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A Huge Problem for Premillennarians -- The Presence of Evil in the Millennial Age










Evil in the Millennium?  A Huge Problem for Premillennialism

No doubt, one of great strengths of premillennialism is its apparently straightforward reading of Revelation 19 and 20.  If John depicts the Second Advent of Christ in Revelation 19, and in Revelation 20 he describes the millennial reign of Christ which follows, this would seem to establish some form of premillennialism.  On the face of things, this appears to be a formidable argument in favor of premillennialism. 

Therefore, when amillennarians attempt to challenge this point by contending that Revelation 20 is part of a different vision which recapitulates the events depicted in Revelation 19, we run headlong into the premillennial argument that amillennarians “spiritualize the Bible.”  Supposedly, we don’t take John seriously when he speaks of a “literal” thousand years and a bodily resurrection (the “first” resurrection) associated with the second coming of Jesus Christ. 

A “literal” reading of the text will make far more sense to Christians who are rightly suspicious of those who twist the biblical text to suit their own ends.  A complicated argument for reading apocalyptic literature in what appears to be a non-literal way faces an uphill battle from the start.  Thus it is easy for premillennarians to dismiss amillennialism as a viable alternative because it, apparently, does not comport with the plain sense of the critical millennial passage.

But the problem with premillennialism is that this particular interpretation, if true, creates far more serious theological problems than it solves, problems which are far too often overlooked by premillennarians.  Suppose for the sake of argument, we grant that the premillennial understanding of the millennial age is the biblical one.  What are the consequences of the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10?

If premillennialism is true, this means that Jesus Christ returns to judge the world in Revelation 19 and that in Revelation 20 John is describing Christ’s future millennial reign.  But what happens at the end of Christ’s millennial rule over the earth?  According to Revelation 20:7-10, Satan is released from the abyss and immediately goes out to the four corners of the earth to deceive the nations (those same nations which have already been judged according to Revelation 19:15).  Satan organizes them for battle against the camp of God’s people and the city that he loves–i.e., Jerusalem.  This revolt ends when fire comes down from heaven and consumes the rebels along with the devil who deceived them. 

But the nagging question remains.  “Who are these people who are deceived by Satan, who then revolt against God, only to be consumed by fire from heaven?”

According to premillennarians, one group of people on the earth during the millennial age are the redeemed.  No one believes that it is possible for such people who have been raised from the dead when Christ comes back, and who are now glorified, to participate in a revolt like the one depicted in Revelation 20.  Therefore, those who revolt during the millennium must be individuals who have not yet been raised from the dead or who have not gone through the judgment when Christ returned to earth when the millennial age began.  Dispensationalists believe that these are individuals who come to faith after the Rapture and survive the great tribulation and wrath of the Antichrist, while historic premillennarians believe that these are people living at the time of our Lord’s return who are not raised from the dead or judged, and who subsequently repopulate the earth during the millennial age.

But this conception of the millennial age is highly problematic despite the apparent “literal” reading of Revelation 20.  According to premillennarians, the millennium is a period in redemptive history in which people who have been raised from the dead and who now live upon the earth in resurrected bodies co-exist with people who have not been raised from the dead and who remain in the flesh.  How can this be?  Where is this mixture of resurrected and unresurrected individuals taught, or even implied in the Scriptures?  As we have seen, the New Testament writers all anticipate the final consummation to occur at the time of our Lord’s Second Advent.  They do not anticipate the half-way step of an earthly millennium before the final consummation such as that associated with all forms of premillennalism.  

Perhaps even more problematic is the following dilemma raised by the premillennial insistence upon people in natural bodies living on the earth alongside of Christ and his resurrected saints.  How do people living on the earth at the time of Christ’s second coming escape the resurrection and the judgment?  The Scriptures are very clear that Christ returns to judge the world, raise the dead and renew the cosmos.  According to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, those who have died in Christ are raised from the dead at his coming.  Those who are Christ’s and who are still alive when he comes are caught up to meet the Lord in the air.  This includes all believers, whether living or dead.  But those who are not Christ’s, we are told, will face his wrath and will be taken away to face final judgment (Matthew 24:37-41).  This includes all unbelievers living at the time of our Lord’s return.  Therefore, premillennarians must explain just who, exactly, are these people in unresurrected bodies living during the millennium.  How do we account for people who are not judged or raised from the dead at the time of our Lord’s Second Advent?  This is especially problematic since Jesus himself clearly teaches that in the age to come his people will all be children of the resurrection (Luke 20:34-38).  Furthermore, Paul states that “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50).  The temporal has passed away, hence the impossibility of people in natural bodies repopulating the earth, after the second coming.

Because of the problem of evil and apostasy during the millennial age, premillennarians must attempt to deal with this problem by contending that the final judgment does not take place until after the thousand years have passed.  In passages such as Matthew 25:31-46, where it is explicitly taught that the final judgment occurs when our Lord returns, premillennarians instead argue that there is a gap of one thousand years between our Lord’s return and the final judgment.  But recall that premillennarians often insist that they are so, precisely because of the literal interpretation of the Scriptures and a reluctance to “spiritualize” prophetic portions of Scripture.  So now we must ask our premillennial friends the obvious question, “where is the one thousand year gap between Christ’s return and the final judgment taught in the Scriptures?”  It is not there.  The gap must be inserted even though doing so violates the plain sense of the passage and the self-professed premillennial insistence upon a literal interpretation.

Therefore, the apparent strength of premillennialism is actually its biggest weakness.  If premillennarians are correct about their reading of Revelation 20, the millennial age will be one in which Jesus rules upon the earth over people in resurrected and unresurrected bodies.  Our Lord’s millennial rule will end with a massive Satanic deception of the nations and a revolt against Christ and his church after they have reigned upon the earth for a thousand years.  If true, this millennial apostasy is tantamount to a second fall and not even resurrected and glorified saints are safe from the future wrath of Satan and the unbelieving nations.  Although at first glance premillennarians may appear to have the plain sense of the passage on their side, the consequences of the premillennial interpretation cannot be easily dismissed.

Therefore, a second glance at the passage is in order, especially given the nature of apocalyptic literature.  The scene in Revelation 20 is indeed a recapitulation of Revelation 19 and as such, constitutes a new vision distinct from that in Revelation 19.  The language of Revelation 20 is highly symbolic, depicting not a future state of affairs, but the present victory of Christ, who ensures that his people come to life and reign with him in heaven, despite the persecution and martyrdom faced by the faithful on the earth.  Elsewhere, the New Testament clearly speaks of a coming apostasy at the end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12), and the same event is likely depicted by John from a different perspective in Revelation 20:7-10.

The interpretive choice is obvious:  either we take John’s depiction of the millennium to be a description of the present reign of Christ and the triumph of God’s people over those who seek to destroy them (amillennialism), or else we must see Revelation 20 as depicting a millennial age after Christ’s return in which people co-exist in resurrected and unresurrected bodies and which ends in a Satanically-energized apostasy, interrupted by fire from heaven consuming those rebellious apostates who have lived under Christ’s earthly rule only to fall victim to Satanic deception (premillennialism).  The presence of evil and the mixing of redeemed and unredeemed individuals living together on earth during the millennial age makes the premillennial interpretation highly untenable--a point premillennarians too often ignore.

This is an edited excerpt  from my book, A Case for Amillennialism.  For more information,  Click here: Riddleblog - A Case for Amillennialism - Understanding the End

Reader Comments (20)

Kim, Your title for this post was the very first question we had for the premillers. The second one was.....if the Holy Spirit goes with the church when it gets raptured and there are all these people left on earth, how do they get saved if the Holy Spirit is gone?? They could not answer that one either. Thank you for your book, all the time and work you put into explaining the Amil view, and having the Lord go through you to help us.
May 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterplw
Two passages to be mentioned which would go against a one thousand year separation of the resurrections of the just and the unjust are; Christ says in John 5:28 and 29, "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

Another is found in Daniel 12:2 which says, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasing contempt."
May 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd
Thanks for this post.It's been a while since I read your book on Amillennialism. the other day I was talking with a friend about Revelations 20, and the 1000 year reign of Christ. He just couldn't get over Satan being bound in the here and now, saying it's wrong, in light of what he sees in the world today. Yet he claims to be Historic PreMillennial. I believe that sending him this link will help.

May 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjason
Jason, Send this to your friend. We knew a pastor that was Historic Premill and after he read this he admitted that it made sence and made him think about his view.
May 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterplw
Didn't Jesus co-exist in a ressurrected body with non-resurrected people ? Why is that a problem ? Rev. 20:1-10 is pretty specific, I do not see how a person can symbolize a statement like "when the thousand years was finshed"

Here is a good (partial) review taken from on "The Case for Amillenialism"

Riddlebarger completely misrepresents the typical premillennial understanding of Revelation 20. On p.87 he complains: "Who are these people who are still on earth at the end of the millennial age who revolt against Christ? Are they the redeemed? If so, the premillennialist has just introduced a 'second fall' of humanity into sin into the course of redemptive history. This time, however, we have a fall of glorified saints after the resurrection and the judgment... Premillennialists, who insist upon a literal one thousand years in Revelation 20:2, do so even though the consequence of this exegetical decision is the revolt of the redeemed against the Redeemer in verses 7-10." On p.233 he says: "If true, this millennial apostasy is tantamount to a second fall. Not even resurrected and glorified saints are safe from the future wrath of Satan and the unbelieving nations." The problem here is that NO premillennialists have EVER claimed that it is the resurrected saints who rebel against Christ at the close of the kingdom age. Neither can Riddlebarger demonstrate that his new-fangled idea is the plain meaning of the text in question. Riddlebarger is criticising a position which does not exist. Premillennialists have always pointed out that mortal Israelites and Gentile nations exist during the kingdom age, and it is many of THESE who Satan gathers against the kingdom at the close of the millennial age. Riddlebarger only demontrates his complete ignorance of the issues here when he makes this charge against Dispensational Theology (or ANY premillennial position for that matter).

Riddlebarger completely misrepresents the dispensational interpretation of Matthew 25. On p.233 he says: "In passages such as Matthew 25:31-46, where it is explicitly taught that the final judgment occurs when our Lord returns, premillenarians instead argue that there is a gap of one thousand years between our Lord's return and the final judgment." But dispensationalists do not apply the Matthew 25 judgment to the close of the millennial age, and NO dispensationalist has ever suggested a gap here. It seems odd that Riddlebarger, in all his alleged years as a dispensationalist struggling with this passage, did not bother even to look up Scofield's notes concerning this passage. This should raise a red flag in the minds of all readers here. Riddlebarger uses an "ex-dispensationalist" claim to buff up his criticism of our position, yet he seems to lack some very basic understandings of our position. Just be warned of this, reader.

Riddlebarger spreads the common lie that Israel's rejection of Messiah was a "suprise" to God, and that the Church was a "hasty fix" to the problem. On p.103 Riddlebarger says: "God is delaying the kingdom for the lengthy period of time known as the church age or the 'great parenthesis' between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel. The present dispensation results from <u>humanity's ability to frustrate God's redemptive-historical purposes</u>... despite Walvoord's efforts to insist that God is sovereign, <u>the lack of human cooperation frustrated his plan</u>, thereby <u>forcing</u> a delay in its inauguration for at least two thousand years. But the New Testament knows nothing of a kingdom offered and a kingdom withdrawn <u>according to the whims of unbelieving Israel</u>." On p.118 Riddlebarger says: "Therefore, <u>the church age functions as a 'plan B' during this present dispensation</u>. Israel has rejected the kingdom offer made by Jesus, creating the present parenthesis phase of redemption until God again deals with ethnic Israel at the beginning of the great tribulation after the rapture of the Gentile church." On p.123 Riddlebarger says: "<u>The church is not a 'plan B' or a contingency developed by God in hasty response to Israel's rejection of Jesus</u> and his messianic kingdom. . . . From this, it should be clear that Jesus did not consider the Gentile church as <u>an afterthought on God's part</u>." This simply is not what Dispensationalists teach concerning the Church age. Riddlebarger NEVER quotes any Dispensationalists who teach this. Riddlebarger seems to be perfectly ignorant of the Pauline revelation of the Church, which says that the Church was "hid in God" and "not revealed in ages past" (Ephesians 3, Colossians 1, etc.). This failure on Riddlebarger's part immediately calls his "ex-dispensationalist" claims into question. How could an ex-dispensationalist be so TOTALLY WRONG on such important issues concerning the nature and purpose of the Church? Even if he disagrees with our view, he shouldn't misrepresent it and slander it as he does in this miserable book.

Riddlebarger ridicules the futurist interpretation of Daniel 9, thus: "The insertion of a gap of at least two thousand years between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week is a self-contradictory violation of the dispensationalist's professed literal hermeneutic. Where is the gap to be found in the text? Dispensationalists must insert it." (p.153) Other examples can be provided. In this statement, Riddlebarger reveals his incompetence when it comes to historical-grammatical interpretation of the prophecy ("violation of the... literal hermeneutic"), and he reveals his ignorance of the theme of "imminency" ("insertion of a gap of at least two thousand years"). He also reveals his ignorance of Church History, for this futurist interpretation of the Daniel 9 prophecy is the oldest Christian interpretation (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 5, ch.25; Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist; Hippolytus, On Daniel). Riddlebarger fails to understand that his interpretation of Daniel 9 is a new-fangled interpretation which a) relies upon a spiritualizing of the final part of the prophecy, and b) which contradicts the earliest Christian interpretation of the prophecy. Riddlebarger fails to answer these age old objections to his position, and he even seems to pretend as though these solid objections don't even exist.

Riddlebarger raises childish complaints against the futurist position. For example, when speaking on Daniel 9:27, Riddlebarger says (on p.153): "The failure to acknowledge the obvious covenantal context of the messianic covenant maker of verse 27, who confirms a covenant with many, leads dispensationalists to confuse Christ with antichrist. A more serious interpretive error is hard to imagine." Of course, this silly remark is easily turned against the Amillennial interpretation of Daniel 9, especially considering that we have the earliest Christians on OUR SIDE. We could say: "Covenantalists, due to their simpleminded application of the 'covenant' idea, and due to their ignorance of the context of the prophecy as provided in Daniel's prayer and Gabriel's response, end up applying the actions of Antichrist to Messiah himself! A more serious interpretive error is hard to imagine!" Mmmm... These are the kinds of childish antidispensationalist sneers you will encounter in Riddlebarger's dismal book.

Additionally, Riddlebarger's book fails to answer many of the age old problems which have plagued Covenant Amillennialism over the years. He offers no solid treatment of the Abrahamic Covenant, nor does he offer any justification for the new morphed meaning of the Covenant per Covenant Theology. He offers no solid treatment of the Davidic Covenant, nor does he offer any justification for the new morphed meaning of the Covenant per Covenant Theology. He offers no solution to the problems of Daniel 7, such as a) the literal fulfillments right up to the last part but then a sudden "spiritual fulfillment" of the most important part, and b) the chronological problem in which the passage clearly places the Great Tribulation as a brief period immediately preceding the advent of the Lord and establishing of the kingdom. Riddlebarger doesn't even approach these problems in his book.

Keep in mind folks, the above examples are only a sampling of the extensive factual errors and misrepresentations which permeate the book.

In conclusion: This is a very disappointing book which fails to present a solid case for amillennialism, and which presents a dismal and inacurrate "critique" of Dispensational Theology. The book should have been called A Silly Smear Campaign Against Dispensational Theology.
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZechariah

I would be happy to respond to your post, on one condition: Tell us who you are, and where you go to church.

Until then, I'll reiterate my previous point--anonymous, drive-by posts like yours are cowardly, and they won't be taken seriously.

If you'd like to debate the matter, many on this blog will gladly oblige you (including me), but I won't engage someone who hides behind a computer, and who won't deal with people in a civil and charitable way.

May 30, 2008 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
I have not found two dispensationalists that will not argue with each other about dispensational eschatology. I also cannot find a historical consistency in dispensational "doctrine." It is ever changing as is the Romanist Institution. And we may expect it to continue to change in order to attempt to keep it "valid" and to allow much wiggle room for the expounders.

The first problem that will always exist: National Israel is at the center of dispensationalism. Jesus is at the center of Christianity. (As Riddleburg said in another article - Jesus is Israel.)

Dispensationalism is a worldly view of Christ and His people. Christianity begins and ends with the Spirit of Christ. "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us."

My opinion (of course).

May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
Sorry, I meant Riddlebarger.
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Perhaps I should restate a fact in my experience:

I have not found two people that claim to believe dispensational eschatology that agree, neither in my lifetime so far, not historically. Thus I have no clarity in that "set of doctrines." Furthermore, I continue to witness never ending changes to dispensational statements. It sort of reminds me of counterfeit money. We need to study only the real money, because the couterfeit stuff comes in many different forms.

Amillennialism is easy to define, from Scripture and historically. It does not seem to change, at least in my experience. The scripture is not wrenched, and it glorifies God, with Christ Jesus the center of it all.

(I began this walk with Christ, and Arminian Dispensationalists chained me to their brand of doctrine. They even "explained" how Calvinism and Amillennialism were so dangerous that I should not even study them. So I did not study them. God, however, through the Scriptures told me to examine them. What relief! Maybe you ought to examine these things to see if they are true.)

May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

No more posts until you meet the requirement stated above . . .
May 30, 2008 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
God's promises to Abraham are valid, and they are all fulfilled in Christ, for He has come, and He is coming again, yet for the while, He reigns on the throne in the hearts of His people, the temple of God and Body of Christ.

May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

In speaking of the Jews and the Gentiles, Ephesians 2:14-18 says, "For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father."

To paraphrase Luther: God is finished with the nation of Israel -- except on a one on one basis for the salvation of individual souls.

The promises to Israel are: a. already fulfilled long ago. b. were fulfilled at the incarnation or c. will be fulfilled in the eternal age.

It is an embarrassment to have to quote someone like Scofield as an interpreter of our Holy Scriptures.

As for Kim: He is a true scholar. An excellent theologian. He is extremely thorough in representing all viewpoints. He knows church history as well as anyone. And, he is a great, great teacher!!
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd

Your name and your church! No more anonymous posts from you.
May 30, 2008 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger

Do you go to Pope Chuck's church in Costa Mesa? Pope Chuck teaches that the "carnal Christians" have to go through the seven year tribulation period. (A shorter version of purgatory.) This is a Raul Ries scare tactic to get a huge altar call.

This is yet another version of dispensationalism. (Different than the Pentecost version.)
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd

I don't mind replying to someone in a give and take manner. But frankly, it seems like you are not interested in that. You don't tell us who you are, you have obviously not taken the time to understand the amillennial position (how can you respond if you can't articulate what it is we believe?), therefore, it is hard to take you seriously enough to take time out of my busy schedule to reply.

I am a pastor and a professor. I am used to disagreements. I don't get my shorts in a wad because someone disagrees with me. But I can't fight every battle, and one of the ways I determine where to spend my time is whether or not I can learn from someone, or whether someone may learn from me.

Drive-by rants such as yours hold out little promise for that to happen.

I understand wishing to remain anonymous in the sense of not having your personal data all over the web. But it is hard to take someone seriously who adopts the name of a biblical figure and who then goes into some sort of rant.

One of the great blessings of writing A Case for Amillennialism, is the number of dispensational reviewers, who while strongly disagreeing with my conclusions, state that the book is even-handed, fair, and accurate in its description of dispensationalism.

So, that being said, post under your first name, leave your email address in the squarespace form (where I can see it) or don't post again.

Simple as that.
May 30, 2008 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
Dr. Riddlebarger,

I have read some excerpts from your book. My question is to you, how can you define dispensationalism when it is constantly changing? Most of the dispensationalist that argue with my amillennialism disagree that I know much of anything about dispensationalism. None of them seem to agree with Schofield, but they do quote him much. I cannot determine what they believe from one minute to the next. Every new "authority" on the subject says things in opposition to their "seniors" in history. How do you nail the proper definition?

May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
Kim: You hit the nail on the head. It is hard to comment on the position of another (Lutheran, Reformed, dispensationalism, amillennialism, etc, etc, etc,), unless a person takes the time to study it.

We can't just take someones word for it. WE MUST TAKE THE TIME TO STUDY ALL OF IT, IN LIGHT OF SCRIPTURE!!!

We need to know all of these various positions -- and the Scriptures they use. (I can't just say it is true because my Pastor says it is.) I just have three sentences: Study it. Study it. Study it. We all need to take the time to study the other persons position. There are no short cuts!

May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd
Lloyd, I do not go to Pope Chuck's church, but it is funny you should ask because I have been delivered from that nest of Arminian Heresy!! Praise the Lord! Chuck Smith is responsible for quite a lot of pollution in the Church and has a lot to answer for.
I went there for a few years in the early 90's. I am a Macarthur/Sproul(yes I know he is a preterist)/Mohler kind of guy.

Kim: Am I ranting ? I am well aware of your credentials, and I am just an underling, a man with no eloquence of speech or special training. I have simply asked you to using false caricatures and stereotypes of premillenials. You read the book report on Amazon, is the guy lying? I don't think so, and I have heard your interviews and have been following your blog, his review of your book is dead on accurate.

If you do not want me to post you can block my IP address with your webhosting service. I will not be posting due to some business travel over the next week, so it will give you time to block my IP address if that is what you wish to do.
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZechariah
Dr. Riddlebarger,

I applaud your patience with Prophet Impersonators.

I also appreciate your research in all things millennial.

May 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStan McCullars
“…we take John’s depiction of the millennium to be a description of the present reign of Christ and the triumph of God’s people over those who seek to destroy them (amillennialism)…”

Please give honest thought to these questions, if you have not heard them already. I tend to take the literal view of Revelation 20 (premillennialism) but I am not an expert and do not want to argue or condemn you for your views because we are all the body of Christ and should have love for each other above all things.

I have a handful of questions that arose as I read over this post…

If Revelation 20 describes a present reality in what way is Satan bound right now? How does amillennialism explain the growing amount of wickedness in the world today? When was Satan bound and when will he be released? What will the deception of the nations that is spoken of be like if right now the nations are not deceived?

1 John 5:19 “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

How are the people who have been beheaded for their witness to Christ reigning right now? (Rev 20:4) How have they had victory over the beast and over his image, have they had opportunity to take the mark of the beast?

Why would it say, “thousand years” a full six times in this passage if it really meant an unspecified amount of time?
September 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremanuel

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