The Millennium

Posted: March 11, 2009 in Uncategorized

We now come to chapter 55 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which is part of his discussion of the doctrine of the future.  Grudem now moves the hotly disputed issue of the “millennium” or how to interpret the reference to the 1000 year reign of Christ in Revelation 20:2-3. 

Historically Christians have approached these passages with one of three views–amillennial, postmillennial or premillennial, although it should be noted that all three contain differing (and sometimes warring) camps.

Amillennialists (like my seminary profs) interpret the 1000 years as symbolic and believe that Christ will return at an unexpected time immediately followed by final judgment.  Amillennialists approach books like Revelation as belonging to the ancient genre of “apocalyptic”, which was a way of expressing events in history with symbols that stressed their cosmic weight.  We have several ancient apocalyptic books including dozens of Jewish texts that are similar to Revelation.

Postmillennialists believe that the 1000 year reign of Christ will occur after the Gospel has been preached to the whole world and Christianity takes such root that it is the pervasive cultural influence in the world.  The postmillennial approach gained momentum during the 18th and 19th century when liberalism infiltrated Christianity with its teaching that man is essentially good and that the world is progressively getting better.  However, evil events such as the holocaust helped end its ascendancy.

Premillennialists believe that Christ will return, bind Satan, reign on earth for 1000 years as king of both believers and non-believers and then defeat Satan once and for all upon his release at the end of the millennium.  One popular variation of premillennialism is dispensationalism, (a view popularly portrayed in the Left Behind series), which teaches that there will be a secret return of Jesus known as “the rapture”, in which he will take believers with him to heaven during a seven year period of turmoil known as “the great tribulation” before returning to reign for 1000 years.  Dispensationalists also make a very clear distinction between the church and Israel.  They teach that Jesus will eventually serve as the literal king of the Jewish people who will all be saved. 

These are gross oversimplifications of these positions but hopefully you get the gist. 

So, how do we decide which approach is best?  Grudem analyzes what he sees as the pros and cons of each.

First, we need to deal with amillennialism.  Grudem states that the strengths of this view are that: (1) only one passage (Rev. 20) possibly speaks of a future earthly reign and it is unwise to hang so much on one obscure passage; (2) Scripture teaches only one resurrection (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; and Dan. 12:2); (3) the idea of a future state in which glorified believers with new imperishable bodies and non-believers is difficult to accept; (4) it is difficult to see how people could persist in sin under the direct reign of Jesus; (5) there seems to be no real purpose for the millennium; (6) Scripture seems to teach that all the major events “yet to come before the eternal state will occur at once.” 

The cons? (1) the Bible needs to only say something once for it to be true; (2) Revelation 20 need not be viewed as “obscure”, it may just mean what it says!; (3) many passages may be interpreted as pointing to “a future period that is far greater than the present age but that still falls short of the eternal state (see Ps. 72:8-14; Isa. 11:2-9; 65:20; Zech. 14:6-21; 1 Cor. 15:24; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).”; (4) a time of believers and non-believers living together under the reign of Jesus may sound strange but it certainly isn’t impossible for God to do.; (5) sin could still persist even with Jesus reigning and Satan bound in hell because sin resides in the human heart; (6) the millennium may display “the outworking of God’s good purposes in the structures of society” and “vindicate God’s righteousness” and serve as another chapter in the great history of redemption; (7) Finally, Grudem simply does not believe that amillennialists provide a satisfactory interpretation of Revelation 20. 

I think Grudem is WAY off base here.  Whether one subscribes to amillennialism or not, many fine scholars have found the view to provide a satisfactory interpretation of Revelation 20 (in fact, the most lauded commentary on Revelation in print is G.K. Beale’s, who is amillennial).  Moreover, Grudem ignores the strongest argument in favor of an amillennial interpretation, it fits nicely with what we know of the apocalyptic genre of which Revelation clearly falls within.

What about postmillennialism?  Pros: (1) “The Great Commission leads us to expect  that the gospel will go forth in power and eventually result in a largely Christian world…”; (2) Jesus parables also point to the earthly growth of the Kingdom; (3) the world is becoming more Christian (take a look at the numbers in Asia and Africa!). Cons? Neither The Great Commission nor Jesus’ Parables set forth the extent of the influence of the Kingdom and the world may be becoming more “Christian” in name but certainly not in influence–evil still flourishes.  Finally, Jesus himself spoke of the faith as ultimately available only to a few (Matt. 7:13-14).

What about premillennialism? Pros? Same as the cons listed in response to the strengths of amillennialism.  Cons? He doesn’t list any but, again, I would object that many, though not all, simply do not deal with genre of apocalyptic in a satisfactory manner.

But what about the dispensationalism? Here Grudem focuses almost exclusively on the idea of a pretribulation rapture…and he isn’t a fan (and neither am I).  His strongest argument concerns 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which reads,

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Grudem quotes Leon Morris who argued that there is absolutely nothing in the text to indicate that this is a “secret” coming of Christ.  Indeed, what we know of the ancient Greco-Roman world, it appears to signify the coming of a King to the world not bringing subjects out of it.  New Testament scholars Abraham Malherbe at Yale and former Oxford professor N.T. Wright have demonstrated that when a King (or a Roman caesar) visited a city that the ruler would stop about a mile or so from the city, have his men blow trumpets, and then command the entire city to come out to meet him and then escort him back into the city.  Given that the city of Thessalonica was a Greco-Roman city who would have understood such things, then interpreting this text as suport for a secret rapture would seem to be a stretch.

Tomorrow, we hit Chapter 56 “The Final Judgment and Eternal Punishment.”

  1. Sheldon says:

    The NEWEST Pretrib Calendar

    Hal (serial polygamist) Lindsey and other pretrib-rapture-trafficking and Mayan-Calendar-hugging hucksters deserve the following message: “2012 may be YOUR latest date. It isn’t MAYAN!” Actually, if it weren’t for the 179-year-old, fringe-British-invented, American-merchandised pretribulation rapture bunco scheme, Hal might still be piloting a tugboat on the Mississippi. roly-poly Thomas Ice (Tim LaHaye’s No. 1 strong-arm enforcer) might still be in his tiny folding-chair church which shares its firewall with a Texas saloon, Jack Van Impe might still be a jazz band musician, Tim LaHaye might still be titillating California matrons with his “Christian” sex manual, Grant Jeffrey might still be taking care of figures up in Canada, Chuck Missler might still be in mysterious hush-hush stuff that rocket scientists don’t dare talk about, John Hagee might be making – and eating – world-record pizzas, and Jimmy (“Bye You” Rapture) Swaggart might still be flying on a Ferriday flatbed! To read more details about the eschatological British import that leading British scholarship never adopted – the import that’s created some American multi-millionaires – Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” (note LaHaye’s hypocrisy under “1992”), “Hal Lindsey’s Many Divorces,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers)” and “Thomas Ice (Hired Gun),” “LaHaye’s Temperament,” “Wily Jeffrey,” “Chuck Missler – Copyist,” “Open Letter to Todd Strandberg” and “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Humbug Huebner,” “Thieves’ Marketing,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “The Real Manuel Lacunza,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts,” “Dolcino? Duh!” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” Most of the above is written by journalist/historian Dave MacPherson who has focused on long-hidden pretrib rapture history for 35+ years. No one else has focused on it for 35 months or even 35 weeks. MacPherson has been a frequent radio talk show guest and he states that all of his royalties have always gone to a nonprofit group and not to any individual. His No. 1 book on all this is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online, etc.). The amazing thing is how long it has taken the mainstream media to finally notice and expose this unbelievably groundless yet extremely lucrative theological hoax!

  2. Revolution says:

    Pretty harsh, dude!

  3. chawnghilh says:

    Many theories —ONE TRUTH.

    Jesus’ visible SECOND coming is anticipated, reaching the earth to establish the Messianic Kingdom on EARTH. No Secret Rapture as taught by Dispensationalists since AD 1830.

    1000 Years Reign on this PLANET EARTH is Biblical (Rev. 5:10). To make the long story short —meet you there.

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