The Case for the Premillennial View of Prophecy – Program 1
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1993|
|There are three prominent views outlining the big picture of end-time events: the premillennial view, the amillennial view and the postmillennial view.|
The Big Picture of Prophetic Events – Three Views
God has placed a huge amount of prophetic information in the Bible. Of the Bible’s 31,124 total verses, 8,352, or 27% of the entire Bible is devoted to prophecy. God says He declares future events in the Bible so that people will know that He exists. God told Isaiah, “Who foretold this long ago? Who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord,… I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come… what I have said, that will I bring about.” [Isa. 45:21-22]
Jesus rebuked His disciples for not studying and believing in prophecy when He said, “How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” [Luke 24:25] Concerning future events Jesus commanded, “What I say to you, I say to everyone, watch! I have told you everything ahead of time.” [Mark 13:23]
But many Christians find it hard to study biblical prophecy. They say it is like trying to put together a big puzzle that has thousands of little pieces and they don’t know how to put the pieces together. What is needed is something like the box cover of a puzzle that shows the big overall picture so that one can fit the small, prophetic events into place. But does a big picture exist?
Biblical scholars and Christians down through the ages have agreed that there are only three views or outlines that give the big picture. All agree that one of these three views is correct. But which one? Today you will learn what these three views are and whether or not there is evidence that supports them.
John’s guest is Dr. Norman Geisler, dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Geisler is professor of theology and apologetics and the author of 45 books, including the widely read General Introduction to the Bible, When Skeptics Ask and When Critics Ask. We invite you to join us.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome. If 27 percent of the entire Bible is devoted to prophecy, and it is, then anyone who doesn’t study prophecy is disregarding more than one-fourth of what God has said. But many Christians don’t disregard prophecy, they just don’t know how to put it all together. What most are lacking is the overall framework, the big picture of prophetic events. Now, down through the years three prominent views outlining the big picture have been given by Christian scholars. What are these views? My good friend Dr. Norman Geisler, who is currently dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, explains what the three major views of prophecy are.
- Dr. Norman Geisler: Basically, there are three views: premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism. Premillennialism says that Christ is going to come back before the millennium. Amillennialism says there is no millennium; the Church is spiritual Israel and all the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in the Church. Postmillennialism says that we are going to bring in the Kingdom; that the Church will bring in the period of paradise, and that at the end of that period, Jesus Christ will return to earth after the millennium to reign in this world. Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven bodily, gloriously and visibly, will return in the same way to the same place, Jerusalem, and reign on a throne there for a thousand years over all the earth.
- Ankerberg: Now, throughout this series of programs, Dr. Geisler and I will be presenting the case for the premillennial view. We are doing this because every Christian must choose one of the three views when you open your Bible and try to understand what God is saying. Whether you agree with our choice or not is up to you. Hopefully your choice will be based on the evidence, and during this series we will try to present the evidence to you. Dr. Geisler explains why we have chosen the premillennial view.
- Geisler: Premillennialism is very important, not just for prophecy but how you interpret all of Scripture, because premillennialism is built on the idea that the Bible should be understood literally, the historical, grammatical method of understanding the Bible. If we don’t take prophecy literally, why should we take the Gospels literally? If we don’t take prophecy, the teaching about the end times literally, why should we take Genesis literally? In other words, premillennialists have a consistent way of interpreting the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Premillennialism is the pillar of prophecy. It’s the major framework into which all of the other details of prophecy fit. It’s the structure. It’s the very basis of prophetic truth. Premillennialism is one important, if not the most important of all prophetic truths. It makes no sense to talk about which end of the Tribulation that we’re going to be raptured out of if we don’t know which end of the millennium Christ is going to return to. So when we’re talking about premillennialism, we’re talking about one of the fundamentals of prophetic truth, the pillar of prophecy, the very framework into which all of this fits.
- Ankerberg: This next point is very important. Now, if anyone applies the literal, historical, grammatical approach to interpreting the statements in the Old and New Testaments concerning such subjects as Israel, the church, the tribulation, the millennial kingdom, this approach will quickly bring the main programs God has outlined in prophecy into clear focus. On the other hand, the amillennial view tends to interpret biblical prophetic passages in a spiritual and allegorical way, rather than a literal way. Especially is this true of passages concerning the future of the nation of Israel. In fact, amillennial and postmillennial interpreters agree that a literal reading of the promises God has made to Israel would require anyone to conclude that Israel will occupy the land in Palestine after Christ’s second coming. So, to avoid that conclusion amillennialists have adopted two different approaches. The first is that the promises to Israel are not promises concerning literal land in Palestine, but rather promises of heaven. Then, the second approach they have taken is to view the promises to Israel as real promises concerning their land, but the promises are conditional, not unconditional. That is, the promises God makes to Israel of eventually inhabiting all of the land are only good if Israel obeys God. If they disobey God, then the promises concerning the land are revoked and will never be fulfilled.
- In the weeks ahead, I think you will see from scripture that the promises God made to Israel concerning their land are not conditional, but unconditional. God’s promises do not depend on Israel’s obedience or disobedience. You’ll also see that there are no contextual or exegetical reasons to spiritualize or allegorize God’s promises to Israel.
- Now in addition to this, I asked Dr. Geisler to share with you some of the errors we believe exist in the postmillennial and amillennial views. Listen.
- Geisler: Postmillennialism is the belief that Christ will return after the millennium. The main group supporting this view today are called Reconstructionists. Sometimes they’re called Neo-Puritans or Theonomists. They believe that the Church is going to bring in the millennium after we Christianize the world, then Christ is going to return and reign in this world. I’d like to talk about some of the errors of postmillennialism.
- First of all, the postmillennialists of the Reconstructionist’s variety believe that we’re still under the Old Testament Law. I’d like to read a couple of passages of Scripture that tell us both in the Old Testament and the New Testament that Gentiles are not under the Law of Moses. Psalm 147:19, says: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and his judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation.” The only nation in the world given the Law of Moses was the nation of Israel. God never gave His Law to any other people.
- In Romans 2:14 in the New Testament the apostle Paul says the same thing. And I read beginning at verse 14: “When the Gentiles who do not have the Law by nature do the things contained in the Law, these although not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” Now, notice very carefully that phrase. “When the Gentiles who do not have the Law.” What law? The Law of Moses. Because it goes on to say they have a law written in their hearts but they don’t have the Law of Moses. God never gave the Law of Moses to the Gentiles as the Reconstructionists say.
- Furthermore, in Romans 6:14 the apostle says this: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace.” We are not under the Law of Moses as believers; only the Jews were given that Law.
- In 2 Corinthians 3 there is a very clear passage that tells us that believers are not under the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament. Beginning with verse 7 of 2 Corinthians 3 we read, “But if the ministry of death written and engraved on stones was glorious….” Now, what was written on stones? The Ten Commandments. So Paul is talking about the Ten Commandments. Notice what he says. That last phrase of verse 7: “which glory was passing away.” The Ten Commandments are passing away.
- Verse 10, the same thing: “For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect because of the glory that excels, for if what is passing away was glorious” – he’s referring to the Ten Commandments as passing away.
- Verse 13 of the same chapter: “Unlike Moses who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly at the end of what was passing away.”
- And then in verse 14, the last phrase, “Because the veil is taken away in Christ.” Makes it very clear, contrary to the postmillennialists who are Reconstructionists, that the Ten Commandments have passed away in Christ.
- In fact, the very next book, Galatians, the apostle Paul says in chapter 3 that the Law of Moses was a tutor, a schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ and then when Christ came we are no longer under the schoolmaster. In Paul’s own words, Galatians 3:24: “Therefore the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith, but after faith as come, we are no longer under the tutor.”
- After faith has come, we are no longer under the Law. We are not under the Old Testament Law. That’s been changed, when Christ fulfilled the Aaronic Priesthood, became the Priest. Another very important verse is found in Hebrews 7:12: “For the priesthood, being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the Law.” Notice, when there was a change in the Aaronic Priesthood, there was also a change in the Law. We are not under the Old Testament Law. Verse 18 of the same chapter: “For on the one hand there is a annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness.” The Old Testament Law was annulled by Christ when He fulfilled it.
- Let me summarize. The Reconstructionists says we’re still under the Old Testament Law of Moses. The Bible says very clearly we are not under Law, we are under grace. The Old Testament Law has been fulfilled in Christ. We now live under the law of Christ. The Reconstructionists who believe that Christ is going to come after the millennium and that we’re still under the Old Testament Law cannot find verses of Scripture to support this belief. On the contrary, the Bible is very clear that the Law of Moses has passed away. “That which was engraved in stones is gone,” 2 Corinthians 3 tells us.
- Ankerberg: In listening to Dr. Geisler, you may wonder if we are saying that since Christians are no longer under the law of Moses, it means Christians are under no law whatsoever. The answer is obviously no. Dr. Geisler explains.
- Geisler: Just because we’re not under the Law of Moses doesn’t mean we have no law. The Bible makes it very clear that God has written a law in our hearts. Romans 2:12-15. The Bible makes it very clear that Christians live under the law of Christ. We do have a moral law; we do have a moral standard to live by, but it’s not the standard that was given by Moses with the punishments and sanctions of the Old Testament. That was given only to Israel.
- It is true that the moral principles behind the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are restated in the New Testament in a new context, now the context of grace. The one on the Sabbath is not, because Christ rose on Sunday. The Holy Spirit descended on Sunday. Christ appeared on Sunday and established this as the day of the new order. But the moral principles: “thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not bear false witness” – these moral principles are repeated in the New Testament but not the way Moses gave them to Israel. For example, if you committed adultery in the Old Testament, you were stoned. In the New Testament you were not stoned for committing adultery, you were excommunicated from the Church. So we don’t have the Law of Moses as it was given in the Old Testament, we have the moral principles behind that Law restated in a new context of grace.
- According to these postmillennialist Reconstructionists, if someone commits adultery today, they should be stoned, just like the Old Testament. In fact, there were over 20 capital punishments in the Old Testament: If you were a kidnapper, an adulterer, a fornicator, a homosexual, if you were a disobedient child, you were given capital punishment. If you were picking up sticks on the Sabbath, if you blasphemed, if you cursed your parents, all of these were capital crimes in the Old Testament under the Law of Moses. You will not find one of those in the New Testament because we are living under grace, not under law.
- Ankerberg: Now, we are examining the three main views given by Christian scholars that present the big picture concerning prophecy. Those three views are the premillennial view – the belief that Jesus Christ will return bodily to earth and will reign from Jerusalem over the whole world for a thousand years. Then there’s the amillennial view that says that there is no millennium, the church is really spiritual Israel, and all the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in the church. And third, the postmillennial view which says Christians today will bring in the kingdom of God, that it will be the church, not Jesus, that will bring in the period of paradise; and that at the end of that period when the church brings in paradise, Jesus Christ will return to earth to reign in this world. Now, one of these views is correct and the other two are wrong. All scholars agree on that. And the fact is, you must choose. What evidence will determine your choice? Part of the evidence has to do with the way each major view interprets scripture. Dr. Geisler explains.
- Geisler: Let me mention some other reasons that Reconstructionism or postmillennialism is unbiblical. First of all, they allegorize prophecy. They spiritualize away much of the Bible. They take the Gospels literally, but they don’t take prophecy literally. They’re not consistent in their way of interpreting the Bible. Furthermore, they’re overly optimistic. They believe that the Church is going to bring in the millennium. Now, anyone who takes a realistic look at human history knows that the Church is not going to bring in the millennium. Things are not getting better and better, they’re waxing worse just as the apostle Paul told Timothy.
- Also, I think we have to recognize that there isn’t going to be any Kingdom until the King gets here. They have the Kingdom and then the King comes. We believe that the King must come before there’s going to be a Kingdom.
- Another problem with Reconstructionism is that they politicize the mission of the Church. They confuse the Gospel mandate, Matthew 28, with the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28. In the creation mandate God said to subdue the world and have dominion over it. The Gospel mandate says take the message of the Gospel, disciple all nations. These are not the same thing, and the Reconstructionists confuse those two.
- Another problem with Reconstructionism is they confuse Christian government with moral government. They assume that just because we have an obligation to promote moral government that therefore we are to Christianize the world. Our obligation is not to Christianize the world through government.
- First Timothy 2:1 tells us exactly what we should do with regard to government. “Therefore, I exhort you, first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
- We have an obligation to pray for and promote good government. What kind of government? Government that Christianizes the world? No. Government that promotes a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
- Another problem with Reconstructionism is that they confuse the present spiritual kingdom and a future literal political kingdom.
- Another problem with Reconstructionism is that they confuse the spiritual or mystery form of the Kingdom with the political or outward form of the Kingdom. According to Matthew 13, there is a sense in which we are now living in the period of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a spiritual kingdom that is going on in the world right now. Christ is in some sense reigning spiritually, but He is not reigning politically or outwardly. This is an inward mystery form of the Kingdom that we live in now, and then Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Thy kingdom come.” [Matt. 6:10]
- There will be an outward political form of the Kingdom in the future, and the Reconstructionists confuse those and they bring the political form of the Kingdom into the present rather than leaving the political form of the Kingdom until Christ returns to reign on earth.
- Now, how does all of this relate to prophecy? The Reconstructionists believe that we are bringing in the millennium. That’s why we have to have a Christian government. We have to Christianize the world. Bringing in the millennium depends upon us. Premillennialists, by contrast, believe that Christ is going to bring in the millennium. We are to preach Christ in all the world. Our obligation is not to bring all the world to Christ, it’s to bring Christ to all the world. And when we do that under the Gospel mandate and get the Gospel into all the world, God in His own time will send His Son back and He will set up a Kingdom and reign for a thousand years.
- Ankerberg: Now, Dr. Geisler has just presented some of the objections that we have to the postmillennial viewpoint of interpreting prophecy. But what evidence has persuaded us of the premillennial view? I’d like you to listen.
- Geisler: I want to look next at the biblical basis for premillennialism as opposed to postmillennialism which, as we’ve seen, has no biblical basis whatsoever.
- The last thing Jesus said before He left this world is there would be a Kingdom restored for Israel. The disciples asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” in Acts 1. And let me read it to you. “Therefore, when they had come together they asked him saying, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And he said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in his own authority.’” [Acts 1:6-7] I will restore it; it is coming, but that’s not for you to know when. Here’s what I want you to do in the meantime. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8] Our obligation is to preach the Gospel. God’s obligation is to restore the Kingdom to Israel.
- Ankerberg: Now, in this program we have just begun to scratch the surface in presenting the case for the premillennial view of history. In next week’s program, the entire half hour will be devoted to providing the evidence for the premillennial view. I hope that you will join us.