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

Monday, April 26, 2010

Defending Premillennialism [7]

Kingdom Citizens

One of the first common objections raised against premillennialism by non-premillennialists has to do with the resurrected righteous living along side of non-resurrected individuals during the millennium. The non-premillennialists see such living conditions as something of a weird thing. "Why would God allow unresurrected people to dwell among His resurrected righteous?" they will ask.

Amillennialist, Kim Riddlebarger, describes the alleged conundrum this way,

According to premillenarians, the millennium is a period in which people who have been raised from the dead and who now live on the earth in resurrected bodies coexist with people who have not been raised from the dead and who remain in the flesh. How can this be? Where does Scripture teach about such a mixture of resurrected and unresurrected individuals? As we have seen, the New Testament writers all anticipated the final consummation to occur at the time of our Lord's second advent. They do not anticipate the halfway step of an earthly millennium before the final consummation, such as that associated with all forms of premillennialism. [Riddlebarger, 232]
He goes on to highlight all the so-called theological problems that are created such as the concept of a second fall of man into sin, because the "nations" existing at the end of the millennium upon the release of Satan revolt against God and Christ (Rev. 20:10). They had to have been judged by Christ at his coming, argues Riddlebarger, because this is what Matthew 24:37-41 outlines.

Sam Storms, another amillennialist, also raises this objection when he writes,

Premillennialists must account for the rebellious and unbelieving nations in Revelation 20:7-10 who launch an assault against Christ and his people at the end of the millennial age. Where did these people come from? They must be the unbelieving progeny born to those believers who entered the millennial age in physical, unglorified bodies. Not only they, but also the believing progeny born to those believers will be subject to physical death (notwithstanding the alleged prolonged life spans experienced by those who live during the millennial reign of Christ).

Theologian, Vern Poythress, goes into more detail in the abstract to an article he wrote on the judgment passage of 2 Thessalonians 1. He writes,

Second, 2 Thessalonians 1 is in tension with posttribulational premillennialism. It knows of only two classes of people, namely Christians and their opponents. At the Second Coming, Christians enjoy eternal glory (verse 10) and their opponents experience eternal destruction in hell (verse 9). Both destinies are final and irreversible. Moreover, we know from other passages that at the Second Coming Christians have resurrection bodies, not subject to death. Their opponents experience eternal death. Hence, immediately after the Second Coming there are no human beings left with bodies in a nonfinal state. There is no one who could populate a supposed millennium, in order that more children might be born and that some human beings would still experience a later physical death. [Poythress, 529]
He then argues that the only possible way premillennialists, particular those who hold to a post-tribulational rapture, can explain this passage in light of their eschatology is to create some third category of person who is neither opposed to Christ or Christianity and such a category contradicts what he says the Bible teaches regarding only two categories of people to be judge, the righteous and the unrighteous.

I will admit the understanding of a millennium, what is the future Kingdom of God populated by the resurrected saints and non-resurrected, mortal people living together, raises some difficult questions for premillennialism. However, I believe there are plenty of satisfactory answers to those difficult questions. More over the alleged theological inconsistencies presented by non-premillennialists like Riddlebarger and Poythress are overly exaggerated. Honestly: the Augustinian hermeneutic utilized by Reformed, non-premillennialists to interpret prophetic literature, especially Revelation 20, creates way more theological problems overall for amillennialists and postmillennialists than this one perceived problem with the premillennial perspective of the millennium.

Is it then unreasonable, and I guess unbiblical as well, to think the resurrected saints can co-mingle and live with unresurrected, mortal men in the kingdom?

To begin, there is nothing really odd with the idea of resurrected saints living along side mortal men for a thousand years. Why is it suppose to be a problem exactly for premillennialism? Why would it be a bad thing to have resurrected saints living along side mortal, unresurrected people? It really amounts to a manufactured fallacy on the part of non-premillennialists, in my mind.

We also have a key example of such a situation in our Lord Jesus. Our Lord appeared after His Resurrection -- in a resurrected body mind you -- on many occasions to His apostles and the disciples and had fellowship with them. Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that he appeared to 500 witnesses at once. These weren't ghostly apparitions where Jesus hovered over the heads of the crowd. He talked with them, could be physically touched by the people, and even ate with them (John 21).

Luke 24 records one of the more fascinating post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus when he walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a little town maybe 7 miles outside of Jerusalem. Here, Jesus travels along a road with two mortal individuals probably all day talking with them about the Old Testament prophecies pertaining to the coming Messiah of Israel. The event is described by Luke as if there was nothing out of the ordinary in the experience. The only thing unique was how the two disciples had their eyes "restrained" from recognizing who Jesus was until the end of the encounter.

Matthew 27:52 provides for us an even more interesting description of resurrected individuals along side mortal, unresurrected people. Matthew records that upon the death of Jesus some of the graves were opened and many saints who had died were raised to life and after Christ's resurrection went into Jerusalem and appeared to many. The account is unusual in that Matthew alone records the occurrence, and the circumstances are strange to us as well. Who ever these individuals were, the text clearly suggests they were in resurrected bodies, and unlike Lazarus (John 11) who was raised from the dead and died a second time physically, these individuals were more than likely a part of the first fruits of Jesus' resurrection Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15:23. Whatever the case, they appeared to many in Jerusalem as a testimony of who Jesus was. The idea of "appearing" is more than a fleeting glance in a window or in a crowd in which the witness is left to wonder if they really saw the person, but is more akin to them actually having fellowship with these resurrected saints.

In all of these instances, Jesus and his disciples and these resurrected saints at Christ's death, nothing in the text suggests their presence among unresurrected, mortal people was necessarily out of the ordinary or reflected a relationship that could never be maintained because of existing in two separate categories, the resurrected saints contrasted with unresurrected men.

Non-premillennialists also seem to object to the idea of what Poythress says is a "third category" or person neither opposed to Christ or Christianity. It is believed the Bible only relates two categories of people, the righteous, which would include everyone saved and eventually glorified in the resurrection, and the wicked, who will be judged eternally. Additionally, they insist the Bible knows of only one general resurrection during which both the righteous and wicked will be judged at one time. No intermediate kingdom of one thousand years separates the resurrection of these two groups. Yet, as I noted in a previous article, nothing in those so-called general resurrection passages cited precludes the notion the two groups are separated by a millennium just as Revelation 20 states. I believe non-premillennialists insist upon their general resurrection position because it is necessary to preserve the typographical interpretation of Revelation 20 as being a recapitulation of church history.

That stated, one specific passage often overlooked in this discussion of the resurrected righteous living with mortal men is Zechariah's prophecy in chapter 14. After what is the prophet's description of the battle of Armageddon and those people who fought against Jerusalem are judged by the coming of the Messiah (14:3ff.), Zechariah writes, And it shall come to pass that every one who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles [Zech. 14:16ff.].

The question is ask, who are these "everyone who is left of all the nations"? Zechariah clearly describes a time after the judgment of Jerusalem's enemies when people of nations come to worship the Lord. Who are these people then? Where do they come from? What is the point of God warning of withholding rain from their nations if they do not come up to Jerusalem to worship? It seems to me the prophet is describing people who were not among those enemies of Jerusalem who are left to dwell on the earth during the millennium. If these people have children, and they have children, and so on, it is quite plain to see from where the multitude will come who are stirred up after Satan's release from the abyss who will then oppose Christ.

One final verse cited against the premillennialist to argue against a millennium where the resurrected and non-resurrected coexist is 1 Corinthians 15:50, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Sam Storms provides his argument by stating,

The “kingdom” in view, according to the PM, is the millennial kingdom, that very “reign” of Christ we noted above in 1 Corinthians 15:24. But how can that be? The PM argues that many believers will enter and inherit and enjoy the blessings of the millennial kingdom in their natural, unglorified, untransformed, “flesh and blood” bodies. But that is precisely what Paul denies could ever happen. Most PM also contend that these believers will bear children, many of whom likewise may come to faith and “claim” their inheritance while yet in “flesh and blood” bodies. The problem for PM is acute: either deny these believers that inheritance of the kingdom which Christ has promised, and into the experience of which he gives them entrance (Mt. 25), or recognize that 1 Corinthians 15:50 precludes the millennial age traditionally defined and defended by the PM.
Now, at first glance, that seems to be a rather clear word against the notion of an earthly millennial kingdom where unglorifed individuals will dwell along side the resurrected saints. Yet the key understanding of the kingdom of God for the non-premillennialists is that it is a present reality now as the Church. Kim Riddlebarger devotes an entire chapter to the KoG and he defends the typical, Augustinian view of the KoG existing now presently [Riddlebarger, 100-113]. How exactly do non-premillennialists understand 1 Cor. 15:50 in light of their view of the KoG? Certainly they don't think we live currently in our glorified bodies do they? They have just as much of a problem explaining this passage as the premillennialist does.

There are two possible ways to understand this passage as a premillennialist. First, the Kingdom of God is the concept of a restored Jerusalem with a millennial temple at it's center as described in detail in Ezekiel 40-48. Only the resurrected saints will be granted access because of their state. Mortal humanity must go through the prescribed purity rituals mentioned in Ezekiel's prophecy. However, the clearest understanding of this text is Paul is describing the Kingdom of God in its eternal state, what would be the eventual New Heavens and New Earth. No mortal man can go into eternity with an unglorified body; even the wicked. The righteous must have a glorified body to stand in the holy presence of God, where as the wicked must have a glorified body to withstand the eternal wrath of a holy God.

I haven't obviously dealt in exacting detail with every possible objection to the idea of resurrected saints dwelling along side of unresurrected, mortal men, but as to the main objections often raised, the idea is not theologically problematic as non-premillennialists suggest.


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Sources:

Vern Poythress, 2 Thessalonians 1 Supports Amilllennialism. (on-line paper)
Kim Riddlebarger, The Case for Amillennialism.
Samuel Storms, Problems with Premillennialism. (on-line paper) accessed April, 2010.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Charles said...

Good discussion. Another possible explanation is to understand the Millennial Kingdom as a transitional period which will ultimately give way to the New Heavens/Earth/Jerusalem. Transitional periods are often characterized by both/and rather than either/or.

10:02 AM, April 26, 2010  
Blogger The Squirrel said...

Have I told you how glad I am that you are doing this series?

:o)

Squirrel

7:45 PM, April 27, 2010  

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