Bible Study Helps and Lessons
By Pastor George Rice
Since the dawn of the Christian Church, the 1,000 year prophecy of Revelation 20, popularly known as the millennium, has been the topic of intense study and discussion. It was Augustine (d. 430) who made popular the teaching that the millennium will be a 1,000 year period during which Jesus’ kingdom is here on earth. This concept has persisted in Christian thinking in various forms right up to the present time. Augustin believed that the 1,000 years began with the ministry of Jesus and that the Roman Church was the kingdom of God.
Today, in the teaching of most churches, the return of Jesus is connected to the millennium. Either He returns before the millennium begins or at its conclusion. Seventh-day Adventists believe that Jesus’ return will begin the millennium. But we do not believe that it will be a period when Jesus’ kingdom will be established on earth. Let’s look at the context into which the millennium is placed in Revelation.
In Revelation 19, we find a description of the second coming of Jesus. He is pictured as a Warrior-King, riding on a white horse, and leading the army of heaven against His enemies on earth ( vv. 11-21). He is identified as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (v. 16). This scene concludes with a banquet for the birds. All of God’s enemies are devoured--prophetic imagery for total annihilation (see the studies on Jesus’ Return and Left Behind). The context in Revelation is the return of Jesus before the millennium begins.
There four groups of human beings on Planet Earth: 1) the righteous dead, who are sleeping (see Death! Then What), 2) the righteous living, 3) the wicked dead, who are sleeping, and 4) the wicked living. Since Revelation tells us that Jesus comes before the start of the millennium, it is not logical to ask, What happens to these four groups at Jesus’ return?
First, the righteous dead are raised to immortal life at the sound of the trumpet and a shout by the Lord Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54). The righteous living are caught up with the righteous dead who have now been raised and both groups meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). There is no secret rapture. The return of Jesus is a very noisy event. This informs us as to what happens to the first two groups of human beings.
The wick dead, who are the third group, remain sleeping in their graves (Revelation 20:5). They have no idea of what is going on. The fourth group, the wicked living, are destroyed by a gigantic earthquake that convulses the earth (Revelation 6:14-17), by the flaming fire that accompanies Jesus’ return (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10), and by the 75 pound hail stones falling from the sky in the seventh plague (Revelation 16:17-21). Again, there is nothing secret about all of this.
With both groups of the righteous with Jesus (notice they are not here on earth) and both groups of the wicked dead, there are no humans left on earth during the millennium. The prophet Jeremiah describes earth after Jesus returns. He says the earth is empty, the mountains still tremble, the birds of heaven are gone, no humans were left, and all of the cities “were broken down at the presence of the Lord and by His fierce anger” (Jeremiah 4:23-26).
A depopulated earth is Satan prison. He is pictured as being bound and thrown into a bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3). He is bound by a chain of circumstances. There are no humans left to lead in rebellion against God. The bottomless pit is the earth in its devastated condition. Here Satan remains with his demons for the 1,000 years.
The righteous are with Jesus in the heavenly courts and they are given the work of judgment during the 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4). They have the opportunity to look over the records of the lives of the lost to see that God is just in not bring them to heaven.
When the 1,000 years are ended, all of the wicked are brought back to life to face their fate (Revelation 20:13). Satan now has a vast multitude to work with. He organizes them and leads them in an attack on the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which descended to earth when the wicked were raised (Revelation 20:7-10). This attack is interrupted by Jesus appearing in the sky, sitting on a great white throne. The wicked now stand in the final judgment. The record of their lives are opened for all to see and they are judged by these records. When the judgment is finished, fire falls from heaven Satan, his demons, and the wicked are consumed (Revelation 20:11-15).
When the fires have done their purifying work, they go out by themselves and the millennium is over. Then God recreates the earth and it becomes the home of the redeemed throughout eternity (Revelation 21:1-7). The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the Holy City and the redeemed with be with Them forever (Revelation 22:3). It is only after the 1,000 that the redeemed and Jesus will be together on earth. During the 1,000 they are together in the heavenly courts above.