Making Sense of Ezekiel’s Temple Vision by Steve Gregg


Ezekiel 40-48 has been seen by many as a challenging section of Scripture. Steve Gregg asks some good questions and offers a good analysis in the article below. In the next post I would like to interact with Philip Mauro’s thoughts on this subject in his 1922 book, “The Hope of Israel.”

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This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 35, number 03 (2012). 


The book of Ezekiel closes with a vision of a temple and its associated rituals. In chapter 40, the prophet is transported in vision from his home among the exiles in Babylon to Israel, where a divine messenger holding a measuring rod appears to him. The messenger gives Ezekiel a tour of the temple, measuring the various walls, gates, and courts. At one point, the glory of the Lord, which was seen departing from the temple in an earlier vision (chap. 10), is seen returning to inhabit the temple (43:1–4).

The following chapters describe various sacrificial rituals performed by priests. Special attention is given to the role of one who is referred to as “the prince.” Near the end, a river is seen flowing out of the temple from under the threshold. The book closes with portions of the land assigned to various tribes.

Biblical scholars acknowledge that the temple vision, which occupies the last nine chapters of Ezekiel, presents special challenges in its interpretation. Some have even described it as the most difficult passage in the Old Testament.

As with the descriptions in Exodus of the tabernacle and its furnishings, many readers will find this section of Ezekiel tedious, due to its many arcane details, but this is not the greatest difficulty presented by these chapters. By far, the greater difficulty has to do with identifying the time and manner of the fulfillment of the vision.

Is It Solomon’s Temple? When Ezekiel saw the vision (573 BC), there was no temple standing in Jerusalem. Solomon’s temple, which had previously stood there, had been destroyed thirteen years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar, when he conquered Jerusalem and deported the citizens to Babylon. This means that Ezekiel was not seeing Solomon’s temple, or any temple that was actually standing at the time. What temple, then, was he shown?

Is It Zerubbabel’s Temple? Perhaps the answer that first comes to mind would be that this was the temple that came to be built, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, on the return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem. However, this solution seems to be ruled out by the fact that Zerubbabel’s temple ended up being much smaller, and less elaborate, than the one Ezekiel describes. If Ezekiel was prophesying that the temple built by the returning exiles would fit this description, the prophecy failed to come true. This option does not commend itself to those who accept the inspiration of Scripture. Other interpretations, therefore, have been offered by evangelical scholars.

Is It the Church? Some Christian commentators have understood the content of these chapters as an apocalyptic vision, which is best interpreted spiritually. They point out that the church, in the New Testament, is often referred to as God’s “temple” or habitation. Each Christian is a “living stone” (1 Pet. 2:5), built, along with others, “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20) into a “temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16). On this view, the features of temple worship—priests, altars, sacrifices, blood rituals—would be seen as pertaining to spiritual, rather than literal, realities, and applied to our worship of God in the present time. In particular, the description of the river, in chapter 47, would seem to support a nonliteral interpretation. If this is the correct view, we would be required either to see many of the tedious details as being either superfluous or as corresponding to spiritual ideas that would be very difficult to identify with confidence.

Is It the Millennial Temple? Another view of this vision, commonly held among dispensationalists, is that Ezekiel’s temple will be established after the second coming of Christ and will serve as the worship center for all people during the “millennium.” On this view, the one described as “the prince” is often identified as Christ Himself, ruling over the millennial kingdom.

Choosing a Hermeneutical Strategy. In choosing among these options, we are compelled to decide between differing hermeneutical priorities. One of the chief hermeneutical principles recommended by dispensationalist scholars is that of maintaining a consistently literal interpretation. This would mean that “spiritualizing” the text must be seen as a departure from the most faithful handling of Scripture. Therefore, dispensationalists argue for a literal, physical building to be established in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision. Since the temple erected after Ezekiel’s time did not fit Ezekiel’s description, they believe that there must be another temple in the future that will do so more admirably.

It would be easier to accept this theory if we did not have the New Testament to guide our thinking. The most obvious problem presented here is that the book of Hebrews (e.g., 10:1–18) speaks of the death of Christ on the cross as a termination of the efficacy of bloody animal sacrifices, such as those Israel offered in the temple. If Ezekiel’s vision applies to a future time, why do we again find the offering of animal sacrifices?

The dispensationalist answer is that the millennial sacrifices will not be intended to atone for sins. The blood of Christ precludes any need for that. Just as the Old Testament sacrificesanticipated the death of Christ as a future event, it is suggested the future millennial sacrifices will commemorate the death of Christ as a past event.

The text of Ezekiel, however, seems to preclude this, since the various offerings in the temple are said to “make atonement for the house of Israel” (45:17).1 Thus, the sacrifices are presented as an atonement for sin, not as a memorial. Christ Himself recommended the use of wine and bread to commemorate His death (1 Cor. 11:24–26). Why would God replace this with animal sacrifices in which God never found any particular pleasure (Ps. 40:6; 51:16; Heb. 10:6)?

Further, Ezekiel says that “the prince” will offer a sin offering “for himself and for all the people” (45:22). If the prince is required to offer sacrifices for his own sins, this would militate against any theory that identifies him with Christ, who never sinned.

Other objections to the idea that Ezekiel’s vision describes a worship economy to be established in the future would include the following:

  • The vision presents a centralized worship in a specified geographical place. In the Old Testament, people were expected to approach the tabernacle, or (later) the temple, for this purpose (Deut. 12:5, 11). Jesus, however, announced to the Samaritan woman that the time of centralized worship was soon to end and to be replaced with spiritual worship, which does not depend on being in any particular place (John 4:21–24; cf. Acts 7:48–50).
  • In Ezekiel’s vision, the Levites and Aaronic priesthood are seen in their former places of service. According to the New Testament, there has been a change of the priesthood (Heb. 7:12). The Jewish priesthood has been replaced by a different priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5) and a non-Aaronic high priest (Jesus). This modification will not be reversed, for Christ is said to be “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:17, 21).

Literal Interpretation Is Not Always Best. While the difficulties of the dispensational interpretation seem insurmountable, its only strength lies in its hermeneutic of literal interpretation. There is another hermeneutic principle, however, that overrides literalism—namely, the superior revelation given in Christ.

Hebrews 1:1–3 affirms that, while God spoke to Israel through various prophets in the past, the revelation that has come through Christ is more comprehensive because He is no mere prophet, but “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of His person.” The New Testament is not a mere appendix added to the writings of the Old Testament prophets. It is a revelation of the new order in Jesus Christ, in whom all previous revelation finds its fulfillment, and through whom all previous revelation must be understood.

Christ opened the understanding of His disciples so that they “might understand the [Old Testament] scriptures” (Luke 24:45). This being the case, it would be foolish for us to seek a meaning of the prophets contrary to that which Christ and the apostles taught. It is their witness that provides the strongest objections to any literalistic interpretation of Ezekiel 40–48. In Christ’s new order (which, unlike the old order, is permanent), the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices are likewise spiritual (1 Pet. 2:5).

Making Sense of the Vision. How then are we to understand the temple vision? First, one might reasonably refer to the vision as that which “might have been,” had the Jewish exiles in Babylon exhibited a more thorough repentance than they did. There is an indication that the realization of this vision in Israel’s future was contingent on the people being sufficiently ashamed, or repentant, of their past sins: “Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple” (Ezek. 43:10–11).

The response of the Jews to their opportunity to return and to rebuild their temple was notoriously tepid. Only a small remnant opted even to return to Jerusalem, while the rest were content to remain in Babylon. As a result, the temple they built proved to be inferior to the one that Ezekiel described.

Though the Jews did not meet the conditions to have such a temple as Ezekiel’s, the pattern preserved in these chapters stands as a description of an intended order, which, had it materialized, would have testified, as the tabernacle once did, as a type and shadow of “heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5)—the new order in Jesus Christ. This, we may assume, was the long-term purpose served by the vision.

Though some features of the vision were probably intended symbolically from the start (e.g., the seemingly miraculous, ever-deepening river), it is probable that the temple and its rituals would have been literally instituted, as here described, had Israel met God’s conditions.

Whether or not the temple had ever actually been rebuilt, the new revelation in Christ encourages us to see its pattern as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ Himself, who is the final atoning sacrifice and the eternal high priest of God’s people.

—Steve Gregg

Steve Gregg is the author of Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary, and host of the radio show The Narrow Path (www.thenarrowpath.com). He lives in Temecula, California.


NOTES

  1. All Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.
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The Vision of the Old Testament Prophets for this New Covenant Age (Preterist Conference Call)


On Sunday, May 22nd, I had the privilege of presenting a message in a conference call for those who believe in, or want to know more about, preterism (fulfilled eschatology). I titled my message, “Living Worthy of What the Old Testament Prophets Foretold about this New Covenant Age.” My message lasted 25 minutes and was followed by a time of discussion. Here’s the audio of my message, along with a written transcript of my notes. If you listen or read this message, you’ll see that the prophets had a vision of peace, and I’d love to especially hear your thoughts about that theme:

 

One thing I’ve heard from people who are skeptical of preterism is that, if everything is fulfilled, there must be nothing left for God’s people today. So I want to talk about some of those things that we do have in this new covenant age, about the present realities, mandates, and destinies that God has for us. Yes, I’m fascinated by all the things that took place in the first century AD during the last days of the old covenant age, and their significance and how they fulfilled prophecy, but I’m also very interested in how the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles said we would be equipped for a glorious, expanding, forward-moving life in God’s kingdom and in His holy city, the new Jerusalem.

This is a very broad subject, so in this message I want to narrow the focus to the vision that the Old Testament prophets had about this age. I will only have time to cover some of it, of course. Before we dig into some great Scripture texts, I want to briefly set this up and talk about one reason why it’s important to study and teach about this vision of the Old Testament prophets, especially at this point in church history. We live during a time when some very strange filters have been laid over the teachings of the Old Testament prophets because premillennial and dispensationalist teachings have dominated in the Church for several generations.

One of the foundation stones of dispensationalism is the idea that this present church age is a surprising parenthesis in God’s long-term plan. Many dispensationalist leaders have taught that this age we live in was never foreseen by the Old Testament prophets. Instead they looked past our time, i.e. the last 2000 years, toward a future 1000-year period known as “the millennium” when Christ would return and finally begin to reign. Here are a few short quotes from some of these leaders:

  1. “It has been illustrated how this whole age existed in the mind of God without having been revealed in the Old Testament.” [J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), p. 137]

  2. “Dispensationalists have regarded the present age as a parenthesis unexpected and without specific prediction in the Old Testament.” [J.F. Walvoord, Millennial Kingdom, 1959, p. 227]

  3. “The first prediction relative to the true Church was uttered by Christ, being recorded in Matthew 16:18.” [L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), 4:374]

  4. “The Church is a mystery in the sense that it was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New Testament.” [Charles Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Loizeaux Brothers, 1953), p. 136]

Harry A. Ironside also taught that the Old Testament prophets saw two mountains ahead, which were the first and second comings of Christ. According to Ironside, the church age was in a large valley in between those mountains and the prophets were unable to see into it:

“It has often been pointed out by others, but is well worth repeating, that the Old Testament seer might be likened to a man standing on one of our Western plains looking off toward a great mountain range. Many miles before him is a vast mountain which for the moment fills all his vision. Clouds cover the top of it, so that it seems to pierce the heavens, but suddenly the clouds are lifted and in the blaze of the westering sun he sees another and higher peak beyond, covered with snow, which seems to shine in resplendent glory. What the man gazing upon this scene cannot see, however, is the valley or the lower ranges of mountains that come in between these two peaks. The one may be many miles beyond the other. In between may be lesser hills, valleys, rivers, villages and farms, but all of these are unseen by the man upon the plain.

Let us imagine a cross surmounting the first peak, and call this the vision of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer and to die for our sins. Then imagine that the glory surrounding the second and higher peak takes the form of a crown of light, and think of it as indicating the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus to reign in power and glory over all this lower universe. Peter spoke of the “sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” These two mountains illustrate both. But now, in between them we have all the events of the present age of grace, and these could not be seen by the Old Testament prophets for it was not yet the will of God to make them known. These are the mysteries kept secret from the foundation of the world, which began to be made manifest by our Lord Jesus as He told of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; and then were more fully unfolded in the unique revelation of the mystery of the Church, the body of Christ, given to the Apostle Paul, and the unfolding of the mystery of iniquity and of Babylon the Great through Paul and John. Other mysteries there are linked with these, and nearly all of them have to do with what is going on between the First and Second Comings of our Lord.”

Harry A. Ironside, The Great Parenthesis: the Mystery in Daniel’s Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 1943.

This teaching has robbed the body of Christ of a glorious blueprint for our present time, which was laid out in the Old Testament and further developed in the New Testament. This teaching says that God’s best plans, promises, and purposes are not for this present age, but for a future age when the superiority of the Jewish race is once again restored. It’s robbed the body of Christ of wonderful descriptions of our identity and also descriptions of how God invites us to partner with Him in seeing His peace, His government, and His justice expand throughout our world.

So let’s look at some of the passages that reveal the vision that the Old Testament prophets had of this present new covenant age. One major theme that we will see in their vision is the theme of God’s peace.

Daniel 7:14, 18, 21-22, 27

In Daniel 7, Daniel had a vision of Jesus ascending to His Father and receiving everlasting dominion, glory, and a kingdom. Then during the time of the fourth beast, the fourth kingdom that would persecute the saints, God would give the kingdom and dominion into the hands of His people:

Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed… But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever… I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom… Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him” (Daniel 7:14, 18, 21-22, 27).

  • Revelation 13:5-7 describes this same great persecution as the beast “making war with the saints” and overcoming them for 42 months. This took place under Nero from November 64 AD until June 68 AD.
  • However, God ruled in favor of the body of Christ. Jesus took the kingdom and dominion that He received at His ascension and placed it into the hands of His people.
  • That’s a powerful picture of us partnering with Christ in expanding His kingdom, carrying His glory, and walking in His dominion.
  • All of Jesus’ parables about His kingdom expanding, growing, and impacting the world are true for us right now. Think of the mustard seed growing into a large tree and other images that Jesus presented.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

  • Jesus began to reign on the throne of David during the time of the apostles (Acts 2:29-36, Ephesians 1:20-23, Hebrews 1:3-13, Revelation 1:5).
  • One of His names is “Prince of Peace.” Micah 5:5 also says regarding Jesus, “And this One shall be peace.”
  • Isaiah prophesied that Christ’s government and peace would only increase, forever.
  • Isaiah also prophesied that this would happen because of God’s own zeal.
  • God invites us to partner with Him and to know our role in seeing His government and peace expand in this world.

Isaiah 65:17 – 66:13

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Isaiah 65:17-18).

  • Isaiah goes on to describe New Jerusalem as a place with no weeping or crying, but where childbirth, physical death, planting, and building would still take place. Yet the labor of God’s people would not be in vain, and there would also be peace and reconciliation (“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together”), and no hurting or destruction in God’s holy mountain.
  • Names were very important in Scripture. Think about the name, “Jerusalem,” and its meaning. In its name we see “salem” and the closely-related word “shalom.” Jerusalem means “City of Peace.” When Isaiah looked forward to the New Jerusalem, he foresaw a new “city of peace.” We are the city of God, the city of peace.
  • The other part of Jerusalem’s name comes from the Hebrew word, “yara.” This word means “to shoot like an arrow, to throw, to pour, to flow, to teach, to inform, and to direct.”
  • Put those two parts together and we have a picture of shooting and pouring out God’s peace upon one another and into the darkest places of the world around us. Although I disagree with Sid Roth’s futurism and Zionism, his 2008 article “The Real Meaning of Jerusalem” has more valuable things to say on this.
  • We’re destined to live with peace in our hearts. The body of Christ is destined to be known as a community of peace, and we’re destined to see God’s peace touch and impact communities where we live and every part of the world where God’s people are.
  • As Isaiah continues to describe New Jerusalem, he says, “Rejoice with Jerusalem… that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory… Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream… And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:10-13).
  • Recall what David said in Psalm 122:6-7. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.’” That prayer has been answered, as God has created a new city of peace, the new covenant people of God.
  • When Jesus was talking with His disciples about going to His Father and leaving the Holy Spirit with them, He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
  • In the New Testament, the clearest descriptions of the New Jerusalem, God’s city of peace, can be seen in Galatians 4:21-31, Hebrews 12:18-29, Revelation 3:12, and Revelation 21:1-22:5.

Isaiah 2:1-4

“…Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

  • The mountain of the Lord, New Jerusalem, was destined to attract all nations. It’s the place where the word of the Lord goes forth and people learn God’s ways.
  • Again we see an image of great peace.
  • The same vision is seen in Micah 4:1-3.

Haggai 2:6-9

For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

  • The author of Hebrews quotes from Haggai 2:6 when he writes about the soon-coming shaking and removal of those things related to Mount Sinai, i.e. the old covenant, and how the saints were about to receive a kingdom that couldn’t be shaken.
  • Notice that he did not include the phrase “it is a little while,” which Haggai used. That’s because it was just around the corner for the readers of Hebrews.
  • God again says that His new temple would be filled with glory, and that in His new temple He would give peace.

Ezekiel 34:23-31

I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them – My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. Then the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. They shall be safe in their land; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from the hands of those who enslaved them…” (Ezekiel 34:23-27).

  • “David” is obviously Jesus here.
  • This vision speaks of fruitfulness, blessing, and again a covenant of peace.

Ezekiel 47:1-12

Ezekiel 40-48, the final eight chapters of Ezekiel’s book, describe a new city and a new temple. We need some preterist commentaries on these eight chapters, by the way. In this long vision, Ezekiel seems to be looking at both [1] the restoration of Israel to the land after the Babylonian captivity of 586 BC and [2] Israel’s hope fulfilled as Jesus establishes the new covenant. This was the view of Philip Mauro in his 1923 book, “The Hope of Israel” (chapters 11-12). In Ezekiel 47, he describes the same healing waters and trees that John describes in Revelation 22:1-2.

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east…  And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed…  7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: ‘This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes… Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.’”

  • In the city of God there is constant fruit-bearing, life, and healing. This healing and life IS for God’s people, but it’s also for the nations. Healing is to take place everywhere the river flows. This is our ongoing mandate and calling, and the Lord has fully equipped us.
  • Zechariah 14:8-9 says that, in the day that the Lord would be King over all the earth, living waters would flow from Jerusalem toward the east and toward the west, in both summer and winter.
  • Jesus said that rivers of living water would flow out of the hearts of everyone who believes in Him (John 7:37-38).

Isaiah 54:1-17

For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed… O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children…” (Isaiah 54:10-13).

  • Here again we see there is a covenant of peace and great peace for the followers of the Lord in this age.
  • Paul quotes from this passage in his allegory of two covenants, two Jerusalems, and two women in Galatians 4:21-31.
  • This description of precious stones can also be found in John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:19-20.

Zechariah 6:12-13

Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

  • These words were spoken to Joshua, the son of the high priest in Zechariah’s day, but it was already made clear earlier in the book that Joshua was a type of a coming Branch, the Messiah.
  • Ephesians 2 says that Jesus is the chief cornerstone of God’s holy temple, which was made up of the one new man, Jews and Gentiles together, “thus making peace” (verse 15).
  • We see again that “the counsel of peace” marks the reign of Christ as King and Priest.
  • Peace is also one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and it’s one of the three attributes of God’s kingdom that Paul chose to highlight in Romans 14:17.
  • Zechariah 8 goes on to give a great description of the coming New Jerusalem.

If time allowed, we could also dig into Isaiah 49, Isaiah 60-61, Amos 9, Zephaniah 3, and a number of other prophecies. As another note about God’s peace, recall that when Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist prophesied about His nephew, Jesus, he echoed Isaiah 60 when he said, “…the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

Do you want to further study this subject of the vision of the Old Testament prophets for this present age? One study strategy is to look up the passages that premillennialists say are about a future millennium period. Those passages have been arbitrarily tied to Revelation 20 and John’s vision of the 1000 years, as though John alluded to them in his vision. He did not actually. Those passages from the Old Testament, though, are rich with details and blueprints for this present, never-ending age.

Let’s be the peacemakers that Jesus called us to be in the Sermon on the Mount, and partner with Him in His reign to see the never-ending increase of His government and peace.

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This article was also posted on a new website dedicated to our Monthly Preterist Conference Calls.

Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 4)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 4)

Adam Maarschalk: March 11, 2010

In the first two posts in this series on amillennialism (Part 1 and Part 2) we discussed Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint, verse-by-verse. In the previous post we examined two articles: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” by Charles E. Hill, and [2] “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?” by P.J. Miller (excerpted from Kim Riddlebarger’s book “A Case for Amillennialism”).

In this post, we will examine two more articles: [1] “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever (Part 6)” by Grover Gunn, and [2] “Problems with Premillennialism” by Sam Storms. In the first article, Grover Dunn demonstrates that Dispensational Premillennialism essentially attempts to place the New Covenant age in our future, even though a fundamental truth of the Christian faith is that Christ inaugurated the New Covenant by His work on the cross. In the second article, Sam Storms meticulously details his journey from premillennialism to amillennialism, examining various Scripture passages which have led him to believe that the latter view is more Biblical than the former.

Links to all of our articles on Revelation 20 (RE: the Millennium) can be found in our Revelation 20: Introduction and Outline post.

ARTICLE #1: “Has the New Covenant Arrived Yet?”

This article was originally written by Grover Gunn (the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Tennessee) and posted at PJ Miller’s site under the title “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever (Part 6).” It was reposted at another site (Job’s “Heal the Land”) under the lengthy, but very fitting title, “Premillennial Dispensationalism Effectively Claims that the New Covenant Has Not Yet Arrived, Which Means We Are Still Under the Old.”

The subject of the New Covenant is important with regard to our discussion of the Millennium. The New Testament, of course, very clearly speaks of the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ’s atoning work on the cross (e.g. Matt. 26:28; Romans 11:27; I Cor. 11:25; II Cor. 3:6; Gal. 4:21-31; Heb. 7:22, 8:6-13, 9:15; 10:29; 12:22-24; 13:20). In each of these passages, the New Covenant is spoken of as a present reality for the body of Christ. God’s people, ever since Jesus went to the cross, have had the privilege of walking in the glorious promises of the New Covenant.

Within this New Covenant is the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28; Rom. 11:27), characterized by the Holy Spirit who gives life (II Cor. 3:6) and freedom rather than slavery (Gal. 4:21-31). The author of Hebrews says this is “a better covenant” than the Old Covenant (Heb. 7:22); “much more excellent” with “better promises” (8:6); one that brings redemption from transgressions (9:15); and one that is eternal (13:20).

How strange then would it be to learn that the most popular form of millennial eschatology today (at least in the US) is not only fuzzy regarding its meaning and significance, but assigns its fulfillment (either primarily or entirely) to an age which is to occur after Christ’s Second Coming? This same eschatological system often maintains that “if” the New Covenant is now in force, it was not foreseen for this present age by any Old Testament text! The system I’m referring to is Dispensational Premillennialism, and these and other oddities are discussed in this article by Grover Gunn which I will now quote from (underlining added):

Before discussing the new covenant, I would like to review the basic distinction between dispensationalism and Reformed theology. This basic distinction revolves around the concepts of unity in reference to God’s people and continuity in reference to God’s program. First, according to Reformed theology, the people of God in all ages are in union with Christ and are therefore together united in the universal church, which is the Body and Bride of Christ. According to dispensationalism, only those who are saved between the Pentecost of Acts 2 and the end time rapture are in the universal church. In other words, Mary, the mother of Jesus, will be in the Bride of Christ, but Joseph her husband who died before Pentecost will only be a guest at the wedding of the Lamb. Also, John the Apostle will be in the Body of Christ in eternity, but not John the Baptist. According to dispensationalism, the Old Testament saints who died before Acts 2 are not to be made perfect together with the New Testament saints (compare Hebrews 11:39-40), but are instead to remain spiritually inferior throughout eternity, never being in the Body and Bride of Christ [Adam’s note: If anyone knows this to be an inaccurate statement regarding dispensationalism, please let me know].

Second, according to Reformed theology, the New Testament church is a continuation of the Old Testament program and is directly rooted in the Old Testament covenants. According to dispensationalism, the New Testament church is a parenthesis in the program begun in the Old Testament, not a continuation of the program. They continue the Old Testament program in a future Jewish millennium that is a glorified extension of the Davidic national kingdom and the Mosaic ceremonial laws.

Let us now go on with our examination of the dispensational theory by looking at the dispensational teaching on the new covenant. Since those twenty-seven books of Scripture that were written after the life of Jesus are named the New Testament or covenant, one would expect that all Christians would uncompromisingly acknowledge the Christian nature of the new covenant. Such an acknowledgment, however, is not easy or simple for the consistent dispensationalist. As it turns out, when the dispensationalist tries to bend Scripture to fit his system, the Biblical data on the new covenant is among the most stubbornly unyielding and uncooperative. Dr. Charles C. Ryrie says the following about dispensational interpretation of the new covenant:

“Although the new covenant is one of the major covenants of Scripture, a clear statement of its meaning and of its relationship to the [dispensational] premillennial system is needed. Even among [dispensational] premillennialists there seems to be a lack of knowledge concerning this covenant.”1

[Dispensational] premillennialists are divided into three groups as far as their interpretation of the new covenant is concerned. This does not evince weakness, for not one of the views contradicts the system.2

The classic passage on the new covenant is Jeremiah 31. Please take note: Jeremiah is an Old Testament prophecy, and dispensationalists teach that no Old Testament prophecy can refer directly to the New Testament church. Dispensationalists interpret Jeremiah 30 and 31 as referring to their futuristic tribulation period which is to occur after the rapture of the church and to their Judaistic millennium.3 The “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) is identified with the seven-year tribulation period, and the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is viewed as a millennial blessing upon Israel. According to Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost:

“This covenant must follow the return of Christ at the second advent.”4

“This covenant will be realized in the millennial age.”5

Regardless of the relationship of the church to the new covenant as explained in these three views, there is one general point of agreement: the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 must and can be fulfilled only by the nation Israel and not by the Church.6

According to Dr. John F. Walvoord,

the [dispensational] premillennial position is that the new covenant is with Israel and the fulfillment in the millennial kingdom after the second coming of Christ.7

The [dispensational] premillennial view, though varying in detail, insists that the new covenant as revealed in the Old Testament concerns Israel and requires fulfillment in the millennial kingdom.8

According to Dr. Charles C. Ryrie,

it can be shown that the period of the new covenant is millennial.9

I very much agree with this last statement by Dr. Ryrie, but will qualify my agreement by identifying the millennium as a present reality just as the New Covenant is (In other words, I affirm the amillennial view). It seems to me that this [dispensationalist premillennial] insistence on identifying the New Covenant as a future reality for Israel in a future earthly reign goes hand in hand with the failure to see the Church as true Israel today (e.g. Romans 2:28-29; 4:11-14; 9:6-8; Gal. 3:7, 28-29; 6:15-16; Phil. 3:3; Rev. 2:9; 3:9). It also goes hand in hand with a failure to see that the Old Testament prophets spoke in much detail regarding this present Church age. Many of those passages are taken instead to refer to a future millennium period on earth, as we discussed here. Gunn continues:

Also, Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy is to be made “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31), and dispensationalists teach their strong dichotomy between Israel and the church. In other words, what has a prophecy for Israel to do with the New Testament church in a direct and primary sense? Nothing, says the consistent dispensationalist. So, for the consistent dispensationalist, the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 must be for the Jewish millennium and not for the church age. For the new covenant to be fulfilled in and by the church would be to abrogate the new covenant with Israel and to alter its most essential meaning and intention.10 The significance of this point can be seen in the following quotation by Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost:

“If the church fulfills this covenant, she may also fulfill the other covenants made with Israel and there is no need for an earthly millennium.”11

According to Dr. Ryrie:

“If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned.”12

We have seen that dispensationalists interpret the Old Testament data on the new covenant as referring solely to the nation Israel in a future millennium. When one comes to the New Testament data on the new covenant, this dispensational theory encounters some critical complications. For example, in Hebrews 8:6-13, the inspired writer called Christ “the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” and then quoted extensively from the Jeremiah new covenant prophecy. In Hebrews 10:14-18, the inspired writer quoted from the Jeremiah new covenant prophecy in an argument for the discontinuation of animal sacrifices in the church age. This indeed is ironic, for the dispensationalist refers this Jeremiah new covenant prophecy instead to a Jewish millennium in which animal sacrifices are renewed! In Hebrews 12:22-24, several Old Testament concepts, like Mount Zion, Jerusalem, the blood of Abel, and the new covenant, are applied directly to the Christian. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul called himself and Timothy “ministers of the new testament.” As if to remove any doubt about which new covenant he was referring to, Paul in verse 3 mentions the Jeremiah new covenant concept of writing on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). When Christ inaugurated the Lord’s Supper, He said, “This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). What did the Jewish disciples associate with this statement? Undoubtedly they related it to Jeremiah 31. What other new testament (i.e. covenant) were they aware of?

Surely you can now see that the consistent dispensationalist has a problem with the new covenant. According to a consistent application of basic dispensational assumptions and the dispensational hermeneutic, the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is for Israel in a Jewish millennium, not for the New Testament church in the church age. Dispensationalists are divided among three suggested solutions to this serious problem in their system.

Gunn then goes on to examine these three suggested solutions. To see his examination in full (since I will only be quoting small portions of it), one may follow [A] this link (or any of the links at the beginning of this section), as well as [B] this link (or the original source here). The first solution is a two-covenant proposal, i.e. that God has created one New Covenant for the Church and one for the nation of Israel. Gunn rightly calls this solution “artificial” and an “amazingly strained exegesis.” One implication of this proposal is that there are actually three major covenants in Scripture, rather than just the Old Covenant (prior to the cross) and the New Covenant (from the cross onwards). It would also mean that Jeremiah (e.g. 31:31-37) did not foresee this present age (from the time of the cross until now), but that “the church age is an unforeseen parenthesis in the prophetic program between the sixty-ninth and seventieth of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9.”

This false dichotomy of the New Covenant (i.e. two separate installments) has implications on the doctrines and practices of the Church. For example, Gunn adds that “E.W. Bullinger, the father of ultra-dispensationalism, taught that the Lord’s Supper is a Jewish ordinance that has no place in the Christian church.” For Bullinger, this ordinance was to await an earthly kingdom centered in Jerusalem which would only be inaugurated by Christ’s Second Coming. This does not explain, of course, why the apostle Paul spoke of the Lord’s Supper as a legitimate ordinance in his own day (I Cor. 11:17-33). John F. McGahey’s rebuttal of this “solution” is excellent:

Consequently, it has been established that there is no warrant in Scripture for maintaining that there are two new covenants… [T]he theory of the two new covenants was born of controversy rather than strong exegesis. For it appears that it was manufactured to avoid the assumed conclusion that to relate the church to Israel’s new covenant necessitated that church fulfilling the promises given to Israel under that covenant.25

Yet the promises articulated to Israel in the Old Testament do indeed belong to the Church today (e.g. Romans 4:13-14; Gal. 3:16-29).

A second “solution” to the dispensationalist quandary regarding what the New Testament has to say about the New Covenant is equally absurd. This solution was articulated by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), the father of dispensationalism, and maintained by others (e.g. Harry Ironside) in this way:

The Christian is directly related to “the annexed circumstances of the covenant,” to “the essential privileges of the new covenant,” to the “benefit” of the covenant, and to “the Mediator of the covenant,” but not to the covenant itself. Darby expressed his theory as follows: “This covenant of the letter is made with Israel, not with us; but we get the benefit of it… The new covenant will be established formally with Israel in the millennium.”

Ironside even stated explicitly that “The Church, then, is not under the new covenant…it is Israel which is God’s covenant-people.” That’s why I so appreciate Job’s fitting title for his article, “Premillennial Dispensationalism Effectively Claims that the New Covenant Has Not Yet Arrived, Which Means We Are Still Under the Old.” That is the necessary conclusion of the teaching of Ironside and others who have embraced his error. It’s no small error either. Gunn thinks through some other implications of Darby’s false teachings:

Let us think through the work of Christ in terms of Darby’s theory on the new covenant. Jesus Christ at His first coming came to be the mediator of an earthly, nationalistic and Jewish new covenant that is totally unrelated to church age Christianity. He offered to Israel a theocratic political kingdom based on this Jewish new covenant, and He shed His blood to establish this Jewish new covenant. When the Jewish nation rejected the Christ, the offer was withdrawn and the theocratic kingdom was postponed. In this parenthetical age of postponement, God began an entirely new and unprophesied work in the calling of a heavenly people, the Christian church. Although the blood of Christ was shed for the establishment of the earthly people’s national new covenant, there was enough efficacy in the Messianic sacrifice for it also to be the basis for individual salvation and heavenly blessings in the church age. Christ had assumed the office of mediator to mediate the Jewish covenant, but in this parenthetical age, His mediatorial office is available for the spiritual benefit of Christians even though they are totally unrelated to the covenant of which He is mediator. Darby’s theory makes God’s entire program for the church seem incidental and secondary to God’s program for Israel… This theory teaches that Christian salvation in the church age is an unprophesied benefit of the atoning work of Christ.

Author John Walvoord articulates a third proposed dispensationalist solution “popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible” which “regards the new covenant as having a twofold application, first to Israel fulfilled in the millennium, and, second, to the church in the present age.” According to Walvoord, Scofield saw the New Covenant as “concerned primarily with Israel,” but “having an oblique [not straightforward] reference to the believers of this age.” Dr. Charles Ryrie (for one) has even lamented that this less-than-straightforward relation of the body of Christ to the New Covenant is too much, for it weakens dispensational premillennialism! Here is what he says:

If the Church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere else in Scripture, then [dispensational] premillennialism is weakened…we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is “a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the Church.”

On this matter, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost said, “The church, however, can not be placed under Israel’s covenant [i.e. the New Covenant].” In other words, in order to avoid the charge of adhering to so-called “replacement theology,” these proponents of dispensationalism say that the body of Christ should have no relation to the New Covenant! This is amazingly false doctrine that strikes at the heart of what Christ accomplished on the cross for all believers. It also elevates one ethnic group (the Jews) far above any other group, even though the Bible is clear that there is no Jew or Gentile in Christ Jesus (e.g. Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:11-22).

Gunn’s final conclusion is very apt:

The New Testament data on the new covenant fits well with Reformed theology. No bending is necessary; no artificial exegesis is required; no hair splitting distinctions are needed. Since the New Testament church is the continuation of the Old Testament kingdom program and is spiritual Israel in this age and is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, there is no problem in directly relating the Jeremiah 31 new covenant to the church in this age as is done by the New Testament writers. The new covenant relates directly to physical Israel only insofar as Jews accept Christ and are regrafted back into the olive tree of spiritual Israel, which is the church (Romans 11:26-27).

ARTICLE #2: “Problems with Premillennialism”

This article was written by Sam Storms, the founder of Enjoying God Ministries. He sums up his journey away from premillennialism and toward amillennialism by this statement: “In my own case, further study of what the NT said would happen in conjunction with the second coming/advent of Christ led me to conclude that a post-Parousia millennial reign upon an earth still under the influence of sin, corruption, and death was impossible.”

In other words, premillennialism says that after Christ returns He will set up a physical kingdom in which sin and death will still continue to take place. The question is, though, “Does Scripture allow for sin, corruption, and (especially) death to continue beyond the Second Coming of Christ?” Sam Storms takes on this question by examining seven different New Testament texts which address this matter:

1. I Corinthians 15:22-28
2. I Corinthians 15:50-57
3. Romans 8:18-23
4. II Peter 3:8-13
5. Matthew 25:31-46
6. II Thessalonians 1:5-10
7. John 5:28-29

We will now turn to this study presented by Sam Storms [Brief note: Sam uses “PM” to denote premillennialism, and “AM” to denote amillennialism]. I will quote Sam’s study in its entirety (underlining added):

1. 1 Corinthians 15:22-28

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For ‘He has put all things in subjection under His feet.’ But when He says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.”

The PM interpretation is as follows: In v. 23 Paul says that the resurrection of believers follows the resurrection of Christ. But 2,000 years have already elapsed between these two events. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised if there is a similar historical gap between the resurrection of believers at the second coming (v. 23b) and “the end” (v. 24). This gap, says the PM, is the 1,000 year millennial kingdom which follows Christ’s return and precedes eternity.

At the end of the millennium, i.e., when “the end” comes, Jesus will deliver up the kingdom to the Father (v. 24a), after having abolished all rule and authority and power. The last of these so-called “enemies” is death. Therefore, according to the PM, death will not be destroyed or defeated or abolished until the close of the millennium, that is to say, at “the end”.

The point of dispute is the meaning of “the end” (v. 24). The “end” is when death, “the last enemy” (v. 26), is abolished. The PM insists that “the end” is the close or end of the millennial kingdom, 1,000 years after Christ has returned to earth. The AM insists that “the end” is the close or end of this present age, the age in which we now live.

If one could demonstrate conclusively what “the end” is or when “the end” comes, the millennial debate would itself come to a decisive end! This is not difficult to do. Both PM’s and AM’s agree that Christ’s reign (v. 25) consummates with the destruction of death. They also agree that the destruction of death signals “the end”. Therefore, all one need do is determine the time when “death” dies. Does Paul tell us when “death” dies or when death, the final enemy, will be abolished? Yes.

Several factors enable us to identify the “death of death”.

  • According to 1 Cor. 15:50-58 (esp. vv. 54-56), death is abolished or is “swallowed up in victory” (v. 54)at the second coming of Christ. Therefore, the reign of Christ described in v. 25, during which he progressively abolishes all rule and authority and power, is presently occurring. Paul is describing what Christ is doing now, as he sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father. When he returns at the conclusion of this present age, he will destroy death, the last remaining enemy. That, says Paul, is “the end.”
  • Another Pauline text which asserts that Christ is currently reigning in this capacity is Eph. 1:20-23 (note esp. Paul’s use of the same terminology found in 1 Cor. 15:24 – “rule, authority, power”).
  • But the PM does not believe Christ will abolish death at his second coming. He insists that death will continue into the millennium (cf. Rev. 20:7-10). But how can this be true when Paul places the destruction of death at Christ’s second advent? The destruction of death at Christ’s second advent/coming does not leave room for a millennial age in which death persists in its power.
  • The point is this: the second advent/coming of Christ marks the end of death and corruption, the end of sin and rebellion, and the inauguration of the consummated and perfected eternal state.

2. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The key phrase is Paul’s declaration that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50). Simply put, a corruptible and perishable nature can neither possess nor participate in an incorruptible and imperishable kingdom. Neither the living (“flesh and blood”) nor the dead (“the perishable”) can inherit the kingdom in their present state. Several factors contribute to make this a strong argument for AM and against PM.

  • Here Paul insists on the resurrection and glorification of all believers (whether already physically dead or still alive at the second advent; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Only those who have been gloriously transformed in body and spirit shall inherit the kingdom of God (cf. v. 53).
  • The “kingdom” in view, according to the PM, is the millennial kingdom [on earth]. But how can that be? The PM argues that many believers will enter and inherit and enjoy the blessings of the millennial kingdom in their natural, unglorified, untransformed, “flesh and blood” bodies. But that is precisely what Paul denies could ever happen.
  • Paul’s declaration that unglorified, “flesh and blood” bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God precludes a millennium following the second coming of Christ. The kingdom of God into which all believers are granted entrance at the time of their glorification (i.e., at the second coming of Christ), is the eternal phase of God’s kingdom rule. This eternal phase, at the beginning of which Jesus “delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father” (v. 24) follows immediately upon the second coming of the Lord Jesus. It is then that “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (vv. 51-52).
  • Finally, according to vv. 54-55, the end of death at the second coming of Christ is the fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8. There we read that God “will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth.” Both the end of death and the wiping away of all tears are associated in Rev. 21:4 not with the coming of a millennial age but with the eternal state, i.e., the new heavens and new earth.

3. Romans 8:18-23

“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. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”

Observe the following.

  • Paul describes the deliverance or redemption of the natural creation as connected with that of the children of God. It is when the sons of God are revealed (v. 19) that the creation itself shall experience its redemption. That is why the creation is personified as “waiting eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” The creation anxiously awaits the return of Christ and our glorification, for it is then that it too shall be set free from “its slavery to corruption” into that very “freedom of the children of God” (v. 21).
  • The creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19) because it is into that very freedom that the creation too will be delivered (v. 21). In other words, the creation and the children of God are intimately intertwined both in present suffering and in future glory. As there was solidarity in the fall, so also there will be solidarity in the restoration.
  • If the creation should somehow fall short of complete deliverance from its present corruption, the finality and fullness of our redemption is seriously undermined. Inasmuch as the natural realm will enter into “the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” any deficiency that it might experience must obtain in the case of Christians as well. To the extent that the created order is not wholly and perfectly redeemed, we are not wholly and perfectly redeemed. The redemption and glory of creation are co-extensive and contemporaneous with ours.
  • The problem this poses for PM is clear: the consummate redemption of creation that occurs when Christ returns to redeem/glorify his people would appear to preclude any suffering or corruption of creation subsequent to that return. And yet the millennial age for which the PM argues is one that includes the corrupting presence of both sin and death. The question, then, is this:

How can the creation be delivered from the crippling effects of sin and death when we are, namely, at Christ’s second coming, if during the millennium it must yet suffer the presence and perversity of its enemies?

  • It seems more reasonable to me that Paul’s description of the day of redemption for both Christians and the created order (i.e., the second coming of Jesus) is identical with the advent of the new heavens and new earth portrayed in such texts as 2 Pt. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1ff[1].; Mt. 19:28. If so, there is no place for a “millennium” subsequent to the return of Christ.

4. 2 Peter 3:8-13

Following his reference to “mockers” who question whether Christ will ever return (vv. 3-7), Peter writes this:

“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

Here Peter echoes the words of Paul in 1 Thess. 5:2-3, both of whom refer to “the day of the Lord”, i.e., the second coming/advent of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Pt. 3:4, 8-9).[2]

  • Peter tells us that it is on account of the coming of this “day of the Lord/God” (vv. 10, 12), i.e., the second coming/advent of Christ, that the heavens will be destroyed. The end of this present heavens and earth is the effect of the coming of Christ. The “present heavens and earth,” literally, the “now heavens and earth” (v. 7), are being reserved for this “day” of judgment.
  • Note also that the “present (now) heavens and earth” are contrasted with the former heavens and earth, literally, “the then world” (v. 6). Thus Peter looks at biblical history as consisting of three great periods: 1) the heavens and earth before Noah, which were destroyed by God’s judgment, out of which he formed anew 2) the heavens and earth that now are, which are being reserved for destruction, and out of which he will create anew 3) the heavens and earth that shall be, which are the object of our hope. “Since you look for these things,” says Peter, that is, for the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (v. 13), be diligent to be righteous.
  • Where is there room in Peter’s scenario for an earthly millennium intervening between Christ’s second coming and the new heavens and new earth? On the contrary, the present heavens and earth will be judged at Christ’s return, at which time thenew heavens and new earth(not a millennium) shall emerge as an eternal dwelling for God’s people.
  • Note Peter’s use of the word translated “look for” in vv. 12, 13, 14. We are to “look for” the day of God (the Lord), i.e., the return of Christ (v. 12). In v. 13 we are to “look for” the new heavens and new earth. In v. 14 we “look for” these things, i.e., the coming of Christ which brings judgment against the present world and righteousness for his people. It seems clear that the object of our expectation, that for which we are to “look,” is [the] return of Christ when the present heavens and earth give way to the new heavens and earth. If the new heavens and new earth come at the time of Christ’s second advent, there can be no earthly millennial reign intervening between the two. Remember: the PM places the creation of the new heavens and new earth after the millennium (Rev. 21-22). However, if the new heavens and new earth come with Christ (as Peter indicates they will), the millennium must in some sense be identified with this present age and not some future period subsequent to Christ’s return.
  • Finally, the PM argues that during the millennial age it will be possible for people to come to saving faith in Christ. But Peter’s argument is that the very reason why Christ has not yet returned is in order that He might patiently extend the opportunity for men to repent. This is meaningful only if it is impossible to repent subsequent to Christ’s return. If souls may be saved after Christ returns, the patience He now displays is unnecessary. The urgency of the moment can be explained only on the supposition that “now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

5. Matthew 25:31-46

We read in Mt. 25:31-32 that the Son of Man will return in glory in the company of the angelic host. It is then that he will gather all the nations (cf. Mt. 13:30, 39-41,49-50), separate them (cf. Mt. 13:49), and pass judgment (vv. 34-36).

  • The judgment that occurs at the second coming/advent of Christ is said to issue in eternal fire (v. 41) and eternal punishment (v. 46) for the “goats” (the unsaved) and eternal life (v. 46) for the “sheep” (the saved).
  • In Rev. 20:11-15, this same judgment is described. The unsaved are thrown into the lake of fire. This is commonly known as the Great White Throne Judgment.
  • The important point is this: the Great White Throne Judgment of Rev. 20:11-15 occursafterthe millennial reign described in 20:1-10. But in Mt. 25 the judgment occurs at the time of Christ’s second coming/advent. Conclusion:the millennium of Rev. 20:1-10 is simultaneous with the present age; the millennium is now, preceding the second coming of Christ.

My conclusion is that at the second coming/advent of Christ the lost are judged and cast into the lake of fire, to be punished eternally, whereas the saved are granted entry into eternal life, that phase of God’s kingdom which consists of the new heavens and new earth. The description in Mt. 25 of what happens when Christ returns simply doesn’t leave place or room for a 1,000 [year] earthly reign in between the parousia and the eternal state.

6. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

“This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed — for our testimony to you was believed.”

The conclusions drawn from Mt. 25 are re-affirmed in 2 Thess. 1. This passage also indicates that it is at the time of Christ’s second coming/advent, not 1,000 years later, that the eternal punishment of the lost occurs.

When does the eternal destruction of the unsaved occur? When shall they pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord? Paul’s answer is: “when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day” (v. 10). The climactic and final punishment of the lost is not reserved for a judgment 1,000 years after Christ’s return, but is simultaneous with it. And since this judgment is elsewhere said to follow the millennium (Rev. 20:11-15), the millennium itself must be coterminous with the present age.

7. John 5:28-29

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

An hour is coming when (lit., “in which”) all who are in the tombs, i.e., the physically dead, whether believer or unbeliever, shall hear his voice and come forth in the resurrection.

The PM, however, is unable to accept this straightforward declaration. He insists that a 1,000 year earthly reign of Christ must intervene between the resurrection of believers and the resurrection of unbelievers. He points to v. 25 where the word “hour” encompasses the whole of this present age. Why, then, can’t the “hour” in v. 28 also span the 1,000 years of a millennial age? Anthony Hoekema answers this question:

“First, in order to be parallel to what is said in verse 25, the resurrection of believers and unbelievers should then be taking place throughout this thousand-year period, as is the case with the regeneration of people during the ‘hour’ mentioned in verse 25. But, according to the theory under discussion (Premillennialism), this is not the case; rather this theory teaches that there will be one resurrection at the beginning of the thousand years and another at the end. Of this, however, there is not a hint in this passage. Further, note the words “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.” The reference would seem to be to a general resurrection of all who are in their graves; it is straining the meaning of these words to make them describe two groups (or four groups) of people who will be raised at separate times. Moreover, this passage states specifically that all these dead will hear the voice of the Son of man. The clear implication seems to be that this voice will be sounded once, not two times or four times. If the word ‘hour’ is interpreted as standing for a period of a thousand years plus, this would imply that the voice of Jesus keeps sounding for a thousand years. Does this seem likely?” (32)

No, it doesn’t.

Conclusion:

My conclusion is that when we examine what the NT says will occur at the time of the second coming/advent of Jesus Christ, there is no place for a 1,000 year earthly reign to follow. At the time of the second coming there will occur the final resurrection, the final judgment, the end of sin, the end of death, and the creation of the new heavens and new earth. As Peter has said, “since you look for these things (beloved), be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pt. 3:14).

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All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] My personal understanding of “the new heavens and the new earth” in Revelation 21:1-2 is a bit different than Sam’s, but this is a minor point of difference in the large scope of Sam’s well-reasoned arguments here. Our study on Revelation 21 will be posted shortly, Lord willing.

[2] Note: Some believe that the Day of the Lord (and “the new heavens and the new earth”) spoken of here in this text (as in Revelation 21) is not a reference to the future Second Coming of Christ and the subsequent eternal state, but to God’s judgment upon Jerusalem and Old Covenant Judaism in 70 AD followed by the universalizing of the New Covenant unencumbered by Old Covenant Judaism. For example, Charles Spurgeon said in a sermon he preached in 1865: “Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).  This will be addressed in our study of Revelation 21.

Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 3)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 3)

Adam Maarschalk: March 4, 2010

In the previous two posts (Part 1 and Part 2) we discussed Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint, verse-by-verse. In this post we will now turn to two very interesting articles: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” by Dr. Charles E. Hill, and [2] “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?” by P.J. Miller (excerpted from Kim Riddlebarger’s book “A Case for Amillennialism”). Links to all of our articles on Revelation 20 (RE: the Millennium) can be found in our Revelation 20: Introduction and Outline post.

ARTICLE #1: “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism”

This article was written by Dr. Charles E. Hill in 1999 for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Dr. Hill is an author and the Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. In this article, Dr. Hill discusses three factors that led to a general rejection of premillennialism in the (relatively) early Church and among Reformation leaders. His analysis is enlightening, and certainly brings to mind the possibility that premillennialism’s modern revival has paralleled the growth of Dispensationalism (and Zionism) during the last two centuries:

Chiliasm is the ancient name for what today is known as premillennialism, the belief that when Jesus Christ returns he will not execute the last judgment at once, but will first set up on earth a temporary kingdom, where resurrected saints will rule with him over non-resurrected subjects for a thousand years of peace and righteousness. To say that the Church “rejected chiliasm” may sound bizarre today, when premillennialism is the best known eschatology in Evangelicalism. Having attached itself to funda-mentalism, chiliasm in its dispensationalist form has been vigorously preached in pulpits, taught in Bible colleges and seminaries, and successfully promoted to the masses through study Bibles, books, pamphlets, charts, and a host of radio and television ministries. To many Christians today, premillennialism is the very mark of Christian orthodoxy. But there was a period of well over a “millennium” (over half of the Church’s history), from at least the early fifth century until the sixteenth, when chiliasm was dormant and practically non-existent. Even through the Reformation and much of the post-Refor-mation period, advocates of chiliasm were usually found among fringe groups like the Münsterites. The Augsburg Confession went out of its way to condemn chiliasm (Art. XVII, “Of Christ’s Return to Judgment”), and John Calvin criticized “the chiliasts, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years” (Institutes 3.25.5). It was not until the nineteenth century that chiliasm made a respectable comeback, as a favorite doctrine of Christian teachers who were promoting revival in the face of the deadening effects of encroaching liberalism.

But how are we to view the Church’s earliest period up until the first decisive rejection of chiliasm in the Church? By most accounts this was the heyday of chiliastic belief in the Church. Many modern apologists for premillennialism allege that before the time of Augustine chiliasm was the dominant, if not the “universal” eschatology of the Church, preserving the faith of the apostles. Some form of chiliasm was certainly defended by such notable names as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century and Tertullian of Carthage in the third.[1] How and why then did this view finally fall into disrepute?

Hill notes several suggested causes put forth for the long-term demise of chiliasm (ancient premillennialism), including [1] bad hermeneutics [2] prophetic excesses [3] peace during Constantine’s rule, and [4] the influential arguments of Augustine. He seems to debunk each of these purported causes (let the reader be the judge), and regarding the fourth one he adds:

By the time Constantine proclaimed Christianity the state religion in the fourth century, a non-chiliastic eschatology was surely the norm in most places, and in many it had been so ever since Christianity had arrived there. Many signs thus tell us that even without the aid of Augustine, chiliasm was probably in its death-throes by the time he wrote the last books of The City of God in a.d. 420.

Hill soon gets straight to the point and proposes that the primary reason why the early church ultimately rejected chiliasm is because at its heart it was “a Jewish error.” Lest this claim be understood as anti-Semitic, and also to substantiate his claim, Hill provides the following explanation (any underlining is my own):

This criticism is open to grave misunderstanding today if one views it as part of the Church’s shameful legacy of anti-Semitism. But this is not what lay at the base of such criticism of chiliasm as “Jewish.” Jesus was a Jew, as were all of his apostles. “Salvation is of the Jews,” Jesus said, and all the Church fathers knew and agreed with this. There is no embarrassment at all in something being “Jewish” and the ancient and honorable tradition of the Jews, in monotheism, morals, and the safeguarding of Holy Scripture, is something Christian leaders always prized.

Another modern misunderstanding of this criticism must also be avoided. Certain current forms of premillennialism, particularly dispensationalism, might seem “Jewish” to some because they promise that the kingdom of God will be restored to ethnic Jews as the just fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Abraham and his descendants. But this was not the case with ancient Christian chiliasm. The New Testament’s revelation of the Church as the true Israel and heir of all the promises of God in Christ was too well-established and too deeply ingrained in the early Christian consciousness for such a view to have been viable. Ancient Church chiliasts like Irenaeus did indeed argue that some of God’s promises to Israel had to be fulfilled literally in a kingdom on earth, but they recognized that the humble recipients of this kingdom would be spiritual Israel, all who confessed Jesus as God’s Messiah, regardless of their national or ethnic origin. Ancient chiliasm was not criticized because it “favored” the Jews as having a distinct, blessed future apart from Gentile Christians.

What then did critics mean by calling chiliasm “Jewish”? Their use of the label meant “non-Christian Jewish,” or even, “anti-Christian Jewish.” These early critics believed that chiliasm represented an approach to biblical religion that was sub-Christian, essentially failing to reckon with the full redemptive implications of the coming of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah. They saw it as an under-realized, a not-fully-Christian, eschatology. We can outline at least three aspects of this criticism.

Hill then presents the three aspects of early church criticism regarding the “Jewish error” of chiliasm. I find the second and third aspects to be educational and very intriguing. I will quote Hill’s presentation almost in its entirety here:

1. Its Sources Were Non-Christian Jewish Sources

First, critics of chiliasm point out that Christian chiliasts got their chiliasm not so much from the apostles as from non-Christian Jewish sources. Irenaeus cites a tradition from a book written by Papias of Hierapolis about the millennial kingdom. The tradition purports to reproduce Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom as related through the Apostle John to those who remembered the latter’s teaching. It is the famous report about each grapevine in the kingdom having ten thousand branches, each branch ten thousand twigs, each twig ten thousand shoots, each shoot ten thousand clusters, and each cluster ten thousand grapes, etc., with talking grapes, each one anxious that the saints would bless the Lord through it. As it turns out, this account seems to be a development of a tradition recorded in the Jewish apocalypse 2 Baruch in its account of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom (Ch. 29).

Some scholars note that the chiliasm of Justin, though it derives the number 1,000 from Revelation 20, springs more from a certain approach to Old Testament exegesis (particularly on Is. 65:17-25) than from the eschatology of Revelation. And this approach is in basic agreement with that of Trypho, his Jewish interlocutor. This is in keeping with the role chiliasm plays in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, where it functions as part of an apologetic which sought to claim everything Jewish for Christianity. The issue of the fulfillment of the prophets’ predictions of glory for Israel was very much a part of the atmosphere of the discussion between these representatives of Christianity and Judaism, for their encounter took place not long after the failed attempt by Bar Cochba to take Jerusalem back from the Romans (a.d. 132).

2. Chiliasm Was “Jewish” in its View of the Saints’ Afterlife

Second, we now know that early chiliast and non-chiliast Christian eschatologies had to do with more than an expectation of a temporary, earthly kingdom, or lack thereof. They encompassed other beliefs about eschatology. It may seem curious to us today, but the ancient Christian chiliasts defended a view of the afterlife in which the souls of the righteous did not go immediately to God’s presence in heaven at the time of death, but went instead to a subterranean Hades. Here souls, in refreshment and joyful contemplation, waited for the resurrection and the earthly kingdom before they could enter the presence of God. The only ones exempted from Hades were men like Enoch and Elijah who, it was thought, had not experienced death but had been translated alive to paradise. This view of the afterlife on the part of the chiliasts Papias, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Victorinus, and Lactantius was connected directly to their chiliasm. We know this both from the coexistence of these beliefs in Jewish sources (2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, Ps. Philo’s Biblical Antiquities, and some rabbinic traditions) and from the internal connection between the doctrines drawn by Irenaeus.

Yet most of the Church (and at times even the chiliasts themselves in spite of themselves) knew and treasured the New Testament hope of an immediate enjoyment of the presence of God in heaven with Christ at death (Luke 23:42-43; John 14:2-4; 17:24; Phil. 1:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Heb. 12:22-24; 2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 6:9-11; 14:1-5; 15:2; 18:20; 19:14). But this aspect of the Christian eschatology, this “hope of heaven” made possible only by the completed work of Jesus the Messiah and his own ascension to heaven, shattered the mold of Jewish chiliastic eschatology. Such a vision belonged to a non-chiliast (what we would today call amillennial) understanding of the return of Christ. This vision essentially saw the millennium of Revelation 20 as pertaining to the present age, wherein the righteous dead are alive in Christ and are now participating with their King and High Priest in the priestly kingdom in heaven (Rev. 20:4-6). In the new light of this fully Christian expectation, a return to an earthly existence, where sin and bodily desires still persisted and a final war (as in Rev. 20:8-10) still loomed, could only be a retrogression in redemptive history.

We can observe then two competing patterns of Christian eschatology from the second century on: one chiliastic, which expects an intermediate kingdom on earth before the last judgment and says that the souls of the saints after death await that earthly kingdom in the refreshing underworldly vaults of Hades; the other which teaches instead that departed Christians have a blessed abode with Christ in heaven, in the presence of God, as they await the return of Christ to earth, the resurrection and judgment of all, and the new heaven and new earth…

[C]hiliasm was at odds with aspects of the Church’s hope handed down from the apostles and made so clear in the New Testament writings. As such, the chiliastic eschatology could not survive intact. Tertullian, after embracing chiliasm, tried some minor modifications. Even as a chiliast he remained more open to understanding the “earthly” prophecies of the Old Testament in a more “spiritualized” way. He also argued that some Christians–but only those who literally suffered martyrdom–could be spared a stay in Hades and could inhabit the heavenly paradise before the resurrection. But even Tertullian’s admirer Cyprian could not accept this ameliorated form of chiliasm, and comforted his congregations in the face of a raging plague with the Christian hope of the heavenly kingdom when they died. With Lactantius in the early fourth century we see a determined attempt to revive a more “genuine” form of chiliasm. But by the fourth century these views could not stand long among educated clergy. The Christian hope of union and fellowship with Christ after death was too strong for the chiliastic eschatology to flourish ever again in its original form. The work of Tyconius, Jerome, and Augustine at the end of the fourth century and in the early fifth simply put the exclamation point on the inevitable.

3. Chiliasm’s Old Testament Hermeneutic Led to the Crucifixion

Finally, the chiliastic alternative on the intermediate state of the Christian soul between death and the resurrection was a problem which in itself could have led to chiliasm’s demise. But there was another problem which, when clearly exposed, had the potential of being downright scandalous. It was recognized by Origen and has been seen by non-chiliasts down to the present day. It is the realization that the “literal,” nationalistic interpretation of the prophets was the standard that Jesus, in the eyes of his opponents, did not live up to, and therefore was the basis of their rejection of his messiahship. One of the prophecies that Irenaeus had insisted will be literally fulfilled in the kingdom on earth was Is. 11:6-7, which speaks of the wolf dwelling with the lamb and the leopard with the kid, etc. Origen specifically mentions this passage as among those which the Jews misinterpret[ed]: “and having seen none of these events literally happening during the advent of him whom we believe to be Christ they did not accept our Lord Jesus, but crucified him on the ground that he had wrongly called himself Christ.” This “Jewish” approach to the Old Testament prophecies and its role in the Jewish rejection of Jesus was recognized even by Tertullian and was no doubt one of his motivations for taking a more “spiritualized” approach to those prophecies than Irenaeus had done.

Hill’s final conclusion, and this article in its entirety, can be seen here. Another very good article, titled “The History of Chiliasm” and written by William Masselink in 1930, can be seen here. Masselink demonstrates how modern premillennialism mirrors the erroneous and external Jewish expectation during the time of Christ that the millennial reign would be one of earthly triumph primarily for ethnic Jews. This is a very brief excerpt from that article:

Premillennialism is a descent of ancient Judaism. There is a striking resemblance between the off-spring and the parent. The old Jewish conceptions of an external Messianic kingdom have found their perfect embodiment in the Chiliastic theory of the millennium. Premillennialism is a relic of Judaism. Dr. Hodge says of this, “It is a Jewish doctrine. The principles adopted by its advocates in the interpretation of prophecy are the same as have been adopted by the Jews in the time of Christ; and have led substantially to the same conclusions. The Jews expected that when the Messiah came He would establish a glorious earthly kingdom at Jerusalem; that those who had died in the faith should be raised from the dead to share the Messianic reign; that all nations and peoples on the face of the earth should be subject to them; and that any nation that would not serve them should be destroyed. All the riches and honors of the world were to be at their disposal… This relic of Judaism was still in the subconscious mind of the followers of Jesus before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It touches our hearts with pain to think that this Judaistic expectation which was repeatedly corrected and even severely rebuked by our Master, should again thrive within the present day Christian church.

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ARTICLE #2: “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Amillennial Age?”

This article by blogger P.J. Miller is a reproduction of Kim Riddlebarger’s article titled “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?—A Problem for Dispensationalists.” It deals with what Kim calls “the general flow of redemptive history.” In Scripture, says Kim, the “redemptive-historical pattern clearly moves from type and shadow to fulfillment and reality.” However, he adds,

What is especially problematic about the dispensational [and premillennial] understanding of the millennial age is that the millennium as conceived by dispensationalists amounts to a return to the types and shadows associated with the Old Testament prophets and the typological understanding of the messianic age which has now been realized in Jesus Christ.

Once Christ has come and fulfilled these particular prophetic expectations, how can the dispensationalist justify his belief that the future millennial age is characterized by a redemptive economy of type and shadow, when the reality to which these things pointed, has already come?  This pre-messianic Old Testament millennial expectation, complete with restored temple worship and the reinstitution of animal sacrifices, can only be justified by a redemptive historical U-turn (Click here: Riddleblog – The Latest Post – Jesus, the True Temple).

According to dispensationalists, type and shadow are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who, in the millennial age, supposedly re-institutes these same types and shadows which are inferior and have passed away.  This is highly problematic and does great violence to the overall thrust of biblical history.  This peculiar feature of dispensationalism explains the rise of progressive dispensationalism, which seeks to avoid this highly-problematic aspect of traditional dispensationalism (emphasis added).

I’m grateful for what is known as “progressive dispensationalism,” as it’s at least a step in the right direction, i.e. a complete departure from dispensationalism. This article brings up an important point, though, which is useful to our comparison of amillennialism with premillennialism: the theological danger of proposing a return to the types and shadows which were fulfilled by Christ’s work on the cross. One reason why I linked to PJ Miller’s article[2] is to address a question asked in the comments section, a question I also had when first reading Kim’s article:

I did not read the entire post but this caught my eye:

“According to dispensationalists, type and shadow are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who, in the millennial age, supposedly re-institutes these same types and shadows which are inferior and have passed away.”

Can you quote specific verses?

Thanks!

Tracing the links provided in Kim’s article, especiallythe one in the three-paragraph quote above, it’s apparent that in speaking of a proposed return to “types and shadows” Kim is referring to the premillennial interpretation of such passages as Isaiah 56:4-8, Isaiah 66:20-21, Zechariah 14:16-19, and especially “the Old Testament prophecy of a new and glorious temple, found in Ezekiel 40-48.” The first three passages, all commonly taken by premillennialists to refer to a future (physical) millennium kingdom on the earth, are recorded as follows (references to types and shadows are underlined):

[1] For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant—these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56:4-8).

[2] And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedarians, to My holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. [“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before Me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, declares the Lord.”] (Isaiah 66:20-21 [22-23]).

[3] Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths… [And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them…] (Zechariah 14:16-19 [20-21]).

For the premillennialist, these prophecies point to a physical kingdom on this earth to be established after Christ’s Second Coming, at which point He will rule from the city of Jerusalem. Riddlebarger articulates the amillennialist interpretation of such passages in this way:

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s prophets foretell of the coming messianic age in terms of that prophet’s own particular time and place in the unfolding drama of redemptive history.  What is especially germane to our present question is the fact that Israel’s prophets speak of the glorious messianic age yet to come in terms of the types and shadows associated with Old Testament messianic anticipation.

But Old Testament types and shadows are subsequently reinterpreted in the New Testament in the greater light of the dawn of the messianic age associated with Christ’s coming.  This is why one of the major aspects of the eschatology of the New Testament era is that what was promised in the Old Testament has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

What are some examples of Old Testament texts addressed to the nation of Israel which are then “reinterpreted in the New Testament in the greater light” of New Covenant reality? This most excellent article[3] lists a number of them:

Promised to / Spoken to Israel

Fulfilled in / Applied to the Church

“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’

-Hosea 1:10

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.” “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

-Romans 11:22-26

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”

-Hosea 2:23

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

-1 Peter 2:9-10

“On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old;

-Amos 9:11

“Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

-Acts 15:14-18

“And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls.

-Joel 2:28-32

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…”But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’

-Acts 2:1,16-21

‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

-Exodus 19:6

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

-1 Peter 2:9

“My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

-Ezekiel 37:27

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.”

-2 Cor 6:16

“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

-Lev 19:2

But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

-1 Peter 1:15-16

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah

-Jer 31:31

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

-Luke 22:20

So, as we have noted, Isaiah 56:4-8, Isaiah 66:20-21, Zechariah 14:16-19 are three examples of passages taken by premillennialists to refer to a future physical kingdom on earth, but taken by amillennialists to refer to the blessings of this present New Covenant age. Premillennialists and amillennialists are also split in the same way in their interpretations of Ezekiel 40-48. Riddlebarger notes:

Ezekiel envisions a future time for God’s people in which the temple will be rebuilt, the priesthood will be re-established, true sacrifices will once again be offered and the river of life will flow forth from the temple.  How we interpret this prophecy will have a significant bearing on the question of whether or not there will be a future millennial age upon the earth.

It should come as no surprise that dispensationalists believe that this prophecy will find a literal fulfillment in the millennial age.  According to J. Dwight Pentecost, “the glorious vision of Ezekiel reveals that it is impossible to locate its fulfillment in any past temple or system which Israel has known, but it must await a future fulfillment after the second advent of Christ when the millennium is instituted.  The sacrificial system is not a reinstituted Judaism, but the establishment of a new order that has its purpose the remembrance of the work of Christ on which all salvation rests.  The literal fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy will be the means of God’s glorification and man’s blessing in the millennium” (J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come, Zondervan, 1978, 531).

In Ezekiel’s vision we see much language which is vividly reminiscent of the laws given through Moses on Mount Sinai, clearly made obsolete because of Christ’s work on the cross (Hebrews 7-10; see especially 7:18; 8:7; 8:13; 10:8-9). In Ezekiel 43:13-27 we even see a prescription for offering burnt offerings and sin offerings, with all the accompanying purification rituals and shedding of the blood of bulls and goats. Many premillennialists would agree with J. Dwight Pentecost that this will literally take place during a future millennium in a literal and physical temple. Indeed, this is a “redemptive historical U-turn.” Riddlebarger goes on to say:

This supposed return to type and shadow during the millennial age is seen in the dispensational interpretation of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  When dispensationalists contend that the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant is not fulfilled until Israel is reborn as a nation and returned to her ancient homeland in Palestine in 1948, they run head-long into Paul’s assertion that the Abrahamic covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, since even Gentiles who embrace the messianic promise through faith are Abraham’s children and members of this covenant (Galatians 3:15-29; Romans 4:1-25).

It is Paul who “spiritualizes” the promise of a land in Palestine which originally extended from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, (Genesis 15:18) to now include the whole world (Romans 4:13).

This same tendency to ignore the way in which the New Testament writers apply Old Testament messianic expectations to Christ can be seen in the dispensational insistence that Christ has not yet fulfilled the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 since, supposedly, this will not occur until the millennial age, when Jesus rules the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem.  But the writers of the New Testament could not be any clearer when they teach that this prophecy was fulfilled at the time of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, when God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him on high by seating him at his right hand in heaven.  This event, Peter says, fulfills God’s messianic promise to David that one of his own descendants would sit on his throne (Acts 2: 30-35).  In fact, it is because Jesus fulfilled this promise that Peter urges his fellow Jews in the temple that first Pentecost Sunday to “repent and be baptized.”

…Because of these factors, amillennarians believe that the dispensational understanding of redemptive history in general and of the millennial age in particular is seriously flawed.  The millennial age is not depicted in the Bible as a return to the types and shadows of the Old Testament, complete with temple worship and animal sacrifice, while Jesus rules the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem.  Instead, the biblical data demonstrates that the millennium is this present age…  The millennial reign of Christ is a present reality (emphasis added).

Amen! By God’s grace, I hope to never again ignore the way in which the New Testament writers have applied Old Testament passages in their writings. This should be a key observation in the shaping of our personal systems of eschatology.

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In the following post, we will examine two more articles: [1] “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever (Part 6)” by Grover Gunn (which I have retitled “Has the New Covenant Arrived Yet?”), and [2]  “Problems with Premillennialism” by Dr. Sam Storms.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] Church historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) wrote that although chiliasm was prominent in the ante-Nicene age (prior to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD), it was “not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius; while Caius, Origen, Dionysius the Great, Eusebius (as afterwards Jerome and Augustin) opposed it.” – Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, VIII vols. (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), vol. II, p. 614

[2] Another reason for linking to this article is to acknowledge that it was through this blog post that I first became aware of Kim Riddlebarger’s article.

[3] I especially appreciate the concluding paragraph of this article, which says: “We are stating a historical fact, clearly contained in the sacred records, that in or about the spring of the year 30 A.D., the mass of those who then called themselves Israelites ceased to be such for prophetic and covenant purpose, having forfeited their citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel by refusing to accept the Messiah, and that after this event all the privileges of the Abrahamic Covenant and all the promises of God belonged to the believing remnant, and to them only; which remnant was therefore and thereafter the true Israel and Judah, the Seed of Abraham, the Christian church. Thus the promise was fulfilled strictly and definitely to the designated parties.