Some folk are wondering what in the world is amillennialism, in view of recent comments by John MacArthur consigning all amillennialists to hell.
Amillennialism is the belief that the 1,000 year reign mentioned in Revelation 20 is a true reign of Christ, but that the 1,000 years is symbolic of the entire period in-between Christ’s first and second coming.Many people misunderstand this belief when they say that amillennialists don’t believe in a literal reign. The reign is literal, though the 1,000 years are not. The exegetical question revolves around whether Satan is already bound (Revelation 20:2) or not. Amillennialists point to Revelation 12:7-11, where the blood of the Lamb is what conquers Satan. Furthermore, Matthew 12:29 is an exceedingly strong passage in favor of amillennialism, since the verse describes Christ’s mission while on earth. John 12:31 describes something that happens “now” in reference to the time of Jesus’ statement. Colossians 2:15 makes a similar point. 2 Thessalonians 1 plays havoc with the detailed timelines of premillennialism, not allowing years in-between events, but stating that all happens on one day.
Some objections levelled against amillennialism include the following: 1. The interpretation is not literal. Answer: symbolism is all over the book of Revelation. Numbers in particular are symbolic. Just look at 666, for instance. Debate still rages over what that number really means. Furthermore, in the Bible 1,000 is a symbol of completeness (cattle on a 1,000 hills; 1,000 years is as a day, etc.). We must distinguish between the Bible being literally true versus being true literally. The former means that we interpret each genre of Scripture according to the way in which it should be interpreted. There is much symbolic imagery in Revelation which should therefore be interpreted symbolically. The latter runs one into insuperable difficulties. If every statement in the Bible has to be true in a literal fashion, then Christ is a piece of wood (“I am the door”), or a space of road (“I am the way”), or a piece of bread (“This is my body”). These statements of Christ (as is everything in scripture) are all true. But not all statements in Scripture are true in a literal fashion. “Your eyes are doves” does not mean that one’s oculi consist of a couple of aviary critters from the family Columbidae. That won’t fly in any hermeneutics class in any seminary worth its salt. One would get a failing, dropping, mournful, cooing grade in the class.
Second objection: the events in Revelation 20 seem to follow a certain timeline. This is a much more defensible position exegetically. However, there are several points to note: firstly, Revelation 20 is the only place in Scripture where a 1,000 year reign is mentioned. Secondly, there is evidence of literary recapitulation (rehashing the same events from several different angles in order to come up with a more complete picture) in Revelation (see Beale’s magnificent commentary on Revelation), such that making timelines is quite risky exegetically. In fact, it is quite tenuous. Making doctrinal orthodoxy stand or fall with premillennialism is certainly out of court.
Third objection: Satan really does not seem to be bound right now. He seems to be alive and well in the world. Answer: Satan is bound in the sense that the Gospel has free reign to cover the earth with its message, and try as he might, Satan cannot hinder its progress. Furthermore, Satan, death, and sin were dealt their death blow at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are still thrashing around. But they are thrashing around in their death throws, knowing that they are defeated already.
There are a couple of really good books to read if one wants to delve further: Kim Riddlebarger’s book is certainly the most thorough modern treatment in defense of amillennialism, and is well worth picking up. Second, for those who love debate, the counterpoints book is a must. All the positions receive their due weight from proponents of those views. On a more popular level (but still with a great deal of research behind the work) is Poythress’s great book, as well as Dennis Johnson’s book.