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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






27 April 2006

Seven Years, One Thousand Years


Q: I keep hearing about a seven year period where people will have to believe in God and Jesus and when the seven years are up God will come and take those people that accepted Him to heaven. I don’t see in the Bible where it says anything about 7 years on Earth. If this isn’t in the Bible, then why do people believe so much in this seven year period? I’ve also heard about a 1000 year period.

ApocalypseA: Revelation and Daniel are especially full of figurative expressions to which many people attach literal meaning. In the examples you note, seven years of tribulation and one thousand years of glorious reign both stem from a literalistic interpretation of visionary language.

In John’s time, especially among those steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, a thousand years often stood for a long but definite time. It makes much more sense of the entire book if we understand this as being the period from Christ’s ascension until the end of time. Thus, we’ve been living in the “millennium” ever since 30-something AD. The thousand years is, in other words, the life-span of the New Testament Church. Some of it is now history, some yet to happen.

Similarly, seven is often used as a number of completion, especially of God’s complete interaction with His Creation. This most likely stems from the seven days of Creation. It also appears to be a combination of symbolic Hebrew numbers: Three represented God (even before He fully revealed Himself as Triune); four was variously the number of man, the world, or the full physical creation. Also, periods of time in prophetic or apocalyptic writing might not be the same as in historical Scriptures. As example, consider Daniel 9, where it is said, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. (v. 24)” Here, the weeks are actually weeks of years — the approximately 490 years between Daniel and the coming of the Christ.

Whore of BabylonIf we get too carried up in literalism while reading visionary literature, we do Scripture as much injustice as we would interpreting literal, historic writing as figurative. And when people do impose literalism in Daniel Revelation, they aren’t normally consistent. They usually pick and choose, going back and forth between literal and figurative interpretations. A prime example: Most of those who struggle to define and promote a literal millennium or a literal seven years of tribulation don’t also insist upon a literal 144,000 in chapters 7 or 14 of Revelation. Nor do they demand that an actual harlot or a real, live dragon appear as part of the fulfillment of these prophecies. Yet for some reason, they cannot shake free of literal numbers of years.

Previous writings touching on the topic of 1000 years and other aspects of Biblical numbering include Millennialism, The Number Forty, Jesus in the Wilderness, and a post on Virtue.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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