Posts tagged ‘Theology’

April 3, 2013

End Times Series #2 – The Millennium

imagesCA33A6SHEnd Times theology is controversial.  As a consequence many Christian churches shy away from teaching about it.  This is unfortunate, because many Christians are rightly interested in it.  They therefore get informed about it some other way, and that is very hit and miss.

In this series I’m addressing many of the main issues and giving a super brief overview of the standard reformed view of these doctrines.  You can read the series introduction here and Part 1 on the Rapture here.

One of the big ideas in End Times theology is the millennium.  This is really strange because there is only one bible passage that even mentions a millennium!  So let’s have a look at some of the highlights of Revelation 20:1-10:

And I saw an angel…He seized the dragon…or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss…to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended…I saw…the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus…They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years…When the thousand years are over, Satan…will go out to deceive the nations…And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur…(to) be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

So let’s start with the obvious things that can be said about this passage:

Firstly, it is a very exciting picture of the end of Satan.  And his end is clear – he is destroyed.

Secondly, it is clear that God rewards those who give their life for Him.

Thirdly, it talks about a long period of time.  One thousand years.

So is this a literal 1000 years or not?  Revelation is a book full of symbols.  It is a style of literature that heavily uses symbols – that’s the whole point.  Oftentimes it even says what the symbols are (eg the seven lamp stands are the 7 churches – 1:20; the bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints – 5:8; the New Jerusalem is the church – 22:9-10).  I find it quite baffling that surrounded with symbols so many Christians would think that John is talking of an actual 1000 years.  I believe he is using 1000 years as a symbol of a long time.  It is not a literal 1000 years.

I believe that one of the main points that the author, John, is making is that people who lose their life for Christ are greatly rewarded for their sacrifice.  That would be a source of great consolation to John’s first readers who lived in a time of persecution.  One of the things that I strongly dislike about some views of this passage is that by placing all of these events far into the future (for John’s first readers) it offers no comfort for them.  I do not think that was John’s intention.  I think he wanted to offer his first century readers great hope for the future.  Verses 4 to 6 do this in a truly powerful way.

The upshot is that I think this passage speaks of a long period where those who have lost their life for Christ are with him, and where the truth goes forth and has an impact all over the world.  Which sounds a bit like what has been happening ever since the church started at Pentecost.  Indeed most Christians over the centuries have understood this passage to refer to right now – the current church age.

So let me make it clear – I believe that Revelation 20 is a picture of this church age.  John wrote it to encourage believers who were being persecuted and even killed for their faith in the first century.  That’s not a radical idea – it is actually what most Christians – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – have believed for most of church history.

John

February 20, 2013

End Times Series 1 – Rapture…what rapture?

cloxkSome weeks ago I promised to start a series on end times beliefs.  You can read the series introduction here.  This post is the first in the series.

One of the core Christian beliefs is that Jesus will return, all will be judged and God will be with his people forever.  There are numerous scriptures that deal with this subject.  The oldest Christian creeds include it.  The Apostles Creed says, “On the third day he (Jesus) rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

So belief in the return of Christ is core Christian theology.  However it might surprise you to know that belief in the rapture is not.  When I use the word “rapture” what I mean is the event referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 which says,

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”

Some Christians think that this refers to Christ’s final second coming.  However some Christians believe that this event is something that happens before the tribulation, and well before Christ’s final return to earth.  This latter view has become dominant in Protestant churches in the West in recent generations.  So when I use the word rapture I mean it in this second sense.

The idea that there is a rapture before Jesus returns (rather than being something that occurs at the same time as the return of Christ) was first taught by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s.  He was one of the founders of the Brethren Church.  It was picked up by Cyrus Scofield, D L Moody, and eventually the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary which has been the home of the teaching ever since.  Authors Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye have made what was a fringe theological view widely popular in the last 50 years.

So the idea that there is a rapture of Christians and then life goes on for those left behind was never held by any of the church fathers, nor Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any of the other Reformers, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, nor most theologians since 1830.  So if all those people missed it, you would have to think that it might not be in the bible!

My understanding of what the bible says is that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  It could come at any moment.  The picture of being in the clouds is a reference to Daniel 7:13, “there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven”.  Paul is trying to say that Jesus is coming in power, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, and we get to be with him!  That’s the point.

So the modern, most widely held understanding of the rapture is based on a poor interpretation of a small number of bible passages that wasn’t really even conceived until 180 years ago.  What the scriptures do teach, in my opinion, is that Jesus returns and at that time he judges all.  Not two events – just one return which is what Paul is talking about in the passage above.  So forget the idea of vanishing Christians and everyone else thinking “where did they all go?”  Jesus will return and it will be clear to everyone that He is here, and He is king.

John

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