Tagged: return of Christ

How should we understand Revelation?

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The four major views of the end times – postmillennialism, amillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism – are based on biblical interpretation and may be found on a scale that ranges from a strict, literal interpretation of scripture to a figurative understanding of biblical passages concerning the Day of the Lord. So how do proponents of these views understand the Book of Revelation?

There are five major interpretations of the so-called Apocalypse of John, but one cannot say, for example, that all postmillennialists hold to a certain interpretation and all premillennialists to another. Nevertheless, in general terms, premillennialists tend to view Revelation through a literal lens, while post- and amillennialists see the text more figuratively.

The five major views of Revelation are: preterist, historicist, futurist, idealist, and eclectic:

  • Preterists see the events of Revelation, for the most part, to have been fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age, either at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or at both the fall of Jerusalem and later at the fall of Rome in the fifth century. The book was written, preterists say, to comfort Christians who suffered persecution at the hands of the Romans and the Jews. Many biblical scholars favor the preterist view.
  • Historicists view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history. This view meshed with the thinking of the Protestant Reformers, who equated the papal system of their day with the Apostle John’s vision of the Antichrist. This view largely has fallen out of favor due to the difficulties of matching historical events to biblical prophecy, requiring constant revision.
  • Futurists argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22. Premillennialists tend to embrace a futurist interpretation of the Apocalypse. And while many scholars favor the preterist view, it may be said that the masses prefer the futurist interpretation.
  • Idealists see Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – a battle that continues throughout the church age. Instead of predicting future events, Revelation inspires and encourages believers of all times as they endure persecution at the hands of God’s enemies.
  • Eclectics glean the strengths of the other four views while avoiding their pitfalls. Many leading evangelical scholars today have embraced the eclectic approach, arguing that it provides a balanced approach to scripture.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these interpretations.

The preterist view

Those who hold a preterist (past) perspective of Revelation relate the book to the Apostle John and his immediate audience. In other words, they emphasize that John addresses his writings to  real churches that face real challenges in the first century A.D. John uses symbolic language to tell his readers how God will intervene on their behalf to deliver them from persecution by the Jews and the Romans.

There are two main schools of thought in the preterist camp. The first prefers an earlier date for Revelation and sees the book as a prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The beast is Rome and Babylon is unbelieving Israel, which cooperates with Rome in persecuting the church. Armageddon is the siege of Jerusalem. This view, however, is at odds with a multitude of scholars who date John’s apocalyptic writing to the last decade of the first century during the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.) rather than the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.).

The second school of thought holds that Revelation predicts the fall of the Roman Empire (Babylon the Great) in 476 A.D. and allows for late-first-century authorship. The Roman system comes under judgment for oppressing Christians, who worship God alone, not the emperor. John urges his readers to stay faithful to the Lord and assures them that He will deal harshly with their enemies.

Two historical challenges provided the impetus for Revelation, according to Ken Gentry Jr.:

In the first place, it was designed to steel the first century Church against the gathering storm of persecution, which was reaching an unnerving crescendo of theretofore unknown proportions and intensity. A new and major feature of that persecution was the entrance of imperial Rome onto the scene. The first historical persecution of the Church by imperial Rome was by Nero Caesar from A.D. 64 to A.D. 68. In the second place, it was to brace the Church for a major and fundamental re-orientation in the course of redemptive history, a re-orientation necessitating the destruction of Jerusalem (the center not only of Old Covenant Israel, but of Apostolic Christianity [cp. Ac. 1:8; 2:1ff; 15:2] and the Temple [cp. Mt. 24:1-34 with Rev. 11])” (Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, pp. 15-16).

The preterist view may be traced to the rise of postmillennialism, which teaches that Jesus Christ will return after the Millennium, a period of peace and blessing brought about by the conversion of the nations as they respond positively to the gospel message. Daniel Whitby (1638-1726), a Unitarian minister in England, generally is credited with developing the postmillennial view.

The historicist view

The historicist approach argues that Revelation provides a prophetic overview of church history from the first century until the return of Christ. This view was especially popular during the Protestant Reformation and was embraced by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other prominent Christian leaders of their day. Reformers identified the Antichrist and Babylon with the pope and Catholicism. More recently, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney and Charles Spurgeon advocated a historicist approach to Revelation. Over the years, the so-called “newspaper approach” to apocalyptic literature has led historicist interpreters to identify the Antichrist with figures like Charlemagne, Napolean and Hitler.

Classical or historic dispensationalists generally interpret the letters of Revelation 2-3 using a modified historicist approach. In addition to the immediate and local applications of the letters, many expositors believe the messages to the seven churches picture the chronological development of church history. The letter to Ephesus, for example, seems to describe conditions in the church during apostolic times, while the progression of evil climaxing in Laodicea seems to foreshadow the final state of apostasy that signals the return of Christ.

While the historicist approach helps the interpreter make sense of Revelation, its weaknesses outweigh its singular strength. For example, the historicist approach sees fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies mostly in light of the Western church. In addition, because characters like the beast of Revelation 13 are usually seen as fulfilled in people contemporary to the interpreter, the historicist approach is constantly being modified as new world leaders emerge and new political, economic, social and religious realities come to pass. One final weakness of this view is that it would have held little relevance to the first readers of Revelation. For these reasons, the historicist view has largely fallen out of favor with biblical scholars today.

The futurist view

The futurist approach to Revelation argues that Revelation 4-22 relates primarily to a future time before and after the return of Christ. Rev. 1:19 is seen as a key to the rest of the book: “Therefore write what you have seen [Rev. 1], what is [Rev. 2-3], and what will take place after this [Rev. 4-22].”

Many early church leaders held to some form of the futurist view, but it gave way to the allegorical method of interpreting scripture and the amillennialism of Augustine. But by the Protestant Reformation, and especially by the 19th century, the futurist view made a comeback, and today many evangelical leaders hold to some version of it. Two forms are prominent:

  • Dispensational futurism holds to a very literal interpretation of Revelation and argues that God’s plan of salvation unfolds in stages or dispensations. God elected Israel as His covenant people and has not abandoned them; in fact, there will be national revival in the last days as multitudes of Jews receive Jesus as Messiah. Meanwhile, the church holds a parenthetic place in the plan of God as Gentiles pour into God’s kingdom. At the end of the church age, Christians will be raptured, or removed from the earth, and a seven-year tribulation will follow, during which the Antichrist will rise to power and wage war against believing Jews. Christ will then return, defeat the Antichrist and his armies, and bind Satan for 1,000 years, during which time Jesus will sit on the throne of David and preside over a period of unprecedented – but not perfect – peace. Satan will be loosed for a short time after the Millennium, but Christ will defeat him, cast him into hell, resurrect all unbelievers and summon them before the great white throne. After they are given final judgment and cast into hell, Jesus will create new heavens and a new earth.
  • Historic futurism reads Revelation as prophetic-apocalyptic literature, where the images often represent other realities. Revelation does not unfold in a chronological sequence. This view does not see the church as a parenthesis in God’s work through Israel; rather, the church is the true Israel and the fulfillment of God’s plan. The church will enter the

tribulation before Christ returns to rescue His people and establish His millennial kingdom. Following the defeat of Satan and the final judgment, believers will enjoy eternal life in the new heavens and earth.

Those who challenge the futurist view say it removes Revelation from its original setting so that the book has little meaning for its initial audience. Futurists respond that the second coming of Christ has always been imminent and is therefore relevant at all times throughout the church age.

The idealist view

The idealist view sees Revelation as a symbolic description of the ongoing battle between God and the forces of evil. Instead of predicting future events, Revelation inspires and encourages believers of all times as they endure persecution at the hands of God’s enemies.

This view gained a foothold through the allegorical method of interpretation promoted by church fathers such as Origen and Clement. Along with Augustine’s amellennial view, the idealist view became the dominant interpretation of Revelation for a period stretching from several hundred years after the ascension of Christ until the Reformation. The view is popular today as well among scholars who see Revelation’s meaning neither in church history nor future events, but in the ongoing struggle between God’s people and God’s enemies.

The idealist view points to the symbolic language of Revelation, arguing that the seals, trumpets and bowls are judgments that fall on unbelievers of every age, and anti-Christian leaders of all times are depicted in the beast, false prophet, and Babylon. Meanwhile, the millennium describes the present church age and the prophecies underscore the biblical truth that ultimately God will conquer evil.

This approach to Revelation appreciates the prophetic teachings of John, embraces the theological importance of the book, and highlights the spiritual importance of its message for all Christians throughout the present age. However, it has been criticized for failing to pin any of Revelation’s symbols with historical events. “If there is no particular historical fulfillment of the prophecies of Revelation, in what sense are its ideals really relevant?” (Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times, J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, C. Marvin Pate, p. 206).

The Eclectic View

This approach tries to combine the strengths of the other views while dodging their weaknesses. It agrees, for example, with preterists that Revelation must have meant something to its first readers; therefore, we should study the historical context carefully. It agrees with futurists that some portions of Revelation await fulfillment; therefore we may wait expectantly for the Lord to defeat evil at a future time. It agrees with idealists that Revelation has a relevant spiritual message for the church of every age; therefore we should seek to mine its depths for insights that have practical application today.

Many leading evangelical scholars today have embraced the eclectic approach, arguing that it provides a balanced approach to scripture and avoids the dangerous tendency to carry any view to extremes.

Much of the information for this article came from the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times by J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, C. Marvin.

A quick survey of premillennialism

This is Part 3 of a series on the end times. Click on the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to access all lessons under the heading, “End Times.”

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The word millennium means “one thousand years” and for our  purposes comes from Rev. 20 where the word is used six times in the first seven verses:

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. [I] also [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over these, but they will be priests of God and the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison … (HCSB)

When do these 1,000 years take place? Have they already occurred, or are they in the future? Are we to take the millennium literally or figuratively? Is it possible we are in the millennium today? Christians have answered these and other related questions differently throughout the church age and in some cases have argued heatedly for their particular point of view. The purpose of our study is to identify and understand four major views of the millennium: postmillennialism, amillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. This document will briefly highlight these views.

Generally speaking, the millennium describes a period in which Christ and His followers reign; when Satan is bound; when righteousness overshadows (but does not yet eliminate) wickedness; and when, according to some views, there are significant (but not yet perfect) improvements in nature and the animal kingdom. Whether one understands the millennium literally or figuratively has a lot to do with his or her view as to when and where these events take place. All of the views call us to look for a future, visible, physical return of Christ and to anticipate the time in which He creates new heavens and a new earth. The primary differences center around whether Jesus returns before or after the millennium; whether the events described take place in heaven or on earth; whether the 1,000 years are literal or figurative; whether Christ’s return is a singular event to a two-stage event (the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing); and whether Christians will endure some or all of the tribulation – a time of intense persecution prior to the second coming.

As we look at different views of the end times, it’s important to note the biblical truths affirmed by all of these views: 1) Jesus will return physically, visibly and personally in the future; 2) Jesus will resurrect all people, who will stand in final judgment resulting in heaven or hell; and 3) He will create new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and in which Satan, demons and unbelievers have no part.

Last week we surveyed post- and amillennialism. This week we will look at premillennialism.

The Historic / Classical Premillennial View

The prefix “pre” means “before,” and therefore premillennialism teaches that Christ will return before the millennium. Historic or classical premillennialism has a long history dating back to the early centuries of the church. According to this view, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of suffering known as the Tribulation comes to earth. After the Tribulation, Christ will return to establish the millennial kingdom, which some premillennialists understand as a literal 1,000 years and others take to be simply a long period of time. At the return of Jesus, believers who have died will be resurrected and given glorified bodies. Believers who are alive at this time will receive glorified bodies as well, and all believers will reign on earth with Christ throughout the millennium. Many, but not all, unbelievers on the earth will trust in Christ as Savior. Satan will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit, where he will have no influence over mankind until the 1,000 years (or long period of time) are through. Some historic premillennialists believe we will see the new heavens and earth at this time, while others hold to the view that this will not take place until after Satan, demons and all unbelievers are cast into hell following final judgment.

At the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed and join forces with unbelievers, many of whom have submitted outwardly to Christ’s reign but inwardly are rebellious. Together, they will wage war against the Messiah, who defeats them decisively. Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire (hell). All unbelievers will be resurrected, stand in final judgment, and be separated eternally from God in hell. Believers will then enter the eternal state.

The premillennial view has been most popular throughout history during times of persecution, although it became an especially attractive view in the 20th century due in part to authors like Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, who tied current events to end-times prophecies and who popularized the dispensational premillennial view in novels.

Arguments for historic premillennialism include:

  • Revelation 20 is best understood as referring to a future earthly reign of Christ prior to the eternal state.
  • Several Old Testament passages seem to fit neither the present age nor the eternal state and therefore suggest a millennial reign of righteousness, for example Ps. 72:8-14; Isa. 11:6-9; 65:20; Zech. 14:5-17.
  • There are New Testament passages other than Revelation 20 that suggest a future millennium (1 Cor. 15:23-24; Rev. 2:26-27).
  • The New Testament suggests that persecution/tribulation will affect all believers, who should not expect to be spared a time of trial (2 Tim. 3:12).

Arguments against historic premillennialism include:

  • Only Rev. 20:1-6 mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, and this passage is obscure. It is best not to base a major doctrine on a single passage in the Bible.
  • The Scriptures teach only one resurrection, not two (or more) separated by 1,000 years. Dan. 12:2, John 5:28-29, and Acts 24:15 indicate a single, or general, resurrection of all people.
  • There seems to be no ultimate purpose for a literal 1,000 reign of Christ on earth. Once Jesus has returned, what’s the point of delaying the eternal state?
  • Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events of the end times will occur at once, not spread out over 1,000 years or more.

The Dispensational / Pretribulational Premillennial View

This view is similar to the historic premillennial view with one major exception: It holds that the present church age will end suddenly with the Rapture of the church – the physical removal of dead and living believers from the earth – prior to a seven-year Tribulation, which is followed by the return of Christ to earth. “According to this view, the church age will continue until, suddenly, unexpectedly, and secretly, Christ will return part way to earth, and then will call believers to himself: ‘The dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air’ (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Christ will then return to heaven with the believers who have been removed from the earth. When that happens, there will be a great tribulation on the earth for a period of seven years” (Grudem, p. 1113). Some interpreters hold to a “midtribulation rapture,” meaning that the church will go through the first 3 ½  years of the tribulation before being caught up into heaven.

During the tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to appear before Christ’s return will be fulfilled – for example, the redemption of a large number of Jews as they receive Jesus as Messiah, and effective worldwide evangelism led largely by Jewish Christians. At the end of the tribulation, Jesus will return to earth with the saints to reign for 1,000 years. Following the millennium, Satan will be loosed from his 1,000 bondage and lead a worldwide rebellion, which Jesus will put down. This will be followed by the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and new heavens and earth.

This view became especially popular in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is embraced by those who wish to maintain a clear distinction between Israel and the Church. The pretribulational view maintains this distinction because the Church is removed from the earth prior to the conversion of the Jewish people. This view also holds to a “literal where possible” interpretation of scripture, which applies especially to Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and a reading of the Book of Revelation.

Arguments for and against dispensational premillennialism are much the same as those for and against historic premillennialism, with one notable addition: The dispensational view insists that Christ’s return (specifically, the Rapture) could occur “at any moment” and supports the biblical warnings to be ready, while at the same time allowing for a literal fulfillment of the signs preceding Christ’s return (specifically, the glorious appearing / second coming).

A quick look at post- and amillennialism

This is Part 2 of a series on the end times. Click on the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to access all lessons under the heading, “End Times.”

LISTEN: Podcast – “A quick look at post- and amillennialism

The word millennium means “one thousand years” and for our study purposes comes from Rev. 20 where the word is used six times in the first seven verses:

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. [I] also [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over these, but they will be priests of God and the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison … (HCSB)

When do these 1,000 years take place? Have they already occurred, or are they in the future? Are we to take the millennium literally or figuratively? Is it possible we are in the millennium today? Christians have answered these and other related questions differently throughout the church age and in some cases have argued heatedly for their particular point of view. The purpose of our study is to identify and understand four major views of the millennium: postmillennialism, amillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. This document will briefly highlight these views.

Generally speaking, the millennium describes a period in which Christ and His followers reign; when Satan is bound; when righteousness overshadows (but does not yet eliminate) wickedness; and when, according to some views, there are significant (but not yet perfect) improvements in nature and the animal kingdom. Whether one understands the millennium literally or figuratively has a lot to do with his or her view as to when and where these events take place. All of the views call us to look for a future, visible, physical return of Christ and to anticipate the time in which He creates new heavens and a new earth. The primary differences center around whether Jesus returns before or after the millennium; whether the events described take place in heaven or on earth; whether the 1,000 years are literal or figurative; whether Christ’s return is a singular event to a two-stage event (the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing); and whether Christians will endure some or all of the tribulation – a time of intense persecution prior to the second coming.

As we look at different views of the end times, it’s important to note the biblical truths affirmed by all of these views: 1) Jesus will return physically, visibly and personally in the future; 2) Jesus will resurrect all people, who will stand in final judgment resulting in heaven or hell; and 3) He will create new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and in which Satan, demons and unbelievers have no part.

The postmillennial view

The prefix post means “after.” According to this view, Jesus will return after the millennium, a lengthy era of peace and righteousness not necessarily 1,000 years in length. Basically, postmillennialists believe that as the gospel spreads and the church grows, a larger proportion of the world’s people will become Christians. This will have a positive impact on society at all levels – government, commerce, social interaction, etc. – resulting in a world that functions more in accordance with God’s standards. In effect, the world will be Christianized. Gradually, a “millennial age” of unprecedented godliness will prepare the way for the return of Christ. When He comes, He will resurrect all people, judge them, create new heavens and a new earth, and usher in the eternal state.

The postmillennial view is optimistic about the power of the gospel to change lives and permeate society in a positive way. This view is most popular when the church is experiencing revival and when there is a general absence of war, international conflict, and suffering.

Arguments in favor of postmillennialism are:

  • The Great Commission leads us to expect a Christianized world. Jesus said all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, and He has promised to be with us as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Therefore, we have every reason to believe the gospel will triumph in the hearts of individuals and around the world.
  • Jesus’ parables of the kingdom indicate that the gospel will permeate the whole world. The parables of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32) and leaven (Matt. 13:33) are specifically cited.
  • The world is becoming more Christian. Christianity, for example, is the largest religion on earth, far outpacing Islam, Hinduism and other major world religions.

Arguments against postmillennialism are:

  • Although Christ does indeed have all authority in heaven and on earth, and while people from every tribe, nation, and language will be in heaven (Rev. 5:9), this does not mean a majority of the world’s people will become Christians or that the world will dramatically improve prior to Christ’s return.
  • While the parables of Jesus indicate that the kingdom of heaven will begin humbly and then grow dramatically, they do not tell us the extent to which this growth will take place. In fact, other parables of Jesus indicate there will be much wickedness leading up to the days of Christ’s return (e.g., the parable of the dragnet in Matt. 13:47-50 and the parable of the sheep and goats in Matt. 25:31-46).
  • While Christianity is indeed the world’s largest religion, evil is rampant and spreading. Two world wars and numerous other conflicts in the 20th century put a damper on postmillennial fervor.

The Amillennial View

The amillennial view is the simplest of the four major positions on the end times. The prefix “a” means “no,” and therefore those who hold this view believe there is no future millennium to which believers should look. Amillennialists say Rev. 20:1-10 describes the present church age, not some future era of 1,000 years. Presently, Satan’s influence over mankind has been great restricted so that the gospel may reach the ends of the earth. Those said to be reigning with Christ for the 1,000 years – which are not to be taken literally – are saints who have died and are with Jesus in heaven. Christ’s reign in the millennium is not His physical presence on earth but His authority being exercised in heaven as He sits at the Father’s right hand, having received all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). The exact duration of the millennium / church age cannot be known and the phrase “thousand years” in Rev. 20 is simply a figure of speech to indicate a long period of time during which God accomplishes His will on earth.

According to this view, the millennium / church age will continue until Christ returns. All people will be resurrected and brought before Christ in final judgment. Believers will receive glorified bodies and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where they will receive rewards for their earthly service. Unbelievers will be brought into final judgment and sent to hell. The eternal state will begin immediately as God brings about the new heavens and new earth.

Arguments in favor of amillennialism are:

  • In all of scripture, only one passage (Rev. 20:1-6) mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, and this passage is obscure. It is best not to base a major doctrine on a single passage in the Bible. Instead, Rev. 20:1-6 is better interpreted as describing the present church age.
  • The scriptures teach only one resurrection, not two (or more) separated by 1,000 years. Dan. 12:2, John 5:28-29, and Acts 24:15 indicate a single, or general, resurrection of all people.
  • It seems unreasonable to think glorified believers, unglorified believers and lost sinners would live on earth at the same time, even if only for 1,000 years.
  • If Jesus is literally ruling the earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem, it seems unreasonable that people would continue to reject Him and persist in sin.
  • There seems to be no ultimate purpose for a literal 1,000 reign of Christ on earth. Once Jesus has returned, what’s the point of delaying the eternal state?
  • Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events of the end times will occur at once, not spread out over 1,000 years or more.

Arguments against amillennialism are:

  • In response to the statement that only one passage (Rev. 20:1-6) mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, it may be said that even if this were true, the Bible only needs to say something once for it to be true and to command our belief. Further, premillennialists do not find this passage obscure by any means, and they see numerous Old and New Testament passages that indicate a long period of time in the future, yet before the final state, during which Messiah reigns.
  • Revelation 20 speaks of the “first resurrection,” implying there will be a second one. It also addresses those who have no part in the first resurrection; they will come to life after the 1,000 years and experience the “second death.” A straightforward (not figurative) understanding of this chapter seems best.
  • The idea of glorified believers, unglorified believers and unbelievers inhabiting the earth at the same time may be difficult to understand but is not impossible. The resurrected and glorified Christ walked among believers and unbelievers in their natural state after His resurrection.
  • Jesus’ physical presence on earth following His return does not rule out the possibility that many will reject Him. He was rejected by many during His earthly ministry as the Suffering Servant. Even Judas, who shared in Jesus’ ministry for three years, ultimately betrayed Him. We should not underestimate the ability of sinful and fallen people to resort to the greatest evil.
  • An earthly millennial reign of Christ would show “the outworking of God’s good purposes in the structures of society” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1121).
  • The amillennial view lacks a meaningful purpose for Revelation 20.

Next: Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism.

Isaiah 35: The Return of the Ransomed

Isaiah 35: Listen to the audio

Isaiah 35: Download notes and a worksheet for further study

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

There is not sufficient information to know precisely when Isaiah delivers the prophetic messages of chapters 34-35. It is clear, however, that these prophecies anticipate the Day of the Lord, when He will judge the nations and deliver His people. Some commentators believe chapters 34-35 serve as an “eschatological conclusion” (and end-times wrap up) to the woe oracles of Isa. 28-33, which could place Isaiah’s prophecy in the reign of Hezekiah.

Key verse:

Isa. 35:10 – [T]he ransomed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake [them], and sorrow and sighing will flee.

Quick summary:

“The glorious fact of the coming Millennium should serve as strength and comfort to all believers living in difficult times,” writes H.L. Willmington. “The deserts will bloom. The lame will walk, and the mute will shout and sing. The blind will see and the deaf will hear. A highway of holiness will be built” (The Outline Bible, S. Is 35:3-4).

Take note:

It’s important to keep in mind that while the millennium is a time of great prosperity and peace for the redeemed, it is not yet the new heavens and new earth promised in Scripture (for example, see 2 Peter 3:10-13 and Rev. 21-22). There is still the presence of “unclean” people, although they will not be permitted on the Holy Way (v. 8). There also are the foolish, even though they will be kept from going astray. And the animal kingdom is not yet totally tamed, despite the fact that God’s people are protected from the “vicious beast” (v. 9). We learn from other Bible passages that there will be sin and death during Christ’s earthly reign, although the human lifespan is significantly lengthened and Jesus will tolerate no rebellion (Isa. 65:7-25). The primary reasons for joy during this 1,000-year period are Christ’s righteous reign from the throne of David (Isa. 9:7) and Satan’s imprisonment (Rev. 20:1-3). In short, the millennium is the most glorious time in human history, and yet it is just a foretaste of what’s to come when God makes all things new (Rev. 21:5).

Life in the Perfect Age (Isa. 35:1-2, 5-10)

“The glory of this chapter is enhanced, if this is possible, by its setting as an oasis between the visionary wasteland of ch. 34 and the history of war, sickness and folly in chs. 36–39,” writes D.A. Carson (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 35:1). In a familiar pattern, Isaiah follows a graphic depiction of judgment with a glorious foretaste of the millennium. Both nature and humanity are restored. The redeemed return to Zion on the “Holy Way” and are overcome with joy.

Note the specifics of Isaiah’s vision of the perfect age:

  • “The wilderness and the dry land will be glad …” (v. 1). All of nature waits eagerly for the redemption in Christ’s return (Ps. 96:11-13; 98:7-9; Isa. 55:12-13; Rom. 8:19-22). The beauty that today bursts through the thorns and thistles of fallen nature bears testimony of God’s promise to free creation of the curse of sin (Gen. 3:17-19; Rev. 22:3). Verses 6b-7 provide further details of a redeemed plant and animal world.
  • “The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon” (v. 2). Isaiah names three of the most beautiful and fruitful locations in the land, and yet when Christ returns even the desert will produce an abundance that exceeds theirs. There will be no more “parched ground” (v. 7) because the land will become a plush garden that bears testimony of Messiah’s glory.
  • “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy …” (vv. 5-6). Jesus evidently refers to these verses to encourage the imprisoned John the Baptist that He is the promised Messiah (Luke 7:18-23). As Jesus’ miracles confirm His deity and Messianic authority, they also provide a foretaste of the coming kingdom, in which complete health is the norm.
  • “A road will be there and a way; it will be called the Holy Way” (v. 8). Isaiah often uses the theme of a highway (Isa. 11:16; 19:23; 40:3; 62:10). The highways are not safe to travel during the Assyrian invasion (Isa. 33:8), but in the coming kingdom age the Lord will make them safe and provide a special road called “the Holy Way.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “In ancient cities, there were often special roads that only kings and priests could use; but when Messiah reigns, all of His people will be invited to use this highway. Isaiah pictures God’s redeemed, ransomed, and rejoicing Jewish families going up to the yearly feasts in Jerusalem, to praise their Lord” (Be Comforted, S. Is 35:1).
  • “There will be no lion there, and no vicious beast will go up on it” (v. 9). No ferocious animals will hinder the redeemed from traveling the Holy Way to worship the Lord. Even the wild beasts will enjoy a unique period of God-ordained restraint during the millennium (Isa. 11:6-9; Ezek. 34:25; Hosea 2:18).
  • “Joy and gladness will overtake [them], and sorrow and sighing will flee” (v. 10). Matthew Henry writes, “When God’s people returned out of Babylon to Zion they came weeping (Jer. 50:4); but they shall come to heaven singing a new song, which no man can learn, Rev. 14:3. When they shall enter into the joy of their Lord it shall be what the joys of this world never could be: everlasting joy, without mixture, interruption, or period. It shall not only fill their hearts, to their own perfect and perpetual satisfaction, but it shall be upon their heads, as an ornament of grace and a crown of glory, as a garland worn in token of victory” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 35:5).

Life in the Present Age (Isa. 35:3-4)

Israel’s glorious future is the backdrop against which God’s people are called to live in the present. Although the Assyrians are besieging Jerusalem and the Babylonians will destroy it, the Lord promises vengeance, retribution and salvation. In light of these promises, God’s people are instructed to encourage the faint hearted and comfort those who are traumatized by Sennacherib’s invading hoards.

In much the same way, Christians today should live in the light of God’s glorious redemption. While we suffer pain, sickness, aging and death, the Lord has promised to redeem our mortal bodies and give us glorified ones (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:51-58). Though we struggle with sin, He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). And even though many Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith, they will be vindicated at the return of Christ (Luke 21:28; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:11-21). And when it comes to the Lord’s chastening, Christians today, like the citizens of Judah in Isaiah’s time, are urged to “strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead” (Heb. 12:12).

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments: “There is no doubt about the theological principle that God will have vengeance on the wicked and violently destroy them and the earth where they live. His judgment is real, it is devastating, and it is final. If one can conceive of a world without divine support and care, that is the world that awaits the nations that will receive God’s wrath…. [I]n chapter 35 God offers an alternative world of fertility, joy, and gladness where he will reveal something of his marvelous glory. The theological principle here is that everyone should be encouraged to experience the salvation of God, no matter how weak or blind they are. God is not only able to remove blindness and strengthen the weak; he will also miraculously open the eyes of many. His kingdom will have abundant water, great fertility, and a holy highway for his redeemed people to come to Zion to worship him. Only those who return to God, only the holy, and only the ransomed will experience the joy of that day” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, pp. 581-82).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Answering Your Questions about the Feasts of Israel

A dreidel, used in Hanukkah

A dreidel, used in Hanukkah

Your text on Yom Kippur says the Ark of the Covenant was never recovered after the captivity. Is there any record that it was taken into captivity or destroyed?

According to the Jewish Virtual Library (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), what happened to the ark after the captivity is unknown and has been debated for centuries. It is unlikely the Babylonians took it because the detailed lists of what they took make no mention of the Ark. “According to some sources, Josiah, one of the final kings to reign in the First Temple period, learned of the impending invasion of the Babylonians and hid the Ark. Where he hid it is also questionable – according to one midrash, he dug a hole under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount and buried it there (Yoma 53b). Another account says that Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple, and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea, in which Josiah eventually hid the Ark (Maimonides, Laws of the Temple, 4:1).”

Some Ethiopian Christians claim they have the Ark today. In Axum, Ethiopia, it is widely believed that the Ark is being held in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark.” According to the Axum Christian community, they acquired the Ark during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik, whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, stole the Ark after a visit to Jerusalem. The claim has been impossible to verify, for no one but the monk is allowed into his tent.

A more plausible claim is that of archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who has conducted research on the Temple Mount and inside the Dome of the Rock. He claims to have found the spot on the Mount where the Holy of Holies was located during the First Temple period. In the center of that spot is a section of bedrock cut out in dimensions that may match those of the Ark as reported in Exodus. Based on his findings, Ritmeyer has postulated that the Ark may be buried deep inside the Temple Mount. However, it is unlikely that excavation will be allowed on the Mount any time soon by the Muslim or Israeli authorities.

All the feasts are mandated in the Pentateuch, supposedly written by Moses. What is your view concerning the historicity of Moses and the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and more generally the first part of the Old Testament?

While there are some who believe the Bible should be read as literature rather than Scripture, and some scholars who deny the historical truth of Gen. 1-11, it may be best for us to look at how Jesus felt about the Fathers and the Old Testament.  For example:

  • Jesus referred to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46; 7:19 and others). Also, Moses appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Elijah and Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
  • Throughout the Gospels, Jesus quoted richly from the Old Testament, especially in regard to the Messianic prophecies.
  • He spoke of Adam and Eve as real persons (Matt. 19:3-6)
  • He talked about the worldwide flood in the days of Noah as a historical fact (Matt. 24:37-38).
  • He compared His physical resurrection to the reality of Jonah’s three-day experience in the belly of the great fish (Matt. 12:38-40).
  • He made numerous references to Abraham as a real person (Matt. 8:11; 22:32; Luke 3:8; 13:28; 16:19-31; John 8:58).
  • His disciples staked His claim of being Messiah, in part, to His lineage, which included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).

What life application should we take into our lives from the feasts? Understanding that they point to the return of Christ, and that some churches even celebrate these with the Jewish people, how can or do the feasts or the knowledge of them fit into our worship practices today?

It seems to me that the Western church has largely lost the “Jewishness” of the Scriptures. A systematic teaching of the feasts would strengthen the faith of believers as they see God’s hand in human history, and they may serve to convince unbelievers of the amazing prophetic truths of Scripture.

In addition, worship services and sermons devoted to the feasts in the spring and fall may help all of us reconnect with the fact that God’s Anointed One came to us through God’s chosen people, the Jews. One great opportunity that exists now is the Lord’s Supper, which was instituted during the Passover. What a great opportunity to teach Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Also, baptism gives us the opportunity to talk about Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.

On a personal level, I know I have become much more aware of the imminent return of Christ in the fall, and I watch with anticipation for Trumpets, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

There are other Jewish feasts besides the seven we have studied. What can you tell us about Purim and Hanukkah, for example?

Purim commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination, thanks to the heroic acts of Esther, a Jewish woman chosen as Persia’s queen. Her story is told in the book of Esther. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which usually falls in March. The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that the evil Persian leader Haman used to choose a date for the massacre of all Jews. Haman’s sinister plot against the Jews was thwarted when Queen Esther, at the urging of her cousin Mordecai, risked death by revealing the plot to King Ahasuerus. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was put to death. Purim is a joyous celebration preceded by a fast, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king. Observant Jews read the book of Esther, enjoy food and drink, and make gifts to charity.

Hanukkah (also spelled Hanukka, Chanuka and Chanukah) is one of the most joyous times of the Jewish year. The people remember the miraculous military victory of the small, ill-equipped Jewish army over the ruling Greek Syrians, who had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the Temple. In addition, they celebrate the miracle of the small cruse of consecrated oil that burned for eight days in the Temple’s menorah. As a result, Hanukkah is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, which normally falls in December. It also is known as the festival of lights. Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a menorah for eight nights; eating foods fried in oil, especially potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts; and playing with a dreidel, a four-sided top. Many non-Jews – and even some Jews – equate this holiday with Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs such as gift-giving and adorning the house in festive decorations.

Neither Purim nor Hanukkah are “appointed times” or “holy convocations” in Scripture. Nevertheless, they play important roles in Jewish history and modern custom.