“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” (Rev 20:6)
I was asked some time back to give a study that would include eternity to come, and the early Church’s belief in a millennium, or what is often called the 1000 year reign, or the kingdom age of Messiah. These are pretty broad subjects. I’ll limit my sharing to what I think will best help my readers.
Let’s begin with what is called the millennial age. It is in the book of Revelation that we find the subject of a millennial reign. Yet it is very interesting that the concept of a 1000 year reign is taught both in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, in Zoroastrianism, and in other oriental religions. Seems this idea is deeply embedded in nearly all religions.
Here we can take note of how the earliest Christian writers approached the idea of a millennium. Keep in view that these writers were the closest to the time of the apostles.
According to the Apostle John
Once again, John is the apostolic writer who calls attention to a thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. He references the thousand-year reign six times in Revelation 20:2-7.
John seems to be pretty clear on the issue of a thousand-year time when Satan is placed in captivity. But the question that we want to answer is how did other early believers look at this idea of a thousand-year reign?
The answer is that nearly all the earliest Christian writers believed in a literal thousand-year reign. When I speak of the earliest writers, I am including second and third generation disciples. This would include those who were nearest to the apostolic age.
Here are some quotes:
#1) Papias cited by Eusebius (Papias was a disciple of the Apostle John and a friend of Polycarp; 60-130 ad): “Among these things, Papias says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth.”
#2) Justin Martyr (c. 160); “There was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem.”
#3) Hippolytus (c. 205); “The Sabbath is the type and symbol of the future kingdom of the saints, when they shall reign with Christ after He comes from heaven, as John says in his Revelation. For ‘a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.’”
#4) Tertullian (c. 207); “We do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven. Only, it will be in another state of existence. For it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem ‘let down from heaven.’”
#5) Victorinus (c. 280); “The true Sabbath will be in the seventh millennium of years, when Christ will reign with His elect.”
#6) Lactantius (c. 340); “Back then a mortal and imperfect man was formed from the earth, so that he might live a thousand years in this world. So, now, from this earthly age is formed a perfect man. And, being quickened by God, he will bear rule in this same world through a thousand years.”
#7) Irenaeus (c. 180); “The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous will bear rule, after their rising from the dead. It is also the time when the creation will bear fruit with an abundance of all kinds of food, having been renovated and set free. And all of the animals will feed on the vegetation of the earth. They will become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and they will be in perfect subjection to man. And these things are borne witness to in the fourth book of the writings of Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp.”
#8) Commodianus (240); “The Amen sends flames on the nations. And the Medes and Persians burn for a thousand years, as the apocalyptic words of John declare. After a thousand years, they will be delivered over to Gehenna. And he whose work they were is burned up with them.”
More on The Age to Come
That there was to be an age to come that precedes the eternities of God is very much described in the Scriptures. Isaiah is replete with descriptions of that age. Rather than go through the many references, let’s consider this one;
“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus. It will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given it the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Isaiah 35:2)
Then we have the teaching of Jesus. In the beatitudes, the Lord said,
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
This is a near quote from the book of Psalms;
“But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Psalm 37:11)
An important point to keep in mind is that before the apostolic writings were collected, the Bible of the earliest believers was simply the writings of Moses, of David, and the prophets.
The Hebrew people very much believed in a Messianic age. Their Bible was filled with descriptions of that certain age.
Sons of the Resurrection
Perhaps we need to consider the word for ‘age.’ The Greek word is ‘aion.’ Aion generally refers to a unit of time. (The context determines its usage.)
The Lord seemed to have the kingdom age in view, when he said,
“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36)
This statement by Jesus ties in with that John had to say about the resurrection and the thousand-year reign. He said,
“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” (Rev20:6)
Then when John speaks of thrones being set up at the end of the thousand-year reign, Paul had this to say:
“Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the matters of this life.” (1Co6:3)
The Longings of Eternity
No matter where the thousand-year reign fits in God’s program for the ages, there has always been in the hearts of God’s people a longing for their eternal destiny.
Moses looked upon the tribal people, and said,
“Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” (Psalm 90:1)
Moses must have had a deep longing in his heart for the things of eternity. Psalm 90 is a most precious Psalm. Since Moses was a prophet he was able to see into the far distant future.
Then we have the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 30, that John calls attention to in Revelation. It is called,
‘Song of Moses the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.’ (Rev15:3)
Psalm 90 is similar to the Song of Moses in that it touches on eternal issues while reaching into the deep of our soul. We hear Moses say,
“O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (v14)
But there is something else that Moses says that each believer should take to heart. The man of God says,
“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (v12)
It is this last statement that gives us pause for reflection. How is it that learning to number our days will cause us to have a heart of wisdom? It all comes back to our allotted space of time.
Moses knew that his time-space was only a moment in comparison to eternity. He also knew that God’s people needed to keep this truth ever before them. It is as the apostle said that our life is like a vapor that appears but for a moment.
Moses’ entire life was wrapped up in doing God’s will in whatever space of time had been given to him. How about you? Do you feel the same about your space of time?
In Psalm 90 Moses also marked out the general life span given to humanity. He said,
“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years…” (v10)
Certainly some folk live beyond the eighty years. Some live much less. Our allotted space of time is not for us to know. But it is a truth none the less. We have only so much time to live. No more. No less.
Our Allotted Times on Earth
David also drew attention to our allotted days. Being a prophet himself, David wrote,
“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
But David also gave us a glimpse into wisdom. He ended Psalm 139 in saying,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (vv23,24)
David knew that he was not free from sinful attitudes and thoughts. This remains true today. Even the most godly of believers still have to bring their thought life into check. But like all true believers, David did not want anything in his life that would be offensive to a walk of holiness. (Nor should we.)
Then where David says, “Lead me in the everlasting way,” he was speaking of the ‘way of the Lord,’ that is, he wanted to keep his focus clear on God’s path of redemption.
The Everlasting Way
Perhaps we should point out that David’s Lord is the very same Lord that new covenant believers love and serve. Sometimes it is hard for us to grasp this. But when David wrote, “The Lord says to MY Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet,’” he was calling attention to the One who would be incarnate as Jesus Christ. Jesus carefully brought attention to this. So, David’s Lord was Jesus Christ, though he did not know Him by that name at the time.
Keep in mind that the term ‘the everlasting way’ always has a view to God’s redemption story. David had much more to say about this Jesus Christ whom both he and we love. In fact all the prophets wrote about Jesus. Abraham saw Him.
This is why the writing prophets described future redemptive and historical events with such clearness that it is astonishing. But they wrote in what is called ‘prophetic perfects.” This means that when they wrote, it was as though they were actually present at the time of the event. They recorded what was being revealed to them in the Spirit.
This is the primary reason the apostle said that we should never exceed the writings of the ‘prophets.’
So, as a prophet, David spoke and wrote in prophetic perfects. This is why he could describe the events of the cross with such vividness. David literally recorded the words and even the thoughts of Jesus as He hung on the cross. Notice how Psalm 22 begins;
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
And so about the everlasting way, David further writes,
“Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth [this is Jesus], and righteousness looks down from heaven [this is the Father].”
Then he writes,
“Righteousness will go before Him AND WILL MAKE HIS FOOTSTEPS INTO A WAY.” (Psalm 85:10-13. Caps for emphasis only.)
The Footsteps of Eternity
What did David mean about God making the footsteps of Jesus into a way? He wasn’t speaking of ‘a’ way as though there were other ways. David is speaking towards the finished work of the cross. Jesus Himself said,
“I am the [everlasting] way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus is the Way of God. Jesus is the Truth of God. Jesus is the Life of God. It was His footsteps in the earth that opened the portals of heaven for the saving of all who would believe in Him.
Jesus walked out of heaven, into our earth. He walked our planet, loving, healing, preaching, teaching, and presenting Himself as the Messiah and Savior of humanity. He was placed on a cross. He walked out of the tomb. He ascended into heaven. And His footsteps became our salvation.
Jesus said to Peter,
“Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” (John 13:36)
Jesus had to first enter into heaven on our behalf, bringing His own blood for the atonement sacrifice. When the sacrifice was accepted, that opened the door for all who believe to follow in His footsteps. In fact His life has become our life.
Completing Our Course
Time marches on. It waits for no man.
I was twenty-four years old when the Lord called me to the ministry. I am now seventy-one. And the older I get the more I appreciate the Lord’s adage for completing my course of life. It is so simple and yet so profound. Jesus said,
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt6:33)
Notice that Jesus didn’t tell us to seek a certain religion, or to seek to be right about everything, or to seek to make a name for ourselves, or to seek to be a corrector of everyone else.
Seeking the kingdom is a Hebraisms. It means to seek the direct rule of God in our hearts and lives. We are to do this day by day by day. This is true wisdom.
Peter understood this as well as anyone. In alluding to the Psalm of Moses, Peter writes,
“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.” (1Pe1:24)
Thus life as we know it now is like a fading flower.
Perhaps there are questions left to ask – Is your name written in the Lamb’s book of life? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your own Lord and Savior? Have you turned from your sinful living? Are you serving Him with a true heart of faith?
As for me, I thank you, my brother Moses. I’m on the same page as you. I agree fully with how you concluded your wonderful Psalm, when you said,
“Let Your work appear to Your servants and Your majesty to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:16,17)
This does need sober thinking. Nor does it take away from the joy of our walk with Jesus. It simply puts things into a better perspective. Are there any adjustments you need to make? Think about it. God has allotted you a space of time. What will you do with it?
Take time for this song. The Lord wants to speak to your heart.
In Christ always,