Joy to the World

Eschatology

“The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him,” the wise man says in Proverbs 18:17, and it seems as if that is as true as possible when it comes to discussions of eschatology. I’ve also likened the study of eschatology to nailing spaghetti to a wall when it comes to trying to pinpoint my position on this subject, because I’ll have everything “all figured out” and then someone will come along and poke a hole that seemingly unravels the rest of my thoughts.

However, what follows here is where I’ve landed as of December 5, 2017. A lengthy exegesis of Revelation 9:1-12 will follow at a later date from the structure erected here. This structure includes my current belief about the millennial reign of Christ, Satan’s current state, and a word or two about the timeline of the end. Several specific passages to be included are 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20.

What is the point of the millennium?

Revelation 20:4-6 describes the nature of the 1,000 years:

Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. ⌊I⌋ also ⌊saw⌋ the people who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years.  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. (emphasis added).

Christ reigns for 1,000 years, and at the first resurrection the saints come to life and reign with Him. So at this point, all that we need to know is that Christ is reigning for 1,000 years. Before returning to Revelation 20, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy to be abolished is death.  For God has put everything under His feet. But when it says “everything” is put under Him, it is obvious that He who puts everything under Him is the exception.  And when everything is subject to Christ, then the Son Himself will also be subject to the One who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all. (emphasis added).

What we see here, in the emphasized portion, is that at the end Christ will hand over the kingdom to God the Father—the one He reigned over for 1,000 years according to Revelation 20—after He defeats death. He will reign until all of His enemies are subdued, and death will not be subdued until the end—until the bodily resurrection of the saints.

Therefore, to return to Revelation 20, we see that Christ is reigning right now. He is reigning in heaven at the Father’s right hand: “⌊This is⌋ the declaration of the LORD to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool’” (Psalm 110:1). Even in the Messianic Psalm about Christ reigning, we see that Christ’s reign is not an eternal one. He is subject to His Father, and after the last of His enemies—death in 1 Corinthians 15—is put under His feet, God the Father will take the ruling back.

When did Jesus take the Throne in Heaven?

He sat down at God’s right hand when He ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection. Pentecost came ten days later, and the church age began. Therefore, the millennium began—in heaven—when Jesus ascended, and it began on earth when the Holy Spirit was given to the church ten days later. This is how Christ can reign on earth through the church; He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell His people.

However, in the text it does not say, “At the time of x the first resurrection occurs.” For this reason, the first resurrection most literally refers to Jesus’ rising from the dead as the firstfruits (see 1 Corinthians 15:20). Believers come to life spiritually (see next paragraph) at salvation and partake of the blessings of Christ’s resurrection–the first resurrection.

When the Holy Spirit indwells someone, He brings them from spiritual death to spiritual life. This is the first resurrection of Revelation 20:6. The reason the verse can state, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years” is because the only way to be blessed and holy is to be a believer, to have spiritual life, to not have to fear the second death. Even after the Apostle John finally croaked, his spirit was still alive in the presence of God, and he was still reigning with Christ. It is the same with every other saint who believes throughout the course of the 1,000 years. Even after a physical death, they still reign spiritually.

Also, at this point, it is necessary to point out what Revelation 20:5-6, 12-15 says:

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. . . . I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books.  Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works.  Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Emphasis added).

If we pay close attention to this passage we will notice that there are two distinct groups. Most clearly, there are 1) those written in the book of life, and 2) those who end up in the lake of fire. Also, because of the first contrast, there are 1) those who come to life at the end of 1,000 years, and 2) those who are still referred to as dead, who are judged by their works. John is careful to distinguish between believers–those with eternal life–and unbelievers–those trapped in eternal death. It brings to mind Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Those who remain in Adam at the time of physical death will never be alive in the truest sense. The second resurrection is only for those who partake of the first resurrection because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

But hasn’t it been 2 millennia now?

Yes, it most certainly has been two thousand years at this point. And it very well could be two thousand more years before Christ returns—if He chooses to tarry. Christ’s millennial reign is 1,000 years, but the number 1,000 only occurs in the most symbolic book of the New Testament. The numbers 3, 7, 10, 12, 1,000, and 144,000 all play a symbolic role throughout the book of Revelation—don’t let a Jehovah’s Witness tell you that only 144,000 people will enter paradise.

One of the easiest ways to understand the number 1,000 in Revelation is to compare it with the other number that designates a time period throughout the book. John pits 7 years of tribulation for the church on earth versus 1,000 years of Christ reigning over His church in heaven; the point being that I believe that both of these numbers refer to the same time period. Christ reigns in heaven for 1,000 years victoriously, while the church suffers on earth for 7 years—being perfected throughout this time (see Hebrews 12:3-13).

Throughout the course of the millennia of Christ’s heavenly reign, the church will grow through the preaching of the gospel and gain more and more influence over society, though society will ultimately fight against Christ—as described in Revelation 19:11-21 and 20:7-10.

What about Satan right now?

Jesus said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28-29). Revelation 20:1-3 says,

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;  and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time (emphasis added).

According to this verse Satan is bound in the abyss for 1,000 years while Christ reigns.

According to Revelation 9, this is also where demons are kept for an invasion in the latter days, which can be compared to what is described in Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:9. In trying to understand the Abyss, we must keep in mind that while Revelation could potentially be describing yet another symbol, according to Luke—historical narrative genre—the Abyss is a real physical locale. In Luke 8:31, we read, “And Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him.  They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss.” For this reason, we can’t understand the Abyss as a symbolic location.

Satan isn’t figuratively bound in a figurative place. He is very really bound—though in a specific sense—in a very specific place—though we don’t know where it is. The way in which he is bound is described in Revelation 20:3: “so that he would no longer deceive the nations.”

Satan is bound in the physical Abyss so that He can no longer deceive the nations. Two passages in Acts help to explain this. First is from Paul in Acts 13:47, when describing his M.O. to those listening: “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Second is from James during the first church council in Jerusalem in Acts 15:16-18: “After these things I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again,  so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, declares the Lord who does these things,  known from long ago.” This is a quote from Amos 9:11-12. (Emphasis added in both quoted passages.)

The Greek word Gentiles in Acts 13 and 15 is the same Greek word as Nations in Revelation 20:3. The book of Acts is proof positive that God is now bringing in the Gentiles because Satan has been bound. Especially interesting is Acts 15:17 where it says, “so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles.” This was the purpose of God’s rebuilding David’s fallen tent, and the fact that James quoted it in this context means that it was seen as fulfilled by the Apostles, and it was not waiting for a future fulfillment thousands of years later.

How does Satan act now, since the Bible describes him as active?

Satan himself is not active in this time, but his minions and schemes most certainly are. Satan was the first one to rebel against God, and he instigated our first parents—Adam and Eve—to do the same. Ever since that day, mankind has been in blatant rebellion against God, carrying out Satan’s schemes whether they know they are doing so or not. Satan also has many minions—demons—roaming the earth, only some of which are locked up (see Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:9). The great majority of them are still free to wreak havoc upon the earth, within God’s sovereignty (see Revelation 9), and are doing so. They got their marching orders from Satan over 2,000 years ago and are carrying out his will even now.

When Revelation 20:2 says, “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years,” it is being extremely specific about just who was put in the abyss. In other places—1 Peter 5:8 for instance—the Devil is a metonymy for “forces opposed to God.” Just like we say things like “the White house said,” when the White House literally cannot talk, but rather stands for those behind the walls of the white house, the Bible refers to Satan on the surface when actually describing those behind him. (In much the same way, the Pharaoh of the Exodus may have just been a governor who reported to the Pharaoh, but since Pharaoh was in charge of the governor, it was okay to refer to him as Pharaoh because he carried out Pharaoh’s designs.)

Satan is a real threat, and the verses that refer to him must be taken seriously. Revelation 20:7-10 says,

When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison  and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea.  They came up over the surface of the earth and surrounded the encampment of the saints, the beloved city. Then fire came down from heaven and consumed them.  The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Verse 3 had ended by saying, “After that, he must be released for a short time.” Satan was a threat and will be again before Christ returns. It is always possible that he has already been released, and that Christ will return at any moment, but the point is that no one knows when Christ will return, but nevertheless His return will be soon (Revelation 22:20-21). When He comes Satan will be overthrown eternally—him and all those who work in his stead while he is chained in the abyss. (As a sidenote, the “short time” of Satan’s eventual release could refer to the 7 years of the tribulation—literally occurring the last few years of the millennium—or at least the time following the 5th trumpet in Revelation 9 when the abyss is opened.)

How does Revelation all fit together?

In my understanding of this complex, highly symbolic book, Revelation is full of recapitulation. John was shown the same visions from multiple angles so that we would get a full picture of the age of the church. I like to follow Charles Talbert’s outline for the book of revelation [The Apocalypse (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 12] which looks as follows:

outline

While I don’t agree with all of Talbert’s book, this understanding of the basic outline is extremely helpful. As such, the following points must be made.

First, the call of John in chapter 1 was historically set in the first century when the book was written. All it tells us is what was going on historically in the life of the church when the book was written, and there is no symbolic, hidden, future fulfillment coming later.

Second, the letters to the churches in chapters 2-3 also help to shed light on the historical situation in which the book was written, since these were historical churches in Asia Minor. However, at the same time these seven churches must be seen as the completeness of the church throughout the millennium/church age. If we look at our local church we will find ourselves described in one of these seven more than any of the others. None are 100% perfect, and some are worse than others; this is an incredible reminder to us 1) that our hope is in heaven and the new heavens and earth, not in a local congregation, and 2) that we must strive for love, unity, and doctrinal purity in our churches (in addition to the other positives outlined throughout these two chapters).

Finally, the section going from 4:1-19:5 (all but the seventh vision in Talbert’s outline) takes place throughout the entirety of the millennium/church age. I would point out that if this is not the case, then the book of Revelation did absolutely no good for the original audience after the first 4 chapters. The recapitulation throughout this section helps explain why all of the signs of the times can scream, “Jesus is about to crack the sky!” but we don’t see and hear: “a loud voice came out of the sanctuary from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’” (Revelation 16:17). (The possibility is huge though that all of the plagues will occur very literally during the “short time” that Satan gets at the end of the millennium/church age.)

The reason why everything can look like it’s time, but the end doesn’t come is laid out in 2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9:

First, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, living according to their own desires,  saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.” . . . Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.

God is gracious and is waiting for people to repent before He pulls the curtain open! If you just stumbled across this post and have read this far, I beg you to trust God, because He is gracious, and sent His Son to die—binding Satan—so you could be able to believe in Him.

I would like to close this section with a brief statement on the point of the book of Revelation, as explained by Talbert (The Apocalypse, 11-12).

John’s remedy is “first-commandment faithfulness” (“You shall have no other gods besides Me,” Ex. 20:3). The framework of a future persecution allows the lines between the two kingdoms, that of God and that of Rome, to be drawn in starkest terms. The value system s of the two kingdoms are thereby shown to be mutually exclusive. The Christians’ choice must be not “both-and” but “either-or.” Such a message is pastorally relevant to our own times, which mirror the prophet’s circumstances almost exactly.

What would this view be called?

If I had to label this view, based on everything within this discussion, I would call it “Amillennial (with Postmillennial leanings), Post-post-tribulational, Idealist-Futurist, Literal reading of John’s Apocalypse.” Let me break it down briefly.

Amillennial: I use this word because primarily Christ reigns in heaven with the souls of departed saints.

Postmillennial: I use this word because Christ still reigns on earth NOW through the church because of His Holy Spirit. Also, the gospel will be more powerful than most eschatologists these days want to give it credit for (see Romans 1:16-17).

Post-post-tribulational: With all I have shared, it is clear that the church remains until Christ returns, so the rapture won’t happen until the end of the tribulation, when Christ appears in the sky. I call it post-post because the tribulation likely occurs (more or less literally) at the end of the millennium/church age—thus the church is not raptured until post-millennium and post-tribulation.

Idealist: I use this term because it typically describes a view of Revelation that understands the book as an apocalyptic telling of Genesis 3:15: “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” The seed of God and the seed of Satan struggle against each other throughout the millennium/church age.

Futurist: I use this term because most of the book is still to occur (in its fullest sense) even though some of it has already occurred in a smaller form.

Literal: I use the word literal because a literal understanding of apocalyptic literature must take into account the symbolism therein.

Why should we hold this view instead of another?

In my personal opinion this view gives the most credit to the most portions of the Bible. It doesn’t let one part speak at the expense of another. In addition, it makes the church much more than just a building in which we gather every Sunday and Wednesday; the church is the people of God ruled by Christ, carrying His kingdom to the ends of the earth.

This view also screams, “PREACH THE GOSPEL!” The gospel is how the Kingdom spreads. We should want all people to know Christ, not just a select handful from every nation. God is patient, wanting NONE to perish. If we truly believed we were part of Christ’s Kingdom now, we would be much more bold in our preaching of the gospel.

Response

In conclusion, the lyrics of a famous Christmas song gain even more meaning (and can escape the typical time frame limiting its singing) with this view of both our current time and the end times.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love.

 

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