by Sidney W. Hunter
“Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
When I was nine years old my younger brother drowned while he and I were swimming in a creek. My grandfather donated land and contributed to the erection of a Baptist church as a memorial to my brother. I “got religious” and began attending church. Some years later as a teenager on a Saturday work detail I suddenly realized that although I attended church twice each Sunday and on Wednesday night, memorized verses and knew about Jesus Christ, I did not know him. I knew that if I died in that state I would go to Hell. I called my pastor who was working nearby and explained my concern. Together we knelt in the churchyard and I received Jesus Christ as my Saviour. All doubts were gone. I knew I had eternal life for I had Christ. “He that hath the Son, hath life” (1 John 5:12).
Soon after I was saved God called me to preach. My keenness to study the Bible prompted my grandfather to give me a big Bible, without notes. One of my first impressions was that Jesus could come at any time (John 14:2-3). I understood the record of His ascension to Heaven to leave the impression with His disciples that His return was imminent (Acts 1:11). Unaffected by any preaching, footnotes or commentary I found the belief that at any moment the Lord Himself would descend from Heaven and I along with other believers would be caught up into Heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 24:36-42). His coming would not be for all (one shall be taken and the other left, Matthew 24:40) and it would be unexpected (watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come – Matthew 24:42).
Several years later I was asked if I was premillennial. I was confused. To my knowledge I had never heard the word before and I certainly didn’t know what it meant. I wondered if I believed something that I shouldn’t or did not believe something I should. My anxiety was dispelled as the Premillennial position was explained. I had been Premillennial all along and didn’t even know what the word meant.
Several more years passed before I was asked what prophetic position I held. I replied that I was Premillennial. I was told, “You’ve learned that from the Scofield Bible”. Again, my ignorance betrayed me. I responded saying that I had always used the King James Bible and didn’t know of the Scofield version. Many years later, I added a Scofield Reference Bible to my library. To this day I have only referred to it casually. I have studied Scofield’s dispensations but my eschatology was not obtained from his notes.
For years after I was saved, preaching and studying the Bible I thought everyone was what they called “premillennial”, simply because that’s what the Bible said. It’s true that during those years I had kept company with men whose main business it was to preach the gospel and bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ. These men often spoke of and preached the “blessed hope” that Jesus could come at any time (Matthew 24:40-41), that only Christians would go to be with Him (“we” 1 Thessalonians 4:17) and that backslidden and worldly Christians would be “ashamed before Him” (1 John 2:28). To this day I know of no better incentive for being saved and living godly than the blessed promise of the imminent coming of Christ for His own (Matthew 24:42). At the same time nothing encourages worldly-living and procrastination concerning the things of the Lord more than denial of this Bible truth.
However after being asked what prophetic position I held and being accused of getting my position from the Scofield Bible I became curious. I reasoned there must be another position, or positions. This prompted me into doing some research accordingly.
I knew the word “millennial” meant “thousand” and “pre” meant before and that Biblically speaking premillennial meant Christ would come to earth to rule for 1000 years (Revelation 20).
I learned that some people held a Postmillennial view which taught through the preaching of the gospel the whole world would be Christianized and brought to the submission of the gospel and then Christ would come to rule on earth for a thousand years. This belief seemed strange to me for a number of reasons:
- It wasn’t happening. The world was not being converted to Christianity. In fact, it appeared to me the world was becoming more and more ungodly.
- If people believed this why weren’t they trying to convert the world? The soul-winners I knew were premillennial.
- If Christ isn’t coming again until the world becomes Christian then all the events described in the book of Revelation must take place first. They have not yet taken place and therefore Christ’s return cannot be at any moment.
I also learned that some people held what they called an amillennial view (“a” meaning “no” and therefore no thousand year reign of Christ on earth). This belief really puzzled me because in order to hold this view one must deny the very words of the Bible. The more I studied this position the more alarming it became.
Their belief is not based on what the Bible says. They believe God said one thing and meant another.
- They believe when the Bible says Christ will reign for 1000 years it refers to the time between His first coming and His return. In other words we are living in the millennium now. But people aren’t “beating their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4); the earth is not “full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9); the wolf is not “dwelling with the lamb”, lions are not eating straw like an ox and children are not playing with snakes (Isaiah 11:6-9); sickness has not been removed (Isaiah 33:24; Jeremiah 30:17) and everyone certainly isn’t speaking the same language (Zephaniah 3:9).
- Amillennialists argue that all the above prophecies made concerning Israel and the Kingdom are being fulfilled now by the church. The basic problem with this reasoning is it is just that – man’s reasoning! It has nothing to do with what God said. If man is at liberty to conclude God says one thing and means another then who is to determine what He means? Perhaps God didn’t mean what He said about salvation, heaven or hell? Where do you stop?
- Amillennialism teaches Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ. If that is true, who is carrying out his work today? Who is responsible for all the murders, hate, wars, immorality and crooked politicians of our day?
Why Different Beliefs?
I next determined to find out why there were such divergent beliefs concerning our Lord’s return. Why was it that good men could study the same Bible and come to totally different conclusions?
The answer was startling! Premillennialists interpret the Bible literally. Amillennialists interpret it figuratively. I was amazed! If you believe God means what He says then you are a premillennialist. You must believe God speaks in cloaked language, saying one thing and meaning another, in order to be an amillennialist. When one considers that most Protestant amillennialists interpret the Scriptures literally except in the area of prophecy, it seems almost certain they are manipulating the Word of God (2 Peter 3:16b).
So blatant was this discovery I felt I must confirm it from the writings of amillennialists themselves. This was easily done. Oswald T. Allis, an amillennialist, writes on page 17 of his book Prophecy and the Church, “One of the most marked features of premillennialism in all its forms is the emphasis which it places on the literal interpretation of the Scripture….The question of literal versus figurative interpretation is, therefore, one which has to be faced at the very outset”.
Floyd E. Hamilton, another amillennialist, writes on page 38 of his book The Basis of Millennial Faith, “Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the premillennialist pictures”.
I was convinced! Now I understood why as a young Christian I had developed a premillennial understanding of Scripture. It was simply because I believed what it said. I did not have anyone to teach me amillennialism or any other man-made belief.
In my study of different prophetic positions concerning Christ’s return I also learned that postmillennialism suffered a rapid decline with the advent of the Great War. With the outbreak of World War 1 people realized Christianity was not conquering the world, that man was inherently wicked (Romans 3:10) and that he could not bring in a world of peace. As a result most have a tendency to gravitate to another erroneous position when theirs is exposed.
So, today there are basically two prophetic positions. Premillennialists who literally understand the Bible and amillennialists who understand it allegorically. I was convinced! I was a Bible believer! I was a premillennialist!
Having firmly settled in my mind from Scripture that my position was premillennial I learned there was a difference of opinion among premillennialists as to when Christ would return. Interpreting the Scriptures literally they all agreed the book of Revelation described a time of great persecution and tribulation described as “The great day of his (God’s) wrath” (Revelation 6:17). I learned some premillennialists believed Christ would come before this day of wrath (pre-tribulationists), others believed He would come half way through it (mid-tribulationists) and others at its end (post-tribulationists). Again I went to the Bible to find which was correct.
I began by studying again the promise of Christ’s return “at any moment,” that is its imminency (sic). When Jesus promised His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you” and “I will return to receive you unto myself” (John 14:2-3), they would have understood it to be at any time. When Paul wrote the church at Corinth saying, “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7) he was assuring them that Christ could return at any time. Paul was obviously expecting Christ’s return at any time when he wrote, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body…” (Philippians 3:20-21). 1 Thessalonians 1:9 and 10 make it very clear that not only was Christ’s return to be expected at any time, but that He would rescue believers from God’s day of wrath, “…how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come”. Later Paul elaborated on this point when he wrote, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). In the following chapter the Thessalonian believers were assured they would be saved from God’s day of wrath (Revelation 6:17). “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). What better incentive for godly living could one find than Titus 2:11-13, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in the present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”? James adds, “Be ye patient: stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:8). Finally, the last thing Jesus says in the Bible is “Surely I come quickly” (Revelation 3:20).
Again I was convinced from God’s Word. We are to expect Christ’s return at any time just as Bible-day Christians did. If He could come at any time then none of the events of Revelation need occur before His coming. Therefore only the Pre-tribulationist position is Scriptural. My conviction was further strengthened by the promise of Jesus Himself in chapter three of Revelation where He said, “I will keep thee from the hour of temptation (trial) which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Verse 10). He promised to deliver His people from that day which was to begin three chapters later (Revelation 6:17).
My studies from the Bible taught me that I had been a Pre-tribulation, Premillennial Christian long before I ever knew what the words meant.
I was content in my discovery – UNTIL – I received in the mail photocopies of pages from a book which argued, “The idea of a pretribulation ‘rapture’ can be traced back in history only to the year 1830”. The pages which I received did not reveal either the name of the book or its author, but the material was similar to that which I have received from no doubt well-meaning people since.
Basically the argument was that my position had a “crippling effect” on Christianity as it encouraged Christians to look for the Lord to deliver them from tribulation rather than “resist the conspiracy of evil”; a claim which is not only untrue but unscriptural as Christ instructed us to function as “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-14) while we await His return.
The writer claimed the premillennial position dated only back to 1830 when “the MacDonald family” living in Port Glasgow, Scotland introduced it. Reference was made to a book The Incredible Cover-Up by Dave Macpherson which claimed Margaret MacDonald expressed her belief that Christians would be “raptured” or “translated” from the earth prior to the “tribulation”. This was reportedly taken up by a Presbyterian minister, Edward Irving, who was expelled from the Presbyterian Church and started a church of his own.
Margaret MacDonald’s “new idea” was also picked up by John Nelson Darby who founded the Plymouth Brethren in England. Darby then visited the United States where he passed on his teaching to Cyrus Scofield who established it in the Scofield Reference Bible.
Two things about the article concerned me. One was that Margaret MacDonald originated the pretribulational, premillennial prophetic position. After all, the Bible clearly teaches it and Iobtained my belief from God’s Word.
The other thing that concerned me was the author wrote in a derogatory way about Dwight L. Moody and the Niagara Bible Conferences propagating the pretribulational, premillennial position. History records the way God used Moody in a mighty way to bring many to Christ, establish Moody Bible Institute, Moody Press, etc. The Niagara Bible Conferences were likewise used of God as a rallying point for conservative Bible-believing Christians to counteract the “higher criticism” movement of the day. In fact, the famous set of books The Fundamentals were an outcome of those meetings.
I dismissed the claim that Margaret MacDonald initiated the prophetic position I held as an attempt by its author to propagate a lie in order to attack God’s Word and fundamental Christianity.
Several times over the years I have received literature claiming “The origin of dispensational futurism and its entry into Protestant Christianity” dates back to a Jesuit Roman Catholic priest named Francisco Ribera in 1590. The claim is the Protestant Reformers were teaching the Pope was the antichrist and therefore Ribera created the teaching that Christ would come before the antichrist was revealed (2 Thessalonians 2). It is then pointed out that all the Reformers resisted the movement and “Protestant churches to this day are not Dispensational Futurists”. The claim includes a statement that “This doctrine (premillennialism) was foreign to Christian theology during the first seventeen hundred years of the Church’s existence”.
I determined to research this claim. I have been unable to find a historical reference to Francisco Ribera’s origination of the premillennial position anywhere other than the reports sent me. If he claimed this position I can’t understand why. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1986) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) both teach otherwise. Catechism 1038 (page 271) specifically speaks of one resurrection and lumps all judgments into one “Last Judgment” – a position which is impossible to support from Scripture.
I can understand why all the Reformers were not premillennial. They were all ex-Roman Catholics who tried to reform the pagan Roman Catholic Church (that’s where they got the name “Reformers”). Luther, Calvin and others are to be commended for their stand and further commended for coming out of the “Mother of Harlots” (Revelation 17:5). We thank God that He used them to bring an end to a thousand years of “dark ages” and introduce the “light of the Reformation”.
We commend the Reformers for their “Scripture only” approach to the study of salvation as they condemned and exposed the false teaching of Roman Catholicism. They were right to concentrate their studies in that direction because it was the issue of the day.
But they inherited a lot of their beliefs from the Roman Catholic Church. For example, had they approached the study of Baptism and Prophecy from the Scripture only position, they would have baptized by immersion and believed in the premillennial return of Christ. It is disappointing that the denominations they founded adopted the beliefs of their founders rather than pursue a Scripture-only position for all doctrines.
What really concerned me however was the claim the premillennial position “was foreign to Christian theology for the first seventeen hundred years of the Church’s existence”. I determined to research its history.
History of Premillennialism
Irenaeus, a martyr who lived about 140-202 AD, was Premillennial. He wrote that Papias was a student of the Apostle John and intimate with Polycarp, claimed that “Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew. Aristio, John the Presbyter, Clement of Rome (Phil 4:3), Barnabas (about AD 40-100), Mermas (AD 40-140), Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch who died under Trajan, about AD 50-115), Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the Apostle John about 76-167 AD) and Papias (Bishop of Hierapolis about 80-163 AD)” were all premillennial. Not one person could be found who held any other position.
Premillennial advocates of the second century included: Pothinus, a martyr – AD 87-177…Justin Martyr, about AD 100-168…Melito, Bishop of Sardis, about AD 100-170…Hegesippus, between AD 130-190…Tatian, between AD 130-190…Irenaeus, a martyr about AD 140-202…The churches of Vienne and Lyons…Tertullian, about AD 150-220…Hippolytus, between 160-240”. Again, not a single writer can be found nor a single person named during the second century who opposed premillennialism.
Premillennial advocates of the Third Century – Cyprian, about 200-258…Commodian, between AD 200-270…Nepos, Bishop of Arsinoe, about Ad 230-280…Coracion, about AD 230-280…Victorinus, about AD 240-303…Methodius, Bishop of Olympus, about AD 250-311…Lactantius, between AD 240-330.
Now it’s one thing to say what they believed but another to prove it. Therefore we quote:
- Clement of Rome (Phil 4:3) – “of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished as the Scriptures also bear witness saying, ‘Speedily will He come, and will not tarry’; and ‘The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look’”.
- Justin Martyr (about 100-168 AD) – “But I and whoever are on all points right-minded Christians know that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare…And further, a certain man with us, named John, one of the Apostles of Christ, predicted by a revelation that was made to him that those who believed in our Christ would spend a thousand years in Jerusalem, and thereafter the general, or to speak briefly, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place”.
- Irenaeus (a martyr, about 140-202 AD) – “But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who know him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared that ‘many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…’”
- Tertullian (about 150-220 AD) – “But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after their resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem”.
I also found an interesting quote from Daniel Whitby’s book Treatise on the Millennium which was cited by GeorgePeter’s book The Theocratic Kingdom which quoted Justin and Irenaeus as saying anyone who did not hold the premillennial position in their day was considered a heretic!
According to Justin and Irenaeus there were “…three classes of men: (1) The Heretics, denying the resurrection of the flesh and the Millennium. (2) The exactly orthodox, asserting both the resurrection and the Kingdom of Christ on the earth. (3) The believers, who consented with the just, and yet endeavoured to allegorize and turn into metaphor all those Scriptures produced for a proper reign of Christ, and who had sentiments rather agreeing with those heretics who denied, than those who maintained, this reign of Christ on earth”.
History of Opposition to Premillennialism
There is no recorded exception to the premillennial position until the Third Century when Origen from his Alexandrian school introduced the spiritualizing method of Bible interpretation. History records (Peters The Theocratic Kingdom): “…that the Saviour is to reign a thousand years among men before the end of the world, had been believed by many in the preceding century, without offence to any…in this century the Millenarian doctrine fell into disrepute, through the influence especially of Origen, who strenuously opposed it, because it contravened some of his opinions…down to the times of Origen, all the teachers who were so disposed openly professed and taught it…But Origen assailed it fiercely; for it was repugnant to his philosophy; and by the system of biblical interpretation which he discovered, he gave a different turn to those texts of Scripture on which the patrons of this doctrine relied…In the third century the reputation of this doctrine declined; and the first in Egypt, through the influence especially of Origen…And yet it could not be exterminated in a moment: it still had respectable advocates.
“He (Origen) wished to have the literal and obvious sense of the words disregarded, and an arcane sense, lying concealed in the envelope of the words, to be sought for. But the advocates of an earthly kingdom of Christ rested their cause solely on the natural and proper sense of certain expressions of the Bible”.
Origen (185-254) was condemned as a heretic. Origen attacked premillennialism but there were other factors which fought against it.
- When Constantine united the Church and State, Christians were no longer persecuted and some thought the millennium had come.
- Augustine systematized amillennialism and developed it into the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Roman Catholicism rose in power and taught that it was the kingdom of God on earth and its Pope the Vicar of Christ on earth.
- It was Augustine who taught that the millennium was to be interpreted spiritually and fulfilled in the Christian Church.
As Roman Catholicism rose to power and the world entered the Dark Ages, the dominating belief was that the Roman Catholic Church was the kingdom of God. It was during this time that the Scriptures were hidden from the “Laity” and people were forced to believe what Rome taught them. Nevertheless there were a few who held to the premillennial position. These included the Waldensians, Paulicians together with Cathari, the Albigenses, Lollards, Wickliffites and the Bohemian Protestants.
As we said above the attention of the Reformers was given to the doctrine of salvation and for the most part they continued in the Augustinian position. However, since they brought the knowledge of the Scriptures to the common man and encouraged the literal understanding of them, the Reformers paved the way for a return to the premillennial belief.
Following the Reformation and the availability of the Scriptures to study, Augustine’s position of amillennialism began to be questioned. Roman Catholicism had been dealt a solid blow. Christianity was on the rise. The thought developed that Christianity would conquer the world and then Christ would return to reign. Postmillennialism was born and then developed by Daniel Whitby (1638-1726). As stated above postmillennialism lost many of its supporters during World War 1. World War 2 then brought about the demise of the system. Since amillennialism depends on a spiritualizing principle of interpretation it held common ground with postmillennialism and it was a simple matter for those leaving postmillennialism to embrace amillennialism.
The Resurgence of Premillennialism
Although most of the Reformers maintained an amillennial position there were a number of exceptions. Joseph Mede (1586-1638) expounded the premillennial position in his book Apocalyptica and Exposition of Peter, so did Th. Brightman and his Exposition of Daniel (1644) and J. A. Bengel (1687-1752) in his Exposition of the Apocalypse. There were many others leading up to modern expositors including Bengel, Stein, Alford, Lange, Meyer, Fausset, Keach, Bonar, Ryle, Lillie, MacIntosh, Newton, Tregelles, Ellicott and Lightfoot. To these we can add Darby and Scofield and conclude they certainly did not “invent” the doctrine of Premillennialism as some foolishly and (hopefully) ignorantly claim.
My research took me through many pages of many books and files of information. These included J. Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come. His summary on page 391 bears repeating:
“Thus the historical survey reveals that the premillennial interpretation, which was held with unanimity by the early church, was supplanted through the influence of Origen’s allegorizing method (and) by Augustinian amillennialism, which became the viewpoint of the Roman church and continued to dominate until the Reformation, at which time the return to the literal method of interpretation again gave rise to the premillennial interpretation. This interpretation was challenged by the rise of postmillennialism, which came into ascendency after the time of Whitby and continued until its rapid decline at the time of the World War. This decline brought about the rise of amillennialism, which now competes with premillennialism as the method of interpreting the chiliastic (millennial) question”.
As a result of studying the Bible and believing it at face value I came to believe that Jesus may return at any moment to receive His own unto Himself. This event will be followed by a time when the earth and those in it will experience God’s wrath. As clearly prophesied in the Old Testament this will prepare Israel to receive Jesus as their Messiah and King when He returns following that day of wrath. He will then rule over an earthly kingdom of 1000 years of prosperity during which Satan will be bound. Satan will then be released, gather an army, and be destroyed. God’s Great White Throne Judgment will then judge all the unsaved to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of Fire. Time will cease to be and we will enjoy our Lord and Heaven forever.
Further studies have defined my position as pretribulational and premillennial. Even those who oppose this belief acknowledge it is the obvious conclusion reached as a result of literally understanding the Scriptures.
My position is not a new one. It was held by the early church fathers and has had its supporters until this day. The position of amillennialism cannot be reached by studying the Scriptures. It must be taught. It is an inclusive system which can include all strata of theological thought; Protestantism (both liberal and conservative) as well as Roman Catholicism. Almost all modernists are amillennial. Since amillennialism presents a simple prophetic position (one resurrection, one judgment), it has not risen as a result of the study of prophecy but rather a neglect of study.
It is my personal opinion, developed through much study and observation, that almost all people who hold the amillennial position do so because it is the official position of their church. They simply believed what they were told. Amillennialism is the lazy man’s belief.
As for me I am a Bible-believer. I am premillennial! Now you know why!
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
This article was taken complete from “Biblical Fundamentalist”, Vol 30 No. 10, October 1997, Published by E. L. E. Trust, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.