1. There is no text in the NT that unequivocally teaches it. Indeed, in light of Hebrews 11 where the saints’ earthly call is re-interpreted into a heavenly one (11:10,16, cf. 3:1; 11:39f.; 10:34; 12:22; 13:14), it is astonishing that the earthly millennium if it were true is not mentioned.
2. It would appear to be almost entirely dependent on an out-of-context literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10 undergirded by certain OT texts which in the NT are spiritualised (cf. Heb. 11:8-16, etc.).
3. It adds to the apostolic gospel as propounded in the rest of the NT. As an addition to the apostolic foundation (Eph. 2:20), it unavoidably subtracts from and distorts it.
4. It inevitably casts doubt on the work of Christ which being finished (John 4:34; 19:30; Heb. 1:3; 9:28) does not require supplementation. An earthly millennium, the reason for which its advocates find difficult to explain, is therefore superfluous since Jesus has already overcome the world (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 3:21; 5:5).
5. It offends against biblical typology. Moses returned to Egypt at God’s behest to judge and rescue. According to the NT, Jesus will return for precisely the same reason (1 Thes. 1:10; 4:16f.; Heb. 9:28).
6. It assumes that Jesus will return in the flesh – a theological, or more precisely and anthropological, impossibility. If it were true, it would require a re-incarnation (cf. John 3:4) since his return to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father necessitated his retransformation (1 Cor. 15:50) and a return to his former glory (John 17:5,24). See more below.
7. It fails to reckon with the fact that when Christ returns he will do so as man glorified as God (Heb. 1:3; 2:9, etc.), that is, in the power and glory of God himself (Mt. 16:27; 25:31; 26:64; Tit. 2:13, etc.). See further 14 below.
8. Bearing this in mind, it ignores even OT teaching that God cannot dwell on the earth and that the highest heaven cannot contain him (1 K. 8:27, Acts 7:48-50, cf. Eph. 1:21). See further 29 below.
9. It fails to reckon with the explicit teaching of Hebrews 7:26 which states that Christ is now spatially separated from sinners (cf. Ps. 113:4ff.; Hab. 1:13), exalted above the created heavens through which he passed (4:14) into heaven itself (9:24).
10. It offends against the rule evident throughout Scripture that there is to be no going back (e.g. Dt. 17:16, etc.). If Jesus came back to earth, it would be tantamount to returning to Egypt, suggest sin and inadequacy in his finished work. See further 27 below. Yet we are explicitly told in Luke 9:31 that Jesus’ departure constituted his exodus (cf. 9:51).
11. It implicitly denies the perfection of Christ, i.e. his glorification as God (John 17:24; 2 Thes. 1:10; Heb. 1:3, cf. 5 and 8 above).
12. On the assumption that John the Evangelist is the author of the gospel, the letters and the book of Revelation, it imports a contradiction into his teaching. For John consistently indicates that Jesus has returned to his heavenly Father (John 3:13; 6:62; 8:14; 13:1,3; 14:28; 16:5,10,17,28; 17:5,11,13,24; 20:17, etc.) to prepare a place for his people (14:2f., 1 Thes. 4:17, cf. Heb. 2:9-13) where they will see his glory (17:24; 2 Thes. 1:10) which, in light of Isaiah 33:17; 66:18 and John 17:5, is the glory of God who is a consuming fire (Ex. 24:17; Dt.4:24). Furthermore, John records Jesus as having given the apostles God’s words (15:15; 16:13; 17:8). Yet nothing is said either by John or the other apostles about a millennium of the kind deduced by some from Revelation 20. The inference from Rev. 1:1f. is that the message of Revelation is the same as that of the apostolic foundation to which Paul refers (Eph. 2:20, cf. Rev.19:10; 21:14). In other words, Revelation is a recapitulation or symbolical summary of what is taught in the rest of the NT. See further 27 below.
13. The fact that God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29, cf. Rev. 1:14,18; 19:12) torpedoes all ideas of Christ and his saints living again on the earth in the flesh, for who among us can dwell with devouring fire and everlasting burnings (Isa. 33:14) when the flesh, like all material things, is corruptible and susceptible to burning (Jas. 5:3). In any case Paul says explicitly that Jesus will return in flaming fire (2 Thes. 1:7-10; 2:8).
14. John, like Paul (1 Cor. 7:31, etc.), also teaches the essential transience of creation (1 John 2:17). There is therefore no place for the eternal on the temporal earth. Jesus came once to deal with sin: when he comes again it will be to judge his enemies and to deliver his people (1 Thes. 1:10; 4:17; Heb. 9:28). If there is to be a literal thousand-year millennium of the kind projected by premillennialists, then the world will to all intents and purposes be a different place contrasting violently with what we see at the moment. Yet Jesus in his high-priestly prayer specifically asks God not to take believers out of the world (presumably as it now is) but to keep them from the evil one (John 17:15).
15. Jesus’ return to earth falsely assumes the restoration rather than the removal of all created things (Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27; Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4, etc.).
16. The very idea of a return to earth posits a framework inconsistent with true covenant theology, which reflects the movement from flesh to spirit evident throughout the Bible (1 Cor. 15:46, cf. 15:50; John 3:6; 2 Cor. 3:18). While the covenants with Noah and Moses relate to this transitory material world, the new covenant is essentially spiritual and relates to the world to come. It alone has a surety (Heb. 7:22).
17. It is based on the Augustinian worldview which assumed original perfection and a universal curse on creation stemming from Adam’s sin. These are false to the Bible, which is thoroughly teleological, that is, it moves from a temporal material beginning to an eternal spiritual end or goal.
18. At the end of the day premillennialism operates without a proper understanding of the purpose or plan of God which is to bring us to perfection (Heb. 6:1; 7:11; Phil. 3:12-14, etc.), to make us, both Jew and Gentile, his children (Rom. 8:21; 1 John 3:1) fashioned in the spiritual image of Christ and with a spiritual body like his (Rom. 8:29, cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2).
19. Jesus explicitly taught that neither he (John 8:23) nor his kingdom was of this world (John 18:36, cf. 6:15). He is King of kings and Lord of lords in heaven (Heb. 1:6; 2:5, cf. 6:5) and occupies David’s throne in heaven (Luke 1:32f.; Acts 2:29ff.; 15:16f.). The same goes for his priesthood which the author of Hebrews indicates cannot be exercised on earth (a) because Jesus came from the wrong tribe (7:13; 8:4), and (b) because he was appointed to a Melchisedekian priesthood which is eternal or “forever” (6:20; 7:3,16,24f.,28) and is by definition excluded from the temporal earth. His ministry belongs to the “true tent” (8:1f.) and is “more excellent” (8:6).
20. It ignores the clear teaching of Scripture that Christ was the pioneer of our salvation which involves glory in heaven (John 14:2f.; Rom. 5:2; 8:30; Heb. 2:10; 4:14; 6:19f.; 9:24; 12:2, etc.) and commits the folly of imagining that the eternal incorruptible God (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16) can take up permanent residence on the temporal earth which is corruptible by nature (Acts 7:48-50; Rom. 8:21). The contrast between the Creator and his creation pervades Scripture (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6, etc.).
21. It is a direct contradiction of Paul’s insistence that we should seek “incorruption” (literally) along with glory and honour (Rom. 2:7,10). In other words our call is a heavenly call (Gen. 2:17; Phil. 3:14; Col. 3:1-5; Heb. 3:1) to share God’s glory (Rom. 5:2; 2 Cor. 4:17; Col. 1:5,27; 2 Thes. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:11, etc.).
22. It undermines the biblical doctrine of regeneration which relates primarily, though not exclusively (cf. Tit. 3:3-7), to nature and not to sin (the Augustinian view). The reason why we cannot enter the kingdom of God is that we are earthy, that is, corruptible flesh and blood (John 3:6; 1 Cor. 15:50). This can only mean that the new birth involving eternal life is a preparation for heaven and logically excludes or renders redundant the idea of an earthly
23. It logically denies the teaching that we should die to the flesh (Gal. 5:24), the law (Gal. 2:19), the world (Gal. 6:14), earthly things (Col. 3:1-5), etc., and ignores the clear teaching that the flesh by its very nature is ephemeral.
24. It runs counter to the parable of the wise virgins, who unlike their foolish counterparts, went straight to the marriage feast (Mt. 25:1-13, cf. 21,23,31-33; 22:8-10; 24:40f.,46f.; Luke 12:37; 17:34ff.).
25. Acts 13:34 tells us explicitly that Jesus, who brought ‘incorruption’ to light for the first time (2 Tim. 1:10), will no more return to corruption. This must mean both that Jesus will never be incarnate, that is, corruptible flesh, again (cf. Heb. 7:16,23-25) and hence that he will have no more involvement with the natural corruption of creation. After all, having conquered (John 16:33; Rom. 8:31-39; Heb. 2:9, etc.), he has returned to the Father whose glory he shared before the foundation of the world (John 17:5,24, cf. Luke (24:26), mission accomplished (John 17:4. Repetition implies futility (cf. Heb. 10:11ff., etc.!)
26. The notion that Jesus and his saints are going to reign on the earth in the flesh constitutes an enormous problem for premillennialists for another reason. First, since the saints have already experienced fleshly corruption (cf. David, Acts 2:29) from where are they to get their flesh without entering their (dead) mother’s wombs again (Job 31:15, cf. John 3:4)? Next, it is assumed that people will not behave wickedly once the devil is bound and that the millennium will be a kind of utopia, a demonstration of man controlling creation (though Jesus has already done this, Heb. 2:9f.). Yet it is nonetheless claimed that the outbreak of evil at the end of the 1,000 years will reveal the innate wickedness of the human heart. This raises the question of the nature of this so-called wickedness. Presumably it is based on the Augustinian notion of original sin which Scripture does not teach.
In the Bible, however, there is another factor: the flesh itself. If we even as Christians cannot completely control our flesh under the leading of the Spirit now (cf. Phil. 3:12-14; 1 John 1:8-10), how shall we during the millennium? We, and even Jesus himself since he will return in the flesh, will be as vulnerable to fleshly temptation (Heb. 4:15), if not the devil’s deception, then as now! With temptation there will come sin and with sin another death – a second physical death. Yet the author of Hebrews stresses the fact that it is appointed to us to die once (9:27)! In the book of Revelation the second death is something else much more sinister. The plain truth is that a literal 1000-year earthly millennium lived out in our naturally corruptible flesh even apart from sin and weakness would be a nightmare not a dream. We might remember at this point that while the Israelites were forbidden to return to Egypt, when they did so it was for punishment (Hos. 8:13;9:3,6; 11:5)!
By contrast Scripture leads me to believe that Jesus, who made the flesh his slave (Rom. 8:3, cf. 1 Cor. 9:25) and finally cast it out (Gal. 4:29f., cf. John 8:35), has now ceased to be flesh and has done with its temptation and persecution forever (Heb. 2:17f.; 4:14f., cf. James 1:13-15). This suggests that the premillennialist millennium is a figment of the imagination.
There is another problem. The Bible talks of two ages, the present and the age to come (Eph. 1:21, etc.). To which age does the millennium belong? Premillennialists claim that their millennium precedes the eternal age. If this is so, then inevitably the millennium occurs in this present evil age (Gal. 1:4) which is characterised by temporality, materiality, aging, natural corruptibility, weakness, temptation, sin and death. As suggested above, a 1,000 years of this will be a nightmare which in any event achieves nothing that Jesus has not already achieved (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9). The picture painted in Luke 20:34-36 suggests something different.
27. Jesus came into this world physically in the flesh to bring us to glory or to God (1 Cor. 15:46; Heb. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:18) as our elder brother, the pioneer of our salvation. He has thus prepared our way by re-entering glory (cf. John 14:2f.) as a spiritually and corporeally (somatically) perfected human being. He applies his salvation from heaven (1 Cor. 15:25). Why would he come back to live on earth again when he has already dealt with sin and paved our path to glory (Heb. 9:28; 10:19-22)? Rather he will come back to rescue us and present us all together (cf. Heb. 11:39f.) to the Father (John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; 1 Thes. 4:16f.). We shall thus be with him forever (John 12:26; 14:3,19; 17:24; 1 Thes. 4:17).
28. If Jesus at his ascension, exaltation and heavenly session was glorified with the Father and occupied his throne (Rev. 3:21; 22:3, etc.), his return to earth suggests a separation or rift in the glory of God. In other words, it jeopardises the doctrine of the Trinity which emphasises the unity of the Godhead. It was one thing for the incarnate Jesus to lay aside his glory and experience separation from his Father but a wholly different thing for Godhead itself to be ontologically divided. Even the OT taught that God would not share his glory with another (Isa. 42:8; 48:11) yet such a notion is implicit in an earthly millennium.
29. As intimated above (8), if the glorified Jesus now shares again the glory of his Father (John 17:5,24), he cannot still be flesh (1 Cor. 15:50, etc.). He cannot inhabit the earth (1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:48f.) or indeed anything “hand -made” (Acts 7:50, cf. Isa. 48:13; Heb. 1:10-12; 9:11,24).
30. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was made lower than the angels only for a little while (2:7). After this, he was crowned with glory and honour (2:9), seated at the right hand of God and hence exalted above the (created) heavens (7:26, cf. 4:14). If this was the joy set before him (cf. John 17:24), it sits ill indeed with an eventual return to a world subject to corruption (cf. Acts 13:34; Rom. 8:21)!
31. This leads, as the author of Hebrews indicates, to the recognition that Jesus’ reign is primarily over the “coming world” not the present one (1:6; 2:5, cf. 2:9). So far as this present world is concerned, on the basis of his finished work on earth, he is completing the plan of salvation from heaven by putting all his enemies under his feet in preparation for rescuing his own at the denouement (Heb. 9:28). See 35 below.
32. If the climax of the process of salvation is the transformed resurrection spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:50ff.; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:5)*, we are prepared for life in heaven in the presence of God not on earth. Other considerations apart, an earthly millennium, like Gentile circumcision, is superfluous.
33. According to Heb. 1:11, in contrast with God who is eternal, creation is growing old. According to Heb. 8:13 what is growing old is ready to vanish away. Even Jesus as flesh was growing old (John 8:57) so he had to be transformed at his ascension into heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50). And when he comes again it will be in the glory of the Father and before his presence earth and sky will flee away (Rev. 20:11;21:1,4).
34. Finally, not only does a literal millennium suggest that Christ’s work was incomplete, it also undermines the effectiveness of the work of the Spirit whom he sent to finish his work on earth on the basis of his own completed work in the flesh. The Spirit’s function involves mediating the salvation achieved by Christ to believers till the end of the world when the number of the elect will be complete. The fact is that the work of the Spirit is based on the completed work of the glorified Christ (John 7:39) who continues to subject all to his will (1 Cor. 15:24-28) rendering a literal millennium redundant.
What is most disturbing about many premillennialists is the arrogance implied by their insistence on a literal interpretation of Revelation 20. (G.E.Ladd, a premillennialist, strongly rejects the literalistic hermeneutic of the dispensationalists but nonetheless falls prey to it in his own interpretation of Revelation 20**) How do they know that this passage, set as it is in a highly symbolic book, must be taken literally? It is surely more humble to argue from what is known to what is unknown than the other way around. If we abandon what is known as the analogy of faith, every Tom, Dick and Harry can have his own highly subjective opinion, and any acceptable degree of certainty is impossible.
Anyone who knows anything about the history of the interpretation of Revelation knows very well that this is precisely what has happened. Needless to say, chaos and absurdity reign. Premillennialism is based on a single passage in the highly symbolical book of Revelation. It depends on an extremely questionable interpretation which, though it has affinities with the OT which tended to picture heaven in earthly terms, is fundamentally out of accord with the rest of the NT. In other words, it builds a theological edifice on a foundation of sand and not on the rock which is Christ and his apostles (Eph. 2:20, cf. Rev. 19:10; 21:14). It fails miserably to appreciate the essential spirituality and permanence of the new covenant (cf. Heb. 9:12,15;13:20) in contrast with the impermanent materiality of the old. While its stress on the second coming of Christ is to be applauded, since traditional premillennialism is at odds with biblical theology, it is a stumbling block to many and ought to be firmly and rigorously dismissed.
*Cf. J.D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/New York, 2003, p.421.
**See The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Clouse, Downers Grove, 1977, pp.18ff.