Below you will find short interactions with classic theological literature to help introduce you to some of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. There will also be irregular posts formed out of sermons, Bible studies, or coffee after 5:00pm.
As the cultural pressure to be known as a Christian wanes, people are leaving the church. While it saddens us, we also must be sober-minded about this. The apostle John wrote, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19, ESV). In every era of the church age, there were reasons people left the church. Every age has its own complexities, but the principle stands. Some will leave the church, stop worshiping and being discipled, and it will be the final proof that their allegiance was never to Christ.
Equally as obvious is the cultural change in how accepting of Christian ethics people are, especially the historic Christian sexual ethic. As God shakes the world around us, we recognize the need for both clarity and firmness in Christian teaching. We simply can't assume any longer that any of us have a strong grasp of the essence of what makes our faith "Christian." Do we understand the Ten Commandments? The Lord's Prayer? The story arc of both testaments? Key doctrines, like the Trinity and the authority of Scripture? Why does any of this matter?
So one of the short-term goals for Mt. Pisgah is to form a catechism that teaches us the basics of the Christian faith, gives us a Christian "grammar" or language and vocabulary, and builds a robust understanding of Scripture. In this post, I want to help us define what a catechism is and how we'll use it.
In short, a catechism is a relatively short manual of instruction, often in the form of questions and answers. For example, one well-known and respected catechism is the Westminster Catechism (there is a "Longer" and "Shorter" version if you're familiar with it). It takes a question-and-answer form. The first question is, "What is the chief end of man?" The answer that is supplied is, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." This pattern goes on for 107 questions.
The catechism is not just meant to be a reference, though it definitely is that. It's also meant to be memorized over time. You may not memorize all 107 questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but many of them you will.
The simpler question-and-answer format is also meant to be suitable for teaching children. The questions are all single sentences, and most of the answers are, as well. We should be teaching our children the deep things of God "diligently to [our] children, and [you] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:7). These catechisms are meant to be simple, accessible guides for parents or caretakers to teach the essentials of the Christian faith in summary fashion in obedience to Scriptural commands to do so.
But a catechism is not just for children. Every Christian should be able to give an answer to the question, "What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?" Or, "What is baptism?" And, "To whom is baptism to be administered?"
Catechisms also give a summary teaching of the weightier matters of Scripture. All Christians would agree that these would be the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the greatest commandments, along with perhaps a few others. Some catechism also include a short section on the historic Christian creeds with explanations.
If you happen to take the time to peruse the Westminster Catechism, you would quickly come to realize that it is a Presbyterian document that reflects Presbyterian theological particulars, such as paedobaptism. While we love our Presbyterian brothers and sisters and believe them to be a true church, we disagree on matters such as baptism and church government. But why? It would behoove us to explain ourselves, perhaps in a catechism.
For some people, when they hear "catechism," they think of the Catholic Catechism. That conjures up all kinds of thoughts. Shouldn't we distance ourselves from that stuff?
Catechisms, though, have a long history in the church. And the Catholic Catechism proper dates all the way back to...1992. Baptists and Presbyterians were way ahead of the game.
The early church used catechisms for many of the same reasons we do today. Christianity wasn't the dominant cultural power. People had to take social risks to be a Christian. So new believers needed answers to their questions. People needed a defense of their faith.
This blog won't be the catechism, and we'll move on to other topics here. But it's important for us to see the need for clarity and relevance.
Isaiah 46:9b-10, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.”
We know that the end of the age, as many disagreements about the “train schedule” as there are, is not a mystery to the Lord our God. We may fail to understand, even as we do our best to read the Bible naturally, with all of the historical and literary context we can. But even in our failure to grasp the finer details, to keep all of the progressive revelation straight which covers multiple books and hundreds of years, we can trust God. I still have questions after watching “Tenet” and reading multiple blog posts about it, so I also don’t claim to have every moment of the culmination of world history pegged, either. But I must affirm every passage of Scripture and teach what I believe it says.
Keeping that in mind, I want to look at two Old Testament books. All I really want to do is show you the passages that deal with the end of the age and give a short summary. Some give revelation on the order of events, some focus on the nation of Israel, and some speak to the resurrection(s). Either way, we could spend the next six months parsing out all of the passages that in some way speak to the same truth: the Father is sending the Son again, but this time he comes to gather all that is his.
So the purpose of this post is to give a sense of the enormity of Old Testament passages that do actually inform our understanding of the coming kingdom of God. At different times in the future, we’ll return to specific passages. Many of the Old Testament passages are longer prophecies or narratives, so they would each require their own studies. But there is a lot still to gain simply from knowing where to turn.
First, Daniel 10-12. This is the fourth vision Daniel receives. It involves battles between two kings with Israel stuck in the middle. This period of tribulation ends with the promise of resurrection. While it seems as though this passage may point to one resurrection, the natural reading can be harmonized with the two-resurrection interpretation of Revelation 20. Even Daniel 12 mentions two destinies: some to everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt.
Second, Ezekiel 20. God promises to restore Israel in the future through judgment, just as he did with the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus. Many take this as a reference to the coming kingdom and not the return from the seventy years of exile because even after exile, Israel was not reunited and was still under foreign oppression. They would still be considered Persians, then Greeks, then Romans.
Third, Ezekiel 40-48. This is a massive description of a newly-built temple. In chapter 43, the glory of the Lord again enters the temple as it did in the first temple. Once the Lord enters, he says he will never leave. Israel will never again defile the temple with false worship. This has to be a totally future event, not just for Ezekiel, but for us, as well.
Fourth, Zechariah 8. God speaks of a time when he will return to Zion and there will be peace. Old men and women will be respected in the city, and young boys and girls will play in the street. God will regather the nation of Israel to the land. God says he will deal with his people as he did at the time they rebuilt the temple, but he will make them prosper himself. Fasting will be replaced with joyful times. The nations will come to Jerusalem because they have heard of the good things of God.
Fifth, Zechariah 14. Instead of the peace of chapter 8, there is battle. God will bring the nations to wage war on Jerusalem, and terrible things will take place because of it. But, God will fight that battle and win. The Lord will be king, not just over Jerusalem, but all the world. Jerusalem will never again be destroyed. Those from the nations who survive will worship in Jerusalem every year. Dissenters will not receive any rain on their land. This seems to coincide with the millennial kingdom of Revelation 20.
Both testaments ensure that we know that God has a plan for the end of the age. It involves complete restoration for creation and judgment on those who reject the mercy of God. God’s plan involves both Israel and Gentiles being restored to right worship.
With all of the passages that have a direct link to the end of then age, it’s clearly been important to all of God’s people throughout time. The idea of an earthly kingdom established before the eternal state is not a foreign thought to the Old Testament. The New Testament simply establishes more revelation concerning the same truth.
We’re going to move on from the millennial kingdom for now, but it’s worth more study in the future.
Next week we’ll move on to more theological topics. I’d like to develop a teaching device, or a catechism, for the church. We need more resources like this, particular to Mt. Pisgah, that we can use to teach our families, young and old alike. So in the next several weeks, we’ll be developing the nuggets that will turn into this kind of resource. It will include several pieces, like commentary on the 10 commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, Old and New Testament overviews, questions and answers, a paragraph on key doctrines, and more.
Until then, we pray with the apostle John and all Christians since, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
The essence of the premillennialist position is that there will be an intermediate kingdom on earth before the full establishment of the eternal state. We are currently in the church age, which will be followed by the millennium/intermediate kingdom, followed by the full defeat of Satan, the beast, and his prophet, and then the eternal state will be ushered in. In sum, Jesus returns in Revelation 19:11, and all that follows is a sequence of events.
One of the most common critiques of this position is that premillennialists are focusing too much on one short passage of Scripture, basically missing the forest for the trees. The implication is that the millennium is an idea foreign to or not reinforced anywhere else in the rest of Scripture. Revelation 20 is extrapolated into a whole schema that then forces you to read the rest of the Bible a certain way, disregarding all other contexts.
But what if there were Old Testament passages that taught the future existence of an intermediate kingdom? Wouldn’t that then make Revelation 20 simply another example of progressive revelation, expanding on previous prophesies?
There are a few passages of Old Testament prophecy that seem to fit neither in the past, the present, or the eternal state. They speak to a future span of time when the Lord will reign on earth, in bodily form, for a limited period of time. But the way these (admittedly few) passages speak about that time still include sin and death. So we have the current reality of sin and death still having a presence while the Lord reigns on the earth. Those things mixed together don’t fit in the present (when Christ reigns from heaven), and they don’t fit in the eternal state (when there is no sin or death).
First, let’s look at Isaiah 24-27, which we’ve mentioned in previous posts (if you’re really into this, go ahead and take 10 minutes and read those chapters to get some context). Many people know that Daniel is partly an apocalypse, much like Revelation. But Isaiah also has passages that are considered an apocalypse, as well: chapters 24-25. It even has a label, “Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse.”
Verses 1-20 describe a judgment on the people of earth and the earth itself. The judgment is because people have “transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.” Verses 21-20 state that evil spirits will also be punished and “gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, and will be confined in prison; and after many days they will be punished.” But chapter 25 says that God will provide a banquet for his people and “swallow up death for the last time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces."
Take notice of a pattern of tribulation, judgment, and kingdom, in sequential order.
Let’s take a step back to get even more context. Every year at Christmas we read Isaiah 9:6, which prophecies a son will be born and the government will rest on his shoulders. Isaiah 13-23 is all about God’s judgment on the nations. Isaiah 24-27 is God’s plan for restoring the nations, now with his Son to rule them. Chapter 26 even speaks of a resurrection that takes place during this time.
Isaiah 24-27 is even alluded to quite regularly in Revelation 19-21.
Isaiah 25 speaks of a lavish banquet; Revelation 19 speaks the marriage supper.
Isaiah 25 speaks of God swallowing death forever; Revelation 21 speaks of death being defeated.
Isaiah 25 speaks of God wiping tears from all faces; Revelation 21 speaks of God wiping away every tear.
Isaiah 26 speaks of the dead rising to life; Revelation 20 speaks of God’s people coming to life.
Isaiah 27 speaks of the serpent and dragon being punished; Revelation 20 speaks of the dragon and serpent being sent to the pit.
Whether or not we agree that both Isaiah and John are speaking of an intermediate kingdom, we must see that they are speaking about the same period of time. While we must say that Revelation 20 expands on what is prophesied in Isaiah’s little apocalypse, it seemingly harmonizes quite well without a lot of explanation. And the belief in an intermediate kingdom has a lot of explanatory power for how well the sequence of events lines up in both Isaiah’s apocalypse and John’s.
Isaiah 65 is another chapter that a period of time that is neither the present nor the age to come. Isaiah speaks of 100 years being a short life, and dying that young because of sin is considered a curse. There is an as-of-yet period of time when lifespans will increase dramatically, but sin and death still have a presence.
In the current age, a long life is 80 years, and sin and death are still present. Something happens that dramatically changes something that seems so natural, but it’s still distinct from the age to come. So in the present age, people can reasonably expect to live between 70 and 80 years. In the intermediate kingdom, that’s still considered infancy. In the age to come, death is eradicated.
Next week, we’ll look at a few shorter passages that speak to the future reality of an intermediate kingdom: Daniel 12 and Zechariah 8 & 14.
For now, are there other interpretations of Isaiah’s little apocalypse that reinforce either amillennialism or postmillennialism?
If so, what are they? Comment below!
While the millennium is only mentioned by name in Revelation 20, there are other passages that deal specifically with the end of the age, of which the millennium is a part. So today we’ll outline a couple of them to see if we can place the millennium correctly.
This passage is also known as the Olivet Discourse. The disciples comment on the greatness of the temple. Jesus replies that the temple will be destroyed again one day (vv.1-2).
The disciples ask Jesus when that will take place and what will signify his return and the end of the age. Jesus replies that many will mislead them and try to say that they are Jesus. There will be horrific events people misinterpret to be a sign of the end of the age. However, these mark the beginning, not the end (vv.3-8).
Then, there will be tribulation and persecution that leads many professing believers to recant their faith. More false prophets will come in Christ’s name. However, true believers will endure to the end and be saved while the gospel is preached to all nations. That tribulation, Jesus says, marks the end of the age (vv.9-14). It seems as though Jesus answers their last question first.
Jesus them zooms in on the destruction of the temple. It will be quite clear what is going on, and people will flee. That will also cause tribulation, but out of God’s mercy for the elect, it will have a predetermined end time. More people will claim that Christ has returned, but again, this marks the beginning and not the end (vv.15-28).
All tribulation ends, and the sign of Christ’s return couldn’t be more obvious. He’ll appear in the sky for all the world to see. At this time, Christ will gather his people (vv.29-31).
Jesus then gives an illustration of what he’s just said. In the same way a fig tree blossoms and is the evidence that summer is near, the end of tribulation and God’s people being caught up with Christ is the sign of the end of this age (vv.32-35).
Jesus then reinforces the importance of not being mislead about any of this. People will misinterpret the sign of his coming, claiming that it has happened. The truth is that only God the Father knows when all of this will take place. Therefore, we must always be alert and ready for tribulation to begin (vv.36-51).
So, let’s simplify this timeline:
1. Great tribulation begins. It will not last forever.
2. Christ returns after the tribulation and receives his people.
Matthew 25 expands upon this material, but Jesus does so in parable (the ten virgins, which is all about being ready for an undisclosed moment, and the talents, which is about God’s judgment). Matthew 25 ends with more on the final judgment, which takes place after the tribulation and return of Christ. This also comes to us in parable form (the separation of the sheep and the goats).
You might be asking, so where exactly is the millennium? In the context of Matthew 24-25, it must take place after Christ’s return to receive the elect. This would be the essence of the premillennial position.
Now let’s outline 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where the Lord’s return is also described.
Paul is comforting those Christians who have lost loved ones who were also believers. When Christ returns, the dead will be raised (vv.13-15). At that same time, he will descend with the angels, and the dead believers will be resurrected. The living believers will be changed. Together, all believers will meet Christ in the air (vv.16-18).
This passage is often used to describe an event known as the rapture. While it does describe believers meeting Christ in the air at his return, the notion of a secret, rather quiet disappearance of believers was essentially unknown until John Nelson Darby in the early 1800s. The consequence of inserting a new component to the Lord’s imminent return is the addition of multiple stages and phases that are seemingly quite absent from Scripture.
What Paul is teaching in this passage is the imminent return of Christ, and at that time, all believers will be with him from that point on. Call it a rapture if you’d like (after all, the original Greek for “caught up” is “raptura”), but it does not seemingly add another phase to Christ’s return. Christ returns, the dead in Christ are raised, and it is after this resurrection that we can place the millennium if we read Revelation 20 as a sequence of events.
So, I generally hold to the historic premillennial, posttribulational position. The return of Christ is not a multi-phase return, but a single event in which multiple things take place. I believe that Christ returns in Revelation 19:11 and everything that comes after is a description of a sequence of events. At his return, the dead are raised and the living are changed into their glorified bodies.
There are still yet passages to consider, but we're at the point where we need to start arguing for a position. How we interpret passages about the future of Israel and temple worship will also have a direct impact on how we understand the millennium.
I’m open to correction on certain points, but I believe dispensationalism falters far more than the historic premillennial position.
Let’s look at some Old Testament! See you next week.
Today we turn our attention to what’s distinctive about the third view of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20: premillennialism. As a reminder, I am hoping to present each of the three views (postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism) with charity. I’m going to withhold my perspectives on these until later. Next week, we’ll start diving into particular passages and how these three approaches interpret those passages.
The premillennialist position holds that the vision of Revelation 20 is entirely in the future and is born out of a literary, grammatical, and historical interpretation of Scripture. In short, Revelation 20 presents a sequence of events where Christ returns to the earth in bodily form to institute his kingdom, of which a 1,000-year-reign is a part.
What makes premillennialism the more difficult perspective to grasp is the variety of perspectives within premillennialism, of which there are at least 4 to 5, depending on how one wants to break it down. But there are only 2 overarching categories of premillennialism. Some of the perspectives contradict aspects of the others, which adds to the complexity. I will try to give the general sense of premillennialism below.
Here are the main points of premillennialism:
First, Jesus will resurrect the dead physically in two stages. His initial return raises the justified who will reign with him for the millennium. At the end of that time, the reprobate will be raised for final judgment and consignment to eteral punishment.
Second, even if 1,000 years is understood as a symbolic span of time, it is still a future event and not to be interpreted as something in the past or present.
Third, Satan is bound in a new way throughout the entirety of the millennium.
Fourth, the millennial kingdom precedes the new creation and is therefore both a part of and yet distinct from the new creation.
The main dividing line between camps within premillennialism is the nature of the relationship between Israel and the church.
There are 2 main categories of premillennialism, under which the rest fall.
First is historic premillennialism. The term “historic” does not necessarily reflect the exact same perspective as the early church, but it is meant to distinguish this view from all the others. It genuinely affirms a literary, grammatical, and historical interpretive method of the Bible. Historic premillennialism interprets passages about Israel and the church as the church being a branch of Israel or the "true Israel" of God since the church is in Christ, who himself is the "true Israel" of God. Therefore, for many, what is said about the millennium and the eternal state is true for both regenerate Jews and Gentiles. It holds to all the main premillennialist convictions except those that are particular to the second main category, which is:
Dispensational premillennialism. This form is also known as “classical” dispensationalism even though it wasn’t formulated until the mid 1800s. If you’ve heard of John Nelson Darby, it’s because he formulated most of the particulars while the Scofield Reference Bible popularized it. It was dualist in nature, meaning that God has one plan of salvation for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. It also posited that in the new creation, the new earth would be for the Jews and the new heaven would be for the church. It interprets certain passages dealing with the relationship between Israel and the church to mean that there was hardly any relationship at all. Those who hold to this position also generally hold to a pre-tribulation rapture. So, during the millennium, the church reigns with Christ from heaven while the Jews and the nations are on earth. This is the real meaning of “dispensation” related to the millennium: one dispensation takes places on earth (Israel and the nations) while another takes place in heaven (the church). The rapture was first formulated in this way around this same time.
It is important to see that historic and dispensational premillennialism, while they share the same essentials listed above, diverge at several points. This adds to the notion that premillennialism is difficult to understand.
In general, premillennialism sees the millennium not as something clearly revealed before Revelation 20 but as something that aligns easily with Old Testament prophecy of a coming kingdom. Certain Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 24-25 and 65 all refer to a new kingdom of God and a new creation. However, while Isaiah 24-25 speak of the perfection of that kingdom, Isaiah 65 notes that a person who dies at age 100 will be considered young. Premillennialism reconciles these seemingly disparate prophecies, which both teach about the future kingdom in some way, as looking to two different spans of time: one refers to the millennium, and the other refers to the new creation. Simply put, one passage points to the time before sin and death are finally squashed, and one passage points past it.
Postmillennialism says the millennium comes after Christ has won the nations to himself and the church fulfills the great commission. The millennium is a golden age of Christian influence and worship of God, after which Christ returns to hand the kingdom over to the Father. It can be understood as a literal 1,000 years or symbolic of a great span of time. Postmillennialists are divided over whether prophecies about the end of the age have already come to pass (known as full- or partial-preterism). The transition from this age to the next will be almost seamless.
Amillennialism says the millennium was inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection and will be consummated at his return. The present age is the millennium, so the number 1,000 is therefore completely symbolic. There may or may not be a series of catastrophic events that precede the second coming.
To summarize, the main distinctive of premillennialism, of all stripes, is its insistence on a sequential reading of Revelation 20. That sequence is what gives rise to a reading of the text that assumes two physical resurrections, an earthly millennial kingdom, and the binding of Satan.
Next week, we’ll start to look at specific passages and interpret them within their context, both the book they’re in and the Bible as a whole, to find some solid ground on which we can stand to better understand this seemingly difficult-to-interpret truth.
For discussion below, what might lead a person to choose one interpretation over another?