Last Lectures are the in thing right now. A book entitled The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch was a runaway hit on Amazon. At my old college, some brave professors participated in a program called “The Last Lecture Series.” In this series, they were to give a lecture to those attending as if it were their last. The goal was to have the teachers give information to their students that they always wanted to say, but were too afraid of the consequences to utter.
In his book, Naked Before God: The Return of the Broken Disciple, Bill Williams give his equivalent of “the last lecture.” Williams, a CF patient, died soon after the book was published in 1988. In the book, he merges past and present as his counterpart—Nathaniel the disciple, also dying of CF—interacts with Jesus and the other apostles. Since neither Nathaniel nor Williams has much to lose, they ask the hard questions and make the even harder observations.
One of them was something that has also bothered me for quiet some time: Rev. 20-21, the relationship between the Millennium and the New Jerusalem that come after. As Williams notes (pgs 57-8), if the New Jerusalem represents Heaven or Eternity, why is there healing still going on?
Then he showed me the sparkling river of the water of life, clear as crystal. It flowed from the throne of God and Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city. On either side stood a tree of life, yielding twelve crops of fruit, one for each month of the year; and the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)
[jesus speaking to Nathaniel] “Now I ask you: what are the leaves for, if the nations that can reach them are already healed?”
When you combine that question with issues dealing with the Millennium and the whole eschatological edifice falls to pieces. In short, if the New Jerusalem is heaven, as it commonly interpreted, or after the resurrection from the dead and the judgment, then who is left to be healed? In all of the more popular interpretations, once the New Jerusalem is in place, all the bad guys are in the lake of fire and all the saints are in translated and glorified bodies.
This assertion is true for classic Premillennialism, Dispensationalism, Amillennialism, and even Postmillenialism. All of these theories assume that Rev. 21-22 represents a future event, a time when Heaven and Earth merge together and God has put everything, as N. T. Wright states, to rights. They may disagree on the nature of the Millennium (Rev 20:1-7), but all of the positions agree that after the Millennium comes the Judgment and then eternity.
Williams question blasts that assumption to bits. In the process, he blasts all four Millennial positions to bits as well. If there are people who need healing, then whatever the time of the New Jerusalem is, it is not Heaven and it is not Eternity. At least it cannot be Heaven or Eternity as writers in those positions use the terms..
Even a bigger issue is the recipients of the healing leaves from New Jerusalem. Just who are the “nations” or “ethnic groups” for whom the leaves are produced? Not those in Hell, unless you believe in redemption from Hell after death (any takers?). Certainly not those in Heaven, who are “healed” by definition already.
And if the New Jerusalem is not eternity or heaven, then just what is the millennium in Revelation? Only in the idealist/preterist viewpoint does this verse begin to make sense, in as much as those two schemes do not make Revelation future but implemented at the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem.
But even that august Eschatology has issues. As I noted in my last post, the Preterists assume that the second coming happened in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and we are now in the eternal messianic kingdom.
So where does the 1,000 year reign of Christ fit in? After all, a chronological reading of Revelation has the Millenium happening AFTER the destruction of Jerusalem/Babylon depicted in chapter 19. Yet the millennium is not an eternal age, lasting 1,000 years with an explicit terminus of Satan’s destruction in the Lake of Fire. Yet many if not most Preterists claim this even also happened at A.D. 70.
So what is this millennium of which John speaks. The Preterists claim chapter 20 is a re-capitulation of the previous chapters, in essence being identical with the period after Christ’s resurrection to just before the Jewish War of A.D. 67-70. Alan Bondar’s book, Reading the Bible Through New Testament Eyes, makes much the same assertion.
So the 1,000 year Millenium lasts less than 37 years. And if you read them carefully, the years A.D. 30 to 67/70 are also referenced as “the Last Days.” So in this position, 1,000 years and Last Days are symbols that reference an identical period of time. Now I agree symbols are flexible, but I think this identify stretches beyond my person endurance. One obviously gives the impression of a short period of time (last days) and the other a period somewhat longer (1,000 years).
At least a more honest Preterist is the author of the website Prophecyhistory.com>/a>. He places the millennium as the actual 1,000 year period after the destruction of Jerusalem. The problem is that nothing of real significance happened in A.D. 1070. The author sites the occupation of Jerusalem by the Seljuk Turks. Frankly I don’t think that was so earth shattering as the Lord’s pre-occupation with Jerusalem was over in A.D. 70. Also, the author agrees, as he does not see Satan’s destruction until the start of the Protestant Reformation. So Satan’s “short” release was a period of time almost half as long as the Millenium (1070-around 1517). Again, this assertion stretches the language a bit, even for symbolism.
Curiously, the Catholic Preterist, Maurice Williams, in Revelation: Fall of Judea, Rise of the Church makes the millennium date from the fall of Rome to the Start of the Reformation. In his view, Satan’s release was the cause of the Reformation and not his destruction.
So I guess it depends on which side of the Protestant/Catholic fence you sit that determines the nature of the millennium and its dating. Not the best example of exegesis, I would think.
I would prefer to get my exegesis from within the text of the Scriptures themselves. Here I think the Book of Revelation will give us a better key. After all, John expected his audience to be wise, but he did expect them to understand. If they can, with some work, we should as well.
And it should be a result that satisfies both a Millennial rule of Christ, the underlying meaning/impression built into the symbolic language, and the situation where nations remain healed by leaves from the New Jerusalem. Perhaps if I can find such an integration, Bill Williams’ last questions will not have been in vain.