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Identifying the Major Eschatological Positions on the Millennium

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  • Identifying the Major Eschatological Positions on the Millennium

    by Dennis Michael Swanson

    Section A: An Overview of Amillennialism


    The eschatological view of the millennium known as "amillennialism" literally means "no millennium." In some senses the nomenclature is not entirely accurate and many who hold this position today prefer the label of "realized eschatology" for their position. In Spurgeon's day the designation, amillennialism, was unknown. William Cox, with perhaps excusable hyperbole, states:

    The name is new, and there have been times in history when these teachings were not pronounced with vigor. But amillennial teachings are as old as Christianity itself. Amillennialism has always been the majority view of the historic Christian church, even as it remains today.74


    Amillennialism, despite Cox's assertions, is normally said to trace its lineage back to the time of Saint Augustine (354-430), who identified the church with the kingdom. According to Clouse:

    . . . the statements in the Book of Revelation were interpreted allegorically by Augustine. No victory was imminent in the struggle with evil in the world. On the really important level, the spiritual, the battle had already been won and God had triumphed through the cross. Satan was reduced to lordship over the City of the World, which coexisted with the City of God. Eventually even the small domain left to the devil would be taken from him by a triumphant God.75


    The influence of Augustine led to the amillennial, or what Peters called an "anti-millennial" view.76 This view of no millennium became the official view of the Catholic Church and would be the original view of the Protestant reformers. As Peters states:

    They (as e.g. Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox) occupied the Augustinian or Popish position. . . that the church, in some sense, was the Kingdom of God (preparatory to a higher stage), and that the millennial period (one thousand years) included this dispensation or gospel period (some of the millennial descriptions being applicable only to a future period either in heaven or the renewed earth), and hence was nearing its close.77


    This eschatological view was firmly embedded into the Reformed Tradition by the works of John Calvin. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote a section entitled, "The Error of the Chiliasts" in which he stated:

    But a little later there followed the chiliasts, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years. Now their fiction is too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation. And the Apocalypse, from which they undoubtedly drew a pretext for their error does not support them. For the number "one thousand" (Rev. 20:4) does not apply to the eternal blessedness of the church but only to the various disturbances that awaited the church, while still toiling on earth. On the contrary, all Scripture proclaims that there will be no end to the blessedness of the elect or the punishment of the wicked.78


    Spurgeon, whom has been seen to consider Calvinism to be the essence of Christian theology,79 was well aquainted with all of Calvin's view and considered his commentaries to "be worth their weight in gold."80 The amillennial view of Calvin, while not well-developed, continued in the Reformed Tradition as Augustine's views were not challenged on this issue. Amillennialism was then carried into Puritan theology by the classic Institutio Theologiae Elencticae of François Turretin (1623-87). Turretin has been described as "something of a gloomy amillennialist."81 Kennedy states of Turretin:

    Turretin opposed the crasser, heretical chiliasts who anticipate an earthly millennium with sensual pleasures (including many wives and Jewish worship restored in Palestine) as well as the innocuous millennialism of such seventeenth- century Reformed theologians as Joseph Mede and Johan Heinrich Alsted. This kind of historical hope Turretin simply could not accept because he believed that the church must suffer, not reign in this life.82


    Perhaps the outstanding delineation of an amillennial position was that of Patrick Fairbairn (1805-75), professor at the Free Church College in Aberdeen. His commentaries on Ezekiel, Jonah and the Pastoral Epistles were highly recommended by Spurgeon.83 Fairbairn's classic work, The Interpretation of Prophecy (1856), laid out both an amillennial (although again it was not known by that designation) eschatology and hermeneutic. Fairbairn's understanding of prophecy is that it was to be interpreted more in a symbolic sense, as he states in commenting on the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:2:

    It is impossible, excepting on the most arbitrary and forced suppositions, to bring such statements into harmony, if they are understood absolutely, and applied simply to the personelle of Satan. . . to consider the binding of Satan in a strictly personal light, is but another example of the intermingling of the literal with the symbolic, which has so greatly retarded the proper understanding of the prophetical Scriptures.84


    Fairbairn also viewed the martyrs under the altar (Rev 20:4) as "symbolic,"85 referring to all of the saints throughout the ages; he also viewed the millennium as referring to the eternal state.86 Fairbairn also rejected a literal interpretation of prophecy (which he viewed as part and parcel of the premillennial and to a lesser degree the postmillennial positions) as "essentially Jewish."87 Peter Masters, a fervent amillennialist, praises Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel by saying:

    Fairbairn sets aside historical and literal views of Ezekiel, and presses Christian-spiritual (or typical) views. Thus the vision of the dry bones is linked with Isaiah and Daniel passages to depict the day of resurrection; while the reuniting of the kingdom of the 'David' refers to the eternal kingdom of Christ.88


    Moving into a modern articulation of the amillennial scheme Anthony A. Hoekema, one of the most articulate spokesmen for this position in recent times, states:

    The term amillennialism is not a happy one. It suggests that amillennialists either do not believe in any millennium or that they simply ignore the first six verses in Revelation 20, which speak of a millennial reign. Neither of these two statements is true. Though it is true that amillennialists do not believe in a literal thousand-year earthly reign which will follow the return of Christ, the term amillennialism is not an accurate description of their view. Professor Jay E. Adams of Westminister Seminary in Philadelphia has suggested that the term amillennialism be replaced by the expression realized millennium.89


    From Hoekema's statement one can see the essence of the amillennial position, namely that he does not "believe in a literal thousand-year earthly reign which will follow the return of Christ." The amillennial position can be defined as a belief that:

    . . . the Bible does not predict a period of the rule of Christ on earth before the last judgment. According to this outlook there will be a continuous development of good and evil in the world until the second coming of Christ, when the dead shall be raised and the judgment conducted. Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ rules his church through the Word and the Spirit. They feel that the future, glorious, and perfect kingdom refers to the new earth and life in heaven. Thus Rev. 20 is a description of the souls of dead believers reigning with Christ in heaven.90


    Hoekema details several features of amillennial eschatology, which serve as a helpful backdrop for understanding their scheme. He details four basic premises of amillennialism and then six chronological details:

    1. Christ has won the decisive victory over sin, death and Satan.

    This victory of Christ's was decisive and final. The most important day in history, therefore, is not the Second Coming of Christ which is still future but the first coming which lies in the past. Because of the victory of Christ, the ultimate issues of history have already been decided. It is now a question of time until that victory is brought to its full consummation.91


    2. The Kingdom of God is both present and future.

    Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God was founded by Christ at the time of his sojourn on earth, is operative in history now and is destined to be revealed in its fullness in the life to come. They understand the kingdom of God to be the reign of God dynamically in human history through Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to redeem God's people from sin and demonic powers, and finally to establish the new heavens and the new earth. The kingdom of God means nothing less than the reign of God in Christ over his entire created universe.92


    3. Though the last day is still future, the church is in the last days now.

    When I say, "we are in the last days now," I understand the expression "last days" not merely referring to the time just before Christ's return, but as a description of the entire era between Christ's first and second comings. . . In the light of these New Testament teachings, we may indeed speak of an inaugurated eschatology, while remembering that the Bible speaks of a final consummation of eschatological events in what John commonly calls "the last day" (John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48). The fact that we are living in the last days now implies that we are already tasting the beginnings of eschatological blessings —that, as Paul says, we already have "the first fruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23).93


    4. As far as the thousand years of Revelation 20 are concerned, the church is in the millennium now.

    The amillennial position on the thousand years of Revelation 20 implies that Christians who are now living are enjoying the benefits of this millennium since Satan has been bound for the duration of this period. As we saw, the fact that Satan is now bound does not mean that he is not active in the world today but that during this period he cannot deceive the nations —that is, cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. . .Amillennialists also teach that during this same thousand year period the souls of believers who have died are now living and reigning with Christ in heaven while they await the resurrection of the body. Their state is therefore a state of blessedness and happiness, though their joy will not be complete until their bodies have been raised.94


    While the amillennialist does not believe in a physical kingdom, and holds the 1,000 reference in Revelation 20 to be figurative; they do believe that Jesus will physically return to the earth. Chronologically, the amillennial scheme views the Second Coming of Christ as a single and unified event. After a period of increasing lawlessness and apostasy (although as Hoekema points out this "cannot prevent the spread of the gospel"), Christ will return. At this time the resurrection of the just and unjust will take place, as well as the glorification of those believers who are still alive on the earth.
    While admitting the "rapture" of I Thessalonians 4:17, amillennialists view this event as a meeting of "raised and transformed believers"95 who meet Christ in the air and then return with Him to reign together in the New Earth, which most define as heaven or the eternal state. Also at this time the final judgment of the unbelievers and the rewarding of believers will occur and the eternal state will commence. Charles Wannamaker states this clearly in his commentary on the Thessalonian epistles:

    Those who meet the Lord in the air (the space between the earth and the heavens in Jewish cosmology) are caught up in a heavenly ascent by the clouds without any indication that they then return to earth. Apart from the possible connotation that ajpavnthsi" might have for a return to earth, the rest of the imagery (the clouds and being caught up with the Lord) are indicative of an assumption to heaven of the people who belong to Christ. That Paul adds his own definitive statement concerning the significance of this meeting in the clause kai; ou[tw" pavntote suvn kurivw/ ejsovmeqa ("and thus we will always be with the Lord") suggests both living and dead Christians will return to heaven with the Lord, not only to enjoy continuous fellowship with him, but also in terms of 1:10, to be saved from the coming wrath of God.96


    Thus, for the amillennialist, the rapture is used by God to remove the living and dead saints from the earth, transforming them for and transferring them to heaven; while at the same time the judgment of the living and dead unbelievers is carried out.
    While the terminology for amillennialism has been altered slightly since the time of Spurgeon, the essential features have remained the same. Those Spurgeon identified as "Preterist"97 would fit into the amillennial scheme. Again the "Preterist" position holds that the prophecies of Revelation, are not really all that prophetic, since the "fulfillment of the apocalyptic taking place roughly contemporaneously with the Scriptural account of it."98 With that as the case, then the account of the millennium in Revelation 20 is not speaking of a future event, but rather the kingdom of God already functioning with Jesus seated in heaven. The chart below presents what can be called the sine qua non of the amillennial system.


    Essential Features of Amillennialism


    Satan has been defeated and is currently bound.
    The Millennium is the current Church Age. (although some of this school will identify the millennium with the eternal state)
    The Resurrections of the Just & Unjust occur simultaneously to the return of Christ.
    There is no sense in which the millennium has reference to a material, earthly kingdom.
    The Church is the succession of Israel in God's plans.


    Section B: An Overview of Postmillennialism

    The eschatological position on the millennium known as "postmillennialism" teaches that Christ will return at the end of the 1,000 kingdom. Clouse describes postmillennialism in the following manner:

    The postmillennialists emphasize the present aspects of God's kingdom which will reach fruition in the future. They believe that the millennium will come through Christian preaching and teaching. Such activity will result in a more godly, peaceful, and prosperous world. The new age will not be essentially different from the present, and it will come about as more people are converted to Christ. Evil will not be totally eliminated during the millennium, but it will be reduced to a minimum as the moral and spiritual influence of Christians is increased. During the new age the church will assume greater importance and many economic, social, educational problems can be solved. This period is not necessarily limited to a thousand years because the number can be used symbolically. The millennium closes with the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment.99


    Postmillennialism was the "dominant evangelical position"100 of the 19th century in both America and England. It was born out of an optimistic view of Christianity's growing impact on society and the legacy of Puritan theology.101 In detailing the aspects of postmillennialism, perhaps the most complete presentation was produced by the great Princeton Theologian, Charles Hodge. Hodge, whose Systematic Theology remains a standard work in America, was also highly respected in England and particularly by Spurgeon.102 Spurgeon was a great admirer of the Princeton Theologians and corresponded with both Charles and A. A. Hodge on several occasions. In reviewing A. A. Hodge's Outlines in Theology (1878) Spurgeon stated:

    We commend the Outlines of Theology to all who would be well instructed in the faith. It is the standard text-book of our college. We differ from its teachings upon baptism, but in almost everything else we endorse Hodge to the letter.103 [emphasis ours]


    Spurgeon held the foundational work, Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology, in equally high esteem. Spurgeon asked for and had received both a portrait of the elder Hodge and a sample of the manuscript of this classic, which he greatly prized. A. A. Hodge traveled to London more than once and participated in a conference with Spurgeon at The Pastor's College on August 7th, 1877.104 As shown, Spurgeon was enthusiastic about Princeton's position on theology, and as their theology was the text at Spurgeon's Pastor College, it goes without saying that the postmillennial view of both Hodge's was well-known and understood by Spurgeon. However, this was not a point of overwhelming concern for Spurgeon, nor a reason for a departure from with the works of the Hodge's.
    Although other millennial schemes had their adherents, postmillennialism held the day in the 19th Century mainly because, "the great Princeton school of theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, represented by Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield, staunchly defended this system."105 Hodge detailed postmillennial thought as follows:

    The common church doctrine is, first that there is to be a second personal, visible, and glorious advent of the Son of God. Secondly, that the events which are to proceeded that advent are:

    1. The universal diffusion of the Gospel; or, as our Lord expresses it, the ingathering of the elect; this is the vocation of the Christian Church.

    2. The conversion of the Jews, which is to be national. As their casting away was national, although a remnant was saved; so their conversion may be national although some may remain obdurate.

    3. The coming of Antichrist.

    Thirdly, that the events which are to attend to the second advent are:

    1. The resurrection of the dead, of the just and the unjust.

    2. The general judgment

    3. The end of the world. And,

    4. The consummation of Christ's kingdom.106


    Foundational to Hodge's postmillennial scheme was his belief in the ultimate success of the Gospel. He called this the "universal diffusion," or more specifically, "the ingathering of the elect." He called it "The first great event which is to proceed the second coming of Christ."107 Here Hodge begins by a demonstration of the requirement for worldwide proclamation of the Gospel in Old Testament predictions. In the Systematic Theology he quotes Hosea 2:23 ("...and they shall say, Thou art my God.") and Isaiah 45:23 ("...that unto me every knee show bow and every tongue shall swear.") in support of his thesis. He summarizes his position as follows:

    That is, [commenting on Isaiah 45:23] the true religion shall prevail over the whole earth. Jehovah shall everywhere be recognized and worshipped as the only true God. It is to be remembered that these and many other passages of like import are quoted and applied by the Apostle to the Gospel dispensation.108


    Hodge believed that this "ingathering of the elect" was to precede the national conversion of the Jews. "In Romans xi. 25, Paul teaches that the national conversion of the Jews is not to take place 'until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.' The plhvrwma tw'n ejqnw'n, is that which makes the number of Gentiles full; the full complement which the Gentiles are to render to make the number of the elect complete."109 Hodge readily admits that he is uncertain as to the exact timing of this, other than the fact that in the eternal counsels of God there is a determined number of elect Gentiles, who upon being saved, brings about the a[cri" ou, which Hodge states, "marks the terminus ad quem."110 After this point the national conversion of the Jews will take place. However, even with this, Hodge states that God is not yet finished with the Gentiles,

    All that can be safely inferred from this language is, that the Gentiles, as a body, the mass of the Gentile world, will be converted before the restoration of the Jews, as a nation. Much will remain to be accomplished after that event; and in the accomplishment of what shall remain to be done, the Jews are to have a prominent agency.111


    As has already been noted, Hodge believed that the church in his day was both ready and equipped, under God's providence and power, to bring the task of worldwide proclamation to a climax.

    It is only within the last fifty years that the church has been brought to feel that its great duty is the conversion of the nations. More probably, has been done in this direction during the last half century than during the preceding five hundred years. It is to be hoped that a new effusion of the Spirit like that of the Day of Pentecost may be granted to the Church whose fruits shall far exceed those of the first effusion as the millions of Christians now alive exceed in number the one hundred and twenty souls then gathered in Jerusalem.112


    Hodge felt that in the work of gentile conversion, the church and the church alone, was to be the immediate agency, used by God, for the spreading of the Gospel. "That the conversion of the Gentile world is the work assigned to the church under the present dispensation, and that it is not to fold its hands and await the second coming of Christ to accomplish that work for it, seems evident from what has already been said."113 Hodge went on to say, "There is no intimation in the New Testament that the work of converting the world is to be effected by any other means than those now in use. It is to dishonour the Gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to suppose that they are inadequate to the accomplishment of this work."114
    The means by which the world was to be converted was by the message of the Gospel. That message was to have progressively increasing success as the church again recaptured the zeal of the apostles and the early church. Since God has, "furnished it with all the means necessary for its accomplishment; He revealed the truth which is the power of God unto salvation; He instituted the ministry to be perpetuated to the end of the world, and promised to endow men from age to age with the gifts and graces necessary for the discharge of its duties, and to grant them constant presence and assistance."115
    The other main proponent of the postmillennial scheme in Spurgeon's day was his near neighbor at Aberdeen, David Brown. As already mentioned, his book Christ's Second Coming: Will it be Premillennial?, was very influential in both Scotland and England116. Brown, had himself formerly been a premillennialist, and once was an assistant to Edward Irving in London.
    The theologians of Spurgeon's day understood Postmillennialism to be the eschatological view which "looks forward to a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, during the Church Age."117 It was the dominant view in Spurgeon's Victorian England and in Nineteenth Century American Christianity.
    Postmillennial eschatology, while once dominate in evangelical circles has been relegated to a lesser role today. With the conclusion of the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Cold War and threat of atomic confrontation; postmillennialism, as a system, was thought to be dead or at least dying. In 1952 Charles L. Feinberg declared, "current events now make it impossible to hold to a postmillennial view, soon it will be abandoned completely."118 Even in 1977 Millard Erickson stated, "Today postmillennialists are, if not an extinct species, at least an endangered species."119 In recent years, however, postmillennialism in its classic understanding has been making something of a comeback.120 For many years the outstanding advocate of Postmillennialism in this form has been Dr. Loraine Boettner. In his presentation of the subject in his work, The Millennium, Boettner states:

    The Millennium to which the Postmillennialist looks forward is thus a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, during the Church age, and is to be brought about through forces now active in the world. It is an indefinitely long period of time, perhaps longer than the literal one thousand years. The changed character of individuals will be reflected in an uplifted social economic, political, and cultural life of mankind. The world at large will then enjoy a state of righteousness such as at the present time has been seen only in relatively small and isolated groups.121


    From the comments of Boettner it can be seen that the makeup and understanding of the postmillennial scheme has changed little since the Nineteenth Century. The chart below presents the sine qua non of the postmillennial system.


    Essential Features of Postmillennialism
    The Gospel will ultimately be successful and the majority of the world will be converted.
    The millennium is a period of 1,000 years (although some would view this number as symbolic) in which the Church is triumphant in the world.
    Christ will return after this millennium and usher in the eternal state.
    Because of the steady advance of Christianity, the societal structures will continue get better and better.
    The Church has replaced Israel as the chosen people of God (although many postmillennialists teach that there will be a national or racial conversion of Israel).

    Section C: An Overview of Historic Premillennialism

    The "Historic" Premillennial position is easily seen in the early church fathers.122 It was formerly known as "Chiliasm," after the Greek word for 1,000. Virtually all historians acknowledge that a premillennial faith was the dominant eschatological belief in the church from "the apostolic age until the time of Augustine."123 Nathaniel West (1826- 1906), writing on "The History of the Premillennial Doctrine" (which Dr. Wilbur Smith called, "the most important history of the premillennial doctrine that exists in the literature of that generation."124) stated this:

    History has no consensus more unanimous for any doctrine than is the consensus of the Apostolic Fathers for the pre-millennial advent of Christ.125


    In distinction from Dispensational Premillennialism, this view has become known as "Historic Premillennialism" or "Covenantal Premillennialism" and denies the essential Jewish nature of the millennium. The essential chronology between the Dispensational and Historic schools is the same (with the exception of the timing of the rapture, which in the historical scheme is post-tribulational). However, the nature of the millennium is completely different. As Ryrie states:

    The covenant premillennialism holds to the concept of the covenant of grace and the central soteriological purpose of God. He retains the idea of the kingdom, though he finds little support for it in the Old Testament prophecies since he generally assigns them to the church. The kingdom in his view is markedly different from that which is taught by the dispensationalist since it loses much of its Jewish character to the slighting of the Old Testament promises concerning the kingdom.126


    George Eldon Ladd, a prominent contemporary spokesman for the "historic" school, states the issue clearly:

    Here is the basic watershed between dispensational and nondispensational theology. Dispensationalism forms its eschatology by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and then fits the New Testament into it. A nondispensational eschatology forms its theology from the explicit teachings of the New Testament. It confesses that it cannot be sure how the Old Testament prophecies of the end are to be fulfilled, for (a) the first coming of Christ was accomplished in terms not foreseen by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, and (b) there are unavoidable indications that the Old Testament promises to Israel are fulfilled in the Christian Church. . . While the New Testament clearly affirms the salvation of literal Israel, it does not give any details about the day of salvation. This, however, must be said: Israel's salvation must occur in the same terms as Gentile salvation, by faith in Jesus as their crucified Messiah. As we have pointed out, New Testament exegesis (Hebrews 8) makes it difficult to believe that Old Testament prophecies about the "millennial temple" will be fulfilled literally. They are to be fulfilled in the New Covenant established in the blood of Jesus. It may well be that Israel's conversion will take place in connection with the millennium. It may be that in the millennium, for the first time in human history, we will witness a truly Christian nation.127


    Writing in Spurgeon's era, West delineated the same understanding of the millennium when he said:

    The Church shall be one with the Lord returned to earth in her midst, like the sun in the temple in New Jerusalem. The distinction still obtains, however, between the glorified church gathered around her Lord, in her glorified place on earth, and the outer unglorified humanity still liable to sin and death, yet freed from Satanic dominion, and subject to the dominion of Christ and his Church. . .And thus the Bride above and the Bride below, the Risen Glorified Saints, and Israel in the flesh, redeemed, restored and holy, shall be One Bride, One Glorious Church in the Millennial Age, and share a Mutual Jubilee and Holy Sabbath.128


    It has already been noted that Dispensational Premillennialism "remained a minority version among premillennialists"129 in the Nineteenth Century. However, it remains true that the position of "Historic Premillennialism" was widespread and growing in influence in Victorian England. Bishop J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), the outstanding Anglican churchman and expositor, adhered to this premillennial scheme. In a work entitled, Coming Events and Present Duties, he detailed a several point statement of his premillennial position, in which he stated in part:

    1. I believe that the world will never be completely converted to Christianity, by any existing agency, before the end comes. In spite of all that can be done by ministers, members, and churches, the wheat and tares will grow together until the Harvest; and when the end comes, it will find the earth in much the same state that it was when the flood came in the days of Noah.

    2. I believe that the widespread unbelief, indifference, formalism, and wickedness, which are to be seen throughout Christendom, are only what we are taught to expect in God's word. Troublous times, departures from the faith, evil men waxing worse and worse, love waxing cold, are things directly predicted. So far from making me doubt the truth of Christianity, they help to confirm my faith. Melancholy and sorrowful as the sight is, if I did not see it I should think the Bible was not true.

    5. I believe that the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will be a real, literal, personal, bodily coming; that as He went away in the clouds of heaven with His body, before the eyes of man, so in like manner, will He return.

    6. I believe that, after our Lord Jesus Christ comes again, the earth shall be renewed, and the curse removed; the devil shall be bound, the godly shall be rewarded, the wicked shall be punished; and that, before He comes, there shall be neither resurrection, judgment, no Millennium; and that not till after He comes shall the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.

    7. I believe that the Jews shall be ultimately gathered again, as a separate nation, restored to their own land, and converted to the faith of Christ.

    I believe, finally, that it is for the safety, happiness, and comfort, of all true believers to expect as little as possible from churches, or governments, under the present dispensation, to hold themselves ready for tremendous conversions and changes of all things established, and to expect their good things only from Christ's Second Advent.130


    Spurgeon himself was familiar with the works of Ryle and always spoke of him in glowing terms. Reviewing Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, he wrote:

    We prize these volumes. They are diffuse, but not more so than family reading requires. Mr. Ryle has evidently studied all previous writers on the gospels, and has given forth an individual utterance of considerable value.131


    Historic Premillennialism views the Old Testament in much the same way as the amillennialist does, as Ladd readily admits.132 However, taking a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, regarding the millennium; and Romans 11, the national conversion of Israel; the Historic Premillennialist, rejects the amillennialist idea that "because many of the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in the church, this is to be taken as a normative principle and that all promises to Israel are fulfilled in the church without exception."133
    The other key tenet of the historic premillennial position is in fact "post- tribulationalism," that is, the "rapture" of the church occurs after the period of tribulation.134 Until recently the adherence to a post-tribulational position was the distinguishing feature of the historic or covenantal premillennialist as opposed to the dispensational premillennialist. In recent times that is no longer quite the case, with several prominent dispensational theologians identifying themselves as post-tribulational in their view of the rapture. The historic position holds that the church will be protected "in the tribulation", not "taken out of the tribulation."135 Ladd clearly states in his book, The Blessed Hope, that, "The Blessed Hope is not deliverance from the Tribulation; it is union with the Lord at His coming."136 Discussing the reason for this understanding of the rapture, Erickson, a adherent of the "historic premillennial" position137, states:

    . . .the sharp departation of national Israel and the church are difficult to sustain on biblical grounds. The pretribulational view that the prophecies concerning national Israel will be fulfilled apart from the church and that, accordingly the millennium will have a decidedly Jewish character cannot be easily reconciled with the biblical depiction of the fundamental changes which have taken place with the introduction of the new convenant. . . The general tenor of biblical teaching fits better the posttribulational view. For example, the Bible is replete with warnings about trials and testings which believers will undergo. It does not promise removal from the adversities, but ability to endure and overcome them.138


    As opposed to Postmillennialism, which sees the millennial kingdom brought in by the effective efforts of the Church, The premillennialist see the kingdom being "dramatically or cataclysmically inaugurated by the second coming. While the millennium expected by the postmillennialist may begin so gradually that its beginning will be virtually imperceptible, there will be no doubt about the beginning of the millennium as premillennialists envision it."139
    Historic Premillennialism, then, holds to two essential items: (1) the nature of the kingdom is in fact the culmination of the church age. Although Israel will experience a national repentance and salvation through Christ, its place in the kingdom is only in relation to the church; Israel is simply a continuation of the "single-people of God." (2) The "rapture" will be after the tribulation (which is often undefined in terms of duration), with the church going through the tribulation, but being protected by the power of God. This system, which Spurgeon identified as "Continuists" or "Simple Futurists"140 was well known and actively taught in Victorian England. In fact, as Bebbington testified, this brand of premillennialism was the dominant view among premillennarians in Spurgeon's lifetime.141 The chart below displays the sine qua non of the Historic Premillennial position.

    Essential Features of Historic Premillennialism
    Christ Returns at the end of Tribulation before the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.
    The Millennial Kingdom is a literal 1,000 year earthly and physical reign of Christ over the world with the Church being the focal point of His reign.
    The Jews will be converted nationally and restored to their land. They will occupy a special place in a national sense, but spiritually will be part of the Church.
    The Two Resurrections of Rev 20 are separated by the 1,000 year kingdom.
    At the end of the 1,000 years Satan will be released from his bondage, lead a rebellion of those who have been born during the kingdom era, but are yet unsaved. Christ will destroy the rebellion, and after the judgments the Church will enter the eternal state of heaven.


    Section D: An Overview of Dispensational Premillennialism

    Premillennialism, as the prefix indicates, states that Christ will return to the earth personally and visibly, before the beginning of the millennium. Since about 1830 there have been two main branches of premillennial interpretation; Dispensational Premillennialism and Historic Premillennialism. Remembering that all Dispensationalists are Premillennial, but not all Premillennialists are Dispensational.142 The dispensational perspective will be expounded here.
    Dispensational Premillennialism was popularized and propagated in Spurgeon's own era by the work of the Plymouth Brethren. Several of their key leaders included John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and William Kelly (1821-1906).143 The fact that Spurgeon was at odds with the "Brethren" is not a secret. He wrote and preached against some of the doctrines within Brethrenism on many occasions. However, is was generally the ecclesiology of the Brethren and not their eschatology that brought his ire.144 Ryrie points this out as he states:

    It was not until several years after leaving the Church of England that Darby became interested in prophecy and the through conferences at Powerscourt House out of which conferences the Irvingian movement began. "Darbyism" was first a protest over the practice of the Established Church, not the propagating of a system of eschatology.145


    Darby, trained as a lawyer, served in this profession for a short time before entering the Anglican church where he served as a deacon and eventually elevtaed to the priesthood where he served as curate in County Wicklow. Darby's ministry was used to the advance of the church there and under his ministry, "Roman Catholics were passing over to Protestantism many hundreds in the week."146 Disillusioned by the worldliness and lack of piety he felt should exemplify a New Testament church, he left Anglicanism and began to associate with the newly emerging Brethren Movement. Under the leadership of Darby and others the Plymouth or Christian Brethren began to grow rapidly.147
    Darby developed a system of biblical interpretation and historical development which became known as Dispensationalism. According to Hoffecker this system:

    . . .broke not only from previous millenarian teaching but from all of church history by asserting that Christ's second coming would occur in two stages. The first, an invisible "secret rapture" of true believers, could happen at any moment, ending the great "parenthesis" or church age which began when the Jews rejected Christ. Then literal fulfillment would resume OT prophecy concerning Israel, which had been suspended, and fulfillment of prophecy in Revelation would begin the great tribulation. Christ's return would be completed when he established a literal thousand-year kingdom of God on earth, manifest in a restored Israel.148


    While there is some dispute as to the origins of Dispensationalism149 E. Schuyler English states:

    While some trace the roots of dispensational concepts to the patristic period most theologians credit J. N. Darby, a Plymouth Brethren scholar, with the first systematizing dispensationalist theology in the middle of the 19th century.150


    Darby is often difficult to interpret, mainly because of a rather abtruse writing style. During his own lifetime he was often misunderstood and in modern times Cruthfield states, "only the most intrepid of scholars deliberately choose to tackle Darby's works."151 Spurgeon himself commented on this when he stated regarding Darby's commentary on the Psalms, "If the author would write in plain English his readers would probably discover that there is nothing very valuable in his remarks."152 However, in his Lectures on the Second Coming, Darby states his position clearly:

    Here then we have the details of it. The Lord hath declared that He will come and receive us unto Himself; and now the apostle, by the revelation given unto him, explains, how it will be. He will come to call us to meet the Lord in the air. . .What we are called to expect is not to die —we may die, and a blessed thing it is to die— but what we are to look for, as is expressed in the 5th of 2nd Corinthians, "Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." That Christ's power over death may be fully shown, He takes to Himself mortal men, whether alive or dead; if alive, He changes them into glory without dying; if they are dead, He raises them153


    In his scheme Darby taught clearly that there was a clear and distinct difference between Israel, for whom the seven year Tribulation and the Millennial kingdom were designed for,154 and the Church, whom would be removed by means of the rapture and "always with the Lord." Commenting on Darby's view of the millennium, Crutchfield states:

    According to Darby, while the rapture primairily involves the hopes and destiny of the church, the millennial reign of Christ focuses predominantly upon the nation Israel and here hopes. There were two principles operative in the history of the Jewish people. On the one hand, unconditional promises had been made to Abraham (Gen. 12), and repeated to Isaac (Gen.26:3,4) and Jacob (Gen. 35:10,12) On the other hand, Israel had received promises under the condition of obedience (the giving of the Law at Sinai), and in this, failed miserably. Israel's failure, however, did not abrogate the unconditional covenantal promises made to Abraham some four hundred years before, for they rest solely upon the faithfulness of God. While the unconditional promises to Abraham included both earthly and spiritual elements, prominent among them the an absolute gift of the country.155


    It must again be remembered that the dispensational scheme was not the exclusive view among the Brethren. Two early Brethren leaders, B. W. Newton and S. P. Tregelles, rejected the idea of pretribulationalism and a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. This particular issue was one of the key reasons for the division between Darby and Newton in the early years of the Brethren movement.156
    In the nature and timing of prophetic events there is very little difference between Darby, Kelly and those Spurgeon labeled as "extreme futurists"157 and the "Classic Dispensationalists" of the last 50 years. In his commentary on the Book of Revelation William Kelly lays out a clear and detailed dispensational view of the millennium in his comments on Revelation 20. In part he states:

    But in this is shown —what is of importance to see— the true nature of the kingdom or millennial reign. "That Day" does not mean a time when everyone will be converted, but when the Lord Jesus will govern righteously, when overt evil will at once be judged, and good sustained wonderously for a thousand years.158


    As dispensational thought moved into the Twentieth Century, the single issue which set apart Dispensational Premillennialism continued to be its placement and position of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom. While there are adherents in all millennial schemes who teach that there will be a large scale conversion of the Jews in the end times in accordance with Romans 9-11; all but the dispensationalist see the millennial kingdom as some type of extension of the church, since, as Erickson points out:

    He [the historic premillennialist] believes that the church has become the spiritual Israel and that many of the prophecies and promises relating to Israel are now fulfilled in the church. The Old Testament sacrificial system has forever passed away because Christ, the reality, has come. Nonetheless he believes that literal or national Israel is yet to be saved. He bases this primarily upon Romans 11:15-16. In the future Israel will turn to Christ and be saved.159


    On the other hand the dispensationalist has a much wider role for Israel in the millennial kingdom. For the dispensationalist the kingdom is not a culmination of the church age before the eternal state; but rather, a fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies given to Israel. Again Erickson's evaluation is helpful:

    Finally, in dispensationalism the millennium is more than merely a thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. It has a clear, definite place in the plan of God; the restoration of national Israel to its favored place in God's program and the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel. The millennium therefore has a very Jewish tone. It is the time when Israel really comes into her own. Whereas in some other forms of premillennialism the purpose of the millennium is rather unclear, in dispensationalism it is an integral part of one's theology and of one's understanding of the Bible. Large portions of prophecy are still unfulfilled, and the millennium provides a time for their fulfillment.160


    Thus, dispensationalism is much more than simply "pretribulationalism," or "premillennialism with charts and maps," it is the maintenance of a clear, distinct and essential difference between "Israel and the Church." As Ryrie states, "This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a man is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive. A man who fails to distinguish between Israel and the Church will inevitably not hold to dispensational distinctions; and one who does, will."161 Lewis Sperry Chafer also makes this point clear when he states:

    Their [national Israel] destiny is traceable on into the millennium and the new earth which follows. However, in the present age, bounded as it is by the two advents of Christ, all progress in the national and earthly program for Israel is in abeyance and individual Jews are given the same privilege as individual gentiles of the exercise of personal faith in Christ as Savior and out of those thus redeemed, both Jews and Gentiles, the heavenly people are being called. It is clearly indicated throughout the prophetic scriptures that when the present purpose is accomplished God will, in all faithfulness, return to the full completion of His earthly promises in Israel (Acts 15:14-18; Rom. 11:24-27).162


    Dispensational Premillennialism, as articulated by Darby, Kelly and other contemporaries of Spurgeon, and continued by the "classic" dispensationalists of this century; is then a belief that God will bring about a literal, earthly kingdom in which Christ will reign over all the world through the agency of Israel. The Jewish nature of the kingdom is seen in the fact that God is dealing with Israel in a national sense, apart from the church; which by means of the rapture has been removed from the earthly scene. Even the Old Testament sacrifices are seen as being reinstituted, but instead of being utilized for the forgiveness of sin, the sacrifices are instead a memorial to what Christ has already done on the Cross.163
    In chronology, the Dispensational Premillennialist traditionally sees the following general scheme for the end times: (1) The Church Age ending with the "rapture" of the church when the living saints are translated and the dead saints are resurrected, meeting Christ in the air; (2) seven years of tribulation, specifically designed to both judge Israel and bring her to repentance, during which the Antichrist and his forces, empowered by Satan, attempt to gain control of the world; (3) the personal return of Christ (the Second Coming) to the earth with His saints, destroying the forces of Antichrist and banishing unbelievers to eternal punishment, while believers are allowed to repopulate the earth and serve Christ; (4) the millennial kingdom, a 1,000 years of Christ's reign over the world from the throne of David in Jerusalem, re-instituted, albeit modified Temple functions; (5) at the end of the millennium, Satan is released from his imprisonment for a "little season" at which time he instigates a rebellion among those who have been born during the millennium, but have failed to personally accept Christ as their savior. Christ will put down the rebellion, and the final judgment will ensue with the wicked dead being resurrected and Satan, the fallen angels and all the unbelievers being cast into Hell for all eternity; (6) the eternal state commences in the New Heavens and New Earth.
    All of these features of Dispensational Premillennialism would have been well- circulated and equally well-known by the time of Spurgeon's ministry. Again, particular nomenclature may not have been widely used or even coined in Spurgeon's day; since the system has been more clearly defined in recent times. Also some of the terminology, such as "secret rapture," while widely used in the 19th Century Dispensationalism, is an almost unknown term today. Darby traveled around the world, especially to the United States, New Zealand and Australia, spreading his Dispensational teaching. In the process of this spread Dispensationalism became virtually synonymous with Fundamentalism. As Erickson states:

    Because the rise of dispensationalism roughly paralleled that of the fundamentalist movement, it became virtually the official theology of fundamentalism. Some commentators have practically identified the two.164


    Interestingly enough, A. C. Dixon (1854-1925), an active and vocal dispensationalist and popular speaker in the Bible and prophetic conferences of the late 1800's, was a frequent guest preacher in The Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit during Spurgeon's illnesses and was actually the pastor of the church from 1911-19. Dixon and Spurgeon's son Thomas Spurgeon, were contributors to The Fundamentals, a famous collection of essays defending the "fundamentals of the Christian faith." The Fundamentals were widely distributed in the early 1900's and to a large degree gave a measure of definition to the fundamentalist movement. Clouse points out:

    Premillennialism, because it was a well-articulated theology with considerable structure and defined leadership, was equipped to last and develop as one of the main ingredients of the Fundamentalist movement.165


    The sine qua non of dispensational premillennialism are listed in the chart below:

    Essential Features of Dispensational Premillennialism
    The Rapture of the Church before Daniel's 70th Week (commonly known as the "Tribulation Period")
    Christ Returns at the end of the Tribulation before the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.
    he Millennial Kingdom is a literal 1,000 year earthly and physical reign of Christ over the world with Israel in the leading position. The kingdom is a fulfillment of the OT promises to Israel.
    The Two Resurrections of Rev 20 are separated by the 1,000 year kingdom.
    At the end of the 1,000 years Satan will be released from his bondage, lead a rebellion of those who have been born during the kingdom era, but are yet unsaved. Christ will destroy the rebellion, and after the judgments Israel and the Church will enter the eternal state of heaven.
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