Lawrence Maxwell wrote this article when he was a professor of Church History at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University.

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. Revelation 20:6.

Few topics in the Bible have caught the public fancy or been subjected to so much speculation as the millennium.

Will it happen before Christ comes or after? Will it be spent in heaven or on earth? Or is it merely symbolic and will never really happen?

The account of the millennium really begins in Revelation 19:11, with the coming of Jesus on the white horse. It continues through the destruction of the wicked and the recreation of the earth, ending in Revelation 21:8.

There is only one possible time for the millennium: It has to begin when Jesus comes. There is only one place where the saints can be, and that is in heaven. The wicked are dead, all of them.

Why have the millennium?

The judgment is over. The final destiny of humans and angels has been forever fixed. So why not move forward at once? Sin will never rise again; God has promised. So light the fire! Burn the wicked! Get rid of Satan! Let righteousness reign supreme! Re-create the world! Give the saints full enjoyment of their inheritance now!

Self-condemned by whatever residue of rationality he still retains, Satan is also accused and criticized by the grumbling gangs he goaded to rebel. Taught by his own malice to disobey and cheat the God of love, his legions give him little now but disobedience and disloyalty. What a miserable period the millennium will be for him

Why wait longer?

Why wait a thousand years?

Everything in the Bible must be looked at in terms of the great controversy between Christ and Satan and God's determination that sin will not arise a second time. There are still a few questions left that, if not answered now, could cause trouble later. We can think of some.

Did God decide every case right? Has He condemned some who should have been saved, or brought some to heaven who should have been left out?

What about the millions who lived before Calvary? The heathen? All others who were told little or nothing about Christ and salvation? Has Christ dealt fairly with them?

A time for saints to judge

John tells us that the saints will judge. He says he "saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them." They will go through the records and see why loved ones are not in heaven with them. This will answer any questions they may have in regard to Cod's dealings with those they have held most dear. And they will work with Jesus in deciding how much punishment the impenitent deserve. This will forever remove any danger that some might question whether God was too severe with sinners, or too lenient. Reviewing what she saw in one of her early visions, Ellen G. White described the process vividly (see Early Writings, p. 291).

A time for Satan to worry

The thousand years will be a time for Satan and his angels to tremble in terror, contemplating the fate that awaits them when the millennium ends. They walk about the darkened earth, observing the ruin they have wrought tumbled buildings, broken bridges, empty factories, smashed airplanes, fruitless orchards, deserted crop land, rusting autos, leering skulls of lifeless corpses.

Self-condemned by whatever residue of rationality he still retains, Satan is also accused and criticized by the grumbling gangs he goaded to rebel. Taught by his own malice to disobey and cheat the God of love, his legions give him little now but disobedience and disloyalty. What a miserable period the millennium will be for him.

A time for proof

The thousand years is a time for Satan to prove he can create a world and organize its inhabitants in a happy, prosperous state. At the beginning of the great controversy, he complained when he was left out of the divine committee that planned our earth. It was on this point that the great controversy first broke out. "I saw that when God said to his Son, let us make man in our image, Satan was jealous of Jesus. He wished to be consulted concerning the formation of man" (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 17). It is fitting that the great controversy finish where it started, with Satan given unhindered opportunity to prove that he can create a world as good as the one Jesus created six thousand years ago.

Satan is bound in the "bottomless pit" (Revelation 20:1). The Greek word for "bottomless pit" is the Greek word for "deep" in Genesis 1:2, where the world before Creation is described by the phrase, "darkness was upon the face of the deep." Six thousand years ago, Jesus looked upon the darkened deep and said, "Let there be lights," and there were lights. He said, "Let there be a firmament." "Let the waters ... be gathered . . . and let the dry land appear." "Let us make man in our image" (Genesis 1:3-26). To every command of Jesus, the deep responded obediently; Jesus "spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast" (Psalm 33:9).

For six thousand years, Satan persuaded men and women to attribute creation to idols or to natural forces, or in our scientific age, to blind chance guided by "natural selection." Certainly, in his version, creation didn't need Jesus. Now he has opportunity to exert his creative powers on the same "darkened deep" on which Jesus worked so successfully.

Satan said that his laws were much better than God's, that his great goal was to improve the statutes of Jehovah (see The Great Controversy, p. 498). How very fair of God to give him a thousand years to prove his claims, to show that he can create a world as good as the one Jesus created, and to fill it with inhabitants even more kind, more generous, more loving than the angels that inhabit heaven. No wonder, when the millennium is over and Satan has failed on both claims, saints and angels will praise God for His justice and mercy. Even to His archenemy, He has been supremely gracious.

The thousand years will also give time to prove that Jesus was right in taking to heaven some whom the angels question youth who died before their characters were fully formed, men and women from heathen lands who never heard the name of Christ, autistic and hyperactive persons whose ugly deeds were traceable to conditions about which they were ignorant or over which they had no control. For a thousand years the angels watch these less-favored humans and discover that they fit into heaven perfectly. Jesus was right. They were safe to save.

God knows that the one sure defense against sin is evidence evidence of the terrible consequences of sin compared to the beauty and peace and contentment of love. He intends there shall be enough evidence to ward off sin forever.

The millennium ends

As the thousand years draw to a close, Jesus descends with the saints, and New Jerusalem settles onto the earth. The wicked are raised to life with the same diseases and deformities with which they died. Satan sets to work at once to consolidate their allegiance. He tells them that he resurrected them. He heals them and then, no doubt, gets them busy building huge apartment complexes and factories, repairing bridges and roads, plowing fields, erecting hospitals and prisons. Probably many prisons, for the master lawbreaker generates lawlessness.

New Jerusalem sits on the site of old Jerusalem, resplendent in the glory of God, its gates wide open for passersby to see the beauty of its golden streets and the radiant happiness of its peaceful citizens. Satan tells the resurrected sinners that they deserve to be there, that it is only Jesus who keeps them out, and that it is his intention to win the city for them. He assures them that, if they will attack the city as he directs, they will soon be inside, enjoying all the pleasures Christ denies them.

Sinners who once read Revelation know the plan is doomed, but what other chance have they? Other sinners, already in the habit of believing Satan's lies, believe him now. Perhaps, too, some resurrected preachers of apostate churches assure them that when God sees how much they want inside, He will forgive them in love and permit them to enter.

Plans finally completed, sinners fully trained and armed, Satan gathers his troops "together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea." And, John tells us, "they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city" (Revelation 20:8, 9). Jesus orders the gates closed.

With what intense interest John must have watched these unfolding scenes. Now, as the city s about to be attacked, John says, "I saw a great white throne and him that sat on it... And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works" (Revelation 20:11, 12).

The final judgment

To the accompaniment of the marvelous melodies of heaven's finest choirs, Jesus is crowned in the presence of every soul who ever drew breath in heaven or on earth. Then the final judgment begins.

"As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed" (The Great Controversy, p. 666). They remember the first steps they took in sin. They recall the times their parents or a church school teacher or a pastor pleaded with them to let Jesus bring them victory. They sit again in church or chapel and hear week of prayer sermons and relive altar calls when they scoffed at the strong urging of God's Spirit, and they will admit that God has done everything possible to save them from this day.

Then, Ellen G. White tells us, "above the throne is revealed the cross; and like a panoramic view appear the scenes of Adam's temptation and fall, and the successive steps in the great plan of redemption" with special emphasis on the closing scenes of Christ's sacrifice (The Great Controversy, pp. 666, 667).

When that presentation is over, will Jesus make an altar call? Will He plea with the sinners outside the city to come forward, even at this late date, and ask them to bring their lives into conformity with His will? It would certainly be in harmony with His character to do so.

This we do know, that Jesus' presentation of the plan of salvation, there at the end of the millennium, will be more eloquent than the most persuasive sermon ever preached by the world's most effective evangelists. If any appeal to repentance can reach the hearts of the sinners outside the city, that sermon will. The saints inside will be heartbroken to realize afresh that their salvation was bought at the cost of Jesus' death; they will "raise a song of praise that echoes and reechoes through the vaults of heaven: 'Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb'" (Ibid., p. 665).

But among the sinners outside, not one will respond. Satan has deceived the world into thinking that God keeps sinners out of heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sinners keep themselves out. Character is a lot like concrete. When first mixed, concrete is soft and pliable and can be molded to almost any shape the builder desires. But once it sets, concrete is one of the hardest of substances; it can be chipped or broken, but it can never again be molded. Ellen G. White speaks of the character development of the righteous as "a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved" (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1161). Sinners, likewise, will be fully set in their ways, and nothing, not even the most eloquent presentation by time's most effective Preacher will be able to change them. That is why, however urgently Jesus may appeal, they will have no second probation.

The end of the wicked

Alas, it is all too true that Jesus can do nothing more to save the sinners assembled "over the breadth of the earth." All, wherever they lived, whenever they lived, have now heard the story of salvation. Yet, even in the full light of the cross, they have no intention of bringing their lives into conformity with God's will. The angels are satisfied that Jesus has been abundantly fair with them. All their questions have been answered. There is no need to continue the controversy longer. So, John tells us, "fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them" (Revelation 20:9). What kind of fire this will be is an intriguing question to which we may not know the answer till we ask Jesus.

John, in Revelation 20, calls it fire from heaven and says that earth and heaven fled away.

In Revelation 14, the third angel warns of fire and brimstone and of smoke that ascends for ever and ever.

Malachi likens the final fire to an oven and the wicked, to stubble burning in the stubble field. The saved will walk on the ashes (see Malachi 4:1, 3).

In Matthew 25:41, Jesus speaks of "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Paul warned that sinners are killed by Jesus' "brightness" (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

God told Moses, "There shall no man see me and live" (Exodus 33:20).

Peter wrote, "The heavens and the earth . . . [are] reserved unto fire against the day of judgment." "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. ... All these things shall be dissolved" (2 Peter 3:7, 10, 11).

Ezekiel warned Satan that God would "bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and ... bring thee to ashes" (Ezekiel 28:18).

Putting all these descriptions together, we have a fire that comes down from heaven yet is brought from the midst of Satan. It is likened to burning sulfur, which burns quietly, yet it makes a great noise. It reaches the temperature of a hot oven, but it consumes heaven and earth and melts the elements, all of which require much greater heat.

Apparently we are looking at something that cannot be described in ordinary human language, like transparent gold and glass mingled with fire. The descriptions are all genuine and valid and accurate, and when we see the fire, we will understand why it was described in all these various ways.

The medieval church looked at the texts we have listed and constructed an eternally burning hell complete with pitchforks and demons and a guidebook known as Dante's Inferno. Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards read some of the texts and preached a terrifying sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Slowly, quietly, barely whispering at times, he warned his congregation in 1 741: "The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire."

Two and a half centuries later, Adventists abhor both interpretations as out of harmony with the character of God. We know that God doesn't have to kill sinners any more than a doctor kills a cancer patient. Cancer kills the patient; sin kills the sinner.

Someone has suggested that at the end of the millennium God simply lets sin play out the full length of its course. From the beginning of the great controversy, Satan has insisted that the universe would be better off without God's laws.

Following this line of reasoning, God could simply withdraw His control over the physical aspect of our world. He could tell the neutrons and protons and positrons and mu-mesons and antilambda particles and anti-xi-zero particles and the thirty or more additional subatomic particles that make up the matter of our planet, to go their own way and do their own thing.

If we understand nuclear bombs correctly, this sudden lawlessness among the minute particles of matter would result in an explosion so enormous it would make the blasts that demolished Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like mere sparks. In minutes, the world would be hotter than the sun. Everything on it and in it would dissolve, even vaporize, as Peter suggests. In this state of invisible vapor, the world would appear to "flee away." As clouds and mountaintops exploded, fire would appear to come down from heaven. And as sinners disintegrated, the fire would appear to leap up from within their bodies.

Satan would linger much longer than others because the body he has abused, leading billions into sin, was specially built by Cod to stand in His presence, in the full light of His glory, for a hundred billion years and more.

Whether this is really what the final fire will be like, we'll have to be there to ask Jesus. One beauty of this explanation is that it removes every trace of vindictiveness from God's part in the destruction of sinners. Up till now, He has refused Satan's demand that His laws be done away with. He alone knew the dire results of granting Satan's wish, and that's why He delayed. But now, in fairness to His enemy, He removes the restraints and lets Satan and sinners have what they asked for.

And the watching universe, who have already seen the degradation of character that results from breaking God's moral laws, now see in one frightening display of awesome destruction why God's physical laws are so necessary. How much those who are outside the city will wish for a refuge in that holocaust! How fortunate we are! We still have time, with God's help, to bring our lives into harmony with His will. Then the protective walls of Christ's goodness will be our safe refuge from the all-consuming fire. 

Lawrence Maxwell wrote this article when he was a professor of Church History at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University.

Lawrence Maxwell wrote this article when he was a professor of Church History at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University.