The Millennium

 

Robert D. Culver

 


 

The Millenniun is specifically (1) the period of time between the resurrection of the just and of the unjust and (2) the period of Satan's imprisonment.

The word "millennium" (derived from Latin mille, thousand, plus annus, year) is simply a Latin translation of chilia etee in the Greek text of Revelation 20:2-3. The word means, simply, 1,000 years.

That it should be necessary to affirm here that it refers to a "period of time" seems odd. Yet it is necessary, for it has been vigorously advocated that it does not refer to a period of time at all. Some insist that there is no primary reference either to a literal period of 1,000 years ushered in and closed by definite events or to an ideal period which is a symbol of something else.

The book of Revelation makes mention of several periods of time––of "silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (8:1); of four angels "prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year" (9:15); of "the holy city" to be trodden "under foot forty and two months" (11:2); of two witnesses who "shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (11:3). There is no clear evidence that any of these is to be taken in any other sense than a literal period of time. And, even if there were, each case would have to he settled individually. Actually, there is no convincing, self-evident biblical testimony against the literal interpretation of this 1,000-year period.

It would take a large book to treat completely the various devices which have been invented to avoid the clear, literal teaching of Revelation 20:1-7, concerning a future period of 1,000 years of time between the second coming of Christ and the final consummation of all time. I do not hesitate to attribute all of them to the strong tendency in some system-making theology to force difficult but clear texts out of their true shape to fit a system. Augustine had a theory of politico-ecclesiastical government to maintain, so, while admitting the literality of the years, he placed them in the present age out of their eschatological connection. Modern amillenarians (Kuyper, Allis, Hamilton, Murray, Hendriksen, Warfield, Milligan, and others) have a theory that the eschatological future consummation must take place in a very short period of time, as man counts time, and hence must remove the strictures of this text to make their theory fit. They also have theories concerning the future of the Church and Israel which do not fit well into the picture of a Millennium in which saints reign on earth with Christ and Israel blossoms again. So the Millennium must go.

That they are conscious of their difficulty in so disposing of the passage is clear from their writings. Many of them admit that the literal teaching of the passage is that the proposition of which this section is a discussion is a true one-that the Millennium is a 1,000year period during which Satan shall be bound and which separates the resurrection of the just from the unjust. I have been much impressed by the obvious Christian devotion of some of these men and their plain faith that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. When I have permitted this portion and some other plain portions of Scripture to be shunted out of the center of discussion (where they must remain), I have even been impressed with the seeming cogency of their arguments. I am not even disposed to dispute their finding a much closer relationship between Old Testament prophecy and the Church in the present age. Nor does there seem to me to be any serious objection to the claims of many amillenarian brethren that the Bible speaks of a present reign of the saints with Christ in heaven. However, as one of their own fellows in the covenant theology to which most of the contemporary amillennialists adhere has observed:

I am deeply interested in what my Amillenarian brethren may present as counter arguments; but I am convinced that hitherto neither Augustine nor his followers have adequately dealt with this material in Scripture or as much as dented the millenarian argument which is involved in this material.[D. H. Kromminga, The Millennium]

So, in the complete absence of convincing contrary evidence, I assert that the Millennium is a period of 1,000 years of time and insist that it is one of the clear teachings of Scripture.

I have asserted that the Millennium is specifically the period of Satan's imprisonment and the period between the resurrection of the just and of the unjust. The 1,000 years are mentioned six times in the first seven verses of Revelation 20. Three of these occurrences (vv. 2, 3, and 7) apply it to the period of Satan's imprisonment. Once, in verse 5, it refers to the period between the resurrections. The other two apply it to a period of time during which the saints shall reign. But these references to the reign of the saints are in a different class from the others. The 1,000 years will complete the whole history of Satan's binding as well as the resurrections of dead men. It will be only a preliminary stage in the reign of the saints in Christ's everlasting Kingdom.

This distinction between an eternal Kingdom of the Son of man and the limited, 1,000-year duration of its initial visible presence (the Millennium) , meanwhile affirming both, will be found clearly expressed in a brief chapter by Ethelbert Stauffer. He says:

According to the book of Daniel the kingdom of the Son of Man is to be everlasting (Dan 2:44; 7:14, 18, 27; cf. Luke 1:33), but in the later apocalyptic tradition the messianic kingdom will precede the final everlasting kingdom (of God or of the Son of Man). So the messianic kingdom will be an interim affair; the end of what passes away, and the beginning of what is incorruptible. (Syrian Baruck Apocalyptic 74.2), [Ethelbert Stauffer, New Testament Theology, pp.218-19].

Stauffer goes on to assert that the telos (end; 1 Cor 15:24) is not the same as the parousia (coming), and he traces events in a period of time after the parousia but leading to the telos.

It is not an uncommon misconception among premillennial believers that Christ's Kingdom, the reign of Christ, and the reign of the saints are restricted to a 1,000-year period. Revelation 20:4 ("and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years") and 20:6 ("they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years") have been thought to teach that the reign of the saints and of Christ shall come to an end at the close of the Millennium. How foolish it is to cite these verses in proof of such an assertion is seen at once in a close look at verse 4. "Lived" and "reigned" are both in the same person, gender, number, and tense in the Greek. There is no punctuation mark of any kind between them. Clearly, then, the 1,000 years modifies both the living

[I have not been greatly impressed with the view of Alford and others that "they lived" is the equivalent of "they arose from the dead," i.e., were resurrected-even though such meaning might strengthen the premillennial position. The condition described as "they lived" is certainly a resuit of resurrection but does not constitute resurrection.]

of the saints and their reigning. To insist on a reign of only 1,000 years on the basis of this verse would require equal insistence on a living of only 1,000 years, which simply will not do. And contrariwise, there are many passages which speak of the perpetuity of the reign of the saints in the Kingdom of the Messiah.

On this point, and in relation to these verses, George N. H. Peters has written the truth, as follows:

It is asserted by some (as e.g. Calvin, Inst., B. 3, ch. 25) that our doctrine limits the reign of Christ only to the one thousand years. This is incorrect. While some Millenarians explain the "delivering up of the Kingdom" somewhat similar to our opposers, yet even nearly all-if not all-of these, so far as we have any knowledge of their writings, affirm that Jesus continues to reign in the same Kingdom, subordinately to the Father, after the close of the thousand years. The reasons for the perpetuity of Christ's Kingdom will now he presented, and the only passage that seems to militate against it will be examined. [He refers to 1 Cor 15:24.]While the words "eternal," "everlasting," "forever," are sometimes employed to denote limited duration (i.e. duration adapted to the nature of the thing of which it is affirmed), yet such words as applied to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ cannot be thus restricted, because an unending duration intended by them is stated in explanatory phraseology (as e.g. Luke 1:32 "of his kingdom there shall be no end," etc.). The thousand years are specifically mentioned as the period of Satan's binding and of the time existing between the two resurrections, and of this era it is also asserted that Christ and His saints shall reign. The declaration of their reigning during this period does not limit the reign to it, but is added to indicate that the reign is already commenced and extends through this Millenary age. Jesus is not merely the king of "an age" hut of "the ages" (I Tim. 1:17 Greek), and His Kingdom is united, not merely to "an age" hut to "the age of ages" of "eternal ages," thus indicating its extension onward through the vast succession of time in an unending series Hence the perpetuity of the Kingdom is freely declared in II Sam 7:16; Heb 1:8; Luke 1:32, 33; Rev. 11:15; Isa. 9:7; II Pet 1:11, etc., and this is explained, Dan. 2:44, to be "a kingdom that shall never be destroyed," and in Dan 7:14, "His dominion is an everlasting do minion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Indeed, so expressive are these and kindred passages that even those who advocate a transfer of the Kingdom to the father and some kind of an ending of the Kingdom, are still forced, by their weight and concurrence, unhesitatingly to acknowledge, in some form (as Barnes, etc.) "the perpetuity of Christ's Kingdom and His eternal reign." Hence this rein, beginning at the Millennial era, is not terminated by the close of the thousand years. [George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom 2:630-31]

It is not true, as both amillennialists and postmillennialists are wont to affirm, that a period of time between the resurrection of the just and of the unjust is affirmed by Scripture in this passage alone.

There is at least one Old Testament passage which mentions a long period at the time of the consummation during which certain "high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth" shall "be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited" (Isa 24:21-22). No satisfactory explanation of this strange passage was afforded until Revelation 20:1-10 was written, and even then only as the literal premillennial interpretation was adopted. Dr. Nathaniel West possibly went too far in asserting dogmatically that several other Old Testament passages refer to the Millennium. He asserted this of Ezekiel 38:8; 37:25-26, 28; Hosea 3:4-5; Psalm 72:7. Some of these may refer to the Millennium. Only Isaiah 24:22-23 must refer to it, in my opinion.

There is also a very impressive passage in the New Testament which clearly affirms this long period of time after the resurrection of the righteous dead and places consummating events, evidently including the resurrection of the wicked dead, after that interval. The passage is as follows:

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom of God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all authority and power" (1 Cor. 15:20-24).

As is obvious from the title, there is a special interest in this passage: to discover if the section has any important bearing on the question of the possibility of two future resurrections with a millennium, or some similar period of time, separating them. This is the prime essential affirmation of premillennialism. It is the usual thing for discussion of this subject to proceed as if the twentieth chapter of Revelation contains the only essential data on the subject––as if the whole issue of a further probationary period after the parousia of Christ could be settled once and for all if a period of time between a future resurrection of the just and another of the unjust could be discovered in or expelled from that passage. Granted that Revelation 20 is the most complete passage on the subject, its value as definitive evidence is hampered by the fact that it appears as part of an apocalypse or vision. Of prophetic visions Moses was told there would always be something less than "mouth to mouth" speech, "even apparently and not in dark speeches" (Num. 12:18). All informed persons who attempt exposition of the Book of Revelation will heartily agree. But, here in 1 Corinthians, from the prosaic, usually factual and direct pen of Paul, is a chapter on the resurrection of the dead in which it is difficult to find even a common figure of speech. The portion of the chapter before us appears at first glance to require something like that period of time between the resurrection of the just and of the unjust affirmed by premillennialists. Will sustained attention enforce the impression, or is it only a kind of verbal mirage which disappears with investigation?

The writer does not expect to convince all his readers of his own conclusion on the passage; he does hope that by bringing the attention of students back to it the passage may begin to receive some of the attention it rightly deserves in contemporary theological discussion.

Following this brief introduction, my procedure shall be to state the main and subsidiary problems and after that to discuss the pertinent exegetical data. Following this I shall present my own conclusions.

[Mr. Culver then gives 8 pages of technical exposition on this passage under the headings of; "Problems of Interpretation", and "Main Exegetical Data",––GospelPedlar.]

 

CONCLUSIONS

The foregoing is not a complete evaluation of every particle of the linguistic data, but the field has been touched at salient points. May I now draw some conclusions by way of summary.

I Corinthians 15:20-24 teaches the main features of millennialism, viz., that all men are to be raised from the dead, but not all are to be raised at one time. Christ's own are to be raised first. Then after a significant period of time the rest of the dead are to come forth also. Paul does not reveal how long this period is to be. That the period between Christ's resurrection and the resurrection of the just has already extended nearly two millennia suggests that a second interval, indicated by a nearly synonymous adverbial term, will be a somewhat extended period also.

These conclusions are enforced by the words of others-some of them very learned New Testament scholars. Let their words be a kind of summary peroration. I cite two whose works have been useful and respected among English readers for several generations. "There is to be a sequence in the resurrection of the dead, and St. Paul explains this by three groups:–– (1) Christ Himself, the firstfruits; (2) the faithful in Christ at His coming; (3) all the rest of mankind at the end, when the final judgment takes place. The interval between these latter two, as to its duration, or where or how it will be spent, is not spoken of here. The only point the Apostle has to treat of is the order of the resurrection. (See 1 Thess. 4:13, 17; Rev. 20)" (Ellicott, The Bible Cornmentary, in loco).

The translator of Kling's German work in 1 Corinthians in Lange's Commentary series was Daniel W. Poor, a Presbyterian pastor of Newark, New Jersey (1868). In closing his annotations at this point he writes (and his words are here cited with full approval) : "It is a singular illustration of the power of a theory to warp the mind from the fixed meaning of words, that Calvin, while using the Latin text which rightly translated eita, postea [afterward], yet goes on to comment in the use of tunc [at the time, immediately] utterly ignoring the difference of signification. By the words epeita and eita, two separate epochs are distinctly marked; and it is a violation of all usage of terms to construe them otherwise. The interval between the first and second is stretching beyond 1800 years [now beyond 1900 years]; how many ages will intervene between the second and third––who can tell?"

Who can tell? Many believe John can, and I think he does––about one thousand years.[Robert D. Culver ,"A Neglected Millennial Passage from Saint Paul," Bibliotheca Sacra, April 1956, pp. 141-52. Used by permission.]

Amillennialists have various methods of handling the reference to a "first resurrection" of the just and a final resurrection of the unjust mentioned in Revelation 20. The most common is that advocated recently by Floyd F. Hamilton, and very clearly stated by him:

The amillennialist...believes that the first resurrection is the new birth of the believer which is crowned by his being taken to heaven to be with Christ in His reign during the interadventual period. This eternal life, which is the present possession of the believer, and is not interrupted by the death of the body, is the first resurrection and participation in it is the millennial reign.[Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith, pp.118-19.]

Like most of the amillennialists, ancient and modern, he traces support for this view from several other biblical passages which speak of a spiritual resurrection of believers at the new birth. In John 5:24-29 he, following Augustine, even finds (and rightfully so) a spiritual and a physical (in that order) resurrection of believers in one paragraph. Yet, for two simple reasons his argument is without value. The first is that interpretation of what he calls a symbol in Revelation 20 must have a sound basis in the passage itself. It will not do to run off somewhere else and, finding a spiritual resurrection, cry, "See, Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of spiritual resurrection." This kind of exegesis leads to no certain results. And it is fortunate that most of our orthodox but amillennial friends do not frequently use this method of exegesis except where the doctrine of the Millennium is concerned. The second reason, already suggested, is that no connection can be traced between even one of his references and Revelation 20:4-6.

Before leaving Hamilton, note that he regards the Millennium not as a period of time but as a condition of existence and that it takes place in heaven.

Augustine, who is of importance to the discussion as the first acceptable exponent of amillennialism, had a slightly different view of the nature and location of the Millennium. He placed the Millennium on earth during the present age. He felt that it consisted in the binding of Satan by the progress of the Church. He thought it began with the first missionary expansion of the Church from Judea and would end with the coming of Christ in the year 650, though he was not dogmatic about that date. He tried to adjust the Millennium with the sixth millennium of human history, following the Septuagint chronology, which he interpreted to place the end of the fifth millennium at about 350 B.C.[Augustine City of God 20.8.]

Thus, to Augustine, the Millennium is a period of time and is the period of Satan's imprisonment, but by placing it in the present age and by making the reign of the saints ecclesiological instead of eschatological, his view is totally unacceptable. It simply does not fit the plain requirements of the passage in Revelation

20.[Augustine, after mentioning the view which he later calls chiliast or millenarian, seems to admit that he once held the chiliastic view. He also admits that it is only a sensual interpretation of the Millennium that is objectionable in chiliasm (City of God 20.7).]

The comments of a great scholar, recognized by Christian scholars of all schools of thought as a worthy interpreter of Scripture, I deem to be worthy of note in concluding on this point. I refer to Henry Alford, churchman, New Testament critic, scholar, and Christian. Commenting on Revelation 20:1 and following, he says,

It will have been long ago anticipated by the readers of this commentary that I cannot consent to distort words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy on any considerations of difficulty, or any risk with it. Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole of church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense: and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents. As regards the text itself, no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion. If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain souls lived at the first, and the rest of the dead lived only at the end of a specified period after the first - if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising from the grave - then there is an end of all significance of language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to any thing. If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardy enough to maintain: but if the second is literal, then so is the first, which, in common with the whole primitive Church and many of the best modern expositors, I do maintain, and receive as an article of faith and hope.[Henry AIford, Greek Testament with a Critically Revised Text 4:732-33.]

 


Daniel and the Latter Days. Robert Duncan Cluver. Moody Press, 1977. Pages 23-40.