Eschatology, Featured

The Millennial Rule of Christ

While a lot of Christians I know are eagerly flipping their calendars, anticipating the greatest disappearing act of all time (the rapture), some of us over here are flipping the script. Instead of counting down the time, we’re counting up our blessings, preparing for a marathon and not a sprint. We’re digging in, putting down deep roots, and cultivating a legacy that’ll remain for generations. So, while we wait for that mustard seed to grow into a mighty oak, the greatest tree in all the garden, we plan on staying busy – planting, watering, and tending the garden of faith. After all, patience is a virtue, and there’s no rush when you’re building something eternal.

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31-32 (ESV)

So, what sets us apart, you ask? Why don’t we just hop on the “any day now” bandwagon like everyone else? Simple. We take Jesus at his word—literally. When he said he’d be back soon, we take him to mean “soon”, as in not a couple of millennia and counting. We’re not playing fast and loose with semantics here. To us, “soon” means just that—swiftly, promptly, without dilly-dallying. When Jesus told his disciples he’d return imminently, he meant it. He delivered on that promise, right on schedule, in their lifetime, and measured out his judgment on Israel in AD 70. That’s not just faith; that’s historical fact.

The Dance of Symbolism and Literalism

A lot of the arguments in Eschatology rise from the hermeneutic choices that one makes with the different texts in Scripture, especially with regard to choosing between literal and symbolic interpretations. Everyone generally agrees that the Bible employs both literal and symbolic language and it is our job to determine which is which. For example, nobody cuts off their right hand if it causes them to sin or gouge out their eye if it causes them to sin.

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Matthew 18:8-9

We all get the symbolism at play here. But let’s not forget, the splitting of the Red Sea wasn’t some allegorical tale. Nope, that actually happened. The Israelites got a real-deal, split-down-the-middle pathway through the waves. It wasn’t some metaphor for God clearing away life’s nuisances, like your mother-in-law, so you can shine your brightest. If you think I’m going too far with my analogies here, I’m not. I’m being serious. I actually knew people who’ve thought that way. Sometimes, a miracle is just that—a jaw-dropping, earth-shaking, Red-Sea-splitting miracle, and not a blueprint for your wishful thinking.

So, how do we separate the metaphoric from the literal in Scripture? Is it merely a gut feeling or a test of common sense? Well, sure, those play a part, but one of the bedrock principles of interpretation is letting Scripture interpret Scripture. We dive into the entirety of the Bible, cross-referencing passages to see what they have to say about or in connection with each other. This practice can illuminate the meanings behind some of these phrases and guide us in our understanding.

1000 years : Symbolic or Literal?

So here you are, navigating the labyrinthine passages of Revelation, a book so full of fantastical imagery that it makes Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland seem like a walk in the park. You encounter a reference to a millennium—a thousand-year reign—and suddenly you’re measuring out a literal thousand years like you’re dealing with a cosmic kitchen timer. It’s a bit like trying to cram an elephant into a Volkswagen Beetle—sure, it might fit if you squint hard enough, but let’s be real, it’s just not happening. At least, I can’t see it.

Let us consider some of the major numbers in the book of Revelation.

1) For starters, John’s letter is written to the seven churches of Asia Minor – Ephesus (Revelation 2:17), Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17), Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29), Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6), Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13), and Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22).

Seems pretty cut and dry, right? But why the exclusive focus on these seven churches? What about the bustling congregation in Jerusalem or the myriad of other churches scattered across the landscape? We could speculate until the eschaton, and some guesses might hit the mark. Maybe it’s because these cities were being greatly persecuted, or perhaps they were just the congregations in John’s immediate sphere of influence.

Yet, when you zoom out and observe these seven churches alongside the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls, a pattern emerges—suggesting there’s more here than meets the eye. We can also be certain that many of these cities housed more than one local church. Ephesus, for example, was a significant city, and served as a hub for Paul’s teachings. In the hall of Tyrannus and from house to house, the city likely hosted numerous local churches.

Taking all of this into account, it becomes evident that the mention of the seven churches, as well as the recurring motif of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, carries symbolic weight, signifying a sense of culmination or fulfilment. Throughout Scripture, the number seven holds profound significance, symbolising divine perfection, completeness, and fullness, and is extensively used in the book of Revelation.

While the letters were addressed to specific historical churches, they were meant to convey a message, truths and spiritual lessons applicable to the entire Church throughout history.

2) What about the 144,000?

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
 12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

Revelation 7:4-8

Now, is God really into round numbers? Or does He just like tidy headcounts? Are we to expect a precise distribution of 12,000 people from all these tribes? I suppose that most pre-millennialists have no chance of being included in this number since they don’t belong to one of these Jewish tribes. Or maybe the tribes are symbolic and the numbers are literal? And what about the tribe of Dan that’s missing here? And why is Joseph listed here instead of Ephraim? At the very minimum, let’s just say that a literal approach here is suspect.

But if we consider verses like,

You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” So there were provided, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.

Numbers 31:4-5

we can see how a thousand has a certain significance. Doug Wilson points out how a chiliad (a thousand men) was the basic military unit in ancient times. That, with the fact that if you take the 12 tribes of Israel and square that number, you get 144. So, multiply that with a thousand and you have a symbolic number representing the host of Israel.

On top of all that, consider what John sees after hearing about the 144,000 sealed individuals.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

The imagery of the symbolic 144,000 appears to represent an immensely vast multitude from every nation, tribe and tongue.

3) So now, let’s consider,

 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Revelation 20:6 (Emphasis mine)

What are we to make of this thousand-year business? Now, some of you are ready to throw the hermeneutics manual on my head, insisting I stick with the most straightforward reading. But given Revelation’s symbolic language, particularly with numbers, it’s a tad more complicated, wouldn’t you say? Even when John’s talking about seven literal churches, there’s still a layer of symbolism at play.

I believe that a thousand years is symbolic for a very long period of time; a decade upon a decade upon a decade – 10 times 10, times 10.

Coming Soon : Symbolic or Literal?

Now, let’s stir the pot a bit, shall we? Revelation kicks off with a bold statement:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.

Revelation 1:1 (emphasis mine)

Many of my pre-millennial pals have no qualms tossing that one into the symbolic bucket. They say Revelation was a memo for John’s time, warning them about stuff that was to go down eventually. Sure, given the book’s apocalyptic flair and penchant for symbolism, I can entertain the idea that “soon” has a flexible timeline, even after two millennia. But here’s the rub: The New Testament is loaded with language hinting at Christ’s imminent return to his first-century audience.

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 10:23

Remember when Jesus sent out the twelve disciples? He told them they wouldn’t even finish touring Israel before he came back

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Matthew 16:28

Now then there’s the eyebrow-raiser where Jesus assures some folks standing there that they won’t bite the dust before they see him coming in his kingdom.

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Matthew 24:34

I rest my case.

If my buddies are urging me to take a literal millennium but then switch gears and claim that these verses are somehow symbolic, forgive my skepticism, but some of them couldn’t spot a metaphor if it tap-danced on their nose and a literal passage if it tripped them in broad daylight.

From what I’ve gathered from studying the Bible, it seems there are two possibilities: either Jesus indeed came and executed judgment on the Jews in the first century, or the Bible is far more cryptic than I ever imagined. And if it’s the latter case, I’m skeptical that there’s any reliable hermeneutic principle that can reliably separate the literal from the symbolic.

The Millennium & the Second Coming

Putting two and two together, my belief is that the warnings about the anti-Christ, the beast, the tribulation, the judgment on Israel, and the binding of Satan all unfolded in the first century. In my view, the current age of the church is synonymous with the millennial rule of Christ.

Now, does this mean I think the second coming of Christ has already occurred? Not at all. As a postmillennialist, I hold that Jesus returns after the millennium. What the first-century Christians witnessed was, in my understanding, Christ’s judgment on the nation of Israel rather than His final return. More on that in the upcoming articles.

For now, I welcome you to the millennial age of Christ.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 
20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20




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