AUTHORITY AND THE MILLENNIUM

By

G. H. LANG

 

"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished.  This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these 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: 4-6. R.V.

 

Victory is barren and may be disastrous unless followed by the establishment of just and benevolent authority.  The victory of the Lamb being complete the visions pass at once to His reign.

 

But how extraordinarily brief is the treatment.  It is compressed into three verses.  The following considerations may explain this feature.

 

1. The period of Messiahís reign on earth was the chief theme of the Old Testament.  Fulness of detail had been given of the ages leading on to it, of the stupendous climax of judgment that must and should prepare the way for it, and of the advent in glory of the King and its blessed results.  This was the goal of prophecy, and it was not needful that the ground be covered again.

 

2. What could be added helpfully of description and glory would be shown in the immediately subsequent description of the heavenly city.

 

3. The end of all prophecy is conduct, and the present section is sufficient as a spur to the development of a holy character and to fidelity to Christ even at the cost of suffering and death, by showing the privilege, position, and service if His kingdom to be thus attained.

 

4. Here is stated distinctly what before had been only intimated briefly, and as it were casually, that there are to be two resurrections of the dead and the relation of these to Messiahís kingdom.

 

For these last two purposes the very brevity adds to clarity and emphasis.

 

1. WHO SHALL REIGN WITH CHRIST?

 

This is the first and chief matter touched.  A king must needs have a body of superior officers to serve him in administrating his kingdom. Darius appointed three grades of such: 120 satraps, three presidents, of whom one, Daniel, was senior, the kingís viceregent (Dan. 6: 1).  David, too, had administrators and priests, men who had served and suffered with him in the long years of his rejection, as Joab and Ahimelech (2 Sam. 8: 15-18). But Johathan, though he loved David as his own soul and willingly resigned to him the throne, seeking to be second only in the kingdom though himself the heir-apparent (1 Sam. 23: 17), did not even enter Davidís kingdom, for he did not share his rejection. This is the moral warning the narrative seems to give. Through filial loyalty he supported the king and the system which God had rejected, and lost his life in its collapseIt was the natural course, not the spiritual; the latter, the path of faith, would have been judged unnatural.  Jesus has said: "He that loveth father ... more than Me, is not worthy of Me" (Matt. 10: 37).

 

Three classes are to share the glory of reigning with Godís Anointed, the Christ.

 

1. "I saw thrones, and they that sat on them, and judgment was given unto them," that is, was entrusted to them.

 

(1) In possibility this includes all saints: "know ye not that the saints shall judge the world [and] angels?" (1 Cor. 6: 2, 3; Rev. 1: 6).

 

(2) Specifically, thrones are promised to the apostles: "ye are they who have continued with Me in My trials; and I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as My Father appointed unto Me, that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom; and ye shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" ( Luke 22: 28-30).  This special grant was on account of these men having gone through with Christ to the end of His rejection He would forgive their failings, even the severe failure of that night. He would have regard to the general and dominant fact that they had stuck to His person and cause through thick and thin, and would do so further unto the end of life.  In consequence He would make to them a grant such as His Father had made to Him, a grant of "kingdom" (there is no article): "I appoint unto you kingdom," that is, kingship, royal rank and authority.

 

This dignity He then described as being "to sit at His table in His kingdom."  At a royal banquet there are many tables, one on a dais, higher than the rest, being the royal place where the sovereign sits. To share that table is to share the highest place and honour.  Now Christ, in His resurrection body, ate material food: "They gave Him a piece of boiled fish. And He took it, and did eat before them" (Luke 24: 42, 43), and, at the institution of the supper, He foretold that He will do so again in His kingdom: "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Fatherís kingdom" (Matt. 26: 29; Mark 14: 25; Luke 22: 18).  As therefore the table and the eating and the drinking of Messiah in the days of His kingdom are to be literal, so will the fulfilment of the promises that the apostles are to eat and drink with Him. That beings of the upper world can use the food of earth was shown long before, when Jehovah and the two angels ate of the meal prepared by Abraham (Gen. 18: 8).

 

But the Lord further promised the eleven that they should "sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."  The former promise being plainly literal so will this be.  Thus Israel, and in twelve tribes, will be restored in that kingdom era.  This endorses the literality of the vision of Rev. 7, when representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel are preserved from destruction just as the kingdom age is to set in.  Here, then, are shown some of those who in resurrection will sit on thrones and be invested with the royal office of the judge.  In ancient times the king was personally the supreme judge.  But he had legal assessors who sat with him, the judges of the high court, which was hence named in England the Kingís Bench Division of the courts of law.

 

(3) Promises to the same effect are given to the overcomers of the churches: "He that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of My father" (Rev. 2: 26, 27).  "He that overcometh, I will give him the right to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne" (Rev. 3: 21).

 

It is to be much observed that these prospects are open to all believers, as (1) above; but they are contingent upon exactly the conditions shown in the case of the eleven, namely, fighting the battles of the Lord victoriously, and with such perseverance as to maintain His works "unto the end" either of life or of the [end of this evil] age, as the case may be.  Thus the law of former reference is sufficient to show who they are that John saw sitting upon thrones and receiving authority as judges.  They include each who conquered in whatever were the conflicts in the post to which each was assigned in the world-wide battlefield.

 

2. But because in the fight of the long ages of human history many suffered even unto death by martyrdom, their resurrection and honour is mentioned specially.  It is to be noted that these were slaughtered "for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God." Therefore they were disciples of Jesus, Christians.

And

 

3. Because the closing battles, those against the Beast, will be the hottest of all in the long campaign of the ages, those who then conquer are given special testimony; "they lived [in resurrection life] ... and reigned with the Messiah.That these share in this resurrection shows that the event does not take place earlier than the close of his [the Beast's] reign and the great Tribulation.  That this resurrection takes place in stages, of which the one here in view is the last, is an unnecessary supposition and without proof.

 

There three classes of [regenerate] believers alone are shown as sharing in the first resurrection and sharing with Christ the sovereignty in His kingdom.  Some have admitted that not all believers will reign in this millennial kingdom, yet contend that all will share in this first resurrection.  But it is distinctly asserted that all who then rise will reign: "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection ... they shall reign" (verse 6).  Therefore they who are not to reign will not be then raised.  Hence, "the rest of the dead" who "lived not till the thousand years should be finished," will include saved persons not "accounted worthy of that age and the resurrection which is out from among the dead" (Luke 20: 35); and hence also arose Paulís set purpose, expressed with the utmost earnestness, "if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection which is out from among the dead," where he repeats the phrase used by the Lord (Phil. 3: 11).

 

It is character that counts.  "Blessed and holy is the one having part in the first resurrection" (6).  A special privilege of such is that they hold the comforting assurance of the Judge of all that "over these the second death hath no authority."  The very fact that they are already in immortal bodies of resurrection glory (1 Cor. 15: 50-58), attained by sharing this first resurrection, shows indisputably that eternal Ļ death can never touch them.  Those still unraised must await the second resurrection and final judgment for this is to be declared (ver. 15).  That "the one believing upon the Son hath eternal life" (John 3: 36) is not challenged, is indeed beyond challenge; but what persons have so believed, according to the mind of the Judge, will be put finally beyond question by their "coming forth out of the tombs unto resurrection of life (John 5: 29).  For some this will be at the first resurrection, for the rest at the second. See on verse 15 and 2: 11; 3: 5.  As His resurrection from the dead was His Fatherís final and all-convincing acknowledgment that Jesus was His Son (Rom. 1: 4), putting the matter beyond further controversy, so their resurrection unto life will put beyond further doubt who are the children of God.

 

2. THE SERVICE OF THE RAISED

 

The service of the raised is to be both Priestly, and Regal.

 

The priest is a person who is (1) "appointed for men" (2) "in things pertaining to God" (Heb. 5: 1).  From the beginning of creation the Son has been the Mediator between the Father and the entire universe.  He did not take this office first in resurrection, but only resumed then as man what He had before been His dignity as Son.  It was through Him that the Father made all things.  It is He who radiates through the universe the glory of the Father.  He declares to creation the counsels of God, is the chief Prophet of God (Heb. 1: 1-3).  When sin had defiled and ruined creation, it belonged to Him to come forth unto the habitable world (which term includes the realms of the angels, Heb. 1: 6), to purify it and to reconcile it to God (Heb. 1: 3; Col. 1: 21).  Only through Him can any being approach the Father (Jn. 14: 6, no one, not merely man).

 

But the high priest in Israel had a whole family of associated and subordinate priests.  Only the high priest could make the general and plenary atonement for all the people (Lev. 16); but the under priests could mediate in detail and to the individual the benefit of that plenary atonement.  Thus also Christ alone could be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; but His priestly servants can convey to men the knowledge of that atoning sacrifice, and so, by the [Holy] Spirit, can minister to men the benefit thereof.  So, while Christ is truly the only Saviour, Paul could say, "that I may by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22).

 

This is present service, and it will be continued in the coming age by those who have found grace for the toils and troubles of rendering it now.

 

Then also, "the priestís lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of Jehovah of hosts" (Mal. 2: 7).  How shall such fulfil this solemn function whose lips express vanity and whose lives are contrary to the law they are to require others to keep?

 

In that future day there will be vast need of heavenly instruction, for the masses of men will have sunk into utter darkness as to God, His will and His ways (Isa. 60: 2), and as to the one means of reconciliation and pardon, and still more as to all the high mysteries of the universe.  The heavenly priests shall instruct them.  As yet we ourselves know only in part, but then we shall know (understand) fully, even as we have been fully known (understood) by God (1 Cor. 13: 12); and none can yet say what this may include as to both subjects of knowledge and ability to impart and apply it.

 

Then, too, as the messenger of God, the priest in Israel had authority.  The people were bound, under pain of capital punishment, to accept his decisions (Deut. 17: 8-13).  This was a survival, in limited measure, of the older patriarchal institution when the sovereign was the chief priest, ruling the people for God and dispensing to them the blessings of God.  Melchizedek was such a priest-king (Gen. 14: 18-20; Heb. 7: 1-3), and Moses seems to have been the last of such recognized by God.  He acted as priest before Aaron ever did, also appointing others to offer burnt offerings (Ex. 24: 4-8), and himself officiated at the consecration of Aaron (Lev. 8). Moreover, he "was king in Jeshurun" (Deut. 33: 4, 5).

 

It was the purpose of God that the whole people of Israel should be a "kingdom of priests," which was announced before the law was given at Sinai (Ex. 19: 5, 6).  But while redemption from judgment had been free to every one who would sprinkle blood on his door, the privilege of priestly and royal service among the other nations of the earth was dependent upon obedience, and Israel has never as a people enjoyed this honour.  Yet they will do so when, under Messiah, their heart and spirit shall have been renewed, even as it is written of that day: "And strangers shall stand and feed their flocks, and aliens shall be your ploughmen and vinedressers. But ye shall be named the priests of Jehovah: men shall call you the ministers of our God" (Isa. 61: 5, 6). Thus shall there be a kingdom of priests in the earthly section of the great kingdom of God.

 

But in this as in all respects, earthly things are copies of the heavenly things.  And in this present age God is forming for Christ a company of obedient saints who shall fill the same office, not indeed superseding Israel in the realm of earth, but discharging that same high and blessed service in that heavenly realm where Christ is and where their hearts are already attached to Him.  This is their present office: they are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for Godís own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1 Pet. 2: 9).  And when finally they have been practised and perfected they shall be unto God a kingdom and priests in the higher heavenly realm of the kingdom (Rev. 1: 6; 20: 6).

 

According to the thought of God, both kings and priests exist (1) to secure His rights in His kingdom, and (2) to dispense His favours to His subjects: they are "appointed (1) for men, (2) in things pertaining to God" (Heb. 5: 1).

 

Thus does this brief word in Rev. 1: 6 present in miniature a full picture of the administrative side of the kingdom of God and of Christ when at last "the God of the heavens shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (Dan. 2: 44).

 

Lev. 9: 22-24 and Lk. 24: 50-53 offer an instructive comparison. The consecration of Aaron as priest having been completed by the offering of the sacrifices, "he lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them." Thus did Jesus, the work of the cross finished, lift up His hands and bless His people. Then Moses and Aaron (who are a joint type of Christ, as both Godís Messenger to us and our Priest before Him, (Heb. 3: 1) went into the tent of meeting; and thus Christ departed from this place of His sacrifice into the true tabernacle, the heavens. From the tent they two came forth and blessed the people, and so shall the Lord Jesus come forth again from the heavenly place, and the glory of Jehovah shall appear unto all the earth (Is. 40: 5), as it did on that former occasion to all Israel.  And as then the fire of God, by consuming the sacrifice on the altar, testified to His acceptance and good pleasure, so shall mankind learn hereafter that in Christ God has reconciled the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5: 19)And this future priestly service those raised in the first resurrection shall be privileged to share.

 

3. THE PERIOD OF THE KINGDOM.

 

The kingdom is to be commenced at the first resurrection and closed by the second resurrection.  It has been asserted that this is the only scripture that teaches the doctrine of the "millennium", and some have therefore challenged the whole conception.  The believer, however, accepts as enough even one divine statement, if no more is given.  But in fact the Revelation is here true to its own character as co-ordinating and completing earlier intimations.

 

1. Psalm 1 is an introduction to the whole course and issues of human life.  The godly walk one path and reach its goal; the ungodly another path and teach its goal.  Because of their way being evil and downward "therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous" (5). Now both the Septuagint and the Vulgate translate the Hebrew, not by "stand" but "rise," (See Pember, The Great Prophecies concerning Israel and the Gentiles, 463).  The testimony of the LXX is important.  It is a legitimate rendering, for the Hebrew word has resurrection as one of its meanings: see Job. 14: 12 and Isa. 26: 19; and it shows that this understanding of Ps. 1 is very ancient and not caused by later Christian opinion.

This amounts to a statement that the wicked will not rise from the dead to stand in the assembly of the righteous.  Now the great white throne judgment, to which the second resurrection brings forth the dead, will not be an assembly of the righteous with some wicked among them, but rather an assembly of the wicked with some righteous to be separated from among them (see above, and on verse 15).  It is the first resurrection that is composed of the holy, to which therefore the psalm will refer, and it is in exact agreement with Revelation that no ungodly will then rise.

 

2. Isa. 26: 19 uses the same word as the psalm when it says: "Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise."  The whole connection, before and after, is with the day of Jehovah, the purging of the iniquity of Jacob, the gathering to Palestine of the outcasts of Israel (26: 1; 27: 1, 9, 12, 13).  Now in definite contrast to this resurrection of the godly there has been said, but five verses before (14), that the godless shall not then arise:  "They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast Thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish."  The next verse (15) shows that the time is when the nation of Israel shall be increased and glorified.  Thus godly Israelites will share in the first resurrection.

 

3. Daniel 12: 2 is to the same effect, when translated in harmony with, not in opposition to, the foregoing passages and Rev. 20: 5 and Jn. 5: 25-29.  It then will mean: "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, these [that rise] to everlasting life, and these [the rest of the dead, that do not then rise] to shame and everlasting contempt" (see Tregelles Daniel in loco, and Pember, Great Prophecies, ed. 1895, pp. 463, 464).  The very terms of the prophecy preclude one general universal resurrection of the dead at one time, for it says that it is "many," therefore not all, that shall arise at the time in question.  That time is when Michael shall intervene, when the great Tribulation shall be, and the kingdom be set up at the end of the days, in which the righteous Daniel shall arise to share his promised lot [or, ďreceive your allotted inheritanceN.I.V.] (ver. 13).

 

4. In Jn. 5: 25-29 also the Lord Jesus made the same distinction.  In ver. 25 He speaks of the dead hearing His voice (not His word as in ver. 24) and thereupon coming to life.  This is to be in the present "hour," meaning this Christian era, even as He had used the same phrase in c. 4: 23, where the words "the hour cometh and now is" cover this whole age of spiritual worship.  But in 5: 29 He mentions another "hour" of which He did not say that it "now is," when all them in the tombs shall come forth, and shall be found to be of two classes, those that had done good rising unto life, those that had practised evil rising unto judgmentThis must be the second resurrection, since Rev. 20: 4-6 shows plainly that in the first resurrection only the holy will have part.

 

5. 1 Cr. 15: 22-24.  As there is a lengthy period between Christ rising as the firstfruits of resurrection and the resurrection of those who are of Him at the time of His parousia, an interval of already two thousand years, so there is to be supposed an interval between the latter and "the end," when He shall have subordinated the universe to God.  Both intervals are required by the words that every man will be raised "in his own order" (company, band).

 

The Old Testament passages agree in placing the reign of Messiah directly after that resurrection of the godly they intimate, which in turn agrees with Rev. 20 in placing the kingdom age between the two resurrections.

 

4. THE DURATION OF THE KINGDOM.

 

Satan is to be bound for a "thousand years" (3) and the saints are to reign with Christ for the same period (4). The term is used six times.

 

1. In ver. 2 it stands in contrast to a "little time" and may itself mean an indefinitely long time.  But it cannot mean "permanently," for that "little time" is to follow "after" it, the thousand years.  And it being thus in contrast to an expression of time it must itself imply time, and does not mean simply, as has been suggested, that Satan is bound and Christ reigns "completely" or "perfectly."  Moreover, "that age" of the kingdom is set by Christ in contrast to "this age" (Lk. 20: 34, 35), and the latter term having a time element so much the former, as indeed the very word "age" indicates.  That an "age" may last more than a thousand years is seen by "this age" having done so.

 

2. From Isa. 65: 20 we learn that during the period of the kingdom of Messiah there will still be sin and death.  The kingdom, though a wondrous period of glory and joy, will still be imperfect, having latent in it the seeds which will develop into the final rebellion after Satan shall have been loosed.  Yet just before, in ver. 18, the prophet has spoken of Israel rejoicing "for ever" in that new era, and in many other places the sovereignty and blessing of Israel is said to be for ever.  Yet the presence of sin and death shows that not the eternal state is in view; so that in this connection with the kingdom of Messiah the expression "for ever" means a period of great and unannounced length, yet not endless.  If this be so, then the parallel term "a thousand years," when it describes the same era, will have the same indefinite sense.  It would scarcely be reasonable, or harmonious with the normal use of language, to reverse this and regard the term "for ever" as meaning only a literal thousand years.

 

The ancient idea that the history of man from Adam to the close of the kingdom will cover 7000 years, of which the Millennium will be the seventh thousand, is too conjectural to carry weight in settling the present question.

 

The "thousand years" may be literal; the term cannot mean any shorter period: but it may have the force of indefinite length, as suggested above.

 

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