Lecture 25: The Doctrine of Last Things (part 1)
Course: Systematic Theology II
Lecture: The Doctrine of Last Things
I. The Meaning of the term “Eschatology”
It means words about “logos” and “eschatos.” It means words about last things and what comes last. In scripture this is used, as you probably know, as the notion of what comes last. Think of the prophets, “in the last days.” “I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind.” So there is sense of which we are in the last days. If you understand the concept of “already, not yet” as we talked about earlier, how would you answer the question, “Has the Kingdom come?” Don’t you see how you have to answer that “yes” and “no?” Is the New Covenant fulfilled? Yes and no. This “already, not yet” concept just begs to be brought to the data of scripture when we deal with eschatology. There is a sense that we are in the last times.
I think often of this phrase that is found in Hebrews 6. One of ways in which the writer to the Hebrews indicates what this person has received who has now rejected Christ, (my purpose is not to deal with this passage per se, but rather to note what he says here) - in verse 4 he says, “in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift, been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, have tasted the good word of God”,….now catch this last phrase….”and the powers of the age to come.” The powers of the age to come are here now. And so there is a sense in which we are in the last days. The Holy Spirit is come; that Holy Spirit of whom the prophets said in the last days I will pour out my Spirit.
So guess what? We are in the last days and they have come. The power of the age to come has come, and yet, not all of it has been fulfilled. There’s the “no” part of it; the “not yet” part of it. Has the Kingdom come? Yes and no. Goodness, Christ isn’t reigning over the nations in the way that scripture speaks of this. He hasn’t brought in righteousness to all of the world as scripture indicates and one day He will. There is a “not yet” that we anxiously await. In fact, as Romans 8 makes clear, having received the first fruits of the Spirit, we groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons; the redemption of our bodies. The “already,” as wonderful as it is, simply aggravates our longing for the “not yet.” Isn’t that true? That getting a taste of the goodness of the Kingdom makes you want the Kingdom in its fullness to come? Getting a taste of the Holy Spirit makes you want the fullness.
So, when we study eschatology here, we are dealing primarily with what is yet to come, recognizing that we are in an age in which the “already” has come but we are focusing on the “not yet.” So really, it’s an answer to the question, “What is yet to happen that scripture speaks of that has not been fulfilled. What of scripture’s prophecy of the last days has not now been fulfilled but we await?”
A. The Value of Studying Eschatology: Understanding God’s Cosmic Purposes====
We are to realize that there is genuinely a plan behind everything that is happening as opposed to random, accidental happenings. Here we are, thrown into the midst of this chaos and who knows if it serves any purpose or not. What a despairing way to live! Even Open Theism – I have written another little book that should come out mid-summer entitled Their god is Too Small – a Lay-Level Critique of Open Theism. It will be about 100 pages filled with stories and illustrations. The main thing I wanted to try to get across in this book is the despair that is endemic in the open view where God hopes, just like we do, that things will work out the best He can do it in the future, but He does not know. He does not know. He cannot know whether His purpose will be accomplished or not. He gets foiled. The fact of the matter is that lots of things don’t work out the way He hopes to and the like.
Well, this is not the case. The God of Bible knows the end from the beginning. He knows the days of your life before there is one of them. He’s not taken by surprise and predicts for us exactly for us what he will do to bring history to its consummation. It gives us hope to understand that God has purposes – good purposes – wise purposes - and that He’s in charge - that they will be fulfilled. You can accept all kinds of mess in life if you know that after this, then comes the end when God’s purposes have been fulfilled entirely and you enter in the fullness, which then provides for endurance in this life, doesn’t it?
Endurance. Perseverance. You despair when you think, “What’s the point?” You endure when you think there is a point. You endure when you know the side you are on is going to win. You despair when the side you are on really has no hope of pulling this off. So God wants us to endure, and in part to endure because we know we are on His team and will win as He wins.
Eschatology has another value of helping us reassess our values, because we realize the transitory nature of this life. So much of what we occupy ourselves with here will not last. It will burn; it really will. We ought to meditate on this often. It helps you hold anything you have in this life with an open hand instead of clutching on to material possessions; clutching on to whatever it is that you think you need for meaning in life. You realize that it’s going to end. It enables you to open up your hand and let God be God with everything in your life. Family included. Let goods and kindred go. You know what kindred are. Wife and kids. Goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever. That gives you a whole new way to assess what matters in life.
B. Motivation for Holiness
– because you realize that the ultimate goal for you and me eschatologically, as stated in Ephesians 1:4, is that He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him. Or Romans 8:29 – Whom He foreknew He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. So you realize the goal is to live before Him holy – to live before Him conformed to the image of Christ. You ask yourself the question, “Am I living now in a way that serves that purpose? Is my life here and now moving in that direction?” If you have the view, it doesn’t matter how you live here. When you’re there, everything will be set straight. You are living with a very dangerous conception because scripture encourages us to think in terms of re-orienting our life here to match what we are to be there – what we will be there - using the future, in a sense, as a tool to recast the present.
There’s a little song – how does it go – that eternity’s values in view, dear Lord….. The point of it is (I can’t remember the lyrics) is that I will live my life here and choose the things that I do within eternity’s values in view, thinking what will last and matters forever.
C. Motivation for Witness
Motivation for Witness certainly comes from a study of eschatology. I’m sure one of the reasons that the church is less oriented towards evangelism today is because the church (25-30 years ago) went through this eschatology craze. And it really was crazy with so much speculation about the timing of the second coming of Christ and the rapture – matching Bible with the newspaper. It was really nutty. One thing about that time period is that people were far more aware of the immanency of the return of Christ and what was at stake for people in this life in regard to the life to come. I just know that there was more evangelism that was instinctive because people were thinking eschatology.
Because we gave that up – because it was nutty – Hal Lindsey and all that stuff, we kind of threw all that stuff out, who hears sermons on eschatology? Where are the prophecy conferences? That used to be huge out there. So we gave that up. It’s the pendulum principle. It was excessive and weird. We gave this up and the pendulum swung over here and we don’t talk about it any more. Where is heaven and hell in people’s minds? The answer is: Way back in the recesses; tucked away; covered over with lots of other things.
Eschatology brings to front and center the ultimate destiny of people. You all know C.S. Lewis’s sermon “The Weight of Glory.” He says in this sermon that there are no ordinary people. If you have never read this, you really owe yourself the pleasure of reading this. It’s not an exegetical sermon, but it’s a great conceptual, theological sermon. He says in this sermon that there are no ordinary people. Everyone you meet is either - then he describes these two kinds of people - one is pictured in heaven and the other is pictured in hell where our destinies will take us, to one or the either place. You either meet a person now which, who if you could see them now as they one day will be in heaven, you would fall on your face before this person because the splendor and the glory and the radiance would be so majestic that you would think you were in presence of a god. Or – you would be looking at someone so hideous, so misshapen, so deformed, so repulsive that you could not imagine in your worst of nightmares. There are no ordinary people. What enables you to see that about people? Their glory in heaven and their deformity in hell? Eschatology. It really needs to be far more front and center in our thinking.
D. Motivation for Worship
Motivation for Worship: There is great motivation for worship of the God who brings all things to consummation and accomplishes His purposes without fail to the glory of His name. You fall before this God and worship. This is Revelation 4 and 5, isn’t it? This is the God who reigns over history, who consummates history, who fulfills all of His purposes in history, and is Lord over all. This is the one who is worthy of worship. The god who is diminished and not glorious is the one who we are not sure if he is going to make it or not. What glory is there in this – with a god that says “oops?” Oh no! Not that! How often is this going to happen? How much will the end of life reflect “oops?” So, the God of the Bible is a God who is worthy of worship because He is a God who is sovereign over history.
II. Some of the Benefits
The first issue that we will look at is physical death and the intermediate state. I simply want to state at the beginning here that as we go from the Garden of Eden account of Genesis 2, God made clear in verses 16-17 that in the day that they would eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. This is confirmed by Paul in Romans 5:12 where he indicates that death came through one man as he sinned. Sin brings death.
In my own view, I think that both Genesis 2 and Romans 5 are talking specifically about human death. I don’t think that we can say there is no death of any kind until the sin in the Garden of Eden. They ate the fruit and the vegetables, didn’t they? When you harvest fruit, you take it from its source of life and a process of death ensues. It could just rot on the ground or you could eat it. Nonetheless, death of fruit and vegetables takes place just by the eating that takes place in the Garden of Eden. So I don’t think you can theologically that all death of every kind takes place because of sin. But clearly, Genesis 2 says to the man, the day that you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die. Paul says in Romans 5, death spread to all men. Why? Because of the one sin of Adam. So it is clear that human death takes place.
The second thing that scripture makes clear is that death is final in the sense that, as Hebrews 9:27 puts it, it is appointed unto man once to die, and then comes the judgment. There is no hope, if you want to think of it in that way, in the Bible for reincarnation (this is an Eastern view; it is not the Bible’s view). People who claim to be Christian and hold to reincarnation do not understand the teaching of the Bible. It’s that simple. The Bible has no hope for second chance. After physical death, maybe then people can be told about Christ and be saved. The name for that – does anyone know what that view is called? Post-mortem evangelism. Clark Pinnock holds this view. No surprise. Here’s another. Line them up with the list of innovations he has made to make his theology more acceptable.
The post-mortem evangelism view is that if people never had a really good chance here, God certainly will give them an opportunity before the judgment takes place after their death. Of course, when you think about it, if that’s the case that God is basically going to give everyone a chance at that point, and they’ve died, they know God is real. Christ is the one who preaches the gospel to them according to Pinnock. They know heaven and hell are at stake in this. That’s why he is so confident that there are very few who will be annihilated. Hell for him is annihilation. That’s another problem with Pinnock. You’ve got post-mortem evangelism and you’ve got hell being turned into annihilationism, but he’s confident that the vast majority of people will be saved, hence the wideness of God’s mercy.
Scripture does not give us any reason to think that post-mortem evangelism is true. For an example, look at Luke 16, where Jesus tells the story…..I don’t believe this is a parable, but it really doesn’t matter. If it is a parable, it’s a parable describing a reality, right? What is it a parable of? Well, I don’t think it’s a parable. I think he is telling a story. It may be a hypothetical story. I don’t know if he has in mind a specific person. Luke 16:19 – There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abrahams’ side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. (Hades meaning a place of fiery torment. This is clearly what it means in the New Testament – a place of burning is literally what Hades is). In this place of burning, he lifted up his eyes (being in torment) and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool m y tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame. Notice this – verse 25 – But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.
Sorry, C.S. Lewis. A moment ago I commended him for The Weight of Glory, but what about The Great Divorce? The busload that goes from hell to heaven and it’s possible that you can change places. He teaches that in his didactic writings, as well, in this analogy, this allegory that he uses in The Great Divorce. He really does believe that this is possible. Of course, he’s a consistent Arminian. I do respect him for this. He is consistent in his view that these people in hell still have free will. They could choose to bow before Christ, but they are rebels to the end and they just don’t want to – but they could. This text says – No! They cannot cross from here to there in either direction.
Here’s my point – Once you die, your destiny is set. (Student asks question.) In my mind this only makes it more sobering in that this is true in the period between physical death and the judgment. How much more true will it be when the second death takes place? Is there any reason to think that C.S. Lewis’ view of people now in hell (you are right – this is not hell – this is the intermediate state) can transfer over? Are you kidding? Look at statements like where the fire is not quenched, where the worm does not die and try to read into that “oh, but.” There is nothing that indicates that. Everything indicates the permanence and irreversibility of this state that we are in. (Student talks again). It varies. Some people say that only those who have never had a good opportunity. Others say that basically does all unsaved people - He gives them a second chance. It’s sometimes called Second-Chance Theology. And really, those who have never heard aren’t really given a second chance in that view.
(Another student question) Libertarian Freedom. Because, in Lewis’ view, (he’s a libertarian and I’m not)…I believe that libertarian freedom is wrong. It’s not biblical, it’s philosophically bankrupt and it’s wrong. He is committed to libertarian freedom. Therefore, why would people stay in hell when the glories of heaven are there before you and the anguish of hell is their own life? His only answer to that is they are stubborn in their refusal - they are self-centered rebels to the end. He uses this metaphor that the gates of hell are locked on the inside. It’s like your house. It’s like locking the doors of your house at night. You can go out because you have the power to unlock the door and go out, but nobody can get in. So God can’t get in. The gates of hell are locked on the inside, Lewis says. This is in his book, The Problem of Pain - in his chapter on hell.
We’re going to move ahead. Another passage besides Luke 16 to note is 2 Peter 2:9. The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the Day of Judgment. So it’s not a happy thought, by any means, but it is the truth that once you die, your destiny is set. If you are a believer, you are with the Lord. Paradise, as Jesus told the thief on the cross. Today you will be with me in Paradise. An unbeliever – in agony – awaiting the final judgment – kept under punishment for the Day of Judgment.
III. Physical Death and the Afterlife
I simply want to say here that physical death is not “it” in biblical theology. Physical death is not the end of life. In fact, physical death is simply a separation of body and soul – material and immaterial -- so that your immaterial “you” lives on while your body goes to a grave. Now this is temporary because there will be a resurrection of the body for all people including unbelievers. All people will be, as it were, restored to full humanity, body and soul together. But death is the separation that takes place between body and soul. But you live on during this time and will live forever. Christian theology and biblical theology affirms the notion of the immortality of the soul (let’s call it the immortality of human persons). We are made by God to exist forever. The question will be where we exist - in His presence in eternal joy and blessing and sharing in the inheritance of Christ or separated from ALL that is good, lovely, beautiful, peaceful, joyful, pleasant, pleasurable – all that is good. Which will it be? So it’s eternal existence after physical death.
A. Intermediate State
We’ve said a bit about this so I will go over this rather quickly. Sheol and Hades.
Sheol is an Old Testament term that refers to simply the place of the dead. It’s a very simple concept. It’s a grave. You will take me down to Sheol. I recall Jacob saying that in relation to if Benjamin was killed. Or Reuben said that about Jacob if Joseph were killed. You will take our father down to Sheol. All that means is, “he’ll die” – we are putting him in the grave. So really, Sheol in the Old Testament is for the most part just the realm of the dead, and you find passages that refer to both the wicked and the righteous who go to Sheol.
Here’s the difference between the two. The wicked stay in Sheol. That is, in the Old Testament you don’t find any evidence that wicked are taken out of Sheol, but the righteous are delivered from Sheol. There is an implicit (it’s not well-developed), notion of resurrection in the Old Testament because the righteous will not be abandoned to Sheol. Does that sound familiar? I was quoting part of a verse. Do you know which one it is? Psalm 16:10 …You will not abandon my soul to Sheol or allow your holy one to undergo decay. So the point is for the righteous and holy, yes – they go to Sheol; yes – they die; yes – they go to the grave, but God will not leave them there. There is this sense of resurrection that will take place.
Here’s another passage that interesting to look at: Psalm 49:14-15, which has both the righteous and the wicked in the same text. Let me read it for you. This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. So here’s the contrast in this one text. You can see how the Old Testament distinguishes the righteous and the unrighteous in relation to Sheol.
Hades, in the New Testament, simply carries forward what Sheol is, that it is the place of the dead. It is also clear in the New Testament that Hades takes on more of a sense of evil connotations. It is not just a place of the dead; it is an evil place, a wicked place, a horrible place and a place of suffering and agony. It really comes to mean, in the New Testament, a place of agony or a place of burning. This is why Jesus says, for example, I will build my church (Matthew 16:18) and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. So here’s Hades, symbolized as this fortress of evil that holds people in but it won’t be able to withstand the assault of Christ to enter that fortress and plunder those who are in it - to take the dead out and raise them to newness of life.
How will He build His church? Imagine this – where does Christ go for the membership of His church? Answer: to a graveyard. Imagine Him going to Cave Hill Cemetery to do church planting. What does He go to? A graveyard, because what He does is to enter the fortress of Hades. Death. Evil holds them in its power (the power of sin is death, right?). And what does He do? He conquers death and brings forth these people in newness of life. He raises us from the dead. We were dead in our trespasses and sin. He goes to a graveyard. Every one of us that He goes after was in a graveyard; a corpse. He raises us up and assembles His people from this. His bride. Imagine that! Put those two images together. He forms His bride out of corpses that were now given life and made new; given glory and splendor that was not theirs.
B. Unbelievers in the Intermediate State
We’ve already mentioned from Luke 16…are in a place of torment. That passage, as we’ve talked briefly, it is about the intermediate state. It is not about the final state of hell. How do you know that from that passage in Luke 16? What’s the indicator that hell is not the final state? What does the rich man in Hades say? Go send people to tell my brothers. Surely when someone rises from the dead, they won’t end up coming here, too? Well, guess what? They are out there still walking around. So we don’t have the final judgment yet. It has not happened. It is life as it is going on now. So, this scene is set in another world while this world continues. It’s this world of torment for unbelievers.
2 Peter 2:9: This is a key verse: then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the Day of Judgment,
This is a present, passive participle. So you realize what he means by that…that the punishment is ongoing. He keeps them under ongoing punishment awaiting the judgment. This is not soul sleep, as some have argued. No, it is very conscious. The rich man was conscious of his torment, wasn’t he? Would someone come and bring to me a drop of water and touch my tongue with it because I am in agony? This is conscious torment that takes place; and constant bliss of Lazarus at Abraham’s bosom.
C. Believers in the Intermediate State
There are 3 passages I will mention to you that are strong support of the intermediate state of believers, who when they die, their bodies go to a grave, but THEY (the real you inside – the you that has memories of last summer’s vacation, that has identity of the one who grew up in such and such a place and has brothers and sisters) – that “you” lives on. Here are the three texts:
• Philippians 1:21-23: Paul is musing out loud saying, “I don’t know which is better to do…to die and be with Christ, or to stay on for your sake. I go back and forth on this. I don’t know which is better. If I am to live on in the flesh, that will be fruitful labor for me. I don’t know which to choose. I am hard-pressed in both directions, having the desire to depart….” What does he mean by “depart?” Die. You know that don’t you by verse 21. …if I am to live on in the flesh – in bodily existence. So it is very clear (in verse 23) having the desire to depart and be with Christ that the departing is a departing from this life; from this body. It is a parting that takes place by death. What happens with him? Why is death attractive to Paul? He can be with Christ if that were to be the case. Yet, to remain on in the flesh (his bodily existence) is necessary for your sake. This also supports the dichotomous view or trichotomous view of human nature; that there really is a separation that takes place; that your inner, immaterial person continues on after your body goes to a grave. Now it doesn’t mean that’s the ideal way of life; escaping the body. It doesn’t mean that. It isn’t ideal because the resurrection is yet to come. Our main hope is the point of the resurrection, not physical death. In the New Testament, the main hope is 1 Corinthians 15: Christ has been raised so we too will be raised. God created us to be whole persons with bodies. We will have bodies in heaven. Did you know that? Not airy, fairy, little ethereal things out there floating around, but bodies which probably means that we will be back on Terra Firma (Planet Earth) inhabiting the new Earth as the New Jerusalem comes down and descends here. We will be earth dwellers in new bodies. Garden of Eden restored. Genesis 2 and Revelation 22. Restored but BETTER. It’s an amazing thing.
There is a scene in (one minute I’m complimenting Lewis and the next I’m hammering him-here’s a compliment) – in the last battle (I could hammer him on that also – that’s the inclusiveness part of Lewis; very troubling) – but this one scene: The children are now in the land beyond. It’s just beautiful what he’s trying to picture there. They are in the land beyond, which is heaven in the Narnia stories. They are running across this field and they are running faster than they have ever run in their lives. They notice, not only are they running with such freedom and so fast, they are not getting tired. They can just keep going as long as they want. They come to a beautiful pool, and across the pool on the other side is a waterfall. They dive in and swim across the pool. When they come to the waterfall, they swim up the waterfall.
Do you see what Lewis is trying to convey? Continuity with this life - they are in bodies; they are on earth, but discontinuity - something better – it’s better than here. Yes, they run, but not the same way. It’s a beautiful image and that’s how we should think of this. The intermediate state, as wonderful as it is, is not the whole of the story.
• 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 where Paul says that absent from the body, present with the Lord. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? At physical death is an immediate transfer of a person into the presence of the Lord.
• Luke 23: 42-43: Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross who had believed in him. Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise, which also argues against a portion of the Apostles’ Creed that says that Jesus descended into hell. I don’t believe that is taught in Bible. I believe this is a misreading of Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 3. No, Jesus did not descend in to hell. TODAY, you will be with me in paradise. Guess what happened to Jesus when he died? The same thing that happened to the thief on the cross when he died - separation of the body from immaterial state - immaterial substance, which for Christ was divine and human together. Granted it’s not the same as the thief on the cross, but the same kind of thing happened, namely separation. Both of their bodies went to a grave. Both of them in “soul” (their immaterial persons) went together to paradise.
(Student question about paradise…..) We know it’s a good place, but it is not the final place. God has not created the new heavens and the new earth, which is then our final resting place – not until Revelation 21 do we have heaven. So technically, we shouldn’t say that when people die they go to heaven. We should say that when people die, they go to paradise. (Jesus used the word paradise). It indicates a wonderful place of peace, rest, joy in the presence of the Lord, but it’s still a “holding area.”
(Student question…how shall we understand the physical nature of the description in Luke 16 if the body and soul are separated? When Jesus died, was Jesus in between the death and the resurrection, did He become omnipresent again at that point?) I don’t think so because it’s still a human/divine unity even though it’s non-corporeal (it’s non-bodily). I don’t think so. On the first question, I take it that these are almost all metaphors of hell that are put in physical language…the worm does not die……the fire is not quenched….. We really don’t know if there will be literal fire or literal worms, or what they are meaning to convey in terms of the nature of the permanence and the nature of the agony. I take it that Luke 16 is similar in that way, giving physical characteristics to it. There may be and there may not be.
IV. Views of the Millennium
This is actually A, B, C and D, as you see on your outline. All of these forms of “millennialism” have 2 L’s and 2 N’s.
A. Post-Millennial View
Dr. Ware draws a diagram. Here’s the Cross of Christ and here is the 2nd coming of Christ; and here is the eternal state (heaven and hell). The return of Christ is post (after) the millennium. It holds that the return of Christ is after the millennium). The post-millennial view holds that between the cross and the 2nd coming of Christ, in this church age (it expands the whole time here) that we are, first of all, now in what the book of Revelation describes as the Tribulation or the Olivet Discourse of Jesus in Matthew 24-25. He describes this great tribulation that will take place upon all the earth – that we are in this now. You may not have known it, but you are.
When you read the book of Revelation you realize that there are a lot of symbols and picturesque language that is not meant to be taken literally by any means. What it is all pointing to is the church enduring through wave after wave after wave of tribulation as it takes place through Church history. But, the Tribulation will be followed by a Millennium. Now, what is that? 1000 years. In Revelation 20, it says that Christ reigned over the earth for 1000 years. Satan was bound. He could not deceive the nations. Christ reigned for 1000 years. They argue that this reign of Christ over all the earth takes place as Christ gathers in to the company of the saved more and more people. Great numbers of conversions take place. Great numbers of people come to faith in Christ. Earlier, the church was the persecuted minority, but as we near the end of the age, education, media, every element of life and society, because it is dominated by Christian people, that those institutions of society will be Christianized.
So when Christ comes again, he comes to a Kingdom that awaits him. The Kingdom is on earth. It has happened on earth as the world is Christianized and then Christ comes. Of course, when he comes, then the dead are raised; the final judgment takes place, then the eternal state (heaven and hell). This is a broad sweep of what the post-millennial view holds. Toward the end of this 1000 year period, they refer to the Christianization of the world as the “golden age of the millennium.” Here is where you see the entire world Christian and all the governments of the world following Christian principles.
There is a form of post-millennialism that was very popular 15-20 years ago (still is around) called theonomy (law of God) or reconstructionism. Have you heard of Greg Bonson? Rush Dooney. Gary North. These folks hold that the governments will adopt as the law of the land, the law of God. The law of God governs. They really do urge governments to adopt Old Testament law. These are covenant theologians. If you ask them the difference between the Old and New Testament, the answer is “not much.” Romans 8:4 – Didn’t Paul say…that the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit? Isn’t the law fulfilled? Didn’t Christ say that, “I didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it?” The law is complicated. They take this one side of it, this New Testament teaching that would indicate the continuity of Old Testament law with now. They don’t take, “you are not under law, but grace.” What about that? They take these other things and indicate that Old Testament law should be implemented in governments. Some of them are a little more pro-active politically. They actually would urge an imposition of the law of God onto the United States by political coercion. That theonomist - reconstructionist view is not the norm in the post-millennial view. It is one branch of post-millennials but not the norm. Probably the best spokesperson for the normative post-millennial view is John Jefferson Davis, who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I was there to do a lectureship a year and a half ago and met him for the first time. What a brilliant man.
B. Preterist View
It holds that everything in Revelation and prophecy (Rev. 6-22), including the return of Christ, happened before 70AD. It already happened. I find this to be clearly at odds with so much scripture. There was a book published recently, edited by Darrell Bock, who teaches New Testament at Dallas Seminary – Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond - (formerly of our faculty here at Southwestern Seminary), writes the longest and very best chapter on this. It is superb. It’s on the pre-millennial view. They have chapters on post and a-millennial views. The post-millennialist advocate is really a preterist view. Student questions…. There is an early dating to Revelation. They take Jesus’ statement that not one stone will be left on the other, the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple and everything in Matthew 24-25 is fulfilled, which then matches their view of other end-times prophecy that is fulfilled now. The hardest thing to swallow in this is that Christ has returned. No kidding. This must have been a secret event. I wasn’t invited.
C. Amillennial View
The name “amillennial” means NO millennium. The word amillennial is really framed in its debate and disagreement with pre-millennialists who hold that between the return of Christ and the eternal state is a 1000-year millennium. In the amillennial view (no millennium) means no literal future millennium. A better name for this group is realized millennium position. This is what they hold – that the church in this age is undergoing simultaneously the tribulation and the millennial reign of Christ. These happen at the very same time all the way through. The church never escapes the tribulation until Christ comes again. The church is in the millennium from the first instance of the new age that has been brought to us by the Spirit. At the resurrection of Christ and the bestowing of the Spirit, we enter into the millennium.
So the millennium is understood in this view in a spiritual sense. Christ reigns spiritually. This has been conceived in two ways: the minority view (that Christ reigns spiritually over those who have died and are with him in paradise. They don’t have resurrection bodies yet but he reigns over them); and the majority view (that Christ reigns over his church [us] by reigning over our lives. We address him as Lord and King. He reigns over the lives of his people and hence, his kingdom is here.) Don’t expect the kingdom of Christ to be physical, material – in a land somewhere. No, you are in the kingdom. There is very little “not yet” in this view of the kingdom because we don’t await the coming of Christ and then setting up the kingdom. Remember, that was rejected. That was the Pre-millennial view, where Christ comes to earth, sets up his kingdom on earth. No, in the amillennial view, this is the kingdom. It’s a spiritual reign of Christ over everything.
In Rev. 20 it speaks of the binding of Satan. He is cast into the abyss and he is bound for a thousand years so he cannot deceive the nations. What happened is that when Christ died and rose again, he defeated Satan’s power. He triumphed over Satan. He brought us into this age where Satan cannot hold sway over people any longer. So at one and the same time, the church is in the middle of conflict, persecution, rejection. This will always be the case right to the end. At the very same time, the church experiences peace, joy, the presence of Christ – his reign over their lives, confident that he is in control – until he comes again; the dead are raised; and then the eternal state – heaven and hell.
D. Pre-Millennial View
Pre-millennialists who hold that between the return of Christ and the eternal state is a 1000-year millennium. Historic Pre-millennialism and Dispensational Pre-millennialism have much in common. It’s just the nuances that distinguish them. In the pre-millennial view, Christ returns, and he returns to earth to set up his kingdom and reigns over earth for a thousand year period. Obviously, the millennium, if it’s in the church age, is not a literal thousand years, is it? 2000 years have passed already for the amillennialist and for the post-millennialist, who knows? If you ask a post-millennialist, “Are we in the millennium yet?” – honestly, they don’t know. The post-millennialists, at the turn of the century were more confident that they were in the millennium because technology was increasing, medicine advances, travel, missions (this was before WWI). Lots of optimism that, in fact, we had entered into the millennium. That optimism was shattered by WWI and WWII, the bloodiest century in the history of humankind. There is not that optimism now. So honestly, they don’t know if we are in the millennium or not.
The fact is: we don’t know how long the millennium is. If you are amillennial, it’s still going on. If you’re post-millennial, you are not sure it has started yet. If you are pre-millennial, it’s 1000 years. It’s a 1000 year reign of Christ after he returns to earth. Why do they hold this? Both historic and dispensational pre-millennialists agree that Rev. 20 demands it. Why is this? There are 3 arguments.
1. Because the narrative of chapter 19 continues in 20. At the end of Rev. 19, Christ returns. This is the second coming of Christ – I saw on a white horse a man clothed with a robe dipped in blood. His name was the word of God. He had a sword coming from his mouth. He is king of kings and lord of lords. This is Christ’s return to earth. At the end of chapter 19, verse 20, it says the beast was seized and the false prophet and were thrown into the lake of fire. If you’ve read the book of Revelation up to this point, you know that there is this unholy triumvirate in the book of Revelation. The beast; the false prophet; and the serpent, or Satan. If the beast and the false prophet are done away – what about Satan? Guess who appears in Chapter 20. Then I saw an angel coming holding a key to the abyss and he laid hold of the dragon – the serpent of old – the devil, Satan, and bound him for 1000 years. Satan is thrown into the abyss for 1000 years. He is let out at the end of that 1000 year period. Verse 10 – The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet also are. The argument is simply that the narrative looks like it goes forward. Chapter 19 ends with the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. Satan, in chapter 20, goes into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet are. If the narrative moves forward, you have to hold a pre-millennial view, because that means the event (the historical event) of the return of Christ is followed by what happens in chapter 20 (the millennium.) That’s the first argument.
2. The binding of Satan in chapter 20 is much, much more true than what is true of him now. Remember what Satan is called in this age? The ruler of this world; the god of this world; the prince of the power of the air. Satan, post-Christ’s death and resurrection, is referred to in the epistles as the god of this world, who binds the minds of unbelievers, who even blinds them so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. That’s Satan post-crucifixion and resurrection. What is Satan described as here? The angel took a hold of him – the dragon, the serpent of old, the devil, who is Satan and bound him for 1000 years, threw him into the abyss, shut it over him, sealed it over him so that he would not deceive the nations (not believers). 2 Corinthians 4:4 – the god of this world blinds the minds of the unbelieving that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Isn’t that deceiving the nations? Here, he doesn’t deceive the nations. It looks, to pre-millennialists, that this describes a reality not true now. It’s a future reality that will happen in the millennium.
3. The resurrection spoken of in verses 4-5. In verse 4, you have those beheaded martyrs of the tribulation period – beheaded because of the word of God, who come to life and reign with Christ for 1000 years. In verse 5, the rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1000 years were completed. The amillennialist is in a real bind here because it looks as though the ones who come to life at the end are raised for judgment. They would argue – that’s a physical resurrection – those who were not beheaded, who are not in the millennium – are raised physically for judgment at the end. They would say, ‘Ah ha – this is Rev. 20:5, the resurrection of unbelievers to judgment. But what about verse 4? It says that believers are raised and reign with Christ for 1000 years. If you hold an amillennial view, that’s back here – that’s in the church age? So they argue that it is a spiritual resurrection. It’s new birth. That’s what it is talking about. Honestly, it is a new birth. These are people who were beheaded. So, the resurrection is obviously physical.
• Historic Pre-millennial
• Dispensational Pre-millennial