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Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Millennium

The following is a continuation of our study of eschatology. I wrote it about a month ago, and we finally read and discussed it tonight. Having re-read it now, I think it was moderately well done. The goal in presenting this to the group was not an extensive discussion of millennial views, so much as it was a cursory overview, sufficient to prepare everyone for a detailed Bible study on Revelation. It gets a little sarcastic at times. And rather than making fun of Dispensationalism, as is my custom, I decided this time to pick on Amillennialists a little bit. Feel free to post your comments.


The Millennium

One of the unique aspects of this moment in Church history is the amount of detailed attention given to eschatology, also known as the study of last things. While there have always been plenty of theories on the end of the world, both in Christian and pagan cultures, never before have there been positions so neatly defined and distinguished such as we have now, particularly in Christian theology. Whether or not the theologians have successfully gotten at Scripture's teaching on the end times is, as is the case with most everything, still a matter of debate. For now, we have a handful of choices to make in navigating the eschatological waters, and only history will tell which theologians are the closest to the truth.

It is a testimony to the strangeness of the Christian Church that in categorizing various views on the end times, we would begin by going to the most complicated and highly symbolic book in Scripture, choose one number out of the many in the text, translate the word for it into a dead language, and make it the hinge on which everything else turns. And yet this is, in fact, the current state of affairs in the study of Biblical prophecy. Inquire of anyone who is moderately theologically cognizant as to what their view of the end times is, and they will more than likely respond that they are either Premillennial, Amillennial, or Postmillennial. Derived from Revelation 20:1-7, the word "millennium" is the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greek word "chilia", both of which mean "one thousand". No other passage anywhere in Scripture, outside of these few verses in Rev. 20, speaks of Christ reigning for a thousand years. And so some theologians have reasonably asked whether it is wise to make so much of such a unique passage. Whatever the answer to this may be, the state of affairs in eschatology is such that naming one's millennial view is the starting place for interpreting the rest of Biblical prophecy.

We have already named the three basic millennial positions above. For each, however, there are two common variations, bringing the total to six. We will survey each in turn, taking note of some similarities and contrasts along the way.

I. Premillennialism

Premillennialism in its simplest form is the view that Christ's Second Coming is to occur prior to the establishing of His Kingdom upon the earth. And yet more is included in the idea of Premillennialism than this, as we will see. There are essentially two forms of Premillennialism: Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.

A. Historic Premillennialism

Historic Premillennialism is called such because it is a view attributed to certain of the early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian. Because of this, Historic Premillennialists have often stated that their view is the single view of the early church. And yet much evidence has surfaced over the past few years to suggest that there was a greater measure of diversity among the early theologians on eschatology, and that the more prominent view among them might have been more along the lines of Postmillennialism or Amillennialism. Nonetheless, the name remains.

The basic outline of Historic Premillennialism is as follows:

- Christ is now reigning in Heaven, and yet the full establishment of His reign as David’s heir will not occur until His Second Coming.

- The current age in which we live will be one predominantly characterized by defeat, as the Church’s attempts to spread the Gospel and influence the world for good will be overwhelmingly thwarted by Satan’s work.

- As the Second Coming approaches, the world will grow more and more wicked. The Great Tribulation will begin at the end of the age, and the Antichrist will arise to dominate the world.

- Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation, defeat all His enemies, bind Satan and throw him into the Lake of Fire, and set up His throne in Jerusalem. His reign, most say, will be for a literal one thousand years. This will be a period of worldwide peace and prosperity.

- At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released, and he will lead a revolt against Christ. God will send fire from heaven, which will consume all the enemies of Christ.

- God will then make a new heavens and a new earth, and the eternal state will begin.

B. Dispensational Premillennialism

Dispensational Premillennialism agrees largely with Historic Premillennialism, only allowing for Dispensationalism’s unique views on the Church and Israel. Whereas Historic Premillennialism holds that there is one people of God through the history of the world, Dispensationalism teaches that there are two peoples of God. And so Dispensationalism generally teaches that the Church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation, while Historic Premillennialism teaches that all those living at the end of the age will go through the Tribulation, including the Church.

II. Amillennialism

The term “amillennial” literally means “no thousand”, and whether or not Amillennialists believe that there is no thousand year reign of Christ depends on which one of them you ask. Some Amillennialists claim that the reign of Christ in Revelation 20 refers strictly to the reign of Christ in the hearts of the elect through Church history. Some say that it is the reign of Christ with the departed believers in Heaven. And some say that it is His reign in His Church on earth. Generally speaking, Amillennialists agree that the thousand years is a symbolic number, referring to the period of time between the first and second comings of Christ. And yet it is not uncommon to hear Amillennialists, seeking to distance themselves from both Premillennialism and Postmillennialism, say, “there is no one thousand year reign of Christ”.

There are two forms of Amillennialism. One we will call Pessimistic Amillennialism, and the other Optimistic Amillennialism.

A. Pessimistic Amillennialism

Pessimistic Amillennialism in its basic form looks like this:

- When Christ ascended to Heaven forty days after His resurrection, He took the throne of David in Heaven, where He reigns until His second coming.

- During the period in between the two comings, the righteous and the unrighteous will both dwell together in the world, neither having particularly greater sway over society than the other. The Church’s efforts in spreading the Gospel will have mediocre success, despite the fact that Satan is bound during this period.

- Toward the end of the Millennium, evil will grow worse and worse, culminating in a great tribulation

- Christ will return, destroy His enemies, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created.

B. Optimistic Amillennialism

Optimistic Amillennialism is a very new term in eschatology. As of yet, there have been no lengthy systematic works written to defend it, and so laying out the position in any detail is currently impossible. It largely follows the pattern of Pessimistic Amillennialism, except it expects greater success for the Church in the spreading of the Gospel between the two Advents. The degree to which it expects the world to get better depends on which theologian is addressing the question. And yet one thing is for certain for all Amillennialists - there will be no “Christianization” of the world as is taught by Postmillennialism.

III. Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is the view that leading up to the Second Coming there will be a gradual overall betterment of the world. The Gospel will be met with success as it is preached throughout the world, so much so, in fact, that when history has come to an end, the majority of people who have lived will be saved. Consequently, blessings will abound to every part of life. Peace will increase; there will be great strides in technology, the arts, politics, and every other sphere of society. These things will come slowly, however, as yeast works its way through a lump of dough. During the Millennium, Christ is reigning on the earth through His saints, who exercise His reign in their respective callings. When Christ returns, He will return after the Millennium to a world that is mostly Christianized, though not every person will be saved.

There are two basic Postmillennial views. We will call them Puritan Postmillennialism and Modern Postmillennialism.

A. Puritan Postmillennialism

I have named this view “Puritan Postmillennialism” because it is the view that was held by the vast majority of Puritans, not to mention the majority of the Protestant Church, until the 19th century. For the Puritans, the Millennium was not the entire period between Christ’s two comings. Instead, the Millennium referred to a golden age that would come toward the end of the New Covenant period. Some believed that this would be a literal one thousand years, while others did not.

B. Modern Postmillennialism

This is a variation of Postmillennialism which emerged in the 20th century, and that, like Amillennialism, saw the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ as the Millennium. Yet, unlike Amillennialism, Modern Postmillennialism holds to a more positive outcome to the influence of the Gospel in the world.

One of the problems in Eschatology that is often discussed is the question of terminology. The term “amillennial”, for instance, is a very new term, having been coined in the late 19th century. Prior to that, what we call “Amillennialism” was just a variety of Postmillennialism. Both, after all, hold the view that Christ will return after the period delineated by the “one thousand years” in Revelation 20. For this reason, some Amillennialists are quick to note their dissatisfaction with the term used to identify their view.

While these are the most common views of the end times, there are endless variations on these, due to the complexity of the subject matter. For instance, some Amillenialists believe in a future personal Antichrist, while others do not. Also, most Premillennialists believe the Millennium is exactly one thousand years long; but it’s perfectly possible to be a Premillennialist and take that number to be symbolic of an undisclosed period of time. As we continue our study, we will find the possibility of even more variations, many of which concern the Book of the Revelation itself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are looking for the rapture and hope you are also! There are some Google articles throwing light on pretrib rapture defender Thomas Ice that you might like to see, namely, "Pretrib Expert John Walvoord Melts Ice" and "Edward Irving is Unnerving" (both found on Joe Ortiz's "End Times Passover" blog) - plus other Google articles like "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)," "Thomas Ice (Hired Gun)," "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers," and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" (the last two in colorful versions on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site). Are you Dr. Ice ready as well as rapture ready?

3:43 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

I appreciate the thoughts. But I don't believe in a Pre-trib Rapture. I grew up being taught that the pre-trib rapture is what Scripture teaches, but came to see that that is not. I'd encourage you to check out the writings of people like R. C. Sproul, Gary DeMar, Hank Hanegraaff, and Kenneth Gentry, for a more Biblical approach to the end times.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous JavaDave said...

I've been very impressed with Ken Gentry's teachings on Revelation (found his videos on YouTube). As a result, I call myself a partial preterist. I'd say that the meaning of Revelation is found in the historical context of the first century, yet I believe that while writing to address the needs of first century Christians, John points to an actual future return. I find this view to be much more faithful to the text.

Besides, a historical study of the millennial viewpoints shows that each has a political motivation within the church. Historic premillenialism of the first few centuries wanted to see Christ establish the Kingdom of Israel physically on the earth. Amillenialism, born of Roman Catholicism, wanted to downplay Rome as the evil arm of the Beast by generalizing good and evil into symbolic types. Postmillennialism, born of optimistic liberalism of the 1800's, wanted an end times scenario that meshed with an ever evolving society. And in reaction to that, Dispensational Premillenialism decided to literalize it, resulting in a restored Israel, a literal earthly reign of Christ, etc. Each view seems a bit contrived to me.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Certainly Revelation points to a future return. But if you're saying that you believe that Revelation allows for a double fulfillment of its prophecies, I would generally disagree. I see no reason to believe, for instance, in a future Antichrist. Certainly, there are people throughout history that are against Christ, and some of them are religious and/or political leaders. But passages that refer, as in Revelation, to the Beast, or the "man of sin" or the antichrist elsewhere in the N. T., I see having a first century fulfillment.

I believe you unduly pit politics against religion. God instituted the state as a legitimate institution, and told us to obey its leaders. Now that doesn't mean we obey every command; Scripture is replete with examples of righteous civil disobedience. It also doesn't mean that any particular civil government is to be allowed to exist in perpetuity. Scripture gives us at least some guidelines by which to structure a proper civil government, and each government is to be constructed accordingly, and corrected where it doesn't line up. And some governments should be caused to crumble altogether, making way for new ones to rise in their place. The supreme issue is that Christ is King right now, as all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him (Matthew 28:18). It is all a matter of whether or not the kings of the earth will submit to him. We are to pray that they do, for we are told to pray that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

John Calvin said that the heart of fallen man is an idol factory. Therefore, any theological system can be used for one's own gain, whether political or otherwise. Ultimately, therefore, I return to the question of whether or not a certain system aligns with the teaching of Scripture.

Also, your assessment of the millennial views is at least in part incorrect. You are assuming a sinful intent by those who came up with Amillennialism, which seems rather presumptuous on your part. You also say that Postmillennialism was invented in the 1800's, which is incorrect. There were Postmillennialists at least as early as the 16th century. Once again, the question is "what does Scripture teach?" It is my duty to determine that, and to long for and pray for that, even if that means I will gain politically from the outcome.

1:11 PM  

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