Report of the
Study Committee: The Millennium
The Committee would request two hours at the 123rd Annual Conference for discussion of our work and recommendation. We will request the formation of “a committee of the whole” which will permit us to work through a prepared Bible study, referred to in our outline as “Summary of Biblical Work”. We will then present the remainder of our work and entertain a free-ranging discussion of our work as a whole without the limitations of parliamentary procedure. At the end of our discussion we must give a report that can then go into the minutes of Annual Conference.
I. Basic Recommendation
II. Summary of Biblical Work
III. Points of Eschatological Commonality and Unity
IV. Benefits to Potential New Articles
V. Potential New Articles (to replace Articles 24 thru 28) (not to be moved or voted on at this Annual Conference)
VI. A Divergent View by Committee member by Robert C. Kaatz
VII. Recommended Reading
VIII. Annotated Bibliography
I. Basic recommendation - Eschatological liberty:
After having spent two years in intensive study concerning the issue of the Millennium, the Committee recommends that eschatological liberty be granted those holding an evangelical/orthodox understanding of the millennium. We do not believe a particular evangelical millennial view to be a test of evangelical authenticity. We understand that there is an “already / not yet” dimension to the Kingdom of God. We further believe that our recommended articles will allow for proper evangelical eschatological liberty. Also, our proposal will allow us collectively as a denomination and individually as Pastors and Elders, to hold confidently and unapologetically to a firm Biblical understanding of the primary events associated with Christ’s return without causing harmful and unnecessary division within the body of Christ.
II. Summary of Biblical Work:
The Committee studied Scripture carefully in an effort to hear what God says in it about the millennium. This summary is provided as a summary of some of the Committee’s work and as a basis for further interaction on the proposal of the Committee.
1. The day of the Lord
Amos 5:18-20; 9:7-15; Joel 2:1-11; Zeph. 1:7- 8,14-18
In the OT, “the day of the Lord” is a primary and significant way of describing the climax of history in God’s triumph over evil and establishment of righteousness. It is not simply the outworking of human sin, but is the Lord’s direct intervention. In that day God will judge all unrighteousness and establish righteousness.
2. The last days or later days
Acts 2:17-21 (see Joel 2:28-32); 1Tim. 4:1; 2Tim.3:1; Heb.1:2;9:26; 1Pet.1:20; 2Pet. 3:3
Peter at Pentecost identifies the time between Christ’s first coming and second coming as “the last days.” In those days the promises of God’s redemptive purpose made in the OT were fulfilled in the first advent of Christ and God’s redemptive purpose will be consummated in his second advent.
3. The kingdom of God
The OT contrast between the present order of things and the redeemed order of the future is called in the NT the kingdom of God. This connects the day of the Lord with the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God/heaven is the theme of John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and all the NT.
a. Kingdom defined – The word “kingdom” as used in Scripture is not a geographical location or a period of time. Rather it is the living, actual reign, rule or dominion of God. God’s kingdom is everlasting (Psa. 145:10-13); it rules over everything that exists (Psa. 103:19). God’s people in the OT thought about and used this idea in many wrong ways: they wanted a king God had not chosen and wanted him for wrong reasons (1Sam. 8); their kings did not rule in the ways God desired them to reign—this was true of all of the kings of Israel (1Kgs. 12 to 2Kgs. 17); many of the kings of Judah (2Chr. 33-36) even those who were more faithful to God than others were not perfect (David - 2Sam. 12; Solomon -1Kgs. 11; Hezekiah - Isa. 39). God promised someday to send a king out of one family that would reign forever (2Sam. 7:12-16). Finally that righteous and eternal king came; his name was Jesus (Luke 1:33; John 18:33-37). Christ is King now and he will also become King. Christ is king—exercises his rule, his kingdom which will never end—forever.
b. Kingdom is the central message of the NT -- Because this kingdom is a righteous kingdom, to enter, sinners must repent from their sins. Because this kingdom is eternal life, to enter, the spiritually dead must be born from above. John and Jesus began their ministries with the call to repent because the kingdom of God was near (Mat. 3:2; 4:17). Early summaries of Jesus preaching (Mat. 4:23; 5:19,20) and his instructions to those he sent out are characterized as the gospel of the kingdom (Luke 9:1-6).
Jesus says to the disciples of John the Baptist (Mat. 11:2-6) that his ministry is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 35:5,6). This gospel of the kingdom must be preached to the whole earth before Christ returns (Mat. 24:14). In Acts, Paul’s message is summarized as “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (28:31).
c. Kingdom has present and future aspects
(1) Present aspect -- Jesus tells Nicodemus that being born from above is essential to being able to grasp and enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5). In his interaction with the rich young ruler (Mat. 19:16-30) Jesus equates having “eternal life” (v. 16), entering “the kingdom of heaven” (v.23) and being “saved” (v.26). Paul speaks of our salvation as God having “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13). This kingdom is here now (Luke 17:20,21).
(2) Future aspect – Although Jesus taught that his kingdom was present, he also taught his people to pray for it to come (Mat. 6:10). There is an aspect of the kingdom different from its present manifestation. When Jesus interacted with the rich young ruler about the kingdom, eternal life and salvation in the present, he also spoke of a future aspect of these things: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers . . .for my sake and the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age . . . and in the world [mg., age] to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29,30).
Somehow the kingdom is present and yet it is future.
4. This age and the age to come
Jesus speaks of this age and the age to come (Mat. 12:32). So does Paul. In fact Paul says the Father has given his Son authority and power to rule “in this age and in the age to come” (Eph. 1:20-23). The writer of Hebrews speaks of people having tasted the heavenly gift, and shared in the Holy Spirit and tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come (Heb. 6:4,5). This age is separated from the age to come by the return of Christ (Mat. 24:3,14). At the consummation of this age the Son of Man will send his angels to separate the wicked from the righteous (Mat. 13:39-43).
a. Characteristics of this age – This age is evil (Gal. 1:4), ruled by its own leader (2Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-3), seeks to squeeze believers into its mold (Rom. 12:2).
b. Characteristics of the age to come –The age to come is the age of eternal life (Mark 10:30); in it the righteous will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mat. 13:43). In Mark 10:24, 30, Jesus equates the age to come with both eternal life and the kingdom of God. The age to come is one of blessing and judgment (Mat. 25:31-46).
The age to come has broken into this age through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. Salvation is a present possession and a future consummation (1Pe. 1:3-5; Rom. 8:23; 13:11).
5. The kingdom of God is already inaugurated, but is not yet consummated.
Salvation in Christ is a thoroughly eschatological reality. God’s full saving of his people has already been effected by Christ. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8), but we are also “being saved” (1Cor. 1:18) and some day “we shall be saved” (Rom. 5:9). Redemption is already (Eph. 1:7) and not yet (Eph. 4:30); our adoption is already (Rom 8:15) and yet is more full some day (Rom. 8:23). Our justification (the gift of righteousness) is ours now (Rom. 5:1) and is yet to come (Gal. 5:5). Those who are believers have already been raised with Christ in his resurrection (Rom. 6:4,5; 8:10,11) and will be raised from the dead at a future time (1Cor. 15:20-28). In the teaching of Jesus and Paul, the closeness of the concepts of salvation, eternal life and the kingdom, all have a present reality and a future consummation.
Although the kingdom is a present reality as the fulfillment of the promises of the OT, it is not yet consummated. The one who is king now with all authority in heaven and on earth will become king in the future. The kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15). God’s Spirit is given to all those who are believers as a down payment of their inheritance, first fruits of their salvation and seal that all promised will be received (Eph. 1:13,14; 2Cor. 1:21,22). These concepts underscore the present possession and future fullness of all that Christ provided by his life, death, and resurrection.
The way in which the future manifestations of the kingdom of God will play out is the subject of significant and prolonged discussion. Some see the manifestation of the kingdom as part of the last stage of history in a literal millennium and others see the manifestation of the kingdom in the new heavens and new earth of eternity.
In the light of this study are the differences between Bible believing people over how all this will work out items that we ought to make a test of faith?
III. Points of Eschatological Commonality and Unity:
An eschatological position that seeks its basis in the authority of God’s Word should not be a cause for division in the body of Christ. The order of the specific events associated with the return of Christ should not be made a test of evangelical authenticity. We do not need to make one’s understanding of the millennium an obstacle for membership, fellowship and service.
The following are doctrinal points of commonality and unity shared within the greater Evangelical community regarding eschatology that are derived from one’s fidelity to Scripture.
a. We all have an equally high view of the authority of Scripture, believing that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and that our understanding of the millennium is grounded from our study of Scripture.
b. The millennium is a time span during which Christians reign with Jesus Christ.
c. After the millennium, when all enemies have been put under Christ’s feet, and all things made subject to Him, Christ will deliver the kingdom to God the Father, and heaven and earth will be made new.
d. We all believe that God has all power and will do all that he purposes and will fulfill all his prophecies.
e. We all believe that Jesus Christ has all power and authority, and that he has brought us into his kingdom even in this age.
f. We all believe that Christ has given us life when we were dead in trespasses and sins, that we go to be with him when we die, and that we will be bodily resurrected.
g. We all agree that Jesus has defeated Satan and that Satan still exercises influence in the world.
h. We all agree that his influence will be completely and permanently stopped at some point in the future.
i. We all believe that all humans will be resurrected and judged by our merciful and loving and righteous God.
j. We all believe that Christ will bodily return, and will triumph over all His enemies, and will lead all believers into an eternity with God.
k. We all believe in the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells, and we agree that this wonderful world tomorrow will last forever.
l. We all believe that eternity will be better than the millennium (no matter how we define the millennium).
m. We all believe that we should be ready at any moment to meet Christ.
n. We all believe that we should be prepared to undergo great trials and sufferings for our faith.
o. We all believe that when Jesus Christ returns, everyone of his children will rejoice! No one will be disappointed and everyone will have better things to do than to gloat about getting the chronological details right.
p. We all believe that people can be saved without any particular belief about the millennium. The gospel is about how to enter the kingdom, not the chronological or physical details of particular phases of that Kingdom.
q. We all believe that God has blessed the ministry of individuals and churches who have held to various millennial understandings of Scripture with the conversion of souls and the spiritual maturity of the redeemed.
r. We all believe that humility should govern our interaction with those having different views from our own.
IV. Benefits to our potential new articles:
1. Our potential new articles honor the Lord of the Church. We believe they reflect a movement of the Holy Spirit, expressing an emerging evangelical eschatological consensus which recognizes an “already / not yet” understanding of the Kingdom of God.
2. Our potential new articles will create a Biblical openness to this subject which will allow for greater study by granting men the opportunity to investigate honestly, to examine without prejudice, to evaluate without fear, to admit of misgivings without feeling threatened and to listen without having to be defensive. Hence, this will only strengthen our knowledge of Scripture because of having studied it more closely.
3. Our potential new articles will provide a positive venue through which we as leaders can teach our people how to interact within the body of Christ regarding areas of Biblical differences. Working properly through this issue will better equip our congregations to deal with other matters of disagreement, helping to bring spiritual maturity, which would minimize splits and divisions that have already occurred throughout church history.
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
4. Our potential new articles will allow us to be able to honestly hold to the preamble of our Faith and Order.
“Although these standards have been acknowledged to be of lesser importance than the inspired words of Scripture, they cannot be neglected without resulting in serious impairment of the life of the church.” [Emph. ours]
5. Our potential new articles will open opportunities for very qualified men to be able to work and serve among us.
6. Our potential new articles will not require nor necessitate a change of anyone’s current understanding of the millennium.
V. Potential New Articles (to replace Articles 24 thru 28) (not to be moved or voted on at this Annual Conference):
Article 24 - The Kingdom of God
24-1. The kingdom of God is His sovereign rule over all things (1Chr. 29:10-11; Psa.103:19; 145:11-13). It is dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ and is a present reality experienced by believers through their being united with Him and His resurrection in the New Birth (John 3:3,5; Eph. 2:6; Col. 1:13; 3:1). The kingdom of God is also a longed for and confident hope that awaits its fullness with the return of Jesus Christ, (Mat. 6:10; 25:31-46; Rev. 20-22). While believers live in this present evil age (Gal. 1:4), through their Spirit-wrought union with Christ they also experience a foretaste of the powers of the age to come (Heb. 6:5). The moment a believer is regenerated he possesses eternal life (John 6:47) and having been made alive spiritually he is a new creation (2Cor. 5:17). However, he is still in a mortal body, living in a fallen world, awaiting the resurrection of the body (John 6:39,40) and Christ’s final victory. Thus, a believer in Jesus Christ experiences the tension between already sharing in the glories of the Kingdom of God while yet awaiting its final and consummate realization (Rom. 8:17-25 ; 2Thes. 1:3-10; Heb. 2:5-9).
Article 25 - The Return of Jesus Christ
25-1. The return of Jesus Christ is the blessed hope of the believer, who waits for it with patience, endurance and anticipation (Tit. 2:13). Jesus Christ will return to this earth - personally (Acts 1:9-11), visibly (Mark 14:61,62), physically (Phil. 3:20,21; Luke 24:29-43), and suddenly (1Thes. 5:2-3) in power and great glory (Luke 21:27); and in conjunction with His return, He will gather His elect (Mat. 24:31), raise the dead (1Thes. 4:15-17; John 5:28-29), judge the nations (Mat. 25:31-46; Rev. 19:15-21), remove the curse (Rom. 8:20-21), consummate His kingdom (1Cor. 15:22-28) and recreate a new heaven and earth (2Pe. 3:10).
25-2. The bodily resurrection of Christ is the basis for the bodily resurrection of all mankind, both the righteous and the unrighteous (John 5:28,29; 11:25). At the return of the Lord the bodies of the righteous dead will be raised, and the living believers will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air (1Thes. 4:14-17). Believers will, at His return, receive spiritual and immortal bodies like Christ's own glorious body (Phil. 3:20,21; Job 19:25-27).
25-3. The return of Jesus Christ is the believer's source of encouragement and comfort inspiring him to active service for Christ, and is a motive for purification and holy living (2Pe. 31-14; 1Jo. 3:3)
Article 26 - The Eternal State
There are two final, eternal destinies for man: heaven for the righteous and penitent and hell for the unrighteous and impenitent (Mat. 25:46). The judgment that brings this about will vindicate believers and condemn all of the enemies of God to eternal punishment. The righteous will enter into the everlasting joy of their Master (Mat. 25:23; Eph. 2:7; Rev. 21:3-4); the wicked who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness will be consigned to everlasting conscious torment in hell from which there is no escape (Rev. 20:11-15). The new heavens and the new earth shall be created as the final state in which the righteous shall dwell forever in the presence of God.
VI. A Divergent View by Committee Member Robert C. Kaatz
(Bob will submit)
VII. Recommended Reading
Russell D. Moore, The Kingdom of Christ, Chapter 2 Toward a Kingdom Eschatology
The committee may be contacted for an annotated bibliography for those who would seek further study.
VIII. Annotated Bibliography
Study Committee: The Millennium: Jacob J. Susek, Jr., Chairman; Kevin W.. Kirkpatrick, Secretary; Albert J. Dommel, Robert C. Kaatz, John C. Studenroth.
Advisor to the committee, Carl C. Cassel.
A Dissenting Opinion by Robert C. Kaatz
It has been a privilege for me to work on the committee with Jake Susek, Al Dommel, Kevin Kirkpatrick, John Studenroth, and in the last months, Carl Cassel. The times of fellowship and mutual sharing of the things of the Lord have been very precious to me. The report the committee is presenting to the Annual Conference for consideration is the fruit of many, many hours of study and deliberation.
As I read through the report I was struck with the conviction that I could not support this statement as it is being presented. When I read the statements in the “Summary of Biblical Work,” the “Points of Commonality” and the “Proposed revisions to our current Articles of Faith,” I am convinced that my position as a premillennialist has been lost in the statements that are presented here today.
I, too, believe that one’s position on the millennium should not be “a test of faith.” It most certainly is not. One’s position on the millennium is also not “a test of evangelical authenticity.” I agree wholeheartedly that one’s position on the millennium should never be a reason to negatively impact or diminish in any way fellowship between believers in the Lord.
In the course of our many committee meetings we often spoke about certain points of concern and we presented papers on various topics. I noticed that in the entire two years, no one changed his basic premises about the Bible. There were many issues that were not addressed or resolved. I would like to mention three.
The first is the issue of hermeneutics. Understanding the Bible literally seemed to be too unacceptable. The question was asked several times why the only place in the Bible the number 1,000 years is found is in Revelation 20. It was suggested that these six references to the number 1,000 should not be understood as an actual number. The statement in Revelation 19:11 about Jesus riding a white horse must also be understood figuratively because it was so far fetched to understand the text the way it sounds. Alcorn asks rightly, “When Christ is described as riding on a white horse (Revelation 19:11), must this be purely symbolic? When he rode a colt into Jerusalem (John 12:12-16), it had symbolic meaning, but it was also literal – he was actually riding a colt. If Christ could descend from Heaven at the Second Coming, why couldn’t he just as easily come down riding on a horse? Kings often rode horses into vanquished cities. Thus, commentators say that riding a horse symbolizes a kingly entrance. Of course it does. But that’s because kings really did ride horses into cities. And they really did sit on thrones that had symbolic significance. Christ has a body suited to sitting on a throne and riding a horse, doesn’t he? He created horses and exults in their magnificence (Job 39:19-25). Why should we assume he won’t actually return on horseback or sit on a throne?” (Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Eternal Prospective Ministries, 2004), 472). Taking the Bible at face value seems to be a correct method to me, When the normal meaning is not respected, the result is that a subjectivism is inserted into the meaning of the text and the biblical text is no longer the authority, we are. Alcorn rightly says, “If the text can be said to mean everything, it ceases to mean anything” (Ibid. , p. 476).
A second area that was never resolved was that in order to make a case for amillennialism, one must understand that only the New Testament text is the truly authoritative standard as to what the Bible means. That means that the many promises God made in the Old Testament are redefined on the basis of what the New Testament says. In this connection, the Old Testament is made to be dependent upon the New Testament. Instead of understanding the promises made in the Old Testament in a normal manner and knowing that the New Testament progressively gives us more of God’s revelation, those promises are lost through this redefinition. At Christ’s first advent, hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were literally fulfilled. It seems perfectly acceptable to expect many other Old Testament promises made to Israel concerning the millennium that have not yet been fulfilled would be fulfilled in the same manner when Christ comes the second time. If this is not the case, God really did not keep his covenant promises made to Abraham and Israel. The unconditional covenants that the Lord made to Israel in the Old Testament about the great nation and blessing (Gen 12), the land (Dt 30), the seed to sit on the throne (2 Sam 7) and the new covenant (Jer 30) are the basis for the premillennial position. Why would God not restore his people Israel to their land in direct fulfillment to the promises he made long ago? The allmillennialist says all these promises are fulfilled through the church in the New Testament. Paul makes a clear distinction between Jews, Gentiles and the church of God (1 Cor 10:32) thereby showing his understanding that the nation of Israel was still a defined entity. Paul’s statement in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved” (3rd person singular future indicative passive tense!) demonstrates that he believed that the nation of Israel was to experience national conversion at a future point in time when Jesus would take away their sins (as also clearly prophesied in Jeremiah 31:33-34).
A third area that was left unresolved was the notion that Jesus is not sitting at the right hand of God’s throne (read, however, Heb 1:3; 8:1; 12:2) but that he is sitting on David’s throne. Psalm 110:1-4 is thus seen as having been fulfilled with Jesus sitting on David’s throne which gives the result that the kingdom has been “inaugurated.” Blaising and Bock, who are a progressive dispensationalists, insist that “there is no doubt from a New Testament perspective that the Melchizedekian priesthood is an office given to David’s son as part of his inheritance” (Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1993), 162). The reference to the Melchizedekian priesthood in Psalm 110:4 is thus tied to David’s line and so when Christ ascended into heaven he sat down on David’s throne thereby giving rise to the notion of an inaugurated kingdom. Psalm 110:1 says Christ should sit on the Father’s right hand until Christ’s enemies are put under his feet. That did not happen at Christ’s first coming and it didn’t happen when he ascended into heaven. The fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 110 (and Zech 14:4, 9) will be fulfilled when Christ returns the second time in power and great glory (Rev 19:15-16). The New Testament does not describe Christ sitting on David’s glorious throne with great power at this time. Rather, it says he is our “Advocate with the Father” (1 Joh 2:1) who is our High Priest seated on the throne of grace (Heb 4:14-16).