The Millennial Mistake

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by Shane Scott

The Angel Binding Satan, by Philip James de Loutherbourg 1797

In Revelation 20:1-6 John describes a period in which saints live and reign with Christ for a thousand years, the millennium. Given the wide popularity of the theological system known as premillennialism, you would think that the millennium was mentioned time and again in Scripture. Actually, these six verses in Revelation are the only verses in the Bible that speak explicitly of a thousand year period.

However, proponents of premillennialism (the notion that Jesus will return to earth before – pre – the millennium and reign a thousand years on earth) argue that many other passages in Scripture do speak of the millennium. My purpose in this post is to show that the passages often used in support of premillennialism are misapplied.

For instance, Chuck Missler, a widely published proponent of premillennialism, says this: “The Old Testament is replete with commitments for a literal Messiah ultimately ruling the world through Israel from His throne in Jerusalem.” And what passages does he have in mind? “The thousand-year reign, from which the Millennium takes its label, is detailed in numerous passages including Revelation 20, Isaiah 65, and Ezekiel 40-48, among others.”

There is no question that Revelation draws heavily on Isaiah 65 and Ezekiel 40-48. The issue is, however, do these Old Testament prophecies describe the millennium? To understand the answer to this question, take a moment to scan Revelation 20-22. In Revelation 20:1-6 John describes the thousand year period in which saints live and reign with Christ and Satan is bound. In 20:7-10, he sees the eventual release and destruction of the devil at the end of the thousand years, followed by the judgment of the dead (20:11-15). Then, beginning in Revelation 21:1, John envisions a “new heaven and a new earth,” in which the glorified church, the New Jerusalem, is pictured as a beautiful city/bride.

Now, take a look at the two Old Testament proof texts Missler offered. First, Isaiah 65. This text does describe a virtual paradise on earth, but according to Isaiah 65:17, this is a picture of a “new heavens and a new earth.” In other words, Isaiah 65 is not a commentary on the thousand year period in Revelation 20, but on the subsequent vision of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21-22.

Similarly, Ezekiel’s vision of a glorious temple in Ezekiel 40-48 also finds its fulfillment in Revelation 21-22. The “new Jerusalem” is one gigantic temple, so much so it is constructed as a perfect cube (Revelation 21:16), just as the temple sanctuary was (1 Kings 6:20). As John notes, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). This is a perfect fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision, which ends with the simple promise of the purpose of his prophetic temple, “The LORD is there” (Ezekiel 48:35).

Incidentally, Missler (like all dispensationalists) insists that Ezekiel’s temple must be interpreted as the literal temple that will be rebuilt during the millennium, and cannot be interpreted symbolically, as I have suggested here. He writes:

“Ezekiel’s detailed tour of the Millennial Temple virtually defies any skeptic’s attempt to treat it allegorically (see diagram). Encompassing a Temple area 50 miles on a side, substantially to the north of Jerusalem, as a source of a river that flows toward both the Mediterranean to the west and the Dead Sea to the east, Ezekiel’s description implies a total change of topography, which is explicit in the Scripture.”

The problem with this kind of wooden literalism is that if we are to take Ezekiel’s description at face value, then the sacrificial system will be reinstituted in this millennial temple. In Ezekiel 43:18-21 the prophet is given instructions for the Levitical priests to use when they “take the bull for the sin offering.” In Ezekiel 44:27 the priest is given orders to make his own “sin offering.” Finally, in Ezekiel 45:17 the prince is given instructions to provide for the various offerings “to make atonement for the house of Israel.” If Jesus paid the full price for our sins in His sacrifice on the cross and thus made the Levitical system obsolete (and He most certainly did – see Hebrews 8:1-9:28) then this vision in Ezekiel 40-48 must be interpreted symbolically.

But the primary point that I want you to see is that while the Book of Revelation does draw from Ezekiel’s temple vision, it does so in its description of the “new heaven and new earth” in Revelation 21-22, not in the vision of the thousand year reign in Revelation 20.

To visualize the point, consider this simple chart:

Revelation Old Testament Prophecies Used By Missler
The thousand year reign (20:1-6)
The release and destruction of Satan (20:7-10)
The judgment of the dead (20:11-15)
The new heaven and new earth of New Jerusalem (21-22) Isaiah 65; Ezekiel 40-48

Yes, the Old Testament pictures a time when the glory of the Lord fills the earth and a new temple of unimaginable grandeur is a house for all nations. But the New Testament clearly applies those promises to the new heaven and earth, NOT an earthly millennium.

What then are we to make of the millennium? It is a symbolic picture of those who live and reign with Christ. In Acts 2:33-36, the Bible teaches Jesus ascended to God’s right hand to reign as King. According to the Lord, the one who believes in Him “has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). At our conversion, we are not only raised from spiritual death and “made alive” in Christ, but we are also raised up with Him and seated in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5-6). The millennium of Revelation 20 is not a future or literal reign with Christ, but the present reign of those who alive in Him, symbolized by the fullness of a “thousand years.”