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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources

James Gibson asks (February 19, 2006),

"I'll pose the following question: a lot of dispensationalists refer to Matthew 16 in arguing for the view that the church is a new institution, that the Reformed theologian is wrong when asserting that the church consists of all elect people throughout all ages (so-called the age of prophecy and the age of fulfillment). Interestingly, so does Millard Erickson (cf. Christian Theology, ch.49), though Erickson is a historical premillennialist. While Erickson will associate the New Testament church as the New Israel, he nevertheless denies the existence of the church prior to Pentecost. All the emphasis lies upon the future tense of "I *will* build my church." While this is often asserted by dispensationalists and a few others, it is hard to find interaction with this argument by those who claim the unity of the church through the covenants. Perhaps some arguments just are not worth addressing, but it seems to me that if they are repeated enough times, they probably should be addressed. What do you think?"

 

Kim Riddlebarger’s answer:

You are correct about the dispensational interpretation of Matthew 16:13-20. John Walvoord writes "the word build is significant because it implies the gradual erection of the church under the symbolism of living stones being built upon Christ, the foundation stone, as indicated in 1 Peter 2:4-8. This was the purpose of God before the second coming, in contrast to the millennial kingdom, which would follow the second coming. Against this program of God, the gates of hell (Hades) will not be able to hold out. Amillennarians tend to ignore this momentous declaration." [John Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, 124].

But that’s not the case. Herman Ridderbos handles this matter in his usual clear and compelling manner. "We should note that this is the first and, besides 18:17, the only time that Jesus spoke of His church in the Gospels. He apparently was alluding to the time when the disciples would carry on His work in His name. He referred to the future fellowship of believers with a word that corresponds to the name that had been given to ancient Israel as a religious community (Heb qahal). Commentators have argued for a variety of reasons that Jesus could not have spoken of such a future organization at this stage of His life. Thus they think that the statement was not Jesus’ own but was put back into His mouth later by the church. Such a glance into the future is not at all surprising at this point, however, since the gospel here is taking a distinct turn toward the end of Jesus’ life. What is more, Jesus did not speak of an organized church. He was merely alluding to the future community of those who would believe in Him. In view of what He said elsewhere about "fishers of men" (4:19), about His "sheep" (John 10:15; 21:15) and his "flock" (John 10:16), and in view of the close circle of disciples that He had gathered around Himself, His notion of such a community cannot be considered anachronistic. By calling this community His church, He designates it as the people of the Messiah, the community that would replace Israel as the people of God. Jesus had more to say about this future church: `the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ . . . . The church of Christ . . . will not be overcome by this power of death. Jesus spoke here as one who was stronger than death and who would cause His church to share in His victory over it." [See Herman Ridderbos, Matthew: Bible Student’s Commentary, trans Ray Togtman (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987), 304].

While the church is clearly a new covenant institution [Cf. Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 193], Jesus’ use of the word qahal clearly indicates a continuity with the Old Testament people of God. The connection then is eschatological and covenantal [see Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28: Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33b (Dallas, Word Books, 1995), 471].

But this is the very thing that dispensational presuppositions prevent them from seeing.

 

Robin asks (March 1, 2006):

Can a person's eschatological view effect their view of salvation? If so, how does this work? Can it go the other way round?

 

Kim Riddlebarger’s answer:

Robin, since I am not sure about the question, I assume you mean, "does someone’s eschatology effect their understanding of the gospel?" I am also assuming that you are primarily referring to dispensationalism.

The answer is "yes." That is not to say that dispensationalists are not Christians. Far from it. I was a Christian when I was a dispensationalist and there are even dispensationalists who are "five-point" Calvinists, such as John MacArthur.

What dispensationalism does do is color how someone reads the Bible. Dispensationalists believe that God has two redemptive programs, one for Israel and one for the Gentiles. And since they interpret the Bible literally, they frequently use Old Testament passages to interpret the New Testament. This is, of course, completely backwards.

The practical consequences of this are many, as far as soteriology goes. Dispensationalists do not look for continuity in Scripture, they look for discontinuity. Thus they will not see "covenant" as Scripture’s own internal architecture. They will not understand the relationship between law and gospel, and therefore they have no real basis for the active and passive obedience of Christ, which lies at the foundation of justification via an imputed righteousness, received by faith alone.

Dispensational presuppositions also open the door to a number of errant views popular in the evangelical church: decisional regeneration, semi-Pelagianism ("evangelical Arminianism"–since man continually frustrates God’s redemptive purposes), Keswick and other higher-life views of sanctification. While not all dispensationalists embrace these views, they do fit nicely with the dispensational hermeneutic.

Let me put it this way. The degree to which someone is consistent with their dispensational presuppositions, that is the degree to which they must move away from the Reformed understanding of the gospel and the covenant theology which lay at its heart.

 

Tim asks (March 2, 2006)

I've been told that Covenant Amillennialism is "a radical departure" from the views of the early church. Is this true?

Jon Welborn asks (July 23, 2006)

I would like to mirror the question of Tim on March 2, 2006. It seems that our premillenial friends are quick to retort that all ancient church fathers were chilial. While recognizing that this is not entirely true as we see the likes of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus readily acknowledging opposing millennial views from orthodox Christians in the early church, what would bo your response to the statement that "From a theological perspective -- specifically an eschatological one -- the Edict of Milan also signaled a monumental paradigm shift -- from the well-grounded premillennialism of the ancient church fathers to the amillennialism or postmillennialism that would dominate eschatological thinking from the fourth century AD to at least the middle part of the nineteenth century...the groundwork for this shift was laid long before Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313. In the two centuries that led up to the edict, two crucial interpretive errors found their way into the church that made conditions ripe for the paradigm shift incident to the Edict of Milan. The second century fathers failed to keep clear the biblical distinction between Israel and the church. Then, the third century fathers abandoned a more-or-less literal method of interpreting the Bible in favor of Origen's allegorical-spiritualized hermeneutic. Once the distinction between Israel and the church became blurred, once a literal hermeneutic was lost, with these foundations removed, the societal changes occasioned by the Edict of Milan caused fourth century fathers to reject premillennialism in favor of Augustinian amillennialism.?"

Kim Riddlebarger’s Answer:

Tim and Jon, this is a common argument and widely accepted, since a number of the Church Fathers (i.e. Ireneaus) were premillennial (chiliasts).

I would recommend that you track down the book by Charles E. Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). Dr. Hill was a classmate of mine at Westminster Seminary California and is now associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.

Hill makes the case that while there were a number of premillennarians among the Church Fathers, there was also a group (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Melito, Hippolytus, and Clement), who believed that the first resurrection came at the time of conversion (or death). This means that a chiliast tradition existed alongside a non-chiliast tradition. In other words, then, as now, there were both premillennarians and amillennarians, side by side, in the church.

I find Dr. Hill’s case both clear and compelling.

 

Balding Warrior asks (March 21, 2006)

Forgive me if this is too basic, I am a newly reformed dispensationalist.  I have been enjoying the Romans revolution, and have been reading through Romans and loving it.  I have a questions regarding Chapter 11 and the time of the gentiles and all of Israel being saved.  Could you explain the amillennial interpretation of this section?

Kim Riddlebarger replies:


Because there is such a long and complicated history of the exegesis of this passage (and I have written on this in detail elsewhere), I can but summarize the different views.  Within the Reformed tradition, there are three main views of the phrase in Romans 11:26, “and so, all Israel shall be saved.”  Note that all agree that Paul does not speak of an earthly millennium in this important passage in which Paul speaks directly to the future course of this age.

1).  Some argue that “all Israel” refers to the full number of the elect (Calvin, Irons, O. P. Robertson)

2).  Some argue that the phrase “all Israel” refers to the sum total of the believing remnant (Robert Strimple, O. P. Robertson’s earlier position, Anthony Hoekema)

3).  Others argue that the phrase refers to a conversion of the Jews at end of the age (Beza, Vos, Venema, Riddlebarger)

Let me give you some bibliography because of the complexity of the issues. 

  • David E. Holwerda, Jesus & Israel: One Covenant or Two? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).
  • O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2000).
  • Herman Riddersbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 354-361.
  • Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 180-194.
  • Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 710-739.

 

 

Barry asks (March 31, 2006)

How do you respond competently to those dispensationally-minded folk who cite the 1948 reconstitution of Israel (or other politically-charged events in Israel) as evidence that God is on his way toward an earthly, Jewish kingdom? There's even a new Sanhedrin, from what I hear, which only fuels the dispensational fires.

We can't treat it like fiction, but can't overload it with eschatological baggage. Help!

Kim Riddlebarger’s reply:

Barry, the rebirth of Israel in 1948 is the pink elephant in the room whenever amillennarians talk with dispensationalists. No longer can amillennarians simply act like this is no big deal. It is, and we just happen to have a great explanation for it.

There are a couple of things which need to be pointed out.

1). We cannot repeat the mistakes of the prior generations of amillennarians (such as Bavinck and Berkhof) who both said one of the sure signs that dispensationalism was false was that the dispensationalists kept predicting that Israel will become a nation. As we all know, Israel became a sovereign nation in 1948 despite Berkhof’s and Bavinck’s views to the contrary.

2). We need to be clear that whatever this means, it is not a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (including the land promise). In Romans 4:13, that spiritualizer Paul, universalized this promise to extend to the whole earth. In fact, throughout this entire chapter of Romans (4), Paul makes the point that God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled through faith in Jesus Christ. The recipients of the promise includes all those Gentiles as well as Jews (cf. Galatians 3-4) who trust in Jesus as their righteousness.

3). This means that modern nation of Israel is a thoroughly secular state and not part of the Mosaic covenant, which was fulfilled by Christ.

4). Should it be God’s purpose to convert massive numbers of Jews before the end of the age (my take on Romans 11:26), Paul makes it clear that Jews will come to faith in Christ, and be re-grafted back into the righteous root (who is Christ). This was Paul’s prayer after all–"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1). This means that Jews will not be saved as Jews. It means that immediately before Christ returns, large numbers of Jews will come to faith in Christ, and hence, become Christians and therefore members of Christ’s church.

5). Whatever purpose God has in the formation of the modern state of Israel, this must be found in his providence (perhaps a means to facilitate the salvation of Israel) and not in fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant, which have already been fulfilled in Christ.

 

Chris asks (May 19, 2006): Do you equate the papacy with Anti-Christ?

Dennis Merkes asks (June 16, 2006):  What is your take on "the lawless one" and "son of perdition" in 2 Thes.2? Many commentators view this as a reference to a specific human embodiment of "the antichrist" just prior to Jesus' second coming. While this probably can't be ruled out entirely, it seems that all that Paul may have meant is the "revealing" of Satan when he is loosed after the 1000 years of Rev.20. That revelation could be in the form of the radical effects of his loosing in terms of a whole wicked world, motivated by Satan, amassing against the true Church at that time, as in Rev.11:7-11. This seems to be the ONLY Biblical reference that can be argued to give weight to the idea of a personal, final antichrist (I don't relate Daniel 9:27 to "the antichrist" of end times, but to "the Anointed One," the Messiah, at His first coming). If I'm correct on this, I don't think the single Biblical reference is enough to build a solid teaching of it, just as Rev.20's reference to "the thousand years," being the only such Biblical reference (and symbolic at that), is insufficent to build a teaching of a Millenial Reign of Christ on earth after His return.

Shawn asks (May 2, 2006): My question has to do with Ezekiel 38 and 39 with Gog and Magog. What is your interpretation?

Kim Riddlebarger’s reply:

I am answering these three questions together since I deal with these issues extensively (including the exegesis of all of the key texts) in my book, The Man if Sin (2006).

As I argue in my book, I believe that the papacy has at times manifested all the signs of the Antichrist (especially in the sixteenth century, when the Pope was able to direct the prince to wage war against Reformed and Lutheran Christians). However, I do believe that the series of Antichrists (of which the papacy is part) will culminate in a final Antichrist. Paul speaks of the gospel currently restraining this antichrist power (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, cf. 1 John 4:3), and John speaks of Satan being bound until the time of the end (Revelation 20:1-10). But Paul also teaches that the final revelation of the Man of Sin (who seems to be a particular individual) is tied to a final apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), and to the second coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:8). This is remarkably similar to John’ description of the thousand years in Revelation 20:1-10, which ends the destruction of the beast (the anti-Christian state) and the false prophet (its leader).

I believe Gog and Magog have nothing to do with a supposed invasion of Israel by a Russian and Arab confederacy as taught by dispensationalists. These figures are used by John (Revelation 20:8), to refer to hostile Gentile powers which oppose and persecute the people of God when God ceases to restrain the forces of evil, immediately before the return of Christ.

 

Adam Olive asks, "The word ‘deceive’ (20:3,10) is used of Satan’s activity during the end-time tribulation (Rev. 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20). If as is generally thought in the amillennial interpretation the tribulation is the whole church age then how can the deception of the tribulation co-exist concurrently with the non-deception of the nations resulting from Satan’s being bound?"

This is a great question.  Actually, it is a variation on the question "if Satan is bound during the millennium, and if the millennium is the present age, how can there still be evil on the earth?"  It is argued, therefore, that amillennarians find themselves on the horn of a dilemma when they argue that Satan is supposedly bound, all the while evil continues.  In the specific circumstances of of Mr. Olive's question, the dilemma is that Satan is still deceiving while he is bound, and therefore, presumably prevented from deceiving.  If true, wouldn't it be better to argue as premillennarians do, that this passage makes more sense if it is describing that period of time after Christ's return, not before (as in both amillennialism and postmillennialism).  

There are several important things to consider.  First, amillennarians do not believe that the binding of Satan eliminates all Satanic activity during the present age.  In fact, the binding of Satan actually explains his great fury against Christ and his people (Revelation 12:10-12).  Since the binding of Satan is tied to Christ's victory over death and the grave in his resurrection, despite Satanic opposition to the gospel throughout the entire interadvental age, Satan will not (indeed cannot) prevail (Matthew 16:18-19).  He rages, but he cannot win.  Satan has been bound by the strong man -- Christ (cf. Matthew 12:24-29), although he still wages war upon the saints because he knows his doom is certain. 

Second, John is perfectly clear in Revelation 20:3 (a purpose clause) that when Satan is bound (i.e., cast into the abyss) God's purpose is such that Satan cannot deceive the nations, until [archri] the thousand years are over.  As G. K. Beale points out, the specific thing being thwarted is not the act of deception, but the success of that deception "which will result [if not thwarted] in the nations coming together in an attempt to destroy the entire community of faith on earth" (Beale, Revelation, 987).  Satan is not prevented from attempting to deceive, he is prevented from being successful in his attempts.

Third, in fact, when Satan is released from the abyss when the thousand years are over, at that point he does succeed in organizing the nations against Christ's church (cf. Revelation 20:7-10), an event which ends in Christ's second advent and Satan's ultimate and final destruction (Revelation 20:10).  Paul connects this to the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness and to a great apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

Therefore, answer to this apparent dilemma is found in the fact that Satan's attempted deception in this present age ultimately fails because he is confined to the abyss in order that that he cannot accomplish his ultimate purpose (the deception of the nations).  However, at God's appointed time, Satan is released from the abyss (note the parallel to 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, where the power of God restrains the appearance of the Man of Lawlessness, until the time of final judgment vv. 7-8), and finally accomplishes what he has so far been prevented from doing, organizing the nations (Revelation 20:8, symbolized by Gog and Magog) so as to lead them against the church.

Thanks, Adam, for the great question.


Erancal asks (November 16, 2006):

"This goes to the question of the meaning of the `binding’ of Satan in Revelation 20. Does Jude 6, in which fallen angels are said to be in everlasting chains in darkness awaiting the final judgment, have any relevance to Rev. 20 (see also 2 Peter 2:4)? If so, how?"

Dr. Riddlebarger’s answer:

Erancal, the simple answer to your question is "probably not." The reference in 2 Peter 2:4-6 to angels being kept in chains in Tartarus (ESV, "hell") until the judgment, also has a time reference: "when they sinned." This would place the binding of such angels at the time of Satan’s fall, or else as Peter indicates in verse 5, at the time of Noah. More than likely, this refers to the time of the fall of Satan in ages past. Jude likewise speaks of these angels being bound until the day of judgment. This is possibly the subject of Isaiah 24:21-22. Other than this scant mention, there are no others texts which speak to this (that I know of). So, at the time of Satan’s fall, or at the time of Noah and the flood, a number of fallen angels were bound, and are presently awaiting the time of final judgment. Anything more is pure speculation.

Does this binding of fallen angels relate to Revelation 20 and to John’s reference to the binding of Satan? Probably not directly, although the same kind of thing might be in view (by comparison). According to Revelation 20:3, the purpose of Satan being bound is "so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended" (ESV). The timing of the binding of Satan, it seems to me, is directly tied to Christ’ victory over death and the grave in his resurrection. Jesus has already told us in Revelation 1:18 that "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." Whether or not Christ is the angel who is said to bind Satan in Revelation 20:1-3, the fact of the matter is that it is the resurrection which gives him the keys (authority) over Death and Hades, which is the abode of the dragon (Satan). Thus Christ’s authority (through the preaching of the gospel) is that which binds Satan during the course of this present age. I refer you to the outstanding discussion of this in G. K. Beale’s commentary, Revelation, New International Greek Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 984-991.

 

David Betz asks (January 11, 2007):

"I've considered myself an Amillennialist for some time now, but the other day I had a random realization: if Satan is bound for a specific purpose, he is still bound. What I'm picturing here is this: if a man goes to prison for burglary, he is prevented from burglary, but also from murder, rape, and many other things. I know this is one of the many forms of the `If Satan is bound, why is there 'evil'?’ problem, but this is one that's been confusing me for a little while now. The best explanation I can come up with is that even though the man is in prison for burglary, he can still blaspheme and affect the outside world in some way (and even rape INSIDE prison), but that doesn't seem to answer it completely because what Satan seems to be doing is very close to what he is prevented from doing. That is, his actions seem to be of the same 'form', unlike how different burglary (physical action) differs from blasphemy (verbal action). I'm sure one explanation would be what I had just stated, but it really makes me doubt my Amillennial position, because I'm not reading the text to mean `bound Satan to keep him from deceiving the nations, though he really does anyhow.’ It seems to be a binding of degrees, but *successful* binding doesn't really seem to have degrees in my mind."

Dr. Riddlebarger’s Answer:

David, this is a great question! Let me paraphrase the essence of it. "If Satan is presently bound and prevented from deceiving the nations, why is it that the nations are presently deceived?" Either Satan is bound or he isn’t. It is not a matter of degrees.

A couple of things need to be said here. First, the answer is not to use analogies like you have done above. The situation described in Revelation 20 only makes sense in light of biblical imagery (especially that from the Old Testament). Instead, simply trace out the course of redemptive history and you’ll see what John means.

Recall that Satan was instrumental in the Fall, and then according to the early chapters of Genesis, rapidly deceived the entire world. Remember Enochville (cf. Genesis 4:17)? How about Babel and Ninevah? What about Babylon? Egypt? The Assyrians? The Moabites? These are nations who fell under Satan’s sway and marshaled their resources against the people of God. Then, there’s the mass apostasy among the Israelites, both in the wilderness and in the promised land. The Jews never fulfilled the commission given them in Isaiah 49:6, "I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." Because of unbelief Israel was repeatedly subject to godless Gentile nations and hauled off into captivity. You get the point. We could go on and on.

Fast-forward to the New Testament. When Jesus appeared on the scene, his public ministry did not begin until he had first bested Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). As we all know, Jesus messianic mission appeared completely thwarted on Good Friday, but by Easter Sunday, it was clear the Satan’s "victory" was instead a total defeat. Jesus now becomes the light to the nations and the true Israel. He fulfills that mission which both Adam and Israel failed to accomplish. Indeed, the gospel message "binds" the Devil and all his works. God’s people are commanded to make disciples of "all nations" (Matthew 28:19), and told that this gospel must be preached as a witness to "all nations" (Matthew 24:14). Not only will Jesus be with his people until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), but the gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18). This is how we must understand the consequences of Satan’s being presently bound. It is a reference to the success of the gospel.

Therefore, the presence evil and unbelief in the present age does not mean that Satan is not yet bound (the standard premillennial objection). It is the inevitable success of the missionary enterprise which is the proof. Under the present circumstances Satan cannot use empires and nations to completely thwart the mission of church. He will try, certainly. But how long did Hitler’s thousand year Reich last? Contemporary situations, (i.e. the People’s Republic of China which seeks do this), serve as a great illustration. A recent news article pointed out that many thousands become Christians every day in China, despite the efforts of the government to stamp out Christianity! Remember, the biblical writers are not millennarians. The kingdom can grow and thrive all the while things appear to be getting worse (cf. Revelation 11 and the account of the two witnesses). Kingdom success does not necessarily translate into economic, cultural, and religious progress as our postmillennial friends contend. Kingdom success does mean the spread of the gospel and the effectual call of all of God’s elect--a multitude so vast they cannot be counted.  In some cases, there is a corresponding effect upon the culture.  In some cases there is not.

Remember too that according to John, Satan will be released for a short time before the end, when he will be allowed to deceive the nations for one brief last period in an organized political, economic, and military sense against the church (Revelation 20:7-10). But until then, he is bound and cannot deceive the nations. The gospel will go to the ends of the earth! While Satan rages like a wounded animal, he does so because he knows his time is short (1 Peter 5:8 with Revelation 12:12).

Therefore, the answer to your conundrum is to be found in what is meant by "deceive the nations." When viewed against the backdrop of redemptive history, it is clear that this is tied to the missionary enterprise, and the success of that mission is clearly what is in view (not the absence of all evil and unbelief).

I hope that helps!

________________________

Scotty asks (August 20)

Hi Kim,

Having just read your excellent book "The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist", your position is that a final "Man of Sin" is yet to appear in God's Temple (the Church) at the very end and in concurrence with the "falling away" (if I read correctly).

My question regarding your position is this: How do you see this unfolding in such a divided worldwide Church made up of hundreds if not thousands of denominations, affiliations, and beliefs?

In other words, no one entity currently has such mass influence over all Christians worldwide to bring about such apostasy. The only platform I can see any possibility of this occurring in is the Roman Catholic Church (through the Pope). Is this what you're alluding to or is there another scenario you envision?

Thanks.

My Answer: 

Scotty, I do believe that Scripture teaches that immediately before the end of the age and the return of the Lord, there will be a mass apostasy within the church (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 20:7-10).  When I speak of the church here, I am speaking of the visible church around the world.  This would be all those church bodies which formally confess the content of the Apostle's Creed.

As you note, I believe that in the Thessalonian letter Paul is not speaking of the Jerusalem temple, but of the church. That this is not fulfilled by the events preceding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D. is very clear in verse 8 of 2 Thessalonians 2, where Paul ties the revelation of this "man of lawlessness" specifically to the time of final judgment (I would recommend that you read G. K. Beale's fine commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians for the exegetical specifics of this).

Since the Roman church at the time of the Reformation fit the bill in many ways, I think the Reformers were largely correct to make the identification between the man of lawlessness and his particular blasphemy with the papacy. But in God's providential timing, the restraining power associated with the recovery of the gospel, prevented the Roman church from succeeding in snuffing out the Reformation and subsequent success of the gospel of free justification sola fide. 

In other words, the papacy of that age, manifested many of the signs mentioned by Paul, but was prevented (restrained) from overcoming the gospel through the use of church authority and state-sponsored military power (Spain, France, and Austria, specifically).

I'm with Geerhardus Vos on this one. There is a certain sense in which the only way we will know what is entailed here, is when it actually happens before our eyes. Therefore, we need to be very cautious about speculation in this regard, lest we become Reformed versions of Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey.

That being said, if the "composite photograph" I discuss in my book is a faithful summary of biblical teaching, this final apostasy could involve a resurgent Roman Catholic persecution of Protestants (but this is not likely), or some form of apostasy wherein professing believers bow the knee to a political leader (the false prophet, who directs the world to worship the beast, which is the God-hating civil government), bent on wiping out the church, having been empowered by the dragon (Satan) to do that very thing.  This could be a secular state, trying to wipe out all religion.  It could be an Islamic state trying to wipe out Christianity . . . who knows?  I sure don't.  But if I'm alive when it happens, I am sure that I (as well as all other believers) will know what is going on!

I really don't think we can say any more than this. But we certainly don't want to say less, either.

________________________

Jeff asks (June 2, 2007)

Dr. Riddlebarger-

Just finished "Man of Sin" and found it very helpful. Thanks for all the work and study.

My question is this...why would the great "Abomination" refer to the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple if (due to Christ's sacrifice) the temple was no longer a place of true religious ceremony? Wouldn't that make the temple's religious significance disappear,and then mean that to "desecrate" it would be no different from mistreating any other place? Maybe it is just semantics.

Thanks, Jeff

My Answer: 

Let me put it this way. When Christ died on the cross, the temple veil is dramatically torn from top to bottom. This dramatic opening of the most holy place to the light of day is filled with important symbolism, not the least of which is that the sacrifices in the temple and the work of the high priest are from that moment on, rendered obsolete in light of Christ's final (once for all) sacrifice for sin. Therefore, whatever sacrifices occur in the temple and whatever role the high priest attempts to play after Christ has died, is no longer an act of worship, but an act of blasphemy.

Once Christ dies for our sins, the temple becomes Ichabod and its activities an "abomination" to the Lord. All of this culminates in the tragic Diaspora of the Jewish people and the eventual destruction of the temple by the armies of Titus in 70 A.D.

To put it another way, Christ's sacrifice does away with the temple's role in redemptive history, making way for that horrible complex of events in which Gaius (Caligula) sets up an image of himself in A.D. 40, and when the temple becomes the place where those zealots resisting the armies of Titus in the inner and outer court are mercilessly slaughtered as described by Josephus. 

The point is not so much when the "Abomination" occurs (the exact moment), but that it does occur, as seen in the culmination all of these events.  The temple of YHWH is rendered desolate and an abomination to God.

Hope that helps!

______________________________ 

David Neal asks (December 2, 2007)

"When are reformed writers going to start writing books in language that the average person can understand. They are plenty of good books out there on eschatology but I can't give many to may friends because they are over their heads. It seems to me if the message is going to get out, it is going to have to be understood. I am speaking for myself also. It seems to me we should be trying to reach the masses."

Kim Riddlebarger's reply: 

David, as someone who has written extensively on this subject, let me address some of the reasons why books on eschatology tend to be difficult.  Then, I'd like some feedback from regular readers of this blog on a couple of things (see below).

First, most of us who write on eschatology do so because there are already many books written on the subject expressing nutty or erroneous ideas which demand a response.  Most writers take the sensationalist approach and attempt to tie current events directly to the Bible.  These books tend to be the easiest to understand because they appeal to recent headlines.  But such writers mistakenly come to the Bible looking for evidence that the latest headline can be explained by Scripture.  They tend to avoid the hard work of comparing Scripture with Scripture and then developing a comprehensive picture what Scripture itself says about the course of history in light of God's gracious promises. 

Other writers begin with a number of faulty presuppositions which color everything they say or do when they write about end times (i.e., dispensationalists). My published writings are addressed to those Christians who have already read much of this stuff and who want to consider other (and I would argue, more biblical) options.  This means that I am writing books for people who already know the lingo and who already have some basic understanding of the issues.

Second, not everything in the Bible is easy to understand.  On the one hand, biblical eschatology is as simple as "Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the world, raise the dead and make all things new."  We could stop right there.  But you know that Scripture itself doesn't stop at this simple confession.  Jesus speaks of the future  in difficult ways (especially in the Olivet Discourse).  Paul speaks of the future (especially in his two letters to the church of Thessalonica).  Peter speaks of the end of the world in the third chapter of his second letter.  And then there is the Book of Revelation.  This is not an easy book to understand.  The structure of the book is complicated--it is an epistle, it contains prophecies and it utilizes a difficult literary genre, apocalyptic.  This means the subject of eschatology as presented in the Bible itself is difficult and requires careful thought and biblical exegesis.

Third, there are some basic resources on this topic which you might consider.  You can start with the helpful charters prepared by Mark Vander Pol (Click here: Riddleblog - Eschatology Charts).  There are introductory articles by others (Click here: Riddleblog - Links to Helpful Books, Essays, and Charts, as well as stuff I have written (Click here: Riddleblog - Theological Essays -- scroll down to the essay, "What's A Thousand Years Among Friends."  You can also read my sermons on Revelation (Click here: Riddleblog - Sermons on the Book of Revelation (pdf)

Fourth, I would simply ask you, "do you have a hobby, or any other special interests?"  "Do you have a specialized vocabulary at work?"  If you can say  "yes" to any of these, I would challenge you to realize something already obvious--virtually all aspects of life require that we learn technical terms or a specialized vocabulary.  Why shouldn't Christians be willing to learn the language of the Bible and theological discourse?  If you have watched enough baseball to understand the "infield fly rule," or enough football to understand the "fair-catch signal" on a punt, then you've invested enough time and energy on these things as it would take to master the biblical and theological terms required to understand most books on eschatology, including mine. 

Fifth, it is my experience that Reformed amillennialism is much simpler (conceptually) than is dispensationalism.  Part of the problem is that Reformed Christians speak about things (especially eschatology) in ways quite different from most evangelicals.  I found Reformed amillennialism tough at first because I was raised a disepnsationalist and it just sounded "different."  In a sense, I had to unlearn the eschatology of my youth, and then learn a whole new Christ-centered hermeneutic and a new approach to reading Scripture.  And yes, this is a lot of work!  And it took some time and effort.  But it was well worth it when huge portions of the Bible suddenly came alive for me.

 

To see more "Answers to Questions About Eschatology," Click here: Riddleblog - Answers to Questions About Eschatology- 3