Category Archives: Eschatology

Was There Jewish Precedent for an Earthly, Intermediate, Messianic Kingdom?

Premillennialists interpret Revelation 20 to be a literal thousand-year earthly reign of Christ before he defeats Satan in one ultimate battle and inaugurates the new heavens and new earth. Is there any precedent for this view of an intermediate, earthly, messianic kingdom in ancient Jewish texts?

Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, writes:

Many Jewish texts include an intermediate period between the present and future ages; in some, it is an age of messianic peace, but in others it is the final tribulation, which came to be called the ‘messianic travail.’ The length of the final intermediate period varies in those ancient Jewish texts that include it, producing such diverse figures as forty years, three generations, four hundred years and nearly as many other calculations as there are opinions recorded, sometimes counted by ‘weeks’ or jubilees of years. A few early Jewish traditions divided history into seven one-thousand-year periods, of which the final period would be an age of peace. (Plato’s figure of one thousand years between death and reincarnation as the intermediate state of the Greek afterlife might have influenced this Jewish figure [cf. also the phoenix of Greek mythology, discussed by rabbis], but this is unlikely; the apocalyptic penchant for dividing history into ages, plus the natural appeal of a round number like one thousand [cf. one hundred in Is 65:20], and especially the Jewish application of Ps 90:4 to the seven days of Gen 1, are sufficient to explain the length of the period on purely Jewish terms.)

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, adds:

The OT had little explicit commentary on the ‘millennium,’ but the view of the coming kingdom of God as an earthly reign (e.g., Ps. 72:8–14; Isa. 11:6–9; Zech. 14:5–17) provided the background for the concept of an earthly millennium. The early rabbis drew on this and believed in a preliminary kingdom (see Beasley-Murray 1978: 288, building on Strack-Billerbeck). Combining Deut. 8:3 and Ps. 90:15, Akiba viewed it as a forty-year reign equal to the wilderness wanderings. Another rabbi used Mic. 7:15 and saw a four-hundred-year reign paralleling Israel’s stay in Egypt. Jehuda used Deut. 11:21 and saw it as four thousand years, the same amount of time as from creation to the present.

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret Revelation 20?

Norm Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, asserts that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 must refer to a literal, future period of time that lasts a thousand years.  “A historical-grammatical reading of this passage informs us that there will be a literal Millennium, during which Satan is bound, beginning with the raising of the saved and ending with the raising of the lost.”

Geisler offers several reasons why the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, future period of time.  First, the word thousand is mentioned several times in Revelation 20.  “Facts mentioned only once in the Bible are true; the future messianic kingdom is said to be a thousand years long six times in Revelation 20:1-7.”  Surely, the repetition of this time period undermines the non-literal position.  Second, Geisler admits that the word thousand is sometimes used symbolically in the Bible.  “However, of its hundred-plus occurrences in the biblical text, only a handful are non-literal, and even these are mostly hyperbole (not allegorical).”

Third, Geisler reasons that “other numbers in Revelation are used literally; for example, 1,260 days (12:6) is a literal three and one-half years (Dan. 12:7, 11).”  Given that other numbers are used literally in the book, the argument for symbolism is weakened.  Fourth, even “symbols refer to something literal, as indicated by John’s literal interpretation of symbolic usage (e.g., 1:20).”  One must always be careful in taking symbolism too far, because ultimately every symbol stands for something real and literal.  There is the sign (the symbol) and there is the thing signified (the literal object).  The less clearly the sign points to the thing signified, the greater chance for interpretational error.  In our human experience, most signs relate very directly and obviously to the things they signify.  The term “thousand years” is more likely to refer to a literal thousand-year period of time than to refer to perfection or completeness.  The onus must be on the symbolic interpreter to provide strong evidence for his view.

Fifth, a literal interpretation accords with Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 that “Christ’s earthly reign would be a long period of time with an end.”  Sixth and finally, “Literal numbers can have symbolic significance – Israel was tested for forty years in the wilderness (cf. Matt. 4), and while there is a symbolic meaning to this time of wandering, it is also true that they literally wandered for about forty years.  Relatedly, thousand can symbolize a long period and still be literally true.”

John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, in , add that the sequence of events surrounding the “thousand years” also indicate a literal, future time period.  “The fact that it is mentioned six times and is clearly described as a period of time before which and after which events take place lead to the conclusion that it means a literal thousand-year period.”  Specifically they contend that the reference to Satan being bound for a thousand years is an important clue.  According to Walvoord and Zuck, “Throughout the Scriptures Satan is said to exert great power not only against the world but also against Christians (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20).”  It seems difficult to argue that Satan’s influence today is somehow curtailed or restrained.  The clinching verse which demonstrates that Satan was certainly attacking believers in the first century, after Christ’s death and resurrection, is 1 Peter 5:8.  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  If Satan is indeed not bound, then it seems difficult to understand the “thousand years” as occurring today.

With both amillennialists and premillennialists claiming to use the historical-grammatical hermeneutical method, and with both groups arriving at widely divergent conclusions, there is another group of people that we should consult about Revelation 20.  In general, the closer in time Person A is to Person B, the more accurately will Person A interpret the writings of Person B, all other things being equal.  Augustine wrote about the book of Revelation about three centuries after it was written by the apostle John.  As mentioned before, Augustine’s position on the Apocalypse has dominated the church since he wrote about it in The City of God.  There are church fathers, however, who lived closer to the time of John and who wrote about Revelation.

The earliest known interpretation of the thousand years of Revelation came from a bishop named Papias, who was a contemporary of the apostles in the first century.  Eusebius, the great church historian of the fourth century, wrote about Papias in his seminal work, The Church History.  Eusebius quotes Papias from his Sayings of the Lord Interpreted, which is no longer extant.  Papias claims to have heard directly from those who sat under the teaching of several of the apostles.  “And whenever anyone came who had been a follower of the elders, I asked about their words: what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples . . . .  For I did not think that information from books would help me as much as the word of a living, surviving voice.”

Papias’ views on the book of Revelation would indeed be important because of his close proximity to the source of the book, John (who is mentioned above).  According to Eusebius, Papias believed that “after the resurrection of the dead there will be a thousand-year period when the kingdom of Christ will be established on this earth in material form.”  Eusebius also maintained that Papias’ views on the thousand years were highly regarded by some subsequent church fathers because of his proximity to the disciples.  Lest anyone think that Eusebius was biased in favor of Papias’ interpretation, Eusebius had this to say about Papias: “I suppose that he got these notions by misunderstanding the apostolic accounts, not realizing that they had used mystic and symbolic language.  For he was a man of very limited intelligence, as is clear from his books.”  We can be confident that Eusebius’ “respect” for Papias did not color his interpretation of Papias’ writings, for Eusebius was an amillennialist even before Augustine.  With all due respect to Eusebius’ estimation of Papias’ intelligence, Papias is one of the earliest, if not earliest, sources we have interpreting Revelation 20, and he was a premillennialist.

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr, one of the most renowned early apologists of the Christian faith, wrote about the book of Revelation.  He is the first to explicitly mention the Revelation in his Dialogue with Trypho.[14]  “And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.”[15]  Justin Martyr was certainly a premillennialist and believed that the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 was to be taken literally as the future, messianic kingdom on earth.

Later in the second century the church father, Irenaeus, made “frequent and substantive use of the Revelation, especially in book 5 of Against Heresies, where he extensively discourses upon the thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth.”  Speaking of the predicted, messianic, thousand-year kingdom, Irenaeus related the following:

The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times.

Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Papias, the earliest commentators on the book of Revelation, all believed that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, thousand-year, earthly kingdom of Christ.  It cannot be argued, based upon this evidence, that the premillennial view is proven, but it does lend significant credibility to the view.  If the earliest hearers and interpreters of the text understood it to be literal, surely the later amillennialists have a more difficult position to argue.  How is it that these, the earliest commentators in the church, were all wrong?

How Does Amillennialist Hank Hanegraaff Interpret Revelation 20?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, is convinced that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is symbolic and not to be taken literally.  “The figurative use of the whole number one thousand is virtually ubiquitous in Old Testament usage.  For example, God increased the number of the Israelites a thousand times (Deuteronomy 1:11); God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); the least of Zion will become a thousand and the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22).”  Hanegraaff continues by emphasizing “a thousand more examples (figuratively speaking) could easily be added to the list.”  What, then, does the “thousand years” mean?  Hanegraaff rejects the view that the words of Revelation 20 are a “literal prophetic chronology according to which Satan will literally be bound for one thousand years while the resurrected martyrs reign with Christ . . . .”  Alternatively, Hanegraaff argues, “We must be willing to interpret this markedly symbolic passage in light of the rest of Scripture.”  The number one thousand is symbolic of “ultimate completion.”  The “thousand years” of the martyrs’ reign indicates the vindication of the martyrs who were subjected to the terror of the Beast for “ten days.”  The “thousand years” is a qualitative contrast, not a quantitative period of time.

Amillennialist J. Marcellus Kik, in his book An Eschatology of Victory, also does not believe that the “thousand years” conveys a future, messianic, millennial kingdom.  He adds another dimension to Hanegraaff’s view.  “The term thousand years in Revelation twenty is a figurative expression used to describe the period of the messianic Kingdom upon earth.  It is that period from the first Advent of Christ until his Second Coming.”  In other words, we are all in the “millennium” today, for it spans the time between the two appearances of Christ on earth.  Kim Riddlebarger, in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, concurs: “Amillenarians generally agree with this assessment, seeing the thousand years as a symbolic number, spanning the entire ‘church age.’”  He adds that there are good reasons for interpreting the number one thousand symbolically.  He notes, “Numbers are always used symbolically throughout the book [of Revelation].” Riddlebarger agrees with Hanegraaff’s conclusion that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 “symbolizes an ideal period time, a time of completion.”  He also contends that other words in Revelation 20, such as chain, abyss, serpent, and beast are symbolic, so it is reasonable to conclude that the number one thousand is also symbolic.

In the early centuries of the church, the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354-430), likewise interpreted the “thousand years” symbolically.  Augustine was a premillennialist earlier in his life, but came to regard the “thousand years” allegorically.  In The City of God he writes, “The thousand years may be understood in two ways, . . . either because these things happen in the sixth thousand of years or sixth millennium (the latter part of which is now passing), as if during the sixth day, which is to be followed by a Sabbath which has no evening, . . . or he used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time.”  It is interesting to note the reasoning Augustine employs to demonstrate that the number one thousand is the number of perfection.  “For a thousand is the cube of ten.  For ten times ten makes a hundred, that is, the square on a plane superficies.  But to give this superficies height, and make it a cube, the hundred is again multiplied by ten, which gives a thousand.” Augustine then gives an example in Scripture of the number one hundred indicating perfection or completeness, and thus concludes that if ever “one hundred” is interpreted as totality or completion, then how much more complete and perfect is one thousand.  Regardless of which of his two interpretations one may choose, Augustine came to see the millennium as the present age within which he lived.  The end of the “thousand years” will be the end of the world when Christ returns.  Christ will only return after the perfect amount of time has elapsed.

Hanegraaff, Riddlebarger, and Kik are all heirs of the amillennialism that Augustine propounded.  Augustine’s view of the “thousand years” in Revelation has been the dominant view of the church ever since the early fifth century and continues to be widely held even today.  However, many contemporary evangelicals are premillennialists and can claim their interpretational heritage to a time before Augustine, a claim that is explored in the next blog post.

How Should We Interpret Revelation 20?

The most important biblical passage describing the millennial, messianic kingdom is found in Revelation 20.  In fact, this passage is the only place in the Bible where the messianic kingdom is described as lasting one thousand years.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.  After that, he must be set free for a short time. I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.  They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.   (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)  This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:1-6)

The period of one thousand years is mentioned five times in the verses above and once more in verse seven.  Both amillennialists and premillennialists agree that Revelation 20 is a central passage for understanding the eschaton, but they strongly disagree as to how these verses should be interpreted.  Both agree that the verses should be interpreted as the author, the apostle John, intended.  Both agree that symbolism is used in the book of Revelation, but they do not agree whether the thousand years is symbolic or literal.

The most direct and literal way to interpret Revelation 20 is to understand that it refers to a future period of one thousand years where Satan will be bound and those who followed Christ will come to life and reign with him.  This future millennium would begin after the events in the preceding chapters of Revelation took place.

However, there are certainly other ways to interpret the passage.  Perhaps the “thousand years” is merely symbolic of a long period of time.  Perhaps that long period of time is already inaugurated; Satan is already “bound” and Christ and his followers are already “reigning.”  Perhaps the “thousand years” does not refer to a long period of time, but to a perfect or complete period of time.  In that case, the “thousand years” is but a figure of speech.  John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, in , summarize the issue well: “It should be evident that one’s interpretation of Revelation 20 is an important decision that serves as a watershed for various approaches to prophetic Scripture.” All of these views have been taken by Christian theologians, scholars who claim to adhere to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants?

For premillennialist Norman Geisler, the future, literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants must occur in a millennial, messianic kingdom for several reasons.  First, the land promise to Israel has yet to be fulfilled.  The land promise made to Abraham was unconditional, meaning that God placed no conditions on Abraham for this land grant to be made.  Citing Genesis 15:7-18, Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, notes that “Abraham was not even conscious when [the covenant] was made, and God alone passed through the split sacrifice.” This procedure followed “the legal form of a grant covenant,” which was a one-way land grant.  Hebrews 6:13 indicates that God swore by himself, again proving that the land promise was certain to occur.  Abraham’s descendants, the Jews, have never occupied the promised land between the Euphrates and River of Egypt for “any prolonged period of time.”  Even if it could be argued that Solomon ruled over the lands promised to Abraham (cf. 1 Kings 4:21), “He reigned over it for a very short time, not forever, as promised to Abraham.”

Second, the Davidic throne promise has not been fulfilled.  Again, this covenant was unconditional, as evidenced by Psalm 89.  Speaking of David, God said, “Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness – and I will not lie to David – that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun” (Ps. 89:35-36).  God promised that even if David’s descendants violated his decrees, he would not violate David’s covenant.  Clearly, today, no descendant of David is ruling over Jerusalem and Israel, so, according to Geisler, there must be a day when David’s descendant will fulfill a “future, political, earthly messianic reign [as] found in 2 Samuel 7:11-16.”

Third, the Old Testament prophets continued to predict a messianic kingdom all the way up to 400 B.C.  Isaiah wrote about the messianic kingdom in Isaiah 9:7: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”  In the very last book of the Old Testament, Malachi speaks of the coming kingdom and fulfillment of the covenant in Malachi 3:1.

Fourth, Jesus offered the political, messianic kingdom to the Jews of first century Palestine, which is a clear indication that the messianic kingdom, the kingdom that would fulfill the covenants made with Abraham and David, was yet to be fulfilled.

Fifth, subsequent to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus promised that in the future the kingdom would still be restored.  Jesus made the following promise to his disciples with regard to the messianic kingdom: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).  The question the disciples asked Jesus in Acts 1 is illuminating.  After spending forty days with him, discussing the “kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the disciples then asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6).  Instead of Jesus rebuking them for asking a meaningless question about the literal fulfillment of the covenants, he tells them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7).  According to theologians John Walvoord and Roy Zuck in , “If the followers of the Lord Jesus had an incorrect view, this would have been the time for Him to correct it. The fact is, Christ taught the coming of an earthly, literal kingdom.”  The clear implication is that there will be a literal restored kingdom of Israel some time in the future.

Sixth and finally, Paul affirmed the national restoration of Israel in Romans 11.  Speaking of the promises made to Israel, Paul proclaimed that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).  Israel clearly has a national role in the future when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).  Walvoord and Zuck explain: “Because God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . ., He loves the nation and will carry through on His promises.”  According to Geisler, “When God’s complete plan of salvation is accomplished, He will restore national Israel and fulfill His unconditional promises to them, including the messianic kingdom.”

In response to Hanegraaff’s use of typology to show the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, Geisler recognizes instances of typology in the Bible, but denies that the covenants are typological.  For example, “Hebrews speaks of the entire Levitical sacrificial system as being fulfilled by our great High Priest.” Geisler affirms that “Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament types that prefigured Him and that passed away when He fulfilled them.”  However, “Not all Old Testament predictions were types.”  Geisler argues that a covenant is not a type at all and should not be interpreted that way.  Therefore, to understand the literal promises made to Abraham and David as types to be overshadowed by Christ is a category mistake.

Additionally, Hanegraaff and other amillennialists believe that the New Testament should be used to reinterpret the objective meanings of Old Testament passages, the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants included.  In their view, when God promised Abraham the literal land of Canaan forever, he did not really intend that Abraham would receive the land of Canaan forever.  The New Testament reveals the real meaning of the text: Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise, not the land.  In the words of theologian Kim Riddlebarger in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, “The New Testament should explain the Old.  This is one of the most basic principles of Bible study.  The New Testament must be seen as the final authority and interpreter of the Old Testament.”

Geisler answers this claim in emphatic terms: “The Old Testament should not be interpreted in light of the New, because later writings, inspired or not, do not change the meaning of earlier writings.  Meaning is objective and absolute; a text means what the author meant by it, nothing more and nothing less.  Later authors can add more information on the same topic, but they cannot change the meaning.”  If God promised the land, then Abraham’s descendants will get the land.  If God promised the throne, then David’s descendants will get the throne.  Any attempt to deny these straightforward interpretations of the Old Testament leads down the slippery slope of allegorism.

How Does Amillennialist Hank Hanegraaff Interpret the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, argues that the promises to Abraham and David were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Citing Galatians 3:16, Hanegraaff believes that the Abrahamic covenant is “spiritually grounded in one singular Seed [Christ].” In the words of Keith Mathison, as quoted by Hanegraaff, “The promises made to literal, physical Israelites were fulfilled by a literal, physical Israelite, Jesus the Messiah.  He is the Seed of Abraham.”

This is not to say that the land promises were never fulfilled.  Hanegraaff sees the fulfillment of Abraham’s covenant occurring in multiple phases.  In the first phase, the land promises actually were fulfilled under Joshua and Solomon.  “God’s plan becomes a tangible reality when Joshua leads the children of Israel into Palestine.”  Hanegraaff cites Joshua 23:14 as evidence of the Abrahamic covenant’s fulfillment.  “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”  Under Solomon’s rule, “the land promises reached their zenith” since his rule “encompassed all of the land from the Euphrates River in the north to the River of Egypt in the south (1 Kings 4:20-21; cf. Genesis 15:18).”

The first phase of fulfillment was only temporary.  Hanegraaff continues to explain that “the land promises are fulfilled in the far future through Jesus who provides true Israel with permanent rest from their wanderings in sin.” This is the second phase of fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.  Hanegraaff argues that the land promises were never the primary concern of the covenant.  “The land was never the focus of our Lord; instead, our Lord is forever the locus of the land.” In Acts 1:6, when the disciples asked Jesus about restoring the land to Israel, “Jesus reoriented their thinking from a restored Jewish state to a kingdom that knows no borders or boundaries.” The physical rest, which the land promises were to provide to the Jews, is a type which is fulfilled in the antitype of the spiritual rest in Christ.  “The writer of Hebrews makes clear that the rest the descendants of Abraham experienced when they entered the land is but a type of the rest we experience when we enter an eternal relationship with the Lord.” Likewise, Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, is also a type which is superseded by Christ, the ultimate antitype.  “Jesus is the antitype who fulfills all of the typology vested in Jerusalem.”

The third and final phase, which will occur in the future, takes place when Paradise is restored – when the New Jerusalem, the Holy City spoken of in Revelation 21, replaces the earth.  “The climax of the promise would not be Palestine regained but Paradise restored.” In Hanegraaff’s view, “The promise of the land will be fully and finally consummated when Paradise lost is reconstituted as Paradise restored.  Canaan is thus typological of a renewed cosmos.”

The Davidic covenant is also fulfilled by Christ.  “God’s promises to David that his descendants would sit on the throne forever . . . was fulfilled when Christ, the ‘Son of David’ . . . , ascended to the throne of the heavenly Jerusalem and established his rule and reign over all the earth.”  According to Hanegraaff, Peter makes clear in Acts 2 that “Jesus’s reign has already been inaugurated in his resurrection and ascension to the throne of God.” Jesus, therefore, completely fulfills the promise made to David that his descendants would forever rule on the throne of Jerusalem.  No messianic kingdom in the future is necessary to fulfill the Davidic covenant.  In comparing the fulfillment by Jesus to the original promise made to David, Hanegraaff observes that “the lesser is fulfilled and rendered obsolete by the greater.”

In summary, Hanegraaff believes that the promises made to Abraham and David were fulfilled in Christ.  Instead of just receiving the land of Canaan, Abraham’s spiritual descendants will receive the entire cosmos when God replaces the earth with the New Jerusalem.  Instead of just receiving a physical throne in Jerusalem, David’s descendant, Jesus, inherited the very throne of heaven where he reigns over the entire universe.  For Hanegraaff, “To now require that God must provide a literal throne in Jerusalem upon which Jesus will physically sit to rule over national Israel in a millennial semi-golden age is more than an anticlimactic step backward; it is an insult to the glory and grandeur of God’s throne.”

What Are the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants?

The fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants is pivotal to the question of the millennium.  Both amillennialists and premillennialists agree that God made promises to Abraham throughout the book of Genesis.  “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’” (Gen. 12:1-3 NIV).  With regard to the land, the Lord said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” (Gen. 15:19).  Further, this land was to be given as an “everlasting possession to [Abraham] and [his] descendants” (Gen. 17:8).

The components of the covenant are as follows: (1) God promised to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation, (2) God promised that Abraham and his descendants would inherit and possess the land between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates, (3) God promised that Abraham and his descendants would bless the peoples of the world, and (4) God promised that these blessings would be perpetual.  What separates amillennialists from premillennialists is the question of fulfillment.  If the covenant has already been fulfilled, then a major pillar of the premillennial argument crumbles.  However, if the covenant has not been fulfilled, then God must still follow through on his promises.

Likewise, the Davidic covenant contained clear promises from God to David and his descendants.  Norman Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, writes, “As the Abrahamic covenant centers around the land, the Davidic covenant centers around the throne.  The former provides the land and the nation; the latter provides a king to rule over the kingdom.”  The primary passage which explicates the Davidic promises is found in 2 Samuel 7.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:11-16)

The throne of Israel is promised to David and his offspring and it is promised to them forever.  Again, amillennialists and premillennialists differ as to whether this covenant has been fulfilled.

Can Man Save Himself?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If there is no benevolent and omnipotent God, then man seems to be the only viable solution to solving man’s problems.  We have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps because there is nobody to help us.

Nowadays it seems laughable to think, after all we’ve been through in the last hundred years as a race, that we will create a paradise on earth by ourselves.  In the early 20th century, however, there were those who thought that mankind was on the brink of something wonderful, that we could solve all our problems.

Take the famous author, H. G. Wells.  Here is an excerpt from his book, A Short History of the World, written in 1937.

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state…form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do.

As Christians, this viewpoint is ruled out by Scripture.  Man cannot pull himself out of the quicksand he is in – we need a divine hand to reach down and pull us out.  The sin nature that resides in each person renders Wells’ assessment of the abilities of man hopelessly naive.  Man has boundless capacity for evil when given the power to do so, and there is nothing we as a race can do to completely eradicate this propensity.

After Wells witnessed the atrocities of WWII, he came to understand how far he had misjudged mankind:

The cold-blooded massacres of the defenseless, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment, and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished—has come near to breaking my spirit altogether…“Homo Sapiens,” as he has been pleased to call himself, is played out. — A Mind at the End of Its Tether (1946)

If you are a Christian, you not only know that we need a divine hand, you know that we are getting it.  Victory over sin is certain.  Rather than placing our hope in the violent heart of man, we place our hope in the Prince of Peace.

 

Is Fundamentalism Bad?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There are fewer words that are more loaded with a negative connotation than fundamentalism.  Generally when we hear that word, we have been trained by the media to react with either fear or disdain, or both.  After all, fundamentalists are supposed to be ignorant and violent.

To be a fundamentalist used to mean that a person believed in the fundamentals of their religious system or worldview.  They were people who stuck to the core beliefs, that did not stray away from them.  At some point, this meaning morphed into something else more sinister.

Can we save this word and return it to mean what it used to mean?  Maybe not, but I would like to challenge the idea that fundamentalists of all worldviews or religious systems are all ignorant and/or prone to violence.  There are fundamentalists who are ignorant and violent, but there are many fundamentalists who are not ignorant and not violent (me being one of them).

Whenever we approach a person who claims to believe in the fundamentals of their religious system, we should first ask, “What are the fundamentals you believe in?”  Their specific beliefs are far more relevant than the fact that they hold core beliefs at all.  We shouldn’t fear people who have fundamental beliefs, but we possibly should fear the fundamental beliefs that some people have.

Tim Keller addresses the issue of fundamentalism with the following:

It is common to say that “fundamentalism” leads to violence, yet as we have seen, all of us have fundamental, unprovable faith-commitments that we think are superior to those of others. The real question, then, is which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-loving behavior?

Of course, the prime example in the history of the world of humility and love was Jesus Christ.  Here is a man whose last act as he died on a Roman cross was to ask God to forgive his enemies.  Here is a man who sacrificed his own body for the rest of mankind.

When you see what the fundamentals of Christianity are, you realize that the true Christian fundamentalist is not someone to be feared at all.  In fact, imagine what the world would be like if everyone totally embraced Jesus as their model to live by.  If you’ve dedicated your life to Christ, one day in the future you won’t have to imagine, because it will become a reality.

Can We Mess Up God’s Plans?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Hardly, yet many Christians seem to forget this fact.  God gives us the privilege of participating in the cosmic drama that is unfolding under his direction, but his script leaves nothing to chance.  We don’t need to fret over whether His plans will succeed; we already know the end of the story.

Theologian Robert L. Hubbard Jr. captures this well in his Joshua commentary.  Speaking of Joshua’s farewell speech in Josh. 23, Hubbard says the following:

The genre of farewell speech reminds readers that God’s plan outlives all of us.  It was in full swing long before we were born and will remain so long after we are gone.  It outlived Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, David, Elijah, Ezra, Esther, Mary, Peter, Paul, John, Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Jonathan Edwards, D. L. Moody, Mary Slessor, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr.

This blunt reality is both humbling and liberating.  It humbles by reminding us that, however large a swath we cut through history, the kingdom advances without us – and, at times, in spite of us.  It liberates us by reminding us that ultimately its success does not depend on our efforts – that we do not have to get everything done in our lifetime.

Rather, we sow seeds whose harvest others will gather, lay foundations on which others will build, and open doors that others will enter.  We are among the cast of players in the drama of history, but the entire company is huge.  And, of course, the starring roles ultimately belong to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Well said, Dr. Hubbard.