Atavists Confronting Patristic Tradition in Constructive Talks
by Mark Mountjoy
After fifteen centuries of supremacy Amillennialism is finally being challenged by serious contenders for the epithet "orthodox Biblical eschatology." First conceptualized by St. Augustine, it remained unchallenged until a little longer than a generation ago when Dispensational Premillennialism stole the scene with its sensational current events claims—claims about the birth of the modern State of Israel; claims about the supposed rebuilding of a third Jewish Temple; claims about the coming of the Lord Jesus in the clouds within forty years of the establishment of the Jewish State and claims about a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics "Gog and Magog" invasion of the Land of Israel—these claims (and more) collapsed under the weight of reality in the last seventy years.
When it remained to be seen what would become of such hopes, Amillennialists were quite unable to best Premillennialism's charms, but Amillennial officials simply waited; time was on their side and (as expected) Premillennial apocalyptic claims went unanswered and, disillusioned masses began to question their assumptions and to look around and grope for the older narrative that is Amillennialism.
Not completely satisfied, but considering Amillennialism as the more reliable option, Amillennialism is enjoying a slight resurgence in popularity; however, a new contender has entered the race: Preterism.
Strongly resembling Amillennialism (in many ways) the 'mother' and the 'daughter' view each other with wary suspicion.
Amillennial officials, in fact, are notorious for their ambivalence or hostility to all things Preterist and we want in this essay to invite them to entertain (for the sake of dialogue) that apprehensions may stem more from Amillennialism's own inherent unfamiliarity with some basic and fundamental realities of the New Testament and Second Temple history than anything truly sinister, ill-willed or misconstrued in Atavist claims.
Self-Reflection in the Interest of Intramural Christian Talks
He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened. This statement holds true for each of us as the enemy within is more dangerous than the enemy without. It is important for Christians to recall and abide by Jesus' command "Love your neighbor as yourself." If we obey this revolutionary commandment it will save the Christian church from the grief of unnecessarily tearing itself apart when we could have sat down as brothers and sisters over a meal and talked things over in a brotherly and civilized way.
Not 'debating' but dialogue (I urge) should be the top priority of all who follow this website and ministry. What is the advantage of dialogue over debate?
These: In dialogue (as Pastor Wagdy Iskander has observed) you gain a friend; in debate you make enemies. At all events we do not want to best other Christians; we want to bring out the best in each other; we were all bought with a price and, it is not what we know that matters at the end of the day, but did we love each other deeply in spite of our differences?
The need for self-reflection on all sides of the questions of concern in these discussions has to do with each one of us being willing and able to question our own assumptions—addressing matters of high irony, addressing the dearth of evidence in John's Revelation to deal with questions about Revelation within the established framework, order and direction of Revelation itself (without question begging, superimpossing preconceived notions, evasions and equivocations).
It is about realizing when an assumption cannot be sustained, making comparisons between the Roman world and the Jewish world to reconsider just what backdrop really fits the picture we see stated or implied in Revelation. It is also about the issue of time statements; the annunciations of the New Testament versus Amillennial apocalyptic lore; and confronting and owning up to cognitive dissonance and making a deliberate move towards academic, Biblical and interpretive competency.
These are goals I hope you will consider as you examine and think about the thrust of this essay.
Amillennialism claims to explore and explain redemptive history, but (sadly and tragically) ignores Jewish salvation history. For example, Kim Riddlebarger, an Amillennial apologist and scholar, in his book, The Case for Amillennialism writes,
"My purpose is to set forth the historic Protestant understanding of the millennial age. This position is commonly known as amillennialism and is centered in the present reign of Jesus Christ. Amillennialism is grounded in redemptive history, the historical acts of God as they unfold in the Bible to provide for the salvation of his people." 1
Riddlebarger is eager to make the case for the Protestant (not earliest Christian) understanding of the millennial age, but, as we shall see, Amillennialism has little regard for the last seventy years of Biblical Judaism and has little or nothing to say about it. It even would go so far as to find in those events absolutely no significance whatsoever!
The claim, then, of being grounded in 'historical acts of God' is the height of irony and only serves to prove, for all and sundry, that the view comes far, far short of its stated premises and goals.
One cannot talk about the historic founding of the Tent, Tabernacle and Temple, or the sacrifices, oblations and tithes and offerings, or priests and priesthood and the courses and holy days and then turn around and refuse to acknowledge the public dismissal of those same institutions and realities.
One also cannot turn a blind eye to the ignoble and sacrilegious circumstances and surprising supernatural signs that attended the dismissal of those forms from the stage of first and second century world history—history attested in scores of reports.
These reports come down to us from reliable and esteemed sources—Josephus and Tacitus, the Babylonian Talmud and Cassius Dio—not fiction writers and people writing with agendas or ulterior motives.
It is high irony for Christians to make claims about redemptive history supporting their view of Bible prophecy and that support does not take, as a given, the Destruction of Jerusalem and all its attendant events with more than a grain of salt.
The New Testament cannot be even understood without realizing its emphasis on the upcoming events which would lead to the disappearance of those forms, structures and institutions which Christ's mortal foes took for granted (Hebrews 8:13 cf. Hebrews 12:28).
Between Paul and John—an Imbalance
Amillennial eschatology mainly relies on the ideas of the Apostle Paul rather than the writings of the Apostle John. The Amillennial system makes much of the coming of the Lord (with some difficulty in the Gospels). Its emphasis is placed especially in the sayings and writings of the Apostle Paul. First, Acts 1:11 sets the stage (rather than Synoptic and Johannine promises like Matthew 10:23, 16:27-28; 24:29-34 and 26:64 and John 21:21-23).
After Acts 1:11 is taken as a beginning premise (which it is not) Paul's words in Acts 17:31 (without the understanding of "will"—the Greek verb μέλλω) is assumed as a virtually timeless and perennial promise (which assumption should be suspect). And then in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, Amillennial teachers and enthusiasts are fond of acclaiming that Jesus will come back to do those things stated in these passages. But little attention is paid to the surrounding contexts of any of these passages; the promises are just lifted with impunity from each and it is assumed that Paul has our world in mind, not his own (1 Corinthians 7:29; Romans 16:20 and 2 Timothy 4:1).
The problem of context is only compounded by the fact that the audience relevance features present in Pauline texts continue to play a huge role in the Johannine text, too. The problem of context, moreover, in the surrounding contexts in Paul get little regard; the problem of context is even increased because the same considerations get even less in John's Revelation—and the stakes are more urgent there—and higher.
Jewish persecution (which had begun in the days of Stephen, Acts 7:54-69) has reached all the way out to the western seaboard of Asia Minor (Revelation 2:9 and 3:9). The fact that Jewish persecution was going on at all tells us that the Fall of Jerusalem had not yet happened, for had it happened the Jewish propensity to persecute would have been significantly muted (if not entirely silenced), but it was not.
If Amillennialism's emphasis on Paul's claims diminishes both the Jewish oppression problem and the imminent parousia expectation (and it does), it doubles down in this regard when these same features are presented in the Book of Revelation. We want to both note and address these instances below.
An Impossible Task Because of an Elusive Framework
Amillennialism highlights and attempts to infer apocalyptic texts to the Romans and their imperial history, but Amillennialism's Roman based presuppositions and a priori assumptions do not compute and cannot be equated with any history in Roman or non-Semitic A.N.E. antiquity.
Specifically, Amillennialism assumes Roman world history and Roman obstruction of the Gospel or antagonism to Christians are the problems being faced by early believers in the Book of Revelation texts.
However, Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 and the marking of the twelve tribes of Israel (exempting them from the horrors of upcoming judgment) does not tend to allude that in the eyes of John a Roman catastrophe from God to defend Christians against Roman offences was then looming.
Rather, if anything, a Jewish catastrophe—of breathtaking proportions—was waiting on the wings; everything in the Book of Revelation falls neatly into place once this is acknowledged and understood.
Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees
It is entirely possible to have read the Bible for years and years and still pick it up and read it again for the very first time. This phenomenon has happened to many people before. Sometimes it happens when you read something someone else noticed and you check on it and notice it, too. Sometimes it happens by a spark of insight from the Holy Spirit. Millions of Christians need to read the Bible for the first time (literally and figuratively).
They need to do this because they are Amillennialists and Amillennialism does not detect or recognize the blatant Semitic milieu of the Book of Revelation. Closely related to the above, Amillennialist fail to notice the glaring Semitic hallmarks scattered throughout the book. Hallmarks and hints sound like this: "Jews," "Jezebel," "Synagogue," "mountains fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb," "the twelve tribes of the children of Israel," "the Temple of God," the "great city where our Lord was crucified," the last trumpet and the coming of the kingdom of God with power, the church fleeing into the wilderness for one thousand two-hundred and sixty days, the rise and fall (success and failure) of a dastardly wicked army in a forty-two month historical window, a mark given on right hands, the divine confutation of those hoping to establish a kingdom, the bombardment of their capital with one hundred pound stones and the destruction of their city in or around the lifetime of the Apostle John are clear and concrete cues that tell us of the Semitic, rather than the so-called Latin or Papal nature of the events in the Book of Revelation.
Once Christians recognize and see these details it will not be easy for them unsee them and continue to lose their way as they traverse the book in their ensuing studies and exegesis of the texts and passages.
Amillennialism's attitude toward very specific time statements in the Book of Revelation are concerning. Time statements and audience relevance are not Amillennialism's strong suit. These particular features in the rest of the New Testament, in fact, are cause for embarrassment for some of them; these features make them think Jesus, Peter and Paul were ahead of their time—or worse—dead wrong. For example, in the Synoptics and John, the emphasis of Jesus' apocalyptic utterances is upon their fulfillment in "this generation" (the period of his contemporaries). The unity and harmony of the Olivet Discourse; the difference between imminence and immanence; when the Book of Revelation was written and the identity of Jerusalem of Jesus' day therein; the beginning and ending of events in chapters 19 and 20 and whether or not the return of Satan (that wicked spirit) happens in the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries or is as far away as entropy, billions of years outside of Jesus' day and time—these are all specific aspects which need to be addressed and resolved; together, with God's help, we can do it.
And we need to do it because these difficulties stand in the way of Amillennialism's claim to be Biblical eschatology. These problems beset the view and make its claims problematic for teachers and Bible students alike. These aspects (when denied and suppressed or imperiously insisted upon as good and right) make the Book of Revelation impossible to place in a historic context—a context that guarantees any predictable results, or one that makes any sense or that yields any sensical or tangible results.
Affirming its stated goal of explaining 'redemptive history' but denying the last seventy or so years of Jewish salvation history presents enormous and insurmountable problems for all parties concerned with, not only the meaning of the book, but also the historical veracity of its claims. Without being able to connect the book's events to anything that happened in the real world, it is impossible to truly appreciate the circumstances that called for the message in the first place.
The sayings of Jesus on the bottom of the chart (which Amillennialist take great exception to and issue with) demand that we Christians sit down together and talk these things over; progress, solutions and resolutions will not come in any other way.
Amillennialism's Achilles' Heel
Amillennialism's ten brazen errors—errors that are easily refuted—can be called their "Achilles Heel." By naming a few specific claims made by our brethren (claims that can be checked on either in the Bible or in classical Roman, Jewish or Church history), we can narrow down and eliminate certain notions from our discussion and concentrate our efforts on specifics. For these purposes there are ten items we want to circle and highlight and address. These are claims that just will not stand up in light of hard facts—facts that are easily attested through documentation that is not difficult to obtain and examine independently.
What are these items?
(1) Amillennialists implicity believe the events of Revelation would not occur in the lifetime of the seven churches of Asia Minor. Instead, it is believed Revelation speaks of a tribulation stretching out over a very extended period of time (from the first century on and up till a final coming of Jesus).
(2) Amillennialists believe the Book of Revelation (as well as the rest of the New Testament) emphasizes immanence rather than imminence.
(3) Amillennialists insist the Book of Revelation was written 25 years after the Jewish Temple ceased to exist.
(4) Amillennialist implicitly believe that "The holy city" = pagan or Papal Rome (Revelation 11:2).
(5) "The great city where our Lord was crucified" according to Amillennialism = Rome (Revelation 11:8).
(6) The expression "without the city" probably = Rome (Revelation 14:20).
(7a) Amillennialists tend to believe that the name, number or mark of the beast may have something to do with the Emperor Nero (Revelation 13:14-18).
(7b) Nero could be the sixth ruler in reference to Revelation 17:10.
(8) One thousand two hundred and sixty days=one thousand two hundred and sixty years (Revelation 11:3 and 12:6).
(9) Amillennialist treat the Book of Revelation in a bizarre way by claiming (with absolutely NO justification) that Revelation chapter 20 commences on Pentecost of A.D.33. This strange idea alleges that the binding of Satan, the tribulation of the saints, the mark of the beast, the martyrdom of the sainst by the Sea Beast and the millennium itself pre-dates the events outlined in Revelation chapters 13 and 14, 15 and 16, 17, 18 and 19!
Will these propositions hold up to close scrutiny? We shall see!
These above instances of Amillennial presuppositions can be definitively nailed down and eliminated as possibilities in our discussions with Amillennarians. And once each claim is scrutinized, quantified and qualified we are one step closer to our goal of smoothing down the rough edges of assumptions that usually muddle a discussion the people of God attempt to maintain on this most controversial book.
How We Would Address Specific Weaknesses
In order to give a specific goal, shape and direction to our discussions, the items above need to be addressed in light of the evidence the Bible; Biblical history will also fully support or deny claims. Our underlying aim is to pull the discussion into the realm of possibilities and parameters that the history and the text together will allow. These ingredients together will afterward be the basis for someone making a judgment about where they want to stand when they are alone and have time to clearly think things through.
The things we do in our talks should be actively supported by our sincere and fervent prayers on behalf of everyone involved in our discussions. We should also bring them before God in our daily supplications privately so that any hidden dangers to brotherly love and courtesy will not be damaged by any impatience or thoughtlessness or insensitivity to those feelings, thoughts and values being currently held.
(1) To be true to the Book of Revelation one would have to fully endorse the idea that the events from chapter 6:1 to Revelation 20:15 had some semblance of nearness to the cares, concerns and lifetime of the Christians who belonged to the seven churches of Asia Minor.
"JOHN to the seven churches that are in Asia. . ."
What John says in Revelation 1:4 and his declarations that follow just in verse 7 must to be meaningful—and connected. So must other statements made to the other churches in Revelation 2:24-25 and 3:3 and 3:10-11. Chapter 6:15-17 harks back to events Jesus said would happen to the daughters of Jerusalem and their children (see Luke 23:27-31). Every issue below adds to the reasons why the entire book of Revelation had immediate interest to the concerns of the seven churches of Asia.
(2) In Riddlebarger's A Case for Amillennialism he uses the word "immanence" multiple times to describe the Second Coming, but he never used the word imminence once in the entire treatise! That is significant. He's no fool! He knows the difference between these words. These words sound deceptively alike but have two completely different meanings.
Now, immanence means something is pervasive and everywhere, whilst imminence means something is at hand and soon to come to pass. A doctrinal system that hopes to represent itself as explaining the Book of Revelation cannot do so and deny the first century imminence of the Second Coming.2 If it does, it is talking about something else and has a different agenda—an agenda not known or discussed in the entirety of the New Testament.
(3) That Herod's Temple existed till the autumn of A.D.70 is a matter that can be settled by consulting any Jewish history website, Google or Wikipedia.
That there was no such Temple and no such opportunity for 'Gentiles' to destroy the outer court in any other place besides Jerusalem and ahead of the Fall A.D.70 deadline enough to do so for forty-two months limits our options quite a bit.
To make up something about Revelation 11:1-2 that is out of step with the meaning of not only the surrounding context, but even the parameters of events in the very same chapter are practices that should be shunned and avoided by serious and sincere interpreters.
Chapter 11 and all the surrounding chapters give voice to a coherent series of events; these events involve atrocities played out in Jerusalem: the heart of the Jewish world.
Under no circumstances can it be conceived that John has Rome in mind. Under no circumstances can it be conceived that he has a Jewish Temple in Rome or a future third Jewish Temple twenty centuries outside of his lifetime in mind. Time statements—even near the end of the Revelation message (Revelation 22:6 and 7, 10, 12 and 22)—make it crystal clear that these events were on the brink of happening in the days of the Apostle John and his seven Asian church contemporaries.
(4, 5 and 6) The notion that Rome is the suspect is wrongheaded when it is known that Jerusalem (not Rome) was traditionally the 'holy city'. Moreover, under no circumstances whatsoever was Jesus crucified in Rome. That John ties the "great city" with the city where our Lord was crucified and then, three chapters forward he has a blood bath happening 'without the city' (which always has reference to Jerusalem) should caution us not to try to maintain the erroneous and distorting notion that, somehow, Rome's impending destruction in John's day is part of the big picture. It is not.
Moreover, the marriage afterward (see Matthew 22:7 and 8 and compare with Revelation 19:1-4 and 7-8) shows that once God's unfaithful city was destroyed, the new people was fully received as his bride. This litany of actions speaks against the sack of the city of Rome—which happened on August 24, 410 A.D., three hundred and forty years after the Destruction of Jerusalem.
(7a & 7b) The inclusion of the Emperor Nero in the Revelation equation is a temptation that snares other interpretations besides Amillennialism. The fact remains, however, that Nero committed suicide 23 months into an event which calls for the beast to exercise rule, authority and power for forty-two months (he was given power to continue forty-two months, according to Revelation 13:5).
And so, Nero won't work. Besides that, when we look into the history of the Jewish Revolt against Rome and the Romans, Nero was definitely not in the middle of it, nor was he by any means their hero or general. The revolt was, in fact, against Nero's rule over the Jewish State. Moreover, the authors of the Jewish Revolt, John of Gischala and Simon Bar Giora, with their followers (the Sicarii and the Zealots) were the most virulently anti-Roman activists standing on two feet on the planet earth at the time.
What is the likelihood that the Jewish nationalists would have been worshiping Nero or put his name, number or mark on their right hands or worshiped his image in their Temple once they had purged it of even foreigners coming to visit it in the fall of A.D.66?
It would make very little sense for a Jewish war against the Romans to have Nero as its head.
In addition to the above problems, Nero will not suffice also because Revelation 17:10-11 does not make the sixth ruler the one who would lead Babylon into destruction, nor does the text say or infer that the sixth ruler bore the name from whence the image, mark, or number would be derived.
Instead, the text seems to strongly infer that an eighth ruler would be the one from whom this apostasy and sacrilege would stem. By being the eighth and not the sixth, it is not possible to conceptualize how Nero or any other Roman ruler would fit into this leadership scheme.
In fact, it is an unfounded assumption that Revelation 17:10-13 has Roman emperors in mind at all. From reading Josephus' account it seems more likely that he has the clan of Judas of Galilee and the leaders of the Fourth Philosophy in mind. I make no claim to know the exact details at this time, but I do think that the Roman narrative takes the exegete way off the hot trail and into a dense thicket of irrelevant presuppositions—presuppositions that carry one far and away from the main point of the text.
Now, before Jerusalem was even stoned, Nero was dead. The Jews elected Simon Bar Giora in the third year of the war. He had already been a key figure of the Jewish war from its beginning and it was he that carried the city into perdition in the following year after he was sought for his "lordly protection" of the city (Wars 4.9.11:572-12:577).
(8) The Amillennial claim that one thousand two-hundred and sixty days equals one thousand two-hundred and sixty years needs to be met head-on and directly challenged. There is no justification for believing this claim! And even if it could be established that the "temple" in Revelation 11:1-2 was the Church, it cannot be established from any real history that the Christian church suffered any persecution remotely coming close to that number in her twenty centuries of existence.
Besides that, the early churches got reprieve from Jewish persecution as well as Roman persecutions because Luke and Eusebius could speak of the churches of Christ having periods of peace. That could not be the case if, in fact, Revelation 11:1-2 is allowed to be construed as years and not days.
But if it is days and not years, that only comes out to be three years and six months. Such a number easily fits into the length of years that the Church was known to have hid in Pella during the heat of the Jewish war centered in Jerusalem. This would mean that the flight from the city (as depicted in Revelation 12:4 and 16) would have been during the autumn beginnings of the revolt, and would have ended in A.D.70 once the city was subdued under the victorious Romans.
Again, the arbitrary insertion of claims that takes liberties upon the text is a major reason why the Amillennial paradigm is difficult to fathom or explain even on its own terms.
We really need to step back and question these assumptions; we need to have the courage to question and to have mental reservations about traditions we have received and be willing to relinquish them when new information with stable historical moorings becomes available to us.
(9) Revelation 20 is a key passage in the Amillennial narrative. Unwittingly, this passage has become the deciding factor on not only how to interpret the Book of Revelation, but also how to determine where Satan was in the entire period of the New Testament, basically from Pentecost of A.D.33 till even now.
This is problematic! It is problematic because it challenges the authority of Jesus' claims in the Gospel where he makes it clear that the ouster and return of Satan would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries (Matthew 12:43-45).
Too many times in the Gospel of Matthew alone Jesus stressed that this, that, or the other would happen to those in "this generation." It was a generation of little faith; a generation of those who spoke evil of him; a generation that sought a sign, but would only be given the sign of the prophet Jonah; a generation that could read the indications of the clouds in the sky, but could not discern "this time."
His contemporaries were cool to him, distrusting, contrary and false accusing and the New Testament does not make it very easy for someone to make the claim that "this generation" has thousands of years or even twenty centuries in mind.
And so, it is from the recognition of the limits of the possible lifetime of people living in Jesus' day that we can say (with some confidence) that it would be barely possible for A.D.70 survivors to still be alive up to the time of the Second Jewish Revolt—but it would be unlikely (and even impossible) for anyone from that generation to have survived much later than the disappearance of the Jewish State in the same year that Hadrian plowed the city with a yoke of oxen.
All this information, when tied together into a cohesive cluster of thoughts, puts great emphasis on the demise of the Mosaic system and the military, religious and social efforts the Jews expended to make sure these forms, structures and institutions successfully denied their due date and went on perpetually.
When we take a second look at the New Testament (as a whole) we begin to notice how what seemed like random ideas and fantastic notions, come together in harmony—a harmony that does not contradict the reports that have reached us from Josephus, Tacitus, Cassius Dio and other classical sources.
Amillennialism endorses a convoluted narrative; it is a narrative that is inherently unstable and ends up refuting itself. What we are talking about here is the assumption of recapitulation; it may be true; it may not. We cannot come to the table and assume with dogmatism that the book treats matters in a way anyone would be horrified to see if it were done to books like the Gospel According to Matthew or the Book of Acts.
Revelation 20 is three chapters in from the very end of the book and it does not make sense to use it as a key that opens the door to the meaning of the rest of the book. If we used Matthew 26 or Acts 26 this way we would have similar poor results in understanding the flow of events in each.
Likewise, the dominance of Revelation 20 in the Amillennial theory, destroys the message of the Book of Revelation in a significant way. We can't be sure what is happening before Revelation 20, in Revelation 20, or after Revelation 20 for the simple (but unfortunate fact) that Amillennialists have declared (without any real exegetical proof) that Revelation 20:1-4 commences at Pentecost of A.D.33!
It is also not helpful that some of their writers declare or allude that those exalted to the thrones in Revelation 20:4 got there because of their own 'baptism or death.' Revelation 20:4 is crystal clear that the ordeal they went through was much more brutal and terrifying than anything like water baptism or merely dying a natural death!
Let's be frank: Being beheaded is not a way the New Testament would refer to baptism into Christ or a natural death.
Amillennialists also declare that the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls are all different ways of talking about the same thing, but in making these claims, we do not know if we are going forward, backward or in circles in the narrative! By this method how can we know when we are actually advancing toward a given goal or not!?
But, even if it was true that the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls were all one and the same thing, it would still land Amillennialists at the very brink of the Destruction of Jerusalem—because that is just where the seventh and last bowl has the city being bombarded with one hundred pound boulders—and that happened in Adar of A.D.70 (See Revelation 16:17-21 cf. Wars 5.6.3:270-274 and Wars 6.5.3:296-309).
At any rate, these problems stifle the teacher and the student, truthseekers and skeptics. Too many aspects of Amillennialism rest on assertions and not enough on actual observance and familiarity with the text and its corresponding redemptive historic milieu.
A Move Towards Competency
Amillennialists need to reevaluate and rethink Jewish interpretive nuances like antecedent Jewish traditions of figures of speech, like, for example Pesher and Peshat. Without going in this direction, Christians can never hope to be reading from the same page. It is important to note that the New Testament is a Jewish document through and through.
It cannot be truly understood through modern eyes, Gentile eyes. It must be understood through Jewish eyes and from a Jewish point of view.
There is no way around this!
Amillennarians need to be prepared to do background research under their own motivation and steam. They need to be prepared to discover rhetorical complexities and subtleties that add depth and the proper nuance to expressions that would be misunderstood from a different cultural dictionary.
For example, expressions like that found in Revelation 6:12-14, 20:11 and 21:1 cannot be taken literally without making the prophecies of Revelation that follow ridiculous. One has to be familiar with the language of governmental upheaval and destruction (as seen in Jeremiah 4:23-26 and Isaiah 13:9-22) to make correct sense of what John means at the early and end stages of the catastrophe befalling his own nation and people as they stood on the brink of towering existential dangers in the early 60s and also after their failed attempt at victory over the Romans in the third decade of the second century.
Also, one cannot assume that by "Temple of God" John means the corrupt Christian church, when, even twenty centuries from John's time that issue is still an open question. Whatever "temple of God" John saw was a Temple of God that had an outer court; had the immediate prospect of being occupied by 'Gentiles'; and was located in a city where Jesus was crucified; that would make it almost certainly the same Temple of God that stood until the autumn of A.D.70 and nothing else.
Competency will also motivate Christians to investigate and digest some of the more strange events that surrounded the destruction of Jerusalem—armies seen to fight in the sky over Herod's Temple; doors of the Temple opening on their own; voices of a multitude in the Temple saying, "We are leaving this Place"; a heifer being led to be sacrificed by the High Priests giving birth to a baby lamb; a light that came on at 3 O'clock in the morning and made Jerusalem look like it was bright daytime for half an hour; the Zealots wounding their right hands in reverence for their leader; one hundred pound boulders cast into the city starting in Adar of A.D.70 and the fall of the city only five months later.
These odd events, signs and circumstances tie in nicely with things that the early Christians were told to expect within their lifetime; however, these items are completely unrelated to anything considered important or noteworthy in the Amillennial frame of reference.
The tendency of Christians, after years of brutal Roman mistreatment before the legalization of the Church, leaned in the direction of the Romans being the villains of the apocalyptic epic. Nevertheless, no direct history of Rome or Roman debacles corresponds to any detail (large or small) to anything in the Book of Revelation!
Where the Jewish armies succeeded three times in A.D 66 and then spectacularly failed from then on, the Roman's armies seemingly floundered and then won patiently, manfully and courageously. Where the Jews fought using the ends justifies the means—and lost—the Romans fought with valor and their empire survived to die at a ripe old age 1,383 years later.
Where in the Gospels Jesus' declared that his marriage to the Church would occur in conjunction with the Destruction of Jerusalem (and Babylon fell in the nineteenth chapter of Revelation) how does it make sense that Babylon was Rome? Not even in Amillennialism is the claim made that Jesus married the Church when Rome finally fell on September 4, 476!
We are just touching on the tip of the iceberg here. There is no intention to overwhelm and no need for anyone to gloat. We are all saved from our sins by the same Precious Blood and we need to be men and women of God in our efforts to face each other and resolve these complicated concerns and issues as friends trying to figure things out.
A New Emphasis on Precision
Almost all Amillennial ideas about the Book of Revelation are so imprecise that at the end their position concludes with no results; no real conclusions. A Christian, in fact, can believe and teach Amillennialism to the letter—dotting every "i" and crossing every "t"—and still feel (deep down) that they do not truly grasp or understand what the Book of Revelation means or see its significance. It is not a fluke that this is happening to Christians and that they can't explain what Amillennialism means without resorting to unfounded claims or refusing to discuss specifics. However, it does not have to be that way! We suggest a different approach, one that takes the history, the time statements and the declarations of Jesus and the Apostles and the apocalyptic expectations of the early Christians seriously.
So that's it! I realize that it seems audacious to ask Christians who hold the dominant view since Augustine to examine themselves rather than looking without. You may have already heard of Preterist theologies, but Atavist Bible theology, though it is Preterist it is not anywhere near a Siamese twin of Full Preterism. It has enough major differences that we believe you will come away with a completely different impression of what is supposed to have happened as well as what we believe is supposed to be happening today—and what is our destiny in Christ tomorrow.
It is in the interest of all Christians for those who hold Amillennialism to be true to the Book of Revelation to have a basic grasp of what Amillennialism teaches and how that compares to what Revelation advocates in the shadow of the late Second Jewish Commonwealth—its Jewish people, its Jewish holy city, its Jewish aspirations and its many faceted Jewish armies. Since the Apostle John lived more than 50 years before the end of the state, it is ironic and it does not do this subject any justice to picture Revelation as supporting Protestant ideas and concerns that would not appear for more than a thousand years.
We also noted that Amillennialism leans and depends heavily on the eschatological pronouncements of the Apostle Paul; not those of John in the Book of Revelation itself. Furthermore, even the declarations of Paul are stripped of their surrounding first century context and made into themes that militate against the universal New Testament view that the end of all things was then at hand.
Moreover, Amillennialism assumes (but cannot prove) that Revelation's hopeful message is aimed at bouying Christian morale in the face of hostile persecution at the hands of the Romans. It assumes, without actual historic evidence, that the key to understanding the gist of the symbols and figures of speech is knowing something about Roman attitudes and policies toward and against the Christian people.
Taking this for granted, it is inevitable that what Revelation says, when compared side by side with the long and successful history of the Roman Empire, will reduce confidence that anything can be said about what the book means with any degree of authority or certainty.
Christians need to look at the Book of Revelation to observe and detect what is between the lines when it makes references that hark back to the Old Testament. In doing this, attempts need to be made to entertain viable options to see what scenario has the best predictive value; makes the most sense and answers important questions—all in line with concerns which would have been relevant to Jewish Christians undergoing persecution by people called "the synagogue of Satan." Clues like this and language and motifs which describe the Christians' enemies with loaded words like "Balaam" and "Jezebel" indicate oppression by Semitic authorities bent on causing the churches to be cursed in hopes of gain as well as utterly destroyed by religious interests that had little to do with God's genuine intentions for the people of Israel.
Time statements and audience relevance—both in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in the New Testament—are not Amillennialism's strong point. Concerned students of the Scripture need to revisit this whole issue on their own. And semantic maneuvers around words like imminence and immanence need to be confronted and dealt with with honesty and integrity.
Amillennialists need to frankly ask themselves if they really believe the Second Coming of Christ was imminent (impending) from a first century point of view, or not. If they do not believe it was, then they need to be willing and ready to openly admit to all that they believe the New Testament is completely in error in every book, chapter and verse where that idea appears.
We also give ten topics that Amillennialists need to be prepared to study and talk about. Nailing down certain facts is a must so that we can make headway in our talks. These topics help us entertain new ideas, but also eliminate assumptions that come up short.
The study chart meets Amillennial claims and attitudes head on and challenges them to support, first of all, assumptions about the Olivet Discourse. False ideas surrounding the Olivet Discourse directly trouble and hinder Book of Revelation hermeneutical and interpretive efforts.
Secondly, definitions about what is impending and what is all around. Confusing these two concepts only serves to muddle the issue and aggravate efforts to come to terms and mutual agreement.
Thirdly, the idea that discovering when Revelation was written is a difficult task is a false one. Like most books in the Bible, the question about when the Book of Revelation was written can be detected by simply observing and acknowledging the environment it describes.
Fourthly, questions around the sequence and structure of the Revelation narrative can be settled by observing the sequential progress and process and by comparing this with preconceived notions with an eye for accepting the best alternative.
Fifthly, Revelation 20 must be circumscribed by parameters provided in the Book of Revelation itself.
Sixth, the final [Great White Throne] judgment has to be seen in context of ancient Jewish civilization as a result of a suicidal war gone wrong (and Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 provides a solid basis for understanding motivations and circumstances surrounding that perilous event).
Conflating or caving the narrative down to a single issue or point definitely does nothing to help explain what Revelation was intended to say and Revelation chapters 12 and 20 are two classic examples where this practice and its debilitating results can best be seen. Discussions that work towards allowing each situation to be a discrete one (even for argument's sake) will help Christians appreciate an alternative point of view; try it.
A deliberate move towards competancy means that an interest in Jewish history towards the end of the ancient State will increasingly be deemed urgent and important. Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews is a good place for you to start. In the end, we believe, you will find yourself feeling better able to cross-reference descriptions, images and metaphors in the Book of Revelation with historical realities that actually existed as the Second Commonwealth Jewish civilization was on its way out.
Now, a stranger asking you to re-examine your established claims (claims you already accept) is like asking for the moon on a silver platter—but I believe you are equal to the challenge and that you have much personally and spiritually to gain from this. You could take up this challenge up and at least be able to understand what makes an Atavist tick.
If the inner clockwork is, in fact, wrong, the time you spent looking at the core issues and reasonings put you in the position to speak with genuine rather than presumed authority not only to the Atavist view specifically, but also to Atavist views in general. Either way, your time would not be wasted.
1 The Case for Amillennialism, p.11
2 A Glossary of Greek Terms That Support Atavist Eschatology's Claim to Be Truly Biblical
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Recommended reading . . .
Encounter the world and traditions that Jesus knew. Illuminate your understanding of the New Testament. In The Complete Works you will discover what the New Testament writers knew about Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, and Solomon and examine an in-depth history of Herod and his infamous family.
Josephus left us the earliest independent accounts of the lives of Jesus, John the Baptist, and James the brother of Jesus. Much of what we know about the beliefs of the Sadducees and Pharisees comes from Josephus. Without Josephus, we would know very little about the Essenes, the ancient Jewish group most frequently associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The War of the Jews—an account of the Jewish revolt against Rome up to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem
The Antiquities of the Jews—a history of the Jews from Creation to the Roman occupation of Palestine
The Life of Flavius Josephus—the autobiography of Josephus, who fought against Rome and later served the empire
Against Apion—a defense of the origin of Judaism in the face of Greco-Roman slanders
Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades—a text Whiston attributed to Josephus
Index of parallels between Josephus’s Antiquities and the Old Testament including the Apocrypha
About Flavius Josephus
Josephus was a first-century Pharisee, soldier, informant to the Romans, and writer. He left behind the most extensive writings on ancient Jewish history still in existence.