I. The Basis for the Belief in the Messianic Kingdom
Premillennialists have often been criticized for basing their belief in a Millennium entirely on one passage of Scripture, Revelation 20. Because it is found in a book well noted for its high use of symbols, they say it is foolish to take the one thousand years literally. But that is hardly a valid criticism. To begin with, while it is true that the Book of Revelation uses many symbols, it has already been shown that the meaning of all those symbols is explained either within the Book of Revelation itself or elsewhere in the Scriptures. Furthermore, never are years used in a symbolic way in this book. If they are symbolic, the symbolism is nowhere explained. The mention of 1,260 days, 42 months, and 312 years are all literal and not symbolic. Hence, there is no need to take the one thousand years as anything but literal years. The desire to spiritualize the text always places the burden of proof on the interpreter. Without objective proof it will result in a subjective interpretation.
It is, of course, true that the figure of one thousand years is only found in Revelation 20. But it is recorded six different times in this one text, and if repetition tries to do anything, it certainly endeavors to make a point. While it is true that the millennium (that is, one thousand years) is found only in Revelation 20, the belief in the Messianic Kingdom does not rest on this passage alone. In fact, it hardly rests on it at all. The basis for the belief in the Messianic Kingdom is twofold.
First: there are the unfulfilled promises of the Jewish covenants, promises that can only be fulfilled in a Messianic Kingdom. Second: there are the unfulfilled prophecies of the Jewish prophets. There are numerous prophecies of the Old Testament that speak of the coming of the Messiah Who will reign on David’s Throne, and rule over a peaceful Kingdom. There is a great amount of material in the Old Testament on the Messianic Kingdom, and the belief in a Messianic Kingdom rests on the basis of a literal interpretation of this massive material.
The only real contribution that the Book of Revelation makes to the knowledge of the Kingdom is to disclose just how long the Messianic Kingdom will last–namely one thousand years–for which the term Millennium is used. This is the one key truth concerning the Kingdom that was not revealed in the Old Testament.
It is in light of this that it is possible to understand why so much of the book is spent on the Great Tribulation and so little on the Millennium. While much of the material in Revelation 4-19 is found scattered in the pages of the Old Testament, it is impossible to place these events in chronological sequence using only the Old Testament. The Book of Revelation provides the framework by which this can be done. A great portion of the Book of Revelation was used to accomplish this goal.
On the other hand, all of the various features and facets of the Messianic Kingdom have already been revealed in the Old Testament. It portrays the general characteristics of life in the Kingdom, which do not raise the problem of an order of sequence. Hence, there was no reason to spend a great deal of time on the Messianic Kingdom in the Book of Revelation. Most of what was needed to be revealed was already known from the Old Testament.
However, there were two things about the Messianic Kingdom which were not revealed in the Old Testament. The first was the length of the Messianic Kingdom. While the Old Testament prophets foresaw a long period of time of a peaceful messianic reign, they did not reveal just how long this would last. To answer this question, the Book of Revelation states that it will be exactly one thousand years. A second thing that was unknown from the Old Testament prophets was the circumstances by which the Kingdom would come to an end and how this would lead into the Eternal Order. This is also revealed by the Book of Revelation. These two items are all that Revelation 20 added to the knowledge of the Messianic Kingdom. The belief in a Messianic Kingdom does not rest on this passage, but is based on the numerous prophecies of the Old Testament prophets.
The first basis for the belief in a coming Kingdom rests on the four unconditional, unfulfilled covenants God made with Israel. These covenants are unconditional and so rely solely on God for their fulfillment and not on Israel. They are also unfulfilled, and since God is One Who keeps His promises, they must be fulfilled in the future. They can only be fulfilled within the framework of a Messianic Kingdom or a Millennial Kingdom. More will be said about these covenants later, but the main points will be summarized here.
The first of these is the Abrahamic Covenant, which promised an eternal Seed developing into a nation that will possess the Promised Land with some definite borders. While that nation–the Jews–continues to exist, never in Jewish history have they possessed all of the Promised Land. For this promise to be fulfilled, there must be a future Kingdom. Besides, the possession of the Land was not merely promised to Abraham’s seed, but to Abraham personally when God said, to you will I give it, and to your seed for ever (Gen. 13:15). For God to fulfill His promise to Abraham (as well as to Isaac and Jacob), there must be a future Kingdom.
The second covenant is the Palestinian Covenant, or Land Covenant, that spoke of a worldwide regathering of the Jews and repossession of the Land following their dispersion. While the dispersion has already occurred and is in effect today, the regathering and repossession of the Land still awaits fulfillment in the future. This, too, requires a future Kingdom.
The Davidic Covenant is the third covenant, and it promised four eternal things: an eternal house (dynasty), an eternal throne, an eternal kingdom, and one eternal Person. The Dynasty became eternal because it culminated in a Person Who is Himself eternal: Jesus the Messiah. For that reason the Throne and Kingdom will be eternal as well. But Jesus has never yet sat on the Throne of David ruling over a Kingdom of Israel. The reestablishment of the Davidic Throne and Messiah’s rule over the Kingdom still awaits a future fulfillment. It requires a future kingdom.
The last of these covenants is the New Covenant, which spoke of the national regeneration and salvation of Israel, encompassing each individual Jewish member of that nation. This, too, awaits its final fulfillment and requires a future kingdom.
It is the extensive prophetic writings, as well as all of these covenants, that provide the basis for the belief in a future Messianic Kingdom, and not merely one chapter of a highly symbolic book. Unless they are understood literally, they lose all meaning in the context in which they are found. To allegorize such a vast amount of material is to render a major part of the Bible meaningless.
To summarize, the basis for the belief in a Messianic Kingdom is twofold: the unfulfilled promises of the Jewish covenants, and the unfulfilled prophecies of the Jewish prophets.
II. General Characteristics of the Messianic Kingdom
A great many of the Old Testament prophets directed their attention to the details of the Messianic Kingdom, providing an overall, comprehensive picture of life during that time. This section will be concerned with those passages dealing with the general characteristics of the Messianic Kingdom that will be true for both Jews and Gentiles alike.
A. Isaiah 2:2-4
In this passage, Isaiah describes one of the major characteristics of the Messianic Kingdom, that of universal peace. While differences between nations will arise, such differences will no longer be settled by military conflicts, but only by the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Even the art of warfare will be forgotten.
B. Isaiah 11:6-9
The universal peace described in the earlier passage will extend even to the animal kingdom. All animals will return to the Edenic state and become vegetarians (vv. 6-7). The oldest of enemies, man and snake, will be able to live in compatibility in that day (v. 8), for the knowledge of God will permeate throughout the entire world, affecting man and animal alike (v. 9).
C. Isaiah 65:17-25
This passage begins with the announcement of the creation of new heavens and a new earth (v. 17). These new heavens and new earth are not to be confused with those of Revelation 21-22. The latter describes the new heavens and new earth of the Eternal Order, while the Isaiah passage describes those of the Messianic Kingdom which will be a renovation of the present heavens and earth. Those of the Revelation are not a renovation, but a brand new order. Hence, for the Millennium, there will be a total renovation of the heavens and the earth. The fact that the term create is used shows that this renovation will be a miraculous one, possible by God alone. The result of this renovation will be a continuation of many things of the old order and a number of new things. A good example of the old and the new is to be seen in what the Scriptures say about the Land of Israel. Israel will also undergo the renovation process. Some things of the old order will remain, such as the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. But a number of things will be brand new, such as the exceeding high mountain (the highest in the world) in the center of the country. Following this announcement of new heavens and a new earth, there is a description of the millennial Jerusalem (vv. 18-19). The millennial Jerusalem will be studied in detail in chapter 19, Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.
Verse 20 is especially significant, for it discusses life and death in the Kingdom. This verse teaches several things. First: there will no longer be any infant mortality in the Millennium; everyone who is born in the Kingdom will reach a certain age. Second: the specific age at which one may die is the age of one hundred. With infant mortality removed, everyone born in the Millennium will live at least until his hundredth year of life. Because of the prolongation of life in the Millennium, those who die at the age of one hundred will be considered as having died young. Third: this verse limits the people dying at the age of one hundred to those who are sinners; namely, unbelievers, as only they would be considered accursed. So, then, death in the Kingdom will be for unbelievers only. Comparing this passage with what is stated about salvation in other passages, the entire concept of life and death in the Kingdom can be summarized as follows. When the Kingdom begins, all natural men, both Jews and Gentiles, will be believers. The Jews in their entirety will be saved just prior to the Second Coming of the Messiah. All unbelieving Gentiles (goats) will be killed during the seventy-five day interval between the Tribulation and the Millennium, and only believing Gentiles (sheep) will be able to enter the Kingdom. However, in the process of time, there will be birth in the Kingdom of both Jews and Gentiles. These newly born, natural people will continue to inherit the sin nature from their natural parents and will also be in need of regeneration. Although Satan is confined, thus reducing temptation, the sin nature is quite capable of rebelling against God apart from satanic activity. In time, there will be unsaved people living in the Kingdom in need of regeneration. As in the past, the means of salvation will be by grace through faith and the content of faith will be the death of Messiah for sin and His subsequent resurrection. Those born in the Kingdom will have until their hundredth year to believe. If they do not, they will die in their hundredth year. The unbeliever will not be able to live past his first century of life. However, if they do believe, they will live throughout the Millennium and never die. Thus, death in the Millennium will be for unbelievers only. This is why the Bible nowhere speaks of a resurrection of millennial saints. This is why the resurrection of the Tribulation saints is said to complete the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6). It is also clear from the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 that there will be no Jewish unbelievers in the Kingdom; all Jews born during the Kingdom will accept the Messiah by their hundredth year. Unbelief will be among the Gentiles only and, therefore, death will exist only among the Gentiles.
Verses 21-24 continue to describe life in the Kingdom as a time of personal peace and prosperity. It will be a time of building and planting. He who builds and plants is guaranteed the enjoyment of the labors of his hands, for many of the effects of the curse will be removed (vv. 21-22a). Life will be characterized by longevity (v. 22b), absence of calamity and turmoil (v. 23), and instantaneous response from God (v. 24). As in Isaiah 11:6-9, the animal kingdom will be at peace with each other and with man (v. 25).
D. Micah 4:1-5
The first three verses of this passage are the same as those found in Isaiah 2:2-4 that speak of the Mountain of Jehovah’s House becoming the center of attention to the world’s Gentile population, the Kingdom being characterized as a time of messianic teaching, and the absence of war as universal peace permeates the entire Kingdom. Micah adds that the Kingdom will be a time of personal peace and prosperity (v. 4), with Israel’s total allegiance being to God (v. 5).
To summarize the general characteristics of the Messianic Kingdom, it will be a time of universal and personal prosperity and peace between man and man, between animal and animal, and between man and animal, with many (but not all) of the effects of the curse removed. It will be a time characterized by truth, holiness and righteousness, with justice continually being dispersed from Jerusalem. It will be a time of labor in building and planting, with guaranteed results and promised enjoyment of these labors.