Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Millennialism

The Return of Christ & Millennial Reign

 

Today we will discuss the end of all things and the return of Christ to this earth. I am deviating from our sermon series on The Gospel in Three Circles. After today’s sermon, we will move forward with maturing as a Christian, what we call sanctification. I have heard that people here are interested in the end times, and I think it will be helpful to discuss the different theological positions and what we believe in the Church of God Anderson tradition.

 

My goal is not to separate fact from fiction. My goal is to put the end times in perspective so that our diverse convictions do not divide us. I want us to unify around the essential truth that Christ Jesus came to restore our lives and restore the whole world in the end.

 

The church has four major interpretations of how the world will end. I will give a brief description of each belief and share the Scripture with you, from Revelation Chapters 19 and 20, that leads to the various interpretations. I will discuss the belief of pastor and theologian John Wesley who founded the Wesleyan tradition and the position of the Church of God, Anderson and Place of Grace Fellowship. There is much that’s confusing about theologies of the end times. For some people, they bring fear and anxiety; for others, they bring comfort and inspire faith. End times theology is an important part of the set of beliefs of many different churches. People in our church and in our families hold different views on the end of times.

 

Jan’s grandmother wrote a novel based on the Rapture. The Rapture is an event where the faithful Christians are swept up into the clouds and even the dead Christians rise from the grave to meet Jesus in the air. Everyone else is left behind, and their situation, as you can imagine, is not good. Jan’s parents at one time shared her grandmother’s belief in the Rapture and were—a big word—Dispensational Premillennial believers. Why did they hold that belief?  

Let’s start with the Scripture from which the end-times theology derives. It’s found in Revelation 19 and 20. Here is the main passage from Revelation 20.

 

Revelation 20:1-6

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.

 

The different views about the end of the world come from the interpretation of the 1000 years and the return of Christ. The views also differ in how Satan will be bound and then set free again.

 

The first view is Amillennialism. The amillennial believer sees the 1000-year reign of Christ as spiritual or symbolic and not as a literal time frame. They see the millennium as already happening. The first coming of Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of God. When Christ returns, the Kingdom of God will be fully realized. The dead will experience resurrection and the kingdom of God will become a true kingdom on earth. Satan will experience final defeat. It will be the end of all pain, suffering and death. Amillennial believers have the advantage of living with a real sense of God’s Kingdom in the here and now, though not fully until Christ returns.

 

The second view is Post Millennialism. The post millennialist believes that the 1000 years represents the golden age of the church on earth. The church will preach the Gospel to the corners of the earth, and people will hear it and receive Christ as their Lord. Great numbers of people will join the ranks of Christians. Once the Gospel has spread to the whole world, Christ will return. Then, the Kingdom of God will become a physical reality, and Satan will be defeated. Post millennials are motivated to share the Gospel. Like the early Apostles, they are serious about the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations, and bring about Christ’s return.

 

The next view, and the one that garners the most attention, is Premillennialism. The premillennial view has two different forms, historical and dispensational. Both views hold to a literal interpretation of the 1000 years. Premillennials believe in a futuristic, progressive timeline. In that timeline, there will be a rapture and the rise of an evil Antichrist figure. There will be a seven-year tribulation, a terrible time for humans on earth. The timeline includes the second coming of Christ, the battle of Armageddon, the judgment of the Antichrist and the binding of Satan. Then all the dead will rise, and there will be 1000 years of peace. After 1000 years of peace, Satan will be released, and there will be one final rebellion before God’s Kingdom finally arrives. Christians who believe in premillennialism spend a good deal of time and energy in speculation about the exact dates these events will occur.

 

Historical Premillennialists believe that the rapture of the church will take place after the seven years of tribulation. Christians then will share in the 1000-year reign of Christ. The millennium will be for the church but will not include the nation of Israel.

 

Dispensational Premillennialists have the most complex of the views. They believe the church age will end with the rapture of the church. The appearance of the Antichrist begins the seven years of tribulation on earth. The nation of Israel will be part of God’s plan for the end of time and faithful Israel will be included. During the millennium, Christ will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem, and Israel will be favored among the nations. Once the 1000-year reign comes to an end, the last judgment will take place, and a new heaven and new earth shall be established.

Whew, that was a mouthful. What are we to make of these very different and complex views?

 

Several years ago, my family was visiting relatives and we attended the Sunday service at their church. It was a church that believed in Dispensational Millennialism. This is the view that includes the Rapture. I personally have no quarrel with people who hold this view of the end times. I believe they are sincere, whether I agree with them or not. That’s not an opinion that’s necessarily reciprocated. They may not feel the same about what you or I believe. In a sermon on the End Times, the pastor at our relatives’ church espoused his Dispensational Millennial view of Scripture. As he neared the end of the sermon, he declared that any Christian who did not believe as he did was not a Christian. He said they would be part of the damned, or at the very least, not raptured and left behind. He specifically judged believers who did not share his beliefs. By the way, in the Gospels and Romans, we are expressly instructed not to judge each other, as that authority belongs to Christ.

 

What saddened me most was the impact that pastor’s words had on my son’s opinion of Christians. My then high school son was totally turned off by the pastor’s judgmental attitude. Weren’t we supposed to be in unity with other members of the body of Christ? He knew that we are one body—all brothers and sisters in Christ. Now that preacher would say that the body of Christ is only made up of people who believe like he does. My son saw a preacher who prioritized his view over other groups of believers that had studied Scripture for centuries. This one man knew without any humility what Revelation 20 meant, and he was willing to condemn millions of devoted followers of Christ who disagreed with him. For my Gen Z son, Christianity was damaged that day in his eyes.

 

In my view, that is a tragedy. It is hard to share Christ and have people join us in following Christ when we cannot acknowledge that we all share the same Savior and the same membership in the body of Christ. Unity is important within the body and a witness of God’s love to others. Millennial beliefs can be comforting, encouraging, motivating, and empowering for mature believers, but they can also be off-putting, confusing and crazy to new believers and unbelievers. Our millennial disputes make things worse. We are supposed to love people and invite them into a relationship with Christ. I would like us to treat our end of times beliefs as inside baseball and keep such discussions among well-meaning believers.

In that spirit, let me ask three important questions about our end time beliefs.

 

First, are they important to our salvation? I can find nothing in Scripture that says how we believe the end will happen is important to our salvation. The consistent view in Scripture is that time will end, and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. If we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have the promise of salvation. When we face judgment, as all of us will, Christ’s blood shed on the cross will cover our sins and we will be declared righteous before God.

 

Second, do our end times beliefs impact our spiritual maturity? If what we believe about the end times energizes us to be better disciples of Christ, then yes. It can impact the sanctification of some Christians because for example, the rapture can be a strong motivator to work toward Christian maturity. But there is not necessarily a direct link between what we think about the end times and how we follow Christ. We can hold different views and be faithful Christians.

 

Third, do they affect our Christian unity in Christ? Our differing views do not affect our unity in Christ because that was determined by Christ. They can and do affect our unity with each other. How we feel about the end times can create divides, arguments, and divisions between individuals and groups of Christians. I personally do not see why this must be a point of contention between Christians. We should be able to have differences in our beliefs if what we disagree on doesn’t impact our salvation.

 

I want to emphasize that no matter which version of the end times we believe, there are a few common elements. Christ will return. Christ will judge the living and the dead. Christ will establish his kingdom. Death and Satan will be defeated once and for all. Our eternity will be without pain, sorrow, and death. We will have resurrected bodies, and creation will be restored. We will dwell with God and Christ forever. These are orthodox beliefs we share as Christians.

 

The last aspect of millennial views I want to cover today is what we believe at Place of Grace Fellowship. We are a Church of God Anderson church in the Wesleyan tradition. John Wesley was Amillennial for some of his life and Post Millennial at another time. It was not an important part of his beliefs. He believed the Kingdom was already present and with us spiritually. He believed that Christ would return, and the kingdom of God would be fully realized. Following the successful revival of the second half of the 18th century, Wesley believed that the golden age of Christianity would come and that the church would be successful at reaching the whole earth. After the success of the church, Christ would return. He did not hold to a strict 1000 years for this to happen.

 

At present, the Church of God Anderson holds these views of the end times.

  • The Kingdom of God is spiritual. It is not political or geographical. God rules the whole universe.
  • Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of God for us as believers. The kingdom is active today in the spiritual realm. Christ fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the coming king.
  • The Kingdom of God is present and has been since the earthly ministry of Christ. The Kingdom of God is eternal. It is both present and future and cannot be limited by time or events.
  • Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” When Christ came, he gave us grace, and when Christ comes again, the age of grace will end. The opportunity for salvation will come to an end, and the world as we know it will end. The Kingdom of God will emerge fully, and our salvation will be complete.
  • No one on earth knows the future. We can’t predict when Christ will return but be assured it will occur. Thus, we give ourselves to the work of Christ growing in maturity until we meet Christ in heaven or when Christ comes.

These views may sound close to Amillennialism, but the church will not declare a position or engage in end times speculation. The Church of God Anderson places a high value on the unity of all believers. Any doctrine that is not essential or orthodox and shared by most Christians will not be in the Church of God Anderson’s beliefs.

 

Here at Place of Grace, we are part of the Church of God Anderson movement. With our values being Welcome and Unite, we are sensitive to doctrine that may cause disagreement or would be unwelcoming for those who walk through our doors. We do not want to put up barriers to people finding Jesus. To uphold our values and tradition, we will not offer millennial classes or dive into analysis of end times prophecies.

 

As your pastor, I will not declare that any among us that hold different views are bad Christians and should change their views. In fact, if your end times beliefs help you grow in your faith and become nearer Christ, I will not stand in your way. If anyone wants to talk with me about their beliefs, I am open to the conversation. Personally, I can see how each of the views arrives at its conclusions. There is wisdom in the statement of our movement that says, “In the essentials, unity and in the non-essentials, charity.”

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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