Recently I have been reflecting on the significance of biblical prophecy concerning end times. Most churches with which I am associated are not saying much about these matters these days. Perhaps it’s because a lot was said in an earlier time and so for reasons of “overload,” the present generation isn’t much interested. But it also may be so because of hermeneutics. The interpretive grid has changed. The current approach tends to spiritualize the biblical text instead of the old one of looking at the Bible in its more literal sense based on historical, contextual, and grammatical considerations.
There are also philosophical reasons for the change. As I point out in the book that I hope to see published soon (see previous Blog), current thinking is decidedly opposed to the structuralism of the previous modern period in which all thought followed a systematic structured method — including theology and interpretive approaches to understanding Scripture. My argument in the book is that while there definitely was a need for some correction to the “heady” structuralism of the previous three centuries, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Instead of being guided by good rational arguments about knowing anything we have yielded almost exclusively to emotional ways of reasoning. We have traded pure rationalism for a somewhat thoughtless emotionalism.
This shift in philosophical thinking and cultural expression has also had a profound effect upon theological thought, on approaches to biblical interpretation, on preaching, and on many other aspects of church ministry. While something might have been gained in terms of spiritual and social sensitivity, sadly, a more precise and accurate analysis of the biblical revelation seems to have been lost. And one area where this change is especially obvious is in the matter of understanding biblical prophecy.
Recently, for example, I was listening to a pastor’s message on the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel chapter 2. It’s been many years since I’ve heard a thorough analysis of the meaning of that dream as interpreted by the prophet Daniel. I must confess that I myself have not looked at the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream for a long, long time — probably for the same reasons that others have been discouraged by a strong diet of prophetic preaching. However, in this instance, as I listened to the pastor’s message, I found myself deeply impressed by the clarity of the interpretation in terms of what has taken place in world history, and what will take place in the time of the end.
I am especially interested in the reality and nature of the coming kingdom to which this prophecy and many others refer. Daniel, for example, speaks of the sequential establishment of the earth’s kingdoms which eventually will be destroyed and replaced by a kingdom represented by the rock formed supernaturally that rolls down to smash the image representing the kingdoms of this world to become a mountain that fills the whole earth. Clearly, this is a reference to the coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. Though this has already happened in some small way through the first coming of Jesus, it seems evident that the larger fulfillment happens when Jesus comes to establish His kingdom rule upon this earth in his millennial reign, also spoken of in Revelation 20.
In reading Psalm 72 recently, I realized that this Psalm is also speaking about the millennial reign of Jesus Christ since what is written can only describe a future time when the world is ruled in righteousness, justice, and peace for everyone. It speaks there of all kings bowing down to him and all the nations serving him (vs 11). It seems to me that this can’t help but be a reference to much more than the present reign of Christ in the hearts of those who believe in Him. The kingdom spoken of in Daniel 2 and Psalm 72 has to be a reference to the literal millennial reign of Christ when He comes to establish His rule. There is therefore, it appears, a literal, future millennial reign of Christ.
I guess, in this, I am confessing my faith as a pre-millennialist Christian who believes in a period of Christ’s reign for one thousand years as spoken about in Revelation 20. I do not think that ammillennialism (which spiritualizes the idea of the millennium as something established with Jesus’ first coming), or postmillennialism (which considers that Jesus’ reign will take place gradually through the Christianization of the nations by the church) satisfies the description of the kingdom that is given to us in these passages.
To me, this view of Christ’s literal future reign over all the earth in a millennial period is a great hope for present-day believers in Jesus. We can press forward in this time with renewed hope that what we see environmentally and politically in this present world will one day be renewed in the cataclysmic event of Jesus’ return to literally establish His kingdom in a way to which his first coming merely appears to hint. While we as believing followers of Jesus rejoice in this present world and seek to be good stewards of all that He has given our greatest calling is to share the Good News of God’s redeeming grace in Christ.