Friday, March 30, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The Golden Age

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

A few weeks back we spent some time considering eternity as described in our Bibles, and the various misunderstandings that exist about it even among believers.

Tom: I promised at the end of that exchange that we would put together some thoughts on the subject of the Millennium, the coming thousand year reign of Christ, a subject explored mostly in the psalms and the writings of the Hebrew prophets and touched upon only briefly in the book of Revelation, where we are told that Satan will have no part in it, having been consigned to the abyss.

So let’s talk about this golden age a little, IC. Why have a Millennium at all? Why is it so important? Why not transport Christians straight into our promised eternity with Christ?

That Dreaded ‘D’ Word

Immanuel Can: I think that to answer that question we have to look at the whole span of God’s plan for his creation, don’t we? I mean, the Millennium is one phase of God’s dealings with man: it makes sense to set it in the context of the other parts of that general plan, does it not?

Tom: It does indeed. Do tell.

IC: I hate to say the “D” word, because it has been slandered so often that many people have been programmed to reject it on sight, but …

“Dispensationalism.”

Tom: Aaaaagh! Okay, I’ll bite, since I haven’t got sufficient garlic to fend you off, but you’re going to have to walk me through it.

IC: Okay. It’s quite straightforward. Dispensationalism is the observation that the Bible teaches that at different times in history, God required of humankind specific kinds of response, certain “stewardships” under his guidance. And these did not stay identical throughout history. So what was expected of Abraham or Isaiah was somewhat different from what was expected of Peter or Paul, and from what might be required of us today. And it’s worthwhile to look at what was, and what will be, expected in each era of God’s plans.

A Different Plan of Attack

Tom: Okay, so you’re saying that God had a different plan of attack with respect to man’s sin problem at different points in history (or, really, a different phase of the same plan of attack), depending on the capacity and the development of the individuals he was dealing with, and the specific thing he was trying to accomplish in any given generation. Does that cover it adequately?

IC: Yep, that’s tidy. Now I’m going to be a little more contentious. Everybody is a Dispensationalist. There are only two types of rational Christians: those who know they’re Dispensationalists, and those who don’t know they are, but still are.

Tom: I agree. Even the Covenant Theologians acknowledge two dispensations, though they wouldn’t use that word. But tell me: how does that factor into our discussion of the Millennium?

IC: How can you answer the question of why we have the Millennium when you have no idea how it differs from any other time period, or how it fits into the more general plan of God?

Tom: Um … valid point. So what’s different about it then? What is God doing in that period that is so important?

Millennial Distinctives

IC: The key passage is Revelation 20:2-7. The Millennium is there described very specifically as a 1,000 year period during which Satan is bound, and the earth is dominated by the righteous rule of God. That makes it very different from the present age, I think you’ll agree. It’s with reference to that time that we get the famous OT passages about the restoration of Israel as a centre of righteous rule, swords being beaten into agricultural instruments, an end to the world food shortage, wolves lying down with lambs and a peaceful, worldwide theocratic government. In short, things will run very differently from how they run now.

Tom: The Millennium will be unprecedented and amazing, but it’s not the Eternal State either. We need to distinguish the two. There will be death during the Millennium, and sin as well. There will be Old Testament-style animal sacrifices offered in a new but very physical temple. There will still be clear national distinctions, along with a hint that not all nations will quietly cooperate at all times with God’s administration of their affairs. There is the potential for plagues on rebellious people. And if you read Isaiah carefully, there’s even reason to suspect that the restoration of the animal kingdom to its Edenic state is to be a state of affairs connected specifically with Zion rather than the entire planet.

So the Millennium is not eternal perfection. It’s something not wildly dissimilar to the conditions we experience today, only perfectly governed, and with the Father of Lies conveniently out of the way.

IC: But we haven’t quite pinned down precisely why that’s necessary: in other words, someone might ask, why not jump straight from the “Age of Grace” into the Eternal State? What do you say, Tom?

A Few Outstanding Promises

Tom: Well, for one, there are some things God has promised to do first that can’t be overlooked if he is to remain true to his word, like the fulfillment of his covenants with Abraham and David. Abraham had some land he was supposed to receive. David had a throne that was never rescinded from his lineage. Somebody has to make good on that stuff, or God is a liar. Needless to say, God is not a liar. So we’re not going to get through human history without God making good on his promises.

IC: You’re reminding me of Moses’ prayer of intercession for Israel. He agonized over what it would mean to the reputation of the Lord as savior if he should fail to complete his promises to Israel. The nations would say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” And indeed, what other explanation could there be, but “the Lord was not able … so he killed them”?

A Demonstration of Competence

Tom: This is the ongoing problem. Further, God has other things he wishes to prove once and for all. Read Psalm 2 and imagine a world in which God fails to once and for all demonstrate that his Son is the answer to every one of the world’s problems. I can’t imagine a scenario in which man wins and Christ loses. God fully intends to overturn the verdict of the Jewish religious hierarchy against his Son, and demonstrate that only his Christ is competent to administer world order. Good luck to those who think otherwise.

IC: Heh. No luck to them at all. “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” “Must”, meaning, “Oh, yes; this is going to happen.” And “all”: there will be no leftover victories for the opposition to claim. Nada.

A Demonstration of Man’s Innate Sinfulness

Tom: Right. But there’s another problem with mankind, and that’s that he is perpetually claiming that all his problems are a product of the devil’s shenanigans; “The devil made me do it,” and all that. So God must take the devil out of the equation for 1,000 years to demonstrate that the problem was always much more than Satan: man absolutely and utterly colluded with the Prince of Darkness. He was not just a pawn but a willing playmate. The Millennium is the end of all man’s pathetic excuses for our behavior.

IC: This brings us back to what I meant by God’s general plan for history. Man’s been tried in a state of relative innocence in the Garden of Eden: failed. He’s been tried under the judges and prophets, the kings and the Law: failed. He’s been tried under the regime of the Chosen Nation: failed. He’s been tried under his own rule, of many and various kinds, in our age: failed. During the Millennium he will be tried under a regime of perfect governance: aaaaand ... [drumroll, please]

At that point, I think the conclusion of the historical demonstration is obvious: no set of conditions is sufficient to allow a man to earn his way into fellowship with God. Only the Lord saves.

Tom: Amen to that. But there are still significant numbers of Christians who believe we are capable of making the world a whole lot better — even to the point of issuing in Millennial conditions — before the Lord will return to rule. That seems to me to be missing a point that the Holy Spirit has been writing in 36 point bold capital letters across the pages of history. Yes, the Church has the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yes, we are privileged to enjoy God’s grace in a unique way. But we are not equipped on our own to reverse-engineer the effects of the Fall in either society or in human lives, and certainly not in terms of its impact on creation. We need not just God IN us, but God WITH us — Immanuel, so to speak — and God has just the ticket for that.

No comments :

Post a Comment