Chapter Five Premillennialism (7): Its Explanation of Revelation 20

Previous article in this series: April 15, 2015, p. 323.   

Introduction

Premillennialism explains Revelation 20:1-10 as predicting a “golden age” of a thousand years of earthly power, prosperity, and peace for the nation of Israel. Reigning over this earthly kingdom will be the risen, glorified Jesus Christ in the body on a throne in Jerusalem.

This earthly glorification of and dominion by the restored Old Testament nation of Israel is the millennium of Revelation 20 in the theology of premillennialism. The age, or dispensation, of the millennium, with its glory for Israel, is supposed to be the goal of God with all of history.

Because Jesus is supposed to return to earth, bodily and visibly, before the millennium, this theology of the last things is known as premillennialism. In contrast, the teaching that Jesus will return in the body after a millennium of earthly splendor and power of the church is known as postmillennialism.

Premillennialism preaches a literal thousand years of an earthly kingdom of God among and for the Jews, on the basis of Revelation 20, because premillennialism is committed to a “literal” interpretation of the vision of John in Revelation 20. Even more compelling for premillennialism’s explanation of Revelation 20 is its insistence on a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament in many places prophesied the salvation and glory of Israel. Because premillennialism is committed to a “literal” interpretation of the prophecy of the Old Testament, it must find the fulfillment of those prophecies concerning Israel in a future millennium of the glory of Israel.

Israel must have its day in the sun of God’s blessing yet in the future. The millennium of Revelation 20 fills the bill.

The literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is fundamental to premillennialism, by its own admission, indeed by its proud claim.

But the very principle in which premillennialism prides itself—a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy—is the undoing of this theology of the last days and the end of the world. Not only does the principle expose premillennialism as foolish, but it also runs that eschatology into grievous heresy. It renders premillennialism a denial of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sin on the cross. It makes premillennialism a gross form of the apostasy from Christ that is condemned in the book of Hebrews—a reversion to the types and shadows of the Old Testament after the appearance of the reality, who is Jesus Christ, once offered for sin.

Premillennialism is such a denial of the cross, such apostasy from Christ, such reversion to Jewish shadows as is warned against in the book of Hebrews especially, though not exclusively, by its forced, literal interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48.

Literal Interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48

Ezekiel 40-48 prophesies the rebuilding of the Old Testament temple, with the altar of burnt offering and all the other paraphernalia of that temple, including officiating priests and Levites. The passage also prophesies bloody, animal sacrifices on the altar as sin offerings— bullocks, goats, and rams. Therefore, in accordance with premillennialism’s avowed literal interpretation of prophecy, during the millennium there will be the construction of a material temple in Jerusalem for the right—indeed demanded—worship of God and a resumption of the worship of the old covenant, including animal sacrifices for sin.

According to premillennialist Erich Sauer (who is not one of the more extreme dispensationalists), in the coming millennium “God will resume the history of the earthly visible temple.” In that physical, earthly temple, “there will then be a service of sacrifices after the completed work on Golgotha; and…this will include burnt offerings, meal offerings, thank offerings, and sin offerings, a priesthood, and a holding of special feasts (Passover, Tabernacles…).”1 “At the Passover there shall be offered daily exactly seven bullocks and seven rams as a sin-offering, and likewise exactly seven bullocks and seven rams as a burnt-offering.”2

Knowing full well the carnal, indeed antichristian, implications of the doctrine of a restoration of Old Testament, bloody sacrifices for sin in a Jewish millennium (over which the Lamb of God, who was slain for sin, once and for all, presides—the Lamb of God who was sacrificed offers up animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins), premillennial notable, John F. Walvoord, approves and defends this abomination—this denial of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sin—at length.3

Thus, not only is premillennialism’s vaunted, literal interpretation of prophecy conclusively exposed as fallacious, but also premillennialism denies the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and falls away to damnable, Judaistic antichristianity. Nothing less severe than this is the judgment upon premillennialism by the Reformed faith.

Dispensational premillennialism is a denial of the cross of Jesus Christ. “By one offering he [Jesus] hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:26). “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou [God] hast had no pleasure” (Heb. 10:6).

To premillennialism’s literal interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48, especially its approval of bloody animal sacrifices as accepted—indeed divinely commanded—worship of God in the millennium, and, thus, to the theology of premillennialism in its entirety, Reformed amillennialism responds, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

Indicating that they recognize full well the dreadful doctrine into which their literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy presses them, especially the self-styled “moderate” premillennialists defend their teaching of a resumption of Old Testamental, bloody animal sacrifices by earthly priests (usurping the office of the great high priest, Jesus the Christ, as much as any Roman Catholic priest, indeed more grossly—Rome’s priests do not practice bloody animal sacrifice) by explaining the animal sacrifices in a temple during the millennium as merely symbolic in nature, intending to remind believers of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

This pathetic and desperate defense of their horrendous doctrine of a resumption of animal sacrifice in the millennium fails in every respect. First, Ezekiel 40-48 does not teach animal sacrifices in a restored temple as merely symbolic and for the purpose of remembering the death of Christ. Ezekiel teaches animal sacrifices as sin offerings, in keeping with the nature of such sacrifices in the time of the old covenant.

Second, the New Testament sign and seal of the sacrifice for sin of the Lamb of God, appointed by Christ Himself, is not animal sacrifice, but the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. And this sacrament does not include the shedding of blood. After the bloody death of the Lamb of God for sin, there may never again be the shedding of blood for the taking away of sin in any sense whatever. This is one reason why in the time of the new covenant, circumcision is replaced by baptism.

Third, although such bloody animal sacrifices could serve, and did serve, to represent the cross of Christ to Israel in the time of the old covenant—the childish church (Gal. 4:1-3)—no such sacrifice may represent the cross to the church after Christ has come and died the accursed death of the cross. Now, after the death of Christ, a bloody sacrifice competes with the cross, obscures the cross, and, necessarily, by virtue of the shedding of blood, denies the cross. God’s way of setting the cross before the very eyes of the New Testament church and believer is the preaching of the truth of the gospel of the cross (Gal. 4:1).

What is of the utmost significance for revealing the gross heresy of premillennialism in all its forms and presentations is that all premillennialists—the more “moderate” as well as the more extreme—are agreed that there will, in fact, be bloody animal sacrifices for sin in the millennial kingdom. Although they clearly see the implications of this cross-denying doctrine (hence, their labored defense of the doctrine), they will not renounce it. They cannot. For they are committed to a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. Giving up on a literal interpretation of prophecy would be the abandonment of dispensational premillennialism as false doctrine.

The more recent book edited by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church,4 is recognized as a deliberate attempt by more “moderate” premillennialists to soften the sharp edges of the original premillennialists, to mitigate the more offensive teachings of the fathers of premillennialism, and to find some common ground with Reformed and Presbyterian covenant theologians.

Although the subject does not receive nearly the attention it requires, the “issue [of]…the abolition of sacrifices in Hebrews” is brought up by editors Blaising and Bock at the very end of the book as part of their “assessment” of the contents of the book. The editors, who are representatives of the “moderate,” “progressive” wing of premillennial dispensationalism, deny that “any retention of [bloody animal] sacrifices [by a restored Levitical priesthood in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem—DJE] is a return to ‘weak and beggarly’ shadows of the Old Testament.” They argue on behalf of the resumption of such sacrifices in the millennium: “The only sacrifices that Hebrews prohibits are those related to sin” (as though the sacrifices taught in Ezekiel 40-48 are not there related to sin). These “moderate” premillennialists conclude by asserting that “the possibility of national cultic activities [that is, bloody animal sacrifices for sin, offered to God on a material altar in Jerusalem by merely human priests—DJE] [is not] automatically excluded…. It is possible…that some of these features [specifically, bloody animal sacrifices—DJE] are included in ‘the restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21).”5

Which, being interpreted, means that all dispensational premillennialists teach that in the most glorious of all the earthly dispensations—the coming millennium— the cross of Jesus Christ will be obliterated by the shadow of bloody animal sacrifices for sin.

The cautious language of the editors describing future animal sacrifices in the millennial kingdom of God as mere possibilities is deception, serving the ecumenical purpose of the book. In fact, the premillennialists, “moderates” as well as extremists, are committed to the reality of such sacrifices. Literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy demands these sacrifices. So also does the Jewish nature of the theory itself of the millennium demand the resumption of sacrifices in an earthly temple.

To the premillennialists thus advocating or allowing bloody sacrifices by a revived order of earthly priests in an earthly temple in the Jerusalem that is below (see Gal. 4:25, 26), the Reformed faith witnesses the truth of the apostle in Hebrews 8:1-6:

We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law…. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises [realized in the one bloody sacrifice of Himself, once and for all].

… to be continued.


1 Erich Sauer, From Eternity to Eternity: An Outline of Divine Purposes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 5th printing 1966), 38, 39. The emphasis is Sauer’s.

2 Sauer, 180.

3 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 13th Grand Rapids printing 1979), 309-315. Walvoord inculpates in this gross wickedness the whole of premillennialism and all premillennialists when he indicates the reason for affirming animal sacrifice for sin in the millennium: “Most thoroughgoing students of premillennialism who evince understanding of the relation of literal interpretation to premillennial doctrine usually embrace the concept of a literal temple and literal sacrifices” (315).

4 Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Craig A Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).

5 Dispensationalism, 390, 391.