Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times. The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.
Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.
Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.
Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.
There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.
With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.
10 simple truths
First, Jesus is returning one day. While we do not know the day or hour of His glorious appearing (Matt. 24:36; Titus 2:13), and while we may disagree about the order of events surrounding the Day of the Lord, we can rest assured that He will come back and fulfill all things (John 14:3; Acts 1:9-11; 3:19-21).
Second, His return is personal, physical, and visible. When He splits the heavens, every eye sees Him, and the marks of His crucifixion verify His identity (Matt. 24:27-30; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7; 5:6-10).
Third, He avenges Himself and His people by destroying the wicked. There is a day of reckoning for those who reject Christ and persecute His followers (Rom. 12:19; 1 Cor. 15:24-26; Heb. 10:30-31; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:11-21).
Fourth, He resurrects and judges all people (John 5:28-29; Rev. 22:12). While there is considerable debate as to whether the righteous and the wicked are raised at the same time or in stages, it is clear that once all judgment is completed, Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire; no one is left waiting (Rev. 20:14).
Fifth, believers stand before the judgment seat of Christ, are rewarded according to the stewardship of their Christian lives, and are given places of service in His eternal kingdom (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).
Sixth, unbelievers stand before the great white throne and are given varying degrees of punishment; all are separated eternally from God in hell, which Jesus describes as “outer darkness” where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:40-42, 47-50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Rev. 20:11-15).
Seventh, Jesus creates new heavens and a new earth. He purges the cosmos of the effects of the Fall and restores it to its original perfection (2 Peter 3:10-13; Rev. 21-22).
Eighth, Jesus urges us to be prepared for His return. “This is why you must be ready,” He tells His disciples, “because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). He commends faithful and sensible service in light of His unannounced return (Matt. 24:45-51), and He concludes the parable of the 10 virgins with these words, “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
Ninth, Christians spend eternity with fellow Christians who disagree with us. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not based on doctrinal perfection but on the finished work of Christ (John 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9).
Tenth, the Lord corrects our faulty views as He shepherds us throughout eternity (John 14:2-3; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Rev. 21:3-4).
This column first appeared Dec. 3, 2013, in The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.