Christians have spent a lot of time mulling over the precise meaning of the thousand-year period spoken of in Revelation 20. Today, Barry Cooper explains the significance of the Millennium and the different views surrounding it.
What is “the millennium”?
This is one of those areas where Christians in the U.K. seem very different from Christians in the U.S. In the U.K., if you asked a Christian “What’s your view of the millennium?” I think most of them would look at you as if you’d just asked them to name the greatest entomologist. It’s just not something most of us have thought about. And yet, when I came to live in the States, some Christians were very opinionated about it. Many of them identified themselves as “premillennial,” “postmillennial,” or “amillennial,” often about three seconds after we’d met. Then they’d inevitably ask me what my view was, and I’d look at them as if they’d just asked me to name the greatest entomologist.
Maybe somewhere in between the British approach and the American one might be the healthiest place to be.
The word millennium comes from two Latin words: mille, meaning “thousand,” and annum, meaning “year.” So the millennium, when used as a theological term, refers to the thousand years that are mentioned in Revelation chapter 20.
If you look at verses 1–6 in that chapter, you’ll see that it refers to a thousand-year period in which Christ reigns with His saints.
Because this is the only passage in the Bible that speaks of this thousand-year reign, and because it occurs in a part of the Bible which contains a great deal of figurative language, Christians historically have spent a lot of time mulling over its precise meaning.
Does this millennium represent the reign of Christians who are in heaven during this current age? Or does it refer to the reign of Christ on earth with or through Christian believers?
There are basically three views that people hold:
- Firstly, amillennialists (“amills” to their friends) believe that the entire gospel age is the millennium. In other words, the millennium began when Christ came and has continued ever since then. It’s not a literal thousand years, clearly; the reference to a thousand years is just a biblical way of describing a long and indefinite period of time.
- The second view is the one held by premillennialists (or premills). They believe that the millennium is a literal thousand-year period, a time of peace that will occur between Christ’s return and the final judgment.
- The third view is the postmillennial (or postmill) position. They believe that the millennium will be a golden age of spiritual influence on earth, of unspecified duration, all presided over by Christ from heaven, and occurring before His return.
You could break it down even further if you wanted. For example, some premills think that there will be a “rapture,” followed by a seven-year period of tribulation, before the millennium begins (this is part of what’s called “dispensationalism”).
Anyway, as is probably apparent from all this, genuine believers have found a fair degree of wiggle room in their interpretation of those few verses of Revelation.
Many of the early Reformers and the Puritans were postmillennial in their beliefs. They thought that there would be a golden age of Christian influence before Christ returns.
John Calvin, by contrast, was amillennial. Many Reformed theologians up to the present day have also considered themselves amillennial, believing that the millennium is the entire period from Christ’s first coming to His second coming.
Other Christians—though not many Reformed Christians—have considered themselves premillennial, believing in a literal thousand-year period that will occur between Christ’s return and the final judgment.
As I think you can see, none of these views are what we would call a salvation issue. Thankfully, Christ does not accept any of us because we happen to have picked the correct interpretation of Revelation chapter 20.
So it’s worth saying that if Christ doesn’t judge believers on that basis, we shouldn’t be too critical of other Christians just because they’re pre-, post-, or amillennial.
And by the way, the greatest entomologist is Horace Donisthorpe. Obviously.