Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
We have tried to answer the question, so far, that the disciples asked the Lord in the beginning ofMatthew 24: “When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” In other words, when will the end come? The Lord answered their question in a way that startles: “Take heed that no man deceive you . . . ,” He says, and then He went on to list a host of signs that would precede His coming and the destruction of Jerusalem. These signs we have looked at carefully already.
Another way to ask the question, “Lord, when will these things be, and when will be the sign of thy coming?” is to ask, “At what point in the millennium will Jesus return to establish His kingdom and make all things new?” or, “What does the millennium have to do with the timing of the Lord’s return?”
This is a good way for us to ask the question, because in our day there are such radically different views about the millennium. And most who are not Reformed as we are have such different views of the end that their behaviorbefore the end is radically different from ours. In fact, most of the church-world today believes something far different from what we have been taught. Will we be involved in the great tribulation? Most today say, “The church will not be involved.” Will there even be a tribulation in our future? Many today say, “The great tribulation has already taken place.” For that reason alone, we must know what the Bible teaches about the millennium.
The word millennium means “one thousand years.” You find this word in Revelation 20 and nowhere else (in each of verses 2-7).
There are two main groups whose position differs from ours, both of them believing that there will be a long period of peace and prosperity on earth, sometime in the future.
Premillennialists believe that Jesus will come back before (pre) the millennium and reign for 1,000 years on earth. His coming precedes the millennium. Postmillennialists believe that Jesus will come back after the millennium. His comingpostdates the millennium. These views of Revelation 20 are, we believe, not the teaching of Scripture. (Remember this: the words describe when Jesus comes in relation to the millennium.)
The postmillennialists believe that the preaching of the gospel will be successful in converting the majority of the world to Christ. This will bring 1,000 years of true Christian peace and prosperity. (Some post-millennialists, not all, believe that peace and prosperity will come by natural means, by evolution, by social change, or by forceful means.) Because the majority of mankind is saved, the world will be Christianized. All this takes place before the coming again of Jesus.
Wars will cease because Christian kings and presidents will not be greedy for land and power. Crime will diminish. Science will advance to eliminate most diseases. Some even think that dying at 100 years of age will be young. The prophecies of Isaiah where the bon dwells with the lamb, the children play on the serpent’s hole, the swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks, will be fulfilled on this side of eternity. Jesus will return to a converted world that has already experienced the millennium of peace.
For them, the prophecies of the Antichrist and the great tribulation have already been fulfilled when Rome opposed Israel and persecuted the church around A.D. 70. There will be no personal Antichrist, no great tribulation; the world will not be getting worse and worse, but better and better.
This is the view of those who talk about “conquering the world for Jesus,” and “asserting the crown rights of Jesus.” Postmillennialism becomes the teaching of the churches who find it their calling to renew society, to solve the problem of world hunger, to cure the woes of the Latin Americans and South Africans. And I would certainly hope that those interested in the education of our children (parents, prospective teachers, school board members, those who buy textbooks) will have their eyes wide open for this teaching, so that it will not become part of the thinking of our covenant children.
For the young people, my purpose is not to give a detailed analysis of this view. (Those who are interested in this, as I indicated recently in a response to a letter, may write the Standard Bearer for a paper that discusses this view in de tail.) But we do not adopt this post-millennial view for these reasons: First, the millennium of Revelation 20 does not end with a converted world and Christianized society, but with Satan raging and the hoards of the devil assaulting God’s people. Second, Matthew 24 certainly speaks of “the end of the world” (Matt. 24:3) and not just the destruction of Jerusalem (read carefully also Matt. 24:14, 27, 29-31). The destruction of Jerusalem is a type of the very end. Third, Scripture teaches that the church will always be a “little flock” in the world. “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” Just as the time before the flood, the church will be a little band before Jesus returns. Fourth, the Bible teaches that the church, especially at the very end, must endure suffering and persecution; there will be a falling away from the faith until Antichrist arises. Finally, the Old Testament prophecies must be taken as pictures of spiritual blessings given in the gospel and enjoyed by faith, not as earthly peace and prosperity and glory.
The premillennial view is far different. By the time of the millennium of Revelation 20, Jesus has already come (according to them, the events of Revelation 20take place after the events in Revelation 19). Seven years before this coming, Jesus has raptured thechurch, so that no church member will be around to experience the great tribulation. While the church spends seven years in the air with Jesus, Antichrist will persecute the Jews in Israel. Then Jesus returns from heaven, defeats Antichrist, and begins the 1,000-year reign on earth from Jerusalem. The Christians who have died are raised from the dead to reign with Jesus on earth. The Jewish kingdom that had rejected Him now accepts Him. For a thousand years the world exists like this.
But there is still sin in the world, the devil has not been destroyed. At the end of the millennium, Satan is loosed from prison, gathers the nations for the battle of Armageddon. With guns and bombs, the war rages until Christ defeats Satan decisively when the world ends with another resurrection and judgment.
If you listen to Christian radio, you know that this is the view of many, many pastors and churches.
One main error of this view is that it involves outlandish, absurd ideas: Jesus returns to the earth, but sin and death exist with Him; resurrected saints and earthly saints exist side by side; Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies are restored; Satan and his hosts come up with guns and bombs against Jesus! Second, premillennialism interprets, in the literal manner, passages that are obviously symbolic. Third, it teaches that the church is a “parenthesis” between the Jews’ rejection at Jesus’ first coming and their acceptance of Him at His second coming. (Parentheses are not really important, are not essential.) Fourth, the Bible teaches that this is the last hour, not to be followed by a thousand years of earthly history, but by the new heavens and the new earth. But most importantly, premillennialism (postmillennialism, too) makes the kingdom of Jesus an earthly kingdom, contrary to all of Jesus’ teaching. We look for a kingdom set up in the heart of the believer, coming through the preaching, to be established in all creation only at the end of time when the present world has been destroyed. Not before.
The Protestant Reformed Churches are neither postmillennial nor premillennial. Our view is what is called Amillennialism (“A” means “no”). This does not mean that we believe there will be no millennium, but that there will be no literal one thousand-year reign of peace on earth.
The millennium of Revelation must be interpretedfiguratively, or symbolically. The 1,000 years is a description of the entire new dispensation, from Jesus’ ascension to the second coming. The millennium is the present time, during which Satan is bound, and some live and reign with Jesus.
One thousand years is ten times ten times ten. In Scripture, ten is a symbolic number, representing completeness as far as God is concerned. Think only of the ten plagues, or the ten commandments. So the new dispensation is represented as a fullness of time, from God’s point of view. This is complete as far as God’spurposes are concerned—the filling of the cup of iniquity and the saving of God’s elect.
Satan is bound during this “millennium” (Rev. 20:2, 3). This binding limits what Satan does. The binding does not stop him absolutely, so that he can do nothing, but that he “should deceive the nations no more” (Rev. 20:3). The devil’s purpose of uniting all nations under Antichrist, and establishing his kingdom through this, is thwarted throughout the New Testament times. He cannot even build his kingdom as he did in the Old Testament times with Babylon and Rome. “Something” restrains the coming of this man of sin (II Thess. 2). Satan can do many things, but he cannot bring the man of sin yet.
At the end of this “millennium” there will be a short time of Satan’s loosing (II Thess. 2:7). Antichrist’s “church” will attack Christ’s church in a great persecution. Even the heathen nations will be deceived into coming up against the “holy city” in battle. But Jesus Christ will return to destroy them all.
This view fits with the rest of Revelation 20. Revelation 20:4, 6speak of certain saints living and reigning with Christ in the millennium reign. This refers to the life of the elect in heaven after death, not a reign on earth. John sees “souls” of them that were beheaded (Rev. 20:4), the souls of martyrs for Jesus.
This view fits with the two resurrections referred to. The first resurrection is the entering of believers into glory in the soul. The second resurrection is the raising of bodies of believers to be united to their souls (see John 5:25-29).
Then the two “deaths” make sense. The first death is physical death. The second death has no power over those who have a part in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6). The second death is everlasting death in hell (Rev. 20:14). Of course, the second death has no power over us who have a part in the first resurrection!
God reigns! Through Jesus, God governs everything in this world!
God’s people need to know this. This is comforting for God’s children.
We need this comfort. This new dispensation is more than a thousand years, when there is much trouble and sorrow for God’s little church. The devil is furiously raging during this time—as much as he is able to do—devouring whom he will. In the very last days, he will be loosed to rage for a short season, in a manner worse than ever before.
But our God reigns!! Jesus Christ sits on the throne, governing all! Although the time is long, it is limited by the counsel of God, complete for His saving purposes of His elect, no longer than necessary for the filling of the cup of sin. Although Satan is loosed for a season, it will be a short season; the days even will “be shortened” for the elect’s sakes. And when there is sorrow and darkness here, fire and smoke and blood and tears, we have the comfort that this tribulation is the path to life and glory, life with Jesus, sharing in the reign of the Lord over all.
Should we fear? Naturally, yes. Knowing God’s promises, no! Do not fear the wicked world, the devil, even the Antichrist whose behavior sounds terrifying. God is for us. God is for us. God is for us. Let that ring in your ears. Let that be your confession in the midst of your tears. Let that be your comfort in all your sorrow.
God be glorified!