Within the current evangelical religious culture there is a great hope and longing for that is commonly known as the thousand year reign of Christ. Also known as the millenial reign of Christ this idea asserts that Jesus will one day return to earth, defeat all the enemies of the cross and will himself sit upon the throne of David in Jerusalem. From there the victorious Lord and his saints will reign upon the earth for one thousand years. At the end of the thousand years the saints will go with Jesus to their eternal heavenly home. There is a sense in which the idea of a thousand year reign of Christ is exciting. Certainly the idea of final victory over the scoffers and persecutors is attractive. But is it what the Bible teaches?
If you will continue reading I think you will agree that while attractive and inviting, the doctrine is not Biblical.
Can we first of all agree that everything we can know about the coming of Christ we know from Scripture? Can we join together on the basis of the Bible alone? If so, we can move forward.
Origins of the Thousand Year Reign of Christ
It is uncertain where the teaching of a thousand year reign began. We know there was some interest in the idea of Christian chiliasm as early as the second century AD. Much of this arose, it is thought, from the earlier Jewish ideas of a messianic earthly reign. Today, this is known as millennial thought and is today seen mostly in the form of premillennialism and is caught up together with the idea of the “rapture.”
This doctrine, together with the idea of a rapture and a world-ruling antichrist was popularized first in modern times in the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909 and 1917 which remains today as a staunch defender of premillenial thought, in the writings of Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” and later Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ “Left Behind” series of fictional novels. Today it is a generally accepted doctrine within most protestant faiths and often brings surprise to adherents to learn that someone disagrees with it.
What we can say for certain, and what will set forth in this post, is that the one thousand year reign is not Biblical in its origin.
What is the Biblical Basis for the Thousand Year Reign of Christ?
Perhaps the key verse is Revelation 20:1-3 where Satan is bound for one thousand years. Proponents take this passage to be very literal in spite of strong indications to the contrary.
For example, several components of the context of Revelation 20:1-3 cry out for a figurative understanding. In verse 1, we read of a key and a chain. I know of no one who argues that these items are literal. Instead, they are correctly understood as being figures of speech used to help simple men to understand that Satan would not be allowed to run uncontrolled over God’s people. The abyss is also accepted as figurative as no one holds that it is a literal geographic location. There is also the problem of how a spirit, Satan, could be bound by a physical lock and chain in a literal abyss. Clearly, this proof text of the premillenialists fails miserably to support the idea.
The thousand year reign is better understood as a figurative period of time, very long but nevertheless measured. It is during this period of time that Satan is restrained but not destroyed for the Bible says he will be loosed near the end of the time period (Revelation 20:7). Satan’s destruction comes fully in verses 9 & 10 when we read of his eternal punishment. This ill-defined period of time is best understood as the “last days” which we find ourselves in now. The writer of Hebrews so confirms in Hebrews 1:2.
In a future posting we will discuss whether Jesus will ever again set foot upon the earth. But until then, we hope you will consider these writings and offer us your comments.