Monday, June 29, 2009
Jesus is presently reigning in heaven, subduing his enemies. He is renewing the earth, causing the rule of heaven to gradually descend upon the earth. The church is fulfilling the great commission, discipling the nations. All of this will produce a period of peace and joy and harmony that the world has not known since the garden.
As we look at the present state of the world, it appears that Jesus is committed to a long-term plan. For many, such long-term thinking may be disorienting. As one pastor quipped, we may still be in the early church.
That is, we generally think of the early church as the first few centuries after Christ’s first advent. However, if the present age lasts for say, ten thousand years, then our distant descendants will regard us as “early.”
In the next few posts, we will look at how to apply this eschatological optimism to our lives and what role we should take with regard to our present culture.
Friday, June 26, 2009
These are just a few of the texts that should point us in the direction of eschatological optimism. That is, we believe that Christ will triumph over the world through his church. We see such optimism in Psalm 2:
“Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: Yahweh has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’” (Psalm 2:6-9).
Jesus will rule over the entire globe, so that the ends of the earth are his possession. When necessary, he will crush the rebellion of the nations.
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the
Isaiah prophesies about a period of unprecedented peace, when weapons will be used as tools. This passage is describing our present age, although we appear to be a long ways from fulfilling this.
“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
This familiar Advent passage promises an increase in the peace of Christ’s rule. Peace can only increase in history.
“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. His delight is in the fear of Yahweh, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh As the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1-10).
This also describes a condition of unprecedented peace, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh. Yet, notice, that this is not describing eternity, but the latter stages of our present age.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, And her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, And joy in My people; The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, Nor the voice of crying” (Isaiah 65:17-19).
God says that he will create a new heavens and a new earth. Look closely at how this is described.
“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; They shall not plant and another eat; For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, Nor bring forth children for trouble; For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of Yahweh, And their offspring with them. ‘It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer; And while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, The lion shall eat straw like the ox, And dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,’ Says Yahweh” (Isaiah 65:20-25).
While many see this as a description of the eternal state, at least two events described do not fit: giving birth (v 20, 23) and death (v. 20).
In eternity, there will be no birth and no death, so this passage must be describing the present age.
The best way to understand this is by applying the already/not yet principle. At Jesus’ first coming, he inaugurated the new heavens and the new earth. However, we do not yet see the consummation of the new heavens and the new earth.
Again, this passage invites us to take a long-term perspective on the present age. We do not appear to be anywhere close to seeing Isaiah 65:17-25 fulfilled, which means that the return of Christ must be a long ways off.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
While already/not yet is a helpful tool to understand some passages, there are many promises that will find their primary fulfillment in this present age.
The Reign of Christ
One example of this is the reign of Christ. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
“So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
“Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
At his first coming, Jesus was inaugurated as king. Presently, he is already reigning as king, but his reign is not yet perfect.
“Yahweh said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’” (Psalm 110:1).
The Father’s intention is that Jesus reigns until all of his enemies are defeated.
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool” (Hebrews 10:12-13).
“But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:23-25).
Jesus will remain in heaven ruling until his enemies are defeated. After this, he will return.
Again, our eschatology affects how we view this present age. Because we do not yet see all of Jesus’ enemies defeated, we do not expect Jesus to return yet.
This is the opposite of how most contemporary American Christians think. Many view the world as getting worse and worse and assume that this means that Jesus will return soon.
Yet, the exact opposite is true. Jesus will not return until all his enemies are under his feet. If we see evil triumphing on the earth, this is not a sign that Jesus’ return is getting closer. It is a sign that Jesus is not done ruling from heaven.
Monday, June 08, 2009
This has been an important step because many texts that are commonly thought to apply to the second coming of Christ are actually fulfilled in his first coming, which culminated in the destruction of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem.
We are still expecting the second coming of Christ, which will be a physical return to earth. We are also looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, the rapture of living, and the judgment of all men.
The Present Age
We are going to look at our present age in which we live. So far, we have looked at eschatological texts as being fulfilled in either the first coming or the second coming.
However, there are many eschatological texts that are being fulfilled in the present age. Such texts are gradually fulfilled throughout history over a long period of time.
As our present age is framed by the two advents of Christ, we best understand these texts in reference to these. The first coming of Christ inaugurates, while the second coming consummates. Our present age represents growth, development, and partial fulfillment.
First Coming = Inauguration
Present Age = Growth
Second Coming = Consummation
Theologians use the principle “already/not yet” to describe such fulfillments. The first coming of Christ inaugurates and some of the promises are already fulfilled in part. However, because the second coming represents the consummation, some promises are not yet fulfilled.
First Coming = Inauguration (Already)
Present Age = Growth (Already/Not Yet)
Second Coming = Consummation (Not Yet)
One easy example is the kingdom of God. At Jesus’ first coming, he preached the good news of the kingdom.
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).
Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was at hand. It had been inaugurated.
However, the kingdom of God was far from being completed. At his second coming, the kingdom will be complete. When Jesus returns, he will usher in the perfected kingdom. It will be consummated.
In the meantime, we live between the already and not yet. The kingdom has already come in one sense
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).
In another sense, the kingdom not yet come in its fullest. However, the present age is not a static age of waiting for the kingdom to be completed. We are to pray that the kingdom would come.
“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).
As we live between the two advents of Christ, we see how the kingdom is growing, but we do not demand perfection.
This is how we will see eschatology affect our daily lives. We are optimistic, in that we expect the kingdom of God to continue to grow, but we are realistic in that we do not expect perfection until Christ returns.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5).
With the mention of the tree of life, this takes us back to creation and the garden. God’s purposes for creation are finally fulfilled. And we shall reign forever and ever.
“Then he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true.’ And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. ‘Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book’” (Revelation 22:6-7).
We are reminded why the book of Revelation was written. The early church was facing persecution, and it was only going to get worse. These things were going to happen “shortly.”
Yet, Christ was going to come ”quickly.” He gave the early church a picture of how he was going to deal with their enemies to encourage them to stand strong for the gospel.
All the judgments that Revelation 6-19 describes came to pass. God vindicated his people and his Son in his judgment upon
God also gave the church a picture of her glorious future. The beautiful language of Revelation 21-22 describes Christ building his church. When Christ returns, the bride will not have a spot or wrinkle or any such thing , but be holy and blameless. This is our future hope.
Friday, June 05, 2009
The first heaven and the first earth is the old covenant, the old creation. When Christ came, he ushered in a new heaven and a new earth, which is the church.
In the church age, there is no more sea, that is, no more Gentiles. The Jew/Gentile distinction of the old covenant has been destroyed by Christ. Remember that the sea was the temporary boundary between heaven and earth set up on the second day of creation (cf. Gen 1:6-8)
“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
John sees the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. What is the New Jerusalem? Compare this language that John uses with that of Hebrews 12:22-23.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23).
The author of Hebrews emphatically describes the church as
• Mount Zion
• the city of the living God
• the heavenly Jerusalem
Thus, when John describes the “New Jerusalem” as a bride adorned for her husband, we should not hesitate to understand that the New Jerusalem is the church (cf. 20:9ff).
In history, the New Jerusalem is in the process of descending from heaven. The church spreads and the kingdom of God comes to earth. At the end of history, the New Jerusalem comes decisively when Christ unites heaven and earth.
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death’” (Revelation 21:3-8).
Believers will be comforted by God and given the water of life. Unbelievers are sent to the lake of fire, the second death.
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10).
John sees the bride, the Lamb’s wife, and she is described as “the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”
“Having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21:11-21).
This is a metaphorical description of the beauty of the church at the second coming of Christ. Much of this parallels the temple-city that Ezekiel wrote about in Ezekiel 40-48.
“But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:22-27).
This seems to be a description of eternity. There is no need for the sun or moon because Christ will be our light. Only the saved nations and the undefiled are present. This description continues in the next chapter.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
The Binding of Satan
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1-3).
This is the binding of Satan. Notice that all of the language here is metaphorical. Satan is a spirit-being without a physical body. Chains, pits, seals, and keys would have no effect on Satan.
These are metaphorical descriptions of how God limits Satan during the church age. He is prevented from “deceiving the nations,” which is precisely what is described in the book of Acts. The gospel spreads to the nations, the Gentiles.
Thus, the Millennium begins with the binding of Satan, which was accomplished in the first coming of Christ in his death and resurrection. During the church age, Satan is still active, but he is prevented by God from deceiving the nations as a whole.
Reign with Christ
“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6).
Those who were martyred reign in heaven with Christ during the church age. Although unmentioned here, all Christians participate in this heavenly reign upon their death (cf. 14:13).
The “first death” refers to the fall and the impact of original sin. The “second death” is the punishment of sin (cf. 20:14). The “first resurrection” is salvation, the new birth. The second resurrection would be the final resurrection of our bodies.
“Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:7-10).
Between the end of the Millennium and return of Christ, Satan will be released and allowed to deceive the nations one last time. God will crush this rebellion once and for all. No time frame is given for how long this rebellion lasts.
The Final Judgment
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
This is the final resurrection and the final judgment. The wicked are cast into the lake of fire.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
The church has had difficulty assimilating the Millennium as described in Revelation 20 with what the rest of Scripture says about eschatology.
Historically, most Reformed churches have concluded that the Millennium is roughly equivalent to the church age. The Millennium starts with the first coming of Christ and ends with the second coming of Christ. Thus, the Millennium spans the gap between the two comings of Jesus Christ.
This means that the Millennium is now almost two thousand years long (and counting). Some have been troubled by this, expecting the Millennium to be exactly one thousand years long. While this is certainly a plausible expectation, Scripture often uses large numbers in a generic or symbolic sense.
“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11).
The word for “ten thousand” is myriad. A myriad can refer to the exact quantity of ten thousand, but it is also used to refer to an inexact large number, so much so that lexicons include “countless thousands” as a frequent translation.
The word for “thousand” is chilias, from which we get kilo, as in a kilogram. Likewise, the word chilias can refer to exactly one thousand, but it is also used to refer to an inexact large number. We see this use of “a thousand” in the Scriptures.
“For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).
God is not limiting his possession of cattle to exactly one thousand hills, but using a thousand in a generically large sense. God owns the cattle on every hill, which would actually be a much larger number than one thousand hills, probably in the millions.
“For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10).
David is not making an mathematical equation to say that one day with God is better than exactly one thousand days without God. David is saying that one day with God is better than any number of days without God.
“For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4).
“But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
When Peter alludes to Psalm 90, he is not employing a precise, algebraic formula. He is simply illustrating that God is not bounded by time.
We ought to bear these examples in mind when we come to Revelation 20, because John is not writing about a period of “one” thousand years. The word “one” is not in the Greek text. John writes about “a” thousand years. Such intentional imprecision indicates that this “thousand years” is probably a generically large number, just like “the cattle on a thousand hills” or “a thousand days outside.”
This squares with the rest of the Scriptures. If the Millennium was exactly one thousand years long, then we could know exactly when it was coming to an end.
On the other hand, if the Millennium is a generically large length of time, then we do not know exactly when it ends. This is true of the second coming of Christ. We do not know when Christ will return, which is how we are supposed to live.
Monday, June 01, 2009
According to Revelation 20, Satan is bound at the beginning of the Millennium. Christ reigns for the “thousand years.” Near the end of this Millennium, Satan is released and leads one last rebellion before he is defeated. The final resurrection and the final judgment take place after the Millennium.
Historically, the church has had difficulty assimilating the Millennium as described in Revelation 20 with what the rest of Scripture says about eschatology. Three main positions have been forged.
Some believe that the Millennium of Revelation 20 is entirely future. Jesus Christ will return (Revelation 19) to reign upon the earth for a long period of time (perhaps exactly 1000 years). During the Millennium, the earth will be peaceful (Isaiah 11, 65, etc.) and believers will prosper. The Millennium is ended when Jesus crushes the final Satanic rebellion.
This view is known as “Premillennialism” because it holds that the second coming of Christ starts the Millennium. This is currently the majority position in American churches. Two popular proponents of Premillennialism are John MacArthur and John Piper.
Others believe that the Millennium of Revelation 20 encompasses the entire time between the first and second comings of Jesus. During the Millennium, Jesus rules from heaven, and he builds his kingdom through the church as she fulfills the Great Commission. Eventually, the earth will be peaceful (Isaiah 11, 65, etc.). The Millennium ends when Jesus returns to the earth in his second coming.
This view is known as “Postmillennialism” because it holds that Christ will return at the conclusion of the Millennium. Postmillennialism was the dominant position during the Puritan era. Two popular proponents of Postmillennialism are R.C. Sproul and Keith Mathison.
Comparing Premillennialism and Postmillennialism
Notice that both Premillennialists and Postmillennialists believe that the Millennium will be a time of peace on the earth, leading to the fulfillment of passages like Isaiah 11, 65, etc. Thus, they agree on the character of the Millennium.
The difference is in the timing. Premills believe that Christ’s second coming happens at the beginning of the Millennium. Postmills believe that Christ’s second coming happens at the end of the Millennium.
There is a third view of the Millennium, known as “Amillennialism” (a = not). Technically, Amillennialism means “no Millennium.” However, this is not exactly what is meant.
Amillennialists disagree with both Premills and Postmills on the character of the Millennium. Amills hold that the Millennium is not a time of idyllic conditions upon the earth.
During the Millennium, Christ reigns in heaven, but the church on earth is locked in a perpetual struggle against evil. This struggle between the church and the world continues throughout the “Millennium.” Neither side prevails until Jesus’ second coming at the end of the Millennium.
Thus, Amillennialists agree with Postmills on the timing of the Millennium. They both believe that the Millennium encompasses the entire time between the first and second comings of Christ. However, they disagree on the character of the Millennium.
Amillennialism is currently the majority position in Reformed churches. Two popular proponents of Amillennialism are Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger.
Comparing Millennial Positions
Starts at 2nd Coming
Peace on Earth
Starts at 1st Coming
Peace on Earth
Starts at 1st Coming
Struggle on Earth