsoever that such a kingdom exists in the plan of God.
On the contrary, he gives every indication that when Christ returns, it will be to set up – not an earthly kingdom – but an eternal kingdom, the eternal kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2). If the writer of Hebrews understood the OT to teach an earthly kingdom, this would have been the perfect opportunity to confirm that idea. Instead, what does he do? He sets the record straight. He refutes the idea that his Jewish readers had about the Messiah’s kingdom. Instead of allowing them to believe such an idea, he gives them the true interpretation of the OT Scriptures about Christ’s kingdom. What he reveals is that instead of an earthly Jewish kingdom on this present earth, upon the return of Christ we will go directly into the Eternal Kingdom.
Let’s look at our Hebrews passage. In verses 23-24 (He 9:23-24), it’s Heaven and heavenly things that are emphasized. Heaven is where Jesus is right now, “in the presence of God on our behalf.” Who is “our behalf?” This refers to the redeemed, all who receive Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus will remain in Heaven until all of His people have received salvation. He will not leave His throne in Heaven until every last person is saved. This is confirmed by another Hebrews passage:
(He 10:12-13) — 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. (NET)
If Hebrews 9:23-28 is not clear enough, this one should be. Jesus is now in Heaven seated at the “right hand of God,” where He is “waiting until” the time comes for His “enemies are made a footstool for his feet” — in other words, when He has defeated all His enemies. That happens at the time of His return when He judges the world. 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 confirms this, which we will deal with later.
After death comes “judgment” (He 9:27) — referring to the death of all humanity, when God’s plan for this world is finished. This fits the passage that speaks of the “last enemy, which is death” (1 Cor 15:26). The judgement of this world awaits the return of Christ. When Jesus appears, it will not be to “deal with sin” (He 9:28). In other words, it will not be to die for our sins, but to receive His people, all His redeemed — which occurs in the resurrection. When all of His people have received salvation, then He will return to the earth to judge the world, and to judge individual sinners (Rev 20:11-15). Let’s look at verses 26-27 again:
(He 9:26-27) – 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
Notice first of all that when Jesus came the first time, it was to “put away sin.” In other words, it was to pay the price for our sins, via the cross. Next, look at verse 28. What follows “death?” It’s “judgment.” But whose death is this writer referring to? It has to be the death of every last person, the conclusion of humanity. When the last sinner has received salvation, then Jesus will return to judge the world. Upon the death of every unsaved person, they will stand before Christ to be personally judged, to give an accounting of their lives. Now let’s look again at verse 28:
(He 9:28) – 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
When Jesus came the first time, it was to pay the penalty for our sins. When He “appears a second time,” His Church will be complete. When He returns, it will not be for the purpose of “dealing with sin,” as He did at the cross. Remember, in vers 24 it says that Jesus is “in the presence of God on our behalf” as our “High Priest” (He 9:11). That means He will remain in Heaven until the very last person is saved and His Church is complete — as we see in Rev 5:9; 7:9; 19:6-9.
When Jesus comes back, it will be the visible and universal sign that the salvation of humanity is finally and fully complete, and that the plan of God for this present world is finished. Therefore, in regard to the redeemed, when Jesus returns, it will be for the purpose of “saving those who are eagerly waiting for him.” In other words, it will be for the purpose of receiving His own unto Himself (via resurrection), where our salvation will be finally and fully complete — where at that point, we enter the Eternal Kingdom of “the new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2).
To be clear, verse 26 says that Christ “appeared once” to “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” That means when when He appears the second time, there will no longer be a need to “deal with sin” like He did the first time, via the cross. When He appears the second time, it will be for a different purpose. At that time all things relating to the redemption of sinners will be finished. Thus when He appears the second time, it will be to receive His own and to judge the world (unsaved). This leaves no room for an earthly kingdom, where sinners are to dwell, who will need salvation — as Premillennialism teaches.
Think about it, if Jesus is to remain in Heaven in the presence of God on our behalf (as our High Priest) until the last person is saved, and if He receives His people at the time of His return, and if He judges the world at that time, then how can there be a kingdom on earth after that? Again, according to Premillennialism, there will be unsaved sinners living in that kingdom. What premillennialists are proposing makes no sense. This passage, along with many others, simply makes no allowance for an earthly kingdom after the return of Christ.
Let’s look at a parallel passage:
(1 Corinthians 15:22-26) — 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be eliminated is death. (NET)
This passage is about the resurrection (Jn 5:25-29), as is the whole chapter. Here Paul reveals that the resurrection takes place “at His coming” (His return). It’s also at this time when the “end” of God’s plan for this world takes place (1 Cor 15:24). It’s at that time that God creates a “new heaven and new earth” (2 Pe 3:11-13; Rev 21:1-2). Paul also says that Christ “must reign” until that time, which means that Christ reigns over His Kingdom now. That kingdom is His Church, which is a spiritual kingdom (Col 1:13). Jesus will continue to reign over His kingdom until He has “put all His enemies under His feet” and has “eliminated death.” Again, this happens upon His return.
So again, think about it. If death is eliminated, and this happens at the time of Christ’s return and at the time of the resurrection, then it follows that there cannot be a millennial kingdom after that. We know this is true because according to Premillennialism, the millennial kingdom (Christ’s Kingdom) begins at the time of Christ’s return, where the surviving people (of the tribulation) in this life will enter into this kingdom, where death will still occur. But how can that be, when death is done away with at Christ’s coming?! This is a serious inconsistency of Premillennialism.
Note: Premillennialists insert the millennial kingdom between verses 23 and 24 (1 Cor 15:23-24). But this is nothing more than an assumption. Doctrinal positions cannot be based on assumptions. That’s how false teaching occurs.
Spiritual Kingdom: There’s another reason why we know that there will not be and cannot be an earthly millennial kingdom, as Premillennialism teaches:
Since Israel has its fulfillment and continuation in Christ as a spiritual nation – as the Church – (1 Pe 2:4-10), the Kingdom of Christ also has to be spiritual. This is exactly what Paul taught:
(Colossians 1:13) — 3 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, (ESV)
Christ’s kingdom is both spiritual and is now, in the form of His Church, which continues into the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2).
Other Hebrews Passages
As with our first Hebrews passage (He 9:23-28), the following verses place the emphasis on the heavenly, rather than the earthly. Nowhere in these verses do we see an earthly kingdom:
(He 11:8-10; 14-16) — 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (NET)
14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (NET)
(He 12:22-23) — 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly 23 and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, (NET)
(He 13:14) — 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (NET)
He 11:10: the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
He 11:16: heavenly land, heavenly city.
He 12:22: Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
He 12:23: Heaven
He 13:14: the city that is to come.
Comparing all these verses, we see that what’s in view is Heaven, just as we noted in our text of Hebrews 9:23-28. This whole book places the focus on heavenly things, not on earthly things. We see that what Abraham looked forward to was not an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly kingdom, a heavenly city, which is called “heavenly Jerusalem.”
This heavenly Jerusalem is the “New Jerusalem” of Revelation 3:12; 21:1-2; 21:9-11. What’s significant to learn from these verses is that New Jerusalem is identified as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” which is the Church (Eph 5:22-32; Rev 19:7-9).
The “holy city” (Rev 21:2,10; 22:19), the “New Jerusalem,” is both the Church and the actual eternal city, or Eternal Kingdom — just as we call a church building a church, it’s not actually the church, but it’s the people who are the Church. So primarily, the New Jerusalem is the Church, composed of all believers throughout history. God’s people are the center of the New Jerusalem. We are a kingdom (Rev 1:6; 5:10;). In our eternal state, the people of Christ will finally be complete and one with Him (John 17:20-23), and “the glory of God” will shine through them.
So this city is both a people and a glorious dwelling place for God’s people. They are so inseparable, that they are spoken of as being one and the same. In other words, the actual city is a reflection of the Church, the “the bride, wife of the Lamb.” Thus John describes the Church to reveal the character and quality of the city (Rev 21 & 22). The description of the city is entirely symbolic. We actually have no real idea what this eternal city actually looks like.
All things considered, the idea of an earthly Jewish kingdom, that will last a thousand years, where there will be an earthly temple, where there will be a return to earthly animal sacrifices, where Christ will reign over an earthly kingdom, is entirely out of harmony with what the NT reveals. The focus of the NT is never on the earthly or the worldly, but on the spiritual and the heavenly.
All the OT scriptures describing an earthly kingdom are revealed by the NT as figurative language to refer to what is spiritual and heavenly. If we don’t allow the NT revelation to interpret those scriptures, we will end up with mass confusion. Taking those OT passages literally (from an OT perspective), destroys the harmony of the two Testaments.
All the promises and prophecies relating to Israel are fulfilled in Christ and His Church, as spiritual Israel. The New Jerusalem is the New Israel (the Church) of the New Covenant, which has its completion in the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2;9).
I believe the NT is unmistakably clear, that upon the return of Christ to receive His people, all of His redeemed (via resurrection), will go directly into the Eternal Kingdom or Revelation 21 & 22. The NT makes no room for a millennial kingdom. Such an interpretation produces far too many unanswered questions. It simply makes no sense.
In a book (Hebrews) that talks a lot about a future dwelling place (a kingdom), it’s beyond significant that a Jewish believer, who knows the OT Scriptures, has absolutely nothing to say about an earthly kingdom. It there is such a future kingdom, it’s reasonable that the author of this book would have talked about it. The silence shouts against such a kingdom.
The comparisons we made in all the passages of this study, strikes a devastating blow to Premillennialism.