Previous article in this series: February 15, 2015, p. 227.
Every doctrine of the last things—eschatology—must takeinto account, prove itself the truth according to the teaching of the passage, defend itself in light of the passage, and offer an explanation of the passage in its entirety. This is true even though a particular doctrine of the end does not take its lead from Revelation 20 or base itself mainly on this passage. This is true even though a particular doctrine of the end declares that it is not mainly about Revelation 20.
Every doctrine of the last things must reckon with Revelation 20, not only because it is the one passage of Scripture that mentions the thousand-year period (millennium) of the end-time, but also because the passage refers to events that are plainly fundamental to the biblical truth of the last days. Included are the binding of Satan, to prevent him from deceiving the nations (vv. 2, 3); the loosing of Satan for a little season, after the thousand years have ended, so that he carries out his purpose of deceiving the nations (vv. 3, 7-9); the living and reigning of martyred saints with Christ for the thousand-year period (vv. 4-6); the war of Satan’s deceived hordes, called Gog and Magog, against the saints and the beloved city (vv. 8, 9); the miraculous destruction of the satanic army by God Himself, thus delivering the saints (v. 9); and the casting of Satan into hell forever (v. 10).
That the revelation of these events pertains to the last things, indeed, culminates in the world’s last day and history’s conclusion is evident from the complete destruction of all the wicked of the world and from the casting of the devil into hell. In addition, the defeat and final destruction of Satan and his hordes are immediately followed by the judgment of the “great white throne” (vv. 11-15), involving the disappearing of the present earth and heaven (v. 11).
The chapter that follows, Revelation 21, introduces the new creation as the locale of the glorious city of God; the home of the Lamb and His bride, the church; and the site of the tabernacle of God with the new human race.
Plainly, the events prophesied in Revelation 20 culminate in the renewed world, where is no devil, where are no sinful humans (Rev. 21:8), and where are no “death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (). The absence of death, sorrow, crying, and pain implies, as does the new creation itself, that there is no sin, or any possibility of sin, for sin is the source and cause of all death, sorrow, crying, and pain.
The human race in this new creation has been saved by the sacrifice of the Lamb and by His sanctifying Spirit. In this new and better Garden of Eden is the throne, not of some merely earthly Adam, but of “God and of the Lamb” (). And the great Serpent can never intrude into this garden, for he is forever consigned to hell ( ).
Regardless that an eschatological doctrine may claim that its origin and basis, and even its main interest, are elsewhere than in Revelation 20 (and this is the claim of premillennialism, which is founded on a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy about Israel), Revelation 20 is fundamental to all eschatology. If a doctrine of the last things is exposed as erroneous by Revelation 20, that doctrine is thereby shown to be false doctrine.
This is the case with that doctrine of the last things known as premillennialism. The name describes this doctrine as teaching that Jesus will return to the earth with a visible, bodily coming before the establishment on the earth of a millennium (thousand-year period) of the flourishing, earthly kingdom of God, namely, Israel.
Coming to the biblical text with its basic error of dispensations, at the heart of which is its essential and everlasting differentiation of the Old Testament nation of Israel from the New Testament church, premillennialism explains Revelation 20 as prophecy concerning Israel, prophecy concerning the earthly nation of Israel, of which physical Jews are the citizens.
According to the explanation of premillennialism, Revelation 20 prophesies the future glories of Israel in a millennial kingdom on earth, while history continues to run its course to the end.
Premillennialist Erich Sauer, by no means the most radical member of his tribe, expressed the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 as the forecasting of an earthly world-kingdom of Israel, that is, a restored Jewish nation.
Here there is mention of a Millennial kingdom which is placed after the return of Christ in glory and before the destruction of the universe…which therefore…will be set up in the End time as an intermediate kingdom, between the parousia and world transfiguration, and on the theatre of this old earth.
According to Sauer, the “millennial kingdom” of Revelation 20 will be a “visible earthly kingdom…of Israel.”1
C. I. Scofield’s brief explanation of Revelation 20 is that the chapter predicts Christ’s “reign over restored Israel and over the earth for one thousand years. This is the period commonly called the Millennium. The seat of His power will be Jerusalem.”2 According to Scofield, one of the fathers of dispensational premillennialism, the power and glory of the millennium will belong to Israel, not to the church: “The Church will be taken away from the earth entirely, but restored Israel is yet to have her greatest earthly splendor and power.”3
That the millennium of Revelation 20 is a time of (earthly) Israel’s (earthly) power and (earthly) glory is also the (earthly) doctrine of John F. Walvoord: “a period of time in which Israel is in prominence and blessing… Israel as a nation will be exalted.”4
Preliminaries to the Millennium
Preliminary to the relating of the glories of a restored nation of Israel, which Revelation 20 is supposed to be, are other important events—events that set the stage for the emerging once again of the Old Testament Israel of the halcyon days of David and Solomon.
Seven years prior to the binding of Satan, which binding is recorded in, Satan has brought the Antichrist onto the stage of world history to become ruler of the world.
At this time, Jesus Christ returns to the earth, or part of the way to the earth, in order to whisk all true Christian believers into the air in the secret rapture. The rapture includes the bodily resurrection of all the dead Christians. This gets the church out of the way, so that God can finally realize His main purpose with history: the establishment on earth of the restored, earthly nation of Israel.
Here already are exposed the fundamental errors of premillennialism: viewing Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church as two, essentially and everlastingly, different peoples, and regarding God’s ways with Israel as the main purpose of God in history.
Of late, certain dispensational theologians have presented themselves as moderating the extremism of the fathers of dispensationalism. They prefer to be known as “progressive” dispensationalists. But for all their tinkering with the theology of their fathers (and tinker is all they do; they never renounce the false teachings of their fathers), they retain these fundamental errors of premillennialism. For the moderates and progressives too, as was the case with Darby and Scofield before them, Israel and the church are two, different peoples of God, and Israel remains the center and main purpose of God’s decree and government of history.
Antichrist, against the Jews
For seven years, the biblical Antichrist pays special attention to the Jews in Palestine—the restored nation of Israel. For three and a half years of the seven, Antichrist favors Israel. But then he turns on the nation, troubling the nation and persecuting its citizens severely. This future persecution of the Jews is supposed to be the “great tribulation” forecast by Jesus in.
Let every Reformed, indeed Protestant, reader take note that premillennialism has the coming great tribulation fall upon the Jews. We Christians will be exempt, for we, of course, are supposed to be in the air somewhere or other while the tribulation rages. All Christians will have been raptured before Antichrist rampages on the stage of world history.
The Antichrist of Scripture and his threat are not the concern of the church or believer. “The church is in no way involved in this time of future trouble, [that is, in] the Great Tribulation.” “The church is nowhere found in the tribulation.” “The church will not go through the Tribulation.” “The purpose of the Tribulation is to purge and judge Israel and to punish and destroy Gentile power.”5
This exemption of the church and the Christian from the persecution of Antichrist is an outstanding sin of premillennial doctrine. The sin is eminently practical. Premillennialism does not prepare God’s people for the looming threat of persecution for Christ’s sake at the hands of the antichristian world-power. In this respect, premillennialism is one with postmillennialism. Both of the millennial errors assure the church of the 21st century that she has nothing to fear, or prepare for, with regard to suffering the great tribulation. Premillennialism tells the church that she will be raptured prior to Antichrist’s raging in the world, and that the object of his hatred will be the Jews. Postmillennialism preaches to the church that, whoever the Antichrist was and whenever he carried out his antichristian work, Antichrist and his fulminations are safely in the past.
Exempting the church from the persecution by Antichrist helps explain the popularity of the two millennial errors. Humans shrink from persecution, especially from that persecution about which our Lord said, “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” ().
Nevertheless, this is altogether the wrong attitude of Reformed Christians with regard to the coming persecution. The believer should regard it an unspeakably great privilege to be counted worthy by the Savior to confess that Jesus is Lord in the face of the greatest attack on God and His Anointed in all history, and to seal this confession with his suffering and even with his blood. And the divine reward for this spiritual battle against the beast and this faithfulness to Jesus will be correspondingly great. This reward is described in: resurrection in the soul at the moment of death into the life and glory of heaven, where they reign with Christ.
An old believer entertains a certain sorrow as he realizes that he will very likely not be among those who confess that Jesus is Lord in the face of the beast and his false prophet, thus contending for the faith in the last and greatest battle of the host of the Lord God (see Revelation 13).
“Let No Man Deceive You” ()
In contrast to both of the millennial errors, amillennialism forewarns the church and the believer: be prepared for the coming tribulation! It will fall upon the church and the believer on account of their confession that Jesus is Lord and on account of their holy life, which includes that they refuse to worship the beast (Rev. 13). Be prepared to sign your confession with your life’s blood that God’s man, Jesus, is Lord, not Satan’s man.
Contending with Jesus’ greatest human enemy and, in him, with God’s fiercest foe—Satan—will be the privilege of the true church and of the believer in the last days.
Exactly with regard to the “man of sin”—the Antichrist— II Thessalonians 2:3 admonishes, not the Jews, but the brothers and sisters of the church, that we not be deceived about the coming of the day of Christ as though this day will come before the man of sin is revealed. The implication of the appearing of Antichrist is not that the church can relax in the assurance that she will be raptured out of the world before Antichrist attacks the Jews. But the implication of the reality of Antichrist is that the members of the Christian church must “stand fast, and hold the traditions” (), in the confidence of “obtaining…the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the way of resisting the man of sin ( ).
Nor is this final, fiercest, and supreme battle of the church against God’s and her enemy far distant. When the amillennialist notices that the government of the United States sanctions and promotes sodomy and lesbianism as lawful forms of holy marriage; that many churches cravenly and despicably approve this perversion; and that the citizenry of the country increasingly rage against condemnation of the “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind” ()—impenitent homosexuals—the amillennial Christian recognizes that the great tribulation of genuine Christians in Western civilization (barbarism, really, although many barbarians, having only natural light, shame Western civilization by condemning homosexuality) is not far off.
In the face of this coming warfare, the most intense, fierce, and significant warfare in all the history of the battling church of Jesus in the world, premillennialism has the church relax with a view to convenient flight into the air, thus escaping the war. Instead of preparing the saints for the last battle, premillennialism has the church lay down her arms. Antichrist is not her foe. Antichrist is no concern of the church. He will persecute the Jews.
Whereas amillennialism, with the Bible everywhere, calls the church to fight in this, as in all the great battles of the Lord, premillennialism offers the church the soporific of cowardly flight from the final and greatest battle.
Restoration of the Earthly Kingdom of Israel
The result, astonishingly, of the great tribulation of the Jews by Antichrist, according to premillennialism, will be the conversion and salvation of the vast majority of Jews, if not every last Jewish man and woman, and the transformation of the earthly nation of Israel into the kingdom of God, with headquarters in the old Jerusalem.
At the very end of the three and a half years of Antichrist’s assault on the Jews, Jesus Christ will return to the earth, visibly in the body. This coming of Jesus to the earth is known by premillennialism as the “revelation” (in distinction from his half-way coming seven years earlier, which is known as the “rapture.”) Jesus will come, not to deliver His church (for the church will have been raptured some seven years earlier), but to rescue the nation of Israel in its dire extremity, as Antichrist is about to destroy the nation.
At this coming on behalf of Israel, Jesus will destroy Antichrist. This is the premillennial explanation of: “whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” This coming of Jesus will not put an end to history and inaugurate the everlasting future of a renewed creation and its transformed elect inhabitants.
Not at all!
History continues for another thousand years.
Rather, the coming of Jesus will signal the end of the church age on earth (which ended, in fact, at the rapture seven years earlier) and the onset of the “golden age” of the Jews.
The coming of Jesus, visibly, in the body, will represent the beginning of the earthly millennial kingdom—supposedly God’s main purpose with all of history.
And this earthly kingdom is primarily, if not strictly, a Jewish business.
… to be continued.
1 Erich Sauer, From Eternity to Eternity: An Outline of Divine Purposes, tr. G. H. Lang (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 5th printing 1966), 193.
2 C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York and Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 23.
3 Ibid., 13.
4 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 13th printing 1979), 303.
5 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. and enlarged ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 46, 47; 59-68.