Four Possible Scenarios, Part Three: Amillennialism
The Testimony of Jesus, Chapter 13
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen. Revelation 1:7
As the seventh verse of the first chapter speaks of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ve embarked on a parenthetical journey in the examination of end times scenarios held by Bible-believing Christians. We’ve already examined two of the four different scenarios or systems of interpretation, dispensational pre-millennialism and post-millennialism. The two remaining are amillennialism and historical pre-millennialism, the former being the topic of today’s chapter. Let’s take a look.
DOCTRINES OF AMILLENNIALISM
Amillennialism is an unfortunate title for this system of eschatology since it means “no millennium.” The a-mil believer does believe in a millennium; however, for them, the millennium is a spiritual kingdom on earth, having been established at Christ’s first coming and will extend until the visible, bodily, and imminent second coming of Christ. Since it is a spiritual reign of Christ Jesus in the lives of His people (the church), the millennium is not a literal thousand-year period, for those reasons mentioned in the first section of Chapter 12.
For many a-mil believers, Revelation 20 is a panorama of the entire present age, as it applies an interpretive structure suggesting that the book was written, not in strict chronological order, but as a series of seven perspectives about the same period of time, this present age. Each section of John’s narrative provides clearer details of approximately the same time period, the present age since Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, until the return of Christ; and in the latter chapters, into the new heaven and earth in the age to come.
This is not uncommon in biblical texts. Genesis does this in the account of the creation and the fall. Genesis 1:1-2 describes the creation in the first verse; and the fall in the second verse, while God’s grace continues to broods over the deep. Genesis 1:3-2:3 presents the divine details of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest. Genesis 2:4-25 presents specific details of the sixth day of creation. And Genesis 3:1-24 presents specific details concerning the fall.
When did the amillennial view of eschatology originate? Historically, the idea of the kingdom of Christ that the Puritans call “already, not yet” was introduced through the writings of Augustine of Hippo (354-430). His book, On the City of God against the Pagans, commonly called “The City of God,” was written by Augustine in the early fifth century.
Besides Augustine, other adherents of this system include Martin Luther (1483-1546); John Calvin (1509-64); Anthony Andrew Hoekema (1913-1988); Robert Charles Sproul (1939-2017); Kim Riddlebarger (b.1954); and Jeffrey D. Johnson (b.1976). Amillennial eschatology is found in various denominations, including Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Swiss Reformed, Presbyterians, and many Reformed Baptists, to name a few.
DIFFICULTIES OF AMILLENNIALISM
While amillennialsim is the simplest of the four end times systems, the a-mil view of eschatology is not without its issues and difficulties.
I. The first difficulty is found in the insufficient explanation concerning details of the messianic kingdom spoken by the LORD God in two Old Testament prophecies. The first of these is here:
6 “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples— of Him shall the nations inquire, and His resting place shall be glorious.” Isaiah 11:6-10
While post-mil teachers might have some slight difficulty with this passage, the a-mil teacher will most certainly have difficulty explaining it, even allegorically. In the sixth verse, are these animals symbolic, the wolf, the lamb, the leopard, the young goat, the calf, and the lion? If they are, what do they represent in their dwelling and resting together? It’s obvious that this is not literal in this “present age.” The seventh verse presents a similar, and possibly, a greater difficulty. What does it mean for the cow and bear to graze together and their young lying down together? What does it mean for the lion to eat straw like the ox? Will this be a time when we return to pre-flood conditions in the days of Noah, when all animals ate straw, fruits, and vegetation?
If these animals represent nations, since the tenth verse speaks of the glory of Christ’s reign over them, why are we not seeing this cohabitation now? If the child of verses six and eight are allegorical of the Christian child of God, and if it has represented cohabitation among nations under the Roman Catholic Church in times past, why is it not happening today? What about the cobra and the adder in the eight verse? What do they represent, and how do they relate to the nursing child and the weaned child?
The ninth verse seems to suggest that this will be a time when wars shall cease because the knowledge of the Lord Christ will be as deep, full, and widespread as water covering the sea. The illustration from the prophet presents a thorough knowledge of Christ Jesus and His gospel, for what part of the sea is not covered by water? That’s right. All of it is covered with water.
All four of the eschatological systems, including historical pre-millennialism which we have yet to cover, are in agreement that these conditions will come to pass through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, as prophesied in the tenth verse. The only questions left for the a-mil proponent is when and where will this take place?
Again, Yehovah God speaks through the same prophet, saying,
17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be, and My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD. Isaiah 65:17-25
In this latter passage, these verses are the result of the great changes that would take place because of Yehovah God’s stern judgments against evil side by side with His tender mercies, as declared in the first part of the chapter (Isa 65:1-16).
Now, while verses seventeen through nineteen speak of the re-creation in the age to come, verses twenty through twenty-five speak similarly to the conditions found in Isaiah 11:6-10.
Verse twenty expresses a period of time whereas the longevity of life will be as it was in the era before the flood, as expressed in Genesis 5. While the latter part of the verse may be suggested by a-mil proponents to be an allegorical expression of eternal life in Christ, to allegorize the first part of the verse would be an incredible stretch and exercise in Scriptural gymnastics.
While the twenty-first and twenty-second verses may be considered allegorical representations of the Christian’s joyful labor in the Lord, the attached twenty-third verse would seem to negate such an allegory as taking place during this present age. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes contradicts labor without vanity in this present life, while the testimony of wayward children from the godly upbringing of faithful parents is a tale often twice-told, even thrice-told.
The twenty-fourth verse expresses immediate answers to prayer, which from God’s spiritual and heavenly point of view, can be interpreted allegorically; yet, if this is so, it must be interpreted separately from its three preceding verses, which can cause further confusion.
The twenty-fifth verse echoes what the LORD God had spoken in Isaiah 11:6-10, and is therefore rife with the same difficulties previously discussed.
Another explanation by some a-mil proponents is, like the post-mil adherent, that these conditions take place during a period of time prior to Christ’s return, existing in the period of which Revelation 20 speaks. Isn’t this rather the millennium of the post-millennialist? This sets up a further difficulty in explaining how this can be reconciled with the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, for both the a-mil and post-mil teacher. If these conditions are real and physical, then Christ’s return cannot be sudden, unexpected, and able to happen at any time, since these circumstances must exist before His second coming, by this suggested interpretation.
II. The second difficulty arising in the amillennial system is the binding of Satan:
2 And He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Revelation 20:2-3
The a-mil teacher advocates that the binding of Satan to keep him from deceiving the nations occurred at Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven; in other words, Satan’s ability to deceive the nations has been stymied in order that the gospel may be promulgated throughout the world. According to many a-mil teachers, Satan’s release will occur after this allegorical millennium on earth.
The issue arises then, who has been deceiving the nations for the past 2,000 years? Concerning Satan himself, we have already cited one of the portions concerning his hold upon the earth in the previous chapter:
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
Not only does Paul mention this, but Peter does as well:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Some a-mil advocates claim no conflict with these verses and the binding of Satan concerning the nations. They state that the verses in 2 Corinthians 4 and 1 Peter 5 are Satan’s dominion over man by the effects of the fall. He has certainly been effectively defeated, but the war is not officially over until the return of Christ. This presents two further difficulties to be addressed. First, the binding of Satan seems to be of such weak spiritual material that it hasn’t produced the prophesied effect upon the nations that Isaiah chapters 11 and 65 express; and second, it almost implies Christ’s binding of the devil is basically a permission from Satan in order for God’s people to preach the gospel to the Gentile nations. Most assuredly, this is a revolting, ridiculous, and reprehensible idea.
Moreover, Satan’s deception through the beast and the false prophet is doubly deceptive, upon the whole earth (Rev 13:3) and upon all who dwell on earth (Rev 13:8, 13-14),
3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming His name and His dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.... 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. Revelation 13:3-8, 12-14
III. A third difficulty the a-mil teacher must reconcile is the interpretation of the beast and false prophet of Revelation 13. There are two schools of thought on this. Some have advocated a partial preterist view, and the other is an allegorical view.
“Preterist” comes from the Latin, praeter, which is a prefix denoting something is “past” or “beyond.” The two schools of preterism are partial and full. The full preterist, saying all things have been previously fulfilled in history, is an area we will cover all by itself in a short chapter. The full preterist view is clearly heretical, according to Scripture. The amillennialist who takes a partial preterist view of certain events and conditions recorded in Revelation may interpret the beast and false prophet as being fulfilled in persons who existed in the days of the temple’s destruction in 70 AD, and Jerusalem’s destruction in 135 AD, or some other allegorical interpretation. The issue with this explanation is that, if the beast and false prophet have been cast into the lake of fire upon their deaths (Rev 19:20; 20:10), regardless of who they were historically, why have the prophecies of Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65 not been fulfilled under the binding of Satan (Rev 20:2-3)?
Because of this difficulty, other a-mil proponents have allegorized the beast and false prophet as symbolically representing a false worldly system (the beast) and the corruptions of unbelieving mankind (false prophet), similar to the allegorizing by many post-mil teachers. While I would vehemently agree that Revelation 13 represents these spiritual ideals, as mentioned in the last chapter with the post-mil difficulties, a problem still exists with the beast and false prophet being thrown into the lake of fire by the Lord Jesus, a literal place of torment of persons suffering eternal judgment,
And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. Revelation 19:20
and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10
The beast and the false prophet are to be “thrown alive into the lake of fire.” The questions then arise: “How can an evil system and the wickedness of mankind’s unbelief be tormented day and night forever?” and also, “If the devil is a true personality sent to eternal condemnation, would it not also be true of the beast and false prophet in order for them to be tormented eternally?”
Despite these difficulties, there are certainly desirable characteristics associated with the amillennial system of eschatology, character traits every Christian would be wise to embrace in both attitude and understanding.
The first desirable characteristic is the preeminence of Christ Jesus and His gospel. The a-mil system, like that of the post-mil, views the ultimate fulfillment of the Aaronic priesthood and the levitical ordinances of animal sacrifices as being fulfilled in Christ’s once-and-forever sacrifice. The a-mil scenario dispenses with the dispensational pre-mil need to re-establish temple sacrifices in the millennial kingdom. As detestable as a re-establishment of the animal-sacrificial system is, the idea that it has been fulfilled forever in Christ brings that much more exaltation to the eternal, atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. In their interpretation of Scripture overall, the amillenialist attempts to apply Christ’s precious blood, so to speak, to his embrace and understanding of God’s truth.
The second desirable characteristic is found in the a-mil view of the “already, not yet” reality of Christian life. This idea of the reality of Christ’s reign being spiritually true in the life of the believer, which has its ultimate fulfillment in the Lord’s return, helps us live as true, heavenly ambassadors upon earth (2 Cor 5:20), propagating and representing the substitutionary atonement and redemption truth (2 Cor 5:21) until the Lord Jesus comes again to take His ambassadors home. The attitude and understanding of the “already, not yet” transforms our Christian behavior, so that even without a spoken word, there is a testimony before the unbelieving world, that whether they realize it or not, they are witnessing in our lives the closest thing to heaven on earth they will ever see until the Lord Jesus brings about the new heavens and earth.
The difficulties yet to be addressed sufficiently in the a-mil system will be a stumbling block for the corruptions remaining in our mortal flesh, and the flesh will take advantage of those weaknesses.
The one glaring detrimental characteristic that arises from this system, because of the difficulties found in Isaiah chapters 11 and 65, is there may be a tendency to overlook or completely avoid any commentary, teaching, or preaching on these passages. This sets up a dangerous precedent, almost implying that certain passages of Scripture may be ignored or dismissed. Unbelieving Jews do this in many synagogues, skipping conveniently over the twelve verses of Isaiah 53, which speaks of Christ Jesus, God’s suffering Servant. Let us avoid this detrimental characteristic by reading the portion, presenting the possibilities and their difficulties, and then commending its fulfillment to our gracious, loving, holy, and just God. It’s not a shameful thing to echo the words of Ezekiel in confessing our own ignorance, “O Lord GOD, You know” (Ezek 37:3).
Next time, we’ll take a look at the historical pre-millennial system of eschatology, along with its difficulties, and both its desirable and detrimental characteristics.
May the Lord Jesus continue to bless and keep you.
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