Stanley J. Grenz
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In The Millennial Maze, Stanley J. Grenz provides historical and biblical, as well as theological, perspective on the four positions held by evangelicals - postmillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, historic premillennialism and amillennialism. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each position, he seeks to cut a new path through the maze that reaffirms the valid insights of each and sounds a fresh note of hope in an age of shattered illusions.
As an added bonus, readers will find that Grenz takes note of some of the latest developments in the dialog between dispensationalists and covenant theologians. The result has been some modifications in long-held positions that have brought the two groups closer.
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.. . . They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Rev 20:4)
In April 1981, James McCullough, a successful Arizona surgeon, terminat-ed his medical practice, his wife sold her Nevada boutique, and they parted with their Porsche in anticipation of the Second Coming. They, together with the other members of the Lighthouse Gospel Tract Foundation of Tucson, Arizona, were preparing to be lifted to heaven on the date predict-ed by their leader, Bill Maupin—June 28, 1981. On earth would follow the tribulation and the rule of the antichrist until Christ’s return to set up his millennial kingdom, which Maupin calculated to be set for May 14, 1988. Fellow church member Bub Bowman noted, “We’re ready for the rapture. My little one sort of wants a three-wheeler before it happens, but we’re ready to go.”
About the same time a totally fallacious news item was being reprinted in several Christian publications concerning a purported incident involv-ing the United States Internal Revenue Service. Supposedly the IRS had sent out a number of social security checks that the banks were instructed
not to cash unless the bearer had the proper identification—a “mark in the right hand or forehead.” The fallacious news story then added that when contacted IRS officials said the checks had been erroneously circulated prior to their intended effective date—1984.
Declarations of the impending end of the age do not always come on the heels of apparent setbacks in world affairs. For example, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the defeat of Iraq, the arrival in Israel of Ethiopian and Soviet Jews and the new burst of democracy in the world led the ultra-orthodox Jewish Lubavitch movement to announce in the summer of 1991 the imminent arrival of the Messiah. In fact, some members believe that the sect’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Schneerson of Brooklyn, New York, may be the long-expected Messiah.
Maupin’s date setting, the “news” item concerning the coming mark of the beast and the Lubavitch announcement are only three among a rash of incidents in recent decades related to heightened expectations concern-ing the return of the Messiah to inaugurate the thousand-year kingdom. Interest in the sequence of events that must transpire in the “end times” and after the coming of the King, however, is not merely a late-twentieth-century phenomenon. Even before his ascension Christ’s followers asked, “Will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?” Repeatedly church history has witnessed times of increased speculation concerning the end and the advent of a golden age on earth. The approach of the year A.D. 1000, for example, caused a great stir of expectations. When both that year and A.D. 1033 (a thousand years after Christ’s death) passed, interest turned to A.D. 1065, for in that year Good Friday coincided with the Day of the Annun-ciation. Multitudes journeyed to Jerusalem to await the Lord’s return, some arriving already during the previous year and waiting in the Holy City until after Easter.
In the United States, the nineteenth century brought continuous waves of interest in end-times predictions, especially among those who looked for an earthly reign of Christ following that grand day. Historian Ernest Sandeen notes that from 1843 to 1848 and again from 1867 to 1870, “pro-phetic calculation and civil unrest coincided to bring expectations to a boil.”
He adds, “Some prophetic scholars seemed to possess an indestructible faith in their ability to predict the time of the next great fulfillment of prophecy; no sooner had their hopes for one date been dashed by the passing of time than they rushed into print with another prediction.”5 The rise of communism, two world wars, the rebirth of the state of Israel and the conflicts and tensions in the Middle East provided sufficient fodder for a repeat of end times and millennial speculation throughout the twentieth century.
Times of increased anticipation of the imminent end of the age and the dawn of the thousand-year reign gave birth to a multitude of religious groups, each of which originally sought to advance a specific teaching concerning the chronology and nearness of these events. Many sought as well to prepare themselves and the world for the Second Coming and the kingdom era that it would inaugurate. The list of such groups ranges from the Montanists of the patristic era to the Seventh-day Adventists in the nineteenth century, not to mention the numbers of small sects oriented toward the end-time theme that have populated the religious landscape of the twentieth century.
Incidents of speculation and date setting throughout church history indicate that the question of the time and nature of the return of Jesus Christ, especially when coupled with specific understandings concerning the earthly kingdom era that supposedly lies beyond that event, holds continual fascination for Christians. Indeed, our Lord did instruct his disciples to be prepared for the coming of the Son of man at the end of~ the age. And repeatedly the New Testament writers admonish believers to live in the light of that glorious day.
Above any other text of Scripture, John’s vision of the thousand-year reign of those martyred for the cause of Christ—and not passages that (‘enter more closely on the rapture and the question of when the Lord will return—has captured the imagination of Christians throughout the cen-turies. This verse has been the focus of interest for believers who have sought to dispel the mystery of God’s action and anticipate the flow of history until it climaxes in the consummation of the age. Consequently,
this verse—Revelation 20:4—stands at the heart of the differing expecta-tions concerning the Second Coming of Jesus and the events that sur-round that glorious occasion.
The biblical teaching concerning Christ’s return and the proper expec-tations of the church concerning the future are among the topics system-atic theologians discuss under the broader category of eschatology (or the doctrine of last things). This focus is indicated by the term itself. The word “esehatology” arises from two Greek terms, eschatos, an adjective that means “farthest” or “last,” and logos, a noun meaning “word” or “study.” Eschatologv, therefore, is the word concerning, or the study of, what is ultimate or last, that is, what is final in the program of God.
Taken as a whole, eschatology speaks concerning several dimensions of what is final in God’s program, as well as the inaugurated aspects of that grand purpose. It focuses on what lies beyond for individual human life; hence, it treats death and life after death. Eschatology also focuses on what is final for corporate human history; consequently it seeks to delineate how God will bring human history to its climax and how that goal is already at work in the present. Finally, the doctrine of last things addresses what is final with respect to the cosmos in its entirety; therefore, it speaks of the way in which God’s entire activity in the universe is being moved toward its intended goal in the eternal reality that lies beyond the flow of history. In short, within the context of Christian doctrine the topic of eschatology provides an overarching vision of the faith. It seeks to set forth what is the ultimate goal toward which God’s work in the world is directed, how that work will be consummated and in what manner that goal is already in the process of being realized.
One issue of eschatologv with which many Christians have struggled throughout church history and that forms a crucial topic for many today focuses on the actual chronology of the events that lie before us. What will he the sequence of happenings that will lead up to and then immediately follow Jesus’ return to the earthf Foundational to this question, however, is a more focused query: What is the relation of the golden age anticipated b the prophets, and more specifically the thousand-year period envisioned
by the seer in Revelation 20:1-8, to the return of Christ?
This more significant question concerning the millennium prophesied in the Bible is the main focus of the following chapters. Because the millen-nial question is its primary focus, this book is a volume on eschatology. It is not, however, a treatment of the doctrine of the last things in its entirety. Rather, it speaks to only one of several crucial issues addressed by the broader doctrine. Its goal is to assist the process of bringing a degree of clarity to that central eschatological issue: Row are we to understand the vision of the thousand-year reign of the blessed followers of Christ with their Lord?