What About Jesus?

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Many people today do not believe in a millennial kingdom. They believe Jesus will return at a distant future time, judge humanity, and bring in the eternal state.

We refer to those to teach such a view as amillennialists because they do not believe in a future kingdom in which Jesus will rule over the world seated upon the throne of David. They believe God rejected Israel after His people spurned and crucified His Son. As a result, the church now fulfills the kingdom promises made to Israel, but in a spiritual and allegorical sense rather than in a literal way.

While I strongly disagree with these teachers regarding God’s rejection of Israel, there is something I believe they overlook. They fail to consider the Old Testament promises made to the Messiah that are separate from the ones God made to Israel.

In order to be an amillennialist, you must negate Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus as well as God’s promises of a future kingdom for Israel.

The Promise of The Father

In Psalm 2, The Father promises the Son all the nations of the world as His “heritage.” Beginning in verse 7 we read, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” The Father makes this pledge to the Son independent of His everlasting covenant with Israel.

The rest of Psalm 2 makes it clear that this is not a spiritual reign, but a physical reign over actual nations with kings. Verse 9 states, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” This does not sound like His headship of the church to me. The Psalmist is warning the kings of the earth to “serve the Lord with fear” (vv. 10-11). The Father promised His Son an actual government with authority over all the rulers of the earth.

If you deny the reality of the millennium, how do you deal with God the Father breaking His promise to His Son that He would receive such a kingdom?

If you deny the reality of the millennium, how do you deal with God the Father breaking His promise to His Son that He would receive such a kingdom? I do not think you can do that.

Does this not also explain Satan tempting Jesus with the “kingdoms of the world” in Matthew 4:8-11? He offered Jesus a shortcut to what the Father had already promised Him. Why tempt Jesus in this way if He had no aspirations for or promises about ruling over the nations of the world at a future time?

A Child Who Would Rule

Almost every believer is familiar with Isaiah 9:6-7. We hear these verses read every year around the time of Christmas and if we listen to Handel’s “Messiah,” we hear the words put to glorious music.

We celebrate the fulfillment of the first two lines of the prophecy, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” We regard Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem as the exact fulfillment of these words.

Without the millennium, several of the promises regarding the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 are now null and void.

Most people, however, give little thought to how Jesus might fulfill the promise that someday this “child” would be the head of an actual “government” sitting upon ‘the throne of David.” The rest of the passage speaks to Jesus being King over a real, physical kingdom. If Jesus literally fulfilled the first two lines of this prophecy, why do some believe He will not literally fulfill the rest of the passage? Where do we draw the line between taking the words of the prophet literally and figuratively in in this passage?

Without the millennium, several of the promises regarding the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 are now null and void. Remember, this is a prophecy regarding the Messiah, not Israel. If we deny a future kingdom to Israel, what do we do Isaiah’s prophecy that the Christ would someday sit on the throne of David as the head of an actual government?

Jesus as Judge

In ancient Israel, the king acted as both ruler and the ultimate judge of the land presiding over the most difficult cases. Do you remember King Solomon deciding the case between the two women who both claimed the living baby? This is an example of how the ancient kings took on the role of a magistrate.

Keeping this in mind, here is what Isaiah also prophesied regarding Jesus, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth, and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isa. 11:3-4). The prophet gives us a clear picture of Jesus acting as a judge over all the earth.

This is not a picture of a future judgment; this is the Christ fulfilling His role as ruler over all the earth doing what such a king would do. Like the kings of old, He is administering justice on behalf of his subjects.

This passage does not fit with Jesus’ headship over the church. It also does not match with anything He has done since His resurrection. These verses from Isaiah 11 look forward to a time when Jesus will be the Supreme Ruler over all the earth administering justice and righteousness for all people.

King Over All the Earth

Zechariah 14:9 says this, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” If we look at the context of Zechariah 14, it’s clear that this reference is to a physical kingdom with Jesus reigning over the nations of the world from Jerusalem.

While the context assumes a restored and repentant Israel, Zechariah directs these words to the Messiah; He alone is the subject of the prophecy. He will someday be king over all the earth and hold all the nations accountable to Him, just as we see later in the chapter (vv. 16-19).

Why do I believe in a literal millennium? Why am I a premillennialist who believes that Jesus will return after the tribulation to set up His rule for a thousand years?

To deny a literal millennium, one has to say that the Father will break His promise to the Son and that the prophecies of Jesus ruling over the nations of the earth are no longer valid.

First of all, I believe that all the Old Testament promises made to Israel remain intact. God has not rejected His people (Rom. 11:1) with whom He made an everlasting covenant (Psalm 105:8-11). But, that is the subject for another article.

Secondly, God the Father, through the prophets, promised that His Son would reign over the kingdoms of this world. Psalm 2 goes even further by stating that the Father would someday give the nations of the world to His Son as His “heritage.”

To deny a literal millennium, one has to say that the Father will break His promise to the Son and that the prophecies of Jesus ruling over the nations of the earth are no longer valid.

God has to break both His promises to Israel and to Jesus if there is no future kingdom over which Jesus will rule.

God will keep His promises to His Son as well as to Israel; there will be a millennium!

 

Premillennialism and the Reformation

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This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

As Luther studied Scripture, he saw that God justifies sinners solely by faith apart from any good works on their part. This challenged centuries of tradition within the church that added human merit to God’s grace as a requirement for salvation.

Both Luther and Calvin rejected the allegorical or symbolical method of interpreting Scripture that, along with human tradition, had introduced error into the churches’ teaching on justification by faith, a doctrine critical to our faith.

Luther replaced the allegorical way of looking at God’s Word with two principles of biblical interpretation, which made Scripture the final authority of all matters of faith and practice and made the Bible a commentary on itself. The later became known as “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

These two principles became the basis for a literal approach to Scripture through which Luther as well as Calvin corrected the errors of the church that had added works to the obtaining of salvation.

They did not, however, apply this literal method of interpretation to the passages dealing with future things.  When biblical scholars did so after them, they overturned the long-held Amillennialism of the church; a belief based on an allegorical approach to prophecy. Let me explain what happened after the Reformation.

The Reformers and Amillennialism

Amillennialism is the belief that God has rejected Israel as His people and as such, the church now fulfills “spiritually” the kingdom promises made by the prophets in the Old Testament. As the term suggests, Jesus does not return to restore the kingdom to Israel or reign over the nations for a thousand years. Instead, he comes back at the end of the age to judge humanity and bring in the eternal state.

Although both Luther and Calvin condemned the allegorical method with Calvin going so far as to call it “satanic,” neither challenged the allegorical interpretations that supported the Amillennialism of their day.

Why did this disconnect exist between how the reformers interpreted passages of Scripture relating to salvation versus prophetic passages? Why did they continue to follow an allegorical interpretation when it came to prophecy despite their clear denunciation of such a method?

Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first.

I believe God intended for the reformers to bring the church back to a true scriptural understanding of the Gospel without the added burden of also reforming errant beliefs regarding the end times. Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first. God knew He had enough time to correct other beliefs also based on an allegorical method of interpretation.

Did the Reformers fail in regard to eschatology? No, I believe that their two key methods of interpretation became the foundation for Premillennialism as biblical scholars after them applied their literal approach to prophecy.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton, born a century after Luther died, undertook an extensive study of the books of Daniel and Revelation during the later years of his life. Newton’s commentary on these books, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, was published six years after his death. In his book, Newton expressed his belief that Israel would someday be a nation again predicting it would happen before the tribulation and the return of Jesus to establish His kingdom on earth after this great time of suffering upon the earth.

Isaac Newton further stated that the study of prophecy would intensify during the latter days of human history as the time of Jesus’ return drew closer. He believed the Lord would reign for a thousand years in Jerusalem thus literally fulfilling kingdom prophecies found in Daniel and Revelation.

Newton applied the Reformers’ literal method of biblical interpretation to the books of Daniel rather than the allegorical approach that had been in place for over a thousand years. Did he consciously follow their biblical interpretative methods? We do not know that for sure.

We do know Newton let Scripture speak for itself and as a result his beliefs closely mirror those held by Premillennialists of the past 150 years. While Newton receives much attention for his predictions of when things would occur, once you look past that you see someone who rejected the time honored way of allegorically interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation.

Later Church History

This pattern of applying the literal method of biblical interpretation to prophetic passages became more widespread in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As conservative scholars used Scripture as their sole source of beliefs and allowed Scripture to interpret Scripture, the church returned in large measure to the Premillennial viewpoint that dominated the first three centuries of the church.

Although Luther and Calvin did not apply their literal interpretative methods to prophetic portions of the Bible, when others did it resulted in the beliefs that God would once again restore Israel as a nation, the temple would be rebuilt, there would be a terrible time of tribulation upon the earth, and Jesus would return after that time to set up His kingdom.

These same principles also helped establish the belief that Jesus will come for His church before this time of tribulation upon the earth. Contrary to popular belief, John Darby came up with his pretribulation rapture idea from his study of the nature of the church; he saw that it did not fit for Jesus to allow His church to endure the wrath of the tribulation.

The view that Jesus would return for His church before the tribulation exploded in popularity as many Bible teachers took a literal approach to the words of Scripture. This view dominated evangelical churches from the late 1800’s until the past couple decades. Sadly, this view had faded lately as pastors in large numbers have abandoned teaching on this subject.

While perhaps many would disagree with me, I see a link between the biblical interpretation methods of Luther and the rise of premillennialism. Isaac Newton rejected the same allegorical approach as did the Reformers and came to the same conclusions as the premillennialists who followed him a couple centuries later.

Luther’s rejection of the allegorical method restored the biblical doctrine of justification by faith of Paul and the early apostles.

Newton’s rejected of the allegorical method resulted in the restoration of premillennialism, which was dominant in the first three centuries of the church.