Although it’s a hundred-dollar word, it’s probably not as complicated as it sounds. It concerns the nature of the 1000 years after Christ’s return. In today’s article, we’ll explore what the Bible says about those 1000 years, what chiliasm is, and if you have to believe it to be a Christian.
What Are the Tenets of Chiliasm?
Before diving into the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation, we have to break down the term chiliasm in the first place.
Chialism is the belief that the 1000 years is a literal period that will take place on earth. During this time, the saints of God will live and thrive together before Satan is released and wages Armageddon. The battle happens before the final judgment and when the New Heaven and New Earth are ushered in.
According to chiliasm, what are some important things to know about this period?
1. It’s a literal 1000 years. People who do not hold to chiliasm often argue that 1000 years is a symbolic or metaphorical 1000 years. We have to keep in mind that sometimes in the Bible, dates are symbolic rather than literal. The 70 weeks in Daniel comes to mind when we mention this.
2. It will happen on our current earth. The new heaven and new earth haven’t entered the picture yet. So it’s not quite the paradise we’ll stay in after the Great White Throne judgment. Still, it will be better than when Satan had dominion over the earth.
3. It falls under the premillennialist view of Revelation. Premillennialism believes that Christ returns before the 1000 years. The early church believed in several different forms of premillennialism. The most popular version of premillennialism today is called dispensationalism, which includes various theories about how the Bible’s overall story is organized and how it will end.
4. It will have a Christ-ruled theocracy. During this 1000-year period, Christ will rule over the earth’s inhabitants. It will be similar to the Garden of Eden, a return to a proper relationship with God. Of course, there’s still the final battle with Satan before all is set right. But Christians will find it a nice relief from the tribulation they endured before Christ returned.
With this in mind, let’s see what Scripture says about the 1000 years.
What Does the Bible Say about Chiliasm?
We don’t get many mentions of the 1000 years except in Revelation 20. There it tells us that during the 1000 years, Satan is bound and cannot operate in his power. I think about the final level of hell in Dante’s Inferno, where Satan is chained in an icy prison.
Revelation 20:7 mentions that after this millennium, Satan will be released “for a short time.” His final hurrah, squashed by heavenly fire.
During this period, the “first resurrection” takes place. Saints who were martyred get to enjoy this millennium with the surviving believers. No other dead persons—presumably unsaved—are brought back to life until the final judgment.
Those who participate in the millennium will reign with Christ. This brings to mind images of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, where the beloved characters rule alongside Aslan.
These references are interesting and surprising, but does the Bible give clearer details? Not really. Revelation and other apocalyptic literature tend not to give us the details we expect. For example, the Bible never explicitly tells us whether the 1000 years is literal or figurative. Generally, the early church fathers held a more chiliastic view.
But not every Christian throughout the church’s history has affirmed a chiliastic view of the millennium. Augustine, one of the most important Christian thinkers in church history, seemed to think of it in a less literal sense. Other views, such as amillennialism and postmillennialism, continue to be widely popular in many Christian traditions.
This begs the question…
Do You Have to Believe in Chiliaism to be a Christian?
Believing in a literal 1000-year period where Christ rules before Satan is released for a short time will certainly impact our theology. It will affect what we believe about the last days and what we are placing our hope in. But do we have to believe in this concept to be Christians?
Let’s look up the criteria for being a believer.
1. What does Scripture say?
Scripture says that believers must confess the Lordship of Jesus over their lives. They must surrender everything to him and believe in his bodily resurrection. In turning their lives over to him, they will experience a transformation of the heart and will be new people. Nothing about chiliasm shows up here. Whether we believe in it or not won’t force us to believe (or disbelieve) these things.
Okay, what about our second criterion?
2. What do the creeds say?
The church creeds—statements that have existed since the early church which summarize the core of Christian belief. They talk about many important things. They talk about Mary’s virginity (at least until Jesus’ birth—Protestants and Catholics differ after that). They talk about the Trinity and its nature. They talk about Christ’s death, resurrection, baptism, and the church as Christ’s bride. And they do talk about Christ’s return.
But none of the creeds specifically mention chiliasm. It seems that none of them believe that a Christian absolutely must believe in a literal 1000-year reign that takes place on earth.
Why Should We Know about Chiliasm?
In this age where Christians can fight about anything and everything in a post’s comments section, why invest any thought into something that may or may not be true? For that matter, why think about Revelation—the book that so many believers debate endlessly?
Here are four major reasons why you should know about chiliasm.
1. It helps to know church history.
People in the church have debated for centuries, millennia, about the nature of Christ’s second coming. And before his first appearance, the Israelites debated what the Savior would look like. It’s helpful to know that there’s nothing new under the sun, and no one will get Revelation perfectly right. We can’t predict the future in such a way.
2. It helps to know that there will be a millennium of sorts.
Whether it’s happening right now (I see you, amillennialists) or will happen for a literal 1000 years in the future, Revelation 20 says it will happen. We can’t deny the existence of a millennial reign, no matter what it will look like.
3. We should be studying Revelation anyway.
It helps to keep our eyes peeled. Many will “fall asleep” and ignore the signs of Christ’s coming. Although we still have a job on this earth, we should be ready for these events to come.
4. It gives us something to look forward to.
Whether we’re looking forward to a literal 1000 years with Christ to the River of Life flowing through the New Jerusalem… we know that this world is aching, crying out for Christ’s return. We eagerly await him with open arms and await the day when Satan will be bound and no longer exercising his authority.