Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926) is “without a doubt one of the three or four most widely read and influential of twentieth-century- and early-twenty-first-century theologians” (Thiselton). I recently wrote a paper that ended up exploring a bit of his eschatological thinking, specifically his vision of premillennialism. What follows is a bit of that research…
In Moltmann we find many provocative statements about the importance of “millenarianism” that, at face value, cannot be considered distinctly premillennial. For example, Moltmann writes,
“… there is no affirmative community between the church and Israel without the messianic hope for the kingdom. And that then means that there is no adequate Christian eschatology without millenarianism. Eschatology is more than millenarianism, but millenarianism is its historical relevance. It is only the millenarian hope in Christian eschatology which unfolds an earthly and historical future for the church and Israel… Millenarianism looks towards future history, the history of the end…” (Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, 197)
What does Moltmann mean when he discusses “millenarianism”? Questions concerning Moltmann’s “millenarianism” are, in my estimation, based more on semantics than on theological differences in that Moltmann does not use traditional terms such as “premillennialism,” “postmillennialism,” or “amillennialism” consistently or in a way that most systematic theologians do. However, Moltmann clearly rejects “Historical Millenarianism” (Amillennialism) and accepts “Eschatological Millenarianism” (Premillennialism) in The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology.
Moltmann makes an important clarification when he writes that,
“… the resurrection from the dead necessarily leads into a reign of Christ before the universal raising of the dead for the Last Judgment. That is to say, it leads into a messianic kingdom in history before the end of the world, or into a transitional kingdom leading from this transitory world-time to the new world that is God’s. This hope is clearly evident in Paul [Phil. 3:10f].” (Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, 195)
Not all understand Moltmann as a clear premillennialist. Bauckham raises this issue when he states that “Moltmann fails to distinguish between the two types of futurist millenarianism: premillenarianism and postmillenarianism (or premillennialism and postmillennialism).” However, Moltmann provides clarification when he responds to Bauckham by writing, “I understand [the millennium] theologically. Christ’s kingdom of peace is evidently associated with hope for Israel’s future in the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel in the kingdom of the Son of man (Daniel 7). But for Christians this kingdom of the Son of man is identical with Christ’s kingdom of peace at the end of time.” Moreover, Moltmann states, “Christian millenarianism has had a clearly detectible affinity to Israel. It is only here that the theological recognition of Israel’s enduring vocation, and the hope for Israel’s future, are really preserved.” This reads strikingly similar to the previously mentioned premillennial commitments to a future eschatological place for ethnic Israel and is connected to Moltmann’s agreement that “hand in hand with expectation of the overthrow of the Antichrist went the expectation of Israel’s redemption and the establishment of Christ’s thousand years’ empire.” One is hard pressed to argue that Moltmann does not argue for premillennial theology (Roger E. Olson states that in personal correspondence, Moltmann affirmed that he was a historic premillennialist).
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