27) Was Jesus an Amillennialist? (Revelation 2:26-29)
I know that’s a provocative question, perhaps even incendiary to some of you! But let’s look closely at the promised reward in this letter to the church in Thyatira:
“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. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:26-29).
Those who “overcome” or “conquer” are the very people who are persecuted, thrown in prison, and even subjected to martyrdom (see Rev. 2:3,9-11,13). The promise to them is that if they keep Christ’s “works until the end” they will be given authority to rule over nations even as Christ has been given authority from his Father to rule (see Psalm 2).
Who or what are these “nations” and when is it that Christians will exercise their rule over them? Some (perhaps most) believe this is a promise to be fulfilled on the millennial earth, that 1,000 year period of human history that Premillennialists believe will follow the second coming of Christ and precede the inauguration of the eternal state.
Bear with me as I make an alternative suggestion. Could it be that the reward noted here is the authority granted to the saints when they enter into co-regency with Christ in heaven, now? A similar promise is made to the faithful in Laodicea: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne [namely, the place of rule, government, and authority], as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).
My point is that this co-regency with Christ is fulfilled now, in heaven, that is to say, in the so-called “intermediate state” where the dead in Christ live in conscious, intimate fellowship with the Savior. This co-regency, as I have called it, is therefore the same as the coming to life and “reigning” with Christ described in Revelation 20:4 and 20:6. The “millennium” or thousand-year rule is currently in session, as Christ, together with the “overcomers” or “conquerors”, rules with authority over the nations of the earth.
To put it simply and to the point: The “conquerors” / “overcomers” are not merely those over whom Christ will rule but those with whom Christ now rules.
We often fail to grasp the glory of what awaits those who “die in the Lord” and enter his presence. Although it is an intermediate state, that is to say, it is in between our present earthly existence and our final and glorified experience when we receive the resurrection body, it is nevertheless a wonderful and joyful and meaningful time. It is during this time, simultaneous with the present church age, that those who have died in Christ experience the fulfillment of this promise: they are even now ruling and reigning over the nations of the earth in tandem with their sovereign Lord!
For those of you not familiar with the debate over biblical eschatology, this is the perspective known as Amillennialism. Contrary to the label which suggests we don’t believe in the existence or reality of a millennium (observe how the alpha privative “a” seemingly negates the word “millennial”), we most assuredly do! The “millennium” is concurrent with the church age in which we live.
Again, contrary to the charge of “spiritualizing” the millennial kingdom, the saints truly and literally are enthroned with Christ, they are truly and literally reigning with Christ. This is not metaphor, but a concrete and living reality. The millennium, therefore, isn’t the experience of Christians in the Church on earth but that of the saints in heaven. They have been enthroned. They now rule. They share in the exercise of Christ’s dominion and sovereignty over the affairs and events and nations of the earth.
The apostle Paul had this in view in 1 Corinthians 15:24-26. There he describes Christ’s current sovereign rule over the affairs of both heaven and earth, one in which Jesus says (in Revelation 2:25-29) his people who “conquer” will share. Look at it closely:
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Practically speaking, this means that Ignatius and Augustine, as well as Anselm and Aquinas, Calvin and Luther, Edwards and Wesley, Owen and Whitefield, together with Mary Magdalene, Aimee Semple McPherson, Susannah Wesley and the untold millions of others who are absent from the body but present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) are now exercising a divinely delegated authority in the providential oversight of the nations of the earth!
This enthronement and rule of the saints in heaven, with Christ, will continue far beyond the “millennial” phase in which it currently exists. There is an eternal expression of this experience that will unfold not only in the New Heavens but also on the New Earth (cf. Rev. 5:10) that will be created at the coming of Christ (Revelation 21-22). The nature of that authority and rule will undoubtedly change, given the fact that all unbelievers will have by then been banished to their eternal punishment in hell, but our co-regency with Christ will never cease.
As I read further in this passage it appears that the promise of co-regency with Christ is reinforced yet again. In v. 28 Jesus declares that the overcomer will receive “the morning star”. It’s possible that this is a reference to Jesus himself (see Rev. 22:16). But there is another option that relates this statement to what has preceded in the immediate context. The “morning star” is generally regarded as referring to Venus (although technically a planet), which itself was an ancient symbol for sovereignty. In Roman times, notes Beasley-Murray,
“it was more specifically the symbol of victory and sovereignty, for which reason Roman generals owned their loyalty to Venus by erecting temples in her honour . . . and Caesar’s legions carried her sign on their standards. . . . If then the morning star was the sign of conquest and rule over the nations, this element in the promise to the conqueror strengthens the statement that has gone before. It embodies in symbol the prophecy already cited from the psalmist. The conqueror is therefore doubly assured of his participation with Christ in the glory of his kingdom” (94-95).
I certainly have no illusions about resolving the often acrimonious debate over biblical eschatology. In fact, I suspect my comments in this meditation will provoke no little response (perhaps most of it negative). But as I read this passage, in conjunction with the whole of Scripture, I see a glorious affirmation of the destiny of the faithful who die in Christ.
To all outward appearances and the judgment of the unbelieving eye, it may seem that we have suffered loss. Yet, for the believer, to die is to live! What strikes the world as defeat and humiliation is for the Christian an entrance into life and exaltation! Let us never forget that the saints have “conquered” Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11; see also Rev. 15:2; 17:14.).
So, was Jesus an Amillennialist? Yes, I believe he was (and is).