Reigning with Christ: the Millennium in Ephesians?

A comment on my post Left Behind Preachers led me to an interesting discovery about the Millennium. I put forward some tentative ideas about what this was in my post The Marriage of the Millennium: not William and Kate. In clarifying my thoughts about this I was led to look at Ephesians 2, and find in there what looks like teaching about the Millennium.

The Heavenly ThroneThe main Bible passage about the Millennium is found in Revelation chapter 20. Here is part of it:

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 a thousand years.

Revelation 20:4 (NIV 2011)

Compare this with what Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus …

Ephesians 2:4-6 (NIV 2011)

Note the clear parallels here. Believers who were dead are then raised up to life and seated with Christ. In Revelation they are explicitly seated on thrones and reign with Christ. In Ephesians this is only implicit, but the implication should be clear: in biblical times to be seated implied some kind of throne as there were no chairs for common use; and in Ephesians 1:20-22 the risen Christ, seated at God’s right hand, is reigning, and so the ones enthroned with him are reigning with him.

The Ephesians passage is clearly intended to apply to us Christian believers in the current church age. It teaches that we live in two realms at the same time: our visible lives on earth; and our hidden spiritual lives with Christ “in the heavenly realms”.

The passage in Revelation is commonly taken, at least by the more literal-minded evangelicals, to refer to a literal period of 1000 years, after the return of Jesus, when he will reign as king on earth, and believers will reign with him. But the passage doesn’t actually say that. In fact there is no mention in it of the earth. It is only after this, in chapter 21, that we read of the Lamb having his throne on the new earth. Also the thousand year timescale should not be taken too literally, as

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

2 Peter 3:8 (NIV 2011)

So, given the close parallels, I don’t see any clear reason to take these two passages as referring to different situations and periods. And if they do refer to the same period, the Millennium is the same as the current church age.

Maybe my discovery is not actually new, and in fact what I am saying is a standard part of amillennialist thinking, i.e. the idea that there is no literal Millennium. But it is new to me.

Now the idea that Christians are reigning with Christ now, in the church age, is a controversial one. Indeed it has been ever since New Testament times when Paul ironically wrote to the Corinthians

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!

1 Corinthians 4:8 (NIV 2011)

BreakthroughThe problem for the Corinthians was that they were only grasping one side of the Christian life. They wrongly thought that they were living in the fullness of the life of the kingdom of God. But as it is, in some words which I quoted in a 2006 post here from the book Breakthrough: Discovering the Kingdom by Derek Morphew,

Christians are people who have met Jesus, and to meet Jesus is to meet the end. We have been taken out of this present world and already live by the powers of the age to come. Yet at the same time we live in this world. We are caught in the tension between two worlds, but the power, reality and values of the kingdom determine our lives rather than the standards of this world …

If we could escape from this world and live completely in the kingdom, it would be great. If we could forget about the kingdom and live only in this world, things would be safe. But neither is possible. We will continue to be part of both kingdoms at the same time. Our lives are disturbed in a most wonderfully upsetting way so that we can never see anything in quite the same way again.

20 thoughts on “Reigning with Christ: the Millennium in Ephesians?

  1. ElShaddai, the Millennium is about now. But I am not taking the preterist position that there is nothing to come, that all prophecy has been fulfilled. Are you? I see Revelation 21-22 as still to come in the future – possibly soon, but possibly in the very distant future. After all, if the world is already a few billion years old, Jesus might yet wait a few more billion. Scientists (and Wikipedia) tell us that the prophecy of 2 Peter 3:10 will be fulfilled in about five billion years, when the earth will be swallowed up by the sun, and presumably the elements will be destroyed in the solar fusion reactions. Perhaps it is only after that that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth”.

    Jason, who’s afraid of the big bad LaHaye? He can be raptured if he likes, but I will stay behind!

  2. But I am not taking the preterist position that there is nothing to come, that all prophecy has been fulfilled. Are you?

    No, if I read Revelation linearly, I tend to read the “partial preterist” position as prophetic events having been fulfilled in the first century up to Rev 19 or 20, but 21-22 as still future. But if it’s not linear, e.g. different snapshots of the same events, then it may all be “now”, other than Rev 21-22.

    Regarding 2 Peter, I’ve also read the interpretation that “elements” refers to the human/sarx order of life, rather than a scientific chemical/physical description of things.

  3. ElShaddai, I’m not sure how much of Revelation 1-19 I take as past events. The “elements” as “the human/sarx order of life”? Maybe. I realise that to read this word according to modern chemistry is anachronistic.

  4. Good stuff, Peter. What really wrecked me was Daniel 7 … especially in light of the statements Jesus made regarding the Kingdom of Heaven in the present tense, and what you bring forth here. Just read it and ask yourself, “When?”

    For the record, I hold to a partial preterist view (sort of) but I’m thinking that there isn’t so much a magical future date when Jesus wakes up and Daddy says, “today’s the day”, as there is the Church bringing about the fulfillment of Romans 8:19 (etc.) and we will see the realization of Isaiah 65 …

    Also as an aside – re-read 2 Peter 3 and contemplate whether that could be revival – destroying all the systems of the world, making the kingdoms of this world into the Kingdom of our God…

  5. Thank you, Kay. I must say I have wondered whether an end-time revival could bring in the Kingdom of God. But then what about Jesus returning? I can’t accept that that is merely metaphorical. He came the first time on a specific date, so why not again?

  6. No, the return of Christ is absolutely not metaphorical.

    This might be semantics, but I don’t believe an end-time revival will bring in the Kingdom of God – that’s already here, we need to start DOING something with it. What we currently have is a situation like this:
    * Country A invades Country B and deposes its ruler.
    * The King of Country A appoints a series of regents in Country B. Their job is to let everyone know that the former ruler is gone and there is a new King, and they are to manage the country, bringing everything into alignment with the new King’s rule.

    The fact that the regents (the church) have historically failed to do their job does not make this any less the Kingdom that the King won. Is that making any sense?

    Here’s part of what got to me about the 2 Peter 3 thing. Two things, actually.
    #1 – Romans 8 declares that the whole earth is longing for the sons of God to be revealed – why? because that’s where the earth’s redemption lies. Creation will share in the same redemption we walk in. Now WHY would the earth be longing and groaning and crying out for that – knowing it will be blown to smithereens when that happens?
    #2 – The Greek word used for “new” in “new heavens and new earth” is kainos. It’s the same word used when the Bible talks about believers being a “new creation”. So yes, in a sense, we had to be destroyed (crucified with Christ)… there’s destroyed and then there’s destroyed, I guess. Todd White said once in a teaching that the saying “this will cost you everything” is a bit inaccurate, because all walking with Christ costs you is those things you were never meant to have. I believe it’s the same for the earth – its redemption will be violent and destructive – but not destroyed in the sense of being blown to smithereens and created again “from scratch”, if that makes sense.

    Would love to know what you think of that… 🙂

  7. Kay, thanks for the clarification. What you have now written makes a lot of sense. I hope you wouldn’t go over the top about the manifest sons of God.

    But 2 Peter 3:10 does say that the earth will be burned up. Maybe that doesn’t mean completely destroyed. But it shows that there is more to come than the church bringing in a new order and Jesus paying a state visit to what is already his kingdom.

  8. Ohboy I’m sleepy … totally left the conclusion to the premise I began with off that comment. We were out advancing the Kingdom til the wee hours of the morning… what a privilege to live at such a time as this!

    Anyway – the return of Christ – I absolutely believe that is a literal and future event that is delayed until the Bride makes herself ready, until the sons of God take their rightful place, until the whole earth is occupied …

    I believe we put a lot of things off for the future that are actually available to us today. How? Sometimes that is a bit of a mystery but I trust the Word, not experience. I believe a lot of the problem comes from us not knowing who we really are and who He really is. For example, Revelation 21:4, 6, and 7 …

    And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away … I will give the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts … He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

    All sounds like “someday” doesn’t it? And yet those things are promised to us in the atonement … the curse is broken … death is defeated (BTW, if you really want a mind-blowing time, read 1 Corinthians 15:26 in the Greek, paying special attention to the verb tense) … Jesus offered the water of life to the woman at the well and said rivers of living water would flow out of our bellies (when? Not far away someday, but here and now) … when do we overcome? We’re more than overcomers… When will God be our God and we be His sons?

    Makes you stop and think doesn’t it?

  9. Hi again Peter … not sure what you mean about “over the top” about the MSOG?

    I do know that some error crept into that movement over the years … quite a lot of control/manipulation/judgment as well – so totally NOT there.

    But do I believe in dominion and authority? Absolutely, and I (as you say in the post you linked) believe that is available to and the mandate of of every believer.

    Definitely don’t believe the return of Christ is a “state visit” either …

  10. Kay, again I largely agree with you. We can live the overcoming life now – but it is not a trouble-free life; compare John 16:33.

    As for MSOG, I was referring to certain alleged teachings that these “sons” would already have their resurrection bodies and super-powers, and be immortal. But I can’t help wondering if anyone really taught that, or if this was a mixture of misunderstanding and deliberate distortion. I also don’t like the idea of this being an exclusive group. But I do believe that every Christian is called to be a manifest son (including daughters) of God, to live the resurrection life now, and to move in powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit. The distortions which make this teaching unacceptable are subtle but real.

  11. Peter, that is exactly how I understand the millennium. Incidentally, it is how both amillennialists and postmillennialists understand the millennium, (I have seen some of those ‘eschatology charts” which suggest that postmillennialists believe in a literal 1,000 year golden age before the return of Christ, but I have never met one. All the postmillennialists that I know or have read agree with Amils that the millennium is the entire church age – from the first coming of Christ until his return – from the first resurrection [spiritual] until the second resurrection [physical] – the only difference being that postmils expect the gradual growing of the Kingdom’s influence globally until it has “leavened the whole world”).

    So, sometimes I am regarded as an amillennialist, and sometimes as a postmillennialists (I don’t care much for titles).

    Also, regarding preterism, I am a preterist – but not a FULL preterist (or hyper preterist) – rather, a partial preterist, (or historic preterist, or orthodox preterist – of what simply used to be called a preterist, before the advent of full preterism made it essential to point out that you are not one of them).

    I think that an understanding of certain passages in Luke and John (the binding of and judgment of Satan being accomplished by the first coming of Christ), and an understanding of the Matthew 24 being a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and an understanding of Ephesians (as you point out in your article), and an understanding of “The Kingdom” that Jesus preached all point to no other conclusion, than the fact the the Old Covenant, the Law, the sacrifices, the Temple, etc – have all passed away in Christ – NEVER TO RETURN OR BE REBUILT IN TH FUTURE – and we are now living in a new spiritual Kingdom of grace, where we have free access to the throne of God. A spiritual Kingdom which has come in part, is continuing to grow, and at Christ’s return will be realized in full, with no need for a hybrid “millennial reign” in between.

  12. I actually watch Doc Martin because it is one of the few British programs that we get in Canada – and no, I think I am a lot more lightened-up than that. (I made my Twitter name Doc martin when I got my Doctorate, and it’s kind of stuck).

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