Are we living in the last days?

Yes, I know we are, for the Bible says that we have been ever since the Son of God came into the world to purchase our redemption (Heb. 1:1-2).

But are we living in “the last of the last days”? Are we nearing the final scenes of world history, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Consummation of all things?

Yes, I think we are, and in this essay I want to explain why—and why I also believe that amillennial eschatology alone will adequately prepare us for them.

The Last of the Last Days    

For two millennia the Church has encountered what our Lord referred to as the beginning of birth pains (Matt. 24:8). These include wars, rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, the deceptive teachings of false christs and false prophets, and the ebb and flow of persecution. All such things are part and parcel of the Great Tribulation, out of which the sovereign God has been faithfully rescuing his beloved children for generations, uniting them by faith to his Son, and planting them safely on the Zion up above, where they eagerly await the glories of the Zion up ahead (John 4:22-24; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:18-24; Rev. 7).

Today, however, the universal Church is witnessing a notable intensification of the birth pains. Christendom is in collapse. European churches stand largely empty. Whole denominations, rich with Christian history and culture, are now infected with the spirit of the age and slide into compromise and apostasy. Outspoken (and soft-spoken) atheism is on the rise, even in America, a historic citadel of the faith. The Western intelligentsia speaks openly of a “post-Christian” society. As in the days of Noah and Lot, world culture swiftly descends into lawlessness: gratuitous violence, murder, polymorphous sexual immorality, theft, kidnapping, slavery, drug abuse, lying, profanity, greed, fraud, occultism, fanaticism, and anarchy. Meanwhile, the persecution of biblically faithful Christians increases. Courts, universities, employers, political parties, and media outlets drive believers to the margins of society. Freedom of religious speech, practice, and assembly is curtailed, if not canceled. While estimates differ widely, all agree that thousands of believers are dying annually for their faith. Day by day the souls of the martyrs flow into heaven, taking their place beneath the altar of God (Rev. 6:10).

But in the midst of all this gloom there is good news as well. Just as God promised, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Yes, the true spiritual Church is a little flock, but the glory of the Lord remains upon her. She alone is the one true hope of the world: a city set upon a hill, a light shining in the deep darkness that covers the peoples. Through the global preaching of the gospel, men and women of every nation are coming to the brightness of her light and streaming into the City of God. Amidst the raging storm the Lord is still building his Church (Is. 60 1-3; Matt. 16:18, 24:14; Rom. 5:20).

But are the birth pains really coming to an end? Has a world mysteriously pregnant with eternal life reached transition? Is the day of delivery upon us? Are the Parousia, the Consummation, and the rebirth of the universe now at hand, even at the door (Matt 24:33)?

No and yes. No, because we have not yet witnessed three special signs that our Lord taught us to look for—signs that herald the imminence of the end. But yes, if we pause to consider why they may soon be upon us.

Consider first the Great Commission. The Lord said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14). Has the Church reached the whole world with the gospel? No, not yet. According to the Joshua Project, there are currently more than 17,000 people groups in the world, of which about 7,000 remain technically “unreached.” This is over 40% of all people groups, 2.9 billion souls. It is a staggering number, largely representing the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Communists, and animists who inhabit the so-called “10/40 window.”

We must remember, however, that the gap between “reached” and “unreached” has never been smaller; that the pool of potential missionaries has never been larger; that people movements are continually springing up in many lands; and that modern advances in communications technology are bringing the gospel to multitudes, thereby facilitating rapid church growth even in supposedly “closed” nations. Yes, much work remains to be done, and many pioneer missionaries are needed to do it. Nevertheless, it is not wishful thinking to say that today’s Church is powerfully “hastening” the coming of the Lord, and that the completion of the Great Commission is near (2 Peter 3:12). Says the Joshua Project, “We are within range of penetrating every people group on the planet with the light of the gospel, and with more momentum than ever before in history.”1

Secondly, it is also true that we have not yet seen the large-scale conversion of God’s ancient covenant people, ethnic Israel—a blessed hope which I believe is indeed promised in Scripture (Rom. 11). However, the stage is certainly set for it. Globally, anti-Semitism is on the rise. Many of the sons of Jacob have returned to their former homeland, a staggering feat of providence that can hardly be without redemptive significance. Ethnic Israel’s spiritual wealth is inversely proportional to their material: From Christ’s perspective, they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked—and deeply loved (Rom. 11:28; Rev. 3:17). Even now there is a great famine in their land, such that one day soon—perhaps amidst the birth pains of persecution and war—multitudes of Jews will finally cry out to God’s greater Joseph: first for forgiveness, and then for food, drink, and the perfect safety of a far better homeland where righteousness dwells (Gen. 45:1-28; 2 Peter 1:13).2

Finally, it is also true that the Man of Lawlessness has not yet been revealed, and that the Last Battle and the greatest tribulation have not yet begun (Matt. 24:9-28, 2 Thess. 2:3-12; Rev. 11:7-10, 13:6-10, 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10). As never before, however, there are signs that the final clash of the kingdoms is drawing near. I have just cited rapidly increasing lawlessness, apostasy, and persecution, all of which may well herald, or even presently fulfill, the “rebellion” of which Christ, the apostle Paul, and the Revelator all spoke (Matt. 24:4-28; 2 Thess. 2:1ff; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rev. 9:20-21, 16:8-11).

Alongside these we also observe a fresh upsurge of the Babylonian tendency in world history (Gen. 11:1-9; Dan. 7; Rev. 13, 18). Guided as if by an invisible hand, an emerging network of powerful elites—corporate, governmental, bureaucratic, military, scientific, educational, journalistic, and technocratic—militates against democratic and nationalist impulses, working instead toward a Great Reset of human nature and society. What’s more, recent history has shown that by means of powerful propaganda this network is quite capable of manipulating huge swaths of humanity toward their chosen ends. Though God’s prophetic word indicates that their path to a global utopia will be strewn with the thorns of war (Dan. 11:36-12:13; Rev. 17:16), it is nevertheless clear that the unthinkable has now become thinkable: A final world empire, ruled by a final world tyrant holding the family of nations in a twofold iron grip: the hope of heaven on earth, and the fear of annihilation for those unwilling to comply. Happily, the gospel continues to go forth with good success to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so that new churches are springing up in their midst. Yet even as it does, a world-system given over to idolatry—and drunk with pride, wealth, sensuality, and the lust for power—grows increasingly hardened. Like Egypt of old, at any moment it could turn en masse against God’s eschatological Israel, thinking to pursue her to the death through a Red Sea of religious cleansing.

Amillennialism: Scripture’s One True Eschatology

Yes, the Church may well be entering the last of the last days.3 And if so, it’s more important than ever that she be anchored to the Bible’s one true eschatology. My conviction, defended from Scripture in two books and several essays, is that this high honor rightly belongs the amillennialism, the classic eschatology of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communions.

What exactly is amillennialism? The simplest answer is based on the word itself. Literally, it means “no 1000 years.” But amillennarians do not deny the existence of a millennium (which is clearly taught in Revelation 20), only that the 1000 years are literal, that the millennial reign of Christ begins after his Second Coming, and that it takes place on the earth. In other words, they are not premillennarians, who believe that Christ will return before a literal 1000 year reign centered in earthly Jerusalem. Instead, they are best referred to as present-millennarians, believing that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 symbolize the present heavenly reign of Christ, who rules spiritually over his Church and providentially over the whole world. In short, amillennarians believe we are living in the millennium now, and that we have been for some 2000 years. As we’ll see in just a moment, this view has an enormous impact on how we think about the Consummation of all things.

But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the simplest answer has not resolved the Great End Time Debate (GETD) that currently roils the evangelical world. For this reason I have found it helpful to explain amillennialism in terms of the four biblical themes that underlie this particular contest. In what follows I will sketch them briefly without the proof texts and biblical illustrations that I have provided elsewhere.  

The first (and most fundamental) theme is the Kingdom of God (KOG). According to amillennarians, the Kingdom is the direct spiritual reign of God the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, over all that the triune God has redeemed and made his own. It is the realm of God, beneath the reign of God—a realm that therefore partakes of the glory of God.

This Kingdom enters history in two simple stages. First, there is a temporary heavenly reign of God’s incarnate Son and Messiah, a reign that is spiritual only, and entered by the new birth, repentance, and faith in Christ. Then comes an eternal earthly reign of the Father (and the Son), a reign that is both spiritual and physical, and that is entered through the Resurrection at Christ’s return. Very importantly, the two stages of the one Kingdom are separated by a single Consummation, set to occur at the one Parousia (i.e., Coming in glory) of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the present evil age.

The second (and most challenging) theme is the proper interpretation of Old Testament prophecies of the Kingdom (OTKP). According to amillennarians, all such prophecies are veiled revelations of the two-staged Kingdom introduced by Christ and the New Covenant. They speak either of the temporary heavenly reign of the Son, or of the eternal earthly reign of the Father (and the Son), or of both. Amillennarians contend that in OTKP the Holy Spirit was pleased to use images drawn from physical life under the Old Covenant to speak typologically and figuratively about spiritual life under the New Covenant.4 Thus, the true sphere of fulfillment of OTKP is not a future earthly millennium, but the two-staged spiritual reign of God and Christ, a reign that is created by the New Covenant, and that is experienced by the one true family,and nation of God, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles of all time. New Testament revelation enables the Church to unveil and decode OTKP, and therefore to see that in it God was speaking of—and to—her!

The third (and most controversial) theme is the millennium, the 1000-year reign of Christ (exclusively) spoken of in Revelation 20. Amillennarians believe that the 1000 years symbolize the inter-adventual era: the season between Christ’s first coming and his last. During this era (now some 2000 years long) the Holy Trinity (3) applies the redemption accomplished by Christ, and so completes (10) the ingathering of the Church (10 x 10 x 10). During this era the High King of heaven rules directly over the Church, and providentially over the whole world. During this era he empowers the Church to preach the gospel to all creation. And during this era grants her good success, for because of his work on earth Christ has bound Satan so that he cannot deceive the nations. That is, he cannot prevent God from shining the light of the truth of the Gospel into the hearts of his elect people, nor can he (until the very end) use his deceptive powers to assemble the nations for the Last Battle against the Church.

The fourth (and most fascinating) theme is the Consummation. Amillennarians teach that there is just one of them, set to occur at the one Parousia of Christ, when he returns in glory with all the holy angels to rescue his Bride from the Last Battle, raise the dead, transform the living, judge the world in righteousness in the skies above the earth, consign evil men and angels to eternal punishment, and create new heavens and a new earth: the eternal home of the triune God, all the saints, and all the angels. Here we encounter the glory of amillennial eschatology, which alone sets before us the majestic manner in which God the Father will be pleased to cap the redemptive work of his Son, and crown his exaltation. Again, this soul-stirring scenario has been the majority view of the universal Church up until modern times.

Amillennialism: An Eschatology for These Last Days

For the last 150 years the evangelical Church has been deeply embroiled in the GETD. As many of us know all too well, eschatological views abound. Curious Christians must now reckon with amillennialism, (two varieties of) historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, and (two varieties of) preterism. In my books and essays I have tried to help believers process each of these views. And along the way I have shared and defended my conviction that amillennialism is indeed the true teaching of Scripture.

In the following remarks I again want to address all Christians, but especially Christian leaders. Here I will spotlight five crucial characteristics of amillennial eschatology, characteristics that demonstrate its spiritual power and importance, and that show us why it is perfectly suited to carry the true spiritual Church safely through the last of the last days, and on into the consummated Kingdom of God.

First, amillennialism powerfully caps and crystallizes the entire biblical worldview. The reasons are many. It gives us the one true timeline of Salvation History: Creation, Probation, Fall, the OT Era of Promise and Preparation, and the two-staged NT Era of Fulfillment, comprised of the temporary spiritual Kingdom of the Son, the Consummation at Christ’s return, and the eternal earthly Kingdom of the Father (and the Son) in the World to Come. It gives us the heart of Salvation History: the Eternal Covenant in Christ, planned before the founding of the world; similarly, it also gives us the body of Salvation History: the various administrations of the Covenant, from creation to consummation. Finally, it gives us the capstone of biblical cosmology, which, in order to be complete, must include not only of the origin, purpose, and structure of the universe, but also its final destiny: the Consummation of all things. All of us have a God-given desire to behold “the Big Picture” of the universe, life, and man; all of us desire to discover and embrace the one true worldview. Amillennialism alone supplies it.

Secondly, amillennialism opens up and integrates the entire Bible. Here again several steps are involved. The journey begins at the Mount of Transfiguration, where amillennarians bid us hear afresh God the Father identifying his Son as the supreme spiritual Teacher of the human race (Matt. 17:1-8). Yes, in the past Moses and the OT prophets spoke truth to us, but only in “many portions and various ways,” (Heb. 1:1). Therefore, we dare not take our theological cues from them, for in the progress of divine revelation Christ alone has brought us “true truth,” complete truth, definitive truth. Only in Christ, and not in Moses or the prophets, can seekers find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, including eschatological knowledge (Col. 2:3).5

Accordingly, we must turn first and foremost to the Didactic New Testament (DNT): the specifically teaching portions of the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles. Here we have the one classroom in which the Teacher unveils God’s definitive truth, and also the one courtroom in which all theological disputes must be decided. Here we receive clear answers to the four underlying issues in the GETD. Here we discover the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH): the New Testament method for interpreting the Old Testament in general, and OTKP in particular. Here is where we learn to decipher, understand, and enjoy the “dark” (i.e., typological) sayings of  OT history, the Mosaic Law, OTKP, and the Revelation.

And the result? Suddenly the thousand tiles of biblical revelation coalesce into a single, stunningly beautiful mosaic. Suddenly we behold the face of Christ, the blessings of the Eternal Covenant, and the two-staged Kingdom of God throughout all Scripture: whether darkly prefigured, promised, and predicted in the Old Testament, or brightly manifested, proclaimed, expounded, applied, and eagerly embraced in the New. Gladly and gratefully we now realize that the Lord has definitively opened our minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:25), and that now our Bible is fully illumined, integrated, and unveiled (Matt. 13:51-52; 2 Cor. 4:1-6).

Lest she be swept away by the strong ideological crosscurrents of the last days, the Church must be anchored to total truth. By opening up and integrating the entire Bible, the DNT and the NCH—twin pillars of a soundly biblical eschatology—give her total truth. As she takes fresh hold of it, the Lord takes fresh hold of her, keeping her safe, sound, and strong all the way to the end.

Thirdly, amillennialism strengthens the preaching and teaching ministry of the Church. This is a corollary of the previous two points. By giving God’s people total biblical truth, amillennialism enables them to proclaim that truth. In particular, it empowers evangelists, pastors, and teachers not only to preach Christ from the four Gospels and the epistles, but also from OT history and Law, OTKP, and the Revelation. It empowers them not only to proclaim the Lord’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, but also his ascension, session, present heavenly reign, and future coming again. And it mightily empowers them to proclaim the one Consummation that Christ will effect at his return: the one Resurrection, the one Judgment, the one Regeneration of all things, and the one new World to Come. Amillennialism enables God’s gospel messengers to bring the full force of his total truth to bear upon saints and sinners alike. The saints and sinners of these last days will need it as never before.

Fourthly, amillennialism prepares the Church for the Last Battle. Like the good Father who gave it to us, this eschatology does not indulge in escapist fantasies or wishful thinking. It tells us honestly and comfortingly that the true spiritual Church (Rev. 11:1-3) is destined to follow in the footsteps of her Master; that for a brief season at the end of the age she will endure severe marginalization, unfair vilification, gross injustice, widespread rejection, and (institutional) death. However, it also tells us that at the Parousia she will swiftly rise again to final vindication, eternal life, and joy inexpressible and full of glory. As it is written, “A disciple is not above his teacher, neither is a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and a servant like his master” (Matt. 10:24-25). The saints will be like their Master in (re)birth, life, ministry, joy, hardship, death, resurrection, ascension, and eternal glory. To all eternity they will confess that it was enough and more than enough (Col. 3:1-3; Rev. 11:1-14).

Finally, amillennialism revives the Church with a fresh revelation of the glory of Christ. It does so by opening her eyes to the true nature of her Lord’s exaltation, especially to his session, heavenly reign, and return in glory for the Consummation of all things. For a longish season smoke ascending from the abyss has obscured this particular sun (Rev. 9:1-2). Now, however, the Lord is clearing the air. As he does, the Bride beholds her King afresh: not only up above, but also up ahead. The vision is breathtaking, filling her eyes with his deity, sovereignty, mighty power, and fervent love for his people. As never before she beholds the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and is thereby changed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18).

In sum, amillennialism is indeed an eschatology perfectly suited for these last days. Opening a window onto the one true Consummation, it lets in light from God’s one true future, pouring that light into the perplexing present, and filling the souls of the saints with clarity, conviction, joy, and the zeal of Christ himself.

Thus filled, the Bride becomes sound in faith, strong for outreach, steady in the midst of birth pains, proof against lies and error, holy against the rising tide of lawlessness, and courageous in the face of persecution—always looking beyond the Last Battle to the eternal joys of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Indeed, as her heavenly Husband washes her eyes with the water of his Word, the veil between the present and the future grows strangely thin—so thin that she seems to see him standing right before her.

With love and longing, she cries, “Come!”

With love and longing he replies, “Yes, my Beloved, I am coming quickly. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life!”

 

Notes:

  1. For a short introduction to the state of world missions see this excellent essay, posted at the Joshua Project.
  2. For two essays dealing with God’s plan for ethnic Israel, click here and here.
  3. Here are some further recent developments suggesting that the Consummation may well be near: (1) the current breaking off of (many of) the Gentile nations, which, according to my reading of Romans 11:15 and 21, precedes the grafting in of latter day ethnic Israel and “life from the dead”; (2) the sudden advent of modern communications and military technology, with their extraordinary power to spiritually corrupt and physically destroy; (3) the fact that the apostle John said he was living in “the last hour” (1 John 2:18), implying (for at least one pastor I know) that we must be living in “the last second”; (4) the plausible eschatology of Irenaeus, who suggested that God meant each of the six days of creation to correspond to 1000 literal years, which, if true, would place us at the dawn of the seventh day, the eternal day of mankind’s eschatological rest.
  4. The NT requires us to distinguish between two kinds OT Messianic prophecy. The first I call “simple OT Messianic prophecy.” It is simple in the sense of being straightforward; that is, all such prophecies were literally fulfilled at or around the first coming of Christ, between the time of his incarnation and his session at the right hand of the Father. The second I call “Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy” (OTKP). Prophecies in this category are more complex. They are fulfilled on or after the Day of Pentecost, when the KOG entered the world and the New Covenant went into effect. Prophecies of this kind use OT types and shadows to speak figuratively of the two-staged Kingdom of God created by Christ under the New Covenant. Accordingly, it is necessary for the NT interpreter to employ the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH)—the NT method for interpreting the OT generally, and OTKP in particular—in order to decode these  “mysterious” OT utterances.  For more on this subject, click here.
  5. This, I believe, is the fundamental misstep of dispensational premillennialism. Neglecting the DNT and the NCH, dispensational interpreters have chosen instead to build their system on OT ground, and in particular on literalist interpretations of the prophecies of Daniel, Zechariah, and the Revelation (which, in some ways, is the most Old Testament of New Testament books). In so doing they have entangled huge swaths of the evangelical church in a faulty theology that (unintentionally) dishonors God’s appointed Teacher, and therefore greatly confuses his people. My hope and prayer is that the High King will soon visit my dispensational brothers and bring them (and the whole evangelical Church) home to the classic amillennial faith of our Protestant forefathers.

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders
so as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.”

(Mt. 24:24)

 

Most Christians are familiar with these words, and most do indeed watch for false prophets. But their focus is limited: They are on the alert for human false prophets rising up out of the earth (Rev. 13:11f).

But in these dangerous last days, here’s a question well worth asking: Could it be that some of those false prophets will be evil spirits coming down from the sky, masquerading as highly evolved extra-terrestrials who are not out to blast us, but to “bless” us with their redemptive wisdom from the starry deeps?

Well, if you know anything about the great red dragon, whose tail sweeps stars down to the earth—and who is styled as the deceiver of the whole world—you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) put it past him (Rev. 12:4, 9).

And yet, many Christians are double-minded on this subject. They ask, almost rhetorically, “Who’s to say that extra-terrestrials don’t exist? Surely in a universe as big as ours there must be other intelligent life forms out there! Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think that we, and we alone, are ‘the ones’”?

Those are good questions, questions I myself have asked. But in devoting a couple of years to the study of biblical cosmology, I was stunned to learn something of great interest, and—in credulous times such as ours—of great practical importance: I learned that, Yes, we really are “the ones”!

Very briefly, let me make that case.

What Shape is Your Cosmos?

Did you know that prior to the sixteenth century no one in the Western world believed in aliens? In part, that’s because no one believed in the Big Bang or cosmic evolution. But in larger part, it was because no one believed that space was infinite or centerless or curved; no one believed it was shaped like a saddle, a hyper-cube, or a multi-dimensional toroid. (Not to worry, modern cosmologists who dream of these “high things” can’t even imagine them themselves, 2 Cor. 10:5). Instead, they believed that God, in six literal days, created the universe as a great but finite sphere, revolving around a stationary earth that served as home for the apple of his eye: us! And where did folks get such an outlandishly man-centered idea? You guessed it: from the Bible (plus like affirmations from Aristotle and other ancients).

Now, please consider the following historical fact carefully: Belief in aliens came in when belief in biblical geocentrism went out. It came in when Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and all their followers demoted the earth from the place of cosmic centrality bestowed upon it by the Word of God. Interestingly, the first scientist to let the alien genie out of the cosmological bottle was Johannes Kepler, who speculated about the inhabitants of the moon in a book aptly called Dream. Four hundred years later, the dreamers at NASA and the SETI program are still at it!

If, then, we truly desire to understand the Bible’s verdict on the question of extra-terrestrials, we shall first have to re-examine its testimony about the purpose and structure of the universe. And as unpalatable as it may be to modern man, that testimony is actually quite clear, compelling, and (to my mind) comforting: The earth really is the center—at least of God’s affections, plans, and purposes, and quite likely of his entire creation as well.

Elsewhere I have made an extensive case for this controversial thesis. Here, I would simply direct you to Genesis 1. As you read it again, start by clearing your thoughts of as many cosmological pictures and presuppositions as you can. Then, with fresh eyes, read the text, keeping these few questions in mind:

  • What did God create first: the Earth or the heavenly bodies?
  • What (according to the most natural reading of the text) revolves around what: the earth around the sun, or the sun (and the other heavenly bodies) around the earth?
  • For whom were the luminaries created?
  • Why were they created?
  • Is there anything here (or elsewhere in Scripture) to suggest that the heavenly bodies were created to serve as homes for extra-terrestrials (i.e., psycho-physical beings like us)?
  • Is there anything here (or elsewhere in Scripture) to suggest that  extra-terrestrials were created to function in a manner similar to angels; that is, as messengers of truth to the inhabitants of the earth?

Now, whatever your answers may be, this much should be agreeable to all: Here in Genesis 1 (and in the rest of Scripture) the Earth is clearly not depicted as a planet; that is, as a heavenly body that wanders around the sun or (in any other way) through space (Greek: planao, to wander). Rather, it is depicted as an altogether unique and uniquely inhabited body; a body that stands majestically at the very center of God’s creation, interest, and concern. In short, when the God of the Bible hung the stars, he did not do it for ET. He did it for us (Gen. 1:14-19). And to my mind, this entails that ET does not exist.

Extra-terrestrials and the Justice of God

But the biblical case against extra-terrestrials runs deeper still. That’s because Scripture also states that shortly after the beginning, following Adam’s sin, God wisely laid a curse upon the the entire creation, subjecting it to natural evil, suffering, decay, and death (Rom. 8:18-23). Furthermore, this preliminary judgment portended a far greater Judgment set to occur at the end of the age, when the universe as we now know it will be completely destroyed by fire, and then renewed at the hand of Christ for eternal life in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 24:35; 1 Cor. 15:20f; Phil. 3:20-21, 2 Peter 3:10-13).

This testimony creates a serious problem for those who believe that aliens inhabit the heavens. For if extra-terrestrials really do exist, then in the Judgment both they and their world(s) will suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin, even though they themselves are not his offspring, and therefore stand in no spiritual or physical relation to him (Rom. 5:12f).

What’s more, such extra-terrestrials could not possibly have a savior, for the Bible tells us that the Redeemer of the cosmos has taken to himself—for all eternity—“the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5f, 1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 2:14f, Rev. 1:9f). It is as a man—and not as an extra-terrestrial—that the Son of God became the High Priest of his people: dying for them, rising for them, and interceding for them in heaven, both now and to all eternity (Rom. 8:34, Heb. 2:14-18, 7:25, 9:24).

To repeat: If extra-terrestri­als exist, they have no spiritual or physical connection with the first Adam, nor with the Redeemer who was fashioned in his likeness (Rom. 5:12f). They are under the headship neither of the first Adam nor of the last. And yet, according to the Bible, they all must perish in the end time conflagration. But would the righteous Judge of heaven and earth perform such a manifestly unjust act? Scripture assures us that such a thing can never be (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4, Isaiah 30:18, 61:8, 2 Tim. 4:8, Rev. 15:3). So again, the conclusion, on biblical grounds, is that extra-terrestrials do not exist.

Heads Up!

What then are we to make of alleged sightings of UFO’s and/or personal contacts with aliens? Biblically, the options are few, simple, and sobering: Either they are natural phenomena, man-made objects, cunning scams, or demon powers seeking to distract, deceive, and destroy the inhabitants of the earth, and also to rob the High King of heaven of the worship properly belonging to him (Luke 4:5-7, 2 Cor. 11:14, 2 Thess. 2:9-12, 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 5:8). The latter option will indeed sound far-fetched to the modern mind; but it will not stumble saints who are well acquainted with Satan’s devices, who remember that he is called “the prince of the power of the air,” and who recall that he likes to disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 2:11, 11:14; Eph. 2:2).

We live in turbulent times. We have come to expect the unexpected, even the bizzare. The Internet woos us with reports of UFO sightings and alien abductions. NASA and SETI continue to probe the heavens for signs of intelligent life. Offerings from Hollywood focus mankind’s hopes on space travel, cosmic demigods, and visitations from above.

But wise Christians, grounded in biblical cosmology, will not be taken in. With confidence and joy they will understand that the Earth really is center stage, that we human beings really are “the (beloved) ones”, and that the High King of heaven would have us lift up our heads and fix our eyes on on the Bright Morning Star. It is scheduled to rise soon, and will most assuredly appear in a very great theater near you (Luke 21:28, Heb. 12:2, Rev. 22:16).

Notes:

  1. For more on this subject, see The New Answers Book (Master Books, 2007), chapter 18. You may also want to watch the informative video, Alien Intrusion, by Gary Bates (but definitely not before bed).

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will wail and mourn and beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a loud blast of the trumpet; and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the skies to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31

____________

These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, spoken to his disciples shortly before his death on the Cross. Here he promises them that one day soon he will come again to the earth in order effect what theologians refer to as the Consummation. At that time Christ will raise the dead, transform the living saints, catch them all up into the air, judge the world in righteousness, and create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed.

In the paragraphs ahead I want to highlight the central elements of Christ’s return as they are reflected in these special words to his disciples. Then, having done so, I want to ask a two-fold question: Why has God structured the Consummation in this way, and what are we who are still journeying through our life on this earth meant to learn from it?

Let us begin.

First, there is a darkening. Prior to the Lord’s coming, God literally extinguishes the sun, the moon, and the stars. The result is thick darkness, the kind that engulfed the earth-in-the-deep at the dawn of creation, and a kind that will recall the thick spiritual darkness that engulfed all mankind because of the fall of Adam (Gen. 1:1-5; Ex. 10:22; Col. 1:13). But as it was in the beginning, so here: It sets the stage for the appearing of light: the Light of the World, the One who will now separate all light from all darkness forever. In that day sinners will recoil from the Light, but the saints of God will declare that it is exceedingly good (Gen. 1:1-5; Eccl. 11:7; 2 Cor. 4:6).

Secondly, there is an appearing: above all of the Son of Man himself, but also of the sign, the power, and the glory that will attend him at his Coming. Because of the one Resurrection, every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7). But with the seeing of the eye, there will also be a seeing with the mind. In his Light, all will see light (Ps. 36:9). The spiritual truth that was previously made known to men and nations through creation, conscience, Christ, Holy Scripture, and the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel will now appear: palpably, powerfully, and inescapably (Josh. 4:23-24; Is. 45:20-25; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 3:4-6; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:15).

Thirdly, there will be mourning. It will emanate from all who previously suppressed the knowledge of the truth in unrighteousness, who loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1:18). Yes, there will be mourning over the loss of the things they worshiped in life, over the final collapse of the idolatrous City of Man (Rev. 18). But far more dreadfully, there will be mourning over the loss of their eternal souls (Mark 8:36). Scripture itself anticipates their heartbreaking lament: “If only I had sought the Lord when he could be found; if only I had called on him when he was near; if only I had believed and obeyed the light by which God tested my love of the truth. For now the door is shut, and the thing that I feared has come upon me” (Job 3:25-26; Is. 55:6; Prov. 3:20-33; Matt. 25:10; John 1:9; 3:16-21; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 1:18-19; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 1:7; 18:1-24).

Fourthly, there will be gathering—a gathering of his elect, a gathering of his enemies, and so a gathering of all men and nations, together will all angels, both good and evil (Matt. 13:30, 24:31, 25:32; Luke 19:27). It is a gathering unto the one Judgment: unto eternal reward and eternal retribution (Matt. 25:31-46). But above all, for human beings it is a gathering unto truth: the truth about what each one did with the light he was given during the days of his pilgrimage upon the earth (Luke 12:47; John 3:16-21; Rom. 2:1-16).

Finally, there will be a centering. At the Parousia the luminaries above will be dissolved, and the earth below will be consumed by fire (Is. 34:4; Zech. 14:6; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 20:11). And then the true Center will be revealed: the High King of Heaven, seated on his glorious throne, with all men and all angels gathered before him, awaiting the final disposition of all things. Thus shall all mankind finally realize that the One here enthroned at the center of the physical universe is the One who has always been enthroned at the center of his Father’s affection, purpose, plan, and work. Thus shall all mankind finally behold the Son of God for who he is, and for what God appointed him to be: the Alpha and the Omega: the divine Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Ruler, Judge, Re-creator, Light and Life of the world.

Do we understand why God has structured the Consummation this way? And do we understand why he has told us all these things ahead of time?

Yes, in so speaking he means to instruct, equip, warn, and richly encourage his believing people. But beyond this, he also means to address the unbelieving world: all of the people who are not yet his people. By structuring the Consummation as he has, and by revealing its structure to the world in his Word and through his Church, he is asking beloved sinners everywhere these all-important questions:

“Who or what is your center? To whom or what are you devoting your life’s time, talent, treasure, and energies as you journey through this world toward the hour of your death or the day of my Son’s return? Have you considered him: his life, his teaching, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation, his people, and his book? Is he not, far and away, the world’s best candidate for every man’s true center? Will you not therefore turn aside and see this great sight (Ex. 3:3)? Will you not earnestly inquire as to who he is and why he came? And will you not keep on asking, seeking, and knocking until you have found out for sure (Matt. 7:7-8)?

“Beloved sojourners, I tell you the truth: When the High King of Heaven comes again he will indeed be disclosed as the absolute center of all things. And no tongue or pen will be able to describe the joy of those pilgrims who sought and found the Truth, and who then made him the absolute center of their lives” (John 14:6; Jude 1:24).

Note: For many years I desired to write a longish tract that would open up the Bible’s message of redemption to thoughtful seekers of spiritual truth and reality. I hope this is it. I post it here not only for seekers, but also for saints, in further hopes that it will help them share their own faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Pearl of Greatest Price.

 

JOHN 3:16
A Pearl of Great Price

View Tract PDF
View Tract PDF
View Tract PDF
View Tract PDF

Every student of world history knows that the Bible’s majestic story of creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ turned the Roman Empire upside down, laid the foundation for Western civilization, and to this day is challenging and transforming people all over the world.

But here’s something you may not have known: John 3:16—the most famous verse in the Bible—contains the whole message of the entire Book. It’s like a beautiful pearl tucked deep inside a giant clam or oyster. In this short text, Christ himself gives us the heart, the core, the very essence of the Word of God.

Here, then, for spiritual seekers who may be new to the Bible, are a few thoughts carefully selected from the Bible itself in order to display the meaning, truth, and beauty of this pearl of great price.

GOD: This is the Supreme Being—the infinite personal Spirit—who reveals himself to us through nature, conscience, and the sacred writings of the Jewish people. In those writings we learn that there is one God—the omnipresent creator, possessor, sustainer, and ruler of the universe—eternally existing in three divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here in John 3:16, Christ is specifically referring to God the Father: He who gave God the Son to the world.

SO LOVED: God is love. Throughout all eternity the three divine Persons have known and loved one another, dwelling together as a kind of Holy Family in a bond of perfect peace and joy. But the love of the triune God also overflows onto his creation, and in particular onto us human beings: creatures uniquely fashioned in God’s own image and likeness, and therefore uniquely endowed with a capacity to know him and live with him as his children. In our text, Christ is telling us that God the Father, moved by his great love, has gone to the greatest possible length to make that capacity ours again.

THE WORLD: The reference here is primarily to the family of man that God, in the beginning, created to rule with him over the earth and journey with him down the long corridor of universal history. The human father of this family was the man Adam. In the Garden of Eden it pleased God to test Adam: to see if he would use the gift of his freedom to love and honor his creator by believing and obeying his word. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that the world itself hung in the balance, for by God’s wise decree Adam stood in Eden as the head and representative of the entire family of man, and as the prince of the whole earth. Had he obeyed God and partaken of the Tree of Life, Adam would have lifted both man and nature into an eternal union with their triune creator. As it happened, however, he did the opposite: He disbelieved and disobeyed, with the result that evil, suffering, and death invaded the very good creation that God had made. In particular, because of Adam’s plunge into sin, all of his children would henceforth be born in a state of sin: alienated from the life of God, centered on self, driven by various dark passions, hostile to God, and willfully disobedient to him in thought, word, and deed. What’s more, because of their sin, many of those children stood—and now stand—beneath their sovereign creator’s righteous anger, and in danger of eternal punishment. Yet despite the depth of its sin, God has always loved the family of man. Indeed, he loved it so much . . .

THAT HE GAVE: It is God’s nature to depend on nothing; it is man’s nature to depend on God. It is God’s nature (and joy) to give to man; it is man’s nature (and joy) to receive from God. As it is written, God is the One who gives life, breath, and all things to his beloved creations. Therefore, knowing well our need of spiritual rescue and restoration—and knowing well his Father’s gracious plan to meet that need—Christ speaks here of God’s greatest gift to the sinful family of man: his uniquely begotten Son.

HIS UNIQUELY BEGOTTEN SON: Throughout all eternity the divine Father uniquely begets the divine Son whom he loves: With neither beginning nor end, the Son is “true God from true God.” With a view to saving sinners from eternal punishment, with a view to begetting them afresh as his own beloved children, and with a view to their sharing forever in the life of the Holy Trinity, the Father, in an act of supreme love, gave us his uniquely begotten Son in the form of the God-Man: the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his incarnation Christ entered the world as the last Adam: the head and representative of a new human family that God, in eternity past, had purposed and planned to create. Throughout his holy life Christ maintained a perfect righteousness, a righteousness that God will credit to the account of all who believe in him. Through his sacrificial death on a Roman cross Christ freely suffered the penalty of God’s broken Law on behalf of all who would put their trust in him. And through his resurrection from the dead Christ was publicly revealed to the world as its one and only Prophet, Priest, and King: the all-sufficient Redeemer of the fallen family of man.

SO THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM: In the Bible, redemption is twofold: rescue from evil, suffering, and death, and restoration to the manifold blessings of life in union with God. Because God’s Law is written on our hearts, we are constantly tempted to think that we can redeem ourselves by being good and doing right. But Scripture is emphatic: Sinful man can never be good enough, nor can his good deeds ever outweigh or cancel his bad. So here Christ tells us how we really can be redeemed: by believing in him. Such believing is also twofold. First, by God’s grace—and usually in the midst of an earnest search for spiritual truth and reality—we see who Christ is and what he has accomplished for us. And secondly, having seen, we respond. That is, we turn away from our old self-centered life governed by various lusts, and turn to a new Christ-centered life governed by love. It all begins by calling on the name of the Lord: by prayerfully receiving Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient redeemer that God meant him to be. When we do this, God forgives us our sins—past, present, and future—and credits us with the perfect righteousness of his Son. Furthermore, on those grounds he now welcomes us into his family as his beloved children, granting us a whole new life of righteousness, peace, and joy—together with many challenging trials wisely designed for our good and his glory. In the Garden of Eden God tested Adam to see if he would believe and obey him concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Today he is testing Adam’s children to see if they will believe and obey him concerning the Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ. Will we turn from our sin? Will we come to Christ? Will we partake of him and live?

WILL NOT PERISH: Sinful man is perishing day by day. By willfully rebelling against his creator, and by knowingly keeping his redeemer at arm’s length, he falls further and further away from the life of God, and deeper and deeper into sin, corruption, and death. Here Christ is telling us that if this fall continues—uninterrupted by repentance and faith—God will give to the sinner in hell that which he chose for himself on earth: separation from the life and gifts of God under eternal punishment. Understandably, our finite and fallen minds recoil from this dreadful prospect: We cannot comprehend the apparent severity of such a judgment. But neither can we (fully) comprehend the towering holiness of the creator, his moral obligation to govern his creatures, the scandal of their ingratitude and rebellion, the injury they inflict upon his glory, the absolute necessity of divine retribution, the true dimensions of Christ’s suffering, and the perfect justice of the judge of all the earth. Therefore, our only safe path is to recuse ourselves from judging God, and to humbly receive the words of his Christ, who graciously promises eternal life to all who believe, but who solemnly warns of eternal punishment for all who disobey. And we can rejoice that here on earth—in the anteroom of eternity—the choice is ours.

BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE: Here Christ affirms that from the moment of their new birth into the family of God believers do in fact have eternal life: Once and for all they have crossed over out of death and into life. This is the kind of life lived by the triune God, and that life lived forever. It begins when we personally receive Christ as Savior and Lord, with the result that the triune God, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, comes to live in us and we in him. During the days of our pilgrimage on the earth—and through our faithfulness to such basic Christian disciplines as prayer, Bible meditation, church participation, godly conduct, and Christian service—this life grows and develops, as God slowly conforms us to the image his Son. At the moment of our death it attains full flower, as our spirits enter heaven, there to dwell in perfect holiness and joy with our exalted Lord. And it is consummated at the end of the present evil age, when Christ will come again to resurrect the dead, judge the world in righteousness, and create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed. It is written that Christians are saved in hope—and what a glorious hope it is!

The Pearl of Greatest Price

Yes, John 3:16 really is a pearl of great price, seeing that it marvelously distills the message of the entire Bible into a single sentence. But someone will ask, “How can we be sure the message is true, and that the Bible really is the Word of God?” It’s a fair question—a question that many thoughtful believers have addressed at length, and whose books on the subject are readily available to all who seek.1 But let me close here by offering a short reply of my own.

I believe the very best way to know that the Bible is the Word of God is simply to read it—all 66 books, written by some 40 different authors, over the course of nearly 1600 years. For when we do so with an open heart that is fully intent on discovering spiritual reality and complying with its demands, we will unfailingly hear the Father’s voice speaking to us on every page, disclosing precious truths about the divine Person and all-sufficient Work of his uniquely begotten Son.

We see him everywhere. In the Old Testament we see that all events, laws, institutions, poems, promises, and prophecies point forward to Christ. And in the New Testament we see that the Old Testament is fulfilled, for now Christ has come, miracles are performed, truth is unveiled, atonement is made, the Savior is raised, the King is exalted, the Spirit is given, good news is proclaimed, lives are redeemed, and saints are filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory. Thus, all throughout his Book the story is the same: Here we find God the Father personally addressing every honest seeker of spiritual truth and reality, saying:

“This is my beloved Son. This is the world’s one and only Redeemer, given for you. This is the Pearl of Greatest Price, he of whom John 3:16 and the entire Bible sing. So come to him, speak with him, open to him, learn from him, draw on him, walk with him, serve with him, suffer with him, hope in him, and treasure him—always remembering that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until that happy day when you stand before him face to face. So shall you never perish; so shall you have eternal life.”

Come Let Us Reason
www.clr4u.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat upon them; and authority to judge had been given to them. And I saw the souls of those who were beheaded because of their testimony concerning Jesus, and because of the word of God. And I saw those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead or on their hand. And they all came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years had come to an end.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection: Over these the second death holds no sway, but they will be priests of God and of Christ; and they will reign with him (throughout) the 1,000 years. — Revelation 20:4-6

———–

BY AND LARGE, amillennial interpreters agree that in Revelation 20 the Holy Spirit, for a sixth and final time, has used Old and New Testament imagery to symbolize the Era of Gospel Proclamation: the season between Christ’s first and second advents.

Accordingly, this chapter also speaks of certain key eschatological events that will occur in that era. In particular, the first of its four sections speaks of the binding and imprisonment of Satan at the beginning of the 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). The second speaks of the First Resurrection and the blessings of those who reign with Christ throughout the 1,000 years; correspondingly, it also speaks of the Second Death of persons who did not attain the First Resurrection or the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:4-6). The third section speaks of the Last Battle and the judgment of Satan, set to occur at the end of the 1,000 years (Rev. 20:7-10). The fourth and final section speaks of the Judgment of all mankind at the Great White Throne, which also occurs at the end of the 1,000 years (Rev. 20:11-15).

In this essay I want to focus on the second section of Revelation 20, found in verses 4-6. Of the four, this is certainly the most difficult and controversial, and therefore merits special consideration. I will begin by offering my own amillennial interpretation, after which I will interact with premillennial views and defend mine at greater length.

An Amillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:4-6  

John has opened the chapter by giving us a revelation of the binding and imprisonment of Satan, both of which will last for 1000 years. Here the Spirit is using the number 1000 symbolically: it is a sign, signifying the entire era of Gospel Proclamation (Rev. 1:1). This era began when Jesus Christ—through his atoning death, resurrection, session, and ensuing heavenly reign—bound (i.e., restrained) Satan from deceiving the nations any longer (John 12, 2 Thess. 2, Rev. 12). In particular, Satan can no longer deceive God’s worldwide elect in such a way as to keep them in his thrall and prevent them from coming to Christ. Similarly, he cannot (yet) deceive the multitude of unregenerate persons in such a way as to gather them together for the Last Battle against Christ and the Church (Rev. 20:7-10). Here we are told that this era will last a long time (1000), but only long enough for the triune God (3) to complete (10) the ingathering of his people (10 x 10 x 10). Once that is accomplished, the end will come (Matt. 24:14).

Having opened the chapter in this way, the Holy Spirit now addresses a question that will naturally arise in the minds of every believer. One thousand years bespeaks a long time. What will happen to the saints who die during that season? Our text supplies the answer. The amillennial interpretation is as follows:

Those whom John sees seated on thrones are souls: the souls of the saints who remained faithful to Christ throughout their portion of the Era of Proclamation, died, and entered Heaven (v. 4). In partial fulfillment of Daniel 7:9, at the moment of their death authority to judge was given to them; that is, God authorized them to participate with Christ in the Judgment (v. 4).

Some of these saints died as martyrs, but all were loyal to the Word of God (v. 4). All refused to worship the Beast (i.e., the self-deifying, anti-Christian State). All refused to worship the image of the Beast (i.e., to participate in the religious cultus of the anti-Christian State) (v. 4). And all refused to take the mark of the Beast upon their forehead or their hand (i.e., to identify themselves, in thought and deed, as loyal followers of the Beast).

As a result of their covenant loyalty to the Lord, these saints “came to life and reigned with Christ during the 1,000 years” (v. 4). That is, at the moment of their death God raised their souls to spiritual perfection for life in Heaven with Christ throughout the (remainder of the) Intermediate State. The Holy Spirit identifies this spiritual coming to life as “the first resurrection”. Later on, at the end of the 1,000 years, this spiritual coming to life will be followed by a physical coming to life; the first (spiritual) resurrection will be consummated by a second (bodily) resurrection that will equip the saints for the fullness of human life in the new heavens and the new earth (v. 5).

In speaking of these things, and by way of a warning to all, the Holy Spirit also mentions here the destiny of unbelievers. They too will “come to life,” but only at the end of the 1,000 years, when their souls, previously in Hades, are joined to resurrection bodies and then subjected to “the second death,” which is the Lake of Fire (vv. 5, 14).

Our passage concludes with John identifying three blessings that God has prepared for the saints who attain the first resurrection.

First, the second death now holds no sway [lit. has no authority] over them. Having triumphantly passed their probation on the earth, they are eternally secure from all possibility of apostasy and perdition. Henceforth, admonitions and warnings to remain faithful will neither be needed nor heard.

Secondly, they will be priests of God and Christ. Spiritually, they will enter fully upon their eternal ministry of worship and service to the triune God (1 Peter 2:9-10).

And thirdly, they will reign with Christ throughout the 1,000 years. That is, having attained to the fullness of eternal life through the entrance of their spirits into Heaven, they, like Christ, will reign victoriously over every deadly spiritual enemy that previously opposed them during their time on earth.

Summing up, (many) amillennarians believe that Revelation 20:4-6 gives us a final biblical depiction of the Intermediate State. At the moment of their death the spirits of the saints who have persevered in the faith enter Heaven, where they come to the fullness and perfection of eternal life. The Holy Spirit identifies this special coming to life as “the first resurrection” because it is analogous to, and guarantees, a second resurrection (of the body) at the Lord’s return at the end of the age. Herein lies a great a hope for all Christians, a hope that will encourage and enable them to persevere in their difficult pilgrimage through the wilderness of this present world.

This Interpretation Defended

Alas, our premillennarian brethren cannot agree. They say that the “coming to life” of verse 4 is not strictly spiritual, but rather physical: At the Lord’s premillennial return he will join the departed souls of faithful Old and New Testament believers to their new resurrection bodies. Henceforth they will sit upon thrones and reign with him for 1,000 years. This coming to life is called “the first resurrection” because it is the first of two bodily resurrections. The second will occur at the end of the Millennium when God raises unrighteous and unbelieving persons for the last judgment.

Premillennarians defend this view by citing the parenthetical remark found in verse 5. It reads, “The rest of the dead did not come to life [ezesan] until the thousand years were completed.” All interpreters agree that “the rest of the dead” are the souls presently in Hades, souls that will come to life at the resurrection of their bodies. “But,” say the premillennarians, “if the Holy Spirit used the same Greek word (ezesan) to describe both the first (v. 4) and second resurrections (v. 5), how can you possibly assert that the first is spiritual but the second physical?”

At first blush this argument seems compelling. But what if there was solid evidence to show that the Spirit, for wise reasons, intentionally used the same word in two different senses? What if there was evidence to show that the two “comings to life” differ not only in timing, but also in nature? Needless to say, amillennarians are convinced that such evidence does indeed exist.

But let us begin at the beginning: with the various evidences favorable to the amillennial view.

First, we have just seen from verse 4 that the entire scene is heavenly. John has explicitly referenced souls, and Revelation 6:9 strongly suggests that they are in Heaven. He has explicitly mentioned thrones, and in the Revelation they are always situated in Heaven when associated with the saints (Rev. 4:4, 11:16, 19:4). Moreover, he says not a word about the bodily resurrection of these saints.

Secondly, the parenthetical remark found in verse 5 actually supports the amillennial interpretation. John writes, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years had come to an end.” The premillennial reading is: “The dead referred to in verses 4-5 come to life bodily at the beginning of the Millennium and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. The rest of the dead will not come to life bodily until the 1,000 years are over.” The amillennial reading is: “The dead are divisible into two groups: the dead whose souls John is seeing in Heaven, and the rest of the dead whose souls are still in Hades. The former come to life spiritually at the moment of their death, but not yet bodily (Rev. 20:13). The latter will never come to life spiritually, but will indeed come to life bodily, but only to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.” The evidences previously cited, together with the eschatology of the DNT, strongly favor the amillennial view.

Thirdly, we have John’s remark found in verse 6: “Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection: over these the second death holds no sway.” This is a glorious promise, given to conscientious saints struggling to pass all tests and resist all temptations so that they may complete their earthly pilgrimage victoriously. But if, as premillennarians assert, the first resurrection is bodily, then this promise, far from being a blessing, opens a door to all manner of doubts and fears. Henceforth, premillennarians are left to wonder: “When I die and my soul enters Heaven, will it still be in danger? Must I still take tests and wrestle with temptations? Might I yet apostatize? Do I really have to wait until the Lord’s return and the resurrection of my body before I can rest assured that the second death will hold no sway over me?”

“God forbid!” cries the amillennarian. “The first resurrection is not bodily, but spiritual. It is the holy moment when you transition from earthly life to the Intermediate State. It is the triumphant conclusion of your Gospel probation upon the earth. Henceforth you will be perfectly holy in spirit. Henceforth you can never fall away from God. Henceforth the second death has no authority over you, as indeed it would if, while still living upon the earth, you fell into temptation and denied your Lord (2 Tim. 2:12); which, by the way, is something that the Good Shepherd will never let one of his true sheep do (John 10:27-29)!”

We find, then, that verse 6 powerfully illumines the true meaning of the saints’ “coming to life” and “the first resurrection.” These picturesque expressions speak of their souls’ victorious entrance upon the glories of the Intermediate State.

It remains to ask, however, why the Holy Spirit would use the same Greek word (ezesan) to describe two different kinds of coming to life: two different kinds of resurrection. The answer, I believe, is found in the progress of biblical revelation concerning the Intermediate State, and in the prophetic purpose of the Revelation.

 Think back to the days of the early Church. Having been well taught by the apostles, most Christians would have understood that “soon” all (deceased) human beings will come to life in a single bodily resurrection of the dead (Luke 20:27-40; John 5:26-29; Acts 24:15, 21; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). However, as the Lord tarried, and as some of the saints began to die, surviving believers would naturally be concerned about the condition of departed loved ones after their death but prior to the bodily resurrection. The apostles understood this and addressed their concern by teaching them about the Intermediate State (2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 1:21-24; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Heb. 12:22-24). However, as the NT canon neared completion, it pleased the High Prophet of Heaven to do so one final time.

Accordingly, here in Revelation 20 he gives the Church Militant a climactic word of instruction, exhortation, and encouragement concerning the Intermediate State. I would paraphrase it as follows: “Yes, in the general resurrection all people will come to life bodily. However, should I tarry, always remember that for those who believe, overcome, and die in the faith there awaits a first resurrection of their spirit that supplies a foretaste and guarantee of the final resurrection of their body. There awaits a first coming to life in Heaven that supplies a foretaste and guarantee of a final coming to life in the World to Come. And there awaits a first reigning with me in Heaven that supplies a foretaste and guarantee of a final reigning with me and my Father in the new heavens and the new earth. So then: Armed with these glorious promises, see to it that you overcome!” (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 5:10; 22:5).

We find, then, that the Lord used the same word to describe two different “comings to life” because the two comings to life—much like the two stages of the one Kingdom of God—share the same fundamental nature: the first is unto spiritual perfection, and lasts a little while; the second is unto spiritual and physical perfection, and lasts forever. Thus did it please the High Prophet of Heaven to further illuminate the glories of the Intermediate State, thereby giving his people fresh hope and moving them to stay faithful throughout the remainder of their difficult pilgrimage upon the earth (John 11:26; Rev. 20:6).