Previous article in this series: December 15, 2016, p. 129.
Of at least equal importance for the premillennial understanding of the last things with Revelation 20 is the prophecy of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9. Taking the seventy weeks as seventy weeks of years, that is, a definite period of 490 years, premillennialism separates the seventieth week from the preceding sixty-nine weeks. The first sixty-nine weeks were the time between the command to rebuild Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah, who is Jesus.
The seventieth week, however, does not immediately follow the sixty-nine, according to premillennialism.
The seventieth week is still in the future.
It is, therefore, separated from the preceding sixty-nine weeks by at least 2,000 years.
The seventieth week will see the appearance of Antichrist and his world-kingdom. At the beginning of this week (of years, according to the premillennial teaching), the church will be raptured out of the world, so as to escape the fury and persecution of Antichrist, although nothing of this rapture is part of the vision of the prophet in Daniel 9. Antichrist will concentrate on the earthly nation of Israel, which will have returned to its Old Testament homeland. For the first half of the yet future seventieth week (of years), that is, three and a half years, on the quite non-literal interpretation of premillennialism, Antichrist will show himself friendly to Israel. He is supposed to be the one who makes a covenant with Israel, according to Daniel 9:27.
Midway through the seven-year period, Antichrist will suddenly turn against Israel, halting its worship and persecuting the nation. This will continue for three and a half years, the second half of the seventieth week, as calculated by premillennialism.
Then, Jesus Christ will return to earth in His resurrection body, in order to save the nation of Israel, destroy the Antichrist, and establish the millennial kingdom on earth with old Jerusalem as the capital. There, on a great white, material throne, the risen Jesus will sit ruling the old, fallen, sinful, temporal world for a thousand years.
Criticism of the Premillennial Explanation of Daniel 9
The importance of the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27, as interpreted by premillennialism, for that heretical, and utterly misleading, eschatology is evident. Especially its interpretation of the seventieth week gives premillennialism the huge gap it so desperately needs between the first coming of Christ and the time in the future when Christ is supposed to deal savingly once again with national Israel. At the same time, the seventieth week, now thrust into the future, provides the period of time in which God will restore the nation of Israel and fulfill to it the promises of earthly power, peace, and prosperity made to Israel in the Old Testament, which is also the desperate need of premillennialism, by virtue of its commitment to a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy.
The price that premillenialism pays for this fallacious, fanciful, and fatal explanation of Daniel 9:24-27 is high. First, it necessarily makes of the church of Jesus Christ, the precious body and bride of the Son of God in human flesh, a mere parenthesis in the saving purpose and work of God in Jesus the Messiah. The time of the church is a mere gap between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of the great, grand saving work of God on behalf of Israel. So insignificant is this gap-work that it does not even merit mention in the prophecy of Daniel 9, or, for that matter, anywhere in the prophecy of the Old Testament.
Although modern, progressive premillennialists, seeking favorable recognition by and approval from Reformed theologians, play down the idea of the church as merely a parenthesis,1 the older, more forthright premillennial theologians were correct, on their principles, in describing the saving work of God in Christ of gathering a church as a “parenthesis” in the main saving work of God with Israel. “The [church] age itself is a parenthesis in the divine program of God.”2 Alva J. McClain does not hesitate to assert that the “Church…occupied a wholly subordinate place in this period of Christ’s teaching.”3
A more wicked derogation of the one, great, and glorious saving work of God in Jesus Christ in history can hardly be imagined. The church of Jesus Christ, His body and bride, a mere parenthesis? The redemption of the church by the blood of the incarnate Son of God according to the triune God’s election of the church in love as the first of the decrees of His counsel mere parenthetical work? A parenthesis in language is an incidental observation about the subject of the sentence. Often an interruption of the main thought, it is, strictly speaking, not necessary. The sentence flows, can be understood, and makes good sense without the parenthesis. And this, according to premillennialism, is the church and the divine work of gathering the church.
Because Israel rejected Christ’s offer of being the glorious, earthly kingdom of God, God postponed His one, main, grand purpose with history—the establishment of Israel as an earthly kingdom—and turned to the salvation of a church as a parenthetical work—“plan B,” so to say. And this exposure of premillennialism’s minimizing of God’s saving of the church says nothing about the fact that, if ever God did make an offer to humans that they would have accepted wholeheartedly, it would have been the offer to Israel of being the glorious earthly kingdom of God in the world. It was exactly the stumblingstone for Israel that the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is spiritual, not earthly as they erroneously viewed it (see John 6; John 18:33-40). Israel despised the Messiah of Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9, His spiritual salvation, and thus the kingdom of God.
This implication alone of the eschatology of dispensational premillennialism, namely, that the church is a mere parenthesis, which honest premillennial theologians frankly make explicit, shows premillennialism to be blasphemous. The truth is that the church is the main proposition of the divine sentence of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Real “Parenthesis”
The response of the Reformed faith to the blasphemous assertion of premillennialism that the church of Jesus Christ is a mere parenthesis is that of Herman Bavinck:
Totally wrong, therefore, is the chiliastic [premillenarian— DJE] view according to which the New Testament, along with the church composed of Gentiles, is an intermezzo [a short, light piece of music introduced between the major sections of a musical composition, basically the same in idea as a parenthesis in a sentence—DJE], a detour taken by God because Israel rejected its Messiah, so that the actual continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament can begin only with Christ’s second coming. The opposite, rather, is true. Not the New Testament but the Old is an intermezzo. The covenant with Israel is temporary; the law has been inserted in between the promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in Christ, that it might increase the trespass and be a disciplinarian leading to Christ (Rom. 5:20; Gal. 3:24ff.)…. The New Testament is not an intermezzo or interlude, neither a detour nor a departure from the line of the old covenant, but the long-aimed-for goal, the direct continuation and the genuine fulfillment of the Old Testament.4
The Reformed faith is in full agreement with Bavinck’s searing indictment of chiliasm, or dispensational premillennialism, because of premillennialism’s reducing of the church to a mere parenthesis, or “intermezzo.”
Chiliasm…comes in conflict with Christianity itself. In principle it is one with Judaism and must get to where it attributes a temporary, passing value to Christianity, the historical person of Christ, and his suffering and death, and it only first expects real salvation from Christ’s second coming, his appearance in glory. Like Judaism, it subordinates the spiritual to the material, the ethical to the physical, confirms the Jews in their carnal-mindedness, excuses their rejection of the Messiah, reinforces the veil that lies over their minds when they hear the reading of the Old Testament and promotes the illusion that the physical descendants of Abraham will as such still enjoy an advantage in the kingdom of heaven.5
The positive Reformed, biblical confession concerning Israel and the Old Testament is that
the true reading and interpretation of the Old Testament is to be found with those who have turned in repentance to the Lord Christ (2 Cor. 3:14-16)…. A person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and…circumcision is a matter of the heart (Rom. 2:29)…. The Jewish person who becomes a Christian was not a child of Abraham but becomes such by faith (Gal. 3:29).6
…to be continued.
1 Cf. Darrell L. Bock, “The Reign of the Lord Christ,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992). The “moderate” Bock takes (mild) issue with the older premillennial doctrine that the saving of the church is a parenthesis within God’s work of establishing the kingdom. Nevertheless, controlled by his premillennial theology, Bock cannot refrain from adding that “the appearance of parenthesis could not be avoided” (60).
2 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), 25.
3 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), 391. McClain refers specifically to the post-resurrection ministry of Christ. Since McClain thinks that most of Jesus’ pre-resurrection ministry also ignored the church, the church was at best secondary in all the ministry of Jesus.
4 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, ed. John Bolt, tr. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 662.
5 Bavinck, 662.
6 Bavinck, 662, 663.