Mankind’s Millennium Under God’s Kingdom—Why Literally So
1. To what is the word “millennium” applied, and what question arises as to it?
MILLENNIUM means a time period of a thousand years. This long word is made up from two Latin words that we find in the Latin version of the last book of the Holy Bible, in Revelation 20:2-7, namely, mille anni, meaning “a thousand years.” According to these Bible verses, Jesus Christ must reign for a thousand years over mankind. Because he resembles the first man on earth, namely, Adam, he is called “the last Adam.” However, the “first man Adam” sinned against God and lived less than a thousand years, or 930 years. (Gen. 5:1-5; 1 Cor. 15:45-49) As the book of Revelation is a prophetic book written largely in symbolic language, the question has been much discussed as to whether the thousand years of Christ’s rule as king are literal or figurative, symbolical.
2. What does Revelation 20:4-6 say about the millennium?
2 In proceeding to get the answer to this important question, let us read the prophetic verses about Christ’s reign, in Revelation 20:4-6: “And I saw seats: and they sat upon them: and judgment was given unto them: and the souls of them that were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not adored the beast nor his image, nor received his character on their foreheads or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not, till the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection. In these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ; and shall reign with him a thousand years.”—Roman Catholic Douay Version.
3, 4. (a) Why is the question raised as to whether the period of “a thousand years” is symbolic or not? (b) How long did John think the millennium would be, and to which early Christian do we go for reference?
3 In the Re 20 verses 4-6 just quoted the “beast” and “his image” are symbols of something else. So, are the “thousand years” also symbolic, meaning a longer period than just a thousand years? Well, how did the writer, the Christian apostle John, himself understand it? We have no straight comment from John himself, but there was a man of the second century, named Paʹpi·as, who knew associates of the apostle John; and about Paʹpi·as the eleventh volume of The Catholic Encyclopedia (edition of 1911), page 308, under the title “Millennium,” has this to say:
4 “Papias of Hierapolis, a disciple of St. John, appeared as an advocate of millenarianism. He claimed to have received his doctrine from contemporaries of the Apostles, and Irenæus narrates that other ‘Presbyteri’, who had seen and heard the disciple John, learned from him the belief in millenarianism as part of the Lord’s doctrine. According to Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39) Papias in his book asserted that the resurrection of the dead would be followed by one thousand years of a visible, glorious earthly kingdom of Christ, . . .”*
5, 6. (a) To what did Paʹpi·as and other Christian elders look forward because of the apostle John’s vision? (b) Christ’s millennial reign does not begin before what “day”?
5 The apostle John, who received the prophetic vision of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ and of his congregation of 144,000 redeemed followers, accepted the vision as setting out the truth. John believed the millennium to be a time period literally one thousand years long. In proof we have the testimony of the martyred Paʹpi·as and of other Christian elders, “‘Presbyteri,’ who had seen and heard the disciple John.” They looked forward to the resurrection of the 144,000 members of his redeemed congregation, in order that they might live and reign and serve as priests during his reign of one thousand years.
6 They looked forward to the coming of the “last day” for this to occur, inasmuch as the apostle John wrote down Jesus’ own words to this effect: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day.” (John 6:53, 54) And Martha, the sister of Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus, said to Jesus: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24) So the millennial reign of Christ would not begin before that “last day.”
TIME FOR REIGNING
7. (a) How did Jesus show he was willing to wait till God’s due time for him to reign? (b) What question arose about his followers, and what attitude did Paul show toward this?
7 Jesus Christ was willing to wait till God’s appointed time for him to rule as king for a thousand years. When Satan the Devil tried to tempt him in the wilderness and offered him all the kingdoms of the world, he refused to bow down to Satan the Devil in an act of worship in order to gain those earthly kingdoms. (Luke 4:1-8; Matt. 4:8-11) But the question arose, Would Jesus’ footstep followers be willing to wait until God’s due time for them to reign with his Son Jesus Christ, in the meantime enduring all the persecution and suffering? The imprisoned apostle Paul wrote to a fellow Christian: “I go on enduring all things for the sake of the chosen ones, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in union with Christ Jesus along with everlasting glory. Faithful is the saying: Certainly if we died together, we shall also live together; if we go on enduring, we shall also rule together as kings.” (2 Tim. 2:10-12) Yes, Paul was willing to wait, but to certain ambitious Christians in Corinth he wrote:
8. As regards waiting, what did Paul write to certain ambitious Christians in Corinth?
8 “You men already have your fill, do you? You are rich already, are you? You have begun ruling as kings without us, have you? And I wish indeed that you had begun ruling as kings, that we also might rule with you as kings. For it seems to me that God has put us the apostles last on exhibition as men appointed to death, because we have become a theatrical spectacle to the world.”—1 Cor. 4:8, 9.
9. What words of Paul show whether he was reigning when he died?
9 The apostle Paul did not die reigning as a king on earth, but from prison he wrote: “I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me as a reward in that day, yet not only to me, but also to all those who have loved his manifestation.”—2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
10. (a) What words of the apostle John show whether he was reigning at death? (b) What question arises, then, regarding certain religious leaders of Christendom?
10 Likewise the apostle John, who also loved the future manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ, did not die ruling as an earthly king. Toward the end of his long earthly life, he wrote: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.” (1 John 2:15-17) How is it, then, that religious popes and patriarchs, archbishops and bishops have been reigning in Christendom for many centuries, seated on gorgeous thrones and making a showy display of themselves in regalia fit for kings? How is this?
11. What have such men evidently imagined, and what question comes up about the pope of Rome?
11 Have these religious officials of Christendom imagined that the millennial reign of Christ has already begun and that they are therefore entitled to reign with him on earth, although he is up in heaven? And has the invisible Christ been reigning on earth by means of a visible human representative, of whom the National Catholic Almanac says: “His Holiness the Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, . . . the Archbishop and Primate of the Roman Province, the Sovereign of the State of Vatican City”?
12. How long have these religious officials of Christendom been reigning, and have they personally fulfilled Revelation 20:4-6?
12 These religious officials have thus been reigning for more than a thousand literal years, ever since the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great or shortly thereafter,* even Pope Leo I (440-461 C.E.) saying: “I will revive government once more upon this earth; not by bringing back the Caesars, but by declaring a new theocracy, by making myself the vicegerent of Christ, by virtue of the promise made to Peter, whose successor I am, . . . Not a diadem, but a tiara will I wear, a symbol of universal sovereignty, before which barbarism shall flee away, and happiness be restored once more.”* And yet not one of these reputed vicars of Christ or archbishops or bishops personally reigned on his episcopal throne for a thousand years, each one reigning as long as Jesus Christ himself will. Thus not one of them has fulfilled what Revelation 20:4-6 says about reigning with Christ.
RUNNING AHEAD OF THE TIME
13-15. (a) What questions, therefore, arise as to a change in understanding of Revelation 20:4-6? (b) How does what The Catholic Encyclopedia says about Augustine help to clear up these questions?
13 Well, then, when did this change in understanding of Revelation 20:4-6 take place, and how and why? When and why did religious leaders make a symbolical interpretation of the millennium and put it ahead of Christ’s return and make it a rule on earth, in the flesh, and on man-made material thrones? The Catholic Encyclopedia helps to clear up the question. Volume Ten, edition of 1911, page 309, has this to say under the heading “Millennium”:
14 “St. Augustine finally held to the conviction that there would be no millennium. The struggle between Christ and His saints on the one hand and the wicked world and Satan on the other, is waged in the Church on earth; so that great Doctor describes it in his work De Civitate Dei [Concerning the City of God]. In the same book he gives us an allegorical explanation of Chapter 20 of the Apocalypse. The first resurrection, of which this chapter treats, he tells us, refers to the spiritual rebirth in baptism; the sabbath of one thousand years after the six thousand years of history, is the whole of eternal life; or, in other words, the number one thousand is intended to express perfection, and the last space of one thousand years must be understood as referring to the end of the world; at all events, the kingdom of Christ, of which the Apocalypse speaks, can only be applied to the Church.* . . .
15 “This explanation of the illustrious Doctor was adopted by succeeding Western theologians, and millenarianism in its earlier shape no longer received support. . . . Moreover, the attitude of the Church towards the secular power had undergone a change with closer connexion between her and the Roman empire. There is no doubt that this turn of events did much towards weaning the Christians from the old millenarianism, which during the time of persecution had been the expression of their hopes that Christ would soon reappear and overthrow the foes of His elect. . . . The Middle Ages were never tainted with millenarianism; it was foreign both to the theology of that period and to the religious ideas of the people. . . . The Protestantism of the sixteenth century ushered in a new epoch of millenarian doctrines.”
16. Why did religious leaders come to feel no need for a future millennial reign of Christ, and how did they justify themselves in not following his example?
16 There we have it! When the religious leaders of the fourth century gained official recognition from the Roman Empire and accepted appointments to religious positions of power and authority and thus their religion became allied to the political state, what happened? The religious leaders felt no need for a future literal millennial reign of Jesus Christ with his glorified congregation in heaven. They were already reigning in prominent religious capacities with the backing of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, to justify themselves in not following Christ’s example but in accepting rulership before resurrection from the dead and while still in the flesh on earth with the politicians, they applied Revelation 20:4-6 as being fulfilled in themselves. They persuaded their religious flocks to give way to the same change of sentiment toward Christ’s thousand-year reign over mankind. This fact is supported by the religious Cyclopædia by M’Clintock and Strong, Volume 6, page 265, column 2, of which says:
17. In support of the above, what does the Cyclopædia by M’Clintock and Strong say?
17 “One great reason of this remarkable change of sentiment is to be found in the altered condition and prospects of the Church. Christians at first yearned for the reappearance of the Lord. Moreover, it was impossible for them to raise their faith and hopes so high as to expect the conquest of the Roman empire by the moral power of the cross, independently of the personal and supernatural interposition of Christ. But as the Gospel made progress, the possibility and probability of a peaceful victory of the Christian cause over all its adversaries, by the might of truth and of the Spirit, gained a lodgment in the convictions of good men. It is believed that Origen (born 180, died 254) is the first of the ancient ecclesiastical writers to affirm the practicableness of such a triumph of the Gospel through its own inherent efficacy.”
18, 19. (a) Due to its relations with the political state, where did the Church of Christendom think that it was living? (b) What Latin religious father helped along such thinking, and how?
18 As the religious organization of Christendom had the protection of the political government, and as the religious organization had such good relations, power and influence with the political state, even using its mailed fist for the forcible conversion of the pagans to Christendom’s religion, it was now claimed that Christendom’s Church was already in the millennium foretold by the apostle John. Doctor Augustine’s treatment of the subject of the millennium gave to men’s religious thinking a powerful push in that direction. Says the above Cyclopædia:
19 “Augustine’s treatment of the subject marks an epoch. He says (De Civitate Dei, XX, 7) that he had once held to a millenarian Sabbath; nor does he consider the doctrine objectionable, provided the joys of the righteous are figured as spiritual. But, proceeding to discuss the subject, he advocates the proposition that the earthly kingdom of Christ is the Church, which was even then in the millennial æera, and on the road to a glorious ascendancy over all its enemies. It would seem that this modified interpretation of prophecy, sustained as it was by the authority of the principal Latin father [Augustine], gave color to the mediæval speculations on this subject.”—Volume 6, of 1890 edition, page 265.
20. (a) A literal millennium upon the Roman Catholic Papacy was thought to to fulfilled during what time? (b) How were the troubles that followed understood, but why could this not be right?
20 This Latin religious father, Aurelius Augustine, who spread such an interpretation of Revelation 20:4-6, lived 354-430 C.E. In harmony with his view that the millennial reign of Christ was being fulfilled in the Roman Catholic Church on earth, it was later thought that the millennial reign of the Roman Catholic Papacy in a literal way was from the year 800 C.E., when Pope Leo II crowned Charlemagne in Rome as king of the Holy Roman Empire, to 1799 C.E., when Pope Pius VI, already deposed by Napoleon Bonaparte, was taken as a prisoner from the Vatican on February 20, and deported to Valence, France, where he died on August 29, 1799.* The trouble that followed upon the Roman Catholic Church was viewed as marking the “little time” during which Satan the Devil was to be loosed at the millennium’s end. (Rev. 20:1-3, 7, Dy) However, it is now 168 years since the year 1799. That is not a “little time” for the Devil to be loosed; and yet the troubles on the Roman Catholic Papacy are worsening. And now the destruction of Babylon the Great, of which the Papacy is the most powerful member, threatens that religious empire in the near future.
FIGURATIVE MILLENNIUM PROVED WRONG
21. How is Augustine today proved to be wrong as to a glorious ascendancy of the Church of Christendom over its enemies?
21 How wrong the Roman Catholic “Saint” Augustine was can now be clearly seen. The Church of Christendom has never been in any “millennial æera,” smashing to pieces the political kingdoms of her enemies. Today no one can rightly say that, in Augustine’s words, the Church of Christendom is “on the road to a glorious ascendancy over all its enemies.” The pagan world is growing at a faster rate than the Church system of Christendom. Also, atheistic Communism is spreading even in Roman Catholic territories. Augustine’s giving a figurative or allegorical meaning to Revelation 20:4-6 regarding the thousand-year reign of Christ has glaringly proved to be false. Under Christendom’s Church system mankind has never enjoyed the promised millennial blessings.
22, 23. (a) What about the hopes of those religious leaders about a peaceful victory of the Christian cause over its foes? (b) What objection of theirs to Christ’s pre-millennial return is now exposed as foundationless?
22 So what about those religious leaders who rejected the need of the reign of Christ’s heavenly kingdom for a literal thousand years? Dashed to pieces lie their hopes of “a peaceful victory of the Christian cause over all its adversaries, by the might of truth and of the Spirit.” Their idea was that the world could be peacefully converted by the missionaries of Christendom and that there was no need for the glorified Jesus Christ to intervene forcibly from heaven to bring in the millennium. This idea has proved to be a wrong interpretation of the Holy Bible. The objection that such religious leaders had raised against the need of Christ to return in Kingdom power before his literal millennial reign is now exposed as being without foundation. As to that objection, the Cyclopædia by M’Clintock and Strong (Volume 6, page 266) says:
23 “The tendency of the millenarian theory to chill the hopes, and thus repress the missionary activity of Christians, by exhibiting the world as in a process of deterioration, and by representing the efforts of Christians to convert mankind as fruitless, until the coming of Christ, constitutes not the least serious objection to such opinions.”—Edition of 1890 C.E.
24. (a) In view of events from 1914 on, what questions are asked regarding that religious objection? (b) How does the history of the Watch Tower Society show no repression of effort or chilling of hope?
24 That last expression was published away back in 1890, or seventy-seven years ago; but what about the world since the year 1914? Is it “in a process of deterioration”? Have the efforts of Christendom to convert the whole world before the coming of Christ proved fruitless, in vain? The trend of world conditions answers Yes! But have the preaching and missionary activities of Christians who wait for a literal thousand-year reign of Christ for mankind’s blessing been repressed and their hopes been chilled? History for the past eighty-eight years thunders out No! The magazine Zion’s Watch Tower appeared in the year 1879; and in 1886 the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society began to publish the series of volumes known as “Studies in the Scriptures,” which were at first called “Millennial Dawn,” volumes one to six. Today, in spite of being persecuted during two world wars, the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania has ninety-five branches around the globe. It publishes the good news of Christ’s coming millennial reign in 164 languages. It has missionaries and publishers in 199 lands. Yearly the number of Kingdom publishers increases.
25. (a) How did Augustine once refer to the millennium? (b) What do modern chronologies indicate as to man’s existence on earth?
25 Fifteen centuries ago the Roman Catholic “Saint” Augustine spoke of six thousand years of history and referred to the millennium as a “Sabbath,” the seventh-day rest period. But he did not hold to this. For centuries now the Bible chronology as worked out by Archbishop James Ussher has been followed by both Catholics and Protestants. This chronology reckons that the first man Adam was created in the year 4004 before Christ, and so six thousand years of human existence on earth will end before this twentieth century ends, or in 1996 C.E. According to a more recent calculation of the Bible timetable, six thousand years of man’s existence will end in the latter half of the year 1975, which is well within this century. The Bible millennium is ahead of us, and, according to the count of time and the events of world history, it is approaching. It is not ending, as Roman Catholic comments on the Bible would make us believe. In the Murphy edition of the English Douay Version of the Holy Bible, Apocalypse 20:1, 2 reads:
26, 27. (a) According to the footnotes of the Murphy edition of the Bible, when did Satan begin to be bound? (b) Also, when is the time of the millennium, and during it, what do the martyred saints do?
26 “And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”
27 The footnote on the expression “bound him, &c.” reads: “The power of Satan has been very much limited by the passion of Christ.” Then the footnote on the expression “for a thousand years” reads: “That is, for the whole time of the New Testament: but especially from the time of the destruction of Babylon or pagan Rome, till the new efforts of Gog and Magog against the church, towards the end of the world. During which time the souls of the martyrs and saints live and reign with Christ in heaven, in the first resurrection, which is that of the soul to the life of glory; as the second resurrection will be that of the body, at the day of the general judgment.”—Baltimore (Md.) edition.
28. How long is it now since the passing away of “pagan Rome,” and what do facts of history indicate as to whether Satan is in the bottomless pit?
28 However, it is now more than a thousand years since “pagan Rome” gave way to papal Rome in the fifth century. Today the facts of history belie that Satan the Devil has yet been bound and cast into the abyss, as foretold in Apocalypse (Revelation) 20:3 (Dy), saying: “And he [the angel from heaven] cast him into the bottomless pit and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should no more seduce the nations, till the thousand years be finished. And after that, he must be loosed a little time.”
29. Where does the Revelation locate the battle of Armageddon, and what, in that connection, proves whether the Dragon Satan the Devil is yet bound and in the bottomless pit?
29 The Apocalypse or book of Revelation unmistakably lines up the battle of Armageddon as taking place before Satan is bound and cast into the bottomless pit or abyss. The Bible account describes Satan the Devil as having a direct part in gathering the nations to that battlefield, saying that out of the mouth of the Dragon Satan the Devil an unclean spirit comes forth and joins the unclean spirits out of the mouths of the beast and the false prophet in going to the kings of the whole earth and gathering them to the battle of the great day of God the Almighty, which is to be fought at Armageddon. Now is when those three spirits of devils from those three sources are going to the earthly rulers. Now is when those rulers and their armies are on the march to Armageddon, as we have so frequently been warned by prominent men. Logically, then, the Dragon Satan the Devil could not now be bound and be in the bottomless pit unable to seduce the nations any more, if the unclean spirit out of his mouth is joining in the gathering of the earthly rulers and their armies to Armageddon.—Rev. 16:13-16, Dy.
30. (a) What respecting Satan’s earthly political tools argues that he is not yet sealed up in the pit? (b) What will happen to those political tools at Armageddon, and when will Satan join them there?
30 No, Satan the Devil has not yet been bound and sealed up in the bottomless pit for a thousand years. The symbolic “beast” and the “false prophet” are yet on the earth. Likewise Satan the Devil is yet in the vicinity of our earth and using the “beast” and the “false prophet” as his tools to gather the earthly rulers and their armies to their destruction in the war of the great day of God the Almighty. The Apocalypse or Revelation, chapter nineteen, describes the battle of Armageddon on God’s great day, and the chapter locates it just before the binding of Satan and the casting of him into the bottomless pit or abyss. In that coming battle the “beast” and the “false prophet” are cast to their destruction in the symbolic lake of fire and brimstone; and Satan the Devil joins them there first after the thousand years of Christ’s reign over all mankind.—Rev. 19:11 to 20:3, 7-10, Dy.
31. Why, then, must the millennial reign of Christ yet be future, and what grand fact about it is there today?
31 So, then, just as the battle of Armageddon is yet future, the binding and casting of Satan into the bottomless pit is future, for these acts follow the battle of Armageddon. In view of that, the thousand-year reign of Christ must yet be future, for it follows the casting of Satan into the bottomless pit and continues during the thousand years that Satan is imprisoned in that bottomless pit or abyss. Thus again the anti-millenarian teachings of Augustine and other religious leaders of Christendom are proved to be false. We must yet have a real millennial reign of Christ. The grand fact is that it is very near, for our relief.
In confirmation of the above The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 21 (edition of 1929), page 268, says: “PAʹPI·AS, Christian writer, bishop of Hierapolis. He is described by Irenæus and later writers as a ‘hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp.’ He suffered martyrdom at Pergamos in 163 A.D. He was one of the earlier believers in the millennium, that is, the personal reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and was the author of five books of commentaries on the sayings of the Lord (Lógōn Kyriakôn Exegesis), a few fragments of which are extant. It is from them that we learn that Saint Matthew’s Gospel was traditionally believed to have been written in Hebrew, and the evangelist Mark to have been the interpreter or amanuensis of Peter in writing the Third Gospel.
Says M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, Volume VIII, page 396: “Before the time of Constantine the clergy were not recognised as holding any distinct rank in the state; but when Christianity was adopted as the religion of the Roman empire, its ministers were considered as occupying the place of those heathen priests whose superstitions had fallen into disrepute.”
See pages 244, 245 of Volume III of Beacon Lights of History, by John Lord, LL.D., New York edition of 1884, in Chapter XXX, entitled “Martin Luther: The Protestant Reformation.”
See Doctor Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, XX, 5-7; in the edition of Jacques Paul Migne, “Patrologiae cursus completus,” XLI, 607 and following pages, in Latin.
Concerning the religious controversy over the millennium during the preceding century, the third century, see Mosheim’s Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Chapter III, entitled “History of Theology,” Section 12, and footnote by James Seaton Reid, D.D., London edition of 1848.
See The Time Is at Hand (Volume Two of the Studies in the Scriptures), page 356; also, Zion’s Watch Tower, as of December 1881, pages 6, 7; as of May 1882, page 8; as of August 1889, pages 3, 4.
[Picture on page 231]
“If we go on enduring, we shall also rule”
[Picture on page 232]
The pope of Rome—already in regal splendor
[Picture on page 234]
Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne as king of the Holy Roman Empire