72. Bound For A Thousand Years

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott 

We saw last time how important it is that our faith is in victory, in overcoming, in seeing God’s kingdom fill the earth.

A theology of victory

Kingdom and Covenant theology is a theology of victory. More and more people are starting to realise this because of the nature of what God is saying prophetically in these days. If you are someone who believes Jesus is going to come and rescue us, you are going to struggle to reconcile what God is saying with that belief. How does it fit? It doesn’t: Jesus is not going to come and rescue us: we are going to be victorious.

In succeeding periods of church history, people tended to hold different views on the book of Revelation. I want briefly to make it clear how we see things.

Firstly, Revelation is a  historical book which deals with God’s covenant judgment on Israel and Jerusalem.

Also, Revelation illustrates the triumph of the church through history, overcoming all persecution.

Soon… the time is near… quickly

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place (Rev 1:1).

I’m sorry, 2000 years later is not ‘soon’. Now I know that for God, everything can be now. Bur this was not written for God, it was written for people to read and be encouraged and comforted in the midst of the persecution they were facing. It would have been very poor comfort to say that judgment was coming soon, if in fact it was going to take centuries. The book of Revelation was written before AD 70 to servants of God who were alive at the time. It was written about events which would soon take place. And what soon took place was the destruction of Jerusalem. John repeats it, so there can be no mistake: ‘the time is near’.

‘Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near’ (Rev 1:3).

Again, at the end of the book, Jesus says:

“And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book… Yes, I am coming quickly” (Rev 22:7, 20). And Jesus came quickly: within a few years of this being written, He came in judgment upon Jerusalem and it was destroyed.

Bound for a thousand years

While we are considering Revelation, I also just want to look at the only scriptures in the Bible which actually mention a thousand-year reign.

dragon-253540_640Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time (Rev 20:1-3).

So here we see that for a thousand years Satan is bound and not able to deceive, and then is released. It continues:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years’ (Rev 20:4-6).

When we read ‘the beast and his image’ we immediately think it must be future. But if you think about the beast and his image in terms of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, you will read this in a different light. It has already happened. And this is not a bodily resurrection – the scripture specifically says it was the souls of people which came alive. So this has happened before a bodily resurrection, not after. If Jesus had already returned, there would already have been a bodily resurrection, and that is not the case.

‘Priests of God… will reign with Him for a thousand years’: we know the language about being a royal priesthood belongs to us. So this is talking about us, and it is talking about something which happens on the earth.

We have already seen that Satan was bound (Rev 20:2). When is or was that? Look at Matt 12:28-29: ‘But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house’. All deliverance that we see today is on the basis that the strong man is already bound. Otherwise we would not be able to cast demons out.

If Satan were not bound, we would not be able to do what we are doing right now. If he were deceiving the nations, no-one would be getting saved. Remember the Great Commission: Jesus sent his followers out into the whole world to disciple the nations. It is possible for us to do that because Satan is bound and not able to deceive them. His power is limited.

In John 12:31 Jesus said Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (my emphasis). And in Luke 10:17-18, ‘The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning”’. It already happened.

Jesus first bound Satan in the wilderness, when He did what Adam had failed to do in overcoming temptation. Then He went further, in releasing authority on His disciples to go out and minister because of that. The fact that the disciples were ministering in kingdom power showed that Satan had no authority any longer. But then Jesus went on to actually conquer death: the wilderness had dealt with spiritual death, the cross dealt with physical death.

‘When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him’ (Col 2:15).

And if Satan is bound now, then the thousand years, the Millennium, must also be now. That is what the scripture says: he is bound, and remains bound for a thousand years. So we are living in the time right now when God’s kingdom is active on earth, because Satan is bound. It is not an exact, literal 1000 years.

Satan will be loosed. That will be just before the end. I believe there will then be an increase in Satan’s power, because we are going to have to overcome him. Warfare will be much more open, but God’s church will be raised up in light, as the mountain of the house of the Lord.

And that church will be victorious.

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71. Defeat? Or Victory?

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott 

In the past couple of posts we have briefly sketched some of the widely-held views about the Millennium. So what did the early church believe about the scriptures we have been considering? And what has the church believed through the centuries?

Persecution

Up to AD 70 most of the focus of teaching was preparing believers to live in that persecution leading up to Jesus’ coming in judgment upon Jerusalem. Initially, then, the prevailing conditions were persecution by Jews. After AD 70 persecution continued, but it was persecution by the Romans. The church took on a Jewish apocalyptical view of a literal kingdom on earth. Some thought that the kingdom might be before Jesus returned; some thought it might be after. It was still a very difficult time, and they were looking for Jesus to come and do something.

Political control

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
“Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin” by I, Jean-Christophe BENOIST. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons (see below)

A major change happened for the church with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 310 AD – and not all of it good. The church was now accepted by the political authorities, and it was OK to be a Christian. But the church was also controlled by those political authorities, so that Greek thinking and Greek influence began to pervade it. At this time the prevailing view was amillennial: the old interpretation (which had made a lot of sense under persecution) seemed not to relate so well to the changed conditions, so people began to interpret things in a less literal way, and say it must all be spiritual. You can see the Greek mindset having its influence in that distinction.

Political control continued into the medieval period, 596-1517 AD, as church and state started to mix together. Politically motivated and powerful popes, the crusades, the Holy Roman Empire, the whole idea of Christendom: all these arose during this time. The church was used by those in power to exercise control. Hardly anybody could read the Bible for themselves because it was available only in a not-very-accurate Latin translation, and that meant the priests had control of the whole system. Postmillennial theology became the norm. Their expectation was that things would get better, that the church would increase to fill the world  – but to achieve that they expected to use the sword, and to compel people to become Christians by killing those who would not comply. The preaching of the gospel was certainly not done in a way we would recognise today.

Reformation and revivals

After that came the Reformation (1517-1648). The truth began to be restored to the church and people began to question both the spiritual and the political authority of the Roman establishment. They continued to hold a postmillennial view, still expected things to get better, and saw the restoration of truth as part of that process.

Charles_g_finneyThen we come to a period where the Holy Spirit was poured out in revivals in both England and America: Wesley and Whitfield and so on in the UK; the First and Second Great Awakenings in the USA with Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney (photo) and others. Those revivalists were predominantly postmillennialists: they believed that Jesus would be coming back after the church had succeeded in its mission. Maybe that was because they saw the church actually succeeding; they saw revivals in which many thousands were saved and the work of the Holy Spirit was very obvious.

Tares sown in

But from 1826-50, so much that was negative began to be sown in, as we have seen. The tares were sown into the world, with the rise of cults and so on; and in the church the leaven of dispensational teaching and false doctrine began to spread and permeate everything.

From 1909, when the Scofield Bible was published and so many people read it and adopted the dispensational premillennialist views it reflected, the predominant mindset became very pessimistic. There was a great deal of scientific and philosophical attack on Christian belief, Darwinism began to become generally accepted, and two World Wars seemed to indicate that far from getting better, things were getting much worse.

A whole generation which had been impacted by the Welsh revival saw its young men wiped out in the First World War. And even after the Second World War, the pessimism continued into Cold War, a period of intense uncertainty in which nuclear destruction looked to be a distinct possibility. So much went into print at that time identifying Russia as the Beast or the Antichrist or whatever – and now those books are completely obsolete.

It didn’t stop the same thing happening with the Common Market in Europe, which was supposed to be the twelve heads of the Beast coming out of the sea in Revelation – and how many nations are there in the EU now? Then it was going to be Saddam Hussein. Well, he is no longer around either. North Korea next…?

All this material was written by authors looking at the prevailing conditions and trying to interpret them using biblical prophecy; looking at events in the world and imposing that onto Scripture, instead of the other way around. When we read biblical prophecy, we want to allow it to tell us what is (or was) going to happen. We do not want to interpret it from looking at the newspapers or the television news.

Renewal

Around 1960 there was a turning point, the charismatic renewal movement, when the Holy Spirit was poured out across the churches. That has led on to the whole prophetic movement, and the restoration of prophetic and apostolic ministry. With that has come fresh revelation – and a fresh challenge. It has caused warfare within the church, because when you challenge a status quo which is dominated by the enemy you get Jezebel spirits and all kinds of demonic activity being stirred up. They do not like the truth being preached when they have had things their own way for so long.

We need to preach the truth. The truth is that the kingdom of God is going to fill the earth. The truth is that Jesus is going to come back for a victorious church. The devil would just love us to believe that we are going to be defeated, because then our faith would be in that defeat.

But our faith is in victory, in overcoming, in seeing God’s kingdom fill the earth.

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Image of the Emperor Constantine
Attribution: “Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin” by I, Jean-Christophe BENOIST.
Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin.jpg

70. Millennium? What Millennium? (Part 2)

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

Last time, we saw how important it is to know what we are expecting when Jesus returns. In light of that, we began looking at the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth (or not). In this post I want to give you a little more understanding of the three main views people hold on this, and next time we can go on to look at what the church has believed over the centuries.

Premillennialism

Jesus will return to set up a literal 1000-year kingdom on earth, in Jerusalem – and re-establish the whole Old Covenant sacrificial system. My immediate question is: why? Why would He want to set up sacrifices again when He is the sacrifice? Once and for all, it says (1 Pet 3:18, Heb 9:28). So to me that now seems like a really strange way of thinking – but I used to think that way, because that is what I was taught. I didn’t even know there was any other way. Every book I ever read said that was the way. Until God started to speak to me about the kingdom, and how the kingdom needed to come; until I began to look for it myself; and that is what really changed things for me.

Premillennialists teach that there will be a series of key events that occur before the millennial rule of Christ on earth. These events include the secret rapture of the church and a seven-year time of tribulation. They hold various opinions about when the rapture will occur, and these can be summed up as pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, or mid-tribulation. Whereas we have seen that the Great Tribulation has already occurred, and that Jesus said there would never be another one like it. We have also seen that the rapture was not at all what we thought it was. newspaper-412441_640One of the problems with the premillenialist position is that there is a tendency to interpret things not in light of what the Bible says, but in light of history, current events, and the news on TV and in the papers. They contend that they hold to a literal interpretation of prophecy and scripture, whereas in fact they are very selective in what they believe literally, and actually have a very symbolic interpretation of what they see as things to come.

For them, the kingdom is future, and a literal 1000 years on earth with Christ. The book of Revelation is seen as also mostly future.

Amillennialism

Amillennialism is the belief that there is no literal millennium.

It teaches that there is no future millennial earthly rule of Christ. Amillennialists tend to have an allegorical interpretation and non-literal approach to prophecy. For them, the events mentioned in the book of Revelation reveal that the situation in the world will continue to worsen before Christ returns. Christ will one day return to rescue the church. He will not be coming to establish a millennial rule on earth but to usher in the age to come. This view can often seem very pessimistic, because it does not see prophecy being literally fulfilled on earth, so all the promises of God are just spiritualised, and do not actually relate to our present reality.

For them, the kingdom is present now – but only in heaven. The book of Revelation is being played out presently in the church age, and the events it portrays happen in every age, throughout history.

Postmillennialism

Jesus returns after His people rule spiritually on earth. The 1000 years is not a literal figure, it simply represents a long period of time.

Postmillennial theology teaches that the Church will be triumphant as a result of the gospel impacting the world. After this, Christ will return, and believers will then enter the eternal state, or the age to come. When the church has finished its task, to see God’s kingdom come and fill the earth, then Jesus will return and we will enter the age to come.

In this view, the kingdom is present and will expand to fill the earth before Christ’s return. The prophetic promises of God are expected to have all been fulfilled by then.

The book of Revelation is mostly historical – talking about the destruction of Jerusalem – but continues to be applicable to the church triumphing over persecution, and overcoming, throughout history.

This view seems to me to be in line with what Jesus taught. As we have seen, He said He was coming on the Last Day, the day of resurrection and judgment – and our guiding principle must be to interpret everything through what Jesus said.

[Editor’s note: if you are looking for a fuller discussion of pre-, a- and post-millenialism, there is probably none better than Martin Scott’s series of podcasts and accompanying notes which you can find here (though we don’t see totally eye-to-eye with him on everything). And if you are planning a long journey or otherwise have a couple of hours to spare, you might be interested to download, listen to or watch this roundtable discussion between leading American exponents of each of these views, hosted by John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries.]

69. Millennium? What Millennium?

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1 NASB).

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (NKJV).

It is really important for us to know what is to come, because if we do not know we cannot have faith in it. Everything we do, we need to do by faith.

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith (1 John 5:4).

The mandate we have is to bring God’s kingdom rule from heaven to earth. It is the same mandate as when Jesus came ‘to destroy the works of the evil one’ (1 John 3:8).  We are overcomers; we are conquerors, because we have the authority of God’s kingdom. So in everything that we are going to have to face; in whatever spiritual warfare that is going to take place; in every arena in which we are going to have to defeat the enemy; in all that battle we have an overcomer’s mantle, because we are born again. Our identity is that of an overcomer. But how is that victory going to be won? It is won through our faith.

That means it is really important that we know what our prophetic expectation is, that we know what we believe God is going to do in the future. If we believe it is going to be defeat, then our faith is going to be in seeing and experiencing defeat. If we believe it is going to be victory, then our faith will be in that victory; and it will be possible for that victory to be outworked in us. Our faith is the substance of that victory; our faith is what will bring it into reality.

Victory consists in fulfilling God’s original intention, which is to see His kingdom filling the earth (Gen 1:28). For man to subdue and rule over it, and bring God’s kingdom: as it is in heaven, so it is on earth. That is quite an expectation, and if that is what we actually are to expect, then we really do need to know.

Pre-, A-, Post- or Pan-?

That brings me to the question of the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ.

Now there is a good deal of confusion over this in the body of Christ, many different teachings going around, many different ideas we are likely to hear. If we can get some clarity on it, we will be able to have faith in what is coming. So let me just sum up for you the main strands of teaching and then in coming posts we will begin to look at them in a little more detail:

  • Pre-millennial – ‘before’. Jesus is going to return before a period of time called a millennium (which the Latin word for 1000 years).
  • A-millennial – ‘non-’. There isn’t actually a millennium at all, and the term is normally understood by those who hold this view to be symbolic of the church age.
  • Post-millennial – ‘after’. Jesus is going to come back after a period of His kingdom being on earth.
  • Pan-millennial – ‘all’. Or, “Who cares? It will all work out in the end”. This seems to be the camp of those who are unwilling to nail their colours to the mast. Some are unsure, but maybe some are just unwilling to be honest, because they know that if they come out and say what they really believe about this, they are likely get a lot of flak.

In the USA especially, if church leaders and prominent Christian people come out and say that they don’t actually believe in a premillennial return of Jesus, they are likely to find themselves under attack from other Christians. The internet is full of articles and comments from ‘heresy-hunters’ basically just running them down because they have dared to say what they believe. As we have seen before, that premillennial view has pervaded the church like leaven, and a lot of the church don’t even know there is another way of seeing things, or if they do, they don’t understand how that other way could possibly make any sense.

Whereas in fact the church believed something quite different for centuries. And some of us do so today.

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