An Amillennialist Challenge to Historic Premillennialism

“They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” – Revelation 20:4

In this post, I would like to consider what an Amillennialist might say to a Historic Premillennialist. That is, what might an Amillennialist say to someone like George Eldon Ladd, Wayne Grudem, Craig Blomberg, Douglas Moo, Jim Hamilton, Albert Mohler, John Piper, Randy Alcorn, or Thomas Schreiner (note: Schreiner has since returned to Amillenialism)? Perhaps in another post we can pose this question in reverse.

In good Van Tillian fashion, this post will use the insights of Sam Storms to deconstruct the Premillennialist position, and then G.K. Beale and others to offer an alternative understanding of Revelation 20:4.

Sam Storms gives six problematic beliefs that must necessarily accompany a Premillennialist view of end times. [For some back and forth on this, see Justin Taylor vs. Jim hamilton]. According to Storms, a Historic Premillennialist must necessarily believe:

  1. That physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming (Rev. 20:7-10).
  2. That the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subject to the curse imposed by the fall of man.
  3. That the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ [not at His return].
  4. That unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return.
  5. That unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ [though Scripture speaks of only one resurrection]
  6. That unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.[1]

Storm concludes: “So what is wrong with believing these things, asks the premillennialist? What’s wrong is that these many things that premillennialists must believe (because of the way they interpret Scripture), the New Testament explicitly denies.”[2]

Having seen some of the potential problems with holding to a Historic Premillennialist position, G.K. Beale and others will offer an alternative position.

Revelation opens with these words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.” The phrase “make known” is the aorist form of the Greek word σημαίνω, and it comes in a context that makes allusions to Daniel 2:28-30, 45.[3] This is significant because the only places in the Bible where the clause “’revelation… God showed… what must come to pass… and he made known (σημαίνω)’ occur together is in Daniel 2 [LXX] and Revelation 1:1.”[4] Significantly, the use of σημαίνω in the LXX connotes a “pictorial” or a “symbolic nature” of communication.[5] σημαίνω thus can have the sense of “show by a sign,” “give (or make) signs,” or “signify.”[6] Beale concludes: “The symbolic use of σημαίνω in Daniel 2 defines the use in Rev. 1:1 as referring to symbolic communication and not mere general conveyance of information.”

Furthermore, Beale sees Revelation 1:19 as paradigmatic for the structure and content of the book: “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”[7] His approach to the Apocalypse of John is a kind of modified idealist view, which he calls a “redemptive-historical form of modified idealism.”[8] That is, Revelation is a symbolic portrayal of the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan throughout every generation, and climaxing with a consummative judgement and salvation in the end. As Beale puts it, “The apocalypse symbolically portrays events throughout history, which is understood to be under the sovereignty of the Lamb as a result of his death and resurrection.”[9] The classic idealists fail in that they deny a future, climactic, consummative judgement and salvation (e.g., the Great Tribulation, the Antichrist, the great white throne judgement, etc.). And the problem with both preterists and historicists is that they “may sometimes be right in their precise historical identifications, but wrong in limiting the identification only to one historical reality.”[10]

With some of his foundational views surveyed, Beale’s understanding of Revelation 20:4 can be explored. Noting that the 1,000 years is probably figurative for a long era,[11] Beale maintains that the millennium began at Christ’s resurrection and will be concluded at his final coming.[12] This means that the relationship between Revelation 19:11-21 and Revelation 20:1-6 is not sequential. Beale gives at least 5 lines of defense for this nonsequential view.

First, Chapter 20 begins with “And” (καὶ), which often indicates visionary sequence and is thus used as a transitional device between literary segments.[13] As Beale states, “Only three of the thirty-five uses of the conjunction in those verses clearly indicate sequence in historical time…. The remaining uses of καὶ serve only as visionary linking devices.”[14] Elsewhere in Revelation (7:2, 10:1, 18:1), when “and” is followed by an angelic decent or ascent, says Beale, “without exception it introduces a vision either suspending the temporal progress of a preceding section to introduce a synchronic section (see on 10:1) or reverting to a time anterior to the preceding section (see on 7:2 and 18:1, where in each case, as in 10:1 and 20:1, the angel is described as ‘having’ something.)”[15] Therefore, “20:1-6 is probably prior and vv 7-15 temporally parallel to 19:11-21.”[16]

Second, there are allusions in Revelation 19-20 to Ezekiel 38-39. Ezekiel 39 recapitulates the battle narrative in Ezekiel 38. Therefore, “if John is following any model in 19:17-21 and 20:7-10, he is following the general acknowledged pattern of recapitulation in Ezekiel 38-39.”[17] This means that 20:1-6 is antecedent to the same battle being described in both 19:17-21 and 20:7-10.

Third, Beale notes the similarities between 16:12-16, 19:19 and 20:8. They have in common “not only the same language for the gathering together of forces for the war… but also the idea that the gathered forces have been deceived into participating.” He continues, “This enforces the impression that Satan’s deception of the nations in 20:8… is the same event as the deception of the nations in 16:12-16 and 19:19.”[18] Furthermore, the binding of Satan is with regard to the deception of the gentiles (vv.2-3), not to a general and total binding. Concomitant with 19:17-21 is Satan’s release to deceive once more.[19]

Forth, Beale illustrates the similarity of structure between 19:11-20:6 with Daniel 7. “Daniel 7 itself,” says Beale, “exhibits a clear structure of recapitulation, repeating narratives about the persecution and kingdom of the saints (vv 8 and 13-14, vv 19-22, vv 23-25, 27), as well as the judgement of the beast (vv 9-11, v 26).”[20] This is further evidence of recapitulation.

Finally, Beale notes a chiastic structure in chapters 17-22 that gives further indication that 20:1-6 is not chronologically or sequentially after 19:11-21. The chiasm reveals that 19:17-21(C) is parallel to 20:7-10 (C).[21]

Beale offers these concluding remarks:

In light of the preceding, the descending angel in 20:1 introduced a vision in vv 1-6 going back before the time of the final judgment in history, which was just narrated in 19:11-12. The time span of the vision will be seen to extend from Christ’s resurrection until his final parousia…. Life and rule are primary themes in 20:4-6. This means that the primary point of the millennium is to demonstrate the victory of suffering Christians.[22]

But what of the two resurrections spoken about? Beale notes that the second death of the unrighteous (v.6) is spiritual, while the death of the righteous (v.4) is physical. There are allusions here to the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, which is referring to a spiritual renewal of Israel, a spiritual “coming to life.”[23] Given these two kinds of deaths being described, there could also be two kinds of resurrections as well. Beale writes, “Ironically, the first physical death of the saints translates them into the first spiritual resurrection in heaven, whereas the second physical resurrection translates the ungodly into the second spiritual death.”[24] While Beale believes Augustine’s view—that the first resurrection is regeneration—is possible, he believes it unlikely; more probable is the notion that “only deceased believers are in mind.”[25] Meredith Kline agrees:

Actually, here in Revelation 20 and 21 protos denotes something of a different kind from what is called “second” or “new.” Thus, in the vision of the re-creation in Rev. 21:1ff., protos marks the present world order as different from the ‘new heavens and new earth.’… bodily death is paradoxically called ‘the first resurrection.’”[26]

Having seen Sam Storms’s list of premillennial problems, and G.K. Beale’s amillennial construction, I will conclude by surveying some further lines of evidence for the amillennial position from some of the paragons of the amillenial tradition.

First, Vern Poythress writes: “All of Christ’s enemies are destroyed in 19:11-21. If 20:1-6 describes events later than 19:11-21, there would be no one left for Satan to deceive in 20:3.”[27] How can the text claim that “the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse” (19:21), and that Satan “will come out to deceive the nations… to gather them for battle” (20:8), if it was meant to be read chronologically? Who is left for battle?

Second, Beale notes a theological problem, namely, that the premillennial schema is faulty because eschatological progression – as you have in new creation (especially with resurrection) – is irreversible. But eschatological progression in the millennium, according to the premillennial formulation, is reversible.[28]

Third, Kline illustrates that unlike the historic premillennialists, dispensational premillennialists, and postmillennialists beliefs, the thousand years will not be a blissful, theocratic-like state. Rather, the millennium is a wilderness period, filled with persecution, trials, and tribulations. So says Kline:

[F]ar from the thousand years being a time of political dominance for those who do not worship the beast or his image, their status is portrayed as that of souls who have been beheaded because of their testimony to Jesus (c.f., Rev. 20:4b)…. According to the Scriptures the bestial imperial power retains its place on the world stage in unbroken continuity throughout the church age right up to the final judgement. Thus in Daniel 7 the little horn of the fourth beast, symbol of the world power in the present interim era, continues in its God-defying and saint-persecuting character until the (Danielic) great white throne judgement…. There is no transitional millennial semi-glory kingdom. There is only full-fledged kingdom of Glory and that does not make its appearance before the final and complete evacuation of the archenemy of Har Magedon and his individual and institutional minions. Advocated by the amillennialists alone, the post-consummation view of the coming of the kingdom in glory is demanded by the biblical sequence. [29]

Fourth, Kim Riddlebarger points out yet further difficulties with a premillennialist interpretation, namely, the fact that Revelation 19 and 20 are both allusions to the same episode in Ezekiel’s prophecy. Given this, does it make sense to separate Revelation 19 and 20? Furthermore, if these are different battles, separated by 1,000 years, why has the seventh bowl against God’s enemies not been fulfilled—given that He will again pour out His wrath subsequent the millennium?[30]

Fifth, Robert Strimple, affirming the authority of biblical statements (even if only said once), is perplexed by the isolated exegesis many premillennialists give to Revelation 20. Is it not the case that Scripture interprets Scripture, the clearer statements and prose to the obscure and poetic (c.f., LBCF 1.9)? The two separate resurrections (those of the godly and ungodly separated by 1,000 years) is the “linchpin of premillennialism,” and yet, grammatically, this is denied by the rest of Scripture. In John 5:28 Jesus says that an hour (ὥρα) is coming in which all (πάντες) the dead will rise. Similarly, in Acts 24:15, while both the righteous and wicked are in view, Luke uses “resurrection” in the singular (ἀνάστασιν). Strimple writes:

We might say that the believer in Christ will experience one death and two resurrections. The first resurrection occurs when he or she departs this life and is immediately ushered into the presence of Christ to reign with him. The second resurrection will be bodily at Christ’s second coming, when believers are made ready for the eternal state (1 Cor. 15:50). Unbelievers, by contrast, will experience just one resurrection—and that a resurrection unto condemnation—but they will know two deaths. The first death is psycho-physical on this earth. The second death will be eternal, following the judgement.[31]

Sixth, Anthony Hoekema finds the premillennialist view regarding the binding of Satan wanting. According to that view, Satan is completely bound in the millennium. Since Satan is not completely bound presently, they reason, the millennium is still future. Hoekema argues that the binding of Satan refers not to a complete binding, but to a curbing—a “shorter leash.” Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ (Matt. 12:28-29; 13:24-30, 47-50; Luke 10:17-18; John 12:31-32). Of interest is the “driving out” or “casting out” of Satan in John 12:31(ἐκβληθήσεται), which is derived from the same root used when Satan is “cast” or “thrown” into the abyss (ἔβαλεν) in Revelation 20:3. Though “bound,” unable to deceive the nations during the gospel age, Satan’s activities are no less ravaging than the demons (or fallen angels) who have also been “bound” (δεσμοῖς ἀϊδίοις) in Jude 6. Hoekema concludes:

We see that the binding of Satan described in Revelation 20:1-3 means that throughout the gospel age in which we live the influence of Satan, though certainly not annihilated, is so curtailed that he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel to the nations of the world. Because of the binding of Satan during this present age, the nations cannot conquer the church, but the church is conquering the nations.[32]

Recommended Resources:

© J. Brandon Burks, 2016

[1]Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 136-137.

[2]Ibid., 137.

[3]G. K. Beale, “The Book of Revelation,” in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC), ed. by I. Howard Marsha and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsman, 1999), 50.

[4]Ibid. [Brackets mine].

[5]Ibid., 50-51.

[6]Ibid., 51.

[7]Ibid., 216

[8]Ibid., 48.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Ibid., 49.

[11]Ibid., 995, 1017-1021.

[12]Ibid., 973.

[13]Ibid., 975.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Ibid., 976.

[17]Ibid. 979.

[18]Ibid., 980.

[19]G. K. Beale, “Beale and Schreiner on the Book of Revelation,” WTS Faculty (Accessed 1/26/17), http://faculty.wts.edu/posts/bealeschreinerrevelation/?facultyfilter=47

[20]Beale, “The Book of Revelation,” 982.

[21]Ibid., 983.

[22]Ibid., 984, 991.

[23]Beale, “Beale and Schreiner on the Book of Revelation.”

[24]Beale, “The Book of Revelation,” 1005.

[25]Ibid., 1012.

[26]Meredith Kline, God, Heaven, and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006), 175-176.

[27]Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 178-179.

[28]Beale, “Beale and Schreiner on the Book of Revelation.”

[29]Kline, God, Heaven, and Har Magedon, 174, 212.

[30]Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 206.

[31]Robert B. Strimple, “Amillennialism,” in Three Views on The Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 101, 127.

[32]Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. by Robert G. Clouse (Downer Groves, IL: IVP, 1977), 161-164.

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One thought on “An Amillennialist Challenge to Historic Premillennialism

  1. Reblogged this on The Rural Commoner and commented:
    This is an excellent breakdown. I personally hold to Amillennialism, but know that Historic Premillennialism has roots also in the early church. I like the comparison the author made, and the fact that the differences are truly small.

    Like

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