January 11, 2009

Revelation and the Millennium

The EFCA has recently revised its Statement of Faith (see my earlier comments here). One of the major modifications was the inclusion of "premillennialism" in the statement. I must admit that I initially met this inclusion with some skepticism--do we really need to enshrine that particular belief in our statement, especially considering the number of Christians holding varying opinions.

Our church (Oxboro Ev. Free Church) is going to be looking at the changes to the statement in the coming weeks, so I thought I'd begin doing some homework. And though I've studied and read about Revelation and issues surrounding the Millennium before, I've never really delved deeply into it, and never really come to any opinion on it myself, even a provisional one. And I figured this would be a good time to get working. So I pulled a number of books off my shelves and got to reading. At first, I was struck by the breadth of the views I was finding. It seemed that each position had some positives and some negatives.

So I sat down and read Revelation from start to finish, essentially non-stop. (I must say I highly recommend this, especially after perusing an introduction or two to get your bearings.) And was struck by how powerful the words would have been to its first audience, Asian Christians facing persecution. It seems we all too often forget that they are the adressees of the letter! I must admit that this doesn't easily and quickly solve any of the thorny and complicated exegetical issues of the book, but it does immediately and powerfully open up the main thrust of the book: God is holy, mighty, powerful, the Savior! He was and is and is to come. And despite how things may look at the moment, he's got the whole world in his hands, and his judgments are just. We can expect some tough times, difficult persecutions, maybe even death for his name. But don't be fooled--God is on the throne, and he is coming again to vindicate the righteous and to set the world right.

So there's a thumbnail sketch of Revelation. It is easy to see why this book has inspired so many songs, poems, and prayers. (Think Milton, for one easy example.) But what about the Millennium? Like I said, I didn't come up with any easy answers to the thorny questions. But. After a lot of reading (from commentators like Robert Mounce in the NICNT to Craig Koester to Ben Witherington, from the NT theology of I. H. Marshall, and from theologians like Donald Bloesch and Wayne Grudem), I am more and more convinced that while I may have some type of affinity with an amillennial position (more for aesthetic reasons than anything else, I think), I keep being lead toward premillennialism. Though it is also abundantly clear that this is not an obvious road to take (a commentator as responsible and mature as I. H. Marshall essentially dismisses premillennialism out of hand in his NT Theology). And right now, the most clear and convincing piece of the argument goes back to where I started in my exploration, thinking about the original audience. Amillennialism and Postmillennialism may seem like equally viable options now, two millennia later, as we look over the past and possible future. There's a church age, that may be somehow related to the millennium (amillennialists would say it has been and is the "millennium" and postmillennialists would say something like it is becoming or will become the millennium). But, what of the original authors, who didn't have that church age behind them. In fact, one of the clearest and probably most secure pieces of NT data we have is that the NT authors didn't expect a long and extended "church age." They expected Christ's return at any moment. In Revelation, for instance, just turn the page from Revelation 20 and the discussion of the millennium and you get to Revelation 22: Come Lord Jesus! And the same expectation permeates Paul, the Gospels, and the other NT writings as well. Jesus is coming again; soon! While this may not be a totally secure argument for premillennialism, (and while it argues more persuasively against postmillenniallism than amillennialism) it sure makes good sense of the data in a very natural way.

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