This sermon is number 1 in a series of 6
Crucial Questions On Christ's Return - Part 1
"Pre-, Post-, or A-, Millennial - Does It Matter?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Tonight we're taking up a subject that I would have to say I have never ever heard dealt with as a subject on its own. It's referred to in many of the prophetic series that you will hear from pre-millennial pulpits, but I feel it's neglected in the sense that many folk assume, before even launching into the holy Scriptures, and particularly prophetic passages, that we have one particular scheme of thought with regards to our interpretation of Scripture. I would have to say that perhaps many, who we are numbered among, pre-millennialists, don't even understand our own belief, or indeed the belief of other brethren in Christ who could be classed as a-millennial or post-millennial - and believe it or not, that's not all there are, there are a whole lot of others, but we're just going to keep ourselves to those three main viewpoints: a-millennial, post-millennial, pre-millennial. We're asking the question tonight: does it matter? Does it really matter? Many people are saying today that it doesn't matter as long as you believe that the Lord is coming ultimately, what does it matter what you are in relation to your interpretation of prophetic matters?
I want to take as a springboard of Scripture tonight this passage, Revelation 20, which really is the major passage in the whole of the word of God on the subject of the millennium. Whether you're a-millennial, post-millennial, pre-millennial, the word 'millennial' comes into your definition in some shape or form, and we'll define them for you a little bit later - but we need to understand where this phrase and understanding 'millennial' comes from in the word of God. Revelation 20, beginning to read at verse 1:
John says: "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years", now that's where the phenomenon of millennial reign comes in - it is the idea of 1000 years of Satan being bound, and subsequently the Lord Jesus Christ reigning on the earth for 1000 years. Verse 3: "And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years" - there it is again. "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, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" - there we have the idea of the millennium again. "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison".
We'll not go on any further, we'll probably deal with this passage in more detail in the weeks that lie ahead. 'Crucial Questions on Christ's Return' - the first fundamental one is this: 'Pre-, Post-, or A- Millennial: Does It Really Matter?'. During the history of the church of Jesus Christ three major views have been held of the future kingdom of God. That's really all that this word 'millennial reign', or 'millennium' means - it's synonymous of the kingdom of God as we understand it. Most Christians fit into the category of being either a-millennial, post-millennial, or pre-millennial in their understanding of the kingdom of God. That's all 'millennium' really means.
Now, when I was at Bible College there was a group of people who called themselves the 'pan-millennialists' - and they simply said: 'Well, we believe that it will all pan out in the end'! It was symptomatic, really, of people's frustration with this whole debate in general. They get so tired, perhaps, of Christians and high-browed theologians bickering over issues that they think are of least importance, if any importance whatsoever, and they just believe that as long as you believe the Saviour is coming it really doesn't matter how He comes, it will all pan out in the end. Does it really matter whether you are pre-, post- or a- millennial? Are there not much more important things in the Christian life than these? Is it not much more important to be thinking of the here and now of Christian experience, rather than pointing your sights way ahead in the future when you don't really know what's going to happen ultimately?
Let me, before we go into any real deep study of these great issues tonight of pre-, post- and a-millennialism - let me lay down a preface first of all in answer to the question: 'Does it really matter?'. First of all, does it really matter for the issue of salvation? The answer is categorically 'No', it does not matter with the issue of salvation whether you are pre-, post-, or a- millennial. Of course we, to call ourselves Christians, must believe that in the same sense as our Lord Jesus departed in His ascension, that same Jesus will come again - that is a fundamental Christian belief. You can't really call yourself a Christian if you don't believe in the second coming of the Lord Jesus, but it does not affect your salvation which interpretation you believe with regards to this issue. So let's clear that up very quickly.
Does it matter for your spirituality? It doesn't matter as regards to the question whether you're saved or lost, but does it matter in relation to your spirituality? Some people would tell us that you're more spiritual if you're pre-millennial, or a-millennial, or post-millennial - but let me say absolutely and categorically that it doesn't figure one iota on your spirituality what belief you have with regards to your interpretation of the Scriptures in this regard. Thirdly: does it matter for ultimate worldwide Christian fellowship? I have to believe, it is my own conviction, no, it ought not to matter. It is a fundamental of the faith to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again, but that is where the fundamental of the faith ends - not any individual interpretation, no matter how important we may feel personally it to be. I re-echo the words of, I believe, Augustine the great church father, that in the Christian church at large on essentials there ought to be unity, on nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity. I hope tonight to strike a note of charity and grace in our deliberations on this subject tonight.
Let me, before we go on any further, illustrate this issue in this way: imagine that the long-lost cousin, Joshua, is coming home. He has sent a letter that he's going to return to the homestead. Brother Jimmy think he's going to come in a car, brother Joe think he's coming by plane, and brother Jimmy thinks he's coming by boat - and the next minute the three of them are all fighting over the matter. Then the doorbell rings and there's Joshua, and they've missed the whole joy of anticipation of Joshua's coming because they've been bickering about how he's coming. He was coming, and that is and ought to always stay the most important thing in our minds - and because they were fighting about it they even missed, not only the joy of anticipation, but the actuality of his personality as he came.
Now let me say that we must not allow the issues surrounding Christ's return to divert our attention from the great personality of this subject. This subject is not about dates, or charts, it is chiefly about the person of our Lord Jesus Christ - and let's never forget that. We come to the book that we have read out of tonight, it chiefly ought to be called and entitled 'The Revelation', not of St John the Divine, but 'The Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ'. It is about the consummation of all things, prophetically, in the will of God, in the person of His beloved Son the Lord Jesus Himself.
I would have to say that it worries me a little that prophetic meetings like this one tonight attract more people than any others. Let me strike a note of caution by quoting C.H. Spurgeon's beloved hymn that we often sing around the Lord's Table, and I freely admit that I am quoting it completely and utterly out of context - hopefully I won't do that with any of the Scriptures tonight! - but he says this:
'If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs, but see not Him,
O, may His love the scales displace
And bid us see Him face-to-face'.
Now with all those words of caution, if we conclude at the end of all that it doesn't matter what your particular interpretation of Scripture is in regard to prophetic issues, you have made a grave error. It may not be all-important, it may not affect your salvation or your sanctification or your ultimate universal fellowship with the church of Jesus Christ at large - although it is not all-important, we have to say that it is very important. Twofold: one, I believe for Assembly teaching - it begs the question: how can any local church teach on the subject of the second coming of the Saviour if it doesn't follow a certain line on it? I believe that the dearth in second coming teaching today is for this reason, that's why it's seldom preached on, because no one really wants to commit themselves to one particular interpretive view. We need to have, and it is healthy to have a particular line on prophecy, that we may teach this great fundamental truth. Secondly it is an important matter because Bible interpretation stands or falls on it. To a large extent the method of your Bible interpretation is affected on the whole by the view that you take on how to interpret prophecy. Of course, the prophetic Scriptures in the Bible are gravely affected by your interpretation, but I believe that indeed the whole of the interpretation of the word of God can be affected depending on which particular view you take: pre-, post-, or a- millennial. Most people delve, as I've said, into these prophetic passages without even considering these issues.
So although they are not all-important, let us get them into perspective tonight: they are very important. So let us begin, I want to start this evening with a comparison of these views. If you look on the back of your sheet tonight, we've gone to some trouble to put three diagrams that you may not be able to make head or tail of, but hopefully as we go through tonight's meeting - and I hope you won't restrict me to time at all this evening - we'll be able to understand them a little bit more and come to some conclusions at the end of our evaluations. If we are to compare these diagrams that you see, the first one that you have is a-millennialism, that we would have to say has had a very popular revival in our modern evangelical age.
Now let me break down this word 'a-millennialism' for you. This prefix 'A' means 'no' - it just means 'no', 'no-millennial', no millennium or millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. So a-millennialists are people who believe that there is no literal 1000 year political kingdom of God reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth. Now hopefully you can see this little red dot, if you don't you need to get your eyes tested, but here is the cross of the Lord Jesus, and a-millennialism simply teaches that the present church age in which we live is the millennial reign of Christ. Do you understand that? This is why you have this line, we are now in the millennium, the consummation of the ages is not yet but it will come one day. The Lord Jesus Christ will come to the earth, there will be a general resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, there will be a final judgment and then the eternal state will be issued in.
They believe that the future kingdom that's foretold in Daniel's prophecy chapter 2 and chapter 7 is a totally spiritual kingdom in nature - not literal on the earth for 1000 years, but that kingdom consists of perhaps a few things. It either consists of the church age, you and I down here on earth now as we live for Christ; or it can also consist of Christ's present rule from heaven over the hearts of all His believing people down on the earth; or it can also consist of the future eternal state - what we would call the new heaven and the new earth. When Christ comes there will be a general resurrection of all the dead, there will be a general judgment and the sheep and the goats will be separated, and then the end will come of this present earth and the immediate future eternal state will be ushered in. Now I hope that you can understand in brief what a-millennialism is from that diagram.
Then the second major school of thought is what we call post-millennialism. Now if the prefix 'a' means 'no', the prefix 'post' means 'after'. This is a belief, which may seem strange to some, that Christ will come after the millennium. Now they believe in a literal kingdom of God upon the earth, maybe not a literal thousand years, but they believe that it will not be established by the Lord Jesus Christ coming to the earth and issuing in a thousand year reign on the earth, but instead through human effort - that means you and me as Christians, and the word in general through the effort of man's expanding knowledge, his new discoveries and inventions, his dominion over nature increasing as technology and science evolves, and also primarily in the Christian Church the expanding influence of Bible-believing Christians - they believe that we can usher in the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I hope you can understand that - look at your diagram up here or on your sheet. This is the present age, but through our effort as the world becomes better - whether it be through technology or evolution, some even believe, or the influence of us, the salt and light of the Gospel in society - we through the gradual Christianisation of the world will usher in the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then there will be, very similar to a-millennialism, a general resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, and the final judgment, and then the eternal state will be ushered in. So the second coming is post-millennial - in other words, the second coming is the crowning of the golden age where things get better because of, from a Christian perspective, the influence of the Gospel.
A-millennialism, post-millennialism and now finally pre-millennialism - 'a' means 'no', 'post' means 'after', and 'pre' of course means 'before'. This is the belief that the Lord Jesus Christ will return before the millennium, the thousand years or the kingdom of God, and His return will usher in this earthly reign of righteousness. In fact pre-millennialism believes that His return is for the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth. Revelation 20 is probably the major passage of Scripture on this theme, and a casual, simple, literal understanding of these seven verses that we read together tonight we're sure that there is to be a political kingdom of God with Christ ruling worldwide as King together with His saints - it's the most simple understanding of those verses. Pre-millennialists believe that the present church age, the one that we are in, will finish at the rapture of the church at the instigation of seven years tribulation. Pre-millennialists believe this is taught in the Scriptures, they separate the rapture of the church from the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth to judge the wicked and to bring His millennial reign to this planet.
'Millennium' is made up of two Latin words, it's made up of the word 'mille' which means '1000', and the word 'annum' which means 'years'. Pre-millennialists are those who believe that Christ's millennial reign is a literal 'mille-annum', 1000 years reign on the earth. Let me say before we go on any further that pre-millennialists believe that there are two distinct plans, one for the church of Jesus Christ which was a mystery never revealed to the Old Testament saints, and another programme for the people of Israel - ultimately they all come to the glory of God and the one consummation in Christ - but pre-millennialists are those who, as far as I can understand, chiefly believe the Scriptures as they are read in a literal, grammatical, historical sense in the word of God.
Now let's move on as we compare these views to an evaluation and examination of the three of them. We do so with this connecting feature: pre-millennialism is, I believe in my research and study, the undisputed view of the early church of Jesus Christ - there is no doubt about that. It used to be called 'chiliasm', and early Christians were called 'chiliasts' for the fact that they believed in the thousand year reign of Christ, and 'chiliasm' is simply derived from the Greek word for 1000 - they believed in the thousand year reign of the Lord Jesus. Now we do not have time to look at a complete detailed critique of these three views, but let us look at the evaluation of them in a twofold way. First: historically, as I have mentioned; and second: hermeneutically - now that word 'hermeneutics' is simply a big theological word for how you interpret the Bible. One: historics, two: hermeneutics.
Let's look at this from a historic point of view, and evaluate these three views: pre-, post-, and a-millennialism. Let me say that many historians disagree on whether they themselves are a-, pre-, or post-millennial - but most of them agree that the early church, just at the apostles and after that, the first view about prophetic things was pre-millennial. It was the predominant orthodox view of believers in the church of Jesus Christ, and in fact we can record that for the first three centuries of Christendom there was no other view but pre-millennialism. Now I could stand up here tonight and bore you with a whole list of past and present historians who all disagree on their own personal interpretation of prophetic Scriptures, but who all agree with the fact that the early church was orthodoxly pre-millennial.
I'm not going to give you them all, you're glad, but I will give you one - a man by the name of J.N.D. Kelly, nothing to do with the J.N.D. of the Brethren, or Kelly of the Brethren, a totally different person altogether - he is acknowledged internationally as an authority on patristic Christian thought, that is the Christian thought of the early church fathers. He is typical in his scholarly opinion on this regard of the historicity of the pre-millennial view - in fact, if you do A-level R.E. [Religious Education], his book is your core textbook for all of early church history. It was quite depressing at times, I will have to confess to you! But on this issue he says these words, I quote from his book 'Early Christian Doctrines': 'The great theologians who followed the apologists, Iraneaus, Tertullian and Hypolitus were primarily concerned to defend the traditional eschatological scheme against Gnosticism'. Now mark this: 'They are all exponents of millenarianism, that is the belief in the thousand year reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth'. He is saying that these patristic fathers, early church fathers, just after the apostles, to a man were all exponents and defendants of millenarianism.
Another historian by the name of Joseph Cullen Ayer in his book 'A Sourcebook for Ancient Church History', says these words - I quote: 'Primitive Church history was marked by great chilistic enthusiasm' - that is this belief in the thousand year reign of Christ - 'By Chiliasm, strictly speaking, is meant the belief that Christ was to return to earth and reign visibly for 1000 years. That return was commonly placed in the immediate future'. Now I want to lay this down as a fundamental right away: the historicity of the pre-millennial view of prophetic Scripture - and I want to say this, categorically: pre-millennialism was not contradicted by a single orthodox church father until the beginning of the third century AD. There was no other view, history defends and declares that.
Let me give you the examples of this in first century Christendom: Clement of Rome was pre-mille, Ignatius was pre-mille, Polycarp who incidentally was a disciple of John the Apostle who wrote the book of Revelation - he could be nothing else but pre-mille. In the second century Justin Martyr, Iraneaus who also was under Polycarp who was a disciple of John, and obviously Polycarp would have taught the teachings of John to Iraneaus, that is why he was pre-millennial - and indeed in some of his writings that I was reading today he warned against any attempts to allegorise Old Testament Scriptures on the thousand year reign of Christ, to somehow see them as a metaphor for the Christian age today - he warned against it! Tertullian also in the second century was pre-millennial. Third century Christians: Cyprian, Comedianius (sp?), Lactantius - many others, I could go down a whole list - but what I just want to prove to you tonight is the history of the church, before we even go near the Scriptures, the history of the church in the first three centuries knew nothing else but pre-millennial thought concerning the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
Well, where did it all go wrong for the pre-millennialists? Well let me bring you a little further in this history lesson which I believe is so important: the rejection of pre-millennial thought came chiefly from the Greek church of the east during the second century. The eastern Church were appalled at the heresies of a group of people called the Montanists - now I haven't got time to go into the controversial issues concerning the Montanists, but they were heretics and the eastern Church was justified in being appalled at them. But the fact of the matter was that the Montanists were also pre-millennial in their view - and, as we would use the expression today, the eastern Church threw out the baby with the bath water. Because they rejected the false doctrine of the Montanists, they also rejected their pre-millennial view of the second coming of the Saviour. Many in the eastern Greek church also rejected this view of a literal kingdom on the earth because they thought there was political danger in it, it could encourage perhaps an actual literal democratic uprising of Christian people, so they shied away from it. Also native to the eastern Greek church there was what we call today an anti-Semitism, they saw Jewish people and Israel as 'Christ-killers' - and therefore they couldn't even entertain, for one moment, that God would still have the Jewish people in mind with regards to His future prophetic programme.
Now add to all those factors that infiltrating the eastern church at this time was what theologians call 'Alexandrian theology'. Now please keep following with me, if you can't follow all this get the tape afterwards, but we have to lay this down for it's important and so relevant to our day and age and the understanding of prophecy that the church has today. This Alexandrian theology was developing in the Greek church, and Alexandrian theology was starting to imbibe the teaching of Plato and other Greek philosophers, who were saying this: every physical matter around us is evil - i.e. the things you see around you, and even your body, anything physical is evil; but anything spiritual is good. Therefore to conceive in their minds of a literal, physical, earthly kingdom of Christ was absurd and even to be despised - because everything physical was evil, therefore they opted for a spiritual kingdom. Now as this Alexandrian theology infiltrated the eastern church, one of its major proponents in Alexandria was a man called Origen - and he developed the common, even today, allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Now what does that mean? It simply means this: that you don't just take Scripture as it is read, but you read into it some kind of allegory or a metaphor, that it all represented something. Now we're not saying that you can't ever take metaphors from Scripture, and we believe highly in typology and so forth, but allegorical interpretation ignored the literal, historical, grammatical interpretation - the most plain and normal understanding as you read the word of God - and that got Origen into a whole lot of difficulties that we can't go into tonight.
That teaching was taken from the east to the west by a man called Jerome, who rejected everything Jewish within the Scriptures, and it was also promoted in the Western church now by a man that we all know well as St Augustine. Augustine, who incidentally previously held the pre-millennial view, began to develop his thought into a-millennialism - and he wrote a book that you can still buy cheaply in your popular Christian bookshelves called 'The City of God'. Augustine was the first Christian, the first Christian, to teach that the organised catholic universal church of Christ is the Messianic kingdom and the millennial reign today that began with the first coming of our Lord Jesus. Let me say that Augustine's view dominated the church of Jesus Christ for seventeen centuries, right up to the 17th century. That was the major view of the church: a-millennialism, coming from its forefather Augustine, and before him Origen and Alexandrian theology, to allegorise Scripture, particularly prophetic Scripture.
Now, what happened then in the 17th century? Well, in the 17th century - I was nearly going to say some of you could remember it! - in the 17th century there was an intellectual revolution. There was the beginning of the thought of evolution, there was also an industrial revolution, and you could say it was a real golden age beginning to start among humanity. There was an optimistic view on the threshold of time, both in the world and in the church, and so - you can almost see it now, can't you? - there was a move from Augustine's a-millennialism to post-millennialism, believing that this golden age was coming when there would be a great revival and the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ would be ushered in.
Let me say first of all that many of the most godly men that ever lived were post-millennial. During the 17th and 18th centuries there were revivals, of course there was Reformation, and then there was revival age - men like Whitefield and Wesley, men like Jonathan Edwards, Hodge and his great theology, post-millennial men. You could almost forgive them for thinking they were in a golden age, but the fact of the matter is: what chiefly encouraged their prophetic view was not the Scriptures, but was the situation in which they found themselves. Well, post-millennialism isn't too popular today - do you know why? Very simply: World War I and World War II - post-millennialism came almost to extinction. Now it's being revived today in some forms of charismatic theology, but ultimately people could no longer believe in a golden age when Nazism came to the fore. Now here's what happened in the church: most post-millennialists who came to World War I said: 'We can't believe in this golden age', and so they rejected totally any idea of the millennial reign of Christ for 1000 years - and guess what, they couldn't become pre-millennial because they believed in a thousand year reign, so what did they become? They became a-millennial. That's why the predominant belief of the church today is a-millennialism, worldwide I'm talking about. Even though there was a revival in pre-millennialism around the time of the early Plymouth Brethren and J. M. Darby and so on, a-millennialism has been the major prophetic theology of Reformed Protestantism, Covenant Protestantism, Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. What I want you to see from this history lesson tonight, even if you don't remember any of it, is this: a-millennialism and post-millennialism, rather than developing out of biblical understanding of the Scriptures, have chiefly evolved out of the influence of these historical factors in Church history, not from the Bible.
Now let's move on from history to hermeneutics, for this is where it really comes home to us as Bible-believing Christians - hermeneutics being, as I've said, your interpretation of the Bible that you have before you. Dr Walvoord, now deceased and gone to glory, a great prophetic teacher, was asked a few years ago this question: 'What do you predict will be the most significant theological issue over the next ten years?'. His answer included these words: 'The hermeneutical problem of not interpreting the Bible literally, especially the prophetic areas. The church today is engulfed in the idea that one cannot interpret prophecy literally'. Now listen, I'm not talking about a wooden literalism that doesn't see any symbolism in the book of Revelation - that is a misrepresentation of pre-millennialism. There is symbolism in all of prophetic Scripture, but what we're talking about here is that in a general sense, whenever we come to prophetic Scripture, we ought to come to it the same way we come to any piece of Scripture and read it with a plain, normal, and - mark these words - literal, historical and grammatical understanding and interpretation. You don't take a way-out, pie-in-the-sky meaning rather than the literal meaning. You don't pluck the Scripture out of its history to take it into present-day age and apply it only to ourselves and not to the ancient people who it was historically given to - i.e. the Jew. You don't just interpret it how it suits you today, and fit it into your scheme of prophecy, but you have to take it grammatically as it is written down whether in the Hebrew or the Greek language.
Now listen: if you read Revelation 20 in that literal, historical, grammatical way, you can only come to an interpretation that it is a pre-millennial understanding of the second coming of Christ. Now, if that doesn't prove it to you, let me quote you an a-millennialist - he's an a-millennialist, I didn't pay him to say it, he wrote it himself - Floyd E. Hamilton, and I can give you where he quoted it. Here's what he said: 'Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the pre-millennialists picture'. He quite freely admits 'We don't interpret prophecy literally, that's why we come to our a-millennial standpoint' - but if you want to interpret Scripture literally, grammatically, historically as we believe we ought to as fundamentalists - you will come to a pre-millennialist picture of things future. Pre-millennialism, and I say it categorically, is the only consistent hermeneutic of interpreting the Bible that interprets it the same from Genesis to Revelation. History testifies to it in examination, hermeneutics testifies to it.
Let's really get to grips with the Scriptures tonight and take a conclusion upon these views that are expressed. I believe the weight of biblical truth supports the pre-millennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I believe in turn that there are serious biblical problems with a-millennialism and post-millennialism. Now I'm not saying, or implying, that there are no problems with pre-millennialism and there are no differences between pre-millennialists - because there are an awful lot! I'm losing count of them as I study it more and more! Let me leave you tonight in the moments that are left to us with a list that was first given by Gerald B. Stanton, quoted by Mr Tommy Ice who's coming soon to preach in the Iron Hall, and also in an article in the dictionary of pre-millennial theology - reasons why we know and believe that the Lord Jesus Christ must come before He ushers in this thousand year reign.
I give you it under ten headings, and I want you to note them down if you have a pen - if you don't have a pen, bring one next week, I don't think we have any extra pens, have we? No? Bring three next week, and if anybody forgets one you can give another two. Here are ten reasons, in conclusion, upon these views. The first we have already dealt with: the early church was pre-millennial. We all agree on that. Secondly we have looked at hermeneutics, it is the only consistent, literal interpretation of the Scriptures. Let me give you one example - Isaiah 11 and verse 6 talks about a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb. You know that passage, don't you? Now, a-millennialists and post-millennialists both interpret that as a metaphor of saying a sort of peace that comes from being a Christian. The fact of the matter is that that interpretation is problematic when you move out of Isaiah 11 and move into Isaiah 53 - 'He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We hid, as it were, our faces from Him, with His stripes we are healed'. The Jews today still take that passage as a metaphor, liberal Jews, as a metaphor for the Jewish nation suffering down all the ages - because they take an allegorical interpretation of it. But if you're consistent, literally, you have to assume that throughout the whole of Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the major and minor prophets that whenever this great golden age of a millennium is spoken about it is literal.
Thirdly, there is the unconditional nature of the covenants in the word of God. Now what am I talking about? Well, in Genesis 12 you read of the Abrahamic Covenant, the covenant that God made with Abraham. Then it's reiterated in Genesis 13 and Genesis 15, Genesis 17 and Genesis 22; and then it's confirmed to Isaac in Genesis 26; then to Jacob in Genesis 28 and Genesis 35 - and really the sum total of that covenant that God made with Abraham and his progeny was that his seed would increase as the grains of sand on the seashore, as the stars in the sky, and that a great nation would come from his bowels, and that that nation would bless the whole earth one day - obviously through Messiah, but ultimately the next promise in the covenant was this: that they would be given a land, and God gave him the border of that land that he would be given, and until this day Israel has not inhabited the whole of that land that was given in covenant promise to Abraham. That was an unconditional promise that was given to Abraham, that will be fulfilled - the church does not fulfil it in a spiritual sense, it cannot unless you're a thief taking Abraham's promise as your own when you're a Gentile! There is the Abrahamic Covenant yet to be fulfilled, so we understand - and we'll maybe look at this later on - that Israel is not the church, as a-millennialists understand and post-millennialists and some historic pre-millennialists. Israel and the church cannot and ought not to be confused. The unconditional nature of the covenants.
Now what leads on from that in one sense is fourthly that the Old Testament teaches a literal earthly kingdom. Now let me bring you to another covenant, you can turn to it if you wish, 2 Samuel 7:16 - this is the Davidic Covenant, the covenant that was given to David. Saul had been rejected, and Nathan said by God's hand upon him to David: 'And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee' - for ever - 'thy throne shall be established for ever'. Now does 'for ever' mean forever? Or does it suddenly become the Gentile people who are in the church of Jesus Christ in our modern age - it cannot if you take it literally, and you take it historically and grammatically. It was spoken to David, it was spoken about his throne in Jerusalem and about the Jewish nation. In Daniel 2:44 the Old Testament speaks of a literal earthly kingdom, it 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 other kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever' - Daniel 2:44, forever! A literal earthly kingdom that will wipe out all other kingdoms.
Now this kingdom is on the earth, not in heaven. Look at the prophecies of the Old Testament - Isaiah, taking one just, 11 and verse 9, Isaiah says that 'on that day', that millennial reign, 'the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea' - the earth, not heaven, the earth! Other passages tell us that the Lord will reign as King over all the earth. He will be the King, He will reign, Zechariah 14 speaks of that - turn with me to it, Zechariah 14 and verse 4: 'His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem', a mountain, literally and geographically, a nation, a city, Jerusalem, 'on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south'. Verse 9: 'And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one'. Verse 16: 'And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles'.
You read about it in Psalm 2, Ezekiel 37, Hosea 3, Zephaniah 3, and Isaiah 2:4 tells us that during that thousand year literal reign of Christ there will be peace that will reign on earth for the first time, and Isaiah 2 says in verse 4: 'They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more'. Read about it in Micah chapter 4, verses 3 to 4. We'll spend a week looking at Israel - bear with me, I've got the cold, and that day I'll have a new throat, praise the Lord! - but Israel shall have a final and permanent return to her homeland, this is Old Testament prophecy! It has to be fulfilled literally - Amos 9:15, just for one example, Amos 9:15: 'I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God'. Regardless of their sin and their backsliding, God promised to bring them back - if you don't believe that, read the latter chapters of the book of Ezekiel 37, 38; read also Isaiah 43, Jeremiah 30 - they all testify the same thing. Old Testament prophecy shows that Messiah's government shall not only take place in the land of Israel presently, but in the very city of Jerusalem - Micah 4, Zechariah 2, Zechariah 8 - and there will be, imagine this in the light of our contemporary situation and political unrest in Palestine, there will be no more unrest in the land, no more violence in Israel!
Isaiah 60 verse 18, listen to these words: 'Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise'. We read too in Daniel 9 and 12, and Ezekiel 40 to 48 - and we spent several long weeks looking at it - that Israel will rebuild a literal temple in Jerusalem, no doubt about it! Israel will be a redeemed people - now I could go on and on and keep you here most of the night going through these Old Testament prophecies, but I think you get my point, don't you? Do you think it is reasonable to just say in a nebulous way that this is all spiritual and applied to us today as the church of Jesus Christ in heaven when we get there one day? I do not think so, do you?
Fifthly: the kingdom is carried, as we have seen it prophetically in the Old Testament, it is carried unchanged into the New Testament. The understanding that the Jews had of the kingdom in the Old is still the understanding in the New. Matthew's gospel is the gospel of the kingdom, it's the gospel that sets forth the King of the Jews to us - His genealogy in chapter 1 is the genealogy of the Lord Jesus as the King, and the rightful King at that! When we go to Luke's gospel, if you turn with me to it, Luke chapter 1 verse 30, and the angel says unto Mary: 'Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David' - the Davidic Covenant. Now did He get that in His lifetime on the earth? He did not: 'And he shall reign over the house of Jacob' - who's that? It is Israel - 'for ever', has that happened? 'And of his kingdom there shall be no end'.
I think the Bible is clear, of course in the New Testament - although we have to say that there is a sense in which the kingdom of God is in our hearts and is not fully consummated as yet - in the New Testament there is still this prophetic idea and view that the literal kingdom of God is coming soon. There is an imminence, waiting on the Lord Jesus, as we'll see next week in the rapture - the believers in the New Testament were ready at any moment for Christ to come and for His kingdom.
Following on from that in the New Testament, sixthly: Christ also supports this earthly kingdom. In Matthew 6, just to cite one example, verse 10 in the Lord's prayer, or the disciple's prayer: 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done' - where? - 'on earth as it is in heaven'. Let me take you to another example - do you remember the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God one day? The promise that the Lord Jesus included in His reply to them was that they would be sitting on thrones, and they would be judging the twelve tribes of Israel - the twelve tribes of where? Israel!
Now as I said, there is a kingdom in men's hearts, there's no doubt about that - but there is a literal kingdom yet to be fulfilled upon the earth, where the Lord Jesus will reign where'er the sun doth its successive journeys run. Christ testified Himself - seventhly, there are multiple resurrections in scripture. I only take time to cite two: there is the resurrection unto life that is spoken about, we'll look at it next week - 1 Corinthians 15, the rapture of the church, the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Paul talked about it in 1 Thessalonians 4: 'Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them that have died in Christ before us, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord'. The unrighteous dead are not mentioned, but then there is the unrighteous dead resurrected coming unto judgment that we read about in this passage in Revelation 20 verses 5 and 6, and later on in 12 to 15 - a different resurrection. There are other resurrections, don't confuse them all.
Eighthly - we've already mentioned this - Revelation 20 teaches in a simple understanding, you cannot read it any other way as you read it chronologically, pre-millennialism. Ninthly, pre-millennialism harmonises the entire Bible - there is no other system of biblical prophetic interpretation that attempts to bring all of the spheres of biblical literature together in one final consummation as this does. Tenthly and finally, only pre-millennialism provides a satisfactory conclusion to history - only pre-millennialism. What do I mean? Well, I mean this: what greater glory to the Lord Jesus Christ could there be than the fact that one day He will reign over this depraved old world? What would it be if He never had sway on the earth as the Old Testament testified to and prophesied? One of the glories of Christ is that He will come, and He will reign, and He will rule with a rod of iron and dash His enemies in pieces as a potter's vessel. Not only that, it'll be a righteous reign - and how could God take satisfaction in the whole running of human history if it didn't end in a satisfactory way in the reign of righteousness? Only this view concludes history in a satisfactory way.
I'm not getting paid for this tonight, but on the 13th of November we are having a teacher of the word of God by the name of Dr Thomas Ice - he's coming to open our new church building just across the way here. He probably, I would imagine, will be touching on prophetic themes at least at some point within his ministry. Thomas Ice is an authority on prophetic Scriptures, and in a discourse that he gave just there in 2003 on the subject: 'The Unscriptural Theologies of A-Millennialism and Post-Millennialism', which he gave to the pre-tribulation study group, he said these words - and it's with these words that I want to conclude. They're up here on the screen if you can see them, but I'll read them out to you - he says this, and I say it too: 'More could be said, suffice to say that neither post-, or a-millennialism is taught in the Bible'. That's an astounding statement, but it's true - neither a- nor post-millennialism is taught in the Bible: 'Show me a single text that teaches it! Pre-millennialism can be inductively gleaned from Revelation 20, in fact that is why we have these terms pre-millennialism, a-millennialism, post-millennialism - because Revelation 20 speaks of a 1000 year reign of Christ that will take place after His return in Revelation 19'. Now mark this statement, the next paragraph: 'Since sound theology should be developed from the Bible itself, and since the Bible teaches only a single viewpoint on any issue, a-millennialism and post-millennialism are nowhere to be found - but pre-millennialism is found in every page of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation'. Now mark these words: 'The strength of pre-millennialism is the text of Scripture, study it, teach it, proclaim it, hope in it, live it - Maranatha!'.
He also said in that lecture that historically only the Bible looks ahead to the future as a time when life will be better than it has ever been in the past. Have you ever thought about that? All the pagan religions of our world look into the past, and think: 'If only we could return to the good old days then everything would be wonderful. If we could just return to the days of the Pharaohs of Egypt, if we could bring back the wonderful days of Nebuchadnezzar' - maybe you're saying: 'If we could only get back to the 50's and the 60's when I was young' - listen: only the Bible teaches that the best is yet to come! It also teaches that He could come at any moment, He could even come this evening.
Well, I hope you see that I believe it matters - it may not be all-important, but it's very important. Hopefully it will serve as a foundation for the next five weeks - come back next week when we'll be looking at 'The Rapture of the Church - Biblical Fact or Fairytale?'.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his 'Crucial Questions About Christ's Return' series, titled "Pre-, Post-, or A-, Millennial - Does It Matter?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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