Remarks on the ‘thousand-year’ problem

Introduction

The interpretation of the ‘thousand-year’ text in Revelation 20:1-10 (more precisely in verses 2-7) has lead to a flood of literature on this topic. The various views exist in many different versions, and there is hardly two substantial works that agree on all aspects. This ‘thousand-year’ problem is part of the larger issue of eschatology.

A number of issues are involved. The first is whether Christ comes before (pre-) or after (post-) “the thousand years,” i.e. the millennium. Recently, however, a certain type of postmillennialism has been designated amillennialism (‘without-millennium’), not because it rejects any “millennial reign,” but because it rejects the premillennial view. Postmillennialism is now reserved as a term for a specific type of postmillennialism.

As it is clear from the preceding explanation, another issue is how to understand the character of the reign. Premillennialism asserts that Christ will return invisibly and establish his reign either directly or indirectly. The conversion of the Jews play a major role for the adherents of premillennialism. Many believe that the invisible (first) return of Christ will be announced by a number of signs. Postmillennialism believes that the world will be increasinly influenced by Christian values, which will bring peace, righteousness and prosperity. Amillennialism argues that the millennial reign is the age of the church. It will be terminated by the (visible) return of Christ and the judgment of the world. Until the very second coming of Christ believers and unbelievers will live together on the earth.

Descriptions

Amillennialism is the view that the “thousand-year” period is a symbol for the age of the church and that Christ has bound Satan. It might, perhaps, be more precisely termed realised millennialism. The term is relatively recent (cf. “Van Deventer, Amillennial History“).

Atemporal amillennialism is the view that the ‘thousand-year’ period is hardly any period, but a symbolic term describing the period between the beginning and the end of the judgment, a period which does not really have any length.

Premillennialism, which is also called chiliasm or millennarianism, teaches that Christ will come at the beginning of the thousand-year period which lasts until the last judgment. There are a number of subdivisions. Dispensational Premillennialism, which was unknown until the 19th century, seems to be far more popular than historic premillenialism.

Postmillennialism teaches that the thousand-year period is still future (as do the premillennialists), but that Christ will come at the end of this period that is often viewed in very positive terms. Earlier, the term was used with reference to what is now called amillennialism.

Introductions

For an overview, see Bock (ed.), Three Views on the Millennium.

The following works provide general introductions to the problem of interpreting Revelation: Clouse, Four Views; Erickson, Contemporary Options.

See also “The ‘End Times”, a booklet that presents the topic from a Lutheran perspective of doctrine.

Theses

Updated: July 20th, 2008

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