The Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ


The Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ


Main Idea: After the tribulation Christ will establish His millennial kingdom with His saints; then He will finally and forever judge Satan and his followers for their rebellion.

  1. Before the Kingdom Satan Is Bound (20:1-3).
  2. During the Kingdom the Saints Will Reign (20:4-6).
  3. After the Kingdom Sinners Will Be Defeated (20:7-10).


In Acts 1:6, just before He ascended, Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” The kingdom about which they were asking, the kingdom in which Jesus Christ will be universally acknowledged as King of kings and Lord of lords, is that kingdom discussed in Revelation 20. It is the millennial kingdom, the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth.

The tribulation, with its seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments, has ended (Rev 6–18). Israel has experienced a great end-time revival (Rev 7:1-8; see Rom 11:25-26). The nations, the people groups of the world, have come to Christ (Rev 7:9-17). Antichrist (the beast) and the false prophet have been revealed, defeated, and cast into the lake of fire (Rev 19:19-21). Babylon, that evil, organized religious, political, social, and economic world system that stands in opposition to God, has been destroyed (Revelation 17–18). Armageddon has taken place (Rev 14:14-20; 16:16-21; 19:17-21), and Jesus has come again to the earth to rule and reign for a thousand years as its rightful Master, Lord, and King (Rev 19:11-16).

The doctrine of the millennium, mentioned only here in Revelation 20, has generated significant controversy throughout the history of the church. Sadly, Christians have too often divided unnecessarily over the issue. Basically three major views have been held by various students of Scripture.

Premillennialism. The word millennium comes from the Latin words mille (thousand) and annus (year). The prefix pre- before the word millennialism refers to the time of Christ’s second coming as it relates to the millennium, and thus premillennialism is the position that teaches the millennium will be preceded by Christ’s return to the earth. Sometimes premillennialists are referred to as “chiliasts.” The word chiliasm comes from the Greek word chilioi, meaning “a thousand.” Premillennialism holds to the following points:

  • Christ will return to the earth at the end of this age, at the end of the great tribulation, with His saints to reign for a thousand years as King.
  • In the millennium Israel will experience the blessings God promised to Abraham and David pertaining to Israel’s land, nationality (seed), and king (throne). New Testament believers will likewise share in these covenant blessings having been grafted into the one people of God (Rom 11).
  • The church today is not completely experiencing the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel. Certain aspects of these covenants have been inaugurated, but others await future eschatological fulfillment.
  • The millennial kingdom is the thousand-year period in which Jesus Christ will rule over the earth as the promised Messiah, the seed of David (2 Sam 7:14-16). This kingdom will be inaugurated at His second coming and therefore at the end of the tribulation (Rev 19:11-21). The millennium is an intermediate kingdom of a thousand years before the establishment of the eternal state (Rev 20:1-6; 2122).
Definition Christ’s second coming will occur before the millennium. Christ’s second coming will occur after the millennium. There will be no literal historical reign of Christ on earth for 1,000 years. His second coming ushers in the eternal state.
Characteristics Christ will return at the end of this age to reign for 1,000 years.
In the millennium the nation Israel will experience the blessing God promised to Abraham and David. New Testament believers are grafted in to share in the covenant blessings.
The church today is not completely experiencing the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel.
The millennium is an intermediate kingdom of 1,000 years in which Christ reigns before the establishment of the eternal state.
The church is not the kingdom, but it will bring in the kingdom by the preaching of the gospel.
Christ will not be on the earth during the kingdom. He will rule in the hearts of His people but will return after the millennium.
There will be no literal 1,000- year millennium.
The church, not Israel, will receive the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and David in a spiritual sense.
The kingdom reign of Christ and His saints is in existence for the period of time between Christ’s two advents.
The kingdom is realized in the church on earth and/or the saints in heaven.
The promises to Israel about a land, seed, and throne are completely fulfilled now in a spiritual sense in the church.
The promises to Israel were conditional, and Israel did not meet those conditions.
Christ is ruling now; Satan is bound between Christ’s two advents.
Advocates Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Tyndale, some Anabaptists, Moravians, Mennonites, John Wesley, Ryrie, Walvoord, Graham, Criswell, Moore, Grudem, Erickson, Mohler, Swindoll, and MacArthur. Daniel Whitby, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Wesley, Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, Augustus Strong, B. H. Carroll, G. W. Truett. Origen, Augustine, Roman Catholic Church, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli, B. B. Warfield, L. Berkhof, G. Beale, W. Hendriksen.

Amillennialism. The prefix a means “no,” and thus amillennialism holds that there will be no literal reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years. It is sometimes called “realized” millennialism. The basic tenets of amillennialism are these:

  • The millennium or kingdom reign of Christ and His saints is in existence for the period of time between Christ’s first and second coming. We are in the millennium right now.
  • The kingdom is either realized in the church on earth (Augustine’s view now perpetuated by the Roman Catholic Church) and/or the saints in heaven (B. B. Warfield’s view). There will be no future reign of Christ on the earth prior to the new heaven and new earth, and the word thousand is a symbolic number indicating a long period of time.
  • The promises to Israel about a land, seed, and throne are being fulfilled now in a spiritual sense in the church.
  • God’s promises to Israel were conditional and have been transferred to the church because Israel did not meet the condition of obedience.
  • Christ is ruling now in heaven where He is seated on the throne of David, and Satan is presently bound between Christ’s two advents. This binding relates primarily to Satan’s inability to stop the preaching and spread of the gospel to the nations.

Texts cited to support this view include:

How can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. (Matt 12:29)

The Seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash. Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will ever harm you.” (Luke 10:17-19)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him. (Col 2:15)

Postmillennialism. The prefix post means “after,” and thus postmillennialism means that Christ’s second coming will occur after the millennium. The tenets of this view are these:

  • The church is not the kingdom, but it will bring in the kingdom (a utopian, Christianized condition) to the earth by preaching the gospel. Many liberals argue from this principle that the millennium will come through human effort and natural process (e.g., evolutionary progress). They do not expect a literal and historical second coming, while evangelical postmillennialists certainly do expect one (see below).
  • Christ will not be on the earth during the kingdom. He will rule in the hearts of His people, and He will return to the earth after the millennium.
  • The millennium will not necessarily last for a literal thousand years. The word thousand is symbolic of a long period of time. This is similar to amillennialism.
  • The church, not Israel, will receive the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and David in a spiritual sense.

Though this view is not popular today, it has been hugely influential in the history of the church, including playing a significant role in launching the modern missions movement. Persons in the contemporary scene associated with what is called “theonomy,” “dominion theology,” and “reconstructionism” do hold a postmillennial position.

Before I defend my view, let me again clarify that this is not a doctrine we should divide over. We should discuss it. We should debate it. But we should not divide over it. Good, godly men and women who believe the Bible differ on this issue. Some of my closet friends hold a different view. I greatly love and respect them. I learn from them, even if I do not agree with them.

Having clarified that, I do think premillennialism is the best position to explain what the Scriptures are saying. It is the view that best honors a normal, historical, grammatical hermeneutic while still recognizing the prophetic and apocalyptic nature of Revelation. Chapter 20, obviously, follows chapter 19, and so the millennium follows the Second Coming. The word millennium occurs six times in verses 1-7. Never in Scripture when the word year is used with a number is its meaning not literal. The two resurrections mentioned in verses 4-7 clearly speak of physical, bodily resurrections. All of this supports premillennialism. This approach to Scripture means the promises about Christ returning to establish on earth His millennial reign of a thousand years are to be taken in the normal sense.

Yes, His kingdom is in existence now (John 3:3,5: Acts 28:31) in heaven and in the hearts of men, but it will be present and fully manifested on the earth during the millennium. Thus, His kingdom is both “now” and “not yet”—realized and yet future.

Additionally, the promises to Israel have not been transferred to the church. The church has been grafted into these promises, as Romans 11 clearly affirms. The complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, and new covenant have not taken place yet. The church and Israel, though distinct, are related to one another in God’s plan of redemption personally, nationally, and cosmically. Since the church began on the day of Pentecost, the church is in some sense separate from the nation Israel. Normal grammatical interpretation thus makes a warranted distinction between Israel and the church. However, as Ephesians 1–3 teaches, there is now one people of God, which constitutes the church, the eschatological people of God gathered and realized for all eternity.

Premillennialism makes the most sense because of its consistency in interpretation. Since the prophecies about Christ’s first advent were fulfilled literally, the prophecies about His second advent can be expected to be fulfilled in the same way.

In the Psalms and Prophets, a future, eschatological kingdom patterned after but surpassing the model of the Davidic kingship is predicted. This kingdom is a universal kingdom of peace and prosperity with the anointed Messiah ruling over the whole earth (Pss 2; 21; 45; 72; 96; 98; 110; Isa 2:2-4; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 24–25; 40:3-11; 43:15; 44:6,22-23; 65:17-25; Jer 23:1-6; 33:14-26; Ezek 34:23-31; 37:24-28; Dan 2; 7; Amos 9:11-15; Mic 4:1-8; 5:1-5; Zech 9:9-10; 14:9,16-17; Mal 1:11,14).

The new covenant (Isa 59:20-21; Jer 31:31-34; 32:37-42; Ezek 11:17-21; 16:60-63; 36:24-34; 37:21-28) in particular makes promises of this coming kingdom that are yet to be fully realized. It states that God will cause Israel to repent and be obedient (Isa 59:20; Ezek 36:27,31; 37:24). God will cleanse and forgive Israel (Ezek 16:63; 36:25,29; 37:23). The Holy Spirit will permanently indwell all His people (Isa 59:21; Ezek 36:27; 37:14). Israel will be permanently established forever in their land as a nation (Jer 31:35-37; 32:41-44; Ezek 36:28; 37:25). God will be worshiped by Israel and will place His presence among them forever (Jer 32:38; Ezek 37:26-28).

Additionally, the words of Jesus support premillennialism best. Note His promise to the 12 apostles in Matthew 19:27-28:

Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us?”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.”

Consider also His words to the apostles in Acts 1:6-7:

So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority.”

He does not deny or correct their hope for a future kingdom. Rather, He simply says they will not be told when that kingdom is coming.

Lastly, Paul’s teaching concerning future Israel in Romans 11:25-29 fits best within a premillennial framework. There he teaches that there is still a distinction between Israel and the church, even if Jew and Gentile who trust in Jesus are part of the one people of God.

Given this premillennial framework, let us now examine the text and note particular features of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. There is really good news for God’s people in these verses.

Before the Kingdom, Satan Is Bound


Christ has returned and defeated the forces of evil on the earth (19:11-21). John now sees “an angel coming down from heaven,” coming down to earth. The phrase “I saw” occurs repeatedly at the end of Revelation (19:11,17,19; 20:1,4,11; 21:1). The most natural reading is to see this indicating chronological sequence and progression. These things happen one after the other (Mounce, Revelation, 361).

Second Coming ? Millennium ? Final Rebellion ? Great White Throne ? Eternal State

The millennium is the beginning of God’s restorative work “on the way” to the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem of chapters 21–22.

The angel from heaven “has the key to the abyss.” The key indicates authority. The abyss is mentioned seven times in Revelation (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3). MacArthur notes that in Revelation, the abyss, or pit, is always a “reference to the temporary place of incarceration for certain demons. The abyss is not their final place of punishment; the lake of fire is (Matt. 25:41). Nevertheless it is a place of torment to which the demons fear to be sent (Luke 8:31)” (Revelation 12–22, 234). The angel also has in his hand “a great chain” (20:1). The huge chain is for a huge prisoner and carries the ideas of binding and confinement.

This angel now seizes the one who was his former master before he rebelled against God (see Ezek 28:14; see above on Rev 9:1-5, pp. 180–85). Four names or titles are given that describe his character and devices (see 12:9). He is “the dragon,” mentioned 12 times in Revelation. He is terrifying, powerful, cruel, dangerous, and vicious. He is “that ancient serpent,” which recalls Genesis 3 (see 2 Cor 11:3) and the garden of Eden. He is our ancient enemy who deceived Adam and Eve ushering in the fall. He is “the Devil,” meaning the slanderer, the accuser. He is “Satan,” meaning the adversary, the enemy, our opponent. This is our archenemy who hates us and lives for our misery, our death, our destruction. Osborne says, “In this context the list of names might almost be official, as if the legal sentence is read to the condemned prisoner as he is being thrown into prison” (Revelation, 700).

Because this angel has the delegated authority of God, he can take authority over the one who “is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone he can devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Note the four steps taken to bind and confine our ancient foe: he “bound him for 1,000 years,” he “threw him into the abyss,” he “closed it,” and he “put a seal on it.” Satan’s activity, even his presence on earth, is completely curtailed and brought to a halt for the entire millennium. His deceptive work among the nations is stopped for a thousand years!

Only after the millennium is finished is he released, and then for only “a short time” (20:3). This short-lived release from captivity is discussed in verses 7-10. Mounce makes a perceptive and telling observation at this point when he says,

Apparently a thousand years of confinement does not alter Satan’s plans, nor does a thousand years of freedom from the influence of wickedness change people’s basic tendency to rebel against their creator. (Revelation, 363)

What an indictment once again on the wicked hearts of evil demons and evil humanity!

During the Kingdom, the Saints Will Reign


John provides only a brief description of activity of the millennial kingdom in these verses. Additional insights, as previously noted, are found in texts like Isaiah 11:1-11; 65:17-25; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 3:17-21; Amos 9:11-15; and Micah 4:1-5. John sees thrones and “people seated on them who were given authority to judge.” Matthew 19:28 teaches that the 12 apostles will sit as judges over the 12 tribes of Israel. First Corinthians 6:3 speaks of believers judging angels. Revelation 2:26 says the saints will have authority over the nations. And Revelation 5:10 teaches that the followers of the Lamb “will reign on the earth.” These could refer to glorified saints ruling over natural-born persons in the millennium. In any event, these pictures are all good news for the believer, even if the precise details remain a mystery.

John then sees a second group: martyred saints. These are described as those who “had been beheaded [i.e., executed] because of their testimony [or witness] about Jesus and because of God’s word.” Further, they had not “worshiped the beast or his image, and [they] had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands.” These tribulation saints had remained faithful and true to the Lamb. “They did not love their lives in the face of death” (12:11). These faithful believers were previously seen in chapters 6 and 13. They are now rewarded for their faithfulness as they are gloriously resurrected! They come to life in bodily resurrection and are also granted the privilege to reign with Christ as coheirs for a thousand years (see Rom 8:17).

John calls this “the first resurrection.” It is a bodily resurrection in kind and the first resurrection in time. “The rest of the dead,” unbelieving humanity, are not resurrected until after the millennium when they will stand before God at the great white throne judgment (20:11-15). Believers in Jesus enjoy the first resurrection unto glorified eternal life. Unbelievers experience the second death (i.e., eternal separation from God) at the final judgment. The term second resurrection never occurs in Scripture.

Verse 6 provides a beautiful summary as to the destiny of the followers of the Lamb. They are called both “blessed” (i.e., happy, fortunate) and “holy” (i.e., set apart for God) since they participate in the first resurrection, the glorification of the body unto eternal life. But it does not end there! Three additional blessings are bestowed on the redeemed: (1) Over these “the second death [i.e., eternal and spiritual death] has no power”; (2) they “will be priests of God and of the Messiah,” serving their great God during the millennium and for all eternity; and (3) they “will reign with Him for 1,000 years.”

John MacArthur, drawing on various biblical texts, provides a wonderful summary of what life will be like in the millennium:

A final blessing for the participants in the first resurrection is that they will reign with the Lord Jesus Christ for a thousand years, along with believers who survived the Tribulation. Politically and socially, the rule of Christ and His saints will be universal (Ps. 2:6-8; Dan. 2:35), absolute (Ps. 2:9; Isa. 11:4), and righteous (Isa. 11:3-5). Spiritually, their rule will be a time when the believing remnant of Israel is converted (Jer. 30:5-8; Rom. 11:26) and the nation is restored to the land God promised to Abraham (Gen. 13:14-15; 15:18). It will be a time when the Gentile nations also will worship the King (Isa. 11:9; Mic. 4:2; Zech. 14:16). The millennial rule of Christ and the saints will also be marked by the presence of righteousness and peace (Isa. 32:17) and joy (Isa. 12:3-4; 61:3,7). Physically, it will be a time when the curse is lifted (Isa. 11:7-9; 30:23-24; 35:1-2,7), when food will be plentiful (Joel 2:21-27), and when there will be physical health and well-being (Isa. 33:24; 35:5-6), leading to long life (Isa. 65:20). (Revelation 12–22, 239)

The millennium will be a wonderful time under the cosmic and universal reign of King Jesus.

After the Kingdom, Sinners Will Be Defeated


These verses record what can be called “the final battle” between God and Satan, good and evil. Osborne points out,

There are five aspects of this scene: the release of Satan, his deception and gathering of the nations for the final battle, their surrounding God’s people, fire descending from heaven to devour the nations, and the casting of Satan into the lake of fire. (Revelation, 710)

Why does our God allow the evil one a final desperate grasp at power? I believe the answer is twofold. First, to demonstrate the evil intentions of Satan that consume him now and forever. Second, to reveal that even in a near perfect environment with no Satanic temptation, man is capable of and willing to rebel against his gracious and loving God.

At the beginning of the millennium, two types of persons are on the earth: believers with glorified bodies and believers with nonglorified bodies who survived the tribulation. Nonglorified believers can and will have children. These persons, like all persons, will have the opportunity to say yes or no to Jesus. Outwardly it appears virtually all will say yes. Inwardly, however, in their heart, many will say no. When the opportunity comes to rebel against the most wonderful leader the world has ever known, they will jump at the chance. Their doom, however, is sealed even before the rebellion begins.

Satan is released from his prison (v. 7). Immediately he goes out with a twofold agenda: to deceive the nations and to gather a great army to war against the Lord (v. 8). “Gog and Magog” is a reference to Ezekiel 38–39. Here the phrase stands for the enemies of God among the nations of the world. They march on “the beloved city” (v. 9), the city of Jerusalem, where King Jesus reigns over His worldwide kingdom. Before they can achieve their goal, however, “fire came down from heaven and consumed them.” In a flash, in a moment, the final battle is over. An army “like the sand of the sea” is vaporized instantaneously! “Like Armageddon a thousand years earlier (19:11-21), the ‘battle’ will in reality be an execution” (MacArthur, Revelation 12–22, 242).

Our text ends with Satan finally receiving his just reward: he is “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast [i.e., antichrist] and the false prophet are.” There this unholy trinity’s eternal destiny is to be “tormented day and night forever and ever.” Their just judgment is literal. It is eternal. No reprieve. No relief. No second chance. No end.


There is a lot to take in from Revelation 20, exegetically, theologically, and even personally. Osborne provides a helpful overview that addresses all three of these, reminding us that God is holy and sin is serious. God will not tolerate sin and evil forever. Their end is in sight. Osborne writes:

In 20:4-6 . . . the saints sit on thrones and judge the nations for the thousand-year period. In 20:5-6 the contrast between saint and sinner comes to the fore, and this has strong evangelistic potential. Every non-Christian must be aware that only believers will experience the “first resurrection.” For the unbelievers the only “resurrection” they will experience will be the one that leads to the “second death,” but that will have no “power” over the Christian. The believer will know only “life,” but the unbeliever will have only eternal “death.”

God allows Satan and his followers to have one last gasp, yet the purpose there is to prove beyond any doubt that the hold of depravity over the sinner is total. Though the nations have had a thousand years to experience the [benevolent] authority of Christ, as soon as Satan is released they flock after him. This tells the reader that God’s only response must be eternal punishment. The power of sin is eternal over those who have rejected Christ again and again, as seen in the repeated repudiations of God’s offer of repentance throughout this book (9:20-21; 16:9,11), culminating in the final refusal after experiencing the reign of Christ for a thousand years. So God can respond to eternal sin only with eternal torment. Thus, as the enemies of God and the saints surround his people, he sends fire from heaven to devour them as a prelude to the eternal fire that will be their destiny.

At that time Satan joins the other two members of the false trinity (19:20) in the lake of fire, where their followers will soon join them. God’s justice demands this response. Those who are offended by such teaching have too low a realization of the terrible nature of sin and the natural response that divine holiness must have toward it. We must remember the many times in this book that God sought their repentance, and those who did repent (11:13) no longer faced such judgment. But God cannot abide sin, and his reaction must be swift and final. (Revelation, 717)

Final judgment will be swift. It is truly final. Are you prepared? Are you ready? Only those who follow Christ will be.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. What do you see are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the premillennial view of the end times?
  2. What do you see are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the amillennial view of the end times?
  3. What do you see are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the postmillennial view of the end times?
  4. Do you agree that the premillennial position makes the most sense of the biblical data?
  5. How is God’s sovereign power and authority shown in this passage?
  6. Why do people continue to sin even when Satan is bound?
  7. What does it mean that believers will reign with Christ? How will our reign relate to His?
  8. In what ways is the millennial reign like the garden of Eden before the fall?
  9. Why does God release Satan for a final rebellion?
  10. Is it just for God to punish someone (even Satan!) for eternity? Why?