Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 10)
Transcript of William Lane Craig’s Defenders 2 class.
Views on the Millennium
Some definitions to keep in mind:
Eschatology = Study of Last Things
Eschaton = the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.
Parousia = the coming or the presence of the Lord
Apokalupsis = the revelation of the Lord
Epiphaneia = the appearing of the Lord
Gnosticism = a Greek doctrine which depreciated the value of the material and exalted the value of the spiritual.
Preterism = the return of Christ predicted by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse has already occurred.
Amillennialism =This would be the view that Revelation 20:1-10 isn’t to be interpreted literally as describing some sort of future thousand year reign of Christ with the saints on Earth.
Premillennialism = A view that holds that there will be a return of Christ prior to a literal thousand year reign of Jesus on the Earth.
Postmillennialism = A view that holds that Christ will return after the millennium. The millennium is actually describing the triumph of the church as the Gospel spreads to all nations and this great harvest comes into the Kingdom, and God’s Kingdom is established on Earth through the preaching and the dissemination of the Gospel to all nations; in effect the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
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My commentary under the cut and pasted sections from Dr. Craig’s full transcript is in YELLOW, as always
KEY ISSUE: What are the arguments for (and against) the main views on the Second Coming of Christ?
Sections from the Transcript:
We have begun to talk about different views of the millennium following the return of Christ. As I said last time, this is not an area which I have studied. So we are just doing a brief survey without assessment of competing views on the millennium. Last time I said that there were three fundamental perspectives on the millennium:
- Amillennialism holds that there is in no literal sense a millennium – there is no thousand year reign of Christ. This is purely symbolic.
- Postmillennialism holds that the millennium is a description of the triumph of the church in human history as the Gospel goes out to all the world and the Kingdom of God is established here on Earth.
- Premillennialism holds that there will be a literal thousand year earthly reign of Jesus Christ following his return.
You can see that the first two do not take the millennium typically to be a literal thousand year period of time. Only premillennialism takes it to be literal. What differentiates the amillennialists and the postmillennialists, I think, is the sort of triumphalism that characterizes postmillennialism. The amillennialist treats this purely symbolically. But there is the additional element in the postmillennial view that the millennium is this sort of idyllic period of human history that will arrive here on Earth as a result of the propagation and worldwide triumph of the Gospel and the subduing of the forces of unbelief and sin.
What we want to do now is to look at some of the arguments for and against these specific views.
Let’s begin with the amillennial perspective. The amillennialist presents a number of arguments in favor of his view that might seem surprisingly strong for those of us who have been raised in churches where we’ve always been taught premillennialism.
- The amillennialist points out that the millennium is taught in only one passage in Scripture. It is only found in Revelation 20:1-10. It is not to be found anywhere else in Scripture. So this whole doctrine of the millennium is based on this single passage. This comes from a book of the Bible that is filled with apocalyptic symbolism and imagery – dragons, monsters, beasts, bowls of wrath being poured out upon people, a many-eyed lamb on the throne in heaven. The whole book of Revelation is permeated by symbolic, apocalyptic elements that aren’t to be taken literally. That really gives one pause, I think – why should we take the millennium literally if it is only found in Scripture in the book of Revelation, a book that is noted for its symbolic and apocalyptic imagery. It would be much more convincing if the doctrine of the millennium were found in the teachings of Jesus and in the teachings of Paul as the Second Coming is, and then also in the book of Revelation. But to base a doctrine totally upon one passage in the book of Revelation, I think, ought to give us pause.
- The amillennialist will point out that Scripture teaches only one (and not two) resurrections of the dead. There will be a single resurrection of the dead when Christ returns. This is a point that we’ve already seen in our study of the return of Christ. But let’s just look at a few passages by way of review.
Daniel 12:2, for example, in the Old Testament, says,
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Here there is a resurrection predicted of both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Turning over to the New Testament you find Jesus teaching something similar in John 5:28-29:
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”
Here Jesus again speaks of a resurrection of the evil and the righteous alike when the Son of Man returns. Finally, Acts 24:15 says,
“there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.”
Here Paul teaches that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous alike. So there is just one resurrection, not multiple resurrections such as you have in Revelation 20:1-10.
- The idea of sinners living alongside glorified, resurrected, righteous saints is an intolerable thought. Think of what the millennium contemplates. This is after the return of Christ. The dead in Christ are risen. They have now no longer earthly bodies; they have resurrection bodies like Christ’s with all of its supernatural powers. They have a body that Paul described as immortal, incorruptible, powerful, and glorious. They are now free of sin. Sin has been done away with. These are glorified saints. Yet we are to imagine them living in a society with mortal, sinful, corruptible people and that this is the kind of interrelationship that they would have? It just seems inconceivable that you would have that sort of mixture.
- If Christ is present and reigning as described in the millennium then how can people persist in sin? The whole idea of the Kingdom of God being established is to do away with sin and with the enemies of God. So how is it that Christ is now reigning in his millennial kingdom on Earth and yet sin still continues and people still persist in sin? What does it mean that Christ is the reigning King? That is the situation we have now! Christ is King but the Kingdom isn’t yet established, right? It is still waiting to be fully established on Earth when sin and death will be done away with.
- The amillennialist would say the millennium serves no purpose. Why do such a thing as to have this strange earthly kingdom? Why not simply, upon people being raised from the dead and judged, go into the eternal state of heaven or hell? The millennium doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.
Dr. Craig pointed out 5 key arguments related to amillenialism. Are these points fairly easy to knock over? I think they are easy to knock over to some degree but I’m finding the teaching helpful, in general. It’s very good to have this overview of the various views of the millenium. You can dig much deeper into these subjects if it was of more interest to you down the road. If you aren’t aware of the counterpoints books that go into great detail on subjects such as these, you can find them on amazon:
Dr. Craig in the transcript goes to explain how a person with a premillennialist view might respond to the Amillenial view. You can go to the transcript, if you want to read that part.
Let’s talk now about some arguments pro and con concerning postmillennialism. The postmillennialist will say that Christ has given a Great Commission to his church to fulfill, and that the church will fulfill that Commission.
That Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The postmillennialist will say that there are indications in Scripture that the church will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, carry out this Commission and be successful in its mission.
For example, Matthew 13:31-32. Jesus tells a lot of parables of this sort:
Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Here Jesus says from its ignominious (or dishonorable) beginnings, the Kingdom of God is going to spread throughout human society and become this great cultural influence and indeed transform the world. There are many passages that suggest there will be this tremendous harvest of souls that will come into the Kingdom of God as the church fulfills the Great Commission. So they would argue that this gives grounds for thinking that we don’t need to think of the millennium literally; they would employ the same sorts of arguments against the literal interpretation that the amillennialist has already given. But they would add this additional note – there is this triumph that will occur through the church’s obedience.
Against postmillennialism many people will say that this view was an overly optimistic and rather naive view of human history that came to a shattering end with the 20th century – World War I and World War II and the horrors that have followed, and the withdrawal of the colonial powers from the third world and the aftermath of colonialism. But I am not persuaded that that kind of argument has any sort of merit in terms of the Scriptural warrant for or against a view. What we see in the 20th century could just be a blip in the whole scheme of human history. If Christ returns, say, in AD 5000 or AD 12,000 then what happens in this century could be nothing. The fact is that it is very true that the Christian church has from these most ignominious beginnings in first century Palestine grown throughout the world so that now there are at least three and a half billion people on Earth claiming at least to be Christians. About a third of the population of the Earth at least claims to be Christian. The Christian church and the Christian movement is the largest, most successful movement in the history of mankind. It is really astonishing when you look at the history of how this movement spread geographically over the twenty centuries of its existence. So we must not take the short-term perspective on the church and say just because the 20th century has involved a lot of evil and suffering that therefore the church is not going to be successful in its mission.
In fact, quite the contrary, it has been in the midst of this suffering and war that the growth of evangelical Christianity throughout the world has been beyond parallel in church history. The last twenty-five years of the 20th century were a period of church growth around the world that are simply unprecedented, as in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The church is growing by leaps and bounds. So we must not be misled by the disastrous things that are happening in the world to think that the church is failing in its Great Commission.
Again, Dr. Craig has covered the 2nd popular view known as postmillennialism and made notice of it’s stronger points. To see how he critiques the view, you can go to the transcript link above and see what he discussed.
Those are some of the arguments for and against postmillennialism. Let’s say something about premillennialism.
The premillennialist, again, will appeal to Old Testament prophecies of an earthly kingdom which will still involve mortality, sin, the presence of enemies. In these Old Testament prophecies of God’s Kingdom that would be established, it wasn’t envisioned as a Kingdom that would do away with things like sin, death, and the enemies of God. So the premillennialist would say that the idea of a millennium such as John describes is right in line with these Old Testament prophecies about God’s Kingdom.
Secondly, they would point out that believers are supposed to reign with Christ. Christ has said that we will reign with him. But that is nowhere spoken of in the Scripture as a present reality. So against the postmillennialist, we are not reigning with Christ now in human history, nor will we be. But this will require the return of Christ and the establishment of the millennial kingdom if these prophecies concerning the co-regency of believers with Christ are to be fulfilled.
Dr. Craig goes on to make some analysis of this view and how it has some weaknesses like the others. You can go to the transcript to read it, if you like.
Do I feel that I need to pick a view from what has been offered? I don’t think I do. It’s an interesting subject within Christian doctrine but an area where I’m still very open and learning. Eschatology can be quite consuming. I’ve known some Christian brothers and sisters to get quite enthusiastic on the subject…to the point of clearing out a room….LOL. Personally, I’ve enjoyed watching episodes of the Hal Lindsey Report (Hal Lindsey is a notable Prophecy Teacher in Christian Ministry Television) but I’m not too fanatical about the various biblical views which Hal Lindsey sometimes discusses. Many elements of his recorded shows are informative and encouraging. His commentary on political subjects has been interesting at times. I’ve always admired persons who intelligently discuss politics and religion and Hal Lindsey has a gift to communicate biblical subjects against the backdrop of current events. That is not a bad thing. At certain times, he reaches kind of far in his interpretation of scriptures that have symbolic meaning.
All of the questions (without the answers copied in) asked in the DISCUSSION portions of the transcript. You can go to website (transcript link is above) to read answers, if interested:
Question: The criticism of premillennialism on having glorified people co-existing with unglorified, you have the example of Christ. It is true for most of that time he wasn’t in the glorified state, but he did miracles. When he raised Lazarus, you would think everybody would be believers, but some went to plot how they were going to kill him. I think that is a strong argument to say that this could co-exist. On the Old Testament side of things, you had situations where if this was all fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem what would you do with prophecies like in Zechariah that says all nations are going to come and observe the chosen people in Jerusalem and Christ will come down on the Mount of Olives and rule from that. Then I think the third thing is I think the amillennialist would have to explain why there is a literal Israel. Amillennialism doesn’t require a literal Israel. So I think they would have to explain that.
Followup: It could, but in amillennialism they take the Jews out of being . . .
Question: In the passages about postmillennialism – the mustard seed parables, the leaven parable – mustard seeds only grow so big. They grow huge beyond what they start at, but there is an ending point. The same thing with leaven – a loaf of bread only gets so big before it collapses. So to say that those passages indicate the whole world will be saved – you can’t draw that conclusion based on those metaphors.
Question: I think it comes down to a matter of hermeneutics or how you interpret. As you alluded to, there are many Old Testament prophecies that talk about a literal kingdom on Earth. The amillennialist in rejecting the concept of that has to ignore or allegorize a huge number of these things. Another one is the fantastically detailed description of the millennial temple in Ezekiel 40 and 43. For me that just does far too much violence to the Scriptures without contextual or other justification. So I feel more comfortable with the premillennial view.
Followup: That is the most powerful argument against my position. The classic rebuttal to it is, “This is memorial.”
Followup: Sort of like communion is for the church.
Followup: That won’t quite fly because I think it is in Ezekiel where it mentions actual propitiation that this is done. That implies that these sacrifices are actually doing something. If you examine the prophecies in Ezekiel, you will find some huge differences between the millennial temple and the classic temple. For instance, there is no high priest. If there were a high priest I would have to say hold the phone. We know Christ is the high priest. There is no high priest and there is no Day of Atonement. The best argument I have – it is not perfect, but I am OK with it – is that these sacrifices were because people coming to worship God (and he is in some physical form in the millennial temple) were ceremonially unclean. They may have had a traffic jam going over there – “Why you!” They’ve got their sin natures. Satan is bound during that period by the way, it is not going to be rampant, but there is sin during the millennial kingdom, I believe. They come, they hurry and go in there, and here is God in a physical form. No where in our current situation are we asked to go before God in a physical form, one that goes right to our senses. It is only spiritual. So I think the idea is that you might become ceremonial unclean. It occurred to me – remember the burning bush when Moses came up? – here we have a physical form of the manifestation of God. Moses was saved; he wasn’t perfect, but he was saved. But the warning was (if I remember correctly) loose the latches on your sandals because the ground that you stand upon was holy. He was saved but he had to do a little something. Did that take away his sin? Of course not. Taking off your sandals is not going to take away your sin. But it is a recognition that you are in the presence of a physical manifestation of the living God. Similarly, in the millennial temple, is that going to remove their sin by killing these animals? No, but it is more like a recognition. As I say, that is the best rebuttal that I can make.