by Rev. H. Holtvlüwer
Revelation 20:4-10 – The thousand year reign
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 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.
Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.
And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Q. I've been told my church is Amillennialist. What does that mean?
A. This question is short and simple, but unfortunately the answer is somewhat complex, although I’ll try to be clear and to the point. Before you can understand “Amillennialism” you need to understand Millennialism in general. Millennialism is a belief concerning the future period of glory for Christ and His church on this present earth. The term “Millennialism” is derived from the Latin word “mille” meaning, “1000.” At some point, before the final end of all things, Christ will reign with His church for 1000 years on the earth as we now know it. Millennialism is based on a very literal interpretation of one key text of Scripture, namely Revelation 20 (especially vs. 4-10).
There are two basic forms of Millennialism: Premillennialism and Postmillennialism. The “pre” (i.e. “before”) and the “post” (“after”) simply refer to the timing of Christ’s return (His second advent), that is, either before or after the 1000 year period of glory. By far the more popular of the two, Premillennialism teaches that Christ will first come back and then proceed to establish a 1000-year reign of peace on the earth.
There are a number of versions in vogue but a very popular one (often called Dispensational Premillennialism) includes the idea of the “Rapture”1 as follows: at any time Christ will return and meet His saints in the air. These saints will be comprised of all believers at that time, living or dead. The dead will be raised up and the living transformed, both into glorified bodies. Together they will be caught up or “raptured” instantly to meet Christ in the air and be with Him forever. This rapture of believers will leave behind all unconverted people in a moment of time.
Furthermore, Premillennialists believe that after the rapture follows a seven-year period where Christ and His church retreat to heaven. These seven years are known as the period of Tribulation. Two things will occur during the Tribulation:
1) From heaven, Christ will again deal with the Jewish people directly and effect mass conversions among them.
2) However, at the same time and with increasing oppression the Antich
rist will reign over the earth, hence the term, “Tribulation.”
At the end of seven years, Christ will return from heaven once more together with His church. He will proceed to destroy the Antichrist, bind Satan, and set up an earthly kingdom centered in Jerusalem to rule the nations for 1000 years (the millennium). This will be a time of great peace and joy for the church. At the end of 1000 years, Satan will be loosed for a short time, attempt to destroy the church, but will himself once and for all be cast into the lake of burning fire. Then Christ and all His people will enter their eternal state on the new heaven and new earth.
Postmillennialism has many similar features but places events in a different order. The millennium in view here is not so much a strict 1000-year period, but an era wherein Christ will reign from heaven through His church over this present earth. Christ’s second coming will occur after (i.e. post) this “millennium.” This millennium will thus be brought about by the gradual spread of the gospel and the increased Christianization of the world. Here there is no future period of tribulation or apostasy but a steady increase in Christ’s influence and rule over the nations. Once this “golden era” of the church has come to an end, then Christ will return, usher in the final judgment and bring His church into eternal bliss on the new heaven and new earth.
So, what now is Amillennialism? The term “Amillennialism” literally means “no millennialism” and intends to out-rightly deny the positions of both “pre” and “post” millennialism. Still, the term is somewhat misleading, for Amillennialists do believe in the 1000-year reign of Christ, but not in the literalistic manner of the others. Though there is some disagreement in minor details, proponents teach that the millennial reign of Christ began at His ascension into heaven and continues presently. Christ is currently King in heaven, and those who have died in the Lord currently rule together with Him. Satan is thus presently bound by the power of Christ so as not to deceive the nations with his lies any longer, as he had previously been allowed to do. To be sure, the Devil is still active and influential, but his previous dominance is curtailed for a time, namely for the “millennium.” This allows the gospel to spread to all nations and through it Christ powerfully gathers in the elect of His Father by the power of His Spirit.
The church during these “last days” remains, even while expanding, a suffering church, constantly afflicted by the devil, the unbelieving world, and internal strife. This affliction becomes greater toward the end of Christ’s millennium as Satan is “loosed” for a short time, the time when the spirit of the Antichrist and the Man of Lawlessness gain increasing authority. Following this temporary increase in Satan’s power and his persecution of the church, Christ will physically return on the clouds of heaven and put a permanent end to Satan and his allies. This will be the time of the final judgment when all of God’s enemies will be thrown into the burning lake of fire. At the same time, all of God’s elect will be gathered unto Himself to live forever with their God on the new heaven and the new earth.2
By and large Reformed churches have historically taken this “Amillennialist” position. Christ’s millennial reign is now, not future. This is the consistent teaching of the Bible clearly understood by the three ancient ecumenical creeds and as well the Reformed confessions (see for example, Belgic Confession, Art. 26,37; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1,18,19,22,48).
1 The rapture has been popularized in a series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins called “The Left-Behind” series. 2 For a more comprehensive overview of the Millennialist views from a Reformed standpoint, see Tj. Boersma, “A Millenial Reign, But How?” in Clarion, Year-End Issue, 1999, p.585-588.