READER>> What is more of your view of eschatology?
ME>> Previously I mentioned that I hold the A-Millennial understanding of future things. I believe that the present Church Age is the Millennial Kingdom of Revelation 20:1-6 and that the second coming of Christ at the Great White Throne Judgment will occur at the end of this present Church Age. The eternal New Heavens and Earth will then begin after that.
Below are a few books on my shelf from various viewpoints that I recommended for your own study. Of course the hard work of Bible study is always recommended. Yet the books below may be the next best option to inviting Grudem, Riddlebarger, Chilton, Summers, and Ewing to your own Bible study. Also, I have read books on Dispensational Pre-Millennialism and Full Preterism, but do not recommend any below because of their distance from Christian orthodoxy. The works I do list below span the Non-Dispensational Pre-Millennial, A-Millennial, and Post Millennial views. However, you will note after reading them that they do not define one another's labels consistently. Take care not to get ensnared in semantic or camp jargon debate.
Wayne Grudem wrote Making Sense of the Future, a primer on Christian eschatology from a non-dispensational pre-Millennial view point. Grudem is a careful theologian listing numerous Biblical proofs for any position that he holds, including eschatology. For example, he references Psalm 72, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 65, and Zechariah 14 as pointing to a future Millennial reign of Christ on earth. On page 72, Grudem says, "All this speaks of an age far different from the present age, but short of the eternal state in which there is no more sin or suffering." I find much value in Grudem's analysis, though I have recently stepped away from the pre-millennial understanding.
David Chilton wrote Paradise Restored, A Biblical Theology of Dominion just as the famed John Milton wrote Paradise Lost as well as Paradise Regained. Both Milton and Chilton have much to write about Paradise! Chilton's work represents the Post-Millennial view. Yet he explains that the length of the 1,000 years is the figurative time frame of the Church Age, similar to the A-Millennial view of Riddlebarger. So how do they differ? The nature of the Millennial Kingdom proposed by Chilton is more Kingdom-like with a call for Christians to work through civil government to "Christianize" the nations. Chilton emphasizes greater continuity between the Old and New Covenants even suggesting that failed Israel was ex-communicated from the church. However, most Christians would instead say that unbelieving Israel has not joined the church until they bow to personal faith in Christ.
Kim Riddlebarger wrote A Case for A-Millennialism: Understanding the End Times. Riddlebarger defends the A-Millennial position, not that "A" means "No" Millennial Kingdom. Instead he explains that the 1,000 years of Revelation 20:1-6 is the figurative length of time for the Church Age, between Christ's first and second advent. His arguments and others persuaded me to adopt this view. For example he notes that Revelation 20:1-6 says nothing about the 1,000 years being a time a peace, but only that Satan is restricted from deceiving the nations. While I might not agree with all Riddlebarger's analysis and assignment of Revelation's symbols, I found his book to be extremely helpful to understand what is happening in the present Church Age.
Ray Summers wrote Worthy is the Lamb, An Interpretation of Revelation. Summers defends partial preterist components of Revelation such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. He also defends futuristic components such as the second coming of Christ. Summers adds insight into the methods that are best used when interpreting the symbols and images found within Revelation. He reminds us of the relevance of Old Testament symbols, first century context, and styles found in apocalyptic literature. For example, in the midst of Revelation's war theme, Summers reminds us that first century Christians were especially hated by the Romans because they refused to participate in the state war function. They followed the Lamb! Summers does go further than I prefer when interpreting symbols at a few points, but he adds considerably to the discussion.
Ragan Ewing wrote The Identification of Babylon the Harlot in the Book of Revelation. Ewing's effort is not a book per-say, but his doctrinal defense. Ewing wrote his Master's Thesis for Dallas Theological Seminary in 2002 and argues that Babylon the Harlot in the book of Revelation is in fact first century Jerusalem. He meticulously defends both external evidence for a pre-70 A.D. authorship of Revelation as well as internal evidence that identifies Jerusalem as the adulterer that played the harlot with Rome. Ewing also points out that a pre-70 A.D. authorship is not essential to understanding Jerusalem as the Harlot. If authored after 70 A.D. Revelation could then instead be explaining the fate of Jerusalem rather than predicting it. Also Ewing did not mention but could have further noted that Revelation is John's contribution to the same subject matter as Matthew and Luke's Olivet Discourse, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as predicted in Matthew 24:15-16 and Luke 21:20. Ewing's complete text is available online and also from my website.
Efforts and theories have been multiplied and exponentiated to make sense of John's Revelation, especially Chapter 13 and the famed number of the Beast, 666. I hope to avoid adding my ignorance to the discussion except as it relates to determining the nature of the members of the Unholy Trinity: The Dragon (Satan), The Beast (First / Sea Beast), and The False Prophet (Second / Land Beast). Are they human beings, demonic beings, or non-being forces? Several simple observations may guide our understanding of Revelation.
First, John does not invent Revelation's symbols to communicate a message with his own wisdom. Instead he records what Christ revealed to him in visions about the real interactions between the immaterial and material world, the unseen and the seen, Heaven and Earth. Thus, one would expect the images seen by John to be illustrative rather than photographic. After all, just how does one photograph the awesome glory and majesty of the unseen world? Isaiah saw Heaven's throne, only in part, and was completely undone, Isaiah 6:5. How does one videotape the war between the Archangel Michael and God's Archenemy Satan? Well, it is being fought out in the world around us, but Jesus helps us to see better with the illustrations that he painted for John to share with us. However, just because the paintings are illustrations, even cartoonish, that does not mean they represent the ethereal. Satan is not a fictional or conceptual Dragon, but a supernatural spirit being, a fallen angel, who leads real demons in a real war against God and his people.
Second, the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to John is set on a stage with many of the backstage curtains pulled aside. The drama that John saw reveals the interactions between the immaterial and material world, the unseen and the seen, Heaven and Earth. Thus the people, places, and things in view may be front stage, back stage, or moving between. Wisdom must then be used when interpreting the actors and props seen, whether they are front stage or back stage, that is earthly or Heavenly, or even a combination. Those demanding literalistic or excessive complication in the interpretation of Revelation's drama have missed the context.
Third, we should observe an important pattern shared by the Gospel of John, John's first epistle, and Revelation. Each of his books is introduced with a poetic division of threes that is evident as a structural framework for the book. The Gospel of John begins, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1 WEB). Three dimensions of Christ are listed. Furthermore, John's Gospel is filled with various sets of sevens, just like Revelation! Likewise John's epistle begins, "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1 WEB). The epistle content is structured around the three senses of hearing, sight, and touch! Now, in Revelation 1:4 (WEB) we read "John, to the seven assemblies that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from God, who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne." Apparently by no coincidence we see the three of past, present, and future, and again seven spirits! Revelation 1:8 (WEB) says again, " 'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.' " Revelation 1:19 (WEB) also agrees, "Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will happen hereafter." So while the debate in Revelation often centers on what is first century and what is future, we should also be reminded to consider what was already past! For example we might try to determine what single point in history is referred to by the Great Tribulation, when the drama actually on stage is the Great Tribulation of Satan's war against God and mankind from Genesis 3:1 to Revelation 20:10. This drama contains the three elements of past, present, and future for the 1st century Christians then... and for 21st century Christians now. Thus, first century Christians were encouraged to hold fast by the example of martyrs in their past as we are encouraged to hold on by their example now. Revelation contains a vital message for all Christians during the entire Church Age.
Fourth, the immaterial unseen world is real. It is substantial. It is tangible, though not through physical senses. For example, read 2 Kings Chapter 6 to learn from Elisha about the near presence of the holy angels protecting God's people. Read Daniel Chapter 10 for a rare exchange, the angel Gabriel revealing his and the Archangel Michael's battle with the Prince and Kings of Persia. The veil is briefly removed between the unseen and the seen. Paul also warns in 1 Corinthians 10:20 that the pagan sacrifices of unbelievers are in fact offered to demons! While pagans may be blind to the fact, any idolatry is in fact a victory for Satan. The unseen enemies of God actually rejoice behind the curtain in their victories as people fall to the worship of false gods, or even fall to baser materialism and sensuality.
Fifth, just as Michael and Gabriel had and have specific assignments in the war against Satan, and just as guardian angels are assigned to their children, Matthew 18:10, so Satan and his demons attack specifically and purposefully. Satan and his demons are not nebulous enemies, but are people with names, minds, wills, and intent to harm mankind. They strategize, plan, act, and regroup. Just as God commands his righteous angels on the battlefield, so Satan commands his demons.
Now consider Revelation 16:13-14 (WEB),
13) I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, something like frogs; 14) for they are spirits of demons, performing signs; which go out to the kings of the whole inhabited earth, to gather them together for the war of that great day of God, the Almighty.
Satan knew his time was short because he lost the greatest battle in the first century. Christ conquered all at the cross and now reigns on David's throne as King of Heaven. Satan is doomed and he knows it. Understanding the present Church Age to be the Millennial Reign of Christ, in Revelation 20:1-6, we see that The Beast and the False Prophet are damned to the Lake of Fire since the first century, Revelation 19:20. The defeat and removal of the influence of these demons was the eventual death of the wicked Roman Empire. Ewing's proposal above also makes good sense as we see Revelation Chapter 17 and 18 forecast the destruction of Old Covenant unbelieving Jerusalem, illustrated as the Harlot who rode The Beast. We also see that Satan is temporarily restrained from deceiving the nations from the first century until the very end, Revelation 20:2.
However, just before this restraint happened, Revelation 16:13-14 records that the Unholy Trinity releases three demons assigned to the kings of earth to prepare for the final battle to be fought on that Great Day of the Lord at the end of the Church Age, Revelation 20:7-10. The Beast and The False Prophet are permanently locked up. Satan is temporarily locked up. However, their demon "frog" agents have been merking in the mire for 2,000 years in preparation for the final battle when their leader, Satan, is released for one last contest at the end of the Church Age. One does not need to look too far or even have great insight to see the influence of these demon "frog" sons of Satan still at work in our world. Obviously, "frog" is a metaphor for these demons, perhaps to describe their stealth, quick and deadly accuracy, amphibious adaptability, ability to hibernate, or ability to multiply tragedy like tadpoles. Thankfully, we know that Christ has promised victory!
7) And after the thousand years, Satan will be released from his prison, 8) and he will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9) They went up over the width of the earth, and surrounded the camp of the saints, and the beloved city. Fire came down out of heaven from God, and devoured them. 10) The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are also. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Revelation 20:7-10 (WEB)
Since the introduction of Revelation indicates subject matter that is past, present, and future some have concluded that the symbols of Revelation are not specific, but instead typify various wicked kingdoms and kings through all Church history. Certainly some of the symbols are general in nature, but we see that The Beast and The False Prophet are specifically cast into the Lake of Fire at the beginning of the Church Age Millennium. We also see that Satan is presently bound from deceiving the nations, but that he will be released in the future. These are specific accounts of victory for the first century church, not idealized illustrations. Yet they are also the founding examples of victory that Christians have won, and will win through the entire Church Age until the last Great Battle.
Revelation had a critical message for the first century church and has a critical message for the church today! The Christians of the first century faced incredible persecution from both the Jew and the Roman at the inauguration of the New Covenant Christian faith. Revelation guaranteed victory to the fledgling first century church in their dire contest with the adulterous harlot Jerusalem, the demonic empowered Roman government, and the demon possessed Roman Caesar. Christ himself destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and eventually the demonic Roman powers that hated the Church. He bound Satan and threw The Beast and the False Prophet into the Lake of Fire. Victory!
Now, however, the Church to this very day should be both warned and encouraged. We must be warned that Satan, The Beast, and The False Prophet released their demon "frog" agents into our present world to prepare for the final battle of Gog and Magog on the Great Day of the Lord which remains yet in our future! The good news is that just as victory was promised to the first century church, so victory is promised to God's people on that Great Day. Through this radical plan Christ is unifying his one Church because believers through all Church history participate in the very same battle! Both the Full Futurist and the Full Preterist miss this critical fact by pushing the message of Revelation fully into the future or fully into the past. Yet God will demonstrate his grace both in and through his obedient Church with the grand finale of the same contest at the end of this present Church Age.
The great contest in the first century was led by Satan using the adulterous harlot Jerusalem, the demonic empowered Roman government, and the demon possessed Roman Caesar. History proves that Satan has employed these same tactics again and again throughout the Church Age with his demon "frog" agents. The ongoing influence of demons is evidenced to this day by false religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Mormonism. These demons also build their lairs in the modern governmental infrastructures of Communism, Socialism, Fascism, and even Republics. These lairs then become homes for demon crazed political leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Ho Chi Minh. Of course we are each accountable for our choices, but if we do not choose Christ, then we are pawns and prey for Satan's destructive schemes of envy, selfishness, abortion, addiction, anger, genocide, greed, homosexuality, perversion, pornography, infidelity, divorce, and pride. Satan's objective is to destroy by twisting, spoiling, contaminating, perverting, ruining, and breaking everything good that God has created. The hymn writer warns that we live in a "world with devils filled." I have proved in my article, You are Wrong About Matthew 25:31-46!, that the "ethnos" gathered before Christ at the final judgment includes both humans and demons, Matthew 25:32 and Revelation 20:13. Thus it is no coincidence that Revelation 20:8 says that when Satan is released he will gather the "ethnos" for battle against God's people. Satan will round up both his demons and unbelieving mankind, who so easily serve as his pawns, to attack God's people.
So are we following the example of the first century church? Are we following the Lamb? Are we ready to stand in battle like Christ and with Christ? Are we battling mere flesh and blood or are we fighting the good fight against God's true enemy, that is Satan and his demons?
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world's rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12 (WEB)
One thing is clear, Satan's web of deception will be world-wide with a clear black and white division across the globe. While God's grace currently endures lukewarm gray spaces in our world there will only be two categories of people on that day: the attacker and the attacked, the wolf and the lamb. There will be no nations to oppose the 'Hitler' of that day. Satan will be released to round up all the wicked to attack both God's beloved saints and his beloved city. Though God destroyed unbelieving Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the fact that both the beloved saints and the beloved city will be attacked by Satan on that Great Day yet to come ought to give everyone pause. God destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but he still loves Israel dearly! And so we return to the grand conclusion of Romans.
25) For I don't desire you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, so that you won't be wise in your own conceits, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, 26) and so all Israel will be saved. Even as it is written,
"There will come out of Zion the Deliverer, and he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
27) This is my covenant to them, when I will take away their sins."
28) Concerning the Good News, they are enemies for your sake. But concerning the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sake. 29) For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30) For as you in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience, 31) even so these also have now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they may also obtain mercy. 32) For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.
Romans 11:25-32 (WEB)
Friend, if you fall short of trusting that Jesus does in fact love all mankind, every individual Jew and every individual gentile, you will be deceived into joining the attacker. Flee your doubts! Leave your false graceless religion! Do not join Satan in attacking Christ's beloved! God loves you and your neighbor! Fight on God's side against Satan and his lies! Stand like a lamb for God's people so the victorious Lamb can be your defender!