Premillennialism and Amillennialism: A Brotherly Conversation, Part 2
[In the first post in this series, I set forth a brief defense for a premillennial position on the kingdom in Revelation 20. In this post, I am going to offer my good friend and fellow-servant, Dr. Richard Winston, the opportunity to set forth his amillennial view. Several posts will follow in which we will answer one another in an attempt to come to a better understanding of both views. So now I will give Richard the floor.]
I’m honored to take part in this exchange with Dr. Stiekes on the nature of the “thousand years” in Rev 20:1–6. He was a faithful pastor and mentor while I had the privilege of serving as his assistant for three years, and my subsequent journey into Presbyterianism bears witness to his faithful biblical teaching.
[Haha. I should have warned you that Richard also has a terrible sense of humor. But what can you expect from a Duke fan.]
Let me begin by highlighting the principle points of agreement and disagreement.
On points one and two (“A biblical theology of the kingdom,” “The multiplicity of specific promises of a literal kingdom in the OT”), we have no disagreement. The OT describes God as the sovereign king over his creation (2 Kings 19:15; Pss 93:1–2; 103:19; 145:13; Dan 4:34–35), who created humanity to exercise dominion as his image bearers (Gen 1:28). When Adam and Eve rebelled against that commission, God acted to restore that dominion, seen specifically in the call of Abraham (Gen 12:1–3) and the identification of Israel as his “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:5–6). God also promised that Israel’s kingdom would endure forever (2 Sam 7:13), and, with the demise of Israel and Judah due to their covenant infidelity, the prophets promise a restoration of that kingdom in the future (e.g., Dan 2:29–45; 7:1–14; Amos 9:11–15).
The principle points of disagreement concern how God fulfills these promises. In this third and fourth points (“The understanding of Jesus and his followers,” “A grammatical-historical interpretation of Revelation 20”), Dr. Stiekes argues that the kingdom promised in the OT will be fulfilled exclusively in the future, particularly during the “thousand years” described in Rev 20:1–6 (pre-millenniaism). As an amillennialist, I would argue that God has begun to manifest his promised kingdom in the church, and will bring his rule to its culmination when Christ returns and God reigns with his people over the new heavens and the new earth. Revelation 20:1–6, then, using apocalyptic imagery, describes the ultimate reality of Christ and his saints during this interadvent period.
Two ideas demonstrate this thesis. First, the inauguration of God’s promised kingdom in the life of the church. Second, the culmination of God’s reign with the return of Christ. These two ideas provide the necessary theological light to give a proper interpretation of Rev 20:1–6.
First, the inauguration of Christ’s promised kingdom in the life of the church. First Corinthians 15:20–28 is particularly instructive in this regard, for it uses the words “kingdom” and “reign.” The passage utilizes the time frame of Christ’s first and second comings. In his first coming, Christ, “the firstfruits,” was raised bodily from the dead, and when he comes a second time, those who belong to him will rise as well (v. 23). At that point, “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, 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” (vv. 24–26 [unless otherwise noted, all English citations NIV]). According to these verses, Christ is presently reigning, subduing his enemies under his feet (v. 27 cites Ps 8:6 in regard to this, and Ps 110is a not-so-distant echo as well). This reign is identified as the kingdom, which Christ hands over to God the Father when he defeats the final enemy, death.
Is this the kingdom promised in the OT? Acts 15 declares that it is. One of the decisive arguments against Gentile circumcision for salvation is that the OT prophets anticipated the assimilation of the Gentiles as Gentiles into the end-times people of God. In Acts 15:14, James notes that “Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.” James claims “the words of the prophets are in agreement with this” (v. 15), and then cites Amos 9:11–12 in vv. 16–18. James’ point is that the restoration of David’s fallen tent and Israel’s dominance over her enemies is taking place by the inclusion of Gentiles in the church. King Jesus (see Acts 2) is exercising the authority over the nations granted to him (see Pss 2 and 110) by rescuing Gentiles from their sin and incorporating them into his body. While this may be a surprising fulfillment of God’s promises, it is an authentic one, and does not call into question God’s integrity in his promises to Israel.
Second, the culmination of God’s reign with the return of Christ. Once again, 1 Cor 15:20–28is particularly instructive. Here Paul states that when Christ returns, the end comes; he hands the kingdom over to God the Father (v. 24), and is made subject to him who put everything under him (v. 28). With the resurrection of the just, the final enemy (death) is defeated, and the culmination of God’s kingdom promises can take place in the new heavens and earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13), and where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21:4).
Thus, I conclude Christ exercises his authority now on behalf of his church (Eph 1:19b–23), so that the church can disciple the nations (Matt 28:16–20). As Messiah, Christ promises to build his church (Matt 16:18), and gives to his officers the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:19). In the name of the resurrected Son of God, the ultimate son of David, the church goes forward to call the Gentiles to the obedience of faith (Rom 1:3–5). The dominion and kingdom that God promised is currently manifested in the church, and will continue until Christ comes again. This is a real, actual kingdom, with authority and dominion, inaugurating the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel, and culminating in the return of Christ.