Barking at an Empty Log: Atheism & Millennialism
A good “coon” dog has a marvelous “sniffer.” He can follow a trail and tree his quarry with amazing skill. On the other hand, there is that sort of pup who barks at anything. He bays at the moon. An empty log holds as much excitement for him as a treed prey.
Some folks are like the dog who barks at the empty log. They are ferocious. They howl with a passion and tear up the ground, all the while oblivious to the fact that there is nothing in the log!
A case in point is the fact that some atheists have attempted to associate the Bible with certain millennial theories that have heated up in recent years. A few years back, a skeptic, writing in The American Rationalist, asserted the following:
“The year 2000 is approaching, and when it arrives, it will signal the beginning of the new millennium that was promised in the Bible. This new millennium will herald one thousand years of peaceful holiness” (May/June, 1997, p. 5).
The humanists thus positioned themselves to demonstrate that if a “millennial reign” of Christ did not commence in A.D. 2000, the Bible is false and atheism has triumphed. They were barking at an empty log! There are several points which we must press in a consideration of this matter. Think about these carefully.
Most skeptics have almost no knowledge of the Bible. Many of them have examined it scarcely at all. When Thomas Paine wrote his infamous Age of Reason, viciously attacking the Scriptures, he confessed that he did not even own a copy of the sacred volume. His criticisms were obviously based upon hearsay.
Not having personal and accurate knowledge of the Scriptures, unbelievers are prone to confuse what the Bible actually teaches, with what they’ve heard that it teaches. In many cases, all they really know is what they pick up from the media, which is almost always representative of sectarian dogma —not scriptural truth.
No Signs of the End
A second fact that needs to be emphasized with great vigor is this: There is absolutely nothing in the Bible which provided any indication that the waning days of the last millennium were about to usher in a glorious earthly reign of Christ. The problem is thatthe “dispensational premillennial” groups keep harping that there are biblical “signs” which indicate that we are nearing the time of the “rapture,” the “millennial reign of Christ,” etc. Therefore, how could we really expect biblically illiterate skeptics not to be confused about this issue?
The key context that is supposed to contain the chronological “clues” as to “end time” matters is Matthew 24. But this chapter does not teach what the millennialists allege. Let me make a few brief points regarding this:
- Matthew 24 has two major thrusts. Jesus prophesied concerning the impending destruction of Jerusalem (fulfilled by the Roman invasion of A.D. 70); he then discussed his final coming at the end of the world. Verses 3-33 deal with the former matter, verses 35-51 discuss the latter situation.
Verse 34 is the dividing point in the chapter. Concerning the events described in 3-33, Christ plainly said:
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished.”
The expression “generation” had to do with the society that was contemporary with Christ (Wm. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich, Greek Lexicon, p. 153). To assign any other meaning to the term is to do an injustice to its New Testament usage.
- Some of the language employed in describing the destruction of Jerusalem is framed in the literary style of Old Testament apocalyptic jargon, whereby astronomical phenomena are employed to depict the overthrow of Jehovah’s enemies (cf. Isa. 13; 34:3-4; Ezek. 32:7-8). To view these symbols as indicators of the end of the world is a serious error.
- There are a number of cultural references, e.g., not coming down from the housetops, difficult flight in the winter or on the sabbath, etc., which suggest that the prophecies focus upon an ancient calamity (i.e., Jerusalem’s fall), rather than events in the modern world.
- The Lord plainly asserted that by carefully studying “these things,” i.e., the signals which he gave, the ancient Christians could know that he was orchestrating these events from heaven providentially (33).
But as to his final coming, no prophetic signs would be given. Due to a self-limitation, not even Jesus himself, at that time, knew when the end would come (36). There was thus a clear contrast between what could be known with reference to Judaism’s demise, and what could not be known relative to the end of the world.
Dispensationalism Is False
A third point that factors into this situation is this: There simply is not any basis for contending that there is going to be a thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth following his return. Certainly this is a popular notion among various “fundamentalist” groups, but there is no support for the theory in the Scriptures.
The only mention of a thousand-year reign in the entire Bible is found in Revelation 20:1-7. There, the expression is used quite obviously in a symbolic sense, and has no reference at all to an earthly regime subsequent to Christ’s return. Reflect, for a moment, upon the following facts.
- The New Testament unequivocally teaches that the reign of Christ commenced on the day of Pentecost (cf. Lk. 2:32-33; Acts 2:30-33), and will continue until the time of the Lord’s return (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Jesus’ reign is present, not future; it is from heaven, not from Jerusalem; and it is prior to his return, not after it (see Lk. 19:12-15).
- Symbolic numbers are common to the book of Revelation. Twice John refers to the redeemed as the 144,000 (7:4ff; 14:1ff); yet no responsible scholar allows that the faithful consist of a literal 144,000. The fact is, the term “thousand” is employed more that twenty times in Revelation, and in not a single instance is it used literally. The “thousand years” of 20:1ff is a figurative depiction of the victory of Christ and his people over their foes. For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see “Courier Publications” for the author’s book, Select Studies in the Book of Revelation.
It was, therefore, of no consequence when our infidel neighbors raised their heads to howl —when no catastrophic, end-time events accompanied the transition from the previous millennium into the current. Whenever the Lord’s coming occurs, it will not be according to the scenario mapped out by Billy Graham, Hal Lindsey, and others. And so, let skeptics bark if they wish; however, the log is empty!
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.