Chapter Five Premillennialism (8): Its Explanation of Revelation 20

Previous article in this series: October 1, 2015, p. 16.

Introduction

The previous articles in this series on premillennialism presented part of premillennialism’s explanation of the important teaching about the last things in Revelation 20.

According to premillennialism, the millennium will be a literal period of one thousand years of future earthly history. The purpose of the millennium will be God’s establishment of the earthly nation of Israel as His glorious kingdom in this world. He will bless Israel with abounding material wealth, which will then spill over to all the nations. He will make Israel a world power, ruling over all the Gentile nations on earth during that time. The risen Jesus will be the King of this kingdom of God, exercising His power over all the world from the rebuilt, earthly city of Jerusalem.

Most of the human race will be converted to Christ during this millennium of earthly peace, prosperity, and power.

Controlling this premillennial explanation of the symbolic vision of Revelation 20 is premillennialism’s avowed, determined, strictly literal interpretation of prophecy—not alone the New Testament prophecy of the book of Revelation, but also Old Testament prophecy.

This enslavement to literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy commits premillennialism to a literal fulfillment during the millennium of Ezekiel 40-48. Therefore, the premillennialists, “moderate” as well as extremists, teach a resumption of bloody animal sacrifices in a rebuilt temple by a restored Levitical priesthood during the millennium.

This, the previous article has affirmed, exposes premillennialism as damnable, Judaistic heresy, the falling away from Christ and His finished work on the cross to the wickedness that Hebrews 10:29 describes as treading underfoot the Son of God and counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.

Despising God’s (Real) Temple

Although the preceding article concentrated on premillennialism’s monstrously wicked, and well-nigh incredible, teaching of the resumption of bloody animal sacrifices during the millennium, equally reprehensible is premillennialism’s teaching of a restored earthly temple as the locus of the public worship of God by both Jews and Gentiles. That earthly temple of the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus Christ according to Jesus Himself: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. …He spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21).

By virtue of their union with Christ, as “lively stones,” the New Testament believers are “built up [by God] a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 2:5). That is, by virtue of being united to Christ by faith, the New Testament church is the reality of the temple of the Old Testament.

The premillennial doctrine that some earthly building in the future will be a restored Old Testament temple is, as such, the denial of Jesus Christ and the reality of His saving work. Inasmuch as the church is the reality—the glorious, splendid, spiritual reality—of the temple, premillennialism’s hope and prediction of a restored, grand, rebuilt Old Testament temple of Israel are, as is true of premillennialism in general, contempt for the church. And contempt for the church is at the same time contempt for the church’s King, Head, and High Priest, Jesus the Christ (“Christ,” meaning the church’s anointed Prophet, Priest, and King).

This is gross sin, gross doctrinal sin.

It is also the height of folly. Face to face in the gospel with glorious, spiritual reality—the New Testament church—premillennialism opts for a return to types and shadows. It is with premillennialism as though a wife would turn from the solid, physical presence of her husband, just returned from long absence, perhaps in the military, ardently to embrace his shadow, or to concentrate lovingly on the pictures of himself he sent her during his absence. Premillennialism’s turning from New Testament spiritual realities of the kingdom and salvation to the earthly types to which Judaism clings is the apostasy from the gospel of Jesus Christ condemned by the epistle of Hebrews.

The best witness that a Reformed believer can give to a premillennial acquaintance is: “Read the book of Hebrews!”

Reducing Israel to a “Herd of Swine”

The other reason (in addition to a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy) why premillennialism envisions a “golden age” of material prosperity during the millennium is the powerful, beneficent reign of Jesus Christ, in His resurrection body, on earth, over all the world at that time. Although some contemporary, supposedly more “moderate,” premillennialists downplay this aspect of premillennialism, this material prosperity will especially be the blessedness of the nation of Israel.

The older, original premillennial theologians were crass. During the millennium, Israel will enjoy material blessings; the church will enjoy spiritual blessings. C. I. Scofield expressed this difference between Israel and the church bluntly: “As distinctly as Israel stands connected with temporal and earthly things, so distinctly does the Church stand connected with spiritual and heavenly things.”1

A twentieth-century premillennial theologian, Alva J. McClain, describes the divine blessing of Israel during the millennium this way: “The chosen people [the earthly nation of Israel, made up of Jews—DJE] will enjoy once more their historic blessings of the ‘goodness of the Lord’ in ‘wheat’ and ‘wine’ and ‘oil’ and the ‘young of the flock’ (vv. 12-14 [of Jeremiah 31].”2

Although, with some embarrassment, they attempt to distance themselves from the older, premillennial orthodoxy that sharply distinguished Israel’s material blessings from the church’s spiritual blessings, also the reputedly “moderate,” “progressive” premillennialists make the distinctive blessedness of Israel during the millennium material and earthly. In the volume that is intended to put premillennialism’s best foot forward on behalf of ecumenical acceptance by, and oneness with, evangelical, covenant churches and theologians, Bruce A. Ware writes that “Israel is given territorial and political aspects of the new-covenant promise not applicable to the church.”3

Controlled by the premillennial insistence on a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, editor Darrell L. Bock writes, in the same volume: “Old Testament promises are ultimately fulfilled in the ‘earthly’ terms in which the promises were expressed in the Old Testament.” These earthly terms will be “earthly rule and vindication” for the nation of Israel, and their abundant material riches.4

John Calvin’s searing indictment, therefore, upon the “chiliasm,” or millennialism, of his day falls also upon the premillennialists of our day, “moderate” as well as extremist: “[They] regard the Israelites as nothing but a herd of swine.”5 Calvin explained, continuing his devastating condemnation of millennialism’s prediction of earthly peace, prosperity, and power for Israel:

Away with this insane and dangerous opinion—that the Lord promised the Jews, or that they sought for them selves, nothing but a full belly, delights of the flesh, flourishing wealth, outward power, fruitfulness of offspring, and whatever the natural man prizes!6

Although the main source of the earthly prosperity of the entire world during the millennium will be the nation of Israel, contributing to the prosperity and peace will be the conversion and salvation of much of the world’s population. Not only will all the Jews be converted to Christ, but also the majority of the Gentile nations will be saved. The salvation of most of mankind will naturally produce great improvements of health, peace, and prosperity.

Trouble Brewing in the Millennial Kingdom

Nevertheless, despite the reign of the exalted Christ and His band of Jewish brothers and sisters for a thousand blessed, glorious, prosperous, earthly years, trouble is brewing for the millennial kingdom of God. The basically Israelite kingdom of God over all nations of the earth will, in the end, be broken up.

Thus continues the premillennial explanation of Revelation 20.

As soon as the thousand years of the millennial kingdom of Christ comes to an end, Satan will be loosed for a short while. Out of the nations of the world that have been subject to Christ and to Israel for so long, Satan will gather a huge host of people to wage war against Jesus Christ and the kingdom of Israel, with its headquarters in Jerusalem (Rev. 20:7-9).

In this aspect of its explanation of Revelation 20 also, premillennialism is exposed, not only as erroneous, but also as ridiculous. First, the question is, “Where does the innumerable host of enemies of Christ come from?” According to premillennialism, during the millennium the vast majority of humans will be converted and saved. In addition, the exalted Jesus Christ has been ruling all the nations of the world for a thousand years. He has been ruling by His bodily presence and with the purpose of establishing His worldwide, Messianic kingdom. Evidently, He will prove to be a royal failure.

Second, the breakup of the Messianic kingdom at the end, ending as it does in internal warfare, involving hordes of people opposing King Jesus and His kingdom, negates the purpose of the millennial kingdom according to premillennialism’s own thinking. Premillennialism regards the millennial kingdom as the main purpose of God with all of human history. By the schism in the kingdom and the revolution against the King and the kingdom on the part of entire nations and vast hordes of persons, God’s great purpose with history is stymied. The Messianic kingdom comes to an ignominious end: division and war.

For all its boasting that it optimistically ascribes victory to the kingdom of God in history, in contrast to the alleged pessimism of amillennialism, the fact is that premillennialism’s explanation of Revelation 20 has the kingdom of God in the Messiah ending in inglorious failure.7

In this respect also, premillennialism is like postmillennialism. 8 Although both millennial theories castigate amillennialism as pessimism, because amillennialism rejects an earthly triumph of the kingdom of Christ in history, and although both pride themselves on their “optimism” regarding the earthly fortunes of the kingdom of God in history, both must acknowledge that their earthly kingdom is broken up toward the end of history. “When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth…to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea” (Rev. 20:7, 8). The optimism of millennialism, both pre and post, is hollow.

In the end, Satan conquers. He will go down, but he will go down rejoicing that he foiled the great purpose of God with history: a triumphant, unified, peaceful, earthly empire of the Messiah.

What is ridiculous about the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20, in the third place, is that this millennial theory has the army of Satan daring to make war, and capable of waging war, on the risen, exalted, omnipotent, glorious Jesus, and to do so with mere physical weapons. Against Jesus on His throne in Jerusalem, the earthly army of the devil advances, with jet planes, tanks, mortars, and machine guns.

The idea is absurd, indeed worse than absurd. It is idiocy. Even Satan knows better than to attempt an as sault on the exalted Jesus Christ with physical weaponry. With regard to the humans under Satan’s command, no mere mortal, or army of mortals, would dare to attack, or think of attacking, with rifles or with an arsenal of atomic bombs, the glorious King Jesus in His awesome bodily presence.

To finish the premillennial explanation of Revelation 20, at the last moment God intervenes, to rescue His Jewish kingdom, devouring with fire from heaven the host attacking King Jesus (Rev. 20:9).

Having succeeded in breaking up the millennial kingdom and thus defeating God’s purpose with history, Satan is then consigned to hell forever (Rev. 20:10).

History and the present form of creation end (Rev. 20:11b).

Jesus conducts the final judgment, which, according to premillennialism, is only for the ungodly (Rev. 20:11-15). “For the saved…there can be no such judgment, because their judgment with reference to sin took place at Calvary.”9

And eternity begins, an eternity in which the nation of Israel and the church retain their separate identities. For the older dispensationalists, the separation would be local, the Jews living on the earth, and the church inhabiting heaven. Even though the modern “moderates” are mildly critical of this radical separation between the two peoples of God and Christ, they too maintain the difference between the two, saved peoples in the world to come. Israel is always Israel, as the kingdom always distinct from, and never one with, the church, the body and bride of Christ.

This premillennial explanation of the crucial eschatological passage of Scripture, Revelation 20, is false on the very face of it.

As the past few articles have already begun to show.

And as will be shown further in the next article in this series on the millennium.

…to be continued.


1 C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York/Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 8.

2 Alva J. McClain, Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1959), 159.

3 Bruce A. Ware, “The New Covenant and the People(s) of God,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 96, 97.

4 Darrell L. Bock, Dispensationalism, 63.

5 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 2.10.1.

6 Calvin, 2.10.23.

7 Cf. Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 17, 18: “The covenant view…obviously does not have any [earthly victorious] goal within temporal history and is therefore pessimistic.” Note well Ryrie’s carefully chosen preposition, “within.” Reformed, covenant theology proclaims the triumphant goal of God for Christ and His spiritual kingdom as, and at, the end of temporal history. The “goal” is not “within” history, but the end of history. Therefore, amillennialism is, not “optimistic” as about history, but hopeful with regard to history, including the rise and rampaging of Antichrist toward the close of history. The Reformed believer fastens his hope on the end of history—history’s telos, or goal: the second coming of Christ, with its defeat of the church’s and Christ’s great adversary; the resurrection of the saints into eternal life; the final judgment; and the new world.

8 An exception is the postmillennialist, Martin G. Selbrede. In response to my criticism of postmillennialism’s admission that the millennial kingdom of Jesus will be broken up in history, Selbrede took issue with “postmillennialism as traditionally formulated” and proposed that the postmillennial kingdom will suffer no division or attack from within as Revelation 20:7-9 teaches. Selbrede brings consistency into the postmillennial scheme of the end as the earthly triumph of the millennial kingdom. But his effort is dashed on the rock of Revelation 20:7-9: at the very close of history, the hordes of Satan—multitudes of humans, including entire nations—rise up in opposition to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. See Martin G. Selbrede, “Reconstructing Postmillennialism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on Eschatology 15 (Winter, 1988): 203, 204.

9 McClain, Greatness of the Kingdom, 509.