Life Changing Eschatology
I grew up during the rise of dispensational theology. You had movies like A Thief in the Night, the Left Behind books and the subsequent movies. Most impactful for my own theology was A Theif in the Night. It simultaneously provoked fear of the rapture, doubt about my faith, and shyness towards reading Revelations.
One of the most important motivations for many salvations in my circles was avoiding the tribulation. No one wanted to live through that—not what was depicted on the movie screens.
I can vividly recall altar calls after watching this movie or after a fire and brimstone message on a frightening passage in Revelations. There was not hope, but doubt being peddled in those times. If you had a shred of doubt, walk the aisle, avoid the tribulation, and you better be sure, absolutely sure.
My faith was haunted throughout my formative years by those sermons and movies. I just couldn’t shake them. A turning point for me came when a high school Bible teacher opened up Revelations and asked us, “What do you think Revelations is about?” There were lots of answers you might expect—judgment, rapture, millennium, etc. He stopped us, “It’s about Jesus”—and he unpacked Revelations 1 like I had never heard before. It didn’t make me afraid, not in the way those other videos and sermons had; it made me sit in awe of the returning King who was terrible and beautiful. Every time I read through this passage, I think of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings who appears to Frodo unveiled and is described in those same terms.
Oddly enough, I didn’t immediately abandon the dispensational theology of my youth. At first, it was hitched dispensationalism. I do believe it, but maybe there’s other options. Maybe Revelations isn’t a political thriller. Maybe there’s more. Reading the entire Bible front to back and looking for motifs, images, and storylines helped me move from dispensationalism to historic premillennialism. It was still an uneasy marriage. As I studied theology on my own, it made more sense than dispensationalism did and it had some historical rootedness to it.
For many years, I put off dealing with eschatology. I felt like, “We all believe Jesus is coming back. He will judge the living and dead. And Christians will be given new bodies. Isn’t that enough?” It is enough, but it shouldn’t be the reason for laziness in biting down on an actual position. Eschatology does matter.
So here I stand—dispensationist to an amillennialist. Sam Storm briefly defines amillennialism:
Contrary to what the name (Amillennialism) implies, AMs do believe in a millennium. The millennium, however, is now: the present age of the church between the first and second comings of Christ in its entirety is the millennium. Therefore, while the AM does deny the Premillennial belief in a personal, literal reign of Christ upon the earth for 1,000 years following His second coming, he affirms that there is a millennium and that Christ rules. However, this messianic reign is not necessarily for a literal 1,000 years and it is wholly spiritual (non-earthly, non-visible) in nature. “This millennial reign is not something to be looked for in the future;” writes Hoekema, “it is going on now, and will be until Christ returns. Hence the term realized millennialism is an apt description of the view here defended--if it is remembered that the millennium in question is not an earthly but a heavenly reign,” (The Bible and the Future, p. 235).
That gives you a brief idea of what amillennialists hold to. I will not get into many details, but I did want to now make one point. I was sitting in my church’s Good Friday service listening to Scripture being read. As our Savior hung on the cross, one of the thieves says, “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (Lk. 23:42). Jesus answers the thief, “‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (v. 43).
The thief asks Jesus to remember him when he goes to his kingdom and Jesus without hesitation tells him, “Today you’ll be with me there.” I’ve been meditating on that since Friday’s service. Jesus doesn’t tell him, “You’re gonna have to wait for might kingdom to come in the future.” Or “I’ll let you into heaven, but you’ll need to wait for my kingdom.” He answers with an unwavering faith that what he will accomplish will inaugurate his kingdom in the now.
I’m not here to convince anyone to change their eschatological beliefs. I’m probably outnumbered by Torrey Gazette contributors who I believe are mostly postmillennial. Just ask yourself, “How does your eschatology transform your daily living?” “Does it produce hope and boldness or fear?” “Are you acting as an ambassador of our reigning King?” The kingdom is here.