The word MILLENNIUM is not mentioned in the Bible. The concept is derived from Revelation 20:1-6. Satan is described as the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan. He was bound for “a thousand years” when he was cast into the bottomless pit and shut up with a seal, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. Then he was released for a little while to deceive the nations to make war that resulted in the final destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. (Rev. 20:2-3; Rev. 20:7-8). Nowhere in these verses, or anywhere else in the Bible, does it say that Christ’s reign is a literal 1000 years. The figure serves as an image of the perfected/complete time of Christ’s reign where He put all of His enemies under His feet, which began in the first century (Mark 1:14-15; Matt. 12:29-30) and completed with His Parousia in AD 66-70. (For a more detailed study see eschatology Study Series 16 Lesson 8 Chapter 20 in the section: The Language of a “Thousand Years”)
The word MILLENNIUM is used for the word “thousand” by theologians, [lit. “thousands” – Greek: “chilioi” — plural, meaning units of a thousand. (BDAG) A Greek- English Lexicon of the N.T., F.W. Danker]. It is to be understood as how the Jews in that day, about whom it was written, would have understood it. It referred to a period of time between “this age” (Mosaic age) and the “age to come” (age of the Messiah), which a couple of first century Rabbis taught was about forty years.
Jesus told His disciples: “Assuredly, say to you, THIS GENERATION will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matt. 24:34). Those things were His second coming and the destruction of Jerusalem, which is what John describes in Revelation.
The Language of a “Thousand Years”
To properly understand the idea of the “thousand year” generational period, we need to understand where the writers of the New Testament, and specifically John, got this language, and we need to understand why they chose to use this imagery to describe a forty (40) year period of time, or the events contained within it, if indeed our proposition is correct.
Something to always keep in the back of your mind concerning this period is that it is nowhere mentioned specifically in the New Testament anywhere else until we read about it in the book of Revelation. This is very critical since “all” of the things that Christ spoke about during His ministry, such as ALL the events He said would occur before His coming in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21, “should” have included everything up to and including His final return for judgment and the full establishment of His Kingdom.
For Christ to speak of ALL the events in Matthew 24 or Luke 21 (which include His coming and judgment), and for the Apostles to repeatedly describe those events as a current reality in their lifetime, or as events which would “soon” take place in their future, but to intentionally leave out the “millennial period” as though it was an afterthought, is quite revealing about the nature or actual interpretation of the thousand year period to the Apostles.
Think of it this way: The Apostles believed that Christ would come “soon” in their very near future. They believed they were living in the generation which would see and were seeing all the signs of His eminent coming, and they even said so.
However, many scholars admit that the “millennium” is an event that is to occur BEFORE the coming of Christ in judgment at the end of the age. Therefore, what does this mean about the Apostles‘ view and belief of the “millennium”?
Whatever the “millennium” actually is or was, is it possible that the Apostles could have viewed the “millennium” as a very long period of time, or a literal period of exactly one thousand years or longer? Either the Apostles were mistaken, and thus, they were not inspired of God, or they did not view the millennium as a period of time to last beyond their own generation. Right or wrong, this simple fact cannot be avoided.
While it is not specifically addressed by name, I believe the primary reason for the lack of detailed references by both Christ and the Apostles‘ in their letters is because John the Revelator simply expounded on and took from what he already knew to be a theological fact (the binding of the strong man by Christ). It is argued by many scholars that the book of Revelation is John’s version of the Olivet Discourse. John’s Gospel is the only synoptic Gospel to omit this part of Christ’s earthly ministry and teachings. However, given the content and parallel themes found within the book of Revelation compared to the Olivet Discourse material, it’s practically undeniable that John’s Olivet Discourse was in fact a synopsis of the book of Revelation, stated in apocalyptic terms.
John took what he already understood about the timing and nature of this period and he used the apocalyptic imagery of a thousand years, along with other apocalyptic or eschatological images and numbers, to describe something that his first-century audience would have quite readily understood and applied in a correct manner without requiring a detailed explanation or commentary on the matter. While the symbolism throughout the book would have certainly confused a Roman soldier who may have intercepted one of these “Revelation” letters, it would have been undeniably clear to a Christian with a Jewish background or understanding.
We must remember that of the 404 passages in the book of Revelation, 278 of them are direct quotes, allusions, or references to the Old Testament literature. Many of the remaining passages are similar or even identical to other statements made in extra Biblical apocalyptic literature. It’s quite clear that John had as his primary audience readers who would have been very familiar with Old Testament imagery and symbolism, and the apocalyptic literature (genre) of their day.
The fact that the book of Revelation is one of the most Jewish New Testament books of the Bible is not disputed among any scholar that I am aware of. This being the case, it would seem quite appropriate that the writer would then use known language, ideas, imagery, Jewish idioms, and motifs that his readers would not have had to spend a great deal of time figuring out.
Indeed, John even told his audience in Revelation 1:3 that his readers would be blessed by the book if they would read, understand, and keep its teachings or commands. The contents of the book of Revelation were not meant to be hidden, unknowable, confusing, or incomprehensible to the audience to whom it was written; that is, a pre-AD 70 audience.’
A question that any reader should ask concerning the thousand year period is this: “Is it likely that John revealed something entirely new which no other Gospel writer or Old Testament Saint or Prophet ever knew or spoke about, including Christ Himself, or is it more likely that John was using imagery and language to describe and depict those things already taught and shown to us in the Old Testament, in the Apostle’s letters and the rest of the New Testament, and in Christ’s own teachings?” (See Kenneth Gentry’s book “Before Jerusalem Fell” for a complete discourse on the arguments for a Pre-AD 70 dating of the book of Revelation).
If the New Testament writer had wanted to express a literal number of exactly “one thousand years,” he could have easily placed the Greek equivalent of the number “one” before “chilioi” to designate this number as an exact figure or amount.
Likewise, he surely could have expressed an explanation to ensure his audience that a literal reading was intended. But it is not done, and the vast majority of scholars today recognize that the word used in Revelation 20 does not designate a literal or exact number of one thousand years.
Now, in light of this, how did the New Testament writers apply this idea? In 2 Peter 3, Peter described this “uncertain period of duration” as like a day for God. In other words, what appears to be very long and uncertain in duration to man, is just like a day for God. Nowhere is there a specific reference to an exact, literal, one thousand years being described by the writers of either Peter or John, or any other New Testament author anywhere. (For a more in-depth study of 2 Peter 3 please refer to eschatology Study Series 10: Study of 2 Peter 3:1-13).
In addition to the grammatical problems a person might face when trying to apply a proper, literal, exact interpretation to the word “chilioi,” the idea of a “thousand” in the symbolic literature of the Old and New Testament is quite prevalent. In Leviticus 26:8 the number thousand is used to signify a “great number” while not being strictly literal. In Deut. 1:11 it says that God shall make him a “thousand times” greater than he is. Does this mean God will not make him a thousand and one times greater? No. The language is figurative of “a lot” or “much” greater.
In (Read) Deuteronomy 7:8-9 God says that He is faithful to Israel even to “a thousand generations.” Does that mean that God isn’t faithful to a thousand and one generations? No. This is figurative for “all of them.”
In (Read) Deuteronomy 33:2 it says that the Lord came from “ten thousands” of holy ones. Does this mean that God came from literally ten thousands of holy ones? No. It means that He came out from “all of His people.”
In (Read) Judges 15:16, it says that Samson killed a “thousand” men with a single jaw bone of a donkey. Did he really kill exactly 1,000 men? No. We may never know exactly how many men Samson killed with the jawbone of a donkey. This is figurative of the “many” people that Samson killed, however many it actually was, it was “a lot.” Many people use the same sort of typological language. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve told you a thousand times,” when it was really only a few times?
In (Read) 1 Chronicles 16:14-16 it says that God’s Covenant would continue for a “thousand generations” forever! Is this an exact figure? No. It means “for all of them,” or that His Covenant would continue for as long as it was in force, to the fullest of its time, without end.
In (Read) Job 9:3 it says that a person could not contend and answer God once in a “thousand” times. Does this mean that on the one thousand and first time he could? No. This is figurative for “every time.”
(Read) Psalm 50:10 says that the cattle on a “thousand” hills are His. Does this mean that the cattle on the thousand and first hill is not His? No. It means that they are “all” His!
(Read) Psalm 84:10 says that a day in Your courts are better than a “thousand” elsewhere. Does this mean that a thousand and one days elsewhere is better than to be with the Lord? No. It means that a single day with the Lord is better than “all days” without Him.
As you can see, the language used here is quite figurative for “all,” or “complete,” or “the fullness thereof” (regardless of whether it is actually speaking of many, or literally tens, hundreds, thousands, or millions).
A Day as a Thousand Years
Now before we get to the meat of the matter (arguing for the forty year millennium. See “MILLENNIUM (Forty)”) we must consider a crucial statement made by Peter in his second letter. In this letter Peter makes the following comments (with my own comments in brackets):
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day [when it is past, cf. Psalms 90:4] is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day [when it is past]. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief [in the night], and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:8-10)
Two critical elements of this passage must be seen. First, when Peter draws from the analogy of the thousand years as a day, he is clearly quoting from and alluding to (Read) Psalm 90:4. Peter didn’t just make this idea up. And so, when we see that this “day” is a direct allusion to a “watch in the night” we MUST see the connection between the use of “night and day”
language with that of the “thousand years” and also the “watch in the night.” There is also a direct allusion to the “thief in the night” related to the thousand years which we will touch on a little later (For a more in-depth study of “Thief in the night” and 2 Peter 3 please refer to eschatology Study Series 10: Study of 2 Peter 3:1-13). For Peter, the time that is being spoken about is the time in which they were being mocked by the scoffers because the coming of the Lord “seemed” to be taking a very long time.
The scoffers, both in Peter’s epistles and in Jude, were mocking the Christians because Christ had promised them that the destruction of the Temple and the end of the Jewish Age would occur in that generation (cf. Matthew 23-24). But Peter reassures them that for God a “thousand years” in God’s eyes is like a very short period of time (i.e. – as a watch in the night, or the time from sunset to dawn or sunrise).
Since there is no doubt that the New Testament writers, including Christ Himself, used this analogy and drew from this idea to express the time of the “night” and the “coming day,” it is very likely that Peter is also doing the same thing here, and is simply attempting to “ease their minds” because what “seems” long to those Christians who are suffering and being persecuted at the hands of their enemies, is actually going to come to pass exactly as Christ had promised.
The strength of this argument becomes even stronger when we see Peter also reference the idea of the Lord coming “like a thief’ in the very same passage. What other Scriptures draw on this analogy or idea, and how do they apply it? Job 24:14, Matthew 24:43, and 1 Thess. 5:2 all specifically use the idea of the thief coming and they each describe this event as one which happens “during the night” when those who are not ready will be taken by surprise.
Therefore, in one chapter, and in only three verses, Peter describes the “day far gone” and the “thief in the night” and also alludes to the “thousand year” language from Psalm 90:4, which to any observant reader would recall the readers’ mind to the same idea that Christ would come at the “end of the night.” What did Peter, Paul, James and John say about the night in which they lived? It was ready to pass, and was growing old, and day was approaching soon! (1 Pet. 4:7; Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:29, 31; Jam. 5:7-9; 1 John 2:8, 18).
We conclude then that the MILLENNIUM is the forty year period (a generation) between Christ’s first coming and His second coming Parousia in the first century AD. This was between AD 26 and AD 66. It is the time when the New Covenant spiritual eternal Kingdom was first being introduced to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.
Satan was “bound” (his power was greatly restricted through the Apostles‘ works during the next 34-36 years. See “BINDING OF SATAN” for a more expansive look into this topic) during this period and was restricted from hindering the spread of the gospel. At the end of this period just before Christ returned, Satan was loosed for “a little while” and deceived the Jews to rebel against the Romans. The result was a war that displayed God’s wrath against the Old Covenant, unbelieving nation of Israel; along with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. The Old Heavens and Earth cosmological order and Old Covenant Jewish religious system passed away. The New Covenant Kingdom was then fully established in the generation of His apostles consummating with His Parousia in AD 66-70.
“27For the Son of Man WILL COME in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28Assuredly, I say to you, THERE ARE SOME STANDING HERE WHO SHALL NOT TASTE DEATH TILL THEY SEE THE SON OF MAN COMING IN HIS KINGDOM.” (Matt. 16:27-28).
Not only did the remaining living apostles and disciples of Christ in the first century see the Son of Man coming, but they experienced it at the rapture of all of the saints in AD 66 and were changed in the twinkling of an eye into the unseen realm and caught together with the faithful believing souls just resurrected out of Hades/Sheol, and altogether they met Christ in the aer in the unseen realm. They entered the visible presence of Christ to forever remain with Him in the heavenly realm.
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 10 Study on 2 Peter 3 vs. 1-13”]
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 8 Rev. Chapter 20 (sub study on Millennium)”]