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13 December 2018

Millennium: When Jesus rules the world.

And those who think it’s coming… and those who don’t.

MILLENNIUM mə'lɛ.ni.əm noun. Thousand years.
2. One of the thousand-year periods after Christ’s birth: The first millennium, the third millennium, etc.
3. Where one thousand-year period ends and another begins.
4. [theology] Christ Jesus’s reign on earth, represented in an apocalypse as a thousand-year age.
[Millennial mɪ'lɛ.ni.əl adjective.]

Whenever Christians talk about being “premillennial” or “amillenial,” no we’re not criticizing millennials, the kids born after the year 2000. We’re talking End Times theories. (We’ll use other terms to criticize millennials.)

The idea comes from Revelation. In one of its visions of Jesus’s second coming (oh, you didn’t know there are multiple visions of the second coming in Revelation? Y’oughta read it sometime), Jesus returns, brings us Christians back from the dead, throws Satan into the abyss for 10 centuries, and rules the world. At the end of that time, Satan gets out, starts a fight, Jesus ends it, judges the world, and ends the world—to be replaced by New Heaven/Earth.

Shall I quote the vision? Why not.

Revelation 20.1-10 KWL
1 I see an angel coming down from heaven, holding the abyss’s key and a large chain in its hand.
2 It seized the dragon—the ancient serpent, which is the devil and Satan—and bound it a millennium.
3 It threw Satan into the abyss, and shut and sealed it in so it couldn’t deceive the nations again
—until the millennium is finished, after which it has to release Satan a short time.
 
4 I see thrones. People sit on them. Judgment is given them.
They’re the souls of those beheaded for testifying of Jesus, for God’s word.
Whoever hadn’t worshiped the Beast nor its ikon, nor took its forehead- nor hand-stamp:
They live! They reign with Christ a millennium.
5 The rest of the dead won’t live till the millennium is complete.
This is the first resurrection.
6 Those who take part in the first resurrection are awesome and holy.
The second death has no power over them.
Instead they’ll be God’s and Christ’s priests, and reign with him a millennium.
 
7 Once the millennium is complete, Satan will be released from its prison.
8 Satan will come out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth,
to gather Gog and Magóg into a war. Their number is like the sand of the sea.
9 The nations rose up over the edge of the earth. They surrounded the saints’ encampment, the beloved city.
Fire from heaven came down and ate them up.
10 The devil, their deceiver, was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the Beast and fake prophet are.
They’ll be tortured there, day and night, age to ages.

At face value, it looks like Jesus is literally gonna reign over earth, as the human king of a political kingdom, for a literal thousand years. If Jesus returned in 1988 (he didn’t; I'm just picking a not-all-that-random example) it means the world will end in the year 2988. Mighty long time from now. But as resurrected Christians, who’ll no longer die, we’ll be alive to see it.

But bear in mind: This millennium is part of an apocalyptic vision. It’s not a literal millennium; apocalypses aren’t a literal anything. We honestly don’t know whether it represents a thousand-year stretch of time, a significantly long time-period, or just a significant time period of any length whatsoever.

Amillennials: Those who figure the second coming is the End.

Since most Christians look at Revelation and throw up their hands in confusion, you’re gonna find most Christians are amillennial. That means they don‘t believe any such millennium is gonna happen. Christ Jesus is gonna rule the world… but it’s not gonna take the shape of a thousand-year earthly kingdom. More like how he reigns over New Jerusalem on New Earth… or how he currently reigns over heaven, or how he sorta reigns over Christendom from afar.

For amillennials (or amillennialists), they go with the idea we find everywhere else in the bible: When Jesus shows up, it’s judgment day.

2 Peter 3.8-13 KWL
8 Don’t let this escape your attention, beloved:
One day with the Master is like a millennium, and a millennium is like one day.
9 The Master doesn’t slack on his promise, like certain people operate slackly:
Instead he’s patient with us, not wanting anyone to be destroyed.
Instead he wants everyone to come to repentance.
10 The Lord’s Day will come like a thief. On it, the heavens will go away with a bang.
The burning elements will dissolve. The earth, and the works in it, will be found out.
11 Considering these dissolved things, what sort of people must you be?
What sort of holy life and religion?
12 Awaiting and eagerly expecting the second coming, the Lord’s Day?
—on which the burning heavens dissolve, and burning elements dissolve?
13 We should await new heavens and new earth, according to Christ’s promise.
Righteousness dwells in them.

Simon Peter sure made it look like the second coming and the end of the world take place simultaneously. So… was Peter wrong, or did John misunderstand the vision he saw? Is this a massive bible discrepancy?

Amillennials point out it doesn’t need to be. Y’notice Peter said a millennium is like a day? (In context Peter’s trying to explain why it’s taking Jesus so long to return to earth, 2Pe 3.3-7 but you realize nobody pays attention to context.) Well, since time’s all the same to God, the millennium doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to represent any time—and they’re pretty sure it doesn’t.

Since there are more passages about how the Lord’s Day (or the LORD’s Day, which is how we tend to translate the Old Testament’s י֣וֹם לַיהוָ֧ה/yom la-YHWH) is about death and mayhem and destruction, plenty of Christians figure that is what Jesus’s second coming is gonna look like. Jesus isn’t coming to save the world; they figure he did that already. He’s coming to destroy it. When the Lord Jesus appears in the clouds, if you haven’t joined his team by now, you’re toast.

To amillennals, Jesus doesn’t return to give humanity any last chances. There are none. This, the world we live in right now, is our last chance. That’s why Jesus is delaying his return. ’Cause once he returns it’s judgment day. Not a thousand-year reign of grace and peace.

I gotta agree with the amillennials: The weight of the bible passages found throughout the bible, throughout the prophets who write about the LORD’s Day, is in favor of no millennium at all. That’s why I’m not gonna utterly dismiss their view: It has some merit. Likewise I’m never gonna suggest anyone take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to Jesus’s return: Pick your side now! After all, we never know when we’re gonna die—and when it comes to death, I don’t see any second chances in the scriptures. Better be safe than infinitely sorry.

But the reason I’m not in the amillennial camp: I can’t bring myself to totally dismiss Revelation 20.

Postmillennials: Those who figure we make the millennium.

The postmillennial interpretation was found here and there throughout Christianity. It got really popular among Protestants during the modern era; largely from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. It’s the idea the millennium doesn’t start after Jesus’s second coming, like Revelation describes it. Instead it starts now. We Christians stop sinning, revive the rest of humanity around us, fix society, fix the world, and make God’s kingdom out of the world. That done, Jesus will return to rule it personally.

The idea’s based on modernism. I know; the label modernism has been slapped on so many things, it’s hard to know what anybody means by it anymore. (Most people assume I mean “getting Christianity with the times,” because modernizing regularly gets mixed up with modernism. Nope.) Modernism is a worldview which believes humans can reshape our world into whatever we want—and once we realize this, we can fix it. We can fix everything. We can solve all humanity’s problems with science and money and happy thoughts. Think Star Trek, which is entirely based on the idea—although it’s nontheist instead of Christian, because creator Gene Roddenberry believed religion was another problem for humanity to do away with—so only Vulcans got to be religious.

Since humanity is selfish, a nontheist utopia is an oxymoron. The only way we could fix everything is through the Holy Spirit’s power. Thing is, Christians have tried to create utopias many times throughout history… and failed, because sin got into the works and gummed ’em up. And in some cases they were doomed from the beginning. The National Socialists’ idea of a thousand-year Reich (yep, they borrowed postmillennial ideas to sell their platform!) was fueled by nationalism, racism, and war, and are probably the best example of how much humanity can suck when we let the wrong people take charge.

The world wars woke up Christians to these facts, which is why we don’t see a lot of postmillennials anymore. Or it takes the form of Christians who claim the Christian Era is the millennium—that Jesus rules the world, or at least the Christian world, right this very minute. (If so, he’s making a real mess of things!) But the view we’re already in the millennium, tends to look and function exactly like amillennialism: The world goes on till Jesus returns, and then it ends.

Premillennials: Jesus returns, and brings his kingdom with him.

Premillennials (like, admittedly, me) take our view from Revelation 20. After the second coming, Rv 19.11-16 after the Beast and false prophet are thrown into the fire, and their allies are killed and eaten by birds (yuck), Rv 19.17-21 Satan itself gets locked in the abyss (KJV “bottomless pit”), a sort of prison for devils. And this leaves a clear path for Messiah to rule the world unhindered.

All those people who aren’t Christian, don’t know Jesus, don’t even think they wanna know Jesus? They finally get to meet him. The imaginary versions of Jesus in their heads will be irrelevant: Actual living, breathing Jesus will be walking around on earth again, interacting with people. Christians do a poor job of demonstrating what he’s like, but now Jesus will do that himself. Pagans get to see him as he really is. Skeptics have to deal with reality.

Put into special positions of responsibility and authority are the martyrs, those who died for Jesus and resisted tribulation. Rv 20.4 Some preachers claim this includes every Christian who was resurrected at Jesus’s second coming. 1Th 4.15-17 Including them, they suppose. (They hope.) But it all depends on what they did for Jesus. If you call the average Christian’s life in the United States “suffering for Christ,” I think you’re seriously delusional. Jesus has in mind people who really did give up everything for him, Mk 10.29-31 not wannabes who assume pushback is persecution.

These resurrected Christians will rule the world under Jesus. And finally the world will be led right. With justice and fairness. With grace, forgiveness, and mercy. By judges who share Jesus’s character, and rule like he does. No more do we have to worry about hypocrites and frauds in positions of power; Jesus’s officers won’t be anything like the politicians or pastors we’re used to. They’ll be good rulers. They’ll fix the world.

Oh, it won’t be heaven. Not for another 10 centuries. But heaven’s kingdom will rule the world, and rule it properly. It’s something wonderful to look forward to.

Wait, what about judgment and wrath and all that?

There are both premillennials and amillennials whose ideas of the End have nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with fire and bloodshed and vengeance and mayhem. It’s all their dark Christian fantasies come to life, as everything and everyone they don’t like gets torched.

All the fruit of the Spirit which Jesus demonstrates, which the Spirit’s trying to grow in us? Irrelevant. God’s gonna smite the wicked and we get to watch with evil glee.

If you’re getting the idea I think this view of the End is twisted and sick, good. But it’s fairly common among twisted and sick Christians. They want evil people to suffer, not repent. They want sinners to die, not come to Jesus. The amillennials imagine Jesus returning to kill all the wicked and destroy the world, and the premillennials also imagine Jesus returning to kill the wicked… and then pave his kingdom over their corpses.

True, the prophet’s writings about the LORD’s Day make it sound dire. Like God’s totally gonna stomp on the wicked. Yet even in these passages, it sounds like… God’s coming to save the world. Save the oppressed from their oppressors. Save the needy from the wicked. Save Israel from its enemies.

Now, God’s prophets never state the oppressed, the needy, the Israelis, are believers. Instead they point out God’s in favor of any needy people, Hebrew or not. God objects to other nations oppressing their needy. Any needy. He plays no favorites.

When you really read these LORD’s Day passages, y’start to notice they generally sound like the Exodus—when God saved the Hebrews, then made them his people. Or like the Christians, when Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. Ro 5.8 The LORD’s Day sounds like a day that’s awful for wicked oppressors… but also a day when God gives grace to the humble, makes right what’s wrong, and is the savior for people who don’t even realize they have a savior yet. (After all, we Christians have done a really lousy job of showing them so.)

If God stays true to his character, even on Judgment Day, I can’t expect wrath and anger and destruction right away. Oh, those things’ll come eventually; they always do. But I’ve always recognized the millennium as a repeat of what God did in the Exodus—this time on a global scale. And better: This time with the king living among his people in person. This time with the priests not just limited to the Levites, and the prophets not just limited to the Seventy. God’s gonna show people what his kingdom was always meant to look like—then present them the choice to accept or reject it.

I expect for many, it’ll be just what they’ve always dreamt of. And for others, for the people who want nothing to do with Jesus, it’ll be horrifying; exactly what they always feared. But there’ll be no more nebulous speculation—just as there is these days about what the millennium might look like.