Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond

Bock, Darrell L., ed. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. 330 pp. $17.99.

Christian views on the end times are often informed, not by the Scriptures, but by the fictional books crowding the shelves of local Christian bookstores. Though one’s eschatological convictions might be considered a third order matter of doctrine, such convictions do effect one’s biblical hermeneutic. In order to cultivate a healthy attitude for the interpretation of the Bible, pastors and teachers should consider informing the flock of God about various views on the millennium. Editor Darrel L. Bock provides a helpful discussion concerning the nature of Christ’s kingdom in relation to his second coming and reign in his book entitled, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond.

Summary

Instead of a one-sided explanation of the issues concerning the millennial kingdom and the return of Christ, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond provides readers with a forum, where three scholars submit conclusions from their own biblical and theological convictions. The writers take advantage of historical interpretation, biblical exegesis, and systematic theology in unfolding their beliefs about the coming kingdom of Christ. In this way, each of them fulfill the editors’ aim to answer the question of “whether or not there is a future intermediate earthly kingdom of a literal thousand years over which Christ will rule before the new heavens and new earth are established” (7).

Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. presents the postmillennial view. This view maintains that the proclamation of the gospel will eventually save the majority of the human race resulting in an age of righteousness and peace prior to Christ’s return (13). After some time, Jesus will then return in glory to raise the dead and judge all of mankind (14). Gentry begins his essay with an overview of postmillennialism’s historical developments within the church. He argues that the postmillennial view began with the early church fathers, grew rapidly during seventeenth century Puritanism, and receives attention still by many contemporary reformed theologians (14-22). With respect to its theological foundations, postmillennialism emphasizes that God’s sovereign purpose in redemptive-history is to restore his creation through “gradualistic conversion” of the nations, not through “catastrophic imposition” (29). This redemptive process began after the Fall, manifests itself in the Abrahamic Covenant, and will come to its consummation by means of the New Covenant (25-31). Gentry then attempts to undergird his thesis with exegetical evidence from significant passages like Ps 2, Isa 2:2-4, Matt 13, John 12:31-32, Matt 28:18-20, 1 Cor 15:20-28, and (though reluctantly) Rev 20. In each case, he concludes that the kingdom of God comes gradually through the preaching of the gospel with Jesus’ return ending the millennial era, rather than inaugurating it.

In response to Gentry, Strimple argues that the Scriptures do not teach that the world gradually gets better; rather, they teach that the world gradually gets worse, and only Jesus will renew it when he returns (61). Furthermore, he shows that postmillennialism causes the church to look for peace, rather than looking for the second coming of Christ-as the Scriptures teach-to bring peace (66). In fact, the Scriptures mention nothing of a golden age prior to Jesus’ second coming (70). Overall, Strimple is convinced that “postmillennialism is simply not taught in any passage of Scripture” (69). Blaising also finds Gentry’s arguments lacking biblical coherence. First, nowhere does the Scripture support a gradual development of the kingdom (77). Second, the importance and future of Israel finds no place in his system of thought (78). Third, Gentry’s interpretation of Revelation 20 is rather allegorical and does injustice to the “grammatical, historical, and literary” characteristics of the text.

Robert B. Strimple argues for an amillennial view, which denies millennialism altogether. His presentation excludes interaction with historical interpretation, though boldly affirms that the “biblical considerations” unfolded in his chapter “have caused many Christians throughout the ages to reject millennialism” (83). His first argument is that Christ, being the theme of OT prophecy, is now plainly revealed as the “true Israel,” the “new temple,” and the “Davidic King” (88, 94, 98). Christians do not await a further fulfillment of these themes in the millennium; rather, these themes have their fulfillment now in the reigning Christ. Secondly, Strimple argues that the second coming of Christ is the “grand finale of redemptive history” (100). According to texts like John 5:28-29, 2 Thess 1:5-10, Rom 8:17-23, 2 Pet 3:3-14, and 1 Cor 15:20-26, there is no room for a millennium (100-12). All of the dead are raised at once; the second coming is the same event as the Day of the Lord; and Jesus renews the earth at his return. Any talk of the millennium must be read into the text. Finally, Strimple attempts to prove that Rom 11 fails to teach a future national conversion of Israel prior to a millennium, and Rev 20:1-10 fails to teach a thousand year reign of Christ (112-29). Both texts, which are pillar texts for millennialists, fail even to teach millennialism.

Gentry praises Strimple for his development of Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophecy; however, on several other notes he does not find his argument compelling. Ironically, Gentry argues that if Strimple carried his arguments to their logical conclusions he would become a postmillennialist (132). On exegetical grounds, Gentry also observes several flaws in Strimple’s interpretation of Romans 11. According to Gentry, arguing that Israel has no future, even concluding that their hardening would last until the end of time, is to dissolve Paul’s argument completely (134, 141). Blaising is also aware of this. He adds that Romans 11 does teach the final redemption of ethnic Israel (148-9). He also objects that Strimple’s interpretation of the NT attempts to transcend OT eschatology (144). Instead, exegesis should reaffirm OT eschatology in light of the further revelation received in Jesus. Finally, Blaising adds that Strimple’s explanation of the second coming of Christ does not necessarily rule out its multi-stage fulfillments (149). The pattern of prophetic fulfillment testifies to this (150).

In the next essay, Craig A. Blaising makes a case for premillennialism. This view maintains that Christ’s second coming is prior to the millennial kingdom, which itself lasts for a thousand years (157). Blaising’s essay commences by making several unique historical observations about one’s preunderstanding of the nature of eternal life, and its hermeneutical effects on eschatology. Those who held to a spiritual vision model saw heavenly realities as superior to the earthly, found the spirit to be greater than matter, and interpreted the final state of blessing as primarily spiritual, not physical (161, 163). These interpreters were subject to “spiritual interpretation” as opposed to a more “literal” interpretation (165). For example, interpreting Revelation became strictly allegorical, so that people ignored its narrative-historical sequence (171, 173). Because of this, Blaising argues “ancient Christian premillennialism weakened” until a future millennium no longer coincided with “an ascent to the spiritual realm” (170). The millennium was not something to be expected, but something realized in the present Christian experience (172). In the wake of the Reformation, however, this view changed as there was a call back to a more “literal sense in theological interpretation” (174). Those who held to a new creation model rejected the “false dichotomy” of the spiritual vision model, and saw “eternal life in a holistic spiritual and material sense” “continuous with present existence” (162-3). Thus, theologians gave new attention to the nature of John’s millennial vision, Revelation 20, and the church and Israel (176-7). After an overview of recent theological developments in premillennialism, the remainder of Blaising’s essay is devoted to biblical interpretation. As a progressive dispensationalist, he shows that the OT and NT alike affirm a future kingdom that catastrophically replaces the present conditions at Christ’s coming (193-7). Between Christ’s second coming and the final judgment there is a “millennial phase,” a thousand year reign, during which Satan is bound and Christ reigns with his saints. For Blaising, this is plain from his thorough analysis of the Apocalypse, especially that of Revelation 20.

Gentry appreciates Blaising’s contribution to premillennialism, especially with the more recent moves to embrace a more covenantal understanding of both testaments (228). On the other hand, he largely disagrees with his overall approach to eschatology. Gentry argues that Blaising has his own philosophical preunderstandings of the age to come, and places entirely too much emphasis on the book of Revelation (236-241). For Gentry, “Revelation’s main point is to prophecy the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of a.d. 70” (245). Strimple also criticizes Blaising for placing most of his exegetical weight on Revelation 20 (263). He is persuaded that Revelation’s main thrust is perseverance, so that the “church militant may be encouraged by the church triumphant” (275). Strimple also finds the NT silent on any intervening period between Jesus’ second coming and the final judgment (267).

To close the book, Darrel L. Bock provides a helpful and rather thought provoking summary. He first highlights the various points of agreement among the authors, of which are a commitment to scriptural authority, God-honoring fellowship, and the “eventual victory of Christ” (284-5). In three final sections, Bock then interacts with the contributors’ disagreements. His section on “hermeneutical integration” encourages the reader to think about the relationship between issues like typology and prophecy, Israel and the church, or the role of Revelation (285-299). The following section, “hermeneutical textual issues,” presses the reader to study the significant interpretive issues concerning the nature of Revelation and apocalyptic literature (299-305). The last section, “structural implications,” then raises questions that help the reader to visualize the kind of worldviews developed from each eschatological system (305-308). Although Bock is a premillennialist himself, his evaluation of each view and the implications thereof is fair.

Critical Evaluation

By including these three essays and creating a forum for each of the scholars to respond to each other, Bock presents a stimulating approach to the study of the millennium and beyond. There are several positive challenges to this field of study. First, classical dispensationalist’s two major divine purposes for the salvation of the church and Israel are rightly challenged by all three writers (183).[1] Their biblical theology reminds the reader of the continuity and discontinuity found in the OT and the NT concerning God’s plan for his redeemed (e.g. Gentry: 132-142; Strimple: 87-90; Blaising: 186, 196).[2] In the end, there is one redeemed body, not two. The eschatological dualism of classical dispensationalism falls when placed up against the single salvation narrative spoken of by the Scriptures.

Second, the above discussion brings critical interpretive questions to the table for each view so that it forces the reader to go to the Scriptures for answers. Sadly, for many years, evangelicals gladly (though ignorantly) welcomed the trite explanations given by their Scofield study bible as practically infallible.[3] The scholars in this book are asking the significant questions concerning the millennium and beyond-questions that cultivate an atmosphere for a more careful look at the Scriptures.

Third, the arguments of each writer cause the reader to reevaluate the imperatives in relation to Christ’s kingdom. After the presentation of each view, the question arises, “How then shall we live?” Although the answers might be similar-for example, proclaim the good news, persevere to the end, prepare to meet the king, etc.-the motivations are fairly different. The postmillennialist is motivated by the aim for worldwide peace in a “golden age” that comes through the work of the gospel in various socio-political means. The amillennialist and premillennialist have a different motivation. Both believe the world is not going to get better. They look instead to the glorious return of Christ and place a greater emphasis on perseverance.

Fourth, the disagreement amongst the writers concerning God’s purposes with ethnic Israel now and in the future calls scholars to be persistent in their efforts to understand the unity of God’s promises and their fulfillment in both testaments. Indeed, if this issue was of such eternal significance for the church in Rome (Rom 9-11), then surely it ought to be something Christians are concerned with getting correct today. This much is obvious. Parts of the church should renounce their replacement theology, and reconsider who supports the wild branches. Other parts of the church should deem any carnal opinion that Jews do not need the gospel as simply hateful and ultimately anti-Semitic.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this book is rather helpful. Bock has done well with his selection of notable scholars. Placing three views in one book enables the readers to highlight the main differences in the debate, and equip themselves with material for further theological reflection. Though various Systematic theologies offer the same material, it is often from a biased approach. This book distinguishes itself by allowing the reader to hear the arguments from the advocates of each view themselves. The select bibliographies and indexes add to its usefulness. Laymen, pastors, and scholars will benefit from this helpful journey through the three millennial perspectives.


[1]That there are two ultimate salvation tracks-one for the Jews on earth and one for the church in heaven-is clearly espoused by Lewis Sperry Chafer in his Systematic Theology, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), 29-35, 47-53.

[2]Strimple, however, is wrong to fall into supercessionism when he argues that Romans 11 does not teach the future conversion of Israel (112-118). On the same note, Gentry must also be careful not to fully replace Israel with the church (cf. 31, 36).

[3]Mark Noll observes that this took place when the “fundamentalist movement reinforced the dogmatic power of populist teachers” in his The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 123-145. C. I. Scofield was a classical dispensationalist.

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