Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, is convinced that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is symbolic and not to be taken literally. “The figurative use of the whole number one thousand is virtually ubiquitous in Old Testament usage. For example, God increased the number of the Israelites a thousand times (Deuteronomy 1:11); God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); the least of Zion will become a thousand and the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22).” Hanegraaff continues by emphasizing “a thousand more examples (figuratively speaking) could easily be added to the list.” What, then, does the “thousand years” mean? Hanegraaff rejects the view that the words of Revelation 20 are a “literal prophetic chronology according to which Satan will literally be bound for one thousand years while the resurrected martyrs reign with Christ . . . .” Alternatively, Hanegraaff argues, “We must be willing to interpret this markedly symbolic passage in light of the rest of Scripture.” The number one thousand is symbolic of “ultimate completion.” The “thousand years” of the martyrs’ reign indicates the vindication of the martyrs who were subjected to the terror of the Beast for “ten days.” The “thousand years” is a qualitative contrast, not a quantitative period of time.
Amillennialist J. Marcellus Kik, in his book An Eschatology of Victory, also does not believe that the “thousand years” conveys a future, messianic, millennial kingdom. He adds another dimension to Hanegraaff’s view. “The term thousand years in Revelation twenty is a figurative expression used to describe the period of the messianic Kingdom upon earth. It is that period from the first Advent of Christ until his Second Coming.” In other words, we are all in the “millennium” today, for it spans the time between the two appearances of Christ on earth. Kim Riddlebarger, in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, concurs: “Amillenarians generally agree with this assessment, seeing the thousand years as a symbolic number, spanning the entire ‘church age.’” He adds that there are good reasons for interpreting the number one thousand symbolically. He notes, “Numbers are always used symbolically throughout the book [of Revelation].” Riddlebarger agrees with Hanegraaff’s conclusion that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 “symbolizes an ideal period time, a time of completion.” He also contends that other words in Revelation 20, such as chain, abyss, serpent, and beast are symbolic, so it is reasonable to conclude that the number one thousand is also symbolic.
In the early centuries of the church, the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354-430), likewise interpreted the “thousand years” symbolically. Augustine was a premillennialist earlier in his life, but came to regard the “thousand years” allegorically. In The City of God he writes, “The thousand years may be understood in two ways, . . . either because these things happen in the sixth thousand of years or sixth millennium (the latter part of which is now passing), as if during the sixth day, which is to be followed by a Sabbath which has no evening, . . . or he used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time.” It is interesting to note the reasoning Augustine employs to demonstrate that the number one thousand is the number of perfection. “For a thousand is the cube of ten. For ten times ten makes a hundred, that is, the square on a plane superficies. But to give this superficies height, and make it a cube, the hundred is again multiplied by ten, which gives a thousand.” Augustine then gives an example in Scripture of the number one hundred indicating perfection or completeness, and thus concludes that if ever “one hundred” is interpreted as totality or completion, then how much more complete and perfect is one thousand. Regardless of which of his two interpretations one may choose, Augustine came to see the millennium as the present age within which he lived. The end of the “thousand years” will be the end of the world when Christ returns. Christ will only return after the perfect amount of time has elapsed.
Hanegraaff, Riddlebarger, and Kik are all heirs of the amillennialism that Augustine propounded. Augustine’s view of the “thousand years” in Revelation has been the dominant view of the church ever since the early fifth century and continues to be widely held even today. However, many contemporary evangelicals are premillennialists and can claim their interpretational heritage to a time before Augustine, a claim that is explored in the next blog post.