In an earlier post I started this series responding to Sam Storms’ Gospel Coalition post on why he changed his mind about the millennium (from premillennial to amillennial). In that post, I dealt with some introductory things. Starting with this post, I will make one post each for the six reasons he gives to allegedly prove that premillennialism is untenable. Hopefully in a friendly way I can make some assertions that help to defend the premillennial understanding of the end times.
The first reason that Sam gives is that if you are a premillennialist, “you must necessarily believe that physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming.” He goes on to couple that statement with the words “death is defeated and swallowed up in victory at the parousia.” Sam’s post is just giving general statements and not the detailed arguments that will naturally be present when his book Kingdom Come is released soon. However, I would like to take a stab at responding to the general statement here.
The basic idea is that premillennialism cannot be right since it teaches that death continues after the Second Coming. How is this known? The NT explicitly teaches, according to Sam, that the Second Coming of Christ is the end of death. I do not know what specific passages he has in mind, but a couple of sections in 1 Corinthians 15 come to mind that have always been controversial. The first section in that chapter I want to examine is v. 22-26 (NASB):
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,
24 Then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
This is certainly a beautiful passage that highlights the greatness of Christ’s work on our behalf. In verses 23-24 there are three things listed in succession:
- Christ the first fruits
- Those who are Christ’s at His coming (parousia)
- The end (where death appears to be abolished according to v. 26)
One amillennial understanding of this text (see Hodge for example) is that in this sequence of three things, the third one (the end) happens immediately after the second one (the parousia of Christ) without any interval. In essence, 2 & 3 are co-events. Another way to say it in this view is that there is no interval or gap of time between the 2nd and 3rd items in the list. But is this justified? It is perhaps possible but not likely. Many of the commentaries discuss the word “then” and suggest that the Greek word is used mostly in contexts for which there is a preceding interval. In the list of three things, there is definitely an interval between the 1st and 2nd thing in the list, so the idea of an interval between the 2nd and 3rd things in the list is not far-fetched. Premillennialism requires an interval. The wording of the passage allows for that and even encourages such an understanding. Thus, these verses are not a slam dunk argument in favor of the idea that the Second Coming brings the end of death immediately.
The second section of 1 Corinthians 15 which I want to consider is v. 50-57. In this passage, we have what many dispensationalists believe relates to the time of the pre-trib rapture: “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…” (v. 51-52). The passage speaks of this event as putting on immortality and the removal of death. The sting of death is removed—“death is swallowed up in victory” (v. 54). A possible amillennial understanding is that the change at the last trump refers to the second coming which brings in this end of death immediately. Therefore, one cannot argue for an earthly existence (millennium) after that, in which death exists. Thus, premillennialism is incorrect, according to this understanding.
Is this the only plausible way to understand the text? From a dispensational understanding, the Apostle Paul is talking to the Corinthians about the glorification of Church saints at the pre-trib rapture of the Church (“we shall all be changed”). The amillennialist cannot assume that the word “we” refers to all saints of all times in history. One cannot assume a definition of Church as the collection of all the saved of all ages (or since Adam or Abraham). This is an assumption which will be challenged by dispensationalists. If that assumption is read into the text, then the amillennial position may have some ground to stand on. If not, then the passage does not say that the second coming ends death for the entire universe. Instead, it is saying that the end of death for Church saints happens at the rapture when there is a resurrection and glorification that takes place for that particular group of people. Thus, premillennialism is a position that can be harmonized quite easily with this passage. The premillennialist might say to the amillennialist that he makes the passage say too much and that a forced theological unity has been brought to the passage. Elsewhere on the timeline of God’s end-time plan, the Lord will deal with other peoples according to His will.
In my next post, I will deal with Sam’s second reason for changing his mind about the millennium.