What does Revelation 20 teach us about the millennium? There are three major perspectives:
- Pre-millennialism: when Jesus returns and institutes the resurrection, the millennium begins.
- A-millennialism: the millennium (as an undefined period of time) begins in the first century with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and continues through the church age until Jesus returns bodily and institutes the resurrection and eternal state.
- Post-millennialism: similar to the a-millennial perspective, except there will be an undefined time period whereby all of the nations accept the Gospel and there will be a golden age of worldwide Christianity prior to Christ returning.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses would be considered pre-millennialists, but with some differences against what most other pre-millennialists hold:
- The resurrection of the anointed 144,000 to heaven as spirit creatures has been taking place since 1914 and concludes prior to armageddon. 1914 is also the year in which Satan fell from heaven (Rev. 12).
- The millennium will be officially instituted following the armageddon, in which both Christians and non-Christians will be resurrected bodily to earth (that will become a paradise) and have the opportunity to prove themselves faithful to Jehovah.
What does Revelation 20 teach? I’ll provide a very short interpretation below, but you’ll find much more detail in the podcast below.
20:1 – parallel with Rev. 12:7-9 where Satan is thrown out of heaven. Keep in mind that the resurrection is not directly tied to this event.
20:2 – the thousand years are not literal, but an undefined long period of time. “Thousand” is used non-literally elsewhere, even in non-apocalyptic books (Ex. 20:6, Dt. 1:11, Ps. 50:10). The “binding” of Satan is explained in 20:3.
20:3 – Satan is “bound” but it does not mean he is inactive. The “binding” is to prevent one specific thing: “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer.” This correlates with Christ’s reigning as king and having all authority whereby the gospel can now reach the nations with victory (Matt. 28:18-20). Satan’s binding and defeat (though not his ultimate defeat) is also alluded to elsewhere (Col. 2:15, Matt. 12:29, 16:18, Luke 10:18, John 12:31, Heb. 2:14).
20:4 – those reigning on the thrones represent those who died as martyrs during the great persecution of the church leading up to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (Matt. 24:9). This also parallels those in Rev. 6:9 who died and yet remain conscious and able to speak. These ones await the resurrection where they will be united to their bodies (1 Cor. 15, 2 Cor. 5:6-9, Phil. 1:20-23).
20:5 – the “rest of the dead” is spoken of in more detail in 20:11-15, which includes the resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous (Acts 24:15, John 5:29). The “first resurrection” include those spoken of in 20:4 who are reigning with Christ. While it’s specifically speaking of first century martyrs, it includes all faithful Christians who have died.
20:6 – parallel with John 5:24 and 11:26. Christians will die (physically), but they will also “never die” (spiritually) because they receive eternal life when they believe, and go to be with Christ immediately following death. Therefore, they die in this life, but don’t die in the life to come (i.e. the “second death”). Who do these ones rule over? Rev. 2:26-27 tells us.
20:7-10 – these are the events that complete the millennium. Of course, under a- and post-millennialism, these events happen before Christ returns.
What is my position? I would call myself an “optimistic a-millennialist” because I see the gospel flourishing with victory throughout the nations until Christ returns. But i’m not quite sold on post-millennialism because I don’t yet see any compelling evidence in Scripture that all the nations must be Christianized before Christ can return. Furthermore, I don’t find the pre-millennial view to be biblically consistent, nor do I see the JW distinctive viewpoints expressed in Revelation 20 or elsewhere.
For more details on my interpretation of Revelation 20, please give a listen/watch to the podcast below.