Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 9)
Transcript of William Lane Craig’s Defenders 2 class.
Practical Application of the Second Coming of Christ / 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 is the practical application of the Second Coming of Christ?
Sections from the Transcript:
We come now to the end of our discussion of the return of Christ, and now I want to say what application this has to our lives. What should be our response to what we’ve learned about the Second Coming of Christ? I think that this doctrine has considerable practical application in our lives.
- It is a call to moral living; a call to holiness. This contrasts with what we saw last time about the imminent potential apocalypse predicted by physical eschatology. There you will remember Adams and Laughlin said that preparation is as impossible as it was futile. There is nothing you can do to prepare for this imminent apocalypse and it wouldn’t do any good if you could. By contrast, the coming of Christ is an incentive to moral and holy living so that we will be ready to meet the Savior whenever he should return.
2 Peter 3:11-14 – this is right after that passage that we read last time about the coming of the Day of the Lord and the destruction of the present heavens and Earth. Peter says,
2 Peter 3:11-14
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
So the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ ought to be an incentive for us to live lives that are holy and blameless without spot and to be at peace with ourselves, with others.
Finally, the apostle John says the same thing. 1 John 3:2-3. John says,
Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
This is very much in contrast to the apocalypse that may be predicted in physical eschatology. The end of the world and the return of Christ that we await is one for which considerable preparation is possible and far from futile. We want to be found living lives that are honoring to Christ when he returns.
Do you recall physical eschatology? If not go back and read the Doctrine of Last Things, Part 8.
- The return of Christ is an incentive to be engaged in fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus gave to his disciples the command to go throughout the world and evangelize and disciple the nations. This is called his Great Commission.
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says,
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.
Here Jesus talks about his Second Coming. He will be with us until the close of the age – the end of the world – when he returns again. Meantime, we are to be preoccupied with fulfilling this Great Commission of making disciples of all the nations. This is the work that is given to us to do until Christ returns – not just to live life enjoying ourselves or fulfilling other obligations, but first and foremost to be engaged in the work of the Great Commission.
So, this is cause for reflection. Do I feel that I’m engaged in the work of the Great Commission? If my answer is yes….then the next question is HOW? What exactly is Clay doing in fulfilling the great commission. Some people who know me, might say….you do that Jail ministry…what about that? My answer – “maybe to an extent”….but I wonder how motivated am I? How motivated are you for the great commission? I don’t think I have to be a street evangelist but sadly…bringing up the good news to someone I meet is not always high on my list. I must confess— I talk myself out of how to bring the gospel into my conversations…all the time. Why is that? It’s fear, pure and simple. I don’t like rejection. I could keep going but I don’t think it would be encouraging…so I will leave it there. The point is that I could be better prepared and prayed up for life situations and opportunities for sharing the gospel.
- Finally, the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ is the basis for our hope. It is the church’s hope toward which we press. Titus 2:13 refers to “awaiting our blessed hope,” – and what is that? – “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” So this is the church’s hope, our blessed hope – the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. So we ought not to think about the end of the world or the return of Christ with fear or anxiety or trepidation. On the contrary, this is what we hope for; this is what we long for – the return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Look also at Romans 8:22-25. Paul says,
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Here Paul talks about how the whole creation and we ourselves groan and yearn. What for? For the redemption of our bodies; that is, the resurrection of our bodies. We have the first fruits of the Spirit – we are born again spiritually; our spirits are born anew – but as Paul says elsewhere, we have this treasure in earthen vessels. That born again spirit resides in an earthly mortal body that is still affected by sin and corruption and death. We groan as we await the redemption of our bodies – the ultimate resurrection which, as we saw, Paul believed would come on that day when Christ would return and the dead would be raised.
So I think that the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ has tremendous practical implication. It is an incentive to moral living, a call to be involved in the work of fulfilling the Great Commission (making disciples of all the nations), and it gives us hope beyond the shortcomings and finitude of human existence.
The subject of the millennium is mentioned in Scripture in Revelation 20:1-10. Let’s read that passage.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, that is, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and
Here is described this thousand year period of the reign of Christ and of his saints on Earth after which then Satan will be released and there will be a final cataclysmic conflict. Then people will go into the eternal state.
In church history there have been at least three broad views on this passage about the millennium.
The first view we could call 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. Rather, many amillennialists would take it to simply describe the present church age. On this view, at the end of the church age when Christ returns then there will be a judgment of the wicked and the just. But the return of Christ will not be something that precedes the establishment of this literal earthly thousand year reign of Christ.
The second view is premillennialism which holds that there will be a return of Christ prior to a literal thousand year reign of Jesus on the Earth. This is often referred to as chilianism from the Greek word for one thousand. Chilianists are those who believe in a literal thousand year reign of Christ on the Earth – an earthly Kingdom. Traditionally in church history, those church fathers and others who have been chilianists and believed in a literal millennium have taken the view that there will be a return of Christ such as we have described already prior to the establishment of the millennium and then the reign of Christ on Earth will follow. After that will be the final judgment of Satan and then the judgment of the world.
Those who hold to a rapture theology add an additional wrinkle to classical premillennialism by positing another return of Christ prior to the Second Coming in order to evacuate the church out of the tribulation. Christ will come and will snatch believers out of the world before the tribulation begins. Then at the end of the tribulation he will come again and establish his earthly Kingdom for a thousand years. It is important to recognize therefore that premillennialism is not bound up with rapture theology. Until the early 1800s premillennialists didn’t hold to rapture theology. So the issue of the millennium is independent of your rapture theology. Whether you believe in a rapture or not, you still might be a premillennialist, thinking that after Christ comes again he will establish an earthly Kingdom.
Finally, the third broad perspective would be postmillennialism. Postmillennialism 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. Then Christ will return after that.
So we have three different perspectives on the subject of the millennium. One of them takes it literally, the other two do not. What we will do next time is look at some of the arguments pro and con that have been offered for each of these three views.
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:
Discussion related to section on “application”:
Question: In Revelation, right before the one you quoted, it looks like there is a play on words for “come.” It is saying in verse 17 that he is saying “come” and then he is talking to other people to come and accept Christ. So he asks for God to come into them as they accept him.
Question: I want to commend you for defending the doctrine of the Second Coming. The delay obviously produces in some people skepticism, apostasy, or at least complacency and apathy. I think you probably talked about 2 Peter 3 that you mentioned today and how there will be people who say, “Where is the promise?” One thing Peter says is that people who say that forget that there were previous delays in the fulfillment of God’s promises. The passage that I wanted to mention which seems to me that speaks to this also is Hebrews 11 which is the faith Hall of Fame chapter. Twice in that chapter it says that these famous believers in the past “died without receiving the promise.”
Followup: The other is verse 39.
Followup: What is striking to me is that all of these people did receive benefits from God. If you read the chapter it says in some cases there were resurrections, healings, and other benefits. Yet the ultimate promise they did not receive. I think we are in the same situation where we are called also to be faithful.
Question: The millennial Kingdom – could you just talk about that for a minute?
Question: You had mentioned the Great Commission. Can you address what the Second Coming of Christ means for the urgency of sharing the Gospel?
Question: I was wondering whether the Second Coming of Christ is in a physical time and physical space or is it just this reality of God with us being played out on a large scale?
Question: Just a quick comment. I always read this hope as something in the way that we do – “Gee, I hope it happens. I am not sure it will happen. I just hope it happens.” But that is not the proper understanding of this word “hope.”
Discussion related to section on “the millenium”:
Question: For postmillennialism, would it mean that the Second Coming of Christ would be in 1000 AD?