If you have been following the previous articles on this topic, here is where we have come so far in our overview of the order of last things. The Rapture will reunite both the dead and alive of the Church age with Christ. Then follows the Tribulation, when God will pour out His wrath upon Earth in a series of dreadful judgments. The Tribulation ends with the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He will triumph over the forces of evil and will gather all before His throne to separate the righteous from the unrighteous. This begins the millennial reign of Christ on the earth.
Let us here make an accounting of those who are now with Christ. They include His resurrected Church, whose members have all been translated into their glorified, eternal bodies (1 Thess 4:17). They also include the Old Testament saints, whose souls are united with their eternal resurrection bodies prior to Christ’s Second Coming (Isa 26:19-20; Dan 12:1-2; John 5:29; Jude 14; Rev 20:4-6). All these follow in the wake of Christ (Rev 19:14) as He returns to Earth to meet those of His who survived the Great Tribulation, made up of both Jews and Gentiles. These are the “Tribulation saints,” who put their faith in Christ even as the perils of the Tribulation were raging around them. They are still in human form, awaiting entrance into the Millennial Kingdom.
It is toward this last group—the “Tribulation saints”—we now turn our attention, and especially to the Jewish portion of these surviving believers. This is the long-anticipated remnant of Israel! These surviving Jewish converts represent the final portion of God’s true, covenant people, spoken of from long ago (Isa 10:20-23). God protected them during His judgment upon the earth, and now they are situated to inherit the Kingdom promised to them. Of this remnant of Israel, the Apostle Paul writes, “And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins’” (Rom 11:26-27).
This is the New Covenant of blessing being fulfilled from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36! This is the promise of a new nature washing over this remnant of God’s elect! Here we see the fulfillment Zechariah 12:10 and Zechariah 13:1: a chosen remnant of Israel mourning over the Messiah they rejected. When they do, God lets loose a spiritual fountain to cleanse them of their sin and qualify them for His glorious presence. They are given a new nature of repentance, and their hearts now embrace the Savior their ancestors rejected. With this New Covenant regeneration, these Jewish believers, the prophesied remnant, will enter their promised earthly Kingdom with Christ as their Lord known as the Millennium.
Before surveying the main features of the Kingdom a few notes are in order. The theme of a kingdom on Earth was introduced by God when He created Adam and Eve—He told them to “rule over the earth” (Gen 1:27). The earthly kingdom promise was formalized with Israel in God’s promise to King David (2 Sam 7:12-13). Jesus came preaching “the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43) and prayed that it would be established on earth (Matt 6:10). The Apostle John was given additional information in Revelation developing further, through progressive revelation, God’s plan for establishing the fullness of His kingdom on the earth. Revelation unveils the new truth that the kingdom on earth will last for 1,000 years (Rev 20:1-6), a truth unknown in the Old Testament and even during Jesus’ ministry. “Millennium” is a combination of two Latin words, mille meaning “a thousand” plus annum meaning “year.”
The Redemption of a Sworn Oath
So this is the first item to note about the Millennial Kingdom, Christ’s one thousand year reign upon the earth which follows His return: the Redemption of a Sworn Oath—the culmination of God’s sworn oath to fulfill His covenant promises.
With the coming of the Millennial Kingdom on the earth, God completes His pact with the nation Israel, fulfilling the oath He swore to her (2 Sam 7:12-13, 16; Heb 6:13-20). And what was that oath? The oath of His covenantal promises, which He swore to Abraham and to David, and His promise of New Covenant salvation which He gave to Israel through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Do you remember how God has promised His chosen people of Israel status as a nation that will bless all other nations, with land having earthly boundaries, and a Kingdom, with a King reigning in Jerusalem? With the coming of the Millennial Kingdom, all these promises are made complete.
This is imperative to understand, because if God does not fulfill His covenantal promises to Israel, then on what basis will He fulfill the promises He makes to those who believe in Him now? In other words, on what grounds can those of the Church be confident God will fulfill His promises to her if He will not similarly fulfill all His promises to Israel? But God is trustworthy, and He does fulfill all His promises—to His Church and to Israel (Ezek 36:22). Romans 11:29 declares, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” First Samuel 12:22 tells us that God will not forsake His chosen people Israel, because His great name is at stake.
So we see that, just as God foretold, a partial and temporary hardening did come upon Israel following her rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah (Rom 11:25). As Paul explains in Romans 11, that partial hardening of the heart of Israel allows those who are Gentiles, those who are born outside God’s covenantal oaths to Israel, to become children of Abraham by faith (Gal 3:9, 29). These Gentile “children of Abraham by faith” thus participate in all the earthly and spiritual blessings promised to Israel—but not to the exclusion of a remnant of ethnic Israel!
The Removal of the Serpent
This then is the first of seven features1 of the Millennial Kingdom, the Redemption of a Sworn Oath. Next God proceeds with the Removal of the Serpent. Note John’s description in Revelation 20:1-3:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
At the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom, God will capture and incarcerate Satan for a thousand years. This is a necessary precondition for the Millennial Kingdom, because if the Kingdom is to be Christ’s, then His great enemy must be removed as a threat (Ps 110:1; Heb 10:13). In other words, there can be no thousand years of peace and righteousness upon earth if the devil is prowling around seeking whom he might devour (1 Pet 5:8), so God confines him for a time.
But believe it or not, the incarceration of Satan is not the end of sin upon the earth. And that is because Satan is not responsible for sin; the innate sinfulness within human nature is responsible for sin (Rom 3:9; 5:12). Satan cannot initiate any sin on his own; he only creates an environment that predisposes the sinner to sin. So as we will soon see, although Satan is removed for the duration of the Millennial Kingdom, sin still percolates in the hearts of humans.
The Rule of the Son
After the Redemption of a Sworn Oath and the Removal of the Serpent comes the Rule of the Son. In His Millennial Kingdom, Jesus will exert undisputed rule over the entire earth from His throne in Jerusalem, implementing His rule with a “rod of iron” (Rev 19:15), exactly as prophesied in Psalm 2:9. Swift and righteous judgment will proceed from Christ against any overt rebellion. His rule will be supreme and without challenge.
Why is it imperative for Christ to return in bodily form and rule over the earth? All creation has always been under God’s sovereign control and subject to His rule. But from the fall of Adam and Eve, it has also been under the sway of sin and under the probationary rule of the devil (cf. John 14:30; 1 John 5:19). Since the time of the first transgression, this world has had a usurper presiding instead of its rightful Ruler. But with the coming of the Millennial Kingdom, all that changes. The world gets its rightful Ruler back. Some Christians deny that Jesus will reign on the earth over a physical kingdom. But the Bible clearly teaches that the Messiah will reign literally on the earth (Ps 2:6-9; 89:20-29). Zechariah says of the returning Messiah: “the LORD shall be King over all the earth” (14:8) and His throne will be in “Jerusalem” (v. 4). He will rule on “David’s throne” (2 Sam 7)—David’s throne was on earth, not in heaven. Gabriel reminded Mary of this prophecy, promising her Son would someday assume the rule of David’s throne (Luke 1:32-33). Luke and Mary, no doubt, understood this prophecy to be fulfilled literally on the earth.
Why must Christ return to rule upon this earth? So that He might have the last word. If the Second Coming merely blended into to the eternal heavenly state, then it could be said that sin had destroyed the world beyond God’s ability to repair it. It could be said that God might have won the battle of Armageddon, but the devil would have won the war by accomplishing his purpose—to corrupt beyond repair what God had created.
Accordingly, Jesus must return to a reconstituted earth and rule it as His perfect Kingdom, one in which all the wonders of love, joy, peace, bounty, beauty, harmony, justice, righteousness and goodness prevail. It is only in this way that the Son proves—once and for all—that not only did He conquer sin and death with His triumph at the cross, but with His Second Coming and Millennial rule, He also comprehensively triumphs over all the devil’s works. First John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” and with Christ’s Millennial rule, this is finally accomplished. By returning to rule on a divinely reconstituted earth, Christ proves that all Satan’s schemes ultimately fail to tarnish or stain God’s world.
The Resurrection of the Sufferers
We come now to the Resurrection of the Sufferers, those who are the Tribulation martyrs. We have already accounted for the arrival of the raptured Church and the Old Testament saints into the Kingdom, following in Christ’s train with their resurrected bodies. And we have discussed those believers who survive the Tribulation, the sheep before Christ’s throne, who are declared righteous and welcomed into the Kingdom in their as yet-mortal bodies. They are not yet glorified (meaning eternally perfect and immortal), but enter the Kingdom in earthly, “mortal” human form.
One group remains unaccounted for: those who were killed for their faith during the Tribulation, the so-called Tribulation martyrs. These are the ones of whom the fifth seal of judgment spoke, when their cries for vengeance went up as a prayer to God. They were each given a white robe and told to be patient until the final number of God’s elected martyrs was complete (Rev 6:9-11). It is this group that is addressed next in Revelation 20, beginning in verse 4:
Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Thus, the final group of God’s redeemed, the Tribulation martyrs, are now resurrected at the outset of the Millennium, so that they also may participate in the reign of Christ upon the earth. With this we see that God forgets none of His own, but keeps His promise to all His chosen ones, a promise of eventual resurrection to life and blessing in His Kingdom (John 6:40, 57; 1 Cor 15:22). And don’t miss this extraordinary implication: all of God’s saints therefore share not only in the eternal heavenly Kingdom to come, but also in the Millennial, earthly Kingdom as well! We can now see that the promises God made to His chosen people Israel ultimately extend to everyone who is of God. Galatians 3:29 proclaims, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” And as “heirs according to promise,” all of God’s redeemed in Christ partake in the joys and wonders of the earthly Kingdom promised to Israel!
Of course, this was proclaimed in many places throughout the Old Testament, where God promises salvation and Kingdom blessing not only for the people of Israel, but for people everywhere as well. Recall how God told Abraham his Offspring would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen 22:18). And Isaiah writes of the coming Christ, “It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6). Paul quotes the Old Testament prophet Hosea in Romans 9:25-26 (quoting from Hosea 2:23): “Those who were not My people I will call ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
In Romans 15:8-12, Paul demonstrates the comprehensive manner by which God prophesies Gentile salvation throughout the Old Testament. He cites the Law (Deut 32:43), the Prophets (Isa 11:1; 10) and the Psalms (117:1) to reinforce this point: God had never intended for the Jews to be the end of His blessing. Rather, all along God planned for them to be the means by which He would bring His blessing to the world!
The Reign of the Saints
The Resurrection of the Sufferers transitions us now to the Reign of the Saints. John writes in Revelation 20:4: “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom authority to judge was committed.” Here we are introduced to the idea of Christ’s authority given to His saints to mediate His rule throughout His Kingdom. So who are these saints who will rule in the Millennial Kingdom?
We know this includes the Apostles of Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 19:28, “‘Truly I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” But these enthroned rulers include more than just the Apostles. In Revelation 2:26 Jesus says, “The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I Myself have received authority from My Father.” So not only the Apostles, but all Christ’s resurrected saints (i.e. Church Age, Old Testament, Tribulation martyrs)—now in their glorified, eternal bodies—will rule over the earth with Him. They will mediate God’s rule with perfect judgment, because their authority will derive from the Son, who in turn receives His authority from the Father (Matt 11:27; 28:18; John 4:34).
The concept of perfect rule over all the earth is utterly foreign in today’s world, because all levels of authority in the world today are corrupted by the sinfulness of humans. Thus, we have come to expect imperfect rulers administering imperfect rules with imperfect effect. But that will not be the case in the Millennial Kingdom. Instead, all authority will be just and righteous and true. Christ’s resurrected saints will administer perfect rule in His service over the entire earth. It is with this in mind that Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for their trivial grievances against each other. He tells them to forget their petty concerns, reminding them, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor 6:2).
At this point, one might wonder about the characteristics of the Millennial Kingdom, over which the resurrected saints will rule. In other words, what will the Kingdom be like?2
(1) Politically, Israel will be restored to the land promised to Abraham, and it will be the nation that leads the world. Christ will sit upon the throne of David in the restored city of David, Jerusalem. From there, Christ will rule universally, with His saints who will sit with Him on His throne (Rev 3:21), functioning as His co-regents, “and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10). This fulfills the prophecy made by Daniel: “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One” (7:27). And as noted above, Christ’s rule will be absolutely righteous, just and true.
(2) Spiritually, all Israel will be converted and will worship Christ the Lamb. And not only Israel but all those who enter the Millennial Kingdom, Jew and Gentile alike, will be redeemed followers of Christ. Thus, all who enter the Millennial Kingdom will glorify Christ upon His throne. There will be no false religion, because Satan, the source of all falsehood (John 8:44), will have been removed.
(3) Physically, God’s curse upon the earth will be lifted. The desert will blossom like a rose (Isa 35:1). Streams will run into the desert (Ps 107:35; Isa 41:18). A whole valley will open up in the land of Israel and fill with water (Joel 3:18). Food will be in abundance (Joel 2:24), and no one will go without. There will be health and healing and long life (Isa 65:19-20).
In short, Earth will be restored to a sort of pre-Fall, Eden-like state. As it was prior to the entrance of sin, there will no longer be any predation—“the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat” (Isa 11:6). Natural disasters will be a thing of the past—no more earthquakes, no more tornadoes, no more hurricanes, no more fear of unforeseen tragedy. The world has been longing for such restoration for ages (Rom 8:20-22), and the Word of God assures that it is coming.
But this time of restoration upon the earth will not occur until all the antecedent events in the ordo eschaton have come to pass. That is to say, humans are not now partnering with God to bring about some form of gathering perfection, ultimately culminating in Christ’s return and Kingdom fulfillment. Conditions are not going from good to better to perfect, as postmillennial adherents would believe. Not only does such thinking strain credulity in the face of the mounting dissipation of humanity, but more importantly it contradicts what the Bible says about the last days (2 Tim 3:1-5).
So when you hear of those who aspire to “partner” with God in bringing Kingdom perfection, ask yourself this: Who cursed the earth in the beginning (Gen 3:17-19; 5:29)? And Who brings destruction upon the earth in the end (2 Pet 3:10)? The Bible assures us that nothing happens to this earth outside the providential, sovereign determination of God. Thus, God has no partner in bringing Kingdom fulfillment (Acts 17:25). He alone will establish His Kingdom when He sends His Son as King, and this will happen only after His judgment has fallen upon the earth.
The Return of Satan
At the close of one thousand years, into this bliss of earthly perfection, comes the Return of Satan. Revelation 20:7-8 reads: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth….” This follows John’s earlier pronouncement in Revelation 20:3, that after the thousand years, Satan “must be released for a little while.”
Why? Once he’s been incarcerated and sequestered for the duration of the Millennial Kingdom, why must Satan now be released back to earth? Answer: because God must confront the remaining covert opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ. At the advent of the Millennial Kingdom, the only mortals to enter the Kingdom are Christ’s “sheep,” those true believers who survive the Tribulation. But it is important to note that just because they are believers does not mean they have shed their sin nature. All who follow in Adam’s line are stained by sin (Rom 5:12), and this even includes those who are welcomed by Christ into His perfect Kingdom. As these believers enter into and begin to populate the Millennial Kingdom, their sin nature is propagated to succeeding generations as well. Thus, while all those who enter the Kingdom will be true believers, regrettably not all of their offspring will believe. In fact, by the end of the thousand years, John writes that there will be an enormous number of unbelievers, all living in covert rebellion against God (Rev 20: 8-9; see below).
Outwardly these unbelievers will be forced to conform to Christ’s rule during His reign. Overt expressions of rebellion against His rule will be quashed immediately (Ps 2:9; Rev 2:27; 19:15). But inwardly, these rebels will harbor sin in their hearts. They will reject Christ and resent His rule. Thus, when Satan is loosed after a thousand years, these rebels are all too willing to come under his aegis, little knowing that all who comprise this latent opposition will soon be destroyed. This is simply further proof of the innate corruption within the heart of mankind. Jesus says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Here you have in the Millennial Kingdom the earth the way it was made to be, with the Light of the World (John 1:9; 8:12) reigning in Jerusalem. And people will rebel.
The Revolt of Society
So Satan’s return leads, lastly, to the final Revolt of Society. Revelation 20:8 says that Satan will “come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.” Note that last description. It says the number of rebels “is like the sand of the sea” (20:8). This reality was noted above: by the end of the millennium, this dormant rebellion will swell to involve many of those on the earth at the close of Christ’s Millennial reign. All these will come under the deception and control of Satan as he gathers them to battle against the forces of God.
Continuing at Revelation 20:9: “And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saint and the beloved city.” Here we see Satan’s forces, arrayed for battle around Jerusalem. And what happens? The text reads, “…but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (vv. 9-10).
That is the end of Satan. That is the end of all blasphemy, all disobedience, all sin, all evil. From that point on, all that will ever be known is goodness and righteousness forever. And would you notice something interesting about the fire that comes down out of heaven? This fire is of a cataclysmic sort. Second Peter 3:10 says, “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” This fire will be like an atomic disintegration, engulfing all that was ever created. All animals, birds, fish, plants, oceans, lakes, rivers, mountains, and valleys of the earth—along with all the planets and stars and heavenly bodies throughout the universe—will be consumed in this event.
Two important groups must be considered with regard to this wholesale annihilation. God protects the first group, those who are true believers living upon the earth at the close of the Millennial Kingdom. These He gathers to Himself, resurrecting them to their eternal heavenly form to join the other saints in heaven (Rev 20:5). But God vanquishes the second group, the many unbelievers who join Satan’s assault upon Jerusalem. Their earthly tenure is over; their eternal doom remains to be enacted.
1. This section on seven features of the Millennial Kingdom is adapted from John MacArthur, from the sermon series “The Coming Earthly Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, Parts 1-4,” delivered at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, October 9-November 13, 1994.
2. These descriptions of the political, spiritual, and physical characteristics of the Millennial Kingdom are from John MacArthur, “The Coming Earthly Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, Part 3,” Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, November 6, 1994.
You can read more on this topic in Colin’s book, What the Bible Says About the Future.