Eschatology Some questions and answers on Eschatology or Are we just polishing brass fixtures on the Titanic? by Tom Albrecht firstname.lastname@example.org [ This is written from a preterist postmillennial perspective. ]
- How much of Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled?
I believe that most of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of Messiah and the salvation of Israel/judgement of the nations were fulfilled at the coming of Jesus Christ into the world the first time. That is, I believe that most of the Old Testament prophecies had spiritual, as opposed to literal, fulfillment. The prophecy of Elijah and the fulfillment in John the Baptist is a perfect example. Only a literalist needs to imagine a future coming of Elijah in order to fulfill the promises in Malachi. They also need to ignore part of the New Testament, esp. the words of Jesus (Matt. 17:12,13).
Given my understanding of what happened at Christ’s first coming, the establishment of the Kingdom of God, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jews and Gentile, the establishment of the Church as the people of God, the destruction of the Temple in A.D.70, and the scattering of the nation of Israel, I see all as spiritual fulfillments of the Old Testament prophecies on the Messianic Kingdom. The eventual regathering of the Jews in Israel will only occur when they accept Jesus as their Messiah, and this will happen prior to His return (see below). I believe the Book of Revelation (as well as the rest of the New Testament. See my comments below.) was written prior to A.D.70 and is primarily concerned with events which occurred in the 1st century.
In short, and contrary to popular opinion, there are no nuclear missiles or Cobra helicopters pictured in Revelation.
2. What is the relationship between Israel and the Church?
In the Old Testament, only Israel is called the “people of God”, “God’s chosen people”, “the elect”, “the saints/holy ones”, the “wife of God”, or other specific terms of identification. In the New Testament, only the Church is identified as by the same terms (if you equate “wife of God” with “bride of Christ”, which you should otherwise God becomes a polygamist). (Matt. 27:52; Acts 9:13,32,41; 26:10; Rom. 8:27; 13:13; Rev. 5:8; 13:7; Matt. 24:22; Rom. 8:33; 11:7*; Col. 3:2; 2 John 1:1; 1 Peter 2:4,9; Rev. 1:6). (* Rom. 11:7 is significant in that it makes a clear distinction between “Israel” and the remnant chosen by God to obtain mercy. According to Paul, Israel after the flesh is not God’s chosen people, but, as Jesus said, those who do the will of the Father (Matt. 12:50).) This is one of the reasons why I take many of the spiritual promises to Old Testament Israel to be fulfilled in God’s promises to the Church. In other words, Israel is the Church in the Old Testament and the Church is Israel in the New Testament.
3. Will Israel be regathered in the Land?
Or, is what happened in 1948 a fulfillment of biblical prophecy? The possession of the land by Israel was conditioned in the Old Testament. The condition was obedience to the commandments of God. When Israel sinned, they were dispossessed of the land. This was God solemn warning to the people in I Kings 9:6-9. Now I would argue that Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah was the ultimate sin against God; the ultimate in “Baal worship”. As a result the were driven from the land in A.D.70 (and following) by the Romans.
What occurred in 1948 had nothing to do with the restoration of Israel as promised in the Old Testament. Restoration was based on a return to the covenant God established between Himself and His people, and finally ratified in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the new covenant in His blood. Unless and until the Jewish people acknowledge the Messiahship of Jesus, there will be no biblical restoration to the land. But I believe that time will come! We as Christian ought to be prepared for that day, to support an Israel that trusts in Her Messiah. The present nation of Israel does not fit those conditions. As a matter of fact, the present nation of Israel is VERY hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are still hardened in their sin of unbelief. But like the apostle Paul, I have hope for a day when the scales of unbelief will be removed from their eyes, and they will fully trust in Messiah.
4. Will the Temple be rebuilt and sacrifices reinstituted?
Nowhere in the New Testament does it teach that the Hebrew Temple will be rebuilt following its destruction by the Romans in A.D.70. On the contrary, the New Testament teaches that the Church is the Temple of God, that it is a spiritual habitation (I Cor. 3:16,17; 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22; Rev. 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 14:17; 21:22). God no longer dwells in a house made of fabric or stone. These were representations, shadows, of the True Tabernacle of God (John 1:14). Today, He indwells both Jew and Gentile who have placed their trust in Him. The Church is the Temple.
5. Is the Millennium a “literal” 1000 years?
The Book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature and, like all biblical apocalyptic literature, it is not meant to be taken “literally”. We discover how the symbols are to be taken by comparing them with other uses of the same symbol, and by further New Testament revelation. Example, Isaiah 53 speaks about Jesus because the New Testament says it speaks about Jesus (Acts. 8:35). If one were to take Isaiah 53 “literally” one could logically conclude that the Messiah is not in view. That description of the “suffering servant” does not match with any Old Testament description of the Messiah/Son of David.
Throughout the Book of Revelation numbers are used in a principally symbolic fashion. For instance, the numbers 7, 10, 12, or some combination/multiple of these are used to represent various spiritual conditions. The 144,000 of Rev. 7 and 14 is the product of 12 squared, and 10 squared; twelve being the foundation number of God’s people (i.e. the 12 sons of Israel and the 12 apostles), and 10 representing completion. The 24 elders before the throne also represent the people of God.
I see no reason to assign a literal value to the 1000 years. It is symbolic of the time of the binding of Satan (so as to not deceive the nations) and the reign of Messiah and His people. Based on my understanding of the rest of the Bible, especially apocalyptic scripture, I must conclude that the “1000 years” is the present age (see my next section).
6. What is the relationship between the Kingdom of God/Heaven, the
Millennium, and the Messianic Kingdom?
Simply put, the Bible uses the same terminology for the conditions which constitute these situations. All of the Old Testament Law and Prophets pointed to Christ and His advent as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:25-27). He was the promised Messiah, and had come to institute His Messianic kingdom. They asked him, “Are you the Christ[the Messiah]?” He told them, “Yes!” (John 10:24-30). His Messianic Kingdom was entirely spiritual in nature; His reign was in the hearts and minds of His people (Deut 30:11-14; Romans 10:5-11). While some of the Jews were looking for a material kingdom, Jesus made it quite clear that none would be forthcoming (John 18:36). He was a King very different from what some were expecting.
In the Old Testament, the promised Messiah would establish His kingdom and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. According to the New Testament, Jesus accomplished this at His first coming. (Matt. 3:2; 9:35; 10:7; 11:2; 12:28; John 18:36; Acts 2:30ff; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 12:22) In the New Testament the messianic kingdom is identified as the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven (compare Matt. 4:12 and Mark 1:14). “Jerusalem” must be understood in New Testament terms. Hebrews 12:22 tells us that the Church is spiritual Jerusalem settled on Mt. Zion. This picture becomes even more vivid in the vision of Rev. 21.
I should point out, in case it not clear, that nowhere in the Bible is the King of kings ever pictured without His kingdom. In the Greek New Testament the word for kingdom, basileia, is more properly understood as “reign” rather than “realm” (this distinction will help us understand verses like I Cor. 15:25). One of the features of an pre-millennial kingdom theology is that Jesus is King now but He has not yet received His kingdom. This is simply not supported in the scripture. On the contrary, we are told in the New Testament that many significant Old Testament passages having to do with the messianic kingdom were fulfilled at Christ’s first coming.
- The angelic announcement of peace through the birth of Messiah was proclaimed this way (Luke 2:14). The Shalom of God had appeared to His people to establish His kingdom in the hearts of His people.
- The proclamation of believing Jews was to the reality of the messianic kingdom, especially on Palm Sunday (Luke 19:37,38). The kingdom was being proclaimed by the followers of Messiah. Jesus never told them they were mistaken and that His kingdom wouldn’t arrive for at least another 1900 years! Rather He emphasized the spiritual nature of the messianic kingdom by saying, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21).
- Even though the people misunderstood the spiritual nature of the messianic kingdom, and tried to crown Him king of Israel, that doesn’t alter the fact that they correctly perceived the nearness of the kingdom (Matt. 4:17).
- Jesus used the term “son of man” from Daniel to specifically underscore the reality of Daniel’s fourth kingdom, and that it was spiritual in nature, as opposed to political or fleshly. The idea that the long-dead Roman empire must be revived in order to usher in a future messianic kingdom seems a fanciful tale for the weak-minded, and exhibits the fleshly thinking that got a earlier generation of Jews in trouble (cf. John 18:33-38).
The Kingdom of God was inaugurated at Christ’s advent. It was announced by John the Baptist and Jesus as “at hand” (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:14,15). The Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God are synonymous terms (Matt. 19:23,24). The reality of the Kingdom of God in manifest by 1) the coming of Elijah (Matt. 17:12,13), 2) the preaching of the gospel, 3) the announcement of the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18-21), 4) the coming of “the Prophet” (Deut. 18:15; John 7:40), 5) the coming of the “son of man” (Dan. 7:13,14; Matt. 10:23; 13:41; 16:28; 26:64; Acts 7:56).
Another sign of the Kingdom was the “binding of the strong man” mentioned in Matt. 12:28,29. In my estimation, this coincides with the binding of Satan which is described at the beginning of the 1000 years in Rev. 20. Satan is bound so as not to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:3). The reality of this binding is clear throughout the New Testament as the gospel is successfully preached (cf. Luke 10:18), and believer have power over the Devil (James 4:7; Rom. 16:20).
Nowhere in the New Testament is there any indication given that Jesus will reign on the earth in a (as yet) future millennial kingdom. All the words of Jesus make it clear that His kingdom is spiritual, not fleshly. The Jews of Jesus time were expecting a Messiah who would return the land to them and drive out their enemies. Jesus told them they were wrong. He never gave any indication that the Messianic kingdom was intended to be as it is described by Dispensationalists. I submit that one of the reasons the Jews of Christ’s time, as well as many today, won’t accept Jesus as Messiah is because they are looking for the wrong person. Jesus proved He was the Son of God by all the miracles He performed, but their hearts were hardened and they refused to believe (Luke 22:66-71).
On the contrary, verses like Luke 22:69; Acts 2:30-33; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:21 and others make it clear that Jesus has received the throne of His Father (i.e. the throne of David). It’s a past, not future, condition. He reigns today in the heavenly realm, and in the hearts of His followers by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:20; I Cor. 3:16).
The “1000 years” of Rev. 20 has but two characteristics.
- Satan is bound from deceiving the nations.
- the saint are living and reigning with Christ (no physical location specified, see my comments above on “reign” vs. “realm”).
The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that both of these conditions are a present reality. (Matt. 12:29; Luke 10:17,18; Acts 26:18; Rom. 16:20; John 5:24,25; Eph. 2:5,6).
Rev. 20 does not teach that Satan is absolutely powerless during this “1000 years”. (Neither does the rest of scripture.) Remember, Revelation is a symbolic book. It is not meant to be read like a front-page story from the New York Times. The symbols must be interpreted from the rest of scripture. It is an unnecessary inference to say that Satan is absolutely without power during the 1000 years. It is not required by the text, nor by the rest of the Bible. It simply says that he is bound so as to not deceive the nations. The gospel is free to go forth, and folks from every people on earth will come to the knowledge of salvation. This is the age in which we now live.
7. Is Jesus’ return “imminent”?
One of the teachings of premillennialism, especially the Dispensational flavor, is that Jesus may return at any moment, the so-called imminence doctrine. This is actually untrue and quite meaningless according to their own theories. They believe that Jesus would not return until the Jews had been regathered as a nation, and the Great Tribulation had first occurred. How can this theory be called imminent with such preconditions? Certainly most Christians who have lived for the last 1900+ years would not have considered such a coming as imminent.
The Bible actually predicts a long period of time before Christ’s return (Matt. 24:48; 25:5,12; Luke 19:11-27). Given that God works gradually in unfolding His plan of salvation, there is no reason to believe that Christ may not delay His return for thousands more years. The gradual development of the kingdom is a fact of scripture (Dan. 2:35ff; Eze. 17:22-24; 47:1-9; Matt. 13:31-33; Mark 4:26-29).
8. What will happen when Christ returns?
Jesus’ second coming is at the end of time, not in the middle as premillennialists believe (I Cor. 15:25a). At the end of time, Christ will return (Acts 1:11), all men will be physically resurrected at once (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15; I Cor. 15:51,52; I Thess. 4:16,17; ), and all men will stand before the judgement seat of Christ (Matt 25:31ff; Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11). The saints of God will receive their eternal reward and enter into the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1ff). The wicked will be sentenced to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
Contrary to the “secret rapture” theory, the rapture will be anything but secret (I Cor. 15:52). I Thess. 4:16, which supposedly describes the secret rapture, has been described by Bahnsen and Gentry as, “the noisiest verse in Scripture!”
9. When was the Book of Revelation written?
The scholarship that I am familiar with strongly suggests that Revelation (along with the entire New Testament) was written before A.D.70 and that most of the symbols of the book are describing 1st century events. This is born out by the internal evidence of Revelation, as well as the rest of the New Testament, esp. the apocalyptic passages in the gospels. You might want to get a copy of _Before Jerusalem Fell: The Dating of Revelation_ by Kenneth Gentry.
10. Weren’t most of the early Church fathers premillennialists?
Dr. Charles Ryrie of Dallas Theological Seminary fame has written, “Premillennialism is the historic faith of the Church.” But in response, Alan Patrick Boyd, a student at Dallas, concluded the following in his Master’s Thesis, “It is the conclusion of this thesis that Dr. Ryrie’s statement is historically invalid within the chronological framework of this thesis [apostolic age through Justin Martyr].” (quoted by Bahnsen and Gentry, p. 235)
Some premillennialists had attempted to show that premillennialism was the “pervasive view of the earliest orthodox fathers.” (House and Ice, _Dominion Theology_, p.202) But many scholars have shown this to be absolutely not true, including Boyd, D.H. Kromminga, Ned Stonehouse, W.G.T. Shedd, Louis Berkhof, and Philip Schaff. According to Boyd, the best that can be said of the early Church father is that they were “seminal amillennialists.” (cf. Bahnsen and Gentry, p. 239) The early Church fathers, e.g., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Papius, admitted that there were many other Christians who were quite orthodox and not premillennial.
11. Isn’t postmillennialism anti-Semitic?
This slander has been directed at folks who reject the idea of a prophetic future for national Israel. Let me quote (at length) something from Steve Schlissel, a Jew and pastor of Messiah’s Congregation in Brooklyn, NY. Those hearing the debate between postmillennial reconstructionists and premillennial dispensationalists might be interested to know that the existence of the State of Israel was a concern much discussed by Postmillennialists before William Blackstone (author of the famous late 19th-century Christian Zionist tome _Jesus is Coming_) was old enough to be bar mitzvah! An article in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review in 1857 asked the question in its title: “Will the Jews, as a Nation, be Restored to their own Land?” This question was answered affirmatively; the (unsigned) article concluded that Scripture taught that the Jews must be restored to their land if certain prophecies would be fulfilled. But contra dispensationalism, the article asserted, “The condition of the restoration … is repentance, true religion. But it is agreed on all hands – with exceptions that need not detain us – that the Jews, as a nation, will be converted to Christianity, at some time yet future. The condition then will be complied with” (p. 818). This excerpt highlights the difference between the attitude of the reconstructionist and the dispensationalist towards the nation of Israel. Dispensationalists believe that the Jewish people have a title to the land that transcends virtually any other consideration including unbelief, rebellion, and hatred towards Christ and His church. Consequently, anti-zionism is equated with anti-semitism. The reconstructionist, on the other hand, makes a distinction. He believes that the Jewish people may exercise title only when they comply with the condition of repentance and faith. He has nothing against the Jews living in “eretz yisrael” per se, but he recognizes that the far more significant question is Israel’s faith. In light of this, it might be appropriate to ask which theological system has the true and best interests of the Jew close to its heart? If one’s heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel agrees with the inspired Apostle’s as recorded in Romans 10, can he thereby be called anti-semitic? It is of more than passing interest that the above-mentioned article refers to the Jewish people as “a standing miracle, an ever-existing monument of the truth of prophecy.” The author also maintained that, “the Jews, as a nation, will be converted to Christianity. … This is so clearly taught in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans that one could scarcely deny it and retain his Christian character” (p. 812). Yet, he felt compelled to offer this disclaimer in a footnote: “It is proper for (the author) to state emphatically that he has no sympathy whatever with any Millenarian (i.e. Premillennial) theory, and that he considers all such ideas, and especially such as involve the personal reign of our Savior (from an earthly Jerusalem), as merely carnal and Judaizing.” As early as 1847 the great Dr. David Brown (of Jamieson, Faussett & Brown fame) wrote of his conviction that the Jews would one day again possess the Land of Israel. But he labored carefully to emphasize the point that whatever occupation of the land they may enjoy outside of Christ, that would not be the fulfillment of the promised restoration. Dr. Brown, in his mature years, wrote a most stimulating, and characteristically irenic book on the subject. Both dispensationalists and reconstructionists would profit from reading _The Restoration of the Jews: The History, Principles, and Bearings of the Question_ (Edinburgh: Alexander, Strahan & Co., 1861)
Postmillennialism is not as splashy a theology as some of the pop theories going around in Christian churches. Stories about the 10 nation European confederacy from which the anti-Christ will come are much more exciting. Or how Russia is preparing for all out war on Israel. Or stories about how folks are breeding special cattle for when the Temples sacrifices will be reinstituted, or how research is being done to discover the real descendants of Aaron so they can reconstitute the Levitical priesthood. Exciting stuff. But from my perspective, not very biblical.
I know, it hard to swim against the current. This type of stuff is pretty popular in independent churches. So when someone publishes a new book on prophecy, it’s all the rage. This latest episode took off when Hal Lindsey published _The Late Great Planet Earth_ in the early ’70s. It has subsided somewhat because “prophesying” is a difficult business, as witnessed by the recent book _88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Occur in 1988_.
Here are some books that I’ve found helpful.
_Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation_, by Kenneth L. Gentry _House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology_, by Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
_He Shall Have Dominion_ by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. _Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation_, By David Chilton _The Coming of the Kingdom_, by Herman Ridderbos _The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry_, by J. Stuart Russell _Biblical Apocalyptics_ by Milton S. Terry _More Than Conquerors: Revelation_, by William Hendriksen _I Saw Heaven Opened: Revelation_, by Michael Wilcock _Prophecy and The Church_, by Oswald T. Allis _An Eschatology of Victory_, by J. Marcellus Kik _The Incredible Cover-up: The True Story of the Pre-Trib Rapture_, by Dave MacPherson
_Biblical Studies in Final Things_, by William E. Cox _An Examination of Dispensationalism_, by William E. Cox _Christ’s Second Coming: Will it be Premillennial?_, by David Brown _Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism_ by John Gerstner