In Voddie Baucham’s introduction to his expository series on the book of Revelation, he starts off by citing two very interesting surveys that were done among American Evangelicals. One study asked the question – which book of the Bible would church members most want to hear taught? The other survey asked Pastors, which book of the Bible they least wanted to teach on. The answer that came out on top in both of these surveys was the book of Revelation. Clearly Christians have an appetite for instruction on the end times, but sadly many Pastors are reluctant to teach on the subject. I think I can with a degree of relative certainty identify at least one reason for this reluctance – fear that it might lead to unnecessary division in the church.
As I prepared to teach on the subject of Eschatology last Sunday the potential for division was a concern that was constantly on my mind. It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life, that though there seems to be a consensus that one’s view of the Millennium does not affect any of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith – yet differences regarding the Millennium have often been the occasion for division among God’s people. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. Our view of the Millennium should never hinder our fellowship with other believers. Though the Bible does teach that there are doctrinal issues that we should divide over (1 Thess. 3:6; 1 Jn. 2:1), one’s view of the Millennium does not fall into that category.
Now, I worry that some will conclude from this, that one’s understanding of the Millennium is unimportant. I believe it is. Or that we should just avoid discussing this subject all together. I don’t believe we should. All I’m saying is that we should never allow this issue to become a point of contention. We should be able to have robust and even lively debate on this issue, but in a spirit of humility accompanied by brotherly affection.
With that being said, I do want to state quite emphatically that my prayer and desire is that everyone would become Amillennial. I desire that because I believe this view most accurately reflects the teaching of the Bible on this subject. But my intention with this article is not to persuade anyone to exchange their particular view on the Millennium for an Amillennial one. In fact, I would be concerned if someone would be willing to change their view simply on the basis of this brief article. Instead, my goal is to stimulate thinking on this subject and to invite everyone to join in on the discussion. My intention, as the title of this article indicates, is simply to get believers to at least consider the possibility that the Amillennial view of the end times may be the correct one. To that end I want to briefly lay out three reasons why I think you should (at least) consider the Amillennial view.
A Hermeneutical reason to consider Amillennialism:
For those who may not be familiar with the term Hermeneutics, it refers to our method of interpreting the Bible. The Scriptures are inspired by God and as such, we must approach them with an appropriate level of humility, reverence and caution. A good Hermeneutic provides rules of Biblical interpretation that keep us from drawing unwarranted conclusions from a text of Scripture. The subject of Hermeneutics is relevant to this article because my own journey from Premillennialism to Amillennialism actually came about as a result of my studies on the subject of Hermeneutics. One Hermeneutical principle is especially relevant here – it is what theologians refer to as the Analogy of Faith. According to this principle we must interpret a particular passage of Scripture in the light of the rest of Scripture. In doing so we also need to take care that we view the ambiguous (unclear/symbolic) passages in light of those that are clear. We almost instinctively apply this principle, for instance, when we come to passages that seem to teach that God has a body (God’s eyes and ears in Psalm 34:15). We know from John 4:24 that God is Spirit and so we know to interpret those passages as figures of speech and not literal descriptions of God’s being.
I soon realized that if I was going to be consistent in my application of this principle, I would have to bid farewell to my beloved Premillennialism. It was not easy letting go of a view that I had so passionately defended in the past. But I realized that my Premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 was based on a Hermeneutic that was the complete opposite of the one I had now come to embrace. I was taking an unclear passage located in the most symbolic book in all of Scripture and I was trying to interpret the rest of Scripture in light of it.
This led me, for the first time in my Christian life, to take an unbiased look at the four main views regarding the Millennium. As I considered different passages related to the end times it was remarkable how consistent the Amillennial view was with their teaching. Finally (and if I may add providentially) I had to take a course at The Bible Institute of South Africa on the writings of John, with about half of the semester being devoted to the book of Revelation. I remember almost being overwhelmed with the amount of reading I had to do on the book, but it was a blessed time. As I went through the book of Revelation again and again and as I worked through the lectures and prescribed reading, I finally became convinced that the Amillennial position was the view that made the best sense of what God has revealed to us on the subject of the end times. Over the last couple of years that conviction has only grown stronger.
Before I move on to the next two reasons why you should consider the Amillennial view, I just want to emphasize what I have just said – that I came to my convictions regarding the Millennium on the basis of what I believe to be the plain teaching of Scripture. However, the next two reasons I will point to have led me to a greater confidence that the Amillennial view is the correct one.
A theological reason to consider Amillennialism:
Of all the Millennial views, Amillennialism seems to be the one that is the most oriented around the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, it is the position that is most Christ centered and Christ glorifying of all the views. In both Dispensational Premillennialism and Postmillennialism, the focal point of their eschatology is something other than Christ. For the Dispensationalists the focal point is undoubtedly Israel – as many Dispensational theologians readily admit. The eschatological promises made in the Old Testament were promises made to Israel – they argue – and therefore they must be find their fulfilment in national Israel. Postmillennialists however, viewing the church as the true Israel, believe those promises must be fulfilled in the church. This interpretation makes Postmillennialists very optimistic about the earthly prospects of the church. So optimistic in fact, that they believe that the church will ultimately conquer the world for Christ. Here the focal point is not Christ, but the church.
Amillennialists, however, believe that the promises made to Abraham were not to have their ultimate fulfilment either in national Israel or the Church. Paul, they would point out, makes it clear that the promise made to Abraham was not to his seed (plural), but to a seed – the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). Christ then becomes the Eschatological (or true Israel) and he should be seen as the great subject of Old Testament prophecy. Therefore, the Amillennial view teaches that the promise made to Israel, to make the nations their inheritance, was ultimately a promise made to Christ. An understanding, incidentally, held by James as can be seen in his interpretation of one of the Old Testament promises made to Israel (see Acts 15:14-17).
Now, to be fair Historic Premillennialists (like John Piper or Charles Spurgeon) tend to be very Christ-centered in their appreciation of the end times. They avoid an unbiblical preoccupation with Israel on the one hand and a triumphalist expectation regarding the church on the other. Yet there is still one area that I think the Historic Premillennial view is lacking. It fails to show how a thousand-year earthly reign of Christ fits into the God’s unfolding plan of redemption. The Amillennialist can explain exactly how each stage in his eschatology fits into God’s great plan of redemption. In his first coming Christ accomplishes our redemption in his death, burial and resurrection. Until he returns, he is applying that redemption to the elect both in the sending of the Holy Spirit to regenerate and in his current ministry of intercession for his people. When he returns, he will finally complete his great work of salvation in his resurrection of the saints and the establishment of a renewed Heaven and Earth.
The Amillennial Eschatology is all about God making good on his promise of redemption in Genesis 3:16. The Premillennialist, however, is at a loss to explain how exactly an earthly reign of Christ fits into the larger redemptive framework of the Bible. For these reasons I believe that the Amillennial position is most centered on an most glorifying to the Lord Jesus Christ.
A historical reason to consider Amillennialism:
The final argument is a simple one – the Amillennial position has been the dominant eschatological view for most of church history. Many Christians might find that claim shocking, but it is a claim that is not very difficult to prove. I believe this is another compelling argument in favor of the Amillennial view. Not only was the Amillennial view held by many Christians in the early church (along with Historic Premillennialism), but we also see from church history that from around the fifth century until relatively recently it was the most common Eschatological view held by Christians. Now of course we don’t believe that majority opinion determines truth, but I do think it is significant that for most of church history Christians have believed that the Amillennial view makes the best sense of the testimony of Scripture. Church history, however, presents a real problem for both Dispensationalists and Postmillennialists. Postmillennialism only developed in the 17th century and Dispensationalism only developed two centuries later.
It’s also noteworthy that Amillennialism is often referred to as the Reformed view of Eschatology. This is because it was the view held by most of the Reformers (Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger). Calvin, for instance, called Premillennialism is fiction that was so silly that he felt no need to refute it. Amillennialism was also the view held by the most influential theologian in church history, Augustine. Augustine started out as a Historic Premillennialist, but eventually rejected this position in favor of Amillennialism. Now all these men I’ve just mentioned also believed in infant baptism, so I am in no way arguing that we should believe something simply because they taught it. Yet it does add weight to the Amillennial argument, that some of the greatest theologians in church history agreed that this is what the Scriptures teach.
Now you may have noticed that I have not gone to great lengths to prove the claims I have made in this article. Nor have I sought to define all of the various Millennial views that I make reference to. This was done intentionally. This is not a theological treatise in favor of Amillennialism. As I said earlier, I’m not looking to convince anyone that the view I hold to is the correct one. My intention is simply to get you thinking, reading, studying and talking about the issue. I really want to encourage you to feel free to engage with me on this subject. If you want to challenge me on some of the claims I make in this article, please do so. If certain things are unclear to you, please don’t hesitate to ask me about them.
I want to end by suggesting a few good books for further reading on the subject. Samuel Waldron’s book – The End Times Made Simple is a good place to start and as far as I know there should still be a copy left at The Book Corner. Another excellent book is A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger. The most accessible book I’ve read on the subject of Eschatology is William Boekestein’s The Future of Everything. If you’re looking for a book that’s easy to read and that avoids getting unnecessarily technical on this issue, this is definitely the book I would recommend. There is also an audiobook version available on both Audible and Scribd. If you’re not looking to spend any money on books, I would encourage you to visit the website of theologians John Frame and Vern Poythress. They make many of their books available to be read online for free – including a few books by Poythress on Revelation and one on Dispensationalism. You can also find an audio series by Poythress on the book of Revelation on this website.
In conclusion let me just say – I’m not one of those people who believe that one’s eschatology has no practical outworking on the Christian life. Christ commissioned John to write the book of Revelation to strengthen saints who were either suffering persecution or who were tempted to compromise with Satan. Clearly for our Lord Eschatology is anything but unpractical. So let me encourage you not to be intimidated by this issue. We often make this subject more complicated than it needs to be. This article is an invitation to study this subject for yourself. My hope is also that it will stimulate people to think about this issue, that it leads to helpful discussions on the subject and that ultimately it would make us a more fruitful, more Christ centered church.