All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
5 The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Throughout our “Kingdom Now” series we’ve seen over and over that the New Testament doesn’t teach a 1000 year kingdom, that it doesn’t even allow room for it in the most important passages dealing with this subject. Nowhere in the New Testament, accept here in Revelation do we get the idea of a millennial kingdom.
The Premillennial teaching that there’s a future 1000 earthly kingdom to look forward to, is based on this one passage in Revelation, along with Old Testament prophecies. Without these, no one would ever see a millennial kingdom in the NT — a kingdom that Premillennialists see as being established between the Second Coming of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth.
Old Testament Prophecies
In regard to the OT prophecies, I admit there’s a temptation to allow those scriptures to lead the way. However, it’s a great mistake to interpret the NT according to the OT, for the NT is the fulfillment of the OT. Everything written in the OT has Christ and the NT (New Covenant) in view. We can only understand the OT because of our understanding of the NT. That’s why the Jews to this day cannot understand their own scriptures. They don’t accept or understand the NT.
Therefore, using the OT as one’s theological foundation over the NT, can only lead to error. It forces one to be dishonest with the NT texts. It forces one to set aside normal and correct rules of interpretation. What I mean by that is, that it forces one to see things in the NT texts that one wouldn’t see without a preconceived notion of a millennial kingdom. It requires one to give meaning to NT texts that one would not see when using normal and sound rules of interpretation.
To be even more clear, to see a millennial kingdom in the NT, one has to be looking through the lens of a position that’s already set in stone….namely, Premillennialism. A normal reading and study would never, otherwise, reveal such a kingdom. As we’ve seen throughout this series, when we just allow the texts to speak naturally, they do not give any hint of a millennial kingdom, nor do those texts even allow room for one.
Therefore, we must resist the temptation to allow the OT to form our positional foundation. We must start with the NT. Once we understand what the NT teaches, only then are we prepared to interpret the OT. This is all I’m going to say about this subject for now. I plan to deal with the OT prophecies at length later on.
So how do we explain the mention of the 1000 year “reign” (by implication, a kingdom) in the book of Revelation? First of all, it’s a serious mistake to allow one passage to override and interpret the rest of the NT teaching on this subject. It’s contrary to the normal rules of interpretation to set aside all those other scriptures that teach otherwise, and depend entirely on one passage…..especially when it’s in the most difficult book of the NT, with all of its symbolism.
One of the most important rules of interpretation when dealing with any subject, is to interpret the more difficult verses/passages according to those that are clearly stated and understood. When you have an abundance of scriptures that are clearly saying the same thing (as we’ve seen throughout this series), we must allow those scriptures to form our foundation to build upon. If we get this backwards, we will come to wrong conclusions, which lead to wrong theological positions.
So what do we do with this number “1000” in the book of Revelation?
We first have to realize that Revelation is full of symbolic numbers. Let me briefly touch on these numbers:
Consider how many times the number seven is mentioned in Revelation:
Seven: churches, Spirits, golden lampstands, stars, seals, trumpets, bowls, plagues, horns, eyes, angels, thunders, heads, diadems, mountains, kings.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that there’s so many sevens in this book. I think it’s obvious that that number is symbolic, that it has meaning. There’s a reason why the number seven is mentioned so many times and associated with so many different things. Few would disagree that the number seven in the Bible has the meaning of completeness or perfection.
Consider all the times that three and a half is mentioned. That’s half of seven. Is that not significant? Does that not suggest that that too is symbolic, as seven is?
Also consider the following numbers in Revelation:
“and for ten days you will have tribulation.” (2:10)
“authority as kings for one hour” (17:12)
“in one hour your judgment has come” (18:10)
“for in one hour such great riches come to nothing” (18:17)
“in one hour she is made desolate” (18:19)
“the hour of trial” (3:10)
“the hour of his judgment has come” (14:7)
“144,000” (7:4; 14:1)
“a third” (numerous)
Note that the numbers: 12, 24, and 144,000. 24 is 12 twice. 144,000 is 12,000 12 times.
In regard to 666, 6 is less than 7, which, as we already discussed, represents perfection or completeness.
In regard to the number “three,” that’s half of the number six.
All the mentions of “hour” can’t be taken as a literal one hour period.
“Ten days” is likely not a literal 10 day period, considering the symbolism of numbers in this book. Consider also the discussion about this number in the quotes below.
In regard to the 1000 years. Consider the OT reference “cattle on a 1000 hills.” We’re obviously not to take that number literally. It’s a reference to all of the cattle on all of the hills. Consider also what Peter said:
2 Peter 3:8
“But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
Therefore, I believe the evidence strongly suggests that “1000” is to be taken as symbolic for a long period of time. In a book full of symbolism and symbolic numbers, it’s absolutely reasonable to regard this number in that way.
Sam Storms, in his book “Kingdom Come,” gives a good explanation of this number:
Finally, the premillennialist insists that the words “one thousand years” (chilia ete) must mean literal years, which is to say, arithmetically and chronologically precise years. As anyone who has studied Revelation knows all too well, deciphering numbers in this book is an incredibly difficult task. One need only observe the dispute down through the centuries over the meaning of 666!
In other texts “one thousand” rarely if ever is meant to be taken with arithmetical precision. This is true whether the context is non-temporal (Ps. 50:10; Song 4:4; Josh. 23:10; Isa. 60:22; Deut. 1:11; Job 9:3; Eccles. 7:28), in which case the usage is always figurative, indeed hyperbolical, or temporal (Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 16:15; Pss. 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; 2 Pet. 3:8). What is the significance of the number 1,000 here? According to David Chilton, just “as the number seven connotes a fullness of quality in Biblical imagery, the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands for manyness. A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (10 x 10 x 10), in order to express great vastness (cf. 5:11; 7:4-8; 9:16; 11:3,13; 12:6; 14:1,3,20) For example, we are told in Psalm 50:10 that God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” Obviously, this “does not mean that the cattle on the 1,001st hill belong to someone else. God owns all the cattle on all the hills. But He says ‘a thousand’ to indicate that there are many hills, and much cattle.” Benjamin B. Warfield takes much the same approach:
“The sacred number seven in combination with the equally sacred number three forms the number of holy perfection ten, and when this ten is cubed into a thousand the seer has said all he could say to convey to our minds the idea of absolute completeness….[Therefore] when the saints are said to live and reign with Christ a thousand years the idea intended is that of inconceivable exaltation, security and blessedness as beyond expression by ordinary language.”
(Bold print by me)
Again, I think it’s completely reasonable to take the number “1000” as being symbolic. I think it’s completely sensible that this number refers to the idea of a long period of time, and “absolute completeness.” On the contrary, all things considered, I think the idea that the number 1000 should be taken literally is most unreasonable. The evidence weighs heavily against that idea.
If the NT doesn’t teach a literal 1000 year kingdom that’s to be established between the return of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom, then what kingdom (“reign”) does this passage refer to? Amillennialists interpret this differently, but as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this series (see post on Acts 2:29-36), I believe it’s referring to the Church and the Church Age. In other words, I believe the Church is the long awaited Kingdom of Christ that the Jews were looking forward to, and still are today. As John, the writer of Revelation, himself, says:
5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; 6 and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
9 And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, 10 and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.
And as Paul says:
13 who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love;
In short, I believe all the promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ and His Church, and that the long awaited Kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom.
Jesus reigns as King, and we reign with Him:
20 which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ:
This prophesied kingdom has its ultimate fulfillment in the Eternal Kingdom, the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-2).
In regard to the relationship between Israel and the Church, I will deal with that at length in a future series, as we continue to prepare for the commentary on the book of Revelation.
I will give a full explanation of Revelation 20:4-6 when we come to it in the verse by verse commentary.