Friday, April 11, 2014

A little bit more on Amillennialism, and why I don't think it is heretical

Amillennialism is the belief that we are currently in the Millennium, that famous "1000 year reign" from Revelation 20:2, 3 & 5.

One (I suppose) obvious problem:  If the Millennium is basically synonymous with the Church Age, and Millennium means 1000 years . . . we are currently living approximately 2000 years after Christ vanquished the devil at Calvary.  So, that proves it's wrong, right?  Because the Church Age has been twice as long as a Millennium already.

This is not a big problem if you read Revelation symbolically rather than literally.  If you take things symbolically, then "Millennium" could just mean, "a very long time."  You may ask, "Why would God call it a thousand years if He did not mean a thousand years?"  I would rejoin, "Why did Ezekiel eat the scroll in chapter 3?  Why did Daniel dream about four beasts, and a ram and a goat?  Why did Amos write about ripe fruit, and Zechariah about a woman in a basket?  Why so many stories about shepherds and sheep throughout both the Old and New Testaments?  Why did Jesus speak in parables?"

I don't think we exactly know the answer to this question, but clearly God makes a practice of using symbols to convey deeper truths.  The whole Old Testament is packed with symbols and pictures that convey truths about the coming Christ, from the Passover, to the tabernacle and the sacrificial system, to all the strange things the prophets had to do.

And speaking of prophets, if you read them, you unveil a pattern: Hebrew rhetoric does not usually follow a straight line.  Hebrew rhetoric is usually circular, circling a topic and looping back, examining it multiple times from multiple angles (aside: this is interesting to think about when you consider that God provided us with four separate accounts of the life of Jesus in the four gospels).

If you apply the idea of circular Hebrew rhetoric to the book of Revelation, you come up with one event, viewed multiple times, from multiple angles, with varied emphases.  One victory, one judgment, one burning of the earth, one gathering in of the saints to glory.  Many different pictures of what it looks like, from many different angles.

I'm not going to lie.  I like the idea of the earth being destroyed once much better than the thought of it being destroyed over and over again.  Just as I sometimes suspect Dispensational Premillennialists of liking their position because they figure they will be raptured out of here before the trouble starts, I could be guilty of liking Amillennialism because the earth only gets burned once.  I will own that.

Going back to Hebrew circular rhetoric one again (aha, perhaps we are using it), it often starts with a preview, or a story, or some sort of introduction to present the issue, and then is followed by deep delving into consideration by these looping circles.

The book of Hosea is a prime example of this.  It begins with the story of Hosea and how God asked him to marry a prostitute, and it narrates what happened.  This all takes place in the first three chapters, although the second chapter explains the symbolism that is developing.  The remaining eleven chapters consider the scenario around and around again as it relates to the relationship between God and His chosen people.

A couple of years ago, we had a pastor who preached a wonderful sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount from the same perspective, showing how Jesus led out with the Beatitudes (in Matthew 5), and then fleshed them out through the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.  He had us study how each of the topics in the Sermon on the Mount related back to the Beatitudes in one way or another, sometimes in multiple ways.

Apply the same principle to Revelation, and you get a book that begins with a vision of the victorious Christ, and seven letters to seven churches, exhorting them to be ready for the end.  Following these letters (Revelation chapters 1-3), the apostle John goes into descriptions of what the end will be like.

He starts, in chapters 4-5, describing a very encouraging picture: God and the Lamb in complete victory, in heaven, receiving the glorious and joyful adoration of the saints.  Chapter 6 switches over and describes judgment poured out.  Between chapters 4, 5 and 6, we have victory, the joy of the redeemed, and judgment on sinners.

Chapter 7 seems (perhaps?) to begin a new cycle of considering the end.  It opens with God holding back judgment until 144,000 of the tribes of Israel are sealed as servants of the Lord.  Now, Dispensational Premillennialists see this as a literal, exact, 144,000 Jewish people.  Do you remember what I said before? "Dispensationalists, in their literal reading of the scripture, always understand 'Israel' to mean national Israel, Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob.  Just bear that in mind.  It is a defining feature of the position.  More on that later."

I guess we've arrived at "later."

This is where the difference between Dispensationalism and other interpretations becomes very clear.  I am going to try to explain it briefly.

Non-dispensational views see "Israel" as meaning the chosen people of God. In the Old Testament, Israel was a nation, a family of people who came from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, especially Jacob whom God actually renamed, "Israel."  This group, or family, or race of people was chosen by God for a special purpose: to bring Messiah to the world to be our Savior.  This purpose is first stated in the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12, where God told Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed.  The seed of Abraham is Christ, as Paul makes clear in the New Testament in places like Galatians 3 and Romans 4.

"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  The scripture does not say, 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ."  (Galatians 3:16 NIV)

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."  (Galatians 3:29 NIV)

"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all."'  (Romans 4:16 NIV)

God made a covenant with Israel, but those Israelites who broke their part of the covenant (which is most of them) have no claim to it.  However, the Old Testament traces a remnant all through its pages, a remnant of Israelites who believed in God and lived by faith, like the faith of Abraham.  Do a word study on "remnant" in the Bible sometime, and see what you find.

The remnant of Israel seeded the beginning of the church, which began among Jews, but soon spread to Gentiles, as you find when you study the book of Acts.  This is no disrespect to the Jewish believers; indeed, all of the early church leaders were Jewish.  Jesus was Jewish.  God loves Jewish people.  However, unless they stand by faith in Christ, they are no more saved than anybody else (this is the main point of Romans 2, where Paul uses the term "Jew" to mean true Israel, the Israel of faith).

All of God's promises to the nation of Israel were fulfilled (see Joshua 21:45 and 23:14).  I think we can say that God's promises to Israel will also have a new fulfillment, in a spiritual sense, for spiritual Israel, the church, God's children by faith (see Galatians 3:29).  Many of these spiritual promises have already been fulfilled, but some will yet come to pass.

God also made promises to David, some of which were not fulfilled in a literal way to Israel, the nation, but have been fulfilled spiritually through Christ. "I will raise your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever," (1 Chronicles 17:1-12, NIV).  If this only applied to the throne as a succession of thrones (from father to son, over and over) God would have said, "I will establish your throne forever," because he was talking to David about David's son.  But God was not talking about the succession of a family.  Clearly not, because the national line of Davidic kings ended when Israel was exiled to Babylon.  No, God was talking about Christ, the Son of David, who would reign on the throne forever.

According to Amillennialism, Christ does reign on the throne, even now, since He has overcome the devil, and the grave, and hell itself (see Ephesians 1:19-22).  This is the age of His reign with His saints (see Revelation 20:3-6, really, please look it up).

All this discussion is simply to differentiate national Israel--the bloodline of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the nation chosen by God to receive His law and dwell with His presence in their midst--from spiritual Israel--the children of God by faith.  A Dispensationalist reads, "144,000 of the tribes of Israel," and thinks, "144,000 literal Jews, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes."  A non-dispensationalist is more likely to read, "144,000 of the tribes of Israel," as a symbol.  144,000 is a very large, complete, cubic number.  It could stand for the complete and perfect number of all the redeemed whom the Lord has called into His Kingdom (Romans 11:26 tells us that all Israel will be saved).  The fact that they are "Israel," means that they are indeed the chosen ones, sealed by the Holy Spirit, the treasure of the Lord.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)

Another thing.  Remember my post about when we go to heaven?  Amillennialism answers this question quite neatly: saints (believers) who die during the church age (which, remember, we are considering to be the same as the Millennium in this discussion) go immediately to reign with Jesus.  The New Heaven and the New Earth have not yet come into being, but the saints who die are ushered into the presence of God and reign with Christ who sits on the throne.

Argh.  Out of time.  Out of space.  Although, this is a pretty decent explanation of how the theory of Amillennialism fits with what we read in scripture.  We just didn't get to finish outlining the book of Revelation.  Ha.  As if anybody could outline the book of Revelation.

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