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Rapture and Millennial Reign

In Rev 20:1-8 we read:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 

He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 

and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

4And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 

But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.

Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 

and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. 

Misleading Interpretation

Based on the above some do teach that, first Christ will appear, and only the righteousness dead will rise up. They call this the first resurrection (Rev 20:4-5). Then they say that the righteousness who are alive at that time and those who rose up from the dead will be taken up into heaven to be with Christ. They base this on I Thess 4:16-17 which reads as:
  1. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

  2. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

The unrighteous will be left behind. They call this the Rapture. The teachers of rapture also quote Matthew 24:40-42 to make their point.

  1. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.

  2. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.

  3. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.

Then they say there will be a period of intense tribulation for seven years under the Antichrist. They call this 7 year period the 'Great Tribulation'. This view of the rapture prior to the 7 year Great Tribulation is called the pre-tribulation rapture teaching. Among the Rapture teachers, some teach the rapture will happen immediately after the tribulation (post-tribulation rapture), others say it happens in the middle of the 7 years on the 3.5 year point (mid-tribulation rapture).

Then they say that Christ will return with all the righteous who were taken, defeat the Antichrist, bind Satan and put him in prison, and establish a Kingdom on Earth. They say that he will rule for 1000 years and at the end of the 1000 years Satan will be released from prison so that he can come back and test men again. Then there will be the second resurrection, where everyone will rise up, the unrighteous to suffer eternal punishment and the righteous to be in Heaven.


Orthodox View

The Orthodox Church does not believe in a literal interpretation of Rev 20:4-8 and in fact considers the idea of a 1000 year, earthly kingdom a false teaching. 

It  is very clear from the Holy Scripture that the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). The Kingdom of Christ will be spiritual and will reign over the internal world of man, while externally being revealed in the righteousness, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). His reign will not endure just for a thousand years, but eternally (Lk. 1:33). This is why we have a problem accepting a 'Kingdom of Christ' that is limited to just 1000 years and is of this world.

The number 1,000 is a mystical number that is understood to symbolically mean an indeterminate number of years, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet 3:8) – “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past.” (Ps 90:4)

There is no reason to wait for the eternal (1000 year) Kingdom of Christ, it is now. Also there is no need to wait for Satan to be bound and put in prison. Satan was bound  with the crucifixion of Christ. By the redemption of humanity by His Blood, Christ bound and restrained Satan's power over mankind. 
 
There are those who talk about a first ressurection and rapture of believers that enables the faithful to join in the 1000 year earthly reign by Christ. As per the Orthodox Church, this First resurrection is none other than holy baptism itself, or being born again from above or simply regeneration. This resurrection through baptism is “the first,” in comparison to “the second,” the general one, of the body, which is also called the last resurrection, as when Martha spoke to Christ concerning her brother: “I know that he shall rise again at the resurrection on the Last Day.” (Jn. 11:24).

Thus those who repent, believe and have received the first resurrection (Baptism) are considered to have joined the spiritual reign of Lord Jesus Christ– “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall … reign with Him a thousand years.” (Rev 20:6) – Notice that this reign is not earthly for it extends beyond the life on earth, “I saw the souls [not bodies] of those who had been beheaded…they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Rev 20:4). From this it is also clear that saints and martyrs (sahada) who participate in the thousand-year reign of Christ are reigning with Christ and performing judgment not on earth but in heaven, for it speaks here only concerning their souls which are not yet united with their bodies. From these words it is evident that the Saints take part in the governing of the Church of Christ on earth, and therefore it is natural and proper to appeal to them, asking their intercession before Christ with Whom they reign.

The reference to "Satan will be released from his prison" after 1000 years, in Rev 20:7 is to be understood as the appearance of Antichrist before the end of the world. The liberated Satan will strive in the person of Antichrist to deceive all the nations of the earth, and will raise up Gog and Magog in battle against the Christian Church (ie Jerusalem). 

The teaching of Rapture and the 1000 year reign on Earth cannot be accepted by an Orthodox Christian for the following reasons:
  1. According to the rapture teaching, the resurrection of the dead will take place twice: the first, a thousand years before the end of the world-when only the righteous will be resurrected; and the second, at the very end of the world, when sinners also will be resurrected. However, Christ the Saviour clearly taught only one universal resurrection of the dead. when both the righteous and the sinners will be resurrected and all will receive their final recompense (John 6:39-40; Matt. 13;37-43).
  2. The Word of God speaks of only two comings of Christ in the world: the first in lowliness, when He came to redeem us; and the second in glory, when He will appear to judge the living and the dead. The new Rapture teaching introduces one more-a third coming of Christ a thousand years before the end of the world. The Word of God knows no such thing.
  3. The Word of God teaches only of two kingdoms of Christ: the Kingdom of Grace which will continue until the end of the world (I Cor. 15:23-26). and the Kingdom of Glory which will begin after the Last Judgment and will have no end (Luke 1:33; II Peter 1:11). The new rapture teaching, however, allows yet a third, as it were a middle kingdom of Christ. which will last only a thousand years.
  4. The teaching of a sensual kingdom of Christ clearly contradicts the Word of God, according to which the Kingdom of God is not "food and drink" (Rom. 14:17); The Kingdom of Christ will be spiritual and will reign over the internal world of man.  (Rom. 14:17)
Why does St.Paul talk about an ascension of the righteous in I Thess 4:17?
In I Thess 4:17 we read: "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."  This sentence is part of a passage that begins with I Thess 4:13 and has to be read as a passage to understand its meaning. 

In I Thess 4:13-17 we read:

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 

17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  

As we can see St.Paul is not talking about Rapture here. He is dealing about the subject of Christians after death. Misunderstandings on this issue had apparently caused needless distress and apprehension in the church at Thessalonika.  It seems that some people believed that Christians who died before Christ’s return would somehow miss out on that glorious event.  St. Paul seeks to calm their fears (vs. 13).  He points out that, as Christ returned from the dead at His Resurrection, so also, at the end of time, His followers who have died in the interim will be restored through resurrection (vs. 14).  At the Second Coming, the dead will be raised (vs. 16).  Then the faithful dead who has been raised and the faithful who are still alive will be caught up into the clouds to welcome Christ as He descends (verses 15,17).

Why does St. Paul speak of an ascension of the righteous? Our Church fathers give us very beautiful interpretations.

St. John Chrysostom (സ്വ൪ണ്ണ നാവുകാരനായ  മാ൪ ഇവാന്യോസ് )  says that it is to provide Christ with a proper escort for His appearance on earth and to demonstrate His favor toward the faithful.  “If He is about to descend, why shall we be taken up?  For the sake of honor.  When a king enters a city, those who are in his favor go out to meet him, but the condemned await their judge inside.  Or, when a loving father comes, his children, and also those worthy of being his children, are taken out in a chariot to see and kiss him, but the servants who have offended him remain indoors.  So we are carried out upon a chariot to our Father...See how great our honor is?  As He descends we go out to meet Him, and what is more blessed, we shall be with Him always”  [Homily 8 on Thessalonians].

This teaching is what we sing in the following hymn from the Holy Qurbana:

Syriac transliterated in English

l-‛al men shufré da‛noné mezdayaḥ
bar malko dothé d-ne‛bed ḥayath meethé.
shom‛een keené l-qol qarno daqdomaw
wemth‛aṭfeen esṭal shubḥo w-nofqeen loor‛eh

English translation™

On the magnificent clouds, the Son of the King
will be borne at His coming to give life to the dead.
On hearing the voice of the horn in the fore-front,
the just will put on the glorious robes and go forth to meet Him

Malayalam translation

മൃതരെ ജീവിപ്പിപ്പാൻ എഴുന്നുള്ളും രാജാ
മുകിൽ അഴകിൻ മേൽ ആഘോഷിതനായിടുന്നു
നയവാന്മാർ തൻ മുന്കൊമ്പിൻ നാദം കേട്ടിട്ട്
അങ്കി അണിഞ്ഞ്  എതിരേൽപ്പാനായി പോയിടു
ന്നു 

St. Methodius of Olympus presents a symbolic interpretation.  He contends that “the dead” and “the living” do not mean different types of people.  The dead, in his view, are our bodies; “those who are alive” are our souls.  These will be reunited at the resurrection and then carried up to meet Christ.  


REFERENCES

On the Thousand Year Reign (Chiliasm)

What is Rapture?

The Rapture. Why the Orthodox don't preach it.

Eschatology

The Apocalypse In the Teachings of Ancient Christianity by ARCHBISHOP AVERKY


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