Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Tribulation

In this post I come to the fourth reason why I hold to an Amillennial view of the end-times. It is this:

The best understanding of tribulational language (that is a seven year period of tribulation or two periods of 3.5 years) is that it is a figurative depiction of a reality of suffering and tribulation for the Church that extends throughout the inter-advent age (from the First Coming of Christ to his Second Coming).[1] As such, a precedent is already set for end-times events that span the age of the New Testament Church.

There are a number of points that support this.

1. Regarding the teaching of Daniel and how it relates to the tribulation, I believe this: In the book of Daniel the faithful Israelites serve as a type of the ultimate faithful man/person of God who trusts him, follows him, and remains faithful even in the face of great evil and suffering. As such, they form types of Christ (even to the point of Daniel being sealed for a time in the lion’s pit, i.e. in the realm of death, and being raised and vindicated out of that (ch. 6). As such, the book of Daniel depicts the faithful as suffering for a time and then being raised and vindicated (see 12:2-3). Such looks forward to Christ, the coming Son of Man (cf. 7:13-14), with whom will come “an end to sin,” and who will “atone for iniquity” (9:24). The sense seems to be, however, that all who truly come to God in faith and who seek to follow his example of living redemptively will suffer, yet will be vindicated in the future through resurrection.

2. What point #1 suggests is that the suffering of the Jews under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the little penultimate horn [8:9]) is a type of, i.e. it looks forward to more ultimate suffering of an ultimate horn or opposition to God that precedes the end of the end (cf. Daniel 7:24-26). The fact that the saints will be given into the hands of the horn “a time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:25 [see also 12:7, 11-12]), most likely is paradigmatic (see also Hos. 6:2)—looking forward to the ultimate suffering of the Son of Man in behalf of the people of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:4), who would be under the power of death for this time, before vindication.

3. Most likely, as D. A. Caron, Scandalous: The Cross And Resurrection Of Jesus, argues, the 3.5 year suffering on the part of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes served as a traumatic experience that generations after that time could not forget. It was similar to our “9/11” here in the United States. If we were to say of future traumatic events, “That was another 9/11,” we would all understand what is being said about the level of pain, destruction, and difficulty. So it was with the 3.5 years in the 2nd century, B.C. To speak of other 3.5 years of tribulation (and even that doubled as 7) was to speak of very difficult times of trial and persecution.

4. In light of points 1-3, the 3 ½ times x 2 (cf. Mt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14; 11:2, 9 [3.5 days—see Hos. 6:2]; 12:6, 14; 13:5-7) most likely depicts a long time of suffering and desolation reminiscent of the typological tribulation under Antiocus Epiphanes in the 2nd century B.C., as well as the fall of Jerusalem under the Roman, Titus in AD 70 and following.

5. All of this language, then, suggests that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the suffering Son of Man, the Son of God, who will be vindicated and those who are united to him also will suffer and be vindicated! Such is especially supported by the same language of Daniel that is found in Revelation—to refer to times, time, and half a time.

5. When the best understanding of Daniel 9:20-27 (a key tribulation passage) is set forth, it also appears that the Church is currently in the last 3.5 year period of suffering/tribulation.

It appears, then, that the Tribulation period is a time that runs concurrent with the present church age, that time between the First and Second Coming of Jesus. If this is true, then it certainly would not surprise us if another aspect of the end-times events (a 1,000 year of reign of Christ and saints) is also figurative and runs concurrent with the same time.

[1] The seven years is arrived at by seeing Rev. 12:6 and 12:14 as two different 3.5 year periods, along with an understanding of Dan. 9:24-27 (esp. 27) that sees the Great Tribulation as either a literal or figurative seven year period.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Understanding Revelation 20:1-6, Part 4

I suppose I can begin this post with good news and bad news. The bad news (or some of you might think of it this way) is that, as the title suggests, we are spending our fourth post on the explanation of Revelation 20:1-6. The good news is this is the last one. 

We have taken so much time with this passage since it is at the heart of the millennial debate, as the main passage that deals with the topic. It is also at the heart of the third reason I hold to the Amillennial end times position: “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 this present age.”

Having looked at the context and introductory matters in two posts, in our last post we zeroed in on verses 1-3.  So, all that is left for us to do is to explain verses 4-6. Those verses read:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

There are several points I want to make about these three verses that should help us understand them better.

(1) The thousand year period of verses 4-6 should be seen as the same period verses 1-3 addressed. We have already seen that period extends from the first to the second comings of Jesus Christ and so, just like there, so here, the thousand years is figurative, rather than a literal.

(2) Justice, especially for those martyred, is an important theme in Revelation (cf. 6:9-11). It is significant, then, that these saints are pictured seated on thrones and given authority to judge in some manner (Mt. 19:28 show that reigning and judging go together). These three verses picture Christians who have died (martyrs probably stand for all Christians who have died as is the case earlier in the book (6:9-11). We must note that these saints are in heaven. After all, the word “throne” is used 47 times in Revelation ad all but three (2:13; 13:2; 16:10) appear to be in heaven. There is no question, then, that this reigning is taking place in heaven and not on earth. It might even be said that verses 1-3 picture what takes place on earth from the first to second comings of Christ and verses 4-6 picture what takes place in heaven.

(3) It needs to be noted that this text says nothing about Christ or saints reigning on earth (what would be necessary for it to reference a 1,000 reign of Christ and saints on earth). That concept needs to be brought into the text by implication. If, however, as we are suggesting, the better explanation for this entire passage is what the Amillennialist puts forth, then there is no need to bring in that concept of an earthly reign.

(4) Even though the words, “they came to life” (v. 4) can refer to a physical resurrection (See Mt. 9:18; Rm. 14:9; 2 Cor. 3:14; Rev. 2:8 where the same verb is used for physical resurrection) and certainly the words in v. 5, “this is the first resurrection,” let us know that this coming to life is a kind of resurrection, we are led away from seeing it as the future bodily resurrection of saints since that appears to be covered later on in verses 11-13.[1] What we have here involves those in Jesus Christ passing from this life to even greater life in heaven.  It is so much greater, even though it still does not involve the future bodily resurrection, that there is no way to describe it other than this—it is as if they are coming to life; they are being raised! Those who have true life are coming to know even greater and fuller life.

(5) Most likely the words “first” and “second” (Rev. 20:5, 6, 14; 21:1) are not intended merely as cardinal numerals. Rather they describe what has to do with this present age (“first”) and the eternal age to come (“second”). What we learn, then, in the larger context is that those who have been given new life in this age and experienced that first resurrection will not undergo the second death. Rather, they will experience the new heaven and new earth (which is equal to the second heaven and earth—that of the new age). Additionally, those who have not experienced the first resurrection will experience the second death (which is equal to the lake of fire) and will not experience the second or new heaven and earth.

(6) In verse 5, John’s clause, “the rest of the dead did not come to life unto the thousand years were ended,” is parenthetical. So, the subsequent clause, “this is the first resurrection,” refers back to the end of verse 4, before John offers the parenthesis. This parenthetical statement in v. 5 appears primarily to be stressing that those apart from Christ do not experience the greater life during this age. And, the only “greater” life they will have is that of being resurrected to face judgment and eternal conscious punishments (cf. vv. 11-15).

(7) Finally, in verse 6, the fact that these “raised” believers who are reigning with Christ are “priests of God and of Christ,” suggests that the picture here is parallel to Rev. 5:9-10, a vision of heaven that takes place during this inter-advent age.

So, in all aspects of Revelation 20:1-6 (the explanation of the six verses, as well as structure an context) we conclude that the best explanation is that offered by Amillennialists. Since this is the main passage in the entire debate, it is in many ways the most important reason of the seventeen for my stance.

However, we do have fourteen more reasons to cover, which we can definitely cover with greater speed over the next few weeks’ posts.

[1] Anthony Hoekema explains: “Premillennialists understand what is described in verses 11-13 as the resurrection of unbelievers which, they claim, occurs after the millennium, since the resurrection of believers has taken place before the millennium.  The separation of the resurrection of unbelievers from that of believers by a thousand years, however, must be challenged, particularly in view of Jesus’ words in John 5:28-29.” That text reads:  Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”  So, it is better to take verses 11-13 as referring to the resurrection of all—believers and unbelievers.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Understanding Revelation 20:1-6, Part 3

In two of my most recent posts we have looked at the third reason for holding to an Amillennial understanding of the end times: “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 this present age.”

In our first two looks at that passage, Revelation 20:1-6, we focused on introductory and contextual issues that lead us to believe Revelation 20:1-6 cycles back and focuses upon events that take place during the current time and before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Now we will look in more detail at the passage itself, which is best divided into two parts. To begin, we have verses 1-3, which describe the binding of Satan. Then we have verses 4-6, which describe the thousand-year reign of Christians with Christ. In this post we will explain verses 1-3. Those verses read as follows:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

There are several things we can say about these verses:
·         *Satan is bound for 1,000 years. What is the purpose? “So that he might not deceive the nations any longer.” This binding is reminiscent of other texts in which we learn Satan is defeated and contained in Jesus’ victory over him through the cross and resurrection (Mt. 12:26-29; Rev. 12:7-9). It also coincides with a greater coming to Jesus by the nations, as prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 59:19-62:12). This binding of Satan is best taken as the ending of the times of ignorance (Acts 17:30), that time when the nations were, for the most part, lost—during the years of God’s working primarily through Israel.  Since once Satan is released, he will gather the enemies of Christ to band together to attack the church (7-9), “We conclude, then, that the binding of Satan during the gospel age means that, first, he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel, and second, he cannot gather all the enemies of Christ together to attack the church.”[1]

·         *Since Revelation is full of symbolic numbers, it would be consistent that the 1,000 years is symbolic. “Since the number ten signifies completeness, and since a thousand is ten to the third power, we may think of the expression ‘a thousand years’ as standing for a complete period, a very long period of indeterminate length”[2] which would occur between the first and second comings of Christ in light of the structure of Revelation.

·         *“Since the ‘lake of fire’ mentioned in verses 10, 14, and 15 obviously stands for the place of final punishment, the ‘bottomless pit’ or ‘abyss’ mentioned in verses 1 and 3 must not be the place of final punishment. The latter term should rather be thought of as a figurative description of the way in which Satan’s activities will be curbed during the thousand-year period.”[3]

·         *That this binding is real, but that the words in the text which depict it are symbolic and not literal are seen in the fact that a non-corporeal being is being bound with chains.  How does that take place literally?  It does not.

So, what is Revelation 20:1-3 talking about?  It addresses a greater working of God among the nations, through the Church, so that people from all over the world will come to know Christ and take their place among the Church. Though Satan still works and brings much damage (cf. Eph. 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 6:1-8; 12:1-6, 10), nevertheless God also is currently bringing about a great work and a great harvest at one and the same time that much in the way of trials and persecution are taking place.

[1] Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 228.

[2] Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 227.

[3] Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 227-28.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Understanding Revelation 20:1-6, Part 2

Two weeks ago and prior to my last post (when I discussed why I am spending so much time addressing my end times position known as Amillennialism), I began looking in more detail at the third reason I hold to Amillennialism. That reason is this: “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 this present age.”

In our first look at Revelation 20:1-6 we focused on introductory and contextual issues that lead us to believe Revelation 20:1-6 cycles back and focuses upon events that take place during the current time and before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Now, in this post I want to return to several more introductory and contextual reasons to see why we should understand Rev. 20:1-6 as cycling back to current events during this age and should not be taken as describing events that happen after the Second Coming of Christ (an event that is addressed in Revelation 19).

From the near context and the passage itself we discover the following reasons to lead us to this interpretation.

To begin, at the end of chapter 20 (verses 11-15), attention is focused upon God’s judgment—something we have already seen in the book of Revelation. Consider that the twenty-four elders announce the time of judgment (11:18); the Son of Man’s coming begins the day of judgment (14:14–20); God pours out wrath leading up to the final judgment (16:17–21); the white horse rider judges and defeats his enemies (19:11–21); and God opens the books to judge each person at the last judgment (20:11–15). These all appear to be parallel events at the end of various cycles in Revelation –each cycle covering events from the first coming of Jesus Christ to his Second Coming and subsequent judgment.[1] If we are right about this, it would place Revelation 20:1-6 before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and not depicting a post-Second-Coming millennial reign.

Next, the phrase the war, a literal translation, found at three different places with almost identical wording around it each time (16:14; 19:19; 20:8) seems to be different than the previous six uses of the same word for “war” (without the definite article, “the”) in Revelation. It appears that as Revelation cycles back through the events from the first to second comings of Christ, it progresses forward as it goes. So, the result is this: In these later chapters the cycle moves to the final war that accompanies the Second Coming Of Jesus Christ. This also points to the likelihood that 20:1-6 takes us to events that happen during this present time and predating the Second Coming of Christ, rather than referring to a future thousand year reign of Christ that is after his Second Coming.

Third, we must consider the descending of an angel in 20:1. In regard to the three previous times angels are said to descend or ascend in Revelation (7:2; 10:1; 18:1), whatever chronological activity has been taking places is suspended so that the text can cycle back to earlier events. If the same holds true in 20:1, this suggests that the events of 20:1-6 are not happening chronologically after those of chapter 19, but are cycling back to look again at events that preceded chapter 19. So, again, in 20:1-6, we are not dealing with a post-Second-Coming Millennial reign of Christ, but with the depiction of events that take place during the present time—between the First and Second Comings.

What is more, there seems to be a close relationship between the events of chapter 12 and that of chapter 20 in regard to the binding of Satan. The devil was cast out of heaven in chapter 12 after losing a battle against Michael and his angelic warriors (12:7-9). As a result, the activities of the Deceiver were restricted (12:13-17). This appears to be parallel to God’s binding of Satan in 20:3—again suggesting that chapter 20 is taking us back to another look at events taking place from the First to Second Coming of Christ.

Finally, a linear or chronological understanding of the relationship of chapters 19-20 runs into difficulty with respect to those forces that oppose Christ and his people. They are completely destroyed in 19:18, 21 and yet reappear in 20:8. What we have most likely, then, are events that are parallel to each other (20:8 restating what previously happened from another perspective), rather than a chronological depiction, which would lead us to see 20:1-6 as referring to a future reign rather than what it instead appears to be—speaking of a reign during the present age.

In summary, the larger context of the book of Revelation and the near context lead us to expect the events of Revelation 20:1-6 to happen during this present time between the First and Second Coming of Christ.

Yet, as we look more closely at the six verses and their meaning, will we find a message that is consistent with what we have set forth in regard to context and introductory issues? We will turn to that question in our next post.

[1] In Revelation and the rest of the New Testament the final judgment is associated with the Second Coming Of Christ.