In my book Cracking the End Time Code, I present the view that the millennium has been going on since Jesus was raised, and will continue until he returns. He is currently reigning through us, and we are expanding His reign until He returns. (This is my version of amillennial viewpoint originally held by Augustine).
Jesus’ parables speak of the transforming nature of the Kingdom: it is like yeast which a woman mixed in flour until the entire dough was leavened. And it is like a mustard seed, which starts off as a tiny seed but grows until it becomes a giant tree. The Kingdom is an invisible reality, but its effects are visible all throughout history – in politics, science, and culture.
The millennium, the Kingdom of God, and the Church Age are all different terms used to describe the same reality. The unfolding of the millennium, then, is the story of the Church. One of the reasons why people struggle with this view is that they don’t see it in history. Here I present in broad strokes the story of what God has been doing during the millennium.
Phase 1 –Return of the King
When Jesus came back from the dead in a resurrected body, He declared that “all authority” had been given to Him, and commissioned His disciples to go and “disciple all the nations.” Jesus’ return was a de facto challenge to the “god of this world.” Like King Richard in Robin Hood, the True King has returned! Jesus setting foot back on earth after his resurrection is much like when Napoleon’s escaped the island of Elba to reassert his claim as ruler of the Franks. His enemies knew that his very presence was a challenge to their authority.
This is exactly what Jesus did. After His crucifixion, He only came back with greater strength. He had not been defeated but came back stronger, having defeated death itself. Therefore, Jesus’ re-emergence on the earth inaugurated the presence of a new world order – that of the victory of God over the prince of this world. Before ascending to the Father, Jesus commissioned to carry this order to all the ends of the earth.
Phase 2 – Establishing a Beachhead
Jesus’ disciples faithfully took this message to the far corners of the world. East into Persia, and as far as India and eventually China. South to Ethiopia, the doorway to Africa. North to the Caucuses and West to Rome. The explosive power of the church made major inroads everywhere it went. This was by the power of the Holy Spirit testifying in signs and wonders, Christ reigning through His people. But this Kingdom is different from any other: Christians showing sacrificial love in a way the world had never encountered before – caring for plague victims, buying freedom for slaves, and caring for the poor and marginalized across class and ethnic boundaries.
Just as the powers and princes of this world attacked Jesus, so too they brought war against His followers. The Roman authorities persecuted the new Christians as a cult, and many believers were tortured and put to death. But just as Jesus brought life through death, so too “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” After less than 300 years, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Rome all became officially Christian. The old order was changed forever.
Phase 3 – Building a City
With Christianity as the official religion, Christian principles began to transform the society. No longer were Christians just a counterculture on the sidelines. When Constantine became a Christian, persecution against ceased, and Christians gained the political influence to ban such societal evils as gladiatorial combat, slavery, and infanticide. This period was the Church’s first taste of transforming the larger society not just by converting individuals, but by influencing the entire culture.
This was a period where the Church exerted great influence, but also became compromised and lost some of the zeal with which it had begun. Political power attracts people whose motive is power, rather than Jesus. The alliance of church and state meant that power-hungry individuals who were not necessarily devout sought leadership positions in the church. The church became mixed. When the Roman empire became officially Christian, there was one official state doctrine and state church, meaning all others would be persecuted. Instead of pagans killing Christians, Christians would persecute other Christians.
Phase 4 – Transformation and Reform
The next several centuries saw continued expansion of Christian influence over societies and culture, as well as reform movements in the Church. When the Western Roman Empire fell to the barbarian invaders, the papacy emerged as the unifying institution of the West, and the barbarian tribes were progressively Christianized through the heroism of missionaries, the faithfulness of Christian wives, and the attractiveness of Roman power.
Gospel ideals of the dignity of each person, and the value of freedom, also began to shape the culture. Art and literature reflected a new appreciation of the dignity of man made in God’s image. And the belief in a loving God who created a world with laws that could be known, led Christians to seek to discover these laws. The Scientific Revolution began with thinkers in Christian Europe. Christians were beginning to transform not only the moral norms and laws of their societies, but also the understanding of the natural world.
During this period, progress was also made in purifying the Church. Several monastic leaders tried to purify the Church of corruption and greed, and restore spirituality to the common people. This ultimately culminated with Martin Luther, who spoke out against papal abuses and fought for the direct access of the individual believer to God. The reign of God was advancing, not just externally throughout the society, but also internally in the character of His Church.
Phase 6 – Pilgrim Peoples
The Kingdom continued to expand inward and outward. Half of Europe embraced the Reformers’ vision, and even the Catholic Church instituted internal reforms in response to the crisis. Luther’s and Calvin’s churches were still enmeshed with the state, but they had redefined Christianity as a religion of internal piety instead of one of formal externals. This version of Christianity took hold in Northern Europe, but especially in England and Scotland.
Efforts by the state church to persecute dissident believers also furthered the spread of the Kingdom. Protestants of every stripe came to America and created communities where they could worship God as they chose. The result was a society founded on explicitly Christian principles, but one in which the state was not directly enmeshed with the church. This meant that the state could and would no longer persecute the true church because it disagreed with the political church.
The American experiment created a new kind of government – one that was based on individual freedom, limited government, and Christian principles. America was founded and shaped by ambassadors for the Kingdom, but not identified as the Kingdom, and as such provided the Kingdom with a unique vehicle for advance.
Phase 7 – Globalization
The rise of Western power created a situation where the gospel could go around the world. The Americas were discovered and colonized not by Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus, but by Christians, and so an entire half of the world came under the sway of a form of Christianity. Millions in the New World converted, and where there were abuses, brave Christians like Bartholomew de las Casas protested and protected the dignity of the natives. Everywhere the gospel spread, elements of societies that were contrary to the gospel were transformed. Christians led the abolitionist movement to end slavery, dealt blows to the caste system in India, and ended the practice of burning widows alive. The expansion of the Kingdom is slow and uneven, but it is growing worldwide.
Due to the influence and power of the West, and particularly America, there has been a massive spread of the gospel around the world in the last 200 years. Having a friendly but not controlling state behind it, the church was able to send missionaries to far-off places like China and Africa, and to incarnate the gospel in practical ways – providing healthcare, alleviating poverty, and digging wells.
All of this has led up to now. The global church is in new places and cultures that we could never have imagined, but the historical church in the West is in decline. The United States holds the current world order in place, but is at risk of succumbing to coalitions hostile to Christianity within the country, or losing influence to a hostile foreign power. If this happens, it would lead to a significant roll back of gains. A radical re-engagement is necessary.
To recap, the master theme of church history is purification and expansion against hostile powers. Satan is always raising up non-Christian powers, even a non-Christian “church” to persecute the true church, but over the centuries the church is always advancing, becoming purer, gaining influence over a greater and greater part of the world. At the same time, the church is becoming more like Him, worshipping Him more in the way He has longed since the dawn of creation.
What does this mean for you? You cannot win a battle if you do not understand and engage the enemy. We are locked in a multi-generational struggle for history. We must purify the church, and fight the powers of this world so that we can expand the church worldwide. We must pass a powerful form of Christianity down to our children that will gain even more ground for God and manifest His presence in even greater dimensions.
If you would like to read more about the direction of history, and what that means for you, check out my book Cracking the End Time Code.