Amillennialism

amillenarianism. A particular interpretation of Revelation 20. The premillennialist maintains this chapter teaches a thousand-year reign of Christ after His second advent, the postmillennialist before the second advent, while the amillennialist denies such a thousand-year reign: he stresses that the Apocalypse normally treats numbers symbolically. The binding of Satan for a thousand years simply means that he is completely bound; this has been effected through the victory of Calvary. Some amillennialists hold the expression to refer to the Church's rest from spiritual conflict beyond death. Most apply it, however, to her present victory over Satan in Christ crucified and exalted. Many Reformed and Lutheran theologians hold this view, and elements of it can be traced in Augustine.


AMILLENNIALISM

Among those who believe the Bible teaching that Jesus Christ is coming again, in a second coming at the end of this age, there are three views of the events which are to precede and/or follow His return.

Postmillennialism.

Those holding this view believe that the world will get better and better until practically the whole world will be converted, and then for a thousand years of righteousness on earth sin will be largely vanquished. At the end of this thousand years, Christ will come again for the final judgment and the resurrection of all men, followed by the eternal kingdom of God. This view is not widely held by evangelical scholars today. The most scholarly defense of recent years is The Millennium, by Loraine Boettner (1958).

Premillennialism.

There are two main groups of those who hold to premillennialism.

Historic premillennialism.

Those who hold to this view believe that the world will not be converted before the Second Coming of Christ, but that Christ may come at any time after the fulfillment of certain prophecies. It is held that only the righteous dead will be resurrected at that time, the judgment of the sheep and the goats will occur (Matt 25:31-46), and a thousand year period of the Millennium will follow with Christ reigning on earth in Jerusalem. During that period Satan is to be bound, but at the close of the thousand years he is to be loosed to gather the living wicked in the final battle against the believers. After Christ defeats them, the resurrection of the wicked is said to occur, and the judgment of the great white throne (Rev 20:11) will take place, followed by the eternal kingdom of God.

Pretribulationism.

This second view differs from historic premillennialism in that it is said that Christ may come at any time for His saints in a rapture which is secret, followed by the great tribulation on earth. After seven years Christ will come publicly with His saints for the judgment of the sheep and the goats. The rest of the events will follow the view of historic premillennialism.

Amillennialism.

This third view is that Christ’s millennial kingdom extends from His Resurrection from the tomb to the time of His Second Coming on the clouds at the end of this age, when He comes to an unconverted world to judge the living and the dead in one great resurrection of the righteous and the wicked. The judgment of the sheep and the goats and the great white throne judgment are identical, followed by the eternal kingdom of God. The millennial kingdom of Christ is therefore now, both in heaven and on earth. On earth, Christ’s kingdom “is not of this world,” but He reigns esp. in the hearts of His people on earth, and in heaven over the hosts of the redeemed and His holy angels for a “thousand years,” the perfect, complete time between the two comings of Christ. It is held that the “binding of Satan” for the thousand years (Rev 20:2) took place, either during His earthly ministry (Matt 12:29) or at His Resurrection from the dead, and that it particularly concerns the inability of Satan to deceive the nations nationally (Rev 20:2, 3) as he did before the first coming of Christ. At the end of this present age, Satan is to be released from that restriction for a time, and he will again be permitted to deceive the nations for a short period, until Christ comes down and defeats him at the battle of Armageddon (Rev 19:19; 20:8).

Meanwhile, the souls of believers who have died live and reign with Christ in heaven (Rev 6:9; 14:13; 20:4). The judgments all take place at the time of the Second Coming of Christ, when the believers, dead and living, are raptured to meet Christ in the air (1 Thess 4:17), and all appear before His judgment seat (Rom 14:10).

Perhaps the best picture of the one great judgment is found in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10: “And to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that...obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints” (ASV). This clearly declares that the final judgment occurs at the time of His Second Coming, not 1000 years later.

Jewish beliefs about the kingdom.

The Jews of the time of Christ expected an earthly kingdom of the Messiah, much as the premillennialists expect today. Christ clearly taught, however, that after living believers die, they will neither marry (and of course not have children) nor die again, but will be like the angels in heaven (Luke 20:27-36). That is contrary to the teaching of the premillennialists, who hold that during an earthly millennium believers will marry, have children, and die.

The judgment of the sheep and the goats.

The premillennialists teach that the judgment of the sheep and the goats takes place at the beginning of the alleged earthly Millennium, but Christ taught that the living wicked at that time will be sent to eternal punishment, (Matt 25:46), while the living believers enter at once into glory (25:46), and will not marry, nor have children, nor die after that judgment (Luke 20:27-36). According to their teaching, the wicked dead will not be raised until after a thousand years, so there would be no source from which Satan could gather the wicked at the final battle (Rev 20:8, 9). This fact clearly shows that the battle of Revelation 20:7-9 must take place before the Second Coming and is, therefore, identical with the battle of Armageddon (19:19ff.).

The binding of Satan.

The binding of Satan (to prevent his deceiving the nations in the interadventual period) is described in Matthew 12:22-29. Here Jesus says that He cast out demons because He had bound the strong man (Satan). The Pharisees had said that He cast out demons because He had the power of Beelzebub (v. 24), and Jesus then pointed out that if that were the case, Satan’s kingdom could not stand (v. 26). Probably the consummation of the binding did not occur until the Resurrection of Christ, but Christ could act during the closing period of His ministry as though it had already taken place, since God does not change His mind or His plans.

The parable of the wheat and the tares.

The parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt 13:24-30) was interpreted by Jesus to His disciples (13:36ff.). He said that His kingdom was in the world. The good seeds were the children of the kingdom. The darnel, the weeds, were the children of the evil one (Satan). They were to be left together until the judgment at the end of this age, and the weeds (the children of the devil) were to be gathered before the wheat (the children of the kingdom) was gathered into the barn (the eternal kingdom of God.) Thus Jesus taught that the Rapture of believers would not occur until the children of the devil were all gathered into eternal punishment at the time of the final judgment (v. 30). Christ’s kingdom is clearly to precede the Rapture. The kingdom which follows is the eternal kingdom of God.

Interpretation of OT prophecies.

One of the principal areas of difference in the interpretation concerns the prophecies in the OT. The premillennialists insist that unless the language is clearly fig., as in Isaiah 55:12: “The mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands,” all prophecies must be interpreted literally. They do not believe that many of the prophecies must be interpreted symbolically. They insist that the prophecies of the Messiah sitting on the throne of David demand that a time is coming when the throne of David must be reestablished in Jerusalem, with the Messiah reigning on an earthly throne over the Jews for a thousand years.

a. Prophecies about restoration of Israel. This also pertains to the prophecies about the restoration of Israel and the temple worship in Jerusalem. They point to the restoration of the nation of Israel at the present time as an indication that the Second Coming and the Millennium of a thousand years of the reign of Christ in Jerusalem is in the immediate future.

The great difficulty with the view that an earthly Messianic kingdom, with Christ reigning on an earthly throne in Jerusalem, is to be established for a thousand years is that absurd conclusions must be reached from those prophecies unless they are interpreted symbolically.

b. The Ezekiel Temple prophecies. The restoration of the Temple and the whole sacrificial system is prophesied in Ezekiel 40ff. This would apparently make the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross null and void. The priesthood would be restored and the duties of the priests reëstablished, including the teaching of the distinctions between the clean and unclean foods. Most incongruous of all, the priests would prepare the sacrifice for the prince (who would be the Messiah), as though the sinless Son of God would need a sacrifice! In fact, the many features of the ceremonial law of Moses would be restored, including the circumcision of all the men who enter the sanctuary! “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary” (Ezek 44:9).

The epistle to the Galatians was written by Paul to prove that circumcision was no longer necessary for Gentile Christians, while this interpretation of Ezekiel would directly contradict the teaching of Galatians! This alone should be sufficient to prove that the literal interpretation of the Ezekiel prophecies is not the correct method of interpretation.

The whole problem of the interpretation of the Ezekiel Temple prophecies is cleared up if we realize that these prophecies in the last eight chapters of Ezekiel are symbolical. God wanted the prophet to teach the truth that the ideal spiritual relationship between God and man is a relationship in which everything centers around the spiritual worship of the sovereign God! Since in the OT dispensation the only way man could approach God in worship was through the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Mosaic law, the ideal worship of God at the center of all national and personal relations had to be pictured in terms of the ceremonial law of Moses. That was the only way the people could have understood the theocentric worship which God demanded of man.

Treated symbolically, these last chs. of Ezekiel have a tremendous message for Christian people of today. The worship of God must be at the center of human society (represented in Ezekiel by the city); human government (represented in Ezekiel by the prince); ecclesiastical organization (represented in Ezekiel by the priests and Levites); and at the center of the worship of individuals themselves. The sovereignty of the triune God should be the center of all life, thought, and action, both public and private. The ideal life is discussed in Ezekiel in symbolic terms of the Temple and the nation, pointing out that all the realms must be subordinated to the worship of the sovereign triune God. The sovereignty of God over all realms of life is the ideal of the earthly phase of the kingdom of God. The amillennialist believes that this is the message of these last chs. of Ezekiel, not the restoration of an earthly Jewish temple and nation with the whole Mosaic ceremonial law in a millennial kingdom in Pal. in the future.

The rod of iron rule of Christ.

One of the cardinal features of the premillennial system of interpretation is that when Christ comes and establishes a millennial kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem, He will “rule over the nations with a rod of iron.” It teaches that during the alleged Millennium the nations will be composed of rebellious people who will be kept from making war on each other by the stern, forceful iron rod rule of the reigning Christ. This idea is derived from the KJV tr. of Revelation 2:27; 12:5; and 19:15. All three passages are apparently quotations from the LXX tr. of Psalm 2:9. The Heb. text of this v. reads: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The difference between the LXX tr. and the Heb. text is that the words “break” and “rule” have the same consonants but different vowel points. The vowel points are not inspired but were added to the text in about a.d. 900, so there is liberty to choose either “break” or “rule.”

In the Revelation passages the Gr. word is poimaino, which may be tr. “act the part of a shepherd with a rod of iron.” The OT shepherd in Pal. had two rods: a shepherd’s crook to guide the sheep, and an iron-studded club for the protection of the sheep from wild animals. Shepherding the sheep would thus be killing the enemies of the sheep with the rod of iron.

Instead of the shepherd using the rod of iron to make the sheep obey him, he would use the rod of iron to protect them from the wild animals. What these passages mean, then, is that when Christ comes again He will destroy all our enemies “with the rod of iron.” There is, therefore, no indication that any wicked people will be left on earth after His Second Coming. If there were a millennium after His Second Coming, there would be no wicked people for Satan to gather at the end of that age to make war on the saints (Christians).

The interpretation of Revelation 20.

The principal NT basis for the belief in a thousand year millennial reign of Christ on earth after His Second Coming is in the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20, the only place in the Bible where the thousand year reign on earth is mentioned. Is that ch. to be interpreted literally as teaching that there is such a reign on earth after Christ’s Second Coming? Or is there an indication that the thousand year reign precedes the Second Coming?

a. The logical outline of Revelation. The most logical outline of the Revelation would divide the book into seven sections which picture the present age in symbolic language. But instead of being successive sections, each of the seven sections seems to be describing the present age from different aspects, the seven all dealing with the same time period, the period from the Resurrection of Christ to the final judgment. The last period actually goes beyond the present age into the eternal age, though beginning at the first coming. The reason the Book of the Revelation has always seemed so difficult to interpret is that Christians have failed to notice two things: (1) that the whole book is symbolic, and (2) that each section covers the same time period, namely from the first coming of Christ to the end of time.

b. The seventh section of the Revelation. From this point of view, then, the seventh section covers the whole present age. It begins with a symbolic picture of the binding of Satan. Satan is a spirit and could not be bound by a literal chain of iron or brass or any other metal. It clearly must refer to the limitation of the power of Satan in some way. That way is described in Revelation 20:3: “that he should deceive the nations no more” until just before the end of this present age, when his power to deceive the nations is restored for a little time. It is not said that he will not be able to tempt people, and assuredly he does. He is to be prevented from national deception of the nations. Before the coming of Christ the nations of the world were all in the darkness of heathenism, under the control of the deceptive powers of the devil, as nations. At the coming of Christ the nations “saw a great light.” From that time onward the light of the Gospel began to spread over the whole world. Most people do not realize how widespread the Gospel was during the 1st and 2nd centuries, after Christ.

c. The \"souls\" of Revelation 20:4. These souls reigning with Christ a thousand years cannot be in human bodies, for they were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and did not worship the beast. The amillennialist believes that those disembodied souls reign with Christ for the thousand years. Where? In heaven. But is their reign limited to only a literal thousand years? No. The thousand years is the symbolic period between the two comings of Christ.

d. The \"first\" resurrection (Rev 20:5). The first resurrection is the spiritual resurrection of the souls dead in sins at the time of their new birth. In John 5:24, 25 this spiritual resurrection from sin is contrasted with the bodily resurrection in 5:28. This is mentioned also in Ephesians 2:4-6; 5:14; Colossians 2:12. The first resurrection is the spiritual resurrection of the soul which had been dead in sins, and the second resurrection is the resurrection of the body. The first death is the death of the body, and the second death is spiritual—eternal punishment.

e. The \"loosing\" of Satan (Rev 20:7). The loosing of Satan, at the close of this present age, refers to the national deception which besets the worldly nations of the earth just before the end of this age. Suddenly the non-Christian nations will reject all gospel missionaries and all gospel preaching at the instigation of Satan, and they will all be gathered in the final assault against the living Christians. Then Christ will come in the clouds and send fire from heaven to destroy them all, followed by the judgment of the great white throne, which is identical with the judgment of the sheep and the goats of Matthew 25, and also with the judgment of 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

At about the same time the general resurrection of the bodies of all men will take place; the righteous will be raptured and their bodies will be made like the glorified body of Christ. The wicked unbelievers will all be sent into eternal punishment, while the believers in Christ and all God’s elect of all history will enter eternal life in the eternal kingdom of God, which will be established in the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Postmillennialism.

It is hardly necessary to discuss at any length postmillennialism, as it is not accepted widely among evangelical circles today. The statistics of the proportion of Christians to non-Christians in the world today is certainly discouraging to those who think the world is getting better and better all the time. The world population is increasing far faster than the evangelization of the world is increasing. Even though some people claim that society is being permeated with Christian ideals, that in no way means that the people of the world are becoming Christians.

In his book, Postmillennialism, Dr. Loraine Boettner states: “Of a total world population of about two and one-half billion there are approximately 800,000,000 Christians.” Obviously he is including all who claim the name of “Christian.” Were his figures to be accepted, the fact remains that the population of the non-Christian world is increasing at a much faster rate than is the population of Christians. To point to such facts as Dr. Boettner quotes as an argument that the world is getting better and better and will ultimately end in an earthly millennium is to be unrealistic, to say the least. Most of the OT prophecies, such as Habakkuk 2:14, do not point to a time when the world will be converted, but only to a time when the knowledge of God will be universal. The knowledge of God is now universal among the followers of Satan in hell, but that does not mean that they are Christians. Doubtless some of the passages that look forward to a righteous world will be fulfilled in the eternal kingdom of God after the world can hardly be expected to become even nominally Christian, unless God intervenes in a miraculous way, which of course He could do if Scripture is decidedly against the postmillennial interpretation of the prophecies.

Bibliography

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