When I wrote an article giving my reasons why I can’t accept Premillennial Dispensational eschatology (entitled “Premillennial Dispensationalism: A Return to Bondage of the Law” on this website), I sent it to one of my Dispensationalist friends for him to critique and to get his response. He kindly did that for me and I have posted it, with my response, in this article and with my friend’s knowledge. In this article I present my friend’s questions and objections in italics at the beginning of each paragraph, followed by my response.
“I read the article and I have a few issues with it. For starters they dismiss the Millennium without so much as a verse. Yet Rev. 20 mentions Satan’s binding for 1000 years and goes on to mention it again two more times. So is a 1000 years a 1000 years or what?
Then it states that in the Millennium that Israel will start up the OT sacrifices yet I have never heard that mentioned ever before. It says that the people will go up to Jerusalem once a year but as I read it, it is to worship only.
Then Romans chapters 9 through 11 is of no effect. So Paul speaks about Israel’s salvation in a day. I refer this to Zech.14. 4. And why does Christ at His Return stand on the Mount of Olives if Israel has no place in future events? It will be split in two which has not as yet happened.
Why have the Jews kept their unique identity for 2000 years and are back in the land?
Why does Jesus say in Luke 21? He says in verse 24 that Jerusalem will be trodden underfoot of the Gentiles until their days are fulfilled.
I don’t know whether the church will go through the great tribulation but the 144,000 Jews of the 12 tribes of Israel are yet to be revealed so that tells me that God must know each person and which tribe they belong. Also Jesus did tell the disciples that they would reign and Judge the 12 tribes sitting on 12 Thrones. Is this in the Millennium?
I just don’t get it to dismiss the Jews as saying God is finished with them and now all that matters is the Church, the New Israel.
I understand that the only way a Jew is saved is exactly as we are saved, no distinction there.
It is just that the article seems to me to neglect scripture and only use the bits that agree with the A Mill (Amillennial) position?
Anyway, that is just what I think. I have yet to hear any A Mill make sense of Ezekiel chapters 37,38 and 39 yet as it is all future”.
I replied to my reader with the following points:
- Rev. 20 mentions Satan’s binding for 1000 years and goes on to mention it again two more times. So is a 1000 years a 1000 years or what?
- To start with, the only mention of such a millennium is here in Revelation chapter 20. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature and, as such, cannot be treated as a literal description or as a calendar of coming events. The nature and characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it paints a vivid picture using lurid and graphic images, such as fantastic beasts and earth shattering and/or cosmic events, to unveil or reveal the future. Because the voice of prophecy had ceased, this genre of apocalyptic literature arose in the period between the Testaments to provide an explanation for the suffering of God’s people and as an encouragement to persevere. Sometimes it is similar to prophecy, at others it departs from it. And where prophecy ends with the coming of the Messiah to redeem his people, apocalyptic takes the victory beyond the end of time and into eternity. Thus, Revelation is filled with symbolism and, whilst it tells of real events, it does so in symbolic language.
- If we take the millennium mentioned here literally, why don’t we take the other symbols in the book literally? For example, in chapter 9 we read of locusts in the shape of horses, with crowns of gold on their heads and with men’s faces, women’s hair and teeth like lion’s teeth, and their wings sounding like the thundering of many chariots.
- Also described here is an army of horsemen; their horses had heads like lion’s heads, and they breathed out fire, smoke and brimstone; their tails were living snakes which bit people. And the number of the horsemen is very specific i.e. 200,000,000 (9:6).
- In chapter 6 we’re told that when the sixth seal was opened, there was a great earthquake, the sun turned black and the moon became as blood, the stars of heaven fell to earth, and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places (verses 12-14). Yet in this same passage, after the mountains were all moved, every person hid themselves in dens and rocks of the mountains. The description here is of utter destruction and chaos, with the whole of heaven and earth being destroyed. In truth, the devastation is so great that the earth could not survive the cataclysm.
- Yet in chapter 8, there is another seal, the seventh, with yet more devastation, and despite the heavens having previously been rolled up as a scroll during the sixth seal judgment, the sun, moon and stars are still in place (verse 12), and there are still people left on a still existing earth. The rest of the book of Revelation reveals that there are still many people left on an earth which hasn’t been totally destroyed. The point is that a literal millennium, which is at the heart of Premillennial and Dispensational eschatology, is not a literal 1000 years, and was never meant to be. There are numerous interpretations, both Jewish and Christian, of what the millennium is, but it is not wise to try and determine exactly what it means. Such is the obscurity of the meaning of the book that John Calvin forbade his ministers to preach from it.
- Then it states that in the Millennium that Israel will start up the OT sacrifices yet I have never heard that mentioned ever before. It says that the people will go up to Jerusalem once a year but as I read it, it is to worship only.
- The Old Testament says that people will go to the Temple in the last days to offer sacrifices; for example, Isa 56:6-7; Jer 33:18; Zech 14:16-21; and Ezek 40:39-43, 46; 43:18-27. And you only need to do a search on the net to find any number of people who believe any number of variations of animal sacrifices in a future millennium. Animal sacrifices were central to the Old Covenant worship, which was a “shadow of heavenly things” (Heb 8:5), and with which God found fault (Heb 8:7-8), and which could not make people perfect (Heb 9:9); thus God, through Jesus Christ, made a new covenant with Israel, and it is established on a better sacrifice which was offered once: “…but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:26). Therefore, we conclude that these OT passages, although seemingly referring to a literal fulfilment in a literal third temple in a literal millennium where Christ reigns, were not meant literally. I have already given other passages in the article you’re responding to which give examples of apparently literal prophecies referring to a literal Israel, but which have their fulfilment in the NT Church, so it would be superfluous for me to prove that again here.
- The fact is that the Millennial Temple of Ezekiel’s prophecy is the Church. When Solomon had completed building the first temple, God descended on it with a cloud, and his glory filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). Likewise, when the Christians were gathered in the temple, the Holy Spirit descended on them with the sound “…as of a rushing mighty wind”, tongues like fire sat upon each of them, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:1-4); thus was the new temple of God set apart for his holy use by the new Israel (Acts 15:15-16; 1 Pet 2:4-10). Peter tells us that the sacrifices offered in this new temple are spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5). Paul declares that Christians are individually and collectively, temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16). And as we’re now living in the last days (Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20), there can be no Millennium and thus no Millennial Temple.
- Then Romans chapters 9 through 11 is of no effect. So Paul speaks about Israel’s salvation in a day. I refer this to Zech.14. 4. And why does Christ at His Return stand on the Mount of Olives if Israel has no place in future events? It will be split in two which has not as yet happened.
- I’ve already shown in my article that Rom 9 through 11 is fulfilled by both Jews and Gentiles coming together as one people, being grafted together in the good olive tree. Paul shows how this will happen in Ephesians chapters 2 and 3. This new people of God would be known as the Church, and it is this Church which will demonstrate God’s “manifold wisdom” to “the principalities and powers in heavenly places”, and in which he will be glorified by Christ Jesus (Eph 3:10, 21).
- As for the prophecy of Zechariah to which you refer, there are varying interpretations of it. It is an unusual prophecy and, like other prophecies that speak of earth-shaking events, is not necessarily meant to be taken literally. It seems to me that it simply speaks of Christ overcoming his enemies and clearing the way for the progress of the Gospel. This is not to say that I doubt that God can do such a thing – far from it. And it could even be that the Dispensationalist view is correct and that Jesus will literally stand on the Mount of Olives, causing it to split in two, etc. But there are precedents for understanding this prophecy as an allegory. For example, when Isaiah prophesied against Babylon, he said “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine…Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts….And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isa 13:10, 13, 19).
- Obviously, when Babylon was overthrown by the Persians and Medes (Isa 13:17), it was utterly catastrophic for the inhabitants, and for those in her empire, because massive change was about to take place. The change would be so great that it would feel as if heaven itself was disintegrating, and the world literally being moved off its axis. But none of these cosmic events actually happened – the prophecy was an allegory describing the enormous impact the defeat of Babylon would have. So I stand on solid ground when I dispute the literal interpretation of Zech 14:4, while not claiming any specific interpretation for it.
- Isaiah 30:26 is another example of a prophecy of cosmic proportions; if it was literal, everything on earth would be burned to a crisp, and leave the earth itself a blackened and barren wasteland with not a single organic thing rising above ground level due to the intense heat scorching the planet, as “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold”.
- Why have the Jews kept their unique identity for 2000 years and are back in the land?
- Why indeed? I would suggest politics. Zionism began as a political movement and gained their objective of re-establishing the state of Israel in the traditional land of Israel by political means. Israel is a secular state with a secular government and bears no similarity to the Old Testament Israel. Zionism is a political movement but it does have a religious element now. But Israel still rejects Jesus as Messiah and thus cannot be regarded as the people of God. Because of their rejection of Jesus, God has rejected them. And the new Israel will, as I have shown, consist of both Jews and Gentiles coming together in Christ as the new people of God – the new Israel. There is no doubt that God has preserved the Jews, but it is “a remnant according to the election of grace….as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes” (Rom 11:5, 28).
- Why does Jesus say in Luke 21? He says in verse 24 that Jerusalem will be trodden underfoot of the Gentiles until their days are fulfilled.
- He is warning of the Roman armies which came to Israel to quell the revolt by the Jews. These Gentiles would be victorious over the Jewish rebels and destroy both city and temple, and keep them in subjection for as long as their empire lasted. It may also refer to the period of salvation for all people, which began in the book of Acts of the Apostles.
- I don’t know whether the church will go through the great tribulation but the 144,000 Jews of the 12 tribes of Israel are yet to be revealed so that tells me that God must know each person and which tribe they belong.
- The short answer to the Great Tribulation is that there is no such future event. There was “great tribulation” (Rev 7:14) which the Church endured when Rome ruled the world under the emperors, and thousands upon thousands of Christians were tortured in the most sadistic and cruel ways, and murdered in various creative ways for the entertainment of the masses in the many arenas (called circuses) around the empire. The Roman Catholic Church then continued the bloodshed when they ruled Europe during the Middle Ages. This church cruelly tortured and brutally murdered millions of Christians through the agency of the Inquisition, and the crusades which the Pope unleashed on innocent and harmless Christians in order to stamp out all non-Catholic Christianity. But the Inquisition wasn’t stopped by the Catholic hierarchy because they thought they had gone too far during the centuries it had been in existence; it was forcibly stopped by Napoleon’s armies, the instruments of torture destroyed, and the poor prisoners languishing in the dank cells of the Inquisition prisons released. However, the Inquisition has never been repudiated by the Catholic hierarchy, and it continues today under the name of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
- The Catholic Church invented the doctrines of the Preterist school of prophecy (Alcazar of Seville), which has the beast prophecies fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes; and the Futurist school of prophecy (Jesuit priest Francisco Ribera), which has the antichrist as an all-powerful dictator near the end of time who would continue in power for 3½ years. The Seven Year Tribulation and the Rapture were added later. These doctrines were invented during the Counter Reformation to take the heat off the Church which was being hammered by Luther and the other Reformers, who taught that the Pope is the antichrist of New Testament prophecy.
- As with all prophecies, there is disagreement among commentators as to who the 144,000 of all the tribes of Israel mentioned in Rev 7:4 refers to. It is doubtful that the passage is to be taken literally because it says the 144,000 are from all the tribes of Israel, yet Dan and Ephraim (although it is possible that Ephraim is covered by Joseph v. 8) are not there. This symbolic number is interpreted in various ways by different systems and schools of thought i.e. the faithful remnant of Israel; the church; the Christian martyrs. The indications are that it is not Israel though, because in chapter 14:1, 3, there is another group of 144,000, and these are not Jews but Christian martyrs. The things that characterise or distinguish them are that they are not defiled by women, are virgins, follow the Lamb, and are the first fruits of salvation. And the new song they learned indicates the New Covenant. Again, this number 144,000 must be symbolic because the passage suggests that they were the only ones to be redeemed from the earth. And the passage has been taken by some to support the idea that virginity is something to be highly prized and striven for, e.g. the church from about the 5th century, which gave birth to hermits, monks and nuns, monastic orders, celibacy within marriage, and so on.
- You’re right in saying that Jesus knows each of his people. In Mark 13:27 for example, we’re told that Jesus will send his angels to gather his elect when he returns; in Matthew 19:10-14 we see that Jesus will not allow one of his sheep to perish, and he seeks out each one of them, thus fulfilling the prophecy in Ezekiel 34. These sheep are each known to him (Jn 10:14) and he gives his life for them.
- Also, Jesus did tell the disciples that they would reign and Judge the 12 tribes sitting on 12 thrones. Is this in the Millennium?
- The passage you refer to is Matthew 19:28. So yes, Jesus did tell his disciples that. And Paul tells us that the saints shall judge the world (1 Cor 6:2). In view of the above discussion about the 144,000, it is likely, or at least possible, that the disciples judging the 12 tribes simply means judging the world. However, I see no problem if they do actually judge the 12 tribes of Israel.
- Is it during the Millennium? No, because there is no literal Millennium as you envisage it. In the parables of the wheat and the tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43), and of the dragnet (Matt 13:47-50), the teaching is that the end of the world comes suddenly, and judgment follows immediately. There is no Rapture in the Dispensational understanding of the word, no Great Tribulation, no Millennium – and there will be no warning, because Jesus will come as a thief in the night, people will be marrying and be given in marriage, etc., and then the end of the world (1 Thess 5:2-3; 4:14-17).
- I just don’t get it to dismiss the Jews as saying God is finished with them and now all that matters is the Church, the New Israel. I understand that the only way a Jew is saved is exactly as we are saved, no distinction there. It is just that the article seems to me to neglect scripture and only use the bits that agree with the A Mill position?
- Yes, the whole point of my article was exactly that, to demonstrate that the Amillennial position interprets the prophecies more accurately than the Premillennial position; so I used “the bits” that agree with it. That is exactly what you or anyone else would do to prove your doctrine – isn’t it? However, I’m not interested in proving a doctrine just because it goes with my theological system. I’ve put forward my view with the scriptures that support it because it seems to me to be right. The various views of the end time and all that goes with that are so very diverse, and for many years I didn’t even bother to try and make sense of them because it seemed like a mammoth task and seemed overwhelmingly complex. But when I did look at it, without books or commentaries, but just with the bible, it all made sense to me, and I found that my thoughts coincided with Amillennialism. So it is wrong of you to say that I’ve neglected scripture. Obviously, I have read books on it from time to time, but these were mainly Dispensational Premillennial eschatology, and a couple of Post-Millennial theology, and not one from the Amillennial position; so when I looked at the bible passages, I did have the knowledge of those few books in my mind.
- However, I don’t have a closed mind about it. I am willing to reconsider my whole position and abandon it if you or anyone else can prove your case from scripture. I don’t say this lightly but in all sincerity. I don’t want to hold on to a doctrine if it isn’t true. When I finished writing this article, I sent it to a friend who is fanatically devoted to Dispensational Premillennialism. I wanted his thoughts on it, and would have either incorporated them into the article or abandoned my position completely, depending on what insight and criticism he gave. But all he did was scan the first page to see where it was going, and told me he refused to read it. About a year later he told me, during a different conversation, that he will not read anything contrary to what he believes. So he lost an opportunity to correct an “erring” brother, and now mine is another article on the net that contradicts his sacred cow. And he demonstrated that he is not like the Berean Christians (Acts 17:10-11).
- You said that my article neglects scripture. I assume you mean the passages and others like them that you’ve highlighted in your email. The reason I didn’t include them in my article was because I considered that the principles I laid down in the article, that literal prophecies to Israel are fulfilled in the New Testament Church, would cover all the others. To deal with every passage in the bible would far exceed the scope of this article. But I thank you for challenging me with your email as it has made me consider each of your objections, and has caused me to look at scripture yet again to “see whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
- So even if you still disagree with my view, you can at least see that I have scripture as my foundation and authority, just as you do.
The weakness of the Dispensational Premillennial method of understanding scripture is that much of what they take literally was never meant to be taken that way. As I’ve already pointed out, apocalyptic literature uses lurid images to depict future events, and is highly symbolic. Prophecy also foretells future events, but should not necessarily be taken literally in all its details.
Before Christ came, the prophecies revealed aspects of him over a long period of time, and a picture gradually emerged. But there were different ideas of what he would be like, the main view being a conquering king from the line of David (today’s Jews still await this messiah), who would drive out the hated Romans from Israel and bring back the theocracy. But when he came, nobody recognised him because he came as “the suffering servant”; and they killed him. So even though the prophecies foretold the coming of the Messiah in a fair amount of detail, they were still enigmatic. In fact, he had to be announced from heaven as being the Messiah; at his baptism, which was his anointing for the work, God declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”; and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove (Matt 3:17). Until then he went unrecognised and obscure, just like the prophecies about him.
And this was deliberately so, by the design of God. God even told Israel that prophecy would be enigmatic: “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches (riddles – ESV)” (Num 12:6-8). And Jesus continued this in his own ministry: “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs (figures of speech – ESV): but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs,but I shall shew you plainly of the Father” (Jn 16:25).
And we’ll never fully understand everything anyway. The apostle Paul reminds us, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor 13:12). This is not to say that the Bible is a total mystery; our scriptures are not esoteric (1 Pet 1:20-21) but were given so that we might know God and his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Indeed, the book of Revelation opens with a blessing on all who read it: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Rev 1:3). Also, the Bereans were commended for their constant reference to scripture as their authority. The scripture says they “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:11-12).
The Bible brings us to Jesus Christ and salvation; to peace with God and forgiveness of sins; it exhorts us to love one another, to overlook one another’s faults and to forgive those who injure us; it warns us of the coming judgment and that we should flee from the wrath to come; and it points us to heaven and to being in the presence of God. These are things to which we should hold fast. As for eschatological systems, none of us know it all because scripture hasn’t revealed it all. Now we know in part, but then we will know fully, when Jesus is revealed from heaven when he comes to rescue his people, to bring judgment on the wicked, and to make all things right.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible, unless otherwise stated.