The Case for the Premillennial View of Prophecy – Program 4
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1993|
|The position you hold regarding end time events affects how you interpret many passages of Scripture. What difference does it make?|
The Consequences of Denying the Premillennial View of Prophecy
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.
- Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. If 27 percent of the entire Bible contains Bible verses teaching prophecy, then any Christian who disregards the topic of prophecy is ignoring more than one fourth of all that God has said in the Bible. And as soon as a Christian starts to seriously study the topic of prophecy, he must choose one of three different views that present the overall big picture of biblical prophecy. Dr. Geisler defines and summarizes what those three views are that we have been talking about. Listen.
- 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 1,000 years over all the earth.
- Ankerberg: Now today, why do we think it’s so important for you to choose the premillennial view instead of the amillennial or postmillennial view, when you interpret biblical prophecy? Well, as you will hear, it makes a big difference which view you choose. Dr. Geisler explains.
- Geisler: Why is it so important to talk about how we interpret the Bible, to interpret consistently? Well, premillennialism has a consistent way of interpreting the Bible. It takes it all in the historical grammatical sense. It takes it all literally. So you don’t have to spiritualize here and take it literally there.
- The danger of the amillennial view is that if you’re going to spiritualize away these prophecies, why not spiritualize away the Gospels; why not spiritualize away Genesis? Or to put it very starkly, if you can take end events spiritually, why not take beginning events spiritually? In other words, why isn’t Genesis just an allegory? Why isn’t that just a myth too? Why should we take creation literally? If you’re going to take end-time events literally and beginning events literally, you have a consistent way of approach the whole Bible. You have no consistent way if you’re going to say take Genesis literally and then spiritualize away Revelation or end-time events.
- Or to put it one more way so we don’t miss this point, if we take an allegorical, spiritual hermeneutic way of interpreting the Bible, when we’re talking about prophecy, which is large sections of the Bible, then why shouldn’t we do the same thing when we talk about the Gospels and then that undermines the literal truth of the Gospel, that Jesus literally died and rose from the dead.
- How would you feel if someone said, “Why, you don’t have to take that literally – that He died and rose from the dead?” Then they would destroy the Gospel, right?
- So the problem with the amill and post-mill way of interpreting the Bible is that it logically undermines the very Gospel itself.
- Ankerberg: Nnow, one of the major reasons people are persuaded of the premillennial view is because the Bible clearly teaches that God’s unconditional promises to Israel still stand, Israel still has a future, and the promises to the church are distinctly for the church. Dr. Geisler explains.
- Geisler: An example of how ridiculous it is to spiritualize these prophecies and say Israel is the Church and the Church is Israel is found in 1 Corinthians 10:32: “Give no offense either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the Church of God.” Paul distinguishes three different groups: the Church, the Gentiles and the Jews. If the Jews were to be understood spiritually as a fulfillment of these prophecies, spiritual Israel, he wouldn’t have distinguished them in the very verse as Jews, Gentiles, and Church of God.
- Ankerberg: Throughout this series of programs Dr. Geisler and I have been arguing for the premillennial point of view, namely that Jesus Christ will bodily return to earth in the future and establish Hhis millennial kingdom and reign for 1,000 years over all the earth. Next, Dr. Geisler gives additional reasons why we believe it is important for you to choose the premillennial view. Listen.
- Geisler: There are many reasons why it’s important to be a premillennialist: one is, of course, that it’s a consistent way of interpreting the whole Bible. You don’t spiritualize some and take some literally.
- Another is that it’s an essential framework in which we can understand the details of prophecy. It’s kind of the structure. It’s like the picture on the cover of the puzzle. You open the puzzle box and all these pieces. Now, a lot of people are trying to put together all the pieces of prophecies today. They don’t have the picture on the cover. The broad picture is, Christ is going to return bodily and set up a kingdom in Jerusalem and reign over all the earth. Then we can talk about details. What’s going to happen before that?
- Well, before that is the Great Tribulation, a seven-year period of great judgment that’s going to fall on the earth. And then you have people talking about: Is the rapture before that tribulation period, during the middle of it, or at the end of it? That’s pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib. That doesn’t make any sense unless you’re talking premill, unless you know there’s going to be a millennium and Christ is going to come back before the millennium. These other little discussions that Christians engage in make no sense if you don’t have the major framework into which you can place these prophetic details.
- Ankerberg: Another major difference between premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists has to do with those passages in the Old and New Testament that teach God has made unconditional promises to Israel about their land and a future Davidic kingdom. Premillennialists believe these promises cannot be spiritualized or allegorized away. They must be taken as literal promises that God will someday fulfill. Dr. Geisler explains.
- Geisler: One of the reasons the premill view is so important is that it’s based on God’s unconditional election, God’s unconditional choices. There are two kinds of covenants: conditional covenants and unconditional ones.
- The Mosaic Covenant, the covenant made between God and Moses in Exodus 19, is a conditional one. It says, “If you obey my voice, then I will bless you.” If you do this, then I will do that.
- The Abrahamic Covenant, the covenant to give them the land, is not a conditional covenant. It doesn’t say, “If you follow me, then I will give you this land.” It says, “No ifs, ands, and buts, about it, I will bless you. I will give you this land. You don’t have to do anything to merit it.” That’s an unconditional covenant.
- Now, if premillennialism isn’t true, then God has broken an unconditional covenant. God Almighty went back on His word. Or to put it in the positive, you can trust premillennialism is true just as much as you can trust God not to break an unconditional promise.
- One of my favorite verses, 2 Timothy 2:13. It says, “He remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.” Even if we are faithless, He remains faithful. It doesn’t depend on our faith, it depends on His faithfulness. And because God is faithful, He will fulfill that land promise to Israel.
- Ankerberg: Next, can it be shown that Jesus Christ Himself taught the premillennial view?
- Geisler: Jesus promised that there was going to be a kingdom to come. In Matthew 19 He said He would sit upon a throne and reign in Jerusalem and the 12 apostles on 12 thrones. If you don’t believe in premillennialism, then you’re denying the very words of our Lord.
- Jesus said the kingdom will be restored to Israel in Acts 1. The last thing He said before He left earth. So not only is premillennialism anchored in the unconditional character of God’s promise, but it’s anchored in the teachings of our Lord. If you can’t believe Jesus when He talks about earthly things, how can you believe Him when He talks about heavenly things?
- In other words, if you can’t trust that God is going to keep His promise for a literal future for Israel, how do you know He’s going to keep His promise for a spiritual future for the Church? How do you know He’s going to keep His promise to bless you in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, as Ephesians says? God can be trusted because God doesn’t break a promise. It is impossible for God to lie, Hebrews 6:18. The God who cannot lie, Titus 1:2. Romans 3:4 says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.”
- Premillennialism is based on the character of God. It’s based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s just as trustworthy as God the Father and God the Son.
- Ankerberg: Next, Dr. Geisler summarizes the biblical evidence for premillennialism. Listen.
- Geisler: We’ve seen that it’s rooted in Old Testament predictions, of the land promise to Abraham and his descendants which have never been fulfilled, that is, that they would be given the whole land of Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula, forever. That’s never happened, and if God is true, it’s going to happen someday. It’s based on the Davidic Covenant that there was promised a Messiah, the Son of David, who would come and reign over this whole piece of real estate. In addition to that, it’s based on New Testament predictions of Jesus in Matthew 19 that there would be a future kingdom in which He would reign; Paul’s teaching in Romans 11 that Israel would be re-engrafted as a nation; and Revelation, which says there would be 144,000 from 12 tribes literally taken and that Jesus would come back and literally reign for 1,000 years. From Genesis 12 to Revelation 20, the Bible teaches premillennialism.
- Ankerberg: Now, maybe you’re saying, “What difference does it make whether I hold to a premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial view? Isn’t this really just an intramural debate among Christians and it doesn’t matter very much?” Dr. Geisler answers this question:
- Geisler: Well, first of all there are different kind of fundamentals in the Bible, and I’d like to talk about two kinds: salvation fundamentals and interpretation fundamentals. Salvation fundamentals are like the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection. If these aren’t true, you can’t be saved. So those are salvation fundamentals.
- Now, prophecy isn’t a salvation fundamental. You can be a postmillennialist and still be saved. You can be an amillennialist and still be saved. But nevertheless, premillennialism is a fundamental of another sort. It’s an interpretive fundamental, because it’s the very way of interpreting the Bible that you use to get the salvation fundamentals.
- In other words, the same way of interpreting the Bible literally that premillennialists do to come to the understanding there is a future kingdom and Christ is going to reign for 1,000 years is the same way we know there’s a virgin birth, or deity of Christ, or substitutionary atonement or bodily resurrection.
- To put it the other way, if the amillennialists are right, that you can spiritualize away prophecy and say this is fulfilled spiritually in the Church and don’t take it literally, then if you did that to the virgin birth, what would a spiritual virgin birth be? Jesus wasn’t biologically virgin. He could have been born of fornication. What would a spiritual resurrection be? Well, no resurrection at all. The body dies so the body doesn’t come back. There’s no resurrection at all. So it’s very important that we have this hermeneutical or interpretive fundamental and that’s why we call premillennialism a hermeneutical fundamental because it’s a fundamental way of interpreting the Bible and secondly, if you didn’t interpret the Bible that way on the salvation things, then you wouldn’t have any fundamentals for our faith in terms of salvation either.
- Ankerberg: Next, what are the consequences of denying premillennialism? Dr. Geisler explains. Listen.
- Geisler: One of the consequences of denying premillennialism is that if you deny the interpretive way of coming to premillennialism, taking the Bible literally in prophecy, you also, if you applied it to the Gospels, would deny the very basis for salvation.
- Another one is that it charges God with breaking an unconditional promise. The Bible says when God swore He swore by Himself because there was no one higher. [Heb. 6:13] I mean, if you’re God and you’re going to take an oath, by whom would you take the oath? You would have to say “by Myself, because I’m the everlasting God.” When God gave His promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his descendants, He gave it in an unconditional oath which He swore by His own nature, by His own unchangeable nature. “I the Lord change not,” Malachi 3:6. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever.” [Heb. 13:8] God can’t change. His character remains firm and immovable.
- If that’s true, then if there were no literal future for the nation of Israel and the Messiah didn’t come at the beginning of that period to set up this kingdom, then God broke an unconditional promise.
- In other words, the whole fabric of our belief system breaks down if you don’t trust unconditional promises. But, the promise to give Israel the land from the Euphrates, that’s Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula, that whole piece of real estate, Genesis 13, Genesis 15, Genesis 17, right on through the Old Testament, that was promised to Israel forever. It has never happened. It was an unconditional promise. Therefore, it must happen in the future. That’s what premillennialists believe, and to deny that is to deny an unconditional promise of God.
- There is a very important reason for holding the premillennial view. If you don’t take these prophecies as literally true in the Old Testament, then God is a false prophet, because these prophecies came from the Lord. Over and over the prophets said, “Thus saith the Lord.” “I saw in a vision.” “The Lord said to me.” They’re based in the very Word of God. The Bible is the Word of God. “Every word proceeds out of the mouth of God,” [Matt. 4:4] as Jesus said.
- So if the prophecies were given by God and the prophecies don’t come to pass, then God is a false prophet. And in Deuteronomy 18 it says a false prophet should be stoned. God Himself would have to die. As a matter of fact, if God could break an unconditional covenant, He would have to go out of existence. But it’s impossible. He’s a necessary Being. He must exist. He cannot not exist. God cannot break an unconditional covenant and He cannot utter a false prophecy. Let God be true and every man a liar, the Scripture says, and yet if we deny the premillennial view, we have to say God uttered false prophecies and on the very conditions of the Old Testament and Deuteronomy 18 God would have to be stoned, as impossible as that is.
- Ankerberg: Now, there are a number of practical reasons for holding to the premillennial view. Here is what they are.
- Geisler: There are a number of practical reasons for being a premillennialist. One is that to deny premillennialism, to deny that Christ could come back at any moment and when He comes, He’s going to set up His Kingdom, He’s going to separate the sheep from the goats, He’s going to judge the nations, to deny this view, is to deny a large incentive for evangelism.
- If you will look at the founders of most of the great modern missionary organizations, you will find they were premillennialists. Why? Because they believed there was a sense of urgency, a sense of urgency. History is coming to a close. Jesus is coming again. It’s going to all be over. There will be no more chance.
- Now, if you aren’t a premillennialist, and things just kind of roll on indefinitely and there is no urgency in which this very moment may be the last moment we have, then you don’t have that real motive to do evangelism.
- I’ll never forget the experience I had a number of years ago when I was passing by a hospital and I was busy to do something else and I knew a man was in there who was terminally ill and I should stop and see him. And I decided not to do it. And he died. And I’ll never forget how guilty I felt that I failed to get the message to him before he died. Now, premillennialism says not only could that man die but all of human history could be over in a twinkling of a eye right now. What a powerful motive for evangelism this ought to be.
- Ankerberg: Finally, the reason we wanted to show you the biblical evidence for the premillennial view is because it sets up all the other events such as the tribulation, when the rapture will occur, what the Antichrist will do, and what will happen to the nation of Israel. Dr. Geisler explains.
- Geisler: Premillennialism sets up the stage for understanding all the rest of prophecy. If Jesus is going to come back literally and reign for 1,000 years on this earth, as premillennialists say, then it makes sense to talk about a literal Tribulation, seven year period just before Jesus comes back.
- It makes sense to talk about a literal Antichrist, a man who will sit in the temple of God in Jerusalem, a literal temple rebuilt, claiming that he is the Christ and asking people to worship him.
- It makes sense to talk about a rapture, that Jesus is going to come and take away His Church from this world. All of this makes sense if the premillennial view is correct. And we’ve seen there is a biblical basis in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the early Church in a sound literal hermeneutic for believing in premillennialism.
- Now when we pick up the Bible and come to the book of Revelation we don’t have to say, “Well, this is all spiritual. This is all symbolic. You can’t take it literally.” When it says Jesus is going to come back and set up a kingdom, it says He’s going to come and judge the nations in Revelation 19, you can take it literally. When it says there’s going to be an Antichrist and people are going to get 666 written on their hand or their forehead, if they don’t worship the Antichrist their heads are going to be cut off, there’s no reason not to take this literally because prophecy is literal.
- And as premillennialism is literally true, so it is literally true that there will be a Tribulation, a seven year period of tribulation before Christ returns; it is literally true there will be an Antichrist who has ten nations organized together in Europe who literally makes a seven year treaty with the Jewish people that they can build their temple, offer sacrifices in their temple, who literally breaks that halfway through, sits in the temple of God saying he is God. You can take all of this literally. The rest of prophecy make sense. All of these details, once you get the broad picture as being literal, there’s no reason why the details shouldn’t be understood that way as well.