Sixteen years ago, Y2K fever was raging. Many will remember in the years leading up to the millennium, the great fear was that on January 1, computers would crash all over the world, which would cause planes to fall from the sky, prison doors to be unlocked, and the world as we knew it would come to a standstill.
Prior to 2000, the publishing industry flourished from all the books that advised people how to survive the coming global meltdown. In December 1999, there was a mad rush to stock up on food because of the fear that supermarkets would shut down. The manufacturers of electric generators did a booming business from people who feared that power grids would go down, and in America, the sale of guns skyrocketed because people were anxious to protect themselves from rioting in the streets that they were sure was about to happen.
It’s very likely that many of the world’s critical computers would have crashed on 01/01/00, creating global havoc. Fortunately, all the hard work leading up to that critical date paid off, because January 1, 2000, came and went with almost no computer glitches anywhere in the world!
But there’s a millennium coming that will change everything.
The millennium of Revelation
The idea began with the Bible—Revelation 20, to be exact. Since Revelation is filled with so many strange symbols and mysteries, we might expect its account of the millennium to be a riddle too. Instead, we find a relatively simple sequence of events. The millennium will begin with the second coming of Christ. Revelation 20:4 says that God’s people “came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” So it’s only when God’s people “come to life” in the resurrection at Jesus’ second coming that Revelation’s millennium can begin.
Jesus will take these resurrected people to heaven along with all of His followers who live to see Him come, and everyone will spend the 1000 years in heaven with Him. John 14:1–3 suggests this sequence of events. Jesus told His disciples that He would soon be leaving them to be with His Father and this worried them. But He assured them, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (verse 3). Jesus is now in heaven, of course, and when He returns, He will take us there to be with Him.
But what about the others? They will remain on planet Earth, slain by the brightness of Jesus’ second coming (2 Thessalonians 1:6–10; 2:8).
Where will Satan be during the millennium? Revelation says he will be imprisoned on earth “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years [are] ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time” (Revelation 20:3). The 1000 years—the millennium—designates Satan’s time on death row.
With no-one to deceive, torment or tempt (since everybody will either be in heaven with Jesus or dead), Satan will pass the time contemplating his crimes, pondering lost opportunities and awaiting execution. He will have 1000 years to behold the results of his rebellion against God!
By contrast, heaven will resound with celebration as the redeemed praise God for their deliverance from the earth. And what sights will meet their eyes! Their most fantastic dreams about heaven won’t have come near to what the reality will be—the brilliance of the green grass, the vastness of God’s throne room and the joy of seeing Jesus with their own eyes and hearing His voice with their own ears!
There will be one problem, though. As people search for friends and loved ones, some searches will culminate in reunions while others will end in loss. Those who were felons, traitors and criminals on earth will be in heaven, while many people who appear saintly today will remain in their graves on earth during the millennium, under sentence of eternal death.
Why is the kindly pastor from your youth group not here? Yet over there you spot the sixth-grade teacher who abused you. How did he get here? Where will the answers to questions like these come from?
Learning the truth
“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgement was given unto them” (Revelation 20:4, KJV). The record of each human being’s life and of God’s dealings with that person will be opened for review. God will welcome this scrutiny. Indeed, He is providing the millennium for that very purpose— to give us the opportunity to satisfy ourselves that He has chosen the right companions for us for eternity.
In the record books of heaven we will find stories of triumphant grace. We will read breathtaking accounts of souls rescued from deepest depravity and transformed into radiant piety. Unfortunately, we will also read tales of grace spurned. God’s unerring records will peel away the pious veneer of outward appearance, revealing the pride, spite and pettiness within human hearts. The faults of all human beings who are lost will be on display—along with God’s efforts to redeem them.
Each of us will have 1000 years to leaf through the heavenly records and confirm God’s justice for ourselves. Reading of His patient dealings with each individual will explain why our absent loved ones would not be happy in heaven.
One more chance?
Although an inspection of the records in heaven will confirm God’s justice, some might wonder what would happen if the wicked had just one more chance. Might they renounce their selfishness and accept God’s rule in their lives? C S Lewis responded to this thought: “[Some say] that death ought not to be final,” he said, “that there ought to be a second chance. I believe that if a million chances were likely to do any good, they would be given.” In other words, if you weren’t interested in your first chance, you wouldn’t be interested in a second or third. Actually, at the close of the millennium, the wicked will receive that second chance. God will free Satan and raise his human followers to life in the second resurrection.
Revelation 20:5 says that “the rest of the dead” will come to life when the 1000 years end. Then “Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations . . . to gather them for battle. . . . They marched across the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves” (verses 7–9).
As soon as these people rise from their graves, Satan will rally them. The religious, political and military leaders of all the ages will join forces. The Bible predicts this “second chance” will only yield a final rebellion which will confirm God’s justice in the minds of the redeemed. Satan will deceive all his followers one last time, inspiring them to storm the New Jerusalem descended from heaven, and take it by force. Then God’s loyal followers will understand that “a million chances” would only yield a million rebellions.
The lake of fire
Fortunately, God will bring this pathetic exhibition of self-will to a merciful end. Revelation says that fire will come down from heaven and devour the wicked (Revelation 20:9). Surely at this moment the lost will finally realise, even if for only an instant, the true nature of their condition. They cannot prevail and they will not submit. Even if they could take the city, they would only destroy it and each other. Their selfishness has put happiness out of their reach forever.
“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur.” And “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (verses 10, 15).
This fire will totally consume the wicked, for “this is the second death” (verse 14, KJV). A merciful God will not allow the wicked to suffer eternal torture. That would only perpetuate sin. No, the wicked will be reduced to ashes (Malachi 4:1–3).
Those ashes will give way to the greatest urban renewal project of all time, for God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5, KJV). And Peter wrote that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
The millennium will have served its purpose. God’s new heaven and earth will be founded on trust, because every inhabitant will have had 1000 years to review the record of God’s dealing with sin and sinners, confirming God’s mercy and justice. Because of the millennium, each one will know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God has saved and transformed as many as would let Him. They will know that He reluctantly ended the existence of the others only after they had rejected every opportunity for change.
The good news is, now is not too late to ask Jesus to come into your heart.