Sixteen years ago Y2K was all the rage. For those readers too young to remember that era, Y2K was an acronym for “Year Two Thousand.” In the years leading up to 2000, the great fear was that on January 1 computers would crash all over the world, which would cause planes to fall from the sky and prison doors to be unlocked, letting thousands of criminals back on the streets. You name it, if it was bad news, it was about to happen.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when a Web site or a computer program asks for your birth date, it always does so with the placeholders dd/ mm/yyyy, which mean day, month, and year. And notice that the placeholder for year requires four digits. But back in the early years of computing, these dates were requested by dd/mm/yy, because everyone knew that yy stood for the last two digits of the year, the first two always being “19.” Unfortunately, that assumption would no longer work when the first two digits were “20,” and the great fear was that computers all over the world that were programed for dd/mm/yy would crash on January 1, 2000. So there was a mad rush, with millions of hours and billions of dollars spent updating computer software to bring it into the twenty-first century.
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 food transportation would shut down. The manufacturers of electric generators did a booming business from people who feared that power grids all over the world would go down, and 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.
In fact, 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! (There were a few.)
But there’s a millennium coming that will change everything.
The millennium in 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.” God’s people will “come to life” in the resurrection at Jesus’ second coming. Only then can Revelation’s millennium begin.
Jesus will take these resurrected saints to heaven along with all of His followers who live to see Him come, and everyone will spend the 1,000 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 go 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” (John 14:3). Jesus is now in heaven, of course, and when He returns, He will take us there to be with Him.
But what about the wicked?
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 that he will be imprisoned on the 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 1,000 years—the millennium—designates Satan’s time on “death row.”
Think of it. With no one to deceive, torment, or tempt,* Satan will pass the time contemplating his crimes, pondering lost opportunities, and awaiting execution. He will have a thousand 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 anxiously for friends and loved ones, cries of delight will mingle with tears of disappointment, for some searches will culminate in reunions while others will end in loss. Felons, traitors, and criminals will be in heaven. Yet many people who appear saintly today will remain in their graves on earth during the millennium, under sentence of eternal death.
Seeing who is there and who isn’t will certainly give rise to some questions. 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? God has provided for that!
Learning the truth
“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment 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 a thousand years to leaf through the heavenly records and confirm God’s justice for ourselves. Reading of His patient dealings with each individual will quiet our fears. Grief for absent loved ones will be relieved by the knowledge that they would not be happy in heaven.
One more chance?
Although the saints’ 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”—the wicked—come to life when the 1,000 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 the wicked rise from their graves, Satan will rally them. The religious, political, and military leaders of all the ages will join forces. Attila the Hun, Adolf Hitler, David Koresh, and Jim Jones, along with many others, will relish this opportunity to show that they still have the power to mesmerize their fanatical followers.
This “second chance” after the second resurrection will only yield a second insurrection, a final rebellion, which will remove all doubt from the minds of the redeemed about God’s justice. Satan will deceive all his followers one last time, inspiring them to attempt to storm the New Jerusalem 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 realize, 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 sulfur.” 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 1,000 years to review the record of God’s dealing with sin and sinners, ensuring that each one has absolute confidence in God’s mercy and His 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 miserable existence of the wicked only after they had rejected every opportunity for change.
Fortunately, the dire predictions about Y2K never materialized. But the Bible’s dire predictions about Christ’s return, the millennium, and the lake of fire will happen. Fortunately, you can protect yourself from that disaster by asking Jesus to come into your heart. You’ll know that you’ll spend the millennium in heaven, not on earth, and you’ll have the assurance that after the millennium you’ll be safe in God’s holy city, not on the outside in the lake of fire.