A couple years ago I sat in a lecture in which a local scholar-pastor presented arguments in favor of amillennialism. As he described his own journey away from premillennialism into amillennialism, he said something that made me realize that many amillennialists misunderstand what premillennialists believe about the Millennium. As he told his story he commented: “I began to wonder why there was even a need for a Millennium since it was so much like the New Heaven and the New Earth. God can bring his promises to fulfillment in the New Heaven and the New Earth.” He had evidently been thinking of the Millennium in the same way as he had been thinking of the eternal state, so the Millennium eventually became redundant in his system, and he abandoned it. As his lecture progressed it became clear that he (now as an amillennialist) assumed that this is what all premillennialists thought about the Millennium.
Well, I’m a premillennialist, and that’s not what I think. The Millennium is not Heaven. There is a lot that could be written about this topic that I will not write here. (And there is a plenty about this topic that I don’t entirely understand.) But let me offer one perspective that may help you understand how the Millennium is not Heaven. That perspective centers upon what the Bible teaches as three main sources of pressure and temptation in the present age: the world, the flesh, and the devil. What kind of pressure will each of these bring to bear during the Millennium?
The World (defined here as pressures coming from the outside, but not directly from Satan, see 1 John 2:15-16): During the Millennium the broader world system will be righteous because Jesus himself will rule on the earth (Revelation 19:15; 20:4-6). The pressures of the world will exert far less influence than they do in the present age since unrighteousness will be punished when it occurs. But this doesn’t mean that there won’t be any pressure from the world, only that it will be significantly less than it is today. There still will be some pressure exerted from individuals or small groupings of people (like families) who are not living in submission to Jesus Christ the ruling king. There’s no way to biblically quantify how much pressure there will be from the world, but in order to show that it still plays a small part, let’s think of this pressure as one-quarter of what we presently experience from “the world” in the present age.
The Flesh (defined here as pressures coming from the inside, see Galatians 5:16-17): There won’t be anything significantly different about the flesh than people experience in the present age. We can anticipate that people will still experience what James wrote about in James 1:14-15: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” Those being ruled during the Millennium will not have the possibility of a resurrected body until after the Millennium is finished. Nor will everyone living in the Millennium put their faith in Jesus. As in this age, there still will be people who succumb to the pull of the flesh—some to greater degrees and some to lesser.
The Devil (defined here as the most powerful evil spirit, see Ephesians 6:11): Where will Satan be in the Millennium? He will be locked up (Revelation 20:1-3). In other words, the devil will not be tempting and opposing humans during this period (at least not until the very end, see Revelation 20:7-10). He will be off the scene during Christ’s thousand year reign. Satan will be a zero through most of the Millennium.
Then, after the Millennium, in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21-22) all three of these “enemies” will be eliminated. The devil will be eternally judged in the lake of fire, the world will be a perfected world, and the resurrection of the body will eliminate the pull of the flesh.
Let’s give one point to each of these three “enemies.” How much pressure is there in each of the three periods I mentioned?
Present age: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3
Millennium: ¼ + 1 + 0 = 1¼
New Heaven and Earth: 0 + 0 + 0 = 0
Conclusion: The Millennium is not Heaven