Defeatist. Disengaged. Doleful. That’s a caricature of what theologians call amillennials. But amillennials, I argue, actually have a wonderful hope to treasure. This isn’t an article meant to argue for a position. It’s meant to correct a misunderstanding out there and encourage the global church to rally around its one true passion: the return (whenever it may come) of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Big Three
Without getting into great detail or exegetical intricacies, there are three common positions on the end times (eschatology). Premillennials believe that Christ is going to return before (pre) a one thousand year period (or at least a long period of time; Rev. 20:6) in which we rule with him before the final judgment. Postmillennials believe that Christ will come after (post) a thousand year period, during which the church will grow in prominence and influence in the world. Amillennials believe that we’re currently in the end times right now, and that we’ll continue suffering with Christ until he comes again at the end of time for the final judgment. Given that summary, it seems clear why the amillennial caricature emerged. Christ isn’t coming back to reign? Defeatist. We aren’t called to take over and influence culture, bringing heaven on earth? Disengaged. We aren’t waiting for an imminent return of Jesus so that we can reign with him? Doleful. Amillennials can seem stiff, joyless, and removed.
Reasons for Hope
But that isn’t the case. At least, it shouldn’t be the case for amillennials who know the good news of Scripture. Here are a few reasons why our hope should be blindingly bright. I’ll be drawing on the thought of Richard B. Gaffin Jr. And then I’ll end with something every Christian should be able to celebrate, despite our theological differences. Such celebration is critical in our times, when the unity of the church is needed to stand against the ravages of a hostile world.
Jesus won and he rules now.
We believe that Jesus’s victory over sin and Satan wasn’t provisional; it was definitive. The resurrection life that crowned his head when it emerged from the shadows of the tomb still shines. And it will shine until he comes again in glory. As Gaffin put it, “The entire period between his exaltation and return, not just some segment toward the close, is the period of Christ’s eschatological kingship, exercised undiminished throughout.” Jesus won, and he rules. Smile. Nothing can threaten your King. You and I are now beacons of Christ’s reigning light. As the poet Malcolm Guite wrote,
We ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light;
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.
We are victors.
If Christ began his reign in the resurrection, and our life is hidden with Christ on high (Col. 3:3), then we are victors with him. Regardless of how we may feel, we are victorious in Christ. Today. Right now. My father used to keep an old Joe Namath quote on the inside flap of his Bible: “When you win, nothing hurts.” Of course, that’s demonstrably untrue, but you have to smile at the sentiment. Eternal victory burns beyond earthly sorrow. If your eyes are fixed on Christ, they’re fixed on your Captain and King, and his victory over death should take your breath away.
Suffering identifies us.
Because Christ’s reign began at the resurrection, we suffer with him (Phil. 3:10; 2 Cor. 4:7–10) not simply as a means of spiritual growth and Christ-conformity (Rom. 8:29), but as a means of identity for the church. In our brokenness, in our fragility, in our weakness, Christ’s resurrection power shines through. Put differently, “a fundamental aspect of the church’s existence is (to be) ‘suffering with Christ’; nothing, the New Testament teaches, is more basic to its identity than that.” When we suffer, we are reminded of who we are: jars of clay ready to break or burst for the life of God himself to pour out from us. In short, “the locus of Christ’s ascension-power is the suffering church.” That is cause for great hope, since much of the world is lost and drifting precisely because its identity is threatened by suffering. Ours isn’t. Our identity is confirmed by suffering.
Engagement is real.
Given the victory of Christ and his eschatological reign, do we throw our hands up and pull back from culture? By no means! The world needs the truth, because it’s been created and sustained by the God of truth. It can’t escape the healing it needs (and cannot get apart) from Christ. In the skeptical world, it’s often said that God is a crutch. My response:
Yes. Indeed he is.
And a splint.
And a wheelchair.
And a physician.
And the cure.
And we’re all terminal.
The world needs Christian engagement, but not on its own terms. The world wants its own culture restored, a fleshly culture; it doesn’t want its culture replaced by a God-centered one. And that’s critical for the church to understand. In reflecting on the book of Hebrews, Gaffin notes,
The writer of Hebrews operates with a simple enough eschatological profile: the bodily absence of Christ means the church’s wilderness existence, his bodily presence, its entrance into God’s final rest. What he must confront in his readers is a perennial problem for the church, a primal temptation bound up with its wilderness existence: the veiledness, for the present, of messianic glory and the believer’s eschatological triumph; “at present we do not yet see everything subject to him” (Heb. 2:8), with the longing as well as the promise that “at present” holds for the church. All of us, then, are involved in a continuing struggle—against our deeply rooted eschatological impatience to tear away that veil and our undue haste to be out of the wilderness and see the realization of what, just because of that haste and impatience, will inevitably prove to be dreams and aspirations that are ill-considered and all too “fleshly.”
We are looking for “that city which is to come” (Heb. 13:14). We engage with culture, but always in clinging to the eternal home for which we’re destined, lest, as Geerhardus Vos wrote, “our hope should outrun the methods of God and expect from this world what only the world to come is able to bring.”
Common Longing for a Common Lord
Jesus is returning. This is where I want to end. Because whether pre-, post-, or amillennial—or maybe you’re still scratching your head about the terminology—we all want one thing: We long for the appearing of Christ. We want him to come back. That’s why, despite my differences from John Piper in his eschatology, I was happy to see Come, Lord Jesus hit the shelves. Why? We’ve lost a longing and love for God’s appearing.
I echo his litmus test for godly love: “the test of our love for the Christ who has appeared is our longing for the Christ who will appear." It’s so easy for us, especially in the west, to put other things ahead of ourlonging for Christ—even good things, because those things are tangible. A family vacation, dinner out with your spouse, your son’s birthday, Christmas break, an engaging work project. We can taste and touch these things, and yet Scripture calls us to look with longing at a kingdom not so accessible to our senses. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). All the more reason to long for the glory of Christ, the one who is both the sovereign, reigning King and yet also the servant of all. In my favorite quote of the book, Piper writes,
The glory of Christ has always been, and always will be, the kind of glory that combines diverse, and even paradoxical, excellencies. His glory is not monochromatic. It is dazzlingly diverse. The music of his greatness is not mere unison but vast, deep harmony. He mingles, and always will mingle, majesty and meekness, reverence for God and equality with God, obedience and dominion, lordship and servanthood, transcendence and intimacy, justice and mercy. He will always be at home in the robes of a king and the towel of a slave.
And, I might add, so should we be. We’ve got the robes. We carry the towels.
Caricatures look good on paper, but they hardly ever resemble the heart of those critiqued. Amillennials like myself have good reasons for great hope, a hope that fuels our passion in the daily hours. We aren’t defeatist, disengaged, and doleful. We smile in the light of Christ’s glorious victory and look expectantly, with the rest of Christendom, to his second coming. With all of Christ’s church we say with joy, longing, and marvel: Come, Lord Jesus.
- Pierce Taylor Hibbs, "Engaging with Culture"
- Iain Duguid, "Why Read the Books of Daniel and Revelation If the End Is Not Yet Nigh?"
- John Piper, Come, Lord Jesus
- Pierce Taylor Hibbs, "A Theology of Stranger Things"
- Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory