Renaming Amillennialism

Part 1 of … not sure yet

For better or worse the main end-times theories are named after the idea of Christ’s millennial reign, and whether it is immediately before or immediately following the second coming, or whether this whole question is confused to begin with. Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus returns first to set up a millennial kingdom on earth and reigns for 1,000 years before he brings in the final age – the eternal state. Postmillennialism is the belief that the millennial kingdom is established before the physical return of Christ. Amillennialism is something else altogether. Amillennialism is the belief in the general concurrence of the great end-times events: the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the just and the unjust, the Day of Judgment, immediately followed by the age to come.

“Amillennialism” is sometimes called “Augustinian eschatology” and probably represents the majority position throughout church history. Yet the term “Amillennial” is as recent as the 1930s. Clearly something is amiss when an ancient view is called by a modern name. “Amillennialism” literally means “no millennium.” Like the term “anti-choice” to describe those who are “pro-life,” the term “Amillennial” is a disparaging term.

Jay Adams suggests the new name “realized millennialism” to communicate the truth that Christ reigns from heaven now. More recently, Michael Horton tried to improve on this by suggesting “semi-realized millennialism” to distinguish the way Christ rules the church now through Word and Spirit and the absolute rule of Christ when he comes in glory. The real problem, as I see it, is that we have allowed the millennialists to frame the debate in terms of our millennial expectation. I believe this approach gets us on the wrong track.

I prefer to frame the Amillennial position as “Two-Age Eschatology.” This “Two-Age” model is fundamentally different than the pre and postmill schemes. Premill and postmill are agreed that there are three ages. There is “this present evil age” that we now inhabit, a future “golden” age and utopia – which is a hybrid of this age and the final age – and then the “age to come” which is the eternal state.

The two age structure is the pattern presented in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:32). Regarding his disciples who have forsaken all for the sake of the Gospel will receive back blessings “now in this time… with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). When answering the Sadducees their question on marriage and the resurrection, Jesus replies that “the sons of this age marry and are given in marriage” but marriage does not apply to those who are of “that coming age” who are the “sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34).

In the parable of the weeds the good seeds are the “children of the kingdom” the weeds are “the sons of the evil one” who are consumed by the “cares of this age” (v. 22). The harvest is “the close of the age” where the weeds are “gathered and burned with fire” (Matt 13:40).

This comparison is implicit when Jesus teaches that “For the sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). “Light” here is certainly not a mere figurative characterization, but points to the element pervasive of the future age, the “kingdom of light.”

When we move from Jesus to Paul we find the same eschatological two-age structure. Paul celebrates that Jesus has been exalted in his resurrection and is “far above… every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come” (Eph 1:21). Wherever this comparison is not explicit it is implicit. Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). Satan is “the god of this age” who “has blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor 4:4). Satan is “the prince of the power of the air” who rules over those who follow “the course of this world” (Eph 2:2). But we are called to live “godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:12). And in Hebrews, everything in “the world to come” will be subjected to Jesus Christ and his absolute rule (Heb 2:5).

While Paul frequently uses the phrase “this age” or a variation of it, Paul does not often use the phrase “age to come.” He prefers to speak of the age to come as the coming of the “kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:15; Gal 5:21; 2 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 4:18). What is more is that Paul correlates the kingdom of this age with Adam and the kingdom of the age to come with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “eschatos Adam” (the last Adam), who has become the “life giving Spirit” who will at the last day give life to our mortal bodies (1 Cor 15:45). “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfuits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom of God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:22-24).

The resurrection of Christ is the “firstfruits” of the age to come. By faith we now enter into the power of Christ’s resurrection in that we are a “new creation” in Christ and even now live lives of new obedience. But the true fullness of this kingdom awaits his second coming.

Think for a moment how this understanding illuminates Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom of God. Many students of the Bible find Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom to be confusing. Has it arrived? Is it yet to come? On the one hand, many passages speak of entering into the kingdom by repentance and faith. The kingdom has arrived with the presence of the king (Jesus), in the casting out of demons, in the miracles wrought by the power of God, in Jesus’ power to forgive sins. On the other hand, Jesus frequently speaks of the kingdom as that which is future: the Son of Man appearing in Glory; the judgment of the wicked; the righteous wait for Jesus to return with his kingdom.

The best way to understand the Biblical teaching on the kingdom of God is to understand the tension of the kingdom being “already-and-not-yet.” The kingdom, properly speaking is God’s glorious kingdom described in the book of Revelation, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). In this fullest sense, our redemption awaits the resurrection and the renewal of all things. Yet even now we experience some of the blessings of the kingdom in a limited sense. We have recognized Christ as king. We partake of the “Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” which characterizes God’s kingdom (Rom 14:17). In a limited and imperfect way, we seek to live out the ethics of God’s kingdom even now.

The author to the Hebrews has a great way of expressing this “already-not-yet” aspect of the kingdom. In chapter 9 he argues that the temple and its regulations are “symbolic for the present age” (9:9), but that Jesus has appeared “at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” and he will appear “a second time” to “save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (9:26, 29). But even now believers get a glimpse of this age to come. In chapter 6 he speaks of professing Christians who have been “enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (6:5; see also 1 Cor 10:11).

Therefore the New Testament consistently locates believers in the New Covenant as living in the penultimate age. We are in the “last days” of this “present evil age.” At Pentecost Peter quotes the prophet Joel and declares that the resurrection of Christ marks the beginning of these “last days” (Acts 2:17). The author to the Hebrews tells us that “in these last days he [God] has spoken to us in his Son” (Heb 1:2). The Apostle John even characterizes this age as “the final hour” (1 John 2:18).

Many of these texts are not what come to mind when Christians study the topic of the end times, but they should be. If this age is characterized as “this present evil age” (Gal 1:4), that is, in some sense, under the influence of the Devil (2 Cor 4:4), if the age to come has dawned in the resurrection of Christ, and its light is beginning to shine in the ministry of Christ’s church, persecuted though it is, and if the coming of Christ in glory ushers in this age to come in its fullness, then we have no room for the intermediate age of a millennial kingdom. This age ends in the cataclysm of judgment to usher in the age to come.

Yet what type success can we expect for the Christian church in this present evil age? Are things getting better and better, or is everything going downhill and getting worse and worse? On this question Amills may vary. I believe the parable of the weeds provides the correct picture. In this parable the wheat continues to grow and bear fruit until the end of the age. The wheat represents the kingdom of God. The weeds grow right along with it. This is the kingdom of Satan, or the kingdom of this world. Therefore, in terms of the continuing power of the Gospel to convert sinners I am optimistic. The gates of hell will never prevail against the church. In every age God will call a people to himself. Yet the Bible never teaches that the world-as-system will be Christianized before the return of Christ. Therefore, in the realm of politics and cultural influence I am more pessimistic. Power and influence in this present age is not the Christian hope. Rather we confess that the “form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:21). Our true optimism awaits the glorious, physical return of Christ to bring in the age to come, the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13)!

Note: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church considers the three “classic” views on end-times to be within the pale of orthodoxy, and all three views are represented in our denomination.

 

Should We Rethink Heaven?

Early morning on Easter Sunday I sat down to my morning oatmeal and coffee and was surprised by the cover story of TIME magazine.  The headline implied that Christians need to rethink their understanding of heaven. I suppose the religious feature was in honor of Easter and I was curious to read it. The author relied heavily on N.T. Wright’s new book, “Surprised by Hope: rethinking heaven, the resurrection and the mission of the church.” N.T. Wright stresses that the Christian hope is not to be a disembodied soul floating about the clouds with harp in hand, but rather to receive a resurrected and glorified body to inhabit God’s renewed and glorified creation. Our hope is not to escape this world, but rather to await the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).

I may take issue with N.T. Wright’s theology here and there, but he is perfectly right about this. Should we then “rethink heaven”? Not at all! This physical “new creation” model of heaven is in fact the old, boring, and traditional view confessed by Protestants and Catholics alike. In the Nicene Creed we confess that, “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Likewise the Westminster Confession of Faith states that:

“At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with the self-same bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever” (32.2)

“The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honor; and be made conformable to His own glorious body” (33.3).

The fact that the TIME article can be written is evidence that modern pastors and Bible teachers are ineffectively communicating our Christian hope. Such confusion is not surprising since so many preachers have given up preaching Christian doctrine for pop-psychology.

 

At the time of Christ the Jews were divided on this matter of the resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or even an afterlife. They accepted only the five books of Moses. The Pharisees accepted the Law, Psalms and Prophets and affirmed the doctrine of the resurrection at the end of the age.

Jesus and the Apostles sided with the Pharisees on the resurrection. Jesus challenged the Sadducees on their belief that the books of Moses did not teach an afterlife (Matt 22:23-33, Ex 3:6). We can agree, however, that Moses did not teach it as clearly as the later Psalms and prophets (e.g. Ps 16:9-10; 49:16; 73:24-25; Prov 23:14; Job 19:25-27; Isa 26:19; Ezek 37:1-14; Dan 12:2). On one occasion the Sadducees and Pharisees were united together in their persecution of the Apostle Paul. Paul exploited the situation by taking sides with the Pharisees by declaring, “I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 23:6-7).

The first topic we should address is the nature of the resurrection. It is, in the first place, a physical and bodily resurrection. Some in the early Church taught that the resurrection was purely spiritual. The Apostles regarded such teachers as heretics (2 Tim 2:18). Jesus Christ is called the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20, 23) and “the firstborn of the dead” (Col 1:18). Therefore the resurrection of believers is patterned after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus may have passed through walls in his resurrected body, but even before his resurrection he walked on water. It is clear that his resurrected body was still solid. He could be touched. He ate meals with his disciples. He bore the wounds of his resurrection.

Moreover, Rom 8:11 tells us explicitly that God will raise up our mortal bodies, and make them immortal. This idea is also prominent in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul argues that our mortal body is like a seed that in death is buried in the ground. The resulting tree that springs from the substance of that buried seed is like our glorified bodies. Here we see emphasized both the continuity with our present physical bodies, and also the difference between our present mortality and our future immortality. There is a dramatic change or metamorphosis. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly and the tadpole, a frog. But it is one and the same body that changes.

We note also that it is a bodily resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. This is clear from the following passages. Dan 12:2, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” Acts 24:15, “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” Rev 20:13, 15, “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done…. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The second topic to address is the time of the resurrection. Premillennial teaching states that the resurrection of the saints will be separated by a thousand years from that of the wicked. Dispensational Premillennialism further separates the first and second coming of Christ into two stages, which then requires a third resurrection. There are those that undergo their transformation at the rapture, a second group of believers that are transformed seven years later at the end of the Great Tribulation, and the resurrection of the righteous and wicked at the end of the millennium.

A common theme in my understanding of the end times is that popular teachers have created a scheme that is way more complicated than what the New Testament actually teaches.

What does the Bible actually teach about the time of the resurrection? The best way to examine this is by listing the complex of events that coincide with the resurrection. According to the Bible the time of the resurrection coincides with the coming of Christ, with the revelation or the day of the Lord, with the end of the world/this present evil age, and with the final judgment. Furthermore, the resurrection of the righteous coincides with the resurrection of the wicked.

That there is but one resurrection of the justified and the wicked is clear from four passages I quoted from a moment ago. Those four passages all speak of the resurrection as a single event. More than that, if we go back to John 5 and examine the context beginning with verse 21 we will note how Jesus combines the thought of the resurrection, including the resurrection of the righteous, with the thought of judgment, including the judgment of the wicked. We also note that Jesus repeatedly says that these two judgments take place in the same “hour.”

Furthermore, the resurrection of believers is directly connected with the second coming of Jesus. 1 Cor 15:23, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Phil 2:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” 1 Thess 4:16-17, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

This resurrection coincides not only with the second coming of Christ, but also with the end of the world and the “last day.” John 6:39 (40, 44, 54), “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” That means that the last day is also the day of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Certainly, the end-times scheme taught in the Bible is much simpler than what is popularly taught today!

The Premillennial argument for double and even triple resurrections is based primarily on the scheme of events leading up to the end as the Premillennialists interpret it. I would argue that this scheme is falsely construed and is based on misunderstandings of what the Bible teaches. By far the most important text Premillennialists will appeal to for the double resurrection scheme is Revelation 20:6, which contrasts the “first resurrection” with “the second death.” But this interpretation rests on very shaky ground. Revelation 20 pictures a scene where the souls of the righteous reign with Christ in heaven while awaiting his second coming in judgment. It seems rather that the “first resurrection” refers to the intermediate state of believers, while “second death” refers to the final punishment of the wicked. In other words, this “first resurrection” does not have a bodily resurrection in view at all, but speaks rather of the souls of the righteous that have gone to be with Christ, who are blessed with the sight of God, and who await the redemption of their bodies.

What to Expect When You Visit

Perhaps you are one of the many people who have been introduced to Reformed Theology through the internet, radio or books. Your understanding of the Bible is increasingly Calvinistic. Yet you do not know what to expect when you visit a Reformed Church such as Redeemer OPC in Santa Maria.

We believe that the Word of God determines the shape of Christian Worship. Specifically we believe that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men… or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1; cf. Deut 12:30-32). The Apostle Paul condemned creative worship as “self-made religion” (Col 2:23, lit. “will-worship”) and the author to the Hebrews commands us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). There is, therefore, an acceptable pattern of worship which is guided above all by Biblical simplicity.

We find the basic outline for Christian worship early in the Book of Acts. The disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

To be devoted to the apostles teaching is to be devoted to the exposition of the Scriptures. Paul tells Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching… Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them” (1 Tim 4:13, 15). Our worship is centered on the proclamation of the Word of God. Our preaching is expository. In every sermon I seek to make clear the meaning and the application of a portion of Scripture. Yet expository preaching is not enough. The Pharisees were students of the Word and yet failed to see salvation through the Messiah as the central focus (John 5:39). Therefore “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2), the one in whom all the promises of God are fulfilled (2 Cor 1:20). We do not proclaim ourselves, but rather we exalt “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4-5).

Another aspect of the ministry of the Word is the reading of the Law (such as Ex 20 or Matt 5-7), which expresses God’s will for our life. We usually accompany this with a confession of sin and assurance of pardon (Ne 8:1-12; 1 John 1:9). We also frequently confess our Holy Christian faith, once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), using the words of the Apostles or Nicene Creed, which state the basics of the faith believed by all Christians throughout the world (1 Tim 6:12).

Singing is an important part of Christian worship (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; 1 Cor 14:26; James 5:13). “Singing of psalms with grace in the heart” partially belongs to the ministry of the Word and partially to the ministry of prayer. Our songs are instructive and express a rich theology, for by them we sing the doctrine into our heart. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another, with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Our songs are also devotional and offered as prayers to God (James 5:13). Many of our songs are the Biblical Psalms set to meter.

We believe that church music should be primarily congregational. It is not a live music performance or a spiritual talent show performed for the entertainment of the audience. It consists of God’s people uniting together in song as one part of divine worship.

Another aspect of worship mentioned in Acts 2:42 is “the fellowship.” This actually doesn’t refer to having good conversation over coffee (we have great coffee BTW). It is a reference to the giving of Christian alms for the support of the church ministry and for those with special needs. If you are visiting our church, you are our guest. We preach the Gospel free of charge. Nor do we ever cease to preach the Gospel free of charge. All giving is strictly voluntary. At no point do we “twist arms” and pressure members to make financial pledges, for God desires that we give freely and cheerfully (2 Cor 9:7).

“The breaking of the bread” is short-hand for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Redeemer celebrates the Lord’s Supper once a month. Some Reformed churches celebrate it more frequently – even once a week. The table is open for visitors from other churches, but talk to the elders if you have any questions regarding who may participate (1 Cor 11:17-29). In addition to the Lord’s Supper we also celebrate Christian Baptism as often as we have opportunity.

Finally, in our Sunday worship service we devote time to prayer. We believe that this means more than having short prayers sprinkled throughout the service. Therefore, it is our practice to have a prayer that is fairly comprehensive (1 Tim 2:1-2). We believe that every Sunday is a “national day of prayer,” or rather a global day of prayer. We pray for the needs of our nation, our missionaries, our churches, our community and our local church members.

Our worship service ends with a benediction. In ancient Israel, God instructed the priests of to raise their hands and pronounce a benediction on the people. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num 6:22-27). When Jesus ascended into heaven he raised his hands and pronounced this blessing on his disciples (Luke 24:50). We have examples of Christian benedictions throughout the New Testament (2 Cor 13:14; Heb 13:20-21; Jude 24-25).

If you are considering a visit to Redeemer you may like to know that we dress casual (mostly). We have a Sunday school hour with separate classes for adults and children, but families come together for the worship service. We believe that it is beneficial for families to worship together as the Church of Jesus Christ.