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Questions About the Return of Jesus and the End Times: Millennial Kingdom and Preterism

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When we invited people at Faith Church to ask questions about Jesus’s return and the end times, we received multiple questions about two topics that I have written about in the last two posts: the Rapture and Israel. We also received questions about other topics that I want to answer and will deal with a couple of them in this post.

“What is the nature of the millennial kingdom mentioned in the Book of Revelation?”
Revelation 20:1-10 describes a 1,000 year period in which Satan is bound in an abyss and unable to deceive the nations (20:1-3). In this time, those who experience the “first resurrection” will reign with Christ (20:4-6). It is then followed by the release of Satan from his prison to deceive the nations and gather them for a final battle in which they will be defeated (20:7-9), leading to final judgment of the devil (20:10) and the dead (20:11-15) and then the new heavens and new earth (21:1-22:5). 

While the relationship between the millennial kingdom and the return of Christ is what separates postmillennialism from premillennialism (as postmillennialists think Christ comes after the millennium, while premillennialists believe Christ will come before the millennium), the nature of the millennial is what separates those views from amillennialism (for a refresher of those views, watch this video or see this post). Premillennialism and postmillennialism both believe that this millennial kingdom will be a time of peace and flourishing of godliness on earth as Christ rules either physically (premillennialism) or through His Word and the church (postmillennialism). Amillennialism sees this kingdom differently, viewing it as a spiritual kingdom in which Christ and his saints rule from heaven in the time between his first and second coming. Amillennialists would see the binding of Satan here as happening through the ministry of Jesus and not an indication that Satan is inactive but rather limited (like a dog on a chain) and unable to prevent all nations from hearing the gospel. In this view, the promises of a peaceful kingdom are ultimately fulfilled in the eternal state of the new heavens and the new earth. Premillennialists typically view it as literally 1,000 years, while postmillennialists could view the 1,000 years as literal or symbolic, and amillennialists would view it as symbolic in line with all the other symbols in this statement (Satan is not bound by a literal chain and likely not in a literal pit).

The reason for these different views is that there are some tricky details in this text, particularly concerning the resurrections it discusses and the rebellion it notes at the end. The passage speaks about two resurrections, one that occurs at the beginning of (or in the midst of) this millennial kingdom and the other presumably at the end (20:4-6). If this first resurrection is that of the dead described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and that accompanies the transformation of the living as described in 1 Corinthians 15:50-56, then all those in this kingdom would seem to be resurrected and glorified believers. If this is the case, who then is deceived at the end of this age? This would seem to require either children being born (however, Matthew 22:30 points to those in resurrected and glorified bodies not having children) or that there is not a clear separation of believers and unbelievers at Christ’s return so that some unbelievers continue to live (but it seems all have been defeated). The postmillennial position does not quite have the same issue, as it views Revelation 19:17-21 not as the return of Christ, but rather as the power of his word defeating the forces of Satan. However, the idea of the “first resurrection” would not seem to be a literal resurrection since that would await a future. 

The amillennial view sees this first resurrection not as that which happens at the return of Christ, but rather either the salvation of a believer (as they move from death to life) or what happens to their souls upon death in the intermediate state awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. A challenge to this position, though, is that the same word is used for first and second resurrections so it seems odd to have one be spiritual and the other physical. However, others would point out there are also two deaths described here – one being physical and the other spiritual, so the word could be used in both senses here, too. Supporting this idea is the fact that this first resurrection is that of “the souls” of those who were beheaded “because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands” (20:4). The reference to the rest of the dead experiencing resurrection at the end of the 1,000 years in 20:5 would then be a reference to the final resurrection that happens at Christ’s return and the defeat of Satan’s forces at Armageddon, which happens after this Millennium. 

The strengths and weaknesses of each view has caused much wrestling with this subject in my mind over the years. At the end of the day, I’ve landed more in the amillennial camp and see this millennial kingdom as the already-but not yet reign of Christ from heaven. I think this view has the least amount of weaknesses and reminds us of the physical nature of our hope and the description of the eternal state not as disembodied souls but resurrected saints. The “lamb will lay down with the lamb” – not in that 1,000 year period of Revelation 20, but the new creation in Revelation 21-22. The fact that this new creation is drawing on the language of Isaiah 65 makes me think this is the ultimate hope and that there is no in-between state of an earthly kingdom. I also would acknowledge that this is a complex topic and Christians can disagree about the nature and timing of this kingdom but need to agree upon the hope that we have and the reality of Christ’s return, which all positions not only acknowledge but long for.  

“What is preterism and does Faith Church have a stance on it?”
The term “preterism” comes from a Latin prefix (praeter) that refers to something in the past. Thus, in discussions about the end times and return of Jesus, “preterism” is the belief that some (or all) of the things described in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21) and the Book of Revelation happened in the past, specifically during the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The opposite of this view would be “futuristic” – that more or less all of the events described would happen in the future. There are also those who might be labeled “partial-preterists” in that they view some of the statements as having fulfillment in AD 70 while others await fulfillment in the future. Those who would view all the prophecies as being fulfilled have at times been dubbed “full-preterists” to reflect that there is a spectrum within “preterism.”

Since this might be the first time many have heard about “preterism,” let me flesh out the view a little more in terms of how it explains some passages and also why it is appealing to some people. A full preterist views the reference of Jesus’s “coming on the clouds” in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:29-31) not as a physical return to earth but rather his exaltation in heaven as the Son of Man of Daniel 7. This includes the various cosmic signs not being literal but symbolic of catastrophic events in which it seems like the “sky is falling.” In this view, Revelation’s discussion of the antichrist and false prophet finds fulfillment in the Roman empire at the time (full-preterists would view Revelation as written before AD 70, while it has been traditionally viewed as written later, likely in the 90’s towards the end of John’s life). One driving force for this view is the way Jesus speaks about various events being fulfilled within a generation and that he is coming soon; it seeks to defend him against charges of being wrong or misleading. In addition, this would point out that Jesus’s words and the Book of Revelation had value and significance for their immediate audience in that Jesus spoke about things to happen in the coming years rather than 2,000+ years later.

Faith Church’s doctrinal statement does explicitly offer a comment on this topic. However, Faith Church pastors have not taught (nor do we hold a position of) complete preterism. I, and others, believe that it overemphasizes the “already” aspect of the kingdom of God that Christ has brought but does not give proper attention to the “not yet” aspects of our faith. I think the description of Christ coming on the clouds is a reference to his visible return at the end of the age, and that Revelation looks towards the same event. While sympathetic to some of the arguments for a pre-70’s) date of Revelation, I am not convinced by them to the point of viewing Revelation as being that early.

That said, I and others view some of the events discussed in the Olivet Discourse as having reference to the fall of the temple in Jerusalem. This is because the topic of the discourse itself seems to address both the destruction of the temple and Jesus’s return (see Matthew 24:3). I also think that the Book of Revelation uses language that would have connections to Rome and resonances to its original audience even as it is describing what would continue throughout the period as we wait for Christ’s return and the heightened apostasy that precedes it. Thus, I think there is a futuristic component to it along with more of a symbolic background.

A Final Post Coming in This Series
There were a few more questions that we received that will be answered in the final post in the series; stay tuned for that!

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. 

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