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Tuesday
Sep102019

View of the End Times: Amillennialism

Revelation 19:19-20:15, Various other passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 8, 2019.

***** CORRECTION: In the audio, it is stated that Constantine the Great passed an edict of toleration in 325 AD.  This is in error and should be 313 AD. *****  

Last week, we looked at the question, “Is there a literal, physical return of Jesus in the future?”  The view that says, “No,” to this question is called Full Preterism, and believes that everything prophesied in Scripture has been fulfilled in the past, i.e. there is nothing left to be fulfilled.  Christians will eventually convert the whole world and bring humanity into Utopia.  Jesus only rules from heaven spiritually.

I made the case for why this is an unorthodox position, and, even more importantly, unbiblical.  Today, we will ask another question that will filter out another group.

Is the promised, earthly rule of Jesus Christ literally 1,000 years?

Of all the views that accept a literal, physical return of Christ to earth, amillennialism says, “No,” to this question.  Amillennialism is a word that is made up of four roots.  The “a” at the front is a negation of whatever comes after it.  The “mill” comes from the Latin for “1,000,” while the “ennial” is from the Latin for “years.”  Finally, “ism” refers to a belief or system of beliefs.  Thus, amillennialism literally refers to a “No-1,000-Year Belief.”  So, what do they believe?

Amillennialists believe that the promised earthly kingdom is a spiritual one that is occurring now, and is not actually 1,000 years in duration.  To them, the references to a thousand years is only symbolic of a long period of time.  They would also believe that Satan being bound up in the bottomless pit is a symbol of his being bound by God working through Christians.  He is not literally bound in a spiritual prison.  They also believe that Christians are to work for God’s kingdom despite the world around them rejecting Christ.  They are awaiting a physical return of Christ, but when he does return, he will resurrect everyone and give a final judgment.  Immediately, glorified believers enter with him into the Final State, which is the New Heavens and the New Earth.  This view is positive towards Christianity as God’s kingdom, but pessimistic towards the world’s ability to get better.  They do not expect a Utopia upon this earth politically.  Here is a visual representation of this view.


 

The main thing to understand about this view is that it sees only two periods to the Kingdom reign of Jesus.  They believe that all the Old Testament promises of a Davidic King, who saves Israel and rules over all the earth, are not to be understood literally, but rather spiritually or allegorically in the Church.  The first phase of this kingdom is a spiritual phase with the Church that is clearly not 1,000 years, since we are now at about 1,988 years from the ascension of Jesus.  To them, Jesus will never rule physically on this earth.  He will only do so in the second stage of his reign in the New Heavens and New earth.  

We can recognize that at least they expect a literal return of Jesus, a literal resurrection, and a literal new heavens and new earth.  This is more than we can say for the full preterists.

Those who are not amillennialists believe that, though we are in a spiritual kingdom now, there will be a reign of Christ upon this earth where he is physically present, before we go into the new heavens and new earth.  Thus, they see three phases to the kingdom of Christ.

Though this view is better than full preterism, it allegories or spiritualized some important promises of the Old and New Testaments that in no way require such an interpretation.  The kingdom of Messiah is prophesied all throughout the Old Testament and it involves a descendant of David bringing the exiles of Israel back to their land and ruling over the entire earth in righteousness and truth.  It is usually described as lasting forever, but in Revelation 20, we are given further insight.  Though Christ will reign forever, he will first rule on this earth for 1,000 years before transitioning his reign into the new heavens and earth.  Let’s look at that passage.

Revelation 19:19-20:15.  The reason I want to start at the end of chapter 19 is because the original did not have verses and chapter divisions.  Some people want to treat chapter 20 as if it is a hard break from the obvious Second Coming in chapter 19.  This is not the case.  In the Greek it is fairly clear that chapter 20 is merely a continuation of the narration that began in chapter 19.  

I will interpret this passage with a historical-grammatical method (sometimes called a literal method).  Amillennialists will typically call the literal view “ignorant” and act as if it can’t understand symbols and figures of speech.  This simply isn’t true.  The literal view accepts that symbols and figures of speech may be used, and yet also believes that it will be obvious in the text that it is happening.  Even then, the literal view believes that the symbols and figures of speech are always picturing literal truth and literal things.  We will see this in Revelation 20:2.  There the dragon is a symbol for the literal Devil or Satan, mainly because it directly interprets it for us.  Dr. Ron Rhodes of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries has a good saying regarding interpreting the Bible literally, or in its plain sense.  He says, “If the plain sense makes good sense then seek no other sense, lest you end up in nonsense.”

This passage clearly pictures Jesus coming back and capturing the Beast, who is a symbol for a world leader that is empowered by Satan, and his side kick the false prophet.  They are literally put in the Lake of Fire, even though the word fire is most likely more than what we would recognize exists on this earth and the lake is clearly not of this world.  We then go into chapter 20, which literally says, “And I saw an angel come down from heaven...”. It just continues the theme of characters who are dealt with at the Second Coming of Jesus.  So, we see Satan captured, bound with a great chain (which we can recognize is most likely a metaphor for something that binds angels), and put in the bottomless pit, which is a prison (vs. 7) for spiritual beings.  He is unable to deceive the nations for 1,000 years.  Meanwhile, the righteous who have been resurrected reign “with Christ.”  It is obvious from the passage that it doesn’t mean in the heavens.  Nothing is said about what that 1,000 years will look like.  It fast forwards to the end of the “millennium,” or thousand years, and Satan is released.    He goes out and, true to form, deceives a multitude as large as the “sands of the sea.”  They surround the city of the saints and fire comes out of heaven and devours them.  At this point the heavens and the earth that we are in now, will flee away from him who sits on the throne.  Everyone still in the grave is resurrected and a Final Judgment occurs.  Those who are not in the Book of Life are thrown into the Lake of Fire and the glorified saints enter with Christ into the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Talk about an amazing promise to those who are suffering for Christ today!

The allegorical approach, or the spiritualizing method, simply ignores what the passage says and treats everything as a metaphor for what is happening now.  Thus, different amillennialists may explain this passage somewhat differently, but they will all agree that it spiritually describes what is happening today.  They see the Great White Throne Judgment of verse 11 as the actual Second Coming of Christ.  To them, chapter 20 has just scoped out and given us a picture of the period from the cross to the Second Coming.  The problem I have with this is that they have no good reason for taking the Second Coming as literal and yet the binding of Satan as allegorical, or the Resurrection of the Righteous as literal, but the 1,000 years as symbolic.  It becomes a very subjective approach to declaring things allegorical that offend my sensibilities.  Here are some other passages that are contradicted by this view.

Luke 1:31-33.  Here the angel is telling Mary that she will have a son and shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be given the throne of his father David.  Then he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.  Notice that this is not a hard to understand passage.  The throne of David is never equated anywhere else in Scripture with God’s throne.  If Jesus is given the throne of David, the most obvious understanding of this within the context is that he would be the King of Israel.  Remember that the current king wasn’t even from the tribe of Judah (Herod the Great).  Israel had lost control of the kingship and it was dominated or controlled by Rome’s Caesars.  Also, notice that Jesus will rule over the “the house of Jacob” forever.  Even if we were tempted to think that the throne was a spiritual throne, the house of Jacob seals the deal.  If it had said the house of Israel, a case could be made that Israel represented the Church.  However, the word Jacob is always used of Israel when they have fallen short of their calling.  To spiritualized this passage is to break all the rules of communication.  It clearly states he will be the King of Israel and rule over them.

Another passage is Luke 22:28-30.  Here Jesus is speaking to his closest disciples and tells them that they will sit at his table in his kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  At first, we might think that Jesus is talking about a spiritual kingdom, but as you move through each phrase, you begin to have more and more trouble keeping a spiritual meaning.  There is no way realistically to spiritualized the “twelve tribes of Israel” with something equivalent within the Church.  These types of things are either given outlandish interpretations or allegorized to be irrelevant details that only point to a spiritual rule with Christ.  However, it is quite obvious that Jesus is promising them a position in a coming kingdom where they will have seats of power over the people of Israel and their tribes.

The last passage I will look at is Acts 1:6-7.  This is right before the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and the apostles ask Jesus if the kingdom will be restored to Israel at this point.  Jesus dismisses the question.  However, he does not do so by rebuking them for being “slow of understanding.”  He does not tell them in exasperation that they should know by now that it is a spiritual kingdom and it has already started.  He does not explain that the Church is taking Israel’s place in the promised kingdom.  He does none of these things that amillennialists do.  Instead, Jesus explains that it is not for them to know the seasons, or proper times for things to happen, that God the Father has kept under his own authority.  Their question is legitimate, but they are simply denied the answer.  The straight-forward understanding of this passage is that the apostles still believed that there would an earthly kingdom with the Messiah reigning over Israel and the whole earth.  Jesus basically tells them to focus instead on being a witness of him and his gospel throughout the whole earth.

No doubt, there are spiritual parallels between what is promised in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah’s Kingdom and what we are experiencing right now.  One would expect this because it is the same God who is doing both.  However, these parallels should only serve to give us confidence in God’s plan and promises, rather than displacing the literal message that has been communicated in his word.  

Thus, we see that a straight-forward reading of the Bible demonstrates that all the apostles expected and taught that there would be an actual, physical reign of Jesus on this earth.  Also, we see that at least the Apostle John was given the information that this reign would last 1,000 years before it was moved into the New Heavens and the New Earth.

The historical roots of this view

The last point that I will make has to do with the history of this view.  From the death of Jesus until the early 200’s (about 170 years), all the Church Fathers or Elders taught a literal millennium that was in the future.  They used a word that came from the Greek word “Kilo” called chiliasm.  Around the end of this period, some began to attack the belief in a 1,000 year reign because it grated against the sensibilities of those who had been trained in Greek philosophy.  They usually castigated the book of Revelation as not being legitimate because it has the passage that is most clear about this matter.  However, they were mostly unsuccessful at first.  Over the course of the 3rd century men like Origen of Alexandria and one of his later students, Eusebius of Caesarea, promoted an allegorical interpretive method of the Bible, which claimed to find the deeper and truer meaning of the texts.  Though this method of interpretation was very much in the minority, by the time you get into the period from 300 AD and 400 AD, several things happen that change this.

In 313 AD, Constantine the Great issues an edict accepting Christianity as a religion recognized by the empire, which gave it protections that other religions had enjoyed all along.  Near the end of the century, the emperor Theodosius, who was a staunch Christian, passes an edict lifting Christianity to the official religion of the empire and then also banning paganism.  This change from being persecuted by the empire of the world and then being completely accepted, had an affect upon the Church as a whole.  Going from the end of the 300’s into the 400’s, two bishops named Augustine and Jerome (the man who translated the version of the Bible called the Vulgate) wholly embraced the allegorical approach and promoted a rudimentary amillennial view.  

As long as Christianity was persecuted, the promise of a physical reign on this earth was held onto firmly by most Christians.  However, once Christianity became accepted by the empire and the future looked triumphant, Greek philosophical outlooks completely took over most leaders of Christianity.  We see a similar condition in our own country (USA) today.  Many in the Church have been inundated with a humanistic, materialistic, evolutionary philosophy that stands upon the Greek philosophy of the past.  We too see leaders and whole denominations that surrender to the pressure of the current societal thought patterns.  We can make the mistake of trading the precious promises of God for a bowl of lentils that will only fill our bellies temporarily.

So, what was this Greek philosophical outlook that looked down on such beliefs of the Church?  Probably the most powerful was the view that physical things were always lower, less noble, even bad compared to spiritual things, which were higher, noble, and typically good.  This set up a tension between the beliefs of Christianity and the great philosophical outlooks of the world.  They didn’t surrender everything- note that they still expected a physical return of Jesus.  However, they compromised as much as they dare, and yet set up the future for later daring theologians who would embrace Full Preterism.

Amillennialism may hold to some very important truths, but they also surrender others that we must not surrender.  Christians must hold firm to the truth of who Jesus is and the promises that he has given us, instead of trading it away for the acceptance of the world today.  Jesus is literally coming back to the earth.  And, he is doing so in order to set up a kingdom on this earth that will create a peace that lasts for 1,000 years.  This is part of the hope of the righteous!


Amillennialism audio