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Adventist Understanding of the Millennium
The word "millennium" has come to have a specialized meaning in the
minds of most Christians—a thousand-year period when Christ will reign on
earth with His saints amid plenty, peace, and progressively increasing
righteousness. The word does not occur in the Bible. It is derived from the
Latin words mille and annum, meaning "thousand" and "year."
A thousand-year reign of the saints with Christ is foretold in Revelation
20:2-7, but there is no statement in that chapter that the saints will reign
with Christ on earth during this period.
Satan, two resurrections one thousand years apart, the general judgment of evildoers, and their destruction in the lake of fire. Revelation 21 pictures the descent of the Holy City, New Jerusalem; and chapter 22 continues the description of the city and the joys of the redeemed in the eternal state. There seems to be nothing in these chapters to indicate that this is not a chronological sequence of events. With the aid of parallel Bible passages that describe the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the final punishment of the wicked, it is possible to outline the events of the millennium from beginning to end with an assurance of accuracy.
I. The Second Advent of Christ
In Revelation 19 Christ is pictured at His second coming as a mighty warrior
leading the armies of heaven to battle against the hosts of evil (verses
11-16). This emphasizes the effect of His coming upon the unsaved.
II. The Death of All Sinners
To the rebellious sinners of earth Christ comes as judge and avenger, in
overpowering glory, with fire and sword, in final battle against the hosts of
evil men who make their last stand in defiance of Him, and He gives to the
birds the flesh of the kings, captains, mighty men, and all men free and bond,
small and great (Rev. 19:17-19). Revelation elsewhere pictures the same class
of people cowering before the face of the Lamb, and the upheavals of nature
accompanying the second advent—the heavens departing as a scroll and every
mountain and island shaken out of place (Rev. 6:14-17). In both chapter 19 and
chapter 14 the effect of Christ's coming on the wicked is described under the
figure of treading out grapes in a winepress, with blood pouring out of the
winepress by the space of 1,600 furlongs (Rev. 14:20). Overwhelming destruction
could hardly be more graphically described. Not only does nature cooperate with
an upheaval that changes the geography of the earth and shakes down all the
work of men's hands, but all the organized opposition to God comes to a sudden
end as men individually tremble before their Creator and true King and Lord.
consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." And Revelation 19 ends the description of the total destruction of the wicked with the words, "And the remnant [the remaining sinners] were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh" (verse 21). Making proper allowance for figures of speech and prophetic symbolism, we may conclude that all the unrighteous who do not meet their end in these upheavals will be destroyed by the brightness of Christ's visible presence as He appears "in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God" (2 Thess. 1:8).
III. The Binding of Satan
The very next event described in the book of Revelation (chapter 20:1-3) is the binding of Satan with a great chain, under the figure of the dragon, in order that he might not deceive the nations for a thousand years. Since this is a symbolic scene, it is not necessary to suppose that either the chain or the bottomless pit is literal. The dragon is identified as Satan, and the meaning of the other symbols we may deduce from the context. Satan's followers have all been destroyed at the second advent. The righteous, as we shall see in the next section, are removed from his domain. The earth is in utter desolation, with dead bodies everywhere. It is only necessary, then, to understand by the symbols that Satan is consigned by divine fiat to the earth, there for one thousand years to ponder on the results of his rebellion against God.
IV. The Resurrection of the Righteous
The scene changes. John sees thrones of judgment on which sit "the blessed and holy" ones who have part in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4, 6). "They came to life again, and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (verse 4, R.S.V.). Specifically John sees the martyrs and those who had gotten the victory over the beast and his image (prophetic symbols of apostasy, from chapters 13 and 14). Do those who reign with Christ during the thousand years include more than the martyrs and the faithful from the last generation who withstood the wiles of apostasy? The answer must be sought in other scriptures describing the resurrection that follows the second coming of Christ in power and great glory. Nowhere in the Bible (unless this be the case in Revelation 20) is there a mention of a resurrection of only martyrs; but there are references to "the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:14) and "the resurrection of life" in contrast to "the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:29), which corresponds to the division in Revelation 20 between the two resurrections. "They that are Christ's" are raised "at his coming" (1 Cor. 15:23). "The dead in Christ shall rise" when the Lord descends from heaven "with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (1 Thess. 4:16). This is elsewhere referred to as "the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" (1 Cor. 15:52). And Jesus described His coming in the clouds of heaven—seen by all, and mourned by the tribes of earth who are not ready for Him—as the time when at the sound of the trumpet
his elect" are gathered from all the earth (Matt. 24: 30; Mark 13:26, 27). All these accounts of a glorious, visible, audible coming, with the sounding of the trumpet, are connected with the gathering of Christ's elect, the raising of the dead in Christ, and the changing from mortality to immortality. This is obviously the first resurrection of Revelation 20.
V. The Translation of the Living Righteous
The prophet John saw on the thrones of judgment those "which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands" (Rev. 20:4). Since there are only two classes of people on the earth when Christ comes—the righteous and the sinners, the "sheep" and the "goats" (Matt. 25:32, 33)—those who have not worshiped the beast must represent the living righteous in the last generation who have not bowed the knee to apostasy and who are prepared to welcome Christ when He comes. The apostle Paul describes that blessed event: "We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed" when "the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible," for "this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:51-53). This is when "we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:17)
VI. The Righteous All Taken to Heaven
In John's view of the righteous during the thousand years, it is not specified just where the reigning with Christ takes place. He says simply, "I saw thrones, and
they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: . . . and they lived and
reigned with Christ a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4). But other texts make
this clear. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, just quoted, the righteous are said to
"meet the Lord in the air," "caught up . . . in the clouds."
From this we conclude that Christ at His second advent does not touch the
sin-polluted earth, but "he shall send his angels with a great sound of a
trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one
end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:31).
Thus we have an explanation of what happens to the two classes on earth when the Lord comes. While one is left on the earth, dead, for the birds to consume, the other is taken alive to be forever with the Lord.
VII. The Judgment and the Thousand Years
The apostle John describes the activities of the saved in heaven very briefly: "They . . . reigned with Christ a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4). The question may properly be asked, Over whom will the saints reign if all the wicked have been destroyed? That the saints will receive the kingdom, is specifically stated in other texts. When the seventh angel sounds, "the kingdoms of this world . . . become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Rev. 11:15), and Daniel speaks of the "kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom" being "given to the people of the saints of the most High" (Dan. 7:27). The saints have been under the oppressive rule of the kings who have drunk of the wine of Babylon's fornication (Rev. 18:3). Now the tables are turned, and the saints of the Most High rule over their oppressors. It is true that the wicked are dead, but they will return to life at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:5). They are shut up, as it were, later to receive their punishment. The exercise of dominion by the righteous over the wicked is indicated in the expressions, "judgment was given unto them" (verse 4) and "they . . . reigned with Christ" (verse 4), who has received "the kingdoms of this world" (Dan. 7:27).
In the discussion of the investigative judgment (see Question 36), were covered those features of the total judgment work that
logically must be completed before Christ returns in glory. There we showed
that the cases of those eventually saved must be examined before the second
advent, and they must be "accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the
resurrection from the dead" (Luke 20:35), and also "worthy to escape
all these things [the troubles predicted by Christ] . . . and to stand before the
Son of man" (Luke 21:36). Since all the wicked alive on earth at Christ's
coming suffer the first death—the death common to all mankind and do not live
again until after the thousand years, the decisions regarding their punishment
need not be reached before the second advent.
Justice demands that great sinners be punished more severely than those whose
sins were of a lesser nature. True, all sinners will be punished with eternal
death, but eventual extinction can hardly be conceived of as a graduated
punishment. It is the suffering before the second death that can be measured
out to fit the extent of the sinner's personal responsibility for his
rebellion. Christ Himself set forth the principle, "That servant, which
knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his
will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit
things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes" (Luke 12:47,
VIII. The Earth as Satan's Desolate Prison House
Not only do the Bible descriptions of the second coming of Christ depict the destruction of all the unrighteous living on the earth, but they also speak of the desolation of the globe. In Revelation 6, the earthly effects of Christ's coming are described briefly but graphically: "Every mountain and island were moved out of their places" (verse 14). In Revelation 11 the final events are again depicted: "There were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail" (verse 19). In Revelation 16, under the seventh plague, the details of the destruction are more vividly delineated: "The seventh angel poured out his
vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple in heaven,
from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and
lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were
upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great. And the great city was
divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. . . . And every
island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a
great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent"
years should be fulfilled" (Rev. 20:2, 3). He can "deceive the
nations no more" because the unsaved are all dead, and the righteous, both
the living and the resurrected of all ages, have been taken to heaven. With his
fallen angel companions, Satan must await amid this desolation the final
disposition of the cases of all the unredeemed in the court above. In contrast
with this, we see the saints in heaven, those whom Satan thought to overcome
and destroy, sitting in judgment (Rev. 20:4) with their Lord.
Even W. Robertson Nichol (The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 471),
after commenting on the shutting up of Satan in prison mentioned in Revelation
20, interestingly alludes to the "fettering of Azazel,"* and to
"divine restraint" put for a time upon that "evil spirit."
IX. Literal Resurrection the Central Fact of the Gospel
Seventh-day Adventists hold the Christian doctrine of the future life to be
based on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51-55; 1 Thess. 4:16). The righteous, made
alive through the first resurrection, have no part in the second death, which
is for the wicked only. And after the second death there is no further
resurrection, or future life, for the wicked. The second advent resurrection
marks the beginning of the immortality of the saints (1 Cor. 15:51-57).
The first resurrection (of the righteous) is obviously in contrast to the
second (of the wicked), which occurs at the end of the thousand years. And the
"rest of the dead" stand in contrast to the previously mentioned first
group of the dead. The apostle Paul referred to the coming forth of
"every man in his own order" (1 Cor. 15:23). First came the
resurrection of Christ, the first fruits. Then comes that of the saints at the
second advent. And now, in Revelation 20, at the close of the thousand years,
the wicked come forth. There is definitely a resurrection of the just and of
the unjust (Acts 24:15). These resurrections are a thousand years apart (Rev.
20:4, 5)—the first unto life and the second to damnation (John 5:29).
We are in complete agreement with the sound contention of Dean Henry Alford (The Greek Testament, 1884, vol. 4, pp. 732, 733), who declared:
We, as Adventists, believe that man is a candidate for immortality—which
is to be received as a gift through Christ at His second advent (1 Cor.
15:51-57)—and likewise believe in unconscious sleep in death pending the
resurrection. That is the reason for our hope in the resurrection. We hold with
the great English Reformer, William Tyndale, Bible translator and martyr, who
declared: "If their souls be in heaven, tell me why they be not in as good
case as the angels be; and then what cause is there of the resurrection?"
X. Satan Loosed Briefly at Millennium's Close
The scene on earth is indeed a gloomy one—wrecks of once-inhabited cities,
and the ruin of pomp and splendor—grim reminders of the teeming world that
Satan had led in futile rebellion against God. And now, at the close of the
thousand years, Christ, accompanied by all the saints, descends to earth in
awesome power, glory, and majesty, to execute judgment upon the wicked. He then
bids the wicked dead to rise. And in answer to the summons, the mighty host,
numberless as the sands of the sea, responds (Rev. 20:8). Not only the
"sea" but "death" (sin's inseparable ally) and
"hell" (Greek, Hades), grim receptacle of death's prey, each delivers
up its quota of the wicked dead.
the New Jerusalem, which descends from God out of heaven (Rev. 21:2, 3). Christ
returns to the same Mount of Olives, outside Old Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4), from
which He ascended after His resurrection, when the angelic messengers gave
assurance of His return from heaven (Acts 1:9-12).
And the sentence is followed by immediate execution. It is evidently during this last episode that the Master's words come to pass: "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:28).
XI. Final Destruction of Satan and the Wicked
The drama of the ages ends in Satan's final and irrevocable overthrow, and
his utter extinction—as well as that of all who follow him—when fire comes
down from God out of heaven and devours him (2 Peter 3:10, 11; Rev. 20:9). The
very surface of the earth appears to melt, and becomes a vast seething
"lake of fire" (Rev. 20:10), for the judgment and "perdition of
ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7).*
there is no resurrection. In this we are in accord with the late Archbishop William Temple, already cited, who, in discussing "the ultimate fate of the soul which refuses the love of God," went on record thus:
This fire was prepared primarily for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
But it engulfs all who choose to follow them. This is the fire of Gehenna that
completely consumes everything consigned thereto (Mark 9:43-48). David
foretold: "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares ["quick burning
coals," margin], fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall
be the portion of their cup" (Ps. 11:6). Such is the final doom that ends
forever the long rebellion against God, His law, and His government.
Out of the smoldering ruins of this old earth, there springs forth "a new
heaven and a new earth" (Rev. 21:1) wherein the
redeemed find their everlasting inheritance and dwelling place. When the new
earth appears, mourning, tears, pain, and death are all "passed away"
(Rev. 21:4). Death is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26; Rev. 21:4). There is no more
curse (Rev. 22:3), and God is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.—The Great Controversy, p. 678.
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