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May 29, 2020 Q & A

The End Times and Amillennialism

Question

I am exploring amillennialism seriously. Please respond to the following questions to help me in my inquiry:

  1. The charge of postmils and premils is that amills cannot adequately explain those passages that talk about ALL nations/kings CONTINUOUSLY obeying the Lord for a certain period of time, specifically Daniel 7:27 (dominions serving and obeying the Lord); see also Psalm 72:11; 102:15, 22); Zech. 14:16–19 (worshiping the Lord year by year). Acts 3:20–21 says these Old Testament prophecies are still valid.
  2. How would you explain that Jesus has a political throne, since he sat on David’s throne (obviously a political one, Luke 1:32); and that he will subdue all his enemies before the second coming (death is subdued last, which is at the second coming 1 Cor 15:25–26), and that he didn’t deny either the fact or the political/spiritual dimensions of restoring the kingdom to spiritual Israel (= the church) in Acts 1:6?

Answer

Let me begin by saying that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church does not take an official position on any one millennial position, and allows latitude to its ministers, officers and members on the interpretation of such passages as Revelation 20, Matthew 24, etc. Within our church there are those who hold to postmillennialism, amillennialism and historic premillenialism. The only major millennial position that is not tolerated would be dispensational premillennialism. So we would not take one position against other permissible positions, as a general rule. Neither would we advocate for amillennialism, though that is probably the most common position held by our officers. In our examination of candidates for the ministry, we expect them to be able to clearly articulate the position they hold, and to defend their position from Scripture.

Also by way of introduction, I would suggest that you study some of the better books on amillennialism by amillennialists to get the most up-to-date arguments for that position. A few titles that might be helpful are Cornelis Venema, Christ and the Future: The Bible’s Teaching about Last Things, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, and Gregory Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGCT). Older works, such as More Than Conquerors by William Hendriksen, can be somewhat dated and not reflect current thinking within the amillennial camp. This is especially true of what is sometimes called “optimistic amillennialism,” which differs from the amillennialism of the mid-20th century, and is much closer to a postmil perspective in certain respects.

Finally, before I seek to answer your questions, I want to let you know that I personally hold a covenantal postmillennial position. I was raised in an amillennial home and church but came to appreciate a covenantal postmil interpretation as a result of my reading and studies. I might also add that I came to appreciate a partial preterist outlook on certain passages (though full preterism is a dangerous error, in my opinion).

If I am not mistaken, you may also receive an answer to these questions from an OP minister who is amillennial.

Now, for some comments on your specific questions:

In response to your first question, let me say the following. As I understand both the postmil and optimistic amil positions, they share to some degree a concept sometimes called “gradualism.” It is what Ken Gentry calls “progressive corporate sanctification in history.” In other words, the kingdom of Christ is not imposed suddenly and decisively in such a way that a “golden age” is dropped out of heaven onto human history in a dramatic and drastic fashion. Rather, there is a slow, gradual, progressive development and progress of the extension of the kingdom of Christ. It grows both extensively and intensively. Jesus’ parables of the mustard seed and the leaven (Matt. 13:31–33) illustrate the gradual, almost imperceptible growth and progress of the kingdom. It starts very small and works over time until it permeates and/or dominates the whole.

This growth and progress of the kingdom includes both peaks and valleys. It is not a straight line upward. As the church is faithful to the Great Commission and makes the nations into disciples of Jesus Christ, we can expect the nations and their leaders to bow the knee and submit to Christ as Lord. It seems to me that this does have historical fulfillment, but never in an exhaustive sense. There will always be tares sown among the wheat, as Jesus taught in Matthew 13.

Now the difference I have detected between the postmil and optimistic amil positions is more a difference of degree. Postmils believe it will extend to a remarkable degree—nearly complete, but not exhaustively complete. Amils—even the optimistic among them—expect the progress of Christ’s kingdom in history, but not to the same degree as their postmil brethren. So an amil might say, “Many will submit” while a postmil would rather say, “Most—almost all—will submit to the rule of Christ.”

There is also an older strain of amillennialism which was quite negative in its perspective. That position—not commonly held today—would say, “few will submit to Christ.” They would see the field as mostly tares, with wheat scattered here and there.

So in response to your first question, I do not know how the older view would square those passages with their overall negative expectations of the kingdom of Christ in history. I suspect they would put the fulfillment of those prophecies off to the New Heavens and the New Earth, when all opposition will be forever removed, and all the redeemed will joyfully and fully submit to the rule of Christ.

While postponing all of those passages to the Eschaton seems to solve certain problems, it also creates interpretive issues. Take Psalm 72:11, for instance. If this is all talking about the new heavens and the new earth, then do we conclude that there will be kings and nations in the new heaven and new earth? Psalm 72 seems very rooted in “this world”—kings of Tarshish and the islands, the kings of Sheba and Seba. It is the nations of this world that are said to bow down before the Son of God. Psalm 102:15 speaks about “all the kings of the earth.” Again, that seems “this-worldly” and not the world to come.

Let me just wrap up my answer to this first question with how I myself would understand those various prophecies, and their fulfillments. God has proclaimed that the kingdom of his Son will take root in history, during the earthly ministry of our Savior, Jesus Christ (see Dan. 2). Jesus did establish a spiritual kingdom on earth at his first coming. That kingdom has continued, as Christ rules from heaven by His word and Spirit, using his church for the extension and expansion of his kingdom. Even as we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” Christ answers by progressively destroying the kingdom of Satan and extending his own glorious rule.

The spread of Christ’s kingdom includes the deepening of his rule within the hearts of his elect, as he subdues us increasingly to himself. It also includes the spread of that kingdom through the work of the church—especially missions and evangelism. As the church makes disciples, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything that Christ has commanded, the kingdom of Jesus is advancing. The progress of the kingdom of Christ will continue until he has subdued all his enemies beneath his feet; 1 Corinthians 15:23–28 indicates that quite clearly. At that time (at the end of history) Jesus will defeat the last enemy, death itself, in the great resurrection of the dead. Then will come the final judgment, the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25), the casting of Satan and all his followers into the lake of fire, the commencement of the eternal kingdom of God in the new heavens and the new earth. Then the kingdom will be turned over to God the Father, that he may be all in all, and even Christ will be submissive to the Father’s glorious rule.

The passages that you cite give me great hope that Christ is King and is extending his rule throughout the universe—hope for this life, and especially hope for the life that is to come!

Regarding your second question, I would say just a few things. The kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom, not “of this world,” as he told Pilate. It is not a political movement to gain and exercise mastery over political entities. If Jesus had wished for this, it was available to him. Yet whenever the Jews sought to make him king, he refused. His kingdom operates on different principles, with different methods and objectives. It is a redemptive kingdom that involves salvation from sin, justification, sanctification and glorification. Will the spiritual kingdom of Christ have ramifications for men and nations? Absolutely! But it always is, and always will remain a redemptive kingdom, as opposed to a political kingdom. Here again, I think that both postmils and amils would agree.

I hope this has been somewhat helpful to you. Two final encouragements I would give you:

  1. In your study of millennial issues, let Scripture continue to guide and shape your thinking. Beware of letting theological systems take precedence over the revealed word of God. I find that often in discussions of eschatology, systems seem to take on a life of their own and usurp the rightful place that only God’s word should hold.
  2. As you come to your conclusions on these matters, remember to always function as a Christian, with faith, godliness, humility and charity toward those of different interpretations. Sometimes zealous followers of particular eschatological positions can become proud, rude, abrasive and abusive. They use their eschatological conclusions like a club to beat other Christians over the head. Obviously, such an approach is not Christlike.

 

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