Last time we wrestled with the texts that promise we will one day see God, and the texts that say we cannot see God. Today we have a question about when the children of God will see Jesus — sooner or later? The question comes from John in Denver, Colorado. “Pastor John, I see two biblical realities I cannot reconcile, and you are the man for the task! First, I see a strong emphasis that Jesus is about to return to earth. The church stands on her toes in anticipation. Also, I see a millennium, a one thousand year period on the earth before Christ returns. We are not in the millennium, I don’t think, so Christ is at least 1,000 years off. And soon to return? How do I reconcile those two realities?”
There is one place in the Bible where this thousand years is spoken of explicitly. And let’s read it, because my guess is most people don’t see it in context very often. They just bandy these things about. So, let me read Revelation 20:1–6 and then try to answer his question.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those 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 for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.
Piper: Study Revelation 20:4–6 carefully, ask what “the first resurrection” means, and read various perspectives.
And in my view, a lot hangs on what you make of that statement, that resurrection: rising to reign with Christ for one thousand years, “this is the first resurrection.” Where that happens will make all the difference. Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death” — that is, hell — “has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” So, there is the one place in the Bible where explicitly it says there will be a thousand years, sometimes called the millennial, meaning thousand, reign of Christ on the earth.
Now, the question that divides Bible-believing Christians is how this one thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth followed by a complete revolution of things in the new heavens and the new earth, how that relates to the second coming of Christ. Some say that one thousand years, the millennium, is a reference to the period of time where we are right now as Christ reigns in heaven today till he puts all of his enemies under his feet. And then Christ comes back after this age of mission to the nations is complete, and then there is the new heavens and the new earth — they are established. That view is called Amillennialism, not the best name, I think most of them would agree. What it means is that there is no future millennium that we are waiting for, because we are in it now. Amillennialism is not the greatest title because they would say: No, there is one, and we are in it now. And it is symbolic for a very long period of time in which Christ is reigning now.
Some others say that the one thousand years is a real period of lengthy glory in this age. We are not in it yet. It will come just before Christ comes so that the gospel triumphs in the world: the world is Christianized, by and large, peace and righteousness hold sway in the world, and then, after that, post that, Christ returns — this is Postmillennial. That is called Postmillennialism, because the second coming happens after a real future, a long time of triumph for the gospel in the earth.
And then, here is the third view and I put myself here: Some say that the one thousand years happens after Christ comes again, or he comes pre, before the millennium — and that is why it is called Premillennialism. Then, after Christ comes to a very rebellious earth and establishes his reign, there is a long, long period of glorious rule of Christ on the earth.
Now, John’s question makes it sound to me like he is not aware of this view. He says: We are not in the millennium. Okay, I agree with that. I don’t think so, he says. So, Christ is at least one thousand years off . I don’t know where he gets that necessity. And soon to return, he says. How could he be soon to return if there are one thousand years between us and Christ?
So, my answer is that Christ may not be one thousand years off at all, because a millennium does not have to come first. That is my view. It comes after Christ’s return. So, Christ could come very, very quickly. I pray he does. I have really good friends who hold all three of these positions. And so, I am not going to withhold my fellowship or friendship over these kinds of disagreements.
Piper: “Christ’s return may not be one thousand years off because the millenium comes after his return.”
I would simply suggest to John that he study that section and get some books and read about these views, that he study that section in Revelation, and that he read especially Revelation 20:4–6 very carefully and ask what “the first resurrection” refers to. That is when the millennium begins. They came to life and reigned with Christ for one thousand years. This is the first resurrection, and then the millennium starts. I think that resurrection is the resurrection at the coming of Christ — the second coming — and that is when the millennium begins. So, John can press on with his joyful sense of expectation in the Lord’s return. It could happen very, very soon. He doesn’t have to wait one thousand years.
Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes.