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Pareus and the thousand years

March 15, 2012

David Pareus (1548-1622) was a German protestant Reformer, who advocated calling rulers to account for their actions. In the year that he died, the authorities at Oxford, England, were ordered to search libraries and bookshops and to burn every copy of his work. In the quote below, from his commentary on the Apocalypse, Pareus discusses the meaning of the thousand years of Revelation 20, and the question whether they are to be taken as definite, or as a literal thousand years. He concludes the thousand years are meant to be taken as a definite period, contrary to Augustine and Ribera. A comment on his argument follows the quotation. [David Pareus. A commentary upon the divine Revelation of the apostle and evangelist John. p. 506ff.]

But now at length we come to treat of the Thousand yeers: And I confesse that I take in hand this argument tremblingly: because I see that many Interpreters, both Ancient and Moderne, have stumbled at this stone: And the more I thinke upon it, the lesse I finde how to unty the knot that hath troubled so many: And having done all that I can, I find it more easie to say what these thousand years are not, then what they are. For it seemeth that the Holy Ghost was pleased as it were to seale this Booke to all men by this darke mysterie, the searching whereof might indeed exercise our study, but restrain the boldnesse of a rash definition. Wherefore I do not promise, after all others, so to unloose this knot touching the thousand yeers, and millenary reigne of the Martyrs, as to satisfie all men: but will speake what the Lord hath given me to see, following the steps of others so farre as I may.

First observe, that the thousand years are here six times iterated.

Thrice it is said that Satan was bound for a thousand years and afterwards loosed, verse 2. 3. 7.

Twice it is said that the Saints shall reign a thousand yeers with Christ, ver. 4.6.

Once, that the rest of the dead lived not again, till the thousand yeers were finished, v. 5.

There are therefore a thousand yeers of Satans captivity, and of the rest of the dead: There are also a thousand yeers of the Saints reigning with Christ: Whence ariseth the first necessary Question of all, Whether these thousand yeeres bee the same, or diverse?

Of old, the Chiliasts or Millenaries affirmed them to be diverse (whose opinion is anon to be examined:) And some learned Interpreters of these times also, and among the rest, Brightman, These thousand yeers, saith he, in which the Saints shall reign with Christ, do begin where the former ended. Thus Satan should be bound a thousand years, and afterward Christ should reign a thousand years.

But I judge that one and the same terme of a thousand yeers is denoted, and the reason is plain in the Text: because in verse 2. & 6. the thousand yeers are said to be χίλια ἔτη without an article: but foure times afterward with an article τὰ χίλια ἔτη, These thousand yeers, emphatically, and significantly, as if he should say, Satans Imprisonment shall continue a thousand yeers, and during these thousand yeers, the Martyrs shall live, and reign with Christ, afterward Satan shall be loosed. Wherefore the same terme of a thousand yeers is noted: although in ver. 6 it be more largely extended, as there we shall see.

There is also another reason, ab incommodo: for it seems not convenient to say, that the Saints, after Satan’s loosing, and when he again rageth, should then reign: Nay, rather they shall reign, Satan being as yet bound: for this raging enemy being loosed, would scarce suffer them to reign.

Besides, the other opinion doth with the Chiliasts and Papists too much determinate, and circumscribe the time of Christs comming to Judgemnt, against the expresse saying of Christ: Of that houre and day no man knoweth, &c. And therefore I say, that both Satans binding, and the Saints reigning with Christ, shall bee in the same thousand yeeres.

Now touching these things, It is demanded,

I. Whither the thousand yeeres be definitely, or indefinitely to bee understood?

II. If definitely, where they are to begin and end?

III. What condition John did see the Saints to be in, during these thousand yeers.

IV. What Satan is said to attempt, after the accomplishing of these thousand yeers.

In the expounding of these Questions, those things are contained which follow in verse 11.

I. WHITHER THE THOUSAND YEERS BE DEFINITELY TO BE UNDERSTOOD: whether I say, the thousand yeers be definitely or indefinitely to be understood, in both appeareth a difficulty. If thou say indefinitely, taking a thousand for many, or for all unto the end, then in vaine it were said: Afterward Satan shall be loosed. If definitely, then the difficulty will be so to expound the beginning and ending thereof, and how in the meane time Satan was bound, afterwards loosed, that we runne not into the errour of the Chiliasts, or some other inconvenience.

Augustine, whom most of the ancient, and latter Writers follow, understood the thousand yeers indefinitely, that is, for the whole time from Christs death and resurrection, (when Satan began to be bound, that he should no more seduce the Nations) unto the end of the world: because that sometimes in Scripture a thousand signifies indefinitely, a very long time; as: He hath remembered his Covenant for ever: the word he commanded unto a thousand generations: Notwithstanding he doth not precisely extend the thousand yeers, unto the end of the world, but untill the time of Antichrist, who, as he thought, (following herein the errour of his Predecessours, mislead by Papias) should come in the last four years of the world, and reigne three years and an half: but he questioneth whether Antichrists time should be added to the thousand yeers, or rather to the little season, in which Satan is to be loosed.

This opinion Ribera prosecutes at large, shewing, that these thousand yeeres signifie the whole time from Christ’s Resurrection, unto Antichrists Kingdome: because by thousand, in Scripture we often understand a very great, and indefinite number, Joh. 9.3. Psal. 91.7. 1 Sam. 18.7. Psal. 90.4. &c. The like also we find in Heathenish Writers. Virgil 1. Æneid. 11. Æne. 2 Perf. Sat. 5. Ovid. Met. Lib. 13. &c.

But this opinion cannot stand, for many causes: for first, we may not rashly, and without necessity goe from the Letter to Figures: Now here no necessitie urgeth us to turne from the proprietie of the letter (about the thousand yeers) unto a trope of indefinite signification.

Besides, neither the Subject, Yeers, nor the Epithite, Thousand, doth here admit a Trope. Not the Subject, because howsoever other names signifying time, as hours, days, weekes, moneths, are often Scripture taken improperly. Yeers also attributed to God do improperly signifie eternity, Job 10.5 & 36.26. Psal. 102.25, 28. Heb. 1.12. Or by an Hebraisme the time of divine Judgement, as Isa. 61.2. Luke 4.19 the acceptable yeere: Isa 34.8 the yeere of recompence: Jerem. 23.12 the yeere of Visitation: Notwithstanding Yeers with a numerall Epithite, as in this place, have never any other signification, save proper and definite. Againe, neither the Epithite, Thousand, the which however it doth sometimes, both in sacred and humane Writers, only amplifie a matter indefinitely: as may be seen in the Examples before mentioned: Notwithstanding being in Histories and Prophecies of Scripture joyned to yeers, I shall alwayes beleeve that it is never taken but in a definite signification, except any man can shew me the contrary.

Thirdly, the Text it selfe yeelds us a weighty reason: because John indeed at first in verse 2. determines the thousand yeers without the Article, having it only χίλια ἔτη, but afterward emphatically repeats it foure times with the Article, τὰ χίλια ἔτη these thousand yeers, and undoubtedly defines the same.

Fourthly, from the Text wee have another evident reason, viz. that during those thousand yeers Antichrist was worshipped: for within those thousand yeers they also that worshipped not the Image of the Beast, that is, of Antichrist, lived, and reigned with Christ: and therefore it cannot be understood that these thousand yeeres were finished before Antichrists coming, nor indefinitely untill his coming.

We are therefore to embrace their opinion who hold that these thousand yeers are definite.

Pareus says “we may not rashly, and without necessity goe from the Letter to Figures,” but the book of Revelation consists virtually entirely of figures, as is true of prophecy generally. These are especially vivid and graphic in the 19th and 20th chapters, where reference to a thousand years occurs. It would be strange if the thousand years were an exception, and an anomaly. One needs merely to mention the armies in heaven riding upon white horses, and the supper for the birds, described in chapter 19, and the final verse about a sword protruding from the mouth of Christ, by which he slays his enemies, and the concept of a “bottomless pit” in 20:3, where the thousand years is mentioned, to show that obviously, the language of the prophecy is figurative. There is no “going from the letter to figures,” when one is in the midst of figures already. It is normal for prophecies concerning the kingdom of God to be expressed in the language of parable, and metaphor, and symbol.

The assertion by Pareus, “Besides, neither the Subject, Yeers, nor the Epithite, Thousand, doth here admit a Trope,” seems to merely “beg the question.” It fails for the simple reason that spiritual or heavenly things are not measured in earthly units. A day in human terms is the time required for a revolution of the earth about its axis; an hour is a fraction of a day; a month is the time between successive new moons, a year is the time required for the earth to orbit the sun, all of which are things that belong to the material world; how can they be employed to measure or limit spiritual things? When applied to the works of God, a day is not a natural earth day, as can be seen by the days of Genesis 1 and 2. It is a mistake and naive to say that because days are mentioned, they are therefore natural days, the period of the earth’s rotation. Isaiah wrote, “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” The ancient Greeks, and most Jews, thought the heavens revolved around the earth, but what king rotates his throne around his footstool every day? One would consider such a person, king or not, to be mad. God’s throne does not revolve around his footstool, and neither does he order his doings by the earth’s rotation, or by its orbit around the sun! The prophet Isaiah said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  [Isaiah 55:8-9]

The thousand years of Revelation 20 do not represent “the whole time from Christs death and resurrection unto the end of the world,” which was evidently the view of Augustine, and Ribera, as that is the period represented by the time, times and a half of Daniel 7:25, and 12:7. But there are many reasons to think the thousand years in Revelation 20 represents that part of the lives of individuals in which they may be said to “reign with Christ,” and when with respect to them, Satan is bound, and cast into a bottomless pit, which is to say, he does not have authority over them, and they do not follow him, but are led by the Spirit of God. David said,

Psalm 84:10
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

In his discussion, Pareus omits to mention 2 Peter 3:8, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This most certainly relates to the interpretation of the thousand years of Revelation 20, because, are not those saints who reign with Christ with the Lord? The thousand years, then, may be a figure representing the time in which individual Christians reign with Christ, and enjoy in this life a foretaste of their eternal inheritance.

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