Comparisons and Contrasts Between the Millennial Kingdom and the New Heavens and New Earth (Eternal State)

Introduction

Recently, there has been an unaccountable amount of conversations regarding topics of both heaven and hell due to the publication of many books, website articles, television programs, movies, and every other imaginable medium of communication.[1] Even medical doctors and neurosurgeons are writing on the topic of the “afterlife.”[2] Undoubtedly, there is much ambiguity, a prevalence of false teaching, and not a few incorrect presuppositions about the true, biblical teachings for what is in store for mankind. Surely, evangelical theologians have not muddied the waters, correct? Actually, that is not the case. Consider, for example, the all too vague words about heaven from Millard Erickson, “While heaven is both a place and a state, it is primarily a state.”[3] Even more peculiar is this statement from Donald Guthrie: “Paul does not think of heaven as a place, but thinks of it in terms of the presence of God.”[4] Furthermore, to compound the present uncertainty as to who is correct on views of eschatology, there are many differing perspectives on topics such as the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Millennial Kingdom, and the Eternal State. While all of these topics just mentioned are important, for matters of this particular research, just the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State will be observed. Many theologians deny that there is a thousand-year, earthly reign of Christ (Amillennialism and Postmillennialism), though others disagree (Premillennialism). Therefore, if strong evidence exists for the latter view, then there must be a purpose for the earthly, Kingdom reign. And if there is a purpose for that Kingdom, then there must also be some distinctions from the Eternal State.

Overview of the Millennial Kingdom Beliefs

A. Amillennialism

Wayne Grudem describes this first position concerning the millennium in the following

manner:

This view is called ‘amillennial’ because it maintains that there is no future millennium yet to come. Since amillennialists believe that Revelation 20 is now being fulfilled in the church age, they hold that the ‘millennium’ described there is currently happening. The exact duration of the church age cannot be known, and the expression ‘thousand years’ is simply a figure of speech for a long period of time in which God’s perfect purposes will be accomplished.[5]

Amillennialist, Anthony Hoekema, does not like the term “Amillennialism” because “it suggests that amillennialists either do not believe in any millennium or that they simply ignore the first six verses of Revelation 20, which speak of a millennial reign.”[6] Nevertheless, Hoekema writes, “Amillennialists do not believe that kingdom of God is primarily a Jewish kingdom which involves the literal restoration of the throne of David. Nor do they believe that because of the unbelief of the Jews of his day Christ postponed the establishment of the kingdom to the time of his future earthly millennial reign.”[7] Instead, “Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God was founded by Christ at the time of his sojourn on earth, is operative in history now and is destined to be revealed in its fullness in the life to come.”[8] A popular criticism against Premillennialism is that since only Revelation 20:1-6 gives a time limit (1,000 years) for the Kingdom reign, then such an argument is weak.[9] On the contrary, Revelation chapter twenty is simply a description of the present church age, according to Amillennialism. And likewise, all of the prophetic passages referring to what Premillennialists call the “Millennial Kingdom,” are fulfilled spiritually via the church age, typologically through the work of Christ, or literally during the Eternal State.[10]

Certainly, there is much more information regarding Amillennialism that could be presented, but for the purposes of this research, it will now be sufficient enough to interject a major criticism, namely, the hermeneutic. For example, Amillennialists deny that the “thousand years” repeated several times in Revelation chapter twenty can mean precisely a period of one thousand years in which Jesus will reign over the earth on His promised Davidic throne. After all, the “thousand years” cannot be in the Eternal State, since there is still a satanic revolt yet to come (Revelation 20:7-10). Consequently, the “thousand years” must either be in reference to the church age or to Millennial Kingdom. Since the latter is eliminated, the former is adopted by Amillennialists. However, the basis is on a hermeneutical decision that seems subjective. After all, who has the authority to say that some parts of Revelation chapter twenty are figurative, while other aspects are literal?[11]

B. Postmillennialism

A second view of the millennium, though not quite as popular as Amillennialism or Premillennialism, is Postmillennialism. According to Postmillennialist, Lorraine Boettner:

Postmillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the kingdom of God is now

being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world is eventually to be Christianized and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the millennium.[12]

 

In this view, the millennium does not necessarily mean one thousand years, but is, similarly to Amillennialism, a figurative description. Grudem says, “Belief in postmillennialism tends to increase in times when the church is experiencing great revival, when there is an absence of war and international conflict, and when it appears that great progress is being made in overcoming the evil and suffering in the world.”[13] Regardless of the implications related to theological trends in history, it is the exegesis of certain Scriptures that demands criticism.

Once again, Revelation chapter twenty is a key passage to consider. In verses 7-10, Scripture teaches:

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

 

From this passage, there does not appear be any indication that if the “thousand years” were figurative, there would be as Boettner professes, “the return of Christ…at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace.”[14] The argument just does not align with a simple exegesis of the chapter. While this view of eschatology is often termed to be “optimistic,” the truth of the matter is that if Premillennialism is shown to be the most consistent and biblical view of the three being observed, then Christians ought to find hope and strength in what is most clearly revealed.

C. Premillennialism

Within the view of “Premillennialism,” there are two sub-views: (1) Covenant Premillennialism[15] and (2) Dispensational Premillennialism. Both views share the belief that there will be a Millennial Kingdom reign of Christ on earth prior to the Eternal State.[16] Scripturally, the Premillennial view seems to be the most consistent out of all three. For example, Revelation 20:1-6 states the following:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who 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 for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

 

The most consistent interpretation of this text certainly would appear to be that these “thousand years” would incorporate Christ as King over the earth, with Satan’s revolt at the closing of the time, and then Christ will finally put all his enemies underneath his feet (Revelation 1:9). Such a proposition coincides with First Corinthians 15:25, which states, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” In this Kingdom reign, Dwight Pentecost lists twenty-three “conditions,” which are: “Peace, Joy, Holiness, Glory, Comfort, Justice, Full knowledge, Instruction, The removal of the curse, Sickness removed, Healing of the deformed, Protection, Freedom from oppression, No immaturity, Reproduction by the living peoples, Labor, Economic prosperity, Increase of light, Unified language, Unified Worship, The manifest presence of God, The fulness [sic] of the Spirit, [and] The perpetuity of the millennial state.”[17] Russell Moore asks the question, “What is the purpose of this intermediate millennial reign of Christ?” He answers, “It seems that God’s glorification of Christ entails a public vindication of his rule specifically in the presence of his enemies, a final, visible subjugation of the rivals of Christ’s throne (Ps. 110; 1 Cor. 15:24-28).”[18] While Moore’s answer reflects an accurate exegesis of First Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20, perhaps there is another “purpose” of the Millennial Kingdom, or at least another facet of God’s Kingdom plan – the fulfillment of His unconditional covenants to Israel.

Despite the fact that Russell Moore is a Premillennialist, he rejects the Dispensational notion that “Romans 9-11 reaffirms the Old Testament covenant promises to Abraham’s genetic descendants – promises of a rebuilt temple, a restored theocracy, and reclaimed geography.”[19] Furthermore, he argues, “The future restoration of Israel has never been promised to the unfaithful, unregenerate members of the nation (John 3:3-10; Rom. 2:25-29) – only to the faithful remnant.” Instead, “Israel is Jesus of Nazareth, who, as promised to Israel, is raised from the dead and marked out with the Spirit.”[20] In response to Moore, a couple of things must be mentioned. First of all, Dispensational Premillennialists are not claiming that the restoration of Israel is promised to unregenerate citizens. Charles Ryrie makes this explicitly clear in Basic Theology: “When the Lord returns they will be gathered and judged, the rebels (possibly two thirds, Zech. 13:8) to be excluded from the kingdom and those who turn in faith when they see Him to enter the kingdom (Ezek. 20:33-44). Those believing survivors constitute the ‘all’ of all Israel that will be saved at the Second Coming (Rom. 11:26).”[21] Secondly, the unconditional covenants have not been fulfilled yet, according to Dispensationalism.[22] Dwight Pentecost states, “The millennial age is instituted out of necessity in order to fulfill the covenants.”[23] Just to give one example, the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is a powerful demonstration. Rolland McCune reminds his readers of a couple of things: (1) This is an unconditional covenant between God and the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah”; (2) These promises will not be fulfilled until the “kingdom age.”[24] Contextually, his assertions are perfectly valid since the New Covenant is in the book of Jeremiah, and chronologically, it could be asked on his opponents, “Have all of the promises of the New Covenant been fulfilled?” Jeremiah 31:34 records, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” Has this occurred yet (or how so, in Moore’s position, is this fulfilled in Christ)? Too many questions are left unanswered in the non-Dispensational Premillennial view of the Kingdom.

Thus, there are two main propositions that can be concluded regarding the purpose of the Millennial Kingdom: (1) The Kingdom is set apart for the purpose of Christ to defeat His enemies once and for all (1 Corinthian 15:24-25); (2) The Kingdom is set apart for the purpose of the unconditional covenants to be fulfilled. If both propositions are disregarded, one will logically adopt either an Amillennial or Postmillennial view. If just the first proposition is accepted, but the second is denied, then one will logically espouse a non-Dispensational Premillennial view. However, if both propositions are claimed, then it seems apparent that one will logically come into full agreement with Dispensational Premillennialism. The research thus far has been an attempt to validate this last view.

Observations of the Eternal State

Perhaps some would interject that the passages related to the “earthly” Millennial Kingdom are mistakenly interpreted by Premillennialists, and should in fact be cited as promises regarding the Eternal State’s “New Earth.” Such a remark is a perfectly valid concern, one that will be wrestled with. Though, at the moment, it will be necessary to take into account the revealed aspects of the New Heavens and New Earth during the Eternal State. The absolute clearest passage concerning these things is Revelation 21-22. Several things are recorded about this place: “New Jerusalem” will come down to the New Earth and will be glorious (21:2; 21:9-21), God will dwell with His people (21:3), all tears and pain will be wiped away (21:4), no temple will be in the city (21:22), there will be no need for the sun or light since “the Lamb” will occupy that responsibility (21:23-24; 22:5), there will be no night (21:25; 22:5), the river and tree “of life” will be in the New Jerusalem (22:1-2), the “throne of God and of the Lamb” will be there (22:3), and God will be worshiped (22:3).

The next passage to consider, Isaiah 65, is both a challenging text to Premillennialism as it is also a solid defense. In Isaiah 65:17, the prophet pronounces, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” The issue of the surrounding context is that Isaiah follows verse seventeen with descriptions that are clearly millennial-related. For example, Isaiah 65:20 talks about a prolonged life, but yet an eventual death for Israelites. Alva McClain attempts to reconcile this conflict in his book, The Greatness of the Kingdom, by stating, “It is apparent, therefore, that Isaiah saw together on the screen of prophecy both the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal Kingdom; but he expands in detail the former because it is the ‘nearest-coming’ event and leaves the latter for fuller description in a later New Testament revelation.”[25] Since this theological tension exists in Isaiah 65, some might consider it to be the “coup de grace” to Premillennialism. Yet, this is actually not so. After all, if this whole passage is speaking solely of the New Heavens and New Earth, then Isaiah 65:20 would be a contradiction with First Corinthians 15:26 which states, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” However, if some parts of this prophecy are fulfilled spiritually (wolves and lambs grazing together), while others are fulfilled literally (such as an actual New Heavens and New Earth), then Premillennialists have just as much of a right to criticize the theological tensions of non-Premillennialists. Furthermore, Wayne Grudem makes an exceptional insight on this passage as well. He says, “The larger context of this passage may mingle elements of the millennium and the eternal state (cf. vv. 17, 25), but it is in the nature of Old Testament prophecy not to distinguish among events in the future, just as these prophecies do not distinguish between the first and second comings of Christ.”[26] Therefore, it must be concluded that Isaiah 65:17-25 actually argues in favor of Premillennialism, rather than hurting it, by distinguishing that there is both a Millennial Kingdom and an Eternal State.

Comparisons and Contrasts of the Millennial Kingdom and the New Heavens and New Earth

Although certain aspects have already been touched on regarding the comparisons and contrasts of the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State, it would be beneficial for the purpose of this research to put forth some clearly distinguished features of the two, as well as the parallels. First, some of the similarities will be observed. Rolland McCune comments on the continuation of the governmental system from the Millennial Kingdom into the Eternal State, “It appears that the basic governmental structure of the millennial kingdom will be preserved in the eternal kingdom.”[27] On this point, it is also important to note an important facet of Christ’s reign as King. That is, Christ will continue to reign forever as king even after the one thousand year reign is finalized. Lewis Sperry Chafer once wrote, “[Christ] will, as so fully assured elsewhere, reign on the throne of David forever.”[28] Another similarity is the prophetic hope associated with both. As it was mentioned before, Isaiah 65:17-25 includes Millennial Kingdom information as well as the New Heavens and New Earth. The context of the book would surely indicate that the final chapters of Isaiah would give hope to the Israelite audience. A final similarity is that saved Jews and Gentiles will live under the reign of Christ on earth during the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State. Several other resemblances could definitely be mentioned, but for succinctness, the three mentioned are perhaps the most important.

While the comparisons of the Millennial Kingdom and Eternal State provide insight on the research at hand, the contrasts are possibly even more applicable. In fact, if it can be strongly proven that the Millennial Kingdom is distinct from the Eternal State, then Premillennialism becomes the evident view most consistent with biblical exegesis. The first distinguishable prophecy has to do with the presence of death. Isaiah 65:20 clearly predicts that people with un-glorified bodies will die in the Millennial Kingdom, whereas First Corinthians 15:26 and Revelation 21:4 state that death is destroyed in the Eternal State. Secondly, there is a contrast concerning the presence of sin. Revelation 20:7-10 gives the details that some of those who were born in the Millennial Kingdom will sinfully follow the lead of Satan and his revolt, yet in the Eternal State, all people will be glorified believers.[29] The third key contrast is the presence of a temple. Multiple passages speak of a Millennial Temple and/or sacrifices, including: Joel 3:18, Isaiah 2:3, Isaiah 56:6-7, Isaiah 60:7 and 13, Jeremiah 33:18, Ezekiel 40-48, Daniel 9:24, Haggai 2:7-9, and Zechariah 14:16-21.[30] However, in the New Jerusalem, there will not be a temple (Revelation 21:22). A fourth important contrast is the presence of the sun/light. Revelation 21:23 and 22:5 both foretell of the sun no longer being needed for light in the Eternal State. However, it would seem logical that the sun would be need during the Millennial Kingdom since the prophecy in Revelation 21:23 is in reference to the New Jerusalem, while the description of the millennium preceded the latter part of chapter twenty one. Finally, there is an important contrast concerning the presence of seas. Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” However, Zechariah 14:8-9 (a Millennial Kingdom passage) confirms, “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” As it has been argued throughout this research, there is a difference between the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State. It seems clear, then, that Premillennialism offers the most consistent understanding of what the future holds for the present world and the world to come.

Conclusion

Although eschatology is often a labeled with the importance of a secondary or tertiary level of worth, what cannot be avoided is the fact that prophecy concerning the future is inescapably significant. Concerning the views of the Millennial Kingdom, the Bible indicates that a view of a literal, one thousand year reign of Christ on earth is not a foolish or misled notion, but part of the normal interpretation of several texts. Not only was Premillennialism proposed to be the most biblically consistent position, but also in observing the purpose(s) of the Kingdom, it became visible that adopting Dispensational and non-Dispensational Premillennialism is contingent upon one theological concern: the fulfillment of the unconditional covenants. Each and every believer will not accept the position put forth in this research (Dispensational Premillennialism). Nevertheless, may no believer dare miss out on the importance of studying the Scriptures to get a glimpse of the glory that is yet to come.


[1] For example, of the most popular books among Christians, some have been from the following New York Times bestsellers: Love Wins (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011) by Rob Bell, 23 Minutes in Hell (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2006) by Bill Wiese, Heaven is For Real (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010) by Todd Burpo, 90 Minutes in Heaven (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2004) by Don Piper, and The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010) by Kevin Malarkey.

 

[2] See, for example, To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2012) by Mary C. Neal, M.D. and Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012) by Eben Alexander.

 

[3] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 1232.

 

[4] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 875. Also to comment on the ambiguity of both Erickson and Guthrie, it is important to note at least these three passages that firmly declare heaven to be an actual “place”: John 14:2-3, Acts 1:9, and Acts 7:55-59.

 

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 1110. Charles Ryrie would add that some Amillennial and Postmillennial theologians (such as B.B. Warfield and Floyd Hamilton) believe that the millennial fulfillments are satisfied through the heavenly saints. See Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 516.

 

[6] Anthony Hoekema, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert C. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 155.

 

[7] Ibid., 177-178.

 

[8] Ibid., 178.

 

[9] See Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1116-1119 for both an overview and rebuttal of this criticism.

 

[10] Chronologically, the Revelation 20:1-6 is the present church age, and all that is to be awaited includes: the future resurrection of the saved and unsaved at the second coming, a general judgment, and a renewal of the new earth. See Ibid., 1109.

[11] Other criticisms of Amillennialism will be presented during the observations of Premillennialism.

 

[12] Lorraine Boettner, The Meaning of the Millennium, ed. Robert C. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 117.

 

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1111.

 

[14] Lorraine Boettner, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, 117.

 

[15] Other names are sometimes given for this first of two Premillennial view. Grudem offers both “Classic” and “Historic” Premillennialism as possible options (Systematic Theology, 1111).

[16] Ibid., 1111-1114.

[17] Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 487-490.

 

[18] Russell Moore, A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel Akin (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2007), 912.

 

[19] Ibid., 906.

 

[20] Ibid., 907.

 

[21] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 572. Italics added.

 

[22] There are four unconditional covenants to yet be fulfilled in the Kingdom: (1) Abrahamic (2) Davidic (3) Palestinian (4) New.

 

[23] Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, 476.

 

[24] Rolland McCune, Systematic Theology, 396.

[25] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959), 138.

 

[26] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1128.

 

[27] Rolland McCune, Systematic Theology, 434.

 

[28] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 5, 7th ed. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 373-374.

[29] Revelation 21:27 also makes the inference that all sin is kept outside of the New Heavens and New Earth – creation will be restored to full glory and purity.

 

[30] This list of references was also listed in John C. Whitcomb, “The Millennial Temple of Ezekiel 40-48,” The Diligent Workman’s Journal, 2:1 (May 1994).

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