Revelation 20: Who are the real millennials? | Christian Today

This article first appeared in Christian Today: Revelation 20: Who are the real millennials?


Are you Pre, Post or A?

This is not a question that you will hear outside of Christian circles. What does it matter? What does it mean?

The Bible teaches that just as Christ ascended into heaven so he will return – not this time as a baby in a manger but as the King to judge the whole earth. Revelation 20 speaks of the ‘millennium’, the 1,000-year reign of Christ. There are three basic understandings of that (along with numerous variations); Post-millennialism, Pre-millennialism and A-millennialism.

A scene from the 2014 movie ‘Left Behind’. The books and film reflected ‘pre-millennial’ beliefs.Screenshot /YouTube.com/Movieclips Trailers

Post-millennialists believe that the Gospel age began with Pentecost and will end when Christ returns, but before he does there will be a great period (not necessarily a literal 1,000 years) in which there will be Gospel prosperity, the Jews will be converted and many come into the Kingdom.

A-millennialists believe that the millennium began with Pentecost and that there will be no special end-time blessing.

Pre-millennialists believe that Christ will return and then establish his 1,000-year reign. It is from this latter group that we get a lot of millennial thinking in the Christian Church associated with strong support for the nation state of Israel (the emergence of Israel in 1948 and the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 is seen as a fulfilment of prophecy). The emergence of the Christian Brethren founded by JN Darby towards the end of the 19th century, and the Scofield Reference Bible, both had an enormous impact, especially in the US.

End-times theology remains incredibly influential (and lucrative). I grew up in that tradition and can testify that the imagery of the Rapture (when Christ returns and takes Christians up to heaven, leaving the rest of the world to get on with it) is very powerful. However I have since come to see that dispensational pre-millennialism is a 19th century creation and is only one interpretation of the Bible, which is by no means clear on this. The literal and physical are not the same as the literal and figurative.

Whatever one’s view of the millennium (and personally I think as a Christian you could hold any one of the three – the one thing we can all agree on is that Christ is returning as both judge and saviour), it is surely not right to read the USA and the UK into the Bible, when they are not there. However, this field does allow for all kinds of weird and wonderful speculations and all manner of eccentricities. At best they are harmless, at worst they can fuel fantasies that could do a great deal of harm.

The doctor who told me that the British are the lost tribe of Israel (a rather bizarre heresy known as British Israelitism) is not quite on a par with those who think that Armageddon is coming, so it won’t do any harm to speed it up. Poor theology in the hands of twisted minds is always a dangerous combination.

The book of Revelation, including chapter 20, is not a divine blueprint of what is happening in the world today. It is describing in poetic and apocalyptic language the struggle between good and evil, Christ and the devil, the Church and the Beast. Revelation 20 assures the Church that even though the devil at times may be on a long leash, he is still on a leash. It is a chapter about the kingdom of God coming.

The thing that most astounds me about this chapter is that people sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees. They become obsessed with millennial speculations and miss out on the dreadful and awesome end message – that there will come a final judgment, which results in the devil, all his angels and all whose names are not found written in the book of life, being thrown into ‘the lake of fire’. This is what is called ‘the second death’. But look at the wonderful promise in verse 6 – the second death has no power over the people of God, because they have experienced the second birth, through sharing in the first resurrection – that of Christ.

While there are Christians who become obsessed (sometimes to the point of being dangerous) with the weirder aspects of millennial theology, there are those who run the opposite danger of not believing in the millennium at all – or indeed any aspect of Revelation 20. There is no judgment. No hell. And no heaven except in the most ethereal Elton John style. But the two resurrections, the two births, the two deaths and the opening of the books are at the very heart of the Christian faith and the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Let’s not have such short-sighted vision that our major concern is the difference between pre-trib rapture and post-trib rapture; or such long-sighted that we see nothing real in Revelation 20 for us today. And let’s learn the lessons that the dead are judged according to what they have done (verse12); that the second death has no power over those who have experienced the second birth (verse 6); and let’s pray that all our names will be found in the one book that really matters, the book of life. Then we will be the real millenials in the ultimate millennium.

 David Robertson is Associate Director of Solas CPC in Dundee and minister at St Peter’s Free Church. Follow him on Twitter @TheWeeFlea.


  1. Thanks David, part of the temptation is that pre/post/A speculation is such fun – and allows some to show off. I certainly haven’t heard as much about the subject as I did during my PB days. As you point out the important point is that regardless of our position on this subject (as with many others) there are only two groups of people in the world: once born and twice born. BTW as I remember it it was only some British who are from the lost tribes. It’s not impossible and it might explain why when I was in Israel, Palestinian friends told jokes about the Englishman the Jew and the Scotsman!

  2. I wish Alan had continued and shared the joke.

    Your article brought several memories to mind . The first was a discussion with a Free Church student in the seventies . The second , I brought the two reeled movie , Thief in the Night to show in our church. It’s impact left us none the wiser as I played the second reel first ! I guess I am still open to persuasion.

    1. The jokes were the same, only the butts thereof were different and 40+ years later I can’t remember them anyway.

  3. 34 Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
    ‘A man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
    a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
    36 A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household
    37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me;
    38 and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.
    39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
    Christ’s message has been lost. John Bunyan is the true Christian and it his Christian that tells by fable the truth. It is Christian’s progress from the idea that ‘he-is-his-body’ to the truth of the Spirit shown by the Lord that our true nature is, always was and always will be in Him.
    The body is our cross.
    The ego – the identification ‘I am this body’.
    The killing of the ego through Self-enquiry and faith is the crucifixion of this idea.
    The survival of Soul from the death of the ego, and its Shining forth in Him
    Is our Resurrection.
    Thus it needs to be recognised that life-in-the-flesh will always be the hell people so want to talk about. But it is God’s ordinance that this shall be so and therefore it is a sacred struggle. We are called to drag the cross of the ego until He purifies our minds. It is our Via Dolorosa. The original sin is the mind that conceives itself separate from Him not any other imagination and it will never end until humankind recognises the real Teaching of Jesus Christ. No family, no society, no absurd sexual preference, no dead violence of a dead islam, no clever arguments, opinions, beliefs or wars can stand in the way of this Power. It is happening now as much as in any other history.

      1. Very droll. Yes it would be very unfair to refer to any of Dawkis works as wee books. Im certain that Dawkins books have nothing to do with this. And certainly have no fantasies contained within. Of course im referring to the fantasy that is the bible.

  4. Who?
    This is a combination of Gnosticism and Greek philosophy. Spiritual world good, physical world bad. Why, after creation, did God say, good and very good? Why did God take flesh in Christ Jesus?
    Largely, the “flesh” you described is hostility to, rejection of, God.
    It’s fascinating that you revert to Freudian psychological words, like ego.
    Why was Christ given a resurrection body? Why will we? Why will there be a new heaven and earth. if the physical, material world is bad?
    A Christian’s identity is in their Union with Christ.

    1. Your 5 ‘Why’s’ are not enquiring but statements of a dying and weak dogma. It is of no wonder that the Church is so beset and confused. The world of matter is neither good nor evil. It is innocent. You are not your beliefs. But if you do not ask deeply who you really are you will become them and as such will suffer the ignorance of them.
      Know Thyself and thus know God. This knowing is not any opinion, not any thought but will take you beyond the dead world of ideas to the vital living present. This is the ‘second coming’. Christ thunderously teaches that He was before Abraham in other words He revealed Truth not any new truth because there isn’t any ‘new truth’. Only one timeless Truth and It is before you now.

  5. Thanks for sharing – and for your open mindedness! I’ve often felt the same way – that Revelation is incredibly symbolic and enigmatic, meant to encourage us in our walk and give us confidence for our end, not to give us a blueprint or playbook. Which means any of these views could end up being the way God plays it all out – and we should be careful not to judge everyone as “incorrect” since we might be the ones assuming too much! Blessings to you as you continue to teach and learn!

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