Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Amillenial, Preterist Hermeneutic

I'm a minister for a Disciples of Christ (from here on out DoC) congregation, but my heritage growing up was in the Churches of Christ (CoC).  In fact, I've only been a DoC minister for all of two weeks.  Now being a DoC minister, you might think I devalue or disregard my formation within the CoC.  That could not be farther from the truth.  Not all CoC's fit the militant, conservative, sectarian stereotype that proceeds them.  Now, granted, there are things within the CoC that I strongly disagree with, disagree with to the point that I did not, and do not, feel that I could effectively serve in them as a minister any longer.  However, there is a great deal of good within the CoC and their theology, and one of those things is what I want to talk about today.  Namely, CoC's are typically amillennialist and preterist in the interpretation of Scripture.

So, what does that even mean?  Millennialists get their name from a literal interpretation of the 1000 year reign in the book of Revelation (a millennium is 1000 years).  Premillennialists interpret the passage to mean that when Jesus returns he will inaugurate a 1000 reign of peace.  Postmillennialists interpret this passage to mean that after a 1000 years of peaceful human rule, Jesus will return.  In contrast to both, an Amillennialist ("a" meaning "no" in Latin) doesn't think there will be a millennium because John is writing in apocalyptic language which isn't meant to be taken literally to begin with.

This is directly tied to a preterist way of understanding Biblical prophecy.  Preterism, in a nutshell, is an approach to Biblical prophecy, especially with the books of Daniel and Revelation, that says the prophecies have already been fulfilled.  In other words, when John wrote in Revelation 1:1, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place," he meant it.  A Futurist would argue that the things in Revelation are still going to happen, but I don't think over 2000 years later is "soon."

"Why does any of this matter?" you may be asking.  Well, I think it makes a huge difference.  Take my reading from Matthew this morning.  Matthew chapters 24 and 25 are usually interpreted through an "end times" lens in most evangelical circles, and this naturally gets wrapped up in our modern geopolitical environment.  So, for example, when Jesus talks about the "end of the age" and says that the "abomination that leads to desecration" in the temple will be a sign that the end is coming, a Futurist would say we better start looking for something amiss in the temple because when that happens Jesus is coming back.  If you tie that with the geopolitical situation in modern day Palestine, you have a problem.  There is now a mosque at the temple.  Is that the abomination that leads to desecration?  Are Muslims then the anti-Christs?  Do we have to destroy the mosque and rebuild the temple in order to usher in Jesus' 1000 year reign?

I'll admit that I have a hard time not letting some disdain enter my voice when I think about how much hatred such a Futurist interpretation breeds.  Here would be the Preterist interpretation.  As Jesus points out, the book of Daniel talks about an abomination that leads to desolation being in the temple.  That prophecy probably refers to Antiochus Epiphanes, who walked into the Holy of Holies in the temple, came back out (which was supposed to be impossible) and proclaimed that all he found was an empty room.  Being the good Greek he was, he decided that every temple needs a god, so he build a giant statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies and sacrificed pigs to Zeus on the altar.  This, no surprises here, went over rather poorly and started the Maccabean Revolt in 167 BC.

Well, then, what is Jesus talking about in the future tense?  A Preterist would say the Zealot Rebellion in 67/68 AD, where zealots sacked the Roman barracks adjacent to the temple and slaughtered or cast out those they saw as false temple priests, taking over the priesthood for themselves.  Much like Antiochus, the Zealots weren't meant to be in the temple either.  And what happened next?  Well, by 70 AD the Romans brought in their armies and flattened Jerusalem and most of Judea with it.  Israel was wiped off the face of the map until after WWII when the UN gave the Jews a nation of their own once again.

Roman invasion would explain a lot of what Jesus says about running and hiding.  It would explain a lot of what Jesus says about the suddenness of how the "end of an age" would come.  What it also does it defuse the harmful relationship between eschatology and American politics.  And finally, I never have to lose sleep over some scary anti-Christ, the rapture, the tribulation, how the 1000 year reign will happen, or a Battle of Armageddon since those are just made up things anyway and have no real root in Scripture.

Now I know that many who read this post will strongly disagree with me.  As I've mentioned before, American theology tends to be obsessed with "end times" discussions.  But I ask you this, is that rooted in the Bible or in the idea that America was the nation that finally got things right?  Is Revelation leading our Biblical interpretation or is our patriotism?  And specifically with some of Jesus's sayings like in Matthew 24 and 25, are we listening to Jesus or to people that came 1800 years later?  Amillennialism and preterism are wonderful tools to have in your toolbox when trying to answer that question.

I'm grateful for my CoCCoC education provided me in Biblical hermeneutics.  No creed but Christ.  No authority but Scripture.  Some might point out that these are values in the Restoration Movement and not just CoC, and they would be right.  That is one of the main reasons I'm a minister in the DoC now.  They're part of the Restoration Movement also.

Stopping point: Matthew 25

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