WILL CHRIST REIGN ON EARTH FOR A THOUSAND YEARS?
A theory prevails in a good part of Christendom (a generic, catch-all term to include all who profess in any way to believe in Christ) that Christ will return to earth and reign on a literal throne in the city of Jerusalem for a literal one thousand years. The theory is known as premillennialism, i.e., pre—before, and millennium—a thousand years. Thus, the theory asserts that Christ will return to earth before the beginning of a millennial (thousand year) reign here on earth from the city of Jerusalem.
In January of 1935, W. L. Oliphant, an exceptionally able gospel preacher, met John R. Rice, a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, in an eight night debate in Dallas, TX. The first four nights of the debate covered the following two propositions: “The Scriptures teach that the Jews as a nation will return to Palestine when Christ returns to earth and then will be converted to Christ” (John R. Rice affirmed; W. L. Oliphant denied); “The Scriptures teach that Christ will establish a literal throne in Jerusalem and will reign over the whole earth for a period of one thousand years” (John R. Rice affirmed; W. L. Oliphant denied). (Incidentally, two other propositions were discussed the last four nights of the debate: “The Scriptures teach that baptism to the penitent believer is essential to his salvation from past or alien sins” [W. L. Oliphant affirmed;
John R. Rice denied]; “The Scriptures teach that a child of God, one who has been saved by the blood of Christ, can so sin as to be finally lost” [W. L. Oliphant affirmed; John R. Rice denied]). Only the first two propositions, however, relate to this edition of “News & Views”).
Two years earlier, in January of 1933, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., a stalwart preacher of the gospel and defender of the faith, met Charles M. Neal, a gospel preacher of the premillennial persuasion, in a five night debate in Winchester, KY. The one proposition discussed for the entirety of the debate was: “The Bible clearly teaches that after the second coming of Christ and before the final resurrection and judgment, there will be an age or dispensation of one thousand years during which Christ will reign on earth” (Charles M. Neal affirmed; Foy E. Wallace, Jr. denied).
Both of the above debates were published in book form, I have them in my library, and I have read them both very carefully. It is my considered judgment that neither John R. Rice nor Charles M. Neal substantiated from scripture the propositions for which they contended. Rather, both brother Oliphant and brother Wallace obtained a resounding victory for the positions they defended. Additionally, I have read (and re-read) and studied Foy E. Wallace, Jr.’s monumental work titled God’s Prophetic Word in which he takes up all of the many facets and features of the premillennial program and shows it to be a false and fanciful theory. His 41-page chapter on “The Consequences of Premillennialism” is more than enough to convince the thoughtful and careful student of the Scriptures that the premillennial theory and the notion of a literal 1000 year reign of Christ here on earth is just that—a theory, not a doctrine rooted in Bible teaching correctly understood and applied, but a human theory not at all innocent in its implications toward the gospel of Christ.
In 1975 I delivered a lecture on “Premillennialism” at the Bellview School of Preaching in Pensacola, FL. In 1975/1976 I wrote a series of articles on the subject for the Gospel Advocate, then under the editorship of B. C. Goodpasture. These articles were followed by an invitation to present the material on a lectureship program conducted by the Lord’s church in Radcliff, KY in 1976. In about 1977 or 1978 I gave the same lecture at the Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland that I had delivered in Pensacola in 1975. I mention these things only to emphasize that I have studied these questions and I do not believe that the Scriptures in any shape, form, or fashion teach the notion that when Christ comes again all the Jews will return to Palestine, be converted en masse to Christ, and that Christ will set up a literal throne in Jerusalem and reign over the world in an earthly kingdom. I believe it to be a fanciful and extremely flawed theory.
There are 66 books in the canonical Bible—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. There are 1189 chapters in these 66 Bible books—929 in the Old Testament and 260 in the New Testament. In only one chapter of one book (Revelation 20), a chapter consisting of 15 verses, is any mention made of “a thousand years” reign or “the thousand years” reign. And while this fact does not of itself prove that men’s theories about the thousand years reign are false, it does show how insignificant the doctrine is in the light of God’s total revelation to man.
By all Bible scholars the book of Revelation is recognized as being set forth in highly figurative, symbolic, apocalyptic language. All kinds of dramatic symbols and figures are found in the book, including the use of numbers to indicate either complete, incomplete, or long periods of time, not specific lengths of time. All kinds of beasts and animals, including a great fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns are found in the book. As Foy E. Wallace, Jr. remarked, “Some people, in their zeal, to ‘explain’ the book of Revelation, want to assign some significance to all the tails and toes and to every hoof and horn found in the book” (or words to that effect).
In the entirety of Revelation 20 none of the things essential to establishing the premillennial program can be found. In this chapter no mention is made of the second coming of Christ, the establishment of a kingdom, the return of the Jews to Palestine, a bodily resurrection, the throne of David, or an earthly reign of Christ. Is it not exceedingly significant that the very things necessary to establish the 1000 years earthly reign theory as advocated by premillennialists are notably absent from the one chapter in all the Bible that mentions the subject? They have to be read “into” Revelation 20, because the apostle John by divine inspiration did not put them in the chapter!
John saw “the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God…And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4). As brother Wallace said to brother Neal in their debate, “ ‘They’ lived and reigned a thousand years. ‘They’—the souls of them that were beheaded—not a word about us.—‘They lived and reigned. Who? The martyrs—‘The souls of them that were beheaded.’ Does that include Brother Neal? He will have to have his head cut off literally to get in this millennium” (Neal-Wallace Discussion on The Thousands Years Reign of Christ, Gospel Advocate, Nashville, TN , p. 53).
Far from being a “handbook on the end-times,” the book of Revelation was a message of comfort and hope to the tribulation-torn members of the seven churches of Asia Minor. It was “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place (from the time of the book’s writing near the end of the first century, emphasis mine, hf). And He sent and signified it (set it forth in signs and symbols, hf) by His angel to His servant John (Revelation 1:1), who, in turn, sent it “to the seven churches which are in Asia” (verse 4). As Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth had meaning for the Christians in Corinth, as his letter to the Galatian churches had meaning to them, as his letter to Philemon had meaning for him, even so the book of Revelation, addressed to the seven churches of Asia, had meaning to them!
A single essay on the alleged thousand years reign of Christ is insufficient for refuting all of the foibles and highly speculative notions connected with this theory. The following comment by Alan Highers will serve as a fitting summary of what we have set forth above: “The book of Revelation was written to persecuted churches, and it necessarily had meaning for the churches to whom it was addressed. We would do well to ask what the book meant to those who first received it. The book of Revelation was a message of hope and consolation in a time of trial and tribulation. No understanding of this book is complete unless it relates to the immediate needs of its first century recipients. In chapter 6:9-11 the souls of the martyrs were seen under the altar crying out for vindication against those who had shed their blood. In chapter 20 these martyrs are seen as victorious—living and reigning with Christ—and Satan is defeated and bound during that same period of a thousand years (a number which suggests completeness).
“The dispensational view of Revelation maintains that chapters 4-19 are future and that all these passages relate to that period of seven years or less at the end-times when great tribulation will be poured out upon the earth. What a small comfort (to say nothing of its incomprehensibility) this would have been to those persecution-weary saints to whom these messages were directed, and how they would have wondered (if this theory were true) how this declaration helped their tribulation-torn situation!
“The theories of premillennialism and dispensationalism, with attendant doctrines of the rapture and tribulation, are without scriptural authority, but rest upon speculative and arbitrary perversions of the truth of God” (The Church Today: Current Issues, Problems, and Challenges – Freed-Hardeman College 1975 Lectures, pp. 64-65).
February 18, 2020