As a Partial Preterist, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive is regarding “The Millenium.” No, I don’t mean Han Solo’s ship, I mean that obscure passage in Revelation 20 which has divided Christianity into four differing factions (Amillennial, Premillennial, Post Millennial, and Historic Premillennial).
Although I have been a Partial Preterist for over ten years (ie. Matthew 24 and most of the Book of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century). I have taken years to determine which position I believe regarding the millennium of Revelation 20.
Even after all my study, I land somewhere between Amillennial and Post Millennial (I hold the symbolism of Amil, but the optimism of Post Mil).
Here is the section from Raptureless 2nd Edition, The Art of Revelation, in which I look in greater detail (Available on Amazon and Kindle).
Part 1 (Revelation 20)
I have studied the many views regarding this passage, and as of yet, I found none of them to be perfectly satisfying. Even David Chilton, the scholar who wrote the 750-page masterpiece, The Days of Vengeance, also concluded that his was a mixture of two of the main views of the millennium.1 Rather than getting into the theological terms and their definitions, I will simply say I agree with Chilton’s blending, which has no particular name per se. Now let’s jump into examining the text:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time (Revelation 20:1–3).
The Figurative Nature of the Millennium
These three verses have been the source of countless debates, divisions, novels, and poor quality Christian movies! Nowhere else in Scripture is a thousand-year time period specifically mentioned. In fact, to the Jewish people, the number one thousand simply meant “a whole lot.”
For example, look at the song in First Samuel 18, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). This sounds impressive, except that David had only killed Goliath. With this example, we see it’s important to remember the Jewish approach to numbers was not the same as the modern literalism we have been taught.
Another example is the claim that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (see Ps. 50:10). Actually God owns all the cattle on all the hills of the planet, yet to the Jewish reader, using the number one thousand was not limiting God’s cattle ownership!
A third example is in this verse: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere…” (Ps. 84:10). If understood literally, this verse would mean 1,001 days elsewhere would be better than a day in the house of God. Clearly, that was not the psalmist’s message.
Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California, said this regarding Revelation 20:
We have statements in scripture concerning the beasts and the thousand years. For example, it says that the dragon will be bound with chains and cast into a bottomless pit for a thousand years. Now I don’t want to take away your millennium… I just want to suggest that we might not know what we are talking about because there are only a couple of verses in the Bible on the subject!
Then Bill Johnson begins to ask questions of the audience:
Bill Johnson: The Dragon, literal or figurative? Is it a real dragon?
Audience replies: Figurative
Bill Johnson: The Chains, literal or figurative? Is it actual chains?
Audience replies: Figurative
Bill Johnson: The Bottomless pit, literal or figurative?
Audience replies: Figurative
Bill Johnson: The Millennium, literal or figurative?
To this question, the audience replies only with stunned silence.
Bill then goes on to speak about how we have allowed our interpretation of the millennium and other passages to cancel out our responsibility to demonstrate the Kingdom of God in the present—as if many of the Bible’s promises are not for today.
To that I say, “That’s a good word, Bill!”
During the Millennium
Now let’s look at what the Bible says will happen during the millennium:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 (Revelation 20:4).
The English translation of this passage makes it seem like there are two groups of people in view here, yet in the Greek it is clear that John was describing one group of people, the same group from Revelation 6:9–11:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice,“ How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.”
In chapter 6, we find these martyrs under the throne crying out for justice, but in chapter 20, the same martyrs are given thrones of their own to reign in judgment upon! I know this because of the next verse:
(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.
This phrase, “The rest of the dead,” makes it clear that this group of people is a select number from among the dead. To find out what separates these ones who reign on thrones from “the rest,” we need to look at the passage right before chapter 20 begins:
But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh (Revelation 19:19–21).
The ones in question, “The rest of the dead,” were those who died in the AD 70 destruction, the non-believing Jews. We know this to be true because the time indicator in Revelation 19:20 tells us this happened at the same time as the destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet, that is Nero and the Jewish Rulers.
Thus far, this is what we have found in Revelation 20:
•A time period that is very long, symbolized by the number one thousand
•First-century martyrs sitting on thrones and passing judgment
•First-century Jewish non-believers being judged
•The dragon (devil) being bound in his ability to deceive the nations
Importantly, we have not found any of the following popular ideas:
•A rebuilt temple in Jerusalem
•The reestablishment of the Old Covenant system
•Jesus reigning physically upon the earth
These concepts that are not found in Revelation 20 have been injected by the system Darby founded in the most abusive form of eisegesis (reading one’s own ideas into a text). Darbyists construct their view of the thousand years by taking passages from Jeremiah, Zechariah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah and tearing them out of context in order to make them fit with Revelation 20.
If I were to simply paraphrase my understanding of Revelation 20, I would explain it this way: The thousand years represents the Kingdom of God. When Jesus came to earth, He bound the devil (the strong man, as in Matthew 12:28–29), and the devil could no longer deceive the nations (see Rev. 20:3).This paved the way for the disciples to disciple all nations (see Matt. 28:18–20).The first-century martyrs were given thrones to reign upon in the Kingdom; this occurred in Revelation 11, when Jesus was declared the King over the kingdoms of the earth (see Rev. 11:15) and the first resurrection was indicated (see Rev. 11:17–18). We now live inside the Kingdom of God on the earth, which is growing as the mustard seed and as the leaven going through the loaf (see Matt. 13:31–33).We are in the millennial reign, which is a spiritual Kingdom that is bringing Heaven into the earth progressively (see Matt. 6:10). Someday in the future, the Kingdom will have advanced so far that the only thing remaining to do will be to finally and completely judge the devil. He will be released from his chains to gather up whoever still resists the Kingdom, and the lot of them will be thrown into the lake of fire.
Why the Difficulty?
As we have seen, the Book of Revelation contains weird and mysterious symbols throughout that require interpretation. Comprehending these symbols becomes easier when we understand the symbols are based mainly on the Old Testament and point to the shift from the Old Covenant into the New Covenant.
Yet when we reach Revelation 20, it seems like a dozen interpretations appear, and each interpretation has many credible adherents. Why is Revelation 20 so difficult?
As I worked on writing this section, I had about twenty commentaries open on a table in Starbucks. Each of the books I had brought in my box came from what I consider to be the optimistic perspective. Yet they still held a lot of various answers regarding Revelation 20. Comparing them all, I have determined that, in my opinion, the perspective of James Stuart Russell is most sensible regarding this passage.
I must take a moment to clarify that I do not adhere to James Stuart Russell’s beliefs as a whole. His remarkable work, The Parousia, published in 1878, is still a magnum opus proving all this end-times stuff has already happened and isn’t about our future. The problem is that Russell goes too far and says Jesus isn’t coming back and there is no future judgment or resurrection. This is in direct contradiction to what I believe, as I have laid out clearly in Raptureless in Chapter 14, “The Big Three.” Russell’s belief is commonly referred to as full preterism.
Russell’s understanding of Revelation 20 is very helpful and insightful, yet it is what he says about this passage that actually causes the purist full preterists to reject Russell and claim he is not a true full preterist.
Russell starts by disagreeing with his colleagues (the full preterists):
Some interpreters indeed attempt to get over the difficulty by supposing that the thousand years, being a symbolic number, may represent a period of very short duration, and so bring the whole within the prescribed apocalyptic limits; but this method of interpretation appears to us so violent and unnatural that we cannot hesitate to reject it.
He is referring to the fact that the full preterist claims the one thousand years is figurative and refers to AD 30–70. Even one hundred years after Russell wrote this, many full preterists still make this claim. I, of course, find it unconvincing and agree with Russell on that. He continues:
“The act of binding and shutting up the dragon does indeed come within the “shortly” of the apocalyptic statement, for it is coincident, or nearly so, with the judgment of the harlot and the beast; but the term of the dragon’s imprisonment is distinctly stated to be for a thousand years, and thus must necessarily pass entirely beyond the field of vision so strictly and constantly limited by the book itself.”
I agree with Russell’s interpretation that the dragon (devil) was bound in the bottomless pit in the first century by the work of the cross. Yet by stating this very large number of years (the metaphor one thousand years), John passed beyond the immediate AD 70 destruction that, until that point, has been the main focus of the text of Revelation. In this one instance, we have passed outside the bounds of events shortly to come to pass.
“We believe, however, that this is the solitary example, which the whole book contains of this excusion beyond the limits of “shortly;” and we agree with [the famous commentator] [Moses] Stuart that no reasonable difficulty can be made on account of this single exception to the rule. We shall also find as we proceed that the events referred to as taking place after the termination of the thousand years are predicted as in a prophecy, and not represented as in a vision.”
Russell makes a very strong point here; the rest of the Book of Revelation is a visionary experience, yet in this passage, John is not seeing a vision but begins to declare a prophecy. He has moved from operating as a seer with a vision to interpret, and he has started operating as a prophet speaking declaratively regarding the future.
“This act of seizing, chaining, and casting into the abyss is represented as taking place under the eye of the Seer, being introduced by the usual formula, “And I saw.” It is an act of contemporaneous, or nearly so, with the judgments executed on the other criminals, the harlot and the beast. This part of the vision, then, falls within the proper limits of apocalyptic vision….”
Once I saw Russell’s explanation, this passage began to make sense to me. Ninty-nine percent of Revelation is a vision with symbols to interpret regarding the destruction of the Old Covenant world and the establishment of the New Covenant. Yet there is one percent of the Book of Revelation found in chapter 20 that passes outside the time and space restrictions of the rest of the book and speaks of the distant future. This is clearly shown by the figurative use of the one thousand years idiom.
After the Millenium
All of the main views of the endtimes (premillenial, postmillenial, amillenial, partial preterist, futurist, historicist, and idealist), except for a few teachers on the fringe (full preterists), believe that the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11–15 is a future event at the end of human history. While Revelation is the revealing and unveiling of Jesus Christ and His New Covenant—which removed the Old Covenant veil—the following verses were not fulfilled in AD 70.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. [The city He loves is not the natural Jerusalem, which was being judged, but the heavenly Jerusalem.] But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7–15).
The famous Bible scholar, Milton Terry, wrote a stunning statement about this period of time we live within: “How long the King of kings will continue His battle against evil and defer the last decisive blow, when satan shall be “loosed for a little time,” no man can even approximately judge. It may require a million years.”