Book Review: The Meaning of the Millennium

This is a review of

Clouse, Robert G., ed. The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977. 223 pp.  $16.99

Copyright © 2008 by Alex S. Leung. All rights reserved.

Introduction

The Meaning of the MillenniumThe kingdom of God is a topic of significant discussion in the church, and especially in theological academia.  Over the past fifty years, there still have been serious disagreements in the doctrine of Last Things between historic Premillennialists, Dispensational Premillennialists, Postmillennialists and Amillennialists.  Because of this ongoing discussion, Christians must seek to understand God’s word and come to an interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 that is faithful to the inerrancy of Scripture and the whole counsel of God.  For this reason, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views was compiled in order to help Christians on this endeavor.

Each chapter contains an essay on one of the four views of the millennium, followed by a brief response by each of the other three theologians.  In this manner, readers are enabled to analyze each view for their own strengths and weaknesses, and consequently come to their own conclusion about which view is most tenable.

Summary

In chapter 1, George Eldon Ladd of Fuller Theological Seminary examines Historic Premillennialism.  He states that from a natural reading of Revelation 20:1-6, one should come to the conclusion that there is an actual thousand year reign of Jesus Christ after his second coming (17).  This one thousand year reign extends until God’s plan of redemption is consummated and fulfilled in its totally at the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth. Ladd employs a spiritual hermeneutic as necessitated by the Scriptures (20), conceding that this reign of Christ specifically means the exercising of his lordship through the destruction of the powers of the Antichrist.  And while the Old Testament nation-state of Israel is equated to the church as the spiritual Israel (23), Ladd also contends that “a nondispensational eschatology simply affirms the future salvation of Israel” (28).

In chapter 2, Herman A. Hoyt of Grace Theological Seminary, explains Dispensational Premillennialism. While his view is similar to historic Premillennialism, Hoyt favors calling his view the “ordered and progressive unfolding of [premillennialism] in the prophetic Scriptures” (63-64).  He employs and proposes a hermeneutic that seeks to take “the Scriptures in their literal and normal sense, understanding that this applies to the entire Bible” (66).  And doing so, he sees that the progressive revelation of the kingdom of God throughout Scripture as comprising of two aspects: the extent of God’s rule as universal and the method as mediatorial.  “The universal kingdom is always present while the mediatorial kingdom is a promise of the future” (73).  Being as the mediatorial kingdom is currently suspended from Pentecost until the return of Christ (90), it will inevitably be realized at Christ’s return with supernatural power, the company of angels, and the resurrection of dead believers (91-92).

In chapter 3, Loraine Boettner (theologian and author of The Millennium), elucidates Postmillennialism. In contrast to Premillennialism, he proposes that God’s kingdom is currently at work through the proclamation and teaching of Christ.  Through this ruling activity, Boettner concedes that the world will be persistently be reconciled to Christ (125), resulting in a millennium period of prosperity and peace(132-133).  This new age will be similar to that of the current, where the world is increasingly being Christianized and evil is increasingly being reduced.

In chapter 4, Anthony Hoekema, of Calvin Theological Seminary explicates Amillennialism. Unhappy with the term “Amillennialism” used to describe his position, Hoekema prefers and contends for “realized millennialism” in which he sees the millennium of Revelation 20 as not exclusively future but already in process (156).  He comes to this conclusion by a hermeneutical system called progressive parallelism, originally defended by William Hendriksen (156).  According to this hermeneutic, Revelation is thus seen as seven parallel sections that progressively describe the time between Christ’s incarnation and second coming.  Since the passage is at the beginning of the last of seven parallel sections, Hoekema thus contends for the Amillennial view of Revelation 20:1-6 that sees Christ’s millennial reign and defeat of Satan described therein as having already begun with the first coming of Christ (160).  Furthermore, this millennium is not a literal thousand years but on the contrary, it should be interpreted symbolically as simply a “complete period, a very long period of indeterminate length” (161).  All this being said, Hoekema believes that such results in the utter inability of Satan to prevent the spread of the gospel and the powerlessness to gather all the enemies of Christ together to attack the church (162).

Critical Evaluation

Strengths. One of the major strengths of this overview volume on eschatological positions is the detailed responses that are presented against each of the four essays.  Of particular theological precision is Hoekema analysis of Hoyt’s essay on Dispensational Premillennialism.  Hoekema intricately examines the Scriptural references that Hoyt employed to support his position, and finds that there are six specific instances in which Hoyt does not live up to his own literal hermeneutical method (105-106).  Example after example, Hoekema overthrows Hoyt’s untenable dispensational Premillennial hermeneutic of Scripture, revealing that Hoyt essentially and explicitly contradicts the literal method of biblical interpretation.

One has to wonder along with Hoekema: How can Dispensationalists actually commend a literal interpretation of the entire Bible?  For how can the Old Testament actually provide the hermeneutical key to understanding the New Testament when original Old Testament writers did not even have the New Testament canon?  The fact of the mater is, there are many sections and genres of Scripture that are supernatural and metaphorical in nature, especially the parables that the Lord Jesus himself told.  And so, along these lines Hoekema further rejects with precision five major teachings of Dispensationalism (108-113) and shows biblically the untenability of the Dispensational Premillennialism.

Weaknessess. But despite the strengths of Hoekema’s explanation of Amillennialism and his refutation of Dispensational Premillennialist arguments, it is still difficult to understand if his view coincides with and is supported by the current state of Christ’s work in culture.  For if the millennial reign of Christ is already happening and Satan is bound by the Lord, then why are countless nations still deceived by the evil powers and principalities so that they are unable to learn about the truth of God?  For we certainly do see that the spread of the gospel has been significantly halted, even though it will not be ultimately stopped.  It is obvious that the spread of Islam and atheistic naturalism is growing at a significant rate.  Henceforth, an important question that Hoekema and other Amillennialists have left ambiguously unanswered is, “How are we to understand the contemporary rejection of the gospel?”

Furthermore, Hoekema’s Amillennial essay and this book as a whole do not provide sufficient proof to claim that the millennial reign of Christ should be interpreted symbolically and not literally as an actual thousand year reign.  Mature students of God’s word understand that there places in Scripture in which the text needs to be interpreted symbolically and other parts where it needs to be interpreted literally.  But how can one discern between literary genres and which hermeneutical system to employ with each respective genre? And further, even within the apocalyptic genre, there are instances where the passage needs to be interpreted literally and other instances where the passage needs to be interpreted symbolically.  Thus, despite the emphasis on hermeneutics within each chapter, Amillennialism is the only view that purports a symbolic millennium and not an actual millennium; and as such, there is a significant burden of proof that rests on proponents of this view to prove the validity of their interpretation.

Conclusion

This concise volume on The Meaning of the Millennium is a helpful book for Bible college and seminary students alike, and the level at which the arguments are presented are simple enough for the layperson to read.  However, for those serious students of theology, there needs to be a more thorough explanation of the hermeneutical methods proposed.  Especially in the case of the Amillennial progressive parallelism method of interpretation, a more extensive explanation is needed for its application to seeing Revelation 20:1-6’s “millennium” as a long indeterminate period of time.  Nevertheless, this book as edited by Robert G. Clouse is a first-rate introductory volume on the four views on the millennium, and as such, I would heartily recommend it as an overview for those who do not yet understand the issues at play.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Meaning of the Millennium

  1. Hey Alex, excellent review!

    I thought I would just give (extremely) brief explanations to answer some of your quesions regarding Hoekema.

    First, the binding of Satan is usually misunderstood by millenarians because they are still viewing it in light of their millenial view. The reason that Amillers say that Satan is bound, yet the nations are still decieved, is that there is a fundamental difference between how the Gospel is going out to world in comparison to Biblical Judaism. There are very few occaissions in the Old Testament where we see gentiles converting, and this is mostly due to the failure of the covenant people of being a light to the nations. Yet, after the resurrection of Christ, we see a staggering movement that eventually made the early church predominantly Gentile. This is how most would see the binding of Satan- it is not a complete binding, so that he cannot work at all in deceiving, but we do see a binding on his ability to deceive all the nations, in that the Gospel went out, is going out, and will continue to go out throughout the whole world (think of the parable of leaven and the mustard seed). It’s the nations in the sense of Rev 7.9: Not every individual, but every people group. The contemporary rejection of the Gospel is far less than the rejection of the covenant God by the nations. Though bound in deceiving the nations, Satan is still able to prowl around and devour. Again, this is part of the already/not yet. Satan WAS defeated at the cross, and Jesus even said the strongman was bound in his ministry, yet we will see the invisible become visible at his coming.

    Symbolic vs. Actual. Don’t forget that Amillers don’t think that the millennium is symbolic, merely some of the descriptions of it. It is actual, hence the term “realized millennium” which you touched on. It is real and actual. The reason we take some of the description as symbolic is, as you say, the nature of apocalyptic literature. Though you are right to point out that some should be taken literally, the overwhelming majority is to be taken as a symbolic description of an actual reality- for example, the beast that comes out of the sea is a symbolic description of a governmental power, in my view Rome, which did indeed have to come from the Mediterranean sea to reach the area of Israel. We see Revelation 20 in this way because of the nature of the language- Round numbers, such as 1,000 are generally used in apocalyptic and poetical genres as being “complete” or “total.” So when we see it in the Revelation, we see John as saying a “complete or total amount of time.” That is, the predetermined amount of time God lets history go about until he brings it to his intended close. We see this in poetic literature such as the 1,000 hills in the Psalms. Does God not own the cattle on the 1,001 hill? Of course he does, it is representative of his complete sovereignty over his creation.

    Also, once the parallelism is seen, it seems obvious that the story is restarted after chapter 19. If all the enemies of God are destroyed at the end of 19, who is left to revolt at the end of the millennium? The problem for premills is that they have to accept the reality of sin and apostasy in the millennium, in the presence of the risen and exulted Christ. It makes much more sense to see the battle of 19 and the battle of 20 as the same event- which occurs at the time of the second coming. This also makes sense of 1 Cor 15:22-28 which seems to say that at his second coming several events take place: The resurrection, the final defeat of death (not 1,000 years later, and for the second time), and the delivering of the kingdom to the father. It states that he is already reigning. Yet, the PM view doesn’t have Christ handing the kingdom over to the father at his coming, but receiving it for 1,000 years.

    I’m not going to try and convince you, but I did want to answer some of the objections you brought up to show that the Amill system is quite tenable. I’m a bit surprised Hoekema didn’t touch on these things, but I realize that he had limited space. If you do want to check out a fuller presentation, Dr. Sam Storm’s website has a ton of articles, and Kim Riddlebarger’s book “The Case for Amillennialism” is pretty good, though he gives poor treatment of preterism.

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