This is a video briefly explaining the three views of the Millennium (Premillennialism, Postmillennialsm and Amillennialism). If you are looking for something a little more in depth, here is a link to a previous post on the issue.
This is a video briefly explaining the three views of the Millennium (Premillennialism, Postmillennialsm and Amillennialism). If you are looking for something a little more in depth, here is a link to a previous post on the issue.
There are many who have trouble with the idea of being part of a local church and do not want anything to do with them, and many people point to denominations as a major culprit, as if they are inherently sinful. The arguments usually start by decrying the “man made” organization that today’s local churches follow. After all, the church is not a building, it is a group of people in a locality, in other words it is an organism not an organization. On top of that you shouldn’t refer to it as “your” church because churches are not something to be possessed, it is something in which we partake.
After these usual semantics are expressed, many times the conversation will turn toward denominations. They will usually be argued against by saying something like, the practice of a denomination is to separate yourself from brothers and sisters through our thoughts and opinions, and Ephesians chapter 4 clearly tells us we are to seek unity. So this separations is a serious problem. On top of that, denominations are regularly contentious with each other over members because they want them all to come to be followers of their particular distinctives. Finally, if you want real clarity on this issue all you need to do is look at 1 Cor. 1 which says…
1Co 1:11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
1Co 1:12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
1Co 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Doesn’t this passage clearly condemn the very nature of denominations? You can be a follower of the Baptists or the Presbyterians if you want, but not me; I’m a Christ-follower.
Now the first thing we must see, beside a usual miss-characterization of denominational churches, is the self-refuting nature of these accusations. What they are arguing, is that the way churches and denominations are functioning today is wrong and they all need to correct themselves by aligning themselves under the arguers understanding of a local church, because according to them, they follow Christ’s example not man’s. So what they are doing in arguing against someone like myself is trying to convert me to their particular distinctives, along with everyone else with whom they come in contact. But as we all know not everyone will buy into this understanding of the local church which is really and anti-understanding. But some people will, and as they begin to align themselves under this theology they will begin to study under teachers who teach it and listen to preachers who preach it and gather together to take the Lord’s supper and etc. And before you know it, what they have become is the very nature of a denomination. Whether they want to call themselves by a certain name (nomination) or not, or even claim to be not-a-denomination (non-denominational) that is exactly what they have become.
Not only are they organized under their theology of a local church, they are actually trying to get others out of their denominations and come to their not-a-denomination. But if they can do it, why can’t other denominations? But here is the real issue, they are actually more divisive than most regular denominations because most regular denominations are not so concerned with getting everyone to their particular distinctives. They realize that as long as we agree on the essentials we can differ on the secondary doctrine and do not need to get someone to switch churches to be part of a healthy local church. Which happens to be something the person who argues against denominations cannot do. For them, in order for someone to be in a healthy local church, they must get out of a denominational church and become like the anti-denominational people, because denominations are sinful.
So what about Ephesians chapter 4 and First Corinthians chapter one? In Eph 4 it says we should be striving for unity and I believe many denominations agree with this. They (like the arguer) believe they understand what the will of God is and desire that all Christian be united under that truth. And if the arguer can do this why can’t a particular denomination.
To understand the passage in 1 Corinthians 1, we must realize that Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ, all taught the same doctrine. So when the people said I am of Paul or Apollos they were not disagreeing over the doctrine. The contention was one of mere personal pride. Some wanted everyone to know that it was Paul who led them to Christ as if that gave them some special clout to hold over other people. Others thought that being of Apollos was something to be proud of because historically and Biblically Apollos was a great orator, so some people thought that made them better than other Christians. Now it is true that some denominations and even some specific churches have these sins associated with them. They have divided because of these sinful contentions, but my point is that the divisions that Paul was addressing are not what typically brought many denominations to fruition. The contentions are usually doctrinal, and Paul took doctrine very seriously. Even to the point of dividing with people he thought were teaching incorrect doctrine.
Now if we read this passage the way I assume the arguer usually attempts to use it (to justify an argument against denominations), we would have to assume that Paul is talking about doctrinal issues. But if this is the case then we would have to assume that Paul and Apollos etc. where all teaching different doctrine and that Paul was telling them to not worry about doctrine, just be united anyway, which is something Paul never said.
What is really interesting about this passage is that Paul mentions that some were saying they were “of Christ” too. As if this gave them some special prestige. After all they didn’t follow the traditions of some teacher. They learned directly from Christ Himself. But if we are reading this as if this applies to denouncing denominations, shouldn’t saying we are of Christ be a good thing? Isn’t it true that we really aren’t of Paul or Apollos but of Christ after all. He is the true head of the Church. But Paul is arguing that even claiming to be of Christ and not of any other teacher etc. can be divisive and sinful. This statement makes it clear that Paul was not saying it is always wrong to gather under certain associations or nominal affiliations, because we should gather under the affiliation of Christ. What we have to keep clear here is that Paul is not speaking of doctrinal differences since they all taught the same thing, but of proud sinful divisions when they all believed the same doctrine. My argument is that denominations by definition do not fit into what Paul was addressing here, even though some denominations and local churches may act this way.
I actually believe that if Paul, Apollos, and Peter had all been teaching different doctrine and only Peter was correct, In that sense it would actually have been commendable to say I am of Peter and not of Paul. Likewise, if the Baptists are right and the Methodists are wrong or vise versa, it would actually good to say I am of one and not the other. Ultimately, it turns out the arguer is being more divisive than most denominations by rejecting them all based on an improper understanding of this passage. If this passage is to be read to fit denominations, the arguer is the one claiming to be of Christ. They are the ones claiming not to follow any teacher or group except Christ and refuse to have any other nominal associations. But remember Paul was condemning the people who where saying they were of Christ too. This is why this passage does not mean what they are using it to say. It is good to be of Christ and also good to be nominally associated with Paul and Apollos in that sense. Because they are right and speak the truth of God, but it is wrong if we use it as a prideful sinful division among these men when Paul, Peter, and Christ are united. It is also true that when a local church uses a denominational status in that way, they are acting sinfully, but most denominational differences deal with secondary doctrinal issues rather than mere prestige and pride.
Different denominations can have the unity and the love that Paul talks about even though they do not agree on all secondary doctrines. They can have this unity and love because they agree on the essentials. The argument that is usually made by those against denominations is that they cannot have true unity unless they agree on everything. But if that is true, it logically follows that the arguer cannot have unity with them either because they do not believe exactly the same thing. Now if they argue that they can have unity with someone who does not believe exactly like them, then all we have to ask is, then why can’t denominations?
Finally, what the arguer in these discussions usually neglects is the nature of truth, because many times the arguer will have some idea that unity is more important than truth, which is itself is a “truth” which they are using to separate themselves from others believers. Instead of arguing that all denominations are wrong, simply because they have nominal affiliations or distinctives that set them apart, the real discussion should be about which one lines up closest with the Word of God.
In conclusion, the idea of denominations is not inherently sinful. If it is always wrong to have associations or some kind of particular doctrinal distinctives, then everyone is wrong because even refusing to hold to a particular doctrinal distinctive is itself a particular doctrinal distinctive.
Recently, it has been asserted that I am living too much “under the Law.” But the assertion does not cease there. Pitted against me living too much “under the Law” was the presumption that I was not living enough “in the Holy Spirit.” Now all of this was, to be honest, confounding and news to me. How one who does not know me could, with any intellectual honesty whatsoever, impute such sentiments to my state of being left me with only two logical possibilities.
1. Said person has obviously not taken the time to read even just a small portion of my blog entries of substance, thus appreciating the greater context in which I discuss God’s Law.
2. Said person has textual evidence from my own hand (keyboard) by which he could expose and indict me, proving such allegations to be, in fact, true.
Since no evidence was laid forth, I suppose I will opt for the first. It is apparent that whilst I have put many an emphases in my blog concerning God’s Law, portions in which I have discussed the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, the Gospel of Grace’s saving power, et al have been selectively passed over. However, before addressing the neglect of my accuser in considering the exhaustive context of my writings, let us briefly examine a role/some roles in which God’s Law ought to act in the life of a believer. I feel this is necessary because I believe that said person’s allegations stem from a misunderstanding of what it means to be “under the Law.” Respectfully, though I believe his intentions positive, I fear he has fallen prey to the idea that those of us who are under grace can only be out from “under the Law” by casting it aside. Such a belief is unfounded in Scripture and, I believe, a revolt against God’s provision of goodness He has given us in the Law.
First, what does God’s Word say about God’s Law? Many things. My personal favorite follows thus from Psalm 19:
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
I am certain that Biblical Christians would all agree that we can trust Scripture, no? Not only can we trust in Scripture, we can love and obey it wholeheartedly, without fear of it leading us astray. Thus, it follows we can also believe in and trust what the Psalmist says here. Let us consider a few of the Psalmist’s descriptors of the Law.
1. God’s Law is Perfect (v.7)
Hebrew: תמים –Transliteration: tamiym — which means:
1) complete, whole, entire, sound
a) complete, whole, entire
b) whole, sound, healthful
c) complete, entire (of time)
d) sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity
e) what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact
Accidental is certainly no way to characterize the Psalmist’s placing of perfect as the first descriptor of God’s Law in this passage. Rather, it lays the foundation for all those which proceed thereafter. Because God’s Law is perfect, we can be confident that to the “revived soul” it:
-is sure, bringing wisdom to the simple
-is right, rejoicing the heart
-is pure, enlightening the eyes
So not only is the Law all these perfect things, but it does and brings good things! Wisdom, Joy, Illumination, and Rewards. That doesn’t sound scary, nor is it something I mind living “under.” ;) Now, considering the given definition of perfect, I believe we are safe to proclaim that God’s Law is perpetual. If it is perfect (and it is), how could one even imply that it is bad, deficient, or whatever one wishes to say, enough that we need to be finished with it? I mean, it is complete, not lacking in anything, sound, etc., thus it has no need to be abolished. Next, allow me to quote that Esteemed Apostle, when he writes:
So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. – Romans 7:12
Having briefly touched the surface, let me say that I, in no way, think my accuser would disagree thus far with what I’ve said. “So, then, what is the purpose, Josh?” To point out that when the Apostle says “you are not under law but under grace,” he does not mean that the Law is bad, or that it is no longer in effect. Granted, there are certain Mosaic, Ceremonial, and Judicial laws which are no longer in effect, but not without reason. Those very things no longer have any typological use, having been fulfilled in Christ. No, what I speak of is God’s Moral Law.
What was Paul saying, then? The same thing that is true for every believer in all times in all ages ranging from Adam to present. That, before God so graciously regenerated and justifies a sinner, he is condemned by the Law. Not because the Law is in any way deficient. NO! Because men are deficient. The Law stands as a condemnation against those who have not been saved by the Law Giver. However, once the sinner is graciously brought into the Law Giver’s family, he is no longer condemned by that Law, but saved by the Law Giver’s grace.
Therefore, since it is nothing inherent within the Law that is condemnable, deficient, etc. Paul does not mean that the Law is no longer authoritative, binding, or important for the Christian. We know that the Law is perfect, good, holy, just, rewarding, etc. How, then, could we say it is abolished? The Law, for the unbeliever, serves one of two purposes: Either, his condemnation unto everlasting hell, or his conviction unto repentance, conversion and everlasting glory.
For the Christian, though, the Law is still authoritative, binding, and important. It cannot condemn the Christian, for there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. Why is that? Because Christ took the condemnation, not because of some magical pixie dust that is applied to believers when they are converted. The Law is a measure for the Christian. The Law ought to be a delight for the Christian. The Law serves as a means unto holiness (not perfectionism, mind you). Thus, it is not the Law that is bad, but men. The Law is not a Boogey-Man.
So, as I have said before time and again here, man is justified by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (soli Christo) according to Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) to the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria). Sinners are not, I repeat, are not salvifically justified by the Law. Thus, in light of what I have written concerning justification and man’s salvation, the burden of proof is on my accuser to show wherein I have asserted any sentiment that I am living under the Law, or that I think such is somehow right, and that I am not living enough “in the Holy Spirit.”
The covenant of redemption is the theological term for the agreement that was made between the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in how they were going to redeem for themselves the elect. This covenant is not mentioned by name in scripture but it is clearly implied that an agreement had been made between the Godhead. Much like the term Trinity does not apear in scripture but is clearly seen. Here is a quote by Charles Hodge explaining where this idea can be seen in scripture…
“In Psalm 40, expounded by the Apostle as referring to the Messiah, it is said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will,” i.e., to execute thy purpose, to carry out thy plan. “By the which will,” says the Apostle (Heb.10.10), ”we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ came, therefore, in execution of a purpose of God, to fulfil a work which had been assigned Him. He, therefore, in John 17.4, says, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” This was said at the close of his earthly course. At its beginning, when yet a child, He said to his parents, ” Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2.49.) Our lord speaks of Himself, and is spoken of as sent into the world. He says that as the Father had sent Him into the world, even so had He sent his disciples into the world. (John 17.18). “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.” (Gal. 4.4). “God sent his only begotten Son into the world.” (1 John 4.9). God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Verse 10.) -Charles Hodge-
Below is a transcript from a Spurgeon sermon where he describes this covenant and then wonders what it would have been like to be to hear this covenant being made.
“Now, in this covenant of grace, we must first of all observe the high contracting parties between whom it was made. The covenant of grace was made before the foundation of the world between God the Father, and God the Son; or to put it in a yet more scriptural light, it was made mutually between the three divine persons of the adorable Trinity.”
“I cannot tell you it in the glorious celestial tongue in which it was written: I am fain to bring it down to the speech which suiteth to the ear of flesh, and to the heart of the mortal. Thus, I say, run the covenant, in ones like these:”
“I, the Most High Jehovah, do hereby give unto my only begotten and well-beloved Son, a people, countless beyond the number of stars, who shall be by him washed from sin, by him preserved, and kept, and led, and by him, at last, presented before my throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. I covenant by oath, and swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that these whom I now give to Christ shall be for ever the objects of my eternal love. Them I will forgive through the merit of the blood. To these will I give a perfect righteousness; these will I adopt and make my sons and daughters, and these shall reign with me through Christ eternally.” Thus run that glorious side of the covenant. The Holy Spirit also, as one of the high contracting parties on this side of the covenant, gave his declaration, “I hereby covenant,” saith he, “that all whom the Father giveth to the Son, I will in due time quicken. I will show them their need of redemption; I will cut off from them all groundless hope, and destroy their refuges of lies. I will bring them to the blood of sprinkling; I will give them faith whereby this blood shall be applied to them, I will work in them every grace; I will keep their faith alive; I will cleanse them and drive out all depravity from them, and they shall be presented at last spotless and faultless.” This was the one side of the covenant, which is at this very day being fulfilled and scrupulously kept. As for the other side of the covenant this was the part of it, engaged and covenanted by Christ. He thus declared, and covenanted with his Father: “My Father, on my part I covenant that in the fullness of time I will become man. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people I will keep the law perfectly. I will work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and holy law. In due time I will bear the sins of all my people. Thou shalt exact their debts on me; the chastisement of their peace I will endure, and by my stripes they shall be healed. My Father, I covenant and promise that I will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. I will magnify thy law, and make it honourable. I will suffer all they ought to have suffered. I will endure the curse of thy law, and all the vials of thy wrath shall be emptied and spent upon my head. I will then rise again; I will ascend into heaven; I will intercede for them at thy right hand; and I will make myself responsible for every one of them, that not one of those whom thou hast given me shall ever be lost, but I will bring all my sheep of whom, by thy blood, thou hast constituted me the shepherd—I will bring every one safe to thee at last.”
Imagine, that for all who believe, our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life since before the foundations of the world. The Triune God has covenanted to save us, works in concert to save us, and who can stay His hand.
Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah. Psalm 3:8
Revelation 20 is one of the most debated passages in Scripture. When reading commentaries on this passage, it seems that there are about as many interpretations as there are writers. What causes this to be such a unique passage of Scripture is that according to Eerdmans’ Handbook on the Bible, this is the Scripture “which contains the Bible’s only mention of a millennium” (Alexander, 656). The questions which most are trying to answer are, what is the millennium? How long is it? Are the 1000 years symbolic or literal? Where does it take place? And, is it spiritual or physical? All of these questions are what makes this passage so unique. The focus of this paper will be first, to give a basic understanding of the three most common understandings of the millenium, second to follow some basic hermeneutical principles and exegete the Scripture to get a general understanding of what the author originally meant, and third, to give arguments for and against each view.
I. General Understandings of the Millenium
The three most common understandings of the millenium may sound a little different depending on who you talk with, but can be broken down into three different categories; premillennialism, postmillennialism or amillennialism.
Today, it seems the most predominant view is premillennialism. This view holds to the idea that Christ’s second coming will precede the millennium. According to Henry Virkler in his book Hermeneutics, premillennialists believe that “He (Christ) will descend to earth and set up a literal 1000-year earthly kingdom with its headquarters in Jerusalem” (Virkler, 201). It is important to understand that not all premillennialists agree on all the details. There are two major camps of premillennialists: traditional premillennialists and dispensational premillennialists. When it comes to the actual details of the millenium there will be a lot of disagreement on its nature and purpose, but to be a premillenialist a person must believe that Christ’s second coming will take place before the millennium (pre-millennium).
Postmillennialism, according to Virkler, “is the view that through evangelism, the world eventually will be reached for Christ. There will be a period in which the world will experience joy and peace because of its obedience to God. Christ will return to earth at the end of the millennium” (post-millennium) (201). It must be clarified that postmillennialists do not believe that everyone will be a Christian during this time, but that society as a whole will be Christian.
Amillennialism, according to Virkler, “is conceptually a form of postmillennialism. The millennium, in this theory, is symbolic and refers to the time between Christ’s first and second coming. During this time Christ rules symbolically in men’s hearts. Christ’s second coming will mark the end of the period.” Amillennialists believe that Christ will never have an earthly rule (a- or no-millennium)” (201).
The terms postmillennial and amillennial are sometimes interchangeable depending on who is defining the them, since both of them believe Christ will return after (post) some kind of millennium. This paper will use the definitions provided by Virkler. The major difference between the two is that postmillennialists believe that Christianity will spread across the globe and usher in a time of peace. Amillennialists do not believe that Christianity will usher in this time of peace universally, except in the hearts of men. In the history of the Church, variant forms of these two positions have been the dominant view. Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology explains the most basic understanding of postmillennialism: “The common doctrine of the Church stated above, is that the conversion of the world, the restoration of the Jews, and the destruction of Antichrist are to precede the second coming of Christ, which event will be attended by the general resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the end of the world, and the consummation of the Church” (Hodge, 861). This was the view of many of the reformers and the puritans and some suggest that even though the terms were not used, the bare bones of this doctrine shows through in Augustine’s famous work City of God. Postmillennialism seems to carry the worst stigmatism because of the fact that the liberals had hijacked this doctrine early in the twentieth century and turned it into a naturalistic and modernist’s doctrine. For a while, if you were a postmillennialist then you were considered to be on your way to becoming a liberal—if you were not already. Though this was an actual concern, it was based on a misrepresentation of what postmillennialist’s actually believe. In fact, the puritans were postmillennial, but not commonly considered liberal. Consequently, postmillennialism cannot automatically be linked with liberalism.
Premillennialism, being the less commonly held view, began to gain momentum about 300 years ago. This was around the time that dispensationalism came onto the scene, but it did not find its origins at this time. In fact, Charles Hodge states, “In opposition to this view (postmillennialism) the doctrine of a premillennial advent of Christ has been extensively held from the days of the Apostles to the present time.” Two world wars also led many people to reconsider the idea that the world was getting better, which helped premillennialism become the new majority view.
II. General Exegesis of Revelation 20
It is here that we will turn our attention to the actual Biblical text. The goal of finding the truth of Scripture is to find out what the author originally meant. The way to accomplish this is to start with historical-cultural and contextual analysis. This analysis means to uncover some basic information about the text, such as when was it written, who is the author, what was the situation at the time the author was writing, what was the purpose of the author, and how would his targeted audience have understood the passages. These questions can sometimes be harder to answer than they sound, but many of the answers can be found in the text itself. It is important to always interpret the obscure passages of Scripture with clear and easy to understand passages.
Most scholars place the writing of Revelation around 90-95 AD. In Revelation 1:4, the author identifies himself simply as John. According to Robert H. Mounce in his Commentary on the Book of Revelation, “Early tradition is unanimous in its opinion that the Apocalypse was written by John the Apostle” (Mounce, 27). Further insight into the historical context can be found in Revelation 1:9 which says, “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” This verse lets us know that the audience the author was trying to reach was facing persecution and that John himself had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos at this time because of his preaching. In How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, Gordon D. Fee writes, “the main themes are abundantly clear: the church and state are on a collision course; and initial victory will appear to belong to the state. Thus he warns the church that suffering and death lie ahead; indeed, it will get far worse before it gets better (6:9-11)” (Fee, 239). Fee goes on to state that John’s message is to encourage the church not to capitulate because Christ holds the keys to history and the future, and that eventually the wrath of God will be revealed against those who persecute the Church.
After understanding the basic historical situation of the author and the original audience it is important to understand lexical-syntactical facts about the text. For the book of Revelation, the most important step is to identify and have a general understanding of the literary form. The book of Revelation is what is called “apocalyptic literature,” which was common around this time. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and parts of Isaiah are examples of apocalyptic literature according to Fee (232). Most scholars place the majority of apocalyptic literature—much of which is not canonical—between 200 BC and 100 AD (Mounce, 18).
Fee sums up the general purpose of this type of literature:
“Apocalyptic was born either in persecution or in time of great oppression. Therefore, its great concern was no longer with God’s activity within history. The apocalyptists looked exclusively forward to the time when God would bring a violent, radical end to history an end that would mean the triumph of right and final judgement of evil.” (p. 233)
This is the type of literature that is found in Revelation. Typical apocalyptic literature used many symbols and is presented in the form of fantasy rather than reality (Fee, 233). This fantasy rather than reality is where much of the trouble in interpreting the book of Revelation is found. What is to be taken as symbols and what is to be taken literally? The trouble is that in many of these cases the Scripture itself does not tell us what is symbolic and what is not. Here is actually where most of the disagreement is found.
A quick read through Revelation reveals a basic outline. The book starts with an introduction followed by a message to the seven churches of that time, which are actually the recipients of John’s letter. In Chapters 4 and 5, the book moves into a view of heaven and of Christ. In Chapter 6-22, we see the drama unfold as Christ, the only one fit to open the seals, begins to pour his wrath upon the earth and the wickedness found in it. The book closes at the end of chapter 22 with the angel giving John some basic instructions not to seal up the book because “blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev.22:7).
Whether John was writing about the past, present or the future, further complicates the interpretation of this book. There are three different understandings regarding this. First, according to J. Vernon McGee, we have the preterist view, which holds that everything John was writing about had already taken place when it was written. It was recent Church history written in symbols to encourage the Church at that time” (Mcgee, 13). The next view is the historical interpretation. This is the view, “that the fulfillment of Revelation is going on continuously in the history of the church from John’s day to the present time” (14). The third interpretation is called futurist. This is view most commonly held by premillennialists, which sees the book of Revelation as prophetic. The book is describing what will take place in the future (14).
Reading through the book of Revelation it will be difficult to fit the entire book into one of these categories. It seems pretty hard to fit chapters 21 and 22, which deal with the new earth, into a preterist understanding. It also seems hard to place chapter 12, which seems to be speaking about Christ’s birth into the futurist view. Understanding whether the fulfillment of John’s Revelation has already taken place, is taking place currently, or will take place at the end times is probably one of the most difficult aspects of the book to uncover.
The millennium seems to be found after the second coming, which is written about in chapter 19, in which Christ returns and the beast is destroyed. Moving into chapter 20, the chronology seems to flow to the dragon or Satan who controlled the beast. The dragon is then bound and cast into the bottomless pit. Those who did not take the mark of the beast during the struggle will be resurrected first and rule with Christ for a thousand years after which will be the second resurrection of the saints and the final judgment. This is where we find the “million-dollar question:” what, when, and where is the millennial reign?
III. Arguments for and against the different views of the millennium
Postmillennialists and amilliennialists tend to use many of the same objections against the premillennial interpretation. The following objections can be found in Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. Hodge lists eight objections, many with subcategories, but due to the length of this paper only a few will be dealt with briefly. The majority of the objections against the premillennial view deal with its inconsistency with the rest of Scripture. Post- and amillennialists tend to hold tightly to the idea that Scripture is its own best interpreter. One of Hodge’s main objections is that the premillennial theory is inconsistent with Scripture, because “the Bible teaches that when Christ comes all nations shall appear at his bar for judgment. This theory teaches that the final judgment will not occur until after the millennium” (Hodge, 862). Another reason that Hodge believes this position is inconsistent with Scripture is that “the Scriptures teach when Christ comes the second time without sin unto salvation, then the Church shall enter on its everlasting state of exaltation and glory.” The inconsistency is that according to the premillennial position, “instead of heaven awaiting the risen saints, they are to be introduced into a mere worldly kingdom” (863).
Another objection that postmillennialists make against the premillennialist’s theory is that “it disparages the Gospel” (864). Since the postmillennialists believe that eventually the Gospel will spread across the globe and usher in an era of peace, because the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” (Rom. 1:16) and against the church “the gates of hell will not prevail” (Mat. 16:18). The premillennial view says the gospel will fail to usher in this time of peace. To the postmillennialist, this idea seems to weaken the power of the gospel to change the world.
The premillennial position also has its list of objections to the other positions. The main objection that is usually brought up is that the other positions do not take Scripture literally enough. Revelation says that there will be a thousand year reign which will follow the second coming. The other positions tend to symbolize too much. Of course, the common response to this argument is that the other positions do take the Bible literally, and when symbolism is used, they take what that symbol represents literally. The premillennialists in this instance see no indication that the millennium is a symbol.
One of the strongest arguments against the amillennial view is that if we are in the millennium now, then Satan is currently bound. This is where the premillennialists argue that this positions is inconsistent with Scripture, because Satan, according to Scripture “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). This does not appear to be someone who is bound in a bottomless pit! Not to mention that the passage says he will be unbound in the last days. If it was Christ’s death that bound him and rules in our hearts, as the amillenniallists argue, does that mean that the power of Christ’s death will be undone when he is loosed?
In the book Hard Sayings of the Bible, Walter Kaiser presents three purposes for the millennium. Two of which seem the strongest. “First, it demonstrates the victory of Christ, [and] second, it vindicates the righteous rule of God, redeeming history. Is it possible that God could not rule this earth any better than human beings” (Kaiser, 779). Dispensationalists also see it as the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament, which as they claim have not yet been fulfilled.
One of the amillennialists strongest arguments against the postmillennialist position is the parable of the wheat and tares found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. In this parable, Jesus paints a picture of believers and non-believers growing up in the world together, one in which they will not be separated until the day of the Lord. They believe this shows us that the church will not overtake the world, but will grow alongside of the world.
In conclusion, it seems that the way a person interprets the millennium is directly related to how they see the outline of Revelation. Is it a chronological flow of events as the dispensational premillennialists suggest it is, or are some of the visions that John sees out of order and somewhat concurrent as they portray many of the same periods of time in different ways? For example, David Chilton, in his book The Days of Vengeance, sees chapters 19, 20, and 21 as a series of seven independent visions. Speaking of the binding of Satan, he states, “The importance of the imagery in this passage is heightened by its centrality as the fourth of seven visions introduced by the expression ‘and I saw’” (Rev. 19:11, 17,19; 20:4, 11; 21:1) (Chilton, 499). Viewing the breakdown of Revelation this way makes it easier to see the millennium as not following the second coming.
Understanding apocalyptic literature, it may actually be that John through his writing of Revelation was not intending to give us a full understanding of how the end times will unfold. It seems that its main purpose was to encourage the Church through the persecution it will face, by realizing that in spite of anything we face, all struggles will eventually be solved by the coming of Christ. As believers, we should seek to live our lives with Christ as our perfect example. If the day comes when Christianity becomes the dominant religion of the world, as the postmillennialists say, then we will enjoy peace ushered in by the gospel. If that time does not come and there is no real millennium as the amillennialists say, then we have done our job and fought for what is right and the final judgment will set things straight. If there is an actual millenium after Christ returns, it will be a time when the saints who are there will enjoy reigning with Christ. But for us who are not living in that time period, our job is still to be salt and light, regardless of the fact that the Church will never become dominant in this world. I says this because it seems that some of the dispensationalists view the end times as only getting worse, believing that the church should merely huddle in a corner until it is all over because there is no hope of any significant reformation and revival. This goes directly against what Scripture has called us to do.
After reading so many sources on this topic, I find myself holding loosely to historical premillennialism also known as non-dispensational premillennialism. The reason for my gravitation to this point of view is influenced by many factors, but most importantly by my understanding of the book of Revelation itself, even though I believe some passages like, chapter 12 seem to be preterist passages, and many others are historical. It seems that many of the passages that John writes, especially in chapters 19-22, are prophecies of the future, because this is how John actually starts the book. He states that the Revelation is of things “which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1). Seeing these passages as eschatological, they seem to follow a forward moving chronology except for a few interludes. Having both of these in place leads me to see the millenium as taking place after the second coming. As to whether the millenium is an actual thousand years, I am not certain.
At this point, I would not rule out the other views. I would be what Herschel Hobbs in his book Revelation: Three Views, calls a “pre without a program” (Hobbs, 136). By this he means someone without a detailed layout of how the end times will unfold. It seems to me that there are things about the last days that we know with certainty and it is these truths that bring us hope. The book of Revelation encourages us to hold firm regardless of any persecution we may face, because Christ is coming to judge. The Apostles Creed tells us, “[Jesus Christ] ascended into heaven. And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Because of this certain knowledge there is no further explanation that is really needed. It is with this simple truth that we can take courage and move forward proclaiming the gospel to all nations.
Alexander, David, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)
Chilton, David, The Days of Vengeance an Exposition of the Book of Revelation, (Dominion Press, 1987)
Fee, Gordon, How to read the Bible for All Its Worth, (Zondervan, Second Edition 1993)
Hobbs, Herschel, Revelation: Three Viewpoints, (Broadman Press, 1977)
Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1872)
Kaiser, Walter, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (InterVarsity Press, 1996)
McGee, J. Vernon, Revelation Volume 3, (Thru the Bible Books, 1979)
Mounce, Robert H., The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Book of Revelation, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977)
Virkler, Henry A., Hermeneutics, Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, (Baker Books, 1981)
Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.
Notice that the whole of God’s people was that of Jacob’s Children (Children of Israel). At the end of chapter 2 we read, “…and God remembered his covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” We know that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Thus, we conclude, according to the precedent set so far in Scripture, that God is dealing with the Hebrew people covenantally. It is interesting to note that God doesn’t make a distinction bewteen the righteous children of Jacob and the unrighteous children. Rather, he refers to all of Jacob’s descendants. This, no doubt would include both believers and unbelievers, and yet God calls them all his people.
This has been historically understood in different ways. We will look at 3 such ways, and I will offer a dissenting opinion concerning the first (Dispensational). The remaining two (Reformed Paedobaptist and Reformed Baptist) are very much alike, with some differing views concerning the inclusion of infants in the Covenant (amongst others). Because debates between these two tend to polarize I will avoid critiques of them, because I simply want this to be an informative post and not one of polemics. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for such debate, but not here and not now.
1) Dispensational Understanding-Just as there are multipe shades and stripes of Baptists, Presbyterians, etc., there are multiple types of dispensationalists. Some are referred to as classical, some as progressive, and at least one I know refers to himself as a leaky dispensationalist (the last not being an official class of dispensationalism, but I would describe it as dispensational only in the context of eschatology).
The Dispensationalist would tend to recognize this as merely a physical identification of God’s people, because, according to them, the covenant is merely that of a land promise, etc. The Dispensational hermeneutic would say that there is little to no continuity between how God worked with Israel and how He works with the Church, resulting in an erroneous “two peoples of God” theology. Though most would say that the Hebrews were saved through justification by faith alone just like any other Christian, this would cause them to downplay, in my humble opinion, the role of God’s covenantal dealings with the nation. God’s covenant made with Abraham is more than just a land promise, and is called an everlasting covenant.
2) Reformed Paedobaptist Understanding-There are multiple denominations which represent this view. Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Dutch Reformed, Anglican Reformed, etc. There may be varying distinction in degree of emphasis, but are all very similar in regard to covenant.
The Reformed Paedobaptist would say that God’s covenantal dealings with Israel, as based on the Abrahamic covenant, have both eternal and temporary aspects. They would recognize a more strict continuity between God’s dealings in the Old Covenant and His dealings in the New Covenant. In fact, the Reformed Paedobaptist would make the case that the New Covenant is much more expansive than the Old Covenant, in that not only are believers and their children in covenant with God from the Hebrew nation, but there is a more thorough inception of Gentile believers and their children equated into the mix as well.
This is where the Reformed Paedobaptist would distinguish between what has been called the “visible” church, and the “invisible” church (Along these same lines is the idea of the external/internal aspects of the covenant). From their perspective, those adults who repent and believe are baptized, they and their children, and then are all a part of the visible church. However, no man can know a person’s heart, thus they can’t know beyond a doubt that a man is or is not a part of the invisible church. That being said, this means that the invisible church are those who have been elected by God, before the foundation of the world, and who have been irresistibly drawn, effectually called, justified, and are being sanctified until glory. This is how, they say, God could call the whole of Israel his people, yet knowing that many of them ultimately broke covenant. They would say that, likewise, in the New Covenant, there will be those who profess Christ, but do not possess him. These are those to whom the warning passages are directed (Hebrews 6, 10, elsewhere), and many of whom are rooted out by means of church discipline, etc. (The warning passages are also directed to genuine Christians who are in need of repentance)
3) Reformed Baptist Understanding-There are also various shades of Baptists in this camp. Some would be Covenantal, some New Covenant Theologians, and still others may be a cross between, maybe more associated with the Continental Reformed concerning things such as the Sabbath, etc. I will be presenting the thoughts of the Covenantal Baptist camp.
The Reformed Baptist would say, along with the Reformed Paedobaptist, that God’s covenantal dealings with Israel, as based on His covenant made with Abraham, have both eternal and temporary aspects. They would, however, stop short of the strict continuity that Reformed Paedobaptists see between the Old and New Covenants. The contention of the Reformed Baptists is that the term “New” in the “New Covenant” means “brand new”. Alluding to passages such as Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8, the Reformed Baptist says in the New Covenant, all will know God, from the greatest to the least of them, whereas the Reformed Paedobaptist will see an “already/not yet” aspect to the aforementioned passages. Thus, to the Reformed Baptist, the status quo is no longer believers and their children being in covenant with God, but to the individual man, woman, boy, or girl who is confronted with the gospel to believe, repent, and be baptized. According to the Reformed Baptist, a man should only be baptized after having professed faith in Christ.
The Reformed Baptist, though not using terminology like “visible/invisible” church (although the 1689 does make mention of invisible church consisting of visible saints), has an underlying doctrine which basically states essentially the same idea as the Reformed Paedobaptist. In other words, Reformed Baptists understand a distinction between those who merely profess Christ and those who actually possess Christ. A baptism is performed on those who give a “credible profession of faith”, and in time this profession is shown to be true for a person who follows the Scripture and bears the fruit of the Spirit. For the man who does not live a godly life, yet professes Christ, he is subject to church discipline. The Reformed Baptist will follow the various stages of Discipline (Matt 18, etc) in hopes that the professing believer will repent and be restored to the fellowship of Christians. If such a professor fails to do so, then he will be considered and treated as an unbeliever, and according to 1 John 3, his actions are showing him as having never having been truly saved in the first place. Thus, the various warning passages in Scripture (Heb 6, 10, etc.) are directed to such a person for the purpose of having them “examine themselves to see whether [they] be in the faith.”
The preceding descriptions are not intended to be exhaustive, nor are they the only views out there. However, I think they are the most prominent views.
Many times when a dispensationalist and covenantal theologian get together there can tend to be a bit of a confusing discussion that takes place around the term dispensations. The dispensationalist will say something like, “the idea of dispensations is in the scripture, how can you deny this?” The covenantal theologian will say something like, “we believe in dispensations, the idea of the old and new covenant is quite clear in scripture.” At this point the discussion will tend to get a bit sloppy unless the term dispensation is defined.The term dispensation for the dispensationalists carries with it the meaning of “economy” or “house rules” by which God tests mankind. To the dispensationalist there are usually seven dispensations.
1. The Dispensation of Innocence. (From Creation to Adam’s fall)
2. The Dispensation of Conscience and Sacrifice. (fall of man until the flood)
3. The Dispensation of Human Government. (flood until the tower of Babel)
4. The Dispensation of Promises. (Babel until Moses)
5. The Dispensation of Law. (From Moses until Pentecost)
6. The Dispensation of Grace Abounding. (Pentecost until the rapture)
7. The Dispensation of The Kingdom. (the thousand year millennium)
In each of these dispensations God has different rules by which men are to live. The focus in all of this for the dispensationalist is the focus on the rules or laws set forth to test mankind. It looks at the different ways in which God expects men to live in each period.
For the Covenantal theologian (also known as Federal theology), the focus is the progressive revelation of the covenant of grace. Normally, as with Berkhoff and Charles Hodge, the dispensations are primarily broken down into the old covenant and the new covenant. But both theologians agree that the old covenant can be broken down into sub-divisions, as God reveals in different stages the covenant of Grace that he has made to save his people. Charles Hodge subdivides the old covenant into three different dispensations.
1. Adam to Abraham – the covenant is revealed through the promised seed that would come from mankind.
2. Abraham to Moses – God reveals further the covenant of grace by selecting Abraham as the head of a people from which the seed will come, as this progresses there is a clearer understanding through the type with the near sacrifice of Isaac.
3. Moses to Christ – Through the moral law God is further revealing our need for the covenant of redemption and through the Levitical law we see many types and shadows of how God was going fulfill this covenant of Grace.
4. Christ – the fulfillment of the covenant and the mystery revealed. This is also known as the new covenant.
(Hodge, by the way, leaves out the Noahic dispensation which earlier covenantal theologians held.)
So what is the difference? The dispensationalist tends to look at the law (God’s house rules for living during different dispensations), and the Covenantal theologian tends to look at the progressive revelation of the Gospel. So when both say they believe in dispensations they are focused on slightly different things.