Contending For The Faith

November 1, 2008

Why I am premillennial

Filed under: eschatology — Lynda O @ 9:18 pm
Tags: ,

Short answer: it’s what the Bible teaches.

It all comes down to proper hermeneutics and Biblical interpretation. The literal hermeneutic simply means that the interpreter reads the passage for what it says, within its proper genre of writing. To counter the scoffers: of course the literal hermeneutic recognizes different types of literature, such as poetry versus narrative. The same hermeneutic applies when we are reading prophetic literature. To quote from the Contend Earnestly blog, “Why I Am Not A Preterist“:

“One of the standard authors on biblical interpretation, Bernard Ramm, says, “The interpreter should take the literal meaning of a prophetic passage as his limiting or controlling guide.” Without denying the presence of figures of speech or symbols, Ramm emphasizes that the literal meaning of words cannot be abandoned simply because the interpreter is handling prophetic literature. “

The early church fathers, for the first three centuries, understood this concept and saw no need to allegorize and add man’s ideas into a text. Allegory, and its close cousin amillennialism, crept into the church during the 4th and 5th centuries, a time which also formed the basis for the next thousand years of Roman Catholicism. Augustine, for all the great work he did in forming the Reformed Doctrine of justification by faith (the cry of the reformation) was also responsible for introducing faulty ecclesiology and eschatology that still pervades today’s church. His reasons for doing so were not all that pure and high-minded, either. The “church age” was coming into its own, acceptance into Constantine’s Roman Empire, and significant political pressure influenced Augustine’s ideas concerning church and government. Society of that time was also increasingly anti-semitic, and with a church no longer persecuted but reigning in political power, the biblical message that the hated Jews would one day be the ones in control just had to go — thus, the church became the new “Israel,” inheriting all of Israel’s blessings (but not its curses). Then there was also the problem of the Donatists, which personally repulsed Augustine — yet in so doing he threw out the baby with the bathwater. Because the Donatists — who had taken a hard, firm line against those who had previously apostasized in time of persecution yet had been restored in Constantines’ church — went to excesses with their bacchannalian love feasts, and yet were also premillennialist, Augustine rejected both their human excesses and their theology.

Thus when today’s amillennialists confidently support their position by appeal to history — claiming that premillennialism is something of recent development, and that, for over a thousand years, from the fifth century to the sixteenth century, amillennialism dominated — they do themselves no favor except that they want to agree with Catholicism. The same goes when Kim Riddlebarger appeals to the authority of the “classic protestant tradition” — that very “protestant tradition” of amillennialism came straight from the Medieval era Catholic Church.

The Reformation was not about reforming other doctrines, such as ecclesiology and eschatology. As John MacArthur has said, the reformers had enough on their plate to deal with, to rescue the Christian soteriology, the salvation plan, so they didn’t get around to reforming other teachings of scripture. The reformers were still steeped in many other areas of Catholicism, and so they didn’t bother with reforming those aspects. Christians today are quick to criticize John Calvin for his sacralism, his disastrous project of a Christian church-state society in Geneva — but it was the only thing he understood, from the Catholic system of his day. The Reformers acquired some power of their own, and then roundly persecuted the anabaptists who challenged for further reform, including in eschatology (they too were premillennial, from reading what the Bible says).

Now to some of the actual Bible text, a look at the book of Revelation. Amillennialists will make several large, sweeping claims, such as: numbers are always used symbolically and never literally; and Revelation is not meant to be in sequence but several re-tellings of the same story of church history, a “progressive parallelism.” But are these claims valid? The apostle John used many different numbers throughout Revelation, and sometimes he even used the Greek word for “myriads” to indicate an indefinite, large number, showing that he knew perfectly well how to use the numbers. The text gives no reason, of itself, to just arbitrarily say that all the numbers are symbolic. As to the division of Revelation into different re-tellings, the divisions the text itself will not allow for that. For instance, amills say that Chapter 20 begins a new re-telling of events in previous chapters — but Chapter 20 verse 1 begins with a Greek conjunctive word translated “then” or “and,” and this same word is found repeatedly throughout other chapters of Revelation, to confound any parallelism.

Just because a text can also have a spiritual fulfillment or a spiritual application, does not negate a future literal fulfillment. Case in point: in Matthew 17:11-12, Jesus’ words to Peter, James and John after the mount of transfiguration, in answer to their question about Elijah coming first, Jesus says: “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.” then in verse 12: “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.” Yes, John the Baptist did spiritually fulfill the prophecy in one aspect, but Jesus also clearly says that Elijah will come (future tense). The original text in Malachi speaks of Elijah coming before the great and terrible day of the Lord, referring to the future time of the end and judgement. The book of Revelation gives us further insight, when it describes the two prophets coming down — one of whom is clearly Elijah, and thus the full literal fulfillment of the original prophecy. Much of prophecy indeed works this way, with a near-term spiritual fulfillment and a future complete, literal fulfillment. Joel 2 and Acts 2 reference another similar treatment of prophecy: the full passage in Joel 2 describes first the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, followed by language describing the great and terrible day of the Lord. Peter quotes this full passage in Acts 2, as in fulfillment of what happened at Pentecost. Clearly the first part was fulfilled, but we cannot say that the other apocalyptic events described in Joel happened. Peter, like other Jews of his day (and earlier, including the prophet Joel) did not clearly understand the prophecies. Old Testament Jews were completely befuddled by the prophecies concerning Christ’s coming, and had even come up with a two-Messiah system: a Messiah ben-Joseph who would suffer and die, and a Messiah ben David who would reign as king. They could not foresee the now 2,000+ years gap between a first and second coming of the Messiah. Even the apostles, just before Christ ascended into the clouds, were asking about the second part: “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The apostles are now thinking, okay, the first part has happened, now what about the rest? Notice, too, that Christ didn’t tell them — oh, you don’t understand, the kingdom is really spiritual and it’s here now; he simply said that it wasn’t any of their business to know the appointed times and dates set by the Lord. In Acts 2 when Peter witnessed the events of Pentecost and their fulfillment, very likely understood that, well, now the first part has come, so the second part must be coming soon. True, Peter was speaking by the Holy Spirit, but Joel in the Old Testament also spoke by the Holy Spirit inspiration, and yet neither man had perfect, complete knowledge of how the prophecy would unfold in human history.

When amillennialists get to their sticking point, that “a thousand years” in Revelation 20 (the number is used six times in the chapter) doesn’t really mean a thousand years but some vague, indefinite large period of time, they really are sounding exactly like the liberal theologians who reject Genesis 1-2 because “it can’t mean what it says” based on fallen man’s ideas of evolution and long, undetermined periods of evolution or “progressive creation.” Yet the exegesis of Genesis is equally solid, a narrative text with real numbers, and only someone coming to the text with pre-conceived notions from modern so-called science would come up with any idea other than what the text says. Though we have more certainty concerning the past than the future, when it comes to properly interpreting God’s word we understand our rational God and can apply the same hermeneutic principle to all scripture, including prophecy.

The late Anthony Hoekema admitted that a literal, straightforward reading of Revelation would indicate a sequence from chapter 19 to 20, and that Christ returns before the millennium — and then he rejects it for his own reasons. John Reisinger, likewise, admits that amillennialism isn’t in the Bible but that it is “a rebellion against the other two views.” His problem is that he can’t admit that God has any future purpose for national Israel. I don’t fully understand that, either, but God’s purposes and understanding are far greater than ours. One’s attitude towards God’s holy scripture truly reveals the inner heart attitude. When something in the Bible contradicts an individual’s pre-conceived ideas, which idea is rejected — God’s or man’s? If someone has to come up with great-sounding and high-minded allegorical ideas, which puff up the person with some higher knowledge (and gives great “job security” since ordinary laypeople can’t understand this allegorical scheme and must come to the person to be properly taught), to support their own beliefs, rather than seeking to understand the text for its own sake and in its proper context, that really reveals the person’s own spiritual problem and a weak view of scripture.

Now for a closing thought, consider this text from Spurgeon, posted on the TeamPyro blog. An excerpt:

“Dear friends, we may sometimes refresh our minds with a prospect of the kingdom which is soon to cover all lands, and make the sun and moon ashamed by its superior glory. We are not to indulge in prophesyings as some do, making them our spiritual food, our meat and drink; but still we may take them as choice morsels, and special delicacies set upon the table; they are condiments which may often give a sweeter taste, or, if you will, a greater pungency and savor to other doctrines; prophetic views light up the crown of Jesus with a superior splendor; they make his manhood appear illustrious as we see him still in connection with the earth: to have a kingdom here as well as there; to sit upon a throne here as well as in yonder skies; to subdue his adversaries even upon this Aceldama, as in the realm of spirits; to make even this poor earth upon which the trail of the serpent is so manifest, a place where the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

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