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The New Face of the One People of God: What Happened At Pentecost

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Divine Purpose in History and Prophecy” series, the following lesson concerning continuity and discontinuity in the One People of God, before and after Acts 2 Pentecost.  We observe first the two extremes, and that the truth lies somewhere in the middle:  some people believe the church is another term for all who ever believed and thus the church began with Adam.  Others say that the church began on the day of Pentecost and that there is really no relationship between what happened on Pentecost and what had preceded.

First, what already existed, the “old”:  Though the church was created on the day of Pentecost it was not absolutely new in every respect. 

  •  The redemptive foundation: What Christ did on the cross, the ground of the salvation of Israel, and the ground of the Gentiles who lived before Abraham – the ground of Adam’s salvation.  That’s the ground of the Gentiles who existed before Abraham came into existence, that’s the ground of Adam’s salvation.  It’s the ground of every member of the true church of Jesus Christ.  It’s the ground of their salvation. So the ground of our salvation what Christ did on the cross is the ground of the salvation of all believers in Christ. 
  • The union of Old Testament and New Testament believers that has taken place as a result of the common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

New:  Paul does say a new man has been created

  • The Holy Spirit permanently indwells all believers now.  He did not permanently indwell all believers before the day of Pentecost
  • Freedom from the law as a code.
  • Adoption of the Gentiles.  Romans 11:11-24
  • Equality of Jew and Gentile in the body; the “mystery”.  Gentiles do not have to convert to Judaism.
  • Universal priesthood of the believers
  • Universality of the gifts under the oversight of elders

The Key to Understanding the Bible: The Cross and the Crown

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

J.C. Ryle well expressed what the “key” is to understanding the Bible:

Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read. Christ’s cross and Christ’s crown are the clue we must hold fast, if we would find our way through Scripture difficulties.

He then gave several examples of how we see aspects of Christ in various Old Testament texts.  Many of these are in types, examples that prefigure Christ either in His cross or His crown.  Of his ten references, in fact, four of these highlighted Christ’s First Coming  (Hebrews 11:4; Galatians 3:24; 1 Cor. 10:4 and John 3:14;  and four His Second Coming (Jude 14-15; John 8:56; Genesis 49:10; and the judges and kings of Israel); and two others, David’s life and the overall theme of the prophets, that equally reference both Advents.

S. Lewis Johnson often made a similar point, that God’s Divine Purpose, and all of Old Testament Prophecy, focuses on the two events of Christ’s First Coming and His Second Coming.  In the OT types, too, he notes that David and Solomon represent different aspects of the true king:  David represents Christ as the “man of war,” while David’s son Solomon represents the King of peace.

I now notice this “key” in my own Bible reading, especially as regards the many “kingdom” references.  For example, a recent day’s Bible readings included the following:  Luke 14:16-24 , Psalms 97 and 98 (see this article), 1 Kings 10 (Solomon as the type of Christ ruling in His kingdom), and Ezekiel 34 (especially verses 23-31).

As I’ve said before, understanding the Bible in terms of the importance of both comings — rather than emphasizing the First Coming to the exclusion of the one yet to come — greatly assists in the daily ups and downs of life, to understand why the world is the way it is.  A right understanding sets the focus where it should be, for believers to eagerly await His imminent return to set things right while truly praying “Thy kingdom come.”  Amillennialism and Church Replacement Theology simply do not do justice to the language of the wonderful Old Testament prophecies, and instead give the false impression that this church age is a wonderful time in which Satan is bound and so many people are coming to Christ, which makes this world so much better.  Yes, technically amillennialism is not so optimistic as post-millennialism, yet I find it difficult to distinguish the two in practice–the amillennialist preacher optimistically proclaims that the prophets spoke of our age (while reading the wonderful texts such as found in Isaiah or Jeremiah, etc.) and that Satan is bound now while the gospel goes forth unhindered.  Aside from the fact that such an idea denies the vivid and clear words of scripture concerning both the persecuted church and Satan’s activity in this age, it simply has no answer to what we actually observe: a world in which the believers are scattered (like salt) among a majority of unbelievers, a church never extinguished yet  oppressed and persecuted, and riddled with worldly believers as well as outright unbelievers.  That view also cannot make any sense of actual history and the hard questions that many people ask, such as “why the Holocaust?” and “why such hatred of the Jews?”

More to the point, the amillennialist scheme, with its excessive focus on only the First Coming, promises great things (that cannot be delivered in this age) and encourages believers to live only for this life and forget that Christ will return to setup His kingdom.  That mindset is focused on the past and what Christ has done (past tense) for us, yet lulls the believer to sleep in regards to the future — I’ll live a full life now, and someday go to be with Jesus in heaven.  Since the “first resurrection” is only the spiritual rebirth of believers, and emphasis is on a non-material “heaven,” the resurrection itself is downplayed.  J.C. Ryle spoke truly for his age, as well as ours, that the majority of believers, like the virgins waiting for the king in Matthew 25, are asleep and not looking for Christ’s imminent return:

We have adapted and accommodated to the Church of Christ the promises that were spoken by God to Israel and Zion. I do not mean to say that this accommodation is in no sense allowable. But I do mean to say that the primary sense of every prophecy and promise in Old Testament prophecy was intended to have a literal fulfillment, and that this literal fulfillment has been far too much put aside and thrust into a corner.  And by so doing I think we have exactly fulfilled our Lord’s words in the parable of the ten virgins, we have proved that we are slumbering and sleeping about the second advent of Christ.

The Misuse of Scripture: Examples from Romans and Ezekiel

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

From recent Bible readings comes Romans 10:1, part of Paul’s discussion about Israel and God’s election in chapters 9 through 11.  The ESV translates the verse as, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”  The NIV translates the “for them” as “Israel,” and though that apparently is not in the original texts, the context is clearly talking about Israelites.  Yet often that verse has been pulled out of its context and listed as a reference in a prayer list, for “the salvation of our loved ones.”

Perhaps such is a valid application.  I certainly cannot think of any other Bible verse to use if one wanted to list a Bible verse reference to go with the topic of praying for salvation for friends and family members.  Over the past few years I have noticed that the local church emphasizes prayers for salvation of loved ones in far greater proportion than the occurrence of such prayers in the Bible.  Often these prayers are especially said in regards to the many unsaved children — “God save our children.”  Some time back I blogged about this more passive parenting attitude in some churches, noting that the scriptures often teach the importance of proper training and discipline instead of that more passive, fatalistic approach to God’s sovereign grace.  I would now add that the Bible says nothing about praying for the salvation of our loved ones (children or others), unless one counts this prayer of Paul in Romans 10:1 — which is really talking about something quite different from general prayers for individuals.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with praying for lost loved ones, and as believers it is something we naturally do quite often — and yet it’s never mentioned in the New Testament, which focuses more on actions and behaviors, such as obedience of children to parents, slaves to masters, etc. as ways in which we “work out our salvation” and show our belief by how we live.

It’s really not uncommon, though, for people to reference a particular scripture and apply it to something completely unrelated to what the text is actually saying.  Given that even preachers do so, the layperson who applies Romans 10:1 to prayers for lost loved ones can be more easily excused.

Interestingly, many of the common misapplications of scripture, like Romans 10:1, involve texts that specifically deal with Israel — passages which Gentiles in the Church Age give other, unintended meanings to.  A great example of this is Ezekiel 37:1-10, a text clearly talking about the restoration of Israel, yet so often taught as being about the resurrection.

Spurgeon had some great words to say concerning this misuse of Ezekiel 37:  (Sermon #582, from 1864):

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection and certainly it may be so accommodated with much effect. … But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage. There is no allusion made by Ezekiel to the resurrection and such a topic would have been quite apart from the design of the Prophet’s speech. I believe he was no more thinking of the resurrection of the dead than of the building of St. Peter’s at Rome, or the emigration of the Pilgrim Fathers! That topic is altogether foreign to the subject at hand and could not by any possibility have crept into the Prophet’s mind.

He was talking about the people of Israel and prophesying concerning them. And evidently the vision, according to God’s own interpretation of it, was concerning them and them alone, for, “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” It was not a vision concerning all men, nor, indeed, concerning any men as to the resurrection of the dead—it had a direct and special bearing upon the Jewish people. This passage, again, has been very frequently and I dare say very properly, used to describe the revival of a decayed Church. This vision may be looked upon as descriptive of a state of lukewarmness and spiritual lethargy in a Church when the question may be sorrowfully asked—“Can these bones live?” . . . But while we admit this to be a very fitting accommodation of our text, yet we are quite convinced that it is not to this that the passage refers. It would be altogether alien to the Prophet’s strain of thought to be thinking about the restoration of fallen zeal and the rekindling of expiring love. He was not considering the Reformation either of Luther or of Whitfield, or about the revival of one Church or of another.

No, he was talking of his own people, of his own race and of his own tribe. He surely ought to have known his own mind, and led by the Holy Spirit, he gives us as an explanation of the vision. Not—“Thus says the Lord, My dying Church shall be restored,” but—“I will bring My people out of their graves and bring them into the land of Israel.”

Is God “Most Glorified” through His Church?

June 28, 2010 2 comments

A friend recently posted a link to the following quote from preacher Jeff Noblit:  “God is most glorified through His church. God is most glorified through His church when His church is biblically healthy. For our churches to become biblically healthy, we desperately need revival and reformation. This revival and reformation will require suffering on the part of God’s shepherd. But His glory is worth it!”

It’s a statement that sounds nice and uplifting, for the average Christian who likes to hear good things about the church — if you don’t think about the words and what it’s really saying. Yet the statement struck me as unbiblical, as an idea that comes from standard Reformed ecclesiology in which the Church is the end-all plan of God, also part and parcel of Church Replacement theology (also called Supersessionism).  I had not heard that particular wording before, though, and googled to see if anyone else had anything to say regarding what God is “most glorified” in.  I did learn that John Piper has written a type of creed statement, that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  I also found this article that looks at the biblical question of “God is Most Glorified… When?”  We really can’t say that there is one thing which glorifies God the most — although of course the Bible tells us of several things that do glorify God.  I know that at my own moment of salvation, when suddenly God revealed basic understanding (as I was driving home listening to the Rich Mullins song “Awesome God”), I suddenly knew that everything came from God, even my very breath and every cell of my existence, and that my whole purpose for being was to glorify and praise God.

But back to the original quote from Jeff Noblit — what does the Bible actually say about the Church?  And what would cause someone to think such a thing as the statement above?

So here are just a few things said in God’s word concerning the first question:  The Church began at Pentecost, and departs at the rapture.  The Church is the body of Christ, built on the foundation of prophets and apostles.  The church structure, for the local church, includes recognized positions of elders and deacons.  The Bible recognizes the gift of pastor/teacher, but does not support the idea of “office of pastor” — a point emphasized by S. Lewis Johnson, at a church that holds to that point.

The Church has been given the role that Israel would have had, to spread the gospel in the world during this age, and as Paul tells us in Romans 11, the purpose of Gentiles coming into the Church is to make Israel jealous. But Romans 11 also tells us that this situation will end, after the fullness of the Gentiles.  Old Testament texts affirm that in the age to come (the Millennial Kingdom) Israel will be restored and will serve the purpose that God intended for her, with the special place of prominence among the nations again.  So, knowing the purpose and limits of the Church in God’s overall plan — an equal part of the full people of God, alongside Israel — how can it be said that God is “most glorified through His Church?” For such language claims that the Church is greater than anything else in God’s Divine Purpose.

The New Testament also tells us to expect difficulty and great apostasy as the end draws near.  Paul often warned the church (as in Acts 20) as well as its leaders Timothy and Titus, to guard and keep the faith, to watch out for false teachers who would soon enter the church.  Peter and Jude also spoke of such things. As Mark Hitchcock has pointed out, it is interesting that the book of Jude is listed in the canon just before the book of Revelation; God has ordained both the books of the canon as well as their sequence in our Bibles.  The parable in Matthew 13:33 uses leaven to describe this age; and despite the ideas of some, leaven is never used in a positive way in scripture, and that includes the truth taught here.  The parable of the wheat and tares also makes it clear that the church will always have true and false professors within it, and we cannot separate them out.  Believers are continually exhorted to holy living and to resist the devil (again making it clear that Satan is not currently bound), and Revelation 2-3 make it clear that even by the end of the first century the churches were having lots of problems.

From church history, we can read the words of Christian leaders from previous times, such as 19th century Britain’s J.C. Ryle, C.H. Spurgeon, and Horatius Bonar, to learn that even in past times (that we like to think of as having been morally upright and more “Christian”), the true Church was oppressed, local churches plagued with professing believers more caught up in the affairs of the world than in the study of God’s word.  Refer to my previous blog article that includes one such quote from Horatius Bonar, or one of many samplings from J.C. Ryle:

The devil is the prince of this world during the present dispensation (John 14:30). The vast majority of the inhabitants of the earth choose the things that please the devil far more than the things that please God. Little as they may think it, they are doing the devil’s will, behaving as the devil’s subjects, and serving the devil far more than Christ. This is the actual condition of Christendom as well as of heathen countries. After 1900 years of Bibles and Gospel preaching, there is not a nation, or a country, or a parish, or a long established congregation, where the devil has not more subjects than Christ. So fearfully true is it that the world is not yet the kingdom of Christ.

To say that we “desperately need” revival and that it requires suffering on the part of God’s shepherd (presumably by this he means local church leaders) to accomplish this, is to put the matter in man’s hands, as if God’s glory is dependent on our producing “biblically healthy” churches.  Furthermore, the only way to come up with such a positive view concerning the Church and the necessity for revival and “biblically healthy” churches, is to re-interpret scriptures that are not even talking about the Church but about the promised future for Israel, as being really about the church — the common error of Church Replacement Theology that looks at the optimistic passages in the Old Testament prophets and applies the blessings to the Church but leaves the curses to Israel.

Since God never promised such blessings to the Church but to the future Kingdom age, those who re-interpret the scriptures (to think of our age as the glorious Church/Kingdom) face a serious disconnect between their view of God’s word and observed reality — a disconnect that can only lead to disappointment and frustration as they continue to expect to see certain things, such as revival and biblically healthy churches — while the reality fails to live up to the ideal of the great “blessings” as described by the prophets.

Theology and Prayer

June 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Words have meaning, and they really do help us to understand God’s word and the things in it.  Bible study that recognizes this fundamental fact will go much further than surface-skimming and getting general ideas while mixing and matching different terms in a careless way.

Sometimes a passage’s meaning changes due to a single word in a sentence, as in this example brought out by Dan Phillips a few months ago:  did Jesus really sweat great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, or was it sweat that was like great drops of blood?

As we all know, our prayers reflect the level of our understanding of God.  The language used in a general corporate prayer will reveal the difference between someone with clear understanding of different terms and their meanings, versus someone that skims the surface in a haphazard way, blurring distinctions and mismatching different biblical concepts.  Even differences of emphasis will show up:  the general prayer thought of the amillennialist/kingdom-now person will continually thank God for sending Jesus to the cross and let us never forget it; whereas the general prayer of a more biblical model will put more emphasis on the future hope we have, the desire for Jesus to return for us and to bring His kingdom to earth.

Church / Gospel, and Kingdom, are terms often confused; and so the typical Reformed, Sovereign Grace church will feature corporate prayers with words such as “help us to advance your kingdom in this world” or “advance your kingdom among us.”  But consider the clear teaching from the New Testament:  the kingdom will come when Christ returns and establishes it.  The words of our “Lord’s prayer” describe it thus:  “Your kingdom come” — future tense.  Several of Jesus’ parables talked about a future kingdom, and the king being gone a long time and what goes on during that time — and later the king does receive the kingdom.  Even at the cross, the dying thief asked Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom” — again understanding that the kingdom is something that will occur in the future and is associated only with Jesus’ return.  As the book of Acts clearly points out, Jesus is now in heaven, remaining there “until the time comes for God to restore everything”  (Acts 3:21).  Never are we to pray that God help us to advance the kingdom in this world — because the kingdom is not here now, but is that which will come after Christ returns.

A proper, biblical way to pray during the church age, regarding what happens in this age, would include the request that God would bless our efforts, that He would work in our missionary and evangelistic spread of the gospel, that the gospel would go forth and do God’s will in calling His people to Himself, to save souls… but that is different from an unbiblical request of asking God to advance the kingdom (as though meaning the kingdom is the Church / gospel message in our age).  This does raise the question, at least for me: does God hear and respond to the prayers of professing believers, when they neglect proper study of God’s word and do not pray according to biblical understanding?  The only biblical answer I know is that God knows their hearts, and the Spirit does intercede and understand the true needs of the believer’s heart.

Another issue is the doctrinal emphasis given in prayers, and here I notice that corporate prayers in the reformed, Sovereign Grace church constantly give thanks for the crucifixion — thank you for sending Jesus to die for us, and help us always to remember it.  They stop there, with little or no thanks or prayers to God regarding the future hope and glories, or even any reference to Christ’s resurrection and our eternal life.

In my frequent Bible readings, lately I have noticed that the general praise and prayer in the NT epistles will sometimes mention the death and blood of our Lord — but they don’t stop there at His first coming and only thank God for the crucifixion.  Such praises and prayers continue past that, to emphasize over and over again our hope in Christ, for His future return.  It seems that in fact this is a greater emphasis in the general prayers. Both past and future are mentioned, but greater emphasis is put on the future.  Indeed, as so many Bible teachers have pointed out (including John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, David Jeremiah, and J.C. Ryle), it is the prophetic word especially that has great effect on our ongoing sanctification, that which especially calls us to live godly lives — and it is that, our future inheritance, that the New Testament writers emphasized over and over again, for they knew this great truth as well.  For just a sampling of references:  1 Corinthians 1:4-8, 1 Thess. 5:23-24, 2 Thess. 1:6-12, Colossians 1:3-5, 12; Ephesians 1:9-10, 18; Philippians 1:6, 10; Titus 1:2, 1 Peter 1:3-4, 13.

S. Lewis Johnson expressed this point well:

Did you know that the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned over three hundred times in the New Testament?  Now there are three hundred and something chapters of the New Testament.  In other words, in every chapter proportionately in the New Testament, we have some reference to the second coming of the Lord Jesus.  There are some of the epistles who specifically have not just one but more than one reference to the second coming in those epistles.

We have the second coming mentioned three hundred and eighteen times.  We have baptism, or we have the doctrine of baptism. mentioned only nineteen times in seven epistles.  In other words, the Second Advent should have a great deal more emphasis in our Christian thought and life than the doctrine of water baptism.  Yet observe the importance that the churches attach to baptism.

We have entire denominations called Baptist churches.  We have large denominations calling themselves, Baptist churches. . . . Did you know that there are over 20 different kind of Baptists?  But now how many denominations do you know that are named the Lord’s coming denomination, or the Second Advent denomination?  We do have the Seventh Day Adventist, but then they mixed up the truth with error in their title:  The Seventh Day Adventist.  And did you know that we have Seventh Day Baptists?  We have a denomination of Baptists that call themselves Seventh Day Baptists.

Did you know that the Lord’s Supper is mentioned six times in the New Testament, but it is not in twenty of the twenty-one epistles of the New Testament.  Not mentioned, and there are some groups that make a great deal over the Lord’s Supper.

The second coming of the Lord Jesus ought to enlarge in our Christian thinking.  I have wondered if the church is not making the same mistake about the second coming that the Jews made about the first coming—not all the Jews, but some of the Jews.  They did not make very much of the suffering and the cross and the literality of the first coming texts.

The earliest Christians made a great deal after they learned the truth of the suffering, the cross and the second coming of the Lord Jesus, and it seems to me that today we may be possibly, possibly erring a little too much by making a whole lot over the first coming and sometimes de-emphasizing the reigning, the crown, the literality of the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

John MacArthur once explained the relationship between prayer and study of God’s word, pointing out this strong connection between our theology and our prayers.  How true it is:

I’ll tell you something that’s more important than prayer and that is the study of the Word. Because if you do not study the Word of God, you will not know how to pray because you will not know what is God’s will. The study of the Word is more important than prayer.  Someone told me this morning that an old saint of God said if he had to live his life all over again, he would pray less and study more because it would filter out needless prayers.

Intercalation in God’s Divine Purpose

June 11, 2010 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s “Divine Purpose” series comes a new big word, intercalation, which refers to an inserted time period that has nothing to do with events before or after it.  An example of an intercalation is the half-time in a football game.  Dr. Sperry Chafer, a dispensationalist who had ultra-dispensational tendencies, thought of the Church Age as an intercalation in God’s program, and S. Lewis Johnson tells of times when Chafer liked to impress his students (at Dallas Theological Seminary) with the big word.

I’ve come across the word intercalation a few times, but more commonly its synonym, parenthesis, and generally in the context of comparison / contrast between Israel and the Church.  The church did not exist until Pentecost, and was the mystery not revealed in the Old Testament, and so some have described the phenomena of the Church as a parenthesis, the time interval during which Israel is scattered in judgment and God is gathering His elect (the Church Age), from the nations throughout the world.  God dealt with Israel in the past, and will continue His dealings with Israel after the rapture.

Anti-dispensationalists often think that means that the Church is somehow less important — that dispensationalists exalt Israel as being greater than the Church — and rant against it without dealing with the biblical texts or the truth of what dispensationalists teach.  The local preacher expressed that during a series through Galatians, when one time he ranted that “dispensationalists think that the Church is the parenthesis, but they’ve got it backwards, it’s Israel that’s the parenthesis.”  Despite the “amens” he got from some of his loyal followers, he did not examine the matter biblically, nor represent dispensationalism accurately, but only expressed his own prejudices.  Paul Henebury has addressed the matter of the parenthesis a few times, as in this article (excerpt):

I don’t know where these authors got the idea that Israel is “the major plan of God in history” from.  In Dispensationalism, the Church is just as important to God as is Israel.  Christ died for both His Bride and the Remnant.  Certainly, the story of Israel dominates the OT, and it is not set aside in the New.  Speaking of the Church as a “parenthesis” does NOT mean it was “a temporary aside” or an afterthought. … The fact is, from man’s point of view the Church is a kind of interlude in revelational history.  But from the point of view of God’s eternal and comprehensive decree it is part of the warp and woof of redemptive history.  Prior to Abraham there were no “Hebrews” and hence no Israel (Jacob).  God’s creation of Israel was no “temporary aside” from His previous work.  Israel and the Church must be seen in the larger panorama of God’s Plan in world history.

S. Lewis Johnson, in the Divine Purpose series, stated his own disagreement with Chafer’s description, primarily because he too thought of “intercalation” as a term that minimizes the importance of the Church in God’s overall plan, a plan in which both Israel and the Church are equally important and all a part of the one people of God.  So he basically agreed with the dispensational understanding as expressed above, but didn’t like the term intercalation as a description of the Church Age.

But in SLJ’s subsequent discussion about Law and Grace, he brings a different use and sense of the term intercalation: that, within the context of the different ages and the biblical covenants, the true parenthesis is the Age of Law, as characterized by the Mosaic covenant.  As the New Testament teaches, the law was introduced 400 years after the Abrahamic Covenant, and was then set aside when the New Covenant began with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  The Jews, from Jesus’ time till now, have erred in that they put their focus on Moses instead of Abraham.  If they would direct their understanding back to Abraham they would have the correct perspective and see the promise realized in the New Covenant. The Mosaic system was temporary, never meant to become the legal code that the Jews made it into.

This is an interesting way to look at it, a good description of the sequence of biblical dispensations and covenants, and the roles each has played.  The Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants follow a progression, with the conditional Mosaic covenant in the middle, serving its purpose for a time but then rendered obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).  God’s plan has always been one of grace, and the Mosaic law was an interlude in God’s overall redemptive plan.

Are Dispensationalists Really the Pessimistic Ones?

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Over at Dr. Reluctant, Paul Henebury responds to a claim that dispensationalists are pessimistic regarding the future, expecting that “the present age will end in apostasy and divine judgment” (Walvoord) and that “almost unbelievably hard times lie ahead” (Charles Ryrie).  That post points out the truth concerning what the Bible has to say regarding our glorious future and optimism, as distinguished from confidence in the Church:

Our confidence in the Church is less ebullient.  There is a big difference between what the Church is called to be (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:15; cf. 2 Cor. 3:2-3) and what it often is (1 Cor. 1:10-11; Gal. 5:15, 26).  The Church has spent most of its history underachieving.  We see no good reason why this sorry trend should not continue.  While fully recognizing the truth of the Great Commission, we do not see in it any guarantee that the Church will “Christianize” the earth.  … We believe the sanguine expectation expressed by some regarding the institution of the coming kingdom in the continued absence of the King is due to poor exposition of biblical texts and the effects of supersessionist theology on their interpretations.”

I have found in my own discussions with amillennial preterists, though, that one’s attitude towards Christ’s Second Advent is linked to one’s eschatology — and it is actually the non-futurist, non-dispensationalist that has the more negative view.  After all, if someone thinks that all Bible prophecy has been fulfilled except for Christ’s return, and thinks of Christ’s return as a simple, single event in which Christ shows up and immediately starts the Great White Throne judgment for all souls, the natural tendency is to associate the return of Christ with judgment, and judgment only.  The reaction to this idea is to desire that this world continue so that we can keep building up the Church, building up the Kingdom of God now, and save as many as possible — because once Christ returns it’s all over, it’s too late for anyone to be saved.  Another consequence is for such a believer to look at the dispensationalist, full of hope and desire for Christ’s return … and suppose that the dispensationalist is being negative and desiring God’s judgment on the ungodly.

Granted, Christ’s return does include judgment on the ungodly.  Yet it includes so much more, many wonderful things foretold in the New Testament.  The NT epistles abound with references to our blessed hope, to our eager anticipation of His coming for us; we are to expect His return at any time.  Further, the detailed events — which our God has felt it important to reveal to us — tell us of the vast multitude of saved believers coming out of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7) as well as the many future believers during the Millennial Kingdom before the final judgment preceding the Eternal State.  As Spurgeon said of this:

Nor let it be forgotten that the multitudes of converts in the millennial age will very much turn the scale. For then the world will be exceedingly populous, and a thousand years of a reign of grace might easily suffice to overcome the majority accumulated by sin during six thousand years of its tyranny. In that peaceful period, when all shall know him, from the least even unto the greatest, the sons of God shall fly as doves to their windows, and the Redeemer’s family shall be exceedingly multiplied. . . . We admit that the number of the damned will be immense, but we do think that the two states of infancy and millennial glory will furnish so great a reserve of saints that Christ shall win the day.

A biblically grounded view of the future actually gives us the greater optimism, a hope that agrees with what we actually observe in this world, so that we need not fret over the continual troubles in the world and the continual and escalating failures of the Church.  We eagerly await the resurrection / rapture, at which we will receive our glorified bodies, rejoicing also that the creation too will be delivered from its bondage to renewal  (Romans 8).  The preterist / amillennialist looks at the pending judgment as the main event when Christ returns, and supposes to himself —  well, the resurrection will be nice when it comes, but meanwhile I’d rather just stay here and help build up the Church and this (present) kingdom of God, because then it will be too late, the show will be over for everyone not yet saved.  Yet we can look at the whole picture as biblically presented, understanding with the apostle John that the Second Advent involves both the bitter and the sweet part of the scroll (Revelation 10), and say in full agreement with John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).