The word millennium was probably vaguely familiar to most people in the early and mid-1900s, but as the year 2000 approached, it became a very familiar word, especially given the Y2K panic that hit the world in the 1990s. Y2K—shorthand for “Year 2000”—referred to the fear many people had of a social, industrial, and financial meltdown if, beginning in the year 2000, computers were to interpret 00 as 1900 instead of 2000. By then everyone knew what millennium meant. It comes from two Latin words: mille, which means 1,000, and annum, which means year. Just as a decade is ten years and a century is 100 years, so a millennium is 1,000 years. That’s a long time, but it has happened repeatedly in earth’s history.
The millennium in Revelation
Most people are aware that the biblical book of Revelation refers to a 1,000-year period that will begin with Christ’s second coming, and it too is commonly spoken of as “the millennium,” even though the word millennium doesn’t appear in the Bible. And since Revelation is filled with so many strange symbols and mysteries, we might expect its account of the millennium to be a riddle too. Instead, we find a relatively simple sequence of events.
The Bible’s millennium will begin with the second coming of Christ. Revelation 20:4 says that God’s people “came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” God’s people will “come to life” in the resurrection at Jesus’ second coming. Only then can Revelation’s millennium begin.
Jesus will take these resurrected saints to heaven along with all of His followers who live to see Him come, and everyone will spend the 1,000 years in heaven with Him. John 14:1–3 suggests this sequence of events. Shortly before Jesus returned to heaven, He told His disciples that He would soon be leaving them to go be with His Father, and this worried them. But He assured them, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus is now in heaven (Hebrews 8:1, 2), and when He returns, He will take us there to be with Him.
What about the wicked?
They will remain on planet Earth—not alive, but slain by the brightness of Jesus’ second coming (2 Thessalonians 1:8–10; 2:8; Revelation 19:21).
Where will Satan be during the millennium? Revelation says that he will be imprisoned in “the Abyss” “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years [are] ended. After this [after the 1,000 years], he must be set free for a short time” (Revelation 20:3).
Think of it. With no one to deceive, torment, or tempt, Satan will pass the time contemplating his crimes, pondering lost opportunities, and awaiting execution. He will have 1,000 years to behold the results of his rebellion against God!
By contrast, heaven will resound with celebration as the redeemed praise God for their deliverance from the earth with its sin and suffering. And what sights will meet their eyes! Their most fantastic dreams about heaven won’t come near to what the reality will be—the brilliance of the green grass, the vastness of God’s throne room, and the joy of seeing Jesus with their own eyes and hearing His voice with their own ears!
There will be one problem, though. As people search anxiously for friends and loved ones, cries of delight will mingle with tears of disappointment, for some searches will culminate in reunions, while others will end in loss. Felons, traitors, and criminals will be in heaven because they accepted Jesus and gave up their sinful ways. On the other hand, many people who appear saintly today will remain in their graves on Earth during the millennium, under sentence of eternal death.
Seeing who is there and who isn’t will certainly give rise to some questions. You may wonder why the kindly pastor from your youth group is not in heaven, yet over there you spot the sixth-grade teacher who treated you cruelly. How did she get here?
Where will the answers to questions like these come from? God has provided for that!
Learning the truth
In Revelation 20:4 John said, “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them” (KJV), and in 1 Corinthians 6:1–3 Paul said that God’s people will judge the world and angels. The record of each human being’s life and of God’s dealings with him or her will be opened for review. God will welcome this scrutiny. Indeed, He is providing the millennium for that very purpose—to give us the opportunity to satisfy ourselves that He has chosen the right companions for us for eternity.
In the record books of heaven we’ll find stories of grace triumphant. We’ll read breath-taking accounts of souls rescued from deepest depravity and transformed into radiant piety. Unfortunately, we’ll also read tales of tragedy, of grace spurned. God’s unerring records will peel away the pious veneer of outward appearance, revealing the pride, spite, and pettiness within human hearts. The faults of all human beings who are lost will be on display—along with God’s efforts to redeem them.
Each of us who reaches heaven will have a thousand years to leaf through the heavenly records and confirm for ourselves God’s justice. Reading of His patient dealings with each individual will quiet our fears. Grief for absent loved ones will be relieved by the knowledge that they would not be happy in heaven.
One more chance?
Although the saints’ inspection of the records in heaven will confirm God’s justice, some might wonder what would happen if the wicked had just one more chance. Might they renounce their selfishness and accept God’s rule in their lives? C. S. Lewis responded to this thought: “[Some say] that death ought not be final, that there ought to be a second chance. I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given.”
Actually, at the close of the millennium, the wicked will receive that second chance. God will free Satan and raise his human followers to life in the second resurrection. Revelation 20:5 says that “the rest of the dead”—the wicked—will come to life when the thousand years have ended. Then “Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations . . . to gather them for battle. . . . They marched across the . . . earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves” (verses 7, 8).
As soon as the wicked rise from their graves, Satan will rally them. The religious, political, and military leaders of all the ages will join forces. Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler, David Koresh, and Jim Jones, along with many others, will relish this opportunity to show that they still have the power to mesmerize their fanatical followers.
However, this “second chance” after the second resurrection will only yield a second insurrection, a final rebellion, which will remove all doubt from the minds of the redeemed about God’s justice. Satan will deceive all his followers one last time, inspiring them to attempt to storm the New Jerusalem and take it by force. Then God’s loyal followers will understand that a million second chances would only yield a million rebellions.
The lake of fire
Fortunately, God will bring this pathetic exhibition of self-will to a merciful end. Revelation says that fire will come down from heaven and devour the wicked. Surely at this moment the lost will finally realize, even if for only an instant, the true nature of their condition. They cannot prevail, and they will not submit. Even if they could take the city, they would only destroy it and each other. Their selfish willfulness has put happiness out of their reach forever.
“The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur,” and “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (verses 10, 15).
This fire will totally consume them, for “this is the second death” (verse 14, KJV). A merciful God will not allow the wicked to suffer eternal torture. That would only perpetuate sin. No, the wicked will be reduced to ashes (Malachi 4:3).
Those ashes will give way to the greatest urban renewal project of all time, for God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5, KJV). And Peter wrote that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
The millennium will have served its purpose. God’s new heaven and earth will be founded on trust, because every inhabitant will have had a thousand years to review the record of God’s dealing with sin and sinners, ensuring that each one has absolute confidence in God’s mercy and His justice. Because of the millennium, each one will know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God has saved and transformed as many as would let Him. They will know that He reluctantly ended the miserable existence of the wicked only after they had rejected every opportunity for change.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wonder where you’ll spend the biblical millennium. Today—right now—you can ask Jesus to come into your heart, and you’ll know that your name is written in the book of life.
No doubt about it!