The term “amillennial,” or “non-millennial,” sometimes produces misunderstanding. It might lead some to suppose that those who hold this view reject what is said in Revelation 20 about “the thousand years.” Of course, this is not so. That passage is very precious to amillennialists; they delight in what it has to say about “the thousand years,” and they insist that the passage has been misunderstood by “pre-mils” and by some “post-mils.”

It is also sometimes assumed that this view is of recent origin. Its fundamental ideas, however, are found in Augustine (A.D. 354–430). Indeed, Prof. D. H. Kromminga, who was himself a “pre-mil,” contended that the Epistle of Barnabas (one of the earliest Christian writings outside the Bible) shows “a very early amillennial type of eschatology” (Millennium in the Church, p. 40), but this conclusion is disputed. Certain it is, that the “a-mil” view is quite in harmony with the statements of the Apostles’ Creed, the great ecumenical creeds, and confessions of the Reformation.

A Change Of View

For some 12 years after his conversion, the present writer was inclined to the “pre-mil” view. He received a jolt, however, from an American expositor who affirmed that the early part of the Acts of the Apostles was a “national offer” to the Jews, while only in the latter part was there the gospel of the grace of God. A further jolt came when he met with the suggestion that there was a new age to come when men would be saved on some other basis than the grace of God. These statements—which are no doubt typical of only a section of “pre-mils”—led the writer to devote himself to a study of the whole subject afresh. Two sections of Scripture had inclined him to the “pre-mil” view:—(1) certain Old Testament prophecies which seemed on the face of them to predict a national restoration of Israel to Palestine, and (2) Revelation 20 which seemed on the face of it to predict a literal thousand-year reign.

Old Testament Prophecy

When setting out to study the subject afresh, the writer was engaged in giving Bible class talks on the Book of Ezekiel. Among commentaries consulted were those by Bishop Wordsworth and Principal P. Fairbairn. These expositors revealed a wealth of meaning in the prophecies; they were faithful to the text but brought from it a rich message. While still a “pre-mil,” the present writer read—with the best will to follow and assimilate—commentaries on Joel and Zechariah by a prominent American “pre-mil,” but found them remarkably barren in spiritual help. In comparison the line of thought followed by Wordsworth and Fairbairn was rich and satisfying. It seemed to open a new realm.

Article continues below

In the course of study, the writer noted that Old Testament prophecy at times bore on the face of it a warning against a literal interpretation. For example, Ezekiel prophesied that “my servant David shall be king over them” (37:24): yet even some of the most ardent literalists admit that the reference is not to the actual David, but to Christ.

The writer was also impressed with the difficulties confronting the uniformly literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, e.g., the future restoration of the temple, of sin-offerings for atonement, of Israel, of the great Old Testament world powers such as the Assyrians, and of such neighboring nations as the Moabites.

Most important of all was the fact that the New Testament in its application of Old Testament passages compelled us to give an enlarged meaning and spiritual significance to prophecies which, at first sight, seemed to apply only to the Jew.

The writer also examined the teaching of the New Testament afresh, and was tremendously struck with the testimony everywhere in its pages to the general resurrection and general judgment. Everywhere the judgment of the righteous and of the wicked was spoken of as one great event. This is so in the parables of our Lord (Matt. 13:30, 41–43) and in his teaching elsewhere in the Gospels (Matt. 16:27; cp. John 6:40 with 12:48). The writings of Paul and Peter speak also of a general judgment. Not only is there no mention of a thousand-year reign on earth, there seems to be no room left for such a reign (Rom. 2:5–16; 2 Thess. 2; 2 Pet. 3). Even in the book of Revelation, we seem to have pictures of a general judgment. In chapter 11 the saints are rewarded and the wicked “destroyed” at the same time. At the close of Revelation 20 “the dead, small and great, stand before God,” those whose names are in the book of life apparently being present (verses 12 and 15).

The Thousand Years

Does Revelation 20:1–10 strike a different note? It is to Augustine, as Dr. H. B. Swete points out, that we owe the first serious effort to expound Revelation 20. He saw in the captivity of Satan nothing else than the binding of the strong man by the Stronger than he (of which our Lord spoke in Matthew 12:29). The thousand years he took to be the whole interval between the first advent and the second. Dr. Swete says that these ideas “find a place in most of the ancient Greek and Latin commentators, who wrote after Augustine’s time” (Apocalypse, p. 266).

Article continues below

Amillennialists follow the line of teaching in which Augustine led the way. In this whole gospel age, there is a restraint put upon Satan’s activities. This restraint is what may be termed the earthly aspect of the thousand years. Satan is a defeated and conquered foe, for Christ triumphed over him by His cross (John 12:31; 16:11; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). Even in other portions of the Revelation (see chap. 12) it is evident that there is a restraint on Satan; he cannot work his will against Christ or Christ’s people. The special restraint upon Satan in this present age which is emphasized in Revelation 20 is a restraint with regard to the nations. From verse 8 it appears that he is restrained from luring the nations on to the battle of the great day of God Almighty, that is, to the final conflict and their own ruin. Near the end of time, this restraint will be withdrawn and the last great conflict will ensue, in which he will be utterly worsted (Rev. 20:7–10).

Revelation 20 also sets forth what may be termed the heavenly aspect of the thousand years, that is, of the long period between the advents. John says: “I saw the souls.…” What is here set forth is the bliss of the blessed dead in the inter-adventual period. They are “risen with Christ” (Christians are so described in Rom. 6; Eph. 2; Col. 3, etc.) and so they are “the first resurrection.” Their warfare on earth is over; they are “dead” as far as the body is concerned, but in their spirits they “live and reign” with Christ in the highest heaven. In contrast with these, “the rest of the dead” are dead in every sense, bodily and spiritually, and they will come to life again, in the body, only to die the dreadful second death.

The term “1000” in the thousand-year binding of Satan indicates the completeness of Christ’s victory over him, though he is permitted a period of continuing restless activity (to which the book of Revelation bears abundant witness). The term “1000” in the thousand-year reign of the saints signifies its heavenly completeness, security and bliss. As Dr. Warfield says: “The sacred number seven in combination with the equally sacred number three, forms the number of holy perfection ten, and when this ten is cubed into a thousand, the seer has said all that he could say to convey to our minds the ideal of heavenly completeness.”

This interpretation of Revelation 20:1–10 emphasizes the completeness of Christ’s victory on Calvary and the thoroughness of his defeat of Satan, as well as the glory and bliss of the redeemed in heaven.

Article continues below
New Heavens And New Earth

The Lord’s return ushers in the new heavens and new earth. The “a-mil” takes many promises which the “pre-mil” relates to the earthly millennium as more appropriately applied to the new earth. In fact, many prophecies which are claimed for the thousand-year kingdom explicitly refer to the eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16; Isa. 9:7; Dan. 7:14; Luke 1:33). In the new earth the triumph of righteousness will be absolute and forever; no Satanic rebellion will ever mar its peace. There will then be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain—then and not until then.

It is sometimes said that the “a-mil” view is pessimistic. True, it does not hold forth the hope of a converted world or of a general triumph of righteousness, as “post-mils” usually do. But then the Scriptures teach that evil and good will continue side by side to the end; wheat and tares will grow together till the harvest. Is it so, however, that “a-mils” are very pessimistic? Dr. G. Vos, an outstanding “a-mil,” looked for “a comprehensive conversion of Israel” before the second advent, and while he spoke of “the forces of evil gathering strength,” he also spoke of “an extension of the reign of truth” before the end.

This view bears testimony to the one great event which lies ahead, the second advent, an event to be accompanied by the resurrection of all, the judgment of all, and the end of the world. Christ will sit on his judgment-throne, and all nations of men which have lived will be gathered before him, to be consigned to their eternal destiny. As John L. Girardeau said: “Heaven will lend its glories and hell its horrors to emphasize the proceedings of that day.” It is the day of perdition of ungodly men, but the day for which Christians earnestly look (2 Pet. 3:7, 12).


W. J. Grier is Minister of Botanic Avenue Irish Evangelical Church in Belfast, Ireland. He holds the B.A. degree from Queen’s University, Belfast. He was awarded the R. L. Maitland Prize for New Testament exegesis during studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. He served as Chairman of the Council of Irish Evangelical Churches from 1957–58 and is Editor of the Irish Evangelical. His published works include The Momentous Event and The Origin and Witness of the Irish Evangelical Church. His essay from the amillennial viewpoint concludes the series on divergent millennial views which began in the September 1 issue of Christianity Today.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.