Q: What is millennialism, and why don’t we teach it?”
A: “Millennium” means 1,000 years and refers to a period of time mentioned in Revelation chapter 20. Those who take the figurative description to indicate a literal 1,000 years and look for some future glorious kingdom established on this. earth are known as “millennialists.” It seems this false doctrine was rooted in a Jewish view of an earthly messianic kingdom which was common even in Old Testament times. But millennialism, or chiliasm, received prominence among the enthusiasts of Luther’s day and especially in the 17th century during political unrest in Europe.
There are many different branches of millennialism, but for the sake of brief discussion we can classify two major types: the extreme millennialists who say that Christ will appear again before Judgment Day and raise the dead believers to enjoy on earth a kingdom of universal peace and prosperity, and the moderate millennialists who do not rigidly espouse materialistic aspects of such an earthly “kingdom” nor the physical pre-Judgment Day appearance of Christ but do believe wars will cease and Christianity will dominate. Most millennialists also believe that the Jews will experience mass conversion to the Christian religion and that the geographical region of present-day Israel is the expected central location of Christianity’s blissful earthly reign.
There are many objections to be raised in refutation of this false teaching so common among the Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, Assembly of God churches, as well as Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons. Only some of them can be enumerated here:
1) Scripture speaks only of Christ coming again for the Judgment, and says nothing of Him coming to set up an earthly kingdom (Matt. 25:31 ff., II Thess. 1:7, II Pet. 3: 10).
2) Christ’s kingdom on earth is always described as spiritual in nature (John 18:36, Rom. 14:17, Luke 17:20).
3) The days right before the time of Judgment are, according to Scripture, very difficult and terrible times for the believers to endure (Matt. 24, II Pet. 3:3, I Tim. 4:1-3).
4) Judgment Day is spoken of as being “near” and “sudden,” contrary, to the view that would allow 1,000 literal years to be calculated from the time of an earthly kingdom dedication (Phil. 4:5, Rev. 16:15, Matt. 24:36).
5) Mass conversion of Jews is not to be expected. When St. Paul says “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26), it is obvious he is referring to all who have the faith of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile (Rom. 9:6-8).
6) The great dangers of millennialism are chiefly these: teaching people to look for a heaven on earth, when in fact our hopes are to be heavenward (Phil. 4:20); and the subtle opening for people to think they may have a second chance to get ready for Christ’s final return (Heb. 9:27).
Adhering to the principle “Scripture interprets Scripture,” the Lutheran Church has believed the interpretation of the 1,000 years in Revelation 20 to be taken figuratively, the way that a “vision” (Rev. 9:17) is usually construed. The “1,000 years” very likely refers to the time span between Christ’s death where Satan was defeated and the time shortly before the very end when evil will have a brief rendezvous of enormous proliferation. But through faith in Christ’s blood we do not fear, for we are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one!” (Heb. 11:16).