The Thousand Years And Adam’s Dominion

I’m about half-way done Hill’s book, and it is quite excellent. I may post some more thoughts on the main argument of the book later, but I wanted to post an excerpt here relevant to the meaning of the “thousand years”.

The figure of a thousand years in this single biblical passage has given its name to the major patterns of Christian eschatology and, beyond Christianity, to a now widely used sociological category. Its original significance in this passage, however, is highly contested. Already from Edenic associations we have just seen we might expect that the reign that ensues in [Rev.] 20:4-6 will be in some sense a counterpart to the failed reign (Gen. 1:28) of Adam. We suggest here that alongside whatever numerological import it may or may not have, the figure of a thousand years also has to do with paradise imagery and depicts the ideal of Christ as the last Adam.

Adam, according to a well-established Jewish tradition going back at least to Jub. 4:30, was to live a thousand years in the garden, but his sin cut him off from doing so:

And he lacked seventy years from one thousand years, for a thousand years are like one day in the testimony of heaven and therefore it was written concerning the tree of knowledge, “In the day you eat of it you will die.” Therefore he did not complete the years of this day because he died in it.

It is plain that this idea in Jub. 4.30 is based in part on a “one day quals a thousand years” typology drawn from Ps. 90:4. Adam indeed died on the “day” he ate of the fruit, for he did not surpass a thousand years of life, one day “in the testimony of heaven” equaling a thousand years. The progressively shorter life-span of Adam’s descendants is now seen as part of the regrettable condition that has resulted from Adam’s fall in the garden: “Then they will say, ‘The days of the ancients were as many as one thousand years and good. But behold, (as for) the days of our lives, if a man should extend his life seventy years or if he is strong (for) eighty years, then these are evil'” (Jub. 23.15). Thus in Jubilees this ideal of a thousand-year life span also takes on eschatological import, for a time in the future is looked to in which “the days will begin to increase and grow longer among those sons of men, generation by generation, and year by year; until their days approach a thousand years…” (Jub. 23.27). The length of Adam’s life, stretching just short of a thousand years, is also seized on by the author of 2 Baruch: “For what did it profit Adam that he lived nine hundred and thirty years and transgressed that which he was commanded?” (2Bar. 17.2).

This association of the thousand-year day of Adam with the thousand years of Ps. 90:4 was certainly known to many Christians as well. It played a part in the tradition Justin inherited concerned the millennium: “For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, ‘The day of the Lord is a thousand years,’ is connected with this subject” (Dial. 81.3). Irenaeus too is familiar with this network of ideas: “And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since ‘a day of the Lord is a thousand years,’ he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin” (AH V.23.2). Justin goes on explicitly to connect these conceptions with John’s prophecy of a thousand years in Rev. 20. He is no doubt right that John also was working with conceptions, but not evidently in just the same way as Justin imagined. Another factor comes to light in the use of Ps. 90:4 by another Christian author who wrote certainly before Justin and most probably the book of Revelation.

The use of Ps. 90:4 in the Christian work of 2 Peter is of great interest. Here the author reminds his presumably Asian readers that the widening temporal gap between the Lord’s first and second comings is not a cause for doubting his promise, for with the Lord “one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). The figure of a thousand years is of course not meant here literally, any more than is the figure of “one day.” The Psalm text is cited to show that the human timetable is not the same as the divine, but the salient point for us is that in 2 Peter the figure is undoubtedly not used for an eschatological kingdom on earth but as a reference to the present age. It is cited to defuse the charge of scoffers that the Lord has left and is not coming back, and thus it pertains to the time between the two comings of Christ. If there is any overlap between the conceptions of the two Christian authors of 2 Peter and Revelation, this would suggest that for John too the thousand-year figure would be a cipher appropriate for the present age. That Rev. 20:1-10 may be playing on the associations of the thousand-year dominion of Adam is likely from the paradise imagery already noted, the naming of the devil as “that ancient serpent,” and the mention of his deception. Yet if the association is not with a future earthly rule but, as in 2 Pet. 3:8, with the present time, then we have another basis for a heavenly understanding of the millennium in Rev. 20. As we have seen, Revelation’s understanding of paradise connects it with the heavenly world, where Christ now is, and where the dead in Christ now have their sabbath rest.*

This enables us to see Rev. 20:1-10 as a sort of recapitulation of the prelapsarian world of Gen. 1-3. The serpent by his deception brought death into the world and cut short the ideal length of Adam’s dominion. Yet he is bound for the full extent of the second Adam’s “thousand-year” kingdom. Revelation is no mere reenactment of Genesis, for it takes place after the fall of the first man and the subjection of himself and his posterity to the curse of death in this world. The thousand-year reign of the last Adam is therefore also a reign of those who have been raised to new life in him. In terms of Dan. 7 (one of the other main OT texts behind Rev. 20:4-6) they are “the people of the saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:27). This reign is conducted, as the first should have been, from God’s garden, paradise.

*Footnote: This is quite in keeping with Adam Christology elsewhere in the NT. For Paul, Jesus is the last Adam now, not simply in a future kingdom (Rom. 5:15-19; 1 cor. 15:21-22, 45-50). His ruling “until he has put all enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25) is his present rule (Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 10:12-13; cf. Hill, NovT) that will culminate int he destruction of death, made effective in the resurrection of his people. For the author of Hebrews, Jesus is the true “man” of Ps. 8, who has been crowned with glory and honor, all things being now in subjection to him. [233-235]

This understanding of the significance of the symbol of a thousand years–as representing Jesus as attaining to the dominion God originally intended Adam–could be filled out with the research of GK Beale into the significance of the Garden:

All of these observations together point to the likelihood that the Garden of Eden was the first sanctuary in sacred history. Not only was Adam to “guard” this sanctuary but he was to subdue the earth, according to Gen 1:28: “And God blessed them … Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that creeps on the surface.” As he was to begin to rule over and subdue the earth, he was to extend the geographical boundaries to the Garden of Eden until Eden extended throughout and covered the whole earth. This meant the presence of God which was limited to Eden was to be extended throughout the whole earth. God’s presence was to “fill” the entire earth.

In this respect, Walton observes that

if people were going to fill the earth [according to Genesis 1], we must conclude that they were not intended to stay in the garden in a static situation. Yet moving out of the garden would appear a hardship since the land outside the garden was not as hospitable as that inside the garden (otherwise the garden would not be distinguishable). Perhaps, then, we should surmise that people were gradually supposed to extend the garden as they went about subduing and ruling. Extending the garden would extend the food supply as well as extend sacred space (since that is what the garden represented).

The intention seems to be that Adam was to widen the boundaries of the Garden in ever increasing circles by extending the order of the garden sanctuary into the inhospitable outer spaces. [Beale, “Eden, The Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation,” JETS 48/1:10-11, see also his book The Temple and the Church’s Mission]

In his book on the subject, Beale demonstrates that such an understanding was also held by pagans of their own temples: i.e., that they should one day expand to fill the earth.