In the 20th chapter of Revelation it speaks about a thousand year period, something not directly mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. This singularity, and the challenge of the complicated imagery, has led to three main views of what the millennium is all about and where it is located in relation to the Second Coming. I will examine the three briefly and then offer some evidence for the position I hold. Before I do that let me offer a tongue-in-cheek option from the former pediatrician for my children, pan-millennialism. He believes that it will all “pan out” in the end. No doubt.
1) Option number one is Pre-millenialism: the Second Coming of Jesus is before the thousand years. The thousand years are a literal period on earth that comes after the Second Coming and leads up to a third coming at the end with a final judgment. During that period those who oppose God are asleep in the grave, with the exception of Satan and his angelic supporters. The followers of God are taken to heaven and spend the thousand years there, processing the big picture. The close of the millennium ushers in the full and final destruction of sin and the purifying of the universe.
2) Option number two is Post-millennialism: In this view the millennium is the last thousand years of human history. During this period, things get better and better as God’s ways are more and more followed on the earth. At the end of that period the Second Coming of Jesus will finalize this gradual improvement and usher in the kingdom of God on earth. As the world careens toward self-destruction, this view has nearly disappeared.
3) Option number three is Amillennialism: The thousand years come before the Second Coming (like post-millennialism) but are not a literal period of improvement, but are simply a metaphor for the entire Christian age, there is no literal thousand years. The latter view requires that the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-5) at the beginning of the millennium be a spiritual one, the new creation that comes with the gospel (John 5:22-25; 2 Cor. 5:17). The second resurrection is the one that comes at the Second Coming itself. This view is the most widespread and popular among Protestants today. In its favor is the observation that everything that happens at the close of the millennium in Revelation 20, happens at the second coming somewhere else in the New Testament. But I do not hold this view for the reasons stated below.
What is the biblical evidence for pre-millennialism, the Seventh-day Adventist position on the thousand years of Rev. 20? 1) The structure of Revelation. The dragon (chapter 12), beast (13), false prophet (13) and Babylon enter the end-time picture in that order. They then exit in reverse order: Babylon (18), false prophet (19), beast (19) and dragon (20). If the beast, the false prophet and Babylon have passed off the scene by Rev. 20:3, the millennium must be after the second coming. (2) The normal meaning of “came to life” (Greek: ezêsan, Rev. 20:4) and “resurrection” (Greek: anastasis, Rev. 20:5) is bodily resurrection not a spiritual one (John 11:25; Rom 14:9; Rev 2:8; 13:14). The word used here is not a metaphor for conversion. (3) The resurrection of people who have been “beheaded” (Rev. 20:4) must be more than just a spiritual one. 4) The “beheaded souls” suffered the beheading because they had accepted the gospel, their resurrection is not when they received the gospel, their resurrection is after their beheading. There is no spiritual meaning for the word “beheading” in the original (Greek: pepelekismenôn). So placing the millennium after the Second Coming with a desolate earth and God’s people in heaven (see John 14:1-3) makes the most sense to me.