Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Millennium typology

Peter Leithart has come across an interesting take on the millennium from an obscure Patristic commentary.
In his commentary on Revelation (in Greek Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), Oecumenius interprets the millennium as the period between Christ’s incarnation and His ascension. During “the time of the incarnation of the Lord, the devil was bound and was not able to resist the marks of the Savior’s deity” (87). He is probably the only commentator ever to offer such an interpretation.

On the other hand, the “little while” during which Satan is released is “the time between the incarnation of the Lord and the consummation of the present age.”

So a big number represents three years, and the phrase “a little while” stands for thousands? Oecumenius has what you call an uphill battle to make that one convincing.
One of the frustrations with reading the lesser known ancient Fathers is a lack of exegetical consistency. Leithart is correct, of course, in saying Oecumenius would be fighting an uphill battle to make his argument convincing. He might, however, have been on firmer ground, at least typologically, if he had seen the "little while" of Satan's release as beginning with Jesus' arrest in Gethsemane and ending, decisively, with the resurrection.

An even more consistent interpretation in this direction would see "the millennium" as encompassing not the whole period of Christ's incarnation, but the period beginning immediately after Jesus' temptation experience (Luke records at this point that the devil "departed from him until an opportune time," 4:13) when he declared, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17) and, thus, ending in Gethsemane. During that period, as the Gospels record, Satan was literally powerless to prevent Jesus from healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, even raising the dead. It is no stretch to say Satan was, indeed, "bound" during this period, at least with regard to his ability to interfere with Jesus' ministry.

This is not to suggest that traditional arguments concerning the millennium are off the table. It is merely to suggest that the three years encompassing Jesus' earthly ministry may be seen as a type of what John would later envision in the Apocalypse as "the thousand years." I don't think I am going out on a limb in suggesting there are incidents during Jesus' first advent that were portents of his second advent. The acts which he performed, utterly uninhibited by Satanic interference, were signs of the age to come. What seemed extraordinary then, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, will be quite ordinary when the kingdom Jesus declared to be "at hand" comes in its fullness.