Millennialism - The Parousia Problem

SYNOPSIS:  The note of finality in many New Testament passages about the Parousia leaves little room for an interim period after the return of Jesus Christ.

Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash
David Brooke Martin on Unsplash
Belief in a future thousand-year reign of peace on the earth does not fit comfortably with many New Testament statements about the parousia or "arrival" of Jesus Christ, especially, the Premillennial version.

This interpretation assumes a reign of Jesus following his return of limited duration, one that culminates in renewed sin, rebellion, death and judgment.  The doctrine of the “Millennium” rests entirely on a single passage, Revelation 20:1-10. Other "proof texts" are then read into the interpretation.

The Apostle Paul, for example, responded to some believers who denied the bodily resurrection by laying out key events that will precede the parousia of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Christians will be resurrected just as Christ was, however, only at his parousia. That day will not arrive until after Jesus has put "all things under his feet," just as the Psalmist predicted. The parousia will mark the consummation of God's kingdom; there will be no more enemies to subdue or worlds to conquer after that day.
Paul describes this day as "the End.” Moreover, the "last enemy" to be eliminated will be death itself; death will no longer hold sway over humanity. This last claim is incompatible with any notion of death continuing to occur after the arrival of Jesus in glory, however rare death might be thereafter.
Paul also declared that on that day "we will not all sleep, but we will be changed, in a moment...the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed...But when this mortal frame puts on immortality, then will come to pass the saying, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:51-56).

Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians also stresses that the resurrection occurs at the parousia of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The dead in Christ rise first, then "we that are alive and remain until the parousia the Lord" will together with them meet him as he descends from heaven. This passage also affirms that Christians will be alive on the earth when Jesus arrives from heaven.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul identifies the parousia of Jesus with the "day of the Lord" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-9). That day will include the "gathering together" of the saints and the destruction of the "man of lawlessness.

Peter warned of coming "scoffers" who would mock and ask, "Where is the promise of his parousia," an event he also links to the "day of the Lord" (2 Peter 3:3-12). But believers may rest assured. God is not "slack concerning his promise...for the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are in it will be burned up...But according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which dwells righteousness." The parousia means nothing less than the replacement of the old creation by the new heavens and new earth.

Paul taught the Corinthians and the Thessalonians that the bodily resurrection of believers will occur at the parousia of Jesus, as well as the elimination of death. In his letter to the church at Rome, he also coordinates the resurrection of the righteous with the promised new creation.

At present, the entire created order groans and travails as it "waits for the revelation of the sons of God...for the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God...even the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:19-23).

The preceding represents a small sample of passages that are difficult to reconcile with popular ideas about the Millennium and what is to occur after the return of Jesus Christ. The New Testament presents that day as an event of great finality. It will mean nothing less than the resurrection of the righteous, the consummation of God's kingdom, the judgment of the wicked, the cessation of death and the arrival of the New Creation. This leaves no room for sin or death subsequent to that day.

Either the passage in Revelation that describes the thousand-year period contradicts other passages in the New Testament or some prophecy teachers have misapplied it (Revelation 20:1-10).


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