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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Premillennial Rejoinder

My Difficulties with Amillennialism

The fine gentleman of the Fide-O blog have a recent post highlighting what is and what isn't Amillennialism.

A decade or so ago, I set myself to do a serious study on eschatology, and so I tried to get a hold of everything concerning the subject. For those uninitiated with fancy theological words, eschatology is the study of end-time events.

Before then, the only books I ever studied on eschatology were from the pen of Clarence Larkin. I was a fresh, brand new believer in the Lord and a Sunday school teacher back in Arkansas let me borrow his copies of Larkin's elaborate schematics of eschatological history. So, I guess you can say I started out as a premillennialist. For a few years, I never knew there were any alternate eschatological systems. I thought everyone was a classic, Scofieldian dispensationalist.

When I buckled down to get a full understanding of all the other positions, I read lots of material supporting amillennialism and critical of premillennialism. Then I moved into studying various books on the subject of postmillennialism.

Yet, after all of that reading, I still maintain my initial premillennial convictions, but not in the Clarence Larkin scheme of things.

I can appreciate how amillennialists view scripture and their complaints against premillennialism, especially how the system is foundational to the recent science fiction theology of Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. But we shouldn't reject premillennialsim because of our distaste for pulp fiction novels based loosely on the scriptures written by two men who are premillennialists. Moreover, I don't want to be one of those guys who falls in love with the Doctrines of Grace, yet because all my theological heroes from whom I learned proper soteriology are amill, I too become an amillennialist by default.

For the sake of balance, I thought I would present my difficulties with an amillennial view of Revelation 20. Much of this post is boiled down from Matt Waymeyer's short little book surveying the views of the millennium called Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate. He managed to articulate what I had already concluded years ago in a succinct fashion. Though it is not comprehensive, Matt provides a good summary of the various positions while critiquing them from a premillennial perspective.

Also, my post is not meant as a slam against Scott and Jason (or Gene for that matter) of Fide-O. I have met both Scott and Jason once during the Shepherd's Conference and I have the utmost respect and admiration for them. In fact, I kind of hope in the future they will invite me to join them for a weekend of theological round table and pig spearing, if the Lord is willing. Again, my post is just meant as a rejoinder for reference:

My Difficulties with the amillennial take on Revelation 20

Satan being bound (Revelation 20:1,2)

Amillennialist believe Satan is presently bound, having been defeated at the cross and Resurrection of Jesus. They insist that the idea of Satan being bound is that he is no longer free to deceive the nations. In other words, Satan cannot hinder the gospel from going forth into all the world. They will often appeal to Matthew 12:29 and the binding of the strong man, equating the "strong man" in the parable with the authority and influence of the devil in the world.

When amillennialists are questioned as to how to explain the biblical teaching of Satan's present activity on the earth, for instance, Peter's words when he warns the Christians that the devil prowls about like a lion (1 Peter 5:8), they will say it is likened to a mean dog (no dig against Fide-O is meant here by the way) who is on a long chain. He has some ability to move about, but not enough to do damage.

My main difficulty with the amillennial view of Satan's binding is that the imagery of him being bound with a chain and being thrown into the abyss implies a total cessation of activity. Meaning, he doesn't act in any fashion upon the earth. It is more than just being kept from deceiving the nations so as to keep them from believing the gospel. Additionally, throughout the Bible, Satan is described as one who is very active in the world tempting believers, keeping unbelievers captive to his will, and holding the world system in his power. The picture of being bound in Revelation 20:3 does not fit with the whole of the biblical teaching on Satan.

The first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6)

Amillennialism teaches that the 1000 years is a present reality. Jesus Christ reigns in heaven and the Church is furthering His kingdom by proclaiming the gospel message to the ends of the earth. In the text of Revelation 20, two resurrections bookend the millennium: those martyred for the faith who come alive to reign with Christ, and then the rest of the dead who are raised to life after the millennium is completed.

Most amillennialists equate the first resurrection of Revelation 20:5 with regeneration. In other words, the first resurrection is a picture of a sinner being born again and raised to spiritual new life. Other amillennialists understand the first resurrection to be the soul's ascension from this earthly life to heaven at the point of physical death (6:9-11; 20:4).

However, I have three exegetical problems with both of these positions.

1) The word resurrection is translated from anastasis and it is always used to describe a physical, bodily resurrection. Never is anastasis employed to speak of being born again or regenerated. I have yet to read anything from amillennialists that adequately handles this exegetical detail.

2) The word ezesan, translated as "to come alive" or "to live," is used in verse 4 to describe how those martyred came to life before the 1000 years. However, in verse 5, ezesan is used to also describe those coming to life after the 1000 years were finished, and amillennialists consider verse 5 to be addressing a physical resurrection. If the amillers are correct, then this presents a bit of a problem. For if the "coming to life" in verse 4 is spiritual in that John is describing the new birth and spiritual regeneration, we would have to change the definition of the exact same word in the very next verse with out any indication of that change taking place by the author.

3) Then finally, the saints described as being martyred in verse 4, are killed for their faith before they are regenerated. If it is true that the first resurrection is spiritual regeneration, how then can they be beheaded for their faith before they are born again?

The 1000 years
Amillennialists emphasize the symbolic, allegorical aspect of the book of Revelation, so when they come to the teaching of the 1000 year reign of Christ, they also spiritualize the number "1000" to mean a "long period of time," or "a complete length of time," or "a period of fullness" or any number of descriptions. The conclusion made by amillers is that in a highly symbolic book like Revelation, the only proper historical-grammatical way of understanding the number "1000" is in a non-literal fashion.
However, I believe amillennialists have the tendency to read too much into the symbolic sections of Revelation. It is rather simplistic to conclude every thing is to be spiritualized. The fact that the book of Revelation contains symbolism does not automatically equate to reading the 1000 years in a symbolic fashion.
Also, John contrasts the number of years of Christ's reign, "1000," with the indefinite phrase "in a little while" in verse 3. Why is there a specific number contrasted with an indefinite period of time? Why didn't John write, "and after a long time," a phrase that is used in the NT?
Then, as Waymeyer points out in his book on pages 50, 51,
Revelation 20 possesses neither of the two characteristics of symbolic language. In order to be considered symbolic, the language in question must possess (a) some degree of absurdity when taken literally and (b) some degree of clarity when taken symbolically.
The literal meaning of symbolic language causes the interpreter to scratch his head and ask, "But how can this be?" For example, when the reader of Isaiah 55:12 comes to the symbolic clause "the trees of the field will clap their hands," the literal meaning of these words possesses a degree of absurdity and causes him to ask, "But how is it that trees can clap their hands?" With symbolic language, then , there is something inherent in the language itself that compels the interpreter to seek something other than a literal meaning: "Since trees don't have hands and therefore cannot clap their hands," he rightly reasons, "there must be a symbolic meaning to this clause."
Symbolic language effectively communicates what it symbolizes. In other words, when the interpreter has concluded that the literal meaning of the language is absurd and ought to be abandoned, the symbolic interpretation will yield some degree of clarity to the meaning of the language of the text. For example, the symbolic language of the aforementioned clause in Isaiah 53:12 clearly and effectively communicates that Israel's return from exile will be a time of great rejoicing. With symbolic language, then, the meaning intended by the symbolism is essentially clear and understandable.
So, when I considered the concept of a 1000 year reign of Christ in Revelation 20, I cannot see this as symbolic language, because it does not have any degree of absurdity if understood literally, nor any clarity if I were to take it symbolically.
Now, at this point, those are my key difficulties with an amillennialist view of Revelation. I have more, but they are minor and some may even think nit-picky. I anticipate commenters to offer their correctives to my difficulties, so I welcome them. If the interest is there, maybe I can expand the discussion in some forth coming posts.

9 Comments:

Blogger D.J. Cimino said...

this is food for thought as I am starting to tackle this issue myself. I will keep this post in mind and refer back to it once I get serious about studying this out. Thanks for the post.

9:31 AM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Jason E. Robertson said...

Fred, I appreciate your biblical approach to solving issues like this. And the questions you ask are good points that I had to address as well in my studies. Obviously, I was convinced that Amillers had very good biblical answers and exegesis to back it up or I would not have gone that way. And I will be answering your questions on FIDE-O soon.

The more I understood and embraced the Reformed doctrines of Covenant theology and understood the issues that my Reformed Baptists brethren have fought through the centuries, the more my Dispensationalism and premillennialism found itself upon the chopping block.

For example, one of the things that troubled me most about premil, from a biblical-theological-exegetical standpoint, was the issue of Israel. Premil insists that these promises to Abraham must yet be fulfilled in an earthly way. It believes that Abraham’s physical descendants must possess the land of Palestine during the millennium so that (as a Jewish race) they can bless the rest of the world. This viewpoint has great appeal in that it seems to fit literally the promises of the Old Testament.

But this kind of fulfillment would mark a retrogression to the older, shadowy forms of the old covenant. In addition, this kind of fulfillment would overlook the richer realization of these very promises to Abraham that are occurring in the present day. As Paul writes: ‘Christ has redeemed us … that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (Galatians 3:13-14).

Dispensationalists teach that Jesus made an offer of the kingdom to literal Israel, but Israel rejected it and so the kingdom was postponed. Covenant Theologians teach that Jesus of course proclaimed the kingdom of heaven, which from the outset was a spiritual kingdom, and though it was rejected by many Jews, it was also accepted by many Jews and Gentiles alike.

Dispensationalists teach that Old Testament believers are not in Christ, that they are not part of the body or bride of Christ. On the Covenant Theology side, believers in all ages are in Christ.

For the Dispensationalists, the millennium is the kingdom of God. For Covenant Theologians, the kingdom of God is much broader than merely the millennium. The church is its institutional form, and Covenant Theologians are usually amillennial or post millennial.

Dispensationalists believe that Old Testament animal sacrifices will be restored in the millennium, whereas Covenant Theologians believe that the Old Testament sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ and have been abolished forever.

Yes, before we deal with a few verses in Revelation, I think we must deal with the whole books of Romans and Hebrews.

God bless you, Fred.

11:30 AM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Fred, I appreciate your biblical approach to solving issues like this. And the questions you ask are good points that I had to address as well in my studies. Obviously, I was convinced that Amillers had very good biblical answers and exegesis to back it up or I would not have gone that way. And I will be answering your questions on FIDE-O soon.

(Fred) I certainly look forward to reviewing your exegesis. I particularly am interested in how you resolve the resurrection difficulty which I believe is the one key defeater for the amill scheme.

The more I understood and embraced the Reformed doctrines of Covenant theology and understood the issues that my Reformed Baptists brethren have fought through the centuries, the more my Dispensationalism and premillennialism found itself upon the chopping block.

(Fred) I can only hope you are not equating Dispensationalism with premillennialism, because the two are not one and the same. I have the same dislike for Dispensationalistic interpretations of things as you do, but I believe a person can leave Dispensationalism while maintaining a firm, biblical premillennialism.

For example, one of the things that troubled me most about premil, from a biblical-theological-exegetical standpoint, was the issue of Israel. Premil insists that these promises to Abraham must yet be fulfilled in an earthly way. It believes that Abraham’s physical descendants must possess the land of Palestine during the millennium so that (as a Jewish race) they can bless the rest of the world. This viewpoint has great appeal in that it seems to fit literally the promises of the Old Testament.

(Fred) This is a clear example where I believe amillers mistakenly attribute to premillennialism the dispensational view of Israel. What you are at odds here is the dispensationalism, not the premillennialism. Dispy Premills adhere to the idea that the millennium will be the fullfillment of the land promises to Israel, where as the historic premills believe the millennium is the consummation of redemptive history in which a redeemed Israel, who recognize their messiah at the appearing of our Lord, enjoy the benefits of that consummation. Dennis Swanson did a thesis on the millennial position of Spurgeon (forgive me if you already have seen this) where he outlines the distinctives between the two premill camps.

But this kind of fulfillment would mark a retrogression to the older, shadowy forms of the old covenant. In addition, this kind of fulfillment would overlook the richer realization of these very promises to Abraham that are occurring in the present day. As Paul writes: ‘Christ has redeemed us … that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (Galatians 3:13-14).

(Fred) I could understand your problem IF there was something soteriological about the land promises being finalized and granted to Israel. Even as one who is not necessarily supportive of the dispy premill view of Israel, I felt as though CT objections to this aspect of Israel were a bit exaggerated and alarmist.

Dispensationalists teach that Jesus made an offer of the kingdom to literal Israel, but Israel rejected it and so the kingdom was postponed. Covenant Theologians teach that Jesus of course proclaimed the kingdom of heaven, which from the outset was a spiritual kingdom, and though it was rejected by many Jews, it was also accepted by many Jews and Gentiles alike.

(Fred) And I would agree with your objection to this aspect of dispensationalism. Historic premill does not maintain this parenthesis idea.

Dispensationalists teach that Old Testament believers are not in Christ, that they are not part of the body or bride of Christ. On the Covenant Theology side, believers in all ages are in Christ.

(Fred) And again, I agree with you whole heartedly, but this muddle headed view of classic, Scofieldian dispensationalism does not nullify a premillennial understanding of Revelation 20.

For the Dispensationalists, the millennium is the kingdom of God. For Covenant Theologians, the kingdom of God is much broader than merely the millennium. The church is its institutional form, and Covenant Theologians are usually amillennial or post millennial.

(Fred) For Dispys, yes, this is true. For those who are not dispy, but still hold to premillennialism, and are favorable toward CT, the kingdom of God is now anticipating its climax at Christ's second coming and physical reign on earth.

Dispensationalists believe that Old Testament animal sacrifices will be restored in the millennium, whereas Covenant Theologians believe that the Old Testament sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ and have been abolished forever.

I don't believe that is entirely fair to state. None of them see the OT sacrifices as effecacious for salvation, but memorial in nature. There are extensive journal articles on this subject you ought to search for and read. As one commenter pointed out in the comments under the Amill post, to be fair and accurate on this, it is best to get a handle upon what they actually teach about animal sacrifices, rather than going the route of Dave Hunt style of strawman apologetics.

Yes, before we deal with a few verses in Revelation, I think we must deal with the whole books of Romans and Hebrews.

(Fred) Perhaps, but there is nothing from Romans or Hebrews that excludes having a premill understanding of Revelation. Remember, S. Lewis Johnson was a hard core premill guy, with a Brethern background, and his teaching from Romans and Hebrews is spot on. At least I would think you would agree.

I still want to go pig spearing with you guys sometime =-)

12:19 PM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I am very glad you are Premillennial.

1:47 PM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Jason E. Robertson said...

Fred, I will be having a pig roast soon. I will send you an invite and truly hope you can come! The Bible doesn't mention the dawgs having to fellowship with the swine in the Millennium, does it? Sharpen the spears!!

2:20 PM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Peter D. Nelson said...

You know you guys keep this up I'm going to have to post something about Post-millenialism just to get all the perspectives in.

9:32 PM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Peter,
Do it, I would love to read it.
Fred

5:18 AM, August 08, 2006  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Us Post-millenialists have all the same objections about Amillenialism that you do.

12:34 PM, August 08, 2006  
Blogger Peter D. Nelson said...

Fred I can deny you nothing but I must finish my other two projects on the law and how I came to the reformed faith first. But I shall do it.

7:40 PM, August 08, 2006  

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