Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond Book Summary

Title: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond
Author: Darrell L. Bock (General Editor), with essays by Craig A. Blaising, Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., and Robert B. Strimple

TLDR: This book presents three major evangelical views on the end times—postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism. Each view is explained by a proponent, followed by responses from the other two perspectives. The book explores their biblical and historical basis, highlighting disagreements on key texts, the role of Israel, and the nature of the Millennium. The final essay summarizes the debate and encourages readers to form their own biblically informed view.

Chapter One: Postmillennialism by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr.

Gentry opens his chapter by emphasizing the importance of eschatology, the study of “last things,” for a biblical worldview. He argues that the future influences our present actions and that Scripture provides a prophetic roadmap for history from creation to consummation.

Defining Postmillennialism:

Postmillennialism anticipates the widespread triumph of the gospel in the present age, leading to a time of peace, righteousness, and prosperity before Christ’s return. This “millennial” era, brought about by the Spirit-empowered proclamation of the gospel, will witness the vast majority of humanity turning to Christ. After this extended period, Christ will return in glory to end history with a general resurrection and judgment.

Historical Development:

Gentry traces postmillennialism back to early church fathers like Origen, Eusebius, and Augustine, highlighting their belief in the eventual triumph of Christianity. He points to Thomas Brightman as the modern systematizer of postmillennialism, followed by prominent figures like Samuel Rutherford, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards. Gentry also discusses modern postmillennialism, which generally views the Millennium as spanning the entire inter-advent period and emphasizes gradual progress towards gospel victory. He further explores theonomic postmillennialism, a branch emphasizing the application of Old Testament law to civil society, and its preterist approach to certain New Testament prophecies, arguing for their fulfillment in the first century.

Theological Foundations:

Gentry argues for the plausibility of postmillennialism by highlighting key theological themes:

  • God’s Creational Purpose: God created the world for his glory, and postmillennialism sees his love for his creation prompting him to restore it to its original purpose.
  • God’s Sovereign Power: God is sovereign over history and will ensure the fulfillment of his purposes, including the success of the gospel.
  • God’s Blessed Provision: God has equipped the church with the necessary tools for world evangelism, including the presence of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the gospel, prayer, and a defeated foe in Satan.

Exegetical Evidence:

Gentry presents several key biblical passages supporting the postmillennial hope:

  • Messianic Psalms: Psalms like 22:27 and 72 anticipate a time of global submission to God, suggesting a gradual conversion of humanity.
  • Psalm 2: This psalm depicts the raging of nations against God and his Anointed One, ultimately culminating in Christ’s crucifixion. Gentry argues that the psalm promises the subjugation of all nations to Christ’s rule, a task entrusted to his followers through the Great Commission.
  • Isaiah 2:2-4: This passage prophesies a time in the “last days” when all nations will stream to the house of God, resulting in universal peace and righteousness. Gentry sees the “last days” as beginning with Christ’s first advent and continuing throughout the present age.
  • Matthew 13 (Kingdom Parables): The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast illustrate the gradual growth and pervasive influence of the kingdom in the world, leading to its eventual dominance.
  • John 12:31-32: Christ’s declaration that “now is the time for judgment on this world” points to the progressive working out of his victory over Satan through the drawing of all humanity to himself.
  • Matthew 28:18-20 (Great Commission): Gentry argues that the Great Commission, with its emphasis on making disciples of all nations, presupposes the eventual success of world evangelism.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:20-28: This passage affirms Christ’s present reign until all his enemies are subdued, suggesting a historical victory over opposition before the end of history.
  • Revelation 20: While acknowledging its controversial nature, Gentry interprets the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 as a restriction on his power to deceive the nations throughout the “thousand years,” symbolizing the long-lasting glory of Christ’s kingdom. He sees the reign of the saints in 20:4-6 as a present reality reflecting their spiritual enthronement with Christ.

Chapter Two: Amillennialism by Robert B. Strimple

Strimple begins by acknowledging the relatively recent origin of the term “amillennialism” while emphasizing the ancient roots of the view itself. He focuses on two crucial aspects: (1) the New Testament’s guidance on interpreting Old Testament prophecy and (2) the New Testament teaching on Christ’s second coming and its accompanying events.

Interpreting Old Testament Prophecy:

Strimple argues against premillennialism’s “literal” interpretation of Old Testament prophecies about a future earthly kingdom. He insists that the New Testament clarifies these prophecies by revealing their fulfillment in Christ and his church.

  • The True Israel: The New Testament teaches that Christ is the true Israel, fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants. Believers in Christ are the true Israel of faith, not merely those of physical descent.
  • Canaan, the Land of Promise: Canaan, the Promised Land, is a type of the believer’s eternal inheritance, the renewed heaven and earth, not a literal land to be occupied by Israel in a future Millennium.
  • Jerusalem, the Holy City: The true Jerusalem is the heavenly city of God, to which believers are already related in Christ, not a physical city to be rebuilt in a future Millennium.
  • The Kingdom of David: The promise of an everlasting Davidic kingdom finds its fulfillment in the eternal reign of Christ, not in a future earthly kingdom of a thousand years.
  • The Temple: Christ is the true temple of God, fulfilling all that the Old Testament temple symbolized. Believers in Christ are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The Second Coming and Concurrent Events:

Strimple argues that the New Testament rules out the possibility of an earthly Millennium after Christ’s return because it teaches the concurrence of the following events:

  • Christ’s Second Coming: The visible return of Christ will initiate the grand finale of redemptive history.
  • Resurrection of Believers: The dead in Christ will be raised to life at his coming.
  • Resurrection of the Unjust: The wicked dead will also be raised at Christ’s coming.
  • Judgment: Both believers and unbelievers will be judged at Christ’s coming.
  • The End: The end of this present age will come at Christ’s coming.
  • New Heaven and New Earth: The cosmic renewal will occur at Christ’s coming.
  • Eternal State: The inauguration of the final kingdom of God, the eternal state of the redeemed, will follow immediately after Christ’s coming.

Key Texts:

Strimple analyzes several New Testament passages to demonstrate the concurrence of these events:

  • John 5:28-29: Christ’s statement about a single “hour” when all the dead will be raised contradicts the premillennial concept of two resurrections separated by a thousand years.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10: The apostle Paul speaks of both believers receiving relief and unbelievers receiving punishment at the same time—when Christ is revealed from heaven.
  • Romans 8:17-23: This passage teaches that the resurrection glory of believers will coincide with the renewal of creation, not a thousand years later.
  • 2 Peter 3:3-14: The apostle Peter presents a picture in which the cosmic renewal will occur concurrently with the judgment of the wicked at the coming of the Day of the Lord.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:20-26: Strimple argues against premillennial interpretations of this passage, insisting that Paul does not teach two resurrections separated by a thousand years, but rather the concurrence of Christ’s coming, the resurrection of believers, the destruction of death, and the end of this present age.

Romans 11:

Strimple argues against the premillennial and postmillennial interpretations of Romans 11 as predicting a future national conversion of Israel. He sees Paul’s argument in this chapter as dealing with the present, not the future, and as emphasizing the ongoing “wave motion” process by which salvation comes to both Gentiles and Jews throughout the gospel age. He interprets “all Israel” in verse 26 as referring to the complete number of elect Jews and Gentiles who are saved throughout this age.

Revelation 20:1-10:

Strimple interprets this passage, the only one in Scripture that explicitly mentions a “thousand years,” as a figurative representation of Christ’s victory over Satan throughout the gospel age.

  • Satan Bound: The binding of Satan is understood as his restraint from deceiving the nations, which began with Christ’s first coming and the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.
  • Reign of the Saints: The reign of the saints is seen as a present reality, reflecting their spiritual enthronement with Christ in heaven.
  • First Resurrection: The “first resurrection” is interpreted as the believer’s spiritual resurrection at conversion, which ushers them into a reign with Christ in heaven.
  • Second Death: The “second death” refers to eternal condemnation, which unbelievers will experience after the Final Judgment.
  • Thousand Years: The “thousand years” symbolize the long duration of the gospel age.
  • Satan Released: The release of Satan refers to his final attempt to deceive the nations at the end of this age, culminating in his defeat at the Second Coming.

Chapter Three: Premillennialism by Craig A. Blaising

Blaising opens his chapter by stating the two central convictions of premillennialists: (1) that Jesus is coming back, and (2) that his return will precede a literal, thousand-year kingdom on this earth. He explains the premillennial view of the resurrection as occurring in two stages, separated by the Millennium, followed by the Final Judgment and eternal destinies. He also discusses differences among premillennialists regarding the timing of the Rapture and emphasizes the importance of understanding the eternal state for interpreting John’s millennial vision in Revelation 20.

Two Models of Eternity:

Blaising explores two models of eternity:

  • Spiritual Vision Model: This model emphasizes the spiritual and cognitive aspects of eternal life, often portraying it as a changeless, contemplative existence in heaven, focused on seeing God.
  • New Creation Model: This model affirms a holistic and embodied existence in a renewed creation, characterized by everlasting life, righteousness, and communion with God and others.

Blaising argues that the spiritual vision model, dominant in Christian thought for centuries, has hampered a proper understanding of biblical eschatology, including the Millennium. He contends that the new creation model, rediscovered in the modern era, offers a better and more biblically faithful perspective.

The Reemergence of Premillennialism:

Blaising attributes the reemergence of premillennialism in post-Reformation Protestantism to two factors:

  • Failure of Millennial Claims: The Reformers rejected the millennial claims of the institutional church and the state, opening up the possibility of a future Millennium.
  • Recovery of Literal Sense: The Reformation’s emphasis on biblical authority and literal interpretation led to a rediscovery of the literal meaning of Revelation 20, along with the broader biblical theme of a new creation eschatology.

Typology of Premillennial Views:

Blaising outlines a typology of premillennial views:

  • Dispensational Premillennialism: This view distinguishes between a heavenly millennial experience for the church and an earthly millennial kingdom for Israel, often emphasizing a pretribulational Rapture.
  • Historic Premillennialism: This view affirms a single millennial kingdom for all believers, either reductionist (viewing the eternal state in spiritual terms) or holistic (affirming a new creation eschatology for the eternal state).

Premillennialism and Apocalypticism:

Blaising acknowledges the association of premillennialism with apocalyptic readings of history, particularly with historicist premillennialism, which sought to discern the fulfillment of biblical prophecies in specific historical events. He also discusses dispensational apocalypticism, which emphasizes a future seven-year Tribulation and a thousand-year millennial kingdom, often attempting to relate biblical prophecies to current events.

Biblical Eschatology and the Millennium:

Blaising presents a biblical argument for premillennialism, focusing on the theme of an eschatological kingdom of God predicted throughout Scripture:

  • Old Testament Prophecies: Texts like Daniel 2, Isaiah 2, Micah 4, and numerous messianic prophecies point to a future earthly kingdom characterized by peace, righteousness, and blessing for all nations.
  • New Testament Fulfillment: Jesus announced the nearness of the kingdom of God, predicted his return, and taught about the judgment that would accompany it. The apostles proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and King and anticipated the future coming of his kingdom.
  • Day of the Lord: The eschatological kingdom will come through a climactic act of judgment, the Day of the Lord, which will be fulfilled at Christ’s second coming.
  • New Creation Eschatology: The eternal state will be characterized by a renewed creation, including a new heaven and new earth, where sin and death will be abolished.

The Millennial Phase:

Blaising argues that John’s vision of a millennial kingdom in Revelation 20 is compatible with this broader biblical theme of a future eschatological kingdom, adding to and clarifying earlier revelation:

  • Consistent with the Day of the Lord: The millennial kingdom follows the coming of Christ in the Day of the Lord, just as earlier revelation predicted.
  • Preserves the Hope of the Church: The Millennium does not detract from the church’s hope in Christ’s return but rather provides an intermediate phase of kingdom blessing before the final consummation.
  • Harmonizes with New Creation Eschatology: The Millennium clarifies that the eschatological kingdom will be fulfilled in stages, with a temporary, earthly phase before the everlasting reign in the new creation.

Revelation 20:1-10:

Blaising provides a detailed analysis of John’s millennial vision, arguing for its post-Parousia nature:

  • Transitional Visions: The visions of 19:11-21:8 describe the transition from the destruction of Babylon to the establishment of the New Jerusalem, with the Millennium forming an intermediate stage.
  • Unified Sequence: The visions in 19:11-21:8 form a unified sequence, with no structural indication of a break recapitulating pre-Parousia conditions.
  • Binding of Satan: The binding of Satan in 20:1-3, occurring after Christ’s return, represents a change in his relation to the earth, restraining his power to deceive the nations for a thousand years.
  • Reign of the Saints: The reign of the saints in 20:4-6 depicts a bodily resurrection of martyrs who will reign with Christ on earth for a thousand years.
  • First Resurrection: The “first resurrection” refers to the bodily resurrection of believers at Christ’s coming, in contrast to the “rest of the dead” who will be raised at the end of the Millennium for judgment.

Conclusion:

Blaising concludes that premillennialism is biblically sound and should be affirmed as true. He attributes the denial of premillennialism by some evangelicals to traditional theological preunderstandings that are hostile to a literal interpretation of Revelation 20.

Summary Essay by Darrell L. Bock

Bock concludes the book with a reflective summary of the essays and responses, highlighting areas of agreement and disagreement and exploring the practical implications of the different views.

Agreement and Fellowship:

Bock notes several key points of agreement among the contributors:

  • Biblical Authority: All are committed to Scripture as the ultimate authority for understanding the Millennium and beyond.
  • Fellowship in Christ: Despite their disagreements, the authors recognize their shared faith in Christ and their unity within the body of believers.
  • Christ’s Victory: All three views foresee the ultimate victory of Christ to the glory of God.

Disagreement and Complexity:

Bock identifies numerous areas of disagreement, demonstrating the complexity of the millennial debate:

  • Hermeneutical Integration: Disagreements arise over how different sets of texts relate to each other, including the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, the role of typology, the significance of Israel, and the function of Revelation.
  • Textual Hermeneutical Issues: There are different interpretations of the nature of apocalyptic literature and the role of numbers in Revelation.
  • Structural Implications: The different views have varying implications for understanding the church’s mission and its role in the world.

Importance of Preunderstanding:

Bock emphasizes the importance of recognizing and evaluating our preunderstandings about eschatology. He explores how preunderstandings about simplicity, God’s sovereignty, apocalyptic genre, time terminology, and the nature of eternity can influence our interpretation of Scripture.

The Fundamental Question:

Bock concludes by posing the fundamental question of the millennial debate: “Is there an intermediate earthly kingdom?” He argues that the answer to this question depends on a complex interplay of hermeneutical, textual, and theological considerations.

Practical Implications:

Bock briefly outlines the practical implications of each view for the church’s mission:

  • Postmillennialism: Emphasizes the church’s role in establishing God’s kingdom on earth through the proclamation of the gospel and the application of biblical principles to all areas of life.
  • Amillennialism: Sees the church as a faithful witness to Christ in a fallen world, proclaiming the gospel and living out its implications while awaiting Christ’s return.
  • Premillennialism: Anticipates a future earthly kingdom ruled by Christ, with varying emphases on evangelism, discipleship, and social-political engagement, depending on the particular premillennial view.

Final Appeal:

Bock concludes with a call to “search the Scriptures” and to seek the interpretation that best integrates all relevant factors. He acknowledges that good people can disagree on eschatology and encourages a spirit of humility and charity in the debate.

This book provides a comprehensive and insightful exploration of the millennial debate, offering readers a clear understanding of the various views and the arguments that support them. It challenges readers to engage with Scripture and to develop their own informed perspective on the Millennium and beyond, emphasizing the importance of humility, charity, and a commitment to biblical authority in this complex and often divisive area of Christian doctrine.

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