While the millennium is only mentioned by name in Revelation 20, there are other passages that deal specifically with the end of the age, of which the millennium is a part. So today we’ll outline a couple of them to see if we can place the millennium correctly.
This passage is also known as the Olivet Discourse. The disciples comment on the greatness of the temple. Jesus replies that the temple will be destroyed again one day (vv.1-2).
The disciples ask Jesus when that will take place and what will signify his return and the end of the age. Jesus replies that many will mislead them and try to say that they are Jesus. There will be horrific events people misinterpret to be a sign of the end of the age. However, these mark the beginning, not the end (vv.3-8).
Then, there will be tribulation and persecution that leads many professing believers to recant their faith. More false prophets will come in Christ’s name. However, true believers will endure to the end and be saved while the gospel is preached to all nations. That tribulation, Jesus says, marks the end of the age (vv.9-14). It seems as though Jesus answers their last question first.
Jesus them zooms in on the destruction of the temple. It will be quite clear what is going on, and people will flee. That will also cause tribulation, but out of God’s mercy for the elect, it will have a predetermined end time. More people will claim that Christ has returned, but again, this marks the beginning and not the end (vv.15-28).
All tribulation ends, and the sign of Christ’s return couldn’t be more obvious. He’ll appear in the sky for all the world to see. At this time, Christ will gather his people (vv.29-31).
Jesus then gives an illustration of what he’s just said. In the same way a fig tree blossoms and is the evidence that summer is near, the end of tribulation and God’s people being caught up with Christ is the sign of the end of this age (vv.32-35).
Jesus then reinforces the importance of not being mislead about any of this. People will misinterpret the sign of his coming, claiming that it has happened. The truth is that only God the Father knows when all of this will take place. Therefore, we must always be alert and ready for tribulation to begin (vv.36-51).
So, let’s simplify this timeline:
1. Great tribulation begins. It will not last forever.
2. Christ returns after the tribulation and receives his people.
Matthew 25 expands upon this material, but Jesus does so in parable (the ten virgins, which is all about being ready for an undisclosed moment, and the talents, which is about God’s judgment). Matthew 25 ends with more on the final judgment, which takes place after the tribulation and return of Christ. This also comes to us in parable form (the separation of the sheep and the goats).
You might be asking, so where exactly is the millennium? In the context of Matthew 24-25, it must take place after Christ’s return to receive the elect. This would be the essence of the premillennial position.
Now let’s outline 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where the Lord’s return is also described.
Paul is comforting those Christians who have lost loved ones who were also believers. When Christ returns, the dead will be raised (vv.13-15). At that same time, he will descend with the angels, and the dead believers will be resurrected. The living believers will be changed. Together, all believers will meet Christ in the air (vv.16-18).
This passage is often used to describe an event known as the rapture. While it does describe believers meeting Christ in the air at his return, the notion of a secret, rather quiet disappearance of believers was essentially unknown until John Nelson Darby in the early 1800s. The consequence of inserting a new component to the Lord’s imminent return is the addition of multiple stages and phases that are seemingly quite absent from Scripture.
What Paul is teaching in this passage is the imminent return of Christ, and at that time, all believers will be with him from that point on. Call it a rapture if you’d like (after all, the original Greek for “caught up” is “raptura”), but it does not seemingly add another phase to Christ’s return. Christ returns, the dead in Christ are raised, and it is after this resurrection that we can place the millennium if we read Revelation 20 as a sequence of events.
So, I generally hold to the historic premillennial, posttribulational position. The return of Christ is not a multi-phase return, but a single event in which multiple things take place. I believe that Christ returns in Revelation 19:11 and everything that comes after is a description of a sequence of events. At his return, the dead are raised and the living are changed into their glorified bodies.
There are still yet passages to consider, but we're at the point where we need to start arguing for a position. How we interpret passages about the future of Israel and temple worship will also have a direct impact on how we understand the millennium.
I’m open to correction on certain points, but I believe dispensationalism falters far more than the historic premillennial position.
Let’s look at some Old Testament! See you next week.