13th Sunday after Pentecost
To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father, to Him be glory forever and ever, Amen! In the name of Jesus, who came once to save us and will come again on the Last Day to take all His people to His eternal, heavenly kingdom, dear friends in Christ,
Are you ready? Joseph and Josephine are walking hand in hand in the mall when suddenly Josephine is gone, simply her clothes and jewelry lie sitting on the floor. Horrified, Joseph looks all around, panicked, where’d she go? At the same time, a Delta airline pilot is flying on a routine flight from Minneapolis to Chicago when he looks over and suddenly his co-pilot has disappeared leaving his uniform and headset lying in heap on the chair. He’s absolutely stunned. Dozens of passengers and a flight attendant have disappeared leaving nothing but their clothes and jewelry behind. People are panicking, upset, looking for answers. Dozens of cars on the interstate suddenly become driverless as their drivers simply disappear leaving just their clothes behind, careening out of control causing accidents, chaos, and havoc. The whole world is stunned as millions of people have suddenly disappeared causing all kinds of panic and chaos. Have you ever heard of such a thing before? Movies and books have been popularized over such a thing and many quote the Bible to defend such a fanciful thing. Are you ready? Will you be ‘left behind’? So, is it true? Will there be a time when suddenly all the believers will simply disappear from the earth because they’ve been raptured away? Will then they return with Jesus after 7 years of tribulation on earth and will there then be a time of great and wonderful things on earth, though imperfect, Christ will rule on the earth, justice will finally triumph, believers will prosper, in Christ’s earthly kingdom that will last exactly 1,000 years before the Last Day?
The word “millennium” literally means “1,000 year period.” Quoting the text that we’re about to discuss, some say that there will be a time when believers in Jesus will suddenly be “raptured” out of this world either before, during, or after a 7 year period of terrible tribulation on earth. Then, after the 7 years, Jesus will return, resurrect some or all believers, and establish a great earthly kingdom from which He will rule on the earth with all believers for an exact period of 1,000 years until the Last Day. It will be an imperfect golden age, most people will be believers, there will be outward prosperity, peace will rule, no more wars.
One of the biggest problems with the idea of a millennial kingdom is how much God’s Word is misinterpreted. A principle of Biblical interpretation is that we take passages in the Bible in the whole context of the Bible. If we’re studying a truth, we look to the clear and basic passages to help us understand and interpret the more difficult passages- just like you wouldn’t use calculus or trigonometry to re-explain the basic concepts of math. We also take the Bible literally- what God says is what God means. When God is speaking literally, we take it literally, likewise, when God is speaking figuratively, we take it figuratively. People who believe in an earthly millennium use the difficult sections of Scripture, like Revelation 20, to try to re-explain the clear and basic passages concerning the Last Days. Sound Biblical interpretation is the other way around. We take the clear, basic sections of Scripture to help us in understanding the more difficult. So, nothing in Revelation is going to contradict the clear teachings of Jesus with regard to the last days.
Well, what about a rapture where believers suddenly disappear from the earth? Doesn’t Jesus even say something like, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matt 24:40-41)? Yes, Jesus says that. But the context Jesus is speaking of is the Last Day. On the Last Day there might be very little outward difference between two people, but one who was a believer will go to heaven, the other who was an unbeliever will go to hell.
The one place in Scripture where we find “1,000 years” with regard to the last days is in Revelation 20. Everyone will admit that we’re talking here about a figurative key, a figurative abyss, a figurative chain, and a figurative dragon. In fact, the Bible even tells us that this dragon symbolizes Satan. So, why would we then insist that the “1,000 years” be a literal 1,000 year period of time? 1,000 at John’s time was often the largest number used. The number 10 and multiples of the number 10 in Scripture indicate completeness. So this is representative of a long, but complete and determined amount of time that Satan will be “bound.” Well, what does it mean that Satan is “bound”? The fact that he’s been bound means that he can’t “deceive the nations anymore.” That’s the devil’s whole goal: to deceive. That’s what he did with Adam and Eve in the garden and he continues to do. He deceives people into trusting anything, anything other than in God. But what happened? Jesus came, Jesus lived perfectly, Jesus died on the cross paying for the sins of the world, Jesus rose from the dead as proof that we’re forgiven. That’s the truth! And when that message goes out into the world, people are brought to faith, people are no longer deceived by Satan. So, the more widely and purely that the good news of Jesus is shared, the more Satan is bound. So the “1,000 years” of Satan being bound began with the work of Jesus and will end on the Last Day, it’s a symbol of the entire NT era. And yet, we’re told that at the end, the devil must be released for a short time. Jesus warns us that instead of things getting better before the end, that it’s actually going to get worse. Instead of believers ruling an earthly kingdom with Jesus for 1,000 years, Jesus tells his followers that we’re going to be persecuted, hated, even put to death before the end. There will be more and more false teachers and false prophets who will deceive many. So what’s happening before the end? The gospel won’t be spread as widely and purely and the devil will again be able to deceive nations of people, in other words, he will be let loose for a short time.
Then John sees the souls of those who were beheaded and they were living and reigning with Christ. A Millennialist will say that these are believers ruling with Jesus in an earthly kingdom. But notice he doesn’t see resurrected bodies ruling on earth, but souls. Also, whenever Revelation talks about “thrones” they are always located in heaven. When Scripture talks about believers dying, their souls never die, their bodies die, but their souls go on living with Christ in heaven. That’s the first resurrection. We’re born into this world spiritually dead in sin and when God brings us to faith, He brings us to spiritual life – that’s the first resurrection. The 2nd resurrection would then be on the Last Day when God raises us body and soul to live forever with him. The 2nd death is then being condemned to eternal death.
Neither this text nor any other text in all of Scripture tells us to expect a worldly, outward, physical kingdom of Jesus on this earth. In fact, God tells us to expect just the opposite. We should expect the devil to work harder in deceiving people, we can expect trouble and persecution, we can expect an increase in false teachers, we can expect famine, disease, wars, rumors of wars. But what a comfort for believers! We are mere foreigners and strangers in this world, heaven is our home! Even when believers die, they go on living and reigning with Christ in heaven! In fact, as a believer in Jesus, you live and reign with Christ…right now! The sovereign Ruler of everything listens attentively to all your prayers and answers them. The Almighty Ruler of all promises to work out all things for the eternal good of His people, of you! Jesus has already won the battle! At the cross and empty tomb Jesus defeated Satan, Satan’s head has been crushed, he’s lost the war, Jesus won the victory. We can live with confidence now! We don’t have to wait for Jesus to come again to finally defeat the devil, He already has! And when we are resting in the Word of God and are living by the forgiveness of sins that is ours in the gospel, the devil can harm us none, now!
People who believe in the millennium are looking for a future, earthly kingdom. They miss out on the blessings that are ours in living in God’s kingdom right now and the blessings that will be ours forever in God’s kingdom in heaven. Jesus said very clearly that His kingdom is NOT of this world. The Bible over and over talks about Christians as being foreigners and strangers in this world, our real home is in heaven. So maybe we don’t necessarily believe in a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth, but are we looking for an earthly kingdom? Do we fall into the same trap of setting our minds not on heavenly things, but on earthly things? We do so when we want the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect vacation, the perfect government, the perfect nation, the perfect spouse, the perfect children, etc. That’s never going to happen. And we can so easily allow ourselves to become frustrated, upset, angry, mad when we don’t get those things that we feel we need in order to have our little earthly kingdom. But the reality is, you will never have the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect spouse, the perfect child. Why? Because not only do each of us have a sinful nature but the world we live in is wrecked by sin and will continue to be until the Last Day when Jesus returns.
Instead of dreaming of an earthly kingdom, God has something way better! He won an eternal kingdom for you and me with His own blood shed on the cross. So we live in this world, we work hard, we want to improve, but we do so as foreigners and strangers, our real home is in heaven. Millennial ideas encourage people to be earthly minded, to look for a paradise of sorts on this earth. That’s not what God says. Instead of saying the our lives are going to get better the closer we get to Judgment Day, God actually tells us things are going to get worse. Satan is going to be let loose for a short time. Why? Because the world, by and large, will reject the gospel, reject forgiveness, reject what it means to live in forgiveness with a godly life. Let’s not be one of them. Jesus told us that anyone who wants to follow Him must deny Himself and take up His cross and follow Him. Jesus told us that we would experience trouble in this world. But instead of letting us have a defeatist mentality, God’s given us all we need to stand up under it until the end when we will trade in the cross of this life for the crown in the life in heaven.
The reality is: you don’t have to wait to enjoy some future millennial kingdom. Jesus didn’t come to win a political kingdom on earth, He came to win our souls from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Jesus didn’t suffer and die so that we can have political peace on earth someday, He came to give us the real peace of the forgiveness of our sins as we live under Him in His spiritual, real Kingdom of grace right now. We already now enjoy the joy and peace in the unsearchable riches of Christ…right now! God’s Word says that you live and reign with Christ now and will continue to in life eternal. Right now God guides all things for your best. Right now God listens and answers your prayers in His master governing of the universe. Right now because you have God’s Word the devil must flee from you.
So, are you ready? There won’t be a sudden disappearance of people, there won’t be a rapture, there won’t be an outward, earthly kingdom that Jesus is going to rule for 1,000 years. No, Jesus rules right now, He’s guiding all things in order to bring the most amount of people to faith in Him as their Savior. He rules a spiritual and eternal kingdom. You’re part of it, right now! And one day, the Last Day, He will return to take you the perfect kingdom of heaven where you will continue to live and reign with Christ forever. Amen.