Jun 7, 2010

The Bittersweet Experience of Knowing the Future

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

Q. Your “Who enters the Millennial Kingdom” article is very good, thanks. If you have time, here is a follow-on question.

During the millennial kingdom I wonder what we will be thinking concerning the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ when we know it will end with another rebellion and destruction (and reconstruction) of the planet. Will our joy be tempered with the horrible knowledge of what is to come? Is our job to win as many souls as possible from the group born during the period in order to minimize the rebellion? It is hard to get my arms around it. Any thoughts?

A. I suppose our situation during the millennium - in regard to knowing ahead what is prophesied to transpire - won’t be all that different from our position during this present age.

We know from Scripture, despite the imaginations of the “kingdom now” or dominion theology advocates, that this age is predicted to end in fearful apostasy (Luke 18:8; 2Th. 2:3; 1Ti. 4:1; 2Ti. 4:3-4) and undergo God’s judgment in a time of great cataclysm (Isa. 26:21; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; Mat. 24:21-22; Mark 13:19-20; Rev. 6, 16) involving great physical destruction (Rev. 8:7-10).

The ultimate path upon which both this age and the millennial age are following upon is one leading to a final cleansing by God. Yet our knowledge of this sobering future is given in advance by God for a purpose:

But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation - as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, (2 Peter 3:7-15)
Knowledge of these future judgements, whether near the time of the Second Coming or at the end of the millennial reign, is intended to motivate us in numerous ways - especially in regard to holy living (this age) and in the seriousness with which we pursue the purpose of God in redeeming His elect, both in this age and the next. I think it is reasonable to admit that our immediate joy will be tempered by the knowledge of these predicted future rebellions and subsequent judgments: it would be unrealistic to think otherwise.

In both ages, I believe a key lesson that God wants us to learn is that mankind’s rebellion and rejection of His Perfect Person is not the result of coincidence or external negative influences (e.g., upbringing, environment, demonic influence) but is the innate path of man apart from spiritual regeneration. Even without external influences, during a time of incredible blessing (e.g., Isa. 65), the unregenerate continue to reject God - even when He rules personally in perfect wisdom and beauty in our midst (Ps. 2).

The longer the shadow cast by the darkness of man’s heart, the greater the Light which reveals that shadow and the glory which executes the plan of redemption for His elect. Thus, the dark clouds on the horizon only serve to heighten God’s greater glory which can be a source of great joy even in the midst of the fearful knowledge of what lies ahead.

This tension between, on the one hand, the joy of the knowledge of God’s ultimate victory and plan for the redeemed and, on the other hand, the approaching terrifying judgment, was the experience of John (Rev. 10:9). Although we are not likely to experience this tension to the same degree as John, the more we meditate upon these difficult realities I'm convinced we come to identify with aspects of the heart of God Himself - Who’s desire manifests in such great love and mercy, yet is ever balanced by perfect justice. In the culminating judgments to come, it would appear that weighty and private somberness may even be the experience of the Father (Rev. 15:8).

It is my belief that part of the reason God has revealed these awful conclusions in advance is, not only to urge us on to holy living in this age, but to birth in us, in ages to come, a passion for intercession, restoration, and justice which reflects the heart of the Godhead.

Related Links
Who Enters the Millennial Kingdom? - BPT (Tony Garland)
Apostasy of the Church - SpiritandTruth.org (Andy Woods)
The Case for a Literal, Physical, Earthly Millennial Reign of Christ - Erich Sauer (As cited in John MacArthur’s Matthew Commentary)
The Dispensations of God - Ariel Ministries (Arnold Fruchtenbaum)
The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology - John F. Walvoord (Book)