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Premillennialism in Church History: Part VI, the Return to Futurism

August 15, 2014 4 comments

Continuing in this series through Premillennialism in Church History, we come finally to the 19th century and the development of Futurist Premillennialism, after over two hundred years of Protestant, historicist premillennialism. Nathaniel West did not address this issue, the development of futurism, in his essay “History of the Premillennial Doctrine.”  Thus, the following information comes from several online sources, pulled together for overall information.

As briefly noted concerning the early church, the chiliasts understood the prophetic texts as referring to actual 1260 days as ordinary days, and affirmed that there would come a future 3 ½ year tribulation period during which antichrist would rule and persecute the saints during this time just prior to Christ’s Second Advent. The 5th century introduced “realized eschatology” and an allegorical hermeneutic for the “church triumphant” Roman Catholic church, and the corruption and apostasy of that age finally led to believers embracing the idea that the Pope is really the antichrist, and therefore we are not now in the kingdom but in the age which occurs BEFORE Christ returns to slay the antichrist and inaugurate His kingdom – hence the return to premillennialism, though of this historicist variety, during the early Protestant era — late 16th through the 17th century, and continuing in opposition to the newer postmillennial idea through the 18th century.

Yet for several centuries into the Protestant era, the identification of the Pope with antichrist held as a very strong idea, such that the suggestion that the antichrist described in Revelation was a future ruler (and not the Catholic Pope) was taken as being pro-Catholic. Further complicating the matter was the fact that, in the post-Reformation era, it was the Catholics who first suggested a futurist view – and their motivation did appear to be the cause of promoting Catholicism and deflecting criticism from the Pope. The Jesuit Ribera in the late 16th century first proposed the futuristic approach, in his commentary (1590) on the book of Revelation. As noted by several sources, the early 19th century saw the development of futurism, within Protestantism, from two groups: Protestants who disagreed with the Reformation and had leanings toward Rome, but also by the continually-reforming type Protestants who saw that the Reformation had not been completed. Both of these groups recognized and referenced the tradition of the early church in reference to a future antichrist reigning for 3 ½ years just prior to Christ’s return.

The earliest Protestant futurist premillennialists included S.R. Maitland, James H. Todd, William De Burgh and Isaac Williams. As Robert Gundry observed, in Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism  (specific page viewable here and click ‘page’ to see the full page):

Historicism having discredited itself through the fixing of dates and fantastic interpretations of current events, Maitland, Todd, Burgh and Isaac Williams restored premillennial futurism to Protestant circles. Tregelles, B.W. Newton, Nathaniel West, and many others followed. Both premillennialism and futurism revived before the first glimmer of pretribulationism.

The later futurists – Tregelles, B.W. Newton and others – have previously been noted, and included in the list of resources here.  Many of the writings of these earliest Protestant, futurist premillennialists, can be found online.  Following are several links to these:

George Ladd’s “The Blessed Hope” (Google view of this section available here) also provides much of the history, including details about Ribera the earliest (post-Reformation) futurist (an amillennial futurist), as well as the three key Protestant futurists (S.R. Maitland, James H. Todd, and William Burgh), noting their clearly historic premillennial yet futurist understanding. An excerpt:

Burgh knows of only one coming of Christ, at the end of the Tribulation when the dead in Christ shall be raised and the living believers raptured. He believed that Israel was to be restored at the end of the age when the seventieth week of Daniel would occur. Antichrist will make a covenant with Israel only to break it in the midst of the week and to turn in wrath against Israel. … These early futurists followed a pattern of prophetic events similar to that found in the early fathers, with the necessary exception that Rome was not the final kingdom. In fact they appealed to the fathers against the popular historical interpretation for support of their basic view. A pretribulational rapture is utterly unknown by these men, and while Israel is to be restored, the gospel which Israel will preach in the millennium is the Gospel of grace, and those who are saved are included in the Church. The Tribulation concerns both Israel and the Church; in fact, it will be the time of testing an apostate Christianity.

The theological debate within premillennialism, historicism versus futurism, continued throughout the 19th century in the form of many papers written by one side opposing the other or responding to the other. The anti-Catholic historicist view still held on with some historic premillennialiasts, who saw the futurist view as being sympathetic to Catholicism. Though some who promoted a futurist view during this time did have sympathies toward Catholicism, clearly not were pro-Catholic, but returning to the original chiliast futurist premillennial faith. H.G. Guinness’ 1905 book, History Unveiling Prophecy (see pages 284-295), is a good example of the historicist rhetoric against futurism. Guinness’ protest against the futurist view adds his own emotional involvement in the issue as being one about the Pope, including faulty reasoning that if the Pope is not said to be THE antichrist spoken of in the scriptures, then the Pope would really be the vicar of Christ. He apparently could not understand a third possibility, that the Pope is AN antichrist (of which there have been and are many, as per 1 John), while recognizing that the prophetic scriptures speak instead of a future antichrist who will rule for 3 ½ years rather than 1260 years.

The only other development within overall premillennialism is the well-known one begun by Darby and his associates, what continues today as pre-tribulational dispensational premillennialism, a topic well-known with popularity especially in the U.S. Non-dispensational, historic premillennialism continues today with such organizations as the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony in England, and other resources available online. Most premillennialists today are futurist, though I hear of a few exceptions, as for instance author James M. Hamilton, who take the historicist approach instead.

Thoughts on Theological Labels: “Futurist Premillennialism”

March 21, 2014 4 comments

For today, just some thoughts concerning the particular doctrinal ideas often associated with larger “doctrinal labels.”  A currently popular term is “futurist premillennialism,” often considered synonymous with “dispensationalism”:  a definition of premillennialism with several defining characteristics as “essentials of dispensationalism.”  This term and definition have especially gained popularity (and perhaps were developed/created) through the work of scholars associated with a well-known seminary that teaches dispensationalism.  Though likely it was not intended, it appears that at least some people now confuse terms, such that “futurist premillennialism” (to them) means dispensationalism — as though to suggest that only the dispensational form of premillennialism is futurist in its view including recognition of a future for national, ethnic Israel.   Such use of “futurist premillennial” often comes up in online group discussions, or in online articles such as this recent post, which notes in passing “the abundance of scholarship from notable Calvinists who ascribe to futuristic premillennialism (dispensationalism).”

But consider the actual words “futurist” and “premillennial.”  Technically, futurist refers to the belief that the end times events especially as described in Revelation are to occur in the future  (see this post about millennial views and future/present/past), a concept not limited to premillennialism (there are at least a few amillennial futurists, though certainly more common for premillennialism). Also, premillennialism itself encompasses the basic ideas of a plain language “literal” hermeneutic, a future restoration of Israel as a nation, and a future literal thousand year period of time during which Christ reigns upon the Earth over the nations populated with mortal (non-glorified) peoples.

So I maintain that “futurist premillennialism” as such is not really synonymous with dispensationalism, nor limited to or exclusive to dispensationalism, but should be understood to encompass overall classic/historic premillennialism.  Though what often passes today for “historic premillennialism” is the relatively recent development of (George Ladd) one-text premillennialism, including (as for instance with author James Hamilton) a historicist approach to Revelation, many premillennialists – in the age before dispensationalism was introduced and became popular – took a clearly literal, futurist view of eschatology.  The early church fathers recognized a future literal 3 1/2 year period of Great Tribulation after which Christ would return (see the quotes in this post, for instance).  Though Protestant premillennialism began with the historicist view common to the Reformers’ amillennial historicism, the 19th century — and notably, this was before dispensationalism was popularized (Darby’s teaching, to the later Scofield Bible) — brought several premillennialists who were also futurist in their understanding regarding Daniel’s 70th week and the Great Tribulation events.  Recommended works from earlier, pre-dispensational and futurist premillennialism include  Benjamin Wills Newton’s The Antichrist Future (1859).

Despite the seeming predominance of the George Ladd view on the one hand, and the popularity of “Calvinist Dispensationalism” on the other, the classic, futurist premillennial view has its proponents today, as for instance the teachers at the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony (more details in this post), and the (past as well as present-day) writers of online articles at Providence Baptist Ministries. The historic premillennialist speakers at the SGAT monthly meetings,  and their quarterly magazine, feature the same topics supposedly unique to dispensationalism, as for instance: the rebuilding of a literal Babylon, the future of Israel and the nations and the millennium; and literal hermeneutics in response to the problems with amillennialism.  Other resources include the teaching at this website, and a Facebook discussion group for classic premillennialists, which includes present-day non-Laddian style historic premillennial pastors and laypeople.  Consider also the many believers (as evidenced by many online discussion groups) from non-Calvinist/non-Reformed background; these generally come from a baptist Arminian Dispensational background, yet now identify as historic premillennial (not as dispensational) and are familiar with the historic premillennial writers from the early church as well as 19th century premillennialists: clearly futurist with respect to the Great Tribulation, agreeing with the literal (plain language) hermeneutic, the future restoration of Israel, and the role of Israel and the nations during the 1000 year kingdom.

So let’s help spread the word, that dispensational premillennialism is not the only form of premillennialism that is futurist, adheres to a literal plain language hermeneutic, and sees a future restoration of Israel (the basic tenets of supposed “futurist premillennialism aka dispensationalism”).

The Difference Between Historicism and Historic Premillennialism

December 20, 2013 2 comments

Two similar words, historicism and historic, are often confused, such that it is common to find people describing “historic premillennialism” as a historicist view of prophecy: that the prophetic events in the Bible are symbolic of various events throughout history.  Historicism is really one of four approaches to the prophetic chapters of Revelation, and the historicist approach is not limited to any particular millennial view, premillennialism or other.  After all, the 16th century Reformers were amillennial and historicist, seeing the pope and Catholic system in their day as the antichrist.

The term “historic premillennialism” refers simply to the historic (not historicist) view of premillennialism, a term broad enough to include the variations among many believers throughout church history, with no association to whatever other doctrines they may have believed.  This grouping includes the early church fathers, who showed understanding of future events and their sequence, as briefly quoted previously here  — a futurist understanding (that the prophetic events are future to our age, not occurring throughout history).

Within the Protestant era, historic premillennialists generally came from the post-Reformation background including Covenant Theology, and 18th century premillennialists such as John Gill also had a historicist view of prophecy.  The mid-19th century premillennialists came from the background of this historicist approach, but through their emphasis on the literal hermeneutic  understood the problem with historicism: simply, that the events described in Revelation have not yet happened.  It is interesting as well to read Benjamin Wills Newton put forth the same futurist arguments as modern-day writers, for a rebuilding of Babylon to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and in Revelation (prophecies which tell of a destruction of Babylon that has not yet happened), in a detailed look at the actual history of Babylon and its surrounding region up to the mid-19th century.

Newton, in Thoughts on the Apocalypse, also shared this then-new development of a more literal understanding and futurist approach.  As he noted, we do see some of the same characteristics, in our age, of the great evil events yet to come: a kind of foreshadowing as history moves toward its conclusion, as the events of world history move closer and closer toward the final manifestation, the antiChrist’s rule.  But we must go beyond the historic similarities, the application, to the direct meaning of the text and what God intends as His primary communication to us in His word:

(Concerning Revelation 17-18):

We cannot, therefore, be surprised that this chapter has frequently been applied by the servants of God, in different ages, to those ruling systems which they have severally recognized in their own day as hostile to the people and to the truth of Christ, whilst perhaps blasphemously assuming His authority and name. Nor were they altogether wrong in this; for what ecclesiastical body, I might add, what secular body, has yet arisen in the earth, that has set itself to order the ways of men either in their relations toward Christ or in their natural relations toward God, that has not run counter to His will, dishonored His Scripture, opposed His saints, and arrogated to itself a place which God never gave it?

And how can any be the sustainers of such things, without names of blasphemy being written on them, the more in proportion to the energy and devotedness of their labor? Many a defender of Romanism and such like systems, must be regarded as marked with names of blasphemy — for falsehood cannot be thrust into the place of Truth, without Truth being rejected and reviled; and false assumption, and the consequent reviling of God’s Truth and people, is blasphemy in His sight. ” I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not ; but are the synagogue of Satan.”

But the exactness of prophetic statement must not be destroyed by applications, which, however valuable as applications, must never be substituted for direct and exact interpretation. Our first duty always is to inquire what the event which God is pleased to reveal, definitely and specifically is. It may be with godly and upright intention that many have sought to turn the edge of the testimony of (Revelation 17) sometimes on Rome, sometimes on national assumptions of Christianity; but the cause of Truth will not ultimately be served hereby, if in doing this they have unconsciously narrowed the testimony of God, and refused to see in this chapter the definite picture of that closing system to which Romanism and everything else that successfully sways the unregenerate heart will finally lead …  It cannot be doubted by any who seriously examine this chapter, that its fulfilment is altogether future.

The Real Story Behind the Pre-Conflagration, Supposed ‘Pre-Trib’ Rapture

December 16, 2013 10 comments

Recently an online posting has been circulating around, listing a number of well-known Christians throughout history who supposedly believed in a pre-tribulational rapture.  This posting does not include any actual source quotes from the people claimed to have believed in a pre-trib rapture, but asserts a “pre-trib” view for many of the early church fathers including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Victorinus, as well as post-Reformation pre-19th century teachers including John Gill and Morgan Edwards.

I had already seen several quotes from the specific early church fathers, statements that show they understood that the saints (same group as the church), would experience the future time of antichrist.  Here are a few such statements, showing also their futurist (and premillennial) understanding of the events in Revelation:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXV, 4

And then he points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God: ‘And in the midst of the week,’ he says, ‘the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete.’ Now three years and six months constitute the half-week.

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 47

For this is meant by the little horn that grows up. He, being now elated in heart, begins to exalt himself, and to glorify himself as God, persecuting the saints and blaspheming Christ, even as Daniel says, ‘I considered the horn, and, behold, in the horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things; and he opened his mouth to blaspheme God. And that horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them until the beast was slain, and perished, and his body was given to be burned.’

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61

That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains,…

Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 20:1

The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself trader Antichrist against the Church.

As to the many current-day claims of pre-trib belief before the mid-19th century, it is interesting to note here that previous generations of dispensationalists —  Darby himself, also Scofield and later John Walvoord – all recognized and admitted that the pre-trib teaching was in fact a recent development.  This agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s observation in 1989 during his series through Revelation, that those who held to pre-trib acknowledged that it was a recent teaching. The claims of pre-trib belief prior to the mid-19th century, are themselves a revision introduced by more recent pre-trib and prophecy teachers.

The idea that historicist Christians, including Morgan Edwards and John Gill, believed in a type of “pre-tribulational rapture,” comes from a twisting of their “pre-conflagration” statements, such as the following from John Gill:  He’ll stay in the air, and His saints shall meet Him there, and whom He’ll take up with Him into the third heaven, till the general conflagration and burning of the world is over, and to preserve them from it….   I note here, first, that these statements still show an idea of one First Resurrection and not a two-stage coming with one group before the Great Tribulation followed by another resurrection/rapture after that event – really a type of “pre-wrath” rapture of believers taken out before God’s wrath.

A further point of distinction must also be noted here:  the difference between historicist and futurist ideas of the book of Revelation.  The historicists were generally premillennial (John Gill, and at least a few others), but they understood the Great Tribulation in a non-literal way, as occurring throughout church history, with the events in Revelation describing longer periods of time, symbolic descriptions of various wars with the Turks or other enemies throughout the church age.  According to the historicist view, the Great Tribulation is already occurring, we are already experiencing it:  an idea obviously incompatible with the very notion of a pre-Tribulational rapture of one group of believers.  If the whole church age is the Tribulation, a “pre-trib rapture” could only occur before the church age began, which becomes speculative nonsense.

Thus, the present-day claims of a pre-1830 belief in a pretribulational rapture of the church, “found” in the statements of 18th century historicist pre-conflagrationists, is really deceptive handling of true Christian doctrine (what these men actually believed) and church history.   Here I also can appreciate the honesty of the earlier dispensationalists, such as Walvoord, who at least recognized the correct time period for the origin of the pre-trib rapture idea.

Mark Hitchcock: Preterism series

June 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently the name Mark Hitchcock came up again (through a question on Dan Phillips’ blog) — one of the better Bible prophecy teachers.  I had briefly looked at his church website last year, and enjoyed a general prophecy message that sounded solid enough.  From the recent inquiry, I learned a few more things: Mark Hitchcock is “4.5 point Calvinist,” and he does teach Calvinist soteriology, as in a recent Ephesians study.  This was good to hear, as sermons on prophecy don’t necessarily indicate one’s understanding of the doctrines of Grace.  Mark Hitchcock also does not hold to the “gutless grace” of the non-Lordship salvation group, and has been described as part-way between Ryrie and John MacArthur.

Hitchcock’s church site, Faith Bible Church (Edmond, OK),  has a good selection of online sermons going back to 2004, and among the offerings are series on the prophets, dispensationalism, and preterism.  I’ve been listening to the 8-part series on Preterism (from 2006), and so far it’s quite informative.  Like Don Greene, who has a good paper concerning Matthew 24 and problems with Preterist interpretation, Hitchcock deals with partial or moderate preterism, the belief of a few prominent men including R.C. Sproul, Hank Hennegraff, Gary DeMar, and Kenneth Gentry.

Some of Mark Hitchcock’s presentation was familiar, from Don Greene’s paper, including the point about the context for Matthew 24 in the verses at the end of Matthew 23 — and Jesus’ strong words to the Jews, that “you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’.”  Obviously the Jews did not repent in A.D. 70, so that event could not have been the time of Christ’s Second Coming, even any “cloud coming” or “judgment coming.”

Where I found Hitchcock’s Preterism series especially helpful was its explanation of the preterists’ view of the book of Revelation.  Everything I had previously seen online, including from Don Greene as well as the pre-trib website, dealt with the Olivet Discourse, and so this supplied a lot of details concerning other preterist ideas.  This 8-part series includes an overview of Revelation plus a few extra sessions discussing the preterist idea of Revelation 13, the claim that the beast was Nero.

Now for a few highlights, from my notes through Hitchcock’s Preterism series:

Preterists emphasize “Reader Relevance” with the claim that the prophecies given in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation had to have meaning for the 1st century generation, and therefore fulfillment in their day.  A good response here:  what about Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the virgin birth of the Messiah, 700 years before it happened?  How was that one relevant to people in Isaiah’s day?  What about the prophecy in Genesis 3:15, written down by Moses 1400 years before the Messiah came?  By such “reader relevance,” we could not have any biblical prophecies for anything beyond a few years.

In reference to Reader Relevance, Preterists cite the High Priest Caiaphas as a case of one who was told by Jesus that he would see the Son of Man coming — and therefore Jesus must have been talking about a judgment coming in 70 A.D.  It turns out, from biblical archeology findings, that Caiaphas didn’t even live until 70 A.D., but had died some 20 years previously anyway.  Caiaphas will see the Son of Man coming, certainly — at the future Second Coming, as one of the “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.”

Did Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus two or three questions at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse?  Mark Hitchcock makes a good case that, really, the disciples were only asking one question.  When Jesus mentioned the temple being destroyed, their only point of reference was Zechariah 14, and so they associated Jesus’ words about the destruction with God’s deliverance of Israel, and His return, with one single future event.  Of course Jesus knew that these were two separate events (the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, then the future Second Coming), so He told them the signs associated with His return.

Preterism and the Book of Revelation

Whereas Mark Hitchcock sees the seven sealed scroll as a “scroll of doom,” and John MacArthur has described it as the “title deed to the earth,” preterists claim that this scroll is God’s bill of divorce to the nation Israel.  Throughout the overview of Revelation, the Preterists have an extremely obvious anti-Israel bias.

Preterists interpret numbers in a very inconsistent way, and don’t even follow their own made-up rules.  Their overall “rule” is that very large numbers are only symbolic, but small numbers are literal — but then in Revelation 11 they flip-flop and say that the two witnesses are symbolic of a small body of Christians remaining in Jerusalem to testify against it.

Inconsistent hermeneutics:  as just one example of the many inconsistencies, how Preterists treat the period of 3 1/2 years. Any normal Bible reader, just reading the book of Revelation, would notice the descriptions of a period of time that is 3 1/2 years, also called 42 months, both in Revelation 11 and Revelation 13 — and reasonably conclude that both are talking about the same 3 1/2 year time period.  But the Preterists claim that the 3 1/2 years in Revelation 11 happened from 67 to 70 A.D., but the 3 1/2 years in Revelation 13 occurred from late 64 to 68 A.D.  And the events that they say “fulfill” Revelation 11 and Revelation 13 were only “about” 3 1/2 years.  Approximations don’t cut it when we are dealing with the exactness of God, who has shown great precision in past dating such as the amazing prophecy (Daniel 9) concerning the first 69 weeks.

This series has much more interesting information, a good resource on this subject — and I plan to listen to quite a bit more from Mark Hitchcock’s teachings available online.

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).

Acts 3, The Prophets, and the Church Age

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post I considered dispensationalism and ecclesiology, noting that the descriptions of the future kingdom, in the OT prophecies, do not agree with the assessment of the New Testament church age as described by the apostles.

Now that I’ve been following the (modified) Horner Bible reading plan for a year, I can definitely see a benefit:  really becoming familiar with what God’s word actually says.  After all, one year of this reading plan results in the following:  almost three readings through the Prophets, six readings through the New Testament Epistles, and over seven readings through the book of Acts.  From the Prophets I now notice several major themes, including the pattern of Israel’s apostasy, followed by God’s judgement, and then the wonderful hope of future restoration of Israel: into a right relationship with God, and the associated blessings of that — dwelling in the land in peace, safety and abundance.

In my current reading through Acts, Peter’s message in Acts 3 especially sticks out.  Notice verse 21 especially:

(Jesus) whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  (ESV)

My last post mentioned the overall differences between the Old Testament prophecies and the present church age.  This passage in Acts 3 is far more direct and to the point.  Jesus must remain in heaven (referring to this age) “until the time” (future) “for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

Now, what did the prophets speak about, and what is meant by the restoration (the “restoring”)?  Acts 1:6-7, just two chapters earlier, answers the second part of this question.  After 40 days spent with Jesus post-resurrection, the apostles asked Him, “are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  As has often been pointed out, if the amillennialists are right and this age is the kingdom, this would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to correct their understanding.  Instead, He simply told them that it was not for them to know “the times or dates” of when it would come.  Acts 3:21 clearly refers to the same thing, a future restoration that will come after the present time (while Jesus remains in heaven) — in other words, at our Lord’s Second Coming.

Back to the first question:  what did the prophets speak about?  Again, multiple readings through that section of the Bible (Isaiah through Malachi) show the very oft-repeated theme of apostasy-judgment-future restoration and blessing, and all of these relate to national Israel, with language concerning “the house of Judah and the house of Israel.”  The theme is so prevalent throughout these books, that it boggles my mind that anyone could conceive of the idea that the first two parts — apostasy and judgment — involve Israel, but the third part — future restoration and blessing — is something completely disjointed from the previous two and said to apply to the Church instead.  A strong, solid knowledge of the Old Testament prophets, and the book of Acts (plus the many descriptions of the current Church age as a good contrast) makes the truth plain.

Biblical ignorance — and sinful Gentile pride, the very thing the apostle Paul warned against in Romans 11– is behind that which now boggles my mind.  Such ignorance and pride itself are an indication of the underlying problems with the Church age, as yet more proof that the Church age is NOT the kingdom of God, is NOT the fulfillment of all that the prophets spoke of long ago.

In years past when my own Bible study was more lacking (casual reading through the Bible once a year, and listening only to what was taught at my own church), I likewise did not think about these issues so much — and at a superficial glance, it does sound good when a pastor skims over a few verses out of Isaiah or Jeremiah and says “this is talking about our age now.”  We know the great things that Christ did for us in His atoning work on the cross, and eternal life in heaven, and so, naturally, it sounds great to hear that the Church is the wonderful outworking of God’s plan.  We’re all Christians, and the gospel is going out victoriously into this age and changing lives, and so it seems natural that God is doing all this for us Gentiles in the Church Age.

With such general ideas, I once supposed that previous generations of the Church age were much better than now:  that people were really more godly, moral and church-going back in the middle 20th century, or the early 20th century, or other times before that, such as on the 19th century frontier, Victorian England, colonial America, etc.  Perhaps other times were more outwardly civilized, with the restraints of law and societal pressure, but the more I learn and read of history the more it truly agrees with what the Bible says about this current Church Age.  I have read many sermons from C.H. Spurgeon, delivered in the 1850s (150+ years ago), that one would surely think were talking about the early 21st century.  Then as now, most people did not really read their Bibles, did not take the time and effort and were more interested in magazines and popular literature.  Then as now, people were lazy with excuses regarding church attendance and with really living a good Christian life.  Then as now, only a few Christians spoke out against and contended against the constant barrage of errors and evils coming against the church.  Then it was Spurgeon; now it is leaders such as John MacArthur, and others at various points throughout church history.