Is There a Millennial Kingdom Coming?
Millennialism is the teaching that Christ will return to overthrow the antichrist, bind Satan, and then set up an earthly kingdom headquartered at Jerusalem for 1,000 years. At the end of this millennium, Satan will be freed for a final physical war in which he will be defeated; then comes the end of the world and Judgement Day. Our Lutheran Confessions since 1530 have rejected millennialism calling it a Jewish opinion "that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed" (AC, XVII, 5). Is there a millennial kingdom coming? Lutherans have said "No" loudly for 493 years. Most prominent Internet preachers and a large part of Evangelical Christianity, particularly the politically active say, "Yes!" Well if there is a millennial kingdom coming, Christ was wrong, doesn't reign now, and your Bible is too obscure to understand.
If Christ is coming to set up an earthly kingdom a 1,000 years prior to Judgement, then He was wrong when He told us that He would come to judge the world as a thief in the night, at an hour when no one expected Him. He was wrong when He said, "No one knows the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven" (Mt. 24:36). According to millennialists Christ will be here 1,000 years prior to judging the world. All those alive at the time will have a 1,000 year warning before the judgement. Again, if they’re right Christ was wrong about the end of the world. He tells us via Peter, "The day of the Lord will come like a thief. And the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare" (2 Pet. 3:10). Millennialists say: When Christ returns elements won't be destroyed, and the earth won't be laid bared; rather things will get better on earth as Christ sets up His kingdom in Jerusalem.
If millennialists are right, then Christ is wrong. Millennialists say Rev. 20 teaches 2 physical resurrections from the dead. One of believers when Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth and one of unbelievers 1,000 years later when the world ends. This teaching contradicts Christ. He says in John 6 that believers will be raised on the last day not 1,000 years prior to that. Second Christ teaches in John 5 that believers and unbelievers physically rise on the same day. He says, "For a time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear His voice and come out." Some "rise to life" and others "rise to be condemned." Rev. 20 does speak of a "first resurrection," and says those who have a part in this are holy and reign with Christ for a 1,000 years. This first resurrection is being converted in this life because that means we don't die even at death. That's what Jesus said in John 11, "He who lives and believes in me shall never die; though He die yet shall he live." When believers die, they go to be with Christ still alive. It's their first resurrection. They are released from what Scripture calls "this body of death" and reign in heaven with Jesus.
If there is a millennial kingdom coming, then Christ doesn't reign right now. According to millennialists, Rev. 20 teaches that we’re still waiting for Satan to be bound for his 1,000 years. Until then he’s free to deceive the nations. This view makes a mockery of the cross. When does the Bible say Satan was cast out? What does the Bible say defeated Satan? How long does the Bible say Satan will be bound for? On Palm Sunday right before His suffering and death for the sins of the world Christ says, "Now the ruler of this world will be cast out" (Jn. 12:31). Col. 2:15 says Christ nailed to the cross the law that accused us and so He disarmed the demons making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them. The Bible everywhere declares that Satan was defeated by the death of Christ about 30 A.D.
Christ crucified prevented Satan from deceiving the nations anymore. Want proof? After His resurrection, Jesus sent His Gospel into all the nations. Acts 14:16 says that "In the past God let all nations go their own way." Now Acts 14:27 says, "God opened the door of faith to the nations." Where salvation in the OT had been limited to the single nation of Israel and those who came in contact with her. In the NT, because Satan is bound, the preaching of the Gospel and salvation are for all nations. This time period when the Gospel goes out into all nations the Bible calls the "times of the gentiles.” The word translated "gentiles" can be rendered "nations." So the period when the preaching of the Gospel goes out to all the world can be called "the times of the nations." Satan isn't free to deceive the nations because the Gospel has free course among them.
How long do these ‘times’ last? In a chapter which speaks of an angel who has no body taking a physical chain and binding Satan who also has no body, we read that Satan is bound for a 1,000 years. Just as we are shown figuratively how Satan is bound, so we are shown figuratively how long he is bound for.1,000 years stands for the whole time that the Gospel is preached freely. But if you believe that Satan will only be bound for a literal 1,000 year time period, then you also believe that started circa 30 A.D.. That literal 1,000 years ended 1030 A.D. and for the past 993 years we’ve been in the "little season" where Satan once more is free to deceive the nations. Go ahead and believe that; what you can't believe and be faithful to Scripture is that Christ hasn't established His reign yet. That’s what millennialists believe. Jesus doesn't reign until He sets up His kingdom on earth. But then Jesus was wrong when He said before ascending, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." Then Scripture is wrong when it says of His Ascension "God seated Christ at His right hand… And God placed all things under His feet" (Eph. 1:20).
The millennialist can only tell his hospitalized Christian friend, "Hold on! Any day Christ could return and we’ll start reigning with Him." He can only say to persecuted Christians, "The time is coming when we will rule." We Confessional Lutherans can tell each other: "We live and reign with Christ now. Though it looks like Satan and his thugs are in control, take heart. The reality is that all authority has been given to Christ and He is exercising it for our benefit. We're not at the mercy of unbelievers, they are at the mercy of us who rule with Christ."
If there is a millennial kingdom coming, worse than Christ not ruling right now, worse than Christ being wrong, is the fact that God’s Word is an obscure book. When I read the Gospel this morning of Christ telling of His return, the end of the world, and judgement day, it was clear, wasn't it? It becomes muddy when you try to explain the end of the world using the symbols of Revelation. The proper way to read your Bible is to explain passages using symbols with passages that do not use them. For example, Revelation 12 speaks of a great dragon chasing a woman who gives birth to a Child who is caught up to heaven. We explain that passage by referring to the non-symbolic passages about the birth, life, and ascension of Christ. Likewise, we read the symbols found in Revelation 20 in light of the bright, sharp words found in Matthew 25.
Even non-Lutheran theologians get this: "Since [the 1,000 year reign of Christ] is mentioned only in Rev. 20:1-10 and nowhere else in the New Testament, a caution over its application must at once be raised. It must be borne in mind that the context is a symbolic setting, which means that it cannot be used to provide a key to the interpretation of passages which are not symbolic." But Millennialist use Rev. 20 to explain other passages about the end of the world. Here’s an example of what happens when you don't let Scripture explain its own symbols. Revelation describes a great battle at a place that doesn't exist called Armageddon. Armageddon symbolizes Christ's enemies last desperate attempt to overthrow Him. It’s not a real battle. In 1534 revolting peasants in Germany said their revolution was Armageddon. In the 1860s, Northern Christians believed their war against the South was Armageddon. WWI was thought by many to be Armageddon. Podcasts and YouTubers today are saying what’s happening in the Middle East is Armageddon.
If Scripture isn't allowed to interpret, explain itself, then it becomes an obscure book, people stop reading it, and the Gospel of Christ is muted. When people start looking for a kingdom of Christ here on earth sometime in the future, their thoughts and hearts are turned away from what Christ is doing right now. The Gospel is the one thing needful; the Gospel is the one message that must be proclaimed to all the nations. Listen to those who are looking for a 1,000 year earthly kingdom. I don't hear them proclaiming the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus sake. I hear them speaking of finally getting a piece of an earthly pie. I don't hear them declaring people are freed now by Jesus from sin, death and the power of the devil. I hear them warning that Satan has yet to be bound. I hear them heaping heavy burdens on people to calculate, to decipher all the signs so they don't find themselves outside of Christ's earthly kingdom.
Where’s the Good News that Christ came down 2,000 years ago and rescued us from Satan? Where’s the Good News that Satan lost, was defeated and bound on Good Friday by the death of Christ? Where’s the Good News that Christians are reigning with Christ right now? Millennialists never point people to Absolution which looses sins, locks hell, and opens heaven right now. No, they point them to their obscure words predicting raptures, tribulations, and the Jews rebuilding an altar. They never point people to the waters of their Baptism to assure them their sins are forgiven, they have the Holy Spirit, and that they are saved. No, they point them to what’s going on around the waters of Jordan in the Middle East. They never point people to Jesus’ presence in Communion as proof that He is here physically with them right now. No, they point them to sometime in the future when Christ will again be present on earth after being absent for 2000 years.
You find your comfort in what Jesus clearly says in the Absolution, what He clearly does in your Baptism, and where He clearly is in Communion. Let others look for a 1,000 year kingdom lurking in an obscure future. We'll be contented and comforted by the gifts that the One who has the power, the glory, and the kingdom right now gives to us today. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year; (20231119)