ACST 65: The Reign

SDC10013

 

When Jesus began his earthly ministry among us, he urged people to repent – not so that they could go to heaven, but because God’s kingdom was coming down from heaven.[1] The gospel he preached was the good news of the inauguration and soon arrival of that kingdom. It was called the gospel of the kingdom.[2] Yet, the church has seldom emphasized the future reality the Bible refers to as the kingdom. In fact, Christian scholars have questioned whether the phrase “kingdom of heaven” implied some future event:

“For many years scholars argued over the Greek expression most commonly translated, “the kingdom of God”, as to whether it might better be translated, “the reign of God.” The argument revolved around whether Jesus was speaking of a geographical realm into which the faithful will enter at his future coming, coincident with the resurrection and judgment, or whether he was referring to a dynamic reign already present and active in human history, and expanding with his ministry.”[3]

Some of Jesus’ statements can be read as if he was referring to this dynamic reign, this dominion over a domain. He commanded his disciples to seek the kingdom.[4] He compared the kingdom to a field currently planted with various seeds,[5] a mustard seed currently sprouting in a field,[6] and yeast currently permeating a loaf of bread.[7] There is obviously a current aspect of the kingdom.

Yet, much of what Jesus said about the kingdom is profoundly future oriented. Those who are poor in spirit and persecuted now are promised the kingdom as an inheritance later.[8] Those who uphold the commandments will be called great in the coming kingdom.[9] Many who think they are religious will, in fact, never enter this kingdom.[10] Many who claim that Jesus is their Lord will not enter it.[11] Jesus taught us to pray for this kingdom to come, and when it does, what God wants will happen on earth, just as it is happening in heaven now.[12] Burge urges us to put what the Bible says about both aspects of the kingdom in perspective:

“the vast majority [of texts] look toward the coming of God’s kingdom to this earth, when Messiah, David’s greater son, will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem and reign over Israel and the world forever. … Our modern fascination with the present should not be allowed to obscure this fact, nor cause us to miss so much of what the Lord has revealed to us, for our benefit, about his coming kingdom.”[13]

Christ’s spiritual/physical reign over the earth will begin immediately upon his return, but will manifest itself in a number of special events: The last world war (Armageddon), The greatest reunion (The Marriage Supper of the Lamb), and the restoration of all things (The Millennium). This will be a time for redeemed humanity to undo all the damage done to this earth by Satan since the fall. It will also be an age of warfare against all the spiritual beings who have fostered rebellion against Christ and his kingdom.

Most of what we know about this millennial reign is found in the first six verses of Revelation 20:

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. 4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 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.”[14]

Some believers honestly question whether the statements in Revelation 20 should be interpreted as referring to a literal reign of Christ on this earth. They question the need for such a limited reign, not seeing why the earth must be subjected to another earthly reign after Christ returns. Those objections should be taken seriously, and answered from Scripture. The following is an attempt to do so:

objection #1 There is no need for a millennium

We are used to seeing Christ’s return as the culmination of the eschaton. His return will bring about the judgment of the lost, and the eternal reward of the saved. Placing a millennial reign before the judgment and restoration suggests another event, and one wonders why it is necessary. Paul taught the Corinthians that we will all be changed in the blink of an eye at the sounding of the last trumpet.[15] Since both the resurrection and the rapture/ translation of the saints occurs immediately at Christ’s parousia, why place an earthly reign between the parousia and the eternal reign?

The answer to this objection can also be found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He told them that Christ must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The reign must precede the end.[16] The order is as follows 1) Christ returns, 2) the dead in Christ are raised immortal, 3) they reign with him until he puts all his enemies under his feet (destroys them), 4) Christ hands the kingdom over to his Father.

Also, many prophecies relating to the reign of Christ over Israel require the kind of environment one would expect in the millennium.

“’Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’”[17]

“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain.”[18]

“And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.”[19]

objection #2 there is no place for a literal millennium

Peter said that the earth will be destroyed on the day of the Lord’s return.[20] Some have objected to a literal millennium because there will be no old earth in which to reign. Christ will make all things new.

But 2 Peter 3 is the very passage that compares a day with the Lord to 1000 years. That day will begin with the Lord’s sudden appearance “like a thief.” It will conclude with the heavens and the earth being destroyed and laid bare.[21] The sequence of events is precisely the same as in Rev. 20. The day that Peter describes is the whole sequence of events, and is not limited to a single 24 hour period.

objection #3 there will be no time for a literal millennium

A similar objection is based on what Jesus said about the resurrection, implying that the resurrections of both the righteous and the wicked take place at the same time.[22] In the Revelation 20 text, the millennial reign occurs between these two resurrections.

Again, the context of John 5 shows that Jesus uses the term “time” in a way that allows for it to mean a long period of time. In verse 25 he speaks of this present time in which the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. He speaks not of resurrection but of salvation. This “time has lasted for thousands of years. So, it is not without reason to assume that the time of the resurrection that Jesus refers to in John 5:28-29 might begin at the resurrection of the saved and end at the resurrection of the lost one thousand years later.

objection #4 there is no purpose for a millennium

Paul taught that the moment Christ returns, believers will be reunited with their Savior, and will never be absent from him again.[23] For some, teaching an earthly reign just takes away from the majesty of that reality. They see no purpose to a mundane kingdom on earth when eternity has already began for believers as soon as their bridegroom appeared.

But Paul was not outlining the whole of the eschatological timetable in 1 Thessalonians 4. He was addressing the question of what has happened to those believers who had fallen asleep (died) before the return. Paul taught that when Christ returns, He will raise the dead in Christ and rapture the living in Christ. From that time alone, believers will never be separated from Christ again. The millennium will not change that reality.

But the earthly reign has a purpose. The earthly reign is God’s fulfillment of his promises to his people. He promised that we will reign with Christ, and assist him in the overthrow of his enemies.[24] The millennium is God’s affirmation of human dominion over the planet. It is not necessary. Jesus could destroy all sin and sinners the moment he returns. But his destiny and ours is to reign together, and together clean up what Satan has done to this planet.


[1] Matthew 4:17.

[2] Matthew 4:23.

[3] David Burge, Heaven is Not My Home. (Auckland: Resurrection Publishers, 2010), 9.

[4] Matthew 6:33.

[5] Matthew 13:24.

[6] Matthew 13:31.

[7] Matthew 13:33.

[8] Matthew 5:3,10.

[9] Matthew 5:19.

[10] Matthew 5:20.

[11] Matthew 7:21.

[12] Matthew 6:10.

[13] Burge, 11.

[14] Revelation 20:1-6 ESV.

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:51-52,

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:22-25.

[17] Jeremiah 33:6-9 ESV.

[18] Zechariah 14:16-17 ESV.

[19] Isaiah 61:6 NIV.

[20] 2 Peter 3:10-14.

[21] 2 Peter 3:8-12.

[22] John 5:28-29.

[23] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

[24] 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6.

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