The 7,000 year plan ties end time prophecy with the days of creation to build an appealing and elegant model of God’s plan with the earth. The idea has a long history – surprisingly long. Is it Biblical? As attractive as the idea is, the continual revisions to the timelines and lack of explicit Scriptural support might cause us to wonder.
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 24:36.
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. But what are the origins of this idea and how sound is it?
Origins of the 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:
|80-160||Epistle of Barnabas|
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
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”
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.
James Barr noted “Ussher was only one in a long series of scholars who concerned themselves with biblical chronology” 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 unique to any particular stream of Christianity but rather a very old idea which can trace some of its elements back to 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 4,004
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. This was largely based on the Septuagint which contains seemingly inflated ages in the genealogy of Genesis 5. Obviously this date doesn’t work with the 7,000 year plan today as it would place Jesus return some time around 500AD. 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 popularly accepted date for creation – for now anyway.
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 many others did – JWs instead maintained the date as accurate and preach an invisible return in 1914. Perhaps they would have been better serviced by revisiting their approach to and assumptions about scriptural interpretation/time periods. However they are not alone, the continuous failures do not seem to have led to any change in methodology, just alterations in calculations. The Christadelphian community since the predictive failures of its founder Thomas has proposed other dates unsuccessfully like 1889 and 1944.
A Scriptural 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
While Thomas came up with different solutions to Ussher, time has disproven his answers.
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 nightPsalm 90:4 ESV
The passage clearly points out time as we experience it is different to how God sees it. Psalm 90 actually compares 1,000 years to a day and to a 4-hour guard shift (as the watch in the night means). 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 of making 1,000 years = 1 day as 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 day2 Peter 3:8 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 ungodly2 Peter 3:7 ESV
No one would suggest the judgement day takes 1,000 years. V7 clearly uses day of judgement to refer to a future period, not 1,000 years. The quote from Psa 93 in 2 Pet 3:8 is not providing us with a tool to project timeframes but rather than God will action his plans in his time – not ours. The purpose of the quote from Psa 93 is to provide insight into the mind of God versus the shallow criticisms of the scoffers who questioned Christ’s coming at all. Peter is saying judgement will come but God doesn’t do time like us so be patient.
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”Hebrews 4:4 ESV
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.
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 exited 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 Sabbath and its link to Joshua, a link which is not based on timeline.
The parallel drawn in Hebrews demonstrates the purpose of God not the timing of God. We might piously suppose a 7,000 year plan but this is our assumption, not the message of Hebrews. Putting a 7,000 year plan into Hebrews is reading something into the passage.
Fitting in Events Subsequent to Christ’s Return
A fascinating area of study for many 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. In traditional Christadelphian teaching 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):
- The judgment seat 2Cor 5:10
- Cleaning up after Armageddon Ezek 39
- Informing the nations about Christ’s reign Rev 14:6-7
- Judging nations & Great Babylon who don’t submit Rev 14:8
- Regathering the Jews via Elijah Mal 4:5, Mic 7:15
- Building the Temple Ezek 40-48
These events are not unique to my faith tradition. There are high profile dissenters to this scheme in my community just as there is an abundance of disagreement everywhere. Which kind of points to a simple conclusion that ‘we don’t really know’.
With the important disclaimer that we don’t know and can’t agree….the traditional mainstream Christadelphian view set out by individuals like John Thomas, Henry Sulley and Jim Cowie (mainstream only regarding prophetic timelines) usually points to a significant period before the Millennium commences. Usually it is argued there will be 50-year period – a Jubilee – between the return of Jesus and the inauguration of the Millennium. Such schemes absolutely work from types and shadows, meaning they are by nature speculative. While my inkling is that God is symmetrical in his designs, the required expository jumps can be spectacular.
The point is almost all proponents of the 7,000 year plan don’t take the assumed year of creation and add 6,000 years to get the return of Jesus. They need some additional time in there as well. Hence if creation was 4,004 the kingdom starts in 1996AD and Jesus has to return 0-50 years prior to this.
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.
Now many 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 if there is a Jubilee period in there somewhere as well. Every year proves the 7,000 year plan more and more incorrect.
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. So essentially they gave themselves another 80 years on Bishop Ussher’s 4,004BC date. 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.
Over 100 years later this statement (which carefully went in hard but not all in on the dates) is demonstrably based on misreading the Bible. Whilst a keen advocate of the 7,000 year plan, Bro Roberts wisely 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” to quote a talk by Ron Cowie (the same individual included the 7,000 year plan as a fundamental doctrine in a 2014 draft document boldly called “Bible Truths we Believe”). Surely a reasoned review of the scripture demonstrates the basis for the hypothesis is weak. History demonstrates continuous errors and revisions in predictions and the maths of time continues to ask 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 from Creation it beggars belief to think the angels would not have worked this out. Think about the absurdity of this contradiction!
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 HeavenMatt 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.
by Daniel Edgecombe
 Burke, J. (2010). A More Sure Word of Prophecy – electronic edition
 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
 Farrar, Edward “The Biblical Case for 4004BC” Testimony Magazine page 336 Vol 45 (1975).
 Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin Folio 97a http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_97.html visited 21 Nov 15
 Barr, J. (n.d.). Biblical Chronology: Legend Or Science?.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_creation#Early_Jewish_estimations visited 16 Nov 15
 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)
 Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (p. 107). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
 Carter, J. (n.d.). The Letter to the Hebrews (p. 45).
 Ramsden, John “Jesus Christ – His Coming Again” Testimony Magazine Vol 70 page 213 (2000)
 Green, Ralph, “Biblical Chronology Reassessed and the Seventh Vial” Testimony Magazine, Vol 71 page 133-137 (2001)
 Roberts, R “The Day of His Coming” The Christadelphian, Volume 31 page 175 (1894)
 Cowie, Ron (2015) “”Keep That Which Is Committed to Thy Trust” – Meeting The Challenges Of The Last Days” Pacific Northwest School of the Prophets