Thursday, June 10, 2010

My understanding of the End

Someone asked, so here is my 'timeline' regarding the kingdom and the end of history:

- Jesus' birth and life showed the kingdom was inaugurated (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus clearly taught that this kingdom was a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36). Entering his kingdom require a spiritual rebirth (John 3:3).

- His ministry, especially his death and resurrection bind Satan so his house can be plundered (Matthew 12:29, Mark 3:27, Revelation 20:1-3). Note specifically in the Revelation 20 passage, the binding of Satan means he is not free to deceive the nations any more, not that his activity has completely ceased. He is still free to harass the church, as much of Revelation depicts; however, people from every nation and tribe will be welcomed into the kingdom.

- The outpouring of the Holy Spirit signals that we are in the last days (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:14-21). The last days covers the whole span of history from Christ's first advent to his second coming. The last days are marked by the unique and climactic revelation of God in His Son (Heb. 1:2), by the unprecedented scope of the Spirit's work (Joel 2:28-32), scoffers (2 Peter 3:3), godlessness and difficulties (2 Timothy 3:1-5). John refers to this time period as 'the last hour' during which the church must be on guard against 'antichrists' (1 John 2:18).

- The last hour and last days will climax in 'the last day' (The Day of the Lord) in which Jesus promises to raise up all those who have been given to him (John 6:39-44; John 6:54). It will also be a day when those who reject Christ will be judged (John 12:48). As the Day of the Lord is still in the future, the church is active in preaching the gospel, urging rebels to accept the amnesty the King is offering (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

- The kingdom is a present reality. Saints are presently reigning with Christ who is presently on his throne. Here taking a close look at Revelation 20 is in order:

[20:1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. [2] And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [3] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
[4] Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. [5] The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. [6] Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(Revelation 20:1-6 ESV)

It is my understanding that the number 1000 is symbolic - as are virtually all the numbers in the book of Revelation - representing a full period of time. Moreover, I don't think it is appropriate to read the book of Revelation as though it proceeded chronologically. Revelation 19 depicts the climatic battle between Satan and God. On my view, Revelation 20 happens prior to that battle. Much of Revelation is cyclical. As I understand it, Revelation 20:1-15 is the seventh cycle of the book, each one recording the same period of history, adding vivid imagery to give us a composite picture. The binding of Satan refers to the the limitation of Satan's power by Christ so that the church would be successful in fulfilling its Great Commission (see above). The battle of Revelation 20:7-10 is the same battle as Revelation 19:11-21.

I believe the saints are reigning above with Christ now, not in future kingdom on earth. What John sees are the disembodied souls of the saints in heaven (see also Rev. 6:9). I don't think the privilege of reigning is necessarily limited to the martyrs, but the martyrs (those beheaded) is a subset of all the faithful 'who had not worshiped the beast or its image.' Scripture makes it clear that Christ is already reigning on the throne (Eph 1:19-23).

What about the 'first resurrection', 'first death', 'second resurrection', and 'second death'? As I understand it, there is a neat symmetry here. The first resurrection and the second death are spiritual in nature. The first resurrection refers to the believers rebirth, from being brought back from the dead spiritually (Eph. 2:1-5, Col. 2:12-13). The second death is the unbelievers spiritual death - an eternal death (Matthew 10:28). The first death is a physical death that all will experience (except for those alive when Christ returns). The second resurrection is a physical resurrection all will experience (except those alive when Christ returns). Believers will experience this second resurrection, a reuniting of the bodies and souls for a blessed eternity; unbelievers will experience this resurrection for judgment.

1 Corinthians 15 is also helpful:
[20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
[25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death. [27] For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. [28] When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-28, ESV)

Paul says in verse 24 that the end will come after Christ has destroyed every rule and every authority and power. That process is begun and will conclude at the climatic battle on the Day of the Lord. Paul specifically says the last enemy to be destroyed will be death (v. 26). That, the resurrection of the dead and the casting of Death and Hades into hell, marks the absolute end.
After that we enter into the eternal state, the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 20:11-21:8). There is not intermediate 1000 kingdom on earth in my view.

A few more points:

- The church will be successful in winning people for Christ from every tribe and nation. However, that does not mean the world will be Christianized (see the Parable of the Weeds, Matthew 13:24ff).

- All the promises made to Abraham and David are fulfilled in Christ (the True Israel of God) and his Church (see second point in my post 'Should the US Support Israel'). Hence, there is no interpretive need for an earthly millennium.

- The kingdom will not be established by the work of the church. Christ alone will establish his kingdom when he returns in glory.

- Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!

A few really good books on Revelation:

1.The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Vern Poythress

2. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, by Dennis Johnson

3. Case for Amillennialism, A: Understanding the End Times, by Kim Riddlebarger

4 comments:

Doug said...

We talked in ACG about many people abandoning the postmillennial view after the tragedies/horror of WWI/WWII. I'm struggling with your understanding of Rev 20 and Satan's binding for similar reasons.

The crazy actions of the Nazi's in Germany, Pol Pot in Cambodia, the Japanese in China/Korea during WWII, the Cultural Revolution in China, Burundi/Rwanda, Darfur in Sudan, the Former Yugoslav republics, N. Korea...etc seems strong evidence of Satanic deception/meddling. You could add in Islam, the athieistic materialism of the West since the Enlightenment... etc as well.

Dan Waugh said...

Doug,
Sorry, I missed this comment till today. I'll keep my explanation brief and post a link to a great (but longer) explanation.
On the amillennialist view, the binding of Satan doesn't limit his activity entirely, only in regards to the deception of the nations and keeping them from the gospel. So the horrors of war, and even of Satanic persecution, continue even though Satan is in chains.
The success of the church in fulfilling the great commission is proof (not infallible proof, or everyone would be an amill) that Satan has been bound. Certainly the great commission hasn't been completed yet, but huge advances have been made in the past 100-150 years, and the task of taking the gospel to every tribe will one day be complete.
Leave aside the great success of the past 100-150 yrs and look at the great sweep of redemptive history. Before Christ, what nations were included in the covenant promises. One - Israel. And they were failing to 'be the light to the gentiles' they were called to be. Since Christ's death and resurrection, the binding of Satan and the outpouring of the Spirit, the gospel has been preached across the globe and God's people now includes men and women from *many* tribes and nations - which will one day be *all* tribes and nations.
Brief, as I said. Each view has difficulties, though I think the amill view has less 'fatal' difficulties. Here's a good link to Kim Riddlebarger blog and a
Q&A on the Binding of Satan .

Mark said...

Feels like a lot of hermeneutic contortions to me, with almost none of the points you give sounding compelling enough to move me away from a more straightforward reading of the text.

BTW, note that the "huge advances" of the past 100-150 years have coincided with huge retreats in some parts of the world, sooner in Europe than in the US, but it's hitting us now from what I read & see. I do agree that the kingdom is advancing, but I think it is a very far cry from the tenor of the millennial kingdom, whether the 1000 years are literal or not.

Time will tell, though. I don't see anything in our differences on this topic that leads us to behave differently or differ in our hope for Christ's return.

Dan Waugh said...

Mark,
In a way, I kinda agree with you; however, reading a passage from Revelation in a 'straightforward' way may not be the way it was intended. Literal and straightforward is good if that's the intention of the author; but in an apocalyptic and prophetic book that relies so much on imagery and symbolism, I don't know that John intended it to be read so straightforwardly. It's certainly no didactic epistle.

Having said that, I don't find a straightforward reading of any of the 'clear passages' pointing me to a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. In fact, I see the clear passages of Scripture pointing away from that.

I also agree that gains made in Asia, Africa, Latin America have been met with losses in Europe and America (and some of the numeric gain is over stated - much has to do with the false 'prosperity gospel). On the other hand, we should recognize that those 'gains' in Europe from 1500 yrs ago came with losses in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The point is that on the 'checklist' of nations, the gospel has gone to far more nations today than in the previously. Doesn't mean those cultures have been Christianized (that's more postmill than amill), but that there are worshippers from all nations (at some point).

I also agree with you last thought - neither changes my ultimate hope in the return of Christ much, which is why I don't tend to write on it unless I'm specifically asked.