A reminder of a couple of things that we need to keep in mind.
1. Every system of theology is the product of man and will have error. No one description of any system will satisfy everyone. We should look for the system that aligns best with Scripture.
“does the least
violence to Scripture.”
2. Keep Christ clearly in view. The ultimate goal of all creation is the glorify God the Father and the Son. Our view of the end times should seek to keep His glory in its rightful place
This evening I will present amillennialism, but I want to make one thing clear before I get started. While I disagree with and find fault with postmillennialism and historic premillennialism, I have no fight with sober-minded brothers and sisters who hold those views. We are together for the gospel, to coin a phrase.
From our introduction, a definition and hermeneutic by Anthony Hoekema: "...amillennialists do not believe in a literal thousand-year reign which will follow the return of Christ... the millennium of Revelation 20 is not exclusively future, but is now in the process of realization." Welcome to the millennium! This hermeneutic: Progressive Parallelism in Revelation (Earth's history repeated 7 times) OR Prehistorist: interpret in terms of meaning to 1st century church-- reassurance of Christ's victory over Roman persecutors. Context determines whether literal or figurative. Interpret the Old Testament by the New Testament.
I will present the progressive parallelism view this evening as that the dominant amillennial view; it is the view I hold. The handout provides an overview of how we see these different vantage points of redemptive history revealed to us in John’s apocalypse. To help comprehend the parallel nature of this Scripture, I’ve included a comparison of the three series of judgments: bowls, trumpets, and seals. This progressive parallelism is also called recapitulation - retelling the same basic story several times.
One brother summed up this view in these concise points (I changed his first point a bit):
· The focus of the Bible is the Lord Jesus and not national Israel.
· God deals with individuals and not nations in the matter of eternal salvation.
· God has always included the Gentiles in the number of His elect.
· There are two Israel’s in Scripture, one physical and one spiritual.
· The covenant promises in the OT have been fulfilled, forfeited, or made to Christ and His church.
· The NT interprets the OT.
Amillennialism is sometimes referred to as "realized millennium" since it holds to a kingdom that has been inaugurated. This system holds to a two-age model, wherein we recognize the many references in Scripture to "this age" and "the age to come" (Matthew 12:32, Luke 20:34-35 and Ephesians 1:21 for example). We have our citizenship in heaven, we anxiously await the return of the Lord here on earth. When He returns, it will be that great and terrible day when He will judge the nations, gather His people, and make all things new; to live on the new earth with His people for eternity.
Since Amillennialism is not a basic hermeneutical rule (contrary to dispensationalism) the primary focus of the amillennial system is in Revelation, where the millennium is found. As I mentioned a couple weeks back, Revelation contains elements of narrative and epistle content, but is primarily an apocalyptic work, full of signs and symbols. We are told in the very first verse of this book that God made the revelation known by signifying it though His angel to John. The Greek word behind "signifying" is used in various technical fields to describe communication through signs; such as sign language used to communicate with deaf people. Since we see that this is the device YHWH has told us He used to reveal this bit of the redemptive story to our brother and partner in the tribulation, what basis would we have to interpret it "naturally" or "literally"? Further, in many of the scenes, John reported that he was in the spirit, not the flesh. If the book is symbolic by design, we should insist on clear indications that a piece of it should be taken literally, or physically rather than assume all should be.
The key element to our determining when each parallel story begins and ends is that we see the end of the age at the end of each one. As you can see with the bowl, trumpet, and seal judgements on the handout, the 7 parallel stories are not identical in their start or end points, but they have much in common, covering much of the redemption era. Rather than three series of world-ending judgments that crash down on creation one after another, we have a single series of judgments shown from slightly different angels, using different terms to communicate the same story. Each of the stories ends with a scene of the end of this age.
Considering this point, it is important to realize that the symbols in John's Apocalypse are not something we have to figure out; they are nearly all alluding to previous books of the Bible. God put in the canon all the tools necessary for us to properly interpret and understand Revelation. While the OT is not the determining filter for interpreting the New, we cannot understand the whole if we don't study the OT along with the New.
One thing popped into my head last Sunday while we were reading the creation story. In that historical narrative, we see that God created time and every bit of matter and organized it into our universe in 7 days. Paul (our Paul, not the apostle) mentioned that God did not need 7 days to do all He did, but He did so for a purpose. Throughout Scripture we see the number 7 having significant symbolic meaning of perfection; the battle of Jericho being one example. The Hebrews marched around the city 7 times on the 7th day and blew the trumpets 7 times; and the walls of that great city fell flat. Perfection. Completion. The amillennial view of the last book of the Bible sees that entire book organized around the number 7. There are 7 churches and 7 spirits before the throne of God. 3 sets of 7 judgments, and there are 7 parallel accounts of what happened since the first 7 days were recorded. I am not into numerology, but numbers are significant in all the Bible and even more so in apocalyptic literature such as John’s Apocalypse. The 7 spirits in ch 1 vs 4 represent the seven-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit, revealed in detail in ch 5:6. Since there is but one Holy Spirit, we know this number 7 is not literal, but symbolic of His perfection, completeness, and unity.
The first of these 7 settings is chapters 1 - 3, where even dispensationalists agree there is a break. This story introduces the book as a symbolic revelation and includes the timeless letters to the 7 churches and all churches. Each letter ends with an announcement of the end of the age (to the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life) and this haunting admonition from Christ - he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The second setting is chapters 4 - 8.5, where the seal judgments are poured out. Dispensationalists say the church is raptured between chapters 3 and 4, because you see no church in the book from here on out. That dog just don't hunt. In one of the most gripping scenes in the whole Bible, Rev 6 reveals the grief felt by martyrs who are have died and with the Lord in heaven, because their brothers on the earth are being murdered. The word "church" isn't used, but we are aware of saints on earth - they are the church! This story ends with the 7th seal and the golden censor and judgment on the earth, in Revelation 8:5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
The third setting picks up with the trumpet judgments in 8:6 and runs through the end of chapter 11, where we see the 7th trumpet and the judgment on the earth that is almost identical to what 8:5 revealed. Revelation 11:19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
Our fourth story runs from chapter 12 through chapter 14, beginning with the vision of the woman giving birth to a son while the dragon waits to devour him as soon as he is born — an obvious reference to the birth of Christ and Satan's attempts to defeat Him. The rest of the section describes the continued opposition of the dragon to the church. This section also introduces us to the two beasts who are the dragon’s helpers: the beast out of the sea and the beast out of the earth. This story ends with a lengthy description of judgment on the earth, with the harvest of the earth and the great winepress of God's wrath.
The fifth story picks up later in redemptive history, as chapter 15 begins with judgment, as the third telling of these judgments, with bowls this time, is revealed. Chapter 16 ends with Babylon the great being overthrown and made to drink the cup of the fury of God's wrath. When the 7th bowl is poured out, the angel of God cried out "It is done!" The Greek word is different from what Jesus cried out in John 19:30, when He said, "It is finished!" but the meanings of the two Greek words and the two English phrases are very similar. Also in this last scene of Rev 16 we see something shown to us in chapter 6 - islands and mountains fled from God. And the people of the world being punished by God curse Him as they go to their doom. This isn't happening a second time, it's merely being revealed to John - and us - a second time, from a slightly different perspective.
The sixth story is revealed in chapters 17 - 19, where Babylon falls - again! Over the years, many have seen the Roman Catholic Church in chapter 17. That cult is the city on 7 hills, she was drunk on the blood of the saints as she murdered untold numbers of Christians in the Inquisition. Most believe it to be a description of all false religion, waging war on the people of God. They make war on the Lamb and the Lamb will conquer them! Chapter 18 retells, in detail, the fall of Babylon - this is third time we've been told Babylon has fallen. Things continue to be repeated in John's account. Chapter 19 begins with a celebration of God's judgment on the rebels, celebrates the marriage supper of the Lamb, and ends with victory of the Lord Jesus over the people of the world. This is the great supper of God, where the birds of prey feast on the flesh of His enemies and the false prophet and his beast where thrown into the lake of fire.
The seventh and last story is chapters 20 - 22. In chapter 20 we see this present age, with Satan restricted from having complete dominion over the nations, the gospel having the freedom to go to the four corners of the world, saints reigning in heaven with the Lord, the brief release of Satan to deceive the nations and wage war against God - again! The Lamb wins, judges the people of the world and HIs enemies enter into the second death, never-ending punishment. The last 2 chapters reveal the glory of what is to come. As the graph I handed out shows, these chapters extend further than any other. The new earth, where righteousness dwells! The Apocalypse wraps up with the promised return of Jesus being held out to us, giving hope to every generation of saints, that we would not grow weary in well doing. And we see that the bliss of being with the Lord in New Jerusalem is not dependent on being ignorant of God's judgment on His enemies. They are described as "outside the city gate." We have the warning about adding to or taking away from this book and the promise that, surely, Jesus is coming soon! Every generation of Christians has had reason to believe His time is nigh. We are to be eagerly awaiting the return of our Lord and God, not sleep-walking through life.
This scheme is not without difficulty. Chapter 6 appears to end with the return of Christ, with chapter 7 opening with a new vision. We see continuity, however, with the seal judgments, which are unveiled beginning in ch 6:1 and ending with the 7th seal in ch 8:5. Having some of the seals in one story and the last seal in another telling of that story is more difficult to explain and accept than a story line that has judgment, a brief look at the victory of the saints, then the last seal and the end of time. Also, the binding of Satan is something that take much thought to comprehend how Rev 20:1-3 can be true when we also read he roams like a lion. Recall that even humans can have dominating influence while not present, through agents and prior contact. Much more the prince of demons!
In addition to this scheme of how we read John's Apocalypse, what else distinguishes Amillennialism? Revelation is not a book of terror, as some people imagine it. Revelation is a glorious message of Christ Jesus' victory over sin, death, and Satan and His promise to redeem and live among His people. Is that not a summary of the entire Bible? Having a right view of the Bible as a whole helps us have a right view of specific passages within it. This will be the main point of our final message on eschatology, next week.
Hand-in-glove with this view of Revelation, then, is a hermeneutic that seeks to keep the gospel message front and center in all of Scripture. Spurgeon told a story of an elderly Scottish preacher who was attending the first service of a young preacher. When the young man had finished, he sought out the older gentleman to ask him what he thought of the sermon. The old man looked the young man in the eye and said, “Not much.” “What was the problem with the message?” the young man asked. “There was no Jesus in your message, young man!” “But sir,” he replied, “there was no mention of Jesus of the text!” The elder preacher leaned in close and told him, “Son, there’s a saying that in England all roads lead to London. Not all of them go straight there, but they all lead there. Every sermon must lead your people to the cross. It may not be a direct route as in the gospel accounts, but even if you have to take them over the hedges and through the swamps, you must take your people to Christ!”
National Israel is not the focus of God's redemptive plan, Christ Jesus is. The Law of Moses is not the focus of God's redemptive plan, neither is the politics of this grand land. Anything we put in the way or place of Jesus can be a stumbling block to those being called and to those who are in Christ. So, as did Paul, we seek to preach Christ and Him crucified and not any ethnic group, political movement, or law. Here are some examples of how this works out on topics relevant to this series.
Paul uses the word mystery many times his letters, addressing several topics. One of the most controversial topics is the mystery that was then being made clear - that God had intended from the beginning to include Gentiles in His kingdom. His letter to the Ephesians is a wealth of insight into the glorious redemptive purposes of God. Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. If we understand the nature of being members of the same body we would not accept those who say any ethnic group has special standing before God. In this epistle, the apostle uses three metaphors to describe what God is doing among people who were, by nature, children of wrath. Hal Brunson summed it up - "As the architect is one with his building, as the body is one with its members (Eph 4 & 5), and as the husband is one with his bride (Eph 5), so also God sovereignly joins Himself to His elect people as the head (Col 1:18) and husband (Eph 5:25)." The building metaphor is most substantial, with Paul using several architectural terms - wall, partition, household, foundation, corner stone, framed, temple, habitation, and building - all found in Eph 2:14-22. This aligns with James' description of the elect as the tabernacle of David (Acts 15:16) and Peter's spiritual stones (1 Peter 2:5). Paul says Gentiles were once alienated from the commonwealth of Israel but have been brought near by the blood of Christ and are, therefore, members of the household of God. Jew and Gentile saints are one new man and one body (Eph 2:15-16) by this reconciliation that is found in Christ. This mystery is unveiled: Christ Jesus has broken down the middle wall of partition that stood between Jew and Gentile. Note how strange it was throughout the gospels for Jesus to speak and eat with those who alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. The Jews' literal hermeneutic could not accept the fact that YHWH had promised Himself to anyone other than physical Israel. But that was the purpose and the promise of God from the beginning.
Another way Scripture helps us understand what God is doing is to see the contrast between physical Israel, Jews, and Jerusalem. While those with a strict literal hermeneutic claim Israel always and only means physical Israel, the Bible says otherwise. Hal Brunson's book, Who is Israel/ What is a Jew? Where is Jerusalem?, is a wonderfully written, well organized, compelling look at these questions.
Galatians gives us one the clearest contrasts between physical and spiritual Israel and Jerusalem. Gal 4:21-5:1 (page 2253). Paul uses Sarah as a metaphor for both unbelieving Israel and those in those in the New Covenant. As Israel, she was barren and desolate, bearing only the child that God had promised and provided. As the heavenly Jerusalem of the New Covenant, only those the Father gives to the Son, enemies of God ransomed by the blood of the Lamb, are included. Hagar is now brought in to represent national Israel, in bondage under the Law of Moses. Earthly Jerusalem, national Israel, contrasted with heavenly Jerusalem and her children, Abraham's seed according to the promise - the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
The term, Jerusalem, shows up 142 times in the New Testament. 137 of these are references to the physical city, regarding something that took place in the first century. In each of the remaining 5 uses of Jerusalem, the writers spiritualize it to indicate the present, spiritual, heavenly, eternal nature of God's kingdom, not a future, physical, earthly instance of God's temporal kingdom. Brunson: "Paul asserts that God has rejected earthly Jerusalem and national Israel, as Hagar was the physical mother of Ishmael the rejected seed." Abraham and the other saints of old sought a heavenly city, not an earthly one, a better country and a heavenly Jerusalem. Why would anyone teach that God's purpose in glorifying His name would be tied to return the shadow kingdom, version 2?
As for the contrast between physical and spiritual Jews, the biblical witness is manifold. Romans 2:28-29 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 9:6-7 For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. Brunson observed that those who haggle over physical Israel still being the apple of God's eye might be just like Hagar, if she had argued with Abraham that her son had a biological claim on his blessing. But in Isaac shall the world be blessed, and the child of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman. Paul said it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring (Rom 9:8). To sum up, those who insist on keeping ethnic Jewish believers separate in identify from Gentile believers don't read Paul closely. The apostle asserts Gentiles are the true Jews (Rom 2:29), the true circumcision (Phil 3:3), Abraham's seed (Gal 3:29), fellow citizens (Eph 2:19) of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12) and children of promise (Gal 4:28) born of the same mother - Jerusalem which is above (Gal 4:26) and the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
Another distinctive of Amillennialism is the tension of living in this age where sin and death are present yet we have been raised up to new life in Christ. As Jesus taught (Mark 1:15),, His kingdom was among His people even while He lived on the earth. He promised to be with us until the end of the age (Matt 28:20) and He reigns even now (Eph 1:21-22, 1 Cor 15:25), not waiting for a future earthly circumstance. We are taught to live godly lives in this present age as we wait for our blessed hope (Tit 2:12-13), to not be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2), nor be devoted to it (1 John 2:15-17), and not put our hope in things of this age, such as wealth (1 Tim 6:17). And this: Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be (1 John 3:2). This is the "already but not yet" character of the kingdom of God.
We who are in Christ have our identity in Christ, we are seated with Him in the heavenlies, He lives in us by HIs Spirit, and we eagerly await His return, knowing He is the faithful one who come back and take us to be with Himself. Between this age and the next comes His return, which means the judgment of all flesh, the gathering of the elect, and the resurrection of the world. Jesus described this as a parable in Matthew 13 and explained it to His disciples (verses 36-43, page 1849).
The age-to-come is characterized by the continued reign of Christ (Eph 1:21-22), the kingdom will be consummated (Rev 22), we will be united with glorified bodies (1 Cor 15:53), and this: Revelation 21:3-4 “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This is the age-to-come. It's not the same as this present age, nor is it an improved earth.
In light of all this, how should we live? The practical aspects of one's view of the end times is more substantial and more subtle than most of us think. We will, Lord willing, examine this next Sunday as we wrap up this series on eschatology. For now, let us learn from God what the long and short of it is.
2 Peter 3:11-13 (page 2423). May God give us grace to live as honorable servants in this wicked age.