Isaiah (Part 76): Amillennial Answer (Eschatology intro to Chs 60-66, Part 5)

08/09/2013 08:16


After having presented problems with both premillennialism and postmillennialism, I want to insist that I am an amillennialist not because it is the only choice left, but because I do believe the amillennial idea ties in best with Scripture from the aspects of both purpose and plan. Amillennialism has a fairly simple construct. Four basic eras or ages categorize human life. The first was the Garden experience—the life of Adam and Eve giving themselves to the care of God before sin ever entered the picture. With the fall, the second age began. This lasted from the fall until God’s ultimate revelation, Jesus, entered the world of human condition as a man. This age was a time of progressive revelation in which God provided increasing enlightenment. He worked through the biblical covenants made specifically with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David both to establish the necessary framework for the rise of a second Adam and to present graphic illustration of his intention and restoration design. And that progressive revelation found fulfillment in Jesus. What Christ did during his first advent significantly changed things, thus beginning the third age. Jesus became the second Adam through his birth from God and righteous (covenant-keeping) life. Through his death, he both satisfied the curse of Adam’s broken covenant of life and provided a new covenant of life to be inherited by all those who would be reborn in him through faith in his atoning work and trust in him as God the Rescuer and Caregiver. But the application of this new covenant life had to come in two phases. The Bible tells us that our shared material existence awaits resurrection together (Romans 8:18-25). And, thus, an individual who is reborn through saving faith in Christ is immediately transformed to newness of life (resurrection) in spirit (Eph 2:5) but awaits a physical or bodily resurrection at the appointed time when all physical creation will be transformed—at the time of Christ’s second advent (I Cor 15:50-52). This third age, then, that lies between the advents of Christ, is a time for the establishing of God’s covenant people through spirit rebirth—spirit resurrection. When Christ returns the final age begins. Christ will judge all evil, casting it away. All creation—our bodies along with the earth—will have its physical resurrection. And we will live in purpose fulfillment—everlasting love relationship with God. That’s it. That’s everything. There is purpose there, and there is plan. And it doesn’t involve any convoluting steps or non-purpose-related events. 

Before we come to Christ, we are dead in our sins. Paul also tells us that these bodies we have are corruptible, mortal, and dying. Romans 7 speaks of this body of death. But at the same time, there is also a sense that even the unsaved are alive. Even without salvation, people breathe. There is a life there in body and in spirit. Because of the human condition of death, the Bible speaks of those coming to Christ as passing from death to life. But also because of the human condition of life, the Bible, at the same time, speaks of the end of the unsaved as passing from life to death. And it is because of our inherent deadness that we speak of a first resurrection of spirit when we are saved, and a second resurrection of body upon Christ’s return. For the unsaved, we speak of their first death when the body dies. When Christ returns in judgment, these unsaved will pass through a second death of eternal consequence. The language, then, of Revelation 20 is easily understandable. Verses 5-6 tell us that we who know Christ come alive and reign with him a thousand years. “This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them.”

Thus, this third age or era in which we currently find ourselves is the age in which our spirits are resurrected as we come to Christ, but we still await our bodily resurrection when Jesus comes again. It is a time of already realized blessing, but we still await another resurrection hope and blessing that is not yet. As we read in Isaiah of the description of blessing in restored relationship with God, we must keep in mind the already/not yet resurrection reality that is, for the writer and first readers of the book, not distinguished from their vantage point as it is from ours. So then, as Isaiah writes in chapter 60 of blessing, we must examine it well to determine whether he is describing the blessing of third age spiritual resurrection or fourth age final resurrection. We can’t merely scan over the passage and decide by general feel.

We must examine one last aspect in eschatology before returning to Isaiah 60. The description of the millennium is often considered to be in Ezekiel and Isaiah’s end while the framework of the millennium is said to be set up in Revelation 20. This passage is the only one in the Bible that mentions a period with a specific reference to 1000 years. Let’s, then, review the first ten verses of Revelation 20. The passage begins with the binding of Satan (verses 1-3), continues with purpose for the 1000 years (verses 4-6), reveals Satan’s “short time” of rebellion (verses 7-9a), and ends with the Devil’s ultimate defeat (verses 9b-10).

Revelation belongs to a class or genre of literature called apocalyptic. Very little has been written in this style since the book of Revelation, but, in the intertestimental period, almost all Hebrew literature was apocalyptic. Some noteworthy characteristics of apocalyptic literature include the existence of a people in either captivity or under persecution that long for relief; a heroic rescuer, aligned with God, who comes on the scene to provide that relief; Godly instruction, comfort, and prophecy provided by an angelic messenger; a view of the action from a heavenly, overarching perspective; and a stark contrast between good and evil. We see all those elements in Revelation.

Furthermore, apocalyptic literature is highly figurative. It includes symbolism and metaphor galore. That is, in fact, the point of the genre—to depict a situation of grief and rescue in figurative fashion. Thus, we see Christ appear in the first chapter of Revelation with snow white hair—not merely to describe his look, but more importantly to connect him with the Daniel 7 all wise Ancient of Days. He has a double-edged sword coming from his mouth not for the sake of pictorial effect but rather because it denotes his gospel words of judgment and healing. Additionally, the use of numbers throughout the book are meant to have symbolic significance. We are bombarded with sevens in the stars, candlesticks, churches, seals, trumpets, and bowls. Seven is understood as a number of divine perfection. Six is the number of man. Its repetition, as in 666, emphasizes the limitation of man who, in praise of self, never attains divine perfection (i.e., 7). The number 10 also has figurative significance. It is the number of completion, denoting a full set.

It is interesting that if we read through Psalm 50, we come to a verse that tells us God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. No one wonders who owns the cattle on the rest of the earth’s hills. We understand that, although Psalm 50 is not apocalyptic literature, the number is still being used symbolically as a large number of indeterminate size that is meant to stand for the complete set of hills of the earth (repetition of the number ten—10x10x10). Peter does the same thing in the New Testament, arguing that with God, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). Peter’s point is not that if a few extra actual days are added, like say 1004 days, they would seem to God like the start of a second day. Rather Peter is merely declaring that a vast indeterminate amount of time to God is no more than a short time to us and vice versa. So it is extremely odd to think that in these examples from the Bible’s non-apocalyptic literature, we so easily accept the mention of a thousand as figurative, and yet when we read of a thousand in the biblical book that is intentionally written in figurative style, some would insist (incorrectly) that the number must be taken literally if we are to maintain interpretive consistency.  

On the contrary, as we view the four dispensations or ages noted earlier and gathered from the rest of the Bible, we must base our opinion of Revelation’s 1000 years according to the structure of God’s revealed overall purpose and plan. Revelation 20’s 1000 years corresponds, then, to the third dispensation—that time between the two advents of Christ in which we currently live.

Note that in providing purpose for this 1000 years, John tells us in Rev 20:4-6 that the time period is for people who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and God’s word. The Greek word translated beheaded actually has nothing to do the head. It is not the same and normal word used for beheading in regard to John the Baptist. This word in 20:4 is a word that generally means to chop with an axe. We can easily see how a King James translator would associate a person being chopped with an axe as a beheading. But even this Greek word has at its root merely the meaning of being cut off. It’s root, in fact, is used earlier in Revelation to speak of a third of the sun being struck or cut off as a result of the fourth trumpet. Even further the root is used in 1 Timothy 2:13 to say that Adam was created (formed, perhaps carved out) first. Thus, the word really does not force us to think of death at all. This is a word that means to be cut off. And a review of Revelation would definitely bring us to the conclusion that those without the mark of the beast (as 20:4b notes) were prohibited from buying or selling, being persecuted by the Beast (Rev 13). We know in our day that Christian philosophers, educators, scientists, and others are dismissed from the intellectual community as well as from general consideration as “not serious” by those who deny God. They are, in a sense, “cut off” just as Revelation 20:4 tells us. This 1000 year period, then, is not merely about martyrs being beheaded, but it reflects an age in which Christian and antichristian conflict come to a head—the very age in which we live now.

These “cut off” ones come alive in this 1000 years (the resurrection of our spirits realized upon our salvation) and reign with Christ. The reigning should not seem so mysterious. It is a triumph over sin. Christ defeated sin at the cross, and thus he reigns over it. We, who become children of Christ, who have had our sins forgiven, who have been washed clean, then also reign with and through Christ over sin.

This passage also speaks of a short period of time of Satan’s release. This short period is set in contrast to the long (1000 years) period of blessing for the people of Christ. These two periods are not intended to be viewed as chronologically successive that all people experience, but rather they are concurrent periods depicting Satan’s influence or lack of it depending on a person’s relationship to Christ. As the beginning of this chapter notes, Satan is bound. He was bound at the time of Christ’s triumph on the cross. But he was bound in specific limitation. Based on the atonement, the gospel (God’s ultimate revelation of rescue through Jesus) went out to the world. Satan cannot interfere with (deceive) the minds of the world from considering God’s enlightening revelation. But as rejection mounts from those not willing to come to Christ, Satan is allowed (i.e., given this “short” time) to continue his deception and rally these Christ-deniers against God.

The difficulty in this understanding of the passage usually centers on the prepositions translated. In verse 3, we read that Satan is bound “until” the 1000 years is completed. And then “after” that 1000 years, Satan is released. In verse 7 we read that “when” the 1000 years “are completed,” Satan will be released. But these words may and should be translated differently. The first “until” in verse 3 may be translated “while” to show concurrence of time rather than sequence. The word “after” in that same verse is usually translated “with” in the rest of the NT (as in Matthew 1:23, “…and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’” And finally, the “when” in verse 7 is also often translated “while,” so that the phrase in verse 7 may be read “While the 1,000 years are being fulfilled….” These verses, then, do not mitigate against an interpretation of concurrence, but rather, actually, they may support it.

As we shift our attention now back to Isaiah 60, we should not force our reading of the prophecy into a mold of a future time period (to us) when circumstances of the earth have changed. Through Revelation and through the rest of Scripture we see a constant contrast between the people of heaven and the people of the earth. Because Isaiah’s prophecy will touch on the delights and joys and peace of the people of heaven, we should not immediately assume that the earth has had to have changed, that the eschaton has arrived, and that evil has essentially disappeared from the world. Isaiah describes relationship with God. And as we know from Paul, right now amid this world of corruption and death, we who know Christ may be filled “with all joy and peace as [we] believe in Him so that [we] may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).