It is tragic that most of the major denominations - Roman Catholic and Protestant - embrace an eschatology ("study of last things") that is amillennial : a view that does not envision a literal rule of Christ on the Throne of David on the Planet Earth.
While there are many different, yet defendable, views regarding many aspects of end-time prophecies, this basic divergence - denying a literal Millennium - is particularly dangerous in that it would appear to be an attack on the very character of God! It does violence to His numerous and explicit promises and commitments that pervade both the Old and New Testaments.
The Old Testament is replete with commitments for a literal Messiah ultimately ruling the world through Israel from His throne in Jerusalem. There are at least 1,845 references in the Old Testament and 17 books give prominence to the event. The ancient rabbinical aspirations were dominated by it. In fact, this obsession obscured their recognizing the Messiah when He made His initial appearance.
There are at least 318 references in 216 chapters of the New Testament and 23 of its 27 books give prominence to the event. The early church looked longingly for His promised return as their "Blessed Hope" to rid their desperate world of its evil rulers. How and where did this skepticism known as "Amillennialism" begin?
Pious, popular, and persuasive, Origen stands out as one of the great figures of the 3rd century church. Even at the age of 18, he stood out spectacularly well as a teacher in Alexandria. (In misguided obedience to Matthew 19:12, he emasculated himself, which he later regretted.) Later, as a prolific writer based in Caesarea, his De Principiis systematically laid out Christian doctrine in terms of Hellenic thinking and set the pattern for most subsequent theological thought for many years. His numerous sermons and commentaries, however, tragically also established an extreme pattern of allegorizing Scripture, which was to strongly influence Augustine in subsequent years.
Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (A.D. 354-430), was one of the most influential leaders of the Western church, living during the turbulent days of the disintegration of the Roman Empire.
He lived a sensuous, dissolute life, but following a dramatic conversion he experienced a total change of character. In 391 he was ordained as a priest in North Africa and four years later was elevated to the Bishop of Hippo. He embarked on a writing career and his extensive doctrinal writings deeply affected the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. Augustine's most elaborate writing, The City of God , was written as the Empire lay crumbling under a siege by half-civilized tribes. It portrayed the Church as a new civic order in the midst of the ruins of the Roman Empire. Augustine died while the Vandals were besieging the very gates of Hippo in A.D. 430.
Although his writings effectively defeated a number of heresies emerging in those turbulent times, the allegorizing influences of Origen left an amillennial eschatology in their wake. As the Church had increasingly become an instrument of the state, it wasn't politically expedient to look toward a literal return of Christ to rid the world of its evil rulers! The allegorical reposturing of those passages was more "politically correct." (This reminds me of the saying among the data processing profession: "If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything!")
The Reformation Shortfall
A thousand years later, under the influences of Martin Luther and others, the Reformation brought an intensive return to the authority of the Scriptures which, in turn, resulted in the subsequent reform in soteriology (the study of salvation) with its emphasis on salvation by faith alone. Many were willingly burned at the stake for their commitment to a Biblical perspective. However, one of the unfortunate shortcomings of the Reformation was that it failed to also reexamine the eschatology of the Medieval Church in the light of Scripture. Thus, the allegorizing alchemy of Origen, institutionalized by Augustine, left a denial of the Millennium that still continues to pervade the doctrines of most Protestant denominations today.
From Augustine to Auschwitz
One of the derivative aspects of an amillennial perspective is that it denies Israel's future role in God's plans. This also leads to a "replacement theology" in which the Church is viewed as replacing Israel in God's program for mankind. In addition to forcing an allegorization of many key passages of Scripture, this also led to the tragedy of the Holocaust in Europe. The responsibility for the six million Jews who were systematically murdered in the concentration camps has to include the silent pulpits who had embraced this heretical eschatology and its attendant anti-Semitism.
Reality of the Millennium
For anyone who takes the Bible seriously, the numerous explicit commitments of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the Messiah would literally rule from Zion cannot be ignored or explained away. God's explicit and unconditional commitment of the land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the very issue that is being challenged by the world today! And, the resurgence of amillennialism, and its attendant doctrines, are again setting the stage for the next holocaust.1
In the New Testament, these commitments are reconfirmed. Every Christmas we are reminded that Gabriel promised Mary that her son was destined to sit on the Throne of David (which did not exist during the days of His ministry).2 It is yet to be fulfilled. In fact, He taught us to pray specifically for it: "Thy Kingdom come...." What does that mean? The thousand-year reign, from which the Millennium takes its label, is detailed in numerous passages including Revelation 20, Isaiah 65, and Ezekiel 40-48, among others. Ezekiel's detailed tour of the Millennial Temple virtually defies any skeptic's attempt to treat it allegorically (see diagram). Encompassing a Temple area 50 miles on a side, substantially to the north of Jerusalem, as a source of a river that flows toward both the Mediterranean to the west and the Dead Sea to the east, Ezekiel's description implies a total change of topography, which is explicit in the Scripture. 3
However, the more we learn about the Millennium, the more questions it raises. It is not heaven: it is clearly distinctive in contrast to the eternal state which follows (Revelation 21). It will be characterized by a limited amount of evil, which Christ will judge perfectly and immediately. 4 Neither is it the "new earth" that God will yet create;5 for therein righteousness dwells, which is something not true of the Millennium.
As an example of some of the ostensible paradoxes of the Millennium is the strange question of death. Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, a dear friend and highly respected Messianic scholar, suggests that death in the Millennium will be for unbelievers only. Nowhere in the Bible does it speak of a resurrection of Millennial saints. This may be why the resurrection of the tribulation saints is said to complete the "first resurrection" (Rev 20:4-6).
From the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, it would seem that there will be no Jewish unbelievers in the kingdom; all Jews born during the Millennium will accept the Messiah before their 100th year.6 Unbelief would thus be among the Gentiles only, and therefore, death would exist only among the Gentiles.7 [Jer 31:35-37 refutes "Reconstructionism" and similar heresies.] Another strange issue is the prominence of sacrifices in the Millennium. It would seem that they are memorials after the fact, just as the sacrifices in the Old Testament were memorials in advance.8
A Time to Study
As recent events have so dramatically emphasized to all of us, it is, indeed, a time to reexamine our perspectives, and to acknowledge in our personal priorities that history includes some shocking "non-linearities": even our most cherished presumptions are subject to cataclysmic challenges! It is time to refresh our understanding from the bedrock of Scripture and to recognize the urgency of the times. I believe we are rapidly being plunged into a period of time about which the Bible says more than it does about any other period of time in history - including the time that Jesus walked the shores of Galilee and climbed the mountains of Judea!
Are you ready? Maranatha!
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