Life in the Age to Come

That’s what our Creed, the Nicene Creed, leads us to confess weekly (if we are in that sort of segment of the church). Notice what we confess: “We believe in … the life of the age to come.” We believe life has the final word, not death; we look death in the eye and through death into life, endless and boundless. The Age to Come has a supporting line in the Creed that says this: “… is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will not end.”

Do you believe in a (literal) millennium? Or do you think it is a “symbol”? If so, of what?

But Ronald Heine, in the final chapter in his excellent primer Classical Christian Doctrine, sketches in his final chapter the “millennium.” Why? Because it is a point of contention in the church and deserves discussion. Resurrection, judgment, and the saints in the millennium for 1000 years (that’s what “millennium” means).

Bible: the only place we see a millennium is Revelation 20. Here are the verses:

Rev. 20:1    And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 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.

Rev. 20:4    I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

Rev. 20:7    When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison…

Heine shows how Rev 20 was combined with texts like Psalm 90:4 and the seven days of creation to fill in ideas, but the big idea was that the millennium is to be a time of peace, fertility, renewal of Jerusalem, and a new temple. In addition, Jewish texts — like 1 and 2 Enoch — were mined for more information, or the information there passed into Christian thinking too.

Papias was an early witness to the millennium. So, too, was Irenaeus, who sees a renewed earth. For Irenaeus it is designed to accustom saints for the glory of God, ie a time of “disciplining for incorruption.” Then time passes into eternity. Justin Martyr fits into this kind of thinking about the millennium. Tertullian, too; and Hippolytus. Mostly these theologians enlargen what is seen in Revelation 20.

But some denied a literal millennium. Like Origen who thought this kind of thinking was too earthy and fleshy. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, also countered millennium thinking by saying Revelation is not to be interpreted literally. Ambrose saw the millennium as a kind of purgatory. Tyconius thought it referred to the church age. Augustine’s view seems similar to Irenaeus at one time but later seems to be more like Tyconius.

No one was denounced as a heretic on how they interpreted the millennium. Most of us have followed suit.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

    I believe in the millennium: In a time period after Jesus returns, and before New Earth. Now, is it a literal thousand years? No idea.

  • gingoro

    While I accept what the Nicene Creed says about the world to come I have no real idea what to do with Revelation’s picture of the end times and thus in practice ignore it. God will rule thro Christ justly.
    DaveW

  • Rick

    Should the view of Irenaeus perhaps get special attention due to his association with Polycarp, and thus John (assuming John wrote Rev.)?

  • http://www.wheretoreach.us/ T Freeman

    I don’t think so. My main reason is that there’s not much reason to think that John knew either. How many prophets knew all that was meant by what they prophesied? They know what they saw/heard, but not necessarily all that it means.

  • KentonS

    I was on a FB conversation yesterday and the question of whether we should revisit the book of Revelation for canonicity came up. I flirt with the idea that we should.

  • Orton1227

    The Jews believed in two ages: the Jewish age and the Age of Messiah. Jesus in Matthew 24 and parallel passages ties the passing of the age to the temple’s destruction and says it would happen in THAT generation.
    Hebrews speaks of the temple priesthood as priests of “that” age, the one about to disappear, and of Christ as the priest of the age to come. Hebrews, in chapters 8-10, ties the changing of the covenants to the temple’s destruction and the passing away of the old traditions and rituals (including priesthood).
    The only logical conclusion is that we know live in the “age to come”. That’s not as exciting as floating around in total bliss, but we have heaven for that. I think the Bible uses strong imagery for the “age to come” that sounds blissful, which the change to the new age WAS blissful for those early Jewish Christians. For so long they had lived lives of futility, apart from God once they died. But in this new age, the relationship was restored! Life came! The dichotomy between those two things cannot be understated. We just have a hard time understanding it because most of us were brought up under the dispensational thinking.
    There are a number of great books on the subject. Glen Hill’s “Christianity’s Greatest Dilemma”, Alan Bondar’s “Reading the Bible Through New Covenant Eyes” and a slew of Don Preston’s books, found on eschatology.org. Also, David Curtis is the best preacher I’ve ever heard and teaches the changing of the ages so well. His sermons can be found at bereanbiblechurch.org.
    Give these thoughts a fair shake. Be bereans and investigate how they match up with Scripture. Be honest with yourself and the text.

  • KentonS

    The first words in the “The Sound of Music”: The hills are alive with the Sound of Music/With songs they have sung for *a*thousand*years*

    Or from David Bowie’s “Golden Years”: “I’ll stick with you, baby, for *a*thousand*years*/Nothing’s gonna touch in these Golden Ye-e-ears/Go-o-o-olden Years”

    Two examples where the phrase “a thousand years” isn’t meant to mean 365,253 days (or 365,254 days depending on where the leap years fall). I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think the Revelator was being literal when he uses the term. Especially when you read the rest of the book with its beasts of the sea with 7 heads and 10 horns and beast of the land with 10 heads and 7 horns, etc.

  • scotmcknight

    Do you mean “not literal”?

  • Orton1227

    And just to be clear, I’m not trying to hijack/be devisive/be crazy :> Once I studied these things myself, the whole Bible felt “unlocked” and I understood Revelation and Romans and Hebrews and the Gospels finally. The whole Bible is the story of Israel. There’s the age of national Israel and the age to come, which is the True Israel (for not all Israel are true Israel, as Paul says), which is the church. If you exegete eschatological passages with western eyes, you’ll miss everything. If you look at it through the eyes of Israel, you’ll see.

  • Orton1227

    10 being symbolic for “completion” in ancient numerology seems to fit. 10×10 = 1000. So it’s like the revelator is saying it’s finished for all time. No more shifts in history, a la creation, the flood, the Christ event.

  • KentonS

    Yes. (whoops!)

  • Norman

    Kenton,
    I’m not a big fan of assigning canonicty to books as it’s a human endeaveor. However if I was, Revelation would stay right there where it belongs. Our inability to decipher apocolyptic shouldn’t be an excuse to dismiss something that is actually comprehensible when one learns the imagerry. I recomend starting with Daniel which has its own built in commentary to explain the vision language employed.

  • KentonS

    I’m not going to suggest that I have a great ability to decipher the imagery, but that’s not what seems to be the problem. The problem is that even after you decipher it, it still reads like a vendetta. It’s almost the SNL skit “Djesus Uncrossed”. That’s not the Jesus of the gospels. That’s not the Jesus of Acts and it’s not the Jesus of the epistles.

    I could be swayed. Indeed on the occasions that I engage in Revelation, I look to avoid it as “@$$-kicking Jesus”, but it always wants to get in the face of the reader.

  • NateW

    I’m convinced that all theological principles are firstly about the present moment, and regard the future insofar as the present moment continues being present eternally. There is no such thing as “future” as we conceive it. As Bob Dylan sings, we’ve “got no future, got no past.” and “The past is nothing but a memory, the future’s never what it’s supposed to be, and I need you…”; The kingdom of heaven is a matter of Hope lived out in the present, of choosing to step forward into love, by faith, rather than remaining comfortably where we are, or desperately grasping to take hold of, know, and control the future.

    I read the “age to come” as that hope which is continually melting into the present with each faithful step we take and each loving decision we make. The age to come is always stepped into, never stood within—with one exception: the moment we first taste the hope of salvation and the full presence of Christ, or, as some might say, the “honeymoon period” after coming to first truly “know and believe the love that God has for us.” This is a period when God graciously allows us to stand still for a moment, basking in the light of his goodness, mercy, and love. Satan is bound, his whispers easily brushed aside, his deceitful words ringing hollow, and his ways laughable. We imagine that this blissful reign of God will last forever, but, just as we start unpacking our suitcase to settle in, it all begins to melt away again. Jesus seems further away, the joy of our salvation (see the psalms where David yearns again to be in gods presence) more difficult to hold on to, and the lies of Satan become harder and harder to ignore until reality seems almost as it did before those first days. What then seemed to extend ahead of us for 1000 now is only a memory, a single day that the sun has set upon. John of the Cross called this the dark night of the soul, but I think it could also be called the end of the millennium, the unbinding of Satan, the darkness of Holy Saturday.

    The millennium is then a literal thing, but not a literal 1000 years and not experienced at the same time or same intensity for everyone. It is the age of Christ's felt presence, of his tender nearness, of his patient teaching, but to remain in this place of comfort is to remain a child, unwilling to leave the house of his parents. We have a tendency to think of heaven as an eternal static bliss and to do our best to achieve that now, but I think that the deepest joy is not a static heaven, but one into which we are continually stepping, continually exploring, and continually discovering. To be thrust over the threshold into the darkness of Christ’s felt absence is necessary if we are to ever know that seeking, asking, and knocking, leads to a deeper and richer joy than to have already found, been answered, and laid down in our home with eternal finality. “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” This dark wilderness is where the Holy Spirit, invisible and unseen can begin to guide us from within into obedience according to the spirit of the law rather than the mere letter. It's in the darkness and tribulation that follows the millennium that we learn to truly love those who share such deep darkness with us, and in laying down our own lives in love for them finding ourselves surprised by joyful re-union with Christ (his second coming), he in us, and us in Him, and finally, when our unified, active, Love has conquered death entirely, All-in-All with the father.

    John 13:31-35
    A New Commandment
    When he had gone out, Jesus said, “ Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘ Where I am going you cannot come. ’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    John 14:15-21
    Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
    “ If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
    “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

    John 14:28-30
    You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you. ’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.“

  • Erwin Morales

    If you want a systematic-theological, not just a biblical or historical-theological, discussion of the millennium, see the writings of Jurgen Moltmann and the responses of his interlocutors.

  • NateW

    If we can escape from the bounds of the Western conception of time (that is, cease to be chained to an interpretation built upon the assumption of a linear progression of events proceeding from our own present viewpoint) and learn to think of spiritual Truth as having to do with the fundamental principles of reality that are active RIGHT NOW (for eternity), then the beauty of Revelation begins to show through. The imagery isn’t about what will happen in the distant future, it’s about what happens as one moment fades into the next. It’s not about the cataclysmic end of all things, it’s about the radical depth of meaning in each step we take and the eternal power of one act or word of love to destroy the dark powers that entangle our neighbors in lies and death.

    It’s not Revelation that’s the problem! It’s our desire to escape from the present moment, to be assured of some future state of bliss, rather than to fully embrace the full weight of what is real, right now, with sincerity and courage.

    Sure, Revelation is about @$$-kicking, but it’s kicking the @$$ of the spiritual personification of @$$-kicking itself! It’s about “Not-God” being eradicated by being filled up with the white hot light of God’s love (as darkness is destroyed in a room when the shutter is flung open), leaving only God, all-in-all. In this very present moment (for eternity) the lamb triumphs over the dragon (while bearing the appearance of being slain) meekness and love break down the strongholds of power and hate, and light cannot be overcome by darkness.

  • KentonS

    Well, that’s the kind of interpretation I can get on board with, NateW! And that’s how I’m trying to read it. But the voices spouting “You better be careful or God’s gonna kick *your* @$$” rhetoric are a lot louder out there. I guess that’s the nature of “power and hate”. They’re very loud.

    Hey, keep it up and I’ll come back around eventually.

  • Norman

    Yes, it appears that way but the battle is won by the sword which is the word of God. So again what appears as vindictive is determined by being able to see the message through eyes not focused on the physical. That works in nicely with the gospel. Apocalyptic is just a veiled method of telling story. Very little to do with physical wars except to recognize them as signs to validate prophetic expectations. It’s really about the time of Nero (Rome),Jews that persecuted the early Christians and Gods promise to bring relief to their suffering.


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