The "End Times"
A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations of
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

September 1989

Part 3

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Scripture teaches that whatever of man is in the grave (i.e., his body) rises. The identity of the risen body with the body of one's earthly life is implicit in the term resurrection. Just as the resurrected Jesus was the same person as the crucified Jesus and was so recognized by His disciples, so also the dead who are raised are the same persons who formerly lived on earth. A continuity exists between the natural body and the resurrection body of the one who is raised.

However, there is also a discontinuity between the natural body and the resurrection body of believers. Just as Jesus' resurrected body was a "glorious body," so too the Christian's "lowly body" will be changed to be like Jesus' glorious body (Phil. 3:21). This change of the Christian's body is necessary because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (1 Cor. 15:50). Because of mankind's fall into sin, the natural body is now subject to the effects of the fall (such as sin, weakness, disease, aging, and death), a situation which will come to an end at the resurrection.

St. Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians 15 is the most complete commentary on the Christian's resurrected body given in the Bible. The apostle presents six contrasts in this chapter:

Of course, Scripture does not satisfy all of our curiosity about the resurrection (1 John 3:2). It does tell us, however, that the Christian in both body and soul will be glorious and perfect like Christ, no longer subject to the effects of the fall.

Resurrected Christians will be "like angels" in that they will "neither marry nor be given in marriage" (Matt. 22:30; Luke 20:35- 36). However, the similarity is not to be extended to include incorporeity or loss of identity as male and female. Nor are we to believe that certain natural bodily functions will any longer be necessary in the life to come (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13).

Christ's resurrection is both the cause and the guarantee of the Christian's resurrection. His resurrection is the "first fruits" of the final harvest, guaranteeing that those who are in Him shall also rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rom. 8:29). Through baptism the Christian has already been raised to life and is thus assured of the future bodily resurrection (Rom. 6:5, 11, 13; Col. 2:12; 3:1-4). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who was given at baptism, is the pledge ensuring the Christian's future resurrection (Rom. 8:11, 23; 2 Cor.1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14). Likewise, the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper are a foretaste of future eschatological blessings (Matt. 26:29; 1 Cor. 11:26).

C. Contested Texts: Romans 11:25-27 and Revelation 20

A survey of the literature today which attempts to present the Biblical basis for a millennialist eschatology indicates that certain texts are pivotal for this system of thought. In fact, oftentimes these texts, however difficult for the modern reader, are themselves employed as an interpretive device to read into other texts meanings which were never intended by the Biblical writers. Because they are so central to millennialist doctrine, Rom. 11:25-27 and Revelation 20 are among those which deserve to be singled out for more extended commentary. (See Appendix II for a discussion of other contested passages.)

1. Romans 11:25-27

Among New Testament scholars, differing opinions exist regarding the precise interpretation of these verses, especially the meaning of the phrase "and so all Israel will be saved" (v. 26). Those who hold to a millennialist eschatology find support for some kind of mass conversion of the Jews prior to the day of judgment, while others reject this view on the grounds that it reduces the Pauline concept of "Israel" as a spiritual reality, largely if not entirely, to a political phenomenon. The varying interpretations of this text generally fall into one of the following four categories:

The first two views stand in conflict with Paul's basic line of argumentation in Romans 9-11. The apostle begins his discussion with the assertion that not all Jews by race can be called "Israel," but only those who believe the promise--which was fulfilled in Christ (cf. 2:28-29; 9:6- 8, 27; Gal. 3:7). Paul states that Jews, "if they do not persist in their unbelief," will be saved (11:23), and are in fact being saved "now" (11:31).[48] The apostle recognizes that not all Jews will be saved (9:27; 11:14). He would hardly contradict himself in 11:26 by teaching that all Jews or the Jewish nation as such or as a whole will be saved in the future or at Christ's second advent.

The third interpretation merits attention for the following reasons advanced by W. Hendriksen and A. Hoekema. They argue that Paul uses the term Israel throughout Romans 9-11 (including 11:26) to refer to Jews in distinction from the Gentiles. However, they understand all Israel in 11:26 as referring to the totality of the elect among Israel (i.e., true Israelites from among the Jews; 9:26), not to the entire Jewish nation. They maintain that Paul makes no distinction in operation between the gathering of the fullness of the Gentiles and the gathering throughout history of all true Israelites. This interpretation views the salvation of the full number of Gentiles, which is occurring between Christ's first and second coming, as God's operation of grafting non Jews onto the one olive tree (ie., "Israel"). The salvation of all Israel is viewed as God's operation throughout history, between the call of Abraham and Christ's second coming, not as some formal conversion of the Jewish nation at the second coming of Christ. "All Israel, therefore, differs from the elect remnant spoken of in 11:5, but only as the sum total of all the remnants throughout history."[49]

For the reasons given above in the evaluation of the first two interpretations, however, the fourth option seems most probable. The apostle plainly states that "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (9:6). The "children of the promise," not the "children of the flesh" (the national Israel), are God's children (9:8). If Israel refers merely to Jews as a nation, then this distinction is removed. However, if Israel refers to "children of the promise," then the distinction is maintained and Paul's argument in Romans 9-11 continues--namely, that God's elect, both Jews and Gentiles, will be saved according to His plan in history which has been revealed in the Gospel (the "mystery"). The heirs of the promise are those who believe, Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 4). Thus it is that elsewhere the apostle can refer to the church as "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).

A closer look at Paul's discussion in chap. 11 substantiates the fourth explanation above. In Rom. 11:1 Paul addresses the question whether God has rejected all Jews, not whether He will save all Jews. In vv. 1-10 he answers in the negative. There is even in Paul's day a remnant of believing Jews. In the rest of the chapter, the apostle explains the purpose served by the unbelief of the majority of the Jews. Paradoxically, through their rejection of the Gospel, the Gospel went to the Gentiles (11:11-12, 19, 25, 30). In turn, the salvation of the Gentiles serves to make the unbelieving Jews "jealous," i.e., to incite them to hear the Gospel and also be saved (10:19; 11:11, 13-14, 31).

The mystery revealed in 11:25-27 is that "a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved." The word so means "in this manner," that is, in the way just described, not "then," as if it meant after the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. How will all Israel be saved? The answer is given in v. 25 and is explicated throughout the chapter. The hardening upon part of Israel has allowed the Gospel to go to the Gentiles, and the inclusion of the Gentiles serves to incite the unbelieving Jews to believe the Gospel and thus be saved (regrafted into the one tree). This process will continue until the end, "until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. " The quote in vv. 26-27 also summarizes this process. Christ came from Zion (the Jews) to the Gentiles (cf. John 4:22; Acts 1:8), and He will forgive the sins also of the Jews "if they do not persist in their unbelief" (11:23). Verse 26b is not referring to Christ's second advent but to His first advent.

In summary, "all Israel" consists of the groups mentioned in v. 25, the believing part of the Jews and the "full number of the Gentiles." "All Israel" is the whole olive tree consisting of the natural branches (Jews who believed), the wild olive branches (Gentiles who believe), and the regrafted branches (Jews who will believe). These constitute the "all" in verse 32.[50] "All Israel" is made up of "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord" (10:13), the elect of the Jews and Gentiles, the "New Israel" (Rom. 4:11-12, 16; 9:24; Gal. 3:26-29; 6:15-16).

The dispensationalist view that Jews will be converted after the "rapture" of the church posits a second chance for conversion after Christ's second advent, and is therefore contrary to the Scriptural Gospel. Moreover, the view that Jews will be converted instantaneously at Christ's second advent contradicts the order of salvation which Scripture reveals, according to which the Holy Spirit creates faith only through the means of grace in the present. It has also been suggested that Jews will automatically be saved at Christ's second advent without a conversion. All three of these views offer a false hope and are dangerous to the salvation of people. Rejecting such empty and illusory promises, the church ought to make every effort to reach Jews also with the proclamation of Law and Gospel as did the apostle Paul, and to do so without delay (Rom. 11:13-14;1 Cor. 9:19-20).


Christians recognize with appreciation the role of the Jews in saving history. "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22), and the New Testament testifies that this salvation was accomplished through the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ born of David's line. The apostle Paul argues that there is a sense in which Jews even occupy a position of special privilege, for "they are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ" (Rom. 9:4-5). Indeed, Gentile Christians should not boast, but rather ought to thank God that they as "wild olive branch[es]" are grafted into the "cultivated olive tree" by God's grace (Rom. 11:17-24). Therefore, anti-semitism in every form should be rejected by Christians and in its place a loving regard for the Jewish people should characterize the church's attitude.[53] This is to say nothing of the gratitude owed Jews (for their contributions to civilization and society throughout history), as well as understanding and sympathy (for losses and sufferings they have endured).

However difficult it may be for some Jews to understand, Christian love constrains the church to share the Gospel of salvation with them. Martin Luther, in his last sermon, said concerning the attitude if of Christians toward the Jewish people, "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord."[54] Christians believe that there is still hope for the unbelieving Jews. "For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable," Paul reminds his readers (Rom. 11:29). God still offers them salvation through the Gospel. Therefore, the church should continue to share the Gospel with them (Rom. 1:16),for it is the only means by which they may be saved (Acts 4:12).[55] Believing Jews, together with Gentiles, constitute the New Israel. In Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek" (Gal. 3:28).

In speaking of the place of Jews within saving history, the Scriptures do not ascribe a political fulfillment to Old Testament texts which deal with the future of "Israel." The modern Israeli state is not the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The view of an earthly millennium with the temple rebuilt cannot be substantiated. Quite simply, the Scriptures are silent regarding modern political events in the Middle East and any Jewish right to the land there. Judgments concerning such matters are therefore not theological questions.

2. Revelation 20[56]

The book of Revelation was written by John, who was exiled on the island of Patmos because of persecution (1:9), probably during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian about A.D. 95. The purpose of the book is to strengthen the churches in Asia Minor in their trials, to assure them of their victory in Christ who is Lord over all evil powers now assailing the world, and to increase in them true hope in Christ who will come in glory for them.

The book is written in apocalyptic language and therefore, as noted earlier, must not be interpreted literally. Sometimes John gives the interpretation of the symbolical elements in a vision (e.g., 1:20). At other times he does not. Usually the apostle's symbols are derived from the Old Testament so that one must be aware of their Old Testament background to understand his intention. In general, the principle should be followed that Revelation must be interpreted in the light of other clear, non- figurative parts of Scripture rather than the reverse.

A recognition of the repetitious character of chaps. 6-20 has a significant bearing on how certain key texts are interpreted. John's prophecy concerns the things that will occur from Christ's ascension (chap. 5) to Christ's second advent. His prophecy is structured according to several repeating cycles which are parallel to each other. Each cycle describes the same period of time, from Christ's ascension to His second advent, but with differing emphases. These cycles consist of three earthly views (seven seals, 6:1-8:5; seven trumpets, 8:6-11:19; seven bowls, 15:1-16:21) and two cosmic views (12:1-14:20; 20:1-15). That Revelation has this recapitulating character can be seen from the fact that the end of history is described five times with key features repeated:

The studied arrangement of John's revelation outlined here has important implications for understanding chap. 20. Chapter 20 is parallel to 12:1- 14:20, both of which begin with Satan's defeat and end with judgment day. Chapter 20 summarizes history from Christ's first advent to His second, but it says nothing about the Jewish temple, people, or land. Rather, 20:1- 3 states that Satan is bound for 1000 years in a bottomless pit. If we allow the non-figurative parts of Scripture to help us interpret this passage, we see that this binding took place at Christ's earthly life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Satan was cast out, judged and defeated at Christ's first advent (John 12:31; 16:11; 1 John 3:8; Luke 10:18; Heb. 2:14). The reference to "binding" Satan (deo) occurs only in Matt. 12:24-29 and Mark 3:22-27, where it refers to Christ's first advent (cf. Luke 11:15-22). This "binding" of Satan is parallel to Rev. 12:7-13 where he is cast out of heaven and no longer allowed to accuse the saints as He did in Old Testament times (Zechariah 3; Job 1-2).

The text also says that he is bound in the sense "that he should deceive the nations no more" (20:3). He is no longer able to deceive the nations and prevent them from hearing the Gospel, as was the case in general in Old Testament times (cf. Acts 14:16; Matt. 16:18). He is still "a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8), but he cannot prevent the Gospel from going to the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14).

As is true generally with apocalyptic literature, numbers are symbolical, representing concepts (e.g., Rev. 5:6). The number 1000 represents completeness (10 [to the 3rd power]). It indicates the complete time period for the church to carry out its worldwide mission, not a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth.

In Rev. 20:4-6 John mentions the "first resurrection. " Again, the rest of Scripture helps us to define this phrase. The reference is no doubt to conversion, that is, being raised with Christ in baptism (cf. Rom. 6:2-5,11; Col. 2:12-13; John 5:24; 11:25-26; 1 John 3:14; 5:12; Rev. 3:1; Eph. 2:1-6). Those who share in this "resurrection" are no longer under the power of eternal death (20:6, 14-15). Rather, they are "priests of God and of Christ" (20:6; cf. 1:6; 5:10).[57] All Christians "who had not worshiped the beast or its image" already reign with Christ, a rule which does not end at temporal death nor will it ever end (20:4; cf. 5:10; 22:5; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:6).

Revelation 20:7-10 describes in pictorial language the final intensified persecution of the church by the anti-Christian world (cf. Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21-22). Satan will be loosed for a "little season" to deceive the nations and lead them in an attack on the "camp of the saints and the beloved city," i.e., the church (20:9; cf. 21:2, 9). This final persecution against the church is also mentioned elsewhere in Revelation, usually pictured as a battle (9:13-19; 16:12-16; 19:19). Armageddon, the "hill of Megiddo" in Hebrew, is the specific term used for this battle and, as noted earlier, an allusion to the place where several famous battles occurred in the Old Testament (16:16). The term, however, does not refer to a nuclear war as some have opined but to an intensified persecution against the church. Nor does the apostle understand "Gog and Magog" to be representatives of modern political states (20:8). Drawing his imagery from Ezekiel 38-39, John is referring to the whole anti-Christian world.

Whether or not the church is already in Satan's "little season" is difficult to answer. Yet, one can certainly see that the anti-Christian world is persecuting the church today and that the church cannot carry out its mission in various parts of the world as freely as it once could. Although there have indeed been periods of severe persecution in the past, an intensification of the stress of the approaching end of history might well be upon us.

Chapter 20 ends with a picture of the final judgment of all as in 11:18 and 14:14-20. Those whose names are not found in the Book of Life are thrown into "the lake of fire" (20:15).

John's message in chapter 20 is a very practical one for the church. He calls the church to endure faithfully in the midst of increasing persecution (cf. 13:10; 14:12), at the same time assuring Christians that they are already more than conquerors and reign with Christ by faith.

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Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

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