Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why the millennium?

1) I'm an unrepentant amil. I'm admittedly hostile to classical dispensational hermeneutics. For instance, I think the commentary on Revelation by Robert Thomas is a reductio ad absurdum of that approach.

But to be fair, I think the weaknesses of classical dispensational hermeneutics represents an overreaction to the weaknesses of Augustinian amil hermeneutics. Augustine was a rampant allegorist, so that's a bad model of how to do exegesis. A mid-course correction was long overdue. 

In addition, some amils seem to be repelled by the physicality of the premil/dispensational millennium. But Scripture is very down-to-earth. And discomfort with physicality often elides into liberal theology. 

2) I think John's millennium refers to the intermediate state. But suppose, for the sake of argument, I was a premil. How would I argue for the millennium? 

Although premils aren't committed to a literal 1000-year period, let's take that literally for the sake of argument. Why a 1000-year period? 

Here's one suggestion: Is it coincidental that even though some prediluvians lived into their 900s, none of them broke the 1000 mark? The millennium is a transitional phase or compromise. Not as good as the eternal state, but better than life in a fallen world before the Parousia. 

In a way, it parallels the balmy physical conditions of the prediluvian period. That wasn't as good as life before the Fall. The expulsion from the Garden, thereby barring access to the tree of life, made immortality a lost opportunity. Yet the millennium seems to be a throwback to the silver age physical conditions of the prediluvian period. Not the golden age of Eden. Yet there's a steady decline in longevity after the flood. The patriarchs are long-lived, but nothing like the prediluvians. 

3) The stock amil objection to the millennial temple is that it's retrograde. And in a basic, indisputable sense, that's true. However:

i) One way of demonstrating that something is obsolete is to keep an example around. That way, people can directly compare and contrast old and new, before and after.

The millennial temple could be like a museum, to commemorate an important phase in redemptive history.

ii) There's nothing inherently wrong with taking an interest in the past. If we could jump in the time machine, surely many of us would like to visit Solomon's temple, as well as see many OT events for ourselves. That's not the same thing as nostalgia. That doesn't mean we think the past is necessarily better. It's just natural curiosity. Pious curiosity. 

4) Is a millennial temple redundant? 

i) In Ezk 8-11, the prophet has a vision of the Shekinah forsaking the temple. 

ii) One question is what the visions represent. Are visions like remote cameras which enable the prophet to see things offsite, at a different place (and time)? Did the Shekinah actually forsake the temple? Or is this a symbolic vision? 

iii) A related question is whether the Shekinah took up permanent residence within the inner sanctum, or did the Shekinah only enter and occupy the temple temporarily as God's way of dedicating the (Solomonic) temple? (Ditto: the tabernacle). 

iv) It's striking that even though the temple was rebuilt, at the instigation of Haggai and Zechariah, there's no record of the Shekinah returning to the Second Temple, even to dedicate it, much less take up permanent residence. In that respect, the Second Temple was a hollow shell–unlike Solomon's temple.

v) Amils argue that Jesus is the new temple. And that identification is supported by John's Gospel. John also uses Shekinah imagery for Jesus (Jn 1:14). For a full discussion, cf. G. Beale, The Temple and the Church's MIssion, 192-200. So it may well be the case that from hereon out, a physical temple is superfluous. 

vi) However, that raises the question of which person of the Trinity corresponds to the Shekinah. In the NT (e.g. Pauline pneumatology), the Shekinah is more often associated with the Spirit rather than the Son. Christians are temples in miniature. The indwelling Spirit is the NT counterpart to the Shekinah filling the sanctuary. 

As such, the first and second advents of Christ don't necessarily exhaust God's self-revelation. Although there's a soteriological sense in which Jesus takes the place of the temple, he doesn't take the place of the Holy Spirit or the Shekinah. 

So even if, during the Millennium, Ezekiel's temple (Ezk 40-48) was rebuilt, and the Holy Spirit once again manifested himself as the Shekinah within the inner sanctum, that wouldn't necessarily be redundant–for that would manifest a different person of the Godhead. Just as a Christophany is a manifestation of the Son, the presence of God in Christ doesn't preclude the descent of the Spirit as a dove at the Baptism of Christ. We can experience God in the person of the Spirit as well as the person of the Son. 

vii) Finally, it's striking that the Son and Spirit sometimes take visible manifestations whereas the Father sometimes takes audible manifestations (Mt 3:17; 17:5; Jn 12:28-29). The Father is sometimes heard, but never seen. So there are different ways in which members of the Trinity manifest themselves to human observers. These are not interchangeable. 

Although Christ is fully God, it's incorrect to say God is fully revealed in the person of Son, for the Son is not reducible to the Spirit, or vice versa. 


  1. I find myself on the fence between the amil and postmil camps, but dispensational premils are always the foils, so I haven't easily found any good amil vs. postmil stuff.

    As an unrepentant amil, do you have a line on any good audio or print covering the distinctions between the amil and postmil eschatologies?

    1. I suggest you check out my book, Biblical Eschatology. I deal with and critique all the major issues, passages, and positions. For a preview and reviews, please go here: http://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Eschatology-Jonathan-Menn/dp/1620325799/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395932732&sr=1-1&keywords=biblical+eschatology+jonathan+menn

  2. Postmillennialism is very appealing, but it's hard to find any prooftexts that single out that position. Amils and premils have their own ways of co-opting postmil prooftexts.

    Here's a good primer:

    Christ's victorious kingdom: Postmillennialism reconsidered, by John Jefferson Davis

    Another problem is that postmillennialism has been hijacked by the preterists. So one needs to untangle the case for postmillennialism from the case for preterism.

    1. Thank you for the book reference. I looks like I can find a copy of it for less than $10.

      Amil makes more sense to me given the entire cannon. I'm rather with D. A. Carson, as I said in a previous comment some time ago, in holding to an eschatology that has both Christ's Kingdom and the wickedness of man increasing unto the end.

      It also doesn't help that I see postmil reconstructionism as little more than a recipe for despair and a man-centered outlook.

      I listened through Doug Wilson's pro-postmil From the River to the Ends of the Earth sermon series and came away less convinced of postmil than I was when I went in. They key texts and scriptural themes for evaluating eschatological positions always seems to be the ones that authors and speakers ignore, rather than the ones they deal with.

  3. Where did you find the interpretation of the 1k years to be of the intermediate state? I know you said poythress and beale but, I cannot find it for the life of me in his The Returning King, maybe I am not looking hard enough.

    1. [Poythress] Amillennialists understand the millennium to be a picture of the present reign of Christ and of the saints in heaven (analogous to 6:9-10). The first resurrection is either the life of disembodied Christians with Christ in heaven (6:9-10)...

      The language of the first resurrection obviously implies that there is a second. In this context, the first and second resurrections have a suggestive relation to the first and second death. The mention of the second death in 20:6 clearly implies a first. And we know from the general teaching of Scripture what both of these are. The first death is bodily death. The second death is consignment to hell, the final abode of the wicked (20:14-15). The second death is spiritual in character, and accompanies bodily resurrection (John 5:29). The first death is preliminary, while the second death is final and irreversible. It is last. As there is a first heaven and earth and a second or last (Rev. 21:1), so there is a first and last death. Moreover, the first death, in its curse character, is a sign of the coming of the more terrible second death (cf. Gen. 3:19).

      These facts provide the decisive clues for understanding the first and the second resurrection. The first resurrection is preliminary, while the second resurrection is final and last. The second resurrection is clearly bodily resurrection. It is clearly the remedy for the first death, bodily death. Conversely, the first resurrection is a kind of remedy for the second death, according to 20:6. The first resurrection guarantees freedom from the second death. The various symmetries suggest that the first resurrection, like the second death, is paradoxical in character. As the second death implicitly includes and accompanies an act of bodily resurrection, so the first resurrection implicitly includes and accompanies bodily death. We find an allusion to just this bodily death in 20:4, the souls of those who had been beheaded. The phrase refers to those who have suffered martyrdom for not worshiping the Beast. These are now disembodied souls living in the presence of God and of Christ, as represented in 6:9-10. The important thing to see is that these souls are living, triumphant, because of their union with Christ and victory through his blood (12:11). The assertion and enjoyment of their triumph is not simply postponed until the Second Coming. They enjoy victory even at the moment of the death, for God places them in positions of authority and judgment in the heavenly realms (thrones, v. 4). The judges and earthly authorities who condemned them to death are already beaten by this greater authority that the saints exercise in heaven.1

      The picture in 20:4-6 thus answers a very pressing and practical problem during times of intense persecution. When Christians are a tiny, powerless minority, when great imperial powers are arrayed against them, is there any hope for victory? What happens when Christians see some of their brothers and sisters put to death? It appears to worldly eyes that Christians have been decisively defeated. The world has won the battle. The persecuting governors are very much alive and as powerful as ever, while the Christians have been simply wiped out. Christianity appears to be a meaningless, hopelessly weak religion. Does God not care? Is he really in control? And what could possibly undo the defeat that Christians have suffered through their martyrdom? 20:4-6 answers that heavenly realities must be included in true reckoning. And when we see these realities, the tables are completed turned. Defeating Christians is impossible. Even when demonic forces rage and strut and do their utmost, they only succeed in establishing Christians in positions of real and permanent power!


  4. Yo. Question: Why does eschatology matter? How does a correct/incorrect understanding of it effect us?
    Thank you.

    1. Well, as Kim Riddlebarger put it:

      " The second petition of our Lord's Prayer is a simple and yet dramatic one: "Thy Kingdom come." Our Lord tells us that we are to pray that God's kingdom (literally, God's rule, or reign) come in some sense in which God's kingdom is not already present. Here we catch a glimpse of one of the most important, though difficult, concepts in all of scripture, and that is the kingdom of God and the relationship that this divine kingdom has to both the present course of human history and to our Lord's return in the future. The tension between the present and the future aspects of the kingdom of God is described by Reformed theologians as the tension between the "already," that is, the present aspects of the kingdom of God, and the "not-yet," of the future aspects of that same kingdom.

      It should come as no surprise that a Christian's particular view of end'times and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ will have a dramatic effect upon how they understand the relationship between the present reality of the kingdom of God and their own involvement in the world around them. Indeed, a Christian's view of end times will dramatically color their understanding of our Lord's words, "Thy kingdom come." A Christian, for example, who adopts a pessimistic view of the world's future, and who sees the world as merely the stage for the outbreak of end-times apostasy within the church, the rise of Antichrist, and a tremendous increase in evil as predicted in holy scripture, will very naturally tend to view the world around them as an evil place, simply awaiting judgment and destruction. The world and the unbelievers who inhabit it will ultimately be destroyed, because the world and the people in it are evil. In this pessimistic scenario, the kingdom of God, if seen as present in this age in any sense, has virtually no impact upon the decline of world conditions, and has virtually no function in restraining the rising tide of evil. Many Christians would argue, therefore, that the kingdom of God must be an entirely future reality and is not present now in any sense. And so, when our Lord prays "thy kingdom come" he is asking that we pray that his kingdom, which is not a present reality, come in its fullness at some point yet ahead in the future."


    2. Chapter 12 of my book, Biblical Eschatology (Wipf & Stock, 2013), deals with this very issue. For a preview and reviews, please go here: http://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Eschatology-Jonathan-Menn/dp/1620325799/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395932732&sr=1-1&keywords=biblical+eschatology+jonathan+menn