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Premillenialism: Not A One-Text Revelation 20 Doctrine

September 27, 2012 Leave a comment

A common claim of amillennialists is that the millennial kingdom is only mentioned in one passage, and a highly symbolic one at that—therefore we can disregard it.  In my early years in a Reformed church (when I knew nothing about any kind of millennialism) I specifically heard that claim from the teachers there.  At a friend’s church, the amillennial pastor apparently reasons thus in his rejection of premillennialism, even as he claimed that “many premillennial people” now admit that Revelation is not sequential—a claim neither I nor any of my premillennial friends is aware of; I don’t know where he got that idea—as though the idea of Revelation being non-sequential disproves premillennialism. George Ladd, mentioned in this recent post, was a one-text premillennialist.  His approach was similar to amillennialism, interpreting and spiritualizing the Old Testament prophecies as about the church; yet he felt compelled to acknowledge the literal meaning of Revelation 20.

But those who are honest (and more familiar with the word of God) recognize that the idea of a future kingdom of God upon the Earth is taught throughout the Old Testament.  Revelation 20 is the only passage to tell us the length of that kingdom, but many other passages convey the fact of that kingdom.  Even noted amillennialists and postmillennialists have admitted as much, as for instance in these quotes from Floyd Hamilton, O.T. Allis, and Loraine Boettner:

Hamilton:  “Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an early reign of the Messiah as the pre-millennists pictures. That was the kind of Messianic kingdom that the Jews of the time of Christ were looking for, on the basis of a literal interpretation of the Old Testament promises.”

Allis: the Old Testament prophecies if literally interpreted cannot be regarded as having been yet fulfilled or as being capable of fulfillment in this present age.

 Boettner:  “It’s generally agreed that if the prophesies are to be taken literally they do foretell a restoration of the nation of Israel with Palestine with the Jews having a prominent place in the kingdom and ruling over the other nations.”

A quick perusal of the Old Testament brings to mind many passages (including, though not an exhaustive list, Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 60; Isaiah 65; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:21-27; Ezekiel 40-48; Daniel 2:44; Micah 4:1-8; Haggai 2:6-9; Zechariah 14; plus many of the Psalms) which describe the Lord God ruling over the people, reigning from Jerusalem, the nations coming to worship and bringing their treasures to Jerusalem, and Israel having a prominent position.  Old Testament passages describe conditions that do not exist in this age – a renewed Earth which is characterized by unusual life spans only previously found in the antediluvian age, animals at peace (the Edenic curse reversed), and yet people who still sin and thus are in need of government, including the rod of iron mentioned in Psalm 2; “with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:4).

The New Testament also references such a kingdom, as for example in Luke 1:31-33, Acts 3:19-21, and Matthew 25:31-46.  Matthew 19:28 and 2 Timothy 2:12 mention the apostles and the saints sharing in that reign with the Lord.

S. Lewis Johnson often summed up the truth of the matter, as for instance in this lesson:

the doctrine of the kingdom of God upon the earth does not depend upon one text of Scripture.  The length of the kingdom as one thousand years does depend upon that statement made in Revelation chapter 20.  But I also commented upon the fact that there were six references to the term “one thousand years” in that one chapter.  So it is not fair, not correct to say, that there is only one mention of the length of the time of the kingdom.  And it is gross ignorance to claim that the doctrine of the kingdom of God upon the earth depends upon one passage, Revelation chapter 20.  That passage has to do with the length of the kingdom, but it’s not the only passage that has to do with the fact of the kingdom.  There are many passages throughout the Old Testament that let us know that there is going to be a kingdom of God upon the earth… the idea of a kingdom of God upon the earth is taught from the book of Genesis all the way through the Old Testament, and then is picked up by our Lord in the New Testament.

And finally, from Charles Feinberg in his Millennialism:

“To claim that the ‘strongest’ objection to millennialism is that it is found in a single passage of Scripture is incredible. How many passages of Scripture are required before a doctrine can claim biblical ground? What Ladd, and all amillennialists, try to say is that the duration of the Millennium is stated in one passage. What of the crucial passage in 1 Corinthians 15:23-26, which demolishes completely their contention? Would they say Armageddon is found only in Revelation 16:12-16, because it is the only place where the war is named? Then what of Revelation 19:17-19?”

The Seven-Fold Witness to Christ

September 24, 2012 3 comments

Continuing through S. Lewis Johnson’s study through the gospel of John, we find seven witnesses to the truth of Christ and who He is.  The first five of these are described in John 5, followed by two in John 15.  From SLJ’s message in John 5:
1.  The witness of the Son himself.   (John 5:31-32)
2.  John the Baptist  (John 5:33-35):  a burning and shining lamp, which the people enjoyed for a time.
3.  The mighty works, the miracles He did  (John 5:36)
4.  The witness of the Father.  (John 5:37-38)
5.  The witness of the Scriptures  (John 5:39-40):   “You search the Scriptures for in them ye think ye have eternal life and they are they which testify of me, and ye will not come to me that ye might have life.”
6.  Witness of the Holy Spirit  (John 15:26)
7.  Witness of Believers  (John 15:27)

Concerning the 5th witness:  how do we search the scriptures? And how do they testify of Christ?  Here S. Lewis Johnson observed:

… there are two ways to search the Scriptures.  We may the search the Scriptures as some people do, not only the Jews but some of the Protestant interpreters today.  How did the Jews search the Scriptures?  Did they search the Scriptures to find Jesus Christ in them?  No.  They didn’t search to find Jesus Christ in them.  They searched the Scriptures somewhat like this.  They numbered all of the verses in the Old Testament.  They counted the words and the Old Testament.  They counted the letters of every book in the Old Testament.  They calculated the middle word in the book.  They calculated the middle letter of each book.  They enumerated verses which contained all of the letters of the alphabet or a certain number of them, and all other kinds of things like that.  An individual might spend his whole time studying the Scriptures in that way and never really come to the Lord Jesus Christ.  There are many Protestant interpreters in our theological institutions today who search the Bible in that way.  They speak about various types of hypothesis concerning the makeup of the Scriptures, some of which might be of some help to us in interpretation but devoting all of their time to the scholarly theories concerning the origin of the Scriptures and the character of the Scriptures.  The whole point of the Scriptures, the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, is missed.

There is, of course, no life in the Scriptures themselves.  But if we follow where they lead us they will bring us to Him so that we find life not in the Scriptures but in Him through them.  That is the purpose of the word of God, to bring us to the one of whom they speak, and those Scriptures are the inspired word of God, designed to lead us unerringly to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But it’s possible to search the Scriptures in another way.  “You search the Scriptures because in the you think you have eternal life but they are they which testify of me.”  If in the reading of the Bible and in the study of the Bible you should imagine things about Jesus Christ which are not really true of Him, then ultimately what you have is what Calvin called a shadowy ghost in the place of Jesus Christ.  It is possible for us to construct ideas about our Lord that our not found in the Bible at all.  Those have no reality whatsoever.  Calvin is absolutely right.  You have then only a shadowy ghost.

Why they rejected Jesus:  specifically the Jews in John 5, but also with application to all unbelievers:

  • the moral cause (John 5:41-44):  They sought the praise of men rather than the praise of God.  That always leads to deception when we seek the praise of men.  There are Christians like that.  There are people who teach in theological seminaries who are more interested in the praise of other teachers in theological seminaries and other individuals than they are in the praise of God it would seem.

Think of the wretchedness and the absolute demonism of preferring false Christs to Christ.  But that’s what he says, “I am come in my Father’s name and ye received me not.  If another shall come in his own name him ye will receive.”  Ultimately that’s a reference to the coming of the antichrist who will come as the Christ and we who have not received Him shall receive him (the antiChrist).

We as believers can have confidence in the rational ground of our faith, as expressed in these seven testimonies to the living Christ.

The Literal Hermeneutic, Described by Historic Premillennialists

September 19, 2012 6 comments

For those who still associate any form of premillennialism with classic dispensationalism, and who think that premillennialists’ literal hermeneutic is wooden literalism (which never was the case) rather than normal, plain language: I am revisiting some great quotes from 19th century non-dispensational historic premillennialists:  Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, and Horatius Bonar.

Consider the following, in which these men in their own words describe and explain the literal hermeneutic along with specific examples from God’s word:

Charles Spurgeon, concerning the First Resurrection in Revelation 20:

… if the First Resurrection here spoken of is a metaphorical, or spiritual, or typical resurrection—why the next, where it speaks of the resurrection of the dead, must be spiritual, and mystical, and metaphorical too!  When you read a Chapter, you are not to say, “This part is a symbol, and is to be read so, and the next part is to be read literally.” Brothers and Sisters, the Holy Spirit does not jumble metaphors and facts together! A typical Book has plain indications that it is so intended, and when you come upon a literal passage in a typical Chapter, it is always attached to something else which is distinctly literal so that you cannot, without violence to common sense, make a typical meaning out of it! The fact is, in reading this passage with an unbiased judgment—having no purpose whatever to serve, having no theory to defend— … I could not help seeing there are two literal resurrections here spoken of—one of the spirits of the just, and the other of the bodies of the wicked; one of the saints who sleep in Jesus, whom God shall bring with Him, and another of those who live and die impenitent, who perish in their sins.

Also from Spurgeon, (full quote posted here) concerning Ezekiel 37:1-10:

If there is meaning in words this must be the meaning of this chapter! I wish never to learn the art of tearing God’s meaning out of His own Words. If there is anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—it must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land and that a king is to rule over them. “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen where they are gone and will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king to them all.”

From J.C. Ryle (previously posted here and also here):

Beware of that system of allegorizing, and spiritualizing, and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, in the Church. … Settle in your mind, in reading the Psalms and Prophets that Israel means Israel, and Zion means Zion and Jerusalem means Jerusalem. And, finally, whatever edification you derive from applying to your own soul the words which God addresses to His ancient people, never lose sight of the primary sense of the text.

and

What I protest against is, the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation Israel, and explaining away the fullness of their contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile Church. I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences.

Where, I would venture to ask, in the whole New Testament, shall we find any plain authority for applying the word “Israel” to anyone but the nation Israel? I can find none. On the contrary, I observe that when the Apostle Paul quotes Old Testament prophecies about the privileges of the Gentiles in Gospel times, he is careful to quote texts which specially mention the “Gentiles” by name. The fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a striking illustration of what I mean. We are often told in the New Testament that, under the Gospel, believing Gentiles are “fellow heirs and partakers of the same hope “with believing Jews. (Ephes. 3:6.) But that believing Gentiles may be called “Israelites,” I cannot see anywhere at all.

And from Horatius Bonar (previously posted here and here):

To attach a general meaning to a whole chapter, as is frequently done, shows not only grievous irreverence for the Divine Word, but much misconception of the real nature of that language in which it is written. Yet such is often the practice of many expositors of prophecy. They will take up a chapter of Isaiah, and tell you that it refers to the future glory of the Christian Church; and that is the one idea which they gather from a whole chapter, or sometimes from a series of chapters. Their system does not admit of interpreting verse by verse and clause by clause, and affixing an exact and definite sense to each. Bring them to this test, and their system gives way. It looks fair and plausible enough, so long as they can persuade you that the whole chapter is one scene, out of which it is merely designed that one grand idea should be extracted; but bring it to the best of minute and precise interpretation, and its nakedness is at once discovered. Many prophecies become in this way a mere waste of words.  What might be expressed in one sentence, is beaten out over a whole chapter; nay, sometimes over a whole book.

These expositors think that there is nothing in prophecy, except that Jew and Gentile are all to be gathered in, and made one in Christ. Prophet after prophet is raised up, vision after vision is given, and yet nothing is declared but this one idea! Every chapter almost of Isaiah foretells something about the future glory of the world; and every chapter presents it to us in some new aspect, opening up new scenes, and pointing out new objects; but, according to the scheme of some, every chapter sets forth the same idea, reiterates the same objects, and depicts the same scenes. Is not this handling the Word of God deceitfully?

What liberties do some interpreters take with the prophetic word! They find in every page almost what they call figurative language, and, under this idea, they explain away whole chapters without scruple or remorse. They complain much of the obscurity of the prophetic language. It is an obscurity, however, of their own creating. If they will force figures upon the prophets when they are manifestly speaking with all plainness and literality, no wonder that darkness and mystery seem to brood over the prophetic page. . . . Proceeding, then, upon this principle, that we must take all as literal till we are forced from it by something inconsistent or absurd, we shall find a far smoother and straighter way through the fields of prophecy than most men will believe. If we take the waters as we find them, we shall enjoy them clear and fresh; but if we will always be searching for some fancied figure at the bottom, or casting in one when we do not readily discover it, we need not be astonished nor complain that the stream is turbid and impure.

The True Historical Premillennial View: Not George Ladd’s Version

September 14, 2012 19 comments

From the material available online today, many would conclude that “historic premillennialism” refers to the teaching of 20th century theologian George Elton Ladd—and no other view.  See, for example, Michael Vlach’s article “How Does Historic Premillennialism Differ from Dispensational Premillennialism?”,  this “Eschatology Comparison” chart, and this article “An Historical Premillennialist Takes Issue With Pretribulational Dispensationalism.”

Similar to how many people associate the specific teachings of classic dispensationalism with any reference to dispensationalism, here too is a real point of confusion: the failure to recognize the different beliefs within the label of “historic premillennialism”–or any form of premillennialism other than “dispensational premillennialism.” Occasionally people mention “covenant premillennialism” to highlight the view of some, such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, who believed premillennialism yet who held to the theological covenants of Covenant Theology (as contrasted with the Calvinist disp-premill emphasis on the biblical covenants).   “Historic premillennialism” is the more common term, though, and yet George Ladd’s version of premillennialism could more accurately be called “contemporary (non-dispensational) premillennialism.”  As a commenter at the last link above pointed out, “Ladd’s overall position appears to be of more recent vintage than Classic Dispensationalism. Thus I find it ironic that he’s now considered to be the standard bearer for Historic Premillenialism. He departed significantly from the historic premillenialism of men like Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle and C.H. Spurgeon, just to name a few. None of the above men were pretrib, but they all believed in a physical restoration of the Jews to the land, which today is generally regarded as a dispensational distinctive.”

In recent years Barry Horner has done much in researching and publishing the history of millennial views, as in his “Future Israel” book and related website, as well as this work available online: “Judeo-Centric Eschatology: An Ethical Challenge to Reformed Theology.”  In this publication, Horner suggests another term to describe the truly historical premillennial view:  Judeo-Centric Premillennialism.  Chapter Five especially looks at the views of many premillennialists from centuries past, sketching out the details concerning “Israel and Judeo-centric Premillennialism beyond the Reformation” followed by “Israel and the Contemporary Historic Premillennialism of George Eldon Ladd.”

As Barry Horner explains regarding true historic premillennialism as opposed to the current day George Ladd version:

“… (then) explanation is made that one believes in a glorious future time when the redeemed people of God, distinctively comprising national Israel and the Gentile nations, will enjoy the consummation of their salvation on an earth of renovated spiritual materiality where the glorious, spiritually tangible and substantial Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem in the midst of Israel. At this juncture, the common response is that such a belief identifies one as a dispensationalist, especially since Ladd is said to have not incorporated such particularity concerning Israel within his premillennialism. In other words, if a person was an historic premillennialist, he would not retain any clear-cut distinction between Israel and the church, but especially within the one redeemed people of God in their future manifestation. When one then points out and specifically names a number of notable Christians who were not dispensationalists, such as Horatius Bonar, J. C. Ryle, and C. H. Spurgeon, even postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who nevertheless believed in the aforementioned scenario, that is, Israel and the Gentile nations retaining their distinctive identity under the earthly reign of Christ, the frequent response is that of a blank stare.”

…we will most definitely maintain that, in general, both historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have upheld a diversity involving Israel and the Gentile nations within the redeemed people of God. Reluctance on Ladd’s part to bring Judeo-centric clarity and definition into his eschatology at this point places him outside the overwhelming emphasis of historic premillennialism. Hence, in this most important aspect of premillennialism, his perspective is decidedly not historic or normative.

The outline of this chapter further explains:

1. The two peoples of dispensational premillennialism:

… earlier belief in two new covenants was eventually abandoned by Walvoord, Ryrie, and presumably Fruchtenbaum, in favor of the one new covenant revealed in Jeremiah 31. … further development … has more willingly accepted the implications of this one new covenant for the redeemed, whatever distinctions they might incorporate…. Israel and the church are in fact one people of God, who together share in the forgiveness of sins through Christ and partake of his indwelling Spirit with its power for covenant faithfulness, while they are nonetheless distinguishable covenant participants comprising what is one unified people.

2. The one people of classic historic premillennialism: classic historic premillennialism, with exceptions acknowledged, nevertheless has specifically upheld the place of national Israel within the people of God of the church of Jesus Christ.

3. The one people of Jesus Christ’s assembly/church according to Scripture.

In a world where Gentile Christianity predominates, there is a necessity to offer some considerations here concerning the “Church” which name has, over the centuries, been “Gentilized” so that its mention is commonly identified with Gentile congregations, indeed a Gentile kingdom of God…. Hence the New Jerusalem shall not only acknowledge the twelve gates named after the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, but also the twelve foundation stones named after the twelve apostle, all twenty-four names being Jewish.

Non-Essential Doctrines: The Test of Obedience

September 11, 2012 17 comments

In response to the many compromisers, who want to pick and choose which doctrines to believe – or even to rank the doctrines in importance by tiers, finding the “essential” things a person must believe in order to be saved — comes this great answer from Charles Spurgeon.  Such unbelief is nothing new, the same today as in Spurgeon’s day, and still so relevant and true in every area of biblical doctrines, where professing Christians sin in unbelief by rejecting “part” of what God says.  So the next time a liberal-minded preacher uses the line that “not all Christians believe this” or “it isn’t essential to believe this” in regards to what the Bible reveals to us (including such things as the Genesis 1 creation, and many other doctrinal points), remember this point and illustration from Spurgeon.

From sermon #359, “The Tabernacle—Outside the Camp”:

Some will say, “You make too much of non-essentials.” That is a thing I frequently hear—non-essentials! There are certain things in Scripture, they tell us, that are non-essentials, and therefore they are not to be taken any notice of. Doctrinal views, and the Baptism of Believers, for instance—these are non-essential to salvation, and therefore, is the inference which follows according to the theory of some—we may be very careless about them!

Do you know, Believer in Christ, that you are a servant? And what would you think if a servant should first wittingly neglect her duty, and then come to you and tell you that it is non-essential? If she should not light the fire tomorrow morning, and when you came down, she were to say, “Well, Sir, it is non-essential; you won’t die though the fire is not lit”—or if, when she spread the breakfast, there was no provision there but a crust of bread, and nothing for you to drink; what if she should say, “Well, Sir, it is non-essential, you know? There is a glass of water for you and a piece of bread—the rest is non-essential.” If you came home and found that the rooms had never been swept, and the dust was upon them, or that the bed had not been made, and that you could not take an easy night’s rest, and the servant should say, “Oh, it is non-essential, Sir; it is quite nonessential.”

I think you would find it to be non-essential for you to keep her any longer, but extremely essential that you should discharge her! And what shall we say of those men who put aside the words of Christ, and say, “His precepts are quite non-essential”? Why, I think because they are non-essential, they therefore become the test of your obedience! If you could be saved by them, and if they were necessary to your salvation, your selfishness would lead you to observe them; but inasmuch as they are not necessary to your salvation, they become tests of your willingness to obey Christ!

The Bible’s Four Types of Sanctification: Getting our Vocabulary Right

September 6, 2012 6 comments

I recently met up with a group of people, and their pastor/teacher, who have a non-standard definition of the overall concept of sanctification – or perhaps a very limited definition.  After hearing for so long, within broader evangelicalism, about the different aspects of sanctification, and particularly about progressive sanctification, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I was surprised to read the following (from one in this group):  “If we are in Christ and He is in us, then we have rested – completely ceased from any and all working and striving for justification and for sanctification. There is no more work to be done.”

On the surface, it appeared as what could be advocating perfection, with the use of the term sanctification in the same phrase as justification.  Or at the very least, that the person has the terms and their meanings confused.  In follow-up conversation, that individual cited Hebrews 10:10, which is one of the passages that describe the completed (positional) part of sanctification:  “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  It turned out that what most Reformed evangelicals refer to as “progressive sanctification” means, to this group, “mortification,” with no understanding of the multiple tenses or types of sanctification.  Also, their focus is on whether or not sanctification is “a work” to which we contribute versus something all of God (monergistic: their view): an unusual approach to the topic.  Usually (in my experience) the topic of sanctification comes up, not as a question of “a work” or not, but in the general understanding of spiritual growth and an ongoing process, “progressive sanctification,” within which it is understood that God is the one who continues the  work within us.  (Phil. 1:6)

From further research into what I was really looking for, comes the following helpful summary, from S. Lewis Johnson’s “Basic Bible Doctrine” series, message 27:

  • Preparatory sanctification:  the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to the cross. (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2)
  • Positional sanctification: a process or a procedure takes place by which a believer, the moment that he believes, becomes in the sight of God holy.  That is why believers in the New Testament are called saints. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • Progressive sanctification:  something that goes on daily constantly in the Christian life.  It may have degrees; The Bible does speak about two degrees: about infants and about adults. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
  • Prospective sanctification:  the complete agreement of our position and our practice, and that will take place at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Romans 8:29)

This experience also shows how important it is that like-minded Christians understand and use the same vocabulary.  When the majority of Christians speak of sanctification in one way (understanding the concepts of positional versus progressive sanctification), and one group (that really does believe basically the same about this) uses the same words to mean different ideas – the positional sanctification and emphasis on “sanctification” already accomplished and done by the Lord, and calling the common term “progressive sanctification” by some other name – it does hinder communication, so that the terms have to be clearly defined before meaningful discussion can occur.