Within the Reformed Church, there are for the most part two robust millennial positions. Amillennialism says that the 1,000 years in Revelation 20 are an indefinite amount of time between the two advents of Christ. Postmillennialism says that the 1,000 years, which may or may not be literal, is a period which occurs at some time after the first advent, before the second advent. These two positions were not clearly distinguished from one another until more recently, but were distinguished from chiliasm (a form of premillennialism), wherein the second advent precedes a literal thousand-year rule. Many modern advocates of postmillennialism believe that the millennium is yet to come, that it will be a glorious age for the Church and followed immediately by the final judgement. Yet there is an alternative historicist framework espoused, with subtle differences in interpretation, by the Reformer Bullinger and various Puritans, for which a compelling case was made by the Huguenot Francis Junius, subsequently included in the notes of the 1599 Geneva Bible.
In Revelation 11:2, we encounter the day-age principle, whereby prophetic days signify years. This is based on Ezekiel 4:5-6, where Ezekiel’s lying on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 days symbolizes the years from the establishment of idolatry until the destruction of Jerusalem as punishment for their sin, – ‘each day for a year,’ says the Lord – and also on Daniel 9:24-27, where the 70 weeks are taken for 490 years. In the same vein, the 42 months here is taken for 1,260 years. Junius connects the beginning of this time with the passion of Christ, at which point the temple veil was torn in two, and two made one under the Shepherd. This time concludes with the papacy of Boniface VIII, ‘of whom,’ writes the Anglican presbyter George Croby (1827), ‘it has been said that, as Gregory VII. seemed the most usurping of mankind, till Innocent III. appeared, so Innocent was thrown into the shade by the enormous audacity of Boniface; [who] instantly launched a bull declaring himself King of kings, in temporals as well as spirituals, and ordering the French monarch to attend his presence at Rome’.
The two witnesses
Junius does not identify the two witnesses with illustrious figures, but rather as a representation of ministers of the Word, invoking the testimony of two or three witnesses found in 2 Corinthians 13:1. Meanwhile, the olive trees and candlesticks stand for peace and light, and the fire, which proceeds from the mouths of the witnesses and devours their enemies, stands for the power of the holy ministry.
The beast which overcomes the witnesses is identified with the Roman Empire. So the ‘great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where our Lord also was crucified’ is Rome – whose appellations refer to spiritual wickedness and a pretence of sound Christian religion, according to Junius. At the end of the 1,260 years, Pope Boniface abolished the truth of Christ ‘by the restoring of the type of the Jubilee, and triumphing over his members by most wicked superstitions’. According to the historian Bergomensis, Boniface lived three years and a half (‘three days and a half’ in the prophecy) following the Jubilee. Furthermore, Bergomensis recorded an earthquake in 1301 – as in Revelation 11:13. It is also worth noting, though Junius does not comment on it, that the Ottomans laid siege to Nicaea in 1301; indeed, John Calvin believed that Islam was one of two horns of the Antichrist, the other being the papacy.
The woman and child
The woman in labour in Revelation 12:1-2 is the Church of the Jews who pains to bring forth the Christian Church, as the symbol of the barren woman in Isaiah 45:1 and Galatians 4:27. At this point, the dragon, Satan, arrives on the scene with seven heads, one for each of the seven churches, as to usurp authority over them. The child is Christ, ‘taken up into heaven out of the jaws of Satan’. Following Jesus’ ascension, the Church of the Jews hid itself in the wilderness where it was fed by the Apostles. In Revelation 12:14, ‘to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness’. Interestingly, Junius identifies this with an event recorded by Eusebius, when Jewish Christians were given a signal to flee from the destruction of Jerusalem, and escaped to a town called Pella.
The name of blasphemy, and the mark and number of the beast
The name of blasphemy is connected to the Man of Sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, who proclaims himself to be God. This was claimed by both the Roman Emperors and also the Popes after them. There follows an account of the false miracles, idolatry, tyranny and man-made sacraments of Rome, the ‘greasy Chrism’ of confirmation being connected to the Mark of the Beast, without which no man could have a livelihood. Later, the scarlet regalia of the beast is also said to signify Romish vestments. The number 666 Junius associates with the Decretals, five volumes to which Boniface VIII added the sixth, which Boniface himself called the perfect number, yielding ‘a perfect form of managing all things, and perfect discipline of behaviour’.
The following chapters speak further of Christ’s defence of the Church (14), and the victory he grants her over the harlot (17-18), over the two beasts (19), and over the dragon and death (20).
Chapter 20, Junius concludes, must continue from chapter 12. He dates the thousand years, during which Satan is bound, from approximately AD 70, when the Church of the Jews was overthrown (at which point Satan tried to destroy the Church of the Gentiles, ‘but the providence of God resisted his attempt’), to the papacy of Gregory VII in AD 1073, ‘a most damnable Necromancer and sorcerer, whom Satan used as an instrument when he was loosed out of bonds, thenceforth to annoy the Saints of God with most cruel persecutions, and the whole world with distensions, and most bloody wars: as Benno the Cardinal reporteth at large.’ The millennium, though far from a perfect time, here encompasses those years when the green, tender movement of Christ’s disciples expanded vastly by God’s grace across swathes of Africa, Asia and all of Europe, transforming nations – the age of Christendom’s establishment and the wisdom of the Church Fathers.
The first and second resurrections
It is important to note, with regard to Revelation 20:5, that there cannot be two physical resurrection events. Some dispensational premillennialists believe wrongly that there will be a resurrection of the just at the start the millennium and a resurrection of the unjust at the end of the world. However, as Berkhof states, with scriptural proofs, ‘The Bible speaks of the resurrection of both in a single breath. Dan. 12:2; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15. It connects the judgment of the wicked with the coming of Christ, II Thess. 1:7-10, and places the resurrection of the just at the last day, John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24.’ The first resurrection is rightly understood by Junius as the renewal ‘with newness of the life by the enlightening of the gospel of the glory of Christ’, by which souls are raised from spiritual death.
Hope for the Jews?
Dispensationalists ground their belief in the millennial reign of Christ with a restoration of the Temple, even the types and shadows of the ceremonial law, and the subsequent conversion of the Jews. This is not consistent with the New Testament, as Paul says in Colossians 2:17 that these ceremonial laws ‘are a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ’. Therefore, those prophecies in the Old Testament, such as in the final chapters of Ezekiel, which are yet unfulfilled must now be understood spiritually, with reference to the substance later revealed in fullness rather than to Jewish rites. Those Jews in our age who reject Christ are not brothers, but apostates, uncircumcised in heart, children of wrath, with no part in the Israel of God, which is the Church, comprised of Jewish and Gentile Christians. We should not fetishize the political State of Israel. This is not to say that the Reformed Church has altogether abandoned hope for the Jews’ grafting back into the Church. The commentary of the Puritan Matthew Henry says, ‘The Jews are in a sense a holy nation (Exod. xix.6), being descended from holy parents… the seed of believers, as such, are within the pale of the visible church, and within the verge of the covenant… Though grace does not run in the blood, yet external privileges do (till they are forfeited), even to a thousand generations…The Jewish branches are reckoned holy, because the root was so.’ This is consistent with Romans 11 and a biblical understanding of the covenant, wherein the children of believers are also called holy (as in 1 Corinthians 7:14).
Application to our present day
If the loosing of Satan’s bonds was evident in the late 16th century, it is perhaps even more so in our present age in which we see such rampant rebellion against God’s laws – especially in sexual immorality, which has long been associated with idolatry – and widespread repudiation of the gospel – manifesting itself in naturalism and secularism. Ecumenicism between Protestants and Rome is also on the rise, and that Man of Sin Pope Francis continues to seduce the nations with his pretence of charity. While Rome has not officially changed its positions on morality, so as to retain some form of false godliness, it is still very much that synagogue of Satan which issued the decrees of Trent. It makes the right noises to lure the visible Church back under its headship and into idolatry, while subverting the gospel by denying Christ – affirming atheists, apostate Jews and Muslims – and persisting in devilish superstitions. The decline of confessionalism in Protestant churches will only serve to make this task easier. Apart from the advance of antitheism and the ever present machinations of popery, violent Islamists also loom on our doorstep.
So, with the ‘golden age’ perhaps far behind us, in our dark world, is there any room for optimism? I would say so, yes. Even at a time when Satan prowled, when Rome slew the faithful, when we had turned away from the Word, the Almighty God, in the words of Calvin, ‘occasionally raised up apostles, or at least evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in [the Reformation]. For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of Antichrist’. There have been further revivals since, and God’s holy ministry shall continue until the end of the age, so let us be fervent in prayer that God deliver us from darkness, but that we may also shine as a light in that darkness. Let us never forget that the ultimate victory is already won. The Lord Jesus’ Revelation to John ends with eternal bliss for all who have taken refuge in the Son.