2003 Shepherd's Conference, A Ministry of Grace Community Church 818.909.5530.  © 2003 All Rights Reserved. Grace Community Church. A CD, MP3, or tape cassette copy of this session can be obtained by going to www.shepherdsconference.org

Exploring the Millennial Maze
(Handout  --  Study Notes)


Robert Thomas

Professor of New Testament, The Master’s Seminary


Definition of “millennium” in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition: “the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 during which holiness is to prevail and Christ is to reign on earth.”

Definition of the same from Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition: “the millennium [sometimes M-] Christian Theol. the period of 1,000 years during which Christ will reign on earth:  Rev 20:1-5.”

Otherwise known as “the chiliad.” The Millennium is also a kingdom over which Christ rules with those seated on thrones (Rev 20:4).


An awareness of the structure of Revelation 4:1–22:5 is important in discussing the millennial issue.  The section follows a telescopic or dovetail progression of numbered series.


Seven Seals (consecutive)









Death to

1/4 of Earth


Vengeance Invoked


Cosmic Upheavals & Fear


Seven Trumpets



Seven Trumpets (consecutive)


1/3 vegetation burned


1/3 sea water into blood


1/3 fresh water bitter


1/3 heavenly bodies dark


locust sting five months


1/3 of people killed


Seven Bowls (Vials) 


Seven Bowls (Vials) (cumulative)


malignant sores









sea into blood









fresh water blood









men scorched


















gathering for battle









Babylon judged

(eight scenes) 

Just as the seventh member of each series has expanded contents, the contents of the seventh bowl consists of eight scenes that are unnumbered.                                                            


Eight Scenes begun by “and I saw” (consecutive)


Second Coming of Christ (19:11-16)

(2) Summons of the birds to a human feast (19:17-18)

(3) Slaughter of Christ's human opponents (19:19-21)


Satan's imprison-ment (20:1-3)


Satan's release and final defeat (20:4-10)


Setting of the Great White Throne (20:11)

(7) Sentenc-ing to the lake of fire (20:12-15)


Sketch of the new Jerusalem (21:1-8)



With this structural feature in mind, we can now look at four aspects of the Millennium: its time, its place, its nature, and its duration.


1.         The time of the millennial kingdom: Future


At least five distinct reasons demonstrate the futurity of the millennial kingdom:


(1)        Its place in the context of 19:11 to 21:8.  The 8 scenes must be chronologically sequential.  The Millennium must follow the second coming of Christ because the rest of the 8 are sequential.  See 8-scenes chart above.




(2)        Its place as part of the seven last plagues.  The binding of Satan during the Millennium is an element of the last of the seven last plagues in which the wrath of God is finished (15:1) seven last plagues being another name for the seven bowl judgments so the Millennium must be future.




(3)        Satan’s casting into the lake of fire comes 1000 years after the beast and false prophet are thrown into the same lake (19:20; 20:7, 10).  The beast and the false prophet meet their fate in conjunction with the second coming of Christ.  At the end of the Millennium, Satan meets his a millennium later than the second coming of Christ.




(4)        Two bodily resurrections in Rev 20:4-5 are separated by the Millennium.  The former is the resurrection of the martyrs at the end of Daniel's seventieth week.  The latter group are those raised for the Great White Throne judgment.  The identical form of the same Greek verb depicts each resurrection.  Since all bodily resurrections are future, the Millennium must be also.




(5)        Assigning the Millennium to the future has the support of the rest of Revelation.  The kingdom is future in Rev 1:9 [I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.]; 2:26-27 [And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO him I will give authority over the NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father]; 3:21 [He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.]; 5:10 [“And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”].  To be consistent with the context of the whole book, the millennial kingdom in Revelation 20 must be future.




2.         The place of the millennial kingdom: on the earth as we know it


(1)        The earth is the scene of the seventh bowl judgment, the 4th and 5th scenes of which include the Millennium.  See 8-scenes chart above.




(2)        The earth will be where Satan will deceive the nations (20:3, 8) and focus his special wrath just before Christ’s return (12:9; 20:1).




(3)        The promise to Thyatiran overcomers is to rule over the nations (2:26-27).  Nations are on earth, not in heaven.




(4)        The promise to the Laodicean overcomer is to occupy David’s throne with Christ (3:21).  That throne is an earthly throne.




(5)        Rev 5:10 specifically promises that those redeemed through Christ’s blood “will reign on earth” (emphasis added).




(6)        The anticipatory song of Rev 11:15-18 makes it clear that Christ’s rule will be over the kingdoms of this world and the nations who inhabit planet earth.




(7)        The battle that sets the stage for the kingdom occurs on earth (16:12, 14; 19:17-21).



3.         The nature of the millennial kingdom: external in character, political in character, the one promised to the people of Israel in the OT.


(1)        “The beloved city” in 20:9 is Jerusalem, the predicted center of world attention during the coming kingdom of Israel (Isa 2:2-4; 52:9-10; 56:7; 60:9, 14-15; 62:3; 66:18).




(2)        The name “Christ” in 20:4, 6 has strong overtones of the fulfillment of OT prophecy, particularly of Ps 2:1-2 [Why do the nations rage And the people devise a vain thing?  The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed.] to which Revelation alludes a number of times:  11:15 [the Lord and His Anointed]; 12:10 [the authority of His Anointed]; 16:14 [the nations at war against God]; 19:19 [the kings of the earth].  11:15 and 12:10, along with 20:4, 6, are the only places in Revelation where Jesus is referred to by the name “Christ” or “Anointed One” alone.  His reign is the consummation of his victory over the kings of the earth.




(3)        Christ’s assumption of the Davidic throne is a prominent theme in Revelation from beginning to end.  In 1:6 His titles come from Psalm 89, an exposition of the Davidic covenant.  In 22:16 He is called the root and offspring of David.  See also 3:7; 5:5.  It is from David's throne on which the OT prophesied He would reign.




(4)        The theme verse of Revelation (1:7) comes from combining Dan. 7:18 and Zech. 12:10, both of which speak of the establishment of Israel's future kingdom on earth.




4.         The duration of the kingdom: 1,000 literal years as we count time


1.         The number occurs 6 times in 20:1-10 (vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).  It is unprecedented in Scripture for a symbolic number to be repeated, much less repeated five times after its first mention.




2.         Every identifiable number in Revelation is literal:  12,000 X 12 = 144,000; 7 churches, seals, trumpets, and bowls; 3 woes; 3 angels of the 3 woes; 1260 days = 3 1/2 years; 12 tribes; 12 apostles.  If, as some contend, the writer had wanted to express a large symbolic number, he could have done better with 144,000 (7:1 ff.), 200,000,000 (9:16); 10,000 times 10,000 (5:11), or an incalculably large number (7:9).  Even 666 is not symbolic; it gives the numerical value of the beast's name.




Other voices:


Hermeneutical: Some interpret Revelation as a special apocalyptic genre.  The discussion above interprets Revelation as prophecy, and therefore understands it literally unless context points to a non-literal meaning.  It makes a clear distinction between revelation to John which was in symbols and interpretation of those symbols which must be literal.


Structural: Some interpret Revelation’s numbered series as recapitulation or reiteration rather than via the telescopic approach.  Two main weaknesses of recapitulation lies in its inability to account for an increase in intensity from the seals to the trumpets to the bowls, and its taking the numbered series as independent of each other, thus impairing the organic unity of Revelation 4–22.  Two main strengths of the telescopic approach are its accounting for the absence of any immediate outpouring of wrath when the seventh seal is broken and the seventh trumpet is sounded and the occurrence of the storm theophany in connection with each seventh member (8:5; 11:19; 16:18; cf. 4:5).


1.         The time of the millennial kingdom.  Postmillennialists and Amillennialists reject the idea of a future Millennium.  The former say the Millennium is the present and that Christians will make the world better and better until it is good enough for Christ to return.  The latter say there will be no Millennium, that it is just a figure of speech for a long period of time.  They all admit that their interpretation of Revelation 20 is governed by passages outside Revelation.


2.         The place of the millennial kingdom.  Some amillenarians want to locate the kingdom in heaven or in the hearts of men.  This, of course, is impossible if one takes the text of Revelation seriously.


3.         The nature of the millennial kingdom.  Amils and Postmils see the nature of the kingdom as a spiritual rule in individual human lives.  That does not match the criteria of Revelation.  Historic Premils and Progressive Dispensationalists have no room for the unique role of Israel in the millennial kingdom.  That too avoids the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the fulfillment of OT prophecy in the millennial kingdom of Revelation 20.


4.         The duration of the kingdom.  Since most amillenarians and postmillenarians think the Millennium exists through the church age, they view the period as one of indefinite length.  Historic Premillenarians (most if not all), Progressive Dispensationalists (probably), and some dispensational premillenarians also take 1,000 as a symbolic number.  Those views, however, cannot account for the sixfold use of 1,000 in Revelation 20 or for the literal meaning of numbers throughout the rest of the book.


Further reading:


G. K. Beale. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999)

[Amil, eclectic hermeneutics combining idealist and futurist approaches]

*C. Marvin Pate, ed.  Four Views on the Book of Revelation.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998. [Views represented: Preterist, Idealist, Progressive Dispensationalist, and Dispensationalist.]

Grant R. Osborne.  Revelation.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002. [Historic premil, eclectic hermeneutics combining historicist, idealist, and futurist approaches]

*Robert L. Thomas.  Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old.  Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003.

[See chapter 11 on “Genre Override in Revelation”]

*__________.  Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary.  Chicago: Moody, 1992. [Dispensational premil, literal hemeneutics following a futurist approach]

*__________.  Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary.  Chicago: Moody, 1995. [Dispensational premil, literal hemeneutics following a futurist approach]


An asterisk [*] indicates a work deemed to be most crucial to an understanding of “the Millennial Maze.”

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "Shepherd's Conference Collection" by:

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