Posts tagged ‘millennium’

May 14, 2015

Eschatology Between the Extremes

Background

Bible students (as all reformed Christians are) must be careful to distinguish among New Testament prophetic references to ”coming” (Greek: parousia) –– whether applicable to the end of the age in which they were written, or applicable to the end of the world at the end of time.1 That is, whether the correct interpretation of each prophecy is in the past or in the future, with respect to us in the present. Prophecies, by definition, of course apply to what was then the future at the time they were prophesied; the question is: whether they were fulfilled in our past (already), or are still in our future (not yet).

The destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 AD was clearly the fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecy rendered in the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24 during the time of His humiliation. The desolation of the temple capped off the end of the old covenant age. Those were “…the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:22) 2. After having ascended to the right hand of God the Father almighty, the Lord’s “coming” of which He foretold was not in Person but via the Roman armies, in judgment against apostate Judaism including those who called so vehemently for His crucifixion (Luke 23:21). It was the sign of His exaltation; the vindication of His identity as Christ, just as He had foretold before being condemned to death (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62).

There can hardly be any doubt that the book of Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, as from our historical perspective, the events which happened then manifestly align with the things signified to John in the Apocalypse shortly before they were to take place (Revelation 1:1; 22:6). The questionable “evidence” of a quote attributed to church father Irenaeus simply does not sustain a later date of its writing, which has been propounded as the majority report.3

Even so, the 1st coming of Christ and His finished work on the Cross in 30 AD is the pivotal focus of all of Scripture. Our glorified Lord’s reign has continued since His Ascension, well beyond 70 AD to the present day, unless the “millennium”4 (the time of Messianic reign) was only 40 years. The Lamb of God rose from the dead 3 days after His crucifixion; 40 days after that the Son of Man ascended (“…came up to the Ancient of Days…” per Daniel 7:13 [NASB]) and has been reigning ever since. This selfsame divine Person (“…and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” –Isaiah 9:6), the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, is reigning now! He will continue to reign in heaven and by His Spirit in His people until “…the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. -1 Corinthians 15:24-25. The 2nd coming of the Lord which will happen then (the end of time) is still in our future.

The invisible “coming” of the Son of Man in wrathful judgment upon that wicked generation in 70 AD is certainly a frequent prophetic reference in Scripture as an outworking of the signal events of 30 AD; nevertheless “…it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” -1 John 3:2. A few verses earlier John exhorted believers to abide in the Lord with perseverance, so as not to be ashamed before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28). This is a clear reference to the yet to be fulfilled final judgment at the 2nd coming, when everyone must give account personally (cf Romans 14:10-12).

The Extremes

Rather than studying to arrive at an interpretive understanding of Bible passages according to context in light of the full counsel of Scripture, one extreme school of thought automatically relegates all “coming” passages to a preterist (fulfilled in our past) interpretation. At the other extreme, another school of thought presupposes “coming” passages to have a futurist (still in our future) interpretation. The all-preterist system can be called pantelism5; the hyper-futurist hermeneutic is adhered to in the system commonly known as dispensationalism.

Dispensationalism, considered to be “losing steam” more and more in recent decades, was propagated with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible at the beginning of the 20th century. It refuses to accept at face value the text of Matthew 24:34: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” The events including the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) and the coming of the Son of Man in judgment to destroy the temple (Matthew 24:30), which happened leading up to and in AD 70, are among “all these things” spoken of by our Lord in the text. Furthermore, dispensational futurism does not allow for the many time texts such as “soon”, “at hand”, “near”, “coming quickly”, etc., employed throughout the New Testament, to apply according to the standard usage of those terms. Rather, almost 2,000 years (so far) are arbitrarily added to the interpretations in order to keep the occurrence of the predicted events in our near future. This provides for a continuingly impending end times perspective that may be sensational, but it just doesn’t make good sense. Besides, any interpretation that makes the text to have been meaningless or misinforming to the original audience must be rejected.

Pantelism may be seen as an overreaction to dispensationalism. Pantelism presupposes that all prophetic passages must have a preterist interpretation, inclusive of references to the resurrection of the body and the final judgment. With pantelism, the end of the old covenant age was the consummation of all things, and we are in the eternal state now. According to this thinking, the Lord’s still future descent from heaven (when the dead rise and the living are caught up together with them in the clouds) written of in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which corresponds to His Ascension depicted in Acts 1:11, somehow already happened and was not a physical event. There is a variety of explanatory particulars amongst the system’s adherents as to how that is reconciled with the Lord’s clearly physical Ascension, when the angels testified that He will come “in just the same way” (Greek hos tropos) as he was seen taken up.

Even recognizing the eschatology of the New Testament as predominantly preterist, elevating the events of 70 AD over and above the events of 30 AD in their redemptive-historical significance is problematical to say the least. Denial of the future, bodily 2nd coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to physically resurrect the dead and eternally judge all who ever lived puts pantelism outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

While the outright erroneousness of both of these extremes may be apparent to seasoned students of Scripture, many of today’s Christians have grown up under dispensationalist teaching, which has been popularized in the modern culture by best-selling books and movies such as the “Left Behind” series. Others, who have become disenchanted with dispensationalism, may have been swayed by pantelism as a seemingly logical alternative; but while pantelism eviscerates the interpretive errors of dispensationalism, the arbitrary misconceptions inherent in pantelism are just as bad to the other extreme, and even worse.

Context Not “Consistent”

The interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture is informed by the context, over and apart from the understanding gleaned from the usage of similarly framed wording in a different context. To presume otherwise leads unswervingly to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible, which is certainly not so simplistic as to apply the same meaning for a word or phrase every time it is used. The same word(s) or phrase(s) may have differing meaning, usage and interpretation in different instances, dependent upon the context. This simple hermeneutical principle may seem to be very basic and easy to understand, yet the failure to grasp it, or to override it with a presupposition of forced “consistency” has become a stumbling block to deriving sound, balanced counsel from God’s word, which unavoidably leads to one erroneous extreme or another.

As noted above, in the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24, the Lord foretold in verse 34 that “all these things” would take place before the passing away of the generation then living. So contextually “all these things” must apply to those stated in the preceding verses of that discourse. This does not mean, however, that whenever the Lord spoke, sentences preceding must necessarily be interpreted according to a subsequent statement. There is no such viable application of “consistency”, yet it is claimed to hold by some interpreters of the passage in Matthew 16 beginning with verse 24 where the Lord’s “take up your cross and follow Me” teaching is recorded. In this passage, Jesus encourages His disciples to self-denial through sufferings, by comparing worldly afflictions with eternal life (cf Romans 8:18), and associating material gain with loss of immortal soul. In that context, v. 27 sets forth the weighty consideration of His (2nd) coming to judge all men at the consummation of the kingdom: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Then, in v. 28 which follows, he assures them that His coming into His kingdom will be manifest before some of them die: “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

He does not give His disciples any time frame for the final judgment at His 2nd coming, which we know from other passages of Scripture is at the end of time, but He foretells that some of them standing there would see the outworking of the Son of Man’s (1st) coming in His kingdom in the fullness of time and history, the kingdom announced by John the Baptist in the spirit of Elijah. The reference of v.28 to the Lord’s near term “coming” (as a sign of the ascended Son of Man in heaven per Matthew 24:30) does not automatically mean that His coming referred to in v. 27 was also near! The Lord was teaching His disciples that at the end of time (cf 1 Cor. 15:24), He shall come with final reckoning, in His Father’s glory with His angels; and that while some of them were still alive, He was to come in the power of the kingdom of His mediatorial reign with the destruction of Jerusalem which was fulfilled in 70 AD.

What awesome encouragement! Not only that all things will be set right by the Lord in the end, but that the process of putting all enemies under His feet (cf 1 Cor. 15:25) was at hand, and some standing there would live to see the powerful manifestation of it. Presumptuously absorbing v. 27 in with the interpretation of v.28, causes a drastic missing of the mark. There is no sound reason why both verses, even though adjacent to each other, must together be preterist, or futurist for that matter. Indeed hyper-futurists have an insurmountable problem with the clearly indicated time frame of verse 28. On the other extreme, to preterize v. 27 further exacerbates error when it is then assumed that nearly identical wording in Matthew 25 (v. 31) must also have a preterist interpretation. Thus error spreads like gangrene, and the only thing that is consistent is the predetermined interpretations of those who refuse to let Scripture speak for itself.

Notes

1 What was the “age to come” for the New Testament writers is the age we are living in now, the gospel age, the new covenant age which began as the old covenant age passed away. The New Testament was written in the “last days” of the old covenant. We won’t be in the eternal state until the end of the present age which will be the end of time & history.

2 The Lord here references Old Testament prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, most notably Daniel 9:26 .

3 For a thorough, scholarly exposition in support of a pre-70AD date for the composition of the book of Revelation see Kenneth L. Gentry’s Before Jerusalem Fell.

4 The millennium is a reference to “a thousand years”, mentioned in Revelation 20 as the period of Christ’s interadvental reign. Postmillennialism (that the Lord’s 2nd Coming must be after His Messianic reign) is assumed here. Amillennialism is technically postmillennialism as far as timing; differing in the expected nature of the millennium. Premillennialism (that the Lord’s 2nd Coming must be before the millennium to set up His reign on earth) is the view routinely adopted by dispensationalists.

5 The term pantelism (from the Greek words for “all” and “fulfilled”) was coined by C. Jonathan Seraiah, who has written an excellent refutation of the viewpoint (see The End of All Things: A Defense of the Future). The label pantelism (instead of hyper- or consistent preterism) is a neutral term that does not use the pejorative “hyper” prefix nor define non-pantelist preterism as somehow “inconsistent”.

Here is an excerpt from a review of Pastor Seraiah’s book which is highly recommended: This book is a rich source of solid, confessional, biblical theology on important issues such as Christ’s resurrection and the believers’ resurrection, the Second Coming, final judgment, and the renewal of heaven and earth. Readers will be enlightened by his chapters on end-time views in historic Christianity, the development of the creeds, and the importance of God’s final triumph over sin and its consequences.

December 20, 2014

The End of the Last Days of the Former Ages

NounEnd [​end]
-the point in time at which something ends;
-the concluding parts of an event or occurrence​;
​-the state of affairs that a plan is intended to achieve and that (when achieved) terminates
 behavior intended to achieve it​
 
In Acts 2:17ff the apostle Peter declares the fulfilment of what was uttered by the prophet Joel​: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares…”. The events foretold happened in those “last days.” The spectacular fire baptism by the Holy Spirit, daughters prophesying, etc. along with all the cosmic judgment language depicting the then at hand destruction of old covenant Israel all happened then, and is now over and done with. Your daughters are not prophesying any more, for example. As those last days ended and are in our past, I believe that we are not now still living in the last days.
 
Amillennialists such as James White maintain a concept of “this age, and the age to come”, that this age we are living in now is a continuation of the “last days” spoken of by the apostles, and the age to come is the hereafter, i.e. final glory. Surprisingly, postmillennialist Ken Gentry agrees that the last days, which began in the first century, continue through now and on into the future, which understanding requires that the “last days” have now lasted for approximately 2 millennia, so far. One wonders if Dr. Gentry, who anticipates a long period of Christian prosperity before the second coming, assumes that the “last days” will be in effect all that time until then. That there will be a triumph of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ manifesting in time and history should be the Christian’s faithful hope, according to His word; but it is a result of His first coming which ended the last days of the old covenant. “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).  
 
The patriarchal age was from Adam to Moses, the old covenant age was until Christ. Christ brought in the new creation, such that Dr. White’s “this age” was actually the old covenant age, which was passing away when the New Testament was written; and his “age to come” is actually the here & now of the new covenant, the Messianic reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, the millennium of Revelation 20, the new Jerusalem, the new heaven & earth (in an already/not yet sense). Final glory is not an age in time & history, rather it comes after the end of the ages for us. The end of the ages for the New Testament writers was then.

​The Greek word aion is commonly translated as world, as in Hebrews 11:3 which the NKJV renders: “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” The Greek word there translated as worlds is aionas (plural of aion). This passage describes our faith in the providence of God in the works of creation. However aion can also mean “age”, and application of the wrong connotation can be the cause of considerable misunderstanding.

The apostle Paul, in referring to the old covenant, wrote “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). While Jesus’ first advent marked the beginning of the new covenant age, the old covenant age was finally swept away in AD 70. There was a transitional period of about 40 years (a generation) from AD 30 to AD 70 in which the two ages co-existed. Those were the “last days”. It was towards the end of this period when the apostle Peter wrote “The end of all things is at hand…” (1 Peter 4:7).
 
The writer of Hebrews confirmed this in contrasting the types & shadows of the old covenant with redemption through the blood of Christ: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:24-26).
 
​Jesus Himself mentioned the ages when he said “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). Surely the age He distinguished as “this age” had to be the age of the law, under which He was born and was ministering; while the “age to come” was a reference to the gospel age which He came to bring in. The “age to come” as a reference to the final state makes no sense because at that point everyone’s state is fixed and it is too late for repentance and forgiveness for any sin.
 
Here’s Matthew Henry’s commentary on the unpardonable sin passage: What the sentence is that is passed upon it; It shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. As in the then present state of the Jewish church, there was no sacrifice of expiation for the soul that sinned presumptuously; so neither under the dispensation of gospel grace, which is often in scripture called the world to come, shall there be any pardon to such as tread underfoot the blood of the covenant, and do despite to the Spirit of grace: there is no cure for a sin so directly against the remedy. 

Even so, in Luke 20:34-36 Jesus says “The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage. But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage. Neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” The KJV properly renders aion as “world” in each instance where it appears in this passage, which is obviously preferred over “age” as in modern translations (see NKJV).

We must let context determine the correct connotation of words for sound interpretation of God’s infallible word. The sooner Christians embrace by faith that we are living under the better blessings of the new covenant age as distinct from the last days of the old covenant, which have ended, the sooner we will put off the expectation of defeat; and, walking by faith and not by sight, will trust, obey, pray, think and act accordingly towards advancing the kingdom of our reigning King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, towards that end. Amen.

[See Overview and Pilgrimage tabs above for graphical representations of the two-age model, with commentary beneath each]
September 29, 2014

The Last from the Past

Adjective: last [last, lahst]
occurring at or forming an end or termination
 
Adjective: past [past, pahst]
gone by or elapsed in time
 
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Hebrews 1:1)
 
A video presentation by a prominent creationist ministry, which promotes a biblical view of the earth’s age over and against the uniformitarian “millions of years” view, takes in to account the catastrophic effects of the global flood as recorded in the book of Genesis. However, the impact of the otherwise excellent production is weakened as the presenter states that today’s secular scientists whom disregard Scripture’s record of the Genesis flood are examples of the “scoffers” which the apostle Peter wrote would come in “the last days” (cf 2 Peter 3:3-6). The devastating problem with this statement is that the inspired apostle wrote those words in the 1st century when the last days of the old covenant were at hand; so that the last days referred to were then, not now.
 
This is a major interpretive error made by modern-day Christians, which has become well ensconsed in many hearts and minds, especially with the high volume of book sales along with seminary teachings by authors and professors based on the misapplication of the past to our present and near future. It is as if someone was to write in broad, non-specific terms about the last days of the current U.S. federal administration which (thankfully!) are nearing, and someone were to read it two thousand years or so from now assuming the dynamics of the situation described to be directly applicable to them there and then, when in actuality the relevance is to us here and now.
 
When it comes to the Holy Bible which is the word of God, surely there is far-reaching application as well as eternal truth to be gleaned, but the correct interpretation must be gathered based upon the historical context and the understanding of the original audience. The last days from two thousand years ago cannot be the same last days today, or they would not have been the last days then. The realization that the “last days” were in the past, and that much of Bible prophecy (not all!) was fulfilled in the 1st century is key to sound discernment of the Scriptures.
 
Holy writ indeed informs us that the Lord Jesus Christ is reigning now. Peter also quoted Psalm 110:1 and said Jesus is exalted at God’s right hand (position of authority), to rule from the Majesty on High (cf Acts 2:34-36; Hebrews 1:3). Jesus Himself said, just prior to His ascension, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18)Hence, He is now King at God’s right hand, just as the Psalm prophesied. The apostle Paul further expounded that He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). This has not happened yet, and of course we cling to the blessed hope of the resurrection of the body when the end comes and Jesus returns in final judgment and to usher in the eternal state. Until then, the almighty, Triune God we serve is certainly to be victorious in time and history. 
 
So the Messianic kingdom has already been established, i.e. we are in the “millennium” now. The last days of the old covenant, including the great tribulation prophesied in Matthew chapter 24, were the days leading up to and including the destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem and apostate Israel when the Son of Man “came” with judgment in A.D. 70. “The last days” are now in the past, and followed from the work that He “finished” in A.D. 30 (cf John 19:30). The once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God has superceded the old system of animal sacrifices, and now its up to the church, with steadfast faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, to look forward to and work towards the building of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven… for, also as it is written, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
 
The effectiveness of biblical apologetics as well as the fruitfulness of Christian reconstruction efforts will be greatly increased by our faithful witness to the truth that the last days are in the past. The long haul to triumph will likely extend beyond the relatively short lifetimes of those of us alive today; there’s no time to waste. Let’s get busy using our talents in good and faithful service to our King (cf Matthew 25:23), leaving an example for future generations to follow. Keep the faith. Stand strong in the Truth. The worst is past and the best is yet to come.
 
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).