The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The "Thousand Years" of Revelation 20

The “thousand years” of Revelation 20 appears in the midst of a number of other dramatic and colorful figures: a bottomless pit, a great chain, a dragon/serpent, thrones, a beast, etc. Why should the pit, chain, dragon, etc., be viewed as figures, and yet the “thousand years” be singled out as literal? Such an inconsistent methodology defies common sense. The fact is, the numeral “thousand” is found more than twenty times in Revelation, and, as far as I can tell, is never employed by John in a literal sense. In Chapter 20, the most likely interpretation of the number is that of “fullness” or “completeness.”

Concerning the symbolic meaning of the number, William Milligan observes:

In the OT, the number “one thousand” is often used to indicate completion or fullness: “a thousand generations” (Deut 7:9; Ps 105:8), “a thousand hills” (Ps 50:10), “a thousand days” (Ps 84: 10), “a thousand shields” (Song 4:4). Whatever the actual number is, a “thousand” is used to represent the entirety of it. So when God says he owns the cattle on a “thousand hills,” the “thousand” refers to the actual number, whatever it may be (10, 100, 1000, 1,000,000, etc.), while also saying that God owns the complete or full number of cattle. When God says he will keep his covenant to a “thousand generations,” it doesn’t mean a literal “thousand” generations. It means that, whatever the number of generations is (again, 10, 100, 1000, 1,000,000, etc.), God will keep his covenant completely or fully. Thus, the basic idea that is communicated by the number “one thousand” when employed figuratively is that of “completion” or “entirety.”

So when we read of the dragon being bound “a thousand years,” we should understand the figure in like manner. By saying the “dragon” (which I understand to symbolize sinful desire manifesting itself as a persecuting power against God’s people) was bound a “thousand years” John means that this persecuting power was completely and fully bound - i.e., the dragon’s power to deceive the nations into violently persecuting the Church was taken away entirely for a period of time (we know this binding was only temporary because the dragon is later represented as being released from its prison). The beginning of the dragon’s binding likely corresponds to the ascent of Claudius to the imperial throne (who may be the enigmatic “restrainer” referred to by Paul in 2 Thess 2:6-7). The binding of the dragon ended after Nero (whose mother, Agrippina, had Claudius poisoned) ascended the throne and began to wage war against the saints in AD 64. This period of violent persecution lasted almost exactly 42 months, or 3 1/2 years (see Dan 7:25; cf. Rev 13:5).

And in saying that the beheaded martyrs “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (which I understand to be figurative imagery expressive of vindication), John means they were completely and fully avenged and vindicated by God. The vindication and avengement of the beheaded martyrs likely took place when Nero, after having been declared a public enemy by the Roman Senate, committed suicide in June of AD 68. Nero’s death was followed by the execution of many of his allies. When John adds that the “rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended,” his meaning may be that the rest of the righteous dead would not be avenged and vindicated until sometime after the death of Nero. This, I believe, took place at the fall of Babylon, the “great prostitute” (i.e., 1st century Jerusalem). At this time in history, “all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah” came upon that 1st century generation of unbelieving Jews (Matt 23:29-36). That the rest of the righteous dead were avenged and vindicated by God at this time in history is evident from the following verses:

Perhaps believing in a 1000-year reign of Christ, is not so inconsistent as you suppose.

As for your “dragon/serpent, bottomless pit, great chain, etc.”: these are things which John saw in his vision, which are symbolic of something that is going to happen. These are things the angel “signified” (made known by signs) to John by giving him a vision.

However, with regard to the 1000 years reign of the holy ones with Christ, John doesn’t say that he sees it in a vision. Rather he says that it will happen.

Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:6

I’m not sure I follow you here. Why would John’s speaking of the 1000 year reign of the saints as something that was future to the time in which he wrote (and I believe it was) make it less symbolic than the abyss or the seven-headed dragon or the great chain by which this creature was bound? How are vv. 1-3 part of a symbolic vision and vv. 4-6 not part of the same symbolic vision?

Interesting to me is that Universalism can be held by preterists, Postmillenialst, Amillenialists and dispensationalists as well. The reason for that is not eschatology but the true translation of words like gehena, aion and krysis.
A preterist view on universalism can be seen in this website.

blogforthelordjesusbiblenotes.wo … -heaven-2/

Very interesting. I hold mostly to this position. On the other hand, I believe that Revelation 20 has certain aspects of the future. We can see this in the book The Parousia, by James S. Russell where he states that verses 5-10:

[5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. 7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. 9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. 10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. ]

have to do with a future attack from Satan and his followers agains God’s People.

Now my questions about Revelation 20:9 are: Can we say that the enemies of God’s people are physical as well as spiritual? If that is the case: Can we say that the fire that came down from heaven has to do with the same in the lake of fire? If that is correct, can we say that this judgement has the same finality: to purify and change the sinners towards faith in Christ? If not, then, can we say that the fire will bring God’s enemies TO the Lake of Fire, so they may be purified and changed through faith in Christ?

What do you guys think?

I cannot tell you why it is not symbolic. I can only tell you that John affirms that it is going to happen in the future (at least in the future from the point in time in which he wrote the book, whereas he does not state that there is going to be a seven-headed dragon appear on earth in the future, or a cloud of locusts with faces and stings in their tails. Rather he says that he sees such things in his visions.

13:1 … and I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads.

Surely this is symbolic. Virtually no one believes that a literal beast of this nature will appear on the earth.

When it comes to the 1000 year reign, John distinguishes between what he saw in his vision and what he states will happen. Notice that when he speaks of what he saw, he speaks in the past tense. Not everything he saw in his vision is necessarily symbolic. But surely the “beast” is in the two verses below. It’s not going to be an animal who is worshipped here, even though John saw an animal in his vision. The beast represents a person, generally understood to be the Antichrist. And how could John have seen literal souls?

Revelation 20:4,5 then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. they came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. this is the first resurrection.

But we can determine that the thousand years are literal, since John in the next verse states that it shall be (future tense). The fact of a future resurrection is implied even though the present tense is used:

Revelation 20:6 blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.

But granted in 18:12 they’re granted power for one hour. I hardly really believe it means literally one hour.

So I’m just not settled that it’s literally one thousand years.

Perhaps. but there are passages outside the book of Revelation that seem to imply an age between the second coming and the final judgement/consumation/reconciliation.

**As for you who followed me in the regeneration, When the Son of Man shall take his seat on his throne of glory, ye also, shall be seated upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
** (Matt. 19:28.)

Unless you believe that Christ delegates the final judgement of Jewish souls to the twelve disciples, this seems to inply they’ll be rulling over them in an earthly kingdom.

And now, Christ hath risen out of the dead – the first-fruits of those sleeping he became, for since through man [is] the death, also through man [is] a rising again of the dead, for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ all shall be made alive, and each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ’s, in his presence, then – the end, when he may deliver up the reign to God, even the Father, when he may have made useless all rule, and all authority and power – for it behoveth him to reign till he may have put all the enemies under his feet – the last enemy is done away – death; for all things He did put under his feet, and, when one may say that all things have been subjected, [it is] evident that He is excepted who did subject the all things to him, and when the all things may be subjected to him, then the Son also himself shall be subject to Him, who did subject to him the all things, that God may be the all in all. (1 Cor. 15:20-28.)

This seems to speak of three orders, ranks, or stages.

1.) Christ the first fruit.

2.) Those who are Christ’s at His coming (called the first resurrection in Revelation, “a kind of firstfruits” in the book of James, the resurrection “from the dead” in Phil.3:11, and “a better resurrection” in Hebrews 11:35.)

3.) The end, or consumation (when death is destroyed, and God is All in All.)

So do you believe we’ve been living in the Millennium, with Christ and the saints reigning on earth since the end of the imperial persecutions?

The amillennialist interpretation of scripture was popularized by Augustine, and had a lot to do with the “conversion” of the emperor Constantine (and the imperial Church becoming the state religion.)

interestingly, Augustine not only equated the state Church with the millennial reign of Christ on earth, but justified the persecution of heretics by civil authorities.

(it could be argued that that logic led to the inquisition.)

Do you believe this Church age is the manefestation of Christ and His saints ruling the nations with a rod of iron?

It’s a very thoughtprovoking question. “Are we living in the millenium where Christ and his saints reign”. On one hand, it’s seems ridiculous in light of all the evil done since the first century, on the other hand it was not an earthly reign Christ spoke of. Christ’s death was a victory spiritually but a terrible and utter defeat in the physical world.

Hi Paidion,

You wrote:

I’m still not sure why you believe future tense = literal, and past tense = symbolic. As you note, John speaks of the “1000 year reign” of the martyred saints as something that is both past and future (vv. 4-6). Is the past tense description to be understood as symbolic and the future tense description to be understood literally? In the next few verses John speaks of the “battle of Gog and Magog” in both the future and past tense as well (vv. 7-10). See also Rev 11, where John describes events surrounding the “two witnesses” using the future tense (vv. 7-10) and the past tense (vv. 11-13). And after describing the “woman clothed with the sun” who “gave birth to a male child” (12:1-5) we read that she “fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (v. 6). Here the entire vision is described using both the past, present and future tense - but both the “woman” and the “dragon” are undoubtedly symbols and not to be understood literally. And you acknowledge that the seven-headed talking beast introduced in Rev. 13 is a symbol (and thus is not something that can or will be actually worshipped by anyone) - yet in v. 8 John tells us that “all who dwell on the earth WILL worship” this 7-headed beast. Similarly, in Rev 17:16 John writes, “And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” Here, again, John speaks of that which is but a continuation of the symbolic vision using the future tense. John’s not saying the talking, 7-headed beast will cease to be a symbol and become real when he refers to its’ worship as a future event, or that the “prostitute” will become an actual woman whose flesh will be eaten and burned. So I’m doubtful that John’s use of the future tense to describe the triumphant reign of the martyred saints in any way suggests that the “1000 years” should be understood literally rather than as a symbol, as I’ve proposed.

Hi Michael,

You wrote:

I do believe that there is an age between Christ’s coming in his kingdom (when he sat on the “throne of his glory”) and his coming to raise the dead at the end of his reign (1 Cor 15:22-28; 1 Thess 4:13-18), but I don’t think that what you call the “final judgment” should be understood as synonymous or concurrent with the “consummation” when death is destroyed and all are reconciled to God.

When you speak of a “final judgment” are you referring to Rev 20:11-15? And if so, do you see this judgment as being equivalent to the judgment described in Matt 25:31-46? I ask this because many Christians (myself included) do understand these passages to be referring to the same judgment. But if these passages do refer to the same judgment, then I think it can be argued that this judgment is by no means “final” in the sense of taking place at the end of the world or conclusion of human history. For notice that Jesus appears to be speaking of the same period of time in history in both Matt. 19:28 and Matt. 25:31f. - i.e., the time “when the Son of Man shall take his seat on his throne of glory” (which Paul refers to as the “judgment seat of Christ” - 2 Cor 5:10). It is at this time that the righteous are said to enter into zoe aionios (the “life of the age” or “age enduring life”) and the unrighteous into kolasis aionios (the “punishment of the age” or “age enduring punishment”). But if this is the case, then it would be inaccurate to speak of there being an age between what Jesus describes in Matt. 19:28 and Rev 20:11-15/Matt. 25:31-46. But perhaps you see Rev 20:1-15 and Matt. 25:31-46 as two separate judgments, with one taking place at the beginning of what Christ called the “age to come,” and the other taking place at the end.

When Paul speaks of Christ as the “firstfruits,” I understand him to be alluding to the Jewish harvest, which had only two “orders,” “ranks” or “stages”, not three. There was 1) the “firstfruits” of the barley harvest (in which a sheaf was brought into the temple and then shaken by the priest toward the four quarters of the world as a dedication to God, and as evidence of the consecration of the whole harvest throughout the nation) and 2) the rest of the harvest, which would follow afterwards. In accordance with this Hebrew imagery, Paul gives us only two specific “orders”: 1) “Christ, the firstfruits” and 2) “those who are Christ’s at his coming.” Christ, the first to have been raised from the dead never to die again, is the first in the “order” (or “rank”) among mankind (cf. Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), and is the pledge and consecration of the rest of the “harvest” to God. “Those who are Christ’s as his coming” are simply those of whom Christ is the “firstfruits,” and correspond to the general “harvest.” They are second in the order or “rank.” But of whom is Christ the “firstfruits?” Well previously, Paul wrote, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv. 20-22). From these verses it would seem that Paul had all of the dead in view - i.e., all who will die prior to, and be found “asleep” at, Christ’s coming. So if Paul has all dead human beings in view in vv. 20-22, then I think it’s reasonable to understand Paul to have the same category of people in view when he speaks of “those who are Christ’s at his coming.” Christ was raised as the “firstborn from the dead” and the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” and at some future time “those who are Christ’s at his coming” (i.e., those who will be found “asleep” when Christ comes to destroy death and subject all people to himself) will be raised as well.

Notice also that it is Christ who is said to be the “firstfruits” in 1 Cor 15:20-23. It is neither said nor implied that “those who are Christ’s at his coming” are the “firstfruits” of anything. Rather, they are the complete harvest of which the “firstfruits” (Christ) is the dedication to God. This category of people is not, then, to be equated with the “firstfruits” of James 1:18. And while I agree that the “better resurrection” of Hebrews 11:35 refers to the immortal resurrection spoken of by Paul in 1 Cor 15 (for being raised to an immortal existence is certainly “better” than being raised to this same mortal existence), I don’t see Phil 3:11 or Rev 20:5 as referring to a literal resurrection. The only ones said to share in the “first resurrection” of Rev 20:5 are those who were martyred under the “beast,” and surely “those who are Christ’s at his coming” will be comprised of more than just martyred saints! And in Phil 3:11 I don’t think it would make much sense for Paul to write as if his readers might mistakenly believe that he thought he had already been raised immortal, and to make it a point to say that he had not yet been raised immortal or had attained immortality. No, I think Paul’s talking about reaching the highest level of Christian maturity or “perfection” (i.e., the same level of maturity that Christ had, and which was manifested by his laying down his life in perfect submission to God’s will).

The “end” of which Paul speaks in v. 24 is not, I don’t think, a third “order” of people after the resurrection of “those who are Christ’s at his coming.” Rather, I believe Paul’s simply referring to the end of Christ’s reign, or the end of the Messianic age - for he goes on to say, “For he must reign UNTIL he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy, death, will be destroyed…When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” IOW, when Christ’s reign ends and he delivers the kingdom to God (of which all people will then be subjects), Christ himself will become a subject of this kingdom. Notice also that the “end” of which Paul speaks in v. 24 is not synonymous with the destruction of death, but rather with the delivering of the kingdom to God AFTER death has been destroyed and all people have been subjected to Christ.

Actually, the first harvest had two phases–the waving of the first of the first fruits, on the morrow after the Sabbath, durring the feast of unleavened bread (the very day Christ rose from the dead, that we celebrate on Easter, and one of only two Sundays a the year that have a religious significance for Jews), and **the Feast of Pentecost **(the birthday of the Church, seven weeks latter.)

With the Feast of Tabernaccles (the fall harvest), that makes three harvest commemorations (or three phases.)

Hi Michael,

You wrote:

I’m not sure I really understand your argument. Are you saying there was one Jewish harvest with two firstfruits, or three separate harvests with a single firstfruits? Or something else?

I was referring to the “Feast of Firstfruits” as described in Lev 23:9-14:

As far as I can tell, Moses speaks of only one “sheaf of the firstfruits” being waved before the LORD before the reaping of one harvest. And there doesn’t seem to be any indication that after the “sheaf of the firstfruits” was brought before the priest, the harvest was divided up into two separate orders or phases, with one part of the harvest being reaped at one time and another part of the harvest being reaped at another time. Or is it your position that Christ is not the firstfruits of those who die as unbelievers?

Again, Paul calls Christ “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” and immediately follows with, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Paul seems to be speaking of all the dead in general here. And if Christ is the firstfruits of all who die in Adam (meaning that all who die in Adam are, figuratively, a “harvest”) then I see no reason to believe that “those who are Christ’s at his coming” make up a less inclusive group. They are simply those of whom Christ is the firstfruits. There is thus one firstfruits of the harvest, and one harvest - i.e., only two “orders.” I don’t read anything about one firstfruits and two harvests, or two firstfruits and one harvest, or one firstfruits and a single harvest that is reaped at two separate times.

The “end” (telos) of which Paul speaks is when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father. There is no indication that another resurrection of the dead (those who died in unbelief) takes place when this delivering up of the kingdom takes place. Rather, it is AFTER death has been destroyed (i.e., when all who died in Adam are made alive in Christ) that Christ then delivers the kingdom to God (which, again, is called “the end”).

The celebration of the spring harvest was divided into two phases, seperated by fifty days.

Paul calls Christ “the first fruits,” and James calls the New Testament Church “a kind of first fruits.”

Christ was the wave sheaf (and rose on the very day the wave sheaf was offered), those “who are His at His coming” are “a kind of first fruits.”

In Hebrews their called “the Church of the first born” (which is plural–“the Church of the first born ones,” not “first born one.”)

I’ve no doubt that you’ve studied this subject, Michael, but some Scripture references would be helpful. Were there two different “firstfruits” offered during this celebration? And was the reaping of the harvest divided into two phases?

Yes, that’s true, but James doesn’t seem to be talking about the resurrection. Paul, however, is. The Church is not “a kind of firstfruits of those who sleep,” but Christ is. The Church is “a kind of firstfruits” in the sense that we are God’s pledge that all humanity will ultimately be reconciled to God through Christ (see Col 1:20-22); we are not, however, the pledge that all humanity will ultimately be raised immortal from the dead (because no one except Christ has been raised immortal from the dead).

Again, in the context of 1 Cor 15 it would seem that “those who are Christ’s at his coming” are those of whom Christ is the “firstfruits” (i.e., all who die in Adam). The dead universal are the full “harvest” which follows after the “firstfruits” (Christ) is “waved before God.”

But as in James, the subject in Hebrews 12 is not the immortal resurrection of the dead. We are not the “firstborn ones” from the dead like Christ is the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18). We do not represent - nor are we the pledge of - anyone’s immortal resurrection from the dead.

When John uses the past tense, he speaks of what he saw in his vision.

Revelation 20:4,5 then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. they came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. this is the first resurrection.

In the passage above, he recounts to his readers what he saw in his vision — that those who had not worshipped the beast came alive and reigned a thousand years. It was all part of his vision.

After having recorded what he saw in his vision, he interprets what he saw, applying it to what will happen future to his time:

Revelation 20:6 blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.

If verse 6 were part of his vision, why would he use the future tense? Suppose you saw something which had spiritual meaning for you. Would you describe it in the future tense? I think, after you described what you saw in the past tense, if you then made a prediction based on your experience, you would use the future tense for your prediction.

That is because, I AM said, in Chapter 1, Verse 19" “Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”

In my opinion, the vision is symbolic in all things, that which has already come to pass, that which was presently happening in John’s age, and that which would happen after John’s age. All symbolic, all a vision and nothing, including the 1000 year reign is literal but a metaphor of what has, is presently happening (in John’s age), and would take place after these things.