OUR treatment would not be complete without a short chapter on the millennium itself.
According to Rev. 20:1-6, Satan is said to be bound for a thousand years, and restrained for this long period from deceiving the nations. The souls of the martyrs are said to live and reign with Christ. If our interpretation of this passage be correct, this is the language of symbol, as is so much of Revelation, indicating the triumph of the cause and spirit of the martyrs, just as the binding of Satan signifies negatively the limiting and controlling of his evil power. Just how much is meant by this symbolic description is not easy to determine. No true view of the period, however, can be had, unless we make it consistent with the uprising of wickedness which is immediately to follow, as described in Rev. 20:7–10: “And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are on the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven and devoured them.”
It is to be noticed that this dark period is declared to be “a little time” in v. 3. While we must not press this comparative designation of its length too far, and make it too short, the whole description makes it evident that evil flares out with great suddenness. It is scarcely consistent with the view that it arises gradually, as the last generation of the millennium die, and a new generation gradually give themselves up to the deceptive blandishments of Satan. Immediately upon his release he is said to go forth to deceive the nations, and to gather his followers to battle. He does not need to wait until a new generation grows up who have not beheld the glory of the millennial years. He does not have to delay until a host “as the sand of the sea" are born and grow up in sin. He seems to find his material ready to his hand. What is the necessary inference from all this, for all who believe that regeneration is once and for all, and that all who are regenerated are beyond such deceptive power as Satan is here said to use, and cannot be supposed to make up the army he gathers? It must be that during the millennium—at the close of a period so transcendently blessed—there are to be hosts of unregenerate men and women who will be ready, when the power of evil again is on the flood, to give themselves up to its flow, and to ally themselves with the satanic might which is gathering its forces to dash itself against the stronghold of the saints of the Lord. This is in perfect accord with Old Testament prophecy of the millennial period. In Isaiah 65:20, for instance, in a prophecy acknowledged by Pre-millennialists universally to refer to this era, we read that the sinner dying an hundred years old, shall be accursed. Does not this give us a pretty certain clue to the character of the millennium, and help us in our interpretation of the glowing imagery of Old Testament prophecy in reference to it? Righteousness is to rule, the might of evil is to be kept in subjection, the principles of the kingdom of heaven are to dominate the social life, and manifest themselves in all the range of human activities; but all men are not saved. Sin is subject, but it is not eradicated. It may be smouldering in the souls of hosts of unregenerate people. It may even be growing intense through its repression, and all the more ready to burst out in sudden and destructive violence when once Satan is permitted to give it the electric touch of his unrestrained power. Those who have noticed the exuberance of description in the prophecies of the return from the captivity in Babylon will have little difficulty in reconciling with the view of the millennium given above, the glowing language used of it in the Old Testament. We are seeking, in what is given above, to give the true view of the millennium, and are not assuming that Premillennialists generally have a different conception of it, so far as the existence of sin is concerned.
Let us gather up a few of the difficulties which beset the pre-millennial view of the millennium, as following the coming of the Lord.
Pre-millennialists all believe that the present dispensation is to witness the salvation of but comparatively few. During its course the world is to grow worse and worse, and it is to end in gloom and failure, so far as the salvation and sanctification of men are concerned. In contrast with this, as soon as Christ appears to introduce the millennium and to set up His kingdom and begin His personal reign, with the world at the climax of its wickedness, the work of salvation is to sweep over the earth, a nation is to be born in a day, and righteousness is soon to wield its sceptre over the life of mankind.
The first difficulty is to discover whence our premillennial brethren, after the coming of Christ and what occurs at His coming, are to get the wicked stock which shall afford the material for the wondrous displays of saving power which we all believe are to glorify this period. If anything is clear, the “day of the Lord,” in 2 Peter 3: 10, is the day of our Lord’s second coming (see v. 4). How, then, are the people in the flesh—all the wicked who have not been changed by receiving their resurrection bodies—to survive that day when the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up? To evade this difficulty by putting the final conflagration more than a millennium after our Lord comes, as does Blackstone, etc., is a desperate resort.
But this is not all. These brethren tell us that the judgment of Matt. 25:31 sq., is of “the living nations.” We do not admit their right to exclude from “all the nations” (v. 32), any nation, be it Jew or Gentile, any more than to limit the application of the same expression in the great commission. But all the nations would then include all who are in the flesh after our Lord appears. These, according to pre-millennial interpretation, can only be the wicked: for all the living saints have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air, after having received their resurrection bodies. How, then, can there be any righteous people among these nations to hear the welcoming “Well done,” etc.? But allowing that good people still live in the flesh—even allow the figment of a coming for and a coming with His people, with a time between when some of the wicked who alone were left when the righteous were caught up, might be converted—and still the difficulty remains. All the nations, including all mankind, either go away into eternal punishment or eternal life. This judgment is to final destiny, and as it is at the beginning of the millennium, there can be no conversions : for there remain none who are in a state of probation. Even concede that “all the nations” here means, all the Gentile nations, and that the Jews are the “brethren” . of the Lord spoken of in this grand description, and still there is no great release from the difficulty. We cannot suppose He would thus designate the Jews who were still opposing Him, and that the eternal destiny of all men on the earth at His coming would be determined by the way they had treated these still stubborn and unbelieving members of this race. Still we cannot find any men to be saved, after this judgment, even allowing it to be of the living nations.
Not only so, but it is evident from Old Testament descriptions of the millennial era that men in the flesh are to be agents in the great work of God which is then to make such glorious progress. But it is as difficult to find righteous, as wicked, men in the flesh, after Christ comes, and the judgment of Matt. 25:31 sq., takes place, even though it were of the living nations only. They could not, any more than the wicked, survive the burning day of 2 Peter 3:10. All the saints, also, are changed when Christ appears to raise the dead (1 Cor. 15:50-52). There can, therefore, be no righteous people, in the flesh, when the millennium begins, to be the great missionaries of which our pre-millennial brethren speak, to the world of unsaved people they conceive then to be awaiting their ministry. If there be wicked men then still in a state of probation, they must be brought in by the agency of the glorified, if by human agency at all.
Thus the pre millennial view, on this point, is self-contradictory, and is impossible in both of its parts. There are no wicked people still remaining in the flesh after the judgment of Matt. 25:31 sq., to be converted, and there are no saints still in the flesh to be the ministers of their salvation, did they then so exist.
The conception Pre-millennialists have of the conditions existing in the millennium are almost impossible of belief. Its very central thought is that Christ is then to reign in personal and visible presence on the earth. The kingdom is not really to be established until He begins His personal reign. Their literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy forces upon them this view, and they must be prepared to face all the consequences. They, for the most part, glory in it: but some, when confronted with its difficulties, make vague statements. But if our Lord is to reign in visible and personal presence on the earth, so must all the hosts of the saved in all generations, for, according to their interpretation of Rev. 20:4-6, all these are included in those who are to live and reign with Him, and if He is reigning on the earth, so must all these be with Him here. These innumerable hosts of the glorified saints of all the ages are to associate with mortal men in the flesh. Raised above the needs of the earthly life, they are to mingle with men who are tilling their fields, preparing food and raiment, building houses, etc. They are also to witness pain and death, for people are to continue to die. In this period, too, the virus of evil is still to be in the nature, as is proved by the need of regeneration then, and the multitudes who are ready to follow Satan at its close, and they are to be brought into intimate relations with sin. This view also requires us to believe, either that those who are saved in the millennium receive their resurrection body as soon as they believe, or that there must be another special resurrection for those who die during its continuance. The former of these alternatives involves with it the necessary conclusion that, then, it is only the unsaved who continue to propagate the race, that the work of evangelization, so far as human agency is concerned, must be done by the glorified, and that the army of Satan, in the great uprising, actually comes up against the camp of glorified and immortal saints, thus overturning all our conceptions of the security of those who have passed into this state. The latter—that saints die during the millennium—if this is the time when believers can be said first to inherit the kingdom of heaven, is in direct conflict with 1 Cor. 15:50, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” and of this second special resurrection and judgment of saints there is not the remotest hint in the Bible: nay, the teaching of Scripture is opposed to it from Genesis to Revelation.
Again, how is it possible to reconcile this view of the millennium with the uprising of wickedness at its close ? We are asked to believe that, after a thousand years of Christ’s visible and personal rule upon the earth with His glorified saints, sin is still unsubdued, and only needs the presence and solicitation of the prince of evil to flame up in God-defying might. We must remember that our Lord’s second personal coming is represented in terms of boundless contrast to His first. It is to be “in power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). He is to come “in glory and all the angels with him” (Matt. 25:31). The glory is to flash around the world (Matt. 24:27). It is to be in “the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). From His face the very heavens are to flee away (Rev. 20:11). Of the Lord who is to come, it is said, His eyes are “a flame of fire,” His voice like “the sound of many waters,” and His countenance as “the sun shining in his strength” (Rev. 1:13-16). This Being, clothed with the glory and might and majesty of divinity, with all the glorified hosts of redeemed men, is to be present on the earth, displaying His power in overcoming grace and judgment for a thousand years, and there are still people as the sands of the sea who, with the knowledge of His victorious sway for a thousand years, and in the very presence of His majesty and the myriads of redeemed men, if not of angels as well, are ready to rise up and try conclusions with Him and His hosts. For, be it noticed, there is no hint given of any withdrawal of our Lord and the redeemed from the earth, if they are on the earth at all. While this reign with Christ goes on, this insurrection is organized. The fact that the forces of Satan are said to be gathered from the four corners of the earth, seems to imply that there were nations far away from the seat of power that were unsubdued, and that these are now allowed to come up against the central power of the saints, where Christ and the saints had been reigning. They come up, then, against the same rule which had been exercising sway during all the previous periods. They come, therefore, according to pre-millennial ideas of this rule, up against Christ in all His personal might and against the glorified hosts who have been reigning so long with Him, as well as against saints in the flesh. They actually hem these in in the beloved city whither they had betaken themselves, and the camp they had constructed for defence. Mortal men forcing the omnipotent Christ in personal and terrible presence with all the hosts of the redeemed, as well as all mortal saints to betake themselves to defences, in order to keep themselves from being swept away, and fire from heaven has to come down to deliver them!
It is difficult enough to understand how a condition of things which required even a figurative description of this kind, could succeed a thousand years of the dominance of gospel influences which Post-millennialists believe will prevail. But to suppose all this is to be taken literally, and that mortal men will have the awful daring to come up against the omnipotent Son of God, after He had reigned in person with the glorified saints for a thousand years, and that He would permit himself to be beleaguered by them, and have to be rescued by the delivering power of God, is more than human credence ought to be asked to believe.
In the millennium both the righteous and the wicked are to continue to die. If this has not already been made clear, let the reader consider Isa. 65:20: “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old, and the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” Pre-millennialists recognize this passage as part of a description of the millennial era. Its teaching is perfectly plain. While life will be prolonged, still both the righteous and the unrighteous are to die. We have, therefore, through the millennium, death making its ravages, even as now. If our Lord comes to introduce the millennium, as our pre-millennial friends hold, death is to still maintain its sway over both classes of men, after our Lord comes. This view presents two difficulties. If all the saints who are to live after those of the generation in which He comes, are to die as all generations before, how comes it that for this one generation, at His appearing, this rule is reversed, and the living righteous are changed, being thus relieved from the necessity of dying? Why should the coming of Christ in person to the earth be attended with this triumph over death, in the resurrection of dead saints and the change of living saints, if immediately there is to be the reversion back again to the old subjection to death? Will the returning Saviour manifest but a flash of resurrection and quickening might, and then, while personally present with His people, hand all the living again over to the power of the last enemy? Why should there be such discrimination in favor of the one generation which happens to be on the earth at His coming, if immediately the succeeding generations are to be handed over again to His dominion ? Then the resurrection described in 1 Cor. 15 is not the resurrection in which this last enemy is destroyed; his grip is but loosed for a moment, to be tightened again for a thousand years. The event described there is but a hiatus in the rule of death. Where is there any hint of any such thing in the Bible?
Then it must not be forgotten that our pre-millennial brethren give deliverance from the necessity of dying as the most blessed part of the blessed hope of our Lord’s coming—the feature which lifts it immeasurably above the departing and being with Christ. And yet, in what is to be the supreme blessedness of this golden era, with the Lord in majesty reigning on the earth, and in sight of the multitude of risen and changed saints, the righteous who are converted after Christ comes are still to have the king of terrors to face. Why are they left subject to death, now that the Victor over death has once asserted His might? Why is the glory of this halcyon period marred by this dread monster death, as Pre-millennialists are inclined to regard him? Can it be possible that their view of a release from the need of dying as one of the chief elements, if not the chief one, in the blessedness of our Lord’s coming, is the true one, if this is not to be realized by those who are saved during all the long period of our Lord’s alleged reign on earth?