Archives for September 2012

Dominion in Genesis, Part 4/8: Three Perspectives on End Times Prophecy

One of the central themes of Genesis is dominion. Nowhere is that theme more apparent than in the life of Joseph. After many peaks and valleys, Genesis crescendos with his rise to power in Egypt. A central theme of this series is that Joseph’s reign with the pharaoh foreshadowed Christ’s reign with God the Father during the millennium.

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Christ in Glory c. 1660 by Mattia Preti

Below, I will review the three main positions on end times prophecy. They are premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. These may be further broken down into “pessimillennialism” and postmillennialism.

Christians who hold any of the three main eschatological views are in broad agreement that Jesus will physically return to the earth. However, they argue over when this will occur in relation to the millennial reign of Christ. It’s widely understood that the millennium will occur over a limited time, on the earth, in the presence of unbelievers. This is taught in Revelation 20 and other places, such as in the symbolic meaning of Joseph’s reign. Beyond this, Christians don’t agree on much when it comes to the “end times.”

 

Premillennialism

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Judgment Day Billboard (Wikimedia)

Premillennialism is the predominant eschatological view among Christians today, but this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, the dominant view was postmillennialism.

Premillennialists believe Jesus will return before the millennium, which they expect to last for a literal one thousand years. I describe them as pessimists because they view the Church as mostly being apostate. Presumably, this excludes the premillennialists’ own denominations. Naturally, this perspective fosters judgmentalism toward outsiders.

Since they don’t think God wants them to suffer trials, most premillennialists expect Jesus to return invisibly to rapture them before the Great Tribulation. They believe the Lord is literally scheduled to return again seven years later, at the end of the tribulation. At that time, He will return in bodily form with His saints and angels to defeat His enemies at Armageddon. Jesus will then reign over the world from a throne in Jerusalem.

Zionist Christians anticipate that animal sacrifices will be reinstituted in a new temple. They know there’s no longer any need for sacrifices (Heb. 10:4-18), but think the bloody slaughter of innocent animals will be a lovely memorial to ancient Israel.

It’s uncertain whether Jesus will travel around the world doing evangelism and working miracles, or whether He will mostly act as an Administrator. It’s also unknown whether His angels will serve as a heavenly Gestapo, intervene to prevent traffic accidents, or simply continue to whisper in people’s ears.

While it’s true that a complex theological position can’t be expected to answer every question, neither should it be so irrational. These are but a few examples of the many absurdities that are bound up in premillennialist teachings.

If the premillennialists are correct, we Christians will have proven ourselves to be perpetual screw-ups. There’s no persuasive reason for supposing that this would change if Jesus were physically present on the earth. In any case, premillennialists admit that even Jesus will be seen as an incompetent ruler. Upon being released, Satan will be able to quickly gather and lead an enormous army against Him. These doctrines seem to originate from a judgmental view of the Church, and even of Christ Himself.

Christians don’t need Jesus to be physically present on the earth. The Lord didn’t leave us alone, but sent the Holy Spirit to live in and among us (Jn. 14:16-17). Jesus even said His followers would do “greater things” than what He had done (Jn. 14:12). Collectively, Christians represent Jesus as the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. We ought to believe these truths and take these responsibilities seriously, as weighty as they are.

Even if you don’t believe that God can grant Christians the ability to perform miracles today, we’re able to take advantage of scientific and medical advances. The world currently produces enough food to feed everyone. This means problems such as hunger and starvation are our fault, not a problem of Jesus not being here in the flesh. Mankind, Christians in particular, must “take dominion” by being good managers of our technology and the earth’s resources.

Notably, some of the premillennialists’ predictions have been self-fulfilling. For example, after insisting that evil will increase, many are content to passively watch that happen, except for the occasional, futile rant against a particularly offensive sin. Premillennialists are conditioned to expect evil to increase, and to wait for a rapture that always seems to be just around the corner.

 

Amillennialism

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Sacred Heart of Jesus by José María Ibarrarán y Ponce, 1854-1910 (Wikimedia)

Amillennialists and postmillennialists share many common beliefs because they weren’t distinguished from one another until after World War I. This was such a pessimistic time in modern history that some Christians parted ways with historic postmillennialism and became known as amillennialists.

Amillennial means “no millennium.” However, amillennialists only refuse to believe in a literal, one thousand year millennium. They believe the Church Age is the millennium, and see God’s kingdom as a spiritual kingdom that does not include social or political transformation.

Historically, the forerunners of today’s amillennialists and postmillennialists have agreed that the Church is the continuation or fulfillment of the Old Testament nation of Israel (Gal. 6:16). It was understood that Christ reigns now over His holy nation. This Christian belief is now widely denounced as “replacement theology” because some Jews want to claim ownership of everything associated with ancient Israel.

Amillennialists weaken the doctrine of the Church as Christ’s body by depicting Jesus as a personal Savior who reigns spiritually in the hearts of Christians. Postmillennialists also see Christ as the King of kings Who reigns over the nations, largely through the Church’s influence.

The pessimillennialists (i.e., both amillennialists and premillennialists) agree that, even though it can’t be denied that the Church experiences occasional victories, evil continues to spread and increase over time. Supposedly, Satan will be released at the end of this age, and there will be a time of great apostasy and tribulation. Fortunately, Jesus is prepared to forcibly suppress any insurrection.

Here, there’s a divergence. Amillennialists expect the Final Judgment to follow, but premillennialists believe the one thousand year millennium will then commence. Amillennialists, together with postmillennialists, deny that Jesus will physically reign on the earth.

A primary weakness of amillennialism is that it spiritualizes the kingdom of Christ as being strictly heavenly. However, even the Old Testament tells us that God reigns over the nations on the earth (Ps. 47:7-9). Not only does Christ reign now, He’ll continue to reign until all His enemies—dominions, authorities, and powers—have been put under His feet (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

Lamentably, all Christian pessimists commit the sin of denying the power of God on this earth (2 Tim. 3:5).

 
Postmillennialism

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Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Most Christians today know little about the postmillennial view, even though it has a prominent place in Christian history.

Postmillennialists believe Christ will not return to the earth until after the millennium which, as amillennialists agree, is not to be taken literally as lasting one thousand years. Some postmillennialists, however, do take this word literally.

The Lord’s return will be followed immediately by the General Resurrection and the Final Judgment. Meanwhile, God is preparing for Christ’s glorious return by extending His kingdom in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit.

Postmillennialists can be distinguished from other Christians by our belief in the comprehensiveness of Christ’s kingdom. I will use the metaphor of body cells to explain this…

God loves every cell in your body, knowing that each one helps make up the person you are. The Lord knows that each cell must live in a sanitary environment and be supplied with the nutrients it needs to be healthy and do its job. Similarly, yet more intensely, God loves every Christian while knowing that each of us is part of Christ’s body.

Instead of living in a literal body, each of us is a member of a nation or society. You may live anywhere from a large city to a rural community. Most likely, your environment is worldly and corrupt. Christian children often get the worst of it. They typically spend six hours a day, nine months a year, for thirteen years sitting in public schools, only to come home and see filth on the television.

When an entire body is diseased, we can’t necessarily expect individual cells to remain healthy. The best way to heal any one cell is by creating a healthy environment for all the cells.

Since our world is spiritually sick and diseased, what can we do about it?

Pessimistic Christians have no real answer to this because they think God only saves individuals, families, and may bring revival to a church. The salvation of institutions and entire societies doesn’t figure prominently into their theology, even though God has done this in the past. The pessimists have a defensive outlook which hopes for the strength to endure trials, not for faith to storm the gates of Hell (Mt. 16:18).

I know pessimillennialists may insist that a nation can’t be “Christian.” However, we all know what it means when a country such as America is described as “post-Christian.” In fact, anyone who says God of Jesus Christ can’t transform a society or institution is displaying both irreverence and a profound ignorance of history.

Christians who, out of either fear or respect for Satan’s presumed lordship, do little to change our societal environment, bear some guilt for the condition of the world (Mt. 18:7, Jas. 4:17).

Postmillennialists don’t claim that every person in any given institution or society will be saved. We only claim that God can and will work through Christians to bring about massive, positive change through non-forceful means.

As we’ve been learning, God not only sought to, but at times did reign in a very real way over the nation of Israel. By raising up faithful saints such as Joseph and David, the Lord extended Israel’s influence to the surrounding nations.

God is able to effectively reign over and bless nations that seek him. Unfortunately, Christian pessimism, pietism, and a narrow emphasis on individual salvation has displaced nearly all expectation among Christians of corporate blessings such as mass conversions or massive structural change affecting society, culture, education, government, the economy, or politics.

Postmillennialists don’t focus exclusively on structural transformation. We understand that God begins with individuals. At the same time, we know that we can’t raise healthy fish in a dirty fish tank. I’ll explain this metaphor using a practical example.

Rousas John Rushdoony

R. J. Rushdoony

After a postmillennialist named Rousas John Rushdoony saw that public schools were corrupting Christian children, he didn’t bemoan the evil world, wring his hands in frustration, and write a bestseller on the “end times.” Instead, he became instrumental in establishing the Christian home school movement.

The point is not that postmillennialists care more about their children than other Christians. Rather, it’s that postmillennialists don’t accept or fatalistically resign ourselves to the theological error that Satan is growing stronger every day. Concerned postmillennialists seek to change this world for the better while being confident that God is on our side to help and strengthen us. On behalf of all postmillennialists, I invite you to join us in our belief that Christ genuinely defeated Satan on the cross.

 

Now that I’ve summarized the three main eschatological views, you have the information you need in order to know which interpretations discourage us from having hope and faith in this life, and which inspires us with the assurance that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4). Even though I couldn’t provide an in-depth study of Bible prophecy, I have curated some related articles on Scoop.it. In addition, I studied the prophecies in Daniel 9:24-27 and Matthew 24 in Chapter 8 of Return to Genesis. Anyone who is seriously interested in Christian dominion can benefit from reading the entire book.

Pessimillennialists may point out that if they’ve interpreted the Bible correctly, they can’t be faulted for being pessimistic. In theory, I agree. However. if the Bible truly presents God’s wisdom, we should expect it to be in conformity with reason and basic psychology. If God gave us good news, then by definition it should give us cause to be optimistic, not pessimistic. What do you think? Please leave any comments below.

This series is continued in part 5.

Dominion in Genesis, Part 3/8: Do You Serve Two Masters?

In part 2, I explained that if we take Joseph seriously as a type of Christ, it’s clear that his suffering and reign prefigured Christ’s suffering, resurrection, and ascension. Joseph reigned over both Israel and Egypt, which were symbolic of the Church and the world, respectively. This signified that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was also destined to reign over both.

We don’t have to rely solely on this symbolic interpretation since the Apostle Paul held this same belief, based on this explicit statement in 1 Corinthians:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (15:24-26)

Christians who believe in “Left Behind” theology think Christ is waiting to reign over resurrected people on a new earth, where sin will continue. However, this contradicts the above passage, which states that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Jesus’ victory over death will be manifested through the General Resurrection, in which He will raise all deceased believers to eternal life. This will occur at the end of time, after our Lord has destroyed all other enemies by reigning through His people on this earth.

Over the centuries, Christ has indeed been destroying the spiritual enemies of mankind, and of the Christian faith in particular. Largely through the influence of the Christian West (though it has lately become post-Christian), the world is emerging from the ignorant ways of tribalism, animism, and polytheism. We’ve also left, or are leaving behind animal and human sacrifice, nature worship, ancestor worship, belief in the divinity of a ruling class or family, and various forms of systemic injustice. This allowed for the development of civilization through cooperation and progress in fields such as science, medicine, and law.

 

Problems of the Modern Era

All of this doesn’t mean that the world is now solidly set on a path of freedom, peace, and prosperity. Unfortunately, the “Age of Reason” brought its own imbalances, which are also enemies of the cross, and of human progress. Specifically, antiquated belief systems have been replaced by dualisms such as the following:

Extremist Beliefs Related, Imbalanced Theories
Individualism Laissez faire capitalism*
Collectivism Nationalism, Socialism
Trust in authorities Communism, Fascism (Totalitarianism)
Distrust of authorities Anarchism, Democracy**
Rationalism Materialism, Anti-supernaturalism
Subjectivism Supernaturalism

*The problem isn’t capitalism but the emphasis on “laissez faire,” which assumes that greedy people need virtually no constraints. All forms of lawlessness are unbiblical.

** The American media tells us we live in a democracy, as if our politicians truly represent us, the people. It’s more like an oligarchy due to our their dependence on big money.

As C. S. Lewis wrote that the devil “always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites.” This choice gives us a sense of freedom, and yet “he relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one” (Mere Christianity). Thus, we err because we don’t love the truth—a choice that is seldom clearly presented to us.

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The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco De Goya y Lucientes

The unresolved dualisms of the modern era have led to ceaseless arguments, conflicts, and wars. So-called “free thinkers” reject the very idea of God, but they can’t give our lives purpose, meaning, or spiritual fulfillment. Postmodernism also doesn’t answer our most important questions since it rejects the concept of absolute truth.

 

Our Need of Faith

No scientific laboratory can produce the answers that we seek. The dualisms are irresolvable apart from a faith-based response. In this regard, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is indispensable for mankind. It accounts for the existence of spirit, body, and soul, and is an example of unity with diversity. In contrast to materialist philosophies, the Bible affirms that all life is sacred and, specially affirms the dignity of every human being.

Nearly every Christian knows, and will readily admit that Christianity hasn’t been the only positive influence in the world. This isn’t a problem because the Bible tells us God revealed His truth through nature, and to the hearts of people who know nothing of His written revelation (Ps. 19:1-6, Rom. 2:14). Even with this other revelation, however, Christianity has arguably been the primary driver of positive change in the world. In particular, the Bible has stood the test of time. Whenever evil has been done in the name of Christianity, it’s because Christians have either misinterpreted the Bible or willfully disobeyed its teachings.

I think the last sentence, though true, allows Christians too much room for error as we attempt to move forward with thousands of different denominations. We’ve been divided by different interpretations of the Bible, and by succumbing to dualistic fallacies. We all profess to be following the same Lord, but Jesus prayed that we would all be united. We need to show the world that we’re all following the same God by being obedient in this area. I think Christians not only should, but can agree substantially on how to interpret the Bible, and on its main teachings. To this end, I presented a Bible-based plan for Christian unity in Chapter 26 of Return to Genesis.

 

Our Need of Faithful Leaders

When we study biblical heroes such as Joseph, we should be inspired to put our hope and trust in God. Since God mightily helped people such as Joseph thousands of years before the coming of Christ, we should trust Him to do even greater things in our generation. Unfortunately, most Christians aren’t prepared for victory because our theology has effectively reduced us to second-class citizens.

We’ve elevated Jesus to a superhuman and other-worldly status. That’s why we’ve been reluctant to compare Jesus with Adam, let alone with any other biblical figure. It’s also why we confess that Jesus reigns from His Father’s right hand, but don’t want to fully appreciate that He can only reign over this world through us, His people.

Incidentally, all the talk about “WWJD” only helps substantiate my point. That was a feeble attempt to bring Jesus back down to earth. God wants to raise Christians up to Jesus’ level, not for us to bring Him down to ours.

The Christian Right movement also doesn’t spring from a deep understanding of the Bible, but only from a vague sense that Christianity is supposed to have a meaningful impact in the world.

Since we’ve largely rejected the examples set by Joseph and other bold heroes of the faith, neither have we had much to say to Christians who experience significant financial, social, or political success in our time. It’s as if God has nothing special for them. Christians seldom see beyond the possibility that the brother or sister who achieves some degree of success in this world might contribute more in the offerings.

We’ve emasculated the gospel by stripping it of its authority and its kingdom message. Jesus reigns in heaven, and we plead with Him to lead people to our local church. We’ve treated the Bible an outdated book having little practical value other than to teach individuals how to be “saved.” We’ve even reduced salvation to a spiritual benefit having little worldly significance. Imagine how irrelevant this has made the Christian faith appear to Christians whose horizons may suddenly extend far beyond their local church and community.

No, I’m not suggesting that Christians must be successful and influential in this world before they can become a hero or heroine in God’s eyes. I’m also not preaching a “health and wealth” gospel. God doesn’t want to make all Christians prosperous in every way. We should keep in mind that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor” (Lk. 6:20). When we have unmet needs, it keeps us humble and spiritually needy. Moreover, it would be environmentally unsustainable if all Christians became wealthy.

What I’m proclaiming is the scriptural truth that God wants to transform this world, and that His choice method of doing this is through us, His people. The Bible records many occasions in which the Lord raised His prophets and servants to positions of authority and influence, even to where they could communicate directly with kings, not only of Israel and Judah, but also of foreign powers such as Babylon and Rome. You may think you could never be so influential, but God raised Joseph even from a prison to a place of great influence.

With God’s help, spiritually mature Christians can overcome the temptations and pressures of worldly or material success. We are weak, but He is strong (2 Cor. 12:10). God’s taking care of heaven. He’s not physically present to take care of this world, but He sent His Spirit to help us do that.

 

The Spiritual and Material Gods of Modern Christianity

Assuming that we all understand that God is concerned about, and died for this world and everyone in it, why do we view salvation as little more than an individual, spiritual experience? The problem, again, is toxic dualisms, which are the legacy of modernism. They’ve infiltrated every church and denomination.

The primary dualism would likely be the division of all human activity into two sectors. Christians have allowed our “religion,” including God, to be marginalized into a little, private sector that the secular world doesn’t want to take seriously, or even to hear about. This is the realm of all that is “unreal,” or not scientifically verifiable. It encompasses all that is private, subjective, supernatural, or metaphysical. This includes even moral instruction. We recognize the God of Jesus Christ as being sovereign over this realm.

We’ve effectively relinquished everything else to the non-religious or secular realm, and to its power brokers in the media, Hollywood, the government, and elsewhere. Presumably, our political and business leaders are not only attuned to and respectful of the pluralistic, democratic consensus, but are voices of pure objectivity and reason. Therefore, they’re doing a fine job of hearing and representing us Christians, right?

Most Christians, if we’re honest, don’t see the public realm as belonging to God. A person doesn’t have to be an atheist to be of the opinion that God has little or no place in the public sector. We either keep God in the prayer closet or we put Him in remote positions such as Creator (past), Redeemer (past, or present for Christians only), or Judge (future, except in the case of AIDS victims, hurricanes, etc.) We see the public realm as belonging to secular people or, according to some Christians, to the prince of darkness himself.

Although I believed such things for most of my life, I now recognize this as a form of idolatry. The first century equivalent would have been to confess both Jesus and Caesar as deities. Although Christians obeyed most Roman laws and decrees for the Lord’s sake, they didn’t bow the knee to Caesar, or to anyone who dared to supplant God’s authority. This should be a matter of principle for Christians today, and we ought to know precisely when a human ruler intrudes into God’s sphere of authority.

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Christmas Prayers 1872 by Henry Bacon 

Most Christians today recognize and serve two masters. One is the spiritual God Who lives in our hearts; the other is the material god who rules the world. However, Jesus warned us against this temptation:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Mt. 6:24)

I believe God uses spiritual laws such as this to judge worldly Christians and the world itself. Every developed nation today is internally divided. Materially and spiritually minded people have always been at war against one another, and always will be. True spirituality begins with the worship of our transcendent God, not with the exaltation of earthbound humanity. This division has lately been coalescing into a more open division between unbelievers and Christians.

Christians ceded the victory in this battle long ago. Today, we’re stuck in a trap that was mostly of our own making. Under the influence of a late 17th to mid-18th century movement called pietism, believers began to focus more on personal spirituality than on practical, kingdom-centered theology and activism that could have benefited both the Church and the broader society. As Christians shifted from engagement in the world to navel-gazing, secular humanists were more than happy to fill the power vacuum.

 

Freeing Ourselves From the Pitfall of Pietism

I’m not suggesting that any Christian should neglect spiritual matters. Each of us needs to guard our own heart and maintain our relationship with the Lord. However, God also has called us to be a prophetic voice—His voice—in the world.

Personally, I don’t know how any Christian can talk with God every day for years on end without becoming genuinely concerned about the world beyond themselves, their church, and a few unbelieving friends or relatives. That world, teeming with billions of people, is also subject to Christ’s Lordship.

Although I’m not a pietist, I incorporate encouragement and inspiration into my writing, mainly because I see no other way of understanding the Bible’s message of salvation. Good theology promotes spiritual growth, but bad theology such as pietism limits it.

That, by the way, is how Christians can escape from the trap that pietism has put us in. We can’t demand the world’s respect, but we can earn it by understanding and practicing theology in a way that honors both God and His highest creation, mankind.

Christians should be optimistic, joyful people who respect science, honor authorities, and bless the world in practical, tangible ways. Good theology has, and will again make meaningful contributions in key areas such as economics, ethics, history, politics, and sociology. The Bible has specific input in each of these areas, but every aspect of human life is sacred. No matter what your occupation, you can do it to the glory of God.

If Joseph had been a pietist, he might have refused the offer to rule over Egypt. However, like most people in his cultural setting, he didn’t recognize an artificial, dualistic distinction between the sacred and the secular. Since he had a healthy and holistic perspective on life, Joseph knew God wasn’t confined to his prison cell. He didn’t accept the new position so that he could lock himself in a luxurious prayer closet, complete with carpeting and musical accompaniment.

We can begin to recover a more holistic perspective on faith and life by studying the Bible with a view to understanding the parallelisms, metaphors, and symbols. That’s why the primary emphasis of this blog is on premodern wisdom. We can’t claim to have a biblical worldview if we don’t reject or reconcile confusing dualisms that only lead to strife and warfare. We shouldn’t only read the last one-fourth of the Bible, but should learn from God’s initial revelation to mankind through our distant ancestors in the faith.

Throughout the Old Testament, God raised believers such as Joseph, David, Nehemiah, and Daniel to positions of great influence. One thing these men had in common is that they all had a high view of God, and of His ability to work through them. They didn’t resign themselves to the rule of Satan, but worked to establish God’s reign on the earth.

Even though Jesus revealed the good news of God’s salvation in His words, life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, and present reign (as first manifested through judgment on Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.),* most Christians are less optimistic than the Old Testament saints. They didn’t continually talk about things like Satan ruling the world, the Antichrist, or Armageddon.

*We can only hope to feel halfway decent about three things at most—our words, how we’ve lived our life, and how we die. By contrast, Jesus displayed perfection in each of these seven different areas!

In part 4, I’ll explain why most Christians in America and elsewhere became gloomy about the future, and why their predecessors in the faith were much more optimistic. Our reason for optimism is related to the fact that Jesus is reigning over the world, as stated in the first and last (above) paragraphs of this post. We’ll review both true and false teachings about that ever popular subject of speculation, dread, and humor—the “end times.”

How do you think Christians should respond to the dualisms of modernism and the ennui of postmodernism? Feel free to comment on this or anything else.