Evil in the Millennium? A Huge Problem for Premillennialism
No doubt, one of great strengths of premillennialism is its apparently straightforward reading of Revelation 19 and 20. If John depicts the Second Advent of Christ in Revelation 19, and in Revelation 20 he describes the millennial reign of Christ which follows, this would seem to establish some form of premillennialism. On the face of things, this appears to be a formidable argument in favor of premillennialism.
Therefore, when amillennarians attempt to challenge this point by contending that Revelation 20 is part of a different vision which recapitulates the events depicted in Revelation 19, we run headlong into the premillennial argument that amillennarians “spiritualize the Bible.” Supposedly, we don’t take John seriously when he speaks of a “literal” thousand years and a bodily resurrection (the “first” resurrection) associated with the second coming of Jesus Christ.
A “literal” reading of the text will make far more sense to Christians who are rightly suspicious of those who twist the biblical text to suit their own ends. A complicated argument for reading apocalyptic literature in what appears to be a non-literal way faces an uphill battle from the start. Thus it is easy for premillennarians to dismiss amillennialism as a viable alternative because it, apparently, does not comport with the plain sense of the critical millennial passage.
But the problem with premillennialism is that this particular interpretation, if true, creates far more serious theological problems than it solves, problems which are far too often overlooked by premillennarians. Suppose for the sake of argument, we grant that the premillennial understanding of the millennial age is the biblical one. What are the consequences of the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10?
If premillennialism is true, this means that Jesus Christ returns to judge the world in Revelation 19 and that in Revelation 20 John is describing Christ’s future millennial reign. But what happens at the end of Christ’s millennial rule over the earth? According to Revelation 20:7-10, Satan is released from the abyss and immediately goes out to the four corners of the earth to deceive the nations (those same nations which have already been judged according to Revelation 19:15). Satan organizes them for battle against the camp of God’s people and the city that he loves–i.e., Jerusalem. This revolt ends when fire comes down from heaven and consumes the rebels along with the devil who deceived them.
But the nagging question remains. “Who are these people who are deceived by Satan, who then revolt against God, only to be consumed by fire from heaven?”
According to premillennarians, one group of people on the earth during the millennial age are the redeemed. No one believes that it is possible for such people who have been raised from the dead when Christ comes back, and who are now glorified, to participate in a revolt like the one depicted in Revelation 20. Therefore, those who revolt during the millennium must be individuals who have not yet been raised from the dead or who have not gone through the judgment when Christ returned to earth when the millennial age began. Dispensationalists believe that these are individuals who come to faith after the Rapture and survive the great tribulation and wrath of the Antichrist, while historic premillennarians believe that these are people living at the time of our Lord’s return who are not raised from the dead or judged, and who subsequently repopulate the earth during the millennial age.
But this conception of the millennial age is highly problematic despite the apparent “literal” reading of Revelation 20. According to premillennarians, the millennium is a period in redemptive history in which people who have been raised from the dead and who now live upon the earth in resurrected bodies co-exist with people who have not been raised from the dead and who remain in the flesh. How can this be? Where is this mixture of resurrected and unresurrected individuals taught, or even implied in the Scriptures? As we have seen, the New Testament writers all anticipate the final consummation to occur at the time of our Lord’s Second Advent. They do not anticipate the half-way step of an earthly millennium before the final consummation such as that associated with all forms of premillennalism.
Perhaps even more problematic is the following dilemma raised by the premillennial insistence upon people in natural bodies living on the earth alongside of Christ and his resurrected saints. How do people living on the earth at the time of Christ’s second coming escape the resurrection and the judgment? The Scriptures are very clear that Christ returns to judge the world, raise the dead and renew the cosmos. According to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, those who have died in Christ are raised from the dead at his coming. Those who are Christ’s and who are still alive when he comes are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. This includes all believers, whether living or dead. But those who are not Christ’s, we are told, will face his wrath and will be taken away to face final judgment (Matthew 24:37-41). This includes all unbelievers living at the time of our Lord’s return. Therefore, premillennarians must explain just who, exactly, are these people in unresurrected bodies living during the millennium. How do we account for people who are not judged or raised from the dead at the time of our Lord’s Second Advent? This is especially problematic since Jesus himself clearly teaches that in the age to come his people will all be children of the resurrection (Luke 20:34-38). Furthermore, Paul states that “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). The temporal has passed away, hence the impossibility of people in natural bodies repopulating the earth, after the second coming.
Because of the problem of evil and apostasy during the millennial age, premillennarians must attempt to deal with this problem by contending that the final judgment does not take place until after the thousand years have passed. In passages such as Matthew 25:31-46, where it is explicitly taught that the final judgment occurs when our Lord returns, premillennarians instead argue that there is a gap of one thousand years between our Lord’s return and the final judgment. But recall that premillennarians often insist that they are so, precisely because of the literal interpretation of the Scriptures and a reluctance to “spiritualize” prophetic portions of Scripture. So now we must ask our premillennial friends the obvious question, “where is the one thousand year gap between Christ’s return and the final judgment taught in the Scriptures?” It is not there. The gap must be inserted even though doing so violates the plain sense of the passage and the self-professed premillennial insistence upon a literal interpretation.
Therefore, the apparent strength of premillennialism is actually its biggest weakness. If premillennarians are correct about their reading of Revelation 20, the millennial age will be one in which Jesus rules upon the earth over people in resurrected and unresurrected bodies. Our Lord’s millennial rule will end with a massive Satanic deception of the nations and a revolt against Christ and his church after they have reigned upon the earth for a thousand years. If true, this millennial apostasy is tantamount to a second fall and not even resurrected and glorified saints are safe from the future wrath of Satan and the unbelieving nations. Although at first glance premillennarians may appear to have the plain sense of the passage on their side, the consequences of the premillennial interpretation cannot be easily dismissed.
Therefore, a second glance at the passage is in order, especially given the nature of apocalyptic literature. The scene in Revelation 20 is indeed a recapitulation of Revelation 19 and as such, constitutes a new vision distinct from that in Revelation 19. The language of Revelation 20 is highly symbolic, depicting not a future state of affairs, but the present victory of Christ, who ensures that his people come to life and reign with him in heaven, despite the persecution and martyrdom faced by the faithful on the earth. Elsewhere, the New Testament clearly speaks of a coming apostasy at the end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12), and the same event is likely depicted by John from a different perspective in Revelation 20:7-10.
The interpretive choice is obvious: either we take John’s depiction of the millennium to be a description of the present reign of Christ and the triumph of God’s people over those who seek to destroy them (amillennialism), or else we must see Revelation 20 as depicting a millennial age after Christ’s return in which people co-exist in resurrected and unresurrected bodies and which ends in a Satanically-energized apostasy, interrupted by fire from heaven consuming those rebellious apostates who have lived under Christ’s earthly rule only to fall victim to Satanic deception (premillennialism). The presence of evil and the mixing of redeemed and unredeemed individuals living together on earth during the millennial age makes the premillennial interpretation highly untenable--a point premillennarians too often ignore.
This is an edited excerpt from my book, A Case for Amillennialism. For more information, Click here: Riddleblog - A Case for Amillennialism - Understanding the End