Premillennialism is that system of eschatology (doctrine of end times) which has a revived nation of Israel at its centre. After the so-called Rapture of the Church and the seven years Tribulation during which Jews take a leading part, Jesus returns (again!), destroys the antichrist, and sets up his kingdom on earth. He will reign for a thousand years (the period known as the Millennium) with his capital at Jerusalem, and with Israel being the dominant nation on earth during that time. According to Dispensational Premillennialists, during the Millennium the temple will be rebuilt and the full animal sacrificial system re-instituted. Further, they say that because Israel rejected Jesus their Messiah, God cut them from the olive tree (Rom 11) and grafted the Gentiles (i.e. the Church) into it in their place, and they now await the restoration of national Israel. Thus, the Church is simply a stop-gap situation until the time comes for God to re-start the clock and graft Israel back into the olive tree. Israel will take up where they left off and continue as the people of God under the Old Testament dispensation. Dispensationalism was popularised by the Scofield Reference Bible in the 20th century and more recently by the books and movies by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in the “Left Behind” series.
Premillennialism is an elaborate and complicated system of Jesus’ return, where he returns not once, as the bible teaches, but twice. To justify their claim for two returns, Dispensationalists prevaricate by saying his return is in two stages because at the first stage, when he comes at the Rapture, his feet don’t actually touch the ground – a neat side-step on their part.
Premillennialism is blasphemous because it has Christ ruling for a thousand years in Jerusalem while Israel sacrifices animals to take away their sins in a rebuilt temple, and with the whole Old Testament system – law, Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, circumcision, Sabbaths, speaking Hebrew, feasts, and so on – re-instituted. However, some Dispensationalists believe that the animal sacrifices are not to atone for sin but will be similar in nature to a sacrament to remember the death of Christ. But why would God want his people to perpetually practice something that has never given him pleasure (Heb 10:6)? How can it be that Jesus, who is the antitype of that whole system, and who fulfilled it completely when he died on the cross (John 19:30; Matt 27:51) will, at a future time, preside over that which is inferior and insufficient – and that for a thousand years?
The Two Covenants Say it all
The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians and it is all about the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. It says “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days are coming, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah…..In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:7-8, 13).
The ministration of death
The apostle Paul calls the Old Covenant “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of condemnation” (or “ministry of death” NRSV); whereas, in contrast, he calls the New Covenant “the ministration of the Spirit” and “the ministration of righteousness” (2 Cor 3:7-9). Surely, this passage alone is sufficient to put away any idea of a restored Israel under the Old Covenant?
Paul writes that God equipped the twelve apostles to be ministers of the New Covenant, replacing the twelve tribes of Israel from whom came the law: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor 3:6). He tells us that there is death in the law! It brings death to all who would live by it. And it is temporary. God is never going to send his Son to rule over a Jewish kingdom/empire centred on Jerusalem for a thousand years, with a system of law that brings death to its adherents. The Old Covenant is obsolete! It served its temporary purpose but was made redundant when Christ fulfilled the law by dying on the cross as the Lamb of God slain for sinners; after which the temple curtain was torn in two signifying that the Old Covenant was now completed and made redundant.
Jewish minds hardened
As if that wasn’t enough, Paul goes on to show the futility of the Old Covenant and the hope given by the New Covenant. Continuing on from the above passage, he writes: “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail, untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart” (2 Cor 3:12-15).
Does this look like the kind of kingdom that Christ would rule? Having fulfilled all the demands of the Old Covenant law and having died for sinners to free them from that ministration of death, it seems illogical, at the very least, that he would allow his Jewish subjects in the millennial kingdom to continue with the veil over their hardened minds, while he sits enthroned in Jerusalem, denying them the ministry of life for which he died in order to give it to them and so set them free.
The New Covenant is Better in Every Respect
So the Old Covenant is finished – it was insufficient to take away sins – “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11) – and is now obsolete and replaced by the New Covenant which is far better: “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also is he the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb 8:6). Please read chapters 7-10 and you will see that you cannot hold the idea of a millennial temple in which are animal sacrifices, and with a Levitical priesthood, to say the least (Ezek chs 40-44). These were mere shadows, awaiting their fulfilment in the one perfect sacrifice of Christ (9:26; 10:12-14), who was also a better priest (7:24-25) and mediator of a better covenant (8:6).
The New Covenant was established when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26) and then activated at the cross. When Jesus hung there, he cried “It is finished” and the curtain of the temple was torn in two (Mk 15:38), thus signifying the end of the Old Covenant, with the law and the animal sacrifices. John tells us Jesus knew that all things were now accomplished (Jn 19:28). The Old Covenant has been superseded by a superior covenant which has been established by the death of the spotless Lamb of God: “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12). Jesus had to die so that he could establish the New Covenant: “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood” (Heb 9:16-17).
Bear in mind then, that the writer of Hebrews is here speaking to Jewish Christians. If the Old Covenant was in abeyance and would be reinstated at a later time, he would have told them so – but he didn’t say anything of the kind. He is at pains to show the absolute superiority and permanence of the New Covenant, established on better promises, a better sacrifice, and a better priesthood; and to show the weakness and transient nature of the Old. He also shows that what Jesus accomplished for us was eternal.
So if all this is true – and it is – why would God subject his Son to a thousand years of blasphemy as his so-called people continue as if Jesus had never happened? Why did Jesus say “It is finished” when he hung on the cross – why didn’t he say “This will do for now”? Why does the scripture say that after Jesus “had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool” (Heb 10:12-13). Is this not the language of completion and permanence?
And why would God subject his people to a thousand years of sacrifices which can never take away sins when the very fulfilment of them was right there in front of them in the person of Jesus? Why would his people need animal sacrifices as a memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice when he is there in their presence – isn’t the very sight of him sufficient reminder? Why would Paul write, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24) if the Jews were going to reject him for two thousand years so far with an undefined period of time still ahead; and then to live under the law for a further thousand years while Jesus rules over them from Jerusalem?
They rejected him the first time by murdering him; so God rejected them. But yet, in mercy, God gives them a second chance, not by restoring them to everything they were and had under the Old Covenant, but as the new people of God along with the Gentiles in the New Israel, the Church.
Therefore, if the Old Covenant has been abrogated permanently to be replaced with the New and better Covenant, there must be another way of interpreting the prophecies of the Old Testament, because they certainly can’t be fulfilled literally.
The Law a Yoke of Bondage
Acts chapter 15 is a pivotal point in the New Testament. The gospel had been taken to the Gentile city of Antioch and a thriving church was established there; Jewish law had not been part of the message preached; only the gospel of justification by faith was. However, it wasn’t long before some of the converted Jews (15:5) tried to impose circumcision on the new believers, which entailed keeping the whole law of Moses. The apostles and elders gathered together to discuss the issue and its implications for the Church; this gathering has come to be known as the Jerusalem Council.
Luke tells us that there was “much debate” (Acts 15:7) and then Peter got up and addressed the council; he reminded them that God had sent him to the Gentiles, so that by his mouth they “should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (15:7-8). Peter then put his finger on the heart of the issue – the burden of having to fulfil the law of Moses instead of receiving the gospel of Jesus by faith. He said “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke of bondage upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:10-11).
Referring to this yoke that Peter mentioned, the apostle Paul told the council that God has made us alive in Christ, having forgiven our sins and “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it away, nailing it to the cross…” (Col 2:13-14). And he tells us, “before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (Gal 3:23). Thus, the Law of Moses was shown to be obsolete and a burden too heavy to be borne, and should not be imposed on the Gentile churches. So I ask again, “Why would God inflict another thousand years of law-keeping and animal sacrifices on the Jews?”
Church replaces Israel as the People of God
My Dispensationalist friend insists that Israel is God’s witness on earth. He writes “But if you accept the concept of the millennium, then the Jew is central to the world and the Gentile nations catch hold of the skirt of the Jew and say let’s come with you FOR GOD IS WITH YOU. Finally, Israel takes her planned place in the world as God’s witness” (emphasis his).
The Church – Culmination of God’s Plan of Salvation
But that’s not what the New Testament says. Paul tells us that God’s witness is now the Church, not Israel. In Ephesians he writes “…that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (3:10); and in 3:21 he writes “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen”. Please note that in this verse it is forever – not only for the New Testament age or “dispensation” but for all time, both now and forever. The Church and the New Testament are not just a stop-gap until God can get things sorted out after the Jews mucked up his plan; we’re not just a commercial break until the real programme comes back and the Old Covenant is reinstituted. No, the very opposite is true; the Old Covenant was the stop-gap; it was in place from Moses until the Messiah came; the Church is the culmination of God’s plan.
Galatians 3:28 affirms that in Christ there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile. And in Eph 2:12-21 Paul shows why and how that came about; he reminds we Gentiles: “ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace: And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access in one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God….” (Eph 2:12-19).
Thus, Christ through his death has abolished the wall that separated Jew and Gentile and has made them one in Christ, and this “one body” is the Church. We’re now all one in Christ; all one holy temple in the Lord; all one olive tree; one holy nation; one body; one bride; because the two have been made one in Christ; and this is forever….and this body is the Church.
A New Testament “Israel”
The apostle Peter adds to this by showing that the Church has all the characteristics that Israel, as the Old Testament people of God, had. He calls Christians “a spiritual house”, “an holy priesthood, to offer spiritual up sacrifices” (1 Pet 2:5); “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar (purchased) people” (2:9). And the apostle Paul says of the Church, “…we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit” (Phil 3:3).
The Jewish nation was destroyed by an act of God’s judgment, and they have been replaced by the new people of God, the Church. All the names that described Israel, God’s chosen people, now describe the Church.
Destruction of Jewish nation
In Matt 21:33-46 Jesus tells “The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen” and the Jews recognised that he referred to them. He said “the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.…..And when the chief priests and the Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them” (21:43, 45). Then, in another parable, in Matt 22, he tells of the coming judgment and destruction of the Jews, saying “But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (22:7). Thus, Paul can write that the Jews have been cut off from the olive tree, and the Gentiles grafted into it in their place (Rom 11); see also 1 Thess 2:14-16.
In 70 AD Jerusalem was besieged by Roman legions under the command of Titus. The city was taken and utterly destroyed; and the inhabitants who escaped slaughter were sold into slavery. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described the horror and brutality of this event, and it fulfilled Jesus’ warning prophecy (Luke 21:20-24). The Jews will never be reinstated as the people of God as they were under the Old Covenant. When God does graft them back into the olive tree it will be with the Gentiles as part of the Church.
And Paul says of the Jews, that “they please not God, and are contrary to all men….for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess 2:15-16).
What do the Apostles Say?
The apostle James: Acts 15:14-17 – The fallen house of David
The apostle James, bishop of the church in Jerusalem, and presider of the Jerusalem Council, is the first on my selective list of those who allegorised or spiritualised the prophecies to Israel. In summing up the discussion at the Council, part of what he concluded was that the Church was the fulfilment of prophecy to Israel. Here is part of what he said “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things” (Acts 15:14-17; quoted from Amos 11:9-12).
In this passage, James shows that God has gone to the Gentiles, who were not his people at first as the Jews were, and has rebuilt the dwelling of David which had fallen – the dwelling of David which was now rebuilt in Christ. He shows how this was prophesied in the Old Testament with a seeming literal prophecy but the fulfilment was spiritual – Christ is David and the tent or dwelling is the Church: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).
The apostle Paul: Galatians 4:19-31 – The free woman and the slave
In this passage, Paul compares the Old and the New Covenants by comparing the two sons of Abraham and the two women who bore them. One son, Ishmael, was born of Hagar, a slave; the other son, Isaac, was born of Sarah, a free woman. He says “For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal 4:22-26).
Again, we’re shown how the Old Covenant is inferior to the New and that it is, in fact, bondage. But Christians, both Jew and Gentile, believers in Christ, are free because they are of the Jerusalem which is from above. This New Covenant is that which brings freedom and is in force for the rest of time. Significantly, Paul writes “But what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman” (Gal 4:30). And in Romans 7:6 he writes “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter”. Then in Romans 9:8 he writes “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed”.
Romans 2:28-29 – True Jews and true circumcision
Further, he tells us what a true Jew is. He says “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter” (Rom 2:28-29).
Therefore, if a true Jew is not necessarily of national Israel but true only by faith, the Old Testament prophecies don’t have to necessarily be fulfilled literally because they can and do apply to a spiritual people of God. That’s why Paul could renounce every aspect of his Jewish pedigree and count it loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ (Phil 3:3-9). And he reiterates what he says in Romans: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:2-3).
So if Paul, writing to the churches by the Holy Spirit, could spiritualise Old Testament prophecy and even what true Jewishness is, then we have warrant and precedent to regard Old Testament prophecy in the same way. Indeed, to so regard Old Testament prophecy this way is not even an option, it is the only way to regard it. How can we insist on a literal fulfilment for national Israel in some future time when the New Testament itself shows us how these prophecies have been fulfilled already in the Church?
The apostle Peter: 1 Peter 2:9-10 – The true holy nation
My next witness is the apostle Peter. He writes “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar (purchased) people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but now are the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Pet 2:9-10).
Could anything be clearer? Every phrase, every word he uses in this passage, are terms used for Israel, the Old Testament people of God. Peter was a Jew and he knew exactly what he was writing. It was no coincidence that he uses names which describe Israel when he is writing to Christians; no coincidence that he chose a prophecy given to literal Israel to apply to the Church. He recognised that the prophecies to Israel had their fulfilment in the Church, and he wrote to encourage them with this understanding.
The apostle John: John 18:36 – Jesus’ kingdom is spiritual and not of this world
When Jesus was undergoing his trial before Pontius Pilate he told him “My kingdom is not of this world”. It was not of this world then and will not be of this world in the future. Matthew Henry says of this verse “Its rise is not from this world. Its nature is not worldly; it is a kingdom within men set up in their hearts and consciences. Its guards and supports are not worldly; its weapons are spiritual. Its subjects, though they are in the world, yet are not of the world”.
When Jesus returns, it will not be to reign over a temporary earthly kingdom but to usher in the eternal state. In Matthew chapter 13 Jesus told some parables about the kingdom; in the parable of the wheat and the tares (13:24-30; 36-43) the end of the world is described as the harvest (13:39); the wheat i.e. the children of the kingdom (13:38) and the tares are the children of the wicked one (13:38). Both the wheat and the tares are left to grow together until the harvest, at which time the tares will be gathered up first and cast into the fire (13:30), then the wheat will be gathered to God and will “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:43).
In another of the parables in Matthew chapter 13 is the parable of the dragnet (13:47-50) which is essentially the same as that of the wheat and the tares; at the end of the world the angels will separate the wicked from among the just and they will be cast into hell.
Both parables describe events at the end of the world and there is no mention of a thousand-year reign of Christ over Israel from Jerusalem; no mention of a temple in which are animal sacrifices; in fact, none of the scene which is hoped for by Dispensationalists is here even hinted at. Rather, we see the wicked and the righteous at the end of time gathered at the harvest and assigned to their appointed end, whether heaven or hell.
What about the Jews today?
Can they be said to be the people of God? There are some influential teachers who say they are. In fact, these Christian Zionists love the Jews so much they refuse to preach the gospel to them because, as these teachers insist, the Jews don’t need the gospel; they’re already God’s people.
But Israel has rejected their Messiah and the gospel and they don’t even believe the Old Testament. When they do read it, there is a veil over their eyes which has blinded them (2 Cor 3:13-14) which will only be removed in Christ – and when that happens they will NOT be restored as the OT people of God but will be part of the NEW Jerusalem in which Jews and Gentiles are one people in Christ. They do not now speak for God or bear witness to him, and the terrible history of the Jews bears witness to God’s judgement and rejection of them.
The city and nation of Israel were destroyed by the Roman legions in 70 A.D., and the Jewish people scattered. This was in accordance with prophecy, not only of the Old Testament prophets but of Jesus himself.
Romans chapter 11 and other scriptures mentioned above teach that Israel will be restored but not to what they were under the Old Covenant; rather they will be united with the Gentiles as a single body in Christ – this body is the Church.
The Church has replaced Israel as the New Covenant people of God, and all the names and descriptions of Israel in the Old Testament now describe New Testament Israel, the Church. It is built by Jesus (Matthew 16:18) and is his body (1 Corinthians chapter 12).
The New Covenant has superseded the Old Covenant forever. The Old was temporary and held in place until the appointed time when Jesus, the better priest with a better sacrifice, fulfilled all prophecy and redeemed his people; his sacrificial and substitutionary death was once and for all.
Therefore, the Old Testament prophecies cannot refer to a regathering of Israel and a thousand-year reign under Christ as their king. Jesus will not be reigning as king from Jerusalem in a coming millennium. There will be no animal sacrifices from a rebuilt temple with a restored Levitical priesthood; even the idea of this is blasphemous and destroys everything Christ came to achieve. It is in fact a false gospel (Gal 1:6-9), as the apostle Paul stated and described in his letter to the Galatian churches. The Old Testament prophecies cannot refer to a restored Israel under Old Covenant conditions. The apostles themselves show that these prophecies are spiritual even though given in literal terms.
“For this year, which we Christians write as the year 1542 since the birth of Christ, is exactly 1468 years, going on fifteen hundred years, since Vespasian and Titus destroyed Jerusalem and expelled the Jews from the city…..For such ruthless wrath of God is sufficient evidence that they assuredly have erred and gone astray. Even a child can comprehend this. For one dare not regard God as so cruel that he would punish his own people so long, so terribly, so unmercifully, and in addition keep silent, comforting them neither with words nor with deeds, and fixing no time limit and no end to it. Who would have faith, hope, or love toward such a God? Therefore this work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God. This is in accord with Hosea 1:9, ‘Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.’ Yes, unfortunately, this is their lot, truly a terrible one. They may interpret this as they will; we see the facts before our eyes, and these do not deceive us” (Luther, M, 2014, “On the Jews and Their Lies”, RiverCrest Publishing, Austin, Texas).
Scripture quotations are from King James Version of the Bible, unless otherwise stated.
Henry, M. 1997, “The Matthew Henry Study Bible: King James Version”, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc., pub Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA.