I picked up this book quite by accident while visiting a Christian bookstore in another city, and saw it there on the shelf for only $3. How could I resist! When I arrived home I decided to crack it open and peruse the essay on amillennialism by Robert Strimple, the view I am most drawn to. In short order I found myself pulled into the conversation.
In my opinion Strimple makes one of the best succinct arguments for amillennialism available. In this brief essay he hits every major artery in the discussion, and with clarity as well as craft, makes a compelling case for the amillennial view.
His arguments flow something like this.
1. We must follow the New Testament in its interpretation of the Old Testament promises.
If the New Testament interprets Israel as embodied in Jesus, we need to follow that. If the New Testament interprets the promises of “land,” and “Canaan” and “Jerusalem” in terms of a global fulfillment, we need to follow that. If the New Testament interprets the people of God (Israel) as Jew and Gentile together, we need to follow that. Etc. The point is, the Old Testament eschatological prophecies find their fulfillment in Christ. Nowhere in the Old Testament is a millennial kingdom of Christ taught. Rather, the promises in the Old Testament are said to be “everlasting,” nowhere are the promises said to be merely a thousand years.
2. The Second Coming of Christ is the grand finale of redemption history.
Everything the New Testament seems to teach about the Second Coming of Christ suggest that all of the final events – the changing of believers, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the new heaven and new earth et. cetera – are all concurrent. All of these events take place as one cluster of a single grand finale event. That is, nowhere in the New Testament is there a gap of a thousand years separating some of these events. (Rev. 20 notwithstanding)
3. In Romans 11 “all Israel” is an eschatological remark meaning “all the people of God,” Jew and Gentile alike.
Both postmillennialists and premillennialists teach that “all Israel” is a statement about the final salvation of national, ethnic Israel. For postmillennialists, if everyone on earth gets saved – when the fullness of the Gentiles come in – then all national Israel must be saved too (or else postmillennialism unravels). For premillennialists “all Israel” means all national Israel since premillennialists believe that the Old Testament promises must literally be fulfilled in the millennium. The amillennialist believes both views miss Paul’s thematic argument that “not all Israel are Israel” and that “all Israel will be saved,” but only when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in because “all Israel” is a statement referring to those who are circumcised of the heart.
4. Revelation 20 should be interpreted in light of everything else, not vice versa.
Strimple argues for an interpretation of Revelation 20 that aligns itself with the rest of the New Testament. He breaks the passage up into three sections. The first section deals with the binding of Satan in the present age (1-3) as does the third section (7-10). The second section (a parenthesis) deals with a heavenly scene of Christians enjoying the benefits of salvation (4-6). He argues that the first resurrection is one of believers who died in this age (he interprets the first resurrection mentioned here as when the believer dies and goes “up” to be with the Lord). Strimple says that those who did not come to life until after the thousand years are all unbelievers and are raised physically – not to eternal life, but to judgment. In Strimple’s estimation Revelation 20 does not address the physical resurrection of the believer.
After some nice pleasantries and acknowledging much of their agreement, Kenneth Gentry addresses some differences and critiques of the amillennial view. First Gentry points to many passages in the Old Testament in which the promises are hopeful and total. They anticipate a complete gospel success of the whole earth. Next Gentry criticizes some of Strimple’s arguments that seem to be a little too presumptuous (but not significant enough to detail here). Finally, and for the bulk of Gentry’s critique, he makes a counter-case for Romans 11: All Israel means the entire nation of Israel, just as the statement “the fullness of the Gentiles” refers to all nations, all gentiles. This is the postmillennial hope: the conversation of the whole earth.
A point of weakness, I think, in Gentry’s response is its lack of appreciation for the amillennial distinction between national Israel on one hand and Jews on the other. He says that “Strimple allows salvation to the Gentiles, but only divine hardening on Israel…” (p.137). That’s not exactly an accurate statement. The amillennialist “allows salvation” to both “Jews and Gentiles” as the New Testament asserts and repeatedly emphasizes to exhaustion so that nobody would miss it. Salvation is based on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness (by grace through faith!). And certainly not on being of Abraham’s lineage. This is a point Paul labours on in both Romans and Galatians (as well as elsewhere), which only highlights the inconstancy of a Pauline reading of Romans 11:26 to say that Paul suddenly – and here only! – changes his mind, undoing everything else he said, and deciding that salvation is a matter of national, ethnic identity after all!
In his essay Strimple sees premillennialism as the real threat to be dealt with, making it a point to dismantle premillennialism while simultaneously building a case for amillennialism. So it should be no surprise when Craig Blaising skips with the pleasantries and goes straight for the jugular.
Blaising’s response is sharp and passionate, but – in my opinion – too dismissive. His concluding statement is simply “I find Strimple’s argument for amillennialism unconvincing” (p.153). Yet throughout the bulk of his critique Blaising sounds more like a crafty defence lawyer who knows his only way to win is by causing reasonable double in the minds of the jurors. At point after point in his critique of the amillennial view Blaising makes assertions such as, but such and such does not “preclude premillennialism” or that such and such does not make “premillennialism impossible.” It sounded more like a plea to simply stay in the game!
But the real point of Blaisings defence falls on Revelation 20 itself. He criticisms Strimple for taking a theological – rather than an exegetical – approach to the chapter. As stated above, Strimple believes that Revelation 20 should be read in light of everything else the Bible has to say about the subject. Conversely Blaising takes the approach that Revelation 20 – because it is written near the end of the last book in the scriptures – should be taken as the scriptures final word on the subject. Clearly – and Blasing would admit this – the premillennial view stands or falls on these ten verses alone! The danger here, I think, is that whereas Strimple interprets Revelation 20 in light of the New Testament (rightly so, I think, following the rock solid principle of allowing scripture to interpret scripture), Blaising’s approach is to interpret the rest of the Bible in light of Revelation 20. And frankly, no single passage can bear that kind of weight!
Blaising does make two objections I think are worth hearing. First, Blaising is right in criticizing Strimple’s failure to make a distinction between historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism. While I don’t share the historic premillennial view (Blaisings view), I think that view at least takes a generally right approach to the scriptures, being covenantal along with the other two views. In this book dispensationalism has not been invited to the table, and rightly not in my opinion.
Secondly, Blaising is right in criticizing Strimple’s interpretation of the first resurrection. I frowned when I read Strimple claim that the first resurrection was a reference to when Christians physically die. What?! But then Blaising blows it in my opinion by following up that correct critique with this comment: “Such an interpretation should cause us concern, for it moves dangerously in the direction of denying the bodily resurrection altogether.” Here Blaising over-steps. While I agree that Strimple is wrong about the first resurrection, he is clear and emphatic in the article that the second resurrection of the believer will occur at the Second Coming and that the second resurrection will be physical.
What I find amazing is that none of these scholars point to the most obviously place when talking about the first resurrection. Paul says it so plainly that I marvel at any other claim: Colossians 3:1 “Since you have been raised with Christ…”, Ephesians 2:6 “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” The first resurrection is quite explicit in the New Testament. After all, it is the very thing our faith stands or falls on: “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain”(1 Corinthians 15:17). The first resurrection was the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and believers living today and throughout the present age have been “raised” or “resurrected” (after baptism!) “with Christ”. It is the great and thematic in Him principle.
While I don’t agree with everything Strimple says, my opinion on the millennium has all but been solidified. This doesn’t mean I have everything all worked out. I don’t. But of the three views, this one, I think, makes the most sense when taken in conjunction with the rest of the scriptures.