Recently I have been listening to a series of Advent talks by Bishop Julian Dobbs and in the beginning of his first talk he says:
In the Anglican Communion service there is what is known as the Acclamation where we say “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” – but it is the third acclamation that we are the most perplexed – can there be a solid basis for our hope that Christ will come again? When will it be? The Apostles of the NT appeared to expect the return of Christ to be imminent. And yet if you look in the Book of Common Prayer you will see that there is “characteristic Anglican caution”, there is a table that enables us to calculate the Day of Easter until well after the year 8000 (8500AD to be exact).
What will this return be like? Through our heads run the confusing vocabularies of ‘eschatology’ (doctrine pertaining to the last things or last days); words such as Millenium, Rapture, Armageddon, the Anti-Christ; and sometimes if we are honest it seems so unclear, so unimaginable, perhaps even unlikely (mention to a non-Christian that you live your life in the confident expectation that Jesus Christ will return again a second time to planet earth and you are likely to met with a look of bemused amazement!).
Yet it is impossible to read the NT and not see it filled with the hope of Christ’ return. One verse in every twenty-five in the NT touches on the return of Jesus. Over three hundred references, and two hundred and sixty chapters Jesus spoke of his return. The Apostle Paul called it our “blessed hope”; Peter described his return as our “living hope”, and running unmistakably through the Bible is the unshakeable conviction and insistence that the God who is working in history, (who has already established his rule in Jesus Christ) will one day bring history to a climax in the Son of Man’s coming in glory. One cannot read the NT and be in any doubt about that at all!”
And yet it seems that in my context (which is an Australian Evangelical Anglican one), discussion about Eschatology, or end times seems to have…well…ended.
For example I suspect that if I ask Christians in my context about their view of the Millennium, the response I will get is one either an expression of puzzlement and/or a comment along the lines of “I have never really thought about it that much to be honest”. I suspect that if I ask the question about Revelation 20:1-6 regarding the Millennial reign of Christ, the response I will receive is “I am a pan-millennial” – which means “It will all pan out in the end”. In other words:
Jesus is coming back and that is enough for me, so why worry about the details?
Recently I have been thinking more and praying more and more about the second Advent of the Lord Jesus. I don’t know why, perhaps it could be now that I am middle-aged (43), or perhaps it is due to the increasing ungodliness and hostility towards the Faith from our culture. Whatever the reason is, I have been reading through Revelation and Revelation 20.
Historically there have been three main positions in regards to Revelation 20. Here is a very brief description of each:
- Very popular in the 5-16th Centuries
- Believe that the return of Christ will not inaugurate his reign on earth, but will inaugurate his judgment and the beginning of the eternal age, Heaven and Hell will be ushered in.
- Christians who hold this view say that the passage in Rev 20 is symbolic rather than literal.
- Christians who hold this view do not believe that Christ will reign on the earth for a thousand years.
- Christianity will become so wide spread that it will bring about a period that will represent the millennial reign of Christ.
- Jesus won’t be present, but Jesus and his church are reigning now spiritually.
- That for a thousand years the church will take over the world and rule the world in the name of Christ before he returns.
- If a person holds to this position they would have to believe that the return of Christ is at least a thousand years away from today, as it is clear that the church is not even close to having governance over this world.
Classical Premillennialism (not to be confused with Dispensational Premill – which is very different)
- Believes that Revelation 20 is literal not symbolic
- Jesus will come to earth (his 2nd Advent)
- Christians will be gathered to meet him (those who are alive and Christians will be raised with Christ)
- Christ will reign upon the earth for 1000 years (some who hold to the classic Premill position believe the 1000 years could mean an extended length of time)
- Then the unrighteous people will be raised
- The world will be judged
- The New Heavens and the new earth are implemented
The point of this article is not to explain in detail my position – (though for those who want to know, I was a former A-mill who is now tentatively and newly in the Classical Pre-mill camp) but is an appeal to clergy and laity alike to not avoid the book of Revelation, Revelation 20, and not to avoid eschatology.
I believe it is very important that we reach some conclusion due to the fact that whatever view we conclude is supported by the Scriptures regarding the end times (including the millennial reign of Christ on the earth), that will have a profound effect on our attitude to this world today, our responsibility for it and evangelism.
To finish here is a quote from one of my spiritual heroes – Bishop J. C. Ryle [1816-1900], Anglican Bishop, pastor, and scholar (whom recently I discovered was an ‘historic premillennialist’). In a work entitled, Coming Events and Present Duties, he wrote of his premillennial belief:
“I believe that the world will never be completely converted to Christianity, by any existing agency, before the end comes. In spite of all that can be done by ministers, members, and churches, the wheat and tares will grow together until the Harvest; and when the end comes, it will find the earth in much the same state that it was when the flood came in the days of Noah. I believe that the widespread unbelief, indifference, formalism, and wickedness, which are to be seen throughout Christendom, are only what we are taught to expect in God’s word. Troublous times, departures from the faith, evil men waxing worse and worse, love waxing cold, are things directly predicted. So far from making me doubt the truth of Christianity, they help to confirm my faith. Melancholy and sorrowful as the sight is, if I did not see it I should think the Bible was not true. I believe that the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will be a real, literal, personal, bodily coming; that as He went away in the clouds of heaven with His body, before the eyes of man, so in like manner, will He return. I believe that, after our Lord Jesus Christ comes again, the earth shall be renewed, and the curse removed; the devil shall be bound, the godly shall be rewarded, the wicked shall be punished; and that, before He comes, there shall be neither resurrection, judgment, no Millennium; and that not till after He comes shall the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. I believe that the Jews shall be ultimately gathered again, as a separate nation, restored to their own land, and converted to the faith of Christ. I believe, finally, that it is for the safety, happiness, and comfort, of all true believers to expect as little as possible from churches, or governments, under the present dispensation, to hold themselves ready for tremendous conversions and changes of all things established, and to expect their good things only from Christ’s Second Advent.”
So what ever one’s view, let’s end the end of thinking about the End Times.