The Millennial Phase of the Visible Kingdom of God

 

Since the promises made in the Abrahamic covenant and subsequently confirmed to Israel and expanded upon in the Palestinian, Davidic, and new covenants are eternal, they cannot be fulfilled in any finite period of time. The visible kingdom, envisioned in Old Testament prophecy, is an eternal kingdom. As stated previously, it is only in the New Testament we learn this kingdom is to be manifested in two phases: the first phase, gener­ally referred to as “the millennium,” involves the first one-thousand years (approximately) of the kingdom which will take place on the present earth (Rev. 20:4-7); the second phase will be manifested forever in the new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1-22:5). Because the char­acteristics of these two phases differ significantly, they are generally treated separately as “the millennium,” and “eternity” (see figure below).

 

 

Phases of the Visible Kingdom of God

 

 

 

 

[The visible (earthly) kingdom of God will unfold in two phases. The millennium (the first one-thousand years) is the first phase. The second phase, referred to as “eternity,” will take place on the new earth to be created after the destruction of the present earth at the end of the millennium. The New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, will be present during the eternal phase of the kingdom.]

 

 

The time, location, duration, and general character of the millennial kingdom

The timing of the millennium

The millennial kingdom is a future reality. This is apparent from a few simple observations. 1) The promises and prophecies concerning the millennium have never been fulfilled. 2) Scripture indicates that the millennium will be inaugurated shortly after the second coming of Christ (Zech. 14:1-9; Rev. 19:11-20:6). 3) Revelation 20:3-6 indicates that a res­urrection of believers (those saved after the rapture of the Church who do not survive until the second coming) will occur at the beginning of the millennium. Obviously, this resur­rection has not yet occurred.

The location of the millennium

The millennial kingdom will be global; however, Israel (and Jerusalem in particular) will be the center of attention during the period, since it is from there that the Messiah will reign (Isa. 2:1-4), and Israel will occupy a special place of honor at the head of the nations (Isa. 60:1-22; 61:4-9; 62:1-12; Jer. 16:14-18; 30:18-22; Mic. 4:1-2; Zeph. 3:20). Isaiah describes Israel during the millennium in these words,

 

[Isa. 60:1-22]

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth

and thick darkness is over the peoples,

but the LORD rises upon you

and his glory appears over you.

Nations will come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:

All assemble and come to you;

your sons come from afar,

and your daughters are carried on the arm.

Then you will look and be radiant,

your heart will throb and swell with joy;

the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,

to you the riches of the nations will come.

Herds of camels will cover your land,

young camels of Midian and Ephah.

And all from Sheba will come,

bearing gold and incense

and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.

All Kedars flocks will be gathered to you,

the rams of Nebaioth will serve you;

they will be accepted as offerings on my altar,

and I will adorn my glorious temple.

 

“Who are these that fly along like clouds,

like doves to their nests?

Surely the islands look to me;

in the lead are the ships of Tarshish,

bringing your sons from afar,

with their silver and gold,

to the honor of the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel,

for he has endowed you with splendor.

 

“Foreigners will rebuild your walls,

and their kings will serve you.

Though in anger I struck you,

in favor I will show you compassion.

Your gates will always stand open,

they will never be shut, day or night,

so that men may bring you the wealth of the

nations—their kings led in triumphal procession.

For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you

will perish; it will be utterly ruined.

 

“The glory of Lebanon will come to you,

the pine, the fir and the cypress together,

to adorn the place of my sanctuary;

and I will glorify the place of my feet.

The sons of your oppressors will come

bowing before you;

all who despise you will bow down at your feet

and will call you the City of the LORD,

Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

 

“Although you have been forsaken and hated,

with no one traveling through,

I will make you the everlasting pride

and the joy of all generations.

You will drink the milk of nations

and be nursed at royal breasts.

Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your

Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Instead of bronze I will bring you gold,

and silver in place of iron.

Instead of wood I will bring you bronze,

and iron in place of stones.

I will make peace your governor

and righteousness your ruler.

No longer will violence be heard in your land,

nor ruin or destruction within your borders,

but you will call your walls Salvation

and your gates Praise.

The sun will no more be your light by day,

nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,

for the LORD will be your everlasting light,

and your God will be your glory.

Your sun will never set again,

and your moon will wane no more;

the LORD will be your everlasting light,

and your days of sorrow will end.

Then will all your people be righteous

and they will possess the land forever.

They are the shoot I have planted,

the work of my hands,

for the display of my splendor.

The least of you will become a thousand,

the smallest a mighty nation.

I am the LORD;

in its time I will do this swiftly.”

The duration of the millennium

As the name implies, the millennium will last approximately one thousand years (Rev. 20:2,3,4,6,7). Satan’s confinement, which begins prior to the millennium, is to last for one thousand years, after which he will be released for a short time. His release will result in a rebellion and the deaths of those who follow him (Rev. 20:7-10). How much time lapses between Satan’s release and the final rebellion is not stated in Scripture, so it is not possi­ble to give a precise figure for the length of the period. The destruction of those who follow Satan marks the end of the millennium. It may well be that the destruction of the rebellious invokes the dissolution of the present heavens and earth and prepares the way for the new heavens and earth (Rev. 20:7-21:8).

The general character of the millennium

Humanly, the millennium will be a period characterized by health, prosperity, satisfaction, and longevity (Isa. 65:18-25, cf. 35:3-7). Isaiah’s description of the earthly kingdom (though he does not distinguish between the millennial and eternal phases) is one of the earliest in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.

 

[Isa. 65:18-25]

“But be glad and rejoice forever

in what I will create,

for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight

and its people a joy.

I will rejoice over Jerusalem

and take delight in my people;

the sound of weeping and of crying

will be heard in it no more.

 

“Never again will there be in it

an infant who lives but a few days,

or an old man who does not live out his years;

he who dies at a hundred

will be thought a mere youth;

he who fails to reach a hundred

will be considered accursed.

They will build houses and dwell in them;

they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

No longer will they build houses and others live in

them, or plant and others eat.

For as the days of a tree,

so will be the days of my people;

my chosen ones will long enjoy

the works of their hands.

They will not toil in vain

or bear children doomed to misfortune;

for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,

they and their descendants with them.

Before they call I will answer;

while they are still speaking I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox,

but dust will be the serpent’s food.

They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,”

says the LORD.

 

Only the redeemed will enter the millennial kingdom from the tribulation (Matt. 25:31-46). They will be joined by the glorified church saints (having been raptured from the earth prior to the outpouring of divine wrath at the day of the Lord) as well as the resurrected tribula­tion saints who did not survive to the second coming, and the resurrected Old Testament saints. Of these four groups, only the saints who survived the tribulation will enter in their natural (untransformed) bodies. While Scripture does not explicitly address the question of whether those saints living in their natural bodies will be subject to death during the millen­nium, there is reason to believe they will survive the entire period, since the resurrection of the righteous occurs at the beginning of the millennium and there is no mention of any sub­sequent resurrection of any righteous dead. If this hypothesis is true, then only the unsaved will die during the millennium (this would also seem to be consistent with Isaiah 65:20). The unsaved will be the descendants of redeemed people who go into the millen­nium in their natural bodies from the tribulation. These unredeemed descendants, though subject to death, will live much longer lives than is presently possible (Isa. 65:20-22). As the period progresses, the population of unsaved people will swell to enormous propor­tions, possibly far exceeding the population of the saints (Rev. 20:7-9).

 

Governmentally, the millennium will be a “theocratic” kingdom, with Christ ruling the world from Jerusalem, which will serve as both the religious and political center of the world (cf. Isa. 9:6; Rev. 20:6). Concerning this, Micah prophesied,

 

[Micah 4:1-3]

In the last days

the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be

established as chief among the mountains;

it will be raised above the hills,

and peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways,

so that we may walk in his paths.”

The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He will judge between many peoples

and will settle disputes for strong nations far and

wide.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.”

 

There will continue to be nations in the millennium, and each nation will continue to have a significant measure of freedom in governing itself (Isa. 2:2-5). Apparently some of the laws of the nations will originate from Zion. The presence of people in their unglorified state, including an increasing number of unregenerate people, especially toward the end of the period, will naturally result in problems. Disputes between nations will still occur, but per­haps with less frequency and certainly with less intensity, since Christ will be present to mediate. Apparently it will be necessary on occasion for Christ to remind some of the nations of their dependence upon Him (both spiritual and political) by depriving them of blessings, such as rain, for failure to fulfill their obligation of worship (Zech. 14:16-19); clearly, the millennium is not a perfect age.

 

Economically the millennium will represent a time of unparalleled prosperity (Joel 2:21-27; Amos 9:13-15). Amos prophesies,

 

[Amos 9:13] “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.”

 

The amelioration of the effects of the Edenic curse upon the earth (cf. Isa. 11:6-9; Rom. 8:18-24) will undoubtedly account for much of this prosperity; however, the presence of Christ and the influence of godliness in business, government, social institutions, and the sciences will certainly have great effect, not to mention the positive economic impact brought about by the elimination of armed conflict. (Isa. 2:4).

 

Socially the millennium will be characterized as a time of unprecedented peace, world har­mony, and justice (Isa. 9:1-7). The presence of Christ and the absence of Satan’s influ­ence, at least until the end of the period, will affect the world in such a positive way that even with an ever increasing population of unredeemed people, the world will experience unparalleled harmony both in the natural and human realms not seen since before the fall of man. At the present time, the ways of the world dominate society; in the millennium, the knowledge of the Lord and His ways will be the predominant influence (Isa. 9:11; 54:13; Hab. 2:4). The blessing that will flow out of this is impossible to overestimate.

 

Religiously the peoples of the earth will worship only the true God (at least overtly). In Ezekiel 40-48, Ezekiel records what must certainly be the plan for a millennial temple. Isaiah also mentions a millennial temple (Isa. 2:3; 60:13), and adds that burnt sacrifices will be offered (Isa. 56:6-7; 60:7). Jeremiah echoed the same thought when he prophesied that the Levitical priests would never fail to have a man to stand before God continually “to offer burnt offerings and to present sacrifices” (Jer. 33:18). Zechariah, while not making explicit reference to the temple, did indicate that all the peoples of the earth will be repre­sented at the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Although worship will be quite natural for the saved that enter the period, as time progresses and the population of the unsaved increases, there will be increased reluctance to render worship to God (Zech. 14:16-19). The idea that there are to be animal sacrifices in the millennium (i.e., burnt offerings, cf. Jer. 33:18) has proved to be problematic for some who perceive this as a reversion to the Old Testament economy. However, when the true historical significance of the biblical sac­rifices is understood as pointing to Christ’s sacrifice, their use in millennial worship is easily understood as a memorial to Christ’s work upon the cross. As such, any sacrifices in the millennial temple do not indicate a reversion to an earlier economy; rather they function as a remembrance, much like the Church’s present celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Events of the millennium

While many of the more general features of the millennium are described in Scripture, very little is known of actual events. In fact, only three events are mentioned: the resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of the period, the release of Satan after one thousand years, and the final rebellion that marks the conclusion of the period. The judg­ment of the nations (Matt. 25:31-46, cf. 7:21-23; Lk. 13:22-28), though not strictly a mil­lennial event, will take place during the short interval between the second coming and the beginning of the millennium. At that judgment Christ will determine who will be allowed to enter the kingdom.

The judgment of the nations

The judgment of the nations occurs during the interlude between the tribulation and the millennium (cf. Dan. 12:11-12; Matt. 25:31-46). Since only the redeemed may enter the kingdom, the purpose of this judgment is to exclude the unredeemed, who will be consigned to Hades until their final judgment. How Christ will judge so many in so short a period of time is not stated in Scripture. Since the righteous and the unrighteous will be separated from one another by the angels at the second coming (Matt. 13:29 cf. v.40,47-49; 24:31), it is possible that this is a summary judgment wherein the righteous and unrighteous are dealt with as groups. If this is the case, and there is strong reason to believe it is, then it stands in contrast to the final judgment of the lost after the millennium, in which everyone’s works will be examined individually. In any case, only the righteous will be allowed to enter the kingdom.

The resurrection of the righteous

Daniel 12:11-12 indicates that those who survive to forty-five days after the close of the tribulation period are “blessed.” It is possible that the reason for this is that the resurrection occurs on the forty-fifth day and thus, those survivors will have escaped physical death for­ever. (An alternate explanation for the statement in Daniel is that if one survives to the forty-fifth day beyond the close of the tribulation, he has successfully come through the judgment of the nations and is thus assured of a place in the kingdom.) Whether the resur­rection occurs precisely on the forty-fifth day from the second coming, or merely close thereto, the occasion seems to signal the beginning of the millennium. In Revelation 20:4 John gives the following description of this resurrection.

 

[Rev. 20:4] I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testi­mony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Satan’s release and deception of the nations

After the resurrection of the righteous dead, there is no mention of specific events until the release of Satan after his one thousand years of confinement. We know only that the saints will rule with Christ during this period (Rev. 20:4-5) and the general characteristics of the age, which have already been noted. The release of Satan marks a turning point in the millennium. Satan will quickly exploit, consolidate, and organize any disaffection present on the part of those confirmed in their unbelief. They will likely view him as some sort of “deliverer.” How long it will take for this rebellion to proceed is not certain; it could be months or years. The immediate effects of Satan’s release on the millennial environment is not stated in Scripture; but it would seem likely that as the rebellion grows conditions within the millennium will be affected, at least at the spiritual, social, and political levels. The rebellion will ultimately turn to overt conflict. Scripture seems to present the rebel­lious as vastly outnumbering the saints. John relates this prophetic picture:

 

[Rev. 20:7-9] When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the sea­shore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

 

After the destruction of those rebelling against Christ, Satan (and presumably his host of fallen angels) will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10).

Summary

The millennium is the first phase of the visible kingdom of God on earth. The Abrahamic Covenant, along with the Palestinian, Davidic, and new covenants provide the biblical framework for our concept of the visible kingdom of God. Although Israel has been unfaith­ful, their unfaithfulness has not—indeed cannot—invalidate the promises God has made. God has sworn and will bring His promises to pass. There is an elect generation of Jews, chosen by God, who will by faith enter into the blessings of the covenant that their forefa­thers forsook. It is to that generation, as well as the righteous dead of Israel who will be raised, that God will fulfill His promise of an eternal kingdom, first in the millennium (upon the present earth), then forever in the new heavens and earth.

 

 

Copyright 2005, by Sam A. Smith

All rights reserved.

Published at: http://prophecy.biblicalreader.com

 

Adapted from What the Bible Says About the Future

Copyright 1995, 2004, by Sam A. Smith

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www.biblicalreader.com/books/future/future.html

 

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All Scripture taken from the New International Version (NIV)

of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.