Just What is the Millennium?

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Excitement builds as we approach the dawn of a new millennium. But what's so special about a new millennium, and what should the new millennium mean to you?

What does the word millennium bring to mind? Futuristic, science-fiction images? Computer glitches? Horrific prophecies of destruction? A utopian fantasy world?

As the year 2000 approaches the word millennium has been used so commonly that most people have even learned to spell it correctly.

What is the millennium? The word is derived from two Latin words: mille, meaning "thousand" and annus, meaning "year." ( annus ). Millennium simply means 1,000 years.

Many will mark the beginning of the third millennium on Jan. 1, 2000, although in reality, according to the calendar used by most of the Western world, it will begin a year later, on Jan. 1, 2001. We are fast approaching the time many assume will mark 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus Christ.

But is the birth of Jesus the only connection between the Bible and the millennium?

Confusion about the Millennium

Many people have heard that the Bible talks about a period of peace known as "the Millennium," but they aren't quite sure what that means. The many views among Christian denominations and religious teachers don't help clear up the confusion.

What is the Millennium described in the Bible? Is it merely a nice-sounding ideal or an allegory? Or is it a time the Bible describes as real? How will the Millennium come about? Does the Bible tell us where it will be? Can we know when will it come about? Let's explore the answers straight from the Bible.

Although the word millennium never appears in the Bible, it speaks specifically and clearly of a period of 1,000 years that will serve as the turning point for mankind. It reveals that during that time the world will finally achieve the elusive ideals of peace, prosperity and purpose. It is assuredly not merely a dream, wish or fantasy; the Millennium holds a sure promise of hope for humanity.

To understand the prophesied Millennium (not to be confused with the third millennium according to our modern calendar), let's set the stage by briefly describing events that will take place immediately before the beginning of this 1,000 years.

A world in peril

Shortly before His death Jesus's disciples asked Him what events would occur before the end of the age and His return to earth (Matthew:24:3). Jesus warned that the future would bring religious confusion and deception, war, natural disaster, persecution and tribulation, even as the gospel would spread to all the world (verses 4-14). Then He told them that those who are watchful and obedient could be protected from the destructive events that would yet occur (Luke:21:18, 28, 36).

Jesus went on to prophesy that immediately before His return the world would be gripped by unparalleled difficulties so severe they would threaten humanity with extinction: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (Matthew:24:21-22).

He said the time of turmoil would be followed by dramatic signs in the heavens, and then He would return in power and glory. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (verses 29-31).

From Paul's writings we learn that the gathering of "His elect" at the "sound of the trumpet" is the resurrection of faithful Christians: "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep [dead]. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians:4:15-17).

Rejoicing or rebellion?

Jesus said the "tribes of the earth will mourn" at His return (Matthew:24:30). That statement seems odd, since you would expect that all would rejoice at His second coming. Why does mankind resist, rather than rejoice, when Christ returns?

Revelation 18 gives us more background information. This chapter describes the destruction of an economic, political and religious system called Babylon the great (verse 2). But before its destruction it will be the source of great wealth to those who are part of this pervasive system: "For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury" (verse 3). Verses 9-20 describe the abundance and prosperity this system will bring to the nations, and their shock and fear at its sudden destruction.

In a vain effort to protect their system, and because Satan has deceived them, the armies of the world will fight against Jesus when He returns (Revelation:19:11-19). Verse 20 describes the destruction of the political and religious leadership of this ungodly system.

Having destroyed Babylon, Jesus will deal with the unseen "god of this age" (2 Corinthians:4:4), Satan. "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (Revelation:20:1-2).

The Millennium begins

The prophecy goes on to show that Satan is bound so he can no longer deceive humanity: "[The angel] cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished . . ." (verse 3). Although many Old Testament prophecies reveal what will take place during the Millennium, this is the first specific reference to a period of 1,000 years.

The "elect" gathered "from the four winds" (Matthew:24:31), who had received eternal life when Jesus returned (1 Corinthians:15:51-52), includes those who were persecuted because they refused to be part of the ungodly system the Bible calls Babylon. Now resurrected and having received God's gift of eternal life, they will rule the earth with Jesus Christ during this time.

"And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness of Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (Revelation:20:4).

The reign of the Messiah

Daniel 7 contains another prophecy of events that culminate in the establishment of God's kingdom. Verses 13 and 14 describe Jesus Christ being given this kingdom: "I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed."

Jesus Christ's return to establish God's Kingdom on earth will fulfill the prophecy recorded long before His birth: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah:9:6-7, emphasis added throughout).

Jesus will return to a battered and beaten earth. People will have endured a time of terrible tribulation, bloody battles and horrifying disasters. Zechariah 14 summarizes events surrounding Christ's return and the beginning of the Millennium.

Verses 1-2 discuss "the day of the Lord," the time just before His return when Jesus begins to intervene in world affairs and set the stage for His second coming. Verses 3-5 speak of His battle against the nations and His descent onto the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem. Verses 6-9 describe Jesus' impact as He immediately begins to comfort earth's inhabitants and institute God's way of life.

The "living waters" mentioned in verse 8 symbolize the healing that will spread out to all lands from Jerusalem. "And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth . . ." (Zechariah:14:8-9).

A world of prosperity and peace

The Millennium is the first 1,000 years of the eternal Kingdom of God. The purpose of the Millennium is to establish God's government on earth and provide a way for every person, protected from Satan's deception and temptation, to prepare to receive an eternal inheritance in God's Kingdom.

Isaiah was inspired to record many prophecies of the Millennium. He summarizes the transformation of the earth after Jesus returns: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah:2:2-4).

Isaiah describes a world completely different from ours. Jesus Christ will rule over all the earth. People from all nations will seek to learn God's law and live according to it. As a result, society will have an entirely new orientation and approach based on godly values. Man's creativity and resourcefulness will be used for peaceful purposes instead of war and destruction.

Isaiah further prophesies that, not only will man's nature change for the better when Satan is removed from the scene, but even the nature of animals will be different: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den" (Isaiah:11:6-8)

A prophecy by Amos shows the earth benefiting under Jesus Christ's rule. The nations will be richly blessed. For example, crops will be so abundant that the preparations for the next year's will be slowed because the harvest hasn't even been completed. " 'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountain shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it' " (Amos:9:13).

Those who are part of the resurrection that takes place when Jesus returns are also described as teachers who will give people guidance and direction in God's way of life: "And though the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, but your eyes shall see your teachers. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left" (Isaiah:30:20-21).

Faithful Christians who prepare in this life for the Kingdom of God will reign with Jesus Christ in the Millennium. As kings, priests and teachers, they will have the privilege of assisting Him in governing and teaching mankind the way and the truth of God.

A world filled with purpose

Why will the world be so different during the Millennium? God will provide what is sadly lacking in today's world. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah:11:9).

When people live according to the knowledge of God, they will experience peace and prosperity—the result of understanding the true purpose of life and how God intends man to live. It's difficult for us to grasp how negative an influence Satan is on our lives. We live in a world that lacks the knowledge of God, an understanding of His instructions and the purpose of life. We can only try to imagine what the world will be like when it is saturated with God's truth and man is free to pursue the purpose for his existence.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant between God and humanity. Jesus established this covenant (Matthew:26:28), but, although Satan is present to spread his deceptions (Revelation:12:9), God has called relatively few to enter into that covenant.

During the Millennium, however, when Satan is bound and God fills the world with knowledge of Him and His ways, mankind as a whole will have an opportunity to enter into this covenant. "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt . . . This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah:31:31-33; emphasis added throughout).

The promise of salvation through the New Covenant will not be limited only to descendants of Israel, but will extend to all mankind. In reference to Jesus' work of salvation, one of Isaiah's prophecies puts it this way: "Indeed He says, 'It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth' " (Isaiah:49:6).

Eternal life offered to all

Societies will be based on the law of God, which will be taught to all nations (Isaiah:2:3). People will learn to obey God from their heart, motivated by understanding, love, devotion and appreciation.

The apostle Paul wrote that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy:2:3-4).

As Jesus rules on earth during the Millennium, people will have the opportunity to learn about Him and God's plan for salvation. All will have the opportunity to come to see Jesus as their Savior, realizing they can enter into eternal life only through Him (Acts:4:12). Finally recognizing Jesus as Savior and King, people will honor, worship and obey Him (Philippians 2:9-12).

But what happens next? What about the rest of humanity, those who lived and died without ever hearing of Jesus Christ or knowing God's plan for salvation?

Beyond the Millennium

The Millennium helps us understand the future of those who have died in the faith, those who are alive when Jesus returns to earth and those who are born during the 1,000 years. But what about people who lived and died before the Millennium? How will salvation be offered to the billions who never heard the message of the gospel?

"But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation:20:5). When the Millennium is over, the "rest of the dead" will live again. They will have their opportunity for salvation too. (To understand more about this next and important step in God's plan, be sure to request our free booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind. )

God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter:3:9). These prophecies reveal that God will make His gift of salvation available to all who have lived.

Prophecy need not be confusing

Confusion and misunderstanding about the Millennium abounds, but the Bible is clear. The Millennium is the first 1,000 years of God's eternal kingdom. During that time Jesus will establish God's government, the world will be at peace, and mankind will flourish as the knowledge of God fills the earth. Humanity will come to understand and prepare for its eternal destiny in God's family and kingdom.

In His Word God has revealed much about the Millennium that strengthens our faith, sense of purpose and hope for the future. We hope that you will continue your study to learn of and prepare for your part in God's incredible plan for you.

This article has only briefly discussed some of the many prophecies of the Millennium and Jesus Christ's coming rule on earth. To discover more of what the Bible teaches about this exciting new world, be sure to request The Gospel of the Kingdom . To better understand how the Millennium fits with God's plan as laid out in Bible prophecy, please ask for You Can Understand Bible Prophecy . GN

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