God, Evil, and Dispensations

God, Evil, and Dispensations

by Dr. Norman L. Geisler


One of the neglected values of the dispensational approach to Scripture is the light it casts on the problem of evil.  Theodicy (a vindication of God’s goodness and justice despite the presence of evil in the world) is both a fascinating and difficult topic in any theology, but a dispensational approach offers unexpected help for this old problem.

For the limited nature of this discussion it will be necessary for this writer to begin by assuming what he believes the Scriptures teach, namely, that there are seven dispensations.[2] That is to say, there are seven successive and different divine economies between creation and the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 22). Granting this perspective one may ask, Why seven different dispensations? What is God’s overall plan for these periods? And, can one discern anything of the divine purposes throughout these ages?


Most dispensationalists have been careful to point out that there are not several different plans of salvation corresponding to the various dispensations.[3]  Despite the unfortunate wording of the footnote on John 1:17 in the old Scofield Bible,[4] dispensationalists consistently repudiate the charge that they accept the existence of many plans of salvation. There is only one way of salvation (Gal. 1:8), and it was preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8) and is to be preached to the whole world (Matt. 28:18-20).  That one gospel, which applies to every age, is simply this: Persons are saved “by grace through faith in the revealed will of God.”

To be sure, dispensationalists hold that the content of the revealed will of God has become progressively more explicit. Progressive revelation is a central tenet of dispensationalism. For instance, the content of the gospel preached by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-8), that Christ died, was buried, rose and was seen of many, is surely more than the pagans on the streets of Nineveh heard from Jonah (Jonah 3:4). However, neither Ninevites nor first-century Corinthians (nor twentieth-century Americans) are saved apart from faith in a gracious God who acts in view of the atoning work of Christ (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:22). The point is that people were saved in every age through the work of Christ, even though they did not have the knowledge of that work which believers have today. So, in brief, dispensationalists do not believe that there are seven different dispensations because God had seven different plans of salvation. There is really only one common gospel that unites all dispensations soteriologically.

What then is the purpose of seven different dispensations if it is not soteriological? It is my suggestion that there are at least three purposes of God in having seven different dispensations. One is doxological (having to do with God’s glory), another is anthropological (having to do with God’s goodness to man), and the last is theological or dispensational (having to do with the ultimate defeat of evil).


Often dispensationalists have rested their case for justifying God in view of the problem of evil (called theodicy) almost completely on the glory of God. Although the overriding importance of the doxological answer cannot be disputed, it should be affirmed nonetheless that there are at least two correlative points that also should be stressed. Each of the three is essential in helping one formulate an adequate solution to the problem of evil.


The glory of God is central to dispensationalism. Ryrie considers it the unifying theme for all of God’s plan.[5]  It alone is all-encompassing, spanning from eternity to eternity and covering both pre-Fall and pre-creation periods. In that sense it is important to point out that those covenantal schemes of theology that make redemption the unifying theme of God’s eternal plan miss the mark “and fall short of the glory of God.” The glory of God is eternal; redemption has a beginning point in time. Also, the glory of God applies to unredeemed beings as well as to redeemed ones. Thus glory is a far more inclusive and comprehensive theological theme than is redemption. Only a doxological theology, as dispensationalism truly is, can possibly be a systematic theology in the proper sense of the term.  Systematic theology must be a comprehensive and consistent correlation of all revealed truth about God and His relation with His universe.

Before discussing God’s glory as it relates to evil, a definition of glory is in order. An examination of the scriptural data will reveal that glory means “manifest excellence.” Glory is the outward radiation of the inward perfections of God. No one can see God’s essence (Exod. 33:20; John 1:18); and yet God’s glory was often seen (Exod. 16:7, 10; Isa. 40:5). Indeed, the incarnate Christ is “the radiance of His [God’s] glory . . .“ (Heb. 1:3). So glory does for God what a magnifying glass does for a fine jewel; it does not change His nature, but it does enlarge it for His creature’s view.

Granting that description and the centrality of the glory of God to dispensations, how does God’s glory relate to the answer of the problem of evil?

Very simply put the answer often goes like this:

1. The glory of God is the ultimate good in the universe.

2. God is glorified by everything in the universe, including evil.

3. Therefore, even evil redounds to the glory of God.

Since most dispensationalists have Calvinistic leanings, the doxological purpose of evil is frequently justified in terms of an emphasis on the sovereignty of God. Verses such as the following are often used.

“For the wrath of man shall praise Thee” (Psalm 76:10).

“The Lord hath made everything for himself: yea even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov. 16:4, KJV).

“I am the Lord and there is none else. . . . I make peace, and create evil” (Isa. 45:6-7, KJV).

“What if God . . . endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory. . .“ (Rom. 9:22-23).

Those and like verses have been used by some to pronounce boldly that in the sovereign will of God even evil brings glory to God. It is that conclusion that must be rejected. To argue that God is glorified by evil is biblically unsound, dispensationally untrue, and theologically unfounded.

First, a comment needs to be made about the above verses, which are often used to “prove” that God is glorified by evil. As to the Lord creating evil (Isa. 45:6-7), the Hebrew word means “evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity.”[6]Although the word sometimes means evil in a moral sense, it need not have any direct moral connotations at all. It may mean no more than that God sends a plague. There is certainly no support here for the idea that God can do anything that is morally evil, since the Scriptures are clear in their assertion that He is absolutely good (1 John 4:16; cf. 1:5) and cannot even look on evil (Hab. 1:13).

Regarding Proverbs 16:4, the New American Standard Bible translates it, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (italics added). Delitzsch renders the first part of the verse “Jahve hath made everything for its contemplated end” and adds appropriately, “the wickedness of free agents is comprehended in this plan and made subordinate to it.”[7] In Romans 9 it is noteworthy that the passage does not say that God is glorified by the vessels of wrath. What it actually says is that His power is manifested on the vessels of wrath (y. 22). Then in the next verse it says God’s glory is made known through the vessels of honor. In point of fact, there is no passage of Scripture that teaches that God is praised or glorified by evil. God is good and only what is good brings glory to Him. What is evil is contrary to God and cannot possibly complement Him.[8]

If God is not glorified by evil, then in what sense is evil included in God’s all-encompassing plan that brings glory to Him? The answer can be more readily understood once one understands God’s purpose in allowing evil. Although God is not glorified by evil, He is glorified by His attribute of love in permitting the freedom that caused the evil. Further, God is glorified by His attribute of justice that punishes the evil. This is no doubt the meaning of the phrase, “the wrath of man shall praise Thee” (Psalm 76:10). Man’s evil wrath does not bring glory to God directly but only indirectly in that it occasions His just wrath. God is actually glorified by His own attributes of goodness and justice in the face of (and in spite of) man’s wrath. Yes, evil does have a doxological purpose; God does and will receive glory throughthe evil He has allowed. But God can never receive glory from evil. That is to say, God is not glorified by evil itself but only by means of using evil to manifest His own good attributes. This distinction is necessary to preserve one’s theology (theodicy) from blasphemy. It is morally impossible for man’s moral imperfections to reflect the glory of a morally perfect God.


There is another danger in a purely doxological theodicy.  Not only do some, in their enthusiasm to capture the glory of God in all things, wrongly claim that evil brings glory to God, but they also separate the glory of God from the good He in intended for man. In other words, by separating glory from good they are able to claim that God is glorified even when He does not produce all the good possible in the circumstances.

The Scriptures make it clear that God glorifies Himself (Isa. 44:23; Ezek. 39:13), that He is glorified in Christ (John 1:14; 2 Cor. 4:4), and that He is even glorified by natural creation (Psalm 19:1). In addition, God is glorified in His sanctuary (Exod. 40:34), by man’s redemption (Exod. 14:17; Psalm 96:2), in the cross and resurrection (Rom. 6:4), by believers (John 17:22; Eph. 1:18), by Christ’s second coming (Matt. 24:30; Phil.3:20) and in His righteous judgments (Exod. 14:4, 17; Ezek. 28:22; Rev. 15:4). Indeed, God is glorified in every realm: the natural world, the human world, and the angelic world.

God receives glory from virtually everything — everything, that is, except evil. God does, however, receive glory through evil. That is, by permitting evil (suffering, etc.) God is glorified.  Peter wrote, “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:13-14). A few verses later Peter adds, “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God” (y. 16).

Paul also claims that God is glorified through suffering, saying, “. . . but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Thus he can say, “. . . and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). A few chapters later the apostle writes, “. . . if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:17-18). Indeed, despite his own tremendous suffering (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-28), Paul could confidently say, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

By building on those biblical truths one can see how God permits all suffering for His glory. Suffering is God’s instrument for producing both God’s and man’s greater glory. But if that were all to be said one might inquire as to whether God were merely interested in His glory but not His creature’s good.  Surely it would be slander to the nature of God to suggest that He is not really interested in His creatures’ welfare. No, there is more to biblical theodicy than God’s glory; there is also man’s good. It is true that God is glorified through suffering and evil, but it is also true that man isperfected through it. Job cried out, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).  James wrote, “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings . . .“ (James 5:11). What was the outcome of Job’s suffering? It was that “the LORD restored the fortunes of Job. . . . And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning . . .“ (Job 42:10, 12).

There are numerous indications in Scripture that the purpose for permitting suffering and evil is to produce a greater good. It is in the context of suffering that Paul uttered perhaps his most famous line in this regard. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God . . .“ (Rom. 8:28; cf. vv. 17, 23). Indeed, only a few chapters earlier Paul made one of the boldest statements in Scripture on the role of evil in producing a greater good. He wrote, “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20, italics added). It is undoubtedly true that, like discipline, all suffering “for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful: yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11, italics added).  That is why James could say, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. . . . that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). In point of fact, even the sinless Son of God was made perfect “through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). How much more can sinful creatures learn and be perfected through suffering!

There are two forceful illustrations in the book of Genesis of how and why God permits evil in order to achieve a greater good. The first is found in Joseph’s gracious word to his brothers who had sold him as a slave to Egypt. “You meant evil against me but God meant if for good . . .“ (Gen. 50:20, italics added). The fact that God was able to save Joseph and his family through the brothers’ evil in no way made the evil good. But it does show how a sovereign God can bring good even out of evil.  So it is with the universe as a whole. God allows men to sin, and when they do He is somehow able to bring about good results through their evil.

The other illustration is found in two seemingly contradictory commands of God to the chosen line of Abraham. First, God said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 26:2). Later God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt. . .“ (Gen. 46:3). The full explanation for this later concession is found in the prophet Hosea who wrote, “Out of Egypt I called My son” (11:1). In brief, the first command was God’s prescriptive will (do not go); the second was His permissive will (you may go), and the last verse reveals God’s providential or overruling will (I will bring a greater good out of your suffering).

In accordance with this pattern a model for a biblical theodicy may be developed. First, God’s prescriptive will is that sin and suffering should not occur at all. God is not a cosmic sadist; He takes no pleasure in suffering or death (Ezek. 18:32). Second, God’s permissive will is that suffering occurs. That is, He sovereignly wills to permit evil, even though He forbids that anyone commit evil. Finally, since God knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), He determinately foreknew (cf. Acts 2:2 3) that He would bring a greater good out of evil, namely, the redemption of all who will believe. In short, what brings glory to God also brings good to mankind. Good and glory cannot be separated. God is interested in bringing good to men—the greatest good possible.[9] The truth is that God is concerned about man’s greatest good, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son . . .“ (John 3:16), that Christ “died for all” (2 Cor. 5:15) by giving Himself as “the propitiation for our sins; and . . . for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).[10] It is because of this that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).[11]  Indeed, God would save all men if He could for the Lord is “not wishing for any to perish, but [wants] all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). The fact that some do not choose to repent, and so will not make it to heaven, cannot veto the God-given right of others to be there. God will achieve the greatest number in heaven that He possibly can. He does not love just some men; He loves all and will do everything within His loving power to save all He can. If some are not saved it is because, to quote the Lord, “I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37, italics added).

When the statement is made that God will achieve the greatest good “possible” it does not mean the greatest number of people will be saved that is logically possible (that would be 100 percent). What is meant by that statement is that God will save the greatest number of people that is actually achievable without violating their free choice.[12]  A loving God will not force anyone against their will to love Him or to worship Him. Forced love is not love; forced worship is not worship. Heaven will not be composed of robots. God is not a kind of “Cosmic B. F. Skinner” who believes in manipulating people into certain behavior patterns which are pleasing to Himself.[13] God does not, as Skinner wishes, go “beyond freedom and dignity.” In short, God will not save people at all cost—not if it is at the cost of their freedom and dignity—for that would mean at the cost of their humanity. God will not dehumanize in order to save. To dehumanize is to de-create, since that is what God created — a human. In fact, to dehumanize man would be to strip man of the image of God (Gen. 1:26), which image even fallen man has (Gen. 9:6). If God did that He would in an indirect sense be de-deifying Himself! So just as surely as God will not attack His own image in man whom He created, even so God will not force a man against his will to go to heaven. God is love, and love works persuasively but not coercively. Those whom God can lovingly persuade have been foreordained to eternal life. Those whom He cannot are destined in accordance with their own choice to eternal destruction (2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 20:11-15).  The net result will be the greatest good achievable for mankind and the greatest glory obtainable for God. Good and glory are inseparably related because God is not only sovereign and self-sufficient (which obligates men to glorify Him), but He is also loving and merciful (which obligates Him to do all the good He possibly can in the moral world that He has willed). While there is nothing in fallen man that demands that God redeem, there is something in God that demands that He do so, namely, His unmitigated goodness.

Now if God actually achieves the greatest good possible by allowing evil, then the theodicy is sufficient. All that is necessary in a theodicy is to show how, in spite of evil, God will (in the end) bring about the greatest possible good. And if good cannot be separated from glory, then the greatest good of glorifying God will be in concert with the greatest good of saving man.


Several loose ends to most theodicies are tightened up by a dispensational perspective. First, there is the problem of why God permitted so much suffering for so long (thousands of years of human history). Second, there is the problem of how men can be truly free in heaven while guaranteeing that evil will never break out again. A dispensational perspective casts new light on these age-old problems.

Many dispensationalists accept the following tenets: 1. there are seven dispensations that are commonly labeled the ages of innocence, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace, and the kingdom; 2. each age tests man under a new and specific condition; and 3. man proves to be a failure under all of these conditions. Now if all of that is true, what would be the point of it? The point may very well be that God is trying to accomplish several things through His plan for the ages. First, He wants to prove to the universe (of rational creatures) that creatures always fail and bring evil (not good) on themselves when they disobey God’s commands. Second, and conversely, God wants to prove that it is always right to obey His commands, for when individuals do they bring good and blessing on themselves. In that way heaven can be full of free creatures and yet justly rule out any rebellion again.

The sevenfold test is given so that man can be tested concerning good and evil under every major condition. Seven is not an arbitrary number of dispensations for two reasons. First, seven is a number of completion or earthly perfection. God did appoint seven days in a complete earthly week (Gen. 1). Second, each dispensation provides a different condition under which man is tested. Indeed, one could speculate that these are all the necessary conditions for testing man. For example, man was tested when he did not know either good or evil by experience (the age of innocence in the Garden of Eden), but even here he chose to do evil. Then men, knowing good and evil, were tested as to whether they would now follow the good and shun the evil (the age of conscience). But here too men failed and did more evil than good, thus filling the world with violence (Gen. 6:13). After this men were given the more explicit commands of government to restrain evil and promote good (the age of human government, Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-7). But here again men used even the intended good of governmental power to exalt themselves against God, which climaxed at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11). After the failure at the Tower of Babel God gave to certain men a special promise (the age of promise) by which they could guide their nation in separation from the contamination that had come on the nations at large. God could then through that nation ultimately bless all nations and eventually pick out a people from all nations who could experience the good God intended for all men (Gen. 12:1-3). Here too, however, the patriarchs failed to stay in the land of promised blessing and ended in bondage in Egypt. Following that failure the people needed more explicit directions from God (called the age of law). The Bible records that even with all that explicit, divine direction men still rebelled against God and brought evil on themselves. That then would seem to call for a more gracious and less judicial approach (called the age of grace) under which man is tested as to whether he will respond purely and simply to the grace of God. But amazingly enough, even here men refuse the grace of God and bring condemnation on themselves. Thus ends the age of grace. But throughout all those six ages there has been one common and sinister figure who has sanctioned evil—Satan. Hence, there is always the possibility that men could blame him for their evil, saying, “The devil made me do it!” To ward off this possibility, God in His wisdom designed one dispensation wherein the devil would be bound and man would be freed from his temptation (called the kingdom age). But inconceivable as it seems, even after a thousand years of Christ’s perfect reign without satanic intervention, man proves again that he is a failure when innumerable people turn against God at the end of the Millennium (Rev. 20:7-9).

Now if that is true, as the foregoing Scriptures would indicate, what does it prove? It seems to indicate exactly what every complete theodicy would like to show, namely, that God surely has just grounds before all His creatures to put away sin forever, because He has proved to all that it is never right to disobey His will. God has tried evil in every age and condition and has proved how evil it is. Or, to put it another way, the only way to defeat evil is to permit it. The only way to defeat it completely is to try it completely. One cannot defeat an opponent unless he is willing to get into the “ring” with him. Hence, God allowed evil into the ring of human history for a seven-round (seven dispensation) championship bout, winner take all. It was in the sixth round that a knockout punch was given (by the cross and resurrection), and the staggered foe was floored forever at the end of the seventh round.

In this dispensational drama, God is the victor and all good men are the benefactors. Evil is defeated, God is justified, and the universe is secured forever from another outbreak of evil. What makes it justly secure? God makes it secure. He is omnipotent, and He will not allow another outburst. What makes the universe justly secure from evil? The redeemed do—the redeemed of all ages who can stand to testify from every dispensation, no matter what the conditions, that it is always right to obey God’s sovereign will, which they have willingly pledged to do for all eternity. How about those who do not will to do God’s will? To them God will justly say, “Thy will be done!”[14] Thus according to the will of each, God has determined the eternal destiny of all. The only just way to bring about the greatest good in a free universe is first to assign each his destiny in accordance with his freedom (forced freedom is not freedom). And the only just way to bring inpermanent good is to separate each according to his free choice. What really hinders good men is evil, and what really bothers evil men is good. So it is that God has a place where there will be no more evil to hinder good men (called heaven) and a place where there will be no more good influence to bother evil men (called hell).[15]  The wheat and the tares must be separated; there will be a final harvest (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). And when the end comes God will have achieved: (1) His greatest glory, (2) His creatures’ greatest good, and (3) the most just and lasting security of the universe against evil. Evil will have been completely tried and proven entirely wrong. It will have been permitted and defeated. William James once observed that the world is better for having the devil in it, if men have their foot on his neck. It is better yet that God has His foot on his head and has crushed the serpent’s power (Gen. 3:15). What really happened, then, at the cross of Christ, by which both evil and the evil one were defeated, is that Satan was definitively conquered and ultimate victory over his kingdom was triumphantly assured (Col. 2:15). Praise God that evil is defeated and the universe is being forever secured. The fact that it will take seven dispensations and thousands of years to do it should offer no real problem. For the suffering caused by evil in this short span called time is, by comparison with the eternal good and glory, more than worth it. As Paul said, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). That point was summed up beautifully by Patterson.

The question is often asked, Why did God permit the fall. . . . It is enough for the believer to know it was the will of God. God’s will needs no defense. It is the standard of righteousness. This is to be fully demonstrated before all the universe, but now we must believe it to be so by faith. We are not left wholly in the dark, however, as to the purposes of God, and he invites our inquiry that we may see and learn and believe. We say, and in a sense correctly, that God does all things for his own glory. But to think of this glory apart from the welfare of the beings of his creation, is not the Scriptural idea of the glory of God. . . . The purpose undoubtedly was to settle eternal problems. In some world, if not in this, in some time, if not at this time, the question was sure to arise whether the will of God was best and right. . . . God could have met it by a display of power and might and silenced all opposition, but that would not be an answer but a suppression. It would not be worthy of the plan which God had before him as seen in the ages. To silence by authority is not to settle the question. . . . Better this issue fully and fairly met now, and the questions answered at once, than that it should be left open, a constant danger ever threatening the universe, hanging like an avalanche over the future, to break forth perhaps when the universe was filled with holy, happy beings. . . . There seems to have been but one way—to permit an actual experiment and demonstration of the whole question. To this end sin must be allowed to present itself in all its hideous nature and effects; suffering must follow, and sorrow deep and widespread must be felt and endured. When this great experiment is over, every question will be forever settled. Every alternative opposed to the will of God will have been solved. It will be apparent as the noon-day sun to all intelligences that all has been passed through the crucible of actual demonstration. The verdict from this will be that there is but one standard of right, but one way of happiness, but one way of holiness, and that is the will of God. The participants in this struggle are to be rewarded for their part in this sad stage of suffering by correspondingly and vastly increased benefits hereafter. They are to have the highest state in that kingdom to come.[16]


Dispensationalists stress several things. Among them is that God has an eternal plan that He is working out for His glory and for the good of the universe. That plan includes the permission of evil. This article has suggested that God permits evil in order that He may produce a greater good that will redound to His great glory. That is, God does indeed have a good purpose for permitting evil. He has permitted it in order to defeat it.[17] But He has defeated evil without destroying the good He has created, namely, free creatures made in His image and likeness.

Each creature is free to accept or reject the grace of God in salvation. Of course, God determinately knew from all eternity who would and who would not believe. Hence, God elected “according to [His] foreknowledge” (1 Pet. 1:2). And as many men as have been so ordained to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48). Indeed, it is necessary that they believe.[18] It is necessary because God cannot be wrong about what He knowingly determines (or, determinately knows). However, that necessity is notcompulsive. Divine love is never coercive; it is only persuasive. God knows with necessity who will and who will not respond to His overtures of love. Hence, God wills their salvation necessarily but He does it through their free choice. As many as will are sovereignly chosen by Him to eternal life. They are not chosen on the basis of their free choice (as Arminians believe); they are chosen on the basis of God’s sovereign love but in accordance with their free choice.[19]

Redeemed men are given the grace to overcome sin. They can overcome sin in this life progressively (sanctification) and will overcome it by God’s grace in the next life permanently (glorification). Likewise, God is overcoming evil in His universe both progressively (through seven dispensations) and permanently (in the new heaven and new earth, Rev. 22). God is doing that in order to secure the universe once and for all from all evil influence and to produce a permanent and greater good—all in accord with His eternal glory.

Like anything else, a tested and proved world is better than an untested and unproved one. But since suffering and evil are necessary conditions for producing a greater and permanent good, God permitted this brief “moment” of affliction (called human history) in order to produce an eternally secure universe. God, as it were, allowed the race to catch the disease (of evil) but sent His own Son to wound the virus fatally (through the cross) so that all who will to be inoculated can be forever immune from its contamination. And just as a broken bone is stronger after it heals than before it was broken, so too, a redeemed man is stronger than an innocent one. Likewise, a redeemed universe is better, for in it God can freely save and permanently cure those who come to Him. All who reject the cure will be forever quarantined (in hell), so that the contaminating influences of their disease can never spread. In that way the purposes of a loving God will have been achieved through the ages by overcoming evil and obtaining the greater good. And the plan of a just God to punish evil and to separate good and evil (so that one cannot unfairly hinder the other) will be accomplished. Justice demands “to each according to his due.” And it is not just forever to inflict good on men who desire evil, or forever to inflict evil on men who choose good.  Sooner or later there must be a final separation. It is fairer this way for all. In this connection it is worth noting that the problem with universalism is that it turns out to be a dehumanizing form of determinism in which God forces a cure on patients without their informed consent. The permanently secure universe with its eternally redeemed people (and final quarantine of evil) will redound to the everlasting glory of God. The universalist’s God treats free creatures like objects to be manipulated rather than as men in God’s image to be respected.[20]

In brief, the scheme of dispensations provides a significant insight into the purposes of God in testing man in various ways through various days. These ages are all part of a complete (sevenfold) and progressive plan to defeat evil both fairly and finally without destroying the good but in the process to bring about a greater good.


[1] This article originally was originally published in 1982 as a chapter in the book Walvoord, a Tribute.  (ISBN O-8024-9227-4 AACR2.) It has been reproduced here on NormanGeisler.com with permission from Moody Publishers. A similar chapter can be found in Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology.

[2] Ryrie is correct in stating that the number of dispensations is not crucial (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today [Chicago: Moody, 19651, p. 48). However, this writer personally believes there are seven dispensations (as divided by Scofield, Sauer, Ryrie et al.). This fits with the symbolic significance of the number seven in Scripture (as earthly completion or perfection); but one should not press this point, since the Bible does not explicitly say there are seven dispensations.

[3] Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pp. 130-31.

[4] Speaking of the age of grace in contrast to the age of law, Scofield wrote, “the point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation” (C. I. Scofield, ed., The Scofield Reference Bible [New York: Oxford, 1917], p. 1115). This was an unfortunate wording which seemed to imply salvation by works in the Old Testament. Actually, Scofield did believe that Old Testament saints were saved by faith (as is plain from his notes on Gen 15:6 or Psalm 32:1, which he acknowledged are quoted in Rom. 4, as well as Gal. 3:8), as did Chafer (Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Inventing Heretics through Misunderstanding,” Bibliotheca Sacra 102 [January-March 19451:1) and Ryrie (Dispensationalism Today, pp. 110-31).

[5] Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 46.

[6] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, reprint (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), p. 948.

[7] Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. M. G. Easton, reprint (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1975), pp. 336-3 7.

[8] It is a sad fact that many Christians have been urged to believe that the height of spirituality is the ability to praise God for evil (see Merlin R. Carothers, Power in Praise [Plainfield, N.J.: Logos, 1972], pp. 1, 5, 9, 130, 139). First Thessalonians 5:18 tells believers to praise God “in everything.” No verse in the Bible exhorts any one to praise God for evil. The “all things” for which believers are to give thanks does not state or imply that evil is to be included (Eph. 5:20). It is to be done in fellowship with the light (Eph. 5:13), being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and by renouncing evil (Eph. 5:11), not by approving evil in calling it good. Indeed, Scriptures pronounce condemnation on those who “call evil good, and good, evil” (Isa. 5:20).

[9] For an elaboration of this “greater good” aspect of theodicy see myPhilosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), pp.349-79, andRoots of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978).

[10] Contrary to the opinion of five-point Calvinists, this cannot mean Christian world or world of the elect, since verse 16 defines the world as the evil world of “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life.”

[11] It is instructive to see what abuse Augustine gave this verse as he became more deterministic in his later years. In On the Spirit and the Letter (413) he held that God desires all men to be saved but not at the cost of their freedom. By the time of the Enchiridian (421) Augustine interpreted the “all men” as all ranks and varieties of men. It is interesting to note that by this time he is claiming that infants are saved apart from their will by baptism and that heretics can be forced to believe against their free will (cf.On the Correction of the Donatists 3. 12).

[12] Many years ago Warfield attacked the common myth that the Bible clearly teaches that only a few people will be saved in a perceptive article entitled, “Are They Few That Be Saved?” (Benjamin B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, ed. Samuel G. Craig [Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 19521, pp. 334-50).

[13] For a discussion of the determinism of Jonathan Edwards and B. E Skinner see the article “Human Destiny: Free or Forced?” in The Christian Scholar’s Review 9 (1979): 99-120.

[14] C. S. Lewis makes this point in The Great Divorce (New York:Macmillan, 1946), p. 69.

[15] Technically speaking there will in a sense still be good in hell since men in hell are still men, which means they still have the remnants of God’s image. But the good that is there cannot influence evil men nor can it be salvaged. It is unredeemable good. Hell is the “dump” (Mark 9:45-48) of the universe, the cosmic scrapyard where all unsalvageable human wrecks eventually go. That is, even if they are dimly recognizable as men, nonetheless their lives are beyond repair.

[16] Alexander Patterson, The Greater Life and Work of Christ (Chicago: Moody, n.d.), pp. 74-79.

[17] In view of the greater good that God can produce by permitting evil (than by not permitting it), one can speculate that even if God could have made a world wherein Adam would not have fallen that He would not have done so. This may be supposed on the premises that: (1) God must do His best whenever He decides to undertake something and that (2) a world where sin is not defeated would not be as good as one where it is defeated (even if there are casualties in the process of victory).

[18] This “necessity” for men to believe is the element of truth in “irresistible grace.” There is no way for anyone not to do what God has ordained will be done. The “necessity,” however, does not mean God forces them to do so. It means rather that He who is never mistaken determinately knows that they will receive salvation freely with the aid of His grace.

[19] Dr. Walvoord’s concept of the coextensive nature of election and foreknowledge is very helpful (Major Bible Themes, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974], p. 233).

[20] See my comments on John Hick ill “Human Destiny: Free or Forced,” pp. 99-120.


Copyright © 1982 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

Want to dig deeper? Consider these books by Dr. Geisler:

  • If God, Why Evil?
  • The Roots of Evil
  • Systematic Theology: In One Volume or Systematic Theology: Four Volumes




A Response to Steve Gregg’s Defense of Hank Hanegraaff’s Partial Preterism

A Response to Steve Gregg’s Defense of  Hank  Hanegraaff’s Partial Preterism

by Norman L. Geisler


Points of Agreement with Steve Gregg

My comments will be divided into two basic categories. First of all, several areas in which we are in agreement will be mentioned. Second, comments on numerous points of disagreement with his defense of partial preterism, a view he shares with Hank Hanegraaff, will be discussed.

First, Steve Gregg is correct in acknowledging that Hank Hanegraaff’s view is a form of “partial preterism.” He chides Hank on his unwillingness to admit he is a partial preterist “for fear of alienating listeners.” He also observes that Hank’s phrase “exegetical eschatology” does not “reveal anything about the specific content of his eschatological ideas.” We agree that is not a descriptive phrase. Indeed, it appears to be a misnomer.

Second, Gregg rightly points to an inconsistency in Hanks view when he claims that he is using a “literal” method of interpretation when in fact he takes much of prophetic revelation in a non-literal way. Indeed, it would be more forthright to admit that it is not really a literal method of interpreting these prophetic texts at all.

Third, we also agree with Gregg’s criticism of Hank’s identification of the Neronian persecutions with “the Great Tribulation.” Of course, Gregg has his own problem of identifying it with only Judean believers. This does not solve the problem for preterists, for the many things predicted to happen to them simply never happened before A.D. 70–unless, of course, one completely allegorizes away the literal meaning of the text of Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18. For these texts speak of one third of the stars falling from the sky, one third of human beings destroyed, and all the life in the sea dying! Surely, virtually everyone would agree that these events did not literally occur in A.D. 66-70. Hence, the only way to maintain their preterist view is to allegorize these scriptures.

Fourth, Gregg agrees with my criticism that Hank makes a false either/or dichotomy between the resurrection and the rapture, insisting that the former, not the latter, is the suffering believer’s real hope. But if this is so, then why do preterist like Gregg insist that terms like “soon” and “in a little while” have to refer to a first century event in order to be relevant to the believers to whom they were written? After all, they claim the resurrection is still future after 1900 years.

Fifth, Gregg agrees with me against Hanegraaff that it is an illegitimate argument to say that we should not believe something if “there is not a single passage in Scripture that teaches” it. If so, they we could not believe in the Trinity or inerrancy. However, Gregg then goes on to argue fallaciously that the pretribulational rapture should be rejected. We have shown elsewhere that there is good biblical grounds for accepting a pretribulational rapture (see Systematic Theology, vol. 4, chap. 17). In spite of all these arguments, Gregg confidently supposes that his one “four term fallacy” argument confuses different aspects of the “last day” and leaves no room for a pretrib rapture. By the same logic one could prove that there is no room for a Second Comings of Christ because His First and Second Coming are sometimes placed together in one Old Testament text (e.g., Isa. 61:1-2 cf. Lk. 4:19; Acts 2:17, 20) or are both viewed as part of the “last days” (Heb.1:2 cf. 2 Pet. 3:3-4). Likewise, there is no reason why the resurrection of the righteous cannot encompass both those who are resurrected before the tribulation and those who die after that and are resurrected at the end of the tribulation.

Points of Disagreement with Steve Gregg

Of course, there were many things on which Gregg agrees with Hank Hanegraaff in defense of their common view of partial preterism. A number of them will be noted here.

First, Gregg wrongly assumes there is a difference between the “historical-grammatical” and “literal” method of interpretation. In fact, the Latin title for the view is sensus literalis (the literal sense). Preterists and amills often mis-characterize the literal method as leaving no room for symbols and figures of speech. This is simply false (see ibid., vol. 4, chap. 13).

Second, Gregg unsuccessfully attempts to avoid the heresy of full preterism by claiming that the whole book of Revelation could have been fulfilled in A.D. 70 and the Second Coming and resurrection could be mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. This fails to note that the word “resurrection” always means physical resurrection in Scripture and that Revelation 20:6 speaks of the “first resurrection.” Further, to deny Revelation 19 is about the Second Coming is to miss the very climax of the Book of Revelation itself. The same is true of Revelation 22:12 which speaks of Christ’s Second Coming and his rewards. This is to say nothing of the final judgment scene of the “great white throne” in chapter 20 which did not occur in A.D. 70. This being the case, partial preterist are inconsistent in using the references to “soon,” “shortly,” and “near” to refer to A.D. 70, for then they must admit that there is no future resurrection and Second Coming–which is the heretical view of full preterism. As demonstrated from the Greek, “shortly” (tachu) means “quickly” or at a rapid rate. And “at hand” (Phil. 4:5; Jas. 5:8) means imminent, not necessarily what will happen in a short time. Likewise, even Gregg admits that terms like “a little while” (Haggai 2:6-7) can mean hundreds of years. Time is relative to God (2 Peter 3:9). If so, then their argument for preterism fails at this point. As for Hebrews 10:37, Gregg offers only his “opinion” without reasons that it is about A. D. 70, when it is clearly about Christ’s Second Coming as both the language and context indicate. For it speaks about our “reward” and “heaven” (vv. 34-35).

Third, if a prediction about an event hundreds of years yet in the future can be relevant to the readers (as Gregg admits about the resurrection/rapture), then there is no reason why distant predictions of how God will defeat evil and bring in everlasting righteousness cannot be relevant to the immediate generation to whom the prophecy was first given. No matter how distant Christ Second Coming is, it is relevant to our lives today, just as the predictions about His First Coming were relevant to Old Testament saints, even though they were made hundreds of years in advance. Paul comforts the Thessalonians with the prediction of the resurrection of loved ones which is already nearly 2000 years later and still not fulfilled (1 Thes. 4:13-18). So, contrary to Gregg, this does not make God a “tease.” For God is offering now the greatest comfort possible, namely, that eventually all suffering, pain, and death will be over (Rev. 21:1-4). We can take a lot now, if we know it will all be over later (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17).

Fourth, as for Rev. 22:10, Gregg totally overlooks our point that Daniel’s prediction was not fulfilled in John’s day because John was not told it was fulfilled in his day but only that it could now be understood by those who read it. But even Gregg has to admit this interpretation is “possible,” and his rejection of it is on the subjective grounds that he finds it “unconvincing” and “awkward.”

Fifth, Gregg reveals his hermeneutical colors when he rejects the literal nature of the plaques in Revelation claiming they are “apocalyptic” in contrast to the other similar biblical plagues like those on Pharaoh that were admittedly “historical.” The root problem with preterism, of both kinds, is the rejection of a consistent application of the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. Amazingly, Gregg believes that in the same “Olivet Discourse” there are many “genres [which] call for a different hermeneutic.” Indeed, he suggests there are three different hermeneutics in this one passage–part is “literal language, part is apocalyptic language, and part is parabolic”! No wonder preterism engenders such confusion.

Sixth, like other preterists Gregg has difficulty with the fact that many of the earliest Fathers rejected this view. Indeed, Ireaneaus who knew the apostle John’s disciple Polycarp rejected preterism, as did Victorinus and Eusebius after him. Gregg’s comments about them not accepting the canonicity of Revelation are both unsupported and irrelevant. The point is that they rejected the preterist position. Likewise, for his own private anti-patristic and allegoristic interpretation of these events, he dismissed a continuous strain of Fathers from just after the apostles through the fourth century who were opposed to preterism (see our Systematic Theology vol. 4, 665-668).

Seventh, Gregg points to early signs of apostasy in the NT as evidence against the argument that John wrote Revelation late. But this overlooks several import facts. There was nearly a generation between the time of Christ and the apostasy that characterized the church of Paul’s, Peter’s, and Jude’s epistles. Likewise, there is nearly another generation between the 60s and Domitian’s reign under which John wrote. Despite local problems earlier, the general character of the churches in Revelation differs significantly from those before A.D. 70.

Eighth, Gregg speaks against the literal interpretation as “a low view of prophesy” that claims a “prophet cannot discuss future developments before they arise.” Yet he seems blissfully unaware that this is precisely what the preterist do with Matthew 24-25 and the bulk of the Book of Revelation.

Ninth, Gregg dismisses the cumulative weight of ten arguments for the late date of Revelation (which strongly opposes preterism), using statements like “How do we know?” “This is not self-evident” and “This is as subjective as the previous point.” But he provides no definitive response to any objection or to the overall weight of all the objections to an early date for Revelation. And, unlike the futurists view, preterism is completely dependent on an early date for the Book of Revelation. Hence, the strong evidence for a late date for Revelation (after A.D. 70) is a strong argument against preterism.

Tenth, he wrongly argues that several possible literal interpretations of a passages, as futurists have of some texts, is justification for preterists taking different allegorical interpretations of these literal events. This is an insightful example of a false analogy.

Eleventh, it is amusing that Gregg uses a third century heretical teacher, Origen, as a basis for his amillennial view and dismisses earlier second century orthodox Fathers as a basis for futurism. Further, contrary to Gregg, Renald Showers (in Maranatha, Our Lord, Come!) has demonstrated that the very earliest Fathers believed in an imminent coming of Christ, not just the fourth century Ephraem. This is to say nothing of the inspired writings of the NT which proclaim Christ’s imminent return repeatedly (Jn. 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 1:7-8; 15:51-53; 16:22; Phil. 3:20-21; 4:5; Col. 3:4; 1 Thes. 1:10; 2:19; 4:13-18; 5:9, 23; 2 Thes. 2:1; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Jas. 5:7-9; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 1 Jn. 2:28-3:2; Jude 21; Rev. 2:25; 3:10; 22:7, 12, 20 ). Passages like “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5) and “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas.5:8) can hardly mean anything other than imminent, unless one is a full preterist and denies a literal future Second Coming, claiming Christ returned in the first century. He summarily dismisses all this with a vague “for all anyone can say” and a guilt-by-association with the Word of Faith movement!

Twelfth, after rejecting the early Fathers who were opposed to preterism, Gregg inconsistently appeals to the early Fathers to justify his amillennial views. He speaks of the pretrib beliefs before Ephraem in the fourth century as unsupported by earlier Fathers. Yet, he criticizes futurist who use the early Fathers to support their view (see “Sixth” above).

Thirteenth, he rejects the dispensational belief in a literal restoration of Israel which is firmly based in the historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture (see Geisler, ibid., chap. 15). Yet he claims to hold the historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

Fourteenth, Gregg makes the shocking statement that “to spiritualize the first resurrection may indeed be a violation of some arbitrary, humanly devises ‘literal…method of interpretation,’ but what of it?” First of all, the literal method is not humanly devised nor arbitrary. It is an undeniable method of interpretation since one cannot deny it without using it. So, the literal method of interpretation is literally undeniable. Here again, the root problem of preterism is laid bare. To use its own word, their interpretations of prophesy “spiritualize” a lot of prophecy. Incredibly, Gregg brushes off the inconsistency of taking one resurrection literally in the same passage which uses the same words to describe both resurrections by appealing to another passage in a different context that is talking about regeneration (Eph. 2:1), not resurrection. Even more strangely, he uses another text which is speaking about two literal resurrections (Jn. 5:28f) of the “dead” bodies “in the graves” which will “come forth” at the command of Christ to justify that there is only one physical resurrection. He ignores the sound exegesis of George Ladd (in The Blessed Hope), who is not a dispensationalist, but who demonstrates that Revelation 20 is speaking about two literal resurrections. Indeed, the very historical-grammatical hermeneutic which Gregg claims to embrace demands such an interpretation.

Fifteenth, Gregg incorrectly separates the “literal method of interpretation” from a “proper reading of the text.” But he surely would object if one considered it proper not to take these words of his literally. To show how blinded one can be by his own hermeneutical presuppositions, Gregg claims “there is no meaning of Revelation 20 plainer than the amillennial one.” Nothing could be further from the fact, since the same phrase “lived again” is used by the same author in the same text, one before and one after the “thousand years.” And Gregg admits it is a literal resurrection. Further, the two resurrections are said to be separated by “a thousand years,” a term used six times in five verses. Finally, the “thousand years” has a beginning and an end that is “finished.” The bookends of this literal time period are said to be two different literal events, one of which is called “the first resurrection.” Oddly enough, the amills take this to be the spiritual one (when the term “resurrection” is never used spiritually in the NT), and the other resurrection (which is not even called that as such) they believe is the literal resurrection. If one can use such a twisted contorted logic on this text, there is no surprise what a preterist can do with the same hermeneutical gyrations on other texts like those of Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18. And perish the thought of what the preterist could do with the historicity of early Genesis or of the Gospels if they would ever become consistent with their allegorical interpretation!

Sixteenth, to borrow his own term, Gregg becomes “dislodged from reality” by denying that “orthodoxy is dependant on a proper literal…interpretation of the Bible.” How one can consistently hold orthodox theology on any other basis. Take for example the unquestioned orthodox belief in the literal death and literal resurrection of Christ. How can one derive this from Scripture with anything but a proper literal interpretation of Scripture? And yet by the same non-literal method of interpreting prophecy used by preterist, one would have to deny the orthodox teaching of the literal death and resurrection of Christ. In point of fact, full preterism is doctrinally unorthodox and partial preterism is methodologically unorthodox.

Seventeenth, one cannot help but be amazed at the audacity of some preterists. Gregg actually charges that I have not read the “majority of writers in the earliest centuries of Christianity.” How does he know this? In fact, I have read all of them and virturally all of their published writings. Further, I never asserted that they all employed a consistent “literalistic method” of interpretation, as Gregg alleges. I only contented that many of them, some of whom were close to the apostles, rejected the inconsistent partial preterist methodology.

Eighteenth, Gregg dismisses a massive array of unconditional promises that are based on the historical-grammatical interpretation which says that there will be a literal restoration of ethnic Israel to their land (see our Systematic Theology, vol. 4, chaps.14-16). None of the passages he cites deny this future for Israel, and numerous passages he does not cite affirm that there will be one (Gen. 12-17; 2 Sam. 7; Psa. 89; Mt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; Acts 3:19; Rom. 11, and many more). So strongly are these texts in favor of a literal restoration of the land and throne promises to ethnic Israel that even some non-premills like Vern Poythress and Anthony Hoekema have been forced to acknowledge such a future for Israel. And not to see that Paul is speaking of ethnic Israel in Romans 9-11 (which he calls Israel “my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:2) to whom God gave “the covenants” and “Promises” (9:4) is a bold act of exegetical blindness. And it is this same “Israel” in this same passage of which Paul says they will be “grafted into their own olive tree” (11:24) because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). Ironic as it may seem, a fundamental problem with reformed amillennialism is that it does not believe in unconditional election–at least not for Israel! As for the clear literal truth that Jesus will literally come again with his literal twelve disciples who sit on twelve literal thrones and reign over the literal “twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt. 19:28), the best Gregg can offer is “the suggestions” that “this is not the only way in which Matt. 19:28 can be interpreted.” Of course, it isn’t; there is the spiritualistic way Gregg interprets it as “a present reality.” But this is certainly not the result of the historical grammatical hermeneutic preterists profess to accept. Nor is his contention that Jesus “unambiguously” established His kingdom at His first coming, as any literal understanding of numerous passages reveals (see Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; 3:19-21; Rom. 11:11-36). For an example of straining out a hermeneutical gnat and swallowing a doctrinal camel, Gregg declares of Revelation 20 that “the passage says ‘a thousand years.’ It does not say, ‘a literal thousand years.’” The passage also says “the Devil” (v. 2) and not “a literal Devil,” but does this give us warrant for denying a literal Devil. It also speaks of “nations” (v. 3), martyrs (v. 4), “heaven” (v. 1), and even “Jesus” (v. 4). But surely all these are literal. Sure, there are figures of speech used in the text like “key” (v. 1), but the literal method of interpretation has always allowed for figures of speech about literal realities (see ibid., chap. 13). It simply insists that the figures of speech and symbols are about literal realities (cf. Rev. 1:20).

Nineteenth, when confronted with the obviously literal land promises to Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 13-15), Gregg replies, “I don’t find the word ‘literal’ in any of the passages cited.” Yet, he later says these literal promises were literally fulfilled in the days of Joshua–something that could not be true since they are repeated after Joshua’s time (Jer. 11:5; Amos 9:14-15; Acts 1:6-8; Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 11). As for insisting on the use of the word “literal” to determine whether a passage is literal, I would suggest that he look at the death and resurrection of Jesus passages again. The last time I looked the word “literal” was not in the resurrection accounts. Nor do I find it in Genesis 1-3. But there again, consistency of hermeneutic is not a primary characteristic of the preterist position. Further, it is far from “clear” that Heb. 4 or Gal. 4 teaches there is no ethnic fulfillment of the ethnic promises to Israel. On the contrary, it is a denial of both God’s unconditional grace and of the historical-grammatical interpretation of numerous passages already mentioned. Just because Abraham has a spiritual seed does not mean there are no promises for his ethnic offspring.

Twentieth, as to the promise that the land promises to Israel would be “forever,” Gregg says two things: 1) The Hebrew word for “forever” (olam) does not always mean eternal. While this is true, it is also true that it can. And when it does not, it certainly means a long period of time. But Israel has never occupied all the land designated in these promises for a long period of time. As all good interpreters know, the meaning of a word is discovered by its context. And the context of Psalm 89:37 declares that the Davidic covenant will be “established forever like the moon.” And the last time I looked the moon was still in the sky! 2) Greggs wrongly assumes God’s promises to Abraham and David were conditional, but they clearly were not. Abraham was not even conscious when God made a unilateral unconditional promise to him (in Gen. 15:12), and Psalm 89:31-36 declares that even “if they break my statutes,” God promised “Nevertheless My loving kindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail. My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed will endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me.” As Paul said of this same God, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). God has not given them back the land yet, but will in the future when the remnant returns to Him (e.g., see Gen. 13:17 and Deut. 30:16-20).

Twenty-first, to illustrate how wrong the allegorical method can be, Gregg boldly proclaims against the literal historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture, calling it “flawed,” saying that “the apostles believed that God had fulfilled the promise that David’s seed would sit upon a throne when Jesus arose and ascended to the right hand of God.” This flatly contradicts a literal interpretation of Scripture for several reasons. First, the Old Testament predictions about a descendant of David were about a Messiah who would sit on a literal throne of David and reign from Jerusalem and have literal descendants (2 Sam. 7; Isa. 11; 24; 32; 55; Psa. 89). Second, Jesus affirmed that he and his disciples would reign on literal thrones when he returned (Mt. 19:28). Third, the last thing Jesus said before he left earth in response to when he would “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6-8) was it was not for them to know when he would do it but that in the interim they should preach the Gospel to all the world. Only two chapters later Peter preached that if Israel would repent God would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 3:19-21). Finally, later the apostle Paul speaks of the literal restoration of ethnic Israel as an event yet to come after the fullness of the Gentiles has come (Rom. 11:24-26). A reasonable historical grammatical interpretation of these texts will inform a seeking reader that the Davidic covenant was not fulfilled by an invisible, spiritual reign from heaven where Christ is at God’s right hand. Rather, it awaits a literal fulfillment when Christ will reign from a throne on earth (in Jerusalem) of all Israel who inherited the land promised unconditionally to Abraham (Gen. 13-17) from Egypt to Iraq.

Finally, Gregg offers no arguments against the clear biblical promises that God has made these Abrahamic and Davidic promises with an immutable oath (as Heb. 6:17 and Psa. 89:20-37). These powerful arguments are simply dismissed by Gregg with the curt comment: “Sorry, but the New Testament writers simply disagree with Geisler’s claim that these promises ‘have never been fulfilled.’ See Luke 1:70-75 and 2 Corinthians 1:20.” We have already shown above that this is not the case. And there is nothing in Luke 1 nor 2 Cor. 1 to the contrary. Check them out. The first one is simply a prediction that the Messiah, son of David, would come and fulfill this covenant. It says nothing about whether it was completely fulfilled in Christ’s first coming and present session at the right hand of God. The second text (2 Cor. 1:20) is misapplied for several reasons: 1) That Christ fulfilled salvation promises does not mean he fulfilled the land and throne promises to Israel. 2) Even some reformed theologians (like Poythress and Hoekema) admit that there is still to come a literal fulfillment of these promises made to Israel. 3) Historical-grammatical interpretation of Old Testament land and throne promises cannot be allegorized away by amills and preterist misapplication of New Testament texts. As we have demonstrated elsewhere, this kind of twisted interpretation of Old Testament text is not exegesis but eisegesis. Indeed, it is a retroactive eisegesis that reads back into the Old Testament texts a meaning that was never there either in the expressed intention of the author or as understood by the people to whom he wrote (see ibid., chap. 13).

In brief, Gregg’s attempt to rescue the partial preterist position he shares with Hank Hanegraaff is a failure. It rests upon a methodologically unorthodox way of interpreting Scripture. If this same method were used on the Gospel narratives of the resurrection of Christ, the preterist would also be theologically unorthodox. Thus, while partial preterism itself is not heretical, its hermeneutic is unorthodox, and if applied consistently, would lead to heresy, as indeed it does in full preterism.


A Friendly Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Last Disciple

A Friendly Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Last Disciple

by Norman L. Geisler


There are many reasons I am writing this congenial response to Hank’s recent views expressed in
The Last Disciple. First of all, Hank and I are long time friends and have discussed this topic many times. Second, we both agree that the issue here is not one of orthodoxy vs. unorthodoxy since no great fundamental of the Faith is being denied on either side. We are both fighting in the same orthodox trench against the same unorthodox enemies of the Faith. Third, I have been a faithful defender of Hank against the many false charges leveled against him and have thereby earned the right to offer some friendly criticism of his view. Fourth, Hank knows I have a strong commitment to the premillennial futurist view opposed in The Last Disciple. Indeed, the imminent premillennial view has been a treasured part of Southern Evangelical Seminary’s doctrinal statement from the very beginning. As president, I have been asked by numerous constituents whether I agree with Hank’s position. In brief, my answer is that we agree on all the essentials of the Faith, but on the question of the last days Hank knows I do not agree with his opposition to the futurist view. Hence, as long-time friends, we just agree to disagree agreeably. It is in this spirit that I offer a friendly response to his book The Last Disciple (hereafter “LD”) and statements on it taken primarily from the interview (hereafter designated “I”) printed on the CRI web site (http://www.equip.org/abouthank/tyndale.pdf accessed on 1/20/05). In all fairness, Hank promises a fuller expression of his position in a forthcoming book. But based on what he has written, my comments will be listed after the citations from Hank Hanegraaff’s statements.


A. LD claims to be “an alternative to the Left Behind view of Tim LaHaye” (LD, 393).

Comments: It is that, but it is also much more. It is in fact a strong rejection of the futurist view of the Tribulation as well as premillennialism. And like the preterist view, LD holds that the texts in the Mt. Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24-25) and in the Book of Revelation refer to Nero and the 1st century (see point “I” below) and not to any future seven year period dominated by the Antichrist and preceding the literal Second Coming of Christ to earth to reign. In short, LD is a critique of the basic futurist view held by Dallas Seminary, Grace Seminary, the Master’s Seminary, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Philadelphia Biblical University, most Bible Colleges in the country, and numerous Christian leaders who support the ministry of CRI. These include Dr. Wayne House, Dr. Ron Rhodes, Dr. J. P. Moreland, Dr. Barry Leventhal, Dr. Thomas Howe, and many of the faculty of the above institutions. In view of this, it is understandable that we offered here a brief response in support of the widely held futurist view.

B. LD claims not to be committed to “any particular model of eschatology” (LD, 393).

Comments: This statement can easily be misinterpreted. Everyone has an eschatology, formal or informal, including the authors of LD. The question is whether or not it is Bible-based, fits all the data consistently, and corresponds to the facts. Further, everyone is committed to their view in varying degrees. The authors of The Last Disciple claim to be “deeply committed to a proper method of biblical interpretation” (303). But methodology determines theology. Indeed, they speak of “remarkable evidence” for their view (I, #3) and of “no biblical warrant” for the opposing view (I, #6). They speak also of their interpretation of certain disputed terms which allegedly “demonstrate conclusively” that their view is right (I, #7). Clearly, they are committed to the view which opposes the standard futurist interpretation to which a great number of evangelical scholars, including myself, are firmly committed.

C. LD does not “call into question the orthodoxy of the Left Behindauthors”(395) and, thereby, the futurist view.

Comment: This is an important point. There is no charge of heresy here on either side, and there should not be (see “F” below). Certainly, the traditional futurist view has a strong basis in the early Church (see “P” below) and the above listed faculty and schools have provided biblical support for it. Indeed, the classic, exhaustive, and seldom read three volume set of George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, offers biblical support for the imminent premillennial view. The common orthodox belief of all premillennial and amillennial views is a literal return of Christ and a physical resurrection of the dead. On this part of the future, there is basic agreement.

D. The authors of LD wish to “demonstrate the dangers inherent in the interpretive method . . . dispensationalists employ” (LD, 395).

Comments: We agree that the method of interpretation is crucial to one’s conclusions on last things. We also agree that the literal (historical-grammatical) method of interpretation is the correct one. We do not agree, however, as to who is more consistent in their use of this method. Dispensationalists see an inconsistency in the anti-futurist method since many predictions in Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18 were not fulfilled in A.D. 70 – at least not literally. For example, the stars did not fall from heaven (Mt. 24:29), nor were one-third of humans killed (Rev. 9:18), and neither did all the creatures in the sea die (Rev. 16:3) in A.D. 70.

E. LD opposes “Placing the Beast [of Rev. 13] in the twenty-first instead of the first century” (LD, 395).

Comments: Although LD disavows the label of “partial preterism” as well as “post-millennialism,” this conclusion is in agreement with preterism. And if LD is right, then the rest of the Tribulation (Rev. 6-18) must be placed there too. But if it is taken literally, then it cannot be placed there since Jesus did not visibly return to earth in A.D. 70 (Mt. 24:30 cf. Rev. 1:7 and Acts 1:10-11). Nor did Christ literally execute all the judgments listed in Revelation 9 and 16 at that time. And since LD claims to hold a literal method of interpretation, then its consistency can be seriously challenged at this point.

F. LD affirms that “John was told not to seal up the prophecy because its fulfillment was [in the] fore future,” not in the “far future” as Daniel was told his was (Dan. 8:26; 12:4) (LD, 395).

Comments: Here again, this agrees with the partial preterist view that John is speaking about the first century, whatever applications it may have to later generations. But if Revelation 6-18 refers to the first century, then why not the whole book since John was told, according to LD, that all of Revelation was to be unveiled for the near future? And if this refers to the first century, then one is driven to full preterism which both sides admit is a heresy since it says the resurrection is past (2 Tim. 2:18). There is no consistent hermeneutical way to separate Rev. 19-22 from 6-18 on preterist grounds. Indeed, the seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:15) which is during the Tribulation announces the coming of Christ. And the verses speaking of a “soon” coming, as LD interprets them, refer to the whole book of Revelation from beginning to end (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10).

G. LD asserts that “John’s repeated use of such words and phrases assoon and the time is near demonstrate conclusively that John could not have had the twenty-first century in mind” (LD, 395; I, #3).

Comments: If so, then on this premise the whole book of Revelation (including the Second Coming and Resurrection – Chapters 19-20) must refer to the first century since the word “soon” applies to the whole book of Revelation (1:1; 22:10). In this case, full preterism follows which is heretical. So, while the conclusions of LD are not unorthodox, if this understanding is applied consistently to other texts, then the logical implications will lead to unorthodox conclusions. Hence, while doctrinallythis is an intramural orthodox discussion, nevertheless, methodologicallythis is a very important issue.

Further, these words do not refer to a soon event but a swift event. This is borne out by the Greek lexicons and dictionaries. The Greek word for “quickly” is tachu which occurs thirteen times in the New Testament (Mt. 5:25; 28:7, 8; Mk. 9:39; 16:8; Jn. 11:29; Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). Arndt and Gingrich (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 814) say it means “quick, swift, speedy.” It is what happens “quickly, at a rapid rate.” Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 616) agrees, saying, it means “quickly, speedily.” Likewise, Vine (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 913) concurs that it means “swift, quick . . . , quickly.” Hence, this term need not, as LD argues, refer to a first-century event but to the imminent coming of Christ whenever it occurs.

H. The LD view affirms that “Unlike the Left Behind authors, we believe that when John in Revelation says ten or more times that the events about which he is writing ‘must soon take place,’ or for which ‘the time is near,’ that is precisely what he means” (I, #4).

Comments: First, if this is precisely what he means in the whole book, then, as already noted, the heretical view of full preterism follows. Second, these may be interpreted, as the futurist holds, as indicating the imminence of Christ’s coming, namely, that it may happen at any time (see 1 Cor. 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; James 5:7-9; 1 John 2:28). The great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson said that by “quickly” in Revelation “I am coming (imminent) . . . is meant to be understood.” He adds, “we do not know how soon ‘quickly’ is meant to be understood. But it is a real threat” (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6.306). Noted New Testament scholar Leon Morris commented: “The imminence of the coming is repeated” (Morris, The Revelation of St. John, 258). In his classic commentary on Revelation, J. A. Seiss affirmed: “Everywhere the promised Apocalypse of the Lord Jesus is represented as close at hand, liable to occur at any moment” (Seiss, The Apocalypse, 523, emphasis added). The word translated “shortly”(Rev. 1:1; 22:6) is tachei which is from the same root as tachu (see above) and, like it, means swiftly or speedily. As such it does not necessarily refer to a soon but a sudden event. Further, as hermeneutical expert, Dr. Thomas Howe, has pointed out, John was not told to “unseal the revelation he received.” Rather, he was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” This does not mean the prophecy was fulfilled in John’s day but that the words of the prophecy could be understood by those who read them in his day.

The word “near” (Rev. 1:3) is the Greek word eggus which means “near” or “at hand.” But this is a relative term like “short” and “long,” of which one can ask how near? And as measured by whom? What is long to us is short for God. Peter said, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Further, there are clear biblical examples where a “short” time was really a long time for us. Hebrews 10:37 says Jesus would come in just “a little while” and it is nearly 2000 years since then, and He has not come yet. Haggai 2:6-7 says the time from his day (c. 500 B.C.) to the glorious temple to be rebuilt at Christ’s coming was only a “little while.” Even to Christ’s first coming this was 500 years, and the prophecy will not be completely fulfilled until His second coming which is over 2500 years already.

I. LD contends that “The Great Tribulation instigated by Nero is the antitype for every type and tribulation that follows before we experience the reality of our own resurrection at the Second Coming” (LD, 395).

Comments: It is understandable how a literal first century Tribulation could be an encouragement to later sufferers, but where in Scripture does it say it is an antitype for all future tribulations? Further, if LD takes this to refer to Nero and the first century, as it says repeatedly, then that is the meaning of the text. And that is what partial preterism means. So, in spite of any disavowal of the term, this is an anti-futurist view of these texts common to preterism.

J. “The Last Disciple series places the Great Tribulation precisely where it belongs, in a first-century milieu in which ‘the last disciple’ comforts believers in the throes of the mother of all persecutions” (LD, 395).

Comments: If the “Great Tribulation” meant by John in Revelation was “precisely” a first century event, then this is indistinguishable from preterism, no matter how many later applications are made of the text for future sufferers. If this is so, then there is no future “Great Tribulation” as futurists claim and the LD view is a form of preterism, despite any protests by LD authors to the contrary.

K. “The Last Disciple, then, will develop the necessary skills for reading Scripture – particularly the book of Revelation-for all its worth” (I, # 1).

Comments: In all candor, this is a bit of an over claim. I wish it were that simple, and given that the method used in LD deviates from the literal interpretation of many events in Revelation mentioned above, I don’t think the book accomplishes this goal. This is so especially in view of the fact that the authors admit the Old Testament background for the language and images of these New testament predictions. But if Revelation is patterned after the deliverance of His people through tribulation in the Old Testament, then why reject the view that the plagues of Revelation are as literal as those executed on Pharaoh in the Exodus after which Revelation is modeled? Further, if other parts of the prophecy Jesus gave in Matthew 24-25 are taken literally by LD and fulfilled literally, then how can it consistently deny a literal fulfillment of the others in the same text?

L. “There is also remarkable evidence for Nero as the Beast and his persecutions as the great tribulation” (I, #3).

Comments: Actually, the opposite is true. There is strong evidence that Revelation was written in the 90s well after Nero was dead during Domitian’s reign. If so, this would make the LD false. Briefly stated the evidence for dating Revelation in the 90s A.D. is as follows: First, this futurist view of the Tribulation, Antichrist, and/or even Millennium was held by many of the earliest Fathers including Irenaeus (2nd century) who said “It was seen not very long ago, almost in our own generation, at the close of the reign of Domitian” (Against Heresies 5.30.3). This was confirmed by Victorinus (3rd century) who wrote: “When John said these things, he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the mines by Caesar Domitian” (Commentary of Revelation 10:11). Likewise, Eusebius (4thcentury) confirmed the Domitian date (Ecclesiastical History 3.18). Second, other early Fathers after A.D. 70 refer to the Tribulation or Antichrist spoken of in Revelation as yet future (see Commondianus [3rd century], Instructions 44, and Ephraem of Syria [4th century], On the Last Times, 2). Third, the conditions of the seven churches (Rev. 2-3) fit this later period rather than that reflected in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Timothy which were written in the 60s. For example, the church at Ephesus in Revelation had lost its first love (Rev. 2:4) and others like Laodicea (Rev. 3:14f.) had fallen from the Faith. Fourth, it was not until the reign of Domitian that emperor worship as reflected in Revelation was instituted. Fifth, Laodicea appears as a prosperous city in Revelation 3:17, yet it was destroyed by an earthquake in c. A.D. 61, during Nero’s reign, and would not have recovered so quickly in a couple of years. Sixth, John’s exile on the island of Patmos implies a later date when persecution was more rampant (1:9). Seventh, the references to persecution and Martyrdom in the churches reflect a later date (cf. Rev. 2:10, 13 cf.). Eighth, Polycarp’s reference to the church at Smyrna (to the Philippians 11.3) reveals that it did not exist in Paul’s day (by A.D. 64) as it did when John wrote Revelation 2:8. Ninth, the Nicolaitans (of Rev. 2:6, 11) were not firmly established until nearer the end of the century. Tenth, there is not sufficient time on the early date for John’s arrival in Asia (late 60s) and replacement of Paul as the respected leader of the Asian Church (see discussion in Donald Guthrie,New Testament Introduction, vol. 2, chapter 7).

M. LD objects to “The pretribulational rapture model featured in theLeft Behind series [that] interprets Revelation 13, for example, in a strictly literal fashion” (I, #3).

Comments: It all depends on what is meant by “strictly literal.” If “strictly literal” means the unique interpretation of Tim LaHaye that the Antichrist resurrects himself, then we agree with LD that this is wrong. However, we must be careful not to paint all futurists with the same broad brush. There are a lot of them who do not agree with LaHaye here, including the commentary produced by the Dallas Seminary faculty (see Walvoord and Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, p. 960). And it would not be fair to leave the impression that LaHaye’s interpretation of Revelation 13 is essential to, or even characteristic of, the futurist view of Revelation. After all, if we take the text literally, it does not say the Beast was “resurrected” from the dead. It says that his deadly “wound” was “healed” (Rev. 13:12).

N. LD affirms that “As the characters in the novel deal with tribulation, they are sustained by the hope of resurrection that Jesus gives all of us, not with a belief that they are meant to be taken away from trouble by a rapture” (I, #4 cf. I, #5).

Comments: This is a false either/or when it is a both/and situation. The resurrection and the rapture take place at the same time, whenever that time is (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Even those who are raptured will receive their permanent glorified body at that time (1 Cor. 15:50-56). Of course, they are distinct events in the sense that the dead are raised “first” and those alive are “caught up” with them to “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). But these events happen at the same time, and they both receive their permanent immortal, imperishable body at that moment (1 Cor. 15:50-56). So, the two hopes cannot be separated.

O. LD declares that “Prior to the nineteenth century all Christians-including all premillennialists-believed the rapture or the resurrection of believers and the second coming of Christ were simultaneous events and not two distinct happenings separated by at least seven years” (I, #6).

Comments: This is plainly and simply false. The early Ephraem manuscript (see Thomas Ice, When the Trumpet Sounds, 110-111) reveals the pretrib view was held as early as the 300s A.D. And even if the first known reference is later, truth is not determined by time. This is the fallacy of “Chronological Snobbery.” The amillennial view itself (with which this point in LD accords) is “late” since most of the early Fathers were premillennial including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the early Augustine. Other futurists (whose view is opposed by LD) include even earlier subapostolic writings like Irenaeus, Ignatius, the Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Papias, Clement of Rome, Lactantius, Methodius, Epiphanius, and others (see George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. 1, pp. 304, 324, 451) .

P. “First, there is not a single passage in Scripture that teaches a pretribulational rapture” (I, #6).

Comment: In one sense this is true, but it is very misleading. For in the strict sense, there is not a single passage of Scripture that teaches the Trinity either, but that does not mean it is not biblically based. And in this broader sense of biblically based, which must be allowed for the doctrines of the Trinity and inerrancy, the pretrib view is biblical as well (see Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Comes). For in the broader sense, these doctrines are not based on a single text but on all the data of Scripture on the topic put in a consistent systematic whole that best explains them with whatever varying degree of certitude (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, chap. 12).

Q. “There is no biblical warrant for LaHaye’s hypothesis that believers will be resurrected some one thousand seven years before the resurrection of unbelievers” (I, #6).

Comments: If this means there is no biblical warrant for believing in the pretrib view, then one must beg to disagree. Detailed reasons are listed in the forthcoming volume four of our Systematic Theology: The Church and Last Things (chapter 17). Or, if this means there is no biblical basis for believing there are two resurrections, one before and one after “the thousand years,” then one must strongly disagree. Even non-dispensationalists, like George Ladd, agree that a literal (historical-grammatical) interpretation of Revelation 20 demands a premillennial conclusion of a first physical resurrection before the thousand years and a second physical resurrection after it (see Ladd, The Blessed Hope). Just the phrase, “and the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:5) makes this view clear. The alternative interpretations must spiritualize (allegorize) this text. Indeed, to deny the premillennial view one must take the first resurrection as spiritual and the second one as literal. Ironically, only the first one is actually called a “resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6), though “live again”(Gk. ezasan) is used of both (vv. 4-5). Nowhere in Scripture is the word “resurrection” ever used in a spiritual sense. So, to spiritualize the “first resurrection” is a gross violation of the literal (historical-grammatical) method of interpretation.

R. “The plain and proper reading of a biblical passage must always take precedence over a particular eschatological presupposition or paradigm” (I, #7).

Comments: We agree. But if this is so, then the plain and proper reading of Revelation 20 will yield a futurist premillennial view contrary to LD. Yet LD opposes this futurist view in favor of a kind of amillennial view. (1) This conclusion is inconsistent with its alleged literal method of interpreting the Bible.



The basic goals of LD are admirable, and its basic doctrines are within orthodoxy. Nonetheless, the dialogue on methodology is important since orthodoxy is dependant on a proper literal (historical-grammatical) interpretation of the Bible. However, LD does not appear to measure up to the standards of its own alleged literal method. In rejecting a futurist (2)interpretation of Revelation, LD must reject a literal interpretation of many passages in Revelation and in Matthew 24-25 which they claim were fulfilled in the first century. And if this same non-literal method were applied to other passages like the Gospels, then it would undermine historical Christianity. Hence, the issue is of great importance. So, on this matter we must respectfully disagree agreeably with our good friend Hank Hanegraaff.

Yet I would suggest a more excellent way. LD rightly criticizes excesses in some futurists’ interpretation of some texts. But the same could be done for preterists’ interpretations which claim these predictions were fulfilled in A.D. 70. Would it not be better for LD to be content to show the inconsistencies of some futurists’ interpretations, rather than attacking the whole premillennial futurist scheme which is firmly rooted in the historical-grammatical interpretation of all of Scripture, including prophecy, and amply exhibited in the majority of writers in the earliest centuries of Christianity? For when the literal method is applied to the unconditional Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, it yields a futurist interpretation of Scripture which affirms that Christ will not only physically return to earth but He will also establish a literal kingdom (Mt. 19:28) and reign for a literal thousand years (Rev. 20), restoring the literal Land of Promise to the literal descendants of Abraham from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon, the territory of the Palestinians, and all the way to Egypt (Gen. 13:15-17; 15:7-21) “forever” (Gen 13:15). Likewise, the literal method of interpretation demands that there will be a literal throne of David on which the Messiah will actually reign on a throne in Jerusalem over the restored literal descendants of Abraham “forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-16). But these unconditional promises have never been fulfilled, even though God made them with an “immutable” oath (Heb. 6:17-18 cf. Ps. 89:20-37). However, if the Bible is to be taken literally, then the basic premillennial futurist view which LD critiques must be right. Indeed, if LD wished to take all of Scripture literally and consistently, then it would be better to affirm these unconditional promises which are at the heart of the premillennial futurist view, rather than occupy its time with criticizing excesses in some popular presentations of these views.


1. In personal conversation with Hank, he disavows both the premillennial and the postmillennial views by name, which in terms of the three basic views leaves him in the amillennial camp, though he is reluctant to use this word for his view.

2. Of course even partial preterists are “futurists” regarding the Second Coming and Resurrection. But they reject the futurist understanding of the bulk of Book of Revelation.


A Review of Hank Hanegraaff’s The Apocalypse Code

A Review of Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Apocalypse Code

by Norman L. Geisler

Points of Agreement

There are numerous things with which we are in agreement with the author of The Apocalypse Code. First and foremost, I agree with Hank on all the essential salvation doctrines of the Christian Faith, including the fundamental teachings about the future physical return of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of all men and the final judgment. So, the intramural debate on the millennium and tribulation is not one of the great essentials of the Faith. Further, we agree that:

The date of a view has no necessary connection with the truth of the view (57).

  • The part must be interpreted in the light of the whole (228, 230);
  • We should not impose a model on Scripture but should derive it from Scripture (236);
  • The literal method is the correct method of interpreting Scripture (10, 14,230);
  • The “literal interpretation” is the one that takes the text “in its most obvious and natural sense” (230);
  • The correct meaning is generally what the original audience understand by it (1);
  • Literal is not the same as literalistic. The Bible uses symbols and figures of speech (10);
  • Typology is an important part of biblical interpretation (161);
  • The Old Testament is often the key to understanding the New Testament (161, 230);
  • “Ideas have consequences” (47).

Strangely, the differences between our views comes not so much in these basic principles, but in the interpretation and application of them.

Logical Fallacies

Since one’s conclusion are no better than his premises and the logic (or illogic) by which he draws conclusions from them. We will begin our evaluation of The Apocalypse Code (hereafter, The Code) by looking at its logic. A careful examination off the text in the light of the laws of logic and deviations from them reveals some serious flaws. First of all, the general argument of the book turns out to be a classic Straw Man fallacy.

Straw Man Fallacy

The Code takes one particular form of the premillennial view, in which it sees extremes, and tacitly uses it to dismiss all who hold to premillennialism. A case in point is Tim LaHaye’s view that Satan can resurrect the dead, as he did in the case of the Antichrist (Rev. 13). Most premills do not hold this interpretation, and it is not essential to the premill or pretrib view to do so. But the implication is left by The Code that by destroying this straw man one has said something telling against the pretrib and premillennial views as well. Hence, one popularized and sometimes sensationalized extreme is set up as a straw man to attack a general futurist view held by an untold number of churches, a vast number of Seminaries and Bible Colleges, and numerous radio guests and authors associated with Hank’s own Christian Research Institute. So what is going on here is not merely an attack on a popular version of pretribulationaism but a subtle broad brush assault on all premill and futurist beliefs.

Guilt by Association

Another logical fallacy found in The Code is Guilt by Association. For example, arguments against a pretrib position in particular do not thereby affect premillennialism in general. There are many premillennialist who are not pretrib, including midtrib, prewrath, and posttribs. Hence, what argues against pretribs does not thereby destroy either premillennialism or even dispensationalism–a point that The Code is not anxious to acknowledge. Yet it implicitly dismisses one with the other by the guilt of association.

False Disjunctions

The Code also contains many False Disjunctions. The example from anti-dispensationalist John Gerstner is a case in point (81). The Code agrees that either one holds that Israel’s land promises will be fulfilled in a piece of land east of the Mediterranean or else it will be fulfilled in Christ Himself. But this is a false either/or disjunctions since it could be both, as the returned Jews share their place in a literal kingdom in Israel under the Christ (Messiah). Another false either/or in The Code is: God is either pro-Jew or pro-justice. But there is no reason He cannot be both by faithfully fulfilling His promise to both Jews (to give them their land) and Gentiles to give believing non-Jews a place in His earthly kingdom too. Another false dichotomy is: either God’s promises will be fulfilled in an earthly Jerusalem or else in a heavenly city (198). But the heavenly city is said to come down to earth from heaven in Revelation 21:2. Another example is the statement: “It is Paradise–a new heaven and a new earth–not Palestine for which our hearts yearn” (225). For the believing Jew restored to his land under his Messiah it can be both. Why can’t it be both when the heavenly city comes to earth and the Lord’s prayer is literally fulfilled: “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven”!

False Analogy

Hanegraaff’s Code also makes false analogies. For example, it argues that just as race has no consequence in Christ, neither does real estate (182). This reference to our spiritual status in Christ allegedly negates God’s unconditional land promise to Abraham’s literal descendents. But this clearly does not follow. It is a false analogy.

A Text Out of Context

In general The Code repeatedly takes the Old Testament promises to Jews out of their original context by replacing Israel with the New Testament church. The “Replacement Theology” is a classic example of taking texts out of their context. In particular, The Code also takes a quote from our book out of context in an attempt to support their view by showing that I believe John was written before AD 70 (154-156). I never said any such thing. I was merely emphasizing that most, “if not all,” of the New Testament was written early. I never said, nor do I believe that John wrote Revelation before A.D. 70. I have held the late date for John’s Gospel and The Apocalypse for the last fifty years! I merely admitted the possibility, not probability, of an early date for John’s writings. The claim that I used John 5 and Revelation 11 to show these books were written before AD 70 (157) is based on an error in a footnote not caught in proof reading that was made by my co-author.

A Genetic Fallacy

This fallacy supposes a view is wrong because it came from a questionable or bad source. This fallacy occurs in The Code when it dismisses the dispensational pretrib view because of its alleged source in John Nelson Darby (40–41) whom Hank calls a “disillusioned priest” from the 19th cent. By the same logic one could reject modern scientific inventions because some were derived from questionable sources like Tesla’s AC motor from a vision while reading a pantheistic poet and Kekule’s model of the benzine molecule from a vision of a snake bitting its tail!

The Fallacy of Chronological Snobbery

The Code utilizes this fallacy to advance its cause by pointing to the alleged late time period that pretrib premillennialism appears in church history (40-44). But the truth is that truth is not determined by the time of its discovery. Most widely held scientific views appeared relatively late in the history of the world, namely, the last few centuries. It is well known that many heretical teachings are old and some orthodox teachings are relatively new. Time is no sure test of truth. What is more, premillennialism, which The Code rejects, appears early in church history (2nd cent.), and covenant theology which most amillennialists accept appears late (17th cent).

Besides logical fallacies, there are repeated false charges like pretribs believe that certain texts are speaking to 21st century Christians (117,129,144, 159, 181). This fails to understand the realistic concept of imminence held by pretribs that affirms Christ may come at any time. Hence, the text is applicable to any age, including the 21st century, but it was not directed at any century in particular. In addition, The Code is also filled with overstatements and exaggerations. These include the following:

Overstatement and Exaggerations

There is a wild comparison of John Nelson Darby dispensationalism with Darwin’s evolutionary dogma (37f., 69). Other than the time period in which they wrote there is very little agreement between the two. Also, dispensationalists are bedeviled as “socially disinherited, psychologically disturbed, and theologically naive” (44). I personally take offense at this and believe Hank owes an apology to his former employee Dr. Ron Rhodes, some of his frequent guests and writers, like Dr. Wayne House, Dr. Thomas Howe, and myself, to mention only a few dispensationalist. Likewise, The Code makes the unnecessary, unkind, and excessive statement that dispensationalism is associated with the “cultic fringe” like Mormonism (44). In one incredible exaggeration The Code blasts pretribulationism as “blasphemous” (63-64). One only loses credibility by such statements. A close second for exaggeration is the contention that believing in unconditional land promises for Israel “borders on blasphemy”(225). As a matter of fact, it borders on unbelief to deny that God’s unconditional promises to Israel will not be fulfilled just as He predicted them and as the original audience understood them (1). Further, the well established view (by early and continuous testimony) that John wrote after AD 70 is called “incredible” (157) by Hank. That in itself is a rather incredible position in view of the facts (see below). And The Code boasts concerning the highly disputed number of the Antichrist it is “absolutely certain that 666 is the number of Nero’s name” (146)! This is in conflict with The Code’s contention elsewhere that other prophetic details like those in Daniel 9 (247). It is strange that a relatively obscure point of eschatology on a non-essential doctrine should be held as “absolutely certain” and yet some essential doctrines with less certainty is a sad testimony to the skewed perspective in The Code.


While we have many points of agreement with The Code on the method of interpretation (see above), there are some significant differences in Hanegraaff’s amill form of partial preterism. A few call for comment.

First, The Code made a false dichotomy between the method of interpretation and the model of eschatology (2, 3), falsely claiming that it is doing the former, not the latter. The truth is that one’s methodology leads to one’s theology, as is clear from the discussion below showing how Hank’s preteristic bad methodological procedures lead to his bad theological premises.

Second, The Code made a common mistake by claiming that one must make an up-front determination of genre before a passage can be interpreted properly (20). The truth is that one cannot even know the genre of a text unless he first uses the historical-grammatical (i.e., literal) method of interpretation to determine its genre.

Third, the book reveals a misunderstanding that in the progression of revelation things always move from lesser (earthly) to greater (heavenly), not the reverse (224). This is misapplied in an attempt to show that God will not fulfill His unconditional promises to the nation of Israel. But God’s purpose in reaching the Gentiles does not negate the necessity of His later fulfillment of His unconditional Throne and Land promises to Israel (cf. Rom. 11).

Fourth, there is an inconsistency in Hank’s partial preterist interpretation of the Tribulation as having its primary fulfillment in A.D. 70 but allowing for further applications in the future and his contention that the ultimate fulfillment is greater than the near ones. On the one hand, he argues that the “predominant” meaning of the Tribulation texts is that it will be fulfilled “soon” in AD 70. On the other hand, he believes there are lesser future applications, since the AD 70 events do not exhaust their application. For Revelation foretells final-future events that are not exhausted in the AD 70 events (34). Hank says “John . . . uses final consummation language to describe near-future events” (135). On the other hand, he claims that 2 Peter 3 is fulfilled in 70 AD even though its “cosmic language” did not apply predominantly to AD 70 but points forward to an “even greater day of judgment” at the Second Coming (135). If so, then all the terms like “quickly” and “near” apply to far distant events too–in which case preterists lose some of their better arguments.

Fifth, there is a serious misunderstanding of typology in The Code. This deserves special attention since it is at the heart of the issue.


In his own summary of the book, Hanegraaff declares: “All the types and shadows of the old covenant, including the holy land of Israel, the holy city Jerusalem, and the holy temple of God, have been fulfilled in the Holy Christ” (224-225, emphasis added). Few Bible scholars would dispute the typology of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system. The New Testament clearly teaches that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). And the book of Hebrews shows emphatically how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices (19, 85). Adam is the prototype of Christ, as 1 Corinthians 15 says (15, 171). Jesus tabernacled among us (Jn. 1:14) and fulfilled the tabernacle and temple types (215). Jonah was a prototype to which Jesus referred (Mt. 12:40-42). As The Codesays typology means “Old Testament person, event or institution prefigures a corresponding great reality [antitype] in the New Testament” (169).

However, there is no biblical principle of typology that says the literal and unconditional Davidic throne and Abrahamic land promises are fulfilled in Christ, as The Code wrongly contends (224-225). There is no principle of typology that negates the land promises to Abraham’s literal descendants “forever” by claiming that “the lesser is fulfilled and rendered obsolete by the greater” (201). One could agree in a sense that “The importance of understanding typology can hardly be overstated”(262), but it can also be easily overextended, as The Code does. Nor is it a proper New Testament typological interpretation of the Old to claim it is an ultimate corrective of Zionism’s (223) affirmation of a literal fulfillment of God’s unconditional promises to Israel.

Israel’s Land and Throne Promises

God promised unconditionally that He would give the land from Egypt to Iraq to Abraham’s literal descendants forever (Gen. 12, 13, 15, 17). The land promise was a unilateral covenant since Abraham was not even conscious and only God passed through the sacrifice (Gen. 15), thus unilaterally ratifying it. Likewise, the Davidic throne promise that a descendant of David would reign on his throne forever was unconditional (2 Sam. 7). Indeed, Psalm 89 declares that He will fulfill it even if they disobey God because He cannot “allow His faithfulness to fall” (15:33). He said, “Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David; His seed shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before me” (vs. 36-37). Now on any literal interpretation of these texts – and as understood by Hank’s own principle this is what the original audience would have understood (1)–this calls for a literal future fulfillment just as dispensationalists contend. And to deny a literal interpretation of these Land and Throne promises, claiming they are only a shadow of what we have in Christ (174), is a classic misuse of typology. Further, the unconditional nature of the promises flies in the face of The Code’s contention that Land promises were “inviolately conditioned upon belief and faithfulness”(196).

Speaking in the context of God’s faithfulness to Israel, Paul declares “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). It is indeed ironic that the very covenant theologians who believe in God’s unconditional election of the Church are the ones who so strongly deny His unconditional election of Israel. And, ironically, they use God’s promises to Israel to do it.

To spiritualize this away as fulfilled in Christ (50, 171) and the New Testament Church (174) is simply a violation of the literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic. Indeed, it is contrary to Hank’s own principle that the true meaning is the one the original audience would have understood it to be (1). Clearly, the Jews understood this predictions about future Messianic kingdom to be literal. This is to is to say nothing of the principle that prophecies should be understood in same literal sense in which Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s first coming were literally fulfilled. Hence, predictions surrounding Christ’s second coming should also be understood literally. And to claim that it can’t be fulfilled literally because the Ten Tribes lost their identity in Assyrian captivity (126), is an insult to the omniscience of God. Certainly He who names and numbers the stars (Isa. 40:20) and will reconstruct the dispersed particles of our decayed bodies in the resurrection both knows who those lost tribes are and how to regather them. And it is a strange twist of logic to claim that Abraham’s spiritual descendants (believers today) will fulfill God’s land promise to Israel because they will get more than was promised to Israel: they will get the “cosmos” according to Romans 4:13 (178). The question is not whether Abraham’s spiritual seed will get more than God promised but whether his literal descendants will get less than the Land He promised them. After all, through Abraham all the families of the earth were to be blessed (Gen. 12:3).

There is also an equivocation about the Land promises in The Code. On the one hand, it claims they are “irrelevant” in God’s redemptive purposes in Christ (194). On the other hand, it claims Land promises were fulfilled: near future–Joshua; far future–Jesus; final future–Paradise (182–179). Then, it insists that they were fulfilled in Nehemiah 9:8, 22-24 (180). Indeed, some claim they were already fulfilled in Joshua (21:43-45). Yet The Code claims they await a future spiritual fulfillment in Jesus the true Israelite (181,182,194. 197). Further, if, as Hank contends, the land promises were “inviolately conditioned upon belief and faithfulness”(196), why then must there be some kind of fulfillment of them forever in the “final future–Paradise” (182, 179). Reversing, the usual order, The Code declares that “John . . . uses final consummation language to describe near-future events.” (134–135). Which is it? Is the near event the predominant referent or the far event?

I will leave it to the preterists to untangle this prophetic pretzel, but one thing is certain: There never has been a literal fulfillment wherein the nation Israel has possessed all the land given by God from Egypt to Iraq “forever,”that is, as long as the sun and moon are in the sky (Psa. 89:37-37). So, any other interpretation given, such as that in The Code, is not a literal one.


This same equivocal literal/spiritual interpretation is evident in The Code’s Amillennialism. It affirms that there will be no millennial golden age (202, 236, 256). Yet even non-dispensational premills like George Ladd demonstrated that a literal understand of Revelation 20 demands a premill view. In spite of this Hank insists on spiritualizing “a thousand years,” claiming is not “a literal prophetic chronology.” Rather, the two resurrections at either end of the millennium are said to be “symbolic chronological bookends to highlight a qualitative, not quantitative vindication of martyrs”(256, 275). This so-called symbolic qualitative victory is a hermeneutical spiritualization that manifests an exegetical stretch of a preterists imagination. Particularly this is so since Hank believes, as do other amills, that Revelation 20 speaks of a literal resurrection and a literal Devil. Why then is the rest of the passage to be taken symbolically? Also, how can a thousand years represent eternity. The thousand years have a beginning and an end. It has one resurrection before it and one after it. It has a limited time when Satan is in prison after which he will be “released.” Both resurrections are referred to by the same Greek term “come alive.” Yet amills insist that there is really only one physical resurrection here, claiming the other is a spiritual regeneration. Yet the word “resurrection” is always used elsewhere of a physical resurrection in the Bible. Further, “one general resurrection of the dead” (276) which Hank affirms is contrary to the fact that the plain meaning of the text says that only part of the dead were resurrected before the millennium and the “rest of the dead” were not raised until after the millennium. Amill preterism seriously falters at this point. Indeed, the futurists premill view is firmly planted in the early Fathers, including luminaries like Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexander, Tertullian, and even the early Augustine. Other futurists (anti-preterists) include Irenaeus, Ignatius, The Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, Papias, Clement of tome, Lactantius, Methodius, Epiphanius, and others (see George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. 2, pp. 304, 324, 451).


Hank’s Code denies full preterism. He lists two types: “partial- and hyper-preterist” the later of which he admits is “clearly heretical” (275). He claims that “orthodox preterist” hold future resurrection and second coming (269). But if these are literal events, then why are associated events in the same passage not taken literally? The Code offers several arguments for its form of preterism.

The Use of Words Like “Shortly” and “Quickly”

One of the most basic arguments for preterism, of either variety, is its contention that the New Testament use of words like “shortly” and “quickly” clearly refer to first century events, not distant events. Hank claims that the plain interpretation of near, soon, and at hand mean near future in Revelation 1:1, 3, 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20 and means “within John’s near future” (251). They claim that if Revelation were about the future, it would have been irrelevant to first century Christians (159). Yet, by the same token passages about the resurrection and second coming (which partial preterists admit is yet future) are relevant. Indeed, they are used to comfort and exhort believers in the present (cf. 1 Thes. 4:18; 2 Pet. 3:11). Further, if terms like “soon” mean in the near future, then the resurrection and second coming must also have been before AD 70 since Revelation speaks of both of these events as part of the revelation that would be fulfilled “quickly” (1:1,3: 22:6-12, 20). The truth is that standard Greek lexicons like Arndt and Gingrich define “quickly” (Gk: tachu) as “quick, swift, speedy” (p. 814). So, the term does not mean soon but suddenly. Likewise, the word “near” (Gk: eggus) does not necessary mean immediate future since it is used in both Testaments of events that were hundreds of years away (cf. Haggai 2:6-7; Heb. 10:37). Interestingly, The Code admits that A.D. 70 does not exhaust the meaning of these prophetic texts but is only the “predominant” meaning (92). If so, then, the terms must also refer to a more remote generation as well.

The Use of “You”

Another argument for the preterist view is that “you” in many texts must refer to the immediate first century audience (7). They cite Matthew 23:35 as proof: “On you may come all the blood shed on the earth . . . .” Ironically, that very verse proves the contrary since a “you” is used in it of the people who slew Zechariah in the Old Testament who was long dead. So, “you” can be used historically to refer to “your ancestors” just as it can be used proleptically of “your descendants.” For example, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you” (Mt. 5:11) in the Sermon on the Mount is not limited to Jesus’ immediate audience but also for future generations.

The Use of “This Generation”

The Code argues that “This generation appears fourteen times in the Gospels and always applies to Jesus’ contemporaries” (77, 81). But this begs the question by assuming references given in a prophetic context must be understood like all the other ones which are not. The best the argument could prove is that in all other non-prophetic references it means contemporaries which does nothing to prove what it means in a prophetic context. Also, it confuses sense and reference. In every instance it has the same sense/meaning, but in different instances it has a different referent. Further, as virtually all acknowledge, it can mean “this [Jewish] race” will not pass away–which it has not. Greek experts Arndt and Gingrich acknowledge that the term genera can have an ethnic use of “family, descent, . . . clan, then race (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 249, emphasis added). Furthermore, even if it is a reference to contemporaries, it might be the contemporaries in the future context when these things begin to happen. What is more, even The Code admits there is an “ultimate fulfillment [of Mt. 24] in the second coming of Christ” (136). So, even according to preterists, “this generation” extends beyond the immediate generation in its fulfillment.

The Alleged Early Date for John’s Writings

Preterists attempt to show the Book of Revelation was written before AD 70 in Nero’s time because of 666 being the numerical equivalent of Nero’s name (Rev. 13) and the reference to the sixth king who, according to their claim, was Nero (Rev. 17:10). However, other names also equal 666 like “Caesar of the Romans” in Hebrew and even the Pope’s name in Latin (see Eric Sauer, The Triumph of the Crucified, 121, 122). Further, it may be a symbolic way of referring to a man (man was created on the sixth day) who claims to be the triune (3 sixes) God (Ibid., 129). Further, the sixth king need not be Nero but could be the sixth great kingdom (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome [Ellicott’s Commentary, 7.613 and Seiss,The Apocalypse, 393]). What is more Revelation 11 may be referring to the Tribulation temple, not the one standing in AD 70 (213). Furthermore, there is strong internal evidence indicating that the conditions found in the seven churches (Rev. 2-3) reflect a time period of some considerable time after that of the last books written before AD 70 (like 2 Tim., 2 Peter, Hebrews). These later conditions include the absence of Peter and Paul, the apostasy of the church, more persecution and martyrdom, and John’s exiled condition on Patmos.

Furthermore, as even partial preterist Kenneth Gentry admits, there is “strong external witness” that John wrote after AD 70 during Domitian’s reign (260). Indeed, the earliest witness (Irenaeus) knew Polycarp (1st cent), the disciple of the apostle John. With him there is an unbroken series of early Fathers who held that John wrote after AD 70 including Irenaeus (2nd cent), Victorinus (3rd cent), and Eusebius (4th ent.). The significance of this cannot be overstated. For the early view of John does not destroy the futurist view (that the Tribulation is after AD 70). However, the late view totally destroys the preterist since it is referring to the Tribulation as yet future after AD 70.

As for the a priori argument that if John wrote after AD 70 he would have highlighted the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction (252), we need only observe that John is not writing a history of this whole period but only of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. So, there was no reason to refer to an event nearly 40 years later. The other Gospels were written before AD 70. So, they have predictions of Jerusalem’s destruction in them.

Finally, there are many things predicted of this period that were not literally fulfilled in AD 70 such as one third of the rivers drying up (Rev. 8:10) and “every living creature in the sea” dying (Rev. 16:3). There is no language in the Old Testament where any comparable judgment is described in this kind of language. Indeed, other Old Testament judgments on governmental opponents of Israel (like Pharaoh) were literal judgments like the plagues on Egypt (Ex. 7-12). The only way to avoid this conclusion is for the preterist to resort to hyperbolic spiritualizing away of the literal meaning of the text.


Examples of preterist spiritualizing abound in The Code. This is called looking for a “deeper” meaning (19). A more apt description might be reading beneath the lines rather than reading the lines. For example, the mark of the Beast on their forehead is said to be symbolic of identity with. But if it was not an observable mark, then how could it be recognized for identity in marketing? (12, 13). Literal judgment that fell on Egypt is said to be symbolized by “clouds.” Likewise, in Matthew 26:64 and Revelation 1:7 cf. Isa. 19:1 (26, 229) “clouds” are symbols of judgment This same spiritualizing is applied to Jesus’ literal second coming in Revelation 1:7. “Every eye will see Him” is said to be symbolic (27). Yet in the same text it speaks of Jesus being “pierced’ which comes from the same prophecy in Zechariah 12:10 which is also applied to Jesus’ literal piercing in John 19:37. Another example of The Code’s claim is that Revelation has much “fantasy imagery”(33). There is in fact no basis for such a fantastic claim.

In another false dichotomy, The Code asserts that Revelation is rich in the symbolism of the number 7 (62), as though this were reason not to take it literally. But both could be true. For example, 7 is the number of earthly perfection, but there are also 7 literal days in an earthly week and the 7 actual churches in Asia to whom John was writing. Likewise, 40 is the number of testing, yet Israel was tested for forty literal years in the wilderness and Jesus was tested after fasting for forty literal days. Denying a literal 144,000 Jews sealed during the Tribulation, Hank argues that 1000 is “figurative” in the whole Old Testament. But how about when it is used many times for numbering the actual people (Num. 1) or animals (2 Chrn. 9:25). The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 a said to be “figurative” (130) witnesses to the Antichrist. The Code calls them “literary characters” forming “composite image” of the Law and the Prophets(131). Yet The Codeurges us to interpret the New Testament in the light of its Old Testament background. But there two literal witnesses (Moses and Aaron) brought down literal plagues on the Antichrist of their day (Pharaoh).

Also, the tree of life in the New Paradise is said to be symbolic, yet the one in the first Paradise was literal along with two literal people and another literal tree from which they ate literal fruit. Further, how can The Codeembrace a literal resurrection to a New Paradise, unless it too is a literal place with literal trees. Here again, full preterism is more consistent, albeit, heretical. The fact is, were this amill preterism consistent, it would have to deny the historicity of Genesis 1-3. But the inspired New Testament refers to it as literal history (Luke 3; Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15; I Tim. 2; Mt. 19). Further, not only are 144,000 Jews (in Rev. 7, 14) taken as “figurative” of “relationships” (125), but according to The Code these Jewish tribes refer to Gentiles as well. Likewise, the literal earthly throne of David is made into a spiritual reign already begun (201) and which will last forever (145), involving no literal throne in Jerusalem (202). The author of The Code is so mesmerized by symbols that he even has symbols of symbols. Daniel 9’s “seventy sevens” is said to be a double symbol where the return under Nehemiah was symbolic of Judas Maccabeeus who was symbolic of the Messiah (193)!

The failure of the preteristic hermeneutic is nowhere more obvious when they claim that 2 Peter 3:10-13 was “fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in the events of AD 70” when he wrote: “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare . . .” (135). Nothing even close to this cosmic event occurred in AD 70! And to claim that this points forward to “an even greater day of judgment” only exacerbates the problem. Why not just admit that it does not refer to AD 70 at all but only the final judgment of the world by fire, as Noah’s flood refers to the first great judgment by water (2 Peter 3:6-7). Thus, it is not “inconceivable” (160) that Jesus was exhorting first century Christians by events that could happen much later since Jesus’ coming is imminent (Phil. 4:5) and could happen at any time.


The Code misunderstands and misconstrues dispensationalism, claiming the “heart of dispensationalism” is “two distinct people”(48) with “two distinct plans”(51), and “two destinies” (272). Most dispensationalist today believe there is only one God, one plan (with many phases), one purpose (to glorify God), one Gospel (Gal. 1:8 cf 3:8), one ultimate destiny of one people of God (Rev. 21-22) wherein differing parts of God’s greater family are united (Heb 12:23; Eph. 1:10). Nonetheless, God is faithful to His unconditional promises to his ancient people Israel. Thus, it is false that to affirm that “the true church is true Israel, and true Israel is truly the church” (1 Pet 2:4) (49). The mystery of Jew and Gentile being united into one body (Eph. 3:3-5) was, as Paul said, “hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints”in the church (Col. 1:26). This is so, even though the Old Testament made predictions about Gentile blessing during the period between Christ’s comings (Acts 15:17). Nonetheless, they had no idea of how Jew and Gentile would be united in one body (Col. 1:27). But even after the church began (Act 2), the promised earthly kingdom was offered to Israel (Acts 3:12-21). Indeed, Jesus implied the kingdom would yet be restored to Israel was yet to come (Acts 1:6-8). And Paul said there was yet a national restoration of Israel (Rom. 11:11-26) whom he calls “my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:3-4).


The Code’s rejection of a future seven year Tribulation described in Revelation 6-18 is unfounded for several reasons.

First, as shown above, Revelation was probably written after AD 70 and, so, could not have been fulfilled by then.

Second, no literal interpretation of either Matthew 24-25 or Revelation 6-18 was fulfilled in AD 70.

Third, the Tribulation is described as just prior to Christ’s return and the resurrection (Rev. 19-20) which did not take place around AD 70. To claim they did is the heresy of full-preterism.

Fourth, it is not impossible for these events to be literal. Even symbols in Revelation have a literal meaning (1:20). Contrary to The Code (136), “Stars” (heavenly bodies) can and do fall out of the sky. And actual stars can die.

Fifth, even The Code admits there will be a tribulation before Christ returns, claiming Nero was the archetype of it (114, 136). As for a pretrib rapture,The Code ignores virtually all the biblical arguments for it (see Geisler,Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Chap. 17 and Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Come). Contrary to The Code’s claim that there is no seven year tribulation in biblical text (61), Daniel 9:27 speaks of a seven year period in the end times that is determined to bring judgment on the Jewish nation. The book of Revelation speaks of the last half of this period as 42 months, 1260 days, and three and a half years (Rev. 11:2-3; 12:6) which The Codemistakenly adds together rather than seeing them as descriptions of the same time period (61).

As for the argument that prior to the 19th century all Christians were post-trib, even if it were true it would not prove anything. Even Hanegraaff agrees that only the Bible is the infallible basis for doctrine. So, ultimately the only thing that matters is what the Scriptures teach on this matter, not what the Fathers said.

Further, it is not true that the early Fathers did not believe in an imminent rapture (see Geisler, ibid.). And a realistic concept of imminence logically implies a pretrib view since no signs (such as are in the Tribulation) need to occur before it happens. What is more, The Code ignores the more important issue of premillennialism which has abundant support in the early Fathers (see Geisler, ibid., Chap. 16). And if believing an early view eliminates its opposing view, then Hanegraaff’s amill view is thereby eliminated. The truth is that time is not a test for truth. There are new truths and old errors. Indeed, covenant theology embraced by most preterist was itself a late invention of Cocceius in the seventeenth century.


If these non-essential differences in eschatology are not fundamentals of the Faith, then why exert so much energy on them? Why defend minor points of these minor doctrines as “absolutely certain”? The answer is: We shouldn’t. We should stick to the dictum: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty . . . .” Having said that, there is a fundamental here worth fighting over–the fundamental by which we derive the other fundamentals. That is to say, while minor points of end times events are not essential salvation doctrines, nonetheless, the hermeneutic by which we derive teachings about end times and other doctrines is a fundamental–it is a hermeneutical fundamental. In short, we must defend the literal historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible since it is the means by which we understand the salvation fundamentals.

We began by agreeing with The Code on several important principles:

  1. The date of a view has no necessary connection with the truth of the view (57).
  2. The part must be interpreted in the light of the whole (228, 230).
  3. We should not impose a model on Scripture but should derive it from Scripture (236).
  4. The literal method is the correct method of interpreting Scripture (10, 23).
  5. The “literal interpretation” is the one that takes the text “in its most obvious and natural sense” (230).
  6. The correct meaning is generally what the original audience understand by it (1)
  7. Literal is not the same as literalistic. The Bible uses symbols and figures of speech (10).
  8. Typology is an important part of biblical interpretation (161).
  9. The Old Testament is often the key to understanding the New Testament (161, 230).
  10. “Ideas have consequences” (47).

Now let’s apply these concepts of The Code (with which we agree) to conclusions of The Code (with which we disagree).

First, contrary to this principle, The Code argued repeatedly that the pretib view should be rejected because it was late in appearing. However, heresies can be early, even in apostolic times (cf. 1 Tim. 4 and 1 Jn. 4), and (re)discovery of some truths can be later (like pretrib). The final question is not whether the early Fathers held it but wether the New Testament taught it.

Second, the part must be understood in the light of the whole because God does not contradict himself. But The Code spiritualizes the fulfillment of the Throne and Land promises in a way that contradicts what had been promised in the context in which was promised.

Third, in violation of this principle, The Code imposes a spiritual fulfillment model that is contrary to the literal Land and Throne promises made.

Fourth, as indicated in applying the first three principles, The Code repeatedly violates this principle by imposing a spiritual (typological) interpretation model on Scripture that is contrary to the literal truth of Scripture.

Fifth, as the contrasts below will reveal The Code does not interpret prophetic passages in the most obvious and natural sense. Rather, the sense is neither obvious nor natural. It is in fact fanciful.

Sixth, clearly the original Jewish audience of the Old and New Testament understood the Davidic throne promises to be literal. Hence, their response on Palm Sunday; their disappointment with Jesus’ death, and their last question to Christ about “restoring the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6-8).

Seventh, The Code often confuses a legitimate figure of speech with an illegitimate spiritualistic interpretation. For example, while there are figures of speech in Revelation 20 like “key” and “chain,” this is not grounds to conclude that there is not a literal Satan or a literal thousand year reign of Christ and two literal resurrections.

Eighth, on the surface it would appear that The Code fulfilled this principle, and in many ways it did. However, it over-extended by applying it to areas like the Abrahamic land promises and the Davidic throne promises. Unlike the Levitical sacrificial system (which were prototypes), these promises were not prototypes, and they have never been fulfilled as promised. But since God cannot break an unconditional promise (Rom. 11:29; Heb. 6:13-18), the land and throne promises must yet be literally fulfilled.

Ninth, The Old Testament is the background for understanding the New. This is why preterists fail when they do not take its predictions literal as meant by its authors and understood by their audience. Further, this is why their allegorical interpretation of the plagues in Revelation and the Two Witnesses fails to understand their background in the prototype of the Antichrist in Pharaoh with God’s two witnesses (Moses and Aaron) and the literal plagues they brought on him.

Tenth, ideas do have consequences, and the typological-allegorical idea has had severe consequences in the history of the church. Denying a literal fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel have led to anti-semitism. For example, God said to Abraham “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” (Gen. 12:3). Others, like replacement theologians who replace literal Israel with a spiritual church, nullify the literal land and throne promises, thus opening the door to liberalism and cultism.

This brings me to my chief concern about The Code–it is based on an allegorical method of interpreting prophetic Scripture that, if applied to other teachings of Scripture, would undermine the salvation essentials of the Christian Faith. Let me illustrate the extent to which The Apocalypse Code goes in allegorizing away the literal truth of Scripture from above cited texts. It transforms –

  • The plain meaning of the Bible into a so-called “deeper” meaning
  • Literal promises into spiritual ones
  • Unconditional promises into conditional ones
  • Jewish tribes into Gentiles
  • A thousand years into eternity
  • A literal resurrection into a spiritual one
  • Land Promises for National Israel into spiritual life in Christ
  • A literal mark of the Beast into a mere symbol of identity with him
  • Physical clouds into mere symbols of judgment
  • A literal earthly throne of David into a heavenly reign of Christ
  • Two literal witnesses into literary representatives of the Law and Prophets
  • Cosmic judgment into the destruction of a small city (Jerusalem)

All of this Hank is fond of calling “Reading the Bible for all it is worth.” Well, for all it is worth, this is not reading the Bible; it is a serious misreading of the Bible. So serious a misreading it is that were it a reading on an essential doctrine of the Bible – like the virgin birth, the sacrificial atonement, the bodily resurrection, or the second coming–it would be a rank heresy!

It is sad that a man who has fought so hard for so long against cults and aberrant teachings has himself succumbed to a method of interpreting the Bible that is not significantly different from those used by the cults which he so vigorously opposes.

Other resources to consider:

 What’s Coming Next (DVDs by Dr. Geisler at http://ngim.org)

What the Bible Really Says? Breaking the Apocalypse Code by Dr. Thomas Howe


Why Hold to a Pre-Mill View?

Why Hold to a Pre-Mill View?

by Norman L. Geisler  

February 2, 2007


There are many arguments for premillennialism and several are noteworthy.
 Arguments for Premillennialism

Unless Premillennialism is True, God Lost the Battle in History

God started human history by creation human beings in a literal Paradise.  It had trees, plants, animals, and rivers (Gen 2).  It had a specific geographical location on earth, by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Iraq). There was no sin, evil, or suffering there.  Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment.

But this Paradise was lost by sin.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and brought sin, suffering, and death on themselves (Gen. 3:14-9) and on all mankind (Rom. 5:12).  Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden which was sealed off by a closed gate and guarded by an angel (Gen. 3:24).  In short, the Tempter won.  He brought death and its fear on mankind (Heb. 2:14).

Hence, if the Paradise lost is not a Paradise regained, then God lost the battle and Satan won.  If physical death is not reversed by physical resurrection, then Satan retains the ultimate victory.  And if a literal Paradise is not regained, then God lost what He created. But God is omnipotent and cannot lose any battle.  Hence, there must be a literal Paradise regained such as we have in the premillennial view of the millennium or else God did not reverse the curse and gain the victory over the Satan damaged earth and human race.

But God will regain the Paradise lost.  This He will do by a literal  resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-19; Luke 24:39-43) (see Chap. 8) and by a literal reign of Christ on earth.  He will reign until death is actually1 defeated  (1 Cor. 15:24-27; Rev. 20:4-6).  But this will not be until the end of the millennium and the beginning of the New Heaven and Earth of which John says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  So, only by a millennial reign will the true Paradise be restored.

Unless Premillennialism is True, History Has no End

It is widely acknowledged that a linear view of history (that history is moving forward toward a goal) is the result to the Judeo-Christian revelation. History is said to be His-story for God has planned and is moving history forward toward its End (Eschaton). But without a literal historical millennium there is no real End to history.  On a traditional amillennial view history mere ceases to be but never really comes to a climax.  It simply ceases to be and then the eternal state dawns.  For on the premillennial view, the millennium is not the first chapter of eternity; it is the last chapter of time.  It is the time when, by Christ’s reign, sin, suffering , and death will be finally overcome.   For only “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Cor. 15:24-25).  But Christ only does this through His millennial reign.  So without a literal millennium there is no real End to history.

Only Premillennialism Employs a Consistent Hermeneutic

To deny premillennialism is to deny the consistent application of the literal interpretation of the Bible.  For the non-premill view 1) it takes parts of the Bible literally but not all (e.g., prophecy); 2) It takes part of prophets literally (First Advent) but not all of the Second Advent; 3)  It takes part of the Gospels literally, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection  (Matt. 26-28) but not all of Jesus statements in the Gospels, namely, His statements about His Second Coming  (Matt. 19:28; Chaps. 24-25);  4) It takes part of a verse literally but not the rest.  When quoting Isaiah Jesus stopped in the middle of a sentence and pronounced it literally fulfilled (in His First Coming), but the rest of the verse speaks of His Second Coming  which must be taken literally too (cf. Isa. 61:1-2 cf. Luke 4:18-21);  5) It takes one resurrection literally but not the other (Rev. 20:5-6; John 5:28-29).  But the two are listed together in the same texts. Both are said to involve people coming out of graves (Jn. 5:25-28) where dead bodies are.

Further, if the non-literal (i.e., allegorical) interpretations of amills and postmills were applied to other sections of Scripture it would undermine the fundamentals of the Christian Faith.  If applied to Gen. 1-3, it would deny the historicity of Adam, the Fall, and the Doctrine of Creation.  (If the End isn’t literal, then why should the Beginning be literal?)  If applied to the texts on the Cross, it would deny the atonement.  And if applied to the resurrection narratives, it would deny Christ’s victory over death.  In short, applying the same hermeneutic, which non-premills apply to prophecy, to other parts of the Bible would deny all the fundamentals of the Christian Faith.

This is why premillennialism is a kind of hermeneutical fundamental of the Christian Faith.  There are three kinds of fundamentals:

1)  Doctrinal Fundamentals (e.g., the Trinity, Deity of Christ, Sacrificial Atonement, and Resurrection).  These are a test of evangelical authenticity.

2) Epistemological Fundamentals–Inspiration and inerrancy).  These are a  test of evangelical consistency (see Vol. 2, Part Two ).

3) Hermeneutical Fundamentals (Literal Hermeneutic and Premillennialism that results from it).  These too are a test of being evangelical consistent.  For to deny foundational fundamentals is logically to undermine salvific fundamentals as well.

Premillennialism Adds Urgency to Evangelism.

Premillenialism, especially in those who hold the imminency of Christ’s return (see Chap. 17), creates a certain sense of urgency not generated by the other views. For if Christ is coming before the millennium at a time we know not, then one must live in a constant sense of expectation.  Jesus said, “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13) and “Night is coming, when no one can work.”  If one believes his time is limited and Christ may come at any moment, then he will have more of a sense of urgency about evangelism.  This, of course, is not to say that there is no sense of urgency in the other views for everyone is going to die and some will die at any moment.  But there is a far greater sense of urgency if one believes it could be our last opportunity to reach anyone at any moment.  It is no coincidence that many of the modern missionary movements (William Carey, David Livingston, and Adoniram Judson) and evangelistic efforts (John Wesley, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham) were headed by premillennialists.

Premillennial Immenency Adds an Incentive for Holiness

It is not that there are no other incentives for godliness, but certainly the imminent premillennial expectation is an added one.  For John declared: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3).  So, the sense of imminency has a purifying effect on one’s life.  It also has a sobering effect.  As Peter said, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Pet. 3:10-11).


Our spiritual forefathers did not put this in our doctrinal statement because they thought it was unimportant. To the contrary, premillennialism is based on a hermeneutical (interpretation) fundamental. The literal historical/grammatical fundamental on which it is based underlies all the salvation fundamentals of the Faith. Giving it up belies to serious problems for the future of the church. First, we are giving up the very basis for all the fundamental Christian doctrines. Second, there is the underlying tendency to sacrifice important doctrines for the sake of unity, fraternity, or multiplicity (growth). Yielding to this tendency set a bad precedent for future deviation on even more important issues. One final thought. It is of more than passing significance to note that few, if any, evangelical groups slide from premillennialism to liberalism. However, this is not true of non-premillennial views. It is not accidental that premillennialism is a safeguard against liberalism for some of the reasons already given.

1Death was officially defeated by the Cross and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:14-15; 1Cor. 15:54-55). Yet death still reigns in that all men still die (Rom. 5:12). Death will not be actually defeated until after His Second Coming (Rom. 8:22-23; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; Rev. 21:4).


Note: This article was updated in 2009 and titled The Importance of Premillenialism.



The Importance of Premillennialism

The Importance of Premillennialism

by Norman L. Geisler 




Premillennialism is the belief that Christ will physically return to earth (Acts 1:6-11; Rev. 1:7), set up a throne in Jerusalem (Matt. 19:28), and reign over the whole earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). Amillennialism (no-millennium) denies this literal future reign of Christ and claims that Christ is currently reigning over the world spiritually. Postmillennialism holds that Christ is coming to earth after the Church brings in the kingdom by progressively Christianizing the world before Christ’s return.

Arguments for Premillennialism

There are many arguments for premillennialism. Contrary to the opposing views, the premillennial view is based on a consistent use of the literal historical-grammatical interpretation of prophetic passages of Scripture. There are many good reasons for believing in a literal millennial reign of Christ are noteworthy. 

1. Without a Millennium God Lost the Battle in History

God started human history by creating human beings in a literal Paradise (Gen.1-2). It had trees, plants, animals, and rivers (Gen. 2). It had a specific geographical location on earth, by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Iraq). There was no sin, evil, or suffering there. Our first parents Adam and Eve lived in a perfect physical environment.

But this Paradise was lost by sin. Being tempted by the Devil, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17), thus bringing pain, suffering, and death on themselves (Gen. 3:14-19) and on all mankind (Rom. 5:12; Rom. 8:18-25). They were expelled from the Garden which was sealed off and guarded by an angel (Gen. 3:24). So, the Tempter won the first battle. He brought death, its results, and its fear on mankind (Heb. 2:14).

If the Paradise lost is never regained, then eventually God is the loser and Satan the winner. If physical death is not reversed by physical resurrection (Jn. 5:28-29), then Satan gains the ultimate victory (Heb. 2:14). And if a literal Paradise is not restored, then God lost what He created. But God is omnipotent (Rev. 19:6) and cannot ultimately lose. Hence, there must be a literal Paradise regained such as we have in the premillennial view of the End of history. Otherwise, God did not reverse the curse and gain the victory over Satan, the damaged earth, and the fallen human race.

But God will regain the Paradise that was lost. This He will do this by a literal resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-19; Luke 24:39-43) and by the literal reign on earth of Christ the Last Adam. He will reign until death is actually defeated (1 Cor. 15:24-27. But this will not be until the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:4-6) and the beginning of the New Heaven and Earth of which John says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). So, only by a literal reign of Christ on earth, such as the millennium shall be, will the true Paradise be restored.

2. Without A Millennium History Has no Climax

It is widely acknowledged that a linear view of history (that history is moving forward toward a final Goal) is the result of the Judeo-Christian revelation. History is said to be His-story for God has planned it and is moving it (Dan. 2, 7) forward toward its End (Eschaton). But without a literal historical millennium on earth there is no real End to history. According to a traditional amillennial view, human history merely stops, but it never really comes to a climax. It simply ends and then the eternal state begins. However, on the premillennial view, the millennium is not the first chapter of eternity; it is the last chapter of time. It is the time when, by Christ’s reign, sin, suffering, and death will be finally overcome. For only “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). But Christ only does this through His millennial reign which ends in the final resurrection (Rev. 20:5). So without a literal millennium there is no real End to history.

3. Without a Millennium God Would Break an Unconditional Land Promise to Abraham.

God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendents forever. This Land covered everything west of the Jordan River from Egypt to Iraq. “The Lord made a covenant with Abram saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates’”( Gen. 15:18). God said to Abraham: “I give to you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:8). “For all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:15).

This land promise was also unconditional since only God sealed it by passing through the split sacrifice while Abram slept. God said to Abram, “Bring Me a three-year old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram…and cut them in two…. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram…. And it came to pass when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there was a smoking oven and burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, to your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates…” (Gen. 15:9-18).

The Bible declares that “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). God’s promises don’t depend on our faith but on his faithfulness. For “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). God’s promise was immutable. For “When God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself…. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation” (Heb. 6:13-18).

But this land promise to Abraham has never yet been fulfilled. However, according to the Bible it will yet be fulfilled (Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; Rom. 11) in the future in the thousand year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6). Even after the days of Joshua (21:43), the land promise was yet future (Jer. 11:5; Amos 9:14-15). Without a literal national fulfillment, such as the millennium, God would have broken an unconditional covenant-which is impossible (Heb. 6:17-18)!

4. Without a Millennium God would Break an Unconditional Throne Promise to David

God promised David that he and his descendents would reign on a throne in Israel forever. He declared, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…. My steadfast love will not depart from him…. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-16).

This was an unconditional promise to David and his descendants for God declared that: “My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. If his children forsake my law…then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness….I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever…” (Psa. 89:28-37).

However, no descendent of David is now-nor has been for over 2500 years-reigning on a literal throne in Jerusalem. But Jesus promised that Christ, a descendent of David, would do so in the future (Matt. 19:28). So, this unconditional and everlasting promise has not yet been literally fulfilled. Without Christ’s return and perpetual reign God would have broken this unconditional promise. But this is impossible (Rom. 11:29). Therefore, there must yet be a literal Messianic reign of Christ on earth such as is promised in the millennium (Rev. 20:1-6).

As hymn-writer Isaac Watts put it,

Jesus shall reign where e’er the sun
Does its successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And endless praises crown His head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.

5. Only Premillennialism Employs a Consistent Hermeneutic

To deny premillennialism is to deny the consistent application of the literal historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible. For the non-premill view fails because: 1) It takes parts of the Bible literally but not all (e.g., prophecy); 2) It takes part of the prophets literally (First Advent) but not all of the Second Advent texts; 3) It takes part of the Gospels literally, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 26-28) but not all of Jesus’ predictions made in the Gospels, namely, His statements about His Second Coming (Matt. 19:28; Matt. 24-25); 4); It takes part of a verse literally but not the rest. When quoting Isaiah Jesus stopped in the middle of a sentence and pronounced it literally fulfilled (in His First Coming), but the rest of the verse speaks of His Second Coming which must be taken literally too (cf. Isa. 61:1-2 cf. Luke 4:18-21); 5) It takes one resurrection literally but not the other (Rev. 20:5-6; John 5:28-29). But the two are listed together in the same texts. Both are said to involve people coming out of graves (Jn. 5:25-28) where dead bodies reside.

Further, if the non-literal (spiritualized) interpretations of amills and postmills were applied to other sections of Scripture it would undermine the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. If applied to Gen. 1-3, it would deny the historicity of Adam, the Fall, and the Doctrine of Creation. (If the End isn’t literal, then why should the Beginning be literal?) If applied to the texts about the Cross, it would deny the atonement. And if applied to the resurrection narratives, it would deny Christ’s victory over death. In short, applying the same hermeneutic, which non-premills apply to prophecy, to other parts of the Bible would deny the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. This is why premillennial-ism is based on a kind of hermeneutical fundamental of the Christian Faith. There are three kinds of fundamentals: 1) Doctrinal fundamentals (e.g., the Trinity, Deity of Christ, Sacrificial Atonement, and Resurrection). These are a test of evangelical authenticity. 2) Epistemological fundamentals–Inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture). This is a test of evangelical consistency. 3) Hermeneutical fundamentals (a literal hermeneutic and premillennialism that results from it). This too is a test of evangelical consistency. So, to deny the foundation of premillennialism, is logically to undermine salvation fundamentals as well.

6. Premillennialism Adds Urgency to Evangelism.

Premillennialism, especially in those who hold the imminency of Christ’s return, creates a certain sense of urgency not generated by the other views. For if Christ is coming before the millennium at a time we know not, then believers should live in a constant sense of expectation. Jesus said, “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13) and “Night is coming, when no one can work.” If one believes his time is limited and Christ may come at any moment, then he will have more of a sense of urgency about evangelism. This, of course, is not to say that there is no sense of urgency in the other views for everyone is going to die and some will die at any given moment. But there is a far greater sense of urgency if one believes it could be our last opportunity to reach anyone at any moment.

It is no coincidence that many of the modern missionary movements (William Carey, David Livingston, and Adoniram Judson) and evangelistic efforts (John Wesley, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham) were headed by premillennialists. For the belief in an imminent premillennial coming of Christ gives a great sense of urgency in reaching the world before he returns.

7. Premillennial Imminency Adds an Incentive for Holiness

It is not that there are no other incentives for godliness, but certainly the imminent premillennial expectation is an added one. For no true believer wants to be caught in sin when Jesus returns. The apostle John declared: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3). Paul declared that this “blessed hope helps in “training us to renounce ungodliness” and to set apart a people “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). So, the sense of imminency has a purifying effect on one’s life. It also has a sobering effect. As Peter said, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Pet. 3:10-11).

Answering Some Objections

Opponents of premillennialism have offered many objections. Some have already been answered above. Others are trivial and do not warrant the time necessary to answer them. However, a few deserve comment here.

Objection One: The millennium is mentioned only once in the Bible (Rev. 20). Thus, it is argued, that it cannot be an important doctrine. If it were, it would be mentioned more often.

Response: First of all, one mention in the Bible makes something true since God cannot err (Heb. 6:18), and the Bible is God’s word (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). What is more, the word “millennium” occurs six times in the Bible which makes it not only true but important. John wrote: “And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for [1] a thousand years…so that she might not deceive the nations any longer, until [2] the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.. They came to life and reigned with Christ for [3] a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until [4] the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for [5] a thousand years. And when [6] the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison” (Rev. 20:1-7).

Second, the length of Christ reign is only mention in Revelation 20, but the fact of his reign is mentioned numerous times in both Old and New Testaments (See Isa.11; Zech. 12, 14; Mat. 24; Acts 1:6-8; Rev. 19, 20).

Third, while premillennialism is not one of the essential salvation doctrines (see our Conviction without Compromise, Part One), nonetheless, as mentioned above (in Point 5), premillennialism is based on an interpretation fundamental. And denying the literal interpretation of prophecy (which is the basis of premillennialism), logically leads to denying salvation fundamentals as well. For if Genesis or the Gospels were allegorized or spiritualized in the manner that opponents of premillennialism do, it would undermine the basic salvation essentials of the Faith too.

Objection Two: The promises to Abraham and David were said to be “forever,” but the millennium is only a thousand years. How can a thousand years be a fulfillment of these promises that it will be forever?.

Response: The Hebrew word for “forever” (olam) or “everlasting” can mean a long period of time, not literally without end. The mountains are called “everlasting” (Deut. 33:15). Psalm 89 seems to designate that “forever” (vs. 28, 36) will be as long as the sun and the moon last (vs. 36-37), and they will not shine in eternity (Rev. 21:23). Since the Bible says there will be and end of the millennium (Rev. 20:4-6) and Paul said there will be and “end” of Christ’s reign on earth (1 Cor. 15:24), then the limited meaning of “forever” as a long period of time (i.e., a thousand years) would explain the problem. However, once Christ reigns and delivers the kingdom to the Father it will literally go on forever (1 Cor. 15:24). So, in this sense Christ’s reign will be eternal.

Objection Three: Premillennialists are not Consistent It is objected that even the premill view takes some prophetic passages symbolically and figuratively, such as the seven “stars” (angels),“lamp stands” (churches), and “beasts” (world powers) in the book of Revelation. If so, why should not “a thousand years” be symbolic of a long period of time and “144,000” from the “twelve tribes of Israel” (Rev. 7, 14) be symbolic of the Church, and so on.

Response: First, figures of speech are not contrary to a literal interpretation since even they are based in a literal meaning. For example, just because there is a “key” (a symbol of secure containment) to the bottomless pit where the Devil is consigned for a thousand years does not mean there is no real Devil. Second, the Book of Revelation identifies many things as symbols, but it gives their literal meaning (cf. Rev. 1:20). Third, all these symbols represent literal people, things, and events. Fourth, the worlds “tribe” and “resurrection are never used figuratively in the Bible. Even symbols have a literal meaning (Rev. 1:20). Fifth, the rule of thumb still stands: “If the literal sense makes good sense, then seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense.” Finally, amillennial interpretations are inconsistent for in the same passage (Rev. 20) they take one “resurrection” literally and the other one spiritually. “They came to life [at first resurrection] and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life [at the second resurrection] until the thousand years were ended.” John goes on to say, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power…and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:4-7). But if the second resurrection is literal (as amills admit), then so is the first resurrection literal since it is described by the same phrase in the same passage and it is called “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6).

Objection Four: The Prophecies about Israel are fulfilled spiritually by the Church. According to this “replacement theology,” Israel was disobedient and lost the conditional promises God made to them. Thus, God replaced Israel with a new “spiritual Israel” (Gal. 6:16) known as the Church who fulfill the “new covenant” made with Israel (Jer. 31 cf. Heb. 8).

Response: First of all, the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were not conditional, as shown above (in Points 3 and 4); they were unconditional (cf. Rom. 11:29).

Second, nowhere in the New Testament is the Church called “Spiritual Israel.” The passages in Galatians 6:16, which uses the term “Israel of God,” is equivalent of “the true circumcision” (Phil. 3:3 NASB) who worship God in spirit and put no confidence in the flesh. Both of these mean literal Jews who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah and are living in his grace, not trying to attain salvation by keeping the law (cf. Rom. 10:1-4). Second, although the new covenant was made with Israel, its benefits were not limited to Jews. Even Abraham was told “through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). And the prophets often spoke of Gentile salvation (Acts 15:17 citing Amos 9:11-12).

Third, the New Testament Church (where Jew and Gentile are in one spiritual body) was not known in the Old Testament (Col. 1:26-27) but “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations” but only in the time of the New Testament “apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5-6).

Fourth, the New Testament refers to a future literal kingdom for Israel, even after the time of Christ. Jesus disciples asked when he would “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6-8). Even after the Church began (in Acts 2), Peter promised to “the men of Israel” (Acts 3:12) the “restoring of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:21). Romans 11 speaks of national “Israel” being reincrafted after “the fullness of the Gentiles as come in” (Rom. 11:25-26). This he says in the context of reminding them that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). Nowhere, does the Bible affirm that God’s unconditional land and throne promises to Israel will be fulfilled by the Church. To be sure individual believers receive the spiritual salvation benefits (Rom. 4; Gal. 3) promised to Gentiles in the Old Testament (Gen. 12:3; Amos 9:11-12), but never does the Bible affirm that the irrevocable promises to national Israel will be fulfilled in the church. These promises are yet to be fulfilled in a literal millennial reign of Christ on earth (Acts 19:29; Rev. 20:1-6).


Our spiritual forefathers did not put premillennialism in our doctrinal statement because they thought it was unimportant. To the contrary, premillennialism is based on a hermeneutical (interpretation) fundamental. The literal historical/grammatical fundamental on which it is based underlies all the salvation fundamentals of the Faith. Giving it up belies to serious problems for the future of the church. First, we are giving up the very basis for all the fundamental Christian doctrines. Second, there is the underlying tendency to sacrifice important doctrines for the sake of unity, fraternity, or multiplicity (growth). Yielding to this tendency sets a bad precedent for future deviation on even more important issues. One final thought. It is of more than passing significance to note that few, if any, evangelical groups ever move from premillennialism to liberalism. However, this is not true of amillennial and postmillennial views. So, it is not without good reason that premillennialism is a safeguard against liberalism.