Sunday, June 12, 2016

Why I am An Amillenialist, Part 2

In my previous post I began explaining why I believe in Amillennialism by stating my seventeen main reasons. Beginning with this post I want to look at those reasons in more detail. I will focus on the first.

To begin, I believe Amillennialism is the best explanation for the end-times since...

1. It appears that the New Testament understands the so-called “millennial” language of the Old Testament as being fulfilled in the age-to-come (the new heaven and new earth), not in a future literal millennium.

In other words, those passages that some understand as referring to a literal future 1,000 year rule of Christ on earth that is distinct from the future new heaven and new earth is instead understood by the New Testament authors as referring to the future eternal state, the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21-22.

Let’s start with Isaiah 65:17-25.  Though a hard passage, most likely what we have here is a figurative depiction of the future new heaven and new earth. After all, that is exactly what v. 17 states, and what reason do we have to distinguish verses 18ff. from that assessment? In Revelation 21-22 the Apostle John seems to take this language as referring to the future new heaven and new earth.  

This means that most likely Isaiah 65:20 (“No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days…the young man shall die a hundred years old….”) is speaking of long life that, in light of Is. 25:8, means there will be no death in this future age. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul sees Isaiah 25:8 fulfilled at the second coming of Christ, i.e. when resurrection takes place—not 1,000 years later. We conclude, then, that Isaiah 65 is most likely using covenantal pictures (of long life as God’s reward)—God’s covenant of grace will be completely fulfilled and its blessings consummated. The key in this chapter is that Isaiah is using covenantal language and affirming the covenant will be ultimately fulfilled for God’s people.

Another passage many see as referring to a future literal millennium, Isaiah 11, appears to engage in prophetic foreshortening or telescoping prophecy wherein Isaiah is given a picture of the future which includes the Messianic age (New Testament Church age) moving right into the age-to-come.  Of course, it is possible to posit a millennial reign thrown in here as well, but it is not demanded. When one grasps the reality the age-to-come is a new heaven and a new earth, it is most probable this language refers to the age-to-come by using this-world, i.e. this-age language, esp. since Is. 65:17-25 uses the same kind of language to refer to such a period and since Rev. 21-22 clearly has some this-world, this-age language to help describe the age-to-come.

Ezekiel 40-48 speaks of the building of an end-times temple. Rather than this referring to a future millennial literal rebuilding of the temple, there are a number of reasons to believe that the New Testament sees these chapters fulfilled in Jesus Christ as the ultimate temple (John 2:19) and partially fulfilled in this age in those united to him (the New Testament Church—1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16), who fulfill the ultimate purpose of the temple (1 Peter 2:4-10)—that being the calling of the nations to the true God (1 Kings 8:41-43). Additonally, since these chapters speak of sacrifices, it becomes very problematic to see them as literal.  Based upon New Testament revelation that affirms Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrifice to whom these old Testament sacrifices pointed (Mt. 5:17; Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 8-10), how can there be a return to sacrifice (at least in any way God puts his stamp of approval on)? After all, the real and ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, has already come! 

And, if the sacrifices are not literal, why would we understand the temple as literal? Addition- ally, it appears that Revelation 22 takes this language and applies it to the New Heaven and New Earth as the ultimate and complete fulfillment (See Ezek. 47:12).

Some (especially Premillennialists) suggests that to say the Old Testament uses language of its day to refer to future events that would not be literally fulfilled discredits the Old Testament. However, Westminster Theological Seminary professor, Greg Beale, gives the following illustration as an answer. It is based on a father in 1900 promising his son a horse and buggy when he grows up and gets married.
During the early years of expectation, the son reflects on the particular size of the buggy, its contours and style, its beautiful leather seat and the size and breed of horse that would draw the buggy. Perhaps the father had knowledge from early experimentation elsewhere that the invention of the automobile was on the horizon, but coined the promise to his son in terms that his son would understand. Years later, when the son marries, the father gives the couple an automobile, which has since been invented and mass-produced. Is the son disappointed in receiving a car instead of a horse and buggy? Is this not a ‘literal’ fulfillment of the promise? In fact, the essence of the father’s word has remained the same: a convenient mode of transportation. What has changed is the precise form of transportation promised. The progress of technology has escalated the fulfillment of the pledge in a way that could not have been conceived of when the son was young. Nevertheless, in the light of the later development of technology [corresponding to the redemptive impact of the coming of Christ], the promise is viewed as ‘literally’ and faithfully carried out in a greater way than earlier apprehended.”[1]

Bottom-line, as we allow the New Testament to give a clearer picture of all those things to which the Old Testament looks forward, I believe we are to understand the so-called “millennial” passages as not having reference to a literal millennial reign that is distinct from the future new heaven and new earth.

But there are sixteen more reasons I think this. We will continue looking at these in the next post.

[1] G. K. Beale, The Temple And The Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology Of The Dwelling Place Of God (Downers Grove,: IVP, 2004), 352-53, cited in Storms, Kingdom Come, 211-12.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Why I Am An Amillennialist

In my last post I introduced the discussion of what I believe about the end-times, since those viewpoints led to my relinquishing my ordination with the Evangelical Free Church Of America. I explained the three main end-times positions: Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. We saw that in two of the positions (Pre-and Post-), the labels are given based in large part on the relationship of the Second Coming of Christ to the millennium. In the third position, the one to which I hold, the belief is that the language of the millennium in the Bible refers to the reign of Christ with saints in heaven during this present age we now live in—the age before he comes again. This position also believes that some of the passages that are thought to refer to a millennium actually refer to the new heaven and new earth. Amillennialism also believes that there is no literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth that is a distinct period from the future new heaven and new earth.

There are primarily seventeen reasons I take this position, although more reasons could be offered. Over the next few weeks I will look at each of these reasons, explain them, and seek to show how they represent what the Bible teaches. Before I look in detail at those reasons, I thought it would be helpful to state them upfront (without commentary) so you can get the overview of where we will be heading.

Here are the seventeen reasons I am an Amillennialist.

1. It appears that the New Testament understands the so-called “millennial” language of the Old Testament as being fulfilled in the age-to-come (the new heaven and new earth), not in a future literal millennium.

2. The Scripture’s use of two age terminology (this age and the age-to-come) fits better with an Amillennial position.

3. The only mention of a 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ is found in Revelation 20.  That text is best understood in the context of Revelation as a reign of Christ in heaven with saints during the present Church age.

4. The best understanding of the language of a tribulation (a period of seven years, made up of two 3.5 year periods) is that it is a figurative reference to real suffering and tribulation for the Church that extends throughout this entire Church age.  As such, a precedent is already set for end-times events that span the entire period of the New Testament Church, as does the “millennium” of Revelation 20.

5. The Strong New Testament emphasis that the New Testament Church (Jew and Gentile) is now the people of God and a continuation of God’s people in the Old Testament, decides against any end-times position that would see two programs for two people of God (the Church and Israel), as do the most popular forms of Premillennialism.

6. The second coming of Jesus Christ is most likely after the tribulation.  Since there is no clear evidence for a secret rapture forming a two-stage coming, any Premillennarian position setting forth such a position is untenable.  This means that one must hold either to post-tribulational Premillennialism or Amillennialism—especially in light of the problems of Postmillennialism as discussed below.

7. New Testament theology prevents taking some of the Old Testament prophetic language as literal (examples: rebuilding of a temple and restoration of sacrifice).  This leads one to see such language as depicting future realities to Old Testament saints in language they would understand, but not taken as literally fulfilled.

8. Amillennialism preserves more than any other view the Christ-centered nature of the entire Scriptures.

9. Amillennialism does the best job of dealing with the emphasis in the New Testament that the Kingdom of God has already been started, but it is not yet fully here.

10. Amillennialism does the best job of dealing with resurrection and judgment language in the Bible which appears not to put these events into different stages.

11. The New Testament is to be allowed to give greater clarity to Old Testament end-times expectation, rather than those Old Testament expectations silencing the progression of the New Testament.

12. We must interpret texts according to the intent of the authors, even if that intent is figurative. It appears that many Old Testament texts that Premillennialists have interpreted as prophesying a literal millennium are instead intended to prophesy the future new heaven and new earth, using language of the current day as symbolizing what would happen in the future.

13. There are some key passages that support Amillennialism.

14. It is difficult to see any legitimate purpose for a future literal millennial reign, especially in light of the way Revelation 21-22 appears to be the counter-point to Genesis 1-3 and the climax of Scripture, and in light of the reality there are not two separate programs for Israel and the New Testament Church.

15. A future literal millennial reign of Christ with glorified and non-glorified saints on a non-glorified earth (a reality for which Premillennialists argue) is problematic.

16. Amillennialism does justice to the language in the New Testament which suggests the end-times events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ are impending and therefore one must always be ready and expectant.

17. Though Postmillennialism would share some tenets with Amillennialism, it also has problems that decide against it.