The millennium and understanding it correctly
I have found, ever since I entered the blogosphere, that more often than not what I post is driven by stuff happening around me that drive me to want to write my thoughts down. Right now, I am down several rabbit holes researching my next book and one of the recurring themes is future blessing for Israel under the Messiah. Yesterday, two things happened that unwittingly conspired to get me further thinking. Firstly, it was news of the death of the Bible teacher, David Pawson (see here) and part of my tribute was to listen to a four hour video of his on the Book of Revelation (see here), where in his indomitable way he pulled no punches, treading in areas where angels might fear to do so. And then there was our church e-study around Alistair Begg’s book, “Praying Big” that encourages us to do what the title says and his chapter on hope.
There is a verse in Isaiah, right at the beginning as it happens but has been cherry picked (because it misses out the key ingredient – the Messiah – who is needed to make it happen) by the United Nations, in coming up with some form of mission statement, yet serves the purpose of raising awareness. For the record the verse in question is: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” Isaiah 2:4. Isaiah too pulled no punches. He begins his Book with a rebuke from the Lord and yet he looks forward to a reign of peace, yet to be realized, that I refer to as the millennium.
And not just Isaiah, the other major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) too. Most of them looked forward to the Day of the Lord, the coming of Israel’s Messiah and Israel’s fortunes restored, and far, far better, in a time referred to here as the millennium. For most of them recognized, lived through or lived after the result of YHWH’s judgement: exiled by the Assyrians (Israel) and by the Babylonians (Judah). While a measure of restoration occurred following the return from exile by decree of Persian King Cyrus, it was but a shadow of what was prophesied.
Which brings me to Revelation and David Pawson’s thoughts, especially on the elephant in the room that divides many, the millennium: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” Revelation 20:4-6.
Pawson, in his methodical way outlines different schools of thoughts a-, post- and pre- (and even pan- i.e. it will all pan out in the end) concerning the millennium. The A-millennialists don’t believe in the millennium other than as a metaphor for some lofty hope. The Post-millennialists believe we are already in it. As for Pre-millennialists, i.e. them who believe in a literal millennium, consistent with what the Hebrew prophets foretold, he reflects with sadness that is a minority view. Included in that view are those who believe this is a Jewish thing and has nothing to do with the Church, whereas he believes the Church is involved, evidenced by the verses quoted above that include those who had been killed for witnessing to Jesus being those who will be part of the government of the King, when in a world we have been accustomed to recognize, albeit with some bright spots, is messed up, will be a marvelous place to live in because the world, for that period, will function as God intended.
Pawson points out that as well as many variations in these schools of millennial thought, what we believe about the millennium will influence our priorities, e.g. do we emphasize gospel preaching or social activism or seek a fine balance? It is also important to point out that Revelation, like Genesis are essential Books of the Bible. Genesis tells us how it (life, the universe and everything) came into being and Revelation tells us how it all will end. Given where we are at in the world, and the persecution of believers we are seeing in all its corners, and to be expected in the West that hitherto have got off relatively lightly, its message and attached blessing to them who read it is important as are related themes like being prepared, patience and perseverance and Jesus wins in the end.
And there you have it: Chapter 19 is about the coming to the Earth of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords in glory, and not this time as a babe born in a manger, only to die on a cross. He is the very one the Hebrew prophets looked forward to, in that line of David, and who was to rule with a rod of iron. Then comes the marriage supper of the Lamb when Jesus unites with His Bride, the Church. This follows the terrible persecution of true believers, the rule of the AntiChrist, who will be roundly defeated, and his tyranical reign ended, as well as assorted disasters on Earth. Only then comes the millennium; it is AFTER Jesus returns. During that time, Satan is bound, to be let loose at the end for a short time before that final judgement, when “the dead, small and great, stand before God”.
The rest of Chapter 20 to the end of the book is to do with the Last Judgment, including one of the saddest verses in the Bible, as it sets out a dire warning: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” Revelation 20:15. Chapters 21 and 22 builds on the theme: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” Revelation 21:1-3. The Bible concludes with the thrilling prospect for all believers: “Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” Revelation 22:20.
I wanted to share in last night’s study but didn’t because I needed to gather my thoughts (ref. the above) and it could be misconstrued. It is that hope is a wonderful thing and without it we will be certainly undone. But if the Bible is true that hope is not just wishful thinking; it is a sure thing. It recognizes that the grave is not our destiny but there is something wonderful beyond the grave and in a real way influences our approach to prayer and life. As for those who don’t believe – take heed, this is the Word of the Lord, and it has serious implications. As for those who do believe, while we see all sorts of catastrophes and contradictions, we must ever follow the Lamb.