Millennium typology

Six years ago, Peter Leithart wrote about an interesting take on the millennium he had come across, from an obscure Patristic commentary.

In his commentary on Revelation (in Greek Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), Oecumenius interprets the millennium as the period between Christ’s incarnation and His ascension. During “the time of the incarnation of the Lord, the devil was bound and was not able to resist the marks of the Savior’s deity” (87). He is probably the only commentator ever to offer such an interpretation.

On the other hand, the “little while” during which Satan is released is “the time between the incarnation of the Lord and the consummation of the present age.”

So a big number represents three years, and the phrase “a little while” stands for thousands? Oecumenius has what you call an uphill battle to make that one convincing.

One of the frustrations with reading the lesser known ancient Fathers is a lack of exegetical consistency. Leithart is correct, of course, in saying Oecumenius would be fighting an uphill battle to make his argument convincing. He might, however, have been on firmer ground, at least typologically, if he had seen the “little while” of Satan’s release as beginning with Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and ending, decisively, with the resurrection.

An even more consistent interpretation in this direction would see “the millennium” as encompassing not the whole period of Christ’s incarnation, but the period beginning immediately after Jesus’ temptation experience (Luke records at this point that the devil “departed from him until an opportune time,” 4:13) when he declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17) and, thus, ending in Gethsemane. During that period, as the Gospels record, Satan was literally powerless to prevent Jesus from healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, even raising the dead. It is no stretch to say Satan was, indeed, “bound” during this period, at least with regard to his ability to interfere with Jesus’ ministry.

This is not to suggest that traditional arguments concerning the millennium are off the table. It is merely to suggest that the three years encompassing Jesus’ earthly ministry may be seen as a type of what John would later envision in the Apocalypse as “the thousand years.” I don’t think I am going out on a limb in suggesting there are incidents during Jesus’ first advent that were portents of his second advent. The acts which he performed, utterly uninhibited by Satanic interference, were signs of the age to come. What seemed extraordinary then, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, will be quite ordinary when the kingdom Jesus declared to be “at hand” comes in its fullness.

Biblical context and perspective in the age of social media (2 examples)

I am going through a phase, you might say, in which I am particularly sensitive to the proper use and application of Scriptural texts. In this age of social media, hardly a day goes by when I do not come across some Facebook or Twitter post that takes a snippet of a Bible verse and applies it, out of context, in a way it was never intended.

Perhaps the most egregious example is “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12a). The implication is that if a nation, any nation, honors God and exalts him as Lord, it will be blessed.

In its entirety, however, Psalm 33:12 reads:

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”

The full context gives the passage an entirely different meaning. It is not the nation that chooses God, but God who chooses the nation; and that nation, namely Israel, is blessed uniquely because it is “the people whom [God] has chosen as his heritage.”

So, Psalm 33:12 cannot be applied to any nation, but only to one nation, Old Testament Israel, whom God blessed in order that his name might be made known to all the nations.

Another example of this kind of misapplication is that favorite of the big box mega-church “vision casting leader,” Proverbs 29:18, which is not only taken out of context and misapplied but even mistranslated in order to fit the misapplication.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

I daresay, we have all heard this cited within the context of a discussion of or presentation on church leadership.

If you do not have some kind of vision, you will perish. The implication is, in order to thrive, a community needs a leader who is in touch with God and can “cast a vision.”

But Proverbs 29:18, correctly translated and in full context, reads:

“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”

This presents us with a whole different perspective.

The vision, the “prophetic vision,” is a guide for the people, a safeguard against them “cast[ing] off restraint” (and, thus, perishing). The source of this “prophetic vision” is not some “leader” who is particularly in touch with God but God himself who has given “the law,” and in keeping it, there is blessing.

That blessing, ultimately, would be fulfilled only in Christ, who alone was able to “keep the law” perfectly. That, however, is the subject for another day.