God’s 7,000 year plan – Biblical?

As a believer, I’m convinced of the visible return of Christ to the earth and the 1,000 year reign on earth in line with Rev 20:2 -6.  There is no question God not only has a plan for the earth but has a timeline.  Acts 15:8 tells us that He knew all His works from the beginning of world and He knows the hour of Christ’s return Matt 24:036.

Most believers understandably share a view that our Creator is a God of symmetry and logic.  We consequently expect there is a pattern in God’s plan and timelines.  As we are exhorted to watch for the return of Christ, and believers who know the times and seasons are seemingly commended (1Thes 5:1), searching out for a pattern of years which might indicate the Divine timeline is an appealing pastime.

We need to heed the warning of the Lord though that no man knows the timeline of God as per Matt 24:26.

An enduring and popular expectation around God’s timeline is the 7,000 year plan.  It has been the subject of many sermons, books and more recently youtube clips.  Christadelphians may recognise the cover of this book (I grew up with one):

God's 7,000 year plan
This post looks at the origins and soundness of this idea.

Origins of the 7,000 Year Plan

The 7,000 year plan has a very long history.  Through the early history of Christianity it is clearly evident as per the following table from Bro J Burke which lists references to the plan in early church writers[1]:

Date (AD)

 

Name

 

80-160 Epistle of Barnabas
c.163 Aviricius Marcellus
110-165 Justin Martyr
185 Irenaeus
190 Tertullian
200 Hippolytus
280 Methodius
305 Commodianus
306 Lactantius
315-386 Cyprian

Gibbon in his second volume of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” notes the Christians believed:

the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years[2]

Bro Edward Farrar writing in the Testimony Magazine in 1975 concurs, observing:

This idea finds clear expression in the epistle of Barnabas and there are even traces of it in pre-christian Jewish writings[3]

The reference to the Rabbinical idea is interesting, some of the Talmud tradition holds

The world is to exist six thousand years.  In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era”.[4]

James Barr noted “Ussher was only one in a long series of scholars who concerned themselves with biblical chronology[5] and goes on to mention Martin Luther and Newton among those who tried to construct God’s timeline.  For the record Luther placed Creation in 3,960BC.

We can therefore say with confidence that a 7,000 year plan is not a unique Christadelphian idea but rather a very old one from the church(es) with some elements drawn from Judaism.

 

The history of the dating

The most common application today of the 7,000 year plan today follows in essence the timeline of Archbishop Ussher who calculated Creation happened on “the entrance of the night preceding the 23rd day of October… the year before Christ 4004[6].  To construct his timeline, Ussher used biblical genealogies (especially to get from Creation to the Flood) and from there tried to match his biblical timeline to recorded history.

However it must be acknowledged that throughout time people have calculated different beginning points for Creation.  Unsurprisingly these calculations tended to result in the 6,000 years expiring in or around their own time period.

The early believers/churches seemed to date creation around 5,500 BC[7].  This was largely based on the Septuagint version which contains seemingly inflated ages in the genealogy of Genesis 5.  Obviously this date doesn’t work with the 7,000 year plan today – being 2017AD.  As the Masoretic text became more dominant in the west, the most popular date for creation tended to move to around 4,000 BC.  Archbishop Ussher seems to have come up with the most popular date – for now, although it seems to be moving.

Ussher’s chronology has been challenged by other scholars.  John Thomas, the founder of the Christadelphians, wrote Chronikon Hebraikon and in it predicted the Millennium would commence in 1910, with Christ returning sometime prior for the judgement seat, setting up the Kingdom etc.  This date has come and gone.  This predictive failure, well meant but ill advised, is not unique.  Indeed, bro Thomas in his introduction notes the failure of William Miller’s predictions of Christ’s return in 1844.  Historically Miller’s prediction – which gained great traction in the USA – was termed “The Great Disappointment”.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses shared a similar chronology to John Thomas, having great expectations of 1914.  Rather than admit to an over-zealous failure and recalibrate – as we and many others did – JWs chose instead to adopt the invisible return idea.  Perhaps they would have been better serviced by revisiting their approach to and assumptions about scripture.  However they are not alone, the continuous failures do not seem to have led to any change in methodology, just alterations in calculations.[8]

7000 year plan

Another 7000 year plan which didn’t work

 

A Biblical Perspective

In coming to a calculation of the time since creation, any chronologer has to deal with some challenging passages.  These are known well enough and most chronologers confidently proclaim they have solved them (although Time, as the judge, has issued many a contrary verdict!).

Bro Thomas noted several of the “knotty questions” in Chronikon, specifically:

  1. Stephen’s chronology of Abraham’s return to Canaan after Terah’s death (Acts 7:4)
  2. The Age of Joshua at the invasion of Canaan, and consequent time of his administration
  3. The time elapsing between the death of Joshua and the beginning of the time of the Judges
  4. The ending of the time of the Judges
  5. The duration of Saul’s reign
  6. The 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1, and Paul’s chronology in Acts 13
  7. The 2,200, 2,300, or 2,400 of Dan 8:14
  8. The Seventy Weeks in their termination
  9. Ezekiel’s 430 days

Clearly he came up with different solutions to Archbishop Ussher but time has disproven bro Thomas’ framework.

The idea of the 7,000 years itself is extracted from a number of passages.  Most of these speak to the relationship of time of God, eg:

“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”  Psa 90:4 ESV

This doesn’t provide any sound basis to interpret 1,000 year periods.  The passage clearly points out time as we experience it is different to how God sees it.  Pas 90 actually compares 1,000 years to a day and to a 4-hour guard shift (as the night watch means[9]).  The Psalm is not providing a direct or general rule of interpretation to be applied across the bible, otherwise we should say that 4 hours also represents 1,000 years.  No-one does this, which points to the interpretive approach being inconsistent and incorrect.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”  2Pet3:8  ESV

Similarly 2Pet 3 is pointing out the judgement of God is certain and time has a different meaning for Him.  The context is not a prophetic time structure but rather counselling patience for the judgment of God to come.  For Peter’s audience, the immediate judgement was the arrival of AD70 which would destroy the political heavens and earth of Judaism.  This immediate application has no relationship to any 7,000 year plan.

This lack of a 7,000 year plan is made plainer still by a reading of the context.  In 2Pet 3: 7 (ESV) we read:

the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”.

No one would suggest the very next verse, v8 indicates the judgement day takes 1,000 years.  The expression in v8, seemingly drawing on Psa90:4 (a verse which supports the 4 hours for 1,000 years as much as a day for 1,000 years) is merely providing insight into the mind of God versus the shallow criticisms of the scoffers who questioned Christ’s coming at all.

 

Hebrews 4:4 the key passage?

In Hebrews 4:4-6 (ESV) the spirit writes:

“For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”  Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience”

This clearly links the 7th day of Genesis 1 when God ceased work to the “rest” of the Kingdom which eventually will be experienced by God’s people.  There is no question this passage provides a typical link between the 7th day, Sabbath and the Kingdom.  This is usually extended, eg Bro Carter says:

“it would seem to be reasonable to conclude from this that as six days’ work preceded the sabbath of God at creation, so six thousand years of human toil would precede the millennial rest.”[10] 

However is this reasonable based on sound interpretation principles?  Is it in keeping with the context? Or is it reading in to Scripture a message which is not necessarily there?

Hebrews is not describing a grand timeline of God’s purpose.  Consistent with the theme of Hebrews, the readers are exhorted not to fail as their ancestors did when they excited Egypt but fell in the wilderness.  The natural extension to the argument is then to question whether Joshua delivered the rest to Israel.  Psa 95:11 clearly proves this didn’t happen, Christ is greater than Joshua, the rest is now attainable but still depends on our commitment.

A 7,000 year plan is not only absent from the words of Hebrews, it is also absent from the context and the old testament references.  There is no discussion of the first six days of creation, the focus is firmly on the of the Sabbath and its link to Joshua, a link which is not based on timeline.

The parallel demonstrates the purpose of God not the timing of God.  We might piously suppose a 7,000 year plan but this is reading more into the passage.

 

Fitting in Events Subsequent to Christ’s Return

A fascinating area of study for many of us is trying to piece together the events which follow the return of Christ through to the establishment of the Kingdom.  Arguably we have more detail on this establishment phase than on the Kingdom itself.  Typically, the following events are identified as following the return of Christ but as preceding the 1,000 years during which Satan is restrained (Rev 20:2-6):

  1. The judgment seat 2Cor 5:10
  2. Cleaning up after Armageddon Ezek 39
  3. Informing the nations about Christ’s reign Rev 14:6-7
  4. Judging nations & Great Babylon who don’t submit Rev 14:8
  5. Regathering the Jews via Elijah Mal 4:5, Mic 7:15
  6. Building the Temple Ezek 40-48

Although the precise events and timeframes involved may be uncertain, brethren like John Thomas, Henry Sulley and Jim Cowie (among others) have previously done excellent work which usually points to a period in excess of 40 years before the Millennium commences.  Personally I find much merit in the way our community commonly posits 50 years – a Jubilee period – as the elapsed time for these activities.  It is absolutely working from types and shadows and is therefore speculative, however it does sit well with our inkling that God is symmetrical in his designs.

 

So where are we?

As Brother John Ramsden noted in the Testimony in 2000

“…if the chronology of Archbishop Usher of Armagh published in London in 1650 is anything near correct, then that time period has now expired.”[11] 

Now 17 years later there is no question the Archbishop was incorrect.  If the 7,000 year plan is correct then logically we should expect the return of Christ to be around 5,950 years post Creation allowing for the events pre Kingdom.  As we are now in 2017 this means creation must have occurred no later than 3,936BC.

Supporters of the 7,000 year plan are forced to revise calculations and theories and proclaim with certainty the new calculations, much as they did the old defunct versions.  For example in the 2001 Testimony it was proposed creation occurred in 3,924BC.[12]  That the dates can be changed so much demonstrates the uncertainty in the knotty problem passages to echo bro Thomas.  Actually it points to a bigger problem – the entire endeavour is a tradition without any scriptural imprimatur.

Bro Roberts in 1894 responding to an enthusiastic correspondent anticipating Christ’s return based on the timelines of Daniel and prior articles on the 7,000 plan wrote

“It is an extreme probability that the Lord will come some time during the era 1896–1900. The grounds of this probability have been exhibited: but it must be remembered that it is not an absolute demonstration.[13]

Whilst a keen advocate of the 7,000 year plan, Bro Roberts never set it as a test of orthodoxy.

Unfortunately some are highly attached to this ancient tradition.  Hence believers are criticized off the platform because apparently they “hate the 7,000 year plan[14] to quote a talk by Ron Cowie (the same individual included the 7,000 plan as a fundamental doctrine in a 2014 document boldly called “Bible Truths we Believe”).  Surely a reasoned review of the scripture demonstrates the basis for the hypothesis is weak and the maths of time asks some searching questions.

There is a further logical objection to this speculation.  We know the angels desire to understand the details of Christ (1Pet 1:11) and the timelines of God’s plan (Dan 8:13).  However the angels at the time of Christ’s first advent didn’t know the time of his return (Matt 24:36).  If the pattern was so simple as to be a 7,000 year plan it beggars belief to think the angels would not have worked this out.

I don’t doubt when we do see Christ’s return that the prophetic timeline and pattern of God’s plan will make sense.  However until this knowledge is revealed to us the words of the Lord are “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of Heaven”  Matt 24:36  KJV.

Rather than criticise those who test this hypothesis against the law and the prophets and find the church tradition wanting, we should instead focus on our shared conviction that “yet a little while and he that shall come will come and will not tarry” Heb 10:37.  We should be predictive in our behaviour rather than in our pronouncements.

__________________________

[1] Burke, J. (2010). A More Sure Word of Prophecy – electronic edition

[2] Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 2. 11/16/2015. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1366#lf0214-02_footnote_nt_743_ref

[3] Farrar, Edward “The Biblical Case for 4004BC” Testimony Magazine page 336 Vol 45 (1975).

[4] Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin Folio 97a  http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html visited 21 Nov 15

[5] Barr, J. (n.d.). Biblical Chronology: Legend Or Science?.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ussher visited 16 Nov 15

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_creation#Early_Jewish_estimations visited 16 Nov 15

[8] A quick review of The Christadelphian Magazine identifies a number of recalculations based on revisiting various passages.  1889 was proposed Roberts, R “Why the Delay?” The Christadelphian, Volume 26, page 484–485 (1889) and a little later 1944, Welch “The World’s Age as Bearing on the Day of His Coming” The Christadelphian Volume 30, page 339-341, (1893)

[9] Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (p. 107). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[10] Carter, J. (n.d.). The Letter to the Hebrews (p. 45).

[11] Ramsden, John “Jesus Christ – His Coming Again” Testimony Magazine Vol 70 page 213 (2000)

[12] Green, Ralph, “Biblical Chronology Reassessed and the Seventh Vial”  Testimony Magazine, Vol 71 page 133-137 (2001)

[13] Roberts, R “The Day of His Coming” The Christadelphian, Volume 31 page 175 (1894)

[14] Cowie, Ron (2015) “”Keep That Which Is Committed to Thy Trust” – Meeting The Challenges Of The Last Days” Pacific Northwest School of the Prophets

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One thought on “God’s 7,000 year plan – Biblical?

  1. Pingback: Accepting the reality of God’s works in the Tiding’s Magazine | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

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