“Many of the issues of eschatology are obscure and difficult to deal with. Moreover, in situations where a rather minor point of eschatology has been made a test of orthodoxy, younger pastors tend to avoid the subject entirely, hoping thus to avert suspicion. And in settings where discussing eschatology has become an intramural sport, some pastors, hoping to avoid divisiveness, make little or no mention of the millennium and the great tribulation. In this respect, eschatological topics are not greatly unlike glossolalia…” HUMOR in Millard Erikson’s Systematic Theology p.1153
That a clear depiction of an earthly reign of Christ without
his physical presence is nowhere found in Scripture ~Millard Erikson
The words “one thousand years” are mentioned six times in the Book of Revelation chapter 20 verses 1-7. I believe the Lord wanted to make it clear that during Jesus Christ time of rule He will reign for a literal one thousand years. Some have tried to make this reference a figurative or spiritual one. The Scriptures confirm that this kingdom would be literal. Jesus will be the sovereign King with all authority reigning physically in His earthly kingdom.
The purpose of the Millennium will be to establish the physical rule of Jesus Christ in the Earth.
Greek paganists thought viewed the physical universe as evil and only spiritual
realities as good in any sense. Therefore they rejected the idea of an
actual rule of Christ on the physical Earth and expected God’s blessings
to be entirely spiritual. The rejection of of an
actual rule of Christ on the physical Earth is purely pagan belief.
Augustine stated that the literal view of the scope of the millennium (one-thousand year reign) “would not be objectionable” if the nature of the millennial kingdom was a “spiritual one” rather than a physical one
When Jesus comes, then, the general physical resurrection of the righteous and the wicked occurs, followed by the final judgment, and culminating with the new heavens and new earth
The resurrected believers reign with Christ, who will, “be physically present on the earth in his resurrected body, and will reign as King over the entire earth.”
During this period, Satan is “bound and cast into the bottomless pit so that he will have no influence on the earth during the millennium.”
J. Dwight Pentecost has summarized the various viewpoints on the kingdom of God as follows: “To some the kingdom of God is synonymous with the eternal state, or heaven, into which one comes after death, so that it has no relationship to the earth whatsoever. To others it is a non-material or ‘spiritual’ kingdom in which God rules over the hearts of men, so that, while it is related to the present age, it is unrelated to the earth. To still others the kingdom is purely earthly without spiritual realities attached to it, so that it is a political and social structure to be achieved by the efforts of men and thus becomes the goal of the social and economic evolution to which men press. To others with the same general concept, it has to do with a nationalistic movement on the part of Israel that will reconstitute that nation as an independent nation in the political realm. Then there are those who view the kingdom as synonymous with the visible organized church, so that the church becomes the kingdom, thus making the kingdom both spiritual and political. In addition there are those that view the kingdom as manifestation, in the earthly realm, of the universal sovereignty of God, in which He rules in the affairs of men, so that the kingdom is conceived as being both spiritual and material in its concept (“Biblical Eschatology,” unpublished Doctor’s dissertation, p. 550).
Physical Changes in the Millennium
According to millennial prophesies, many topographical changes will take place in the land of Palestine in connection with the establishment of the millennial reign of Christ. While some of these may be due to the lifting of the curse upon the earth, the alterations seem to be more extensive than this.
The cleavage of the Mount of Olives. In connection with the return of Christ to the earth, Zechariah 14 pictures the battle for the possession of Jerusalem which in its early stages seems to be in favor of the Gentiles. This is reversed, however, by the return of Christ described in the following words: “Then shall Jehovah go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east; and the mount of Olives shall be cleft in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zech 14:3-4). In view of the fact that the Mount of Olives nowhere in Scripture is given a spiritualized interpretation, it seems clear that this refers to the physical Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem. When Christ returns, there will be where the Mount of Olives now stands a great valley extending toward the east with the Mount of Olives split in two.
The purpose of this cleavage seems to be indicated in the context as providing a temporary route for flight for those who are caught in the warfare about Jerusalem. Zechariah pictures it: “And ye shall flee by the valley of my mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach until Azel; yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the day of Uzziah king of Judah; and Jehovah my God shall come, and all the holy ones with thee” (Zech 14:5). Other phenomenal things will occur at the same time. In the succeeding context a long day is described when “at evening time there shall be light” (Zech 14:7). Subsequent description pictures the “living waters” which “shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the eastern sea, and half of them toward the western sea: in summer and in winter shall it be” (Zech 14:8). It should be clear from this description that the character of the land to the east of Jerusalem shall be much different than it is now and that the changes mentioned will be a preparation for other features of the millennial kingdom. Ezekiel adds more details concerning the river with special attention to the eastward flow of the river into the Dead Sea (cf. Ezek 47:1-12). The river like the cleavage is miraculous as to its source and brings life and fruitfulness to the land through which it goes (cf. Ezek 47:7-12). The effect on the Dead Sea is to bring healing to it and not only cause fruitfulness of trees and vegetation, but also to permit fish to thrive in its waters.
Though scholars who are not premillennial have tended to give this a figurative rather than a literal meaning, the details are such that a literal meaning makes sense in the millennial context. James M. Gray writes for instance: “The whole thing is literal in fact, and yet supernatural in origin” (James M. Gray, Christian Workers’ Commentary, p. 268).
The exaltation of the city of Jerusalem. More important than the changes concerning the Mount of Olives are those in which the entire land of Palestine is involved. According to Zechariah 14:10; “All the land shall be made like the Arabah, from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; and she shall be lifted up, and shall dwell in her place, from Benjamin’s gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananel unto the king’s wine-presses.” The effect of all the changes will be to elevate Jerusalem above the surrounding territory and to change the topography of Palestine to suit millennial conditions. This will accommodate therefore the temple of Ezekiel which would not fit Palestine in its present form.
Nathaniel West describes the changes as follows: “Jerusalem and Mount Zion, by means of physical convulsion and geological changes suddenly effected through disruption, depression, fissure, and elevation, at the Lord’s appearing, shall be ‘exalted’ or ‘lifted high,’ above the surrounding hills, and the adjacent region be reduced ‘to a plain,’ like the Arabah, or Ghor, that runs from the slopes of Hermon to the Red Sea. ‘All the land will change itself,’ and the geographic center of the reconstruction will be determined by the boundaries of the ancient territory of Judah” (The Thousand Years in Both Testaments, p. 289).
Charles L. Feinberg summarizes these topographical changes as follows: “All the land will be depressed in order that Jerusalem might be elevated. See Isaiah 2:2 and Micah 4:1. The directions given cannot be determined with certainty, but they prove two things: (1) the description must be taken literally (else why the abundance of detail?) and (2) the city will be rebuilt in its former extent. Compare Jeremiah 31:37, 38. Geba was on the northern frontier of Judah, probably Gibeah of Saul (2 King 23:8). Rimmon south of Jerusalem is to be distinguished from the Rimmon of Galilee (Josh 19:13) and that in Benjamin (Judg 20:45-47). The city here designated was on the border of Edom given to Simeon by Judah. The subject of wera’ amah is Jerusalem. The verb is probably an expanded form of weramah from rum, like qa’m in Hosea 10:14.
“The city will be inhabited on its ancient site (for the same use of the preposition see 12:6); it will possess its old boundaries. The gate of Benjamin was on the north wall, facing the territory of Benjamin (Jer 37:13; 38:7 ). The first gate is probably the old gate (Neh 3:6). The corner gate was westward of the old gate. Compare II Kings 14:13 . The winepresses of the king were probably in the royal gardens in the valley southeast of Jerusalem. See II Kings 25:4 ; Jeremiah 39:4; 52:7 ; and Nehemiah 3:15. Not only will the city have its former bounds but its population will live therein, not to go out as captives or fugitives. They will need to fear no further hostile attacks. There will be no more curse, that complete devoting to destruction when given up by God to a curse…. The description is literal and conveys the interrelation of outward fact with inward condition, as Genesis 3 (thorns and thistles resulting from the sin of man) and Romans 8” (Charles L. Feinberg, God Remembers, pp. 257-58).
The Ryrie Study Bible contains many explanatory notes which assume that Jesus will return and reign on earth 1000 years. In its comparison of the various views of the future, all opposing views are dismissed without evidence: From the Ryrie Study Bible Index to Principal Subjects: “Postmillennial interpretation is largely spiritualized with regard to prophecy. However, Revelation 20 will be fulfilled in the earthly kingdom that is brought in through the church’s efforts.” “Amillennial interpretation spiritualizes the promises made to Israel as a nation and says they are fulfilled in the Church. According to this view, Revelation 20
describes the scene of souls in heaven during the time between the first and second comings of Christ.
“Premillennialism follows the plain, normal, literal, historical, and grammatical
method of interpretation. Revelation 20 is understood literally.”
The following quotations were taken from the Ryrie Study Bible Index to Principal Subjects in
the Notes, under Millennium. The quotations after the Bible references also are taken verbatim
from that index. From Ryrie:
Psalm 110:3 “The meaning is this: during the Millennium God’s people will voluntarily rally to the Messiah, who will lead them with constantly renewed vigor.”
Psalm 110:5-6 “This will be fulfilled in the campaign of Armageddon, climaxing in the second coming of Christ.”
THE MILLENNIAL POSITION OF SPURGEON
The second coming of Christ. The feature that Spurgeon identified
as a foundational eschatological issue was “The Second Advent of
Christ.” That Spurgeon believed in the personal and literal return of
Christ to the earth is an indisputable fact. He looked forward to this
great event with anticipation and announced it to his congregation
We know that Christ was really, personally, and physically here on
earth. But it is not quite so clear to some persons that he is to come,
really, personally, and literally the second time. . . . Now, we believe
that the Christ who shall sit on the throne of his father David, and
whose feet shall stand upon Mount Olivet, is as much a personal Christ
as the Christ who came to Bethlehem and wept in the manger.26
Certainly there can be no doubt about Spurgeon’s belief in the literal
and physical return of Christ
The millennial reign of Christ. On the theme of millennial reign of
Christ, Spurgeon was far from silent. Though he did not give a great
deal of attention to it, when he did, his view was consistent. In 1865 he
Some think that this descent of the Lord will be post-millennial—that is,
after the thousand years of his reign. I cannot think so. I conceive that
the advent will be pre-millennial; that he will come first; and then will
come the millennium as the result of his personal reign upon earth
That he believed in a literal and physical resurrection is undeniable:
Yet this Paul believed, and this he preached—that there would be a
resurrection of the dead, both the just and the unjust, not that the just
and the unjust would merely live as to their souls, but that their bodies
should be restored from the grave, and that a resurrection, as well as an
immortality, should be the entail of every man of woman born,
whatever his character might be
In the same sermon he expressed his belief that both
resurrections are literal and physical. He attacked the position of the
famous American Presbyterian, Albert Barnes (1798-1870), an
amillennialist,39 who rejected the literal resurrection spoken of in
Revelation 20:4-6, 12. He charged Barnes with holding a position that
spiritualized the resurrection. In concluding his argument against
Barnes, he said,
Now I appeal to you, would you, in reading that passage, think this to
be the meaning? Would any man believe that to be its meaning, if he
had not some thesis to defend? The fact is, we sometimes read
Scripture, thinking of what it ought to say, rather that what it does say. .
. . It is—we have no doubt whatever—a literal resurrection of the saints
of God, and not of principles nor of doctrines.
Spurgeon’s comments on the two resurrections, separated by the
millennium, are not as Murray concludes, “far from common in his
sermons,”41 but a normal and consistently expounded theme, when the
text suggested that topic:
Now we believe and hold that Christ shall come a second time
suddenly, to raise his saints at the first resurrection; this shall be the
commencement of the grand judgment, and they shall reign with him
afterwards. The rest of the dead live not till the thousand years are finished.
Then they shall rise from their tombs and they shall receive the deeds
which they have done in the body
There are those who claim that Jesus’ promise to return was fulfilled
on Pentecost through a spiritual coming. Jesus did, after all, say, “I am
with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He also said, “If a
man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and
we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). And
Paul spoke of the riches of this mystery, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”
(Col. 1:27). Some interpreters put a great deal of weight upon the use of
the term rc~pouaia! for the second coming. Pointing out that the word
basically means “presence,” they argue that its force in references to “the
coming of the Lord” is that Jesus is present with us, not that he is coming
at some future time.
Since Pentecost Christ has indeed been with and in each believer from
the moment of new birth on. Several considerations, however, prevent
our regarding this spiritual presence as the full meaning of the coming
which he promised. While it is true that the basic meaning of rrapouaia
is “presence,” it also means “coming,” and this is the meaning which is
most prominent in the New Testament, as can be determined by examining how the word is used in context. Further, there are several other
New Testament terms, particularly &ro~drhu~~r and &~TTL$&YEL(Y, which
clearly do indicate “coming. “4 And the statement in Acts 1:ll that Jesus
will return in the same way as he departed implies that the return will be
bodily. Perhaps the most persuasive argument, however, is that many of
the promises of Jesus’ second coming were made after Pentecost, in fact
as much as sixty years later, and they still placed the coming in the future.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that Christ began his reign over the
earth on October 1, 19 14. This was not a visible return to earth, however,
for Jesus has not had a visible body since his ascension. Nor was it even
a literal return, since it was in heaven that Christ ascended the throne.
His presence, then, is in the nature of an invisible influence.5
It is difficult to reconcile the Witnesses’ conception of the second
coming with the biblical descriptions. Once again we point to Acts 1:ll:
Christ’s return will be like his departure, which was certainly visible, for
the disciples watched Jesus being taken into heaven (vv. 9-10). Other descriptions of the second coming make it clear that it will be quite
conspicuous; for example, Matthew 2430: “and they will see the Son of
man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Although the second coming will be preceded by several signs-the
desolating sacrilege (l’vlatt. 24:15), great tribulation (v. 2 l), darkening of
the sun (v. 29), they will not indicate the exact time of Jesus’ return.
Consequently, there will be many for whom his return will be quite
unexpected. It will be as in the days of Noah (Matt. 2437). Although Noah
spent some time in the construction of the ark, none of his contemporaries, except for his own family, prepared themselves for the flood. People
will be feeling secure, but sudden destruction will come upon them
(1 Thess. 52-3). Jesus’ teachings suggest that because of a long delay
before the second coming, some will be lulled into inattention (Matt.
25: 1-13; cf. 2 Peter 3:3-4). When the parousia finally occurs, however it
will happen so quickly that there will be no time to prepare (Matt. 2&-
10). As Louis Berkhof puts it, “The Bible intimates that the measure of
surprise at the second coming of Christ will be in an inverse ratio to the
measure of their watchfulness.“
Premillennialism is committed to the concept of an earthly reign by
Jesus Christ of approximately one thousand years (or at least a substantial period of time). Unlike postmillennialism, premillennialism sees Christ
as physically present during this time; it believes that he will return
personally and bodily to commence the millennium. This being the case,
the millennium must be seen as still in the future.
Premillennialism was probably the dominant millennial view during
the early period of the church. Christians of the first three centuries had
a strong expectation of an early return of Christ. Instead of holding to a
gradual growth of the kingdom, they anticipated that the eschaton would
be inaugurated by a cataclysmic event. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and
several other significant early theologians held to this view.8 Much of the
millennialism of this period-often termed “chiliasm,” from the Greek
word for “thousand’‘-had a rather sensuous flavor. The millennium
would be a time of great abundance and fertility, of a renewing of the
earth and building of a glorified Jerusalem.9 This tended to repulse the
Alexandrian school of Clement, Origen, and Dionysius. A major factor in
the decline of chiliasm was Augustine’s view of the millennium, which
we discussed earlier. In the Middle Ages, premillennialism became quite
rare. Often it was mystical sects which perpetuated it.
About the middle of the nineteenth century, premillennialism began
to grow in popularity in conservative circles. This was partly due to the
fact that liberals, insofar as they had a millennial view, were postmillennial&s, and some conservatives considered anything associated with
liberalism to be suspect. The growing popularity of the dispensational
system of interpretation and eschatology also lent impetus to premillennialism. It has considerable adherence among conservative Baptists, Pentecostal groups, and independent fundamentalist churches.
The key passage for premillennialism is Revelation 20:4-6:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment
was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for
their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not
worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their
foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a
thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the
thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and
holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death
has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they
shall reign with him a thousand years.
Premillennialists observe that here is evidence of a thousand-year period
and two resurrections, one at the beginning and the other at the end.
Premillennialists insist on a literal and consistent interpretation of this
passage. Since the same verb-Z[qacuv-is used in reference to both
resurrections, they must be of the same type. The amillennialist, or for
that matter the postmillennialist, is usually forced to say that they are of
different types. The usual explanation is that the first resurrection is a
spiritual resurrection, that is, regeneration, while the second is a literal,
physical, or bodily resurrection. Thus those who take part in the first
resurrection will undergo the second as well. PremilIennialists, however,
reject this interpretation as untenable. George Beasley-Murray observes
that it attributes confusion and chaotic thinking to the biblical author.lO
Henry Alford a century ago contended that if one resurrection is a
spiritual coming to life and the other a physical coming to life, “then
there is an end of all signilicance in language, and Scripture is wiped out
as a definite testimony to anything.“ii George Ladd says that if Qacrv
means bodily resurrection in verse 5, it must mean bodily resurrection
in verse 4; if it does not, “we have lost control of exegesis.“12
All of these men are sensitive to the fact that context can alter the
meanings of words. They note, however, that in this case the two usages
of &XYV occur together. And there is nothing in the context to suggest
any shift in meaning. Consequently, what we have here are two resurrections of the same type which involve two different groups at an interval
of a thousand years. It also appears from the context that those who
participate in the first resurrection are not involved in the second. It is
“the rest of the dead” (oi AOLTTO~ T&V veKp&) who do not come to life until
the end of the thousand years. Although it is not said that they will come
to life at that point, the implication is that they will. There is an obvious
contrast between those involved in the second resurrection and those in
It is also important to observe the nature of the millennium. Whereas
the postmillennialist thinks that the millennium is being introduced gradually, perhaps almost imperceptibly, the premillennialist envisions a sudden, cataclysmic event. In the premillennialist view, the rule of Jesus
Christ will be complete from the very beginning of the millennium. Evil
will have been virtually eliminated.
According to premillennialism, then, the millennium will not be an
extension of trends already at work within the world. Instead, there will
be a rather sharp break from conditions as we now find them. For
example, there will be worldwide peace. This is a far cry from the present
situation, where worldwide peace is a rare thing indeed, and the trend
does not seem to be improving. The universal harmony will not be
restricted to humans. Nature, which has been “groaning in travail,” awaiting its redemption, will be freed from the curse of the fall (Rom. 8:19-
23). Even animals will live in harmony with one another (Isa. 11:6-7;
65:25), and the destructive forces of nature will be calmed. The saints
will rule together with Christ in this millennium. Although the exact
nature of their reign is not spelled out, they will, as a reward for their
faithfulness, participate with him in the glory which is his.
All premillennialists also anticipate that Israel will have a special place
in the millennium. They disagree, however, as to the nature of that special
place. Dispensational&s hold to a continuing unconditional covenant of
God with national Israel, so that when God has completed his dealings
with the church, he will return to his relations with national Israel. Jesus
will literally sit upon David’s throne and rule the world from Israel. All of
the prophecies and promises regarding Israel will be fulfilled within the
millennium, which will therefore have a markedly Jewish character.
Nondispensationalists put much less emphasis upon national Israel, holding instead that Israel’s special place, being spiritual in nature, will be
found within the church. Israel will be converted in large numbers during
Premillennialists also hold that the millennium will be a tremendous
change from what immediately precedes it, namely, the great tribulation.
The tribulation will be a time of unprecedented trouble and turmoil,
including cosmic disturbances, persecution, and great suffering. While
premillennial&s disagree as to whether the church will be present during
the tribulation, they agree that the world situation will be at its very
worst just before Christ comes to establish the milletium, which will
be, by contrast, a period of peace and righteousness.
Now, after a thousand years in the most perfect environment, with hosts of spiritual teachers, and the physical presence of the Lord Himself, if anyone refuses
to give God His place, there is no excuse possible