There are some commentators in the early Centuries who interpreted the millennium in what could be termed ‘historic pre-millennialism’, that Christ will return and there will be an interim 1000 year reign before the final wrapping of things up. This though has to be distinguished from the material put out by Darby, Scofield, Lindsey and most of the popular literature today. (On historic pre-millennialism someone like George Ladd was a proponent of it, having previously been brought up under the common Dispensationalist teaching.) So in saying I do not look for a millennium there is some measure of early historic push-back that could come my way. (And of course as always my defence is ‘I could be wrong, and there seems to be aspects more important than making sure we are correct at every point’.)
I likewise push back against an expectation of a future millennial rule with it appears in one book, a very non-literal book (in the same chapter are the ‘chains’ and the ‘pit’ for the devil also literal?); a book that is full of ‘chiasmi’ structures. Coming from the Greek letter Chi (X) the structure is to start and end in the same place with the middle being the place where it comes to a conclusion. A structure that runs like this (and the letters below could be extended, and there can be a chiasmus inside a chiasmus – don’t underestimate John, there is creativity in there beyond creativity!):
Those structures mean we are not reading something that is simply historically progressive, and so I do not think that we should not be looking for some sort of historical future outworking. The wider setting is from 19:1-21:8 and we have repetitions, summaries, conclusions all tumbled in together. To read it as a historical progression is beyond challenging! After all it is all over by 19:20,21, before we get to a millennium:
These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
To make it all some sort of proceeding fulfilment along a time line one really has to make some incredible contortions. I simply do not wish to do that, and do not see prophecy as ‘history written in advance’ but as adaptive and expanding promise to enable us to cooperate with heaven in advancing heaven’s agenda.
[If interested an article by Ed Christian on the chiastic structure might be helpful. He does not make any conclusions on what does John ‘believe’, simply he addresses the structure:
In all this I am not seeking to argue for a point, if you wish to believe in a future millennium that’s OK by me. I am more interested in how you and I are living now: which seems always to be the purpose of any future comment in Scripture, a kind-of ‘how then should we live’ line seems to be very prominent when the future is spoken of.
Given that 1) I do not see a future millennium, 2) that the future is open and not fixed, not by divine decree nor by biblical prophecy, 3) that the Bible is silent on future prediction beyond AD70 (but far from silent about 2022 or whatever year I am alive in) it will not be surprising that I do not see Jesus returning to set up government in Jerusalem.
Jesus’ actions in that final week are so in tune with the apocalyptic chapter of Zechariah 14. Apocalyptic literature uses extreme language and imagery to communicate the reality that is happening, not to describe what is happening in ‘real, observable’ ways. (Maybe like ‘you frightened the life out of me’ is not a request to ‘please organise my funeral’, but a non-literal way of describing the inner, unseen effect. Exaggerated language at one level, but only exaggerated language can come close to describe the reality.)
In making those comments about Zechariah 14, and other passages that could be quoted (even NT ones) I am essentially saying that I do not approach prophecy, and in particular apocalyptic prophecy in a way that is trying to find a literal fulfilment. I do not see such imagery as a photograph of the future that we will one day view, but rather as (political) cartoons that expose the inner reality.
This post along with the ones that have gone before have been very brief as I do not consider a belief in the millennium nor a future antiChrist (or as in my case a non-belief) is that important. It seems I am free to hold my non-belief and anyone else is free to hold to their belief. There are, as always, matters that are more critical in the here and now that should take our focus regardless of our beliefs concerning the elements of the future that could be considered as falling within ‘events that will take place’.
The next post will look at the ‘end that has already taken place’.