Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Inbox: Millennial Musings

So I’m browsing through old emails, and I find this one from JR, naturally received in the middle of the night. He was up, I was up, and I guess these are the sorts of things we think about when we can’t sleep:

“Hey ... I’m just reading a book where the author is discussing Mt 16:19. He says that since the verse is talking about the kingdom of heaven, it is referring not to the church age but to the coming kingdom and that the verse is therefore referring to the church’s role in that kingdom (reigning with Christ). Keys speak of authority, etc. He further points out that if we interpret it in that context, the weird ideas that many have drawn from that verse evaporate.

I’ll have to give this some thought.”

Okay. Interesting.

So I replied:

“That’s as tenable as the usual interpretation, I think. I’m not totally prepared to toss the idea that two or three believers praying together about an earthly problem in the church age with the glory of Christ in view have an awful lot of power available to them RIGHT NOW, but both things could be true without the church age being what the Lord is referring to in 16:19. That sort of exercise of power is ‘of a type’. Whether it is church administrative power exercised in a millennial context or church administrative power exercised currently, the exercise of that power is bound to look like powerful guys with a big set of keys. The idea is at least worth serious consideration.”

But now I’m not going back to sleep anyway ...


... so let’s lob this one around a little:

“Let me throw something else at you that I was thinking about yesterday that is somewhat related. Two verses:

‘Truly, I say to you, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’

‘Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?’

The first is said to the disciples AS JEWS about their millennial role judging Jews. The second is written to Gentile disciples about their millennial role judging the world.

So what is the role of church age believers (literally MILLIONS of Gentiles) in the millennium?

The Role of the Church in the Millennium

First, we will NOT all be living in Israel, despite what John Piper insists in this stunningly ill-advised pair of sermon transcripts. I replied to both of these on the blog, here and here.

To be fair to Piper, I was just reading in Ezekiel that there will be Gentiles settled among the tribes in the final arrangement of tribal land in millennial Israel. But even a quick consideration of the physical size of Israel should tell us that’s not the church, not just for the obvious theological reasons, but practical ones. Israel simply isn’t big enough to hold two millennia worth of resurrected Gentiles. That’s not happening. So Piper’s wrong. And it doesn’t need to be the church anyway, as there will be plenty of Gentiles in earthly bodies coming to Christ in both the Tribulation and Millennium, and saved people may want to live closer to the earthly seat of their Savior’s power. I think Ezekiel’s saying this will be allowed. But this isn’t the church, and they won’t be in resurrection bodies.

Further, theologically, Christians from this present age have no need to settle in Israel as our connection to Christ is direct and personal. In any case, we are absolutely needed elsewhere. The Millennium is primarily for the realization of the Abrahamic and Davidic promises, and the apostles, as representatives not of the church, but of the revived nation of Israel in its glory, have their place on thrones judging the tribes. That will be cool, and I might even come by to check it out once or twice. (Secondarily, I believe the Millennium is for the sake of proving that even perfect rule can’t fix man’s condition: God must be all in all. The church has already learned that principle, or is in the process of learning it, I hope. We need both the indwelling Christ and Christ present with us. One of these, in fallen surroundings, will not get the job done.)

Judging the World

Sorry, back to our role. The Corinthians verse: ‘The world is to be judged by you.’ The world, not Israel. Christians, not Jews. This is manifestly not the Great White Throne judgment, where we stand around while the glorified Christ judges the world, presumably doing little more than nodding in agreement. That will be fine, but it would require nothing whatsoever of us other than our presence. Here I believe Paul is talking about us having and exercising actual discernment in repeated, specific cases brought before us. He’s saying that since we will have to use our Spirit-led brains and hearts to deal with complex human issues in the future, we had best start practicing now. So I view ‘judged’ here as ongoing and administrative rather than a ‘thumbs up, thumbs down’ sort of final judgment with respect to destination.

That’s a thousand-year role I could get my teeth into.

So, in short, I see the church’s role as administering the rule of Christ in a largely-hostile-but-suppressed Gentile world during the millennium. Gentiles will be living, sinning and dying just like they are now, except they will not have the excuse of living in a rotten society or under horrible government to trot out every time their misbehavior is pointed out to them, and they will need government. We will provide it, I think.

You do fun things to my brain at 3:30 in the morning ...”

IC Weighs In

When you send an email to multiple people, some of them are bound to come back at you. This time, IC did:

“Is the right translation there ‘church’ or ‘congregation’ (i.e. ἐκκλησίαν: ‘called-out-ones’, i.e. a collection of those extracted from a larger group for a specific purpose)?

I ask because I can’t figure out what the disciples would have understood by ‘church’, if the church didn’t form until after Pentecost, and if the Gentile inclusion was a total surprise, as it seems to have been.

Also, I see that in the Greek it says, ‘keys to the kingdom of the heavens’ (plural). It contrasts that with ‘earth’ (ge), of course. But what implication is conveyed by the pluralization?”

What the Disciples Heard

I replied as follows:

“Hmm. To a certain extent the precise details of what the disciples understood here might not have been all that relevant. Their understanding, as you point out, would necessarily have been limited by their current experience and lack of full information about both the kingdom and definitely the church. Certainly they had no concept of Gentile inclusion.

All the same, the Lord’s two sentences work quite apart from one another, and it’s really the second we’re concerned with here, though it is certainly contextualized by the first:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

(a statement which could be taken to refer exclusively to the church age)

and secondly:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

(which may or may not be limited by the church age).

You may see what I mean. It’s possible the ‘church’ he would build and the ‘kingdom of heaven’ are identical, and some people teach that. It’s also possible that they are two different (or, really, overlapping) aspects of what the Lord is doing. So the disciples may not have understood ‘church’ as we understand it; in fact, I guarantee they did not. They may even have heard something like ‘I will build my gathering of supporters for my bid for the throne of Israel.’ But by Matthew 16 they already had enough information about the kingdom to know that its keys were significant, and that they were being groomed for significant responsibilities within it.”

But as for the pluralization, I still have no idea ...

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