I recently had a discussion with a young fellow about this subject, and he seemed surprised that I held this view—of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. I think his church holds the amillennial view. I didn’t have anything well-thought-out to tell him, so this is why I decided to do some work on it. I first got out my hermeneutics text book, which was written by my college professor, Dr. Edwin Hartill. He wrote a chapter entitled The Numerical Principle, which was very helpful as to the meaning of certain numbers. From there I developed a 5-point outline and conclusion, which you will see here in this blog post. I also want to apologize ahead of time for the length of this blog. But I know that if you are at all interested in this subject, it will be valuable to you.
I. Three Most Popular Views of the Millennial Reign of Christ
There are three basic views of the biblical Millennium, which will spell out for us how and why people believe in either a literal view or a non-literal view.
The Postmillennial view. They believe that the millennium, as referred to in Revelation, is symbolic of a golden age of righteousness and spiritual prosperity. They say that it will be ushered in by the spread of the gospel during this present church age and be brought to its completion when Christ returns. Any biblical references to Christ’s reign on earth they say are descriptive of His spiritual reign in the hearts of believers.
It is unclear in this view as to whether they believe that Christ will come and reign on earth or not.
The Amillennial view. In this view 1000 years is merely symbolic of a long period of time. Old Testament prophecies of a millennium are viewed as being fulfilled now spiritually in the church (either on earth or in heaven), or as references to the eternal state.
The Premillennial view. This is my view. We believe in a literal thousand years in which Jesus Christ will some day in the future reign physically on the earth in fulfillment of many biblical prophecies.
First, the Postmillennial view makes no sense at all. I don’t see a “golden age of righteousness” before Christ comes—unless they are saying that this golden age of righteousness is only in the hearts of Christians.
The Amillennial view I think is more popular these days, mainly because they are more vague about what it is and what will happen. They are vague as to its length and they are vague as to whether it is a reference to the earth, or heaven, or the eternal state. But in both views the time of 1000 years is not literal and Christ is not physically present. This to me presents a problem.
The Premillennial view is the only view that makes sense and is true to the text.
II. A Look at How a Thousand Years is Viewed in Scripture
This was quite a task to see how the word “thousand” was used in Scripture. I was very careful to be thorough and complete. I found 272 references, and came up with five different ways the term was used. Here is my accounting of all the references.
A. An Exact and Literal Amount
- Gen 20:16-17: A thousand pieces of silver
- Nu 31:4: A thousand men from each tribe were sent in to battle. This number was mentioned four times in the preceding verses.
- Nu. 35:5: The pastureland of the Levites measured 3,000 feet on each side; north, south, east, west.
- In Ezekiel 47:3-5, a man made four different measurements, a thousand cubits each time. Though this was a vision, there is no reason to suggest that the measurements were not literal.
- Rev. 20:2: Satan bound for a thousand years.
- Rev. 20:3-7: a thousand years; the thousand years.
B. An Estimate in Thousands
- Ex 12:37: about 600, 000 men
- Nu. 11:21: 600, 000 men on foot
- Josh 3:4: they were to keep a distance of about a thousand yards from the ark.
- I Samuel 25:2: A man had 1,000 goats and 3,000 sheep.
- Fifteen references in 1 Kings on things for Solomons Kingdom: 1,000 burnt offerings, 4,000 horse stalls, 12,000 horses, He spoke 3,000 proverbs, gave to Hiram 20,000 cors of wheat and 20,000 baths of olive oil, he employed 30,000 laborers, 7,000 carriers, 8, 000 stone cutters, etc.
- From 1 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles of many things given and taken in battle.
- From 1 and 2 Chronicles many things for the work and building of the temple.
- The number of Job’s sheep, camels and donkeys.
- Dan. 5:1: A banquet for a thousand.
- Jonah 4:11: Nineveh had 120,000 people.
- Matt. 14:21: 5,000 men were fed
- Matt 15:38: 4,000 men were fed
- Mk. 5:13: about 2,000 pigs droned in the sea
- Mk 8:9: Mark said about 4,000 were present.
- Lk 9:14: Lk said about 5000 were present, also in Jn 6:10.
- Lk 16:7: In a story a man owed another a thousand bushels of wheat.
- Acts 2:41: about 3000 were added to the church.
- Acts 4:4: the number grew to about 5000.
- Acts 19:19: the value of the evil scrolls came to 50,000 drachmas (days wages)
- Rom. 11:4: 7,000 who have not bowed to baal.
- 1 Cor 10:8: twenty-three thousand died in one day by God’s judgement.
- Rev. 11:13: seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake.
C. An Estimate in Thousands of Men Armed for Battle or of those Killed in Battle
- In the book of Joshua there were five references
- In the book of Judges there were thirty references.
- In the book of 1 Samuel there were sixteen references.
- In the book of 2 Samuel there were seventeen references.
- In the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles were about twenty-five references.
- In Isaiah 37:36, The angel of the Lord went out and put to death 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp.
- Luke 14:31: a story of ten thousand against twenty thousand.
D. A Very Large Number; Thousands and Thousands; or an infinite amount.
- Ex 20:6: How many God shows kindness to.
- Deut. 1:11: May God increase their numbers a thousand times.
- Deut. 5:10: God will show love to a thousand generations.
- Psalm 50:10: God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
- Daniel 7:10: A vision of heavenly things.
- Matt. 18:24: A man owed ten thousand talents of money (an infinite amount)
- 1 Cor. 4:15: Ten thousand tutors in Christ; the NASV says countless tutors in Christ.
- Rev. 5:11: Thousands upon thousands of angels.
E. An Exaggeration in Thousands; a comparison to make a point; poetic language
- Lev 26:8: A hundred will chase 10, 000
- Josh 23:10: one routs a thousand.
- In 2 Samuel 18:12: a bride is mentioned of a thousand shekels.
- Psalm 84:10: Better is one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere.
- Psalm 90:4; 2 Pt 3:8: How God measures time.
- Psalm 91:7: Thousand are killed all around me while I am safe.
- Ecc. 6:6: If a man lives for a thousand years twice over…
- Ecc. 7:28: Finding one upright man among a thousand.
- Four references pertaining to love in Song of Solomon.
- Five references in Isaiah having to do with
- Amos 5:3
- Micah 6:7
- 1 Cor 14:19: I would rather speak five words with my mind than 10,000 words in a tongue.
Obviously, there are different ways the term is used: literally, as a near estimate, and symbolically as a long period of time. We are now most concerned with those references that appear to be literal. Most are not exact or literal; nevertheless, a few are, and so, if that is the case, there is no reason to believe that the references in Revelation referring to the millennium cannot also be literal.
III. How “thousand” Is Used in Revelation 20 Compared to Other References
A. We will look first at the Revelation 20 references. Here are a few reasons to conclude that “a thousand” or “the thousand” is a literal number.
- In verses 2 and 3: Satan is bound for “a thousand” years, and then he is released when “the thousand” years are completed. A prison sentence is always exact. You don’t sentence someone for “about a thousand” years.
- The term “completed” (in 20:3) suggests a definite amount of time. If the time was symbolic or not accurate as to its length, how would the jailer know how long to hold the incarcerated one?
- In verse 4, “a thousand years” seems to be a definite amount of time that “they” reigned with Christ.
- Verse 5. Here the definite article “the” is added, and it is the time of completion. Hence the definite article makes the thousand more likely to be exact and literal. Also, the word “completed,” as in verse 3, also adds exactness.
- verse 6. They will reign with Christ for a thousand years. Here it just doesn’t make sense to suggest reigning with Christ for “about a thousand years,” or reigning with Christ for a long time.
- Verse 7. Here again is “the thousand years are completed.” It sounds very exact and definite.
B. A look at a few references from my B list where thousand is not an exact number
- Joshua 3:4. The priests were to keep a distance of “about” 2,000 cubits from the ark of the covenant. Here, I think this distance was important, but God knew that they were not able to keep an exact distance, so He said “about” 2000 cubits. But the 1000-year reign of Christ is definite. This length of time has a meaning—as we will see.
- Mark 5:13. About 2,000 pigs drowned in the sea. Here again, it is not important to know the exact number.
- Acts 2:41. About 3,000 were added to the church. Again, the exact number is not that important.
- Luke 9:14. About 5000 were fed.
Here, in all of these cases the word “about” is used. But in the Revelation 20 passage “about” is not used, suggesting to us that there is a difference.
C. In both the D list and the E list where thousand is symbolic for a large number
Here it makes sense that the thousand number is meant as a very large number, an infinite amount, or an exaggeration. The numbers are meant to show God’s power and greatness in a poetic style; therefore, in these examples the symbolic meaning of God’s greatness and power is clear. But, as we will see, the exactness and literalness of the thousand-year reign of Christ also has meaning.
IV. The Hermeneutical Meaning of Numbers and of a Thousand
I think it is quite obvious that certain numbers in Scripture have meaning. Here are four examples:
The number three. Three seems to be the number of union, approval, completeness and perfection. It is the number of the trinity—three persons in one God, and three members of divine perfection. The resurrection of our Lord on the third day speaks of divine power. The offices of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King show His perfections. Last, I will mention the three-fold testing of man and of Christ: lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Here we see the completeness of sin in man and also the completeness of testing if Christ, which He overcame.
The number six. This number is the number of man and the state of his incompleteness. Man was created on the sixth day, and six was the number of days man was to labor on the earth. God brought judgment upon the earth for sin when Noah was 600 years old. The wicked man Goliath was six cubits tall and he had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. A man called the “man of sin” who is yet to come, will be given a mark of 666.
The number seven. I am sure you have seen this number in the bible, especially in Revelation. It is the number of divine fulness, perfection and completeness. It is very interesting to note this number in the human body, which is God’s masterpiece of creation. The human body is composed of seven tissues. There are seven parts to the body: four limbs, head, neck, and trunk. There are seven holes in the head; and there are many other sevens we could mention about the body. Last, we will look at the book of Revelation, which completes the Scripture. In Revelation there are seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven personages, seven bowls, seven dooms, and seven new things.
The number ten. Ten is the number of perfection and completeness. It is the number of sufficiency according to God’s purpose and human responsibility. In the ten commandments we see the completeness of God’s demands, and man’s responsibility toward God. In the ten plagues upon Egypt, we see the completeness of man’s rebellion and the completeness of God’s judgement on man. In the tabernacle the holy of holies was measured as 10 cubits in length and breadth and height, signifying God’s perfect holiness.
As pertaining to the future millennial kingdom, since one thousand can be divided into tens,10x10x10, it has the meaning of ten, or the perfect order which will some day be upon the earth.
V. How the Millennium Will Be a Time of Perfection and Completeness
The millennial kingdom will demonstrate to all that it is indeed a period of time of perfection and completeness—a time of perfect order which God will set up and display upon the earth. Except for sin still in the world (which will be dealt with) we will see the earth restored to the way it was in the beginning before sin entered. Here are five points or purposes for the millennium that will demonstrate a time of perfect order.
- The earth will be restored to its original greatness and goodness. Everything on the earth will be “very good” and man will be blessed.
- There will be a perfect government—ruled by Christ and His followers.
- It will be a time when the covenants with Israel are fulfilled.
- It will be a time when Christ’s character will be displayed.
- It will be a time when God in Christ will demonstrate His sovereignty and holiness and will bring a just judgment to Satan and his followers.
The premillennial view with a belief in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ makes the most sense out of all the views.
As I have examined how one thousand is used in Scripture, it is easy to see how in each case it is meant. In most cases it is not meant as an exact number, but as an estimate number, a number to mean an infinite amount, or a number meant as an exaggeration or a comparison. Nevertheless, there are some thousands that are meant as an exact and literal number, which I have pointed out.
Last, I want to suggest strongly that since the millennium will be a time when God will set up and establish His kingdom on earth, which will be a perfect and complete kingdom, why would He not design its length of time a designation of perfection and completeness. It would make no sense to designate its length as an indeterminant number of years (e. g. A long time) or as a number that had no meaning of perfection or completeness (e. g. say 2,645 years). I would think that, since His kingdom was so important—as it is—He would assign a significant and meaningful number of years to it—which He has! And we can see in Scripture how God has assigned meaningful numbers to many things that designate their meaning and importance. So why would He not do the same for such an important thing as His establishment of the kingdom of God on earth? It will be a literal 1000-year kingdom.