Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reasons 6-17

So far I have covered in some detail five of the reasons why I hold to the end-times position known as amillennialism.  In this post I mention the remaining twelve reasons with a few brief comments accompanying each one.

6. The second coming of Jesus Christ is clearly 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 historic premillennialism (post-tribulational) or amillennialism—especially in light of the problems of postmillennialism as discussed below.
All three versions of the Olivet Discourse of Jesus place his coming after the time of the Tribulation and none of the three implies a two stage coming that would suggest believers being raptured before or during the Tribulation.

Matthew 24:29-31 reads: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days….  Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man…and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Mark 13:24-27 reads: “But in those days, after that tribulation…then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Luke 21:20-28, though using different language, communicates the same events with the same order.

We should also note that  1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 addresses the snatching up of believers when Christ returns and suggests that it is the same complex of events as seen in the Olivet Discourse: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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”

7. New Testament theology prohibits taking some of the Old Testament prophetic language as literal (rebuilding of a temple, restoration of sacrifice, et al).  This leads one to see such language as depicting future realities to Old Testament saints in language they would understand at the time they lived.
In Colossians 2:16-17 and Hebrews 8-10 we discover that the tabernacle, temple, sacrifices, and all that surrounded them in the Old Testament were only shadows of the real thing to come and that real thing was and is Christ. Hebrews 8-10, especially, clarifies that Jesus Christ is far superior to the Old Testament types that prepared us for and looked forward to Christ. It is inconceivable that any of these temporary things (a temple or sacrifices) could be re-built or reinstated with God’s stamp-of-approval. Since there are Old Testament passages that speak of an end-times temple, for example (Ezek. 40-48), we must conclude in light of New Testament teaching that this does not have a literal fulfillment. Rather, it has its fulfillment in Christ (John 2:19-21) and his followers who are united to him (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). Since this is the case, then passages typically taken as literal millennial references (e.g. Isaiah 65:17-25) may also be intended to be figurative.

The Isaiah 65 passage is very important since it speaks of “new heavens and a new earth,” which Revelation 21-22 locates in eternity future and not a millennium  before that. So, though Isaiah 65 has some language that doesn’t quite fit in the future eternal state (e.g. infants, living long days, etc.), most likely it is intended figuratively to communicate that God will fulfill all his covenant promises in the fullest sense. The language used was language that would be understood by readers at the time.

8. Amillennialism preserves more than any other view the Christ-centered nature of the entire Scriptures.
Simply-put, Christ is the center of God’s salvation history (Eph. 1:10; 3:8-12), the one to whom even Israel, as God’s special corporate son, looked forward (Mt. 2:13-15). Christ is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament (e.g. Luke 24:27) and its promises (2 Cor. 1:20). There is no need for promises to be fulfilled in a literal and national Israel (suggesting the need for a millennium in which those promises can be literally fulfilled). What is more, part of the Old Testament emphasis is that very unexpected peoples from all over the world (the nations) would be part of the end-times Israel and this by a coming Redeemer (Isaiah 56:1-8; 59:19-62:12). The emphasis is on Christ and what he will do with his people—coming as King to reign now and even in a greater way in the New Heaven and New Earth (not in a period between these two ages).

9. Amillennialism does the best job of dealing with the already/not yet emphasis in the New Testament.
The Kingdom has already come (Mk. 1:14-15), but it is not yet fully here (Mt. 6:10). This already and not yet two age or stage emphasis (not a three stage with a millennium) better fits biblical material.

Related to this, 1 Corinthians 22-28 seems to teach strongly that death is ended at the coming of Christ, which would create a problem for there being non-glorified persons in a millennium (those who would die) after this. This text (with key clauses emphasized) reads: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

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.
Consider John 5:28-29: “ Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Also, the most straightforward view of Revelation 22:12 is that the coming of Jesus Christ and final judgment are all one event:  Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”

11. The New Testament is to serve as the manual for interpretation of Old Testament end-times expectation.
One of the problems of many premillennialists (especially of the pre- and mid-tribulational variety) is that they do not allow the New Testament to bring clarity to what the Old Testament was prophesying. A better approach is to allow the New Testament to bring that clarity—a clarity that focuses more on Christ, his Church unitied to him, and the nations as part of Israel, rather than trying to force some kind of literal nationalistic Israel-centered end-times approach.

12. We must interpret texts according to authorial intent, even if that intent is figurative. It appears that many OT texts that premillennialists have interpreted as prophesying a literal millennium are instead prophesying the future new heaven and new earth using language of the current day.
This is seen especially in Isaiah 65:17-25, which we have addressed already above.

13. There are some key passages that support amillennialism.
A proper understanding of Isaiah 2; 11; 25; 56; 59:19-62:12; 65:17-25; Daniel 9:20-27; and 2 Thessalonians 1 all support the amillennial understanding of the end-times.

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.
What is more, if it can be demonstrated that most likely the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34 consists of an already/not-yet fulfillment centered around the first and second comings of Christ based upon Hebrews 8-10 (i.e. the fulfillment has started/been inaugurated, even though it awaits the full consummation for the future), and so it is fulfilled in the New Covenant Church (both Jew and Gentile), then a key purpose for the millennium is removed. Even a well-known Dispensationalist has admitted: “If the Church fulfills the covenant, she may also fulfill the other covenants made with Israel and there is no need for an earthly millennium.”[1]

15. A future literal millennial reign of Christ with glorified and non-glorified saints on a non-glorified earth is problematic.
In regard to a future millennial kingdom, Anthony Hoekema (The Bible And The Future, 184-85)  explains: “The return of the glorified Christ and of glorified believers to an earth where sin and death still exist would violate the finality of their glorification. Why should believers, who have been enjoying heavenly glory during the intermediate state, be raised from the dead in order to return to an earth where sin and death still exist? Would this not be an anticlimax? Do not glorified resurrection bodies call for life on a new earth, from which all remnants of sin and of the curse have been banished? Why, further, should the glorified Christ return to an earth where sin and death still exist? Why should he after his return in glory still have to rule his enemies with a rod of iron, and still have to crush a final rebellion against him at the close of the millennium?  Was not Christ’s battling against his enemies completed during his state of humiliation?  Did he not during that time win the final, decisive victory over evil, sin, death, and Satan?  Does not the Bible teach that Christ is coming back in the fullness of his glory to usher in, not an interim period of qualified peace and blessing, but the final state of unqualified perfection?”

Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 156, also helpfully asks: “What becomes of these born again believers who die physically during the millennial age? The premillennialist insists that conditions will prevail during the millennium such that physical life will be unusually prolonged, much as it was in the days preceding the flood of Noah. Be that as it may, physical death will still occur. So what becomes of those who die in faith? Where do they go? What do they experience?” Storms continues: “The Apostle Paul makes it clear in both Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 5 that when a believer dies he/she immediately enters the presence of Christ…. But during the so-called millennial age, Jesus is not in heaven. He’s on earth. So where are those who have died during this time period?”  One possibility is resurrection occurring for each person who dies, which leaves us with thousands of resurrections—something that the New Testament appears to deny.”

16. Amillennialism does justice to the language in the New Testament which suggests the complex of eschatological events surrounding the 2nd Coming of Christ are impending and therefore one must be ready and expectant.
Especially for the mid- and some post-tribulational premillennialists, a seven year Tribulation must take place before Jesus Christ comes for his church. This is hard to square with teaching that calls believers to be ready for him to come at any moment. Mt. 24:36-51; 1 Thes. 4:13-5:11.

17. Though postmillennialism would share some tenets with amillennialism, it also has problems that decide against it.
Consider just a few.

Old Testament prophecies interpreted by postmillennialists as referring to a future millennial golden age picture the final state of the redeemed community—that is, the New Heaven and New Earth (a critique that also applies to premillennialism).  It must be remembered that the final state includes both a new heaven and a new earth.

The common postmillennial interpretation of the great tribulation of Matthew 24 and of the apostasy of 2 Thessalonians 2, that they are only past, is not justified.

As we discovered above, Revelation 20:1-6 does not support the postmillennial position. This passage describes the reigning of the souls of believers in heaven during the present era, and does not picture a future golden age.

The postmillennial expectation of a future golden age before Christ’s return one that gradually is ushered in as the gospel triumphs in the world, does not do justice to the continuing tension in the history of the world between the kingdom of God and the forces of evil.

It seems to me that these seventeen reasons mentioned in these ten posts lead us to conclude that Amillennialism is the most likely explanation for how things will take place at the very end of this end-times.

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, 1979), 116, cited in Samuel E. Waldron, with Richard C. Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution Of The Church (Palmdale, Ca.: Reformed Baptist Academic Press), 13.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The New Testament Church: Not Plan B

In the view of the end times that has been most popular among the evangelical church over the past century, dispensational premillennialism, it is often put forward that God’s Plan A was for Israel to accept the Christ and to usher in the kingdom after his first coming. Because this did not happen, then the gospel was taken to Gentiles and the result was the New Testament Church. It exists primarily as Plan B, since Israel mostly rejected Jesus as the Christ. In fairness, not all who who hold to this end times view argue this. But the vast majority at least holds to two different programs of God for two different peoples (Israel and the New Testament Church). These two programs stand behind why a literal 1,000 year millennium is thought necessary by some—namely to fulfill God’s promises to ethnic Israel.

However, this view is problematic. In fact, most post-tribulational premillennialists, as well as amillennialists, understand the problems inherent in this approach. The reality there are problems in this two-programs-view leads us to the fifth reason why I hold to the end-times view known as amillennialism:
5. The Strong New Testament emphasis that the New Testament Church (comprised of Jew and Gentile) comprises the people of God, a continuation of His people in the Old Testament, mitigates against any end-times position that would see two programs for two people of God (the Church and Israel).

There are a number of points I desire to make in defense of this fifth reason.

(1) On the reality dispensational premillennialists have such a view of Israel and the New Testament Church, consider the following quotes: 
(a) “The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes:  one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved, which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity….”[1]

(b) “Of prime importance to the premillennial interpretation of Scripture is the distinction provided in the New Testament between God’s present purpose for the Church and His purpose for the nation Israel. Individuals who are descendants of Jacob in this present age have equal privilege with Gentiles in putting their trust in Christ and forming the body of Christ the church. The New Testament as well as the Old, however, makes clear that the nation of Israel as such has its promises fulfilled ultimately in the future reign of Christ over them…. The present age, according to premillennial interpretation, is the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose, revealed in the new body of saints.  It is only when this purpose is completed that God can bring to pass the tragic judgments which precede the millennial reign of Christ and inaugurate the righteousness and peace which characterize the millennial kingdom.[2] (emphasis added)

(2) Here are some New Testament Passages that explicitly or implicitly teach there is continuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church, and that they do not comprise two different people of God or two different programs of God.
(a)  Galatians 6:15-16: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, [even] upon the Israel of God.”
At the very least “the Israel of God” must be distinct from the children of “present Jerusalem” (4:25), “the true people of God are the believing children of Abraham” (3:7, 29) who belong to Jerusalem above.”[3]

 “This rule” appears to refer to those who agree with Paul and what he says in v. 15. As such, it appears to refer to all true believers (Jew and Gentile).  I would argue the Greek word kai should be translated “even” (not “and”) since it would be strange to introduce a reference to ethnic Israel here. The use of “Israel of God” to refer to the New Testament Church would be in keeping with what Paul says earlier in this epistle (3:29; 4:26-31).  In fact, a reference here to ethnic Israel would seem to be inconsistent with these earlier references in the epistle.

(b)  Phil. 3:3: “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (speaking of the New Testament Church—Jew and Gentile).

(c)  Acts 13:32-34, 38-39: “32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' 34And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' 38Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
Hoekema, The Bible And The Future (197) writes: “Note that, according to these words, God’s promises to the fathers have been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus, and that in that resurrection God has given to his New Testament people, ‘the sure blessings of David.’ These promises and blessings, further, are interpreted as meaning, not a future Jewish kingdom in the millennium, but forgiveness of sins and salvation. The promises made to Israel, therefore, are fulfilled in the New Testament church.”

(d)  Matthew 5:17 (Jesus speaking): “Don not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” The reason promises made to Israel are fulfilled in the New Testament Church is that more accurately all the Law (its types and promises) is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and the Church is united to Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 6). As such, united to the Beloved, to the true Israel, the people of God have the promises of God.

(e) 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Hoekema, The Bible And The Future (198), after highlighting the reality Peter is addressing Christians in this epistle, explains:  “Peter is here applying to the New Testament church expressions which are used in the Old Testament to describe Israel.” See Ex. 19:5-6; Is. 43:20.

(f)  “Seed of Abraham” (Gal. 3:27-29) in the New Testament now designates the New Testament Church (Jew and Gentile), not merely ethnic Israel.

(g)  Zion and Jerusalem are now used of the people of God, Jew and Gentile, or at least to their dwelling place: Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 21:2.

(h)  Ephesians 2:11-22: God has made Jews and Gentiles fellow-members of the household of God. See esp. 2:14!

(i)  Regardless of how one understands Romans 11:25-27 (esp. 26), nothing in that text demands a future dealing with Israel such that there is a special or different purpose, i.e. a future millennial reign.  In fact, the preceding context (17-24) suggests only one purpose, all (Jew and Gentile) being grafted into one tree, one people of God.

(j) 1 Peter 1:10-12: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Don Garlington writes:  “It goes almost without saying that such teaching places the church of Jesus Christ—Gentile as well as Jew—in a position of unprecedented privilege.  The people of God have always been his special possession (e.g. Ex. 19:5); but this text explicitly states that the people of the new age occupy a place of unparalleled importance: they are the subject of biblical prophecy, and their future is inseparable from that of Christ himself. Hence, the Christological principle of hermeneutics is inconceivable apart from the ecclesiological principle where Christ is found, his people are found also. According, the history of Israel is to be viewed as the preparation for that people ‘upon whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Cor. 10:11), the ‘one new man’ in Christ (Eph. 2:15).”[4]

 (3) “As the butterfly surpasses the caterpillar from which it emerges, so the Church as the New Israel surpasses the Old Israel. The butterfly does not exactly replace the caterpillar. It is the caterpillar in a new phase of existence. In the same way, to speak of the Church replacing Israel is to forget that the Church is Israel in a newly reformed and expanded phase of existence. In a word, terminology like replacement theology or supersessionism disguises the biblical fact that the church is really the continuation of Israel.”[5]

[1] Chafer, Dispensationalism, 1-7, cited in Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 187.

[2] Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, vii-viii, cited in Hoekema, The Bible And The Future , 187.

[3] Simon J. Gathercole, ESVSB, 2256.

[4] Don Garlington, “Reigning With Christ: Revelation 20:1-6 In Its Salvation-Historical Setting” (accessed on 9/22/10 at, 4-5.

[5] Samuel E. Waldron, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response (Owensboro, KY, RBAP, 2008), 7 (cited in Storms, Kingdom Come, 188-89).