Friday, April 14, 2006

Amillennialism, Part Two

There's an ancient and very helpful hermeneutical principle that must come into play at this point: Unclear passages must be understood in the light of the clearer ones.

This means that Revelation 20:1ff will have to wait, at least for now. As any non-biased observer can surely admit, verses about angels with keys to bottomless pits binding dragons with great chains are pretty complicated and, dare I say, less-than-clear. So let's begin elsewhere and make our way to the apocalyptic stuff.

How about, say, I Corinthians 15:21-25? This is as good a starting pont as any: it's clear, didactic, and unadorned with apocalyptic idiom. We read in this text that there will be an order in which the resurrection of the body takes place: "Christ the firstfruits, then those who are Christ's at his coming" (v. 23). So Jesus was raised on the third day a couple thousand years ago, and then we will be raised when he returns.

Then what? The millennium? Nope. The thousand-year reign on the earth? Uh-uh.

"Then comes the end, when [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (vv. 24-26).

Hmmm.... So Jesus reigns until the last enemy is destroyed, which according to v. 26 is death. But according to vv. 54-55, death will be finally defeated at Christ's second coming -- then shall it be said, "Death is swallowed up in victory." This means that Jesus' return doesn't inaugurate his earthly kingdom, it consummates it! Which is precisely what Paul says in v. 23-24.

If there ever were a time to at least mention the millennium, this would have been the place to do it. But not only does Paul say nothing about it, his description of the end makes it impossible.

Unless, of course, millions of people can somehow die after Christ defeats death....