Summary: The saints must remain vigilant even during the thousand years. It is never more necessary to beware of Satan and his dead-enders than when the neighborhood seems safe.
How many of you remember that image of Saddam Hussein being toppled from its central position in downtown Baghdad? I don’t expect there’s anyone in this country who didn’t see it. It played over and over for days. And it really looked liked victory, didn’t it? And of course who can forget that famous - or maybe now I should say infamous - shot of President Bush on the aircraft carrier under the sign ‘”Mission Accomplished” ? And here we are months later watching our soldiers
and allies and miscellaneous bystanders being blown up with everything from RPGs to what are euphemistically referred to as “improvised explosive devices.” It just goes to show you that half-way measures don’t work.
Last week we saw that martyrdom isn’t something that happened long ago in the past, that we read about in history books. The martyrs John wrote to 2000 years ago have been joined by thousands upon thousands more since those days; in fact, most accounts estimate that more Christians died for their faith in the last hundred years than in all the previous 1900.
But what did we see two weeks ago, in Revelation 19? Didn’t we see Jesus winning the battle? “The beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had ... deceived those who had ... worshiped its image. [Rev. 19:20] It sure looked like victory to me. But no.
Those two, the beast and the prophet, were functioning more as images or surrogates of Satan than as actual heads of state.
"The second beast was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed." [Rev 13:15]
Their destruction didn’t mean that the enemy had been defeated, even though everyone who showed up for the battle was killed. Saddam’s - I mean Satan’s - armies did not surrender, they accepted no terms, made no commitment to lay down their arms and make peace. It was only the image that was toppled. The big guy, the chief villain, went into hiding. OK, ok, the parallel isn’t perfect, because Satan was bound and tossed into prison, and Saddam is running from bolt-hole to bolt-hole. But the fact that he’s still alive is the point. As long as the enemy is still lurking in the background, he gives hope to the unregenerate that the days of looting and torture and other fun pastimes will soon return, and means that everyone else is still looking over their shoulders wondering if they’re really safe. Obviously neither Saddam in hiding nor Satan in prison can be as effective as when they could operate freely, out in the open, but that doesn’t mean their influence isn’t still felt.
But what we see now is the attempt to establish a new government. Jesus Christ himself is ruling. Taking their part in the governing council are the exiles and others who had refused to worship the beast. And everything should be just wonderful now, shouldn’t it? But it isn’t.
Well, I suspect that there are one or two people who might take exception to the implied parallel that the American occupation of Iraq has anything at all in common with the millennial reign of Jesus Christ... but at least we mean well. And it does illustrate some very important things about the human condition.
But before I go into all that, I do want to acknowledge that this chapter of Revelation is the cause of more and deeper and longer-lasting controversy than any other part of the book. Christianity has been divided between pre-millennialists, post-millennialists, and a-millennialists ever since it became clear Jesus wasn’t going to be coming back as soon as the early church had expected.
Post-millennialists believe that Christians help establish the thousand-year kingdom on earth prior to Jesus return. Its not as popular a view as it used to be, since the 19th century showed us in no uncertain terms that sin is as alive and well today as it has ever been, if not more so. Pre-millennialists believe that the millennium will be a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on this earth after the Tribulation and the Rapture. And a-millennialists believe that the millennium is
symbolic for the present age. As you might suspect, I’m closer to a-millennialism than the other two isms. In 431 the Council of Ephesus - the same one which reaffirmed the Nicene Creed - condemned belief in a literal millennium as a superstition. And all my theological heroes - from Augustine to Calvin - were a-millennial. So I’m on pretty good ground and in pretty good company. However, since nothing God chooses to do will surprise me, I’m keeping my eyes and my options open.