Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, August 03, 2009

Studies in Eschatology [10]


I wish to return to my continuing series on the study of eschatology. I have turned my attention toward reviewing the three major millennial systems: amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. The last two articles addressed amillennialism and postmillennialism, and with this post I will sketch out the basic tenets of premillennialism. Like the two previous articles, It is not my intention to provide a long, detailed analysis. I want merely to hit upon the important features.

The prefix "pre" provides the central conviction of premillennialism: Christ will return prior to the millennial kingdom. Additionally, rather than saying the "millennium" is a spiritual understanding of the present church age, premillennialists believe the 1,000 years that define the millennium are real, chronological years. In other words, when Jesus Christ returns, He will establish a Messianic kingdom in which He will rule for 10 consecutive centuries. Or, if we break it down further, 365,000 days.

Premillennialism is the oldest eschatological system. This historical fact has been lost due in part to the dominance of Augustine's amillennial scheme he outlined in his book, The City of God. In the few centuries prior to Augustine's influence, however, the good number of Christian writers held to a primitive premillennialism, or what was called chiliasm, taken from the Greek phrase in Revelation 20 chilia ete, meaning "1,000 years."

The chiliasts believed at least four fixed elements that defined their convictions:
1) The notion that a last, terrible battle with the enemies of God was pending.
2) The faith in a speedy return of Christ
3) The conviction that Christ will judge all men.
4) Upon His return, Christ will set up a kingdom of glory on the earth in which the risen saints will reign with Him for 1,000 years [Adolph Harnach, cited in Culver 2005, 1139].

Among the earliest writers advocating premillennial ideas were Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertellian, Methodius, Lactantius, and Hippolytus. A number of chiliast groups came to be known for their "sensual excesses" or what was perceived by Christians who were heavily influenced by the increasingly popular asceticism of platonic philosophy as "evil worldliness." These chiliasts taught about an earthly millennium in which there would be much sensual banqueting and many earthly delights to indulge our pleasures. As Augustine's eschatology became the dominant position of the Roman Catholic Church, the chiliastic beliefs began to wane among Christians for several centuries. It wasn't until the time of the Reformation, when the Reformers returned the church to the authority of scripture and the importance of exegetical preaching, that the premillennial perspective began once again to see popularity among Christians.

Though it is safe to say all the adherents of the three main eschatological system affirm the authority of scripture, premillennialists approach the interpretation of the relevant passages with an entirely different perspective than their amillennial and postmillennial counterparts:

The first difference is a significant distinction: premillennialists handle the interpretation of biblical prophecy differently. Rather than approaching prophecy with a hermeneutic that leans heavily toward spiritualizing the exegesis of eschatological passages, premillennialists interpret those passages in a more literal fashion. Yet, this is not an extreme wooden literalism in which symbolic and figurative language is discounted. Instead, premillennialists recognize the use of symbolic and figurative language to illustrate eschatological realities, but do not believe the presence of such language authorizes the wholesale spiritualization of prophectic literature.

Secondly, premillennialists will approach the interpretation of Revelation differently as well. This is particularly noticeable in how they understand Revelation 20 where the millennium is specifically taught. Premillennialists do not read Revelation as a series of recapitulated visions of the church age. They understand the book should be read more in a chronological fashion. So, when they come to Revelation 20, they do not take the amillennial perspective of seeing the chapter as a vision returning the reader back to the beginning of the church age. Instead, they believe the events of chapter 20 follow those in chapter 19 in sequence, thus implying Christ vanquishes his enemies and then establishes His kingdom for a 1,000 years.

This chronological approach to the whole book of Revelation, particularly chapter 20, provides foundational characteristics defining premillennialism (These points are a summary of the first section from Robert Culver's masterful work, Daniel and the Latter-days.):

The millennium begins with the visible return of Christ in glory to judge and rule the nations. Revelation 19 describes Christ's return in which He judges the anti-Christ and false prophet by casting them immediately into the lake of fire. The events of Revelation 20, then, follow chronologically.

The millennium will be when Satan is imprisoned. Contrasted to non-premillennialists who believe Satan's binding in Revelation 20:1-3 is a limitation of his activities, premillennialists believe his "imprisonment" means that Satan will be caused to cease entirely for 1,000 years from his rebellious activities on the earth.

The resurrection of the just happens at the beginning of the millennium. The righteous will experience the first resurrection during which they will reign with Christ on the earth. This resurrection is a physical resurrection, not a spiritual "rebirth" or "regeneration" as non-premillennialists argue.

The conversion of Israel to their rightful Messiah and the restoration to the land. The millennium is the fulfillment of the long awaited Messianic kingdom promised by God to Israel in the OT, for example Hosea 3:4,5 and Micah 4.

Premillennialism has developed within two distinct varieties: Dispensational premillennialism and historic premillennialism.

Dispensational premillennialism is derived from the word "dispensation," as found in the King James Bible in Ephesians 1:10, 3:2 and Colossians 1:25, translated from the Greek word oikinomos that can mean "stewardship" or "administration." Dispensationalists divide salvation history into a series of eras or epochs in which God tested humanity in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God [Grenz, 94]. Each epoch entails the revelation of what God requires of human beings as the stewards of that revelation. Humanity is suppose to live obediently to the terms of the dispensation, yet fails to do so. Thus, each epoch ends with the judgment of God.

Earlier dispensationalists identified up to seven dispensations, with the premillennial kingdom being the final one. As the theology has matured and developed, how one understands the number of dispensations and their purposes, has been refined. Still, the one distinguishing factor of dispensational premillennialism is the distinction between national Israel and the NT Church, and a distinct future for national Israel. The millennium, then, is the fulfillment of the kingdom promises God made to OT Israel, with those promises being expanded to include the NT Church.

Historic premillennialism also holds to a future millennial kingdom; however, the system is different from dispensational premillennialism in that it sees the millennium being a golden age, not for a future regathered nation of Israel, but for the Church. Thus, the NT Church is considered to be the "spiritual Israel" that has replaced, or fulfilled, the OT Israel. Those promises of restoration to Israel in the OT, then, are fulfilled in the Church reigning with Christ during the millennium.

Additionally, historic premillennialism also shares much in common with non-premillennial eschatology, especially with how they interpret the prophetic passages. Just like amillennialists, the historic premillennialist believes the coming of Jesus Christ allows for the employment of a "Christological hermeneutic" that reinterprets the OT prophetic literature in light of the NT. This makes their approach to eschatology not as strictly literal as dispensationalism. In fact some historic premillennialists would not believe the millennium is strictly 1,000 calendar years, but are symbolic for an undetermined amount of time.


Having provide a brief sketch of each of the major eschatological systems, I want to turn my attention to the text of Revelation 20 itself. What I would like to do in future posts is to engage the major talking points each eschatological system appeals to in defense of their position. Along with considering the exetical data of the chapter, I want to show why I believe a proper understanding of the exegesis will yield a premillennial perspective.


Craig Blaising, "Premillennialism," in Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrel Bock. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).

Robert Duncan Culver,
Daniel and the Latter-Days. (Revell: New York NY, 1954)

, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. (Christian Focus, Great Britain, 2005).

Stanly J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze: Sorting out Evangelical Options. (Inter Varsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1992).

George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1996).

Michael J. Vlach, What is Dispensationalism?. (On-line paper).



Blogger Darrin said...


I don't feel your representation of Historic PreMillennialism is quite right. Have you read the church fathers and what their positions were on the specific issues that you raise? Or perhaps Spurgeon or Ladd? Or better yet, Nathanial West, BW Newton, or SP Tregelles?

Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

11:20 AM, August 03, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

As a matter of fact I have. What exactly have I misrepresented? I may be brief and surface level, but I thought I hit their main tenets well, especially the notion that the Church has replaced Israel, which is the key talking point.

Ladd is probably the best representation of historic premillennialism, even coining the term "historical" to distinguish his premillennialism from the classic dispensational variety he was interacting with. His foundational presuppositional hermeneutic was that the OT must be reinterpreted due to the Christ event. He also held strongly to the idea of the Church being "spiritual Israel" and having replaced national Israel.

As for the other authors, I haven't read all of them in full, so I can't comment as accurately as I like, but take for example West, whose massive treatment on the millennium I have read, and he most certainly sees a restoration for Israel and sees ethnic Israel as a distinct from the NT Church. I think that is pretty much true of Newton also especially seeing his involvement with the prophecy conferences at the time. If West is an "historic premillennialist" his view on the system is certainly different from Ladd's

Is there anything specifically you had in mind?

11:32 AM, August 03, 2009  
Blogger Darrin said...

Hi Fred, thanks for the response.

I believe that Ladd has been so often misquoted by Covenant Theologians that many people feel he agrees with CT more than he disagrees with them. Ladd's position was not that the church replaced Israel. He is certainly not dispensational, but has his own category which sort of straddles the line.

In Ladd's theology, the disciples constituted "not a new Israel but the true Israel". Ladd saw continuity between Israel and the work of the disciples, hence the choice of twelve to rule in the kingdom come over the twelve tribes of Israel. The Gentile inclusion into this kingdom work at a later period in time never negated the kingdom offer to Israel. Which Ladd proves an excellent point that the kingdom offer to Israel was not a political glorious kingdom since he never presented himself as a political glorious king. Instead this was the offer of the true kingdom of God by the meek and mild servant of Isaiah (TW Manson's influence on Ladd is apparent.)

Fred, I'm going to write some quotes from Ladd on my blog to show that he does not believe in replacement theology. He also does not reinterpret OT scriptures. Have you read The Presence of the Future? It is certainly a scholarly work and would be worth your time even if you are a dispensationalist. It initiated the inaugurated eschatology movement, which I suppose that’s another factor. I myself am a Historic PreMillennialist, so I’d like to see the position represented accurately. TC Robinson at New Leaven has recently posted on this.

As far as specific issues, I don’t know of a single Historic Pre-Mill that interprets the thousand years to be symbolic. I don’t know of any that reinterpret the OT in light of the NT. And I don’t know of any that believe that the church has replaced Israel. What is misunderstood is that there is continuity between Israel and the church and not the hard line distinction that classic dispensationalism believes in. BTW, have you read anything on Progressive Dispensationalism? I believe Bock and Blaising have done some nice work, even though I still don’t agree with everything in dispensationalism. Historical PreMillennialism is a bit vague at times. The new book edited by Blomberg and Chung is worth the read, but still leaves one with many questions. We are forced to go back to some of the earlier “giants” like West, Newton, and Ladd to understand the fundamentals of the position. Thanks again for the response.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

The Orange Mailman

2:50 PM, August 03, 2009  
Blogger Darrin said...

Hey Fred, I have those quotes from Ladd up at my blog right now. Feel free to check them out.


Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

3:18 PM, August 03, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I am not sure if you have read Barry Horner's work, Future Israel, but he argues rather persuasively that Ladd held to replacement theology and the notion of the church being spiritual Israel.

I think this is most clear in Ladd's contribution to the book The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views in which he wrote the section defending historic premillennialism. He wrote:

"This clearly establishes the principle that the "literal hermeneutic" does not work...OT prophecies must be interpreted in light of the NT to find their deeper meaning."
He goes on:
"I do not see how it is possible to avoid the conclusion that the NT applies OT prophecies to the NT church and in so doing identifies the church as spiritual Israel."
He goes on to cite from Romans 9-11 and to make the argument that these prophecies Paul cites mean that a "future salvation of literal Israel when the people, whom God has rejected, will once again become the people of God" ("Four Views," 23, 24). Meaning in Ladd's thinking, they are becoming the "people of God" in the NT Church. Ladd writes similar things in his NT theology.

So, though I would imagine some of the older men you label "historical premillennialists" like Seiss, Newton, Peters, and West held to the view national Israel will be restored, their perspective is not reflective of George Ladd, who coined the term "historic premillennialism" and advocated for Israel being restored only through being absorbed into the NT Church, what typical amillennialists and postmillennialists believe. Older premillennialists appear to have held to a greater discontinuity in their perspective of Israel and the Church which is in line with the main tenet of dispensationalism.


5:40 AM, August 04, 2009  
Blogger DJP said...

A question and a quibble.

1. Do you know what the difference is between "Reformed" amillennialism and Roman Catholic amillennialism? Are there significant differences, or is it mainly just another of example unreformed "Reformed" doctrine (like pedobaptism)?

2. The sentence that starts "Dispensationalists divide salvation history into a series of eras or epochs," I would start, "Like all Christians without exception, Dispensationalists divide salvation history into a series of eras or epochs...."

While not all Christians may say that the purpose of the succession of stewardship-arrangements is to test by a specific revelation, all Christians do believe that living populations are tested by their response to God's revelation of Himself up to that time.

12:11 PM, August 04, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

1. Do you know what the difference is between "Reformed" amillennialism and Roman Catholic amillennialism? Are there significant differences, or is it mainly just another of example unreformed "Reformed" doctrine (like pedobaptism)?

From what I have studied, and that includes looking at a good bit of RCC material available at our seminary library, at the basics of understanding Rev. 20, I don't see much of a difference. Obviously, how the RCC has played out the millennium being the Church age now is different to a degree than the Reformers. According to the Catholics, the Church represents Christ's kingdom and must subdue all other kingdoms. The Reformers didn't necessarily take this approach. Though I guess we do sort of see this with Puritanism, especially here in the early years of the American colonies.

As for your comments about dispensationalism, I agree with you. I noted in my series responding to Sam Waldron that CT acknowledges dispensations, though they may just see two: the OT and the NT. However, I do think dispensationalism, which sees a sharper discontinuity between the testaments and the manifestations of the people of God, does maintain a uniqueness with premillennialism and hence the reason why I wrote what I wrote. The 7 eras or epochs is certainly unique to dispensational writers of the classic variety.


9:59 AM, August 05, 2009  
Blogger Darrin said...

Hello Fred and thanks for the response. I was unaware that Ladd had contributed to that book. I have his other writings but not that one.

Ladd certainly straddled the line between CT and disp. I think it's obvious though that he did not believe in replacement theology, since nowhere does he use the word replacement. Covenant Theologians also realize that Ladd wasn't exactly their brand of eschatology either. That's why he's usually assigned to his very own category.

Now as far as representing positions accurately, I would point out that you stated Hist. PreMills "reinterprets the OT prophetic literature in light of the NT". But in the quote from Ladd the OT prophecies are "interpreted" not "reinterpreted".

I haven't read Horner's book, but I was following Waldron's critique of it back when he was blogging on it. I had a few discussions with Waldron about Ladd, who ironically was quoting Ladd as being in support of his position. I quoted from Ladd's work showing that there was a definite departure from his hermeneutic in Ladd's writings. Waldron was non-plussed.

Anyway, thanks again for the response. My point is that Ladd's language sounds close to CT, but it cannot be identified with it for obvious reasons. As far as the old school Pre-Millennialists, they were not dispensationalists. They heard Darby, Irving, and the rest and continued with the "Historic" position.

Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

10:58 AM, August 05, 2009  

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