ABC Extra – Lots on the Last Day

November 8, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

This weekend in worship and ABC, we talked about God’s Kingdom and its final and full arrival on the Last Day when Jesus will return to, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “judge the living and the dead.”  This Last Day is the subject of endless conversation and speculation.  Indeed, visions of a gloomy apocalypse are frequently advanced in books and movies packed with foreboding buzzwords like “tribulation” and “antichrist” and “plagues” and “rapture” and “millennium.”  Because there is so much discussion concerning the return of Christ – and so many different theories concerning the precise nature of His second coming – I thought it might be helpful, in this week’s blog, to survey some of these theories and then, to best of my ability, offer a more biblical picture of the end of days.

When it comes to Christ’s second coming, most interpretations of the nature of His coming center around this passage from John’s Revelation:

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Revelation 20:1-3)

The question that has been the subject of much debate is, “What does it mean that an angel, perhaps representing Jesus, comes and binds Satan for a thousand years?”  Four main answers have been given.

The Answer of Historic Millennialism
Historic Millennialism teaches that Christ will visibly return, raise the believing dead from their graves, and set up an earthly kingdom and reign for a thousand years.  This will be a time of perfect peace and prosperity.  After this, Christ will loose Satan for a small time to make his final assault against the redeemed before our Lord finally casts him into hell for eternity.

The Answer of Postmillennialism
Postmillennialism teaches that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20:3 is not to be taken literally.  Rather, it represents a time of ever increasing peace and prosperity on this earth, with more and more people becoming Christians, reaching its climax in Christ’s visible second advent.

The Answer of Dispensational Premillennialism
Dispensational Premillennialism takes different forms, but in its most popular expression it envisions a “secret return” of Christ where believers are raptured into heaven.  Following this rapture, the Antichrist arrives on the scene and a seven year period of tribulation ensues.  The Antichrist allies himself with, and then breaks his alliance with, the Jews, persecuting them fiercely.  Following this seven year tribulation, Christ visibly returns, sets up a perfect millennial kingdom, and then, at the end of a thousand years, releases Satan for a short time to wreak havoc on humanity until he is finally cast into the Abyss and Christ judges the living and the dead.

The Answer of Amillennialism
Like Postmillennialism, Amillennialism sees the “thousand years” of Revelation 20:3 as symbolic, referring to the time of Christ’s Church when the gospel is preached and eternal destinies are changed.  However, Satan still works in this world and Satan’s work will become more pronounced shortly before Christ’s second coming.

I would humbly suggest that, out of the above accounts concerning the end of days, the answer of Amillennialism fits best with the biblical data.  I say this for several reasons:

  • Following two World Wars in the previous century and terrorist threats and attacks in our own century, most people do not believe the world is slowly becoming better and safer or more Christian.  Postmillenialism does not make sense of the world around us.

  • Dispensational Premillennialism is both a relatively new theory, being promoted on a widespread basis by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s, and speaks of a secret return of Christ in a rapture, a theory nowhere promoted in Scripture.  Indeed, according to the Bible, Darby’s so-called “rapture” will be quite visible and quite audible: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).  This hardly sounds like a secret rapture to me.

  • Historic Millennialism has much to it to commend, but does not account for the highly symbolic nature of apocalyptic literature, and specifically the symbolic use of the number “one thousand,” and it essentially promotes a two-fold return of Christ:  first at the beginning of the millennium and then again when He judges the living and the dead at the end of time.  These events are elsewhere pictured as one episode (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46).

  • Amillennialism recognizes that in the Bible, the number “one thousand” is regularly used in symbolic terms to express completeness (e.g., Exodus 20:6, Deuteronomy 1:11, Psalm 50:10, 84:10, 90:4, Isaiah 60:22, 2 Peter 3:8).  Thus, the millennium of Revelation 20:3 expresses the complete time of Christ’s Church on earth.

  • Amillennialism accounts for the fact that Christ’s second coming, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment are portrayed by the Bible one event, not as separate events separated by a thousand years (e.g., John 6:44, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Matthew 25:31-46).

  • Amillennialism, unlike Dispensational Premillennialism, has a long and distinguished history in the Church, being promoted by the likes of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.

On balance, it seems as if a simple return of Christ to judge the living and the dead at the end of days is to be preferred to the more complicated end times schemas of Historic Millennialism, Postmillennialism, and Dispensational Premillennialism.  Christ’s second return of Christ need not be complex and, for the Christian, it need not be frightening.  For Christ’s coming means our salvation, as the preacher of Hebrews reminds us:  “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28).  Come, Lord Jesus!

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ABC Extra – All Saints’ Day ABC Extra – “We Got Spirit, Yes We Do!”

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