A response to Riddlebarger’s “Huge Premillennial Problem”

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He asks, “Where is this mixture of resurrected and unresurrected individuals taught, or even implied in the Scriptures? “

Answer:  Why can it not be taught in Revelation 20? Why is that chapter suddenly off-limits?

Further:  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.

But that is not how 1 Cor. 15:20-27 reads.   One can legitimately make the case that the tagmata represent three different orders of events, given Paul’s eita…epeita construction.  Even progressive’s like Jurgen Moltmann concede the point and even advance this reading.

His strongest argument:

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.

Why is this exactly a problem?  Premillennialists have dealt with these rebuttals for a long time.  Dr Paul Henebury notes,

So what?  If someone born in the Millennium can be summoned by Satan to rebel against Christ at the end of the thousand years, surely there are a lot of unsaved people who need saving?  Why is that a problem?… So what?  Does the Bible say anywhere that there will be no death after Christ’s second coming?  What about Rev. 20:7-10? … Zech. 8? Easy, apocalyptic.  Isa. 65? same.  Zech 14? more of the same.  Rev. 20? symbolic.

I should point out that Dr Riddlebarger’s criticisms are theological in nature, not exegetical.   If this is what the Bible teaches, then I fail to see the problem.  We must adjust our ontology about created reality if that’s the case.

Premillennial Introductions: Prolegomena and Defense.

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C. Marvin Pate writes,

 “A spiritual resurrection can hardly explain the compensation provided for the martyrs in verse 4. From John’s perspective they are physically dead but spiritually alive. What they need is a bodily resurrection. (b) The best understanding of the verb esezan (they lived) in verse 4 is that it refers to a bodily resurrection” (Pate, “A Progressive Dispensationalist View of Revelation” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation

Carl Henry writes,

The case for a millennial kingdom rests on three arguments: 1)The Old Testament prophets speak so emphatically of a coming universal age of earthly peace and justice that to transfer this vision wholly to a transcendnet superterrestial kingdom is unjustifiable; 2) because the historical fall of Adam involves all human history in its consequences it requires an historical redemption that extends ‘far as the curse is found’ to complete Christ’s victory over sin; 3) the most natural interpretation of Revelation 20 seems to suggest an earthly, millennial reign prior to the inauguration of God’s eternal kingdom” (Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 6 volumes. [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983; reprint, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999], 6: 504).

Anthony Garland writes,

Concerning thew view which regards the individuals who come to life in Rev. 20:4 as describing a spiritual birth:

“If this verse refers to the new birth, then the martyrs were beheaded before they were born again”(MacLeod, 2000: 57). This interpretation introduces “the absurdity of having souls being regenerated after they had been beheaded for their faithfulness to Christ!” (McClain 1974: 488).

 

End Times Reading List

I’ve found the following books helpful on eschatology and prophecy, even those with which I disagree.

Moore, Russell.  The Kingdom of Christ: A New Evangelical Perspective.  I disagree with his programmatic appeal, but this is one of the finest surveys of modern eschatological movements of the last century.  Demonstrates a mastery of Ladd and Hoekema.  Shows some weaknesses in amillennialism.  Some strong arguments for historic premillennialism.  Began to tip the scales for me.

Akin, Daniel.  Theology for the Church.  See the essay by Moore.  It is the best defense and presentation of historical premillennialism in print.   He does a fantastic job with the identity of Antichrist.

Augustine, City of God.  It’s not fair to say one doesn’t like this book, but I really don’t.  It’s valuable for its impact on Western history, but it’s also valuable in how he goes out of his way to spiritualize everything in the OT.  Yes, I know premillennials make that accusation a lot, but in Augustine it’s hard to see otherwise.  The authoritative bio on him (Peter Brown) admits that Augustine was embarrassed by the carnal language of the Old Testament.

Ladd, George.  Theology of the New Testament.   We had to use it in seminary.  I didn’t like it at the time and it’s still not my favorite.  Does a good job on the already-not yet.   I am not convinced of his portrayal of the kingdom.

Vos, Geerhardus.   Some important studies on the structure of eschatology.   I demur at the cult-like following he has today in the modern Reformed world.

Ridderbos, H.  Paul.  Slightly better than Vos but in the same vein.   More readable and accessible.

Henry, Carl F.  God, Revelation, and Authority.   Relevant sections.  Some scattered but decent comments on why a premillennial millennium is mandated by biblical data.

Hoekema, Anthony. The Bible and the Future.   A superior amillennial treatment.  Hoekema recognises that most amillennial treatments are simply Christianized gnostic despair.

Murray, Iain.  The Puritan Hope. Standard Banner of Truth postmillennialism.  Very warm and moving.

Riddlebarger, Kim.  A Case for Amillennialism.  One of the better-argued books, but it suffers from many limitations.   Simply chanting already-not yet does not prove amillennialism (and doesn’t say anything different from Ladd).

Mathison, Keith.  Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope.   Decent primer on postmillennialism.  Does not not interact with other forms of premillennialism besides the older DTS models, so it suffers from limited focus.

Bahnsen, Greg.  Victory in Jesus.  A collection of essays published posthumously.  Amillennialists need to interact with  his “Prima Facie Case for Postmillennialism.”   Bahnsen did not give any serious exegesis of Revelation 20, so McClain’s and Wehmeyer’s arguments still stand.

Erickson, Millard.  Options in Eschatology.  Good primer, leans softly premil.

Grudem, Wayne.   Systematic Theology, relevant sections.   Summarizes what would later be standard arguments by Blaising et al.  Cogent presentation.

Wright, NT.  Resurrection of the Son of God.  I include this with a caveat.  Wright’s argument goes beyond the case for a historical resurrecton.  He also does a good job showing how Judaism saw the Arrival of God and how Christianity adapted and modified (but kept the same basic pattern) it on further revelation.

Moltmann, Jurgen.  The Coming of God.  He’s surprisingly premillennial.  Gets the basic pattern right in 1 Cor. 15:23ff, though it isn’t developed enough.  

Rushdoony’s Commentary on Daniel/Revelation.  I forgot the actual title.   I reject his idealist approach to Revelation, but his commentary on Daniel has a lot of food for thought.

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond.   Shows the weakness of modern Reconstructionist postmillennialism.   Gentry’s whole case relies on a specific dating of Revelation.  Blaising dismantles the amillennial case.

Pate, C. Marvin.  What Does the Future Hold?  Somewhat sensational style and he doesn’t develop a lot of potential arguments.   Useful outline of basic positions.   He gives stronger arguments elsewhere (cf Bibliography in Moore). Makes the mistake of implying that postmillennialists necessarily hold to a partial-preterist reading of Revelation.  This is simply not true (Rushdoony was idealist and the Scotch were historicists).

Blomberg, Craig. ed.  The Case for Historical Premillennialism.   Uneven essays.   Blomberg’s is worth the price of the book.  Fairbairn’s is good, too.   Some of the simply swing for the fence and miss.  The essay on Covenantal Premillennialism could have buried amillennialism forever, but it didn’t.

Turretin, Francis.  Institutes of Elenctic Theology, relevant sections.    Interesting comments on certain parts of Revelation.   Not much modern stuff, whether new or older reprint, is available on historicism.

North, Gary.  Millennialism and Social Theory.  Uneven at best.  Suffers from a woeful lack of exegesis.  More theory than fact.   He does understand the challenge behind Isaiah 65:20 and notes where amillennialism simply can’t deal with it.   The problem, though, is that postmillennial conversion type theories can’t really account for it, either.