Thursday, March 04, 2004

Lesson 8: Amillennialism: A Golden Age Beyond Time (part 1)

Though not an accurate description, amillennial means "no millennium". Like postmillennialists, amillennialists do not believe in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. The amillennialist, we shall see, is something like the postmillennialist who believes the millennium began during the New Testament era. The amillennialist, however, has a much different view of the nature of the millennium.

History and General Features of Amillennialism

Amillennialism has dominated the eschatological landscape far more than any other view. It was the preeminent view starting no later than the time of Augustine and up till the rise of American pietistic postmillennialism, or about 14 to 15 centuries.

While dispensational premillenniallism dominates among evangelical Christians (using the common meaning of that term), amillennialism still dominates among the Reformed and among Roman Catholics. (I don't know what the common Orthodox view on the end times is.)

So strong is its pedigree, that even its harshest (scholarly) critics are forced to pay tribute. Staunch dispensationalist Walvoord writes:
Because amillennialism was adopted by the Reformers, it achieved a quality of orthodoxy to which modern adherents can point with pride. They can rightly claim many worthy scholars in the succession from the Reformation to modern times such as Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, and in modern times Warfied, Vos, Kuyper, Machen, and Berkhof. If one follows traditional Reformed theology in many other aspects, it is natural to accept its amillennialism. The weight of organized Christianity has largely been on the side of amillennialism. 217

Of course, some of the writers of popularized prophecy are not so gracious. Hal Lindsey has described the eschatology of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin as "demonic, heretical, and the root of modern anti-semitism."218

Some Definitions from Proponents

Anthony A. Hoekema gives this definition:
Amillennialists interpret the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 as describing the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven. They understand the binding of Satan mentioned in the first three verses of this chapter as being in effect during the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.

Amillennialists further hold that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ rules his people by his Word and Spirit, though they also look forward to a future, glorious, and perfect kingdom on the new earth in the life to come… Despite the fact that Christ has won a decisive victory over sin and evil, the kingdom of evil will continue to exist alongside the kingdom of God until the end of the world.

The so-called "signs of the times" have been present in the world from the time of Christ's first coming, but they will come to a more intensified, final manifestation just before his Second Coming. The amillennialist therefore expects the bringing of the gospel to all nations and the conversion of the fullness of Israel to be completed before Christ's return. He also looks for an intensified form of tribulation and apostasy as well as for the appearance of a personal antichrist before the Second Coming. 219

Kim Riddleberger provides this description: 220
Amillennialists hold that the promises made mad to Israel, David, and Abraham in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Jesus Christ in His Church during the present age. The millennium is the period of time between the two advents of our Lord with the 1000 years of Revelation 20 being symbolic of the entire interadvental age. At the first advent of Jesus Christ, Satan was bound by Christ’s victory over him at Calvary and the empty tomb. The effects of this victory continued because of the presence of the Kingdom of God via the preaching of the gospel and as evidenced by Jesus’ miracles. Through the spread of the gospel, Satan is no longer free to deceive the nations. Christ is presently reigning in heaven during the entire period between Christ’s first and second coming. At the end of the millennial age, Satan is released, a great apostasy breaks out, the general resurrection occurs, Jesus Christ returns in final judgment for all people, and he establishes a new heaven and earth.

Kenneth Gentry gives the following characteristics of amillennialism: 221
  • The present church age is the kingdom era prophesied in the Old Testament.

  • The New Testament church is the "spiritual" Israel. However, some amillennialists hold that, for example, the phrase "all Israel" as found in Rom. 11:26 and so all Israel will be saved might indeed refer to Jews, but unlike dispensationalist view they are not the Jews of an eschatological nation of Israel but the elect among the Jews, i.e. the remnant.

  • Satan was bound, or more accurately restrained, during Christ’s ministry, particularly when he was defeated on the cross and in the initiation of the great commission. Consider Luke 10:18, And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.

  • Given that this is spoken to the 70 (72?) returning disciples, an amillennialist views Luke 10:18 as referring not to Satan's original fall, but to the reduction of his power concurrent with Christ's ministry.

  • Christ is ruling now through the hearts of believers. The Kingdom of God is now. Thus amillennialists are delighted with verses that read "The Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is at hand" which they say implies a near term fulfillment.

  • Toward the end of the age, evil's growth will accelerate culminating in the tribulation and the appearance of the antichrist, and with Satan's unleashing, for a short while, as described in Rev. 20.

  • Christ will return to end history and judge all men. The same glorious consummation described in all millennial views.

Amillennialists believe that all Old Testament promises to Israel were either, (a) conditional and become null and void when the Jews did not meet the conditions, (b) have already been fulfilled or, (c) will be fulfilled in the New Testament Israel, the church. They do not attach eschatological importance to the nation of Israel, and contend there are no pending promises to the nation of Israel that must be kept in a future millennium. Revelation 20:1-6 is seen as describing what takes place during the entire history of the church.

Unlike postmillennialism, which has a gradual or evolutionary aspect to it, amillennialists proclaim the biggest discontinuity of all the millennial views. The present church age, is the Kingdom of God. Satan is already bound although not completely powerless (hence the paucity of demonic possession?). Throughout this age, a diminished (but strengthening) kingdom of evil will coexist with the kingdom of god. Both will be replaced virtually instantly with the eternal dispensation. There is no 1000 year buffer between this age and the ultimate age. This age, and indeed history itself, will end abruptly with the Second Advent, which will occur in the midst of a final intense persecution of the church.

Reasons to be Pessimistic

While postmillennialism is criticized for being optimistic, amillennialism is charged with being too pessimistic. There is no rapture to spare believers from the tribulation; it is not reserved for unconverted Jews. The church itself will endure the tribulation (and may be doing so right now) as things gradually get worse, culminating with the appearance of the antichrist. There is no danger in this view being co-opted by utopian liberal progressives, as was the case with postmillennialism.

The different eschatological views also result in different anticipations in terms of the numbers of people saved. Postmillennialists, who look forward to the ultimate success of the great commission in converting many nations, generally expect a much more "populated" heaven than do the amillennialists.

Reasons to be Optimistic—the Fight is Over and the Good Guys Won

Amillennialists do not like to be labeled as pessimistic. They point out that they proclaim a great victory over Satan has already happened. Anthony Hoekema writes:
Christ has won the decisive victory over sin, death and Satan. By living a sinless life and by dying on the cross as the sacrifice of atonement for our sin, Christ defeated sin. By undergoing death and then victoriously rising from the grave, Christ defeated death. By resisting the devil’s temptations, by perfectly obeying God, and by his death and resurrection, Christ delivered a deathblow to Satan and his evil hosts. This victory of Christ’s was decisive and final. The most important day in history, therefore, is not the Second Coming of Christ which is still future but the first coming which lies in the past. Because of the victory of Christ, the ultimate issues of history have already been decided. It is now only a question of time until that victory is brought to its final consummation.

217 Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 61.
218 Hal Lindsey, The Rapture, (Bantam), 1983, p. 30.
219 Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 174.
220 Kim Riddleberger, A Case for Amillennialism, pp. 31-32
221 Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 57-58.

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