A Question About the Millennium
Don K. Preston
The following question has been posed on numerous sites in objection to the idea that the Millennium was 40 years long.
“Full-preterism generally views The Millennium as the forty-year transition period of ca. AD 30-70, and The Great Tribulation as the Jewish-Roman war of AD 66-70. In this view, how can the martyrs of Revelation 20 reign with Christ during The Millennium (ca. AD 30-70) if they were not martyred until the AD 66-70 war?”
The millennium is a daunting topic that has challenged the finest of scholars through the ages. Amillennialists and Postmillennialists generally say the millennium began in the ministry of Jesus, and spans the entirety of the Christian age. Within this generation a new proposal has arisen, expressed in the “Objection” above. In my formal debate with James Jordan, Reformed Amillennialist, in 2004, (A book of the debate is available on my websites). Jordan argued that the millennium began in AD 70.
There are some flawed presuppositions underlying the Objection that we will address. This article will only touch on a fraction of the evidence that falsifies the idea that the millennium began in AD 70. For information sake, the reader will be interested to know that a book on the differing “preterist” views of the millennium is “in the works.” I will keep the readers informed on the progress.
The foundational presupposition underlying the argument above is that none of the souls mentioned in Revelation 20:1-4 were martyred prior to AD 64 in the Neronian persecution. The argument is:
✭ The millennium begins with the vindication of the martyrs – and only the martyrs– slain by the Beast.
✭ The Beast of Revelation 20 is Nero.
✭ Therefore, the millennium began when the Neronian martyrs were vindicated, i.e. AD 70
Sounds good, initially, but it is false. We must keep in mind some critical facts.
In Revelation there is a partnership of persecution against the saints. Jerusalem / Israel was in a partnership with Rome to persecute the saints. This partnership went back prior to AD 64, but, received the official imperial approval with Nero.
Consider the following:
☛ The Beast and the Harlot were in a partnership of persecution against the saints.
☛ The Harlot was Old Covenant Jerusalem.
☛ If therefore, Revelation 20 is exclusively about the vindication of the martyrs persecuted by the Beast, i.e. Nero, as suggested by the “Objection” then when were the saints slain by Babylon vindicated? If the Beast is to be identified exclusively as Nero, and he killed himself in 68 AD, that means the millennium began at that point. But, that leaves us hanging in regard to the saints slain by Babylon!
The Objection implies that the martyrs of Revelation 20 cannot be linked to those martyred by Babylon. But, this denies the partnership of persecution between the Beast and Babylon, that is established in the earlier chapters. But, if one agrees that Revelation 20 includes those slain by Babylon, then the objection itself falls to the ground.
In Matthew 23 Jesus said that all of the blood, of all the righteous, all the way back to Creation, would be vindicated in the judgment of Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70.
So, AD 70 was the vindication of all the martyrs from Abel onward , not just from Nero onward!
But, if Revelation 20:1-4 is the judgment of AD 70 as suggested in the objection above, then of necessity, the martyrs in view must include those martyrs of Matthew 23– all of the blood, of all the martyrs, all the way back to Creation.
In other words, you cannot say AD 70 was the vindication of only those slain by Nero because Jesus said the judgment of AD 70 would be the vindication of all the blood of all the righteous, all the way back to Creation! There is no dichotomy between the martyrs of Revelation 20 and the martyrs of Matthew 23.
The Objection above fails because it demands that the full measure of martyrs / sin had been reached at the initiation of the millennium in AD 70. However, the fact that the martyrs were enthroned to rule – and to wait – for a thousand years belies that suggestion. What were they waiting for during the millennium? They were waiting for the measure of the martyrs to be filled up. This is established by Revelation 6:9-11 which is parallel to Revelation 20. Note the following:
Revelation 6:9-11 – Past martyrdom, robes (royal robes) given, indicating at least an initial vindication, a (short) time of waiting for the filling up of the measure of martyrs, the promise of full vindication at the Great Day of the Lord.
In Revelation 20 — Past martyrdom, the seating on thrones, indicating at least an initial vindication, a time of waiting (the millennium) for the filling up of the measure of martyrs, the promise of full vindication at the Great Day of the Lord, the resurrection and the New Creation.
Jesus said the measure of sin / suffering would be filled up in his generation before judgment in AD 70. Thus, if Revelation 20:1-4 equals the AD 70 judgment, it demands that the full measure of martyrs had been reached in those verses. But, that would mean that the millennial time of waiting had nothing to do with Revelation 6:9-11 and the filling up of the measure of suffering and martyrdom. So, the burden of proof would lie on those who posit Revelation 20:1-4 as AD 70 to prove that the millennial period was not a time parallel to Revelation 6 (or Matthew 23) and the filling up of the measure of sin. The parallels between Revelation 6, (not to mention chapter 12, and 16-18) prevent such an idea.
Look now at a comparison between Hebrews 11 and Revelation 20.
Both texts speak of the martyrdom of the saints. Hebrews chronicles that martyrdom all the way back to Abel, just as Jesus does in Matthew 23. See my extensive discussion of these parallels in my We Shall Meet Him In The Air, the Wedding of the King of kings. The relationship between Matthew 23, Hebrews 11-12, and Revelation is seldom explored in the commentaries but is tremendously important.
It is significant to note that Moses, and thus the rest of those saints, were said to suffer for Christ. Hebrews 11:24f: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.”
Do you catch that? Moses was a martyr of Christ! He suffered the reproaches of Christ.
Notice also the direct parallel between the nature of the persecution. In Hebrews 11:35-38, the Worthies:
“Were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”
Do we not have the right to ask: What is the difference between these martyrs and those in Revelation 20? (And this does not even consider the issue of the martyrs mentioned earlier in Revelation 6, 11, 12, 14, 16-18). The reality is– as noted– that you cannot say Revelation 20 was AD 70 without including those in Matthew 23 / Hebrews 11. But, once that is conceded, the Objection under consideration is falsified.
Is there a substantive difference between being “beheaded” and being “sawn asunder”? If so, what would that be? To hold onto a wooden literalism of “beheading” in Revelation is inappropriate. The reference to beheading should be seen as a metonymy for any kind of martyrdom– i.e. the martyrdom of those in Matthew 23 and Hebrews 11.
Notice that Moses suffered martyrdom because he looked for “the reward.” What reward was that? It was the same reward anticipated by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.. It was the heavenly city, the heavenly Fatherland, and, it was “the better resurrection”: “Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
Notice that in Revelation 20, the reward of the martyrs is posited as the resurrection (v. 10-12). It is the heavenly City; it is the heavenly Country, the New Creation!
So, all of the Old Covenant saints, from Abel onward, were martyrs of Christ. They looked for the better resurrection and the New Creation just as posited in Revelation 20 where those slain by the Beast longed for the resurrection and the New Creation– at the end of the millennium.
Hebrews and Revelation do not discuss two different groups of martyrs, or two different eschatological hopes. There was one hope– the end of the millennium resurrection and New Creation. But of course, this presents a daunting challenge to the “Objection” under consideration.
Jesus said Abraham longed to see his day (his generation) and he saw it, and was glad. Why so? Because he realized that the promised resurrection, his New Creation hope, would be fulfilled in Jesus’ day! Hebrews affirms that the promised heavenly Zion was “about to come” (13:14). But of course, if Abraham’s resurrection hope, the New Creation was to be fulfilled in Jesus’ day, then of necessity that meant that the end of the millennium resurrection and the arrival of the New Creation would be in Jesus’ generation.
Let me put it succinctly:
The eschatological hope of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. (Hebrews 11) was the resurrection and the heavenly Zion / New Creation of Revelation 21f.
The resurrection and heavenly Zion / New Creation of Revelation 21f would arrive after the millennium (Revelation 20:1-22).
The eschatological hope of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, – the resurrection and the heavenly Zion / New Creation was to be in Jesus’ day and was “about to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
Therefore, the end of the millennium was “about to come” when John wrote Revelation.
Unless one can divorce Abraham’s eschatological hope of Zion from the end of the millennium eschatology, then it is prima facie evident that the end of the millennium was to be in the first century.
This is confirmed in a variety of ways.
Jesus said all of the martyrs would be vindicated and their persecutors judged in his coming in judgment of Jerusalem in the first century (Matthew 23:29-37 / 24:29-34). This would only be after the full measure of suffering and martyrdom was reached– synchronous with the filling the measure of sin on the part of the persecutors.
Hebrews posited the imminent rewarding of all the martyrs, all the way back to Creation, as coming in a “very, very little while” (Hebrews 10:32-39), the time of the reception of the “great reward” This “great reward” is the heavenly Zion of Revelation 21 and would only arrive after the millennium. Hebrews posited their reception of that reward as being truly imminent.
Likewise, Revelation anticipated the filling up of the measure of martyrs (6:9-11; 12:8-17), the synchronous filling up of the measure of sin (17:6f; 18:4ff). Chapter 20 is simply another view of the filling up of the measure of that sin and suffering, as the martyrs reigned with Christ, awaiting the parousia, the judgment and the better resurrection at the end of the millennium. Just as Jesus posited the filling up of those “cups,” and just like Hebrews spoke of the imminent realization of the great hope of the ancient Worthies, Revelation posited the coming of Jesus in judgment, the resurrection and the time of the great reward as imminent: “Behold, I come quickly!” (22:10f). Of necessity, this demands that the end of the millennium time of the great reward of Hebrews 11 was on the cusp of consummation.
Summary and Conclusion
The claim that the martyrs in Revelation 20:1-4 are to be identified as exclusively Neronian martyrs and that their vindication in AD 70 was the initiation of the millennium is unjustified.
To identify the martyrs in Revelation 20 as Neronian only martyrs– vindicated in AD 70– demands that you divorce the martyrs of Matthew 23 / Hebrews 11 from AD 70. This patently violates Jesus’ words.
If you include the martyrs in Matthew 23 / Hebrews 11, you have falsified the Neronian only martyrs claim- thus opening the door to the millennium beginning before Nero.
As just suggested, to identify the martyrs in Revelation 20 as Neronian divorces them from Hebrews 11 and Matthew 23– not to mention from the rest of the Biblical narrative that is focused on the vindication of the martyrs of God at the end of Israel’s covenant age. (See e.g. Deuteronomy 32:43; Isaiah 2-4; Isaiah 26:21-27:13; Isaiah 59, etc.).
Quick note: if the millennium began in AD 70, then of necessity, Israel remains God’s covenant people, and the resurrection of Revelation 20:10f is still future, since the resurrection and New Creation were Old Covenant promises made to Old Covenant Israel. Thus, for those who ostensibly hold to a “preterist” view of the millennium, and yet, hold to the Objection above, this is troublesome to say the least. The Objection posits futurist eschatology.
The organic unity between the martyrs from Abel onward, inclusive of those in Revelation cannot be denied. Yet, that unity must be broken to sustain the “Neronian only martyrs” argument. I find that untenable.
There are many, many other major problems with the Objection, including the issue of the Reign of Christ and his saints as an already present reality in Revelation 20, the Tribulation, the doctrine of “The War” discussed in Revelation 16 and chapter 20, the time of the New Creation, etc.. Obviously, space forbids a discussion of these additional tenets here. Perhaps those will be discussed in more details in the work mentioned above, so be watching for it!
When we couple all of the facts above with the undeniable temporal statements of the imminent judgment– the end of the millennium judgment– there is truly no merit to the idea that the millennium began in AD 70. The Objection is Overruled!
Be sure to get a copy of Joseph Vincent’s book: The Millennium: Past, Present or Future?, for a great study of the issue of the Millennium.