Does “Y2K” mean anything to you? If you owned a computer back in December 1999, there’s a good chance you were very worried. So was I. So was pretty much every computer nerd, from high-ranking Microsoft people to your uncle with the pocket-protector who learned computers back in their punch-cards days. We worried that at the stroke of midnight on December 31, when the year 2000 dawned—the new millennium—computers all over the world would wink out, or at least hiccup hard enough to cause banking and stock exchange and power grid chaos.
As it turned out, Y2K was pretty much a big nothing. My own computer purred steadily through the midnight hours, and aside from a few minor glitches around the world, civilization didn’t collapse.
However, while Y2K was a minor event, the Bible tells us about a one-thousand-year period that’s so crucially important, you and I need to understand as much about it as possible.
For starters, the word millennium is a combination of two Latin words, mille, which means “one thousand,” and annus, which means “years.” The Bible’s one thousand years are mentioned in only one chapter—Revelation 20. Here are the prophet John’s opening words:
“I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time” (Revelation 20:1–3).
Do you see what I mean by major? The capture and imprisonment of Satan for a thousand years is extremely significant to everyone who’s ever been tempted by him! To get the clearest picture possible, we need to find out when and where these thousand years will happen.
When will the millennium begin?
Back in the late 1800s, people thought the millennium had already begun or, at least, that it would begin shortly. They rejoiced at the many technological advances that scientists and engineers were creating, which made travel and communication much more rapid than ever before: trains; telegraph; steamboats; and, in the very late 1800s, the telephone. Advances in printing made the production and distribution of newspapers, magazines, and books much easier. And there were moral and health reforms, such as the women’s right to vote, the abolition of slavery, and vegetarianism.
The great hope was that people would finally become too smart to fight. What a wonderful idea! Christians caught the excitement. They believed that through these technological advances, faith in Jesus would spread quickly around the planet, and this progressive time would usher in the Bible’s millennium.
But then came World War I, which was followed by World War II and the Holocaust, and the brutal reality became clear: human nature couldn’t be changed by more learning and the broadcasting of ideas more widely. It was a noble concept—but it was also wishful thinking.
Furthermore, the Bible doesn’t say that the millennium will begin through our human scientific, technological, and educational advancement.
As we saw in the verses above, a great angel will be given the power to incarcerate Satan so completely that he won’t be able to deceive anyone for a thousand years. And this gives us a clue about when the millennium will begin. Has there ever been a thousand-year period since Eden when Satan hasn’t deceived people? History’s long, bloody trail answers no. Second, is the devil still deceiving people now? A quick glance at your favorite newspaper or media source with its reports of God’s shattered commandments says of course he is. So, since the devil still remains unshackled, this means that the start of the millennium is still in the future.
Revelation 20:4 gives us another clue about when the millennium will begin. It says that God’s people “came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” So the millennium will begin with the resurrection of God’s people who have died in ages past. And Paul said this will happen at Christ’s second coming. He said, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). When Jesus returns, the first thing He will do is raise His faithful people of all ages from their tombs.
Where will we spend the millennium?
In John 14:1–3, Jesus made it very clear that we will spend the millennium in heaven with Him. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1–3, NKJV).*
Where is “the Father’s house” that Jesus said He would be going to? Well, where is your house? It’s where you live, right? And God the Father’s house is where He lives. Many Bible verses call this place heaven. John, the disciple who recorded these words, was even more specific in Revelation 21, where He gives us a dazzling view of the Holy City, also called New Jerusalem. And it’s made of gold and many precious jewels. In verse 2 of chapter 21, John relates some even more amazing news: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2, italics added), and this will occur after the millennium in chapter 20.
So far, so good. But here’s where we need to study even more carefully, because a common evangelical belief is that when Jesus comes the second time, at the beginning of the millennium, He will land right here on the earth, and at that time, He will set up His kingdom on this planet and reign for a thousand years. But if this belief is true, it makes some other Bible passages untrue.
For one thing, we’ve just seen that Jesus told His disciples He would be going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, which is in heaven and that He will come again to take them—and us—to live in those mansions or rooms. And since these dwellings are clearly in the Holy City, and that city is still in heaven, that’s where we’ll go when He has come for us.
Also, Paul said very clearly that when Jesus returns, we won’t remain on this earth. Instead, we will rise in the air to meet Jesus: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
Can you see the emphasis on levitation? The dead in Christ will rise, and the living righteous will be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air. Why would the Savior catch them up into the air and then immediately return them to Earth? The simplest explanation is that Jesus has returned to catch up His saints and take them to those mansions He has prepared for them.
Christ’s kingdom on the earth?
Another popular evangelical idea says that the righteous and the wicked will live together here on the earth during the millennium. But according to both Revelation 6:14 and 16:17–20, at Jesus’ second coming, there will be an earthquake so powerful that it will cause the mountains and the islands to flatten out. A global earthquake that powerful wouldn’t just sink mountains and islands. It would also collapse all the world’s cities, highways, bridges, and every other bit of infrastructure. Do you think that God will ask His people to live in that kind of environment after Jesus’ returns? We would have to spend decades making the world a livable place!
Many Christians also believe that when God sets up His kingdom on the earth during the millennium, the wicked will live together with the righteous. But there’s a very powerful reason to reject that idea. It’s totally at odds with one of Jesus’ second coming parables. He said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:31–33, emphasis added).
So when Jesus returns, the righteous and the wicked will be separated from each other. And the next several verses tell how He decides who are the “sheep” and who are the “goats.” The sheep have shown active compassion to the helpless and the suffering, and the goats have ignored them.
At this point, someone might say, “Well, that’s good. During His millennial reign on earth, Jesus will have a lot of time to educate the goats to become sheep.” But that’s not what will happen. Instead “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ ” (verses 33–24)
And watch what will happens to the “goats.” After pointing out their callous lack of compassion, Jesus “will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (verse 41). So when Jesus returns, He will separate the good and the bad, and they will be separated forever.
The question you and I each need to ask ourselves is this: Am I ready for Jesus to return? If you aren’t sure, I recommend that you begin reading the Gospel of John. Get acquainted with the Son of God, who came to show us what God is really like and to die for our sins. Repent of your sins, and accept His free gift of righteousness! And you will live with Him in a perfect heaven a thousand years and for the rest of eternity in a world made new!
Maylan Schurch serves as a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Renton, Washington, USA. He is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
* Bible verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.