What Exactly is Progressive Parallelism?
The short answer is that it is the cornerstone of the amillennialist position and without it they have no basis to contend we are currently in the millennial kingdom. I hope that I can make clear their contentions and reveal the theological gymnastics that must be accepted to give credence at all to this view of eschatology. Please examine the following Scriptures from Revelation.
“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
The early Church would not have read Revelation with chapter and verse notations. They would have read Revelation as you see it as presented above. As it reads these verses flow naturally together as one continuous message. The early Church would have understood it as it was meant by the Holy Spirit to be understood. Christ returns and the kings of the earth gather to defeat Him. The beast is then captured along with the false prophet and both are thrown into the fiery lake of fire. The rest of the opposition to Christ are then killed. Immediately following this John tells us that he saw an angel coming down out of heaven. This angel has a key to the Abyss and holds a great chain in his hand. John then tells his reader that the Angel “seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” He then proceeds to describe that which was revealed to him. The righteous would be resurrected and reign with Him for one thousand years. “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
At the end of the thousand years John then sees “a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
The chapter break, if you haven’t already noticed, is between the first and second paragraph above. The break between chapter 19 when Christ returns to claim His kingdom and Chapter 20 when Satan is bound and Christ reigns for a thousand years is an artificial break that was not in the original text. You can see from a clear reading of the text that in the millennial kingdom Satan is bound except for a short time at the end of the kingdom. It also clearly states that the resurrection of the saints and the resurrection of the of those whose name were not found written in the book of life” were separated by one thousand years. The first resurrection is for the people of God; the second resurrection is for the judgment of unbelievers. The difference between these two groups is based on one’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ and once again the plain reading of the text is that they are separated by one thousand years.
The question now turns to the amillennialist belief that we are currently in the millennial kingdom, that Satan is currently bound and the righteous in Christ have already been bodily resurrected. We now get to Progressive Parallelism. This is the methodology used to put Christ’s Millennial rule on earth before Christ’s Second Coming and not after as the text clearly states. Anthony Hoekema, one of the leading proponents of the Progressive Parallelism puts it this way:
“The premillennial interpretation of these verses understands them as describing a millennial reign of Christ on earth which will follow his Second Coming. And it is true that the Second Coming of Christ has been referred to in the previous chapter (see 19:11-16). If, then, one thinks of Revelation 20 as setting forth what follows chronologically after what has been described in chapter 19, one would indeed conclude that the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6 will come after the return of Christ. As has been indicated above, however, chapters 20-22 comprise the last of the seven sections of the book of Revelation, and therefore do not describe what follows the return of Christ. Rather, Revelation 20:1 takes us back once again to the beginning of the New Testament era.” The Bible and The Future, pp. 226-27
To clarify: Amillennialists do not view the events of Revelation from a chronological or sequential perspective but, instead, see the book as describing the church age from several parallel perspectives that run concurrently. There are according to this theory seven total parallel ages that divide up the book. The seventh parallel age would be Revelation chapters 20 through 22. These chapters are then posited to have taken place at Christ’s first coming. Thus the binding, for instance, of Satan ushered in the millennial kingdom at the time of Christ’s first coming not after His second coming. This does leave us with several questions. If the Holy Spirit meant the last to be first why did he inspire John to write the first to be last. The other question that comes to mind is the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. Where were the amillennialist scholars and theologians to explain this to the early Church? Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit intended these passages to be this confounding or do we hold to the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture? Wasn’t it God’s intent that His Word to His people be understood?
For a more extensive explanation of the theological gymnastics necessary to understand poor John’s confusion and how amillennialists have helped him correctly edit God’s Word please follow the links below:
Progressive Parallelism, by Jim McClarty and Grace Christian Assembly
Is Satan Bound Today?, by Mike Vlach, President of Theological Studies
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