A literal one thousand year reign of Jesus on His throne. There are many that believe Jesus’ return is for just that – a one thousand year reign (millennium) on earth. It is widely taught and even passed down as “church doctrine.” It is a teaching that comes from primarily one verse – Revelation 20:6. To be sure, this verse states that “they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”

However, it’s just one verse (among a few we will look at below). Looking at just one verse to form an entire doctrine is at a minimum fairly reckless and potentially very dangerous. Furthermore, we want to be careful not to draw conclusions on this single verse until we’ve considered all Scripture – anything less would be presuppositional Scripture weighting.

While considering this question, it is interesting to think of how humans have used ‘one thousand’ or ‘thousands’ more generally:

  • In colloquial speech such as, “A picture is worth a thousand words” or “Never in a thousand years.” Obviously figurative to mean a whole lot (of words) or completeness (never, ever).
  • In 17th-century poetry as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: I could live a thousand years and I wouldn’t be as ready to die as I am now.” (Act 3, Scene 1) as well as Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe and his play, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus: “The face that launched a thousand ships” referring to Helen of Troy. Both of these are used to mean much the same figuratively.
  • In Chinese culture going back to 110 BC where the term “Ten thousand years” was “as an expression used to wish long life to the emperor….The significance of ‘ten thousand’ in this context is that ‘ten thousand’ in Chinese and many other East Asian languages represents the largest discrete unit in the counting system, in a manner analogous to ‘thousand’ in English.” Incidentally, it is still used to mean “long life.”
  • In pop-culture movies and smash hit cable series where its figurative use is consistent:
    • The Gladiator: Commodus to his dying father Marcus Aurelius, “I searched the faces of the gods for ways to please you, to make you proud. One kind word, one full hug while you pressed me to your chest and held me tight, would’ve been like the sun on my heart for a thousand years. What is in me that you hate so much?”
    • Game of Thrones: Dany to Jon Snow at the waterfall, “We could stay a thousand years. No one would find us.” (HBO, Season 8, Episode 1) In fact, the musical composer for Game of Thrones, Ramin Djawadi, wrote a song from this scene/line entitled, “Stay a Thousand Years”. His rational: “I felt like it made their love eternal. It makes their relationship forever.”

From these secular cases (and others), there are numerous reasons to conclude the Revelation 20 use case to be figurative as well. Honestly, we don’t even give the universally accepted figurative use of “a thousand years” a passing thought, do we? Would we attempt to argue a literal length of time for any of the above examples? However, let’s consider its context and consider other uses in Scripture that may help us understand this important question.

how Scripture answers "Will there be a literal one thousand year reign?"

While Revelation 20 makes a statement about a “one thousand year reign”, it should not be taken literally. To begin with, there is no Scriptural precedent to take it literally – in fact quite to the contrary. There is no other place in Scripture where “a thousand years” (or anything like it) is used literally2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15. We see “thousand” used figuratively in books of history2,7,14, poetry3,4,8,10,13, New Testament epistles12,15, other books of prophecy6,9 and other places in Revelation itself5.

In Revelation we are reading “one thousand years” within the broader prophetic and highly figurative vision of John. Furthermore, to take “one thousand years” literally in Revelation 20 would be out of context for rest of Scripture, being quite literally (no pun intended), the only instance.

By the time we get to the passage of Scripture that promoters of this “literal thousand year reign” doctrine stake their claim on1, Scripture has well established a figurative use for “a thousand years”2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15 (and not at all unlike many secular examples). Indeed, without the clouding lens of a presupposed doctrine that requires a certain interpretation, the Revelation 20 text is simply communicating to the reader a very long (everlasting2,3,4,7,11,12) and triumphal (complete2,3,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15) reign of Christ and the Saints.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

The one that shares in the first resurrection is holy and blessed.  They will overcome the second death and be priests of God and Christ – reigning with Him for a thousand years.

This is part of the much larger vision that John sees covering the entire book of Revelation. He has seen Christ addressing the seven churches (chap 1-3), a heavenly throne scene (chap 4-5), seven seals opened (chap 6-8), and seven angels as part of the seventh seal (chap 8-10).  There’s much more to unfold until about chapter 17 where he begins to be shown the results of all that precedes.

We begin to see judgement for “the prostitute” and the city “Babylon the great” and the “marriage supper of the Lamb” in heaven.  It’s at this point we come to chapter 20 where it seems two “thousand year” periods are depicted – one where Satan is chained (vss 2-3), and one after the “first resurrection” where the saints reign with Christ (vss 4-6).

How does it inform?

Purely within the immediate context of the few verses beginning chapter 20, two one thousand year periods are described. However, this is within the broader context of a book of prophecy with many fantastic scenes. It’s a vision that John sees (how does John “see” a literal thousand years?). A figurative, representative understanding of “a thousand years” is much natural and even required given the context.

!! study note: context is extra important here !!

Does it apply? Yes

2
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.

Know that your God is the faithful God who remains bound and loving to all those who remain bound and loving to Him, for all time.  He meets out justice to those that do not by destroying them.  His justice will not fall short for those; He will repay them to their face.

Moses’ great summation of all that’s happened to the children of Israel just before they enter the land (and he dies).  He implores them through these several chapters to remain steadfast in their obedience to God in order to maintain the blessing of the land.

How does it inform?

To interpret this as a literal thousand generations is absurd and contracting all Scripture has to say about God’s faithfulness.

Does it apply? Yes

3
Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

Even if a man lives the longest of days but suffers, don’t all go to one place [the grave]?

Throughout the book, the writer is documenting the vanity of life “under the sun.”  In this immediate context, the comparison is being made to a still born child (vs 3) and one that lives long with the figurative illustration of living “a thousand years twice over.”

How does it inform?

A “thousand years” is used figuratively to represent a very, very long time — essentially the “longest of times” (completeness) for a human life.

Does it apply? Yes

4

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

A thousand years to you are like a day or single evening.

The psalmist is contrasting God’s eternal nature with man’s fleeting nature.

How does it inform?

The figurative use of “a thousand years” is used to poetically illustrate a very, very long life of a man — far exceeding life expectancy post-Noah.

Does it apply? Yes

5

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,

I saw and heard around the throne many [more than could be counted] living creatures and elders and angels.

The wonderful throne scene (Revelation 4,5) of John’s vision (all of Revelation).

How does it inform?

“Thousands of thousands” isn’t a counting mechanism but rather a representation of the countless – myriads around the throne of God. It is figurative.

Does it apply? Yes

6

A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Fire came out in front of him while many served him and many more stood before him awaiting judgement while the books were opened.

Daniel is documenting a dream/vision he as had in the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. It is of four beasts coming from the sea: one like a lion, another like a bear, a third like a leopard, and a fourth different from the others but with ten horns.  With the fourth, a smaller horn emerged removing three of the original ten.  At this point, Daniel’s vision switches to a throne scene where the “Ancient of Days” is dressed white as snow.

How does it inform?

This part of Daniel’s vision is a heavenly throne scene of judgement. “Thousand” here is not literal, but shows many that serve Him and should understand “ten thousand times ten thousand” to represent all/everyone as God is “judge of all.” (Hebrews 12:23)

Does it apply? Yes

7
Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,

Remember is covenant/word forever and for all generations.

David has finally consolidated power and established Jerusalem as the center for worship.  Along with the Ark, he has established the Levites to administer worship, including Asaph (and others) to invoke songs of thanksgiving.  This is part of one.

How does it inform?

The people were to remember God’s words/commandments for all generations (obviously not just for a thousand).  Much like Moses’ command before entering the land (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). “A thousand” here represents “all” or “completeness.”

Does it apply? Yes

8
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.

Every beast of the forest and cattle on the hills is mine [God’s].

A song of Aspah declaring the pre-eminence and sovereignty of God and His creation.

How does it inform?

God obviously is not the God of only the cattle on a literal thousand hills, but God of all – He is creator of all (“complete”).

Does it apply? Yes

9

In that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns.

In that day all that was worth something will be worthless.

In the midst of a series of “In that day” pronouncements by Isaiah to King Ahaz of a time when the promised land is invaded and conquered by Assyria.

How does it inform?

Of course there were not literally a thousand producing vines in the land; “a thousand” is used figuratively to represent the plentifulness of the land.

Does it apply? Yes

10

If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.

If one wished to argue with [God], he would always lose.

Job is defending himself and God in the midst of accusations from his friends.  Specifically, here, Job is answering the rhetorical question he has just asked, “But how can a man be in the right before God?”

How does it inform?

Job is using “a thousand” figuratively to emphasize completeness or thoroughness.

Does it apply? Yes

11

No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord. No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever,

Nobody in an unlawful marriage may enter the temple/worship of the Lord, not even their descendants to the tenth generation.  Also, no Ammonite or Moabite may enter, even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter forever.

Moses is re-telling the law of God to the people before entering the Promised Land.

How does it inform?

God, through Moses, is giving a law forbidding certain people from entering the temple to worship.  His point is that they may never (“forever”) enter! He illustrates by saying “to the tenth generation.”  He certainly doesn’t mean that anyone in the eleventh generation may enter.  Cleary, “tenth” here means forever/complete.

Does it apply? Yes

12

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

Remember that to God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day.

Peter’s letters have been of encouragement to the saints to remain strong during persecution and false prophets.  God has not forgotten them or His promises (vs 9); the “day of the Lord” will come as a “thief in the night.” (vs 10)

How does it inform?

Peter uses a thousand years to represent – from the human perspective – a long, long time – or, we might say now, “an eternity.”

Does it apply? Yes

13
The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
God’s chariots are twice ten thousand, literally thousands upon thousands, and the Lord is among them.  Sinai is now in the sanctuary.

A psalm of David.

How does it inform?

Using a Hebrew couplet, David makes sure the reader understands that “twice ten thousand” isn’t literal, but simply “thousands upon thousands”. We might say, “more than can be counted.”

Does it apply? Yes

14

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

God passed before him and said, “I am a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, with the consequences visiting the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Moses has just received the replacement tablets on Mt Sinai and he is renewing the covenant between God and His people.

How does it inform?

God’s steadfast love is obviously not limited by or counted to the “thousands” or any finite number. Thousands here is representative of a limitless or countless number.

Does it apply? Yes

15
For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Although you’ve had many, many tutors in Christ, you don’t have many fathers.  That has been my [Paul’s] role in Christ Jesus through the gospel word.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is calling them back to what they have learned and away from the arrogance and divisions that have crept in.

How does it inform?

The Greek word for “countless” is literally “ten thousand” (still rendered such in the KJV). Obviously, their “guides in Christ” could literally be counted (and are not literally ten thousand). Paul simply means they’ve had a lot!

Does it apply? Yes

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