************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 7, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#8)
"The Thousand-Year Reign of Christ"
Tonight we are looking at the Millennium. "Millennium" is the Latin word for "thousand." In theology it refers to the thousand-year reign of Christ.
I The Three Major Views of the Millennium
A Our Scripture reading from Revelation 20 is easily the most fought over section of the entire Bible. It has been the source of endless and bitter disputes. This is so because there are three major views of its teachings about the Millennium: post-millennial, pre-millennial, and a-millennial. In order to properly understand Revelation 20 permit me to spend a few moments summarizing the three views.
B The first view is the post-millennial. This view says the coming of Christ is post-millennial, or after the Millennium. According to this view the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ have opened the way for the Kingdom of God to be established in power in this life and on this earth. Through the ministry of the church this view see things as gradually getting better and better until eventually this earth reaches a time of peace, prosperity, and spiritual glory such as it has never seen before. Sin will be reduced to an absolute minimum. The vast majority of men will turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Society will have Christian standards. So when Christ does return, He returns to a basically Christian world.
I am sure you all realize this view does not take sin seriously enough. After two world wars, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the two Iraq wars, Afghanistan, 9-11, and the Islamic State who would possibly believe the world is becoming a better place? AIDS and COVID-19 teach us the same lesson. Every election campaign remind us, again, that life on this earth is sinful, fallen, and often evil. Sin has infected the world and mankind too deeply for perfection to ever come in this life and on this earth.
If you have ever gone up North Fork in Three Rivers, past where we have the church campout, you eventually run out of pavement. Keep going and you come to an historical marker and the ruins of an old mill and a couple of other buildings. They mark the location of a commune established in the 1880s that held to a post-millennial viewpoint -- thinking that by human striving a perfect society can be established here on earth. If I remember the marker correctly , their perfect society lasted less than 10 years.
C A second position is that of pre-millennialism. This view says the coming of Christ is pre-millennial, or before the Millennium. Pre-millennialists say that Jesus Himself comes to establish a literal thousand-year reign on earth before the end of time will come.
Pre-millennials teach that during the thousand-year reign of Christ Satan is literally bound so he will not be able to deceive the nations. The souls of those who have been martyred in the great tribulation just prior to Christ's return are raised in what is called the first resurrection; these souls are raised so that they can reign with Christ on earth for the thousand years. When the thousand years are over Satan is released from his prison and then comes the events leading to the final judgment and the end of time.
Pre-millennialism fails to distinguish between different kinds of Biblical literature and treats prophecy and history in essentially the same way. Pre-millennialism fails to realize that parts of the Scripture are to be taken figuratively or symbolically.
Pre-millennialism is the viewpoint taken by almost every church except those of a Reformed or Presbyterian background. It is also the view that is most popular among radio and TV preachers.
D A third position is known as a-millennialism. This view says the coming of Christ is a-millennial. This means the coming of Christ is separate or apart from the Millennium. A-millennialists do not believe the Millennium is a literal thousand-years or that Christ's millennial reign is on earth. A-millennialists believe the Millennium is symbolic for the whole time between the first and second comings of Christ. This view says that though Christ rules right now through His Word and Spirit the Kingdom of Satan also continues to exist and will exist until the end of the world.
The a-millennial viewpoint is generally held by those of the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. But I should also point out that none of our Creeds and Confessions define a Reformed understanding of the Millennium. More than once different members of the Reformed family of churches have refused to speak on the matter.
II The Defeat of Satan
A In teaching us about the Millennium, Scripture starts off by introducing us to an angel coming down out of heaven. In his hand is a great chain with which to hand-cuff and fetter Satan; a chain with which to tie up Satan like a dog or dangerous criminal. The angel also has a key to the bottomless pit. This pit is a vast underground cavern where disobedient spirits are kept while awaiting judgment.
We know that Satan, as spirit, cannot be shackled with a chain. We further know there cannot be a literal key to the pit or abyss. This warns us that John uses symbolism here. What the chain and key show us is that the angel has been given authority over the abyss and that he has been given power to restrain Satan. The angel with his key and chain teaches us about the final unimportance of Satan: it is not the Father, nor the Son, but only an unnamed angel who deals with Satan. This also implies Satan's weakness. Because, did you notice what Satan does to stop this? Nothing! Satan is helpless even before one of the angels of God.
B John next introduces us to the four names by which Satan is known throughout the book of Revelation. Why not just one name? To remind us of how dangerous Satan really is. He is the "dragon" -- reminding us of his ferocity; like a dragon he breathes out fire and death. He is the "ancient serpent" -- reminding us of his power to deceive, going all the way back to Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. He is the "devil" -- reminding us that he is an evil spirit. He is "Satan" -- Satan means adversary, reminding us of his slanderous accusations against us before the throne of God. Satan is terrifying. Satan is powerful. Satan cannot be ignored.
Because he has been given the power of the chain and key, the angel ties Satan up and throws him into the pit. The pit is sealed and locked. Satan is to stay in there for a thousand years.
What, specifically, is meant by the binding of Satan? It means that God has established boundaries, He has put limits, to what Satan can do. Satan, for instance, cannot prevent the spread of the Gospel to the nations. Also, he cannot gather all the enemies of Christ together to attack and destroy the church. He is able to deceive but he is not able to cause the final falling away of God's elect. Nor can he separate us from the love of God in Christ.
C When we study the rest of Scripture we see that the binding of Satan has already happened because of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
(Lk 10:17-18) The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." (18) He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus replied,
(Jn 12:31) Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
(Col 2:15) And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
(Mt 12:29) "... how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house..."In other words, right now, today, Satan is bound, he is imprisoned.
D But now a warning: just because Satan is imprisoned does not mean he is harmless. Peter says:
(1 Pet 5:8) Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.We all know first-hand, don't we, through sin and suffering and temptation the tremendous power of Satan. For instance, it was Satan, though cast down, who put it into the heart of Judas to betray the Lord. It was Satan, though imprisoned, who got Ananias and Sapphira to lie about their money. Yes, though bound, Satan continues to be a force to be reckoned with. We can say that Satan is like a wild and cornered animal.
One night we heard noises on our patio. When we turned on the light and opened the door an opossum was standing there. Ruth screamed when it hissed and snarled and showed its teeth and looked like it was about to attack. Instead, it ran up our oak tree to the first branch. From there it continued to hiss and snarl.Satan is like this. He has been cornered but this makes him especially dangerous.
III The Victory of Christ's People
A Turning from the binding of Satan on earth, John now directs our attention to the martyrs of the Christian faith in heaven.
These martyrs have been beheaded. They were executed because of their testimony to Jesus and because they refused to worship the beast or his image. In every way these martyrs tried to be faithful to Christ and refused to compromise their faith and go the way of the world.
B Now follows what are easily the most controversial words in the passage:
(Rev 20:4) They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years ... This is the first resurrection.Pre-millennialists says this describes a literal, physical resurrection from the dead and therefore is proof for a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after His Second Coming.
The clue to understanding these words rests with verse 4a. Those whom John sees reigning with Christ and sitting on thrones he identifies as "souls." They have died for the Lord and John now sees them as alive. They are alive in that they are now with Christ. They are alive in that they are now enjoying fellowship with Christ in heaven. They are alive in that they are now enjoying the blessings and rewards of heaven. John calls this a "first resurrection" -- and, in a real sense, it is, because they died and are now seen to be alive in the Lord.
Imagine, for a moment, how comforting these words must have been to John's readers. In John's time the church was sorely oppressed and frequently persecuted. John tells the church that though many of their fellow-believers have died, they are actually alive in heaven and are now reigning with Christ.
The believing dead, they not only reign with Christ but they are also "given authority to judge." In some wonderful, glorious way, those who have died in the faith now rule and judge with Christ in heaven. They share in Christ's victory and glory.
IV The Millennium is Now
A Go back over the events of the Millennium. The binding of Satan. The victory of God's people. The rule of Christ. When does that happen?
We believe that Christ is King now. We believe that Jesus rules now. We believe that the Millennium is now.
We have many reasons for believing this. First of all, I think of Jesus' final words before He left this earth:
(Mt 28:18-19) "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ..."
I also think of Ascension Day. On Ascension Day we celebrate the fact that when Christ left this earth He ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of God, and was given kingdom, power, and glory.
I think also of Paul's words to the church at Ephesus:
(Eph 1:20-22) [God seated Christ] at his right hand in the heavenly realms, (21) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (22) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church ...
The Millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ, is not a future hope but a present reality. We don't have to wait for the Second Coming to experience the blessedness of Christ's rule because Christ's rule is now.
Our message to the world about the thousand-year reign of Christ, then, is this: the Millennium is now; Christ is Lord now.
B I don't know if you noticed the songs we are singing tonight:
-"O Worship the King"
-"We Will Glorify"
-"All Hail King Jesus"
The message of the songs is the message of the Bible. That Jesus is King now. That Jesus rules now. That the Millennium is now.
Therefore, we believe we must serve Him in every part of life. We must serve Him in our homes, in our work, in our schools. We must serve Him with our money and our time. We must serve Him in our churches. We must serve Him in our relationships. We must serve King Jesus today and everyday.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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