Premillennialism is the doctrinal system teaching that this age will end with the physical return of Jesus Christ to the earth when He sets up a kingdom that will continue for one thousand years. The belief in the thousand year reign comes from a literal acceptance of Revelation 20:1-10. Postmillennialists reject the idea of a literal thousand years. Their teaching is that the thousand year reign of Revelation 20 refers to a long golden age of unrevealed length, that this time is a continuation of history as we experience it today, and that Jesus will return at the end of this time—not at the beginning.
In reading "Millennialism and Social Theory" by Gary North (using material from David Chilton’s “Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion”), I came across what he evidently feels is indisputable proof that the thousand years of Revelation 20 is not to be taken literally. To summarize, he gives two proofs. First in Deuteronomy 7:9, he points out the Lord's promise to keep "covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations." He considers a generation to be 30 or 40 years and teaches that a literal understanding of this verse would require 30,000 to 40,000 years to fulfill. Since premillennialists do not interpret this literally, then they should not require him to interpret Revelation 20 literally.
The second proof is takes Psalm 50:10 – “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” His argument is that the passage is clearly symbolic because if taken literally it means that God only owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Chilton asks, “Does Hill No. 1001 belong to someone else?” Chilton then gives the challenge that he will be glad to tell us exactly how long the millennium will last when we tell him exactly how many hills are in Psalm 50. As a note, Chilton claims that the millennium has already lasted almost 2,000 years. In his theology, the devil is already chained in the bottomless pit.
Now the question arises, are these valid refutations of the literal nature of the thousand year reign of Christ? First, I will respond to the two “proofs” and then I will explain the radically different nature of the thousand years in Revelation. To those who understand dispensational doctrine, the idea of God keeping covenant and mercy to a thousand generations is not a problem. The new earth that God creates for eternity is clearly populated with a people—probably people who lived and were righteous at the end of the thousand year reign. Through this people, God will fulfill the eternal paradise that was lost by Adam and God will also fulfill His eternal promises to the nation of Israel. They will therefore be fruitful and multiply, having generation after generation of descendants, and these people will be descendants of people living today. A thousand generations is only the beginning.
However, that does not mean that God’s warrantee runs out at one thousand and one generations. Neither does it mean that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and no more. These are literary devices that we use all the time. We might say to one of our children, “I would not give you up for a million dollars.” However, this does not mean that we would give the child up for a million and one dollars. That is absurd. Yet, the statement is still absolutely literal. I really would not give him or her up for that million dollars. God does own the cattle on a thousand hills, but He owns all the rest too. He will keep His covenant to a thousand generations, but this is not some sort of a deadline for the extent of His mercy.
But what does this have to do with Revelation 20 and the thousand year reign? Are they using the same literary devices? Not at all! To use these comparisons as a proof is extremely deceptive. Let us consider the characteristics of this passage that require a literal interpretation.
It has a beginning. It begins with the binding of Satan and his stay in the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3).
It has a duration. Satan is shut up that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled (Revelation 20:3). Note: How it is that Bible scholars can claim to believe the Bible and teach that we are now in the time when Satan is unable to deceive the nations is beyond this writer.
It has an ending. After Satan has been chained for a thousand years, he must be loosed a little season (Revelation 20:3).
It has a purpose. This thousand year reign is the time when the saints who were martyred for Christ during the tribulation will reign with Him (Revelation 20:4, 6).
It has something that has to wait for it to end. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished (Revelation 20:5).
It has a major ending event. It will end when Satan is loosed, when the nations join in battle against the Lord, and when God destroys them with fire from heaven (Revelation 20:7-9).
It is clearly repeated. In Revelation 20:1-7, the fact of the thousand years is repeated six different times in six different verses.
This is not a poetic passage and God is not using a special literary device. God is establishing that there is something very specific that is going to last for a thousand years.
The postmillennialists do not seriously believe the clear statements of prophecy. O, they have convinced themselves of the wisdom of their ways, but they still reject the plain teaching of scripture. However, their only defense is to try to bring everyone else down to their level. If they can convince you that you do not believe the Bible either, then the authority for doctrinal systems lies in the desirability of the system and not in the plain teaching of the word of God.
This explains why Gary North and others harp on the supposed pessimism of premillennialism and on its supposed focus on failure. They are seeking to convince you that their system is prettier and more desirable—and they are indeed convincing some. But remember this: it is not the beauty or the attractiveness of the system that makes it right. It is the level of agreement with the written word of God that makes any doctrinal system correct. True biblical systems, by the very fact that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), will often seem messy and incomplete to the human mind. It is a test of our faith in God and His word. Which will you believe? A smart man’s smooth and delicate system; or, God’s expression of His infinite wisdom? You have to answer that question for yourself.