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Has mankind been given 6,000 years to rule itself?

Question: Where do you get the idea that mankind has been appointed 6,000 years of self-rule, to be followed by a 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ?

Answer: The first two chapters of Genesis show that in a six-day period God recreated the earth and created the progenitors of all its present life. He then rested on the seventh-day Sabbath. This began a weekly cycle in which man is to work for six days and rest every Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–11). In Hebrews 4:3–11, the Apostle Paul explained that the seventh-day Sabbath pictures the wonderful era of peace and rest that will follow this current age of mankind’s activity. The Apostle John was inspired to write that this coming era, beginning with Christ’s return to establish His Kingdom, will last 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1–4)—a time often called, simply, the Millennium.

As the seventh day represents a 1,000-year period in God’s plan, it follows that the previous six days of the week also represent 1,000-year periods. The Apostle Peter brought out this principle in discussing the anticipation of Christ’s return: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

This concept was well known to the Jews of Peter’s day. About 200 years before Christ, Rabbi Elias wrote that “the world endures six thousand years, two thousand before the law, two thousand under the law, and two thousand under the Messiah” (William Pym, A World of Warning in the Last Days, 1841, p. 88). The famed historian Edward Gibbon wrote that “the tradition was attributed to the prophet Elijah” (History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1875, p. 533). The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion (1965, p. 263) reports that the tannaim—rabbis of Christ’s day—based such an interpretation on Psalm 90, written by Moses: “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night” (v. 4). The tannaim said that, as there were six days of creation, the world would last for 6,000 years. The seventh “world day” would be 1,000 years of the Messiah’s rule.

The 7,000-year plan of God was “carefully inculcated” in the early Church (Gibbon, p. 534). The “church father” Irenaeus had been taught by Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John. Sadly, Irenaeus departed from the teachings of Christ’s apostles, but he apparently retained some truth. In Against Heresies (ca. 150 AD), he related a belief of the early Church: “This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year” (book 5, chapter 28, section 3).

To further illustrate the prevalence of the belief that the Millennium would begin 6,000 years after Adam’s creation, many more writings by other early rabbis and “church fathers” could be examined, such as those of Rabbi Ketina, Lactantius, Victorinus, Hippolytus of Rome, Justin Martyr, and Methodius. Though these men should not be relied upon for biblical truth, they certainly attest to how widespread this understanding was in the early centuries after Christ’s death. This, in fact, has been the respected opinion of most professing Christian scholars throughout the centuries, up to our present day.

God told Adam that in the “day” he ate of the forbidden fruit, he would die (Genesis 2:17)—yet Adam lived to be 930 years old (Genesis 5:5)! How is that possible? One way is just as Methodius and other early church commentators explained; since a day with God was a thousand years, Adam had to die before the first 1,000-year day was complete—and he did.

What is the purpose of these 6,000 years of human self-rule? God is now allowing human beings to “write,” through human suffering, the lessons they need to learn as a result of going against God. In the Millennium, people will for 1,000 years be able to contrast the peace and harmony of living God’s way with the previous 6,000 years of war and contention. Finally, in the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11–13), those whom God had not previously called will be able to experience the vast difference between living mankind’s way and living God’s way. To learn more about God’s plan for humanity, request your free copy of The World Ahead: What Will It Be Like?