Last week I responded to an objection that the thousand years reference in the book of Revelation is not literal.
I want to address a similar objection. But this time it is not an objection by amillennialists. Premillennialists and amillennialists agree with each other that the thousand years reference denotes a temporal period, that is, a historical period. What we disagree on is when it will begin. Amillennialists think it started at Christ’s first coming, so they view it as interadvental, that is, between Jesus’s first and second coming. Premillennialists on the other hand think the millennial period will begin in the future at Christ’s second coming, so they view it as postadvental.
But I want to address another view on the millennium. There are some interpreters who think that the thousand years reference does not denote a period of time at all, so they would hold to a non-temporal construal of the thousand years reference. Typically they would read an exclusively symbolic meaning of the expression, for example, referring to the victory and vindication of the saints. So for these interpreters they would see the fulfillment of the millennium occurring not in the course of a period of extended time, but only thematically, at the second coming of Jesus.
One of their key arguments against a temporal interpretation of the millennium (pre-, post-, and amillennial) is to point out that numbers in the book of Revelation are symbolic, that is, we should not take them literally (e.g. 144,000). I would argue against this because there are clear examples that this is not the case (e.g. John wrote to seven literal churches), so we should not make sweeping blanket statements when it comes to numbers in the book of Revelation, which seems to be the case with many interpreters. Leaving aside this point, I want to reply to this objection by making a different point.
In the book of Revelation, when it comes to these non-temporal interpreters, they will agree that—not all numbers—but the particular numbers which designate temporal periods do in fact refer to historical periods of time. For example, designations such as “ten days” [2:10], “short time” [12:7–10], “three and one-half years, 42 months or 1290 days” [11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5] are typically interpreted as symbolic by virtually all of these interpreters, but, they also would view them as indicating historical periods of time, not necessarily the literal designation, but nevertheless, a period of time (e.g. “42 months” is symbolic of the church age, they will claim; yet the church age by definition denotes a historical period of time).
My question then is why would all these other references to temporal designations in the Apocalypse refer to actual temporal, historical periods (and also possessing symbolic meaning), but the reference to the thousand years is singled out as a non-temporal period? Just like all the other temporal designations, why can’t the thousand year reference also denote both a symbolic meaning and a temporal meaning? This does not require the interpreter to think that it refers to a literal thousand year period (though I do not think there is reason to think it does not refer to a literal thousand years), but at least it could indicate an undetermined period of time.