Amillennialism and Kingdom Living2
I recently had the privilege to attend The Gospel Coalition’s national conference in Orlando. The theme “Going Home” was designed to show how our doctrine of last things or “Eschatology” is a glorious, comforting study of scripture. I rarely teach directly on last things (my Eschatology comes through in many other doctrinal emphasis) but I’ve decided to blog about it here. Why? Well partly because one of our church members, Ginny Jacobson, suggested that someone respond to the plenary sermon delivered by John Piper. Piper holds to a view of the last days called “Historic Pre-millennialism” and I hold to a view called “A-millennialism,” which, incidentally leads to the second reason I’m blogging about this subject now. Our church is currently going through a series on the Sermon on the Mount entitled “Kingdom Living in a Fallen World.” My amillennial eschatological perspective influences what I think “kingdom living” means.
First, though, some quick definitions. The word millennium is derived from the Latin for a thousand, a translation of the Greek word chiliasm, found in Revelation 20:1-10. Millennialism denotes a doctrine in which John describes the devil as being bound and thrown into a bottomless pit for a thousand years. This coincides with the resurrection of the martyrs, who reign with Christ during the millennium in a heaven-on-earth existence. Historic pre-millennialism is the view that the church is raptured before this event and reigns with Christ and the martyrs for a thousand years. Statements by OT prophets of a period of earthly prosperity for the people of God are thought to find their fulfillment in this period. A- millennialism says that Revelation does not mean what this definition espouses. So why do I hold to A-millennialism?
First, a reference to the word millennium is not found anywhere in the Old Testament and only in Revelations 20 in the New. Neither is the concept of a millennium found in the New Testament. If the concept of the millennium were found in the Old Testament, as some believe, then it would mean it is clearer there than it is the New Testament. George Eldon Ladd, one of the greatest spokesmen for historic pre-millennialism said, “I admit the greatest difficulty to any pre-millennialism is the fact that most of the NT pictures the consummation (the end of all things) as occurring at Jesus parousia (second coming).”
Most would argue that the concept of the millennium was only revealed to John and that Jesus and Paul did not speak to the issue. However, I think they clearly did in Matthew 25:31-46 and I Corinthians 15:23-28, which describe the final judgment and all rule, authority and death itself being abolished at the coming of the Lord. Revelation 20, which is full of symbolism, must be interpreted by clear passages of scripture. But even taking Revelation 20 alone, if the key to the abyss is not a literal key, the chain not a literal chain, the dragon not a literal dragon, then is the 1000 years literal? The accusation that is sometimes leveled at A-millennialism that it over-spiritualizes prophecy would sting more if pre-millennialism didn’t cherry pick which parts of the prophecies are literal.
I think Augustine in his book “The City of God” got it right. The thousand years in Revelation 20 is the period beginning with Christ’s first coming, that is, the age of the Church. Throughout this age, we reign with Christ—not in the fullness of the coming kingdom, but Paul makes it clear that we “are” seated with Christ in the heavenlies, spiritually speaking. (Eph. 2:1-10) In fact, if we do not now reign with Christ, the all of this teaching about us being a part of the Kingdom of God now makes no sense. The devil being bound for a thousand years (this church age) does not mean there is not falleness (evil) in the world, or that we do not have an enemy trying to derail (devour) us through our own temptations. It is clear he is still a force to be reckoned with, but the NT makes it clear he has no power over us that we don’t give him. (James 4:7; I Peter 5:9; Luke 10:18-20 etc.)
Again, starting most notably with Augustine through all the reformers until the 19th century, the whole period between the first and second coming of Christ is viewed as a single era—uniform and uninterrupted by any special events initiating new eras of salvation-history. The gospel has always been advancing, will continue to advance until the whole earth has heard the gospel proclaimed. We reject the literal, earthly, materialistic millennium brought on by 19th century eschatology as being contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. The millennium is a present reality. It was ushered in by Christ’s first coming and will be replaced by the final, eternal state at his second coming. The second coming will not be extended over a long period of time but will be a single, cataclysmic event. The Rapture, followed by the Judgment and the great separation of Matthew 25, will then usher in the New Heaven and the New Earth. The earth will be judged, cleansed and renovated and Paradise lost will be Paradise regained.
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