I have long had an obsessive affinity for books. I love them. I read them. I display them proudly on many shelves in my office. And I keep buying more of them. I just can't get enough of books. Especially books about Jesus.
As much as I love my books, one job I can never imagine having is that of a bookkeeper. At first thought, it sounds like a dream job: a book-keeper. But the books that a bookkeeper keeps don't contain insightful and marvelous words about Jesus. Instead, they contain cryptic and confusing numbers. Black numbers. Red numbers. Line item numbers. Break down numbers. Cash based numbers. Accrual numbers. Just thinking about all those numbers is enough to give me a headache. Those who can think about and decipher all these numbers have my highest respect and, many times, my tax records as well. Because I'll gladly pay a CPA to reconcile my books with IRS's books. For as much as I might enjoy and devour books with words, I am at a loss when it comes to books with lots of numbers.
In our reading for today from Revelation 20, John tosses around some numbers. Actually, mercifully, he tosses around only one number: 1,000. And yet, even though it's only one number, this one number has proven to be a source of more confusion and debate than even Bernie Madoff's books. John writes:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. 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 for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (verses 1-4)
The church has interpreted this thousand-year reign of Christ, described by John, in three primary ways. One interpretation is that of premillenialism, which says that Christ will return and usher in his perfect rule after this present age. Another is the interpretation of postmillennialism, which says that the world is slowly, but inexorably, moving toward a utopian society where we will enjoy an extended period of peace and prosperity. And still another interpretation is that of amillenialism, which says that we are currently living in a symbolic millennium, living under Christ's rule with Satan being bound by the gospel.
As much as I don't like numbers, I have taken some time to study this number. After all, this number is a number that has to do with God himself. And after much study, my preferred interpretation of John's famed number, and the interpretation I think fits best with the context of Revelation 20, is amillenialism. There are three things that lead me to this stance. First, the two other times the number 1,000 is used in the Scriptures to refer to time are in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8, both of which clearly use the number 1,000 symbolically to refer to the timelessness of God. Thus, I don't think this time frame should idiosyncratically be interpreted literally here. Second, this rule of Christ during the millennium seems to take place from heaven, not on earth, as the premillenialists claim. The heavenly "thrones" and "souls" clue us into this fact (cf. verse 4). Third, nowhere does Scripture teach a more than one second coming of Christ. And yet, to have an earthly literal millennium, Christ would have to have a "first second coming" to set up his millennial kingdom on earth and then a "second second coming" to judge the living and the dead. This does not harmonize with the rest of Scripture. Indeed, Christ's one and only second coming is described in verses 11-21, taking place after the figurative millennium in which we live right now.
Interestingly, at this second coming, we are shown some books. These are books, kept by God, which he uses to "judge the dead according to what they had done as recorded in the books" (verse 12). But not only are there books, there is also a book of life (cf., verse 12), containing the names of those washed by the blood of the Lamb. In other words, you can either be judged by the books or be judged by the book. You can either be judged according to what you have done and works God has recorded in his books or be judged according to the what the Lamb has done and how he has written your name in God's book of life. Although I love having many, many books, there's only one book I'll want to see that day. And it won't be the books filled with my works, for those are certain to be shameful and embarrassing. No, I'll want to see only the book with my name in it, splattered in blood by the Lamb. For that book is my book of life. I hope it's yours too.