Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kingdom Promise

In Acts 1:6, The disciples ask Jesus,
...Lord, wilt Thou it at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

In His response, Jesus tells them that it is not for them to know the times or the seasons. He does not correct their eschatological viewpoint or say that all those previous kingdom prophecies and teachings were only meant in a metaphorical and spiritual sense. So after three years of being taught by Him, they still expect an earthly kingdom, and even though He is getting ready to ascend to the Father and they are to establish the Church (and indeed, Christianity itself) and be the authorities on doctrine and practice, He does not insist that their eschatological hermenautic is too literal.

Wonder why that is? I think the reason is that, while the disciples may have been clueless about the time frame ( and indeed, we still don't know the times or seasons), they were correct in their expectation of an eventual earthly kingdom.

This was after the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25, so they obviously did not read into that text, as so many partial preterists and amillennialists do, the absence of an earthly kingdom. For more comments on Matthew 24, see here, here, and here.

Perhaps the disciples anticipated an earthly kingdom because of the words of Jesus to them in Matthew 19: 28:

Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

It is apparent that the disciples saw this as a literal prophecy, because in Matthew 20: 20-23 James, John and their mother have a conversation with Jesus in which she requests that the two brothers be granted the honor of being seated at the right hand and left hand of Jesus in His kingdom. Jesus does not correct their interpretation or insist that they misunderstood Him. Rather, He says the privilege they requested is "...for whom it is prepared of My Father."

So what do we make of the fact that Jesus taught about a future earthly kingdom and the disciples expected one? Looks like premillennialism to me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Help Me Help You Help Me Understand

Well, it seems an intense discussion (yea, a verbal firestorm of sorts) has been roaring through (okay, maybe just crackling through) a few of the blogs I frequent. One of my favorite expositors, John MacArthur, recently expressed the opinion that he felt a premillennial eschatology was more consistent with reform soteriology than an amillennial view.

I have long agreed that if 5-point Calvinists would apply the same earnest diligent hermeneutic to their study of the prophetic Scriptures that they apply to those passages which deal with soteriology, they'd be premillers instead of amillers.

By the way, when I refer to the amillennial eschatological view, I include the postmillennial viewpoint in that category. I don't see much difference in the two perspectives, since both camps believe the millennial reign of Christ described in Revelation 20:4 is a description of the church age prior to the Second Coming, and many in the postmillennial group, like the amillennialists, reject a literal 1000-year time frame as the duration of the age described. One might argue that the posties are more optimistic about the way things are headed than some of the amillennialists regarding the conclusion of the church age, but I still think that divergence is a sub-category within the same general doctrinal eschatological construct. Sorry, what I mean to say is, I think they still hold the same general view and get there using the same general interpretive principals.

Now, there are all sorts of rationales and explanations given why the amillennialists don't accept that the words of Revelation 20:4 actually mean what the words of Revelation 20:4 say, or why a thousand years would not mean a thousand years, even though it is repeated 6 times in verses 2-7 of chapter 20. Seems to me that the apostle John really wants the reader to get the fact that the duration he is referring to is a thousand years. The rationales of the dissenters vary some from one amiller to the next, but generally rely on terms like "allegory", "prophetic language", etc. I dealt with some of these general issues in my former blog here and here.

I think the real challenge one should consider in reading this passage is, unless one brings a pre-established eschatological view with them when reading it, there is nothing there which compels the described thousand-year post-Second Coming reign of Christ to be taken any way but in the literal sense. There is nothing difficult about interpreting the narrative in the way it describes future events. There is no difficulty in understanding the plain meaning of the narrative and the context does not insist on resorting to allegory to understand it.

Also, there is a precedent concerning previous prophetic time-frames in Scripture which appear to have a literal meaning. Seven days in Genesis 7: 4 meant seven days. Three days in Genesis 40: 12-13 meant three days. Seven years in Genesis 41: 26-30 meant seven years. Forty years in Numbers 14: 33-34 meant forty years. Seventy years in Jeremiah 25:11-12 meant seventy years. Three days in Mark 10: 31 meant three days. There are more examples, but I think the point is made that an appeal to "prophetic language" does not automatically exempt one from accepting a time frame specifically defined in a Biblical prophecy. The only reason amillennialists are forced to impose a nonliteral interpretaion on the thousand-year reference is because the Church Age has already extended more than a thousand years and they have to reconcile that fact with the eschatological view they have settled on.

Having said all this, the issue is not one to divide over. Orthodox evangelicals can agree to disagree on the premill/amill issue. But we premillers do need to continue to make our case without apology to our amillennial brothers and sisters. After all, our eschatological hermeneutic should be consistent with the way we interpret the rest of Scripture.