Priestly Profiles: The Millennium

The future, literal, earthly reign of the Lord Jesus Christ is a truth clearly taught in Scripture. Because it will last for a thousand years, we often speak of this period as the Millennium. The Bible never uses the term (although Revelation 20, the only passage that explicitly tells us how long Christ’s reign will be, does mention “a thousand years” six times in just seven verses). Scripture refers to the period by a number of other names. In Matthew 19:28, it is described as “the regeneration,” a glorious time when creation will be brought into a new state of being, physically and spiritually restored to conditions even better than those in prelapsarian Eden. In Acts 3:19, it is spoken of as “times of refreshing.” “Refreshing” is a term that literally means a recovery of breath, and that describes the cooling refreshment that Christ and His reign will bring to a world made arid and dry by sin, an idea that Solomon beautifully captured in Psalm 72: “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth” (v6).1  And, in Ephesians 1:10, it is spoken of as “the dispensation of the fulness of times.”

To fully unpack the significance of this tremendous expression would be well beyond the scope of this article, but one thing that we should note is the idea conveyed by the word “fulness.” This word conveys more than just something being filled to capacity; the idea is of an ordered completeness. The word is used of “a ship, inasmuch as it is filled (i.e., manned) with sailors, rowers, and soldiers” (Thayer). Paul is using this word to convey the sense that the Millennium, the “dispensation of the fulness of times,” will be a period when everything is in its proper place, a period marked by “the summing up of all things in Christ” (LSB). At the beginning, creation was a place of order, placed under the dominion of a ruler who carried on the God-like work of naming and ordering. Sin disrupted that order, and since the Fall, disorder has been the hallmark of creation at every level. But as the times reach their fulness under the Millennial reign of Christ, disorder will be banished. Christ will have His rightful place at last. His Bride will be by His side, “to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12). Israel will take her rightful place, no longer at the tail but now at the head of the nations (Deu 28:13). Those nations will come to Jerusalem to worship “the King, the LORD of hosts” (Zec 14:17). And a groaning and travailing creation will, at last, “be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Every strand of divine purpose, which had seemed for so long thwarted by diabolical opposition, will be brought triumphantly to its appointed end, all knit together in a glorified and reigning Christ.

Among those strands that will reach their accomplishment in the Millennium is priesthood. As we traced its development through the Pentateuch in the earlier articles in this series, we noted a number of significant events in the development of the concept of priesthood. Firstly, we encountered, briefly and enigmatically, the first man spoken of in Scripture as a priest. “Melchizedek king of Salem … priest of the most high God” (Gen 14:18) occupies only three verses of Genesis, but Psalm 110’s promise of “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” indicates that this man was no revelatory cul-de-sac. Rather, we learn from the writer to the Hebrews that this “priest of the most high God” was “made like unto the Son of God,” a figure tailored by the Holy Spirit to prefigure the coming super-Aaronic priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Into that priesthood He entered in resurrection, but in the Millennium He will continue to exercise His unchangeable priesthood. What that priesthood will look like in the Millennium is not entirely clear, but one aspect that both Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7 stress is that He will be a king-priest, uniting in His glorious person offices that were always, at pain of divine punishment, kept separate in Israel. In that day, prefigured centuries earlier by Zechariah, “he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zec 6:13).

Another important moment in the development of priesthood takes place in Exodus 19:6, where God promises to make Israel “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” As we saw when considering this passage previously, the idea here is not so much that Israel would be a nation populated with priests. Rather, God’s purpose was that she would be a priestly nation, elect by God to a special position of privilege, mediating the knowledge of God to nations round about. While we see some very occasional glimpses of this – in Rahab’s words to the spies, for example (Jos 2) – they fall very far short of what God intended this unique nation to be. Indeed, Israel’s great tragedy was her tendency to become like the surrounding nations; the book of Judges tells the long, sad story of the Canaanisation of God’s people, and when in 1 Samuel 8:5 they cried “Now make us a king,” it was so that they would be “like all the nations.” God had intended Israel’s kings to make her unique, but she subverted even that in her refusal to be the holy, conspicuously different nation that God intended. In her Millennial restoration, however, God promises: “Ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves” (Isa 61:6). Now she will be at last what God had always intended: a blessing to the nations. “And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the LORD, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men” (Mic 5:7).

The third significant development of priesthood is also linked with a covenant, this time the Levitical covenant of Numbers 25, where, in recognition of Phinehas’ faithfulness as Israel disobeyed, God promised that “he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel” (v13). That promise was reiterated in Jeremiah 33, in a passage that links the new covenant with all of the everlasting covenants that have gone before: “Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually” (v18). This promise is fulfilled by neither Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood nor Israel’s national priesthood. In order for it to be fulfilled, the Levitical priesthood must be restored. For that to happen, a temple must be built and sacrifices offered. And that is precisely what will happen. Many and difficult are the challenges that face those who, because they deny a literal future reign of Christ, must resort to the allegorisation and spiritualisation of Old Testament prophecy. And perhaps no passage presents difficulties so many or so great as Ezekiel 40–48. These chapters outline, in considerable detail, the dimensions and design of a temple that has not yet been built and the sacrifices that will be offered there. In its precincts, the descendants of faithful Phinehas will enter into the good of God’s unfailing promise, serving God and doing sacrifice continually.

God’s first thoughts are His final thoughts, and in the dispensation of the fulness of times, those final thoughts – for humanity, for creation, for the kingdom, for priesthood, and much more besides – will be fully and gloriously displayed.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.