Over the years there has been much controversy over the proper interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, which speaks of believers reigning with Christ for a thousand years (i.e. for a “millennium”). The problem is not that the passage is unclear, but that many refuse to believe what it teaches. The passage and its context make clear that this number is to be taken symbolically, for the whole passage is filled with symbols, such as the “great chain” mentioned in verse one. The numbers ten, an hundred, and a thousand, symbolize completeness, and, therefore, the number one thousand makes known that this reign will continue for a complete period of time, the length of which has been determined by God.
The passage also makes known very clearly that the ones sitting on thrones are believers, who are reigning in their souls with Christ in heaven after their physical death and before the final coming of Christ. The ones who are reigning are called “souls,” and they are the souls of those who have been “beheaded for the witness of Jesus.” This makes known that these are Christians who have died and have gone to heaven, and are there reigning with Christ in a spiritual sense, while their bodies rest in the grave until the final resurrection In short, this passage clearly refers to a heavenly, spiritual kingdom that exists right now.
There are, however, two groups of people, the premillennialists and the postmillennialists, who maintain that this passage speaks of Christ reigning with His people in an earthly and physical sense. The prefix “pre-” means “before,” and the premillennialist maintains that Christ will return before this earthly kingdom will be set up, and that Christ will be on earth reigning with His people in this earthly kingdom. The prefix “post-” means “after,” and the postmillennialist says that Christ will return after this earthly kingdom has continued for a long period of time. Christ, they say, will reign as King over this kingdom, but He will reign from heaven while His people are on earth, and He will not return to earth until after the millennium.
As strange as it may seem, the postmillennialist actually maintains that the day will soon come in which the majority of mankind will be converted, the whole world will be “Christianized,” and earthly peace and prosperity will be enjoyed by all. This, they say, will be the real fulfillment of the kingdom of Christ, and to this kingdom Christ will come in His second coming. Unlike the premillennialists, they for the most part interpret the “one thousand years” symbolically. In fact, some of them expect this kingdom to last for an extremely long period of time, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.
Over and over again postmillennialists proclaim that before the second coming of Christ the gospel will be victorious throughout the entire world. This certainly is true. But what do they mean by “victorious?” By “victorious” they mean, first of all, that the majority of people on this earth will become converted Christians. If this does not happen, in their mind the gospel has not been victorious. They mean, secondly, that Christians will control all spheres of life on this earth. They will exercise dominion over the nations politically and militarily. They will also be the heads in the business world, and will control the world economically. Science and technology, music and art, and the entire education system will be under their control. And the result of all this will be earthly peace and material wealth for all those who live on the earth during this time. In short, when the postmillennialists speak of the gospel being victorious they have in mind, not a heavenly and spiritual victory, but an earthly and carnal one. They expect the same earthly victory that the Jews expected prior to the crucifixion of Christ (John 6).
This earthly conception of the kingdom is not something about which Christian’s can differ, for it is clearly contrary to the Reformed creeds. The fifty-second answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, and article thirty- seven of the Belgic Confession, both teach that in this life the church will be persecuted by the ungodly. The postmillennialists, however, teach that there will be a long period of time before the final coming of Christ in which the church on earth will not be persecuted.
It is true that the gospel of God is now, and will always be, victorious as it goes throughout the whole world before the final coming of Christ. But this victory is spiritual and heavenly, not earthly and carnal.
The postmillennialists claim that they also believe the victory of the gospel to be spiritual and heavenly. “But,” they say, “it is also physical and earthly.” This is refuted by Romans 14:17 which reads, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” This verse clearly points out that the kingdom of God is not both spiritual and carnal, but rather is spiritual and not carnal, consisting of the spiritual blessings of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and not earthly, carnal things such as meat and drink.
This postmillennial view of an earthly, carnal kingdom can easily find its way into our midst. Indeed, this is the view of our old man of sin. By nature we all desire earthly riches, earthly peace, and earthly dominion over others. The love of money, to which we are all prone, is the root of all evil, and is certainly at the root of this carnal view of God’s kingdom.
Those individuals or churches who adopt this view of the kingdom will certainly suffer the consequences of their sin. Although they may claim to believe that the kingdom of God is both spiritual and physical, the emphasis over time will fall more and more on the physical. This is evident from the fact that both Scripture and history testify that whenever the truth and the lie exist side by side, as they did during the days of wicked king Ahaz (II Kings 16), the latter will gradually usurp the place of the former.
That this is what has been happening is clearly evident from the writings of the modern-day postmillennialists. These people are publishing great volumes of literature. And just a brief examination of their contents will reveal that far and away the majority of what is written concerns their hope for this earthly kingdom and what Christians must do to bring it about. The spiritual blessings of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit are virtually forgotten, being drowned out by the lust for material possessions, physical power, and earthly dominion.
Accompanying this emphasis on an earthly kingdom will always be a rejection of the antithesis. This has to be the case. Anyone who is striving to bring about this kingdom is going to conclude that it will not happen unless all those who claim to be Christian join their forces and stand together as one. It is not surprising, therefore, to see that some of the leaders in the postmillennial movement are aggressively courting the Charismatics and moving in the direction of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, anyone who holds to an earthly view of the kingdom is in great danger of rejecting the antithesis, and of embracing the anti-christian kingdom that is now developing before our very eyes.
Since this view of the kingdom is clearly contrary to both Scripture and the Reformed creeds, you can be certain that there will be devastating effects upon any church or any individual that adopts it. The justice of God demands it. For those who desire this kind of a kingdom are desiring a kingdom that is not the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore it is the duty of every Christian, and especially of every minister of the gospel, to warn God’s people about the seriousness of this great evil, and to call those who hold to it to repentance. God’s people are called not to seek some earthly, carnal kingdom, but to seek the heavenly kingdom of Jehovah of Hosts, Who through Christ reigns over us right now, and will continue to reign over us forever and ever in the new heaven and new earth in which righteousness will dwell. ❖