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The thousand year period known as the millennium is an important part of prophecy. To understand the millennium, we must look at how the world will change when Jesus returns. When Jesus returns, he will overthrow the kingdoms of the world, and replace them with his eternal Kingdom.
The word "millennium" doesn't appear in the bible. However, our understanding of prophecy depends on how we interpret this thousand year period. Even though the word isn't used, it's clear that a lot of prophecy depends on the millennium. A future millennium period provides the context for many difficult bible passages.
The millennium can be understood as a gap of time. It's after the second advent, but before the eternal age. The millennium transitions the world from Jesus' return into the eternal age. The Kingdom of God is set up in the world during this time.
The idea of a millennium comes from Revelation 20. Revelation 20 describes a thousand year period between Jesus' return and the second resurrection, "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God...and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20.4-5 KJV bible).
Aside from these two verses, chapter 20 gives few details about the purpose of the millennium. All it tells us is that the millennium will be a period of time separating Christ's return from the second resurrection. During this time God's servants will reign with Jesus.
From both Revelation 19 and 20, we understand that the millennium will begin at the second advent. Because Jesus' return is the event that leads into the millennium, it's the key to understanding the world at this time. In order to study the millennium, we have to look closely at the changes that will occur when the Kingdom appears.
According to Revelation, Jesus' return will be a time of supernatural upheaval. The Kingdom will be revealed, and overthrow the powers of the world. The world will begin a transformation.
"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war...And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (Revelation 19.11,15 KJV bible).
At the seventh trumpet, the Kingdom of Heaven will manifest, and overthrow worldly strongholds, "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11.15 KJV bible).
This future overthrow of worldly kingdoms is the beginning of the millennium. "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed...it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Daniel 2.44 KJV bible).
The idea of Jesus conquering the "kingdoms" of the world might sound archaic to us. We don't see literal kings and queens too often. However, the modern world is full of great strongholds that are in opposition to God. These strongholds are the kingdoms that will be broken to pieces.
The modern world is a stronghold of sin. Governments around the world persecute people who spread the gospel. The entertainment industry is full of sin and perversion. Lies are taught on college campuses, and welcomed in classrooms. Many religious institutions are corrupt, and guided by false teachings.
These strongholds will be shaken at the start of the millennium. They will be uprooted and destroyed so that they no longer have influence over people's lives. Their deception and corruption will be exposed.
Then in the millennium, the spiritual darkness of this age will end. The Devil will not have power over the nations. The nations will no longer be strongholds of ignorance. The tearing down of worldly kingdoms will open the way for a true enlightenment.
The knowledge of God will begin to fill the earth"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11.9 KJV bible).
The millennium will transition the world away from these dark times, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts..." (1st Corinthians 5.4 KJV bible).
This transition is described in 1st Corinthians 15. In this passage it says that Jesus must reign until all his enemies are under his feet. He must put down all authority and power before the end comes. 1st Corinthians 15.25 describes the millennium gap.
"Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1st Corinthians 15.24-26 KJV bible).
There will be an upheaval in the order of society. The ones leading the world against God will lose power. They will be ruined, and cast off in shame.
"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains" (Revelation 6.15 KJV bible).
When the Devil is imprisoned in the Abyss (Revelation 20.2-3), he will have no influence over the world. His empire will be broken apart, and his followers will be driven into the shadows. Then the true servants of God will reign over the world.
In the millennium, a new order will be established. This order won't come about through human progress, but through divine intervention. The chosen ones of God will reign for the first time.
The faithful will be inheritors with Christ, reigning over the nations, "For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted" (Isaiah 60.12 KJV bible).
When Jesus returns he will know his servants. He will reward his faithful servants, but reject the worthless. Jesus will set his house in order to establish his Kingdom on Earth.
This judgment of the servants is revealed in many of Jesus' parables. These parables describe the start of the millennium, when he will separate his true servants from the false ones. Those who are called and faithful will be rewarded, while the others are cast out.
In Luke 12, Jesus compares his return to a lord returning to his estate, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing" (Luke 12.42-43 KJV bible).
Jesus asks, who is the servant who will be ruler over his household? He says it's the one he finds doing his will when he returns. These are the ones who will be welcomed into his Kingdom.
However, the worthless servants will be punished, "But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers" (Luke 12.45-46 KJV bible).
These unwise stewards are not received well. They are expelled from the house and given a place among the unbelieving. They failed because they didn't hear Jesus. They're apostates who will be rejected.
In Matthew 25 we have another parable. This parable also relates to Jesus' return at the start of the millennium. In this parable, Jesus describes ten virgins betrothed to a certain groom. They are waiting for his arrival, when they will consummate the marriage.
They have lamps to help light their way. However, only five of them are wise enough to take oil for their lamps, "They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps" (Matthew 25.3-4 KJV bible).
As the night drags on, the groom doesn't arrive when expected. The five who didn't take oil begin to have their lamps go out. When news of his arrival finally comes, the unwise are unprepared, "And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out" (Matthew 25.8 KJV bible).
While the unwise go to find oil, the groom returns and the five wise ones enter into his chamber. At this time the door is locked, so no one else can enter, "Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not" (Matthew 25.11-12 KJV bible).
The parable of the ten virgins is part of the mystery of the bride. It likens believers to ten virgins. They all wait in the darkness of the world for the return of Christ. Some have lasting light in their lamps, but some don't. The ones that have light are able to enter with Jesus, but the others aren't.
The unwise virgins are careless, and have weak faith. Their faith is built on the platitudes of men. Their faith is shallow and doesn't last through the dark of the night. It doesn't guide them through the deceptions that come upon the world. When the groom arrives they aren't prepared.
This judgment of the servants is often compared to entering a door. The wise enter before it's sealed shut, but many others can't enter, "Strive to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, open to us" (Luke 13:24-25 ASV bible).
These parables are about the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Souls will be discerned, and the redeemed will be gathered. The unfit will not be able to enter, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat" (Matthew 7.13 KJV bible).
God has prepared places of honor within his Kingdom, even to sit on the right and left of Christ. However, for those who aspire to such places, let them humble themselves and become servants. This is the mystery of the good servant.
To be a spiritual blessing to others we must humble ourselves, "...but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20.26-28 KJV bible).
The good servant is the one who is called, chosen, and faithful. One must be called and faithful to that gift. Those who are called to serve are responsible for more, and those who are not called are responsible for less.
"And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes" (Luke 12.47-48 KJV bible).
However, the most severe wrath is reserved for the servant's of the Enemy. These are the ones who work against salvation, "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me" (Luke 19.27 KJV bible).
In these parables and passages, we are given a view into the coming of the Kingdom. Everything will be revealed in the light. Christ will reward and empower the righteous, while destroying the wicked. Out of this upheaval of the world, a new millennium order will be established.
The millennium is a transitional time. During the millennium the Kingdom is in the world, but it isn't complete. The millennium transitions the world now into the eternal age.
At the end of the millennium, darkness will have power again. The Devil will be released into the world for a season. He will go out and deceive the nations as he did once before. There will be great numbers of souls who follow him.
"And whenever the thousand years are ended, Satan will be set loose out of his prison, and he will go to mislead the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to assemble them in war, whose number is as the sand of the sea" (Revelation 20:7-8 LITV bible).
This is the great destruction of Gog and Magog prophecied in Ezekiel, "And I will judge him with a plague and with blood, and an overflowing shower, and hailstones. I will rain fire and brimstone on him, and on his bands, and on the many peoples who are with him" (Ezekiel 38:22 LITV bible).
Only after this outpouring of destruction does the White Throne Judgment take place, "And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works" (Revelation 20:13 ASV bible).
In the White Throne Judgment the evil ones will be eternally condemned. They will never be resurrected back into the world. They will never be able to corrupt God's creation.
We've looked at many passages that describe a future millennium period. In this thousand year period the Kingdom of Heaven will be revealed to the world. There will be rejoicing for some, but grief for others.
These passages lead to one of the profound mysteries of the millennium age. Who are these people that live in the world at this time? Who are the nations that God's people have authority over? One possibility is that the people of the millennium are from the past.
Notice what Jesus says to one of his accusers, "...Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14.61-62 KJV bible).
How could this man see Jesus' return? He would be dead and buried before Jesus' return. Being an elder of the people, he was probably dead within decades of Jesus' crucifixion. He was probably not alive when the book of Revelation was written. So why does Jesus say to him confidently that he will see him return?
Many of the parables that Jesus gives about his return describe something similar. Jesus often describes how people living in his generation will witness him return. He tells them they will see and understand that the Kingdom of God is here.
"Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13.26-28 KJV bible).
Here a man asks Jesus a question about salvation, and Jesus tells him about the coming of the Kingdom. He says that they will recognize the patriarchs such as Jacob and Isaac in the Kingdom. They will want to enter, but not be able to.
What's being described is a world that's very different from what we know now. In the millennium there is contact between God's Kingdom and past generations. The spiritual dead from the past know Jesus' return. They are in the world and see the changes taking place. The Kingdom of God is witnessed by all the past generations of the world.
The millennium age is confusing to some and problematic to others. Its existence is found within difficult parables and esoteric prophecies. It often raises more questions than answers. It doesn't fit with simple platitudes, and is conveniently ignored.
The millennium is best understood as a bridge that moves the world forward. The world will be purged by fire and many souls will be exposed to truth for the first time. There will be revelation, trial, and tribulation (see What Does Faith Save us From?). At the end, there will be another test through deception.
These trials and tests lead up the final judgment. This final judgment is the dividing line for unbelievers. Every soul has been tried, and their works are exposed. The sheep will be separated from the goats, and evil will be gone forever.
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