Archive for June, 2007

Elements of a Biblical Eschatology, Part 9

June 10, 2007

What is the purpose of the millennium?  Why would God’s plan include an intermediate kingdom prior to the eternal state?  Here are a few answers that I can offer:

1. God’s design is for Christ to exercise a coercive rule over his enemies.  If amillennialism were true, then we would have to identify that period of Christ’s reign as the present time, during which Christ rules at the right hand of the Father.  I fully agree with amillennialists that Christ reigns from Heaven right now, but I’m not sure that the present reign of Christ constitutes the complete fulfillment of prophecies such as Psalm 110:2: “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.  Rule in the midst of your enemies!”  This and many other passages (Psalms 2, 72, etc.) seem to require an earthly reign of Christ over his enemies prior to the final separation of the righteous from the wicked.

2. The doctrine of the millennial kingdom helps us maintain an orthodox Christology.  I am not at all saying that Postmillennialists and amillennialists are not orthodox in their Christology.  But I do believe that one implication of the millennial kingdom is a greater focus on the humanity of Christ.  I joyfully proclaim that Christ reigns now as the God-man at the right hand of the Father.  But if he is truly human, why should we expect his reign to remain invisible until the day he hands over the Kingdom to the Father (1 Cor 15:24)?  (By the way, I don’t believe that Christ’s handing over the Kingdom constitutes the cessation of his reign; I believe it constitutes the cessation of that phase of his reign during which he subdues his enemies).  Jesus Christ, a real flesh-and-blood man will be clearly perceived as supreme ruler even over those nations and people who do not believe in him. 

3. In the book of Revelation, I believe the millennium serves in part to justify the eternal torment of unbelievers.  The fact that a vast multitude can still be deceived by Satan and led to rebellion against Christ at the end of a thousand years under his direct rule on earth is a testimony to the depravity of the human heart.  Ali made this comment a few posts back, and I agree.  Of course, I am not saying that the millennium is necessary to justify Hell.  Amillennialists believe in Hell too.  God would be just to send unrepentant sinners to an eternal Hell whether there is a millennial kingdom or not.  But the deep persistence of sin will be clearly exposed by the outcome of the millennial kingdom when multitudes rebel against Christ even after the greatest age of peace and prosperity the world has ever known. 

These are a few reasons for a millennial kingdom.  I would also like to point out (though this is not a reason, but just a biblical observation) that some eschatological prophecies seem to demand a millennial kingdom.  For example, Isaiah 65:17-25 describes conditions that will not take place until after the return of Christ.  Yet, sin and death are still there (v. 20).  Granted, Isaiah is using figurative language by saying that a young man will die at 100 years old, but is this the kind of figure of speech that one would use to describe a world without death?  One may object that Isaiah is talking about the new heavens and the new earth (v. 17), which, in the book of Revelation, clearly follows the millennium (Revelation 21).  But I would respond by saying that the prophetic outlook often collapses eschatological events together.  The new heaven and the new earth is a reality that has already begun now in the resurrection of Christ.  The return of Christ will bring us to a new phase when the new creation will become dominant over the old, but the old will still persist to some degree.  Revelation 21 describes the final consummation, when the old is done away with altogether.  The fact that Isaiah collapses these ideas into one should not surprise us, given the typical prophetic outlook. 

 I’m planning to wrap this series up in part 10 on why this matters. 

Update

June 7, 2007

I apologize for the delay with my post.  We have been out of town for a few days (and still are, actually).  Look for the next post on eschatology sometime over the weekend.