Man has always been enchanted by the idea of utopia. From Plato’s Republic (4th century B.C.) to Thomas More’s Utopia (16th century A.D.), we love to envision the perfect society. In fact, over 300 communities in America are striving for such an existence!
The Bible teaches we will enjoy the ideal life in heaven upon the new earth. However, dispensationalism tries to speed up the prophetic clock by establishing utopia on this present earth.
Dispensationalism teaches Jesus will return after the Tribulation to inaugurate the Millennial Kingdom. This is an actual period of 1,000 years when He reigns over Israel from Jerusalem. During this time, God will fulfill all His promises to Israel. Only those who believe in Jesus during the Tribulation are allowed to enter His Kingdom.
Misunderstanding the Millennium
Proponents of the Millennial Kingdom appeal to Revelation 20:1-6. In this passage, John sees an angel bind Satan for a thousand years. He also sees faithful believers reign with Jesus for a thousand years:
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge…They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:1-2, 4)
Dispensationalists argue John is envisioning the Millennial Kingdom. They claim he sees a literal, future, earthly reign of Jesus over the nation of Israel. They find here the fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies of paradise for God’s people.
Literary context compels us to make a few observations. First, there is no mention of Israel in Revelation 20. John does not see a revived Israel; he sees “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus” (20:4). This most naturally refers to Christian martyrs.
He goes on to call them “priests of God and of Christ,” who “will reign with him for a thousand years” (20:6). This is reminiscent of 1:6 where he says Jesus “has made us [the seven churches (1:4)] to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.” So those who reign with Jesus during the millennium are Christians, not Jews.
Second, there is no mention of the millennium elsewhere in the Bible. This is the only place it mentions a period of 1,000 years. However, Old Testament prophecy often forecasts the messianic age. And the New Testament points our hope toward heaven. In fact, this is what John does in Revelation 21 – 22!
We should not make Revelation 20 a paradigm for interpreting the rest of Bible prophecy. Instead of inventing a future Millennial Kingdom for God’s promises to come true, let us find their fulfillment in times the Bible actually speaks of – the Christian era and our eternal home in heaven.
Mitigating the Millennium
The millennium has been mitigated. Revelation 20 offers no support for an earthly Jewish utopia. Rather, it envisions Jesus’ present reign over God’s kingdom as head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18). He will establish His eternal kingdom upon the new earth immediately after His return. Its citizenry will consist of believers from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, 7:9).