Monday, December 01, 2003

Lesson 6: Millennial Blessings for the Church (Part 4)

Critique of Historic Premillennialism

The strength of premillennialism is in its straightforward understanding of Revelation 19 as describing the Second Coming, and Revelation 20 as depicting an earthly millennium.

Critics contend that this simplistic, literal interpretation, attractive as it may be, is (a) contradicted by simpler, non-symbolic scripture elsewhere; and (b) leads to an untenable, bizarre situation in the millennium: the earth is populated (indeed repopulated) by normal human beings living alongside resurrected saints in glorified bodies, living saints who were caught up in the air when Christ returned, and Christ Himself. Nowhere in scripture does it teach of such an eclectic mix coexisting.

And it gets worse. In this peculiar citizenry we still find evil, sin and death. And from these kingdom inhabitants, a rebellion will arise. (Rev 20:9).

Problems, as we shall see, abound. Just for starters, in the millennium passage of Revelation 20 we read:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4)

The millennium passage, the pride and joy of premillennialists of all stripes, when viewed closely, only talks of resurrected saints (actually, it can be argued that it does not even explicitly mention resurrected) as being part of the millennium.

Now it cannot be that that there are only resurrected saints in the premillennialist’s millennium, because nobody, absolutely nobody believes that saints in resurrected bodies are deceived by Satan and participate in the final rebellion.

We will come back to this point (tomorrow). For now, we move to more mundane criticisms.

The nature and timing of the kingdom

Premillennialism naturally views the kingdom of God as awaiting the millennium for its consummation. Yet critics argue that scripture teaches the kingdom is not future and physical but rather spiritual and present.
And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, (Luke 22:29)

20Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36)

These and other passages do not point a future physical kingdom but a present spiritual kingdom inaugurated by Christ during his ministry. This is what John the Baptist spoke of:
In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. (Matt. 3:1-2)

The duration of the kingdom

Premillennialists view the future kingdom as finite. It lasts a given time (most say 1000 years) and afterwards we enter the eternal state. Critics argue that the kingdom has no end:
32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; ." (Luke 1:32-33)

The two resurrectionshis kingdom will never end

As we discussed, premillennialists expect two resurrections based on their reading of Rev. 20. One (the righteous) occurs at the beginning; the other (of the wicked) at the end. Much scripture, however, depicts a single general resurrection at the time of Christ’s return:

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)

Furthermore, they will face a single, comprehensive judgment at His coming:
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matt. 25:31-33)

they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matt. 25:46)

The wicked will be judged at the Second Coming, not 1000 years later:
9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Th. 1:9-10)

The final enemy

According to the Apostle Paul, the final enemy of Christ is death, and death is defeated at the resurrection of the righteous:
25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:25-26)

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15: 50-55)

According to premillennialism, the final enemy of Christ is Satan, and he is defeated 1000 years after the resurrection of the righteous. Many premillennialists acknowledge that death is the true final enemy, and are forced to argue that in spite of 1 Cor. 15, death is not actually defeated until the end of the millennium.

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