Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Millennium

I am unsure of which millennial view best suits my tastes, but perhaps that is the wrong perspective to have. I do not have to find something palatable in order believe in its reality. I believe that the farthest view from my own and to which I disassociate myself the most is that of Dispensational Premillennialism. I tend to isolate myself from such ideas and timetables as are portrayed in such books as the Left Behind series. I do not think that these books and the interpretation of scripture behind them are faithful to the text and to the Christian tradition. I also believe that they venture outside the limits of reason. I understand that God can work outside of our understanding, but he has already revealed certain things about the end and I feel as though much of Dispensational Premillennialism goes outside of what God has already revealed to us, to provide us with an eschatology that is outside the bounds of orthodoxy as well as plausibility from a logical standpoint.

I do not particularly care for the position of Amillennialism either. I can see the appeal to this idea, given that Christ has not returned in the last two thousand years. It would seem as though the early church misunderstood him when he spoke of his return as well as misunderstanding the idea of his future reign over all the earth. Perhaps it would be best to view his words as having spiritual significance. Christ’s reign over the world would be through the growth of the church, which would make the world into a better place over time. I can see how one might find this view appealing, but I believe that it has serious flaws. Christ indeed reigns over the world through the church in a spiritual sense, but I believe that the future reign of Christ is not limited to this idea. The whole created order will one day be restored, and this cannot be done by only a spiritual sense of Christ’s reign. One with this view may believe that death is a part of the natural order, and while death may be natural to life presently that does not mean that death belongs in the creation. Spiritual death is obviously bad, but I would argue that physical death is also bad, at least in its present form. Someone who has an Amillennial understanding may believe that medicine and technology will eventually find a way to eliminate death for humans, but I do not believe this to be true. I believe that there needs to be divine intervention, one that is seen in both a spiritual and physical “millennium.”

Postmillennialism is more optimistic than Amillennialism. Amillennialism does not believe in Christ’s return, but only, it would seem, in the spiritual reign of Christ in such a sense as it exists now. Postmillennialism shares some of the ideas of Amillennialism in that it places much emphasis upon the work of the church in the world. However, Postmillennialism believes that the work of the church will usher in the new millennial age in which Christ will return. We are to prepare the world for the return of Christ, making his house ready for him before he gets back. I find myself indentifying with this sort of view in the sense that I believe that we should do our part in getting the world in order in preparation for Christ’s return. However, I do not believe that the church on its own, even with the spirit of Christ living inside of us can do away with every last evil before Christ comes back. This is where I see Postmillennialism to be somewhat na├»ve. I do seem to identify with this model more than most other models, though. The early Nazarenes also held this model up as their standard. I think that it would do the church good to believe in much that this model has to offer. I think it would do the world much good as well. I believe that we need to recapture that spirit of the early holiness movement and understand that we as the church are bringing the kingdom of God into the world through Christ. Christ told his disciples that they would do even greater things than what he had done during his earthly ministry. I believe that what Jesus said was true for his first disciples and I believe that it remains true for the church today – we who are the product of those first disciples.

The problem that I have with Postmillennialism is that I do not think that we will ever be able to perfect the world to what it ought to be as much as we try. I believe that the church will grow to become like nothing the world has ever seen, and I believe that we will prepare the way for the second advent of the Lord, but I also believe that as good increases, wickedness and evil will also increase. The evil presence that is in this world will use the good for its own purposes. It will use the strength of the good to make itself stronger. I also believe that the good is greater than the evil, and that through the return of Christ and the establishment of the “millennium” evil will begin to be thoroughly eradicated from the creation. I believe that just as the church and all that is good will continue to grow beyond what we can possibly imagine, evil will also grow in this world to something beyond what we can possibly imagine. However, the good will never be extinguished by the evil. Christ lives in the church. He died once and it is impossible for him to die again. We are in a war with the darkness, and the second advent of Christ is one of the decisive and ultimate stages of that war, just as his first advent was.

I do not know what the millennium, or the millennial age will look like, but I know that it will be good. We are given glimpses of this in both the Old and the New Testaments. This age is spoken of by the prophets. Isaiah says that the Lord will reign in Zion, and that he will establish his rule on the earth. He says that God’s people will live on his holy mountain, and that the creation will no longer be harmful and destructive. The animals will not kill each other and the people will not live in misery. They will have children who have a hopeful future. Apparently, death will still exist in Isaiah’s vision, but people will also live very long lives. He says that if someone failed to reach a hundred years of age, then they must have been cursed. I would seem that in this picture of the new age that Isaiah sees, people will still marry and reproduce and die of old age. I am unsure of what to make of all of these things. The New Testament writers do not speak in detail about these things, but they do seem to indicate that Christ’s “millennial” reign over the earth will only be a temporary thing – as long as it may be – before the final reign and the marriage of the Lamb. The Revelation seems to indicate that only after the millennial reign of Christ, in which Eden is in a sense restored, will evil be finally and completely done away with. At this point, death itself will die; just as Paul writes that the last enemy to be destroyed is death, so John writes that after the millennium Satan, Hades, and death itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, being destroyed forever. I do not fully understand what this all means and what it will look like and how exactly it will take place, but it sounds pretty good to me.

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