In a previous post, I shared some thoughts on the Left Behind movie. Please see my emphasis there, that while the return of Christ is orthodox teaching, the details surrounding it are not. Genuine Christians come to different conclusions, and view the end times through differing paradigms. We need to be respectful of each other, and not miss the forest for the trees. The return of Christ should bring us hope, not fear or fighting among ourselves. As said in the other post, I don’t really see the value of a movie based on the rapture.
But after much thought, I’ve decided to have 2 posts – one on pre-millennialism and one on the rapture. While I have strong beliefs in the former, I have doubts about the later. But why post on these divisive issues? My primary reason is this:
Some of the critics present pre-trib and pre-mill theology in such a biased and distorted way that it makes anyone who believes in it look like a laughingstock. For example, it is said that belief in the rapture comes from 1 Bible reference which is “embellished into a grandiose premillennial exit” – with no other support or reasoning for it. Or that this idea came from a teenage girl in Scotland in 1830 who had a dream about it, and John Nelson Darby then got the idea from her. Really, people. This is unfair. There are more substantial reasons for believing these things! And that is the reason for my posts – to attempt to present a more coherent and biblical explanation. I’m not out to argue. If you think that, perhaps re-read what I’ve written so far and the previous post. I’ll begin with the “easier” issue – the millennium.
I appreciated this straightforward definition of pre-millennialism from Dr. Pentecost:
“The premillennial view is the view that holds that Christ will return to earth, literally and bodily, before the millennial age begins and that, by His presence, a kingdom will be instituted over which He will reign. In this kingdom all of Israel’s covenants will be literally fulfilled. It will continue for a thousand years, after which the kingdom will be given by the Son to the Father when it will merge with His eternal kingdom.”
Critics will point out that the only place in Scripture that the language of one thousand years is used is in Revelation chapter twenty. There is validity in this criticism, yet there are other reasons to believe in a literal millennium.
Did you know that pre-millennialism (then called chiliasm) was the historic view of the early church from about the first to the third centuries? It was. Certain refinements may be recent, but a belief in the return and reign of Christ on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years was the widely held view in the opening years of the church. Early fathers such as Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian held this view. The fact that it was the first and predominant view is quite significant in my perspective.
Around the time of Augustine, pre-millennialism lost its predominance and amillennialism developed. This was for several reasons, but Augustine became disgusted at the inappropriate behavior of some who held the view. Some who espoused pre-millennialism were taking more pleasure in the physical world than the spiritual, participating in excessive feasting and celebrations, and also viewed the millennium in a distorted way as a time of carnal enjoyment.
Back to Revelation. While it is true that there is a great deal of symbolism in Revelation, not everything in the book is symbolic. A straightforward reading of Revelation chapters 19 and 20 does make pre-millennialism a possibility. There are various temporal markers (grammar) that indicate a chronological order to the text. It is also noteworthy that one thousand years is repeated six times in only seven verses. One thousand seems really important. Interestingly, even Augustine thought the 1,000 years were literal. While he otherwise spiritualized the passage, he stuck with the 1,000 years being literal, referring to his present time.
Belief in an earthly millennial reign of Christ blends well with Old Testament predictions of the kingdom (Isaiah 11, 65, Zechariah 14), as well as relieves various tensions in these Old Testament texts. Some of these texts portray the eschatological kingdom as being free from sin and death, while other texts indicate sin and death will still be present. This fits with the concept of two different phases of the eschatological kingdom, one on the present earth in a millennial reign of Christ, followed by the final judgment on sin and then the eternal state with a new heaven and earth.
This also fits with the dispensational view of God fulfilling His eternal promises to Israel by reigning over them (and the entire world) in the land. Additionally, if Christ does not establish and reign over a kingdom on the present earth (and thus only reigns on the new earth in the eternal state), it would seem that Satan won the battle for planet earth as we know it! A professor pointed that out to me, and I’d never seen it that way. Is Christ incompetent or incapable of ruling the current planet? Does Christ not care about our current world? If Christ does not reign on our present earth, it does seem that Satan won the battle for earth, while Jesus won the war for eternity only.
Okay, next post I will attempt to tackle the rapture. By the way, belief in a literal millennium and the rapture do NOT have to go together. Historic pre-millenialism has distinct differences from modern, dispensational pre-millennialism, but both do teach a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ. Here is an interesting article by Roger Olsen (who is not dispensational) on why he believes in the millennium: Premillennialism revisited.