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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

How long is a Thousand Years? By H.C. Heffren, D.D.


We Don't Have to Wait For Over a Thousand Years for Satan to be 'Loosed' - 

HE IS LOOSED RIGHT NOW!
How a Flawed Understanding of Revelation 20 Could Be Deceiving Thousands...
By H.C. Heffren, D.D.


INTRODUCTION:
First of all we need to establish something: If you believe in a literal 'millennium' of 1,000 years that is perfectly fine, many thousands of American Christians - in particular - do, although far fewer outside of north America. Such a belief is not heretical in itself (although, without question, numerous cult and sect leaders have held this view), but I would simply like to introduce the thought to those of you from this background that such a teaching is not necessary on the basis of about two verses in Revelation. Perhaps there is a better way to view those few verses. Please read the following article which follows my introduction.
 Robin. April 2012.

How long is a thousand years?
This question is not as foolish as it may initially appear. Historically a thousand years would take us back approximately to the time that William the Conqueror invaded Britain. The discovery of America was about five hundred years ago.

 Christ is silent about returning to reign in Jerusalem in the future, not only here but anywhere else in the Gospels. Should not that start to alert us that the concept of a millennial earthly government might be a most serious error? Why would Jesus, Peter and Paul all ignore any such concept when talking about the end of the world and the Second Coming?   

Millennialists (that is, those who believe in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ, based on no more than a few verses in Revelation), tell us that Christ is coming back to establish His throne in Jerusalem and reign over this world, but just for one thousand years. The basis for this belief rests chiefly upon the interpretation of about six verses in the 20th chapter of Revelation. Now if the Bible does teach this, it will surely happen - let none of us doubt that. But is this really a clear biblical teaching? Unfortunately, not everyone interprets this portion of Scripture in the same manner. But let us read what the Bible says:

"And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be loosed a little season. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison." (Revelation 20:1-7).

To suggest that this passage of Scripture can have a figurative, or symbolic, meaning is to risk being accused of not believing the Bible, and this despite the fact that much of Revelation can only be symbolic, no literal interpretation even being possible (a literal 'beast' with seven heads and ten horns??). Yet when a literal interpretation is attempted, we quickly discover many different and conflicting views on the details. Many give up and just accept what the most convincing minister says. One theory is that Christ will reign in Jerusalem and the Jews will be pre-eminent under His rule. All seem to agree that a holocaust (Armageddon) will take place at the end. But millennial literalists are by no means agreed. Some are post-tribulation rapturists while others are pre-tribulation rapturists. Others reject any rapture (classical pre-millennialism). Some believe that there will be up to four resurrections and seven judgment scenes! ... Most of them tell us that Christ offered two kingdoms, one Jewish (or, Israelites), and the other universal regeneration. These are but a few of the confusing teachings we are called upon to sort out - there are still several others! - to say nothing of having to thread our way through a maze of so-called authorities on biblical exposition. Being literal, therefore, is by no means a perfect or more straightforward solution! This should teach all of us to be careful about reaching any arbitrary or dogmatic conclusion, and cause us to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit to guide us correctly.

How May We Discern Whether a Teaching is Symbolic/Figurative or Literal?

The safest way to discover whether a teaching is symbolic/figurative or not is to compare its use in other parts of the Bible.

There are many examples where "one thousand" is used in the Bible. In Psalm 50:10 we read,
"For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills."
Does God Plan a World-wide Super-Zoo?
Or, the Restoration Of All Things?
There is nothing within Revelation's text to suggest that it should be put together with certain portions of the Old Testament poetic prophecy of Isaiah, most commonly chapters 2, 11 and 35, yet millennialism does just this, applying certain portions of poetic prophecy in Isaiah to just two or three verses in Revelation 20. But nothing in the preferred Isaiah sections talks about anything like a 'millennium,' a 'thousand years,' or a world super-government to be administered from Jerusalem. Most Bible scholars have considered that such texts are a poetic picture of the affect of the world-wide spreading of the Gospel, leading to peace and harmony as and when people respond to that message. Also a reminder that it was the Fall of Man which led to animals often becoming predatory creatures.
Robin A. Brace.
To literally confine God's ownership of the cattle to a mathematical thousand hills would destroy its intent. Which 'thousand hills' would that be? What about the arrows mentioned in Psalm 91:7?

"A thousand shall fall at thy side and ten thousand at thy right hand..."

Does this imply that that arrow number 1,001 might find its target? Or does it simply signify God's perfect protection in times of stress? Daniel 7:10 says,
"Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him..."
Figures like this are meant to convey the idea of a countless multitude, not a precise number. The indefinite span signified by a thousand years is further shown in Psalm 90:4,
"For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday..."
And in 2 Peter 3:8, of course, we read,
"That one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
This is to convey the timelessness of God's perspective. Such quotes should suffice to show that a thousand years in the Bible does not necessarily limit it to our calendar which incidentally, did not exist when this prophecy was written.

The master key to correctly understand Revelation 20 is found in verses 5 and 6. Let us carefully examine these verses again, "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." Okay, if we can determine with certainty what the "first resurrection" is, then we will know who will reign with Christ a thousand years. Is there a resurrection in the Bible that makes people "blessed and holy" because we are told that these people are "blessed and holy." Is there a biblical event which will clearly rob 'the second death' of its power, and that also creates a body of reigning priests? That is what is required to meet the conditions. Actually there is! - Let us see.

Spiritual Death...and Regeneration

We know that death was the penalty pronounced upon Adam and Eve when they sinned. The solemn judgment of God was, "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." However, they did not die that very day, but, by their sin, they were immediately separated from fellowship with God. Spiritually they died. No longer did Adam bear God's image, and of his descendants it is written, "That in Adam all die." So Adam came to depict spiritual death - separation from God. People who die unforgiven in their sins are under the power of the second death.... Jesus said,

"Verily, verily I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life."(John 5:24).

So we learn that just as Adam died spiritually through his sin, so Christ, the last Adam,' resurrects us from spiritual death to eternal life, thus taking away the power of the second death. This becomes very clear as we proceed.

 It should be noted that Revelation 20:1-7 makes no mention of Jews, nor of an Israelite super-state. Nor is there any reference to a tribulation, nor, for that matter, any indication of any earthly reign, nor of Jerusalem. The entire perspective is spiritual and heavenly. This begins to show us how much has been read into the text which is just not there.   

The state of spiritual death is recognized everywhere in the New Testament:
"She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (1 Timothy 5:6).

"And you being dead in your sins..." (Collossians 2:13).

"Even when we were dead in sins..." (Ephesians 2:5).

Paul elaborates extensively on the significance of this spiritual death. But he strives to point to an alternative also:

"And you hath He quickened (made alive) who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).

"And hath raised us up together (in a sense, 'resurrected' us, even now), and made us sit together in heavenly places." (Ephesians 2:6).

It is clear then that the first death is spiritual death caused by sin and separation from God (all will experience this, save for a very few believers who will be living when Christ returns in power), while the 'first resurrection' (resurrection in a real sense but not, of course, the great resurrection from the dead yet to come) has to be when our sins are forgiven and we start to experience eternal life in Christ....

"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22). 
Those who 'put on Christ,' therefore, share in this 'first resurrection' which is described by Paul in Ephesians, chapter two, verses 5-6:

"Even when we were dead in sins, hath he quickened (made alive) us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together..."

So we see that the New Testament teaches a real sense in which we may be 'reborn from above,' or 'born again' right now (John 3:3). This is regeneration. So we see that this 'first resurrection' makes us "blessed and holy." These are the only persons on whom "the second death hath no power." If our deductions are correct so far, then the remainder of this portion of Scripture (Revelation 20) must be in complete harmony with the conclusions set forth. They should verify our approach.

It should be noted that Revelation 20:1-7 makes no mention of Jews, nor of an Israelite super-state. Nor is there any reference to a tribulation, nor, for that matter, any indication of any earthly reign, nor of Jerusalem. The entire perspective is spiritual and heavenly. This begins to show us how much has been read into the text which is just not there.

In verse 4, the text tells of the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus. "And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." We have already learned that that number is never literal in the Bible; it speaks of a long period of time.

Kings and Priests... A Royal Priesthood

Did you notice that in verse 6 it says: "They shall be priests of God and of Christ..."? This occurs during this symbolic 'thousand years.' Now, it is not customary for priests to 'reign,' but this qualification is in complete harmony with the New Testament standing of believers during the present age of the church! In Revelation 1:5b and 6 we read, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests (that is reining priests) unto God..." Peter further confirms the current standing of true believers by calling us a "royal" priesthood:

"Ye also, as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Christ Jesus." (1 Peter 2:5).

But let us now consider the most difficult element of our enquiry. Is the Kingdom of God ever going to be established as a literal government upon this earth for a thousand years? - or is this a spiritual kingdom? To this we unhesitatingly assert that it is a spiritual kingdom and submit the following proofs thereto. Peter has already declared that the priests (believers) offer up spiritual sacrifices. Since God has made believers spiritual kings and priests, it follows that the reign is spiritual also. That is why Paul said, "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies." "For as by one man's offense death reigned by one; much more they which have received abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign by one, Jesus Christ" (Romans 6:12 and 5:17). Note Paul's use of 'reign,' Greek, 'basileo' - to reign as a king in a kingdom. Here is the royal element.

In contending for the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God in Revelation 20, we have carefully regarded the context. Note: it is introduced by an angel, which is a spirit being. The angel comes from heaven, which is a spiritual realm. He carries a symbolic key similar to the keys to the Kingdom which Jesus gave to Peter in Matthew 16. The key was to unlock and subsequently lock up the bottomless pit, a spiritual place. Sin and evil are bottomless in the sense that that there is no limit to the degradation to which fallen men can plummet. The devil which is seized is an evil spirit, the chief of them all. The ones who reign with Christ are described as the 'souls' of witnesses who gave their lives as martyrs for the faith. So the first resurrection is the spiritual new birth, to be 'reborn from above,' or to be 'born again' - this alone makes men 'blessed and holy' and free from the power of the second death.

There is not a single shred of evidence of any grand earthly domain of Christ, as proclaimed by the millennialists. Try to find it!

What is vividly portrayed is the age long struggle between good and evil, between God and this world, and between Christ and Satan. It ends with the ultimate triumph of good. Throughout this struggle, those who belong to Christ are pictured as reigning with Him. After all, this is a kingdom and kings are royal!

Judgment Follows the Second Coming

But at this present time the spiritual lamps of the world are going out. One nation after another is becoming anti-God. Freedom is losing out as men reject the teachings of Christ. The world is becoming enveloped again in pagan darkness (a new pagan darkness, claiming scientific authority for its spiritual darkness). The world's vaunted claims to 'progress' and 'education' are looking increasingly hollow and blinkered. Satan is now already 'loosed' for the 'little season' and is stepping up his deception of the nations. Missionary work is now almost impossible by the standards of a few years ago. The enormous increase in the use of drugs, pornography, immorality, lawlessness, crime, sensuality, and brutality within sport are storm warnings. God's judgment is not far off! It will come without warning.

This interpretation accepts everything the Bible has to say. It does not add countless flawed and pointless prophetic speculations and miscalculations (as in premillennialism). It adds nothing by way of private interpretation, and it takes nothing away. Let us observe what the Bible says without adding to it.

Peter gives a vivid picture of the sequence of events at the end of the world in 2 Peter 3:7-12. After warning and exhorting people to live godly lives now, he says, "Looking for and hasting unto the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements melt with fervent heat." This certainly is not current millennial teaching. Why did Peter neglect to mention coming back to reign in carnal delight here if it is supposed to happen that way? Instead Peter said he is looking for this old world to 'dissolve completely.' Moreover, in verses 15 and 16, he quoted Paul as being in full harmony with this sequence of 'end events' regarding the Second Coming.

Paul's views are expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:23-26. A portion reads as follows,
"But every man in his own order; Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father..."

Thus Paul emphatically declared that the end of the world coincides with the Second Coming. Why did both Paul and Peter say nothing about a millennium at this point, if they believed in one? On the contrary, they left no possible time or room for one. When Christ comes,  then comes the end. The kingdom is delivered up to God - not set up as an earthly millennial super-government!

The teaching of Jesus concerning the end of the world is plainly described in the form of parables in Matthew 13:36-52. (Most of Matthew 24, with the possible exception of just a very few verses, is not referring to the final end, but to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70). Jesus even explains the meaning and interprets those verses in Matthew 13 so none can err. He says there will be evil men and good men together until the end of the gospel era. They are compared with tares and wheat. "The harvest is the end of the world." (vs 39). Here the Greek word 'suntelia' is used signifying the full end of the age, the consummation of God's dealings with man. At this time the righteous will receive their rewards, and the wicked their punishment. What is noticeably absent is even the slightest hint of a millennium! Even the famous 'sheep and the goats' parable of Matthew 25 allows no room for a millennium, with the Eternal State apparently immediately following Christ's return; look at Matthew 25:31-46, especially the fact that the sequence of events revealed leaves no room for a 'millennium.' Christ is silent about returning to reign in Jerusalem in the future, not only here but anywhere else in the Gospels. Should not that start to alert us that the concept of a millennial earthly government might be a most serious error? Why would Jesus, Peter and Paul all ignore any such concept when talking about the end of the world and the Second Coming? So we find a harmonious fourfold account by Jesus, Paul, Peter and John concerning the end of the world with none of them mentioning a future super government based at Jerusalem.

Christ's command to "Go ye into all the world and makes disciples," is still in effect. It will remain so in accordance with His promise, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." Jesus did not qualify this promise by adding, "Until I come and set up the millennium." This would have been an appropriate place to say so if He intended such a thing. Peter clinches his appeal by saying,

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).

Peter's words raise another question: Why would he have made that comment if he expected a 1,000 year 'millennium' to follow? His words sound as though he expected the final consummation of all things to follow Christ's return!

So, will Christ reign a thousand years on earth? The answer would appear to be definitely not. But there is something far better to follow this age: Revelation 20 ends on a note of victory and glorious triumph. Not a millennium on earth (eventually doomed to ending in death and destruction according to millennialists), rather, the Bible offers us the limitless, endless prospect of peace, joy and eternal life when we fully inherit heaven and earth in the Eternal State. This is not for a mere 1,000 years, eventually leading to destruction, Satan is loosed right now and he is angry because he knows that our Savior will soon return. The concept of a millennium is imposed upon a symbolic 'thousand years' which plainly refers to the present age of the church.

John the Revelator describes the end scene thus:

The Judgment Day has arrived. All mankind is present. All eyes gaze at the One who occupies the throne. He opens the books. He scans the Book of Life. The all-important thing then is to know if your name is written there! Is my name written there? Is yours? If you have forsaken sin and enthroned Christ as the Lord of your life, your name will be there! In the final consummation of all things that is all that really matters. Where is your birth certificate for the new birth? As believers we have already come through Revelation 20's 'first resurrection,' in short, we have already been reborn from above, now following successful judgment, we enter into eternity; no more pain, no more frustration, no more death.

 There's a Great Day coming if you and I have obeyed Christ's invitation to "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden..." (Matthew 11:28). H.C. Heffren D.D. 1981.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: The above article is chapter 26 of Heffren's 'Thine is the Kingdom,' long since out of print. I have been faithful to the distinguished author, only in a very few places have I swapped a phrase or maybe changed an ending to have more impact for 21st century readers. In about two places I have also added a corroborating point. The article falls into four loose sections, I have also given titles to these sections. Robin A. Brace, March, 2012
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