The Millienaial Mistake

The Millennial Mistake

In Revelation 20:1–6 John was given a vision concerning a period of a thousand years, a 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 article is to show that such arguments rest on faulty reasoning.

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 Rev. 20:1–6, John describes the thousand year period in which saints live and reign with Christ and Satan is bound. In Rev. 20:7–10, he describes 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 Rev. 21:1, John saw 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 Rev. 20:1–6, but on the new heavens and new earth vision of Rev. 21–22.

Similarly, Ezekiel’s vision of a glorious temple in Ezekiel 40–48 finds its fulfillment in Rev. 21–22. The “new Jerusalem” is one gigantic temple, so much so that it is constructed as a perfect cube (Rev. 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” (Rev. 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 Ezek. 43:18–21 Ezekiel is given instructions for the Levitical priests to use when they “take the bull for the sin offering.” In Ezek. 44:27 the priest is given orders to make his own “sin offering.” Finally, in Ezek. 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 one-time sacrifice on the cross and removed the Levitical system (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 Rev. 21–22, not in the vision of the thousand year reign in Rev. 20:1–6.

What then are we to make of the millennium? It is a symbolic picture of those who live and reign with Christ. In Acts 2:33–35, 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.”