Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 12, PAGE 20-23a

Will There Be A Millennium?

Kent Ellis , Lufkin, Texas

In the public mind there has been for many centuries and continues to be a popular conception that a golden age of universal righteousness is about to dawn upon the earth. This idea is characterized by an almost infinite number of variations. Generally speaking, however, these may be classified either as postmillennial or premillennial.

Some Definitions

The word "millennium" means "a thousand years." "Pre" means "before," and "post" means "after." Premillennialists believe the second coming of Christ will occur before the millennium and postmillennialists believe the Lord will come after it. Both groups hold in common the idea of a millennium of some kind, but differ radically as to the nature of it, the means of its inauguration, etc.

Postmillennialists believe that Christ accomplished what he intended to in his first coming, establishing a spiritual kingdom. They believe that before the second coming of Christ the principles of the gospel will be universally (or, almost universally) accepted by men and the world will be "practically Christianized." They believe this condition will prevail for a long time (not a literal thousand years), will be followed by a short season in which wickedness will revive, which will be ended by the appearance of the Lord to raise and judge all the dead.

Premillennialists come in so many different varieties it is impossible to even describe much less discuss them here: We will confine our references to the "Dispensationalist" school of premillennialism. This is the type taught in the Scofield Reference Bible, held by premillennial Churches of Christ, and by many in various denominations. The view of the first coming of Christ entertained by these folks is as significant as their notion of his second coming, and lays the groundwork for it. They believe Christ came the first time to establish an earthly kingdom among the Jews, ascend the mundane throne of David, give to the Jews the land God promised to the descendants of Abraham (which they allege was never completely delivered during the Old Testament period), and with the Jews holding a favored position reign over all the earth. It is taught that the Jews rejected Jesus in the midst of his personal ministry and thus made impossible the fulfillment of the prophecies and purposes of God at that time. Therefore, God "stopped the prophetic clock" and postponed the fulfillment of his purpose until the second coming of Christ, and established the church instead as a sort of interim measure.

Let us pause here to ask two questions. If the Jews expected and wanted an earthly kingdom and Jesus came to establish one of precisely that kind, why did they reject him? Also, if God's purpose and prophecies failed at the first coming of Christ, what guarantee is there that they will succeed at his second coming?

The premillennialist program for the second coming of Christ is generally as follows: Christ will come and take the saints, living and dead ("the first resurrection"), up in the air ("the Rapture") where they will stay with him for seven years. While this "Rapture" is transpiring in the air the 'Tribulation" is going on upon the earth, during which God is pouring out his wrath upon the ungodly. After the "Rapture" and the 'Tribulation" comes the "Revelation," in which Christ visibly descends to the earth for a preliminary judgment of the nations, to bind Satan, and to inaugurate the kingdom he intended to establish the first time. He will then reign over all the earth with his saints from the city of Jerusalem, while sitting on the throne of David. This reign will last for a literal 1000 years. In it the Jews will occupy the most exalted position, will live in the land God promised them through Abraham, — having all been converted to Christ. This will be a period of universal righteousness, peace, and blessing. The curse placed on the material creation will be lifted, war shall be no more, the animals will not harm one another, etc. And for those who follow their "literal interpretation" principle to its logical end, the temple, sacrifices, feasts, etc. will be restored in Jerusalem. At the end of this millennium, Satan is loosed, leads in a battle against Jerusalem, is defeated and cast into hell. The unrighteous dead are then raised and judged.

(The order of things outlined above would make one a pre-tribulation, secret rapture, Jewish premillennialist. If you prefer a different character or order you may be a traditional premillennialist and exclude the Jewish element. Or, you may have your rapture in mid-tribulation, or make it public and post-tribulation. As may be seen, any representation of the premillennial plan for the last events is of necessity a misrepresentation of many. And the very language needed and used to describe this intricate and complicated program prescribed for the Lord, and so strange to people who have simply studied their Bibles instead of the notes and charts of premillennial authors, shows it is more the product of an overheated imagination than of sober Bible-study.)

Our Task

It is with regard to these two popular conceptions that we will answer the question which forms the title of our article. It is obvious that before either postmillennialism or premillennialism can be true, there must be such a thing as the millennium (as they view it) itself. If no such period will ever transpire upon this earth, then Jesus' coming can be neither before it nor after it. So the question is, will such a period ever occur at any time upon this earth?

The premillennialists deny the Scriptures teach there will be a long period of universal righteousness on the earth before Christ's coming, and the postmillennialists deny there will be a 1000 year reign of Christ on earth following his second coming. We believe that both are right in this respect. We agree with both of these denials. We do not believe that such a period will occur either before or after the Lord's second coming.

Will There Be A Millennium Before Christ's Second Coming?

Before entering upon a brief discussion of whether postmillennialism is true, we would make two preliminary observations. First, we would in no wise seek to deny (we would insist) that the world has been improved by the presence of the word and people of God. We shudder to think what condition the world would be in if it had not been influenced by Jesus Christ for 1900 years. Still, we think it is obvious that universal righteousness is not reigning.

Second, while there are different varieties of postmillennialism, generally we do not consider it as objectionable as premillennialism. If it involves simply the idea that the gospel will eventually convert the world, it may leave one's basic conceptions undisturbed. Many of the early preachers in the restoration movement in America held to some form of postmillennialism. This sort of idea and optimism evidently caused Alexander Campbell to name his paper the "Millennial Harbinger." ("Harbinger" means "one who or that which precedes and gives notice of the arrival of some person or thing.") Postmillennialism may be only one element in a person's thinking and involve no realignment of his whole conception of what the Bible teaches. Premillennialism is a complete system of doctrine, affecting one's basic conception of the whole scheme of redemption, his interpretation of the entire Bible, and his fundamental outlook on life. Furthermore, premillennialists are zealous propagandists, continually pressing the claims of their pet theories, thus having a disturbing and divisive influence. Postmillennialists are not generally so. One objection we have to postmillennialism is that in postulating a long period of righteousness yet in the future it denies the present possibility of the second coming of Christ. The New Testament does not teach that the second advent will occur at any moment, but we believe it does teach that it might, and that such teaching has a beneficial effect on the people of God by encouraging faithfulness and preparedness.

The millennial idea is rooted in Revelation 20:1-10, which mentions a "thousand years" six times. Even the most ardent millenialist will admit that there is some symbolism in this passage. The question is, what is symbolic and what is literal, and what does the symbolic stand for? In the very nature of the case, symbolic language requires interpretation. A symbol is "something that stands for or represents another thing," else it would not be a symbol. Symbolic language involves the use of inference to determine its true significance. The premillennialist will admit that the passage does not spell out this program in so many words. He believes his interpretation of the passage is the most reasonable, and is implicit, not explicit, in it. We do not believe it is. We do not believe Revelation 20 or any other passage teaches that righteousness will prevail over all the earth before the coming of Christ for the following reasons:

(1) In Scripture the church is never synonymous with the world, but is always distinct from it, composed of those called out of it. The church is pictured as in all the world; but, all the world is never portrayed as in the church. Many passages teach that among the men of the world the people of God know tribulation, persecution, temptation, and hatred. They are to war the good warfare, fight the good fight, contend for the faith and defend it. The citizens of the kingdom are always strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in a hostile and alien world.

(2) This state of parallel existence of good and evil was apparently to continue until the end. The parable of the tares indicates that good and evil will exist side by side in the world until the great harvest at the end of the world (Matt. 13). The parable of the fishnet shows that this mixture would be even in the kingdom to "the end of the world" (Matt. 13:47-50).

(3) In II Thessalonians 2 Paul taught that in his day a "mystery of iniquity" was at work which would produce a "falling away" which would involve a "son of Perdition" who would continue until the coming of the Lord, at which time he would be destroyed. Paul had in view no intervening period of universal righteousness between his day and the second coming of the Lord.

(4) Many Scriptures foretell grievous times of ungodliness and apostasy in the "last days" (I Tim. 4:1; II Tim. 3:1; cf. Acts 2:16,17; II Tim. 4:3; Jude 17,18; II Peter 3).

In view of these Scriptures we look for no "millennium" of world-wide righteousness before the consummation of the age.

Will There be a Millennium After The Second Coming of Christ?

As we have noted already, the premillennial scheme of things calls for a literal 1000 years to separate the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the righteous from the resurrection and judgment of the wicked and the burning and passing away of the earth. This is clearly contrary to God's program for the coming of Christ.

(1) One thousand years of any character will not separate the resurrection of the just from the judgment of the unjust, because of these events will transpire on "the last day" (John 6:39,40,44,54; 11:24; 12:48). This leaves no room for 365,000 days to follow the one, or to intervene between the two.

(2) Jesus certainly left no impression that a thousand years would separate the resurrection of the good from the evil, when he said: "the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28,29; emphasis mine — KE).

(3) "At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven" he shall dispense "affliction" to the afflicters and "rest" to the afflicted. He shall render "vengeance" (this is not temporary or momentary, but "eternal destruction") to those not obeying the gospel and "be glorified" in his saints "in that day" (II Thess. 1:5-10). No thousand years intervenes here.

(4) In II Peter 3 we learn that at the promised coming and day of the Lord — the day expectant Christians so earnestly desire — the judgment and destruction of ungodly men and the dissolution of the earth by fire will transpire. No millennium comes between Christ's coming and the judgment of the ungodly. If it did there could be no reign on this earth because at his coming "the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

5. When Christ comes in his glory there will be one great judgment of "all the nations." The righteous will be given eternal life (not a 1000 years reign) and the wicked will go away into eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31-46).

6. In I Corinthians 15:20-26 Paul taught that when Christ comes he will raise the dead — thus defeating his last enemy — "then cometh (not a 1000 years reign, but) the end, (not when he shall establish his kingdom, but) when he shall deliver up the kingdom of God, even the Father;..." (Emphasis mine — KE)

7. In the very chapter where premillennialists think they find their program we are told that death and hades give up the dead and are destroyed, the heaven and earth flee away, the dead great and small are judged, some of them in the book of life and some not. All of these are apparently simultaneous events. When hades gives up its dead, it gives all of them and is destroyed, because death shall be no more. This is at the coming of Christ when death — the last enemy — shall be destroyed by the resurrection of all the dead (I Cor. 15). In God's plan when this happens, "there was found no place" for "the earth and the heaven" so they "fled away." Seeing that God finds no place for the earth, the premillennialists will find no place for their reign (Rev. 20:11-15).

8. Revelation 20:1-10 is thought by premillennialists to be the fountain and bastion of their doctrine. But if the reader will turn to this passage in his Bible, he will find that the essential ingredients of the premillennial theory are simply not there. It says nothing of: (a) Christ's second coming; (b) the so-called "rapture"; (c) the premillennialists' "tribulation" or "revelation"; (d) the throne of David; (e) the physical Jews; (f) Jerusalem or the promised land; (g) the earth; (h) a reign on earth; (i) Christ on earth; or, 0) a bodily resurrection. As a matter of fact, it says nothing whatever of bodies of anyone of any kind. John saw "the souls of" certain individuals living and reigning with Christ. It is true that the word "soul" sometimes stands for and means the whole person (cf. Acts 27:37). But when such is the case, the words "person" or "people" may be substituted for the word "soul" and make perfectly good sense. This is clearly not the case in Revelation 20. John saw "souls" as distinguished from bodies. The words "souls of do not mean simply "people" and it certainly does not mean "bodies."

In all the history and realm of baseless theories, one is not likely to find a worse case of reading into a text what is not there than the premillennial handling of Revelation 20. Verily, this is exegesis with a vengeance.


It is a necessity growing out of the fact of the harmony of all truth that various Scriptures must not be interpreted so as to conduct one another. It is a dictate of common sense and a basic principle of hermeneutics that difficult, figurative, or symbolic passages should be interpreted in the light of simple and literal ones. The text of Revelation 20 does not necessitate the construction placed on it by postmillennialists nor justify that of the premillennialists. Other passages contradict both. Therefore, we conclude there will be no millennium as either of these schools of thought use that term. Revelation 20 does not demand it; other passages forbid it. Hence, we believe the expectation of a golden age of universal righteousness upon this earth is without foundation in the word of God.

— 417 E. Groesbeck, Lufkin, Texas