Monday, December 19, 2005

An Overview of Amillennialism

Click the link to see Charles Spurgeon's views on Eschatology.

Some of his views agree with Amillennialism and some views disagree...

Below is a section on Amillennialsim:

An Overview of Amillennialism

    The eschatological view of the millennium known as "amillennialism" literally means "no millennium." In some senses the nomenclature is not entirely accurate and many who hold this position today prefer the label of "realized eschatology" for their position. In Spurgeon's day the designation, amillennialism, was unknown. William Cox, with perhaps excusable hyperbole, states:

The name is new, and there have been times in history when these teachings were not pronounced with vigor. But amillennial teachings are as old as Christianity itself. Amillennialism has always been the majority view of the historic Christian church, even as it remains today.74

Amillennialism, despite Cox's assertions, is normally said to trace its lineage back to the time of Saint Augustine (354-430), who identified the church with the kingdom. According to Clouse:

. . . the statements in the Book of Revelation were interpreted allegorically by Augustine. No victory was imminent in the struggle with evil in the world. On the really important level, the spiritual, the battle had already been won and God had triumphed through the cross. Satan was reduced to lordship over the City of the World, which coexisted with the City of God. Eventually even the small domain left to the devil would be taken from him by a triumphant God.75

The influence of Augustine led to the amillennial, or what Peters called an "anti-millennial" view.76 This view of no millennium became the official view of the Catholic Church and would be the original view of the Protestant reformers. As Peters states:

They (as e.g. Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox) occupied the Augustinian or Popish position. . . that the church, in some sense, was the Kingdom of God (preparatory to a higher stage), and that the millennial period (one thousand years) included this dispensation or gospel period (some of the millennial descriptions being applicable only to a future period either in heaven or the renewed earth), and hence was nearing its close.77

This eschatological view was firmly embedded into the Reformed Tradition by the works of John Calvin. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote a section entitled, "The Error of the Chiliasts" in which he stated:

But a little later there followed the chiliasts, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years. Now their fiction is too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation. And the Apocalypse, from which they undoubtedly drew a pretext for their error does not support them. For the number "one thousand" (Rev. 20:4) does not apply to the eternal blessedness of the church but only to the various disturbances that awaited the church, while still toiling on earth. On the contrary, all Scripture proclaims that there will be no end to the blessedness of the elect or the punishment of the wicked.78

Spurgeon, whom has been seen to consider Calvinism to be the essence of Christian theology,79 was well aquainted with all of Calvin's view and considered his commentaries to "be worth their weight in gold."80 The amillennial view of Calvin, while not well-developed, continued in the Reformed Tradition as Augustine's views were not challenged on this issue. Amillennialism was then carried into Puritan theology by the classic Institutio Theologiae Elencticae of Fran├žois Turretin (1623-87). Turretin has been described as "something of a gloomy amillennialist."81 Kennedy states of Turretin:

Turretin opposed the crasser, heretical chiliasts who anticipate an earthly millennium with sensual pleasures (including many wives and Jewish worship restored in Palestine) as well as the innocuous millennialism of such seventeenth- century Reformed theologians as Joseph Mede and Johan Heinrich Alsted. This kind of historical hope Turretin simply could not accept because he believed that the church must suffer, not reign in this life.82

    Perhaps the outstanding delineation of an amillennial position was that of Patrick Fairbairn (1805-75), professor at the Free Church College in Aberdeen. His commentaries on Ezekiel, Jonah and the Pastoral Epistles were highly recommended by Spurgeon.83 Fairbairn's classic work, The Interpretation of Prophecy (1856), laid out both an amillennial (although again it was not known by that designation) eschatology and hermeneutic. Fairbairn's understanding of prophecy is that it was to be interpreted more in a symbolic sense, as he states in commenting on the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:2:

It is impossible, excepting on the most arbitrary and forced suppositions, to bring such statements into harmony, if they are understood absolutely, and applied simply to the personelle of Satan. . . to consider the binding of Satan in a strictly personal light, is but another example of the intermingling of the literal with the symbolic, which has so greatly retarded the proper understanding of the prophetical Scriptures.84

Fairbairn also viewed the martyrs under the altar (Rev 20:4) as "symbolic,"85 referring to all of the saints throughout the ages; he also viewed the millennium as referring to the eternal state.86 Fairbairn also rejected a literal interpretation of prophecy (which he viewed as part and parcel of the premillennial and to a lesser degree the postmillennial positions) as "essentially Jewish."87 Peter Masters, a fervent amillennialist, praises Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel by saying:

Fairbairn sets aside historical and literal views of Ezekiel, and presses Christian-spiritual (or typical) views. Thus the vision of the dry bones is linked with Isaiah and Daniel passages to depict the day of resurrection; while the reuniting of the kingdom of the 'David' refers to the eternal kingdom of Christ.88

    Moving into a modern articulation of the amillennial scheme Anthony A. Hoekema, one of the most articulate spokesmen for this position in recent times, states:

The term amillennialism is not a happy one. It suggests that amillennialists either do not believe in any millennium or that they simply ignore the first six verses in Revelation 20, which speak of a millennial reign. Neither of these two statements is true. Though it is true that amillennialists do not believe in a literal thousand-year earthly reign which will follow the return of Christ, the term amillennialism is not an accurate description of their view. Professor Jay E. Adams of Westminister Seminary in Philadelphia has suggested that the term amillennialism be replaced by the expression realized millennium.89

From Hoekema's statement one can see the essence of the amillennial position, namely that he does not "believe in a literal thousand-year earthly reign which will follow the return of Christ." The amillennial position can be defined as a belief that:

. . . the Bible does not predict a period of the rule of Christ on earth before the last judgment. According to this outlook there will be a continuous development of good and evil in the world until the second coming of Christ, when the dead shall be raised and the judgment conducted. Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ rules his church through the Word and the Spirit. They feel that the future, glorious, and perfect kingdom refers to the new earth and life in heaven. Thus Rev. 20 is a description of the souls of dead believers reigning with Christ in heaven.90

Four basic premises of amillennialism and then six chronological details:

1. Christ has won the decisive victory over sin, death and Satan.

This victory of Christ's was decisive and final. The most important day in history, therefore, is not the Second Coming of Christ which is still future but the first coming which lies in the past. Because of the victory of Christ, the ultimate issues of history have already been decided. It is now a question of time until that victory is brought to its full consummation.91

2. The Kingdom of God is both present and future.

Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God was founded by Christ at the time of his sojourn on earth, is operative in history now and is destined to be revealed in its fullness in the life to come. They understand the kingdom of God to be the reign of God dynamically in human history through Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to redeem God's people from sin and demonic powers, and finally to establish the new heavens and the new earth. The kingdom of God means nothing less than the reign of God in Christ over his entire created universe.92

3. Though the last day is still future, the church is in the last days now.

When I say, "we are in the last days now," I understand the expression "last days" not merely referring to the time just before Christ's return, but as a description of the entire era between Christ's first and second comings. . . In the light of these New Testament teachings, we may indeed speak of an inaugurated eschatology, while remembering that the Bible speaks of a final consummation of eschatological events in what John commonly calls "the last day" (John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48). The fact that we are living in the last days now implies that we are already tasting the beginnings of eschatological blessings —that, as Paul says, we already have "the first fruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23).93

4. As far as the thousand years of Revelation 20 are concerned, the church is in the millennium now.

The amillennial position on the thousand years of Revelation 20 implies that Christians who are now living are enjoying the benefits of this millennium since Satan has been bound for the duration of this period. As we saw, the fact that Satan is now bound does not mean that he is not active in the world today but that during this period he cannot deceive the nations —that is, cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. . .Amillennialists also teach that during this same thousand year period the souls of believers who have died are now living and reigning with Christ in heaven while they await the resurrection of the body. Their state is therefore a state of blessedness and happiness, though their joy will not be complete until their bodies have been raised.94

    While the amillennialist does not believe in a physical kingdom, and holds the 1,000 reference in Revelation 20 to be figurative; they do believe that Jesus will physically return to the earth. Chronologically, the amillennial scheme views the Second Coming of Christ as a single and unified event. After a period of increasing lawlessness and apostasy (although as Hoekema points out this "cannot prevent the spread of the gospel"), Christ will return. At this time the resurrection of the just and unjust will take place, as well as the glorification of those believers who are still alive on the earth.
    While admitting the "rapture" of I Thessalonians 4:17, amillennialists view this event as a meeting of "raised and transformed believers"95 who meet Christ in the air and then return with Him to reign together in the New Earth, which most define as heaven or the eternal state. Also at this time the final judgment of the unbelievers and the rewarding of believers will occur and the eternal state will commence. Charles Wannamaker states this clearly in his commentary on the Thessalonian epistles:

Those who meet the Lord in the air (the space between the earth and the heavens in Jewish cosmology) are caught up in a heavenly ascent by the clouds without any indication that they then return to earth. Apart from the possible connotation that ajpavnthsi" might have for a return to earth, the rest of the imagery (the clouds and being caught up with the Lord) are indicative of an assumption to heaven of the people who belong to Christ. That Paul adds his own definitive statement concerning the significance of this meeting in the clause kai; ou[tw" pavntote suvn kurivw/ ejsovmeqa ("and thus we will always be with the Lord") suggests both living and dead Christians will return to heaven with the Lord, not only to enjoy continuous fellowship with him, but also in terms of 1:10, to be saved from the coming wrath of God.96

Thus, for the amillennialist, the rapture is used by God to remove the living and dead saints from the earth, transforming them for and transferring them to heaven; while at the same time the judgment of the living and dead unbelievers is carried out.
    While the terminology for amillennialism has been altered slightly since the time of Spurgeon, the essential features have remained the same. Those Spurgeon identified as "Preterist"97 would fit into the amillennial scheme. Again the "Preterist" position holds that the prophecies of Revelation, are not really all that prophetic, since the "fulfillment of the apocalyptic taking place roughly contemporaneously with the Scriptural account of it."98 With that as the case, then the account of the millennium in Revelation 20 is not speaking of a future event, but rather the kingdom of God already functioning with Jesus seated in heaven. The chart below presents what can be called the sine qua non of the amillennial system.

Essential Features of Amillennialism
  1. Satan has been defeated and is currently bound.
  2. The Millennium is the current Church Age. (although some of this school will identify the millennium with the eternal state)
  3. The Resurrections of the Just & Unjust occur simultaneously to the return of Christ.
  4. There is no sense in which the millennium has reference to a material, earthly kingdom.
  5. The Church is the succession of Israel in God's plans.

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