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Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer on The Literal Millennial Kingdom Reign of Christ on Earth

27 Sep

“The King Reins in His Kingdom” 

The messianic Kingdom on earth is a vindication of God’s creative activity…. The triumph of God over the satanic dominion of this planet is necessary for the glory of God. If there were no messianic age, if God simply picked up the redeemed remnant and took them to heaven, then we would have to conclude that God was unable to complete what he began. —William S. LaSor

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:4

When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” what are we praying for? What did Jesus have in mind when He asked us to pray for His coming kingdom, and how would we recognize this kingdom if it were to appear? And what would our role be in it?

The idea of utopia exists in every human heart. Every generation has looked forward to an idyllic time when men and women live in peace and prosperity. This has been the goal of every civilization, every political philosophy, and every sincere Christian. Thomas More invented the word utopia in 1516 when he wrote a book by that title, but the vision of a time of harmony and freedom was in existence long before then.

The Bible describes a future utopia, but one very different from worldly descriptions that have come to us throughout history. The biblical vision includes the intervention of God, namely, the coming of Christ to earth to personally establish His kingdom. History has proven conclusively that man cannot bring in any form of utopia because sin permeates human nature. Selfishness, dishonesty, and distrust make the possibility of any such a golden age impossible. But when Jesus returns, the King of Kings will do what man cannot. And, incredibly, we as believers will be given a part to play in this new world order.

Thankfully, God will complete what He began. The devil will not have the last word on this planet. The very place where Satan was given authority to rule will eventually be ruled by Jesus Christ. God subjected the rule of this world to Adam who dropped the scepter, and God let Satan pick it up.

And so, the second Adam—that is, Jesus—will reverse this sequence of events and claim the title to rule in triumph. “You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet” (Hebrews 2:7–8). In putting everything under Him, God left nothing that is not subject to Him. Yet at present we do not see everything “subject to him” (v. 8). Yes, eventually all things will again be subject to man, specifically the one man named Jesus. Where Satan won a victory, Jesus will triumph.

 OLD TESTAMENT PREDICTIONS OF THE COMING KINGDOM

The prediction of a coming kingdom on earth ruled by Christ was clearly revealed to David. God gave him this startling revelation saying that he would have a son who would build a temple, and who would be disciplined when he did evil. But there was much more to this prediction: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7: 12–13). Solomon fulfilled the first part of that verse, but most assuredly, the throne of his kingdom was not established forever. That word house means “genealogy” and the word kingdom means “territory” in Israel where David ruled.

Has this promise ever been fulfilled? I think not. David certainly did not rule “forever.” God was speaking about a kingdom that would transcend David’s and Solomon’s era, and He predicted a coming king who would rule forever.

As further proof that this promise was not fulfilled in Old Testament times, we are again reminded that the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31–33). Has Jesus ever ruled over the house of David and over the tribe of Jacob? Certainly we must agree He has never ruled from Jerusalem and the territory over which David ruled. Clearly, this is a reference to the coming kingdom age.

In the Old Testament prophets there are many chapters devoted to the idea of a utopia where God’s special king rules, and we have descriptions of a kingdom, the likes of which we have never seen. For example, Isaiah 2:2–4 says:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

If you visit the United Nations building in New York and then walk cross the street to the plaza, you will see a wall with an inscription of only the last half of verse 4, which reads, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Why wasn’t the first part of the verse included in this inscription? Obviously, it is because the first part of the verse predicts that Messiah shall usher in this rule (judge) and bring peace to the nations. The point to be made is that the United Nations thinks it can accomplish the heady goal of peace without Christ’s intervention and help.

Tellingly, on the wall there is no chapter and verse given for this quotation, but under it is simply the name Isaiah. The wall itself is called the “Isaiah Wall,” but there is no hint that his prophecy necessitates the coming of Messiah in order for it to be fulfilled. Quite possibly the architects did not give the reference in Isaiah, lest someone look it up in the Bible and discover that it was a Messianic passage! The United Nations may be doing many good things, but trust me, their agenda does not include establishing peace on earth under the authority of Jesus! Let’s consider another similar prediction of Isaiah:

And he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. (11:3–6)

The phrases, “the wolf will live with the lamb” and the “leopard will lie down with the goat” remind us that we are not yet in the era of the millennial kingdom. Today if a wolf were to lie down with the lamb, when the wolf got up we would discover that the lamb is missing! Isaiah is speaking about the rule of Jesus on earth in the coming kingdom. Peace will come—but only Christ can bring it to earth.

 WHO’S IN AND WHO’S OUT?

Who will qualify to enter into this kingdom? All those who pass the test at “The judgment of the nations” discussed by Jesus in Matthew 25. To quote the words of Jesus, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (vv. 31–33).

We should note in passing that this text is further proof of the pretribulation rapture of the church. If the rapture and the glorious appearing happened simultaneously, there would be no need to have a judgment of the “sheep and the goats.” That separation would have already occurred when all believers were caught up into the clouds to meet King Jesus. The only plausible explanation is that there is a period of time between the rapture and the glorious return when people do come to trust in Messiah Jesus. Thus this judgment does not take place at the rapture, but rather it takes place after the tribulation just before the millennium.

The imagery of sheep and goats would have been familiar to the first-century listeners. Sheep and goats, I’m told, don’t get along well. Sheep are usually quite docile whereas goats are very unruly, so in this context, the sheep enter the kingdom and the goats are cast out. Jesus explains the terms of the judgment: Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)

Has Jesus changed the terms of salvation? Is He now teaching that we are saved by our deeds of kindness to the poor and those who are imprisoned? After all, He commends those who fed the hungry and visited the oppressed in prison and invites these to enter the kingdom, whereas those who neglected these good works go into everlasting destruction. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (v. 41).

There is a better explanation for these verses than to say that deeds of kindness save us. Remember that during the tribulation period the faithful do not take the mark of the beast, whether Jew or Gentile. These people will endure persecution; they will be jailed, and many killed. The Jews especially

The Jews especially will be targeted for persecution and martyrdom. The righteous Gentiles will want to support their fellow brethren, the Jews, and will do whatever is needed to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people. These Gentiles will have proved their loyalty to Christ by the way they treated His “brothers” (v. 40). Their sacrificial kindness is not the root of their faith, but the fruit of their faith.

The bottom line is that only believers will enter into the kingdom that is about to be established. Both Jews and Gentiles who refused the mark of the beast will be found worthy to enter the kingdom and hear words of welcome from Jesus. As for the others, “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (v. 46).

 WHAT WILL WE FIND IN THE KINGDOM?

What are some of the characteristics of this kingdom? One of them is most assuredly that Jesus rules. “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6). During this kingdom age the curse will be partially lifted, but not totally. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed” (Isaiah 65:20). The point is that if you die at the age of a hundred in the kingdom, you’re dying young; whereas today to die at the age of a hundred is to die very old. In the kingdom there will be health and longevity, but death itself will not be avoided. These predictions do not depict heaven as some interpreters allege. In heaven all people will have eternal, indestructible bodies that will not die; whereas in the kingdom, people live in natural bodies and die.

At Christmas one of our favorite carols is “Joy to the World.” Most of us only know the first stanza, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King.” But when you read through stanzas two through four, you find a beautiful description of the millennial reign of Jesus. The third stanza reads, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.” Verse four includes, “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonder of His love.”

Today Jesus is not making the nations “prove” anything. Look carefully at a crop growing in a field and you will see plenty of weeds; perhaps even thorns will be infesting the ground. Read the newspapers and you will soon discover that no one is ruling the world with “truth and grace.”

So when we sing this carol, we should realize that the author, Isaac Watts, was not only thinking about the first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem but also His second coming when He will redeem the earth.

 SATAN IS THROWN INTO THE ABYSS

Read this critical passage that sheds additional light on the nature and length of the kingdom reign. Note especially the binding of Satan and the time frame:

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time (Revelation 20:1–3).

Satan is thrown into the Abyss, a holding place for evil spirits which for now will include Satan. Recall that demons asked Jesus to not cast them into the abyss. The lake of fire still awaits these evil creatures; for now they are being held for judgment. In being confined here, Satan is not yet being punished, but he is simply prevented from deceiving the nations. As the millennial kingdom is about to begin, Jesus in effect says to an angel, “I have a job for you to do. I’m going to empower you so that you can bind Satan with a chain and throw him into the pit.” The chain is probably symbolic, but the point is that this angel has the key (authority) to open the Abyss and throw the devil into this bottomless pit. All that the angel has to do is say, “Satan, I am under God’s authority. Come over here. We have a place for you. You’re going to be incarcerated for a thousand years. Get into the pit right now!” We salute the absolute authority of Jesus and His angels over Satan! An unnamed angel, acting under divine authority can bind the evil one and put him away for a thousand years! So much for his vaunted pride and power.

Six times in this chapter we read the phrase “a thousand years.” Have you ever wondered where the idea arose that the kingdom is going to last a thousand years? It is based on this chapter which repeatedly mentions this length of time—hence the term millennium (meaning a thousand years). And if you believe as I do that Jesus will return in glory before the millennium, you are a premillennialist. There is another popular view called amillennialism, which teaches there will be no millennial reign as such. These Bible teachers tend to spiritualize the Old Testament promises regarding the kingdom and believe that the church (not Israel) will inherit these promises. They assume that the “throne of David” is actually Jesus ruling in heaven rather than on earth. Certainly David would have never understood God’s promise in that way. And when the angel said to Mary that her son would inherit the throne of his father David, and “reign over the house of Jacob forever” she certainly could never have imagined that this was to be fulfilled in heaven and not on earth.

 BELIEVERS RULE WITH CHRIST

During this millennium, Satan is bound and believers rule with Christ: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge” (v. 4). Who will rule with Jesus in the millennial kingdom? I believe there will be four different categories of people.

First, there will be the Old Testament saints. Daniel predicted that His holy ones were going to be ruling with him (7:27). This will include Abraham, Moses, David, and a whole host of other unnamed people saved in ancient times who will join in the rule with Christ during the millennial kingdom. I expect that Enoch who walked with God before the flood will also be raised to enter the kingdom.

Second, the apostles certainly will be ruling with Jesus. He gave them this special promise: “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Matthew 19:28). We know that the eleven apostles will certainly rule with Christ.

And, lest you think we will be left out, the good news is that all present believers will also rule with Jesus. Paul writes, “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). Jesus said to the churches of the book of Revelation, “He who overcomes, to him I shall grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my father on his throne.” It also says in Revelation 5:10 that “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” We will be sitting with Jesus and carrying out the responsibilities that He gives us.

Finally, there is a fourth category: those believers who accepted Christ during the tribulation period and then either died a natural death or were martyred for their faith—these will be resurrected to reign with Christ. “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God…. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years…. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4–5). So, these saints join the others who will reign with Christ in the kingdom.

A point of clarification: When you read the above passage, just note that the word this in the phrase, “this is the first resurrection” actually refers back to the martyrs in verse 4 and does not include the dead who will be raised after the millennium to face judgment. In other words, the phrase, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (v. 5) is actually a parenthesis.

So, in John’s mind, there are basically two resurrections. All those who participate in the “first resurrection” are believers: these include Jesus who was the first to be raised, then also the saints who were raised at the rapture, and now we can add to these those who died as martyrs in the tribulation period. And at some later period, there no doubt will be a resurrection of those who die in the millennium as believers. Obviously, the “first resurrection” is not just a one-time event but includes several resurrections. No wonder he writes “blessed and holy are those who have participated in the first resurrection.”

The “second resurrection” is the resurrection of the unrighteous, those who will appear at the great white throne judgment. “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (v. 5). These belong to the second resurrection, that is, the resurrection of those who will experience the “second death.” The bottom line is that at one time or another all who die will be raised, either to everlasting life or everlasting damnation. All human beings will be eternal beings; all will have indestructible bodies, either enjoying eternal bliss or suffering eternal damnation.

Are you troubled when you realize that in the millennial kingdom, those who have their eternal/resurrected bodies will be ruling over people who still have their earthly bodies? This interaction between the two kinds of people should not trouble us. After His resurrection, Jesus was able to interact with His disciples, and although in a glorified body, He ate fish with them (Luke 24:40–43; John 21:11–13). So, while it is difficult for us to imagine what life will be like in an entirely different sphere, we can trust the promises of God. We will rule with Christ in the kingdom and apparently intermingle with those who still struggle with the challenges of an earthly existence.

THERE IS A FINAL REBELLION

Incredibly, at the end of the millennium, Satan is released and foments a rebellion against God. “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle” (Revelation 20:7–8). Gog and Magog are sometimes used generally to refer to nations that are rebellious against God.

How could this rebellion happen in a peaceful environment under the leadership of Christ? Does this mean that believers can lose their eternal salvation and end in rebellion against Christ? A better explanation is that these people, the “sheep” who enter the millennial kingdom in their earthly bodies, will have children, and those children will grow up and some of them will trust King Jesus and others won’t. Given their sin nature, they will be given the opportunity to express their opposition to Christ. This brief rebellion will be the final proof that human nature, even with Satan bound, will express itself in self-will and sustained rebellion. We don’t need the devil to help us do evil, though he is glad to oblige.

As a contingent of rebels in this final battle arrives near the city of Jerusalem, God ends their foolishness by sending fire from heaven to destroy His enemies. Satan is then thrown into the lake of fire where the Beast and the false prophet already are, and “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (v. 10). Never again will there be a rebellion on Planet Earth. The millennial kingdom is coming to an end, and a new era is about to begin.

 THE KINGDOM BECOMES ETERNAL

What next? With the era of the millennium now over, Paul tells us what happens: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cointhians 15:24). In eternity past, God the Father in effect saidto God the Son, “I’m going to give You a people to redeem.” These are referred to as the elect; Jesus referred to them as “those you have given me.” (See His repeated use of this phrase in John 17.) Jesus then comes and redeems His people by dying for them; He wins a massive victory over Satan, proving His superiority over all rivals. And, having completed His mission, and with all enemies now under His feet, He now triumphantly submits the kingdom to God the Father. And what does the Father do? Apparently the Father, deeply gratified by the Son’s obedience, returns the kingdom back to the Son, because we are told that Jesus will rule forever and ever, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

Perhaps it is better to say that God the Father and God the Son will share the eternal throne in Trinitarian glory and splendor. And we will be invited to join them and participate in this unimaginable honor. And to think, at this point in our experience, eternity will hardly have begun.

 STRENGTH FOR TOMORROW

It is easy for us to read about the millennial kingdom, but it is quite different for us to grasp its reality. And, how can these truths transform us today? All of the Bible is relevant for us, and this is no exception. We must prepare for our distant future with the same diligence with which we plan for retirement, only more so.

First, let us remember what we learned about rewards. If we are faithful, we will be generously rewarded with a more honorable position in the kingdom. In a parable (Luke 19:11–27), Jesus indicated that there were differences of levels of faithfulness and therefore different levels of reward. In summary, after giving each servant a mina (about three month’s wages), the king returned for an accounting: “The first one came and said, ‘Sir your mina has earned ten more.’ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ the master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge often cities’” (vv. 16–17).

Then as the parable continues, the man whose mina made five more was put in charge of five cities. But the unfaithful servant, who hid his mina and refused to invest it, had his taken away from him and it was given to the servant whose mina had made ten minas. “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! … Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas” (vv. 22, 24). The point is that if you are faithful in this life you will be rewarded with special honors in the next. To live for one’s self after Jesus has given His life for us is an insult to our Savior that will not go unnoticed.

Don’t take it for granted that in the kingdom and the eternity that follows you will have the same honors as everyone else. The way we live in this life affects our position in the kingdom and, for that matter, all of eternity. Let us repent of our lack of passion in serving Christ. A victor at an ancient Greek Olympic game is said to have been asked, “Spartan, what will you gain by this victory?” He replied, “Sir, I shall have the honor to fight on the front line for my king.” That determination should be ours as we fight for the King of Kings.

There is a second lesson, and that is the incorrigible nature of evil. A thousand years of incarceration do not change Satan’s nature. He will come out of the Abyss just as evil and with just as much intent to fight against God as he had before he enters. He was probably even more enraged, because an evil being (or, for that matter, an evil person) doesn’t change simply because he/she has been defeated. Hell is perfectly just for Satan who both will not and cannot repent of his rebellion against God. And those individuals who harden their own hearts and follow him will receive the same fate.

We’ve also seen that the children of human beings, though living under the authority of Jesus, will also rebel. In effect they will say, “Who is Jesus to rule over us? Yes, we took that field trip to Jerusalem. We saw that He is reigning there, and we see His far-reaching authority, but why should He be the one to choose what mansion we get to live in? We don’t want Him to reign over us. We’d rather be free in hell than servants in the millennium!”

Think about this: As indicated, some of the children who grow up in the millennial kingdom will be “gospel hardened,” as the saying goes. Living under the rule of Jesus, they will have heard it all and seen it all. They will reject His offer of eternal life in favor of their own rebellious ways. We must beware that we are not like them. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…. See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:7–8, 12).

Things are not always what they appear to be. Satan, freed from his abyss, anxious to fight against Jesus one more time, will receive a whiff of satisfaction when he is released and foments a last rebellion against God. He will try to recruit as many as he can to join him in this last revolt against Jesus. But he and his accomplices will be defeated by Jesus using simply “the breath of his mouth.” One breath and it will all be over. Let us never forget that time is short and eternity is long.

 About the Author:

Since 1980, Erwin W. Lutzer has served as senior pastor of the world-famous Moody Church in Chicago, where he provides leadership to Chicago pastors. Dr. Lutzer earned his B.Th. from Winnipeg Bible College, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M.A. in philosophy from Loyola University, an LL.D. from Simon Greenleaf School of Law, and a D.D. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary.

Dr. Lutzer is a featured radio speaker on the Moody Broadcasting Network and the author of numerous books, including 10 Lies About God: And the Truths That Shatter Deception; The Vanishing Power of Death, Cries from the Cross, the best-selling One Minute Before You Die and Hitler’s Cross, which received the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (EPCA) Gold Medallion Book Award. He speaks both nationally and internationally at Bible conferences and tours and has led tours of the cities of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The article above was adapted from the excellent and practical book on the End Times and Prophecy in Erwin W. Lutzer with Dillon Burroughs. The King is Coming: Preparing to Meet Jesus. Chicago: Moody Publishers. 2012 (Chapter 8).

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