“Let not your hearts be troubled.”
–John 14:1

 

It is Sunday, March 22, 2020. Here in Santa Rosa, California, we are “sheltering in place,” seeking to avoid contact with the coronavirus that, for many, has proven deadly. In portions of Africa a terrible plague of locusts is currently devouring harvests and threatening famine. In Utah, just days ago, there was an unusually strong earthquake. In Australia, just weeks ago, there were unusually destructive fires along the densely populated coasts.

How are Christians to understand such things? How are we to avoid debilitating fear and panic? How are we to comfort our non-Christian neighbors, as they—who are sitting in darkness, and in the land and shadow of death—secretly endure existential dread? How are we to quarantine our minds against doomsday scenarios that prompt us to quit our jobs, move to another country, stockpile rations, or buy up guns and ammunition? In short, in the midst of calamity, how are we to keep our cool till the end of the world, thereby fulfilling both our ministries and our highest calling, which is to glorify the Lord?

I am so grateful that the Lord himself has anticipated all these things: the earth-shaking events, the unique temptations, the unavoidable questions, and the special evangelistic opportunities they represent. And I am grateful for the provision he has made for us to face them with a wise, calm, compassionate, and God-honoring spirit. In this post I would like to consider his provision at some length. My focus will be on two biblical larders that are filled to the brim.

The Shepherd and His Apostle on Keeping our Cool

Our first text is Matthew 24:1-8. Here we have the opening lines of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, our Lord’s definitive teaching on the end of the world, the events that will precede it, and everything we need to know to keep our cool and glorify our God until that Day comes. Listen carefully to the voice of the Good Shepherd:

Now after departing from the temple, Jesus was going his way; and his disciples came up to him and called his attention to the temple buildings. But he said to them, “Don’t you see all these things? I tell you the truth: Not one stone in this place will be left on another: Every one of them will be thrown down.” So as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us: When will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In reply, Jesus said to them: “See to it that no one leads you astray, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will lead many astray. You will also hear of wars and rumors of wars: See that you don’t give way to fear, for these things must take place, but the end has not yet come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these are only the beginning of the birth pains. –Matthew 24:1-8

Our second text was written by the apostle Paul to the Thessalonian Christians. Like the first, it too gives us the voice of the Good Shepherd supplying his people with wisdom and urging calm:

Now in regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to our being gathered together to him, we urge you, brothers, not to be alarmed or suddenly shaken from your presence of mind, whether by a spirit, an utterance, or a letter supposedly from us, claiming that the Day of the Lord has arrived. Let no one deceive you in any way, for that Day will not come until . . . –2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

It is important to note at the outset that both of these texts really do deal with the end of the world. So do dozens of others found in the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, more than any other book ever written, it is the Bible that has planted in the minds of people everywhere an expectation of the end of the world, however little they may understand what the expression actually entails. This special providence supplies Christians with an excellent platform for Gospel testimony in troubled times. It also requires that they know for sure what the end of the world will involve!

When the disciples questioned the Lord Jesus, they already had definite views on this subject, views that the Lord would have to correct and supplement. In the Olivet Discourse he made a fulsome beginning; after Pentecost, his holy apostles and prophets would make a fulsome end. With their passing and the closure of the biblical canon, divine revelation about the last things would be complete. Henceforth, all that people know or ever can know about the end of the world will be found in the pages of Holy Scripture, and especially in the New Testament. May the Spirit of illumination help us to understand these precious revelations, and to explain them clearly!

I believe we can do so by coming to grips with one of the great themes of biblical eschatology: the Consummation. When Jesus taught his disciples on the Mount of Olives, this was his ultimate theme. Notably, they inquired about three of its central elements: The Coming of Christ, the signs of his Coming, and the end of the age. Concerning these subjects, we now know that the disciples had one thing in mind, and Jesus quite another. They expected Jesus to rise up in the power of God as a national deliverer and king, even as David of old. Jesus, however, expected something very different and vastly greater: that he would die for the sins of the world, rise again to eternal life, ascend into heaven, sit down at the right hand of God as Prophet, Priest, and King, pour out the Holy Spirit upon the Church, send her out into the world to preach the Gospel, and, at the end of the age, come again in the power and glory of his Father, with all his holy angels, to effect the Consummation.

Good Bereans, who search the Scriptures daily to discover God’s eschatological truth, know these things (Acts 17:10-11). They also are familiar with the various elements of the Consummation: The Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Glorification of the Living Saints, the Great Assize of All Sentient Beings before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the air above the Earth, the Last Judgment, the Destruction of the present Earth and its Works by Fire, and the Creation of New Heavens and a New Earth, the eternal home of the redeemed. When Christians hear talk of the end of the world, they think of all this; they think of the Consummation, and they rejoice. When unbelievers hear talk of the end of the world, they really don’t know what to think; yes, some may mock, but deep down all shudder. Christians have a precious balm to pour into the trembling hearts of their neighbors. God grant us the grace to offer it, and our neighbors the grace to receive it.1

This brings us back to the subject at hand: keeping our cool till the end of the world. Both Jesus and Paul know that the Consummation is coming. They know that certain things must happen before it does. They know that in the midst of those things there will be a great potential for deception, misunderstanding, and panic. Their burden is identical: to protect the flock of God from them all. And what is their prescription? I would sum it up in three exhortations: avoid deception, anchor to truth, and keep on keeping on. Let us take a moment to consider each one.


Avoid Deception: It Only Leads to Fear

Note carefully the very first words on Jesus’ lips as he responds to his disciple’s questions: “See to it that no one leads you astray!” Note also those of Paul: “We urge you, brothers, not to be alarmed or suddenly shaken from your presence of mind, whether by a spirit, an utterance, or a letter supposedly from us . . . Let no one deceive you in any way.”

Again, these shepherds know their sheep. They know how easily sheep are deceived. They know how swiftly deception leads to fear. And they also know how in days ahead the prince of the power of the air will flood the atmosphere of the world-system with fear-inducing lies and errors. Accordingly, from the very outset they urge upon the saints the greatest possible caution: “Avoid deception. Be careful about the voices you listen to. When popular notions about the dreadful course of current events knock insistently at the door of your mind, think twice before opening. Test all things, hold fast to what is good. It is easier than you imagine to be deceived and shaken from your steadfastness of mind.”

In a season of world history when electronic floods of “knowledge,” “expert opinion,” and “scientific consensus” sweep over us daily, we must take these words to heart. We must, of course, beware of distortions of biblical teaching about the Consummation. But if we are to walk without fear, we must also avoid non-biblical forms of deception. Other faiths have their own beguiling eschatologies. Secularists have their own doomsday scenarios and intoxicating panaceas. Whether intentionally or not, philosophers, scientists, and politicians can fill our minds with lies, errors, and half-truths, thereby flooding our hearts with doubt, confusion, and fear. We all have heard their trumpet blasts: man-made climate change, eco-disaster, overpopulation, economic collapse, gun violence and anarchy, aliens ominously streaking through our skies. The list goes on.2 But as deception and dread beckon, the saints must hear again the word of the Lord: “See to it that no one leads you astray . . . See that you don’t give way to fear!”


Anchor to Truth: It Always Leads to Peace, Confidence, and Eager Expectation

First the Lord and his apostle tell us to avoid deception. Then they tell us how to do it: Anchor yourselves to truth, for it always leads to peace, confidence, and an eager expectation of the return of Christ, who will replace the present evil age with a glorious World to Come.

Each of us will have to develop a case-sensitive strategy for honoring this command. Nevertheless, speaking broadly, I cannot doubt that it will involve saturating ourselves with the Scriptures. God has granted his people to be born from above. He has given them the Spirit of Truth. He is eager to guide them into truth, and to anchor them to truth, if only they will dig deep into the Word of Truth. The Good Shepherd identified himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Once the flock has heard his voice in the Scriptures, they will have an ear for the truth, and so become deaf to deception. Then, when they hear the voice of a stranger, they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:5).

To walk steadfastly at all times, we shall have to be mastered by all of God’s truth. To keep our cool till the end of the world, we shall have to be mastered by a certain species of his truth—eschatological truth: truth about the Consummation, and in particular, truth about the historical signs that point ahead to it. Again, each of us must study these things for ourselves. By my lights, they fall into two categories: signs of the beginning of cosmic rebirth, and signs of the imminence of cosmic rebirth. Let us take a moment to look at them both.

1. Signs of the Beginning of Cosmic Rebirth

In our first text, the Lord himself prepares and steadies his disciples by teaching them about “the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:8). This is a fabulously rich metaphor. He has in mind certain signs—signs that will recur throughout the entire remainder of the present evil age. As we shall see, many of them are judgments of God. For this reason the signs could aptly be called “death throes,” since they signal the death of the world as we now know it. Jesus, however, prefers to call them birth pains. That’s because, at a deeper level, the signs point, not simply to judgment and death, but also and ultimately to redemption and eternal life. Thus, he likens the world to a pregnant woman. The disciples are to know that because of her sin, painful judgments will indeed come upon her. But more importantly, they also are to know that the judgments herald a great blessing: the return of Christ, the Consummation, and the birth of a new and glorious World to Come!

Once again, these particular signs are unique in that they appear throughout the present evil age, an age that began with the fall of man in Eden, but which now has been invaded by Christ and the Gospel. Accordingly, these signs reflect the clash of the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Satan, a clash that will continue throughout the entire era of Gospel proclamation (Rev. 12:1ff). All past generations of Christians have seen them; all future generations of Christians can expect to see them. Jesus tells us that they are indeed signs of the end: of the Consummation. But he also tells us that they are signs that the end has not yet come (Matthew 24:6). More on this in a moment.

The beginning of the birth pains is itself twofold. On the one hand, it includes what are manifestly judgments of God: wars, rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, and other such calamities. Yes, the decisions of sinful men often contribute to them. But like the events themselves, those decisions are also under the control of Providence. Because of men’s sin, rebellion, and idolatry, God hands them over to a debased mind. Professing to be wise, they become fools. As a result, they make foolish decisions, all of which lead to the judgments of God (Romans 1:18f). I live in California, where thousands of abortions occur daily, where suicide is legal, where sexual immorality is rampant, where “gaming” is widespread, and where marijuana production and distribution is currently classified as an “essential industry.” Not surprisingly, our state is also the site of all manner of disasters: crumbling infrastructure, gang warfare, homelessness, deep pockets of poverty, destructive fires, and now the spread of the coronavirus. Politicians try to blame their opponents and their policies. Christians know to ascribe them to human sin, divine providence, and the judgments of God.

Very importantly, these particular judgments are not final. They do indeed point to the Last Judgment, but they are not the Last Judgment itself. They point to the end of the world, but they will not accomplish it. Rather, as the apostle John saw, they are trumpets of God, warning of the coming Consummation (Revelation 8:1f). Therefore, alongside the judgments, and mitigating the judgments, there appears another sign, a sign of God’s great mercy and love: the preaching of the Gospel. Believers must take this to heart. It is only through the ministry of the Church that terrified sinners, staggering under the judgments of God, can behold what the judgments portend. And it is only through this same ministry that they can behold the God-ordained City of Refuge, to which they may flee for safety (Numbers 36:6f; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

The Lord also warns that the beginning of the birth pains includes what are manifestly acts of Satan: the emergence of false Christs, false prophets, and false teachers; the apostasy of false believers; and the persecution of the true spiritual Church at the hands of an unbelieving world (Matthew 24:4-14). The latter is especially significant in the economy of the present age. Persecution elicits the urgent prayers of the saints, who plead with God to grant them justice against their adversaries. Jesus assures them that though God seems to delay in answering, he will not do so for long (Luke 18:1-8). Though silence seems to reign in heaven, it is only for half an hour. Moreover, throughout that half hour the cries of the persecuted are mingled with his grace, and rise like incense before his throne. Soon the angel will cast fire upon the earth. Soon there will be claps of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and shakings of the earth. Soon the trumpets will sound again. Soon there will be more judgments in the earth: signs and warnings of a Consummation that will not sleep, and that has long been on its way (2 Peter 2:3; Revelation 8:1f).

But again, if the saints are to keep their cool till the end of the world they must hear well the Lord’s warning: “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6). Yes, the beginning of the birth pains tells us that the end is fast approaching (Revelation 12:12). But these same signs also tell us that the end is not yet here. In other words, the Church is to understand that the Consummation will not come by means of these signs. It will not come by ordinary providence, and it certainly will not come at the hand of man (e.g., man-made climate change, germ warfare, nuclear holocaust, etc.). Rather, it will come at God’s appointed time, and in God’s appointed way. It will come at the return of the High King of Heaven, and it will be effected by his Word, his Spirit, his angels, and his people (Daniel 7; Revelation 19). Until then, the signs that point to cosmic rebirth will continue. Like a woman in labor, the world will groan, then rest, then groan again. Judgment will fall, blessing will follow, and judgment will fall again. Turmoil will explode upon the scene, business as usual will ensue, and turmoil will again explode upon the scene (Genesis 8:21-22; Matthew 24:36-41; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). So shall the cosmic labor continue throughout the remainder of this age, with the contractions increasing both in strength and frequency, until at last the World to Come is born and the Bride of Christ is filled with everlasting joy (John 16:21, Revelation 21:1f).

In all of this the mission of the Church is clear. The judgments of God are meant to lead the world to repentance and faith. The blessings of God are meant to lead the world to repentance and faith. And the Gospel preaching of the Church—in which both the judgments and the blessings are interpreted and applied—is meant to lead the world to repentance and faith (Romans 2:4). Accordingly, the Lord’s disciples must never allow themselves to be distracted or unsettled by the beginning of the birth pains. Rather, they must anchor to the truth, keep their cool, and occupy till their Lord comes. In particular, they must seize every God-given opportunity to advance the cause of Christ; and as they do, they must make wise use of “the signs of the time” (Matthew 16:3).

2. Signs of the Imminence of Cosmic Rebirth

There is a second category of signs: signs pointing to the imminence of cosmic rebirth. We see this in the further words of Christ and Paul. Blending predictions of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem with predictions of the Consummation, Jesus speaks of several of these signs (Matthew 24:15-28). In 2 Thessalonians 2 the apostle Paul speaks speak of two in particular: a final world rebellion against the Law and Gospel of God, coupled with a final world leader: an imitator and opponent of the true Christ, who is therefore called the Man of Lawlessness and the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 1 John 2:18, 4:3). Other New Testament texts give us a few more.

These signs are different from the beginning of the birth pains: They do not appear throughout the entire era of Gospel proclamation, but only towards, or at, its end. Yes, they are birth pains, but they are the final pains. Here, the cosmic birth process reaches transition. Here there is great agony, but also great ecstasy just on the other side. Awareness of these signs is of great value to the pilgrim Church. Until she sees them come to pass, she knows that the end is “still to come.” When she sees them come to pass, she knows to endure bravely and with great expectation: the shout of the Bridegroom will soon be heard ringing throughout the universe!

By my lights the following biblically predicted events fall into this special category of signs:

  • The completion of world evangelization (Matthew 24:14; Rev. 5:9)
  • The conversion of the great mass of world Jewry (Genesis 45; Luke 21:23-24; Romans 11:11-32)
  • Extraordinarily deep and widespread spiritual darkness (Matthew 24:12; Luke 17:26-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3)
  • The rise of a satanically controlled and empowered personal Antichrist; the advent of a one-world government, religion, and economy, all of them more or less completely under his control; and a brief but fierce persecution of the true spiritual Church at his hand (Matthew 24:15, 21; 2 Thessalonians 1ff; 1 John 2:1; Revelation 11:7-10, 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10)
  • Extraordinary disruptions in the heavens, on the earth, and in world society (Daniel 12:10; Matthew 24:21-22; Luke 21:25-26).

Yes, when the Church sees all these things coming to pass, she may confidently say, “He is near, even at the door!” But will that be a license for her to panic? Far from it! For in that day, by the Spirit of grace, she will find herself doing exactly as her heavenly Husband instructed: Despite all her suffering, she will straighten up, lift up her head, and know that her redemption—even the Consummation of all things—is drawing nigh (Luke 21:28)!

Keep on Keeping On

Why have the Lord and his apostles given us all this trustworthy eschatological truth? The answer is clear: to provide an anchor for our souls, so that when we see the beginning of the births pains—things like the coronavirus, or a plague of locusts in Africa, or raging fires in Australia, or severe earthquakes in Utah—we will not give way to fear, or be shaken from the peace, confidence, and eager expectation that is ours in Christ.

Rather, watching carefully for the true signs of the imminence of the Lord’s Return, we will keep on keeping on. We will faithfully take our nourishment as we journey through the wilderness of this present evil age (Revelation 12:14). We will resolutely abide in the Vine (John 15:4-5). We will diligently follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Revelation 14:4). We will patiently exercise our spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8). We will prayerfully and practically love one another (John 13:34; James 2:16; 1 John 3:19). And as we do all these things, we will make every possible Spirit-led effort to love our neighbor, calm his fears, anchor him to the truth, and—God willing—give him a hand up into that great Ark of eternal safety, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus shall we keep our cool till the end of the world, and thus shall we glorify the Lord.

 

NOTES

1. For a closer look at the Consummation, please click here.
2. Here is a short article illustrating how long the list can be.

Actually, Aunt Tracy is my sister-in-law. However, she is indeed a busy (and most excellent) homemaker. For that reason—and also because she was delving into Isaiah at Ladies Bible Study Fellowship—she once asked me to write her something SHORT on the question of the Millennium (i.e., the “1000” years of Revelation 20). Now if you know me at all, you know I don’t do short. Nevertheless, I trust that the following letter—which was short by MY standards—proved helpful to her. I post it here in hopes that it will also be helpful to anyone who is looking for a brief introduction—and proposed solution—to the Great End Time Debate (GETD).

 ———–

Dear Aunt Tracy,

Thanks for asking me about the Millennium, and about how to interpret OT prophecies of the coming Kingdom of God. Your question is both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a challenge because there’s quite a debate over this question, and because that debate can get pretty complicated. It’s an opportunity because explaining the gist of the debate in an uncomplicated manner could be helpful, not only to you, but also to many others who are not likely to wade into big books on biblical eschatology.1 So—keeping short ever before my eyes—I’m eager to begin.

 

Millennial Views

The question of the Millennium is like the tip of an iceberg: All sorts of interesting matter lies hidden beneath the surface. This becomes especially clear when we take a quick look at the three main views of the end times popular among evangelical Christians today: Historic Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, and Amillennialism.

I. Historic Premillennialism (HP)

In Latin, “pre” means “before” and “millennium” means “1000 years.”  So premillennialism is the view that Christ will come again before a future 1000-year reign over the earth with his saints (Rev. 20).

Why do premillennarians look for such a reign? Two main reasons.

First, they feel they must interpret the OT prophecies of a coming King and Kingdom more or less literally. So if Isaiah and Micah speak of a day when the nations will worship God at a temple in Jerusalem on top of Mt. Zion, premillennarians look for a day when that will happen: literally (Isaiah 2, Micah 4).

That brings us to the second reason. Since premillennarians know that Christ and the apostles did not institute physical temple worship for the present era of Gospel proclamation, and since they know that we won’t practice such worship in the New Heavens and the New Earth, they conclude that Revelation 20 must be speaking of a special stage in world history, a stage in which all the Old Testament Kingdom Prophecies (OTKP’s) will be literally fulfilled.

Please note carefully what this means: It means that premillennarians believe the Kingdom of God enters history in three separate stages: 1) The present Era of Gospel Proclamation, 2) the Millennium, and 3) the eternal World to Come (i.e, the New Heavens and the New Earth).

Now, here’s where things start to get a bit complicated. After centuries of Christian thinking and theorizing, we now have two kinds of Premillennialism: Historic and Dispensational. What’s more, we have two kinds of Historic Premillennialism: New Covenant and Old Covenant. (Try not to panic: You can do this!) I will explain them as simply as I can.

New Covenant Historic Premillennialism (NCHP)

This view was held by some of the early church fathers, men like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.  Throughout the Middle Ages it was eclipsed by Amillennialism, but after the Reformation it began to pop up again. Today a number of respected evangelical theologians and pastors embrace NCHP, including Craig Blomberg, Wayne Grudem, Jim Hamilton, George Ladd, and John Piper.

According to NCHP the Church is at the center of the millennial scenario. Here there is little or no emphasis on ethnic Israel, or on a millennial return to such OT institutions as temple worship, animal sacrifices, the observance of feast days, etc. Christians of this persuasion believe that when OT prophecies seem to predict such things, they are actually speaking typologically2 and figuratively of a future millennium in which God will actually be worshiped according to NT principles; where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but Christ is all and in all; where the various OT forms of worship give way to the NT worship of God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

I said above that premillennarians interpret OT Kingdom prophecies “more or less” literally. These brothers are in the “less” camp. But again, they still look for a literal 1000-year reign of Christ over a partially transformed earth, centered in an earthly Jerusalem.

Bearing all this in mind, here is how most NCHP’s view the Consummation: that is, the stream of end-time events that begins with the Second Coming of Christ:

As the world nears the end of the present evil age, there will be brief season of unprecedented tribulation characterized by rampant evil, various divine judgments, the rise of a personal Antichrist, the persecution of the true spiritual Church, and (according to some) the conversion of a great multitude of Jews. When this tribulation has run its course, Christ will return to the earth in power and glory to destroy the Antichrist and his followers, and to confine Satan and his evil angels to the abyss for 1000 literal years. Then the Lord will resurrect both the OT and NT saints, transform the living saints, partially lift the curse from the world of nature, and welcome the glorified saints into the Millennium, where they will rule with him for 1000 years under vastly improved spiritual and physical conditions. Christ’s ordinary human subjects will apparently be the children of believers and/or unbelievers who survived the Judgment at his return. During the Millennium many of them will love and serve the Lord, but some will not. Accordingly, at the end of the Millennium, Satan will be released one final time in order to test all the nations. Unhappily, he will succeed in stirring up a brief but widespread rebellion against Christ and his loyal human followers. But God (or Christ) will swiftly step in to destroy all such enemies, after which comes a second bodily resurrection (primarily of the unrighteous, but also, according to some, of the believers who died during the Millennium), the Last Judgment, and the creation of the World to Come, the eternal home of the redeemed.

Old Covenant Historic Premillennialism (OCHP)

These brothers belong in the “more literal” camp. That’s because they interpret OTKP’s quite literally, with the result that Christians of this persuasion anticipate great things for the Jews who, they say, will be converted in large numbers prior to (or at) Christ’s second coming, and then exalted once again to favored status throughout the Messiah’s millennial kingdom. These folks also believe there will be a temporary return to various OT ordinances: An enormous millennial temple will be built, priests will offer animal sacrifices commemorating the work of Christ, and all nations will observe the various Jewish feasts. Apart from their special emphasis on ethnic Israel, OCHP’s view the Consummation in much the same way as their NCHP brethren. OCHP became popular in the 19th century, and was defended by theologians and pastors such as David Baron, George Peters, Charles Spurgeon, and Nathaniel West. (For a timeline illustrating Historic Premillennialism, click here)

Hopefully you’ve noticed, Aunt Tracy, that Historic Premillennarians have trouble deciding how to interpret OTKP. Some want to interpret these prophecies literally, in terms of ethnic Israel and the nations; others want to interpret them figuratively, in terms of Christ, the New Covenant, and the Church? Which approach is biblical? Trust me when I say that in the GETD this is THE crucial question!

II. Dispensational Premillennialism (DP)

Now brace yourself, Aunt Tracy, because things are about to get more complicated! That’s because in the 1850’s a brother by the name of John Nelson Darby developed a new “dispensational” form of premillennialism. His view became extremely popular among many smaller Protestant churches and denominations in England and America; churches that, in a time widespread apostasy, desired to remain loyal to an inspired and inerrant Bible. Famous dispensational premillennarians of our day include John Hagee, David Jeremiah, Tim La Haye, Hal Lindsey, John MacArthur, Chuck Smith, Charles Stanley, Charles Swindoll, and John Walvoord.

Like it’s birth mother (OCHP), Dispensationalism interprets OT Kingdom prophecies quite literally, and therefore shows a similar interest in the future of ethnic Israel. However, this system goes even further, teaching that God actually has two different plans for two different people groups: an earthly plan for ethnic Israel, and a heavenly plan for his (largely Gentile) Church. Some dispensationalists even teach that this distinction will continue throughout all eternity.3

This belief controls dispensational teaching about the Consummation. In essence, dispensationalists affirm that the glorified Christ will return to the earth three times: once at “the secret Rapture” (when he removes his heavenly people, the Church, to their home above, and then resumes his dealings with his earthly people, Israel); again at the end of a literal seven year tribulation (when he returns in visible glory to judge the living nations, and to welcome those who believed in him during the tribulation into his millennial kingdom); and yet again at the end of the Millennium (when he raises the unbelieving dead, administers the Last Judgment, and creates the new heavens and the new earth). Thus, according to Dispensationalism the Consummation involves three separate comings of Christ, three separate resurrections, and three separate judgments. (For a timeline illustrating dispensational eschatology, click here). If, then, God intended the Consummation to be clear, simple, and sheep-friendly, we may be excused for wondering if our dispensational brethren are getting it right.

A Brief Time Out

Now let’s pause for a moment, Aunt Tracy, and think about premillennialism in general.

If you’ve been reading your NT carefully, you have to be puzzled by all of these scenarios. I know I was, for to a greater or lesser extent they all are saying that in a future millennium we’ll be going backwards: backwards to the OT Law, and backwards to what life was like in OT times!

But the NT does not encourage this view. As a matter of fact, it teaches the exact opposite! The Lord Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). The Old Covenant was the caterpillar, the New Covenant is the butterfly. When the butterfly emerged from the chrysalis, the caterpillar was not abolished, but was fulfilled. Accordingly, it will never go back to being a caterpillar! So too with the institutions of the Mosaic Law: Because they have been fulfilled in the New Covenant, God’s people will never return to them. The NT states this explicitly. The OT is forever obsolete (Heb. 8:13). The new wine of the Spirit cannot be contained in the old wine skins of the Law (Mt. 9:14-17). God’s people will never again worship him on Mt. Zion, or in earthly Jerusalem, or in a temple made of stone, but in spirit and in truth (John 4:15-26). There is no going back, only forward into the ocean depths of NT worship in Spirit and truth.

And there is more. For once our minds have been saturated with the NT, we cannot help but feel that premillennialism of any variety needlessly complicates the true biblical picture of Consummation. Why? Because it teaches that the Kingdom of God enters history in three stages, rather than two. But this in turn forces premillennarians to multiply (sometimes twofold, sometimes threefold) the comings, resurrections, judgments, and transformations of the physical world that are biblically associated with the return of Christ. So again: If part of the blessedness of our Blessed Hope consists of the ability to envision it easily, then it is highly doubtful that premillennial scenarios are giving us the true biblical picture of the Consummation.

III. Amillennialism

Well, Aunt Tracy, here is where your patience is finally rewarded, and here is where you can breathe a sigh of relief. For as you closely study the NT you realize that in fact it gives us a very simple view of the Kingdom and the Consummation, a view that the average sheep can not only understand, but from which he also can draw deep drafts of spiritual insight, strength, hope, and joy. That view is called Amillennialism.

From the very beginning of the NT era this has been the majority view of the Christian Church, and especially since the days of Athanasius and Augustine. It appears in the most ancient creeds of the Church (i.e., the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), and is found in the doctrinal standards of all the major denominations (i.e., Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Methodist). Though it is presently the minority position among evangelical Protestants, the current revival of interest in classic Protestant theology is definitely causing its stock to rise. Modern amillennial Bible teachers include Greg Beale, Mark Dever, Anthony Hoekema, Dennis Johnson, Kim Riddlebarger, and Sam Storms.

The word “Amillennialism” means “no millennium.” In a way, that’s unfortunate, since, as we shall see, Amillennialism does not deny the existence of a millennium, only that it is a literal, future 1000-year reign of Christ upon the earth. Accordingly, some teachers prefer to call this view Realized Millennialism or Present-Millennialism. The big idea here is that we are living in the Millennium now!

But lest we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look briefly at the amillennial view of the Kingdom and the Consummation.

View of the Kingdom

Amillennialism teaches that the Kingdom of God is a direct spiritual reign of God the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit. It is entered by the new birth, through faith in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 13:1f; John 3:1f; Rom. 14:17; Col. 1:13). In effect, the Kingdom of God is nothing other than the great promise of the New and Eternal Covenant, into which God is now calling all men and nations: Eternal Life beneath the benevolent rule of God and Christ, with all the spiritual and physical blessings that this must always bring (John 3:11-21).

As we learn from the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, this reign enters into the world in just two stages: (1) the present spiritual reign of the exalted Christ over his born-again children, and (2) the future spiritual and physical reign of God the Father (with Christ) in the new heavens and the new earth. A great many NT passages explicitly represent the Kingdom as having this simple, two-fold structure, and all NT teaching about the Consummation presupposes it (Matt. 24-25; Luke 19:11f; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Eph. 1:15-23; Col. 3:1f; etc.). (For a diagram illustrating the two-staged Coming of the Kingdom, please click here.)

Now, what is it that separates the two stages of the Kingdom? What is the hinge upon which the world swings out of the present evil age and into the glories of the eternal Age to Come? Amillennialism replies: It is the one Consummation of all things, which occurs at the one coming again of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, both to judge and to redeem, consummately (Matt. 24:14; 1 Cor. 15:24; 1 Pet. 4:7). Just here—in the Christ-centered unity of the Consummation—we encounter the power and the glory of amillennial eschatology.

View of the Consummation

To understand this better, let’s consider the amillennial view of the Consummation in greater detail.4

First comes “the last of the last days,” a short season of unspecified length in which the Church and the world will endure extraordinarily great tribulation. During this time lawlessness will increase, the Church will experience severe marginalization and persecution, and dramatic signs of the imminence of the Judgment will appear in the skies above, on the earth below, and in society at large. As if to resolve this crisis, a personal Antichrist will suddenly arrive on the scene, usurping the prerogatives of deity, proclaiming a counterfeit gospel, working satanically inspired miracles, opposing the true spiritual Church, and establishing a global reign over the (largely) willing nations of the world. Then, when men are saying “Peace and safety,” Christ will come again.

His return will be cosmic in appearance, scope, and impact, leaving no doubt that the former things are passing away, and the eternal things have come at last. Prior to the Lord’s appearing the heavenly bodies will dissolve, the sky will darken, the trumpet will sound, and the archangel will issue a cry of command. At his appearing, Christ will descend from heaven in power and great glory, bringing with him all the holy angels, and all the spirits of the departed saints. In swift succession he will destroy the Antichrist and his followers, raise all the dead of all times, transform the living saints, and send out his angels to gather all sentient beings before his great white throne in the sky above the earth. Please note well: At this point the Son of God has literally become the center of the universe!

Next comes the consummation of God’s judicial purposes. The High King will reward his saints for works well done, separate the sheep from the goats, and send the unrighteous and unbelieving into Gehenna (i.e., the Lake of Fire). As a part of the Last Judgment, the earth below and all its works will be destroyed by fire.

Then comes the consummation of God’s redemptive purposes. The Alpha and the Omega will lift the curse that he formerly laid upon his creation, and then fashion new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed. Having thus renewed the universe, he and his glorified Bride will descend to the beautiful new world below. This is Paradise regained: the eternal Garden of God, in which the heavenly Man and his beloved Bride will live together forever in perfect holiness and joy.

Having thus consummated the redemption that he himself previously purchased and applied, the High King will bring his heavenly reign to a close with one final act: He will deliver up the completed Kingdom to his Father, so that in the glorious World to Come God may be all in all to the eternal family that he has redeemed through the Person and Work of his divine Son.

It is deeply impressive to see how all of the NT eschatological texts work together in perfect harmony to produce this simple, clear, and majestic picture of the one Consummation. In my experience, to catch a glimpse of that Day adds a whole new level of meaning to words likedreadful, awesome, breathtaking, and glorious!

This, Aunt Tracy, is the amillennial understanding of the Kingdom of God and the Consummation. When I first spied these things way back in 1976, I felt like Moses kneeling at the Burning Bush. In subsequent years that bush has only grown bigger and burned brighter in my heart. I hope that as you study these things for yourself, you too will behold its glory, and that the vision will guide and strengthen you throughout all the remaining years of your journey to the Promised Land.5

(For a timeline illustrating Amillennialsim, click here.)


Making Sense of the Millennium

But a question remains: If the Kingdom of God enters history in just two stages, what are we to make of the Millennium? How shall we understand the “1000 years” of Revelation 20?

The solution is not difficult. As a close reading of that chapter will show, John is not speaking of a future earthly reign of Christ, but rather of the heavenly reign of Christ over the Church and the world. He is speaking symbolically of the present Era of Gospel Proclamation, the lengthy season (now some 2000 years old) between the Lord’s first and second comings.

The Structure of the Revelation

Perhaps the most important way to see this truth is to see something bigger: the structure of the Revelation as a whole, and especially the structure of chapters 6-20 (for a helpful chart, click here). As the chart indicates, this large bloc of the Revelation may aptly be entitled The Course of the High King’s Heavenly Reign. That’s because in this bloc our Lord’s heavenly reign is described six separate times, in six parallel large-scale visions, all of which draw heavily upon OT language and imagery in order to express core NT truths.

The six visions are: (1) The Six Seals (chapter 6, followed, in chapter 7, by a vision of spiritual Israel [i.e., the universal Church] worshiping in World to Come); (2) The Seven Trumpets (chapters 8-11); (3) The Woman and the Dragon (chapters 12-14); (4) The Seven Bowls (chapters 15-16); (5) The Fall of the Dragon’s Helpers (chapters 17-19); and (6) The 1000 Years (chapter 20).

That this is the true structure of the Revelation is easily seen from the fact that towards the end of each of these six visions we often receive a symbolic description of the Last Battle (i.e., the final conflict between Christ and Satan, the Church and the World: Rev. 11:7-10, 13:6-10, 16:12-16, 19:19, 20:7-10), and always receive a depiction of the Resurrection and/or the Judgment at Christ’s return.

Now, bearing all this in mind, let’s take a quick look at the sixth and final vision of this section, the vision of The 1000 Years (Rev. 20). Again, don’t forget that all throughout the Revelation the Holy Spirit was pleased to speak to us “typologically”: that is, to use many different Old (and New) Covenant ideas and images to convey important truths about the course and character of Christ’s spiritual kingdom under the New Covenant.

Revelation 20:1-3: The Binding of Satan for “1000” Years

Here John tells us that at the beginning of the Era of Gospel Proclamation Satan is bound from deceiving the nations any longer. Prior to Christ’s first coming, they were largely in his grip (Luke 4:6). Now, however, the fullness of time has come. Now Christ has died and risen again. Now God’s redemptive action can finally overflow the borders of Israel. Now the Gospel can go forth to all nations. Now Satan can be cast out, and God’s elect children can be brought in . . . without fail (John 12:20-36).

My point is:: The message here is carefully circumscribed. During the lengthy season between Christ’s two advents, Satan is not swept off the stage of history into the abyss. Rather, he will indeed remain present and active in the world (Eph. 6:10; 1 Pet. 5:8); but with respect to the progress of the Gospel among the elect, he is, and will continue to be, completely bound, for his authority over them has been completely shattered (Matt. 12:22-32; John 12:27-33; Rev. 12:7-12). Yes, at the end of the age he will be released for a little while in order to deceive the inhabitants of the earth once again. But here too he is bound, for until that time comes, God will keep him from gathering the nations against the Church for the Last Battle (2Thess. 2:7).

As for the duration of the era between the two advents of Christ, the Holy Spirit represents it as “1000 years”. This number, like all the numbers in the Revelation, is symbolic. It symbolizes both magnitude and divine completeness. In other words, in using this number the Holy Spirit wanted us to know that Christ will not return quickly; that there will be a long time between his first and second advents (Matt. 25:19). However, he also wanted us to know that this longish time will be purposeful and fruitful, for in that time the triune God (symbolized by the number 3) will complete (symbolized by the number 10) the ingathering of his Church through the preaching of the Gospel, which the exalted Christ himself will spearhead from his throne above (10 x 10 x 10) (Matt. 28:18f, Acts 2:1f, Rev. 6:1-2).

Revelation 20:4-6: The Reign of the Saints for “1000” Years  

Concerning the reign of the saints spoken of here, notice first that John sees the souls of the faithful ruling with their Lord. This is not an earthly reign, but a heavenly. These saints are reigning in life with Christ (Rom. 5:17). Having completed their earthly course victoriously, they now reign in heaven over all the dark powers that formerly accosted them on the earth. This enables us to understand the first resurrection. At the moment of their death, faithful saints, who had previously risen to newness of life in Christ (John 11; Rom. 6), now rise to the perfection of that life in heaven. Also, having arrived in heaven, judgment is given to them, not in the sense that they share in Christ’s present heavenly reign over the nations, and certainly not in the sense that they will reign with him on the earth in a future millennium. Rather, John means that at Christ’s Second Coming they will participate in the final judgment of the world (Dan. 7; Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 61f; Rev. 3:26-27, 19:11-15). In sum, the great purpose of this portion of Revelation 20 is to encourage the Church Militant to be faithful until death, at which time great blessings await them in heaven, blessings that will include a central role in the Judgment at Christ’s return.

Revelation 20:7-11: The Last Battle and the Judgment of Satan at the End of the “1000” Years 

At the end of the 1000 years (i.e., at the end of the Era of Proclamation and the present evil age), the devil will be released to deceive the nations one final time, thereby inciting a final battle between Satan and Christ, the world and the Church (Gen. 3:15). This solemn theme pervades the Revelation, and is found in other portions of the OT and NT as well (Dan. 9; Ezek. 38-39; Zech. 11-12; Matt. 24; 2 Thess 2; Rev. 11:7-10, 16:12-16, 19:17-21 2). Every such text makes it clear that the Last Battle will be brief, cut short by the coming again of Christ in power and glory to rescue his own. According to the apostle Paul this is one of the two or three greatest signs by which latter day believers may know that Christ’s return is very near, even at the door (Matt. 24:33; 2 Thess. 2).

Revelation 20:11-15: The Last Judgment of All Mankind at the End of the “1000” Years

As the NT teaches pervasively, the return of Christ will lead immediately to a general bodily resurrection of the dead, after which comes the Judgment. Christ himself will administer it, seated upon his throne in the air above the earth. Here, as elsewhere in the NT, we see all men (and angels) gathered before him. While all are judged according to their works, salvation itself is by God’s sovereign grace through faith in Christ. All who have trusted in the High King of Heaven will find their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Gladly and gratefully, the glorified Bride will descend with her heavenly Husband to a radiant new earth below, the eternal home of the redeemed (Rev. 21:1f). (For a list of NT texts describing the one Consummation at Christ’s return, click here.)


Understanding OT Kingdom Prophecy (OTKP)

We have seen that the NT does not leave room for a millennial stage of the Kingdom. We have also seen that it declares the Mosaic Law to be obsolete. What then are we to make of the many OTKP’s that seem to predict an eternal, universal Mosaic theocracy?6

Christ and the apostles themselves point the way.

On the one hand, they teach us what the Kingdom really is: a direct spiritual reign of God the Father, through Christ, by the Spirit, over a redeemed people who, through faith, have been transferred from the Domain of Darkness into the spiritual Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. This reign appears in two stages, separated by a single Parousia of Christ at the end of the age (Matt. 13:36-43; John 3:1f; Col. 1:13).

On the other hand, having revealed to us the nature and stages of the Kingdom, Christ and the apostles implicitly tell us what the Kingdom is not: It is not an eternal Mosaic theocracy. Rather, the Mosaic theocracy was simply a type, a temporary symbolic picture of the Christ-centered spiritual Kingdom that now has come, and soon will come in its glorious fullness (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 9:1f).

Therefore it is clear that we must interpret OT Kingdom prophecy typologically and figuratively. That is, we must understand that in former times the Spirit of God moved the prophets to use language and imagery drawn from OT history and institutions in order to depict the two-fold spiritual Kingdom that Christ would unveil and institute under the New Covenant.

Accordingly, when we come across a particular OT Kingdom prophecy, we will need to “decode” it. We will need to put on our NT glasses in order to see how it is fulfilled either in Christ’s heavenly reign, or in the new heavens and new earth, or in both. Happily, when we read the NT we see that this is exactly how the writing apostles handled OTKP.7

To get a feel for how this works let’s look very briefly at a couple such prophecies.

Psalm 2

Imagine you’re a Jew living in the time of King David, or in the days prior to Pentecost. You read Psalm 2 and conclude, naturally enough, that one day soon the LORD will raise up a mighty Israelite king, install him on the earthly Mt. Zion, and grant him such military success that all the surrounding nations will either humble themselves before him and his God, or perish. You think: This is how God’s coming Messianic king will extend the reign of the LORD—and the Law of the LORD—over the whole earth.

However, when you read the NT, you see from any number of passages that David’s prophecy actually has a heavenly fulfillment in Christ and his Church (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5, 5:5). God the Father, having exalted the incarnate Christ to his own right hand, has “begotten” him as the first-born Son over his entire household; indeed, over the entire creation itself (Heb. 1:1f, 3:6)! Even now Christ reigns, not upon the earthly Zion, but upon the heavenly (Heb. 12:22). Even now, through the preaching of the Gospel, God is giving him the (believing) nations as his inheritance (Rev. 5:9). Therefore, even now all kings—and all peoples—would be wise to “kiss” the Son in faith and obedience, before he returns to the earth in judgment to shatter the rebels like vessels of clay (Rev. 2:37, 12:5, 19:15).

Like the Jews of old, many premillennarians interpret Psalm 2 basically literally, believing that God said exactly what he meant. Like the apostles, amillennarians interpret it spiritually, in terms of Christ, the Gospel, and the Church. They affirm that God did indeed mean what he said, but also that he did not say all that he meant. To understand Psalm 2 we will need to see it with New Covenant eyes, as amillennarians strive to do.

Psalm 110

As with Psalm 2, so here: Take it at face value and you are forced to conclude that in days ahead God will raise up a Royal Priest who, having gathered to himself a mighty army of zealous young warriors, will extend the reign of the LORD from Zion to all nations, leaving no impenitent enemy to survive.

However, when we consult the NT we repeatedly learn that the fulfillment of this prophecy is not earthly and physical, but heavenly and spiritual. When the exalted Christ entered heaven, God the Father sat him down at his own right hand, making him the High King and High Priest of his believing people. Through the work of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the Gospel, these believers will volunteer freely to serve their Lord in the Day of his power (i.e., in the days of his heavenly reign). When at last their mission is accomplished, Christ will come again in judgment to “shatter the head over a broad country” (i.e., Satan), and to place every other spiritual and physical enemy under his feet, including death itself.

Psalm 110 is, then, yet another picture of the course, character, and consummation of Christ’s heavenly reign, couched in the language of the OT Law. And the NT explicitly tells us so, more than once (Acts 2:34-35, 3:19-24; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Eph. 1:15-23)! Should we not follow its lead at all times?

Isaiah 11:1-9

Premillennarians enthusiastically claim this famous Kingdom prophecy for their own, arguing that it gives us a picture of world conditions during a future millennial reign of Christ on earth. However, this text says nothing at all about Christ living upon the earth, and nothing about his ruling for 1000 years. With eyes schooled by the NT we can, however, see in verses 1-5 the entire course of Christ’s redemptive mission, from his incarnation, to his death and resurrection, to his heavenly reign, and to his second coming, at which time he will judge the world in righteousness by the rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8).

Then, in verses 6-9, we find the Spirit using OT images of divine blessing to picture the second stage of the Kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth that Christ himself will create at his Parousia and then deliver up to his Father. In picturesque language that would resonate in the hearts of his OT saints, God was pleased to call this glorious new world “all My holy mountain.” Spiritually speaking, we are blessed to live on that mountain now, but also to know that, physically speaking, we shall see it with our own eyes one day up ahead (Phil. 3:21; Isaiah 65:25; Col. 3:1f; Heb. 12:18-24; Rev. 14:1-5, 21:10)!

Micah 4:1-4 (Isaiah 2:1-4)

Here is another favorite among premillennarians. And it must be admitted that a strictly literal reading of this prophecy inclines us to look for a (very BIG) latter day temple, situated upon an earthly Mt. Zion, to which Gentile nations will stream, and from which the Mosaic Law will somehow go forth until, at last, the final judgments of the LORD bring in his perfected kingdom.

But again, the NT teaches us to adopt a deeper, more spiritual understanding.

Seeing, for example, that the events predicted here are set in “the last days,” we know that they pertain to the days of Christ and the New Covenant (Heb. 1:11; Pet. 1:10-12). Likewise, we understand from the NT that the OT temple was merely a picture of the eternal habitation of God: Christ and his Body, the Church (John 2:19; Acts 7:48-50, Eph. 2:21-22). From this we conclude that the “law” (Heb., instruction) that goes forth from Zion is really the Gospel, sent down by Christ from the Jerusalem above, and disseminated by his Gospel heralds in such a way that many nations of believing peoples “go up” in spirit and in truth to worship the Lord there (John 4:21-24). Even now, spiritually speaking, his peace-loving children may sit, each under his own vine and under his own fig tree; how much more in in the beautiful new world that Christ will create at his return?!


Does God’s Use of Figurative Language Make Him a Deceiver?

Our premillennnarian brethren often ask, “If God gave us dozens of OT predictions about the first coming of Christ that were all literally fulfilled, how, in the case of OT prophecies of his Kingdom, can you say that they are spiritually and figuratively fulfilled? In the former he trains us to take his word literally. If, in the latter, he was speaking symbolically, would he not be deceiving his OT people, and us as well?”

This is an excellent question, and one that I have addressed at some length here. The short answer is: The NT requires us to distinguish between two kinds of OT Messianic prophecy: Simple and Kingdom. Simple OT Messianic prophecies, which include various predictions about Christ’s first coming (e.g., his virgin birth, the place of his birth, his miraculous ministry, his atoning death on the cross, his resurrection) were literally fulfilled. They had to be, so that the Church would have a body of prophetic evidence by which to preach the Gospel, especially to God’s OT people, the Jews (Rom. 16:25-17). However, OT prophecies of the Kingdom that Christ would introduce after his earthly ministry were veiled. That is, they employ OT language and imagery in order to speak typologically and figuratively about spiritual realities now introduced by the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3, Col. 2:16f, Heb. 8-9).

Does this make God a deceiver? Not at all. For though it pleased him to hide the exact nature of the New Covenant realities from his OT saints, he nevertheless told them the truth, and did so in such a way that must have filled their hearts with great encouragement. Furthermore, he supplied many strong hints that these prophecies were not to be interpreted too literally. These include apparent contradictions, historical anachronisms, manifestly symbolic texts, and Jeremiah’s great prophecy of a new and eternal covenant that God would introduce in the last days, thereby rendering the (powerless) Mosaic Law obsolete (Jer. 31:31-33; Hebrews 8). Also, we who live in NT times now have all we need to “decode” the OT prophecies, since Christ and the apostles teach us how to do so in the NT.

I would ask my premillennarian brothers: Is not God at liberty to bring his truth to his people in a form that pleases him? What if he considered it good and wise to temporarily veil the truth about his coming Kingdom in order to reserve for his Son the honor of drawing back that veil himself (2 Cor. 3:7-18, Heb. 1:1), the honor of disclosing the “true truth” about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13), the honor of illuminating the minds of the saints once for all (Luke 24:44-45), and the honor of opening their eyes to behold the deep, underlying substance of the Law and the Prophets: the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:39, 45-46)?

No, we may not fully understand all of God’s ways in the OT, but surely we know enough from the NT not to quarrel with them!

 

Conclusion

Aunt Tracy, just in case this letter is too short, let me add a few final words of encouragement.

I definitely get it that eschatology is a bit complicated and a lot controversial. But that’s because it is deep, important, and potentially life-changing. If so, you can be sure our adversary the devil will do all in his power to keep us in the dark about it.

Do we want to understand “the mystery of God,” his eternal plan for the salvation of his people? Do we want to behold the true course and character of all Salvation History? Do we want to understand and enjoy the Old Testament? Do we want to enjoy a clear, inspiring picture of our Blessed Hope: the Coming again of Christ, and all the amazing, awesome, wonderful things he will do when he comes? If so, we’ve got to wrestle with biblical eschatology.

Here then, in a summary paragraph, are my concluding thoughts on the entire matter:

I believe that the mystery of the two-staged Kingdom of God introduced by the New Covenant—the mystery that God planned before the foundation of the world, and that Jesus and his apostles unveiled to us all (Mt. 13)—is the Master Key that will one day fully resolve the Great End Time Debate. That’s because it addresses all the issues, and resolves all the disputes, underlying that debate: the proper interpretation of OT Kingdom prophecy, the structure and theme of the Revelation, the meaning of the Millennium, and the nature and purpose of the Consummation at the end of the age.

Small wonder that in teaching us about these mysteries, our Lord himself said, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see. For many righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt. 13:17).

Let us therefore ponder these things often and with great care, understanding that in them our Lord Jesus has indeed placed a precious key in our hands; a key that turns ordinary folks like you and me into NT scribes, so that we might bring out of his great treasury of divine wisdom things both old and new—and so go forth to feed and enrich the world.8

 

Notes

 1. In Greek, eschatos means last, and logos means word, matter, or thing. Thus, eschatology is the study of “the last things”: the things that happen at the end of the story, whether of an individual human life or of cosmic history. The Bible has lots to say about them all! Technically speaking, however, it’s probably best to define biblical eschatology as the study of “the last days.” Concerning those days, the Bible says that they began with the incarnation of God’s Son, and that they will continue throughout eternity (Acts 2:17, Heb. 1:2). That means we’ve been living in the last days for over 2000 years! And yet, after all that time, God’s people are still eagerly waiting for “the last of the last days,” when their heavenly Husband will return to fetch his Bride and welcome her to their eternal home: the new heavens and the new earth (John 14:1f)! For a list of good books dealing with biblical eschatology, see note 7 below.

2. A “type” is any OT person (e.g., Adam, Noah, Abraham, David), place (e.g., Egypt, Sinai, Canaan, Sodom, Jericho), thing (e.g., the Passover lamb, the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant), event (e.g., the Flood, the Exodus, the fall of Jericho) or institution (e.g., the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices in Israel), which symbolizes and points ahead to Christ and the things of the New Covenant. There are hundred of them in the OT. The Lord said of the OT Scriptures, “These are they that testify of me.” In large part, it is by means of types that they do the testifying.

3. However, the NT disagrees. Christ himself declares that henceforth and forevermore elect Jews and Gentiles are one flock with one shepherd (John 10). The apostle Paul says that God has broken down the middle wall of partition between the two peoples once and for all (Eph. 2:11-18), and that together they constitute a single olive tree in his sight (Rom. 11). John, in the Revelation, depicts the OT and NT people of God as one woman: the Mother of the Living and the Bride of Christ (Rev. 12). Here is excellent material for further study among Good Bereans!

 4. Scriptural support for this sketch of the Consummation is found my book The High King of Heaven, Part V, and also in my abridged version of that book, The Great End Time Debate, Part V. For a nearly exhaustive list of the NT texts dealing with the Consummation, please click here and here.

 5. At the risk of further confusion, I should mention that there are several varieties of amillennial thinking. Though they carry different names, they all agree that we are not to look for a future 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth. Postmillennarians teach that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 represent the entire Church Era, or a later portion of it, during which the world is almost completely won to Christ through evangelism. Think of these folks as highly optimistic amillennarians. Preterists are tricky to describe, since they interpret key NT eschatological texts in different ways. What unites them is a belief that all or most of those texts were fulfilled in 70 AD, when the Roman general Titus invaded Israel and devastated Jerusalem. Amillennarians, on the other hand, believe that while a very few of these texts reference the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple (e.g., Mt. 24, Luke 21), the vast majority (including major portions of Mt. 24 and Luke 21) are primarily concerned with end-time events that occur throughout the entire NT era, or at its conclusion (i.e., the last of the last days). I have discussed postmillennial and preterist views in the appendices of The High King of Heaven, and in articles available on this website. For a helpful chart giving you the gist of Postmillennialism, click here. For a chart on Full Preterism, click here. For a chart on Partial Preterism, click here. I think it’s fair to say that for the moment these are all minority views. And for good reason: the classic amillennial view is surely the one that best captures the complete biblical truth!

6. One major problem with premillennial views is that the OT prophecies of a coming theocratic Kingdom do not limit it to 1000 years, but instead depict it as enduring forever (Is. 65:18, Jer. 17:25, Ezek. 37:25, 43:7). Therefore, the millennial solution is really no solution at all.

7. Here is a list of NT texts in which we find Christ’s apostles interpreting OT Kingdom prophecies as being spiritually fulfilled in Christ, the New Covenant, and the Church. I have placed those of special interest in bold print. Acts 2:33-35, 7:44-50, 13:46-47, 15:12-21; Rom. 9:19-26, 10:12-13, 11:25-27; 2 Cor. 6:1-2, 14-18; Gal. 4:26-27. Of very special importance is Jeremiah 31:31f, cited in Hebrews 8. Here, God and the prophet caution Israel (and us as well) against anticipating the presence and practice of the Mosaic Law in the days of the Kingdom. This, in turn, should incline us to adopt a more figurative approach to the entire OT, an approach that sees the New Covenant mystically foreshadowed in the Old. In the book of Hebrews, the inspired author consistently does this very thing.

8. For further study on eschatology, see my book The High King of Heaven, and also the excellent work by Anthony Hoekema, called The Bible and the Future (Eerdmans). For an inspiring exegetical and devotional commentary on the Revelation, see William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Baker). For further study of amillennialism, and a list of further books on eschatology, click here.

 

 

 

 

This essay, dealing with the Consummation of our redemption at Christ’s return, is the concluding chapter of my book, The High King of Heaven. I think it stands alone quite well, and sums up in a fairly short space the fruits of my research into dozens of biblical texts dealing with “the end of all things” (1 Peter 4:7).

To judge from all that’s going on around us, we can safely say, with the apostle, that the end is indeed “at hand.”

May this essay not only help you to be ready for it, but also to look forward to it with exceedingly great joy.

To read the essay, click here.

Shortly before his passion, the Lord Jesus sat with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and taught them about the Consummation. All agree that his lengthy discourse, recounted by three of the four Gospel writers, is the single most important dominical teaching on this subject.

It is also the most difficult and controversial. However, if our grasp of biblical eschatology is firm, and our understanding of prophetic diction clear, the difficulties are actually quite surmountable, and the controversies fairly easily laid to rest.

My approach in this essay will be as follows.

First, we will look closely at the Disciple’s Question, a question that both elicited the Lord’s reply and determined the prophetic principles by which he would give it.

Secondly, we will briefly survey the Discourse itself, using those principles to help us interpret his meaning.

Thirdly, we will address some of the more difficult questions involved, even as we interact with different interpretations of controversial passages.

And finally, we will summarize our findings, showing how richly they favor the amillennial view of the Consummation.

To read the rest of this essay, please click here.

Dear Aunt Tracy:

The Great End Time Debate Clarified for Busy Homemakers

 

Actually, Aunt Tracy is my sister-in-law. However, she is indeed a most excellent and busy homemaker.

For that reason—and also because she is delving into Isaiah at Ladies Bible Study Fellowship—she asked me to write something SHORT on the question of the millennium (Revelation 20).

If you know me at all, you know I don’t do short. Nevertheless, I trust that the following letter—which was short by MY standards—proved helpful to her.

I post it here (with some non-short emendations) in hopes that it will also be of use to anyone else who may be looking for a brief introduction to the Great End Time Debate.

To take a look-see, please click here.