Sunday, November 17, 2013

Too good to be false.

In preparing to preach on Revelation 22 tomorrow, I was thinking about how we are trained to think that if something sounds too good to be true, then it is almost certainly too good to be true.

It is, of course, a dangerous half truth.
Things are too good to be true when the promise seems not to match the reality of who is promising it.

For Jesus, the Risen Lord, who is God and man, who has paid for all our sin, who has conquered death, who reigns with his Father, and who has prepared a place for us with him, if the promises he made were anything short of perfection, they would not fit the one who promised them. They would be too bad to be true. And yet, as his perfect promises fit with his perfect person and his perfect work, they are indeed too good to be false.

When we think we are protecting ourselves from placing too high a hope in these promises we will hold back from selling all that we have in order to buy this pearl of great price.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The millennium 4: further avenues for exploration (and then I'm done!)

There are several useful resources for further exploring this conversation.

Perhaps one of the most useful, both in cordial tone, and in clarity of some of the issues is the conversation a couple of years ago between two godly brothers, Jim Hamilton and Justin Taylor

One of the arguments that Jim uses, that I heard first from dear Harold Hoehner when he was teaching me New Testament in the mid 90's. It goes something like this: Yes, much of the New Testament seems to suggest that when Jesus returns it will be 'curtains' for sin, death, suffering and pain. Obviously if the return of Christ is premillennial, then there are 1000 years of sin, death, suffering and pain to come even when Jesus returns. Yet, the Old Testament spoke only of the day of the Lord: the coming of the Messiah where there would be both the saving sacrificial work of the Servant, and the coming judgement. Only with the coming of Christ do we see that these are split: there have already been 2000 years of pain since the [first] coming of Christ.

I'm afraid that I find the argument deeply troubling. Because what we have with the first coming of Christ is the New Testament. We have 27 books of the bible showing how the shadows of the OT are fulfilled in the Realities of Christ and the NT.
Are we really to think that the NT is itself merely shadows? Yes, in a sense we are: now we know in part, then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known -  but surely that at least is looking forward not to the millennium, but the consummation. (1 Cor 13:9-12)

Should we expect Christ in the millennium to inspire a ENT (Even Newer Testament)? 
And that adds another huge question: if Christ is to spend another 1000 years in bodily form on earth in a TV, Internet, (and list here another 1000 years of technology that don't yet exist) age, what do we do with all the records of his words, actions, and, if technology allows, thoughts?

Do they become a new, almost infinite canon that nobody would be able to begin to read in a lifetime? If John wrote that what Jesus did in the three years of ministry at his first coming could fill books that could not be contained in all the world, what of 1000 years of public rule?
What does discipleship look like in the geopolitical kingdom where Christ is physically king yet sin still reigns in the hearts of many?
Could this still be described as New Testament Christianity?

This Sunday I'm preaching on Revelation 22:6-21.
When I'm encouraging the members of our church to pray "Come, Lord Jesus!" it is not an earthly reign in an earthly Jerusalem but an immediate eternal reign in the New Jerusalem I'll be encouraging them to anticipate in that prayer, for Jesus promises,
"Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The millenium 3: Why I'm still amil.

Having posted a couple of posts outlining approach and methodology, I'll now state briefly why I remained a fairly convinced amillennilaist.

I have to admit, that, like many, on a first reading of Revelation 20:1-10 the 'most natural' reading to me was premillennialist.

It was not actually the reality of the chaining of the devil that I found hard to reconcile: this seems to be entirely consistent with the language of Jesus concerning the massive victory over Satan that we see during his own ministry, ahead of the cross. e.g. Luke 11:14-22, which suggests that the overarching defeat of Satan in the coming of Christ shows that the kingdom has come. The Parallel Passage in Mark 3:26-27 even uses the same term for "bind" as is used in Revelation 20:2. The result: that the nations are no longer wholesale under deception. The promise that was given in Genesis 12:3 that one day all the nations of Genesis 10-11 would be blessed comes to fruition through the ministry of Christ and the preaching of the gospel. Until Christ, the light of salvation was limited to the nation of Israel, and those who took shelter under her; after Christ the gospel is preached to all nations.

It was verse 4-5 that seemed to fit least naturally with an amil reading: I take the premillennialists' point that it is unusual (no, unprecedented) that the word for "resurrection" in verse 5 mean anything but a physical bodily resurrection. Yet, under the amil reading, that first resurrection must refer either to spiritual regeneration at the moment of belief, or the souls not bodies of the departed going to be with Christ after their death, before their souls are reunited with their physical bodies in the general resurrection.

However, when I looked at the other uses of "This is" or "these are" in Revelation, it was not always the case that all imagery is absent from the identification. i.e. the phrase is not always "This [image in Revelation] is that [literal explanation of the image devoid of imagery]"
So, for example we read in 7:14‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Robes are real physical robes. Blood is real blood, and they are really made white in them, but they are real in the vision corresponding to spirituality to the imputed righteousness of the saints due to the cross of Christ.
Thus, it is quite consistent with the language of Revelation to see the resurrection of Revelation 20:5 as a physical resurrection in the vision that correspond to a spiritual resurrection in reality, just as so many other physical images in Revelation correspond in reality not to physical realities, but to spiritual realities.

This reading of the first resurrection becomes even more likely when the most obvious contrast within Revelation is the second death.

There are (implicitly) two deaths and two resurrections that are contrasted with one another

First death - Physical                                           First Resurrection - Spiritual
    ↓ contrasts with                                                     ↓contrasts with
Second Resurrection - Physical                           Second Death - Spiritual

The first death and second resurrection are [almost] universal (apart from those who are still alive when Jesus returns). they are not mentioned in Revelation, but are implied: if there was a second death, there must have been a first one. If there is a 'first resurrection' it implies that there will be a second one.

The First resurrection and second Death are spiritual. Everyone experiences either one or the other. In revelation 20 we are therefore shown a choice: will we be those who overcome as those who experience the first resurrection, or will we experience the second death?

So, taking the methodology that I suggested for approaching difficult texts, we should ask two sets of questions and allow a conversation between them to resolve...

Set A
1) What is the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20?
2) Can the rest of Scripture be made to fit with that reading of Revelation 20?
3) If it can, I should adopt the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20, and allow it to influence my reading of other eschatological passages in Scripture
Set B
1) What is the most natural reading of the rest of Scripture concerning the millennium?
2)  Can Revelation 20 be made to fit with that reading?
3) If so I should adopt that reading of Revelation 20.
Set B clearly leads me towards an amil reading. Yea adopting even Set A, after subsequent readings of Rev 20, an amil reading not only makes more sense of the rest of Scripture, it also opens up greater depth in Revelation 20 itself, and, to me at least, makes it more satisfying rather than less.
You can listen to my sermon here