Question: A man was talking to me today about the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, and he said that some people don’t believe it will happen. Why would people ignore such a clear Bible doctrine?—Jack T., Oklahoma.
The main reason some people (like myself) deny the doctrine of a thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth is because it’s not in the Bible.
I’ll wait a second for you to calm back down before I continue. 🙂
There are several problems with the idea of a “1,000-year reign,” and we’ll only be able to deal with them briefly. The primary issue with each of them is that people have started assuming things that aren’t actually in the text, and then they’ve made them into doctrine.
The only place that mentions a thousand-year reign is in Revelation 20, and so it is to there we must go for our answers.
1. Jesus isn’t the one reigning for 1,000 years.
Let’s look at the text:
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to 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 worshipped 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 (Revelation 20:4).
The subject of this verse is not Jesus. The subjects of this verse are those who had been martyred for the cause of Christ. It is they, not Jesus, who are said to reign a thousand years.
I’m sure that right now, you think I’m grasping at straws here, but let’s prove this assertion by way of an illustration.
Imagine you have lost your job and you need a place to live. So, I invite you to come live in my house. Now, let’s say you live there for almost three years (let’s say 1,000 days). I would say that you lived with me in my house for 1,000 days. Does this information tell you how long I lived in my house? No, it doesn’t. It only tells you how long you lived in my house with me.
Revelation 20:4 says nothing about how long Christ reigns. It only tells how long the martyred saints reigned with Him. The fact is, The Bible states that Jesus began reigning in the first century (Acts 2:32-33; Revelation 1:9; Colossians 1:13).
2. This verse is not literal.
How can you say that? Of course it’s literal! There’s nothing in the verse to make us think otherwise!!!
If this verse is to be taken literally (as is claimed by many well-meaning believers), then you have a really sticky problem:
Jesus has to die again.
Most people focus on the reigning part of this verse, and tend to ignore the living part. If the thousand years is literal, then that means Christ ceases to reign at the end of the thousand years—but more than that, Christ must also cease living.
Let’s also look at another problem this verse presents, if we are to take it literally. The only ones who are allowed to live and reign with Christ are the ones who have no head, and who were killed for the faith. That means that if you died a natural death, you can’t live or reign with Christ. This also means that if you were killed for the faith, but by some way other than beheading, you cannot live or reign with Christ.
And one more problem presented by taking this verse literally: the only ones allowed to live and reign with Christ are the ones who had already been beheaded for the faith when John wrote this down. This is written in past tense, speaking of something that had already happened.
So, if we take this verse literally, no one today (or for the past 1900 years) has any hope of living and reigning with Christ—and Christ has to die again. These conclusions are demanded if we take this verse literally. And these conclusions contradict other passages of the New Testament.
Therefore this verse is not meant to be taken literally.
3. This reigning is not on earth.
Go ahead and read all of chapter twenty. Nowhere in that chapter does it place Jesus Christ on earth, let alone Jerusalem. With so many doctrines existing about Jesus reigning on a literal throne in literal Jerusalem on the literal earth, you’d think those items would be mentioned here—but they’re not.
The kingdom of Jesus Christ existed during the first century. The apostle John said he was a part of it while he was alive in the first century (Revelation 1:9). The apostle Paul said that Christians had been (past tense) translated into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). There can be no kingdom without a king. Since Jesus’ kingdom existed in the first century, Jesus was already a king in the first century.
Since Jesus was already a king 2,000 years ago, that means He’s been reigning over His kingdom for close to 2,000 years already. And He’s been doing it from the throne in heaven (Acts 2:32-33).
4. Revelation isn’t about things which haven’t happened.
The most common assertion about Revelation is that it is describing something that hasn’t happened yet. But that view contradicts what the Bible says about the book of Revelation.
God makes it extremely obvious that the things which are in Revelation are things that were “at hand” and “shortly come to pass” when John wrote it—in the first century! The book opens with those statements (1:1, 3). The book closes with those statements (22:6, 10). It is the bold man indeed who calls God a liar by saying the things in Revelation are about things that were 2,000+ years away from the lifetime of the original readers.
Jack, I do hope this helps you understand the topic better. The reason why some people (including myself) deny that there will be a literal reign of Jesus Christ on earth for a literal thousand years is that the Bible doesn’t teach it. Christ has been reigning from His throne in heaven for almost 2,000 years already. And the verses that people go to in order to “prove” the thousand-year reign don’t actually say what they claim.
-Bradley S. Cobb