Major Texts: 1 Thess. 4:16-18; Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 4:5; Rom. 8:20-22; Rev. 21:11-22:5; Rev. 21:3.
This lesson concludes the quarter-long series on Growing in Christ. It invites us to look toward the very end of things as they can be perceived by humans by way of scripture. As noted last week, the Bible speak of Jesus returning to earth again a second time in very different circumstances than existed at his first coming. But what happens after Jesus returns the second time? That is the focus of this weeks discussion.
According to the Book of Revelation, subsequent to Jesus’ returning, an event that is preceded by a time of great persecution and turmoil during which Jesus will gather up both the living and the dead who have believed in him, there will be a period called the “millennium,”which means “1,000 years.” Within the Christian world, there is quite a bit of debate about the millennium, debate we will work our way though to some extent.
First, there are basically three opinions or beliefs about the millennium. The first is that there is not going to be any real millennium, that the use of the word is merely illustrative. This position is known as “amillennialism.” There is no scriptural support for this idea. The second idea is “post-millennialism,” the belief that Jesus will come a second time after the millennium is over. This belief holds that the millennium will consist of 1,000 years of peace here on this earth, that the world will be gradually transformed into heaven at which time we will enjoy the 1,000 years of peace and prosperity. One has to wonder why Jesus would then need to come at all. The third position is known as “post-millennialism,” the belief that the 1,000 years will begin after Jesus’ return and that it will consist of a period of time when the saints who have been saved from earth will inhabit heaven with Christ before the New Jerusalem returns to earth as predicted in the Book of Revelation. The flow of Revelation 20 fits this scenario best.
A careful study of the millennium texts reveal the following:
- the righteous are in heaven with Jesus.
- the wicked who are or were on earth, are all dead
- Satan is alone, “bound” in the midst of chaos where he cannot deceive the nations any longer.
The question comes, then, about what happens during the millennium. Here the biblical information is not so abundant, but several strains of thought can be brought together in search of an answer. We begin with Revelation 20:4-6, which depicts “souls” in heaven – we here interpret the word “souls’ in its maritime sense, to refer to living beings – to whom judgement is somehow given. In other words, those who have passed through great persecution on earth and are now in heaven, somehow participate in the work of judgment. If the living are in heaven, and the wicked are all dead, what are we to understand this portion of judgment to be about? One of the most helpful places to look for this answer is to Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 6: 2, 3 where he talks about “saints” being involved in judgement.
This open up thought on the concept of judgement which, in the Bible, is quite rich. Judgment has numerous phases – an investigative phase, a review phase (this is the part done during the millennium), and an executive phase, the point at which the verdict is carried out. A notable feature of God in judgment is that He defends His people.
In view of these pieces, a theological opinion can be formulated that the judgment during the millennium is a review phase that may serve a very valuable function in life, namely to put to rest any doubts humans have about what God has done thereby eliminating any suspicion of God and minimizing the prospects of sin rising again due to a mistrust of God. In other words, this aspect of judgement reflects the cosmic nature of the great controversy.
Then come the events at the end of the millennium. Revelation 20:7-9 speaks of Satan’s circumstances being reversed along with the situation of the wicked who are dead. They come to life again, and there follows in the rest of Revelation the unfolding of a great and final drama where there is a show-down between good and evil, God and Satan. The scenario ends with God displaying his glory and the New Jerusalem coming down to earth along with the destruction of the wicked and wickedness itself. The final act is for the earth to be made new and the kingdom of God to be established for eternity.
It is wonderful to contemplate the final state of things where evil and those who perpetrate it are gone, and the universe beats once more with a single, harmonious pulse, and the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that even the lion and lamb will lie down together, that there will be no hurt at all. And, incidentally, the biblical indications are that life in the new earth will not be nebulous, but will be actual with people doing real things like worshiping God, fellow-shipping with each other, and engaging in activities that are necessary for ordinary life.
The hope of living in an eternally righteous and wholesome kingdom is the blessed and energizing hope of Christians! Throughout the ages, this hope has sustained, and continues to sustain, believers. You are invited to be one of them.