A few years ago there was great excitement in the little community of Mount Clinton, Virginia, USA, the morning of April 30. On that day Paul F. Frye, a Pentecostal minister who had died on November 23 of the previous year, was to be resurrected! On hand to witness the miracle in the country cemetery, were nearly a thousand curious spectators, some of whom had spent the night in their cars to be sure of a graveside location.
Interest in the event started when Leon A. Frye, thirty-seven-year-old son of the minister, spread the word that the family had received “spiritual notification” that the father would emerge from his grave at daybreak, April 30. In full faith that the resurrection would take place, Leon quit his job as a truck driver in order to assist his father in his ministry.
Before daybreak Leon, his mother, and the large crowd of curious onlookers were at the graveside. A few songs were sung and prayers were offered. Darkness gave way to dawn. The sun rose behind a bank of dark clouds. But nothing happened. Disappointed, the crowd began to disperse. By eight o’clock everyone had gone—everyone except Paul Frye, that is. He remained in his grave.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF A GENERAL RESURRECTION
The Bible promises no resurrection of the dead before the second advent of Jesus. All the dead, both good and evil, will arise, but not at the same time. Jesus says, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28–29, emphasis added). These two resurrections are also referred to by Paul, who writes, “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15). Notice that the order of these two resurrections are the same. Both Jesus and Paul place the “just” first, and the “unjust” afterward.
How long will it be between these two resurrections—the resurrection of the righteous, or the first resurrection, and the resurrection of the wicked, which is the second resurrection? We find the answer in Revelation, where John clearly identifies the time when these two resurrections take place. He writes, “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 20:6). Thus, the thousand-year period begins with the resurrection of the righteous dead at the coming of Jesus. Paul agrees with John when he affirms, “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 Thess 4:16–17). Glorious reunion!
Now what about the resurrection of sinners? “The rest of the dead,” John writes, “did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (Rev 20:5). So we have two resurrections, separated by a thousand years. This brings us to the rest of the story: a dramatic account describing the final events of earth’s history described in Revelation 20, known as the millennium.
II. THE EVENT THAT FINALLY RESOLVES THE RESURRECTION MYSTERY
But first, let us briefly identify and describe the three major views on the subject. This will be followed by a summary of the biblical teaching.
1. Post-millennialists believe that the millennium is at present being established in the world, that before the Lord returns there will be marked improvement in mankind, that equitable social institutions and the increase of knowledge will achieve a utopian dream to make humanity better, and that Satan’s binding will permit the gospel to reach the whole world, after which Christ will return.
2. Pre-millennialists believe that Christ’s second coming precedes the millennium, that the reign of God will not come by human efforts, that prior to the end the antichrist will gain control of human affairs, and only the return of our Lord can inaugurate the golden age on earth.
3. Amillennialists, unlike the previous views, teach that the Bible does not predict a millennium in a literal sense. They believe that there exist twin conditions of good and evil. God’s kingdom and Satan’s dominion coexist until Christ returns. At that time the resurrection and the judgment will take place, which will be followed by God’s eternal reign of peace and never-ending happiness.
How do we determine which of these positions has biblical endorsement? Let this summary of the biblical teaching on the millennium assist us in fully understanding its meanings and implications.
1. Events at the beginning of the millennium
a. Second coming of Jesus accompanied by the armies of heaven (Rev 19:11–21).
b. First resurrection of the righteous (Rev 20:4–6).
c. The righteous living translated, reunited with the righteous dead to receive the gift of immortality (1 Cor 15:51–54; 1 Thess 4:16–17).
d. Christ leads the saved to the place prepared for them (John 14:1–3).
e. Binding of Satan by earth’s depopulation (Rev 20:1–3).
f. Destruction of the wicked (Rev 19:20–21).
2. Events during the millennium
a. The redeemed live in heaven with Jesus for a thousand years (Rev 20:4).
b. Judgment is “given unto them” (Rev 20:4, KJV; see also 1 Cor 6:2–4).
c. They attend the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).
3. Events at the end of the millennium
a. Resurrection of the wicked (John 5:28–29; Rev 20:5, 7–8).
b. Descent of the Holy City (Rev 21:2).
c. A repopulated earth leads to the loosing of Satan, who leads the final rebellion (Rev 20:7–9).
d. Final destruction of the wicked (Rev 20:9).
e. Purification and regeneration of the earth by fire (2 Pet 3:12–13; Rev 21:1).
f. Establishment of the reign of God on an earth restored, which will be the eternal home of the redeemed (Isa 65:17, 21–23; John 17:10).
Jesus’ resurrection makes eternal life a certainty for all believers in Him. The night of human pain and suffering—even death—can be endured by Christians because they look forward to the resurrection morning. What happened in an old garden near old Jerusalem will happen in all the world someday. And, because of what took place there, it is always morning in our hearts. In the words of Helmut Thielicke: “Above the ruins of our lives strides the One who today advances the claim that He can authoritatively close the gap between God and man, that He can restore the world deranged by pain, unrighteousness and enmity against God, that He is more than a match for the awful majesty of death.” That One is Jesus.
That’s why I believe the millennium is not a theological fantasy. It is a simple fact taught in Scripture and a fundamental event necessarily related to the return of Jesus, to whom we address the fervent supplication “Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.