Monthly Archives: September 2014

How John the Baptist Came to Embrace Amillennialism

Ok, ok, I know that the title is a bit silly, but bear with me.

So, a few weeks ago, I was visiting a church (which, Lord willing, I will join), and afterwards over lunch, we were discussing various biblical topics when the Millennium came up. I divulged that I hold to Amillennialism. Immediately, I received fist-bumps from two of my Amillennial comrades. Not all were so enthused; the Chiliasts put forth the problem of Satan’s being bound or rather the appearance of the lack of it in all the murder, rape, poverty, addiction, violence, and unbelief throughout the world. It is all well and good to say that Satan is bound now, but in El Salvador, or Afghanistan, or ISIS-held territory, such a belief seems quite false, and perhaps even insensitive.

Now, there are several verses to respond to this claim, not to mention the “already/not-yet” dynamic at work in the scriptures, but what I want to point to is an incident between between John the Baptist and Christ. In Luke 7:20, John begins to wonder what exactly Jesus is up to. “‘John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” John had preached the last judgment and believed that the Messiah would bring this about immediately: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees”(Luke 3:9). Yet Jesus is going around preaching and healing people and seems to be dilly-dallying. 

Our Millennarian friends ask, “How can Satan be bound while his influence is still so evident in the world today?” John might well have asked, “How can you, Jesus, be the Messiah, when you have not brought judgment on the wicked?”

Jesus’ answer is instructive, “‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.'” Jesus most certainly was the long-awaited Messiah, and his task was and is both to preach the good news/heal but also to judge the world. Yet John’s problem was not a misidentification of Jesus but that his hermeneutic was a bit too stiff, too literal for the way that the Messiah would go about fulfilling his prophecied mission.

I am indebted to Dr. Dennis Johnson (whose class I will be taking very shortly) for this insight. In his book, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, he advocates an apostolic hermeneutic that guides apostolic preaching in our churches today. He explains that the two extremes that must be avoided are, on one hand, the rampant allegorizing so common in the Medieval period, and on the other hand, the strict literalism that leaves no breathing room for the unexpected ways that prophecy at times comes to pass. Concerning this passage, Dr. Johnson writes:

“Was John, then, a false prophet? On the contrary! Jesus’ benediction, ‘Blessed is the one who is not offended by me’ – not ‘tripped up (skandalizo) by me’ – summoned John and his disciples to a persevering faith that is not dissuaded or deflected by the unexpected way in which Jesus was fulfilling John’s prophecies. What John needed was to learn, as did Jesus’ disciples at a later point (Acts 1:6-8), was that God reserves the right to fulfill his promises in his ordinary literal reading of those promises. Although Old Testament anticipation (whether in prophetic words or in ‘types,’ those ‘incarnated prophecies’ embedded in Israel’s concrete historical experience) and New Testament fulfillment are bound together by strands of similarity, the move from promise to fulfillment, from ‘shadow’ to ‘reality’ (in the words of Hebrews) also entails magnification in directions that a rigidly ‘literal’ hermeneutic could not have anticipated…Blessed are we and our hearers, if we and they do not stumble over the surprising ways that Jesus shows himself to be the long-promised Coming One! Discovering not only that but also how Jesus fulfills ancient promises and satisfies ancient longings is indeed a God-given blessing, for which a supposedly objective ‘literal’ interpretive matrix is not an adequate substitute”(emphasis added, 143-4).

So yes, I believe Satan is bound now, even though he “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), but this is not a fatal blow to Amillenialism if we understand that, in our New Testament, “Already/Not-Yet” period in redemptive history, the Christian life is full of tensions due to living between Christ’s first and second coming. We should be willing to give the Lord a little leeway in how he himself fulfills his own prophecies.

In any event, this is most certainly a family discussion, and if you fail to love your brothers of a different persuasion with great humility in light of your own fallibility, then go kick rocks!