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WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH
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The following ebook is an excerpt, a little altered, from my earlier work “Millennium Now” ... The latter is procurable in paperback form by clicking the link below.

MILLENNIUM NOW


 

CHRISTIANITY OASIS

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PURITY PUBLICATIONS
 


THE LAST DAYS
 

Some Thoughts and Musings
 

By David A. J. Seargent
 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue
Introduction
Apocalypse When?
But when does His rule begin?
Did an angel speak to this Christian? Did the Holy Spirit?
“Babylon is Fallen”
The Battle of Armageddon
The Last Judgment
Bibliography

 


 

Prologue

In times of uncertainty, many seek some way to peek beyond the curtain of the future. Ours is an age of much uncertainty, so it is not surprising that we have seen a rise in interest in “future seeing”, whether this be occultist fortune-telling, scientific prognostications concerning the greenhouse effect or whatever is the fashionable fear of the moment, or biblical prophecy. The latter, in many cases, is interpreted as applying specifically to our own day and is interpreted such as to give information about what is supposed soon to befall us.

Typically, such attempts at “future seeing” foretell a time of doom and gloom soon to fall upon the world. There may be a distant horizon of hope, but the immediate future looks bleak!

In the pages that follow, we will look at some key biblical prophecies and attempt to discern just what they are saying to us. Are they really predicting such a bleak future? Or are they telling us that Christ has already overcome and that the future is safe in God’s hands?

It is my belief that the doomsayers have misread much of biblical prophecy and it is my further contention that their gloomy and defeatist interpretations have resulted in a sapping of spirit of the Christian Church. Unless I am seriously mistaken, the prophecies join with the entire Gospel message in a call, not just to battle but to go out and conquer in the name of Christ until all things are placed under His feet. Christ has won the victory, but much of the Church is cowering in the bomb shelters awaiting the tyranny of Antichrist and the war of Armageddon!

I fear that the prophecies which are actually forthtelling the victory of Christ have been misinterpreted in such a way as to essentially become prophecies foretelling the defeat of the body of Christ in this world, ie the Church. To be sure, the ultimate victory will be Christ’s, even on the gloomiest interpretation of scriptural prophecy, but even this can become a deception as the inference to the Church is “Wait until He comes again to set up the Kingdom, nothing you can do now can stand against the forces of darkness”. But this is clearly a call to inaction! It is a call not to fight, but to passively hold fast in our bunker until our Commander comes to rescue us. What sort of soldiers would this advice make us?

I believe that Christ’s command to His Church was clear ; “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) and that this will succeed because “surely I am with you always” (28:20) and because “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18). Note, that Jesus said all authority “has been given to me”, not “will be given to me at my second coming”. It is He who has authority over the world. He has already fought the great determining battle and bound the prince of the powers of darkness. And it is He who continues to fight through His corporate body, the Church, to mop up the remaining shattered and demoralised forces of Satan that remain and to tell the people of earth that they are free at last from the power of sin and death, if only they will believe and acknowledge the rightful King. But if we as a Church are to fulfil our role in this conquest, we must not allow ourselves to be demoralised and led astray by the defeatist propaganda being fed to many truly godly Christians by a desperate enemy.

We must never let down our guard or “liberalise” our doctrinal position or moral convictions under the guise of being made more “acceptable” to the secular world. The secular world is not calling the tune — Jesus is and it is to Him alone that we must pay heed and, in the end, give account!

If the world darkens around us with rising crime and immorality, let us not become tempted to follow the fashion but rather let us dedicate ourselves anew to a greater purity; purity of heart, purity of morals, purity of faith and purity of doctrine. Let this be our arsenal. If the light of the world dims, let ours shine ever more brightly that all may be drawn to it, like moths in the blackest of nights, seeking the one brilliant beacon. Let our shining light be our wholehearted commitment to Jesus Christ, the Lord, God, Saviour, Conqueror and Absolute Ruler under God the Father of this world and the next! Amen! 

 

 

Introduction 

What is the future of the Church?

Are we really living in a post-Christian era in which Christians will become a decreasing minority whose presence and opinions long since cease to be relevant to the wider society?

Many believe this to be so. Perhaps it is not surprising that this opinion is held by non-believers, as in their view the Christian movement is just another crackpot sect, but it is distressing to find such opinions amongst some who would call themselves Christians. This is surely a contradictory position to hold for “Christians”; as, by calling themselves by that title, they are making a claim to acknowledge Christ as the King and Lord of all things, a position totally incompatible with the belief in a fading of the Church. Can Christ the King really lose His Kingdom??

Professing Christians of this kind would probably describe themselves as “liberal”. Perhaps “secularised” would be a better term. But a not-very-different attitude is also widespread at the other end of the theological spectrum.

Many fundamentalists hold to a doctrine which effectively sees the Church as defeated in this age. True, they combine this with a belief in a millennial rule of Christ on earth following the Second Coming, but until that time, the situation on earth will just go from bad to worse and the Church will become less and less effective. One popular doctrine even has the Church being taken bodily into Heaven for a period (usually believed to be seven years) while all Hell quite literally breaks loose here on earth.

The view that I am about to suggest makes a radical departure from all such notions. I believe that the Bible teaches that Christ has already overcome death, Satan and the forces of evil and that He already rules as King and Lord from the highest Heaven. True, the victory is not yet total in its practical manifestations, but the great eschatological war has nevertheless been won and what we call “Christian history” is really the mopping up phase. This is being done by Christ the King, through His chosen instrument the Church. All the power required for a complete clean-up of the evil of the world is available through Christ ministered via the Church. It is His own instrument, His own body in this age. He has no other plan for saving the world!

Unfortunately, individual Christians have all too often been less than ready to believe this high calling and to wield the spiritual sword that has been given them. This has, in my opinion, been due to false humility (unable to see ourselves as instruments of the Lord), false teaching (such as the defeatist ideas mentioned above), outright laziness and conformity to secular philosophies that stress the smallness of mankind and deny the existence of the supernatural.

Of course we are small in our own stature. Of course we are weak in our own strength. But that is precisely the point ... we are not in our own strength and we do not stand in our own stature. We have the ability to stand in God’s!

God invites us to be made strong with His strength and to let Him fit us for His battle. We may be small and weak, but so was the shepherd boy David, and look what God was able to do with him!

In the following pages, I will argue from the Bible (concentrating principally on the Apocalypse) for a belief in the triumph of Christ through the Church. I will argue that many of the biblical passages used to support the view that the Church will face only defeat prior to the Second Coming have been misunderstood out of their original context.

The view which I present is certainly optimistic, but it is not an easy optimism. Christ will, I believe, make the victory manifest through the Church, but there will be many battles yet to come as the forces of darkness resist His onward march. Moreover, to be effective as the conquering body of Christ in this age, the Church must face hard examination and must be willing to purge itself of anything that is not fitting it for the great task to which it has been allotted. If it is to function efficiently as the body of Christ, it must transcend all division and this will require a willingness to give up whatever causes of division its different branches continue to cherish. I am not necessarily talking about institutional union here. What is to be sought is something deeper, something so magnificent that in comparison with which institutional union becomes irrelevant. What is to be sought, found and held on to is nothing less than a union of identity through mutual union with the will of God.

If enough members of the Church truly believe that victory is not merely possible but inevitable, the determination to forge ahead will surely follow, what ever sacrifices may be called for.

It is this spirit of Christ-centred optimism for the future — the heart-felt conviction that the future belongs to Christ and that the Church is His chosen instrument for determining this future — that I hope to arouse. There may be things in these pages with which you disagree. You may be correct. I certainly do not claim infallibility (far from it!). But the details are less important than the overall conclusion and it is with this in mind that I ask you to seriously and prayerfully consider the argument presented. Our attitude, as Christians, toward the future is important. If we can honestly pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done in earth as in Heaven” and really believe it, I have no doubt that the prayer will be answered!  

 

  

Apocalypse When? 

Interpretations of the Book of Revelation are legion. For some, it represents a prophecy of the turmoil that was about to befall the civilised world in the first century of our era and was essentially a warning to the early Christians to hold fast to the profession of their faith during the times of strife and persecution about to befall them.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have those who view John as little more than a Christian Nostradamus, putting forth mystical prophecies that will only have relevance in some still-to-come future age. 

Between these two extremes — where, happily, most commentators on the book are to be found — are various schools of interpretation ranging from the partial preterist who sees most of the prophecies as having been fulfilled soon after they were written down, but who still maintains a future fulfilment for some of them, to the partial futurist who, while still looking to the fulfilment of much of the prophecy in ages to come, nevertheless admits to a degree of realised eschatology within the book. In between are the various historicist interpretations that see fulfilment of the prophecies unfolding in history and even in the evening news. 

These schools of interpretation are not as distinct as they may at first sight appear, as is evidenced by the number of commentaries on the book which begin by enumerating the traditional interpretations, only to disavow rigid adherence to any of them. Most commentaries are therefore partial preterist/partial historicist/partial futurist, with the real difference between them depending upon which approach is the more prominent.

In the opinion of the present writer, both of the extreme ends of the spectrum can be discounted.

If the hyper-preterist view is correct and everything in the book related simply to the writer’s immediate future, it is difficult to understand why the work was retained as part of the canon of Scripture. Surely the post-apostolic Church must have recognised some continuing relevance for the book, or it would have dropped out of circulation after the events that it prophesied came to pass!

At the other extreme, the hyper-futurist position fares at least as poorly. We must understand that the book was essentially a letter and, like the other letters preserved in the New Testament canon of Scripture, it was written primarily to specific groups for specific purposes. The New Testament letters were real letters, not simply literary devices aimed at the instruction of a general readership. Their continuing relevance is due to the fact that the teaching they contain has application beyond their immediate purpose. By implication, Revelation should be viewed in the same light.

But herein lies the problem with a hyper-futurist interpretation. The Christians to whom the letter was addressed obviously had very real problems and were in need of pastoral advice. Would they really have been interested in receiving a letter wholly concerned with the state of world and Church hundreds or thousands of years in the future?

Related to this is the fact that the author of the letter was not someone seeking esoteric knowledge of the future from a cosy retreat, but a prisoner who had been incarcerated for being a member of a religious movement suspected of holding subversive doctrines. The prophetic message that came to him was unexpected and specifically directed him to record the visions in a letter and direct it to various Churches located at specific places. The visions contained specific messages directed to the “angels” of these Churches who were then to pass them on (presumably read them to) the congregations concerned. The “angels” were presumably human messengers as John is unlikely to have written to supernatural beings! Some commentators have understood the “angels of the Churches” as referring to the bishops or overseers of these various assemblies, but the force of “angel” (i.e. “messenger”) probably implies that these were representatives of the Churches who had access (not necessarily direct) to John in his prison and who could be relied upon to carry copies of the letter to their home Churches.

In the present writer’s opinion, this implies an urgency about the distribution of the letter. In a time of persecution, it must also have involved a certain risk both for the author and the messenger. The symbolism of the visions may have been dismissed as mystical nonsense by a Roman soldier into whose hands the letter could have fallen, but the symbolic picture of the harlot seated on seven hills in Chapter 17, would probably have been sufficiently suggestive for the true nature of the “harlot” to be recognised (Rome was known as the city of the seven hills) and the subsequent description of what happened to the “harlot” in Chapter 18 would have been enough for a charge of treason against the author, the messenger, and probably the entire Christian Church! (As we suggest later, this interpretation is probably not the whole story, but a Roman officer of the day may not have been convinced). Such risk hardly seems warranted for a book of visions of a remote future. Better to secretly bury the manuscript in an earthenware jar where people of a future age could find it! However, nothing in Scripture resembles such an esoteric document; certainly not the Book of Revelation!

Actually, although this difficulty is most obvious for the hyper-futurist, it is also encountered to a greater or lesser degree by more moderate futurists and even by those who take an historicist view of the book. In short, anyone who sees the greater part of the prophecy as predicting events after the close of the first century (that is to say, any interpretation that sees the prophesied events occurring after the expected lifespan of the book’s first readers) must answer the question as to why such prophecies were required to be distributed to a Church that had enough problems in its own day. What would be the point in worrying about events in the more or less distant future, when the events of one’s own day were so serious (Matt.6:34)?

This does not, however, lead us into the opposite difficulties of a hyper-preterist interpretation. Even if it should prove true that all of the specific prophecies found in the book had their fulfilment during the first Christian century, there may still be an extended sense in which the prophecies are fulfilled to a greater or less degree throughout history and in which the book thereby remains relevant to every age and place. Although not taking such a strongly preterist position as this would imply, Bishop Paul Barnett interprets the continuing relevance of the book of Revelation in a similar manner and sees the prophecies as being in most instances non-specific, i.e. as relating not so much to specific events (whether in the first or twenty first centuries) as to general principles, working within history, that find a certain fulfilment in just about every generation. For instance, although (in Barnett’s interpretation) the Beast would have been interpreted by John and his initial readers as Caesar Domitian, it could just as truly have referred to Hitler for a German Christian living in the late 1930s or to Lenin for the Russian Church circa 1920.

Barnett did, however, understand certain specific aspects of the prophecies as relating to historical events either in the first century (eg the situation during the reign of Domitian) or in later history (he interpreted Rev. 17:16, 18 as being a prophecy of the fall of the Roman Empire). He also held to the usual interpretation of the Last Judgment and Consummation as being a specific event that is still to come.

This interpretation also avoids the difficulty of the immediate relevance of the book. Not all of the prophecies need to be fulfilled within the lives of John’s first readers for the book to be of vital relevance to them. If immediate difficulties were prophesied and endurance encouraged, the book would be of great relevance. If some events of the more distant future were also prophesied, this of itself would not make the book less relevant in the short term. Indeed, a reminder of the eventual Consummation (how ever remote in time that might be) could only encourage believers as they faced persecution in the present, and the prediction of the fall of the persecuting Roman Empire (assuming, for the moment, that Barnett’s interpretation of Rev.17:16 - 18:24 is correct) would also give encouragement to those suffering under its tyranny.

Part of the problem of correctly interpreting the book concerns the date at which it was written. A widespread view holds the book to have been written in the 90’s, during the reign of the tyrannical emperor Domitian. This is a position held by many from the earliest days, and appears to rest upon a statement by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies. This work has not been preserved in Greek, but has survived in Latin and the relevant passages were cited by the early Church historian Eusebius. The English translation says “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”

The question raised by some scholars, however, is whether the word translated as “that” in the final sentence refers to the vision (as many assume) or to the visionary himself, John, who is known to have lived well into the reign of Domitian. K. L. Gentry, for instance, cites an interpretation of this passage by F. E. Chase viz., “Had it been needful that the explanation of the name should be proclaimed to the men of our own day, that explanation would have been given by the author of the Book. For the author was seen on earth, he lived and held converse with his disciples, not so very long ago, but almost in our own generation. Thus, on the one hand, he lived years after he wrote the Book, and there was abundant opportunity for him to expound the riddle, had he wished to do so; and, on the other hand, since he lived on almost into our generation, the explanation, had he given it, must have been preserved to us.”

Although far from definitive, this expansion of Irenaeus’ passage is certainly a possible interpretation.

More interesting, perhaps, are Irenaeus’ references to “ancient copies” of Revelation, an expression which does not square with a time of authorship “almost in our generation”.

Other early evidence for the date of composition of revelation is to be found in the writings of another early Church Father, Clement of Alexandria (150 - 215). Clement stated that “When after the death of the tyrant [the apostle John] removed from the island off Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighbouring districts of the Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole Churches, in others to set among the clergy some one man, it may be, of those indicated by the Spirit.” This would have been an active career for a man in his nineties, but the main question raised here is the identity of the one to whom Clement refers as “the tyrant”. Was it Domitian, or was it Nero?

While there can be no doubt that the description would have applied to Domitian, it was Nero who was regarded as the quintessential tyrant at that time. Sometimes he was simply referred to as “Tyrant”, as if by a proper name. Reference to “the tyrant” would therefore most probably have been read by contemporaries as reference to Nero.

Clement adds two other pieces of information which would seem to support an early date for Revelation.

First, he relates an incident concerning John pursuing a young apostate on horseback, sometime after his release from Patmos. If his imprisonment there had really taken place during the reign of Domitian, he would have been over ninety years old when the related incident took place. Although not impossible, we must admit that this is unlikely.

The second piece of evidence relates to a statement in Clement’s Miscellanies in which he stated that the teaching of the Apostles ended with (i.e. in the time of) Nero. There is no doubt that Clement considered the apostle John to have been the author of Revelation and, in view of his statement that the apostolic writings ceased during the reign of Nero, it would seem to be an inevitable conclusion that Clement thought that this book was composed before Nero’s reign had ended.

Further support for a Neronic date is the fact that it is difficult to associate the prophecy of widespread persecution with events of Domitian’s reign. Certainly, tradition sees him as a persecutor of Christians, but it seems that most of the supposed evidence for this comes from the Book of Revelation, supposing this to have been written during Domitian’s reign! As this is the very point at issue, it is worthless if used as evidence.

Apart from this, the only evidence appears to depend upon records of the executions of Titus Flavius Clemens (a first cousin of Domitian), his associate Manius Acilius Glabrio and the banishment of Flavius Clemens’ wife, Flavia Domitilla, all on charges of “atheism”. Presumably this “atheism” amounted to the refusal of these people to worship the official gods and, by implication, their denial that Domitian himself was one of the gods. We can be virtually certain that Domitilla was a Christian and both her husband and (especially) Glabrio were widely believed by early historians to have been Christians as well. Nevertheless, their arrests and subsequent sentences seem more in line with the paranoid emperor’s elimination of family and close associates who, for one reason or another, were perceived as being possible threats, than evidence of any concerted campaign against Christians of the type earlier instigated by Nero.

Gentry, R. C. Sproul and many others who accept a Neronic date for the writing of Revelation, see it primarily as a prophecy of the events of the immediate future. This does not commit one to a totally preterist view of the entire book, but it does tend to see the main focus of the book in the events that took place in the “Last Days” i.e. the period from the Ascension of our Lord in AD 30 until the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Arguably the most thorough development of this line of thinking is presented by Rev. David Chilton in his exhaustive commentary on Revelation, Days of Vengeance. Realizing how inadequate any summary of a position as extensively and minutely argued as Chilton’s must be, the author himself mercifully provides us with a skeletal overview of the main themes and symbolism of Revelation, which will be worthwhile repeating here.

Much of the Book of Revelation is concerned with a series of divine judgments symbolized in terms of seven seals, seven trumpets and seven chalices. Questions about these judgments abound. Are they really the same judgments described under differing symbolism? Do they refer to specific judgments at some time in history (First Century? A time still to come?) or are they experienced throughout the whole of human history? Are they intended for the entire human race or for the apostate Jewish people?

Chilton argues that they refer to the increasingly severe judgment on the Jewish nation during the Last Days. The “Last Days”, as already mentioned, constituted the final decades in the life of the Jewish state. This period began when Christ ascended to take up His rightful rule in the heavenly places in AD 30 and ended with the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, the cornerstone of Jewish worship under the Old Covenant, in AD 70. Following the Temple’s destruction and the razing of Jerusalem to the ground, the instrument of divine revelation became the Christian Church, the New Temple not made with human hands and the New Jerusalem which came down from heaven, i.e. which was a divine creation, not a human one.

According to Chilton’s interpretation, the Seven Seals set forth the period of the Last Days (in the sense being used here) in general. The Seven Trumpets sound the warning of the Tribulation, which Chilton understands as being the period up to the first siege of Jerusalem under Cestius. The Seven Chalices revealed the final outpouring of God’s wrath upon Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 67 - 70. One may note the intensification of the judgments from the Seal stage to the Chalice stage and the chances given for the nation to repent before final judgment became inevitable.

The meaning of the main symbols used throughout the Book of Revelation may be summarised as follows:

The seven-sealed Book is the New Covenant, which Christ obtained at His Ascension and “opened” during the Last Days, climaxing in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

The “Little Book” which explains the seven-sealed Book is Revelation itself.

The 144,000 represent the believing (i.e. Christian) Jews of the First Century, symbolically represented as twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The Great Multitude represents the redeemed from every nation.

The Two Witnesses symbolise the faithful Church of the Old Covenant, exemplified par excellence by Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) and culminating in John the Baptist.

The woman clothed with the sun is faithful Israel, the mother of Christ, exemplified most specifically by the Virgin Mary.

The Beast from the Sea symbolises the Roman Empire and its embodiment in Nero (Barnett speculates that the symbol may have been influenced by the boats carrying the Emperor’s officials, complete with figure-head and multiple oars, arriving in the harbour of Ephesus like some alien-headed, multi-legged monster from the deep).

The Beast from the Land represents Israel’s apostate religious leadership. Chilton equates this with the False Prophet and also with the earlier references to the “Synagogue of Satan”, “Baalamites”, “Jezebel” and “Nicolaitans”. He regarded all of these terms as being references to the occultist, gnostic and statist form of apostate Judaism which had captured the minds of the religious hierarchy of Israel.

The Image of the Beast represented the apostate Jewish synagogue.

Babylon or the Harlot City, he understood to refer to Jerusalem. In this, he agreed with Warfield but went against most commentators who saw these terms as referring to Roman. We will return to this in due course.

The New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, is the Church, contrasting strongly with the old Jerusalem that had become a harlot.

The marriage supper of the Lamb, Chilton understood as symbolising Holy Communion.

Following the marriage feast, the Church, the Bride of Christ, follows her Husband who, as the Word of God, goes out and conquers all nations by means of the Gospel, the sword of His mouth with which He slays fallen man’s enmity against God. This conversion of the nations is, according to Chilton, the real meaning of the symbolism of Armageddon. The “war” is a spiritual and symbolic, not an actual, one. Moreover, it is not fought between the nations, but as an alliance of the nations against Christ. The gathering of the nations to battle against Christ is a symbolic way of picturing the resistance of the nations to the rule of Christ over them. They gather for war and yet, as Barnett stresses, no war eventuates. They are conquered, not by a superior army, but by Christ Himself with the sword of His mouth; the Sword that is the Word of God.

The binding of Satan, according to Chilton, took place at the First Advent of Christ. It is this binding that prevents him from gathering the nations into the eschatological war of Gog and Magog, which is really the final rebellious act of unredeemed humanity that brings down the final judgment of God.

The Millennium is the period during which Christ reigns, beginning at His Resurrection/Ascension and continuing until the end of the present age. It is during this period that His reign will by degrees extend throughout the world and during which all things will be placed under His authority.

The New Heaven and New Earth is a picture of salvation. This is brought in definitively by the finished work of Christ, developing progressively throughout the present age (i.e. the Millennial age) and finally revealed in all its glorious fullness at the Consummation of all things (pp. 582 - 3).

Chilton stresses that the rule of Christ cannot be properly understood apart from the original Dominion Mandate, i.e. the task assigned by God to Adam to exercise dominion, under God, over the creation. This will be fulfilled by the triumph of the Gospel throughout the world, and it is the task of the Church to bring this about, under the Lordship of Christ, during this present Millennial age. Christians are ruling now with Christ in His Kingdom. His Kingdom has already begun and this Kingdom — Christianity or the Church — is destined to take over all the kingdoms of the earth (p. 587). God has given His people a “covenant grant” to take possession and to exercise dominion (always in submission to God of course) over His creation.

It could be said that, for Chilton, we do not need to await the Millennium. We only have to live it. It is here now, but it will become progressively realised or actualised as more and more people submit to the Lordship of Jesus and as those who have already submitted yield increasingly to His will.

In Chilton’s interpretation, most of the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled by the end of AD 70. Most, but not all. The Millennial rule of Christ has begun and will continue until Christ’s rule becomes universal, continuing into an indefinite future. The thousand years is, of course, purely symbolic on this interpretation. After all, two thousand years have already elapsed and the world has still not been converted. In Chilton’s opinion, this may take thousands of years, followed by thousands more of a Christianised world in which the whole of society, national and international, will acknowledge the rule of Christ.

Even then, however, not every individual within that Christianised society will be a committed Christian, but they will not openly rebel while ever Satan remains bound from “deceiving the nations”. This situation will remain until the end of the Millennial period when Satan is to be released “for a short time” (Rev. 20:3). Then the rebels will come out of hiding and gather to attack the people of God, but instead of a war, God’s judgment will fall on them and they will be destroyed. This is the meaning of the Gog and Magog symbolism. The original Gog/Magog battle as prophesied by Ezekiel had many different features from the final battle as prophesied by John, and it seems best to understand Ezekiel’s prophecy as referring to an earlier event and not the final judgment of the intransigently rebellious that was prophesied by John. Chilton sees the original Ezekiel prophecy as referring to the Maccabees’ defeat of the Syrians (p. 520) and that John’s prophecy of the end-time battle employs the symbolism of the earlier one adapted to his own purposes. We may note, however, that John “spiritualises” the symbolism. Thus, whereas Ezekiel foretells the armies being led by a human king (“Gog”) and doing battle with human armies, John foresees the final onslaught being both inspired and led by Satan himself and defeated, not in battle, but by “fire from heaven” (Rev.20:9) i.e. by the direct judgment of God Himself. Indeed, in John’s prophecy there is no battle at all, only a presumptuous deception that God’s Church can be conquered by human attack, followed by God’s intervention and judgment.

Unlike most premillennialists (people who believe that the Millennial period will follow the Second Coming of Christ) Chilton does not believe that the resurrected righteous dead will rule physically on earth at any time during the Millennial age. In this he is in total agreement with Barnett and S. H. Travis and virtually everyone who takes an amillennialist or postmillennialist viewpoint. He understands the First Resurrection to be the resurrection which we share with Christ and which is appropriated by us in conversion and symbolised in our baptism. Christ’s resurrection is the definitive resurrection (p. 517 - 518). Those who participate in the Resurrection of Christ reign with Him already in the heavenly places and will continue to reign with Him throughout this Millennial age.

Most prophecies contained within the Book of Revelation were, as we have said, fulfilled by the end of the year AD 70. If Chilton is correct, practically all of the specific prophecies were fulfilled long ago. What remains for a more distant future are generally less detailed and mentioned only briefly. Gog/Magog and the Final Judgment, we have already mentioned. Chilton also sees hints of the future in the vision of the Eighth King of Chapter Seventeen. In the person of the Eighth King, the Beast (Roman Empire) was effectively resurrected, a prophecy in which Chilton sees the strong hint of further kings following the Eighth and future troubles beyond those prophesied in the Book of Revelation (pp. 436 - 437). Many “kings” ruled the Roman Empire following the Eighth, and many national leaders even in our own time restrict the free spread of the Gospel.

He also discerns reference to the distant future in the sealing up of the voices of the Seven Thunders (pp. 262 - 263). The “Thunders”, Chilton argues, represent nothing less than the Voice of God itself (Psalm 29) and announce the final Judgment and the Consummation of all things. John was given this vision of the far distant future, or maybe of the whole of history culminating in the Great Consummation, but the vision was for him alone. It did not concern his immediate readers who were facing far more immanent problems about which Revelation was more urgently concerned.

The great future vision of the Consummation is the culmination of Revelation and, indeed, of the entire Bible. In one sense, the final Chapter of Revelation brings us back to the opening chapters of Genesis, but, Chilton stresses, the final vision of the Book of Revelation is not simply that of a restored paradise. It is of a consummated paradise (p. 567) relating to the paradise of Genesis as a fully flowering plant relates to a seed planted in the ground. The vision is not simply of a garden growing a single Tree of Life, but of a flourishing and fantastically beautiful City encompassing a veritable forest of Trees of Life, lining each side of the River of Life which flows through the midst of the City. The prophecy of John assures us that what will be restored (what is, indeed, actively being restored even now) is much more than what was lost in the Fall. Seen in this light, the stormy times prophesied in the Book and the hint of other troubles to be faced by the Church even after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, take on their proper perspective.

If seen in the light of the events of AD 69 - 70, the Book of Revelation becomes a lot clearer than many other interpretations render it. The tendency to read it as a sort of futuristic message written in code vanishes and in its place we find something far more in harmony with the other letters of the New Testament. And that is just what the Book is; a letter, like those of Paul and the other letters of John. It is, in reality “The Fourth Letter of John” and like those of John, and of Paul, Peter, Jude, James and whoever wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, was written to a specific group of people in order to address certain crises that had arisen within that group and/or to warn of certain external troubles about to be faced by that group. In this sense, all the New Testament letters, including the Book of Revelation, were contemporary in their focus, but they have remained relevant to subsequent generations down to the present day, because the advice and warnings given to their authors’ contemporaries are based upon eternal principles applying at any date and in every age. The main difference between the Book of Revelation and the other New Testament letters is its heavy use of symbolic language. Some symbolic language is found in other New Testament letters, especially when relating to the consummation of all things (eg 1 Thessalonians 4:16 - 18, 2 Peter 3), but the difference with John’s fourth letter is that there symbolic language dominates.

This interpretation of the Book of Revelation has several implications as to how we should think about the future of world and Church. In general, premillennialism is what Chilton and others call “pessimillennialism”. That is to say, it virtually necessitates the view that human society will go from bad to worse and that the Church will become an increasingly persecuted minority movement having no positive influence upon wider society. The Second Coming of Christ (which, remember, inaugurates the Millennial era according to this eschatological viewpoint) is seen as a “rescue mission”, as Christ returning to a world which is going out of control and to a humanity hell-bent (literally!) on destroying itself if He does not quickly intervene. The Second Coming is, from the premillennialist point of view, very much the case of Christ pulling mankind out of the fire before it is totally consumed.

Although it may be supposed that the fact of the fallen nature of humankind supports such a pessimistic viewpoint, surely the redeeming act of Jesus Christ does not. Premillennialism does indeed provide a corrective against an easy humanist progressivism (if, after reviewing the Twentieth Century, such a thing exists any more!) and it does emphasise the genuine hopelessness of any attempt by fallen man to attain an harmonious state on earth or to facilitate his own salvation, how ever that may be interpreted. But it over corrects, I would argue, in so far as it reduces the mission of the Church - which is the mission of Christ Himself, let us never forget - to a failed utopian enterprise together with all other political or religious movements promising a better world. At least, it sees the Church as a failure until Christ comes back to bring in His Kingdom.

However, surely the “rescue mission” of Christ was at Calvary! It was there that He intervened decisively to save mankind from a hopeless future and from spiritual death. It was at Calvary that Christ fought and finally defeated the powers of darkness and reclaimed the Kingdom on whose throne He regained at His Ascension. This is what Barnett means when he says that the battle of Armageddon was won on the Cross at Calvary, for it was there that the final battle between good and evil, God and Satan, really took place. We must remember that Jesus, as a descendent of King David, was in reality the royal prince of Israel. Even as Herod sat on the throne, Jesus was the rightful heir of David and the one who should have been occupying the royal palace. This was why He was so feared by the Herodic dynasty; the Herods saw in Him an entirely legitimate challenge to their rule. At His Ascension, His true throne was reclaimed, not as a political position ruling over the physical nation of Israel, but over the New Israel, the New Jerusalem, the spiritual nation consisting of redeemed persons from both the old Israel and the Gentile nations. All, in other words, who recognised and submitted to His rule. This is the heavenly Kingdom which came to earth with power on the day of Pentecost and has been growing ever since. It is the City which has been given dominion over the earth and into which the nations will come (Rev. 21:24). This is a supernatural nation distributed across the face of the earth. It is empowered with the Holy Spirit and has been given the mission of being the corporate body of Christ Himself; the means through which Christ continues to be present to humanity at large. As such, it cannot be defeated, because its defeat would be God’s defeat!

In defence of the premillennialists, it must be said that many believe that the Church will be purified during the unprecedented time of tribulation which, they hold, will immediately precede Christ’s Second Coming. Some even believe that many will be won to Christ by the purified Church just prior to the Second Advent. Nevertheless, the role of the Church as the Holy Spirit-filled and empowered corporate body of Christ, through which Christ rules and which has the divine mandate to go out and win the nations, is ultimately a failed one for the premillennialist.

The amillennialist holds a similar point of view, except that he believes the Second Coming of Christ to be synonymous with the Last Judgment and final Consummation of all things and to introduce, not a temporal millennial period, but the eternal state. Strictly speaking, the amillennialist does not really reject the millennium (as the prefix “a”, literally understood, means) but in a manner of speaking “de-mythologises” it. Thus, descriptions of the peaceful kingdom are deliteralised to mean peace in the hearts of believers and to harmony between true followers of Christ. If an amillennialist accepts the Bible as God’s written Word, he must accept the Millennium as a clear (though minor) biblical teaching, albeit one that should not be taken too literally. Rather than call such a position amillennialism, it would be more accurate to call it realised millennialism. In practice, the dividing line between this position and postmillennialism is not always clearly defined. Indeed, any eschatological doctrine which understands the Millennium (how ever this is understood in detail) as preceding the Second Coming is by definition a postmillennialist doctrine.

Any form of postmillennialist doctrine which rejects the notion of a victorious Church at some time during the Millennium agrees with premillennialism in being “pessimillennialistic”, in Chilton’s sense. In spite of the large differences between these positions, they are nevertheless in agreement that the Church will not succeed in winning the nations to Christ.   

There is another form of postmillennialism which Chilton terms “optimillennialism” and which differs from the above in that it understands the Church to be the instrument through which Christ exercises His rule and by which God will eventually place everything under the feet of Christ. As sometimes expounded, this position understands the Millennium to begin when the gospel has become victorious and to extend for an indefinite period (not normally interpreted as a literal thousand years) until the Second Coming of Christ at Judgment. The problem with starting the Millennium at the point of gospel victory, however, tends to eclipse the fact that the victory was won at Calvary by Jesus alone and that He has already come into His Kingdom and rules now in the heavenly places. This doctrine must be the pivotal point of any eschatology and a postmillennialist who loses sight of it is in danger of coming to place his faith more in the success of missionary and evangelistic outreach than in the already-completed sacrifice of Christ. If we take our eyes of the Cross, we may allow optimillennialism to drift into optimistic humanist progressivism, albeit in a very “Christian” garb!

Nevertheless, I would argue that this position comes closer to biblical teaching than the others mentioned earlier. The one major modification, theological rather than practical, is to understand the Millennial era as beginning, not with the conversion of the nations but at the moment that Christ ascended back to Heaven to take His seat at the right hand of the Father. This would appear to be Chilton’s position. Like the so-called amillennialist doctrine, it is a realised postmillennialism but unlike “amillennialism” it is one in which the rule of Christ, already present right from the start of the Millennial period, will become progressively apparent until all the nations yield to Him as Lord. If one wished to give this position a distinguishing name, perhaps “progressively realised millennialism” would be appropriate, although this may obscure the fact that the millennium was not actually realised progressively at all, but quite suddenly at the time of Christ’s victory. Perhaps “progressively apparent millennialism” would be even better.

This seems to me to best agree with biblical teaching on the subject of the earthly Kingdom of God. It agrees with Daniel’s symbol of the rock not cut by human hands which grows to become a mountain filling the whole earth. It also agrees with Zechariah’s vision of the Day of the Lord (Zech. 14:6-7); a day that was neither completely dark nor completely light throughout much of its duration, but which became bright as evening approached, just when one would expect a normal day to be darkening. According to Collins, the “day” referred to in this passage is the gospel epoch, what we have identified with the Millennial era. That it has known periods of both relative light and relative darkness warns us that even though the growth of the Kingdom is progressive, it has not been without its dark periods and setbacks. “Progressive growth” is not necessarily the same as continuous growth.

Most references to the growth of the Kingdom, like the two Old Testament ones just cited, are framed in symbolic language. Interpretation is not always straightforward. Nevertheless, there is a passage in the New Testament which is almost free of symbolism and which is therefore of the greatest value in forming the clearest possible idea of the nature of the Millennial rule of Christ. I would argue that this passage should be seen as the primary one against which the more symbolic verses should be interpreted. The passage to which I am referring is 1 Corinthians 15:22-28. Speaking about the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of His followers (something about which some at Corinth apparently had doubts or maybe interpreted in a “spiritual” way), Paul writes, 

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must rule until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. 

This passage should be examined carefully, as it is capable of several interpretations. Indeed, it is easy to read this passage in the light of an eschatological doctrine already derived from some of the more symbolic passages of, say, the Book of Revelation. But this goes against the rule that obscure passages of Scripture should be interpreted in the light of clearer ones, not vice versa.

Taking the first two sentences, Paul appears to be saying quite plainly that Christ will rise first (this refers to the Resurrection on Easter morning, of course) then those who belong to Him at His Second Coming. Then, says Paul, the end will come; the end, that is to say, of unredeemed human history. Christ will hand the Kingdom over to the Father after He (Christ) “has destroyed all dominion, authority and power”. After He has, that is to say, prepared the Kingdom to be ready to hand over to the Father. This destruction of all that is contrary to God’s rule will be accomplished during the reign of Christ; this is the reason why He must “rule until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

The problem of interpretation here is to determine the time when this conquering rule will be. Many see it as being after the Second Coming, that is to say, between the time when Christ returns and “the end”. However, there are strong reasons against this interpretation.

First, Paul clearly states that when Christ returns and the Christian dead rise, “Then the end will come”. This does not appear to leave any time for an earthly rule of Christ during which His enemies are progressively conquered (and the fact that Paul mentions a “rule until he has put all enemies under his feet” and a “last enemy” to be conquered indicates that this is indeed a progressive process, not something that is immediately accomplished at the Second Coming).

The most telling statement, for the present writer at least, concerns the fact that the rule of Christ will continue until the last enemy, which is death, is put beneath His feet. Paul seems to be equating the resurrection of Christ’s followers and the conquest of death. That death is called the “last enemy” can only mean that all other enemies will be conquered before it. But if these other enemies, collectively named as “dominion, authority and power” are indeed conquered before death is conquered and if all of these are conquered during the rule of Christ, then we can only conclude that the complete conquest of death comes at the end of Christ’s rule. It is then, at the end of His rule, that He returns and the Christian dead rise. The conquering rule of Christ must, therefore, precede His Second Advent. Paul would appear to be picturing the Second Advent as the great culminating and consummating event crowning a period of Christ’s increasingly obvious victory over all that opposes Him. Then will come the resurrection of the dead and final Judgment.

 


 

But when does His rule begin?

A clue is given by Paul’s quotation from Psalm 8:6 viz. “He (i.e. God) has put everything under his feet”. The “his” in the Psalm referred to man, but Paul sees it as referring to Christ as representative Man. That is to say, for all things to be placed under man’s feet, they must first be placed under Christ, as only in and through Christ will God place all things under man. If all things are placed under Christ, then they will be progressively placed under mankind in general to the extent that we place ourselves under Christ. The same Psalm is also quoted by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 2:5-8) where it is explained (v. 9) that Jesus, as representative Man, “is now crowned with glory and honour” (emphasis mine).

Interpreting 1Cor. 15:27 in the light of the Hebrews passage, it seems best to understand Paul as saying that Christ is ruling now and, as representative Man, has all things placed under him by God the Father. All things have been placed under Him, but not everything submits to His authority as yet. Nevertheless, such submission is inevitable and more and more things will come to acknowledge the authority that is already His, until even death is conquered and the redeemed rise again to life. Then, when all things submit to His rule, He will hand the Kingdom to the Father.

If our interpretation of this passage is correct, it would seem that Paul subscribed to a form of postmillennialism where Christ was believed to be already ruling, where the Millennial era had already begun and would continue to become progressively apparent until all enmity against Christ had been put down and the Church had been purified and made ready to be presented to God the Father.

This position surely follows from the clear teaching of the New Testament that sin, death and Satan were defeated by Jesus on the Cross. As Barnett argues, the great eschatological conflict between good and evil is not something that lies in the future. It has already been fought and won. Christ’s last words from the Cross “It is finished” was not a cry of despair. They were a declaration of victory. The last battle had been fought, and it had been won. Christ was victorious and Satan had lost. The Resurrection of Jesus was the Father’s vindication of the victory, as for the first time, the last enemy — death — had been conquered, a sure and certain foretaste of the final and complete victory over death that still lies ahead for all those who place their trust in Jesus and who enter into His Kingdom and, by so doing, partake in the victory that is already His.

This understanding of the Millennium places before us a vision of the future which is both more optimistic and more challenging than the alternatives of premillennialism and amillennialism. It is more optimistic, because it sees even the near future as belonging to God and Christ, not to Satan and Antichrist. Premillennialism certainly believes that Christ will have ultimate victory on earth, but the more immediate future is black and there seems nothing that the Church can do about it. The problem with this position is that the Church is seen as being effectively impotent. If it is simply a human organisation, that would be understandable. But the Church is a supernatural, God-indwelt creation against which the gates of Hades shall not prevail. How can such a movement, founded by the Son of God Himself and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, not prevail! The premillennialist doctrine of Christ returning and “rescuing” the Church does not sit well with the high position of the Church as taught in the New Testament. The Church only exists because Christ has already rescued it. He has taken ordinary people, placed His Spirit within them and made them into His corporate body; the body through which He now rules on earth. This is what the Church really is ... the instrument through which Christ is now ruling and through which He is bringing all things under His authority. To see this body as failing in this task and needing a second rescue, is to detract, not merely from God’s Divine plan but also from the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is also to weaken the resolve of the Church. Christians are really Christ’s “viceroys” in this world. Or, on another model, His hands and feet ... hands through which He works and feet by which He carries the Gospel far and wide. To have “failure” preached at us and to be told that we cannot succeed until Christ comes again is enervating to our efforts. Of course we can do nothing without Christ, but He is here with us already (Matt.28:20). There is no need to look to a future era for Christ to accomplish what He is already doing. Rather, the role of the Church is to submit to Him in His rule and thus hasten the day when all this shall be accomplished (2 Pet. 3:12). My fear is that premillennialist and amillennialist eschatologies are doing to the Church militant what Tokyo Rose, and Lord Haw Haw tried to do to the troops in World War II and what Hanoi Hannah tried to do to those fighting in Vietnam. Their pessimillennialist teachings risk demoralising the Army of God, subtly inducing an inward-looking survivalist mindset as we prepare for the times of tribulation which these eschatologies say are coming, rather than supporting what should be a mood of triumph born of a recognition that we are the people of the King and that we have been given the command to win all nations to Him, a command which Jesus surely would not have given if He intended it to fail.

Premillennialism does at least acknowledge that there will be a time when the will of God will be “done on earth as in Heaven”. In this respect, it is preferable to amillennialism, which effectively sees the present state of the Church as being about as good as it will get. Yet, if this is true, we would seem forced to believe that the number of people who are lost must vastly outnumber those that are saved, implying, in a sense, that the victory of Christ was less successful than the temptation of Satan. A doctrine that sees the vast majority of the human race as being lost to Satan and only a relatively small remnant won to Christ does not sit well with, for instance, Romans 5:14-19 which speaks of the gift of life in Christ being so much greater than the curse of death brought about by the Fall.

It is true, of course, that God has often worked through a faithful remnant, but always for the purposes of a wider salvation. Again, one may quote Christ’s words “many are called, but few are chosen” to justify the belief that only a few are saved. Yet, as F. F. Bruce argued, these words were addressed at a specific time and to a specific audience, and hardly applied to the Church in the years following Pentecost for example, when many came into the Church. The old Puritan hope, which I believe was held by Calvin himself and which in more recent times has been upheld by preachers such as David Chilton and John Stott, is that the number of saved will greatly outnumber that of the lost. Can it be otherwise when Jesus Himself taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven”? How can an amillennialist pray this prayer believing, as he must if he is to be consistent, that it will forever go unanswered in any recognisable sense? But then, why would God the Son have taught His followers a prayer to God the Father that He knew would not be answered? The thought is just too preposterous to contemplate!

The amillennialist writer, Stephen Travis raised some objections to the type of optimillennialism presented here, and these need an honest appraisal before we can truly accept it.

First, he argues that any millennialist eschatology (understood in any literalist sense) seems to conflict with the Biblical dichotomy of “this world and the next”. That is to say, the New Testament persistently contrasts the present fallen world with the redeemed life in Heaven in such a way (Travis argues) that there is no room for a “spiritual halfway house” where quasi-heavenly conditions are prominent in what basically remains the present world.

While acknowledging this argument to some degree, the present writer believes that it can be carried too far. The dichotomy, it seems to me, is not so much between a place or era called “earth” and a contrasting place or era called “heaven” (or “this world” and “the next world”, if you like these terms better), as between the state of affairs without God and that in which God rules supreme. The point is, I would argue, that this second state of affairs is even now breaking through into the first, and has been ever since Christ won the victory on the Cross. Two worlds, two eras, are intersecting and the real issue is not to introduce a third which somehow straddles them, but to acknowledge the increasingly prominent breaking through of the “heavenly” into the “earthly”. If my reading of Scripture is not totally in error, this is exactly what I believe it to be teaching. It seems to me that the earlier quoted passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is telling of the progressive fulfilment of Daniel’s vision of the rock that becomes a mountain and fills the earth (Dan. 2:34-35, 45). The rock (the rule of Christ) is clearly of the heavenly realm (the rock not cut by human hands), yet equally clearly, it is seen as exercising progressive rule over the earth. It is difficult to understand how Travis’ position can do justice to either of these biblical passages.

Secondly, and potentially more serious, is Travis’ argument that this variety of postmillennialism cannot do justice to Jesus’ warning that His followers must keep alert to His return, at a time that nobody knows. How, Travis argues, can we do this if we expect a long period of triumphant Christianity to precede the Second Coming?

Superficially, this objection seems very powerful indeed and was enough to hold the present writer in the amillennialist camp for a goodly number of years, oblivious to what I now believe to be very serious arguments against it.

The solution to the problem lies, I now believe, in determining exactly what Jesus meant by His “Coming” in this context. Was the “Coming” for which His followers were to remain alert the Final Coming at the end of human history, or was it another “Coming” in judgment, during the lifetime of His initial hearers? We tend to forget that Jesus did not leave His teaching written on a scroll to be picked up and interpreted by a future Church (although, of course, His teachings continue to be relevant), but were given in conversation to specific people at a specific point in history and, to be properly appreciated, must be understood in the light of how they were relevant to those folk at that time. In this instance, Jesus was telling the people to whom He spoke to keep watch. In other places, He even told them that their generation would not pass away before all of these things had been accomplished, implying that most of them would live to see the events He prophesied. This time frame strongly implies that Jesus was speaking, not about the Final Consummation of all things, but about the judgment soon to be poured out against Jerusalem and the Jewish nation that had rejected its Messiah. This ‘coming in judgment’ took place in AD 70, while most of Jesus’ original hearers would indeed have still been living.

If this interpretation is correct, Travis’ second objection evaporates. These particular words of Jesus are not directed toward those living after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the old system of worship in AD 70. Travis’ third objection, namely, that postmillennialism does not pay sufficient heed to Jesus’ teaching of a coming time of tribulation, can be criticised along similar lines. Thus, if Jesus was really referring to the judgment about to fall on Jerusalem, the times of wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, etc. and the time of terrible tribulation would have fallen between the time of His earthly ministry and AD 70 and would, as Travis himself, together with many commentators believe, correspond with the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments depicted in the Book of Revelation. We may recall how Chilton interpreted these as referring to the increasing chastisement of an unrepentant Jewish nation preceding the judgment of AD 70. We may, incidentally, note how the prophecy of the sealing of the 144,000 (interpreted to mean the Christian Jews in Israel at the time) so that the judgments would not harm them was fulfilled by the rescue of the Jewish Church through visions and prophecies before the siege of Jerusalem. According to early Church historian Eusebius, not one Christian Jew perished when the city fell. We may also see a prophecy of the calling out of Christian Jews as mentioned by Eusebius, in Jesus’ prediction that “one will be taken and the other left” ( Matt.24:40 - 41). Christian Jews were “taken” to safety by being called out through prophetic visions, while non-Christian Jews were “left”. If this prophecy of Jesus does indeed foretell the event noted by Eusebius, His warning to “remember Lot’s wife” becomes chillingly relevant. If a Christian Jew’s love for Jerusalem held him back from obeying the vision — as Lot’s wife’s heart remained in Sodom — he would fall with the rest of the population. If Eusebius’ statement that no Christian Jew perished is indeed correct, there must have been no “Lot’s wives” among the Jewish Christians!

This ‘preterist’ interpretation of these passages seems, therefore, to be entirely consistent with Scripture and we therefore suggest that Jesus’ warnings of turbulent times and tribulation refer to a period already long past and, as such, do not conflict with an ‘optimillennialist’ eschatology. Indeed, we can go even further than this and recall Jesus’ words that the time of tribulation was to be greater than anything that had ever been and greater than any that would ever be again. If the Great Tribulation really was the tribulation of the last days of Jerusalem before its destruction in AD 70, we have Jesus’ own words that another like it will not occur in the future.

To some, this may be the biggest objection to this interpretation. They need only point to the terrible things that have occurred during the past century as evidence that equally terrible times have occurred after AD 70. Were the events leading up to AD 70 worse than the Holocaust, for example?

Terrible times are a sad reality, and it generally seems a pointless exercise trying to determine which is worse. Jesus did not promise that there would be no more times of trial after the Great Tribulation, simply that none would equal it in severity. Incidentally, this very way of speaking about it seems to suggest that Jesus saw human history as continuing after the Great Tribulation. In other words, by saying that a period of such great distress would never happen again, He implied that other events would follow the period of tribulation. He evidently did not see it as coming at the end of history.

Without in any way making the other terrible events of history seem any less terrible, the sacking of Jerusalem was unique in history, not simply in the severity of its suffering, but in the fact that the destruction of the Temple and the total desecration of the land represented a termination of the Jewish sacrificial system and acted as visible evidence that the way to God upon which the Jewish faith depended had now been closed forever. It was not just a time when people who were not even permitted to eat pork or any unclean animal were forced by starvation to revert to cannibalism (even of one’s own babies, as has been recorded) or where suicide became the preferred option of people who had always regarded the taking of one’s own life as such a serious sin that men refused to shave their beards or cut their hair lest the razor should slip and cause a fatal cut. Terrible though this alone would have been, the destruction of one’s country, ones’ holy city, one’s place of worship and (ultimately) one’s only known way to God and salvation must have been so much worse. Nothing indeed, as terrible as this has happened at any other time in history.

We said earlier that the optimillennialist vision of the future was not only more optimistic, but more challenging as well. To some degree we have already touched upon the challenge; the challenge that it presents the Church to be the army of God and the body of Christ in this world and the challenge to be the instrument through which God has chosen to exercise His rule in this world. All these functions are really one — to represent God in Christ on this earth!

Think about that for a minute. Can there be a greater privilege or a greater responsibility? The Church is called to reflect the image of God in Christ, as if in a mirror, to the wider world. And the image that we reflect will be the only image of Christ that most of the world’s people will see. The task is mind-numbing, but even that is not the end of it. We are called not only to reflect the image of God in Christ to humanity, but also to those spiritual beings constituting the angelic host. There are some aspects of God’s nature that can only be seen, either by human beings or by angels, in so far as they are reflected in the mirror of the Church. Principally, I believe, the aspect of God’s nature thus revealed through the Church is His mercy. His mercy is revealed through the redemption in Christ of a people chosen to bear His image and indwelt by His Holy Spirit. The Church is the only company of such people, and in this capacity, the only means of revelation of the extent to which God’s mercy will go. Only by looking at the Church can anyone, human or angel, see the degree of God’s mercy that would take the most avid persecutor of Christians and turn him into the most prominent Christian Apostle. Or would take an atheist such as C.S. Lewis and turn him into the Twentieth Century’s most popular and influential Christian apologist.

Not only does the Church reflect God’s image to human beings and angels, but it is also the instrument through which God chooses to reveal His power and government of the world of humanity. It may not rule as a world government, but the real power on earth is the Church. This may seem a ludicrous statement. How, it will be asked, can the Church be said to rule in today’s world?

It rules by and through prayer. Prayer is the instrument through which Christians influence the course of events. Prayer has tremendous power because it is the God-chosen means through which the power of God is channelled into the human world.

Can it be co-incidence that the fall of the Iron Curtain was preceded by concerted prayer efforts by both Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians?

It is also a well known fact that every great Christian revival has been preceded by a concerted and earnest prayer effort, sometimes by just a few dedicated Christians.

Then there is the experience of many believers who suddenly feel a burden to pray for some specific thing. I remember an instance where a Christian travelling by public transport heard something like an inner voice ordering prayer for fellow passengers. Shortly thereafter an event occurred which may have resulted in injury or death, but which in actual fact resulted in nothing more than minor inconvenience. I think that most Christians would agree that the response of this believer to this urgent burden for prayer brought about divine intervention to prevent what would otherwise have been a major tragedy.

 


 

Did an angel speak to this Christian? Did the Holy Spirit?

We do not know, nor does it matter. What is important is that the call was answered with a positive response. Sceptics will no doubt question why it should be necessary for God to first call somebody to pray in order for something to happen. Surely, they will argue, God could have simply intervened without the need for anyone to have first prayed. Isn’t it strange that God should first give someone the burden to pray for His intervention … and then to intervene in answer to that very prayer?

Yes, we agree that it is strange, but it is the way in which God has chosen it to happen. It is just another demonstration of the high value that God places on the Church. It is not that the Church “calls down” God’s intervention, but that the divinely-inspired prayer of the Church (or, as in this example, one of its members) is itself part of this divine intervention. The Church becomes God’s instrument of intervention!

We must also appreciate the fact that the Church is not confined to what is called the “Church militant” here on earth, but also to the “Church triumphant” in Heaven, i.e. to the whole company of the redeemed who have already run their earthly race. The Book of Revelation (20: 4-6) teaches that the Church triumphant — with especial reference to those who had been martyred for Christ — rule during the Millennium. The premillennialist sees this as a still-future happening and understands the thrones mentioned in this passage to be on earth. However, as Travis points out, there is nothing in this passage, or anywhere else for that matter, to suggest this. The only “thrones” mentioned as earthly ones belong to the Beast. Surely, argues Travis, the thrones of the saints are in Heaven from which they exercise their rule during the present era of the gospel. Travis, as we have said, is an amillennialist, which we have already declared to be a misnomer and more accurately described as realised millennialist. But he is a “pessi-realised millennialist” in so far as he does not see the Church ever being victorious during this era and looks upon the post-millennial vision as being nothing more than a dream of what might have been possible. Nevertheless, with respect to the rule of the redeemed in Heaven, he is at one with the “opti-realised millennialist” view being supported here. The risen saints are now with Christ in Heaven and we believe (as against Travis) that this rule will become increasingly apparent as time goes on and as the Church still on earth grows spiritually closer to the Church triumphant in Heaven.

We read in Revelation 6:10 that those who had been martyred prayed for the vindication of their cause. We see no reason to disbelieve that the saints in Heaven do not continue to pray with the Church on earth for the furthering of God’s Kingdom. Most Protestant Christians shy away from thoughts of the saints in Heaven praying for the situation on earth or in any way intervening. This reserve is understandable in so far as the cult of the saints has at times degenerated into something approaching polytheism as veneration of saints has effectively slipped into worship of saints. Some parts of the church effectively raised the status of the saints in Heaven to that of mediators between God and the church on earth. This belief, however, eclipses the role of Christ as our only Mediator. There is no mandate for the practice of praying to the saints. But can we really imagine that a Christian with a strong burden of prayer for the Church and world would automatically cease praying once he or she comes into the nearer presence of God? I rather feel that these people remain part of the praying Church, interceding now in the purer Light of Divine Truth.

The Church, therefore, quite literally links Heaven and earth and brings the power of the former down into the latter to rule, to guide and to reflect the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The Church has been placed in the position of the real power in the world, but it exercises this, not through worldly governments, but through prayer. I believe that the prayers of the Church triumphant in Heaven, informed by a clearer Light than here, always influence the affairs of the world, but the prayers of the Church militant are also vitally needed, as these are the prayers directed from the front line of the battle. If the Church downplays the role of believing prayer, the link between Heaven and earth is broken, or at the very least, weakened. For this reason alone, the Church must have the high vision of its own cosmic role and the vital importance that prayer plays in the fulfilment of that role, ever before it and whatever else it does, it must grow in prayer. We must never see our prayers as being mere rituals, but as true communication with God and genuine channels through which God’s power is released into the world. Concerted prayer is the way through which God has chosen to revive the Church, convert the nations and make explicit in the world what is already implicit, viz. the rule of Christ.

Can we imagine a world where war and crime no longer exist, where Christ is universally acknowledged as Lord, where the United Nations (or its future equivalent) begins each session with Holy Communion and prayerfully awaits the guidance of the Holy Spirit before each decision is made, where all the governments of the world are filled with people who publicly acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and where governmental policies are seen as steps towards the furthering of God’s rule on earth? Can we imagine a world where scientific research is directed by the Holy Spirit for the good of humanity, where poverty and hunger have been eliminated by the rich nations sharing of their resources until nobody has too much or too little? Can we imagine a Church in which the majority of the world’s population are members; a Church united (though not necessarily into a single denomination) by a common sense of union with Christ and through Him, “horizontally” with God and “vertically” with one another, a Church were the conscious presence of God (once thought restricted to the so-called Christian mystics) is perceived by virtually everyone and where visions of angels and even of Christ Himself, together with all manner of miracles, have become so frequent as no longer to attract newsworthy attention?

This world and this Church is, I believe, only a prayer away. This is the potential which has been given to us and sooner or later, I believe, will come to pass. If we so choose and pray, really pray, it can come sooner rather than later.

There will be two aspects of this time when Christ will be acknowledged as Lord by the nations.

One aspect will be spiritual and inward, namely, the individual’s yielding to Christ as his or her personal Lord and Saviour. This is not a “good work” for which one is rewarded with salvation, but the response to a special grace of God through which we share in the victory won by Christ on the Cross. It is a grace, a gift from God and not something dependent upon any action on our part. We remember that when Peter responded to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” by correctly replying “You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 16:16), Jesus told him that this knowledge had been revealed to him by God the Father. Peter’s belief came to him as a gift from God; as a spiritual insight. The gospels were written that this belief may become ours. Yet, mere belief is not enough (James 1:22 - 27, 2:14 - 26). The belief must be applied and lead to true acceptance of Christ as Saviour and Lord, not just held as a theological doctrine, and this can only happen, as it did with Peter, by the working of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3b).This is why Paul insists that no-one can accept Christ as Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Paul knew better than most just how much of a miracle true belief is. After all, it was while he was trying to destroy this very belief that he was overwhelmed by a vision of Jesus and converted.

This special grace is saving, transforming and sanctifying. As more and more of the world’s population receive it, so the very nature of the race will be transformed.

The second aspect concerns general grace or common grace; grace which God extends to everyone as He makes His rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. In a sense, the presence of the saved assures a degree of blessing to all people (Genesis 18:23 - 32). This is yet another role of the Church in the world. Its presence assures God’s wider blessing. This is really the opposite of the “general curse” following the sin of Adam. Saved and unsaved both suffer because of the results of the Fall in that both are susceptible to physical death, illness and the effects of disharmony in the world.

As increasing numbers of people are brought into the Kingdom and live increasingly in conformity with God’s laws (which means living increasingly in harmony with Creator and creation) we may expect this beneficial influence to spread increasingly to society at large, to the benefit of believers and non-believers alike. Thus, all will share in the blessings of God’s general grace. The spiritual atmosphere, so to speak, will be changed.

What we have been saying is not mere utopian dreaming. I believe that it is what the Bible teaches, despite pessimillennialist objections to the contrary. But there is also direct evidence that this kind of situation can come about ... it has already come about for limited periods in limited geographical areas. We have already suggested that the mystics of the Church (a group so diverse that everyone from Ignatius Loyola to John Calvin and John Wesley have been included by various writers) were really Christians who were granted a foretaste of “Millennium consciousness” or direct awareness of the presence of God. But there have been times in the Church’s history when this consciousness has been experienced, not by an individual “mystic” but by an entire congregation or even community. Such times are times of revival and for a time the Millennial rule of Christ is explicitly revealed in a community experiencing them.

During the Welsh Revival of 1904, for example, the formerly high crime rate dropped so dramatically that the magistrates courts were empty, the pubs went broke while the Churches filled to overflowing, prayer meetings continued for days at a time, miners held prayer meetings in the pits and one reporter wrote of finding a Welsh village with lights on in every house at 3am, as the sound of prayer rose from each home and people were even found praying in the streets. Pit ponies were said to have stopped working because the expletives that had been their commands were no longer being used by the miners. For many, the presence of God became a conscious, almost tangible, experience.

Similar events occurred during the wider revival under the Wesleys. Indeed, it is often said that this revival saved England from a French-style revolution and directly inspired many liberal social reforms that may even have prevented the country from turning communist at a later time. Karl Marx himself, it should be remembered, thought that his communist revolution would begin in England.

The point being made is simply that if such things can happen in villages in Wales, they can happen throughout the world and if the effects of these limited revivals were profound, just imagine the impact of a world-wide turning to Christ!

It is with this vision that we should approach the subject of revival. That is to say, we only correctly appreciate what happens in revival in so far as we understand it as the rule of Christ becoming visible in the world, presenting us with a foretaste of the latter stages of the Millennium and, beyond this, of the Consummated Kingdom itself. Praying for revival is therefore praying for the Kingdom to come. Working for revival is working towards the coming of the Kingdom, preparing the way for the Lord Himself. If the above interpretation of the Book of Revelation is correct, we can have a confidence based upon that Book itself that this prayer and this work is in accordance with the will of God and that sooner or later there will be the “ultimate revival”; the final turning of the nations to Christ.

 


 

“Babylon is Fallen”

Chilton, as we saw, equates the harlot city “Babylon” with First Century Jerusalem, which actually became the enemy of Christ after the Jewish leaders rejected Him as their Messiah. He pointed out that the initial persecution of Christians was by Jews and not Romans, and even after persecution by the Roman authorities began, Jews were often involved in the accusation of Christians. The city of the anti-christian forces was therefore, he argued, Jerusalem rather than Rome as most commentators on the Book of Revelation believe. His argument that Jerusalem was the first city where organised opposition to Christianity became a reality is certainly a weighty one (Rome initially protected Christianity, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar) and an identification of Jerusalem with “Babylon” certainly fits well with the preterist interpretation that sees most of the Book of Revelation as a prophecy of the destruction of that city and the end of the Jewish age. Rome was not destroyed, Jerusalem was.

To the objection that the description (Rev. 17) of the harlot city as riding the beast (i.e. the Roman Empire) fits the Empire’s capital rather than a provincial city such as Jerusalem, Chilton argues that the issue here is not so much political power as the mandate given by God. Jerusalem was the city of the Temple of God, and as such had been the most important place on earth. From this great height it had fallen!

Chilton also argued that the picture of the harlot riding on the beast is symbolic, not of the capital city of the Empire controlling that Empire, but of the fallen Jerusalem enjoying the protection of Rome. The turning of the beast against the harlot (Rev. 17:16-17) would then be a prophecy of the Jewish war leading to Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70.

Yet, what are we to make of Rev. 17:9, where the city is said to sit on seven hills. True, Jerusalem is a hilly city, but Rome was specifically known as the “city of the seven hills” and characterising “Babylon” as a city sitting on seven hills seems tantamount to identification with Rome. Moreover, Rev. 17:18 (“The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth”), although it may refer to the dominion mandate, seems more easily understood in terms of political power.

So, is “Babylon” Jerusalem as Warfield and Chilton argue, or Rome as Barnett, Beasley-Murray and the majority of commentators argue?

Perhaps it is both!

By the time of the last days of the Jewish era, Jerusalem and Rome were as one in their opposition to the Christian Church. Both had gone over to the Beast. Of the two, Jerusalem was the more culpable, as it had been given the Scriptures wherein the will of God was revealed and had been led to expect the coming of the Messiah. And yet, when the Messiah did come, this was the city that crucified Him and continued to persecute His followers. It therefore brought down upon itself the greater punishment.

Rome, as the capital of a pagan Empire, had not been entrusted with the revelation of the purpose of God and had no knowledge of the Messiah. For the Romans, Christianity was just another troublesome cult. Yet, it too committed grave sins by the dreadful persecutions of Christians under Nero. It also “deserved a beating”, but received a lighter one (Luke 12:47-48). The Flavian armies that were soon to sack Jerusalem captured Rome in a bloodbath said to have cost fifty thousand lives and which also saw the destruction of the Temple of Jupiter, yet the city itself was spared.

Vespasian had been willing to destroy the city in his endeavour to rout every last vestiges of loyalty to Emperor Vitellius, and threateningly camped on the other side of the Tiber awaiting the time to attack. Seeing themselves greatly outnumbered, the troops that had till then remained loyal to the Emperor finally deserted him and crossed over to the Flavians, thereby averting the wholesale destruction of Rome. The fighting was still heavy and great numbers of people lost their lives as the battle was carried from street to street, yet the events that were to occur in Jerusalem only months in the future were prevented from befalling Rome by the last minute desertion of the Emperor’s remaining supporters.

Vitellius, now deserted by everyone, was found by the Flavian soldiers hiding in the janitor’s closet. He was paraded through the streets, pelted with excrement, tortured and finally impaled on a hook and thrown into the Tiber. Thus ended the brief reign of this gluttonous, drunken and completely ineffectual emperor.  With the fall of Vitellius, the Roman Empire emerged from its time of division, civil war and turmoil.

The events of AD 69-70 are to be seen, I believe, as a judgment upon both the beast of the pagan Roman Empire and the beast of the fallen Jewish state, with the latter being judged more severely. It had been given more, and from it more had been required, yet its sin was even greater than that committed by Rome under Nero.

A word should be said at this point about the nature of the “ten horns” of the Beast which are identified (Rev. 17:12-13) as “ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They will have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast.” They will also, according to verse 14, “make war against the Lamb” yet He will overcome them “because he is Lord of lords and King of kings” i.e. that the real rule of the world is in His hands.

Both Chilton and Barnett agree that the ten kings or rulers represent the governors of the ten provinces into which the Roman Empire was divided. At least some of the ten specifically relevant to this prophecy were presumably not in power when it was given and therefore “had not yet received a kingdom”. It also ensures that they will rule only for “one hour”, i.e. a very short while.

Verse 14 makes it clear that the ten “kings” are completely subservient to Rome and are at one with the Imperial government in its hostility toward Christianity. The seemingly specific reference to a particular set of governors (they “had not yet received a kingdom” and would rule for “one hour” implies a specific reference for this prophecy rather than a sweeping application to the rule of the provincial governors in general. In particular, it appears to be referring to their role in the coming period of intense persecution, either by participating themselves or by tacitly agreeing with it).

It is not necessary, I believe, to associate this prophesied period of persecution with the eighth king however. The text does not imply this. There seems no reason to doubt that the time of the persecution would occur during the reign of the sixth king, Nero, and that it would begin soon after the prophecy was made.

 


 

The Battle of Armageddon

We saw earlier that Chilton understood this as symbolic of the spiritual war between Christ and all that is in human beings which opposes His rule. The battlefield of Armageddon is the soul of man and the “slain” are those whose enmity against Christ has been conquered by the sword in Christ’s mouth, i.e. the Word of God. Armageddon, viewed in this light, is not an event confined to the end of the age, but a process which continues throughout the Millennial age. In this, Chilton follows Swete in understanding Armageddon as symbolising the conversion of the nations.

G. Beasley-Murray strongly objects to such an interpretation on the grounds that the “slaying” of 19:21 should be read as equivalent to the harvest of the earth of Chapter 14, and as such is to be regarded as “wholly judicial” (p. 1193) and involving the physical destruction of those involved. Indeed, the angelic invitation to the birds of the air to feed on the flesh of those slain — which some commentators have described as a parody of the invitation to the Great Feast of the righteous in God’s consummated Kingdom — certainly speaks as if physical destruction of Christ’s enemies is involved (19:17-18). This does not necessarily mean that Armageddon is to be interpreted as a literal war of course. On the contrary, it would be odd if a literal war was described in the midst of the symbolic language of the Book of Revelation and, in any case, the picture given is not of a war at all in the usual sense of the word. The nations gather together, not to fight one another, but to resist the reign of Christ which they obviously see as a threat to their own selfish rule. Furthermore, as Barnett observes, no battle eventuates! The scene moves from the gathering of nations, not to one of warfare but to one of judgment.

In my opinion, this judgment aspect is not made sufficiently explicit in the interpretations of Swete and Chilton. To be sure, the conversion of the nations and the slaying of all enmity toward Christ by the sword of the Living Word is there, but so is the powerful warning that those who remain rebellious will be destroyed by that same Word. The gospel brings news of both salvation and judgment. Indeed, neither salvation nor judgment can be adequately understood alone. They go together, and the conversion of the nations includes the judgment of those who persistently oppose the spreading of the Kingdom of Jesus throughout the world. Nevertheless, I am not convinced that Beasley-Murray is entirely correct in equating the “slaying” of 19:21 with the harvest of 14:14 - 20. The “harvest” is probably to be interpreted as the Messianic judgment against the land of Israel which culminated in the sacking of Jerusalem in AD 70 whereas the slaying of Chapter 19 depicts a judgment against “the nations” of the world. There may still be a connection however, in so far as the events of AD 66 - 70 (and especially the events of 69 - 70) could be seen as the opening act of divine judgment against the world; of both Israel and the Gentile nations. If Chilton and those who accept the early dating of Revelation are correct in seeing a prophecy of the events of 69 - 70 as being central to this book, the judicial aspect of the “slaying” may be interpreted as having as its immediate reference the tumultuous events which rocked the Roman world in AD 69. This again emphasises the terrible judgment which both Rome and Jerusalem brought upon themselves by rejecting Christ and persecuting His followers.

Symbolically locating the battle at Armageddon — Megiddo — may have been a way of emphasising its decisive nature. Megiddo was not only the site of many battles, it was also very strategic, being located on the main trading rout between the fertile lands to the east and the great oasis of the Nile delta. Whoever captured Megiddo, could exercise considerable control over a wide area, in fact, over the then-known world. By picturing the insurrection of evil symbolically as a gathering for battle at Megiddo, only to be decisively conquered by Christ alone without so much as an arrow being fired by the anti-christian forces, beautifully depicts how utterly complete the victory won by Christ — and by Christ alone — really is. “Megiddo” is in Christ’s hands; He is in control of everything, now and for ever. Moreover, this victory was won, not in a literal battle but on a Cross, not with the assistance of “Christian” countries or even of armies of risen saints and hosts of angels, but by Christ’s atoning sacrifice alone.

 


 

The Last Judgment

Verses 11 through 15 of Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation depict a scene which is usually interpreted as being of the final Judgment of mankind. It is graphic in its imagery. Heaven and earth — the whole created order — fleeing away from the majestic scene of God seated on the throne of the Cosmos. The place of the passage describing it, coming directly after the account of the final Satan-inspired rebellion of Gog and Magog is normally read as implying that this Judgment will follow immediately upon God’s judgment of the rebels. Certainly, John’s vision of the Judgment immediately follows the vision of the latter, but no time sequence is given for the events themselves.

Moreover, the Judgment is specifically of the dead. Unlike the other judgment scenes in the Bible, there is no mention of the gathering of the nations before the Judgment Throne. Only the dead are mentioned. Perhaps the real force of having this vision come straight after that of the defeat of Gog and Magog lies in the reinforcement of the fact that not only physical death awaits those who oppose God and not only the last unredeemed generation faces judgment. It is as if John sees through the physical world and into the spiritual realm beyond, where all the dead of all times and all places are raised to face their Judge.

Whatever the exact sequence of events will be and whatever form they take, the teaching is surely that there will be a time when all rebellion against God will be brought under the feet of Christ, who will then hand over the Kingdom to the Father. Death, the final enemy, will cease. The dead will rise and be judged by God; those whose names are found written in the Book of Life will enter into the fully consummated Kingdom.

This great and final Day of the Lord can in no manner be equated with the judgment upon Jerusalem in AD 70, as the hyper-preterists argue. The resurrection of the dead and their judgment, plus the transformation of the created order, clearly speak of something that is still future and toward which all history, not simply Jewish history, moves.

This teaching was surely part of the theological framework in which all the New Testament letter writers thought. We need not point to specifically doctrinal passages to find it. Throughout the letters, expressions such as “on the day of the Lord” occur time and time again which, for the most part, seem to refer not so much to a judgment on the unbelieving as to a time when the believing will be raised to life immortal in the perceived presence of Jesus Himself. That is not to say that judgment of the unbelieving was not a part of this belief, but it does not appear to have been the chief thought, as it would have been (I should think) if the “day” was synonymous with the destruction of Jerusalem.

Consider, for example, the following verses from Paul’s beautiful hymn of love in 1 Corinthians 13; 

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (vv 8 - 12). 

Could anybody, by any amount of twisting and warping of Scripture, make this refer to the fall of Jerusalem? How could “perfection” refer to this? How could that historic event be construed as a time after which “we shall see [God] face to face”? How could this event possibly have been seen as a time when the child became a man?

How, indeed, could any of the above quoted passage refer to anything less than the total consummation of all things following the Last Judgment?

Some, admittedly, have understood “when perfection comes” as referring to the completion of the canon of Scripture. If this interpretation is to be taken seriously, they must also say that with the collection of the complete Bible came the ability to see God “face to face” and to know as fully as we are known. But surely Paul had something far more significant in mind. The chief motive for so unlikely an interpretation seems to be a desire to disprove the continuation of charismatic gifts after Apostolic times. If Paul really is talking about the Last Judgment (as he surely is!) his words imply that the charismatic gifts will continue until then and only “cease” in the sense of being absorbed into something greater ... in the way that an engagement “ceases” at the wedding. Indeed, the force of his reference to the child becoming the adult is that it makes precisely this point.

My aim is not to defend the continuation of charismatic gifts in this context, though I do believe that anyone arguing the counter case must do so in spite of, rather than because of, this passage. What I am simply pointing out is that making this passage refer to anything less than the Consummation (whether that “something less” be the destruction of Jerusalem or the completion of the text of the Canon) seriously fails to do justice to the plain sense of what Paul is saying.

It is even more difficult to interpret John’s statement that “when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1Jn. 3:2b) as having any relationship with the events of AD 70. Clearly, this can only be fulfilled by a full and final revelation of God.

In short therefore, we stress that an interpretation of Revelation and other Scriptural passages that allows many of the references, frequently assumed to be to the Last Judgment, to relate instead to the historic events of AD 69 - 70, does not preclude the doctrine of a Last Judgment and does not give license to a wholesale reinterpretation of all “last days” Biblical references as prophesying something which from our epoch of history, has already taken place. On the contrary, many eschatological references cannot be properly appreciated unless they refer to a final Judgment of all mankind and a total consummation of history where God will be “all in all”. This is a vital part of the Christian message and remains an indispensable part of our hope.

As to the form that the Last Judgment will take, we can only speculate, if indeed, we may legitimately do even that!

But, if we may tentatively tread on such holy ground, I would only say that, the more I think about it, the less convinced I am that Chilton’s notion of a very long period of an almost-christianised world is correct. I am tending more and more to think that the final great awakening will come rather suddenly and with great evidence of divine power. In the end, the conversion of the world may well take place in a single generation. Maybe at that time, the perceived presence of God will become so apparent that, just like Stephen before his martyrdom, all the inhabitants of earth will see the heavens opened and perceive the Glory of God and Christ at His right hand. Not just as a fleeting vision, but as a permanent perception. Then all will be judged, because all will find themselves before the Judgment seat of God and Christ.

Earlier, we dared imagine a world Christianised. Now, let us stretch our imagination to the next stage of God’s plan when all traces of evil have been removed, when death has been put totally under the feet of Christ and God is all in all. What manner of life will that be?

Of course, anything we say must be wild speculation, but there is no harm in this, providing that we remember that it is only speculation!

We are told that our bodies will be transformed and that the mortal will put on immortality. The bodies of the living will become like the body of the risen Jesus and the spirits of the “dead” will be joined again with matter, albeit matter transformed to likewise match that of Jesus’ risen body.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He demonstrated in a number of ways that He was not a mere spirit. He ate fish, indicating that His body could metabolise food. He told Thomas to touch Him and feel that He was no phantom. Yet, He was not merely a resuscitated corpse either, unlike Lazarus after Jesus had restored him to life. The risen Jesus could make His body disappear and reappear inside a closed room and He could apparently move from place to place with the speed of thought.

There is a scientific theory that sees the mass of material objects as being due to the interactions of material particles with the force fields that are believed to be ever present in three-dimensional space. Without going into details, material particles experience the resistance of these fields and it is this resistance that we experience as mass and inertia. Many scientists also believe that there are more dimensions than the three familiar spatial and one temporal of our normal experience, although most argue that these others exist only on very small scales. Still, if atoms of matter could somehow be shifted into one of these other dimensions, they would cease to “feel” the resistance of the force fields of three-dimensional space and would no longer be restricted to the physical laws governing the motion of masses. Remembering that we are only speculating, we might suggest that the matter in Jesus’ risen body was brought under such control by His spirit that all the atoms comprising it could move in and out of this extra spatial dimension and thereby transcend the laws restricting motion through three-dimensional space. More than that, the material in His body could escape the decay of time as readily as the restriction of space.

This is how our physical bodies will also become. Physical, yet no longer bound by space and time as we know it!

We are also promised that the whole of creation will come to share in this freedom. At the Fall, creation was cursed because when humanity sundered itself from God, it could no longer act as the chain linking the Creator with the rest of His creation. The chain was broken and creation was left to the forces of decay. But when the link is again fully restored, we can again become the hands of God in the world. Scientists predict that the material universe will one day die – albeit not for billions of years in the future. The sun will swell and destroy the earth and eventually all the stars will burn out and fade away. Yet, some scientists dare to speculate that advanced civilizations billions of years hence, may find a way to avert this and some have even made suggestions as to how this might come about. I can only remark that if some secular scientists think that life might eventually find a way of overcoming the death of the entire universe, without even considering the presence of God, what may truly be open to redeemed mankind fully under the direction and illumination of the One who made the universe in the first place and who has promised that the whole of His creation will come to share in the liberty of the Sons of God?!

What I cannot imagine is that life after the Consummation of all things will be one of idleness. I take seriously the doctrine that we will spend Eternity in resurrected bodies and that eternal life is just that – life! Not disembodied amorphous consciousness, but real and active life. Science, technology … all the best of human endeavours, sanctified and God-directed, will flourish as part of that life. That, I believe, is part of our assurance. Maybe, as Adam was originally mandated to subdue the earth, we who will bear the likeness of the Second Adam will be the instrument through which God restores the universe.

I am aware that many will find this sort of speculation excessive. Yet, even if what I have said in the above few paragraphs is totally incorrect, I believe that it will have served some purpose if it draws attention to the physical nature of life after the Consummation. We must never, never, be allowed to think of our final state in terms of harps and clouds!!!
 

 

 

Bibliography 

Atkinson, B. F. C. “The Gospel According to Matthew” in The New Bible Commentary.

 (F. Davidson, A. M. Stibbs & E. F. Kevan, eds.) London: The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1967.

Barnett, P. Apocalypse Now and Then. Sydney: The Anglican Information Office, 1989.

Beasley-Murray, G. R. “Revelation” in The New Bible Commentary.

Bruce, F. F. The Hard Sayings of Jesus. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983.

Chilton, D. Days of Vengeance. Fort Worth: Dominion, 1985.

Collins, C.N.M. “Zechariah” in The New Bible Commentary.

Holford, G. P. The Destruction of Jerusalem. Exeter: Leonard Jackson, 1830.

Josephus, Flavius. The Complete Works (Tr. William Whiston). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998.

Massie, A. The Caesars. London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1983.

Russell, J. S. The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of

Our Lord’s Second Coming. New edition 1887. Reprinted Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983.

Sproul, R. C. The Last Days according to Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Travis, S. I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982.

 

 

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION.

Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society.

 

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS OR WOULD JUST LIKE
TO SHARE THOUGHTS WITH ME, YOU CAN CONTACT ME AT:

 

seargent@ozemail.com.au

 

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