by William Bunting
Originally the material in this booklet was published in serial form in "ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY" magazine, during the years 1961/1966. From: Nos. 56 to 81 inclusive
AMILLENNIALISM! What is amillennialism? Some perhaps have never before heard the name. Like premillennialism and post-millennialism, it is an eschatological term. That is to say, it has to do with the last or final things in God’s dealings with man. Premillennialism is the teaching that Christ will return to earth prior to its thousand years of bliss; post-millennialism, that He will not return until the end of that age; but amillennialism is the teaching that there will be no earthly millennium at all.
As is well known, those who belong to the first of these three schools of thought are divided into two groups. Some believe that the Church will not be caught up to be with the Lord until after the Great Tribulation which must precede Christ’s earthly reign. Others, including the present writer, hold that the Church’s translation will take place before the commencement of that awful period, called in Scripture “the time of Jacob’s (not the Church’s) trouble” (Jer.30.7). Both groups, however, adhere to the common faith that the second Advent will be premillennial.
Post-millennialists, on the other hand, teach that the second Advent will not take place until after the thousand years of peace, and that that age will be introduced through Gospel preaching, social reform, and International Peace Treaties. In other words, the world will gradually become so ‘Christianised’ that the millennium will at last be realised, after which Christ will come again. Post-millennialists therefore do not believe in the imminent return of the Lord. To a large extent, however, this doctrine has had its day. World conditions — the increase of crime, violence and immorality have shattered its once rosy hopes. Post-millennialism is no longer an issue in theology. The disillusionment of the Second World War and its aftermath brought about its collapse.
With this brief introduction, we turn to amillennialism. It is to be feared that not infrequently it is mistaken for what is generally called “the Tribulation Theory” — the teaching that the Church will pass through the Great Tribulation, already referred to. We have no sympathy whatsoever with this latter view. At the same time it must be conceded that it numbers many godly and scholarly men amongst its adherents in the past and present, and that while to a large extent it robs the Church of the joy of that “blessed hope,” it is thoroughly premillennial in its outlook. The teaching of amillennialism is quite distinct from it, contains more serious error, and must not on any account be confused with it.
Amillennialists belong to what is known as the Allegorical School of interpretation. In accordance with the principles of this school, some of the plainest passages of Scripture, which any unbiased reader would understand in a literal sense, are so spiritualised that their meaning is entirely distorted, if not completely lost. It is true, the Bible contains allegories and symbols and certain passages are intended to be taken figuratively. No Scripture, however, should be so interpreted except where the inspiring Spirit has made it perfectly obvious that it should be treated in that manner. “Therefore,” says Dr. D L Cooper, “take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning, unless the facts of the context clearly indicate otherwise.” It is just here that amillennialism fails. One of “the major errors of amillennialism is that it fails to keep faith with the basic Protestant principle of interpretation, namely, that the literal sense is primary. Only where the Scripture itself indicates, may we take refuge in a symbolical solution of any problem of exegesis.” (Dr. A Skevington Wood, F.R.Hist.S., in “The Prophetic Witness").
Many instances of this process of spiritualising could be cited. For the present a slight reference to one will manifest how unwarranted it is. This has to do with the carefully furnished measurements of the City of God and its glorious Temple in Ezek.40-48. The amillennialists reduce these “explicitly detailed specifications to vague symbolism. Anything that reads less like symbolism could scarcely be found in the whole of Scripture. And what these severely practical measurements could possibly symbolise defeats even the most resourceful allegorist”. (Dr. A S Wood)
One feature which has down the years manifested the utter weakness and unreliability of their system has been the multiplicity of diverse interpretations propagated upon certain Scriptures There are several amillennial views upon Ezek.40-48 and Dr. J F Walvoord speaks of having “personally examined some fifty of their historical interpretations of Revelation.” It seems that each teacher has interpreted according to his own whim and fancy. Then, when an interpretation has proved untenable, another has with ease been adopted and propounded in its stead. Not infrequently these are contradictory the one to the other. Of the fifty which Dr Walvoord examined, he states that not one of them would be accepted by an intelligent person today. The handling of Holy Scripture in such a haphazard manner is, to say the least, most disappointing and unsatisfactory. It brings the study of prophecy into disrepute, and can only bewilder and stumble the simple reader of the Word.
As might be expected, many of these views have been anything but sane and sober. One writer understands Job’s three friends to represent the heretics; his seven sons, the apostles; his flock of sheep, the people of God; and “his hump-backed camels, the depraved Gentiles” (Cited by Dr. G B Stanton, in “Kept From The Hour") Aquinas, writing upon Rev.20, taught that “As seven mystically implies universality, so thousand implies perfection whether in good or evil.” Auberlen believed that “thousand symbolises that the world is perfectly leavened and pervaded by the Divine: since thousand is ten, the number of the world, raised to the third power, three being the number of God” (A R Fausset, in “The Portable Commentary’”); while another would make the thousand years symbolise “Potentiated ecumenicity.” These allegorists are guilty, not only of interpreting Scripture in a light ind trifling manner, but of actually changing its plain and sensible meaning. If God does really mean one thousand years in Rev.20, “how else”, as Dr. Stanton asks, “would He, or how else could He, write it?” Do men not fear that solemn warning against “taking away from the words of the book of this prophecy”? (Rev.22.19). The Bible is the holy, Spirit-breathed Word of the living God, and he will not be held guiltless who in any way tampers with, or whitdes away, the significance of its divine utterances.
As to their system of interpretation, one wonders why, if such passages as Matt.24; Lk.21; and Acts 6.1-10 are to be spiritualised, Christ did not say so to His disciples. Considering their ignorance was He not morally responsible to warn them against giving to His words a literal significance if a symbolical one was intended? “It is incredible that God should in the most important matters, affecting the interests and the happiness of man and nearly touching His own veracity, clothe them in words, which, if not true to their obvious and common sense, would deceive the pious and God-fearing of many ages” (Peters, cited by Dr. J D Pentecost in “ Things to Come"). Or are certain prophecies to be understood literally, while others, which to us seem just as literal, are to be accorded a figurative connotation? And if certain prophetic passages are to be understood thus, are we not free to interpret doctrinal and historical passages in the same manner? Surely we must try to be consistent. Yet to take this liberty would reduce many Scriptures to the ridiculous, and make havoc of the faith. How then, if we do not adhere to “the basic Protestant principle of interpretation,” are we to know where to draw the line between the literal and the symbolical? Dr. Stanton relates W E Blackstone’s account of a conversation between a clergyman and a Jew, which is to the point here. “Taking a New Testament and opening it at Lk. 1.32, the Jew asked: ‘Do you believe that what is here written shall be literally accomplished — The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father, David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever’? ‘I do not’, answered the clergyman, ‘but rather take it to be figurative language, descriptive of Christ’s spiritual reign over the Church.’ ‘Then’, replied the Jew, ‘neither do I believe literally the words preceding, which say that this Son of David should be bom of a virgin, but take them to be merely a figurative manner of describing the remarkable purity of Him who is the subject of the prophecy’ .”
The Jew, of course, had the better of the argument. We most assuredly believe that this and other prophecies of the humiliation and sufferings of Christ were literally fulfilled at His first Advent, and we have no reason in the wide world to believe that the prophecies of His coming rule and glory will be fulfilled in any other manner.
To examine this teaching in detail, point by point, would be impossible within the limits of these pages. Since, however, there has been a resurgence of amillennialism in recent years, and simple souls may be misled by its specious arguments, it is felt that some warning against its unscriptural views is timely. Much has been written to combat the Tribulation Theory, but very little, in Northern Ireland, at any rate, to expose the errors of amillennialism. We shall therefore look at some of its principal tenets in the light of God’s Word. That many who hold this teaching are sincere believers and otherwise sound in the faith, must not blind our eyes to its insidious dangers.
It is well to remember, of course, that irrespective of what prophetic view we accept, it will have its difficulties. Indeed, if we with our limited capacities could fully understand the Bible, it would not be a divine Book. For how can the finite comprehend the infinite? When knotty points arise, or objections obtrude themselves, however, we should remember the famous dictum of Butler: “If a fact is once settled, objections cannot unsettle it, for the fact rests on our knowledge, but the objection on our ignorance.” Therefore we never should allow what we do not know, or what is not perfectly clear to us, to disturb our assurance of what we do know, and in the realm of unfulfilled prophecy there are certain well established facts about which we can have no doubt. If we are clear as to these, and keep their broad outline before us, then without dogmatism about difficult details, we can afford calmly to await the day when the unfolding of God’s purposes will make all things plain
We believe that Old Testament saints must have been perplexed to understand certain prophecies of Christ’s first Advent. Indeed the prophets themselves had to ‘search’ for the meanings of some of their own predictions (IPet.l . 11). Did Micah know that the ‘Son’, ‘called out of Egypt’, of whom Hosea spake (ch. 11.1), was the Christ? If so, must he not have been puzzled by his own inspired statement that the long promised ‘Ruler in Israel’ would come ‘out of Bethlehem Ephratah (ch.5.2)? How could He come ‘out of Bethlehem, since He was to come ‘out of Egypt? Must not Isaiah also have long pondered upon the meaning of his prophecy: “And they made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death” (ch.53.9 RV)? Was Christ to have two burying places? These are a few of the many problems of prophecy, the solution of which awaited the coming of our Lord. When He came, the historical events of His sojourn here and the Old Testament prediction of these events, fitted the one into the other as a key into its complicated lock. The fact that there are difficulties in connection with some aspects of our Lord’s second coming and subsequent events, need not therefore for a moment disturb our confidence in the certainty of those things which are clearly foretold in the Word of God.
Let it be understood then that our objection to amillennialism is not merely that its views present difficulties. Our objection is that it contains, and opens the door to, serious error. We have already seen that its system of interpretation is to a large extent based upon the principle of allegorising and spiritualising Scripture — a principle applied by amillennialists in a most arbitrary and quite unwarranted manner, and which not infrequendy has led to conclusions, fantastic, contradictory, and dangerous to the faith.
We now wish to deal with its TEACHING. One of the serious weaknesses, discernible at almost every point in it, is that of confounding things which, though having in some cases outward similarities, are not essentially the same. It is an elementary maxim of sound exegesis that we must distinguish between things which differ. “Distinguish the Dispensations and the Scriptures will agree”, said Augustine. Failure to do so is largely responsible for the major errors of amillennialism. It fails properly to distinguish between the different time-periods in history, and between God’s different methods of dealing with man in those respective periods. It groups together peoples, times, things and passages of Scripture which should be carefully discriminated the one from the other. Its basis is thus faulty, and we wish to demonstrate that the doctrinal superstructure reared upon it is also faulty.
The Bible reveals God as being orderly, methodical, and progressive in all His ways. The very first chapter of the sacred Volume, which describes the six days of Creation, illustrates this. Each day saw its own particular work accomplished, and all culminated in man as the crown of Creation.
The same characteristics of order, method, and progression are to be seen in human history. “The great procession of the centuries,” says F J Scroggie, “is no disorganised march of years ” Time is divided into ages or dispensations. The word, ‘dispensation’, is a perfectly Scriptural term. It represents a word which occurs eight times in the New Testament. It is translated ‘stewardship’ in Lk. 16.2,3,4; and ‘dispensation’ in lCor.9.17; Eph. 1.10; 3.2; Col.1.25; lTim.1.4 (RV). The literal meaning of the word is, “The ordering, management, or administration of a house.” Thus it does not strictly denote a time period, but we use it of the method or manner of God’s dealings with man in any particular age. In all, there are seven great successive ages or dispensations. This, we believe, is the simple view of Bible history held by most of our readers.
The amillennialists, however, do not thus see things, though how they fail to do so is indeed hard to understand. They not only ignore great dispensational distinctions, but deny that they exist. “There is,” they declare, “no dispensational plan running through the Scriptures.” To say that there is, is “all a mistake.” “We are all wrong,” so they claim, “in thinking that the Old Testament presents a series of dispensations, and that in the New Testament we find people passing out of one dispensation into another” (H A Ironside). “Since they emphasise the unity of God’s purpose from the fall of man until the eternal state, they fail to make any distinction between God’s programme for Israel and that for the Church, and … in spite of the contradictions that such a method entails, they persist in it” (J D Pentecost in “ Things to Come"). As for a future earthly millennium, it is viewed by them as being a mere ‘notion’, based upon the interpretation found in the Scofield Bible (W J Grier in “The Momentous Event’).
THE TESTIMONY OF SCRIPTURE
What then is the testimony of Scripture? Does it recognise distinctive ages or dispensations? Most decidedly it does. It is true that it does not furnish us with a formal list of these, but no such table is given in connection with many other Bible doctrines. Nevertheless it recognises, and carefully differentiates between, the great historic ages. To have a clear grasp of these it is necessary “rightly to divide the word of truth” (2Tim.2.15). This expression, of course, applies to more than dispensational truth. It applies to every Bible doctrine, each of which should be given its proper place, and be held in proper balance with other doctrines. Nothing, however, is more important than an intelligent apprehension of the great time periods and their respective characteristics. Indeed without this it is impossible to avoid utter confusion of thought in the study of Scripture. It speaks of past ages (Eph.3.5; Col. 1.26); the present age (Rom.12.2; 2Cor.4.4; Gal.1.4; Eph.1.21; 2.2; 6.12; Tit.2.12, etc); and a future age (Eph.1.10: “the dispensation of the fulness of times”; 1.21: “that (age) which is to come”; Heb.2.5: “the world [“the inhabited earth”] to come”; etc.). In most of these passages the word ‘world’ is correctly rendered ‘age’ in the RV, or RV Margin. References to ‘times’, ‘seasons’, and ‘days’ of Scripture could be added, but some of these terms are used to denote Jewish or Gentile periods which are not of such major importance, hence we do not include them. A little diligent study should satisfy any candid, unbiased reader that the following are the great ages or dispensations of human history:
The Dispensation of Innocence
Creation to the Fall.
The Dispensation of Conscience
Cain to the Flood.
The Dispensation of Human Government
Noah to Babel.
The Dispensation of Promise
Abraham to the Exodus.
The Dispensation of Law
Moses to Christ.
The Dispensation of Grace
Christ to the Second Advent.
The Dispensation of Righteous Rule
Second Advent to the end of the Thousand Years.
Scripture teaches that these ages were divinely planned. Heb. 1.2 says, “He made the ages”(RV Margin); and ch. 11.3 (RV Margin) that “the ages” were framed. We know, of course, that the word, ‘ages’, here is understood by many to signify, ‘the universe’. The Greek Fathers, however, saw in the word its original meaning, “ages of time”, and Alford, Vine and other reliable commentators agree that the time factor is included in it. Further, these ages exhibit a marvellous divine order, method, and progressive purpose. Man, tried in one way and another, has proved a complete failure Yet God in infinite wisdom, patience, and love, has, age after age, changed His ways of dealing with him, all to afford opportunity for further tests of obedience. We do not suggest that God has ever changed, and there is but one Gospel, though it has various aspects, but His methods do vary according to human needs. There is not space here to elucidate details, but a little thought will also show that these ages have certain features in common At the beginning of each, God makes a new approach to man, vouchsafes to him a new revelation of Himself, and commits a fresh stewardship to chosen leaders. During each age man proves an utter failure and becomes apostate. Consequently each age terminates in judgment, which clearly defines its time-limit.
In Bible study it is important to remember that it is the context in each case that determines the sense in which a word is used. It is so with the word, ‘age’. In some passages all time present and future is described as an age Thus in Lk.20.34-36 we read: “The children of this age (RV Margin) marry, and are given in marriage: but
they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age, (RV Margin) and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage … for they are equal unto the angels.” Here time and the future state are described as ages, separated by the resurrection.
The writer to the Hebrews, on the other hand, tells us that it was at “the end of the ages” (note the plural) that Christ died (ch.9.26 RV). This, however, does not mean, as one amillennialist contends, that “the incarnation of Christ has introduced the final period of the world’s history.” The word, ‘end’, here is rendered, ‘consummation’, in the RV Margin. It “does not denote a termination, but a heading up of events to the appointed climax” (W E Vine). It was at the ‘heading up’ of the previous epochs, when the purposes of divine love had attained their great objective, that our Lord was crucified; and all the future will look back upon His first Advent as being “the consummation of the ages.” The grand spiritual centre and apex of time was the Cross. Everything on the one hand was preparatory to, and converged upon, it; everything on the other, radiates from it. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1.17). If ‘consummation’ signifies a termination, then human history should have ended at the Cross.
It is true that John says, “It is the last time” (1 Jn.2.18), but neither does this mean, as another amillennialist confidently affirms, that “the period in which we live is the last on the divine programme.” Rather it signifies that it is the last period ere Christ comes to earth to establish His kingdom. The argument that it is the final period is all aimed at getting rid of the millennium, but Scripture plainly teaches the future earthly reign of Christ. It will be “the world (the inhabited earth) to come, whereof we speak” (Heb .2.5, RV Margin). In the first dispensation the government of earth in the hands of Adam (Heb.2.6-8) failed through his sin. Hence “we see not yet all things put under him” (v8). By His death (v9), however, “the last Adam” has regained earth’s forfeited sovereignty, and the eighth Psalm, from which the writer quotes in w6-8, finds its glorious realisation in Him, the “Son of Man.” No honest or fair argument can make “the inhabited earth to come” mean this Gospel period; and since it is to be in subjection to “the Son of Man”, it is not the eternal state, for then “He shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father” (ICor. 15.24). The reference therefore is clearly to the last dispensation on earth, when He shall “put down all rule and all authority and power” (ICor. 15.24), and triumph where the first Adam failed. At the inauguration of that reign God shall again bring in “the Firstborn into the inhabited earth” (same word as in ch.2.5), and “all the angels of God” — not just a multitude, as at His first Advent — shall “worship Him” (Heb.1.6, RV Margin). What a glorious array it will be!
DANGER OF UNSCRIPTURAL EXTREMES
We desire, however, to make it equally clear at this juncture that we do not believe in what is generally termed ‘Ultra-Dispensationalism’. This is the teaching advocated by the late Dr.EW Bullinger. According to it the four Gospels are Jewish, and do not apply today at all. The book of Acts covers a ‘transition period’, and only when we come to the prison Episdes is “the Dispensation of the Mystery” revealed. Thus the Church which is Christ’s Body began, so it is claimed, not upon the day of Pentecost, but some thirty years later. As for the ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they belong to the Acts period and have no place now, this being a spiritual dispensation.
It is with utter lack of confidence that we view the fine distinctions which Ultra-Dispensationalists imagine they discern in the Word. These teachers carry their tenets to unscriptural extremes, and in prophecy as in Church truth, and every other line of truth, unscriptural extremes are both wrong and dangerous. They lead to error and all kinds of inconsistencies. Certain points of doctrine are much emphasised, while other points of faith and morals of perhaps more importance are passed over. Not only so, they lead to strife, bitterness, and division amongst those who should be marked by love. Have we not seen it again and again? Unscriptural extremes therefore should be avoided. Ultra-Dispensationalism carries things to one wrong extreme. Teaching which ignores or denies dispensational differences carries them to the opposite extreme, and this is what amillennialism does. The truth, we believe, lies between these two extremes
Amillennialists point out, and rightly too, that in Scripture the term ‘Israel’ is employed in a twofold way of the chosen race which sprang from Abraham. Usually it is used in its wider sense and denotes his natural descendants through Jacob. As such, the great majority of the people were lacking in Abraham’s faith, and when the long promised Messiah came, they rejected Him. All down the ages, however, there has been a small spiritual minority in the nation which believed God, and which welcomed Christ when He appeared, and the term ‘Israel’ is also used of this remnant, in contradistinction from the nation as a whole. It is the true ‘Israel’, for as the Apostle says, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom.9.6); and “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; … but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly” (Rom.2.28,29).
Amillennialists teach, however, that this true, spiritual minority, and the Church of the New Testament, are one and the same body. The following lines from “The Momentous Evenf, by W J Grier, B.A., will demonstrate this. “Let us here insist,” he says, “that there was a Church in Old Testament times; and that the Old Testament and New Testament believers form one Church — the same olive tree (Rom. 11)… and that the Old Testament prophets point directly and definitely to the New Testament Church. The contention of most Premillenarians is that the outcalling of the Church of the New Testament was hid from the Old Testament prophets . During the interval between the advents Christ established His Church, which is, they (the Premillenarians) say, not a fulfilment in any sense of Old Testament promises and prophecies, but something new and unknown to the prophets — it is a ‘parenthesis’, now amounting to well nigh two thousand years, of which no word is clearly spoken by Old Testament prophecy. This is the view of Dr. H A Ironside. He says, ‘The prophetic clock stopped at Calvary. Not one tick has been heard since’.”
The writer further declares that “to say that the Old Testament prophets do not speak of the Christian Church is outrageous, in view of many New Testament passages such as Rom.9.24,26, where we have Paul’s statement that the calling out of Jew and Gentile in the Christian Church is the direct fulfilment of a prophecy of Hosea.” Two other passages to which Mr. Grier refers as confirmation of his assertion are Acts 2.16-21; 26.22. He then attempts to justify the headings of our AV at such chapters as Isa.30,34,43,45,50,54 and 64, in each of which the ‘Church’ is named; and concludes his paragraph by saying that “Stephen spoke of a Church in Moses’ time (Acts 7.38), and Paul says that believers of Old Testament and New Testament form one olive tree.”
Enough has been quoted to make clear this position, which may be summarised as follows:
Amillennialism teaches that:
- there was a Church in the Old Testament;
- Acts 7.38 proves that there was a Church in the Old Testament;
- Old Testament and New Testament believers form one Church;
- this Church is the Olive Tree of Rom. 11;
- the chapter headings in the AV of the Old Testament, in which the Church is named, are not “all wrong”;
- the outcalling of the Church of the New Testament was not hidden from the Old Testament prophets;
- the Old Testament prophets foretold the New Testament Church;
- the prophetic clock did not stop at Calvary but that it is still ticking.
We shall now examine this teaching in the light of God’s Word.
(1) Was there a Church in the Old Testament?
Our reply is that if there was it is never once mentioned there. We do read of Israel, an earthly nation, being planted as a testimony for God amongst the surrounding heathen. We read frequently of the “congregation of the Lord,” and many references are made to the faithful in Israel who in days of declension consorted together; but we never read of a Church in the Old Testament. As we shall see later, the essential features of a Church are there conspicuous by their absence.
(2) What then of Stephen’s statement in Acts 7.38 where he refers to “the church in the wilderness”?
As is well known, the word ‘church’ means ‘a called out company’. It can be used of any body or group which for any purpose, secular or sacred, has been called together from the mass. Thus it is the word which in our AV is three times rendered ‘assembly’ in Acts 19. In w32 and 41 it denotes an unruly mob, and in v39, a lawfully constituted assembly of citizens. The word ‘Church’, however, is used well over 100 times in the New Testament in a technical and theological sense to describe the saved of this age, either in their aggregate, or in a local aspect; but in Acts 7 and 19 the term is used in its original non-technical and non-theological sense. Hence the word ‘church’ in ch.7 should not be spelt with a capital ‘C’. Stephen’s reference does not prove that there was a Church in the Old Testament, and it would save from confusion of ideas if his expression was read as in the RV margin ‘congregation (note small ‘c’) in the wilderness.’ The word ‘Church’ would be just as much justified in ch. 19 as in ch.7. Yet how utterly out of place and misleading it would be to substitute ‘Church’ for ‘assembly’ there! This illustrates that “the principle of always translating the same Greek word into the same English term is not practicable” (Wm. Hoste, B.A.).
From what has been said it follows that Old Testament and New Testament believers DO NOT form one Church. It is true, of course, that they have much in common. There are many points of similarity between God’s people in the past and present ages. Thus they have all: been loved by God; repented of sin; been saved through faith; been redeemed by blood; been quickened by the Spirit; been brought into covenant relationship with God; been made eternally secure; been described as Abraham’s seed; shared in many of the same promises; witnessed for God; enjoyed communion with Him; lived as strangers and pilgrims here below; had conflict with the same threefold foe; longed for Heaven’s eternal rest; and one day they will all be glorified.
Here are some fifteen similarities, to which doubtless others could be added. Does this, however, prove that believers in the Old Testament and New Testament form one Church? — not for a moment. Two photographs may be extremely alike, but it would be silly to argue that they must therefore be pictures of the same original. We shall now proceed to point out that, though there are so many similarities, the Church of the New Testament possesses features which are quite peculiar to itself, which proves conclusively that Israel and the Church are not identical. Believers in this dispensation:
- are baptized in the Spirit into the mystic Body of Christ (lCor.12.13). This was not true of any Old Testament believer.
- are indwelt by the Holy Ghost (Jn.14.17). In the Old Testament, He merely ‘came upon’ men. See Jud.3.10; 14.6, etc.
- are all one, whether Jews or Gentiles (Gal.3.28). In the Old Testament “the middle wall of partition” stood between them (Eph.2.14).
- are members of the Body of which the Head is in Heaven (Eph. 1.22; 5.23). This could not be said of any Old Testament believer.
- were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1.4). No such thing is ever said of Old Testament believers
- are “made to sit with Him in heavenly places” (Eph.2.6). No Old Testament believer is ever said to be in such exalted association.
- are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1.3). No Old Testament believer is ever said to have enjoyed such blessing.
- “are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood” (lPet.2.5). In the Old Testament believers had a separate priesthood — that of Aaron, and worshipped in a material house.
- are to expect nothing in the world but tribulation as a reward for godly living (Jn.15.19,20; 16.33; 2Tim.3.12). In the Old Testament believers were promised material prosperity and earthly blessing as a reward for godly living.
- are to pray for blessing on their enemies (Matt.5.44). In the Old Testament believers prayed for vengeance upon their enemies.
These ten vital differences prove once and for all that Israel and the Church are not identical. The Church is unique; possessing features which are peculiar to itself. There is no Church in the Old Testament. That this is incontrovertibly the case is confirmed by our Lord’s own words, “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH” (Matt. 16.18). Note, He did not say, “I am building My church”, but “I WILL BUILD My church.” So the Church was still future. He had not yet begun to erect it. Christ had to die, be raised, ascend to Heaven, and send down the Holy Spirit before the Church could come into being. How stupid and absurd it is therefore for men to talk of the Church of the Old Testament! Why, it was only at Calvary that its foundation was laid, and as Wm. Hoste well asks, “How could the Church have existed before its foundation was laid?” No, no, the plain, simple words of our Lord forbid our believing that the Church existed in the Old Testament. His language is unequivocal — “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.”
The words of Peter in Acts 11.15 are also corroborative and decisive: “The Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” The reference is to the day of Pentecost of ch.2. What, pray, had its ‘beginning’ there? There is only one answer — the Church period.
In the New Testament Israel is never called the Church, and the Church is never called Israel. Gal.6.16, where Paul addresses “the Israel of God”, is no exception. Even H W Ferrin, a post-tribulationist, in a paper, “Is the Church ever called Israel?” clearly and forcefully refutes such a contention. He proves that ‘Israel’ in Gal.6.16 speaks of believing Jews … and concludes, “the Church is not Israel’ (G B Stanton in “Kept From The Hour”, p52. Ferrin’s own italics). Enough has been said to demonstrate that there was no Church in the Old Testament, and that therefore Israel and the Church are not identical. The teaching that they are identical is doctrinally and historically unsound, and must be viewed as serious error by those who value the truth.
(4) Is this Church the Olive Tree of Romans 11?
What, however, of Rom. 11? Does it not teach that Old Testament and New Testament believers “form one Church — the same olive tree”? In other words, does it not teach that the terms ‘Church’ and ‘Olive Tree’ are synonymous ? No, not for a moment. Church truth does not enter into Rom. 11. It treats of dispensational truth. It is of the utmost importance to see this. It is true that out of Israel’s apostasy there is “at this present time … a remnant according to the election of grace” (v5), and that it forms part of the Church. That, however, is not the argument here. The olive tree represents Israel in the place of privilege and responsibility for God upon the earth. Because of unbelief‘ the natural branches’, i.e. the Jewish people, have been cut off, and a ‘wild olive tree’ grafted in (vl7). We need have no doubt at all as to what people the wild olive represents. It represents ‘the Gentiles.’ Observe how frequently they are mentioned in the chapter Observe too that when addressing his Roman readers in v.13, Paul does not address them as ‘Christians’, or even as ‘saints’ as he had done in ch. 1.7. “I speak,” he says, “to you Gentiles.” That is, he addresses them as representatives of the Gentiles, who, now, subsequent upon Israel’s failure are, in God’s sovereignty, brought into the place of privilege and responsibility. They are warned, however, that if they fail they too will be cut off from their place of blessing (v21). We know of course, that all saved Gentiles in this age are in the Church, but that truth is not what Paul is teaching in Rom. 11. To suggest that the olive tree is the Church would be absurd, for who ever heard of the Body of Christ having ‘natural’ (v21) members, or any of its members being broken off (v20)? No, the olive tree is not, indeed cannot be, the Church.
(5) Are the Chapter Headings in the AV of the Old Testament, in which the Church is named, right or wrong?
Little need be said about the remaining points. In view of what has been written, it should be obvious to every honest reader that the chapter headings in the Old Testament in which ‘the Church’ is named are entirely misleading. These headings do not form part of the original Scriptures. They were added as summaries to assist readers in dividing the chapters into their several parts Those who composed them were no doubt learned and sincere men, and we should thank God for their indefatigable labours, but they certainly were ‘all wrong’ in inserting the words, ‘the Church’, in the headings.
(6) Was the outcalling of the Church known to Old Testament prophets?
We have to inquire if “the outcalling of the Church of the New Testament” was known to the Old Testament prophets We have always believed that the truth of the Church was hidden from saints of the old economy. Mr. Grier confidently claims, however, that this was not so. The prophets of old, he says, “point directly and definitely to the New Testament Church.” What saith the Scripture? Eph.3 speaks of the chief characteristics of the Church as being “a mystery … which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same
body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (w4-6). Now, what is a mystery? It is a secret which is disclosed only to initiates. And these truths regarding the nature of the Church were such a secret, which in past ages was unknown to man. (Compare Rom. 16.25,26). How then could Old Testament prophets have had knowledge of them? There is no ambiguity in Paul’s language. Who therefore are we to believe — the inspired Apostle or the amillennialists? How further may we ascertain if the Old Testament prophets knew about the Church? Where, pray, do they speak of it? The quotation of Rom.9.24-26, to which Mr. Grier alludes is taken from Hos.2.23. It foretells rich spiritual blessing for the Gentiles, as also do many other Old Testament passages. In vain, however, do we search it for the slightest reference to the Church. The same is true of Acts 26.22. The verses which follow (w23,24) tell us “the things that Moses and the prophets did say should come”, namely, that Christ should die and rise again, “and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” But there is not one syllable about the Church here. As for Acts 2.16-21, it is a quotation from Joel 2, concerning the outpouring of the Spirit. It is true, this had a partial fulfilment the day the Church was bom; but where in the prophecy is there the faintest allusion to the Church itself? There is none. The New Testament has much to say regarding the Church — its origin, its cost, its foundation, its nature, its composition, its preciousness to God, its conflict, its progress, and its heavenly destiny. It is the Body of Christ (Eph. 1), the Building of God (Eph.2), the Bride of the Lord Jesus (Eph.5). In vain, however, do we search the books of the Old Testament for any revelation of these glorious truths. They are not there. If they are, where, please, shall we find them? Yet amillennialists insist that the Old Testament prophets speak of the Christian Church. It requires grace to have patience with such men. We wonder how they read their Bibles. If anything is ‘outrageous’, it surely is that men disbelieve the plain statements of Holy Scripture.
(7) Do the Old Testament prophets foretell the New Testament Church?
Mr. Grier rejects the obvious meaning of Eph.3.5,6 by taking the words, “as it is now revealed”, as a qualifying clause. That is to say, when Paul declares “‘that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body,’ he does not at all say that this was utterly unknown to past ages, but not known as fully and clearly as it is now.” To this argument the following reply seems conclusive: “Lest it should be assumed from the word, ‘as’, that this statement is comparative, not absolute, meaning only that the revelation had in fact been made through the former prophets, but in some obscurity which had now been cleared away, the words of Col. 1.26, ‘the mystery which hath been hid from the ages and from the generations, but now hath it been manifested to His saints’, correct this impression. The order of the words, too, shows that not the prophets who preceded the apostles are intended, but those who came with and after them. It is vain, therefore, to look to the Old Testament for instruction concerning the Church of which the Lord and His apostles spoke.” (“The Promise of His Coming’, by C F Hogg and J B Watson, p21).
(8) Did the Prophetic Clock Stop at Calvary?
Did the prophetic clock stop at Calvary, and is the present interval between the Advents of Christ a “parenthesis . . . of which no word is clearly spoken by Old Testament prophecy”? In seeking to answer these questions, it is at once conceded that the resurrection of our Lord (Ps. 16.10; 110.1), the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2.28), the consequent enlightenment and blessing of Gentiles to the ends of the earth (Isa.42.6; 49.6, etc.), and the temporary setting aside of Israel (Hos.3.4,5) — all of which are subsequent to ‘Calvary’ — were foretold in the Old Testament.
However, so far as the history of Israel during her dispersion, the rise and fall of the great Gentile powers, and the divine purpose in forming the mystic Body of Christ, in this Church age, are concerned, there is not one word in Old Testament prophecy. With regard to the future of the nations, prophecy has to do primarily with Israel, but since Israel is now set aside, this present age is passed over in all Old Testament predictions. Those predictions foretell ‘Calvary’, but there, as Dr. Ironside has said, “the prophetic clock stopped.” The Church, as we have already seen, is not the subject of Old Testament prophecy. This Christian age is a ‘parenthesis.’ Once it ends the clock of prophecy will tick again, and the predictions of Israel’s regathering, and of the overthrow of Gentile domination in the world, will have their complete fulfilment, as surely as these things were spoken by men moved by the Holy Spirit. “We may conclude, then, that when wicked hands set up the cross on Calvary, and God pronounced the dread ‘Loammi’ (Hos. 1.9,10) upon His people, the course of the prophetic era ceased to run. Nor will it flow again till the autonomy of Judah is restored.” (Sir Robt Anderson).
The statement that this Church age is a parenthesis need not at all surprise us. There are gaps or parentheses in Old Testimony history, as every student knows, and as we could demonstrate, did not space forbid. In like manner, several Scriptures which present the two Advents of Christ, entirely disregard this Christian age. Yet it is interesting to note that these Scriptures are so worded as to leave room for the present period. This must undoubtedly have been very perplexing for the Old Testament prophets, and we can appreciate Peter’s statement that what puzzled them was not so much the fact of “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow,” as the ‘time’ and ‘manner’ in which these things would be fulfilled. (lPet.1.11).
Of the numerous passages in the Old Testament in which the inspiring Spirit intentionally overlooks this Church era we may mention the following: Ps. 118.22; Isa.9.6,7; 53.10,11; 61.2; Hos.3.4,5; Dan.7.23,24; 8.22,23; 9.26,27; Zech.9.9,10. Those, however, who desire to have an exhaustive study of the subject should read, “The Great Parenthesis”, by the late Dr. H A Ironside. It clearly and convincingly demonstrates from Scripture that this Church age is a divine parenthesis in prophecy.
Is there a future for Israel as a nation? The amillennialists confidently affirm that there is not. What saith the Scripture? Has God not a glorious future in store for Israel? If He has not, what becomes of the numerous Bible prophecies of world-wide national blessing for the sons of Jacob?
The main arguments of the amillennialists are that:
- these promises are to be understood spiritually.
- many of them are being fulfilled in the Church in this present age
- others which picture a golden era for the nation will be fulfilled in Heaven.
Regarding the first of these arguments, it has already been pointed out in our papers that the spiritualising method as employed by amillennialists does violence to every canon of sound interpretation. “Scripture,” as Stanton has said, “is to be understood in a normal, grammatical, literal fashion”; that is, of course, unless the Lord clearly indicates otherwise. As another has said, “When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.” The literal fulfilment of hundreds of prophecies in the past proves the absolute soundness of this fundamental principle of interpretation. Of these we can here consider only a few, as follows:
- prophecies concerning individuals. See for example Deut.32.50 (Moses); Jos.6.26 (Rebuilder of Jericho); 2Kings 7.1,2,17-20 (a ‘lord’ in Samaria).
- prophecies concerning great cities. See for example, Ezek.26 and 27 (Tyre); ch.28.20-23 (Sidon); Lk. 19.42-44 (Jerusalem).
- prophecies concerning mighty nations. See for example, Gen. 15.14 (Egypt); Isa. 13 and 14 (Babylon).
- prophecies concerning Israel — their bondage in Egypt (Gen.15.13); their deliverance from Egypt (Gen. 15.14); their forty years of wandering (Num. 14.33); their conquest of Canaan (Jos. 1.2,3); their apostasy (Deut.31.16); their seventy years’ captivity (Jer.25.11,12); their return from captivity (Jer.29.10); their present dispersion and spiritual blindness (Lk.21.24; Rom.11.25).
- prophecies concerning the physical universe (Gen.8.22; 9.12-17; Isa.54.9; Ps. 148.4-6; Jer.31.35,36).
- prophecies concerning the first Advent of Christ — His birth, life, sufferings, death, burial and resurrection. These are too numerous to be listed. Liddon in his monumental work, “The Divinity of our Lord”, states that there are in all over 300 of them.
- prophecies of the last days (lTim.4 1-3; 2Tim.3.1-5; 2Pet.2 and Jude).
Now, all these prophecies have been, or are in the course of being, literally fulfilled. When God made them He meant just what He said — nothing more, nor less, nor different; and those to whom they were made rightly so understood them. How then in the face of some of the plainest statements of God’s Word dare we or anyone else say that prophecies relating to Israel’s destiny will be fulfilled in any manner other than literal?
It is true that these prophecies are, during the present Church parenthesis, held in abeyance. Scripture makes it perfecdy clear that since Christ’s rejection by the Jewish leaders in Matt. 12 and 13, all merely natural relationships have been disclaimed by Him (Matt. 12.46-50), that the offer of the long-looked for kingdom in glory and power has been withdrawn from the favoured nation (Matt.21.43), and that the kingdom is now in mystery form That is, it is veiled and so is not visible nor in outward display, for how could it be publicly manifested seeing the King has been wickedly refused His royal rights, cast out and crucified? (Matt.21.33-43). Hence our Lord’s parabolic teaching of the kingdom in Matt. 13 is described in v.11 as ‘mysteries’, which His rejectors could not understand (vv11-15), and the chapter furnishes us with the special characteristics of the kingdom as viewed in that aspect. Hence also His words in Lk. 17.21, “The kingdom of God is within you”, with which compare Rom. 14.17 and lCor.4.20. This aspect of it was something entirely new and undreamed of by His disciples. Naturally it was difficult for them to become reconciled to the view that the kingdom had now assumed a new and hidden form. Even after Christ’s resurrection “they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1.6).
The fact that Israel is at present set aside, however, does not at all mean that God’s rejection of the nation is final or irrevocable. Were this the case, was not our Lord morally bound to say so to the perplexed disciples in Acts 1? What He said was, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power” (v7). “The times or the seasons” of what? — of the “restoration of the kingdom to Israel”, which was the subject about which they had just asked Him, as we have seen. Israel is rejected, but only temporarily. “God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew” (Rom. 11.2). His immutable decree is that Israel will be regathered and become the centre of divine administration and blessing upon the earth “And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: … For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11.26-29).
The prophecies concerning the future of the Jews, their land, and the throne of David their king are so numerous that it would be impossible in the space here available to quote or even refer to more than a few of them.
Isaiah abounds with promises of Israel’s restoration. Whole chapters are devoted to the subject. In ch.11.11-13, for example, the prophet says: “The Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, which shall be left, from Assyria … Egypt. . Pathros … Cush … Elam … Shinar … Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall . .. assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four comers of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.” Now, the first time the Lord recovered His people was when the two tribes were brought back from Babylon. But here He promises that at ‘the second time’ He will recover all twelve tribes (Judah, the two; and Ephraim, the ten) and that “from the four corners of the earth”, and not merely from Babylon. Then the two alienated parts of the nation will dwell peaceably together This prophecy has never yet been fulfilled, and it cannot with any consistency be applied spiritually to the Church.
The same subject is dealt with in chs.27.12,13; 43.1-8; 49.8-16; 61.1-11; 65.8-10,17-25; 66.10-24, and other passages in this great Prophecy. Like the portion in ch. 11, they have never yet been fulfilled. They certainly are not being fulfilled in the Church. How could the two verses in ch.27, for example, be shown to apply to that Organism? Is the Church ever called ‘Jacob’ (43.1)? Were Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba given as ‘a ransom’ for it (v3)? Does the Church ‘inherit desolate heritages’ (49.8)? What is the ‘land of her destruction’ (49.19), and what are her ‘waste cities’ (61.4)? Or are these in Heaven or in the eternal state? Again, has God ever ‘forsaken’ His Church (49.14; 54.7)? Has He not said to her, “I will never (AV) … in any wise forsake thee” (Heb. 13.5 RV)? We do not deny that in these chapters there is figurative language, and that parts of them may be given a secondary application to the Church, but surely he must be wilfully blind who cannot here see the future literal regathering of the nation of Israel.
How otherwise are we to understand the last two chapters? Where and when will ch.65.20 be fulfilled? There will be no ‘sinner’ and no ‘curse’ in Heaven nor in the eternal state. There, too, “they count not time by years”, yet here is a “child … an hundred years old.” Then v25 speaks of the presence of wolves, lambs, lions, and serpents. Would anyone dare to assert that these are in the Church, Heaven, or the eternal state? How also are we to understand the scene in ch.66, where there will be one centre of worship; where the ‘Sabbath’ and the monthly festivals will be celebrated, where the ‘priests and Levites’ will officiate, where there will be a city named ‘Jerusalem’, and outside of it a place of ‘abhorring unto all flesh’? There is but one answer — the scene is millennial, and awaits the day of Israel’s great home-coming and restoration.
The testimony of Jeremiah confirms all this. Those whom the Lord has promised to recover from captivity are termed ‘Israel’, ‘Judah’, ‘Jacob’, and ‘Ephraim’ (30.3,7; 31.9) — names which never refer to the Church. They are further described as “the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (33 .26), and while it is conceded that members of the Body of Christ are the seed of Abraham, they are never named the seed of Isaac or Jacob. Again, when we read, “He that scattered Israel” (31.10), the allusion cannot be to the spiritual flock of Christ, for it is the wolf and the world that scatter His sheep (Jn. 10.12; Acts 8.1), but never the Good Shepherd; and no instructed Christian surely would speak of the Lord wounding His Church “with the wound of an enemy” (30.14). Moreover, when we read of the people returning to “the land” which (God) “gave to their fathers” (30.3), of their dwelling again in the cities of Judah (31.24), and when seven well-known landmarks in restored Jerusalem are named (31.38-40), it seems absurd to suggest that it is the Church that is in view. Nonsense, brethren, nonsense! What have the “tower of Hananeel”, “the valley of the dead bodies”, or the “horse gate” to do with the Church of the living God? All this is literal language. Your God-given common sense tells you it is. It cannot refer to the Church, and it would be equally preposterous to apply it to Heaven or the eternal state. It was literal Israel that was ‘scattered’, and it is literal Israel that is to be ‘gathered’ again (31.10).
When the Lord further promises that His people will return from “the uttermost parts of the earth” (31.8, RV), that a “great company shall return” (v8) — so great indeed that the land will not be large enough to contain them (Isa.49.19,20, Zech.10.10), that “they shall all know” the Lord and enjoy His forgiveness (31.34), that they shall have “abundance of peace” (33.6), that “Jerusalem shall dwell safely” (vl6), that they shall “not sorrow any more ” (31.12), nor be “thrown down” (31.40), that they shall have no more fear (30.10), that “strangers shall no more serve themselves of him” (30.8), and that they shall then serve “David their king” (30.9), it is obvious that a deliverance far greater than that from Babylon under Ezra is contemplated, as some have suggested. Not one of these twelve statements was then fulfilled. All that is here promised, however, will have a literal and complete accomplishment “in the latter days” (30.24), for the “Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent” (1 Sam. 15.29).
Ezekiel in like manner bears his quota of testimony. The Good Shepherd will seek out His sheep and “deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered”, and “will bring them to their own land” (34.12,13). Never again will they be under the Gentile yoke (v28). Ch.36.1-15 describes the restoration of the land, and wl6-38, the moral cleansing of the nation. The national restoration of “the whole house of Israel” follows in 37.1-14, and then in wl5-25 the reunion of the ten tribes and the two tribes takes place, “and my servant David shall be their prince for ever” (v25). The destruction of their enemies “upon the mountains of Israel” ensues in chs.38 and 39. Chs. 40-48 furnish a magnificent description of restored Jerusalem and the rebuilt Temple. The boundaries of the land are given in chs.47 and 48, several towns being listed in ch.47, while in ch.48 all the tribes of Israel are named. It is altogether out of the question to suppose that these great prophecies have ever been fulfilled in the history of the nation, and the blessings enjoyed by the Church in no way correspond with them. Like the prophecies of Jeremiah at which we have looked, however, every one of them will be literally fulfilled to the letter “in the latter days” (38.8,16).
DANIEL AND ZECHARIAH
Out of the many references to Israel’s future blessing in later Old Testament books, the following are a few: Dan.9.24-27; 12.1; Hos.3.4,5; Joel 3.20; Amos 9.14,15; Mic.4.6,7; Zeph.3.14-20; Zech.2.11,12; 8.20-23; 12.2,3; 14.1-21. Some of these passages are of special interest to our study. The prophecy of Dan.9, for example, was spoken that God’s people might know that the promised deliverance from Babylon was not the full and final liberation of Israel foretold by the prophets. This would come, not at the end of the seventy years predicted in Jer.25.12 (cf. Dan.9.2), but at the end of seventy prophetic ‘weeks’ (i.e. seventy sevens of years). The seventieth week of Dan.9.27, however, has not yet been fulfilled. For its fulfilment Israel must be back in her own land, and at its close the blessings of v24 will be hers.
The other passages of special significance are those found in Zechariah, their interesting feature being that they were written after the return from Babylon. Now Israel’s great national deliverance and restoration as here predicted cannot with any consistency be spiritualised as applying to the Church. The fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecies therefore must be still future, which confirms what has been said of earlier prophecies with which these are in perfect harmony.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
We now turn to the testimony of our Lord and of His apostles. Having been rejected by the Jewish leaders, He intimates that He is about to depart and leave their house ‘desolate’ (Matt.23.37,38). “Ye shall not see Me”, He then adds, “till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (v39). It is clear, therefore, that He will ‘come’ again to Israel and that He will be welcomed by the nation.
The next chapter describes this coming (vv3,29-31). It makes mention of what will be seen in the temple (v15) and of people fleeing from Judaea (v16), details of which plainly imply that when He returns Israel will be regathered to her own land.
In Lk.21 the Lord foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, and informs us that it will be “trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (v24). This period of Gentile domination will be terminated by “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (v27), and the ‘redemption’ of the Jewish people will then be accomplished (v28). If Israel is not to have a future this prophecy seems meaningless.
Again, in Lk.22.30 our Lord assures His disciples that they will eat and drink at His table in His kingdom, “and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” These words can only be understood in a literal sense. They imply that all Israel will yet be reunited, and they thus confirm Isa. 11.13; Ezek.37.15-25, at which we have already looked. It should be noted that far from turning away the disciples’ minds from the prospect of an earthly kingdom, our Lord in these passages plainly teaches that Israel is destined by God to fill a glorious role in days yet to come. If the nation has no future His words are grossly misleading. We know, of course, that in several other passages He did set before His own the coming bliss and joy of Heaven, but this is in no way inconsistent with the hopes of coming earthly felicity as cherished by the Jewish people.
The testimony of the Apostles is to the same effect. James tells the council of Acts 15 that “the tabernacle of David which is fallen down” will be “built again” (v16). Paul declares that the hardening of the Jewish people at the present time is but partial, and only “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11.25), when the natural branches will be regrafted into the olive tree (w23,24). Finally, John, like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and his Lord foresees all Israel’s twelve tribes reunited (Rev.7.1-8). Observe that this is an earthly, not a heavenly scene, ‘the earth’ being mentioned five times in wl-3, and that this Israelitish multitude, ‘sealed’ by angelic ministry, is to be distinguished from the great gathering of saved Gentiles which he sees in w 9-17. In the present dispensation saved Jews and Gentiles are “all one in Christ Jesus”, but not so here where the scene belongs to the future post-Church period
Having regard to the plain, consistent testimony of these Old and New Testament passages, to which several others could be added, it seems amazing that anyone professing the conservative, evangelical view of Holy Scripture should deny a future golden era for Israel. To do so renders many portions of the Word quite unintelligible, misrepresents their clear statements, undermines the authority and finality of the inspired Volume, and opens the door to the most whimsical and fanciful interpretations. Let the simple believer, however, rest assured that God’s Word means just what it says, and that therefore the promise of Israel’s future earthly national glory cannot possibly be annulled. As Erich Sauer has so finely said in “ The Triumph of the Crucified’, this promise “abides unchanged for the sake of God’s honour (Ezek.36.22,23), and His truthfulness (Rom. 15.8), and for the sake of Abraham His friend (Gen.26.2-5; Lev.26.42). Holy Scripture shows this to be as secure as:
- the firmness of the mountains (Isa.54.10),
- the order of Nature (Isa.54.9),
- the course of day and night (Jer.33.20,21,25,26),
- the laws of sun, moon, and stars (Jer.31.35-37; Ps.89.36,37),
- the everlastingness of the new heavens and the new earth (Isa.66.22).”
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
Sauer’s reference here to Abraham, God’s friend, should be carefully noted. It will be upon the basis of God’s covenant with that patriarch that every promise made to the nation of Israel will ultimately be fulfilled. The Abrahamic covenant thus assumes the most profound significance in Holy Scripture, which abounds with references to it. The blessings of this covenant:
- were pledged to the natural seed of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob, Gen.26.2-4; 28.4,13, etc.
- ensured to Abraham a great posterity, Gen. 12.2.
- guaranteed blessing to all the families of the earth through his posterity, Gen. 12.3.
- promised the land of Palestine as the future home of the seed of Abraham. In the promises to Abraham, which were later renewed to Isaac and Jacob, the land is mentioned at least 18 times in Genesis, as follows:
- to Abraham, 8 times, chs.12.7; 13.15,17; 15.7,18; 17.8,8; 24.7.
- to Isaac, 4 times, ch.26.2,3,3,4 (RV).
- to Jacob, 5 times, chs.28.4,13; 35.12,12; 48.4.
- confirmed to the natural descendants of these three Patriarchs, once, in ch.50.24.
- defined the geographical boundaries of the land, ch. 15.18-21. This promise has never yet had a complete fulfilment, so there must be a future for Israel. The book of Joshua records the conquest of Palestine. The occupation there, however, was only partial. Amillennialists have been quick to object to this by pointing to Jos.21.43(RV): “So the Lord gave unto Israel all the land … and they possessed it, and dwelt therein”; but Dr N C Deck has dealt satisfactorily with this objection in “The Case For Futurism.” “The verbs in the opening statement”, he says, “are in the imperfect tense, denoting incomplete or progressive activity.” In support of this he has quoted a literal translation, “and the Lord giveth unto Israel all the land .. and they are possessing it, and are dwelling in it.” That the people did not fully possess the land in Joshua’s day because of their unbelief is clearly stated in Jud.2.20-23. Nor did they fully possess it even in Solomon’s reign, when the kingdom shone at the zenith of its glory. “At best,” says Prof. John Walvoord, “it (the land) was placed under tribute, as the very passage cited by the amillennialists indicates (1Kings 4.21)”. Israel therefore must still come into full possession of the land in accordance with the terms of the Abrahamic covenant, and Ezek.47, where its future borders are carefully defined, assures us that she will.
- granted the land to be “an everlasting possession", Gen.13 .15; 17.8; 48.4. This promise also still awaits fulfilment. Israel has not yet come into permanent possession of Palestine. On two tragic occasions she has been carried from her beloved soil. For 1900 years now she has been scattered and peeled among the nations. The nation will be regathered, however. Not even one Israelite will be left in Gentile countries (Ezek. 39.28), and then permanent possession of the land will be hers. Never again will God hide His face from her (Ezek.39.29). By ‘everlasting covenant’ (Gen.17.7,13,19) Israel will have ‘everlasting possession’ of Palestine.
- were made to the Patriarch unconditionally. Nothing was said to depend upon Abraham or his descendants. It was a covenant of pure grace, absolute and irrevocable. All rested upon the sole decree of God. On several occasions afterwards Abraham disobeyed God, but the covenant was not on that account abrogated. It therefore remains valid. “The law which came four hundred and thirty years after” cannot annul (it) (Gal.3.17). The Jewish people, too, have sinned deeply. Yet “for all that they have done, saith the Lord” Israel will not be cast off (Jer.31.37). The blessings of God’s unconditional covenant cannot be jeopardised by the nation’s failure. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11.29).
- were confirmed by a divinely accepted sacrifice (Gen. 15.9-18), and ratified by a most solemn divine oath (Gen.22.16-18; Heb.6.13-20). God is honour bound therefore, by His word and by His oath, both of which are immutable, to fulfil every clause of the Abrahamic covenant Abraham’s descendants through Jacob must yet inherit the promised land as an everlasting possession. To teach otherwise would be tantamount to denying the faithfulness and integrity of God, or alternatively, of rejecting the divine inspiration and authenticity of Holy Scripture.
It is true, of course, that Abraham has a spiritual seed. It is comprised of all bom again souls, as many New Testament passages teach. This fact, however, does not at all exclude from promised blessing the natural seed of the Patriarchs, and it seems amazing that amillennialists imagine that it does and that therefore there is no future for the nation of Israel. It is obvious surely that when promise of the land and of a numerous posterity was made to Abraham, the term ‘seed’ referred to his physical lineage.
ISRAEL’S MARVELLOUS PRESERVATION
From other considerations it must also appear perfectly obvious to unbiased minds today that God has a future for Israel. How otherwise can we explain the marvellous preservation of the Jewish people? These people were driven mercilessly from their native land in the year 70 A.D. Since then hatred, injustice, abuse, banishments, confiscations, starvation, violence, torture, burnings, hangings, massacres, and the concentration camps and gas chambers of central Europe have been their unhappy lot. They have wandered, unloved and unwanted, over the face of the earth for 1900 years. No other nation has ever suffered so much or for so long a time. In our own generation we have witnessed six million of them “carted off to furnaces, like unwanted rubbish”. How true it is that
- “ The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
- Mankind their country, Israel but the grave"
Yet with tremendous odds against them, the Jewish people have survived — “spared by the indiscriminating hand of time, like a column left standing amid the wreck of worlds and the ruins of nature” (Michael Beers). Their continued existence is a miracle, and why should this be if there is no future for their nation?
Not only so, but throughout these centuries of intense sufferings the Jews have never lost their love for Palestine. In the darkest recesses of the ghetto their motto ever has been, “Next year in Jerusalem”. Other peoples carried into captivity have intermingled and intermarried with their captors, and have in a generation or two been absorbed and assimilated by them. The Jews, however, have defied this natural tendency. They have maintained their separateness. Though numbering only a few millions at most, they have never lost their identity as a distinct nation. “Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Num.23.9). How are we to understand the amazing fulfilment of this ancient prophecy if there is no future for Israel?
Think again of how they have increased numerically. It is reckoned that in the first century of this era there were about five million Jews. As a result of their many persecutions down the years, however, only some one million remained at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Yet when World War Two broke out that number had increased to eighteen million, and Jews were to be found in the front rank in commerce, science, art, philosophy and politics. Why deny that God’s hand has been upon these people? What is the purpose of it if there is to be no future for Israel?
Above all, think of their having again attained the status of Statehood in their own beloved land. At one time this seemed quite impossible, for the Turks ruled Palestine tenaciously for 1,200 years prior to the first World War. Sir Robert Anderson, who firmly believed that the Jews must eventually return to their homeland, confessed that in his day it “seemed still a chimera of sanguine fanatics.” Yet the seemingly impossible has taken place. Since May 1948 Israel has been in Palestine as a free, sovereign, independent State. Surely “this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. It is”, in the words of Leon Uris, “the story of the greatest miracle of our times, an event unparalleled in the history of mankind: the rebirth of a nation which had been dispersed for 2,000 years.” The wonder of the miracle, however does not end here. On the very day after this small nation of only 700,000 souls had declared its independence, the surrounding Arab countries, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the combined population of which numbered 40,000,000, opened hostilities upon the infant State. Not only did the Israeli troops beat off their invaders, but they greatly extended their frontiers, and when a general armistice was arranged were permitted to retain the territory which they had taken
Since then Jews have returned to the new State from over seventy countries of the world and now the ever increasing population of Israel stands at well over 2,000,000. This is the greatest movement of God’s ancient people to Palestine since the time of Joshua.
In “Israel in Prophecy", Prof. John Walvoord, mentions a most interesting feature of modem Jerusalem. It is predicted in Jer.31.31-40 that when Israel returns to her land, part of Jerusalem will be built in an area which had formerly never been used for building purposes, and the boundaries of which are carefully defined. Now this is precisely the area which the city covers today, and it constitutes the fulfilment of a prophecy uttered twenty-five hundred years ago and never until now fulfilled (See pages 68 and 130).
In closing this section we ask, ‘Who will be so foolish as to imagine that these events are the mere accidents of modem history?’ Surely a deep and spiritual significance attaches to them all. In the words of Isaac Ben-Zvi, second President of the State of Israel, “We are witnessing today the wondrous process of the joining of the tribes of Israel, bone to bone and flesh to flesh, the merging of them into one nation” (“The Rebirth of the State of Israet\ by A W Kac, M.D.).
In view of these undeniable facts which provide such overwhelming evidence of the literal fulfilment of divine prophecy relative to the natural seed of Abraham, we quite fail to see how any reasonable, spiritual mind can refuse to believe that other prophecies which predict a future for Israel will in due time also be fulfilled. Amillennialists gain nothing by ignoring historical facts which are so plain to everyone else.
In seeking an answer to the question, “Is there a national future for Israel?” we have adduced positive, undeniable, Scriptural evidence, affirming that there most certainly is. Amongst other things, we have seen that:
- the promise of Israel’s future regathering is as sure of fulfilment as were the warnings of the nation’s scattering (Jer.31.10,31-37; Hos.3.4,5).
- the very places from which they will be regathered are named — Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, the isles of the sea, and the four comers of the earth (Isa. 11.11-12).
- the ancient enmity between the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of Israel will end, and all the tribes will be reunited (Isa. 11.13; Ezek.37.15-24; 48.1-29; Lk.22.30; Rev.7.1-8).
- the natural seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will yet inhabit the land promised to them as an everlasting possession, and will never again be scattered nor brought under a Gentile yoke (Gen. 12.7; 13.15; 26.4; 28.4, etc.; Jer.31.8,40; Ezek.34.12,13, etc.).
- the future boundaries of the land will be those which are so carefully described in Ezek.47 and 48, and the future area of restored Jerusalem that which is defined in Jer.31.38-40, and then the magnificence of the city and rebuilt temple will be exacdy as foretold in Ezek.40-48.
- these things will take place ‘in the latter days’ (Jer.30.24; Ezek.38.8,16), after the ‘many days’ of Hos.3.4,5, and not “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Lk.21.24), and the Israelitish saints of Rev. 7.1 -8 have been ‘ sealed’.
- all this was guaranteed by the Abrahamic covenant which was ratified by divine oath, and is absolute, unconditional, and irrevocable (Gen.22.16-18), and that Israel’s subsequent backsliding and apostasy, therefore, cannot annul it (Jer.31.37; Rom.11.29).
In light of all this wealth of promise and prophetic data, we repeat that it is incontrovertible that Israel has been destined by God to fill a role in the future of world affairs. The evidence of this in Scripture is clear, consistent, and convincing. Moreover, it is confirmed by the miracle of the Jews’ separateness, uniqueness, and marvellous preservation down the centuries, and of their again attaining the status of sovereign Statehood in their own beloved land in modem times, as we have already seen. This is a story which has no parallel in the entire history of mankind. Other peoples, it is true, have regained political independence. Arthur W Kac, M.D., however, has pointed out that “with the exception of Israel all these nations lived in their respective countries at the time they acquired national sovereignty. The Jews in Palestine constituted a minority of Palestine’s population when the State of Israel was established. The political independence which the Jews won in Palestine was accompanied by the liquidation of many centuries-old Jewish communities in various countries and the transfer of large numbers of Jews to Palestine. There is not another similar instance in the history of the world” (“The Rebirth of the State of Israel’, p5). What has happened before our very eyes since May 1948 goes far to prove the utter falsity of the system of prophetic interpretation advocated by Philip Mauro and other amillennialists, who so confidently and glibly assured their readers that there could be no national future for Israel. Only one who is ignorant of the facts of history, or whose spiritual judgment is warped and perverted by prejudice, can now be misled by such erroneous teaching. The phenomenal rebirth of Israel as a nation is God’s most astounding present-day sign of the rapidly approaching end of ‘the times of the Gentiles’. To bring this about He has in the first half of this twentieth century permitted two world wars — the most destructive wars in the annals of human conflict — and the most fearful persecution the Jewish people have ever suffered. Portents of such colossal magnitude and world-wide impact are not to be ignored or disregarded as Nelson did the signal of his Commander-in-Chief at Copenhagen.
THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE RETURNED NATION NATION SPIRITUALLY
The spiritual life of the returned Jewish nation to day, viewed in the light of prophecy, is also most significant. In it Judaism is the State religion. Consequently the study of the Old Testament is encouraged and is a regular subject in public schools. The law of Moses has been restored to the place it had in the nation prior to the year 70 A.D. Indeed Dr. Kac says “that the State of Israel is becoming one of the great world centres of Bible research.” It is not surprising, therefore, that Scripture is frequently quoted in speeches in the Knesset (Parliament). Many new synagogues have also been built, which normally are well attended, and Sabbath observance is strictly enforced by the rabbis, of whom there are now approximately five hundred officiating in Palestine. Besides, it is well known that Jews in all lands ardendy hope for the day when it will be possible to rebuild their temple upon the old foundation which was chosen by God Himself (2Chr.3.1), but where the Moslem Dome of the Rock now stands.
It must be added, however, that with many Jews, religion is but an empty form. They have little or no depth of honest conviction. They lack faith and feeling. Their Judaistic ceremonies are performed without love or heart devotion. Some such Jews are characterised by a cold, extreme orthodoxy, which carries them to the point of the ridiculous. Their whole round of religion is outward, traditional, and devoid of true spiritual meaning.
On the other hand, there are Jews with a genuine Messianic longing. The very realisation of their hopes in the establishment of their State has created a spiritual vacuum — an aching void — in their hearts. Victory, national independence, and material prosperity have failed to yield them satisfaction. Religion to them is not just an empty round. They piously yearn for the coming of their long promised Messiah. Part of one of their prayers runs thus: “Send speedily our Anointed Redeemer to us who await Thy final salvation. Be revealed in the ineffable glory of Thy strength to all the inhabitants of the earth”. (“The Fall and Rise of Israel’, p396, by W L Hull).
There is also a class of Jews, however, both in Palestine and countries of the Diaspora, which is entirely irreligious. It is rationalistic, modernistic, and materialistic. This class is large and influential, and is found mainly amongst the intellectuals, who are becoming increasingly indifferent to Judaism and the divine teaching of the law. Many of these indeed openly declare their sceptical and atheistic views.
Now, all of this is precisely what the study of prophecy would teach us to expect. Scripture clearly indicates that following her regathering the nation will be free from idolatry and will resume the worship of the true God. The Temple services will be renewed, which, of course, implies that present Jewish aspirations to rebuild God’s House will in His time be fulfilled (Dan. 11.31; Matt.24.15; 2Thess.2.4; Rev. 11.1,2), and animal sacrifices will again be offered upon His altar (Dan.9.27; 11.31; 12.11; cp. also Hos.3.4,5).
Nevertheless, Scripture also teaches that Israel will be regathered in unbelief. The dry bones will be joined together (compare Mr. Isaac Ben-Zvi’s statement on p.28), but the nation will be spiritually dead until the divine Spirit breathes “upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezek.37.1-10). Such indeed will be her unbelief that ‘the many’ of Israel will enter into covenant relationship with the vile ‘prince that shall come’, at the beginning of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan.9.26-27). The spirit of idolatry, cast out by the Jews’ captivity in Babylon, will return to the nation, and with it “seven other spirits more wicked … and the last state” … will be “worse than the first” (Matt. 12.43-45; cp. also ch.24.15). Yea, the “man of sin” will yet sit “in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2Thess.2.3-4). It is clear therefore that Israel’s future worship of God will at first be in large measure a mere outward form. The vast majority of the people will be utterly Godless.
The fact, however, that the unholy alliance of Dan.9.27 will be welcomed by the majority (‘the many’) only, and not by all Israel, implies that in that day there will be a remnant of the nation faithful to God. Dan. 11.32-35 (which had a partial fulfilment in the Maccabean period); 12.3; Zech.13.8,9; Rev.7.1-8; 11.3-7; 12.7, and several other passages indicate the same thing. Through this remnant, saved and sealed, a witness will be borne to all Israel and to the Gentile nations.
All of this is, we repeat, what prophecy teaches regarding Israel’s spiritual state in a future day, and as we have now seen, there is a threefold correspondence between it and the nation’s present religious condition. Is not this remarkable? Can we not discern in it the hand of God? What we see today is, we have no doubt, a preparation for what will obtain in Israel at the end-time. Coming conditions, like coming events, ‘cast their shadows before’. But if these things be so, how can it be reasoned that there is no future for Israel?
That tens of thousands of people should return to the prescribed form of their ancestors’ worship, in as great a measure as it is humanly possible for them, after being ‘ scattered and peeled’ in over one hundred Gentile countries for almost 2,000 years, is surely amazing. That these people should be willing to leave the lands where in many cases they and their forefathers have dwelt for centuries, and willing in leaving them to sacrifice all their earthly possessions, as great numbers of Jews have done, to settle in a small country surrounded on three sides by vast hostile, threatening Arab armies, in order to get back to Jerusalem, the ancient centre of their worship, is still more amazing. That they should be willing and eager to do all this, however, while in a state of unbelief, without the love of Christ burning as an impelling power in their hearts, is a phenomenon so amazing that it has no parallel in human history. How then can we account for all this, if we exclude the thought that God has brought it about because He has a future for Israel?
This, however, is not all. The international political scene today, especially when viewed in relation to Israel, has also a profound significance. In the first place, the Near and Middle East form one of the most vital focal spots of world tension. In the second, many peoples in that and other regions have arisen as from the dust, since the end of the second World War, shaken off the lethargy of centuries, reasserted their rights, and boldly declared their independence. Egypt especially has come increasingly into the limelight and is now a sovereign State. Next, Israel’s neighbours and nations more distant are casting covetous eyes upon her.
This last feature deserves more than mere mention. Let us dwell upon it for a moment. We need not wonder at it. Israel is a land of unbounded wealth and prosperity. Her conquest and rapid development have been astonishing. The pioneering spirit of her sons has caused the desert to blossom like a rose. In arts, culture, commerce, science, medicine, and agriculture she is coming more and more to the forefront. Her increased rainfall is a modem miracle. Her Health Service stands on a higher level than that of the United States, Britain, Russia, France, or Germany. Her death rate is the lowest in the world, and considering that the State is but fifteen years old and that the mass migration to it from so many lands was accompanied by widespread disease, this is another miracle. (See “A Christian Voice in Israel’, p12, July, 1963). It is no marvel therefore, that Israel has been described by H. Rimmer as “a plum that makes the eyes of international robbers gleam with avarice” (“The Shadow of Coming Events”, p66).
Yet notwithstanding Israel’s remarkable conquest and national progress, there is something still more remarkable. This is the well known fact that the Jews in Palestine today are totally excluded from the one spot upon earth which above all others is dear and sacred to their hearts — their beloved City of David, with its Temple Area, Wailing Wall, and other objects of veneration. Old Jerusalem is still in Arab hands.
Not only are the surrounding nations covetous of Israel’s wealth, however; they harbour an intense and deep-seated hatred of her. They are her avowed enemies. On the very day of her independence the new State was attacked on all fronts by the armies of seven countries (Compare Deut.7.1). Some months ago, too, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq signed a treaty to unite in order to destroy her. “For the first time in the history of modern nations, the destruction of a people had been laid down as an objective in the constitution of three countries which were members of the United Nations” (Mr. Ben Gurion). Furthermore, away to the distant north of Palestine lies the great atheistic Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which through ‘peaceful penetration’ and other means now has many satellite nations beneath its wing. This power is also hostile to Israel, and has assisted the Arabs by shipping to them vast quantities of arms and military equipment, to use against the Jews.
Then we must not fail to observe that to the west of Palestine a great combination of nations — Italy, West Germany, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Holland — has been formed. This powerful combination has established what is known as “The European Common Market”, which was ratified by “The Treaty of Rome” in 1957. Its aim is both economic and political, and has been described as “the greatest attempt at European unification since Charlemagne.” As is well known, the increasingly dominant influence in this great combination is the Roman Vatican. Many in high places firmly believe it will be only a matter of time until Britain and other nations also join the Common Market. One great difference between it and the Soviet Union is that it is friendly towards the Jewish cause.
Here, briefly, is a delineation of the present international scene, viewed in its relation to Israel. Its deep significance, like that of modem Jewish life, lies in its close resemblance to the picture of the last days so graphically portrayed in the prophetic Scriptures, as we shall now see.
These Scriptures plainly indicate that the storm centre at the end time will be Palestine and the adjacent countries (See Ezek.38 and 39; Dan. 11.40-45; Zech.10.10,11; 14.1-21; and several other related passages). They teach that at that time there will be a mighty upsurge of nationalism. The fig tree putting forth its tender leaves, after the long sleep of winter (Lk.21.29-33), symbolises the revivification and prosperity of Israel as a nation; while the statement that “all the trees” will “shoot forth” indicates that new life and vigour will be manifest in other races as well. Even if this interpretation of our Lord’s parable be doubted, many other Scriptures plainly teach the same thing. Thus Dan.11.41-43 implies that at the end time Edom, Moab, Ammon, Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia, which for centuries have been weak, languid, and unimportant, will be powers to be reckoned with. Ezek.38 names several great warrior nations. Compare also Ps.72.10; Isa.60.6-9 and Joel 2, none of which has yet been fulfilled Of all these nations, the one mentioned most frequently as playing a great part in the future, is Egypt, as reference to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and other prophecies will show.
The prophet Ezekiel predicts, too that in “the latter years” (38.8) — “the latter days” (v16) — “the people that are gathered out of the nations” (v12) — “Israel” (v14) — then dwelling in “the land that is brought back from the sword” (v8), “in the middle of the earth” (v12, RV), will be so rich in “silver and gold … cattle and goods” (v13), that certain nations, greedy and envious of their vast wealth, will sweep down upon them “to take a prey … to take a great spoil” (v13).
We come now to a most interesting point. Though it is clear from the Scriptures that Israel will reoccupy her own land in unbelief, and prior to Christ’s descent to earth, our Lord mentions something which at first sight might seem to suggest a positive contradiction of this. This is the fact that Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, will not be freed from the Gentile yoke, but will be “trodden down of the Gentiles, UNTIL THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES BE FULFILLED” (Lk.21.24) To reconcile this saying with the passages which appear to teach the exact opposite must have been a difficulty to many a devout student of the Word until modem times. To us today it demonstrates the unerring accuracy of that Word. Modem Jerusalem now covers the precise area foretold in Jer.31.38-40, as we saw on p.28, and belongs to Israel, but the city of our Lord’s time, Old Jerusalem, is still beneath the Gentile heel.
Further, Joel 3.9-19 and Zech.12.1-9; 14.1-2, clearly indicate that Israel will be beset by many enemies at the end time. We believe, too, that Ps.83, in which a great confederacy of ten peoples come against her, and of which some see a partial fulfilment in 2Chr.20, still awaits its complete fulfilment. The prophecy, of course, employs ancient names. Though the identity of a few of these is perhaps uncertain, the reference is clearly to the Arab nations bordering upon Israel — Assur to the north; Tyre to the northwest; Edom, Ishmael and Moab to the south; Ammon and Amalek to the east; and the Philistines (in the district of the Gaza strip) to the west. All of these are bent upon the destruction of God’s chosen people. “Come”, say they, “let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance” (v4). Then in Ezek.38, already referred to, the great foe that sweeps down so unmercifully upon Israel in “the latter years” comes from “the uttermost parts of the north” (w6,15; 39.2 RV). The expression, “the uttermost parts of the north” (i.e. north of Palestine), leaves no doubt at all as to the geographical location in view — it is that occupied today by Russia.
Finally, in addition to the great Northern Confederacy, Scripture speaks of the presence of a powerful bloc of nations in South Europe at the time of the end. This mighty empire will be comprised of ten kingdoms (Dan.2.40-43; 7.7,24; Rev. 13 .1; 17.3,7,12,16,17). For a time it will be controlled by the ecclesiastical system represented by the woman clothed in scarlet (Rev.17.3-7). The seven hills on which the woman sits signify the city of Rome (w9,18). Rome therefore will be the governmental centre of this immense empire — “a United Europe”. Its great prince will professedly be friendly towards the Jews and will enter into a seven-year pact with them, guaranteeing, no doubt, the protection of the rights and liberties of their small State (Dan.9.26-27).
It will thus be seen that touching all these deeply significant matters — the focal spot of world tension, the spirit of Nationalism, the ascending importance of Egypt, the nations’ greed of Israel’s vast wealth, the unique facts regarding Jerusalem, the Arabs’ hatred of the Jews, Russia’s rise and her support of the Arab nations, the uniting of the great Powers in Europe, their increasing subservience to Rome, and their favourable attitude towards Israel — touching all these matters and others which could be mentioned, there exists a close and amazing resemblance between the face of the present international situation and the prophetic programme of the last days as pictured in the Word of God.
Who can doubt, therefore, that the things foretold in Scripture are now taking shape? What power has caused all the conditions and occurrences which we have reviewed to synchronise, to coincide, to converge upon exactly the same period of our history? If, as some suggest, the Bible is not the very Word of God, why are the opposite things not coming to pass today? Dr. Russell Taylor Smith has well said that “any man who can hold an open Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and then cannot tell what time of day it is, needs to remember our Lord’s words, ‘O ye hypocrites, … can ye not discern the signs of the times?’ (Matt. 16.3)”.
If therefore the stage is set for the literal fulfilment of prophecy, how can it possibly be denied that Israel as a nation has been destined by God to fill a role in the dramatic and crucial events to which the world is now rapidly moving? What becomes of the picture at which we have looked if the Jew and his land be taken out of it? Who is so blind that he cannot see that Israel is the pivot around which all God’s dealings with the nations today revolve? “To leave out the nation of Israel as the future recipient of God’s blessing not only makes the Word of God of none effect, but also completely distorts it, so that prophecy has no meaning. ISRAEL IS THE KEY TO PROPHECY’ (From Preface of “Israel — Key to Prophecy", by Wm. L Hull).
Israel’s destiny is clearly foretold in Scripture. The numerous promises made to her will be brought to their glorious fruition by the millennial reign of Christ
GOD’S ORIGINAL DESIRE
It was God’s original desire that Jacob’s descendants should be “a peculiar treasure” unto Him “above all people” (Ex. 19.5), that they should “possess the gate of’ their “enemies” (Gen.22.17), enjoy political supremacy as “the head” of the nations (Deut.28.13), and that as a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19.6) they should stand between God and the other nations — a vehicle of blessing to all mankind (Gen.22.18). Because of wicked and persistent departure from the Lord, however, Israel failed of her high calling. Consequently, after much divine long-suffering, many warnings and minor chastisement, the threatened ‘curses’ and ‘plagues’ of Deut.28 and 29 were visited upon the people (ch 28.15-68), and upon their beloved land (ch.29.22-28). Portions of these two chapters had a partial fulfilment when the nation was carried into captivity — the Northern Kingdom to Assyria in 721 B.C. (2Kings 18.11), and the Southern Kingdom to Babylon in 606 B.C. (2Kings 24.1-4). The two chapters, however, had a more complete and exhaustive fulfilment at the time of the Roman invasion of Judaea by Titus in the year 70 A D.
“THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES”
Now, from the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in 606 B.C. to the present hour, Israel has been ‘the tail’ of the nations (Deut.28.44). For in that year God solemnly transferred the sceptre of world sovereignty from her to the Babylonian Empire (see Jer.27.6,7; Dan.2.38). Thus began the long period of Gentile supremacy in the earth, spoken of by our Lord as “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk.21.24). The expression, “the times of the Gentiles”, is to be distinguished from what Paul speaks of as “the fulness of the Gentiles” (Rom . 11.25). The former has reference to the protracted period of world domination by the Gentiles, as just now pointed out; the latter, to the completion of the gracious ingathering of Gentiles during the period in which Israel is judicially, though only temporarily, set aside by God. The one expression is political; the other, spiritual.
These “times of the Gentiles” are portrayed by the colossal Image, “whose brightness was excellent” and whose “form was terrible”, which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, as recorded in Dan.2. During their course, four great Gentile Monarchies, represented by the four respective parts of the Image mentioned by the prophet, are to succeed each other as world Powers (Dan.2.31 -45). As is well known, they are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Throughout these “times” Jerusalem is to be “trodden down of the Gentiles” (Lk.21.24), but they will be terminated by the descent of the Son of Man to earth “with power and great glory” (Lk.21.27). He is the “Stone cut out without hands”, which “smote the image upon his feet”, so that the whole was “broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the Stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Dan.2.34,35). In the interpretation which follows, we are not left in any doubt as to the meaning of this imagery. In w.44 and 45, Daniel says, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the Stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that It brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.”
It is clear, therefore, that when the divinely appointed period of Gentile domination terminates, a fifth Kingdom, that of our Lord and Saviour, will supersede it. Of this there can be no doubt. “The dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.” Indeed in the great vision vouchsafed to the prophet himself in Dan.7, some 48 years later, this prophecy was confirmed and amplified. The four Beasts there answer to the four parts of the Image in ch.2, the difference being that the successive world Empires are there viewed as God saw them, whereas in the earlier dream they are viewed as they appeared to Nebuchadnezzar. The ten horns there (w7,20,24) correspond with the toes of ch.2.41-44, and represent ten kings who are to unite to form the final phase of the fourth world Empire, in the closing days of Gentile supremacy. In like manner, the One there “like unto a son of man” (RV), Who came “with the clouds of heaven”, to whom was given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him”, and whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (wl3,14), is plainly the One represented by the “Stone cut out without hands” and destined by “the God of heaven” to become “a great mountain”, and fill “the whole earth” (ch.2.34,35).
In reviewing the foregoing remarks, the following facts should be carefully observed:
- There is nothing at all to suggest that these Gentile world monarchies are to improve morally to manifest any internal change for the better, or gradually to develop into the Kingdom of God. Their whole trend is one of moral deterioration, which is in keeping with Paul’s statement, that “evil men … shall wax worse and worse” (2Tim.3.13).
- There can be no reign of peace till Christ returns. The golden era cannot be introduced by human instrumentality — by social reform, secular education, peace treaties, or even Gospel preaching, but only by the divine intervention of “the Stone cut out without hands”. This exposes the utter fallacy of post-millennial teaching.
- This intervention will be sudden, swift, universal, and in devastating judgment. Christ will descend and with a masterstroke of unparalleled severity will break to shivers the combined strength of His enemies, and Gentile supremacy will for ever be ended. See such passages as Num .24.17-24; Ps.2.7-9; Isa.63.1-6; Joel 3.13-16; Zeph.3.8; Hag.2.22; Zech. 12.1-9; 14.3; Matt.24.30; Rev. 1.7; 11.15; 19.11-21.
- This stroke will fall “in the days of those kings” who are represented by the toes of the Image (Dan.2.41-44 RV), and by the horns of the fourth Beast (7.24-27). These kings are to reign contemporaneously, and are to federate to form a mighty empire, which will have a powerful overlord — the “little horn” of ch.7.8,20-24. It is therefore quite absurd to say, as have some amillennialists, that this prophecy was fulfilled at the first Advent, or, as others have taught, during subsequent European history. The first Advent took place in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Lk.3 .1), not “in the days of those kings”, which time is yet future. Moreover, “there is nothing in the past history of the kingdoms of Europe that answers to this. They were generally warring enemies, each seeking the destruction of others. We reject utterly this interpretation of the ten toes” (H A Ironside in “Lectures on Daniel’, p37).
- The fifth Kingdom then, which will be the Messianic, will be here on earth, just as were the four former ones. It will be “under the whole heaven” (Dan.7.27), and filling “the whole earth” (Dan.2.35). To establish It Christ will return bodily to earth (Acts 1.10,11). He will descend to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14.4). Then upon His smiting His enemies “the kingdoms of the world” will “become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Rev. 11.15 RV). He “shall be King over all the earth” (Zech. 14.9). Numerous other passages describe or allude to His earthly reign. See, for example, Ps.22.27-29; 72.1-20; Isa. 11.9; Jer.3.17; 23.5; Zech. 14.16,17; Matt.5.5; 6.10; Rev.5.10. Each one of the so-called Minor Prophets “directly or by type speaks of it, or of His visible coming to establish it” (see “Premillennialism or Amillennialism", p52, by C L Feinberg, Th.D., Ph D ). Indeed Oswald J Smith, Litt.D., has compiled a list of sixty four passages of Scripture, all of which deal with “The Kingdom of God on Earth” (see “Prophecy — What Lies Ahead?” p37). How these passages, in many of which earthly relationships, earthly conditions, earthly prosperity, and national and geographical proper names are mentioned, can be applied to Heaven or to the eternal state, as amillennialists imply, baffles one’s comprehension. Moreover, that the Church, whose calling, character and destiny are heavenly, could fill the role of the Kingdom of Daniel chs.2 and 7, is altogether inadmissible, to say the least.
- The Kingdom of our Lord on earth will be literal and visible. The former kingdoms in Dan.2 and 7 were literal and visible, therefore as a matter of consistency we must understand the one which will supersede them in a similar manner. There is nothing in the text to indicate a change from the normal mode of literal interpretation, which has preceded, nor is there anything incompatible with this either here or in any of the other numerous passages to which we have referred. Indeed, the combined testimony of Scripture demands such an interpretation. Though literal and visible, however, the future Kingdom will also be spiritual, for the Spirit of God will then be poured out “upon all flesh” (Joel 2.28). The Kingdom today is spiritual, inward, and invisible. In that day it will be spiritual, but in public manifestation. “An entire spiritual Kingdom”, however, “without the sanctified union of the material or natural, is utterly opposed to the Word of God” (GN H Peters, quoted in “Things To Come”, p482).
In this connection, it cannot be too strongly stressed that the prophetic Scriptures are not to be interpreted to mean anything but what their plain, obvious sense indicates, as has already been pointed out in these chapters. When we are told, for example, that our Lord will in a future day stand upon “the mount of Olives, WHICH IS BEFORE JERUSALEM ON THE EAST’ (Zech. 14 .4), what could be plainer than the literalness of the statement? When we read of men cultivating their fields, planting vineyards, and drinking wine, in the days of Israel’s restoration to her own land (Amos 9.11-15), the reference surely cannot be to people who have put on immortality and are dwelling in Heaven. Let us not be so foolish, therefore, as to “lapse into the blind absurdity of expecting the fulfilment of theories based on what men conjecture the prophets ought to have foretold” (Sir Robert Anderson in “The Coming Prince", p35). Even a cursory reading of Dan.2 and 7 will make it clear that in many respects the fifth world Kingdom will be entirely different from the four which precede it. They are symbolised by metals, It by a “Stone cut out without hands”; they are marked by increasing deterioration of quality, It by increasing strength, influence, and glory; they endure each but a limited time, It “shall stand for ever”. Nevertheless like them It will be a literal, material Kingdom — a Kingdom in public manifestation, which will “break in pieces and consume all these (other) kingdoms”. There is no Scriptural warrant for believing otherwise.
- Finally, “the kingdom … shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High” (Dan.7.27 RV). Who will these ‘people’ be? We believe they will be the same people as are described as Daniel’s ‘people’ in ch.12.1. In other words, they are the people of Israel. Israel has been set aside, as we have seen, but ONLY, mark ONLY, “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Lk.21.24), ONLY “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11.25). Then “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11.26), and saved Israel will once more become the head of the nations.
The ultimate supremacy and surpassing splendour of Israel as a world power have been shown to be guaranteed by divine promises. These promises form a major subject in the prophetic Scriptures. The ancient Romish theory was “that the Church of the New Testament is the legitimate heir of all the Covenant promises made to Israel in the Old Testament”, and it was revived by the late Philip Mauro. This, as mentioned in an earlier chapter, is one of the main arguments of amillennialists. It is, however, an utter fallacy. Those promises were sealed by divine oath and covenant, and nothing can invalidate them. The honour of the Lord’s name is inseparably linked with them and He will not fail to fulfil His moral obligation to those to whom His promises were originally made. This has been said before in these pages, of course, but its importance merits repetition.
Yet even if one were inclined to favour the view of such a transference of promised blessings, a difficulty presents itself, which neither Mr. Mauro nor anyone else known to us, has ever been able to remove. What becomes of the punitive ‘curses’ and ‘plagues’ of divine vengeance threatened upon the nation for disobedience in Deut.28 and 29, etc.? These included want, pestilence, oppression, destruction, world-wide dispersion, spiritual blindness, and abandonment by God. Have these also, or judgments answering to them, been transferred to the Church? Any young believer knows they have not. Members of the Body of Christ do, no doubt, experience individually the Lord’s chastening because of unjudged sin (1Cor.11.32); a Church can so act that its lampstand of testimony may by divine government have to be removed (Rev.2.5); and unrepentant Christless professors will be spued out of His mouth (Rev.3.16), but the conception of Christ’s beloved Church being cursed, plagued, forsaken or in any sense made the subject of God’s wrath, is completely at variance with New Testament teaching. Upon what fair principle then can it be shown that the Church is heir to Israel’s national promises, but not to her penal judgments? Do these not stand or fall together? Or are all the blessings to be appropriated for the Church, and all the curses to be left for Israel? An affirmative answer seems very simple and convenient, but it would be neither reasonable, just, nor consistent.
It may be argued, however, that the Church inherits the blessings minus the curses, upon the basis of the New Covenant, which is one of pure grace, whereas God’s dealings with the nation were in accordance with the Sinaitic Covenant, which was one of works. That there has been such a change of covenant we know — a fact which emphasises the importance of distinguishing between things which differ, especially between God’s methods with man in the various time-periods of history respectively. Failure to do this is largely responsible for amillennial errors. The spiritual blessings of our Gospel age, however, do not correspond with the predictions of Israel’s future restoration and exaltation. They cannot be shown to be the counterpart of the Israel promises. It is futile to attempt to illustrate that they are. We believe, therefore, that the fulfilment of those promises is temporarily held in abeyance, and that the New Covenant will be the very basis upon which they will yet be made good to the Jewish people. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, …” (Jer.31.31-34). Observe this covenant was made primarily “with the house of Israel’, and that it is very similar to the Abrahamic Covenant, of which indeed it is an amplification. That its unconditional terms, and at least part of its gracious provisions, apply to the Church, is proven by the five direct references to it in the New Testament. (Lk.22.20; 1 Cor. 11.25; 2Cor.3.6; Heb.8.8; 9.15). J Dwight Pentecost, however, enumerates several considerations in proof that the provisions of the New Covenant are not exhausted by the Church, and must therefore be reserved for those to whom they were originally given — the Jewish nation (“Things To Come", p127). One weighty, and, as it seems to us, incontrovertible argument in support of this is the fact that this is the only covenant in Scripture in accordance with which God is said to remove sins, and therefore this must be the covenant of which the Spirit speaks in Rom. 11.26,27 RV, when He says “And so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: And this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins". “The house of Israel”, therefore — the physical descendants of Jacob (and ‘Jacob’ never means the Church) — will yet inherit the blessings of the New Covenant in their unclouded glory and plenitude.
Allusion has here been made to the curses threatened upon Israel. The most fearful of these was that which came upon her in consequence of her rejection of Christ. Now, Mauro taught that that judgment was final and irrevocable. Thus, commenting upon Matt.21.43 (“The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof’), he stated that this “Divine act… was of course a finality’ (“The Hope of Israel’, p89). To him it was “utterly impossible" (his italics in both sentences) that the Jewish nation should have a future (pl40), the Jews “ceased from being a nation … in AD 70” (p223). These rash, unqualified statements from the pen of a Christian lawyer are astounding. Such “mere arbitrary theorising”, said the late Wm. Hoste, “must be firmly resisted as most dishonouring to God and His Word” (Preface to “Has Israel Rejected Her King?" by W Robertson), and is, as another remarked “grotesquely false”. No, “God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew” (Rom. 11.2). To them “the promises” still “pertain” (Rom.9.4). Only for “a small moment” has God forsaken them (Isa. 54.7 RV). Their regathering is as certain as their scattering (Jer.31.10). The judgment of Matt.21.43 is NOT “a finality”. For some two thousand five hundred years now, kings, councils, governments, dictators, popes, prelates, and empires have tried to exterminate the Jews; but God had said, “Though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee" (Jer.30.11), and “I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob” (Amos 9.8); and the miracle of the nation’s continued existence is a testimony to the faithfulness of God’s Word. By that same Word, her sons will yet “rule over their oppressors” (Isa. 14.2). “The abundance of the sea shall be converted unto” them, “the wealth of the nations shall come unto” them (Isa. 60.5). “Kings shall be” their “nursing fathers … they shall bow down to” them “with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of’ their “feet” (Isa.49.23). “The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish” (Isa.60.12), and God will make them “a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth” (Zeph.3.20 RV). For in that day Daniel’s ‘people’, as we saw in our last chapter will be the head of the nations. “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
The terminating of “the times of the Gentiles”, and the transferring of world sovereignty again to Israel, will mark the inauguration of earth’s golden age — the millennium. The word, ‘millennium’, is derived from two Latin words — ‘mille’, a thousand, and ‘annus’, a year, and is the equivalent of the Greek term ‘chilia ete’, which in Rev.20 is translated ‘a thousand years’. The facts that the word ‘millennium’ never occurs in our English Bible, that a limited time period for the visible, earthly reign of Christ is never previously disclosed, and that our Lord and His apostles said so little about such a future Kingdom — some assert that they said nothing — have been seized upon as arguments in favour of amillennialism. It is partly upon this ground indeed that the term, ‘a thousand years’, is spiritualised, and its ordinary, literal sense denied.
Now, some of the silences of Scripture are no doubt most significant, but frequently they prove nothing. The word ‘conscience’, for example, is not found once in the entire Old Testament. Are we to conclude therefore that people in ancient times were lacking of this inward moral faculty? Surely not. The words, ‘Trinity’ and ‘substitution’, never occur in the Bible, but the doctrines which these terms stand for are fundamentals of divine revelation. In the book of the Acts, which covers the first 28 or 30 years of Church history, Luke, who was so meticulously exact, as Sir Wm. Ramsay has demonstrated, never once mentions the name of Titus. Does this prove that there was no such servant of Christ at that time? Not at all. In his second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul has much to say regarding this honoured apostolic delegate, and uses the proper name, ‘Titus’, no fewer than nine times. Paul by the Spirit fills up what is lacking in Luke’s account.
It is well at this point to be warned that the principle of building an argument upon silence is one not infrequently used by Higher Critics in their attacks upon God’s Word. To expose the fallacy of such a principle, Prof. R D Wilson in his book, “Is the Higher Criticism Scholarly?" (p35) makes an interesting reference to Scribner’s History of the United States of America. This work has 53 pages of Index, double column, in which the word ‘Presbyterian’ never occurs, ‘Church’ only twice, and ‘Christian’ only in the phrase ‘Christian Commission’. Further, in 3,500 pages quarto there is no mention of ‘Thanksgiving Day’, and the Bible is referred to only in the relation of the Bible Society to slavery. Yet how foolish it would be to conclude from these silences that Christianity is practically unknown in the United States! Obviously therefore it is not safe to build an argument upon the instances of silence which we have named. If the word, ‘millennium’, is not found in Scripture, the doctrine of it certainly is, and six times over in Rev.20.1-7 we read of ‘the thousand years’ reign. That this time period was not revealed in earlier books proves nothing. Those books contain hundreds of promises of a state of perfect rule upon earth. These have never yet been fulfilled. Many of them cannot possibly refer to the eternal state, as we have seen in earlier chapters. They describe the period we are now considering. They do so in a great variety of ways, are most specific and full of detail, and are couched in the most glowing and colourful language. Writer after writer adds his quota of descriptive data, but it was reserved for John, the last inspired writer, to state its length. In this we can but admire the infinite wisdom of our God, Whose Book in every aspect of its composition and structure is as perfect as its faultless Author. Surely, too, the veracity of any statement depends, not upon how often it is repeated, but upon the reliability of the one who makes it. If God makes a statement once, is this not sufficient for our faith? Modem science declares that light was the first of all things to exist. The Bible, however, told us this long ago, and it also told us how light was first caused to flood our solar system. Here truly is important knowledge, yet it is contained in one short sentence, in Gen. 1.3. Further, did not the truth of our Lord’s immaculate conception and virgin birth depend for centuries upon one passage in Isaiah (7.14)? Yet, take away the wondrous doctrine of His miraculous incarnation, and you have completely undermined the Christian faith. Only one passage informs us of the length of Christ’s earthly reign, but here the Spirit of Truth underlines ‘the thousand years’, so to speak, by repeating the phrase no fewer than six times. Let us remember, too, that there are other new disclosures about the future in Rev.20, 21, and 22. Are these also to be divested of their literal meaning because they are never earlier found in Scripture?
It is true that Christ and His apostles refer only occasionally, and with but little detail, to His earthly reign. This need not at all surprise us. The truth concerning it being so fully and incontrovertibly established by Old Testament writers, it was quite needless that New Testament writers should labour to do so Nevertheless some of them do most decidedly refer to it both directly and by implication, and there is nothing in any of their writings inconsistent with such a concept. Let us remember that the Bible is one grand divine unity, and that the Old Testament is no less inspired than the New Testament. Let us remember also that it is an orderly Book, and that the one Testament gives us the hope of Israel, the other, the hope of the Church. Failing to recognise this and other vital distinctions, we shall end up spiritually where Mr. P. Mauro, of amillennial fame, was literally when he wrote one his best known books — ‘at sea.’
Another amillennial objection is that Christ’s Kingdom is again and again said to be everlasting. “How,” asks a clergyman in a recent issue of a magazine, “How can the kingdom be ‘millennial’ and ‘never ending’?” Why this should present any difficulty it is really hard to know. God has one Kingdom. Daniel (Dan.2.44), John Baptist (Matt.3.2), Christ (Mk.1.15), Paul (Acts 20.25), and Peter (2Pet. 1.11), all spoke of it; and it will be proclaimed during “the great tribulation” (Matt.24.14). It is one Kingdom throughout, be perfectly clear about that, but it has different aspects or phases. The future earthly form, with which we are presently concerned, will last a thousand years. Far from nullifying the eternal Kingdom, the millennial Kingdom will be ‘the vestibule’ to it. Surely a person with average intelligence can see this.
One of the most common objections, of course, is that Revelation is a book of imagery, and therefore the term ‘thousand years’ is not to be treated literally. Dr B B Warfield strongly advocates this view. He suggests that the meaning of the Apocalypse could best be understood “not directly by verbal criticism”, but “by sympathetic imagination”, and he accordingly spiritualises “the thousand years”. Pause and think of the seriousness of advising a young Christian to employ his “sympathetic imagination” to ascertain the meaning of any Scripture! To what wild, fantastic interpretations this opens the door, as amillennialism itself illustrates. Prof. Wm. Milligan says, “If we interpret the thousand years literally, it will be a solitary example of a literal use of numbers in the Apocalypse, and this objection alone is fatal”. What then, we may ask, is the spiritual meaning of “the thousand years”? “It is”, says Dr. T P Stafford, in “A Study of the Kingdom”, “the Christian age, extending up to ‘a little time’ before Christ comes again. The thousand years have become nearly two thousand years. Or are we now in ‘the little time’ that follows that period? I do not know (though the late war and its consequences make it seem likely)”. Imagine a true believer saying, “The thousand years have become nearly two thousand years”, then suggesting that we are now in ‘the little time’ (of Rev.20.3), and finishing up by saying, “I do not know”! What a loose trifling with sacred language! What a confession of ignorance! It is a very convenient way of treating a plain statement which contradicts your theory, of course, but it is not sound exegesis If we are in the millennium and it has lasted almost two thousand years, why did God say it would terminate in “a thousand years”? And if the proper study of this Book leads only to a quagmire of doubt and uncertainty, why was it written? And why was it named “Revelation”? Yet Milligan is quoted with approval by Mr W J Grier in “The Momentous Event’ (p80), and Stafford likewise by Mr P Mauroin “The Hope of lsrael (p260). Is it any wonder we warn saints against the vagaries of amillennialism?
What, however, of Prof. Milligan’s denial of the “literal use of numbers in the Apocalypse”? Is there any foundation for his confident assertion? There is none whatsoever. What he meant by his rash statement, or why Mr. Grier, whose opposition to Romish and Rationalistic trends I have long admired, quoted him, I cannot tell. No proof is offered — because there is no proof. Excluding fractions such as “a third”, “fourth part”, etc., numbers occur about 168 times in Revelation. Some of the numbered objects are symbolic, many are not, and throughout the numbers themselves are literal. John saw seven stars, seven lampstands, and twenty-four elders. No symbolism can possibly change these numbers. In ch.7 he is very precise in telling us that 12,000 persons of each of the twelve tribes were sealed. There can be no mistake about the total, for the writer sums it up for us as “a hundred and forty four thousand”, and he assures us that he “heard the number” (v4). Was this not literal? After speaking of the vast army of 200 million men in ch .9.16, he is careful again to assure us that this was the actual figure, for he adds, “I heard the number of them”. What right have we to spiritualise this? In ch. 11 we have the testimony of the two witnesses
— two literal men, symbolised by two olive trees and two candlesticks (v4). These will bear witness in Jerusalem for 1,260 days (v3). The days here are also literal, being exactly equal to, and denoting the same time period as, the forty-two months of thirty days each (see Gen.7.11; 8.3,4, where the five months of the Flood are specified as being 150 days), of v2 and ch. 13.5. It will thus be seen that this space of three and one half years is measured most precisely both as days and as months and is the same as is described by the symbolic expression, “a time, and times, and half a time” (11.3; 12.14). Another period of time is mentioned in ch. 11.9, where the dead bodies of God’s two honoured servants are allowed to lie unburied in Jerusalem for three days and a half. This will be literally fulfilled, as will the statement about men “from among the peoples … and nations” looking upon their dead bodies. How these will be able literally to gaze upon them is no longer a puzzle to us, as it was to our fathers. It will be by television, of course. Then in v.13 we read of 7,000 persons being killed in a great earthquake, and we are simple enough to believe that this also means just what it says.
We have not space here to discuss other important numbers in Revelation, nor is it really needful to do so. Their plain sense is obvious. It is perfectly safe to interpret the thousand years in ch.20 literally. For if we are to understand this six times repeated expression spiritually, then how would God have to write, for us to understand it in a literal sense? Moreover, as we have seen, this is not by any means “a solitary example of a literal use of numbers in the Apocalypse”. Some of the objects which John saw in vision here are, no doubt, symbols, “but this does not necessarily mean that the ‘thousand years’ which John did not see (my italics) are symbolical” (Dr. N C Deck in, “The Case for Futurism”, p67).
It is of interest to remember that while the duration of the future earthly kingdom is never previously revealed, one passage which pictures it (Isa.65.18-25) declares that man’s life will then be supematurally preserved and that longevity will characterise the human race — “the child shall die an hundred years old” … “for as the days of a tree are the days of My people”. There is thus perfect harmony between Isa.65 and Rev.20, the latter explaining how the former will be possible. To no other period can the Isaiah passage possibly apply. Then to Israel, redeemed and regenerated, the call will come —
- “Arise and shine in youth immortal
- Thy light is come, thy King appears!
- Beyond the centuries’ swinging portal,
- Breaks the new dawn — THE THOUSAND YEARS!"
There is perhaps no passage of Scripture, the meaning of which has been more hotly contested by opposing schools of prophetic interpretation, than the first nine verses of Rev.20. Omitting their minor differences the popular view of amillennialists is as follows: The close of ch. 19 carries us forward to the end of the world, at Christ’s second Advent. Vvl-9 of ch.20 provide a recapitulation of the triumphs of the age of grace, dating from the first Advent. V.10 then resumes the narrative temporarily dropped at ch.19.21, by giving us the doom of Satan, just as that verse gave us the doom of his two chief agents — the Beast and the False Prophet.
Thus interpreted, however, the passage is almost completely divested of literal significance. The binding of Satan is explained as having taken place either during our Lord’s life or at the Cross. The thousand years are made to represent this Gospel age. During it Christ reigns in Heaven, those that sit upon thrones with Him, symbolising the saints who have departed this life. The first resurrection is explained as defining the new birth of the believer. The second resurrection, however, is accepted as being literal. It is claimed to be a general rising from the dead, which embraces all the departed, righteous and wicked. While the Great White Throne assize, in the latter half of the chapter, is interpreted by amillennialists as being identical with the judgment of the sheep and goats in Matt. 25.31-46, and that of the Bema of Christ in 2Cor.5.10, etc.
Now, it is true that John sometimes reverts to an earlier historical event or epoch as he unfolds the future in his Revelation. He does so to trace happenings from a different angle, or to emphasise a different lesson. It does not at all seem tenable, however, that he does so here. The events of these verses are plainly the natural and expected sequence of the momentous descent of Christ to earth, so graphically described in ch. 19. There the kings of the earth are dethroned, here others—we suggest the meek of the earth — are enthroned. There Satan’s two lieutenants are summarily cast to their doom, here the great arch-fiend himself is dealt with. First he is confined to the abyss for a thousand years (vv1-3). Then he is released for a little season (vv7-9), possibly to demonstrate that his imprisonment had not in the least changed his implacable hatred of God. After that he is cast to the same eternal doom as his two henchmen (v10).
Again, in ch.19 Christ returns to earth as “KING OF KINGS” (vl6) and suppresses all opposition Here, following His triumphal conquest, He reigns with His own for a thousand years (v4), which is a prelude to His everlasting reign (ch.22.5).
It should also be observed that we have in this passage two visions, each introduced by the expression, “And I saw” (vv 1 and 4). These visions are but a part of a series of visions which extends from ch.19 to ch.21, all of which are introduced by the same words. Their awe inspiring description flows smoothly onward in simple, orderly, and majestic chronological sequence. John tells us he “SAW”:
- the descent of the Lord, seated upon a white horse, ch. 19.11-16;
- an angel calling the fowls to the high carnival of God’s great supper, ch.19.17,18;
- the destruction of the assembled militant forces of the Beast, ch. 19.19-21;
- an angel descending to bind and imprison Satan, ch.20.1-3;
- three companies of heavenly ones who live and reign with Christ, ch.20.4-6;
- the Great White Throne, ch.20.11;
- the innumerable wicked dead standing before the Throne, ch.20.12-15;
- the New Creation, ch.21.1;
- the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, ch.21.2.
Surely the reader can discern that in this simple treatment of these chapters there is nothing either forceful or fanciful. It merely follows the divine outline of future events, without becoming involved in any expositional details of a controversial nature. If this be accepted as the Spirit’s preview of the future, however, think of what that means. It means that the amillennial recapitulation theory of Rev.20 completely collapses, and it goes far to expose the fallacy of that entire system of prophetic interpretation.
We shall now proceed to examine the passage more in detail, which will further confirm the utter untenableness of our opponents’ viewpoint.
One advocate of that viewpoint says that “pre-millenarians would sometimes have us believe that their whole millennial scheme lies plain as 4 pikestaff in Rev.20.” We can only reply that we do not for a moment believe any such thing and it is a serious matter for anyone to make such a rash statement. What we believe is that the whole millennial scheme lies plainly written across the broad page of Holy Scripture, of which Rev.20 is one small portion. The same writer accuses Walter Scott of “mingling the symbolic and the literal at his own mere whim”, when dealing with this passage, because Mr. Scott treats the key, chain, and seal as symbols, but the thousand years, the abyss, the two resurrections, etc., as literal. It never seems to occur to the critic that this is the very thing he himself does. He teaches that whereas the resurrection of vl2 (“I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God”) is a literal rising from the dead, “the first resurrection” of v5 is the new birth of the believer. Moreover, he does this, notwithstanding, the obvious fact that in w4-6 the Holy Spirit mentions the two resurrections together, and mentions them in language which plainly means that, though in time they are a thousand years apart, both of them are to be understood in exactly the same literal sense. Here is how the verses read:
“And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus … and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power”.
To confirm what we believe to be the plain meaning of this passage, I cannot here do better than quote from the illustrious Alford, to whom as a Greek scholar and textual critic, Bible lovers owe so much. His words in this connection have often been quoted, and will be quoted as long as our language endures. Commenting upon the sentence, “THIS IS THE FIRST RESURRECTION,” he says: “It will have been long ago anticipated by the readers of this Commentary, that I cannot consent to distort the words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy, on account of any considerations of difficulty, or any risk of abuses which the doctrine of the millennium may bring with it. Those who lived next the Apostles, and the whole Church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense; and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instances of unanimity which primitive antiquity presents. As regards the text itself, no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion. If, in a passage where TWO RESURRECTIONS are mentioned, where certain SOULS LIVED at the first, and the rest of the DEAD LIVED only at the end of a specified period after that first — if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean SPIRITUAL RISING with Christ, while the second means LITERAL RISING from the grave — then there is an end to all significance in language, and the Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to any thin g. If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardy enough to maintain: but if the second is literal, then so is the first, which in common with the whole primitive Church and many of the best modem expositors, I do maintain and receive as an article of faith and hope”. (“The New Testament for English readers”, by Henry Alford, D.D., Part 2, pp1088 and 1089). In the light of these monumental words the reader can judge for himself who it is that “mingles the symbolic and the literal at his own mere whim” when interpreting Rev.20.
A LITERAL RESURRECTION
To Alford’s weighty testimony may be added that of W E Blackstone. He very ably exposes the fallacy of our opponents’ view when he says: “They labour assiduously to disprove the literalism of the first resurrection, described in w4-6, where “zao” — to live, and “anastasis” — resurrection, are each twice used; while they hold that wl2 and 13 do describe a literal resurrection, though neither “zao” nor “anastasis” is used therein. Consistency requires that, if either is spiritual, it should be the latter. How much better to accept both as literal.” Blackstone speaks of this as being one of post-millennialists’ “most remarkable inconsistencies” (“Jesus is Coming’, p51).
It is conceded, of course, that ch.20, like many other chapters in Revelation, is highly symbolic. Nevertheless those who deny that the thousand years period is literal must yet admit that Heaven, the Bottomless Pit, Satan, the Earth, the Nations, the Resurrection of wl2 and 13, the Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire, are all literal. Anyhow, what force is there in their argument based upon the symbolic character of these visions? The symbols are not meaningless, are they? Surely they are intended to convey to us literal truths. If we are given visions in our chapter, there is appended an explanation of those visions, which is couched in plain, literal language; and it is in this explanation, not in the actual visions, that the prophetic meaning is conveyed to us. Amillennialists by their perverted interpretations have turned realities into symbols, have reduced the book of “Revelation” to a book of “mystification”, and have made it, as the late Wm. Hoste once said, “a bag of wild guesses and fanciful interpretations, leading nowhere”.
Arguments against a literal resurrection in Rev.20.4 are weak and groundless. For example, where we read of some that “they lived and reigned with Christ”, one view spiritualises the clause by making it refer to “departed saints now living and reigning with Christ” (TH Salmon in “Why I Left The Futurist School’, ch.10). Another view is that the reference is to believers in this day of salvation, who not merely possess “resurrection life”, but who are “living out that life triumphantly in victory” (A Hughes in “A New Heaven And A New Earth”, p58). Which of these conflicting views are we to accept? Besides, what proof is there that either is right? There is none at all — not even a shred. How easy it is to make confident assertions without offering a scintilla of evidence in their support! Norman C Deck, B.D.S., however, has dealt satisfactorily with this point in “The Case For Futurism”, p70. He has shown that the verb, “lived”, is aorist, which can be rendered, “came to life”, and he mentions no fewer than nine English translations which give this sense to the verb. To these one could add other translations. Mr. Deck then says: “This rendering, ‘came to life,’ is confirmed in the very next statement ‘but the rest of the dead lived not (Gr. ouk ezesan) until the thousand years should be finished’, i.e. they ‘did not come to life until the thousand years should be finished’. Amillennialists admit that this last ‘coming to life’ will be a bodily resurrection, then why not the former ‘coming to life’ where the same verb is used? It is a highly artificial and arbitrary interpretation which gives to the same verb, ‘ezesan’, two totally different meanings in a closely connected statement like this, taking the first use of the verb to speak of a spiritual ‘resurrection’, the new birth, and the second a bodily resurrection, as amillennialists do.” The same word is used of Christ rising from the dead, or returning to bodily life, in ch. 1.18; 2.8; also of the Beast in ch.13.14. Any other meaning here would therefore seem highly incongruous. Moreover, that this is what is meant is confirmed by the explanatory sentence which follows in v5 — “This is the first resurrection.”
As might be expected, those opposed to a literal first resurrection, have not failed to bring under fire Alford’s forthright statement, quoted earlier in these pages. The most noteworthy attack perhaps has been by Archdeacon Lee. Anyone interested can read his criticism in “The Speaker’s Commentary”, vol.4 of the New Testament, pp805-814. Lee quotes and refers to dozens of writers, ancient and modem, whose views are frequently in violent conflict, and makes a long and laboured attempt to disprove Alford’s argument. It will be found, however, that in the essential points of his interpretation, Alford’s stately argument is irrefutable and stands, now at the end of 100 years, like an immovable rock in the midst of a storm-swept sea of controversy.
NOT THE NEW BIRTH
It is hoped that this chapter will make two things perfectly clear. One is that the first resurrection is not the new birth. The word “resurrection” (Gr. anastasis) which occurs some 40 or 42 times in the New Testament is never used in this sense. It is employed consistently and exclusively of the raising to life of a person or persons that had been dead, Lk.2.34 being a possible exception. What is more, our Lord in Jn.5.25-29 sharply distinguishes, not only between the imparting of spiritual life to dead souls and of physical life to dead bodies, but also between the time period when each impartation would be made. Speaking of the former, He says, “The hour is coming, and NOW IS, when the dead shall hear … and … shall live”. Speaking of the latter, He says merely, “The hour is coming” (v28), because that hour in which “all that are in the graves shall hear His voice” was, and indeed is, still future.
TWO DISTINCT RESURRECTIONS
The other matter which we trust these lines will clarify is, of course, that there will be two distinct resurrections. The passage in Jn.5, to which we have just now referred, is at times quoted in support of a general resurrection. The ground for this is that our Lord places the rising again of them “that have done good”, and of them “that have done evil” in the same “hour”. A moment’s reflection, however, will tell us that two events could transpire in the same hour, without their happening simultaneously. One has to consider the length of time which “hour” may denote. The use of the word by our Lord three verses earlier here, as also in ch.4.21-23, would indicate that “hour” may mean a very long and extended period of time. Hence we conclude that our Lord’s use of the word, “hour”, is no proof whatever that a general resurrection is taught in Jn.5. The same thing can be said of “the last day” in ch.6.39,40,44,54; and of ch. 11.24, where “Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day”.
The concept of a general resurrection raises difficulties, which to us seem insurmountable. For example, in Lk. 14.14 our Lord said, “Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” Why, however, did our Lord require to describe the resurrection as being that “OF THE JUST”, if all, just and unjust, are to rise at one and the same time? Do not these qualifying words, “OF THE JUST’, plainly imply another resurrection? Further, if all are to be raised together, why did the Lord Jesus on a later occasion speak of a class which shall be “accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead” (Lk.20.35 RV)? Since there is to be a resurrection to which all will not be “accounted worthy to attain”, it follows that there must of necessity be another resurrection.
A further deciding factor, however, is found in our verse in Lk.20. The words “from the dead”, are literally, “from among dead ones” (Gr. ek nekron). This expression, which occurs almost 50 times in the New Testament, should be carefully distinguished from the phrase, “of the dead” (Gr. nekron), found in many passages, such as Acts 17.32; 24.15,21; 1Cor. 15.13, etc., in which the subject of resurrection is treated in a broad way applying to all that have died, both righteous and wicked Our Lord used the former expression (ek nekron) in Mk.9.9, in speaking of a time then future, “when the Son of Man” be risen from among (the) dead ones. The use of this language greatly perplexed the disciples. As Jews, they of course, believed in the resurrection OF THE DEAD. But “they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising FROM AMONG THE DEAD should mean” (vlO Newberry Margin). With our knowledge, we know, thank God, what our Lord meant — namely, that His would be a resurrection out from amongst millions of other dead ones, who would remain undisturbed in their graves and be raised later. This also is what happened — “Now hath Christ been raised from” among dead ones (ek nekron), “the Firstfruits of them that are asleep” (1 Cor. 15.20 RV); and this is what we speak of as “THE OUT -RESURRECTION” Here then is what our Lord had in mind in Lk.20.35. The saints’ resurrection is to be after the pattern of His own. It will be an out-resurrection. To it no Christ rejector can “attain”, and therefore in the New Testament the word is used only of our Lord and of those who die “in Christ” This thought Paul expresses with great emphasis in Phil.3.11. He had turned his back upon all that, as a pious Jew, had been dear to him (vv4-7), that he might “win Christ” (v8), “be found in Him” (v9), “know Him”, etc. (v10), and ultimately “attain unto” THE OUT-RESURRECTION FROM AMONG THE DEAD (Gr teen ex-anastasin teen ek nekron).
With these passages the words of Dan. 12.2 perfectly agree. S P Tregelles, whose authority in textual criticism is well known, says, “I do not doubt that the right translation of this verse is: ‘And many from among the sleepers of the dust of the earth shall awake; these shall be unto everlasting life; but those (the rest of the sleepers, those who do not awake at this time) shall be unto shame and everlasting contempt’.” ^Remarks on the … Book of Daniel’, pl65). A R Faussett, A.M. says that the Jewish commentators here support Tregelles (“ The Portable Commentary", in loco), and Chas. L Feinberg, Th.D., Ph.D., believes this translation to be “the closest to the original” (“Pre-Millennialism or A-Millennialism?" p182). See also the comments of J D Pentecost, Th.D., in “Things To Come", p399, to the same effect.
From this consideration then it is perfectly clear that there will be two distinct resurrections of the dead. Though many passages treat the subject without making this differentiation, the Bible does not teach a general resurrection. It is only when we come to Rev.20, however, that we are taught that one thousand years will separate the two resurrections. This need not surprise us, for it is only here, as we have already seen, that “the thousand years” period is mentioned at all. This harmonises perfectly with earlier prophecies, and is thoroughly consistent with the acknowledged principle of the advancement of divine revelation, which runs like an ever broadening stream through the Word of God. It is in the Revelation that the numerous lines of prophetic truth attain their most sublime heights and converge, and that prophecy as a subject is given its final amplification and confirmation.
“THIS IS THE FIRST RESURRECTION” (v5)
The sentence, “This is the first resurrection,” demands a few remarks. According to our passage, this resurrection takes place at the close of the reign of the Beast and at the commencement of the thousand years. Since it is described as ‘the first,’ however, can there be a resurrection before the reign of the Beast begins, as Pre-tribulationists teach? Alexander Reese argues that if the resurrection of lThess.4 and lCor.15 takes place before the Great Tribulation, then John should here have said, “This is the second resurrection” (“The Approaching Advent of Christ’, p81). He is confident, however, that the word ‘first’ in Rev.20.5 is proof that there is no earlier resurrection than this. “Not a word,” he assures us, “is said by John in the whole of the Revelation of any such resurrection. Nothing can be found of an earlier one, either here or in any other part of the Word of God.” This certainly is a hasty statement. One wonders if Mr. Reese has not read of the four and twenty Elders in earlier chapters of Revelation. Whether they represent Old Testament saints and the Church, or the Church only, their presence in Heaven presupposes resurrection. Further, what about the two Witnesses of ch. 11? Are we not expressly told that they were resurrected? Yet this writer has the temerity calmly to inform his readers that “not a word is said by John in the whole of the Revelation of any such resurrection”.
AN ORDER, NOT AN ACT
Now what is contemplated in ‘the first resurrection’ is the raising of the saints, and we believe it is called ‘first’ because there will be another and later resurrection
— that of the wicked dead It is important, too, that we should understand that the expression, ‘the first resurrection’, does not mean that there will be but one divine act of raising the sleeping saints. The words denote an order of resurrection rather than an act. “Every man” will be raised “in his own order” (1Cor. 15.23). “Christ the firstfruits” of the resurrection of His people, has already been raised from the dead In later stages of resurrection, companies of saints will arise, for while it is one resurrection, it will be in a number of successive stages. See 1Thess.4.13-18 with 1Cor.15.51-55; Rev.11.11,12; and 20.4. To consider these different risings more in detail would be beyond the scope of this chapter. What we desire to make clear is that the expression, “This is the first resurrection”, indicates that the final stage is now past. The last company or detachment of sleeping saints to form part of the pre-millennial resurrection has now taken place. “This is (the completion of) the first resurrection”.
That the saints will be raised in companies, at different times, to form one resurrection, is quite consistent with the ways of God. He established a covenant with Abraham in Genesis, chs.15 and 17. It is ever after referred to as being one and indivisible, but it was established in two stages, which were over 14 years apart. Our Lord’s Advent was in stages — Bethlehem, Jordan, Calvary — but it was one Advent. His next Advent will also be in stages, for if He will come WITH His saints, He must first come FOR them — one Advent, but in two distinct stages or parts. In like manner, the Word of God teaches, with unmistakable clearness, one pre-millennial resurrection of saints, but it will be comprised of a number of risings from the dead which are plainly defined in Scripture.
John tells us he ‘saw thrones’, and those that ‘sat upon them’, and they ‘reigned with Christ a thousand years’ (Rev.20.4,5). This is Christ’s millennial reign, and it is clear from the passage that it covers the major portion of the period which lies between the two resurrections, which we have now considered. It should also be clear to any careful, unbiased reader, that this period relates to the earth. The descent of the King from Heaven, so graphically described in ch. 19, implies this, since it will be to deal with ‘the kings of the earth’ (vl9). Then at the expiration of the thousand years, Satan will go forth to ‘deceive the nations . . . of the earth’, and will muster their armies ‘on the breadth of the earth’ (ch.20.9), which also surely implies that during the thousand years of Satan’s imprisonment, the earth will be under the benign rule of its rightful King. Moreover, since ‘they count not time by years’ in Heaven, we can associate this period only with earth, even if we had not these references. In that day will be fulfilled the numerous Scriptures, to some of which allusion has been made in these pages, which predict our Lord’s glorious and tranquil reign in the scene where once He was rejected. See, for example, 2Sam.7.12-16; Ps.89; Isa.9.6,7; 11.1-9; Jer.23.6; Rev.5.9,10. As ‘Son of David’ He is Heir to Judah’s throne; as ‘Son of Abraham’ (Matt. 1.1), to the vast territory which God gave by covenant to that patriarch. Therefore “the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His Father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever” (Lk. 1.32,33).
In both Testaments this reign is always described as being in the future. It is true that God has even now “put all things under His (Christ’s) feet”. Mark, however, the purpose of this — that He might be “Head over all things to the Church” (Eph. 1.22) — not that He might reign as King over the house of Jacob. God’s present word to His beloved One is: “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool” (Ps.110.1). Heb.10.13 confirms the Son’s blessed acquiescence with the Father’s will. He is presently “expecting till His enemies be made the footstool of His feet”. In that coming day, God’s Word to Him will be, “Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies” (Ps.l 10.2). Now, it is “SIT THOU”. Then it will be, “RULE THOU”; and in that day He will take to Him His great power and reign. See Rev.11.17,18
Amillennialists frequently quote Acts 2.29-33, in an attempt to show that Christ now sits on David’s throne in Heaven. The attempt is futile. The force of Peter’s argument, which should be read in the RV, is that our Lord’s resurrection and present exaltation are proof that what God promised His servant David He will yet accomplish. Vv34 and 35 fully bear this out. “The LORD said unto My Lord, sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool”. Clearly then, there is a period of waiting, even as we have seen in our last paragraph, during which enemies oppose His authority, ere our risen Lord takes His seat on David’s throne. It must be stated categorically that nowhere in Scripture is David’s throne said to be, or implied to be, in Heaven. Our Lord now sits upon His Father’s throne (Rev.3.21), and to speak of that as being identical with the throne of David, manifests a great lack of spiritual intelligence, to put it mildly. G N H Peters goes into this subject more thoroughly perhaps than any other writer. He furnishes a list of twenty one reasons for believing that the promises of the Davidic covenant are to be understood literally, and that they cannot therefore legitimately be interpreted to refer to the Father’s heavenly throne or kingdom. For the full quotation from his “Theocratic Kingdom”, see J D Pentecost’s, “Things to Come", pp104-107.
THE “SOULS” WHICH JOHN SAW
They were souls’, however, which John saw in Rev.20.4 — “the souls of them that were beheaded … and they lived and reigned with Christ”. It is therefore objected that ‘souls’, being spirits, could not reign on earth. Surely, it is argued, it is in Heaven that souls reign, and so the reference must be to “those in the disembodied state in the Paradise of God”. This sounds reasonable, but will the context bear it out? It will not. John says that these ‘souls’ lived. In what sense did they ‘live’? The statement cannot mean merely that they ‘existed’. To say that would be quite superfluous. Moreover, it cannot surely imply that these ‘souls’ had been dead, for how could ‘souls’ die? Further, how could ‘souls’ be ‘beheaded’? It will help if we consider the same word in some of its other occurrences. In Acts 2.41; 27.37; lPet.3.20, and Rev. 16.3 the word plainly means ‘person’, and this, as F W Grant has suggested, is how the term is to be understood in our passage. The whole context favours this. It makes sense to say that ‘persons’ were beheaded, that ‘persons’ lived, and that ‘persons’ reigned with Christ. We believe therefore that the passage can only mean that these saints will have their raised bodies and will reign with Christ for a thousand years upon the earth
The statement concerning Satan’s confinement in Rev.20.2,3, though clear, lucid, and unequivocal, is also, it seems to us, entirely misrepresented by amillennialists. These folks certainly see through strangely coloured lenses. Or is it that they wilfully close their eyes to the plain meaning of words? They declare that this statement signifies only that Satan’s activities are curtailed during the present age of grace. The apostle states definitely, however, that he ‘saw’ the arch-foe ‘laid hold on’, ‘bound’, ‘cast into the abyss’, ‘shut up’, with a ‘seal’ upon him, that “he should deceive the nations no more”, for the thousand years. We beg to say that we are simple enough to believe that John’s ocular perception was clear enough to behold the vision, and that in interpreting what he ‘saw’, he means exactly what he says. In our interpreting the passage, we do not at all “mingle the symbolic and the literal at our own mere whim,” as our opponents would accuse us of doing
The imprisonment of Satan is exactly what one would expect to find here. The events of chs. 19 and 20 are orderly and consecutive. At the close of ch. 19, the Beast and the False Prophet are cast into the lake of fire. There is nothing to indicate that this ends the world. It is but a step preparatory to the establishing of Christ’s Kingdom. Satan himself, however, who is the great instigator of all the world’s evil, must be put out of the way. This the angel does in ch.20, by casting him to ‘the abyss’ (RV). ‘The abyss’ is not figurative language. It is the term used of a definite abode, quite distinct from ‘the lake of fire’, to which Satan’s two henchmen were cast. The word occurs some nine times in the New Testament (Lk.8.31; Rom. 10.7; Rev.9.1,2,11; 11.7; 17.8; 20.1,3). In most passages it signifies the abode of demons, though Rom. 10.7 uses it in a more general sense, and seems to identify it with what Scripture calls ‘hell’. Amillennialists hold that this binding of Satan took place at Calvary. It is true that ‘bind’ is the very word used in the clause, “except he first bind the strong man” (Matt. 12.29), which clearly refers to the work of the cross. The binding, says one writer, “was a relative thing, that is, it did not mean that Jesus has absolutely shut up Satan from all activity … Satan still exercises much influence …”. With this, of course, we concur. The writer further refers to Heb.2.14,15, where Satan is said to have been ‘destroyed.’ “He is destroyed,” says the author, “by the victory of Calvary, but this does not mean that Satan exists no more. He is destroyed in the sense that his power to hurt those whom Christ would save is taken away” (“ The Momentous Event’, by W J Grier, p85). With this also we are in hearty agreement. The binding of Satan in Rev.20, however, is not ‘a relative thing’. IT IS ABSOLUTE. Satan is here shut up from all activity. No longer does he exercise any influence over man. Let this be carefully noted, for it is an essential point. John is most definite and explicit regarding it, and piles up several clauses one upon the other, in his endeavour to express the completeness of Satan’s confinement This is no partial binding. Satan today is powerless “to hurt those whom Christ would save”, in the sense that he cannot touch their eternal security, though many a promising
Christian career he has blasted; but in that day he will be powerless to hurt ‘the nations’. Mark the difference. Far from Satan’s activities to deceive the nations now being curtailed, this is the most demonised age there ever has been. Even those whom the Lord has saved must take unto themselves “the whole armour of God” (Eph.6.12,13), if they are to be preserved from his foul assaults. How ridiculously preposterous it is therefore to suggest that Satan is now bound in the abyss! Why, “as a roaring lion (he) walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (lPet.5.8). In those very parts of the world which have been most transformed by the gracious influence of the Gospel, he has, in one way or another, continued his sinister work; and as the end approaches, that work assumes more subtle and delusive forms, and is executed with an increasing intensity of hatred. If he is able to attack the Person of our blessed Lord by the wicked God-dishonouring doctrines of Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Communism, Mohammedanism and Romanism, etc., and able to instigate mass hatred, terror, rape, vice and murder, while still bound in his prison, then indeed, as has been pithily remarked, he must be tied by a very long chain. During the thousand years, however, he will be under lock and key, as the use of the word, ‘key’, in Rev.20 clearly implies. If he is presently under this solitary confinement, how can we account for the world’s evils? Who, pray, is acting as Satan’s lieutenant?
- ‘Won’t somebody step to the front forthwith,
- And make his bow, and show
- How the frauds and crimes of a single day spring up!
- We want to know!
- The devil is fairly voted out, and, of course, the devil’s gone;
- But simple folk would like to know who carries his business on."
- (Alf. J Hough).
There is one other question which I should like to ask our amillennial friends. If we are at liberty to tone down the strong terms used of Satan’s imprisonment in ‘the abyss’, in w2 and 3, are we not also at liberty to tone down the statement of vlO concerning his being eternally “tormented … in the lake of fire”? Why should we understand the one statement in a symbolic sense, and not understand the other, which is in the immediate context, in an exactly identical manner? And why may we not likewise soften the meaning of vl5 and of ch.21.8, which describes the doom of sinners in the same lake of fire? Must we not be consistent? It would be a gross outrage upon the sacred language of Scripture to dare to do such a thing. So we believe it surely must be, to weaken or tone down the earlier verses of ch.20, which we have been considering. It is high time for evangelical amillennialists to awaken to the inconsistencies, the serious implications, and the dangers of their spiritualised methods of interpretation.
There are other matters touching the future reign of our Lord, which we have not considered in these pages. It is hoped, however, that what has been written will in some measure help to a clearer understanding of a subject which should be dear to all
our hearts. It is important that we should have sound views regarding Christ’s eternal Sonship, His present Lordship and Headship, and it is equally important that we should also have correct views regarding His future glorious Kingship For His advent, “Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” we wait and pray.
- “Come, then, and added to Thy many crowns,
- Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth.
- Thou Who alone art worthy! It was Thine
- By ancient covenant, ere nature’s birth,
- And Thou hast made it Thine by purchase since,
- And overpaid its value with Thy blood.
- Thy saints proclaim Thee King; and in their hearts
- Thy title is engraven with a pen
- Dipp’d in the fountain of eternal love.”
The ardent hope of the Jewish people, based upon Old Testament promises, had been for centuries the establishment of the Kingdom of God in visible glory upon the earth. In their ignorance, however, the nation’s leaders completely overlooked two basic facts. One was that the Kingdom promises could not be fulfilled to them while they rejected Christ who was Israel’s King. The other was that the only way into the Kingdom was by a spiritual birth. In His ministry our Lord made these facts abundantly clear, adding that He, being rejected, would be temporarily withdrawn from them (Matt.23.39). Never in His preaching, nor in His conversations with the Pharisees, however, did our Lord even suggest that the promises of the nation’s restoration and glory had been abrogated or annulled. Since He had so much to say to these men by way of correction, why, if Israel’s agelong aspirations were but an empty dream, did He not plainly tell them this? He exposed the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and showed that in many matters they were missing the inner spiritual meaning of Scripture, but never for a moment did He say anything to weaken or diminish the outer and literal significance of Old Testament promises. To His own He said “that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me” (Lk.24.44). Who will be so bold as to say that these ‘all things’ did not include His future earthly reign? When the disciples asked, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1.6), why did He merely reply that it was not for them to know ‘the times’, if as a matter of fact the Kingdom never was to be restored at all?
It is most important that we should be clear upon this, for it has been taught that the principles of premillennialism were borrowed by the first generation of Christians from corrupt Judaism, and that since our Lord condemned the Pharisees He Himself must have been an amillennialist. Premillennialism has its roots in the sacred writings of the Old Testament and there is no truth in the assertion that our Lord was an amillennialist.
The fact that little is said about our Lord’s earthly reign in some of the Epistles proves nothing and need not surprise us. Very little is said in them regarding the Lord’s Supper, but this does not mean that the writers did not believe in that sacred ordinance. Again, not much, comparatively speaking, is revealed in the Old Testament concerning the felicity of the souls of departed saints. Several books do not allude to it at all, but surely the truth of their future state is not doubted on that account The Bible is one grand divine unity, and in it every doctrine has its appropriate place, as has been earlier stated in these pages. God does not needlessly repeat Himself. If He, the Author of truth, mentions a fact or doctrine once, whether in the Old or New Testament, that should suffice for our faith. There is nothing in any New Testament book inconsistent with the concept of a glorious reign on earth. We believe our Lord and His apostles held it as a vital article of their faith, though its duration is not revealed until we come to Rev.20. The apostolic period was not
without its disputes over certain doctrinal matters, but, as Dr. J F Walvoord has pointed out in “The Millennial Kingdom", there is no record of any dispute over this issue. There was evidently unanimity upon it in the early Church. We can therefore understand the silence of some writers upon the subject. No need existed for the emphasising of a well known and universally held doctrine.
THE EARLY FATHERS
The period which followed immediately upon the apostolic age has been the purest, most spiritual, and most orthodox period of Church history since the apostles passed away. In it were saintly teachers who had known and heard the apostles. Such were well qualified therefore to tell what the apostles believed on this issue, and also how they themselves and their contemporaries viewed the bode of Revelation. Writing of their theological views, Dr. R H Charles, a higher critic, who had no millennial bias, said, “The earliest expounders were right, as they were in close touch with the apostolic time”. As we shall now see, the evidence of these early Fathers tips the scales heavily in favour of Premillennialism. Amillennialists of course do not like to admit this. In his work, “The Momentous Event’, W J Grier, B. A., devotes a chapter to “The Fathers and the Millennium”. In it he labours hard to disprove a statement by Dr. Charles Feinberg, which is to the effect that “the entire early Church of the first three centuries was premillennial, almost to a man”. In doing this Mr. Grier reviews the teachings of various saints from Clement of Rome (possibly the Clement of Phil.4.3) down to Augustine (AD 354-430), and whether or not he succeeds in disproving Dr. Feinberg’s claim readers can decide for themselves. He assures us that in Clement’s first Epistle there is “no hint of two resurrections or of a resurrection of the righteous only or of a millennial kingdom on earth”, and that in the second Epistle (probably written by the same Clement), there is “not a word of a millennial kingdom on earth”. This silence, however, fails to prove that Clement was not a millennialist. He may have been a most ardent one. In his first Epistle he quotes from Heb. 10.37 and Mal .3.1 in support of the view that God’s purposes will “soon and suddenly be accomplished”. Do these quotations not plainly imply the Lord’s earthly kingdom? Many believe that they do. The coming of the Lord to ‘His temple’ in Mai 3 .1 is followed by the promise that “Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old” (v4). Is this not a “hint” — and a pretty big one, too — of “a millennial kingdom on earth”? It is a pity the reviewer did not give these quotations.
Mr. Grier next gives a quotation from Polycarp about the coming of the Judge, and about our resurrection. Included in the quotation is the sentence, “He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead”. Commenting upon this the reviewer says, “Polycarp seems to look for a general judgment at Christ’s second coming. He certainly has not a word of a millennial kingdom on earth”. Now, it is true that the noble martyr here “seems to look for a general judgment”. It is not at all certain though that he does. He ‘seems’ to do so, but you cannot build with any safety upon what a person ‘seems’ to do, can you? Really there is no sure, solid ground in this statement for the view that Polycarp believed in a general judgment. The following is also from Polycarp:
“If we win His approval in the present world, we shall also win the world to come. He has promised to raise us from the dead. If we behave as worthy citizens of His kingdom, we shall also share in His royalty … Or do you not know that the saints will pass judgment on the world?” (St. Polycarp’s Epistles to the Philippians, in “Ancient Christian Writers", Vol.6, pp78,81).
Now, the first sentence here is a reference to Heb.2.5; the second and third sentences are taken from 2Tim.2.11,12 and Rev.20.4,6; and the last one is a quotation from lCor.6.2. It is true that Polycarp does not here use “a word of a millennial kingdom on earth”. Can there be any doubt, however, concerning what he has in mind? What is the context in each of these four passages? In what connection is it stated in Rev.20.4 that “they lived and reigned with Christ”? Again, when will the saints judge the world? Will it be in “the age to come”? If so, that age cannot be the eternal state, for there will be no evil to judge then. Hence it must be in what we call the millennium. If it be insisted that the reference is to the Great White Throne judgment, then that cannot be a “general judgment”, as amillennialists teach, for how can saints “judge the world” and in the same session be themselves judged with the world? Whichever view we take, it condemns our opponents. Now, why did Mr. Grier pass over these beliefs of the beloved Polycarp in silence? Perhaps, of course, he had not noticed them.
The third Father whose writings are reviewed in “The Momentous Event" is Ignatius of Antioch. On his long journey to Rome, where he was to be martyred, Ignatius wrote seven Epistles. These are deeply coloured by his approaching death, “but,” claims the reviewer, “of events at the end he says nothing whatever”. Now, it is true that Ignatius says but little regarding “events at the end”. He does allude to one such event, however, as the following quotations illustrate: “Who (Christ) moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, Who in like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him — His Father, I say, will raise us — in Christ Jesus” (“To the Trallians”, ch.9); “I shall rise free in Him” (“To the Romans", ch.4). In these quotations Ignatius speaks of the future resurrection, and that surely is an end-time event. In them also it is the resurrection of the saints of which he speaks. They will be raised “in like fashion” as God’s Son was raised. They will be raised “in Christ Jesus”, and “free in Him”. No unsaved person will thus be resurrected. This is perfectly consistent with New Testament teaching.
Moreover, to be raised “in like fashion” as the Son of God, “in Christ Jesus”, and “free in Him”, implies a resurrection beyond all judgment, so far as the penal consequences of guilt are concerned. To suggest that a believer in Christ, who has been “forgiven all trespasses,” who has been blessed not only with the dignity of sonship, but “with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies”, who has been “made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light”, whose ransomed spirit has been perhaps centuries “with Christ which is far, far better”, and whose body will be raised “in glory” and “in power” (ICor. 15.43) — to suggest that that believer must yet stand with the ungodly throng — the innumerable wicked dead — in a “general judgment” before the Great White Throne of Rev.20, to be “judged every man according to their works”, betrays a strangely perverted conception of our gracious Father’s ways. It is unscriptural, preposterous, and altogether unworthy of God, Whose own pledged Word is that the believer “shall not come into judgement’ (RV) (Jn.5.24).
Even if the statement, “I shall rise free in Him”, be made to refer to what would take place at the martyr’s death, the longer quotation certainly alludes to “an event at the end”. Moreover, if a believer is set ‘free’ at death, much more will he be ‘free’ in the resurrection. Where, however, would the freedom be if he knew that he still had to stand at the bar of judgment, to face the open books, even though at the end he would be given a judicial discharge?
Ignatius also said: “Mark the seasons Await Him that is above every season, the Eternal …” (“7o St. Polycarp", ch.3). The Greek word here rendered ‘await’ can be correctly translated ‘expect’, and indeed, another rendering is: “Consider the time. Expect Him …” This emphasises the spirit of expectancy, and like the earlier quotations, points to the end time. Finally, the martyr’s last words to the Romans were these: “Fare ye well unto the end in the patient waiting for Jesus Christ”. Like his other sayings which have been quoted, this is thoroughly Premillennial in outlook.
Mr. Grier then examines The Epistle of Barnabas, thought to have been written at some time between 117 and 138 A.D. He quotes Prof. D H Kromminga as saying, “Barnabas was what we nowadays call an amillennialist.” According to the reviewer himself, however, this statement was a ‘presumption’ on the Professor’s part. We are satisfied after a careful reading of the Epistle that it was nothing more than that — a ‘presumption’. What then did Barnabas believe? He believed in the imminent return of Christ — “At hand is the Lord and His recompense” (A C W, vol.6, p64). He believed that the six days of Creation (Gen.1) picture the six successive ages of human history, that the Lord will come, “put an end to the era of the Lawless One, judge the wicked, and change the sun, the moon, and the stars”, and that “then on the seventh day, He will property rest”. Further, he believed that “the end of the world” will follow, when God will “usher in the eighth day, that is the dawn of another world” (A C W, p59). Is this consistent with amillennial teaching? It certainly is not. So much for what our friend terms the learned Professor’s ‘presumption’! The editor of ACW states plainly in his appended ‘Notes’ that Barnabas held the doctrine of an earthly millennium (see vol.6, pi79, note 160).
In discussing the views of this Father, Mr. Grier asks, “What premillenarian is willing to admit that the millennium is ushered in by the judgment of the ungodly, as Barnabas states?” One can express only amazement that such a question should be asked. How does he imagine that we believe it will be ushered in? It will be by divine judgment upon the ungodly, of course. This is what many Scriptures clearly teach. How can Mr. Grier be so ignorant of what premillennialists hold? “Barnabas”, he again says, “shuts out the possibility of an earthly millennium in which unregenerate men will be under the reign of Christ”. We reply that what the Father taught regarding the place of ‘unregenerate men’ in that day is a very secondary consideration. We shall not argue about that. We do maintain, however, that Barnabas certainly does NOT “shut out the possibility of an earthly millennium”, rather he establishes it. “His doctrine certainly leaves no room for amillennial eschatology” (C C Ryrie). “Only Kromminga of all authors consulted seems to believe that Barnabas was an amillenarian” (John Walvoord). Many amillennialists concede that he is a premillennialist.
Space forbids that I should further extend this critique. To do so moreover might weary readers. Enough has been written to demonstrate whether or not Mr. Grier’s arguments relative to the ancient Fathers’ beliefs rest upon a sure foundation. He seems to be inadequately informed as to what premillennialists really believe. This is a surprising trait in many parts of his book. Another noticeable feature is that while he quotes what suits his purpose — and of course no one can blame him for that — he frequently passes in silence over much that would militate against amillennial views. In several cases too his arguments rest mainly upon negative, uncertain, and inconclusive evidence — “Clement… has no hint of two resurrections”, “it says not a word of any millennial kingdom”, “Polycarp seems to look for a general judgment”, “he would most likely have said so”, “This looks like a general judgment”, “all distinction seems to be done away”, and “the presumption is”. Positive statements of fact would substantiate his argument and carry conviction, but certainly not sentences so wanting of proof as these.
It is true that some of the early Fathers held serious error. Some had a very imperfect conception of prophetic truth. Some changed, and others modified their opinions, and a few employed extravagant language. All this is willingly conceded. Nevertheless — and this is what I underline — premillennialism was strong in the post-apostolic period. Some of the Fathers made only a brief reference to their millennial concepts, but even this must be taken into account. A certain island was believed by all to be uninhabited, but the belief vanished into thin air when a human footprint was found upon its shore. So even a ‘footprint’ of premillennial eschatology is enough to indicate where certain Fathers stood. Eusebius, the Church historian (260-340, A.D.), though not a premillennialist himself, admits that “most of the ecclesiastical writers”, including Papias and Irenaeus had “adopted such sentiments” ("Ecclesiastical History"’, p115). Many reliable commentators and authors of more modem times state that there is abundant and overwhelming evidence for this. Space allows us to cite only a few:
Dr. A J Bengel (1687-1751), author of the famous “Gnomon” “The early Church fully believed that the second coming of Christ could precede or usher in the thousand years of His reign”.
Dr. Andrew Bonar, the saintly Scottish preacher: “Millenarianism prevailed universally during the first three centuries” (“Prophetic Landmarks").
Dr. Adolf Harnack: “This doctrine of Christ’s second Advent and the kingdom, appears so early that it might be questioned whether it ought not to be regarded as an essential part of the Christian religion” Encyclopaedia Britannica", vol .15, p495).
Dr. Philip Schaff, Church historian: “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent Chiliasm, or Millenarianism” (“ The Advent Witness”).
Dr. Henry Alford, the noted commentator: “That the Lord will come in person to this earth, that His elect will reign with Him … that the power of evil will be bound … this is my firm persuasion … as it was that of His primitive Church, before controversy blinded the eyes of the Fathers to the light of prophecy”. (“The Greek Testament," Proleg. to Rev. p259).
Even Oswald T. Allis, a leading amillennialist admits that Chiliasm “was extensively held in the early Church”; and Daniel Whitby, the “father of post-millennialism” (1638-1726), also states that “the doctrine of the millennium … passed among the best Christians for two hundred and fifty years as a tradition apostolic”.
In view of this evidence, all so unequivocal, and all from men in the front rank of scholarship, what is to be gained by trying to give the impression that the early Church was not predominantly premillennial? Yet Philip Mauro in “The Gospel of the Kingdom”, Archdeacon Lee in “The Speaker’s Commentary", W H Rutgers in “Premillermialism in America", and others as well as Mr. Grier, strive hard to establish this. All their arguments, however, are weak and unsatisfactory. Ryrie attributes Mauro’s assertions to plain “ignorance of the facts”. Lee’s great refuge is the silence of certain Fathers on the subject. Rutger’s plea is that “the prevalence of millenarian views has been unduly exaggerated”. “But when he (Rutger) comes to pronounce on the Chiliasm of the early American settlers, his remarks are so unfounded and wide of the mark, that Smith gives him the coup de grace on the whole historical argument” “(Premillermialism or Amillennialism?” C L Feinberg, p245).
In his work, “The Basis of the Premillennial Faith", C C Ryrie traces the evidence of premillennialism throughout the first three Christian centuries. He substantiates this by quotations from: 1. The Didache; 2. Clement of Rome; 3. The Shepherd of Hermas; 4. Barnabas; 5. Ignatius; 6. Papias; 7. Justin Martyr; 8. Irenaeus; 9. Ter-tullian; 10. Cyprian; 11. Commodianus; 12. Nepos; 13. Lactantius. He also includes the names of: 14. Coracion; and 15. Methodius, who for reasons stated are to be considered Chiliasts. To this list, of course, other names could be added. Some of these had more light than others. Some emphasise one facet of premillennial belief, some another. G N H Peters, however, furnishes a more extensive list of exponents of Chiliasm for this period. He gives the names of fifteen advocates of it in the first century (seven of these are apostles, and are listed by Papias, who is believed to have known the apostle John); nine in the second; and seven in the third (see “Things to Come”, pp374, 375). Even if the evidence of some of these thirty one advocates be disputed, the testimony for premillennialism remains strong and immovable. It fully substantiates the earlier statements quoted as to the almost universal prevalence of this faith in the post-apostolic period, in which there were men still alive who had known and heard the beloved disciple, and therefore had the best right to tell us what he meant in Rev.20.