I believe that the thousand year reign was a literal thousand year interval between Judaea’s first century war with Rome and the first crusade, the Battle of Gog and Magog. The strength of this view is that it seems to accurately fulfill Biblical time statements as well as Biblical descriptions of the Battle of Gog and Magog found in Ezekiel 38, Ezekiel 39 and Revelation 20.
However, it is a common belief among Preterists that the millennium began during Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection and ended forty year later at the fall of Jerusalem (see Is Luke 21:22 Irrefutable Proof that All End Time Prophecies were Fulfilled in A.D. 70?). Proponents of the forty-year millennium often cite two verses to support this nonliteral use of one thousand. Both of these verses are not as compelling as one might initially think.
The first is Psalm 50:10: “[F]or every animal of the forest is mine [God’s], and the cattle on a thousand hills.” Proponents of the 40-year millennium then might ask, “Does God not own cattle on hill number 1001?” However, there is no mention of “cattle” in Psalm 50:10. In the original Hebrew, Psalm 50:10 actually reads, “[F]or every animal of the forest is mine, and the Behemoth on a thousand hills.” According to Jewish tradition laid out in 2 Esdras 6:49-51 and the Midrash, Behemoth was a beast who rested on a thousand hills:
Which one is it? Behemoth, who dwells upon a thousand mountains (Psalms 40). And Ben Lakish and Yohanan said: This is one beast, that grazes on a thousand mountain, and a thousand mountain grow for it all manners of food…. and that rabbi said, it is one beast that lies upon a thousand mountains, and a thousand mountains grow animals for it to eat every day[.] (Exodus Rabba)
On the sixth day, He took water, dirt and light, and created Behemoth on the thousand mountains. (Midrash Conen)
Then didst thou ordain two living creatures, the one thou calledst Enoch, and the other Leviathan; And didst separate the one from the other: for the seventh part, namely, where the water was gathered together, might not hold them both. Unto Enoch thou gavest one part, which was dried up the third day, that he should dwell in the same part, wherein are a thousand hills. (2 Esdras 6:49-51)
The Behemoth who sits “on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10) and “feeds on grass” (Job 40:15) with a “tail” “like a cedar” (Job 40:17) does not match any creature alive or extinct. This is because the Behemoth is a mythical creature. Since Psalm 50:10 is not talking about cattle, but rather appears to be referring to a mythical creature we cannot make “a thousand” mean anything other than “one thousand” as the idea that the Behemoth sits on a thousand hills is an important part of its mythology. To ask if the Behemoth could sit on a thousand and one hills is a senseless question. The Behemoth is a myth and if the myth says this beast sits on a thousand hills, it sits one thousand hills. We cannot say the Behemoth sits on 1001 or 999 hills as in doing so we change the myth itself.
The second verse used to support the idea that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 is not literal is 2 Peter 3:8: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” For proponents of a 40-year millennium to cite 2 Peter 3:8 to support a forty-year millennium is the height of inconsistency and hypocrisy. How can these Christians scoff at the futurist who uses this verse to distort time to bolster the notion of Jesus coming back 2000 years after His crucifixion when they are guilty of the same sin in Revelation 20?
Aside from the tenuous idea that a thousand years could symbolize forty, the thought that the author of Revelation would make such a substitution seems unthinkable. Forty is a Biblically significant number. The former Hebrew slaves wandered in the desert for forty years before reaching the Promised Land. Jesus also wandered in the desert for forty days after His baptism. Furthermore, the number forty appears to have symbolic significance pointing to the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 3:16-4:11). Therefore, the fact that there truly was a forty-year period from the time of Jesus’ ministry until the resurrection of dead in A.D. 70 confirms Hebrews 3:16-4:11 and hints at the underlying symbolic significance of the forty years in which the former Hebrew slaves wandered in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land as well as the forty days in which Jesus wandered in the wilderness. Thus one of the biggest problems with this view is the unthinkable idea that the author of Revelation would substitute forty, a highly symbolic number which points to the resurrection, for one thousand, a number with no obvious significance in the Bible. Why would the author of Revelation purposely obscure the time frame for the millennium if the millennium truly was a symbolically significant forty-year interval between Jesus’ ministry and the resurrection of the dead?1
An equally peculiar fact about the forty-year millennium is that it violates the fundamental hermeneutic upon which Preterism is ultimately based. All Preterists, myself included, believe that timing determines the nature of a prophecy’s fulfillment. Thus the Preterist hermeneutic emphasizes and is founded upon a literal interpretation of time statements above all else. So while futurists try to explain away the imminent time statements in favor of a rigidly literal interpretation of the Parousia and resurrection, Preterists by and large interpret the time statements literally and often allegorize much of everything else like the Parousia and resurrection. (Of course, I am not one of these preterists. I believe that these predictions concerning the resurrection, the Parousia and much of everything else were fulfilled in a much more literal manner.) So if timing determines the nature of the fulfillment of prophecy, then why is the Preterist hermeneutic suddenly discarded in Revelation 20? How is it that the thousand year reign of Revelation 20 suddenly becomes a symbol of a forty-year interval in Revelation 20 if Preterism is rooted in the idea that timing determines the nature of prophecy?
Additional evidence against the idea that the millennium is anything other than a literal thousand year interval is implied by the fact Solomon’s temple was erected sometime between 970 and 931 B.C. and the final Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. In other words, the Temple and Temple system in Jerusalem lasted almost precisely 1000 years! Remember that the Church is the new Temple of God (1 Cor 3:16). If Jerusalem’s physical Temple and the Temple system lasted almost exactly 1000 years, does it not seem more likely that the new spiritual Temple of God in Jerusalem would exist ANOTHER literal 1000 years rather than an incongruent forty? Recall that Jerusalem became almost exclusively Christian (the new Temple of God) during the 1000 years from the destruction of the last Temple in A.D. 70 until the conquest of Palestine by the Seljuk Turks in A.D. 1071.
Aside from the unthinkable idea that a thousand years would symbolize forty– especially in the Preterist hermeneutic–the biggest problem with this belief is that the prophecies concerning the Battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38, Ezekiel 39 and Revelation 20 did not transpire during the Jewish War. Though there have been various proposals for a historical fulfillment of the predictions concerning Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39 prior to A.D. 70 among preterists and other Christian commentators, these proposals are unconvincing and appear strained and fraught with problems. And it is for this reason that the predictions of Ezekiel 38 and 39 are almost universally believed to have not been fulfilled. This creates serious problems for the forty-year millennium view. First it leaves Ezekiel 38 and 39 unfulfilled thus implying that all Biblical prophecy was not fulfilled in A.D. 70. Or worse still if Ezekiel 38 and 39 were not fulfilled in the Crusades, one is virtually forced to concede that there is an error in the Bible.
In order to evade the above problems some full preterists might assume that Israel during its first-century war with Rome is also the Gog and Magog of Revelation 20 and Ezekiel 38 and 39. Proponents of this belief would assume that Jerusalem is spiritually called Gog and Magog in Revelation 20 just as Jerusalem is spiritually called Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18, and Egypt and Sodom in Revelation 11:8. Aside from the historical problems this interpretation raises in fitting the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 into the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there is another problem with this view. Biblical scholars have long known that Gog and Magog is in Turkey. If the prophecies concerning Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39 were fulfilled in Jerusalem during its war with Rome in A.D. 70 and not in a literal Turkish Empire, then this is the first time in Revelation that Jerusalem is given a spiritual name for another city or nation where the Old Testament prophecies concerning that nation which are applied to Jerusalem in the Apocalypse were not originally fulfilled in that literal city or nation in the past. In other words, Jerusalem is called Egypt in Revelation 11:8 because she was afflicted with the plagues of Exodus throughout Revelation which were, of course, previously inflicted on literal Egypt in the Book of Exodus. Jerusalem is called Sodom in Revelation 11:8 because she was also punished with fire from heaven (Revelation 13:13) just as was literal Sodom in Genesis. Jerusalem is called Babylon for several reasons one of which is because Jerusalem also fell as a result of enemy soldiers crossing the Euphrates (Revelation 16:12). (See Revelation 17: A Preterist Commentary.) However, in Revelation 20 Jerusalem is presumably called Gog and Magog and yet the Old Testament prophecies concerning Gog and Magog were never fulfilled in a literal Turkish Empire in the past. Thus this is the first time Jerusalem is given a spiritual nickname in which there is no fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning that literal nation in the past.
One might then be tempted to believe that Gog and Magog of Revelation 20 is the Roman army since it was the Romans who surrounded Jerusalem in A.D. 70 when they besieged the city in fulfillment of Luke 21:20: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.” It was Gog who surrounded Jerusalem according to Revelation 20:9: “They [Gog and Magog] marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” The problem with this interpretation is that the Jews, not the Romans, were devoured by fire from heaven (Revelation 13:13). In light of the above mentioned difficulties, I believe the forty-year millennium view should be discarded. But we shall not end here, let us also address what initially appear to be the most compelling arguments in favor of the forty year millennium.
Proponents of the forty year millennium believe that Satan was cast out of heaven at the cross. Thus Revelation 20:1-3 was fulfilled in which Satan was cast out of heaven and bound in the Abyss during Jesus’ death and resurrection. According to Revelation 20:1-3, this binding of Satan signaled the start of the millennium. In support of this interpretation, John 12:31-32 and Luke 10:18 are sometimes cited. Sometime before His passion, Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:31-32). Likewise after the disciples cheerfully reported that they were able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name, Jesus declared, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18). When Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven in Luke 10:18, did Jesus behold a vision of the present or of the future?
In Luke 10:18 Jesus sees a vision of the future. However, the Bible is clear that Satan was NOT cast out of heaven at Jesus’ death and resurrection. Satan is still called the god of this world even after Jesus’s death and resurrection. 2 Corinthians 4:4 reads, “[T]he god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Also Romans 16:20 reads, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” In 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Romans 16:20 one can see that Satan was still in heaven after Jesus’ resurrection.
Ephesians 6:12 echoes the idea that Satan was not cast out of heaven after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Because Ephesians was written years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the fact that there were still forces of evil in the heavenly realms implies that Satan had still not yet been cast out of heaven at that time.
In light of 1 Corinthians 4:4, Romans 16:20 and Ephesians 6:12 it is clear that John 12:31-32 and Luke 10:18 are examples in which the Bible predicts the future in the present or past tense as is the case in Matthew 23:38 and Revelation 14:8. In Matthew 23:38 Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 in the present tense: “Behold, your house [the Temple] is being left to you desolate!” Similarly, in Revelation 14:8 an angel warns of the future fall of Babylon in the past tense: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”
2 Corinthians 4:4 also contradicts the forty-year millennium not only because it calls Satan the “god of this age,” but also because it indicates that Satan was still blinding the minds of the unbelievers during the interval between the crucifixion and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 in direct contradiction to Revelation 20:3 which explicitly states that during the millennium Satan was to be powerless to deceive the nations: “He [an angel] threw him [Satan] into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended [emphasis mine].”
What about the binding of Satan mentioned in Mark 3:23-27? Was Satan bound during Jesus’ earthly ministry as proponents of the forty-year millennium allege? Or was this binding in Mark 3:23-27 referring to the time Satan was to be cast out of heaven in Revelation 12:7-11 and the saints began to reign in heaven? The future casting of Satan out of heaven is the preferred interpretation since Satan’s house or kingdom was literally plundered at that time when the saints are explicitly said to seize the Devil’s kingdom after he was cast to the earth just as is stated in Mark 3:23-27.
The fact that the binding of Satan in Mark 3:23-27 refers to an event after Jesus’ ministry (Revelation 12:7-11) is made explicitly clear in Mark 4:15. Satan could not have been bound during Jesus’ ministry per the requirements set in Revelation 20:3. This point is made explicitly clear in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:15). In this parable Satan is actively deceiving people who received the teaching of Jesus and His apostles: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them (Mark 4:15).” As indicated in Revelation 20:3, Satan was supposed to be powerless to deceive during the millennium: “He threw him [Satan] into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended [emphasis mine].” (Rev 20:3) According to Mark 4:15 Satan was still deceiving people during the forty years between Jesus’ ministry and A.D. 70 in direct contradiction to the fact that Satan was supposed to be powerless to deceive during the millennium according to Rev 20:3. 1 Timothy 5:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9 also echo Mark 4:15 showing that Satan was still actively deceiving during the forty years he was supposedly powerless to do so. The future casting of Satan out of heaven predicted in Revelation 12:7-11 thus seems to be the binding of Satan mentioned in Mark 3:23-27 in light of Mark 4:15 and the fact that Satan’s house was literally plundered at that time as the saints are explicitly said to seize the Devil’s kingdom after Satan had been cast out of heaven.
So if Satan was not cast out of heaven at Jesus’ resurrection, then when did this happen? Revelation 12:7-9 describe this event:
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Interestingly, a vision of a war in heaven was witnessed in Iyyar of A.D. 66 at the very start of the Jewish War. Recording this event Tacitus writes, “In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour” (Tacitus The Histories 5.13). If this vision recorded by Tacitus is to be believed, it appears that the war which resulted in Satan being cast out of heaven mentioned in Revelation 12:7-9 occurred in A.D. 66, not immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection as proponents of the forty year millennium allege.
According to the forty-year millennium view the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 began to occur immediately after Jesus’ resurrection which is believed to have occurred sometime around A.D. 30. Ephesians 2:4-6 is often cited in support of this notion that the resurrection of the righteous mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 was in full swing in the forty year interval between Jesus’ ministry and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus[.]” At first glance Ephesians 2:4-6 seems to imply that the resurrection of the righteous was an ongoing phenomenon during the interval between Jesus’ resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But was this what Paul was saying?
Defenders of the forty-year millennium view have proposed two different possible ways in which there could have been a resurrection prior to A.D. 70. Some have proposed a corporal resurrection immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion like that mentioned in Matthew 27:50-53 or possibly a resurrection of spirits to heaven at this time like that seemingly implied in Luke 23:43 and 2 Corinthians 12:2. Others see the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4-5 as a symbol of the church dying to the Law and raising to newness of life in devotion to Christ. Could either of these interpretations be the first resurrection mentioned in vs. 4-5?
Let us first address the idea that there was a corporal resurrection of the dead similar to Jesus’ own corporal resurrection which occurred shortly after this event. Matthew 27:50-53 is cited in support of this idea:
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
Could this be the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6? In light of 2 Timothy 2:17-18 this idea is unlikely. Above I cited Ephesians 2:4-6 which at first glance seems to imply that there was some form of resurrection occurring throughout the forty-years between Jesus’ own resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. There was not. In A.D. 62 or 63, about two or three years after having written the letter to the Ephesians, Paul explicitly indicates that the resurrection had not yet occurred: “Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:17-18).”
Revelation 20:4-5 also argues against a resurrection of any kind occurring immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection:
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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.)
Notice that those who partook of the first resurrection are said to have “been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus[.]” They also “had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads[.]” If the first resurrection was around the time of Jesus’ resurrection, how is it that these people “had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads”? Furthermore, how could those people who were a part of the resurrection around the time of Jesus’ own resurrection have been “beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus”?
Rather than being an actual description of the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of Matthew 27:50-53 instead appears to be a sign of the coming resurrection similar to the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:38-58, Luke 17:11-18), the resurrection of the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37), or the resurrection of the man thrown into Elisha’s tomb (2 Kings 13:21). In truth the resurrection of Matthew 27:50-53 was not the first resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6. I believe Jesus’ corporal resurrection miracle was a sign and symbol of the coming resurrection of the dead. If this is true, Matthew 27:50-53 appears to complete Jesus’ own resurrection miracle by showing that Christ was the first to be resurrected from among the dead as suggested in vs. like Colossians 1:18.
Other preterists have proposed the possibility that the first resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 was a resurrection of spirits to heaven prior to A.D. 70. Luke 23:43 is often quoted as evidence of this hypothesis. In this verse Jesus tells one of the thieves being crucified next to him, “Verily I say to thee, This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”2 Perhaps this means that this man will be raised to heaven immediately after death implying that the resurrection to heaven had begun prior to A.D. 70? However 2 Timothy 2:17-18 quoted above also argues against this idea.
In Romans 13:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 day is used to symbolize the coming age and night, the then present age:
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12).
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. . . . But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10).
It is my belief that in Luke 23:43 when Jesus tells one of the thieves, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise[,]” Jesus may have also used day similar to the way it is used in Romans 13:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 in order to symbolize the fact that this man would be raised from the dead in the coming age. It is also possible that the paradise that Jesus referred to was actually a part of Hades itself since Jesus says that He had not yet entered heaven long after His resurrection (John 20:17). See If the Resurrection occurred in A.D. 70, What about Luke 23:43 and John 20:17?.
2 Corinthians 12:2 is also used to support the idea that there was a spiritual resurrection of the saints to heaven prior to A.D. 70. In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul speaks of a man who prior to A.D. 70 seemed to have seen or experienced the third heaven: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows.” Because Paul is uncertain as to whether this man experienced heaven in body or out of body, this verse is not great evidence of a resurrection to heaven prior to A.D. 70. It would seem to this author that this experience was out-of-body as this man apparently lived to tell the tale. If this experience was an out-of-body experience, then it sounds a lot like a vision of heaven similar to the one John experienced in Revelation 4 and Daniel experienced in Daniel 7. Revelation 4:1-2 reads, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it (Revelation 4:1-2)” Here one can see that John was in Spirit implying that this was, of course, a vision as was the vision of heaven recorded in Daniel 7. It would seem that the experience mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:2 was also just a vision of heaven similar to the one recorded in Daniel 7 and Revelation 4. Thus Matthew 27:52-53, Luke 23:43 and 2 Corinthians 12:2 do not appear to be good evidence of either a corporal resurrection or a spiritual resurrection to heaven prior to A.D. 70.
In light of vs. like 2 Timothy 2:17-18 which directly contradicts a resurrection prior to A.D. 62 or 63, proponents of the forty-year millennium generally believe that the first resurrection mention in Revelation 20:4 was a spiritual resurrection of living as though one is dead to sin and the Law and alive in Christ in the New Covenant Age (Romans 6:1-14). But if the first resurrection were merely a departure from Old to the New Covenant manifested in a change in the way believers chose to live their lives during the forty or so years between the resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem, then how is it that the first resurrection is said to bring “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus” back to life?
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 (Revelation 20:4). [Emphasis mine.]
So if the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4 cannot be a corporal, earthly resurrection shortly after Jesus’ own resurrection; a resurrection of spirits to heaven prior to A.D. 70; or a spiritual resurrection signifying a transition of covenants prior to the fall of Jerusalem, then did Paul contradict himself in Ephesians 2:4-6? Or did Paul change his mind about the timing of the resurrection when he wrote 2 Timothy? No. As is the case in Revelation 14:8 cited above, Ephesians 2:4-6 also predicts the future in the past tense when Paul announces the coming resurrection as if it were a past event. In other words, there is no contradiction between Ephesians 2:4-6 and 2 Timothy 2:17-18. The resurrection had not yet occurred prior to the Jewish Revolt.
Echoing 2 Timothy 2:17-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 also argues against a forty-year millennium:
Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep.
Notice that during the forty years between Jesus’ ministry and the resurrection at the last trumpet, the dead believers in Christ are said to be “asleep” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15. To “sleep” or to be “asleep” is a New Testament euphemism pointing to confinement in Hades or Sheol after death. Revelation 20:4 says that the saints were to reign with Christ during the millennium: “They [the saints] came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” How could the saints reign with Christ as indicated in Revelation 20:4 during the forty-year interval between Jesus’ ministry and the resurrection at the last trumpet if they are “asleep” in Sheol? As stated above, proponents of the forty-year millennium believe that the saints are or were to be resurrected in some form or fashion, at least in part, before the mass-resurrection of A.D. 70. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 argues against a resurrection or heavenly rule of the saints during this forty-year timeframe.
Advocates of a forty-year millennium sometimes cite verses like Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:50 as evidence that the reign of the saints began immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven sometime around A.D. 30. Revelation 1:5-6 reads, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever!” Revelation 5:10 is similar: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they [the saints] will reign on the earth.” Since Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:10 mention the reign of the saints in the present tense, does this mean that the thousand-year reign was in full swing during the forty years between Jesus’ ascension and A.D. 70? No. As mentioned above, the Bible often predicts the future in the present and past tense as is clearly exemplified in Matthew 23:38 and Revelation 14:8. Furthermore, notice that Revelation 5:10 says that the saints “will (future tense) reign on the earth” meaning that they were not currently reigning during Revelation’s composition. Similarly, Hebrews 2:8 directly contradicts the reign of the saints during the forty years between Christ’s resurrection and His parousia mentioned in Revelation 20:4: “In putting everything under them,[the saints] God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them [the saints].”3
The reason the saints are not said to reign in the forty years before A.D. 70 is because this reign was to occur at the second coming. Matthew 19:28 reads, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things [the new heaven and earth], when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19:28 indicates that apostles “sit on twelve thrones” and thus begin to reign at the renewal of all things which is the new heaven and earth of Revelation 21 and 22. This reign thus begins in A.D. 70. The same message is conveyed in Matthew 25:31-34:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world [emphasis mine].”
In Matthew 25:31-34 it is clear that the saints begin to reign after the Parousia since this is when according to v. 34 the saints “take their inheritance” which is defined as “the kingdom prepared for you.” Here we clearly also see the saints receive the kingdom to which they will rule after the second coming, not before as many full preterists allege. 2 Timothy 2:12 and Revelation 3:21 also clearly state that the reign of the saints was future to those living from A.D. 30 to A.D. 70.
Then what about 1 Corinthians 15:25-26? 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 seems to suggest that Christ and His people reigned during the forty years between Jesus’ ministry and the resurrection of A.D. 70: “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The fact that Christ was expected to reign until death, the last enemy, was to be destroyed appears to be an allusion to Christ reigning until the second resurrection of Revelation 20 when He hands His kingdom over to the Father. Though it appears to be true that Christ reigned during the aforementioned forty-year interval as is also suggested in Acts 2:29-36, nowhere do any of these verses say that the saints were also reigning at this time (Revelation 20:4-6) before Jesus conquered death in A.D. 70. In fact, the departed saints could not have reigned before A.D. 70 as indicated in Revelation 20:4 since as mentioned above, the departed saints were in Sheol, not in heaven, during this forty-year stretch (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15, 2 Timothy 2:17-18). Furthermore, the saints who were alive on earth were also not reigning during this forty-year period since the reign of the saints seems to have occurred after their death and subsequent resurrection to heaven at the end of the age as is implied in Revelation 2:10; 2:26-28; 3:21 and Daniel 4:26. Thus the transferring of the kingdom that occurs after Jesus conquers death in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 appears to point to the time in which Jesus would hand the kingdom over to the Father and the saints as Jesus promised He would do (1 Corinthians 6:3, Revelation 2:10; 2:28). Similarly 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 alludes to Psalm 110 where the enemies whom the Anointed was expected to defeat are kings and their subjects.
Confirming the fact that the saints did not reign during the forty-years between Jesus’ ascension and the resurrection of A.D. 70, Revelation 12:7-12 explicitly indicates that the reign of the saints would begin after Satan was cast out of heaven. And as explained above, Satan had not been cast out of heaven until the end of that forty-year interval sometime shortly before A.D. 70 (Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12). It should also be noted that Revelation 11:15-19 indicates that the saints would begin to reign with Christ at the resurrection at the last trumpet. Echoing Revelation 11:15-19, 2 Timothy 2:17-18, quoted above, explicitly indicates that the resurrection of the righteous mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 had not occurred prior to A.D. 70: “Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” The resurrection that had not taken place in A.D. 62 or 63 when 2 Timothy was written was, of course, the resurrection of the righteous mentioned as the first resurrection in Revelation 20:4-6 since Hymenaeus and Philetus were Christians and the resurrection they referred to was the heart of the Christian hope, their own resurrection.
Revelation 3:21 also confirms the fact that the saints did not begin to reign prior to A.D. 70. In this verse, the church at Laodicea at the time of Revelation’s composition sometime in the mid to late sixties is told that if they turn whole-heartedly to Jesus, they will (future tense) reign with Christ: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” If the church of Laodicea is promised that they might reign with Christ sometime after Revelation’s composition in the mid to late sixties, this fact certainly challenges the forty-year millennium view.
If the millennium ended in A.D. 70 as asserted by many preterists, then Matthew 25:31 appears to directly contradict 1 Corinthians 15:24-26. 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 states, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Matthew 25:31 reads, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”4 If the second coming of Christ truly occurs at the end of the millennium as stated in the forty-year millennium view, then you have Christ being seated on His throne (Matthew 25:31) at the same time He is said to hand His kingdom over to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). I believe Matthew 25:31 and 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 are best reconciled if they are separated by a literal thousand year millennial reign of Christ and the saints ending with the second resurrection one thousand years after the Parousia and consequent first resurrection. The fact that Christ was expected to reign until death, the last enemy, was to be destroyed appears to be an allusion to Christ reigning after the Parousia and the resulting first resurrection for one thousand years until the second resurrection of Revelation 20 when He handed His kingdom over to the Father.
The fact that the saints were expected to reign after A.D. 70 is also implied in Daniel 2. In Daniel 2:34 a stone representing Jesus (Matthew 21:43-45) strikes the feet of a statue which is a mixture of iron, Rome, and clay, Israel (Jeremiah 18:6, Isaiah 64:8). Afterwards this rock becomes a mountain representing the kingdom of God (the reign of the saints, the church) and fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35, 44). Notice that the establishment of the church/reign of the saints does not truly begin until Rome and Judaea were struck in A.D. 70.5
The fact that the millennium cannot begin before A.D. 70 is also implied by the imminent martyr vindication mentioned in Revelation 6:9-11 and Matthew 23:29-39. In Revelation 6:9-11 the martyred saints ask for vengeance and are told “to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.” Notice that the martyrs are told to wait until the full number of martyrs were to be killed. Based on Rev 6:9-11 it seems unthinkable that the martyrs could be resurrected before the last of them were killed. So when was the last martyr killed before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70? The last recorded martyrdom before the fall of Jerusalem appears to be the two witnesses who were killed in the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (see Revelation 11: A Preterist Commentary). Furthermore, Matthew 24:15-22 says that the “great distress” which is widely understood to be the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 had to be “cut short” “for the sake of the elect.” This means that Christians were expected to be killed during this siege. Revelation 7:9-14 and 12:17 also confirm the idea that Christians were killed in Titus’ siege of Jerusalem (see the commentaries on Revelation 7 and Revelation 12). If Christians were killed in the siege of Jerusalem and Rev 6:9-11 strongly implies that the martyrs are not raised “until the full number of their fellow servants. . . were killed just as they had been,” then the first resurrection which is the resurrection of the martyrs (Rev 20:4-5) must occur sometime after the death of this last martyr in A.D. 70.
A similar question must now also be raised. If the last saint was martyred in A.D. 70, when exactly were the martyrs vindicated? Not surprisingly, Revelation 19:2 explicitly indicates that the martyrs were vindicated at the fall of Jerusalem: “for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute [Jerusalem] who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her [Jerusalem] the blood of his servants.” Notice that the martyrs are vindicated AT the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 according to Rev 19:2.
If the last martyr died in A.D. 70 and the martyrs were vindicated at the fall of Jerusalem a few months later, then the millennium cannot begin before A.D. 70 since the first resurrection–which begins the millennium–is the resurrection of the martyrs:
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. . . . 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. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Rev 20:4-6).
Notice that the martyrs are raised at the beginning of the millennium as their resurrection is said to be the “first resurrection.” (Rev 20:5) And these martyrs “reign with [Christ] for a thousand years” (Rev 20:6) meaning they reign with Christ for the whole duration of the millennium. This reign of the martyrs could not begin until all the martyrs had been killed (Rev 6:9-11) or before their vindication at the fall of Jerusalem (Rev 19:2). This means that the millennium could not begin before A.D. 70.
But what about the fact that Christians were still martyred after A.D. 70? It is certainly true that many Christians were martyred after A.D. 70. However, it is critical to note that these martyrs were killed by Romans, not the people of Jerusalem. In Matthew 23:27 Jesus attributes the deaths of the prophets to the people of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you[.]” In this same chapter, Jesus says that it will also be the people of Jerusalem who will kill the Christian saints and that these murderers would be punished in their generation:
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” (Matthew 23:33-36.)
Jerusalem is the Whore of Babylon (see Revelation 17: A Preterist Comentary). The fact that Jerusalem, the Whore of Babylon, was responsible for the deaths of the saints and that she was punished in that generation for their deaths in fulfillment of Matthew 23:33-36 is stated in Revelation 19:2, “He has condemned the great prostitute [Jerusalem] who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her [Jerusalem] the blood of his servants.” Jerusalem was to be punished in that generation (Mt 23:33-36) for having killed the martyrs under the altar (Rev 6:9-11, Mt 23:27-36) to avenge the deaths of those martyrs (Rev 19:2). Thus the “full number” of martyrs mentioned under the altar (Rev 6:9-11) are only those saints killed in or around Jerusalem. Of course, Jerusalem is not responsible for the deaths of the martyrs in Rome or anywhere else after A.D. 70 so the full number of martyrs of Rev 6:9-11 must have been avenged in the fall of the city responsible for killing them. In confirmation of this idea, recall that it was rich Jews of Jerusalem who killed Jesus and His people so as to avoid a financially disastrous war with Rome. Of course when that war occurred anyway there was no longer any motive for these people to go on killing the saints assuming they were still alive after to do so (see Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary).
What about the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-8? In this parable the wedding between Christ and the Church mentioned in Revelation 21:2 occurs immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem. This means that the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22 was to occur immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century. Rather than implying that the millennium is not a literal thousand year period, I believe that this parable implies that the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 IS the millennial kingdom! This makes sense of the fact that the New Jerusalem is described in the image of the Christian church throughout Revelation 21 and 22. The fact that the church is called the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22 only makes sense during the thousand years between the Jewish War and the Crusades. During this thousand year interval Jerusalem grew to become an almost exclusively Christian city. This thousand year reign of Christianity did not, of course, exist before the first century A.D. nor did it continue after the Crusades. The Christian domination of Jerusalem existed only in this thousand year period between the Jewish War and Crusades. Thus the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 is the Millennial Kingdom!
Perhaps the biggest argument that the millennium cannot be literal is based on the idea that the Great White Throne of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15) was in A.D. 70. And this is certainly true! This event is expounded upon in Matthew 25 where Jesus comes in glory and sits on His throne and judges the righteous and wicked. This judgment scene no doubt occurs in A.D. 70. However, as I explain in my commentary on Revelation 21 and 22 the New Jerusalem IS the Millennium. And here we have the Great White Throne of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15) occurring in A.D. 70 immediately preceding the millennial reign (Rev 21 and 22) which also began in A.D. 70 thus seeming to bolster the Literal Millennial Reign Preterist view (see Revelation 20: A Preterist Commentary, Revelation 21: A Preterist Commentary and Revelation 22: A Preterist Commentary and Why Did the Disciples of the Apostles like Polycarp Teach a Future Resurrection Beyond A.D. 70?).6
- Proponents of the forty-year millennium sometimes cite the seemingly nonliteral use of one thousand in Psalm 50:10: “for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” Does God not own the cattle on hill number 1001? This is not a great argument for the nonliteral use of a thousand in Scripture as it is not certain that Psalm 50:10 is actually about cattle. When read in Hebrew this verse just as likely refers to Behemoth reading, “Behemoth, who dwells upon a thousand hills.” Psalm 50:10 has been used in Rabbinical tradition to describe this great beast (Midrash Conen, Exodus Rabba, 2 Esdras 6:49) “that lies upon a thousand mountains, and a thousand mountains grow animals for it to eat every day” and “all the water that run in the Jordan river for six months it swallows in a single gulp.” (Exodus Rabba.) If anything, Psalm 50:10 seems to illustrate the hyperbolic use of a thousand to signify a long period of time. But forty years is not a long time. Throughout the New Testament the forty years between Jesus’ ministry and A.D. 70 is described as “soon,” and “at hand.” Let that sink in for a second.
- Webster’s Bible Translation.
- The subject here is the reign of the saints, not Christ, since the saints are said to not be reigning but Christ is said to be reigning now as noted in the following verse: “In putting everything under them, [or him] God left nothing that is not subject to them.[or him] Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.[or him] 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
- Steven Haukdahl, (7/31/2018). Proper Preterism Facebook group [Blog comment].
- One fact about the forty-year millennium that gives me some pause is the use of thousand in Psalm 105:8-11:
He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.”
In Psalm 105:8-11 God remembers the covenant He made with Abraham for a thousand generations. As is the case in the forty-year millennial view a generation is forty years, from A.D. 30 to A.D. 70. Assuming a thousand represents forty in a symbolic or numerological sense, then the thousand generations mentioned in Psalm 105:8 in which God remembers His covenant with Abraham is forty years multiplied by forty years or 1600 years. Interestingly, Abraham died in 1600 B.C. Thus the interval from the time in which God issued His covenant with Abraham to the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28:63 in Judaea’s first century war with Rome is very close to 1600 years: “Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess (Deuteronomy 28:63).”
Assuming a thousand represents forty, the fact that the thousand generations mentioned in Psalm 105:8-11 is very close to the interval between when God issued His covenant to Abraham and the end of the Jewish War could be interesting evidence in favor of the forty-year millennium view. However, it should be stated that God’s covenant with Abraham did not truly end in A.D. 70. As stated above, after the first and second Jewish revolts of the first and second century A.D., Christians grew to become the dominant demographic in what was once called Israel or Canaan. Galatians 3:29 reads, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” According to Galatians 3:29 Christian believers are heirs to the covenant God made with Abraham in Psalm 105:8-11. Thus this covenant God made with Abraham did not truly end in A.D. 70 but continued at least for another thousand years after Judaea’s first century war with Rome when Christians became the dominant religious group throughout the former land of Canaan.