The 1000 Years — What Does That Mean?
By Robert E. Gentet
Chapter I: Introduction
The meaning of the word "millennium" invokes different responses from different people. One time, after purchasing a certain food product, I was informed that I would receive as a gift a book entitled Living the Millennium! To many, the word "millennium" means living the good life. The Biblical meaning and usage of the term is often misunderstood today.
"Millennium" comes to us from the Latin mille meaning "1,000" and annus meaning "year." Another term for the millennium is chiliasm which is from the Greek chilioi and means "a thousand."
It may come as a surprise to some, but the word "millennium" is not found in the Bible, either in the Old or the New Testaments. As previously indicated, it is a Latin word meaning "thousand years," and the only specific Scriptures using the term "thousand years" are found in Revelation 20:2-7. (Psalm 90:4 and II Peter 3:8 also mention a "1,000" years, but not in the sense of what is commonly called "the millennium.") In these six verses, the words "thousand years" are found a total of six times.
The purpose or the intent of this relatively short paper is not to delve into the many and various facets of the millennial question. Rather, the fundamental purpose of the paper is to give a brief review of the intent of Revelation 20:1-6. Various other interpretations will be mentioned, as the occasion warrants, but a thorough critique of other views of the millennium question is far beyond the scope of this present paper. It is the desire of the author to let the Bible speak for itself and to give a biblical interpretation regarding the meaning of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation twenty.
The subject matter lends itself to a systematic analyzation of the first six verses of Revelation twenty. Chapter two of this paper offers insights into the overall context of Revelation twenty and its relationship to the rest of the book. This is needful in order to understand the time-element of the binding of Satan mentioned at the beginning of chapter twenty. Chapter three of this paper covers Revelation 20:1-3, while chapter four looks at verses 4-6.
Of the sources listed in the bibliography, I would especially recommend the books by Becker, Hoekema, Hughes, and Lenski for the reader who is interested in a further study into this interesting subject. However, all the books listed have valuable insights, in one way or another.*
* A commentary has been published on the Book of Revelation that I would highly recommend. It is: REVELATION by Louis A. Brighton (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1999)
Chapter II: Revelation 20 in Context of the Entire Book of Revelation
Since the term "1,000 years," in the sense of the "millennial" reign, is found only in Revelation twenty, as previously noted, it would be well to first understand the general meaning of the book of Revelation itself. This book is truly one of the most mysterious in the Bible and, like Old Testament literature such as Daniel, is full of imagery and numbers.
A key to understanding the Book of Revelation is to be aware of certain themes (i.e. the first and Second Coming of Christ) which appear repeatedly throughout the book. The system of interpretation known as progressive parallelism incorporates this understanding. Two authors using this method are William Hendriksen in More Than Conquerors and Anthony A. Hoekema in The Bible and the Future. The "Alternate Outline" of the Book of Revelation, given on page 1945 of the CONCORDIA SELF-STUDY BIBLE, is also based upon this interpretation.
Progressive parallelism sees seven sections in the Book of Revelation which run parallel to each other. Each one reveals various facets of the history of the Church from the first to the Second Coming of Christ, and in some cases beyond the Second Coming. Notice how this follows as one takes an overview look of the Book of Revelation.
The first of the seven sections is reckoned as the first three chapters of the book. These chapters speak of the seven Churches of Asia Minor, as well as an introductory section explaining how John came to have these visions (Hoekema, p. 223).
As we read these letters we are impressed with two things. First, there are references to events, people, and places of the time when the book of Revelation was written. Second, the principles, commendations, and warnings contained in these letters have value for the church of all time. These two observations, in fact, provide a clue for the interpretation of the entire book. Since the book of Revelation was addressed to the church of the first century A.D., its message had reference to events occurring at that time and was therefore meaningful for the Christians of that day. But since the book was also intended for the church through the ages, its message is still relevant for us today.
The second section of the Book of Revelation would therefore have to begin with chapter four. But, how are the sections divided? Hoekema (p. 224) answers: "…(except for the first one, which forms an obvious unit), the answer is that each of the seven ends with an indication that the end-time has come."
Chapters four through seven depict the first six seals of the seven seals. The seventh seal is itself composed of seven trumpets (see Rev. 8:1-6). In reading the Scriptures relating to the seals, it is seen that they bear a resemblance to what we shall read later about the 1,000 years in Revelation twenty. Such is the nature of progressive parallelism. Each section looks at the same events in heaven and on earth, but from a slightly different perspective. This is much in the same way that the four Gospel writers--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—record for us the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Book of Revelation, therefore, gives us a view of happenings in John's own time and also events up to Christ's Second Coming and even beyond into the time of the New Heavens and the New Earth. This is done from seven perspectives.
In regard to the seals, in this second perspective of Revelation, notice that chapters four and five give background information about the Lamb who alone is found worthy to open the mysterious seals (Rev. 5:2-5). And, why is the Lamb alone worthy to do this? Scripture answers: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9).
Here we should note that Revelation 5:10 says: "You made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Some millennialists take this to mean that the 1,000 year reign mentioned in Revelation 20 parallels this verse in Revelation 5. The difference is the word "will" in Revelation 5:10. The saints in heaven NOW rule with Christ, but "will" (in the future) rule with Him on the New Earth forever. "His kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:33). It will not be a mere 1,000 year reign. It begins in Heaven now (Rev. 20) and continues throughout all eternity (Dan. 7:18), as will be more fully explained later.
The critical thing to note here is that this section begins with an undeniable reference to the centerpiece of Christ's first coming—His death and its result, the salvation of all mankind. Section two (chapters 4-7) therefore begins with Christ's first coming. As the seals are opened, we witness a series of judgments falling on the inhabitants of the earth. The parallelism between this section and Revelation twenty is evident as one reads the seals. The fifth seal especially is notable in its mention of the "souls" of those slain because of the word of God (Rev. 6:9-11). As we shall see more fully when we view Revelation twenty in depth, those slain play a prominent part in the 1,000 year reign.
The section concludes with references to final judgments in Revelation 6:15-17 and a description of the final blessedness of those slain:
Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7:16-17).
The third section, as given by Hendriksen, Hoekema and others, begins with Revelation eight and ends with eleven. This is a description of the seventh trumpet plague, which comprise the seventh seal of the seven seals depicted in the second section (chapters 4-7).
This section ends in Revelation 11:18 with a clear reference to the Second Coming where the dead are raised and judged:
The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
[The author is, however, is personally uneasy with dividing chapters 8-11 into the third section. The seven trumpet judgments are the seventh seal and therefore seem to flow along in time with the other seals. This understanding would make chapters 4-11 as the third section. Furthermore, the seventh section of Revelation could easily be seen as chapters 21 and 22 which depict the New Heavens and the New Earth. Regardless of this, however, it will be seen that Revelation 20 is itself a section distinct from chapter nineteen and refers to the time of the New Testament Church better than to a 1,000 year period after Christ's return.]
The fourth section or perspective is thought of as being Revelation chapters twelve through fourteen. This section is a clear example of progressive parallelism. Chapter twelve begins with a symbolic description of the birth of Christ and ends with the coming of Christ in judgment:
I looked and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one 'like a son of man' with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, 'Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.' So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested (Rev. 14:14-16).
The fifth section is comprised of Revelation chapters fifteen and sixteen, according to Hoekema and others. These chapters describe the seven last plagues which are described as the seven bowls of God's wrath. The section ends with a description of the final judgment:
The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found" (Rev. 16:19-20).
[Here, again, as in the previous page, argument could be made that chapters 15 and 16 form a continuation of the previous section and are not in themselves a separate section. If so, this would necessitate having another separate section later.]
Hoekema's sixth section of Revelation is comprised of chapters seventeen through nineteen. It is clear that Revelation nineteen has in it vivid descriptions of end times events surrounding Christ's Second Advent.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns….Then I saw the beats and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army (Rev. 19:11-12a, 19).
The final section, section seven, would then be the remainder of the Book of Revelation, chapters twenty to twenty-two, according to this scheme of dividing the entire book into seven parallel sections. Chapter twenty depicts events some time prior to Christ's Second Advent, and this paper's look into Revelation 20:1-6 will show what times they illustrate.
Hoekema (p. 226) succinctly summarizes the seven sections by saying:
Note that though these seven sections are parallel to each other, they also reveal a certain amount of eschatological progress. The last section, for example, takes us further into the future than the other sections. Although the final judgment has already been briefly described in 6:12-17, it is not set forth in full detail until we come to 20:11-15. Though the final joy of the redeemed in the life to come has been hinted at in 7:15-17, it is not until we reach chapter 21 that we find a detailed and elaborate description of the blessedness of life on the new earth (21:1-22:5). Hence this method of interpretation is called progressive parallelism.
Chapter III: Revelation 20:1-3
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while (Rev. 20:1-3, New KJV).
Chapter III: A.l.
In this concluding section of the Apocalypse, the doom of Satan and his retinue and the renewal of creation are depicted. It begins with Satan's binding. How was Satan bound during the time of Christ's first advent? On this question much confusion has arisen. On first glance, one could easily get the impression that Christ's Second Coming is being spoken of in these first three verses of Revelation twenty. Nonetheless, upon deeper reflection, these verses can be seen as clearly illustrating in symbolic form what occurred at Christ's first coming. On this question, many authors have added their valuable insights.
The coming of Christ brought also the coming of the proclamation of the Gospel: "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the Kingdom of God is being preached…" (Luke 16:16, NIV).
When Christ sent His disciples out, they returned saying:
"Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." He [Christ] replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17b-20)
Author G. R. Beasley-Murray (pp. 284-285) ties this all together by saying:
Admittedly a great chain is used to bind the powerful enemy, but the chain is a symbol for the word of God, which reduces Satan to impotence. As with the hosts of evil (19:19ff) so with their leader: 'A word shall quickly slay him' (Luther)
The crucial question also arises: "If Satan has been bound all this time since Christ's first coming because of the preaching of the Gospel, why is there so much deception still evident in the world today?" There is more than one possible answer to this observation.
Chapter III: A.2.
What does the binding of Satan entail? First, we need to be sure we understand the context of the statement. Siegbert W. Becker (p. 298) has this to say on the matter:
The context tells us that it is a chain which prevents the devil from deceiving the nations any longer, that is, it prevents, or hinders, the devil in his attempts to lead men astray into eternal damnation. From the Bible we know of only one thing that can do this. It is the preaching of the gospel, the 'Good News" that the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil (I Jn 3:8). This is to be proclaimed to 'every creature' (Mk 16:15) and to 'all nations' (Mt 28:19). What John said in his description of the sequel to the 'war in heaven' (cp 12:7-12) is surely apropos here, namely, 'They won the victory over him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony' (12:11). So long as the gospel is preached to the nations, the devil will be hindered in his attempt to deceive the nations. The more widely and the more purely the gospel is proclaimed, the shorter Satan's chain becomes.
Second, it is needful to note that the word translated "nations" in Revelation 20:3 is ethna, the Greek word used for the non-Jewish peoples, that is, the Gentiles. Here the thought is that now has come a time when the Gentiles would also be given the Word of God freely. Such a time commenced at the time when Christ began the New Testament Church and it began to understand and fulfill Christ's directive in Matthew 28 to go into ALL the world and preach the Gospel.
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes' comments are helpful here:
Prior to the incarnation, the nations had been permitted to remain in the darkness and ignorance induced by Satan's deception. They had 'walked in their own ways' (Acts 14:16). In striking contrast to this, Israel alone of all the peoples on earth had been entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2); they had the knowledge and the enlightenment that God's revelation brings. . . . No longer, then, are the nations left in the shadows of superstition; for God's salvation has been 'prepared in the presence of all peoples' and Christ is the light of divine revelation to the nations as well as the glory of God's people Israel (Luke 2:30-32). And no longer are the people of God to keep themselves separate; for their commission is now to proclaim the gospel message to the farthest parts of the earth so that the fullness of the nations may be brought in (Mt. 24:14; 28:19f.; Rom. 10:12f.; 11:25).
When St. Paul went to Athens and stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus, after pointing to their altar TO AN UNKNOWN GOD, he makes this amazing statement: "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, BUT NOW HE COMMANDS ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE TO REPENT" (Acts 17:30, NIV)
And in like manner to the Gentiles encountered by Paul and Barnabas at Lystra (who thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods come down in human form), the apostles told them: "In the past, He [God] let all nations [the ethna – the Gentiles] go their own way" (Acts 14:16)
St. Paul also goes into great depth in Romans eleven showing how God grafted the Gentiles in the "cultivated olive tree" (Rom. 11:24, NIV), after part of Israel proved itself unfaithful due to unbelief. It is ironic that the New Testament period, except for its inception, has been primarily Gentile Christians! The Church even to this day has relatively few Israelites converts, although the numbers seem to be growing recently.
Chapter III: A.3.
What about where Revelation says "after these things he must be released for a little while" (Rev. 20:3)? This is more fully explained in verses seven through nine; however, we may now be in the time when Satan personally has been allowed to again do his work of deceiving the Gentiles as he did before the incarnation of Christ. A number of the sources used for this paper acknowledge this as a possibility. Becker writes (p. 302):
That will also explain how the devil is loosed 'for a short time' (v. 3). The Bible speaks of widespread apostasy during the last days of the world's history. Where the message of the gospel is no longer to be heard or where it is so obscured by false teaching that the light of salvation shines very dimly, the devil is free to continue to deceive men and to lead them astray to the eternal destruction of their souls. The devil is loosed whenever large segments of the visible church become apostate and non-evangelical cults and sects proliferate. . . . The whole tenor of Jesus' words [in Matthew 24:21-25] implies that the gospel message, which alone can keep men out of the clutches of the devil, will during those shortened days be obscured.
A recent CTCR report of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (p. 23) even goes so far as to say:
When Satan's 'little season' has begun or is to begin cannot be computed exactly. Since opposition to the Christian church is widespread in our day, however, there is every reason to believe that we are already in this period of time.
We live in a period of time that some authors have called a "post-Christian period." This is true in the sense that the church and/or Christian-Judean thought is increasingly becoming outdated and forsaken by most nations today.
In fact, Christians are increasingly being held accountable for the "problems" of society and ridiculed and persecuted for their beliefs. Whereas homosexuals were once though of as being in the "closet," it might now well be said that many Christians are "closet Christians." At best, they attend church on Christmas or Easter, and generally live and act much like the world around them. Their "faith" lacks the works that a living faith produces.
Whole churches have also openly embraced and even demanded beliefs and practices unlike those set down in Scripture. While only God can accurately read the face of the "great clock" of eschatology, it seems to be pointing close to the midnight hour when the cry of the bridegroom's coming will be heard.
Chapter III: B.
What is the meaning of the term "a thousand years"? Is it speaking of a literal 1,000 year period, or something else?
Becker (p. 302) says:
There is nothing in this context to show that the number 1000 here is to be interpreted otherwise than all the other numbers in the book. Ten is the number of completeness. Therefore all that we can say with confidence is that the thousand years represent a complete period of time whose length is firmly fixed by the eternal decrees of God.
Franzmann (p. 130) adds this insight regarding the use of numbers in the Book of Revelation:
The condemned prisoner is the dragon, 'who is the Devil and Satan,' the ancient serpent, deceiver and adversary of man from the beginning (Gen. 3; John 8:44). Him the angel seizes and binds 'for a thousand years.' As is usual with numbers in Revelation (cf., e.g., the Spirit designated as 'seven spirits,' 1:4) the number 'thousand' is symbolic: 'Ten' is the number of the rounded whole; 10 times 10 times 10 is, then, the completely, definitively rounded whole (cf. The 12 tribes multiplied by 12 and then multiplied by the third power of 10 in the 144,000 of God's people, 7:4-8, 14:1).
Hoekema (p. 226) sums it up by saying:
The book of Revelation is full of symbolic numbers. It would seem rather likely, therefore, that the number 'thousand' which is used in this passage ought not to be interpreted in a strictly literal sense. Since the number ten signified completeness, and since a thousand is ten to the third power, we may think of the expression 'a thousand years' as standing for a complete period, a very long period of indeterminate length. In agreement with what was said above about the structure of the book, and in the light of verses 7-15 of this chapter (which describes Satan's 'little season,' the final battle, and the final judgment), we may conclude that this thousand-year period extends from Christ's first coming to just before His Second Coming.
This interpretation sets the "thousand years" as almost all the time period between the two advents of Christ. In taking into account uncertainties in the Greek construction in the latter portion of verse three: "After that, he must be set free for a short time" (Rev. 20:3, NIV), a footnote in the CONCORDIA SELF-STUDY BIBLE (p. 1971) says:
Whether this short period takes place after 'the thousand years' (if 'after that' in v. 3 refers to 'years') or at the closing time of the 'thousand years' (if, 'after that' implies the imprisonment of Satan) is not certain, although the latter seems to fit better with vv. 7-8. (Another translation for v. 7 is 'when the thousand years come to an end.')
Chapter IV: Revelation 20:4-6
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison (Rev. 20:4-7, New KJV).
Chapter IV: A.
The final four verses in this section of Revelation which mention the thousand years and events surrounding this time also need to be carefully studied in the context of the rest of Scripture. The Book of Revelation could be viewed as "graduate study" when it comes to understanding. It is certainly not the first book of the Bible to begin one's study! Rather, as the last book of the Bible, and as "the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place" (Rev. 1:1), we know that its message has the ring of finality and truth, even though it is written in a fashion that invokes imagery from many of the other books in the Bible.
What are these "thrones" and who sat on them? Whoever they are, John says that they "reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4). In context, they are "those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands" (same verse).
It is also important to note that John specifically calls them "souls." So, here are "souls" of saints who did not love their lives unto death, ones who gave up their lives on behalf of their faith, and they are reigning "with Christ" for the thousand-year period.
This is taken to mean by some that an earthly kingdom has begun and these dead saints (presumably now resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ) are ruling with Christ over the earth for a literal 1,000 years.
Morris (p. 230) has this to say about the matter:
Or, to look at these verses from a slightly different perspective, Lenski ( p. 582) says:
Scripture tells us that shortly before returning to heaven, Christ told his disciples: "ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18b). This crucial point is often overlooked by those who think that Christ waits until after His Second Coming to take up all rule! Now, at this present time, ever since His victory over sin and death on the cross and the glorious resurrection of His body from the tomb, Christ has been given all power and authority. We need not think of a post-second advent to see the time-frame of Revelation twenty and its thrones.
Hughes (p. 212) adds these words:
These are the souls whom St. John saw seated on thrones and of whom it is said that they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. They are the persons who have suffered death in their bodies but not in their souls. They have not feared 'those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul' (Mt. 10:28), and now it is as souls that they live and reign with Christ. Faithful unto death, they have received the crown of life (Rev. 2:10; cf. 3:21) and they experience the blessedness of the dead who die in the Lord (14:13). St. Paul taught the same truth when he declared that the Christian who has died is 'away from the body and at home with the Lord' (2 Cor. 5:8), and that 'to die is gain' because it means 'to depart and be with Christ' (Phil. 1:21, 23).
Many doctrines of the Bible come into play in properly understanding these few verses in Revelation couched so heavily in symbolism and in insights into the time beyond this earthly, mortal existence, and before the time of the New Heavens and the New Earth. The Book of Revelation is a message of hope and when we read these verses with this understanding, they are seen to give great comfort.
Chapter IV: B.1.
An area of much discussion and dispute concerns the mention of "the first resurrection" in verses five and six of Revelation twenty. For those who believe in a yet future millennium, one that occurs after the Second Coming of Christ, the phrase "the first resurrection" is taken as strongest evidence that the millennium occurs after the Second Advent. How may this phrase be understood in keeping with the belief that the millennium is time between the two advents of Christ?
Notice again what verses four and five say regarding those souls who died faithful to God's word: "They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years….this is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection?" What kind of a resurrection is this? What does it mean, "they came to life?" Let's see what a number of authors have to say.
On this important question, Franzmann (pp. 129-130) writes:
For those who do not will to love his [Satan's] lie there is a resurrection even now, and there is for them even now a reign with Christ 'to the close of the age' (Matt. 28:20); for a 'thousand years' they are permitted to extend the reign of the Lord whose resurrection they share.
G. R. Beasley-Murray (pp. 289-290) comments:
Lenski (p.586), however, becomes more specific on the meaning of "the first resurrection," and we need to carefully see what he says:
When John writes, 'This [is] the resurrection, the first one' (the number being made emphatic by the second article), he plainly refers to what he wrote in v. 4. When the souls of martyrs and of saints pass to the thrones in heaven to live there in glory, 'this is the first resurrection.' John uses the term anastasis, 'resurrection,' Auferstehung, symbolically. Here on earth we poor mortals say that the godly die when their souls leave their broken bodies; John says that for their souls this is 'the resurrection, the first one.' For now these souls indeed live, in the fullness of the Zoe, in heaven, reigning on thrones as kings with Christ in glory. Certainly, there is no such resurrection for the souls of 'the rest of the dead.'
So Lenski (as well as various others I will not quote) directly equates "the first resurrection" – not with a bodily resurrection of the saints at the Second Coming of Christ – but "when the souls of martyrs and of saints pass to the thrones in heaven to live there in glory." This is not understood, however, without difficulty. Lenski (p. 586) goes on to say:
Anastasis, always intransitive in the New Testament, to act of rising up, is commonly used with reference to the physical resurrection when the soul rejoins the body, reanimates it, so that after lying prone and lifeless or decomposed it rises up alive.
But this is precisely the belief of those who say that these verses must refer yet to a future time! If the saints are bodily resurrected and then live and reign with Christ a thousand years, we do indeed have a future millennium being spoken of here. And so to get around this unacceptable idea, Lenski and others invoke a resurrection out of the rising of the souls of the faithful, dead to heaven in the intermediate state.
Chapter IV: B.2.
There can certainly be no doubt that the dead in Christ are made alive in the spirit prior to Christ's Second Advent. Scripture is full of references to the time of conversion as being a time of coming alive spiritually. Here are a few examples:
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up. O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Be very careful, then, how you live…. (Eph. 5:13-15a, NIV.)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…. (Eph. 2:4-6, NIV.)
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. (Col. 2:13, NIV.)
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, no on earthly things. For you died, and your life is not hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4, NIV.)
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:8-11, NIV.)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (I Peter 1:3, NIV.)
Chapter IV: B.3.
Many more Scriptures could be given along this same thought. All tell of how we have life because of Christ's resurrection. But I believe it is very important to note that in no case are the saints referred to as being RESURRECTED at this time. The resurrection (anastasis) being referred to is always that of Christ.
It is for this reason that I believe it is important to notice to whom Scripture credits with being the first resurrection:
…Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Rev. 1:5, NIV.)
And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the FIRSTBORN FROM AMONG THE DEAD…. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…. (Col. 1:18, 22, NIV.)
The key, then, is Christ's resurrection. His literal, bodily resurrection from the dead is the door by which we have also been made alive IN HIM! With this interpretation in mind, "the first resurrection" of Revelation twenty is the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This interpretation does not demand an immediate bodily resurrection of the saints who are made alive with him, for we have seen from other Scriptures that we are given this new life even now in this life and it continues on after the death of the body.
If we go back to Revelation twenty and re-read it with this interpretation in mind, we will see how it agrees with the portions of Scripture just cited:
They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years…. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4b-6, NIV.)
This interpretation also alleviates another potential problem. Numerous authors have pointed out that it doesn't follow that the "first" resurrection would be of a spiritual nature and the "second" (not specifically called by name, but implied) resurrection would be physical. This would allow both resurrections to be physical and stay true to the general usage of anastasis as an act of rising up in a physical resurrection. What does this mean then about the "second" resurrection (not specifically named, but implied in the words):
The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended (Rev. 20:5, NIV)?
Chapter IV: B.4.
It is a basic understanding of Scripture that "…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27, KJV). The judgment is at the general resurrection of the dead – of both believers and unbelievers, at Christ's Second Coming:
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:28-29).
It is also important to remember that this general resurrection is mentioned in Revelation twenty, in verses 11-15, in the time after the 1,000 years are over. This would also place the 1,000 years as the time before the Second Coming when Scripture repeatedly places the general resurrection of all the dead. Only Christ has had a bodily resurrection that will never happen again. His is clearly labeled by Scripture as the first resurrection.
Because of Him, we now live in our spirit, even though the outward man is still in the process of dying. That is why Christ said:
Because I live, you also will live (John 14:18, NIV).
And, this new life which is ours already through baptism (Romans 6) comes about because of Christ, the firstborn from the dead, and Christ is no more subject to death!
Chapter IV: B.5.
Some might object saying that there is a great difference between the first resurrection (Christ's) and the resurrection at the last day. This is true, if one is thinking about the state of the unbelieving dead at Christ's return. They do not "live again" in the same sense as do believers "live again."
A careful reading of the Revelation text shows a difference between those dead believers who "come to life" and the rest of the dead (unbelievers) who do not "come to life" until the thousand years are finished. The believers "come to life…WITH CHRIST…," while the rest of the dead (unbelievers) merely are said to "come to life" once the thousand years are ended.
The believer's new life is identified "with Christ." The life given to unbelievers at the Second Coming is not identified with Christ, either in Revelation twenty or anywhere else in the Bible. The unbeliever's new life is one destined to destruction:
Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire, says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,' says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 4:1-3, NIV).
This verdict would concur with Revelation 20:14b-15:
The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Unbelievers' bodies are still of the earth and they have not been changed into a body like that of Christ. After the lake of fire, they apparently continue their existence only as spirits (souls), as they had existed in the intermediate state before the general resurrection.
Chapter IV: B.6.
In my research into this specific aspect of Revelation twenty, concerning the exact nature of the "first resurrection," I only found one author who gives the explanation as just stated. (I first came to this understanding about the "first resurrection" [as meaning Christ's bodily resurrection] in 1985 through private Bible study and mediation on the various Scriptures concerned.) Notice what Hughes (pp. 213-214) writes:
In the nature of the case, resurrection means bodily resurrection: if it is not resurrection of the body, it is not resurrection…to spiritualize or allegorize the first resurrection in such a way as to leave it a mere theological concept unconnected with bodily resurrection (except for the future second or general resurrection at the end of this age—and it is the first resurrection that is our present concern) is incommensurate with the requirements of the context. If the second resurrection is bodily, in other words, truly a resurrection, then the first resurrection must also be bodily. In the whole of the New Testament there is only one resurrection of such central importance that it qualifies without rival to be designated the first resurrection, and that is the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Although I shall not further quote from Hughes, he goes on to develop the implication of Christ's resurrection and how we are "holy" because we have a part in it. I believe this explanation is superior to previous ones which tried to equate our new life with the first resurrection without making the first resurrection THE bodily resurrection of Christ alone. It is only because of that resurrection that we "live" and are "holy" and are given rulership with Him.
Chapter V: Conclusion
A number of insights have become evident as we explore the meaning of the mysterious "millennium" of Revelation chapter twenty. They could be summarized as follows: