The Millennium: 3 views pt.1 Amillennialism

Derek Ouellette —  March 14, 2013 — 6 Comments

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.

AMILLENNIAL SUMMARY

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.

POSTMILLENNIAL RESPONSE

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!

PREMILLENNIAL RESPONSE

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.

IN CONCLUSION

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.

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://www.craigladams.com/ Craig L. Adams

    When I was in Seminary (long, long ago) I read everything I could lay my hands on that argued the differing millenial views. The amillenial view has a lot going for it.

  • LT

    I think it to be an extreme error to think that the premill view falls or stands on Rev 20 alone. I am fairly sure Blaising doesn’t argue that. If he does, he shouldn’t. The only thing Rev 20 adds to the discussion is a time frame of the earthly kingdom.

    I have never understood those who argue that the NT handling of the OT promises leads to amill. That is so contrary to everything I see in the NT. The way the NT authors handle the OT is with the teaching of a kingdom to come after a period of Jesus returning to heaven. It is a “restoration.” So the premill view is the extension of the OT teaching on the promises and the kingdom. And that was the source of the Messianic expectations of the Jews (not to mention the disciples). The consistent handling of the OT by the NT about the future is for a future kingdom to come.

    • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

      Don’t get me wrong. No one is suggesting that the only argument for premillennialism is Revelation 20. But without a doubt premillennialism does stand or fall on that passage alone (and yes, Blaising and other premillennialists scholars confirm that in print – see my next post, pt.2). That is to say, without Revelation 20 – the only reference in the Bible where a millennial kingdom is mentioned – premillennialism wouldn’t exist (how can something be “pre”millennial if there is no “millennium” to be “pre” of?).
      I suppose most premillennialists would have to do something else with the other passages and promises that they interpret literally. My suggestion is that they would realize that the Old Testament promises have been fulfilled in Christ. They’d become amillennialists, I’d suspect, realizing that there is now neither Jew nor Gentile, but one people of God (i.e. the “Israel of God” in Galatians), that the promises made to Abraham in the O.T. where for a city and land beyond the physical (according to Hebrews), that the heirs of the promises made to Abraham are not simply for those of ethnic and national relation to Abraham, but rather are for those who are circumcised of the heart and have Abraham’s faith as Paul says in Romans and elsewhere, etc…
      The Kingdom is not just future, it is both here and there. It is, to use a common expression, Already but Not Yet.

      • LT

        I am a bit confused as to how there could be other arguments, but it all stands or falls on this passage alone. If your point is that the millennium (thousand years) is only found in Rev 20, then yes, which is my point that the thousand years is found only Rev 20. But teaching about the character of that thousand years is elsewhere and stands on its own. I think historically, “millennium” has been virtually synonymous with the kingdom where Christ the Messiah reigns is all through the OT.

        So even if Rev 20 didn’t exist, we would still have an OT filled with references to the physical descendants of Abraham living in a defined land in peace with a Messiah ruling over them, and I don’t see the absence of Revelation 20 changes all that. If nothing else, the New Covenant in Jeremiah is explicit about three of these four things. I have never read a convincing Amillennial explanation of the New Covenant in Jer 31:31-40.

        I also see in your comments the common tactic of taking the church as “neither Jew nor Gentile” and trying to make that into Israel. I think the Bible, particularly the NT, makes no sense at all if that is done. The Israel of God in Galatians is something distinct from the church, something in addition to “those who walk by this rule.” Paul is praying for peace on two groups: those who walk by this rule (the church) and the Israel of God (who was irrevocably called even though they were hardened for a time, a
        statement that seems impossible to reconcile with Israel being the church; Rom 9-11).

        To say that the promises of God to Abraham in the OT were for a city and land beyond the physical only works if either (1) you see the physical as well as something beyond (which I think is the scriptural position), or (2) you have promises of God that go unfulfilled (and to argue that they go unfulfilled because God has something greater doesn’t work in my mind). God’s promises were clearly defined, and clearly understood by the Jews even up to the time of Christ, and Christ never took any steps to correct it. So I think the amill position works only if you have a presupposition for it. The Jews of Jesus’ time, not burdened with that presupposition, saw no need for it.

        So I don’t see how Revelation 20 has any impact on how these other passages are interpreted. They said (and meant) what they said (and meant), long before John received his revelation. So nothing there changed anything so far as I can see. So as an premillennialist, even if Rev 20 wasn’t in the Bible, I would still believe that there is a future earthly kingdom in which the Messiah rules over the physical descendants of Israel in the land promised to Abraham. And I would believe it because of the text.

        • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

          LT, the Old Testament promises you see as *requiring* a future literal fulfillment is simply one perspective. I can *see* what you are saying while it appears that you are “a bit confused as to” what I’m saying, which is why I think we are speaking past each other. And I simply disagree with you, based on what the New Testament teaches about the Old Testament promises and their fulfillment. Again, the Old Testament promises find their fulfilment in Jesus the Messiah, of this the New Testament is emphatic, and this is following the rock solid principle of analogy of the faith – let scripture interpret scripture. Regarding the Millennium, it is synonymous with “the kingdom where Christ the Messiah reigns,” amillennialists agree. But without the literal thousand years – as premillennialists think Rev. 20 should be interpreted – all that’s life is amillennialism and postmillennialism. The Old Testament promises have been fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, the Kingdom is here “already, but not yet” (to use a now famous phrase). So, again to prove my point, without interpreting Revelation 20 literally, premillennialism ceases to exist.

          What you say I’m “trying” to do with Israel and the Church is nothing of the sort. Rather I am affirming a point I believe the New Testament teaches, a point you disagree on. Fair enough. But keep in mind, in fact, that today it is only that narrow form of premillennialism – Dispensationalists – who disagree. Premillennialists – both historic and progressive dispensationalists – stand firmly with amillennialists and postmillennialists on this point. I am doing nothing less than standing with the majority interpretation throughout Church History.

          • LT

            Thanks, and I will leave off with this.

            First, I think it more accurate to the NT and the OT to say that all promises find their fulfillment through Christ, not in Christ per se. Christ is not the land between the Euphrates and the River of Egypt. Christ is not the seed beyond number. Christ is not heaven or hell. But all of these things are fulfilled because of him and his person and work.

            Second, I think one of the reasons for the common phrase you use is because you deny the literal fulfillments. Therefore you have to find them somewhere. But IMO, it amounts to “they can’t mean what they say because that contradicts what we believe.” I just don’t buy it. I didn’t buy it from Allis, from Horton, from Riddlebarger, and a host of others.

            Third, the “kingdom where Christ the Messiah reigns” is, according to the OT, a place on this earth (cf. the New Covenant, and many passages in the prophets, both pre and post exilic). The only information that Rev 20 adds to that is the thousand years. So agai if your complaint is that the label “millennium” marking out the time of the kingdom is only in Rev 20, then yes. But to say that without that, one is only post or amill is mind boggling. The kingdom as premills see it could entirely exist in a different time frame. Hence, even without Rev 20, the pre-kingdom return of Christ is sustainable. After all, how does he reign for any amount of time in the kingdom described if he doesn’t first return to earth, destroy his enemies, and set up his kingdom?

            Fourth, with respect to the church and Israel, you may be standing with a majority. You may not be. But the question is actually an exegetical one, not a theological one. Your position allows theology (conclusions) to overrule exegesis: “Israel can’t mean Israel because it actually means the church.” Better to let exegesis rule theology. In this I think passages like Romans 9-11 and Gal 3 are insurmountable problems to the conclusions you hold.

            But alas, if we both confess Christ as Lord and Savior, we disagree as brothers, and I am fine with that. I simply wish more robust thought and interaction was given to the issue than seems typically the case.