Of all the aspects of eschatology, the doctrine of the last things, perhaps none is more controversial than the millennium. Even in an era when many people do not devote much effort to studying theology, much time is spent trying to figure out the teaching on the millennium in Revelation 20:1–6.
The different millennial positions can be attributed in part to the highly symbolic nature of the language in Revelation. It can be difficult to know when to take the book figuratively and when to take it literally. Furthermore, Revelation 20:1–6 is the only passage in Scripture that deals with the millennial reign of Christ explicitly. Because the data is sparse, there is a greater propensity for divergence in interpretation because there is little else to directly confirm one’s view.
In the history of Christian theology, three major millennial views have been advocated. First is the premillennial view. This position holds that the one thousand years in Revelation should be read as an actual time designation, that when Christ returns He will reign over an earthly kingdom that will last for a literal one thousand years, after which the new heavens and earth will arrive.
The amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 affirms a figurative view of the millennium. The entire period between the ascension and return of Christ is the millennium, which means that it is much longer than an actual one thousand years. Christ is ruling now over a spiritual kingdom that will be immediately consummated at His return, and the new heavens and earth will then be in place.
Finally, the postmillennial position agrees with amillennialism that the millennium will take place before the return of Jesus. However, postmillennialism holds that there will be a time of widespread peace and prosperity before Christ’s return that will result from the preaching of the gospel. Great numbers of people will be converted and society will be transformed, and then Jesus will return. This is different from amillennialism, which says things will mostly continue as they are until Christ returns, with the gospel spreading widely in some places and being resisted in others.
Good and godly Christians have differed over this matter, so it is difficult to hold any of these views too strongly. Whatever view one holds, what we must affirm is that Christ is ruling and reigning over the cosmos now. For He has been exalted to God’s right hand and must reign until all things are put under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25).