The Importance of Premillennialism

The Importance of Premillennialism

by Norman L. Geisler 

2009

 

Introduction

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).

Conclusion

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.