The word "millennium" means "a thousand years." This definite period is referred to specifically in but one chapter of the Bible, the twentieth of Revelation; and in that chapter it is spoken of repeatedly. We find it to be:
The period during which the saints reign with Christ in judgment.
The period during which Satan is bound.
The measure of time between the two resurrections, that of the just and that of the unjust.
An examination of the scriptures bearing upon the millennium will show:
1. The events that mark its beginning.
2. The events that occur during the thousand years.
3. The events that come at the end of the period.
We shall find it clearly taught in these scriptures:
That the millennium begins at the second coming of Christ.
That the reign of the saints with Him in judgment is not on this earth, but in heaven.
That this earth, void of human inhabitants, is Satan's prison house during the thousand years.
That at the end of the thousand years the judgment determined is executed upon Satan and all the wicked.
That this earth, purified by the fires of the last judgment, and renewed, becomes the eternal home of the saved.
1. Events at the Beginning of the Thousand Years
The key to the time is furnished by the declaration that the millennium begins with—
The Resurrection of the Just
Speaking of the risen saints, the Scripture says:
"They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead [the wicked] lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection." Rev. 20:4-6.
There are to be two resurrections. The apostle Paul said that this was the teaching of all Scripture: "There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Acts 24:15. The first resurrection, that of the just, marks the beginning of the thousand years.
Christ's Second Coming
When is this first resurrection, in the order of events in this "day of the Lord"? It is at the second advent of Christ. One scripture, out of many, will suffice to state it:
"The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first." 1 Thess. 4:16.
As the Saviour comes in glory, with all the holy angels, the graves are opened, and His voice awakens His children who sleep in the dust.
"He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matt. 24:31.
The time of Christ's second coming, therefore, is the beginning of the millennium.
The Righteous Taken to Heaven
The living righteous are translated, and, together with the risen saints, are taken to heaven, as the apostle says:
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." 1 Thess. 4:17.
This was the Saviour's promise:
"In My Father's house are many mansions.... I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." John 14:2, 3.
The Destruction of the Wicked
At Christ's second coming the wicked are slain. The unbelieving left without shelter in that day, cannot endure the presence of such glory as will burst upon the world:
"The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Thess. 1:7, 8.
The Binding of Satan
With the saints in heaven, beyond the reach of Satan's wiles, and with the wicked dead, not to live again till the thousand years are finished, Satan is "bound"—confined by divine power to this earth, which becomes his prison house, there being neither saint nor sinner upon whom to ply his arts of deception. No prisoner was ever more effectually chained. The symbolical language of the prophet pictures the scene:
"I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season." Rev. 20:1-3.
These are the events that mark the beginning of the thousand years: Christ's second coming, the resurrection of the just, the ascent of all the redeemed to the city of God, the death of the wicked, and, in consequence, the binding of Satan.
2. Events During the Thousand Years
Scene after scene of glory is spread before us in the visions the prophets were given of the redeemed in the city of God. The prophet John says:
"After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.... Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple." Rev. 7:9-15.
They "serve" in the temple of the Lord, the prophet says; while the poet sings:
"Whence came the armies of the sky,
John saw in vision bright?
Whence came their crowns, their robes, their palms,
Too pure for mortal sight?
"From desert waste, and cities full,
From dungeons dark, they've come,
And now they claim their mansion fair,
They've found their long-sought home."
One service in which the saved have part during the thousand years is the work of judgment that still remains, preparatory to the final visitation of sin and the destruction of Satan and all his works. The prophet saw this work going forward in the heavenly courts, the redeemed associated with Christ in the service:
"I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." Rev. 20:4.
It was to this work of judging the wicked and the evil angels, that the apostle Paul referred in the counsel to the Corinthians: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?... Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" 1 Cor. 6:2, 3.
While in heaven above the saved are with Christ and the holy angels before the throne, and follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, it is to be remembered that on earth all is desolation and emptiness. The wicked have been slain by the glory of Christ's coming. By the quaking of the earth the cities of the nations have fallen in ruin, islands have been removed, and mountains cast into the depths of the sea. The condition of the earth during this time of desolation is thus described by the prophet:
"I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by His fierce anger." Jer. 4:23-26.
"Without form, and void," said the prophet. This is the same phrase that is used in the opening verses of Genesis to describe the chaotic state of the earth in the beginning. At the beginning of creation week the earth was in a state of emptiness and chaos—an "abyss," as it is called in the Greek translation of Genesis. Again, during this thousand-year period, the earth is an "abyss," or a desolate waste. "Abyss" is the meaning of the word translated "bottomless pit" in the text telling of the binding of Satan by the mighty angel of God:
"He laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit." Rev. 20:2, 3. The Revised Version says, "And cast him into the abyss."
Confined to this pit or abyss of desolation, as a prisoner in a prison house, with none to tempt, the author of sin has a thousand years in which to view the ruin that sin has wrought in the earth that once left its Maker's hand beautiful and perfect, unmarred by any curse.
3. Events at the End of the Thousand Years
At the end of the millennium, this earth becomes the scene of events that close the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
The Descent of the Holy City
The judgment work in heaven having been accomplished, the hour has come for the execution of the judgment upon sin and sinners. The holy city comes down out of heaven. The prophet saw its descent in vision:
"I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven." Rev. 21:2.
The Loosing of Satan
"When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations." Rev. 20:7, 8.
With all the wicked destroyed by the glory of Christ's second coming, Satan had been effectually bound; but now, as the city descends, the voice of Christ calls forth the wicked dead, and Satan is thus loosed, and assumes control again of those who have chosen him as their master.
It is the time of which the Scripture speaks: "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Verse 5. The prophet saw the hosts of the lost called forth. "The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [the "grave," margin] delivered up the dead which were in them." Verse 13.
Thus Satan's subjects come forth to the last judgment. The resurrection of the wicked of all the ages is the loosing of Satan. Here again is his kingdom, and again he plies his deceptions and takes up anew his fight against God. How very natural that Satan should persuade the wicked that he has raised them to life, that his word in the beginning was true, "Ye shall not surely die"! If they are immortal, why may they not yet prevail against God? Satan rallies his angels and the hosts of the wicked, in numbers "as the sand of the sea," to make an attack upon the city of God.
"How vast the concourse! not in number more
The waves that break on the resounding shore,
The leaves that tremble in the shady grove,
The lamps that gild the spangled vaults above;
Those overwhelming armies, whose command
Said to one empire, Fall; another, Stand;
Whose rear lay wrap't in night, while breaking dawn
Rous'd the broad front, and called the battle on;
Great Xerxes' world in arms, proud Cannæ's field,
Where Carthage taught victorious Rome to yield,
Immortal Blenheim, fam'd Ramillia's host;—
They all are here, and here they all are lost;
Their millions swell, to be discerned in vain,
Lost as a billow in th' unbounded main."
—Edward Young's "Last Day."
"They went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city." Verse 9.
The Wicked Before the Bar of God
But as the hosts of evil compass the city, they are halted by the glory and majesty of the Redeemer's presence, enthroned as eternal victor over sin. Just here must apply the prophet's words:
"I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Rev. 20:11, 12.
During the thousand years the records in heaven have been reviewed, and the degrees of guilt established. Now the judgment is to be pronounced and executed. But first the record of the books and the eternal righteousness of God's holy law are flashed by divine power upon the consciences of all the lost—"their conscience also bearing witness" (Rom. 2:15) that they are without excuse.
The Destruction of Sin
Sin is now to be blotted from the universe of God; and those who have chosen to be identified with sin perish with it. All that Infinite Love can do has been done in the gift of Christ to save men from the transgression of the holy law of God. That salvation rejected, there is nothing remaining that heaven can offer. There is no further sacrifice that can be made. "There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." Heb. 10:26.
Then follows the last scene in the conflict with evil:
"They went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire.... And death and hell [the grave] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." Rev. 20:9-14.
The second death ends sin and the author of sin, and death itself. The controversy is ended. Christ's death has purged sin from the universe of God.
The Earth Purified and Made New
The fires that consume the wicked melt the earth and purify it from all trace of the curse. It is the day of which Peter wrote:
"Wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat." But after this cleansing of every element of this sin-cursed earth, the promise of God will be fulfilled in the earth made new, as the eternal home of the saved. As Peter says, after telling of the day of burning, "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Peter 3:12, 13.
"O sweet and blessed country,
The home of God's elect!
O sweet and blessed country,
That eager hearts expect!
Jesus, in mercy bring us
To that dear land of rest;
Who art, with God the Father,
And Spirit, ever blest."