The Millennium

Just a bit of cut-n-paste from Warfield’s The Millennium and the Apocalypse, from the Monergism website.

When quoting Warfield, I will be bolding a few lines that seem especially interesting to me, and perhaps to you too.

Nothing, indeed, seems to have been more common in all ages of the Church than to frame an eschatological scheme from this passage, imperfectly understood, and then to impose this scheme on the rest of Scripture vi et armis. To realize this, we have but to recall the manifold influences which have wrought not only on eschatological dreaming, but on theological thought and on Christian life itself, out of the conception summed up in the term “the millennium.” Yet not only the word, but, as Kliefoth has himself solidly shown,3 the thing, is unknown to Scripture outside of this passage.4 

The “passage” here is Revelation 20. Both the word “millennium” and the concept of a thousand year period of peace is unknown outside of Revelation 20: it is not to be found outside of this chapter.

The section opens with a vision of the victory of the Word of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all His enemies. We see Him come forth from heaven girt for war, followed by the armies of heaven; the birds of the air are summoned to the feast of corpses that shall be prepared for them: the armies of the enemy – the beasts and the kings of the earth – are gathered against Him and are totally destroyed; and “all the birds are filled with their flesh” (xix. 11-21). It is a vivid picture of a complete victory, an entire conquest, that we have here; and all the imagery of war and battle is employed to give it life. This is the symbol. The thing symbolized is obviously the complete victory of the Son of God over all the hosts of wickedness. Only a single hint of this signification is afforded by the language of the description, but that is enough. On two occasions we are carefully told that the sword by which the victory is won proceeds out of the mouth of the conqueror (verses 15 and 21). We are not to think, as we read, of any literal war or manual fighting, therefore; the conquest is wrought by the spoken word – in short, by the preaching of the Gospel. In fine, we have before us here a picture of the victorious career of the Gospel of Christ in the world. All the imagery of the dread battle and its hideous details are but to give us the impression of the completeness of the victory. Christ’s Gospel is to conquer the earth: He is to overcome all His enemies.

It is primarily through the power of the Word (a.k.a. not swords, or even miracles most of the time) that Jesus Christ gains His conquest over the world.

Not the might of Man and his guns and money and political power-grabs. The power of the Holy Spirit, coupled with the Truth, in and of itself, proclaimed across the world, gets the job done.

It is the Kingdom of God that is to be our focus. Not some ecclesiastical institution. Or yet another murderous empire, secularist or religious.

Now comes a lengthy quote, required to let Warfield get his point across without a distorting summary which, by sheer necessity, cut out and simplify and summarize and drop off what Warfield is getting at.

With the opening of the twentieth chapter the scene changes (xx. 1-10). Here we are not smitten in the face with the flame and flare of war: it is a spectacle of utter peace rather that is presented to us. The peace is, however, it must be observed, thrown up against a background of war. The vision opens with a picture of the descent of an angel out of heaven who binds “the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan,” for a thousand years. Then we see the saints of God reigning with their Lord, and we are invited to contemplate the blessedness of their estate. But when Satan is bound we are significantly told that after the thousand years “he must be loosed for a little time.” The saints themselves, moreover, we are informed, have not attained their exaltation and blessedness save through tribulation. They have all passed through the stress of this beast-beset life – have all been “beheaded” for the testimony of Jesus. And at the end we learn of the renewed activity of Satan and his final destruction by fire out of heaven.

This thousand-year peace that is set before us is therefore a peace hedged around with war. It was won by war; the participants in it have come to it through war; it ends in war. What now is this thousand-year peace? It is certainly not what we have come traditionally to understand by the “millennium,” as is made evident by many considerations, and sufficiently so by this one: that those who participate in it are spoken of as mere “souls” (ver. 4) – “the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God.” It is not disembodied souls who are to constitute the Church during its state of highest development on earth, when the knowledge of the glory of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Neither is it disembodied souls who are thought of as constituting the kingdom which Christ is intending to set up in the earth after His advent, that they may rule with Him over the nations. And when we have said this, we are surely following hard on the pathway that leads to the true understanding of the vision. The vision, in one word, is a vision of the peace of those who have died in the Lord; and its message to us is embodied in the words of xiv. 13: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth” – of which passage the present is indeed only an expansion.

The picture that is brought before us here is, in fine, the picture of the “intermediate state” – of the saints of God gathered in heaven away from the confused noise and garments bathed in blood that characterize the war upon earth, in order that they may securely await the end.8 The thousand years, thus, is the whole of this present dispensation, which again is placed before us in its entirety, but looked at now relatively not to what is passing on earth but to what is enjoyed “in Paradise.” This, in fact, is the meaning of the symbol of a thousand years. For, this period between the advents is, on earth, a broken time – three and a half years, a “little time” (ver. 3)9 – which, amid turmoil and trouble, the saints are encouraged to look upon as of short duration, soon to be over. To the saints in bliss it is, on the contrary, a long and blessed period passing slowly and peacefully by, while they reign with Christ and enjoy the blessedness of holy communion with Him – “a thousand years.”10

Of course the passage (xx. 1-10) does not give us a direct description of “the intermediate state.” We must bear in mind that the book we are reading is written in symbols and gives us a direct description of nothing that it sets before us, but always a direct description only of the symbol by which it is represented. In the preceding vision (xix. 11-21) we had no direct description of the triumph and progress of the Gospel, but only of a fierce and gruesome war: the single phrase that spoke of the slaying sword as “proceeding out of the mouth” of the conqueror alone indicated that it was a conquest by means of persuading words. So here we are not to expect a direct description of the “intermediate state”: were such a description given, that would be evidence enough that the intermediate state was not intended, but was rather the symbol of something else. The single hint that it is of the condition of the “souls” of those who have died in Christ and for Christ that the seer is speaking, is enough here to direct our thoughts in the right direction. What is described, or rather, to speak more exactly – for it is a course of events that is brought before us – what is narrated to us is the chaining of Satan “that he should deceive the nations no more”; the consequent security and glory of Christ’s hitherto persecuted people; and the subsequent destruction of Satan. It is a description in the form of a narrative: the element of time and chronological succession belongs to the symbol, not to the thing symbolized. The “binding of Satan” is, therefore, in reality, not for a season, but with reference to a sphere; and his “loosing” again is not after a period but in another sphere: it is not subsequence but exteriority that is suggested. There is, indeed, no literal “binding of Satan” to be thought of at all: what happens, happens not to Satan but to the saints, and is only represented as happening to Satan for the purposes of the symbolical picture. What actually happens is that the saints described are removed from the sphere of Satan’s assaults. The saints described are free from all access of Satan – he is bound with respect to them: outside of their charmed circle his horrid work goes on. This is indicated, indeed, in the very employment of the two symbols “a thousand years” and “a little time.” A “thousand years” is the symbol of heavenly completeness and blessedness; the “little time” of earthly turmoil and evil. Those in the “thousand years” are safe from Satan’s assaults: those outside the thousand years are still enduring his attacks. And therefore he, though with respect to those in the thousand years bound, is not destroyed; and the vision accordingly requires to close with an account of his complete destruction, and of course this also must needs be presented in the narrative form of a release of Satan, the gathering of his hosts and their destruction from above.

We may perhaps profitably advert to some of the traits that go to show that it is the children of God gathered in Paradise that are in view in the description of the rest and security that occupies the central section of the vision (vers. 4-6). We are told that the seer saw “thrones, and those that sat upon them, and judgment was given to them.” Our Lord, we will remember, is uniformly represented as having been given a Messianic kingship in reward for His redemptive death, in order that He might carry out His mediatorial work to the end.11 Those who, being His, go away from the body and home to the Lord, are accordingly conceived by the seer as ascending the throne with Him to share His kingship – not forever, however, but for a thousand years, i.e., for the Messianic period. Then, when the last enemy has been conquered and He restores the kingdom to the Father,12 their co-reign with Him ceases, because His Messianic kingdom itself ceases. These reigning saints, now, are described as “souls” – a term which carries us back irresistibly to vi. 9, where we read of ” the souls of them that had been slain for the Word of God resting underneath the altar,” a passage of which the present is an expanded version. Similarly here, too, we are told that these souls are “of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand.” The description in the symbol is drawn from the fate of martyrs; but it is not literal martyrs that are meant in the thing symbolized. To the seer all of Christ’s saints are martyrs of the world. “For in the eyes of John,” as has been well said, “all the disciples of a martyred Lord are martyrs”: “Christ’s Church is a martyr Church, she dies in her Master’s service and for the world’s good.”13 These all, dying in Christ, die not but live – for Christ is not Lord, any more than God is God, of the dead but the living. We must catch here the idea that pervades the whole of Jewish thought – inculcated as it is with the most constant iteration by the whole Old Testament revelation – that death is the penalty of sin and that restoration from death, that is resurrection, is involved, therefore, in reception into the favor of God. It is this that underlies and gives its explanation to our Lord’s famous argument for the resurrection to which we have just alluded. And it is this, doubtless, that underlies also the seer’s designation in our passage of the state of the souls in Paradise with their Lord, saved in principle if not in complete fruition, as “the first resurrection.” “This,” he says, “is the first resurrection”; and he pronounces those blessed who have part in it, and declares that over them “the second death” has no power. Subsequently he identifies “the second death” with eternal destruction (ver. 14) in the lake of fire – the symbol throughout these visions of the final state of the wicked. To say that “the second death” has no power over the saints of whom he is here speaking is to say at once that they have already been subjected to the “first death,” which can mean only that they have suffered bodily death, and that they are “saved souls” with their life hidden with Christ in God. That is to say, they are the blessed dead – the dwellers in the “intermediate state.” The “first resurrection” is here, therefore, the symbolical description of what has befallen those who while dead yet live in the Lord; and it is set in contrast with the “second resurrection,” which must mean the restoration of the bodily life. As partakers of this “first resurrection” they are set in contrast with “the rest of the dead” – who were to “live not” until “the thousand years should be finished.” This phrase advertises us once more that those of whom the seer speaks are themselves in a sense “dead,” and as they are declared repeatedly to be living – living and reigning with Christ – this cannot refer to spiritual death, but must find its reference to bodily death. Though dead, therefore, in this bodily sense, they were yet alive – alive in the paradise of God with Christ. The rest of the dead, on the other hand – those not alive with Christ – wait for the end to live again: they are in every sense dead – already suffering the penalty of sin and to be restored to even bodily life only to be plunged into the terrible “second death.”

Now, turning to postmillennium, and the victory of the Kingdom of God over all His enemies, across the world:

What, then, is the eschatological outline we have gained from a study of this section? Briefly stated it is as follows. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to conquer the world to Himself, and this He does with a thoroughness and completeness which seems to go beyond even the intimations of Romans xi and I Cor. xv. Meanwhile, as the conquest of the world is going on below, the saints who die in the Lord are gathered in Paradise to reign with their Lord, who is also Lord of all, and who is from His throne directing the conquest of the world. When the victory is completely won there supervenes the last judgment and the final destruction of the wicked. At once there is a new heaven and a new earth and the consummation of the glory of the Church. And this Church abides forever (xxii. 5), in perfection of holiness and blessedness. In bare outline that is what our section teaches. It will be noted at once that it is precisely the teaching of the didactic epistles of Paul and of the whole New Testament with him. No attempts to harmonize as the several types of teaching are necessary, therefore, for their entire harmony lies on the surface. John knows no more of two resurrections – of the saints and of the wicked – than does Paul: and the whole theory of an intervening millennium – and indeed of a millennium of any kind on earth – goes up in smoke. We are forced, indeed, to add our assent to Kliefoth’s conclusion, that “the doctrine of a thousand-year kingdom has no foundation in the prophecies of the New Testament, and is therefore not a dogma but merely a hypothesis lacking all Biblical ground.”17 The millennium of the Apocalypse is the blessedness of the saints who have gone away from the body to be at home with the Lord.

But this conclusion obviously does not carry with it the denial that a “golden age” yet lies before the Church, if we may use this designation in a purely spiritual sense. As emphatically as Paul, John teaches that the earthly history of the Church is not a history merely of conflict with evil, but of conquest over evil: and even more richly than Paul, John teaches that this conquest will be decisive and complete. The whole meaning of the vision of xix. 11-21 is that Christ Jesus comes forth not to war merely but to victory; and every detail of the picture is laid in with a view precisely to emphasizing the thoroughness of this victory. The Gospel of Christ is, John being witness, completely to conquer the world. He says nothing, any more than Paul does, of the period of the endurance of this conquered world. Whether the last judgment and the consummated kingdom are to follow immediately upon its conquest – his visions are as silent, as Paul’s teaching. But just on that account the possibility of an extended duration for the conquered earth lies open: and in any event a progressively advancing conquest of the earth by Christ’s Gospel implies a coming age deserving at least the relative name of “golden.” Perhaps a distinction may be made between a converted earth and a sanctified earth: such a distinction seems certainly more accordant with the tone of these visions than that more commonly suggested between a witnessed-to earth and a converted earth. The Gospel assuredly must be preached to the whole world as a witness, before the Lord comes. These visions seem to go farther and to teach that the earth – the whole world – must be won to Christ before He comes: and that it is precisely this conquest of it that He is accomplishing during the progress of this inter-adventual period.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, demand victory over His evil enemies, in time and on earth.

He is going to get it, too.

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