Premillennial rider in any statement of Faith

Premillennial rider in any statement of Faith
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David J. Garrard, Presented to the General Council of the Assemblies of God of Great Britain and Ireland, at Pwllheli, North Wales, on the 28/4/2003

 

The importance of keeping the Premillennial rider in any statement of Faith regarding the Second Coming of Christ

 

Introduction: Any discussion on the importance or otherwise of the premillennial Second Coming of Christ needs to be aware of the grounds upon which the position has been established as well as the reasons for its specific arguments. The intricacies of the entire study require much more space than this paper allows but it certainly needs to be understood that at present the contenders in the argument require that either the premillennial position or that of the amillennialists[1] be found correct.  It could be argued that it does not really matter at all which view is correct because all that concerns us as believers is that we know that Christ is our Lord and that he be our Redeemer. It is certainly true that without faith in the living Lord all the rest of our observations concerning biblical doctrine are futile, but since salvation does include the outworking of the events surrounding the return of Christ and the redemption not only of humanity but of the creation as a whole, it is important that we fully grasp the entire plan of God for the future and not just that which concerns us now at this particular point in time.

 

 

  • All Scripture Matters including Eschatological Truth

 

The entire revelation of Scripture is intended to help us understand the plans and purposes of God as well as provide the recipients of that revelation with sufficient information to prepare them for their worldwide mission while all the time enjoying their relationship with God in the tension of hope and the limitations of the temporal factors which surround them.  This is important, not only for each and every generation of believers to discern but also for the perfection of the Church, which is the tool of God in accomplishing His overall redemptive purposes in a fallen world. This means that the Bible  – and that means all of it – is God’s truth, even the bits with which we struggle and those concerning the timing of Christ’s return. The emphases it presents are important within their own areas; the specific area which concerns us is that of the timing of the return of Christ on the day appointed by the Father. It is important because it is one of the irreversible moments concluding God’s timetable in order that He may inaugurate the next step toward ushering in His Kingdom in all its fullness.

 

 

  • Truth determines our outcomes:

 

All of this truth matters. It is vital that we understand what God has in mind and that we do not misread or fail to grasp each and every aspect associated with the coming of this Kingdom because failure to do so will mean that the Church remains ill equipped, unprepared and very likely shy of the goal anticipated by God. As a result, if we deny or ignore the timing of Christ’s return declaring that it does not matter, we will be less likely to be “watching and waiting” which within the Scriptural framework means being busy, active, passionate and a hundred percent in love with our Saviour.

 

Both those who count themselves as either amillennialists or premillennialists need to recognise the fact that often they fall into separate categories not as a result of careful exegesis but because they approach the subject with a fixed theological position which automatically determines the outcome of any examination of Scripture. If we are honest we need to be willing to approach Scripture from the most scientific approach which is indeed the exegetical approach rather than positionally or theologically. This will result in honest outcomes. The problem is that this is not always easy for us because our theological presuppositions are so deeply engrained.

 

  • Terms of Reference and the source of Premillennialism (Revelation 20:1-7[2])

 

Any discussion concerning a premillennial or amillennial Second Coming of Christ needs to understand its terms of reference. The millennium is the anglicised form of the Latin for ‘one thousand’ (from the Greek chilia found a total of six times in the text of Revelation 20:1-7). Any discussion concerning the millennium within a biblical context assumes the primacy of Revelation 20: 1-7.

 

A premillennial Second Coming of Christ supposes that Christ will return before this thousand year period indicated in the text of Revelation 20; it also accepts that there will be a literal and temporal reign of Christ over the physical creation for a determined period prior to the ushering in of what we understand as the eternal reign of God and the fullness of the Kingdom. Amillennialists discount the temporal nature of this thousand year reign and attribute any reign of Christ, not to a temporal or chronological period after the return of Christ (the Parousia), but to the present reign of Christ in the lives of the saints and in the Church during the present Church Age. In other words, there is no millennium in a literal sense. That is the meaning of the negation ‘a’ in amillennial.

 

  • Theological Systems determine interpretive outcomes:

 

At first the argument centres around the way in which much prophetic literature in both Old and New Testaments is interpreted. The interpretation of Scripture has to be based upon the way in which the New Testament interprets the events of the Old Testament. There is no single system as the New Testament views prophecy from both a literal and a spiritual perspective. This means that it is not possible to generalise how prophecy has to be fulfilled. Rather, it is necessary to examine each prophetic statement and decide whether the fulfilment is literal or spiritual. Some prophecies may have both a present spiritual interpretation and a future literal one because of the nature of prophecy. It is not possible for example to always distinguish between the first and second advent of Christ in Old Testament prophecy. It often appears as a single event from the perspective of the prophet. Yet we would not question the reality of both from our vantage point in the prophetic calendar. However, it is true to say that in looking at the fulfilment of prophecy most amillennialists tend to play down much of what the premillennialists would view in literal terms and attribute much more to spiritual fulfilments. Premillennialists would have the opposite tendency. The danger with an exaggeration of spiritualization is that it leaves the reader confused while the interpreter can in effect make any passage mean anything he or she desires. Only honest exegesis can prevent exaggeration on both sides thus avoiding the vagaries of human imagination.

 

  • The meaning of Revelation 20:1-7

 

It is necessary to return to the passage in Revelation 20:1-7 which is the foundation stone upon which the concept of a millennial reign is based and the chronological marker for any teaching on a premillennial return of Christ. If it can be discounted it would certainly make it difficult, although not impossible to argue in favour of a premillennial return. It has to be clearly understood that any effort on the part of scholars to discount the text on the grounds of textual criticism or to exclude it from the canon of Scripture will not stand. It has always been considered as an integral part of the entire letter. The critical apparatus of the Greek New Testament has few possible variants for matters concerning the verses and absolutely no comment regarding its overall veracity. This means that any attempt to do away with the concept of a millennium because it is found in a sole passage of the final book of the New Testament would require dishonesty of the greatest degree on the part of any seeker after truth who claims to acknowledge the truth of Scriptural inspiration and acceptance of the Protestant canon.

 

The entire book of Revelation falls within the apocalyptic genre of literature, which means that even if we comprehend the overall meaning of words and phrases in a literal manner in order to grasp concepts we need to be careful that we do not force meaning upon symbolic language present in much of the text of this book. Nevertheless, even where this principle applies the use of symbols in a given context need to be taken seriously and not applied in a haphazard manner nor in a way which ignores the significance of actual events even where the events are described symbolically. This means that in Revelation 20:1-7 the terms indicate real events. The thousand years may indicate a literal thousand years or they may indicate an extended period of time. However it is viewed it does represent a real and distinct period during which certain dramatic and unusual events take place and when Christ reigns in a manner which is not consistent with anything previously known on planet earth.  The thousand years indicate that this period is to be separated from the rest of time as it is described in the accompanying chapters of the book and should not be confused or conflated with that period. The events associated with this parenthesis in time indicate that they are part of the reason for the differences attached to this section.

 

  • Satan is Bound:

 

In verse 2 Satan is bound. However, this binding does not reflect identically anything which can be compared with our understanding of what took place at the Cross and with what has transpired during the History of the Church over the past two millennia. The cross is undoubtedly central in the final downfall of Satan and in the final is totally successful, but in the short term if this binding refers, as amillennialists suggest, to the way in which Satan was bound at the cross then we would have to admit that that was not very successful because he continues to be the Prince of this World who wreaks havoc throughout the world. Amillennialists claim that this binding prevents Satan from deluding the nations,[3] but in reality this is not the case. This is why Christian missions wrestles with unreceptive peoples and blocks of unbelieving and antagonistic religions like those within the 10/40 window. Again if Satan is to be released after being bound at the cross how will that be? According to amillennialists when Christ returns the one and only resurrection will take place and the final judgement will settle all accounts. For amillennialists there is no room for a Satanic rebellion however short-termed it may be. This leaves the meaning of these verses hanging in an unsatisfactory manner. We will suggest that the concept of a thousand year reign fits clearly with the teaching of the OT prophecy regarding the reign of God in the terrestrial and temporal sphere as we hope to demonstrate shortly.

 

  • Two Resurrections:

 

John goes on to say that those who participate in the First Resurrection share in the thousand-year reign of Christ (vv.4-6). He declares that they are to be distinguished from those who do not share in this event because the second death has no part in them. The rest of the dead do not share in this thousand-year reign and do not participate in this resurrection (coming to life). Again, the first group which comes to life at the beginning of the thousand years does not have to fear the second death. The normal reading of this would mean that those who do not share in the first resurrection will have to fear the second death and that both have very different outcomes. The text demonstrates that there are two groups of people involved: those who are resurrected at the start of the millennium and those who are not. Both groups are treated in drastically different ways. One group is blessed and designated “priests of God and of Christ” with the result that they participate in the thousand-year reign of Christ. The others do not but will fall under the authority of the second death (v. 6).

 

  • How do we understand ‘live again’ (Resurrection) ?

 

The difficulty in the text appears to be the way in which the reader is to understand the two resurrections which are at the centre of the events. Normally, the Greek word ‘ezèsan’ is translated ‘live again’(resurrection) (vv.4,5). In Scripture this word is used of a physical return to life from death. It is never used to indicate a spiritual rebirth or conversion. If it is understood in the usual way here then it means that there have to be two distinct resurrections indicated in the text – one at the beginning of the thousand year period and another at the end. The resurrections have to be understood in the normal sense of the word – a return to life after a state of physical death.

 

Amillennialists however, attempt to get around this obstacle by stating that the resurrections are not both to be viewed as physical. Some of them state that the first is spiritual and represents the regeneration of the individual at the time of belief in Christ as Lord. The second is then physical. Other amillennialists are categorical that both resurrections are spiritual. If it can be maintained that one or more are spiritual there is no need to worry about a literal thousand-year period marked by physical resurrections. In the light of what we stated above regarding the meaning of ‘ezèsan’ –‘live again’, the greatest difficulty with this interpretation is the way in which we use language. To claim that the first use of  “live again” means the entrance into spiritual life at rebirth and that the second means physical resurrection at the return of Christ demonstrates inconsistency with the use of words in order to enforce our particular theological views. Even James A. Hughes, himself an amillennial scholar, admits that if the first mention of “live again” refers to a spiritual resurrection it would be inconsistent to state that the second indicates a physical resurrection.[4]  John’s meaning is clear to all who accept the normal sense of resurrection and the context of Revelation 20:4-6. As Millard J. Erickson states, these verses settle the question of the two resurrections not merely by their nature but “on the basis of their participants”. [5]

 

  • A Doctrine based on one passage in Scripture: Not really

 

Normal rules of hermeneutics would accept that a doctrine based upon the reading of one passage alone would leave itself open to question. On these grounds there are those amillennialists who believe that to establish the doctrine of the millennium on the contents of Revelation 20:1-7 alone is tenuous at best. At first this position may appear to be justifiable; however, as we look at the whole of the Biblical revelation including the teaching of the Old and New Testaments we may need to rethink this position. For example, the confusion of languages at Babel is only found in Genesis 11:1-9 and yet undisputed by conservative scholars. Pentecostals would surmise that the events of the Day of Pentecost are linked in a clear way to a reversal of the confusion of that day. This is an example of a single passage being the foundation for the acceptance of our teaching regarding the confusion of languages and peoples. Are we being inconsistent?

 

It needs to be pointed out that prior to the First Advent of Christ there was not a great deal within the pages of the Old Testament which gave clear teaching regarding the creation and role of the Church as we know it and only glimpses of a suffering Messiah. Yet none of us would question the place of the Church in the redemptive purposes of God. Hindsight and the unveiling revelation of God has given us the privilege of being able to put the pieces together. The fact that the passage falls within the last book of the Bible should also be considered as significant in the light of what we understand as the place of progressive revelation in the unfolding of the canon of Scripture.

 

  • Old Testament Glimpses:

 

I propose that although the name “millennium” may only appear in the unique passage of Revelation 20:1-7 that the concept of a “millennium” is found elsewhere. The doctrine of a terrestrial reign of God where all outward opposition to good and God is crushed and where God is able to exhibit the fullness of his original intent for the entire created order prior to the new heaven and new earth is well known in the Old Testament; this is so even if we do not immediately associate with the appropriate texts the promises of the conditions elaborated upon there with the events of John’s Revelation. Passages such as those found in Isaiah 11 share images of divine justice, restraint, and the action of the “Branch” who judges the needy and the poor (v. 4) but who at the same time strikes the wicked.

 

 

 

 

  • Changes in the natural order but not totally:

 

Within these Old Testament passages there is a change in the natural order so that the lamb and the leopard lie down with the goat and children are no longer harmed by the venom of serpents (vv. 6-8). Yet, there are retributive acts enacted simultaneously (vv.13,14) showing that perfection has not yet come in its fullness and the players are still living in a terrestrial context which includes the nations of the world. Isaiah records that in the midst of the wonders and extreme old age, there is nevertheless death (Isa. 65: 20) and procreation (Isa. 65: 23). The order will be changed but not totally, at least, not yet. The events here do not refer to the conditions identified with “eternity” where Jesus declares that believers will live as do the angels where marriage and procreation are out of the question (Mt. 22:30). Even the context of Revelation 20 speaks of a time of rebellion after the thousand-year reign when Satan revolts. Amillennialism has no room for a distinct opportunity for rebellion after the resurrection of all creation and the Judgement. The passages in the Old Testament prophecy do not all refer to the eternal state and Kingdom but to a world which will be under the total authority of God and subject, in some cases, by restraint to the Son (cf. Ps. 210-12).

 

Even where amillennialists state that there is no need for a millennial reign and that there is nothing stopping a direct entry into the perfection of the Eternal Kingdom after the judgment which follows the return of Christ, this is not the question at hand. The question is not what could transpire, but what will take place in God’s sovereign plan.  Paul writes: “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet….it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” At present it may be agreed that Christ reigns in the hearts of the believer but he does not have full reign over the rest of the creation. He is sovereign in as far as he is God, but Satan continues to hold sway over the nations. The only way Christ can be considered to have indeed reigned in the manner described is if there is a specific time during which this reign may be put into effect. That time is during the millennium.

 

  • Israel in Prophecy:

 

It needs to be recognised that in a number of passages the Church in the New Testament is equated with Spiritual Israel ( Rm. 9:6; 1 Cor. 10:18; Gal. 6:16) and the fulfilment of God’s plan for all His people. Amillennialism generalises and states that the Church is automatically to be viewed as having fulfilled all prophetic promises made to the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It is at this point that we reiterate what was stated earlier concerning the nature of our outcomes in eschatology are generally determined by our system of interpretation. Literal schools of interpretation result in premillennial outcomes while spiritualising schools produce amillennial or postmillennial outcomes. Spiritualising schools equate all promises to Israel in the Old Testament as fulfilled, if indeed they are fulfilled, in the Church – spiritual Israel. Literal schools state that it is necessary to understand the context of the promise and decide whether it refers to the physical nation or otherwise.

 

The result of this general stance is that Premillennialists (although they are not all united in their views) would maintain that many of the promises made to national Israel need to be viewed as unfulfilled and as not applicable to the Church. This author is aware of the fact that there have been many exaggerated claims, especially those made by extreme premillennialists concerning the events which need to transpire during the period of the millennium and the role that Israel will play in those events. The real difficulty here is in the detail given to these events which include such things as the restoration of the Temple and the entire Legal system associated with the Levitical order. It is not our purpose to look at these details here as they will not prove at all helpful. It is merely necessary to state that there are prophecies in the Old Testament which apply directly to the nation of Israel and which cannot easily be translated in terms of what will happen to the Church. What we are saying is that God has not finished with the nation. It still has a role in His plans and there is no indication, within the existing temporal frame of reference, that these events will happen prior to the return of Christ. Christ has not yet reigned over all the earth as Scripture depicts the Messiah ruling. This reign is linked to the terrestrial and temporal scene and not to that with which we associate the eternal Kingdom.

 

  • Romans 11: The Mystery-All Israel will be Saved

 

The secret to the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel, is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In the section which incorporates chapters 9-11 of the Epistle, Paul explains that God has not rejected his People the Jews and that He always keeps his promises. He goes on to show how the salvation of the Gentiles depended upon the hardening of Israel and he says that the former should not be too cocksure of themselves as they can easily be cut off the original stock into which they have been grafted so that the original branches may bear their proper fruit in their rightful place. In fact he states that if the demise of the Jews resulted in the Gentiles’ salvation (Rm. 11:11) then the restoration of the Jews would be equivalent to “life from the dead” (Rm.11:15b). After discussing the role of the Gentiles in their relationship to faith and God Paul makes a startling declaration: “ I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery…. Israel [that is the nation just discussed during these three chapters of Romans] has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel [ the same nation just referred to above] will be saved.” (Romans 11: 24,25) Any interpretation which tries to make one of the above Israels mean something different from the other cannot understand the use of words and their meaning. Whatever the first Israel may mean so the second. Since Paul has just spent three chapters explaining how it is that God has not given up on the nation of Israel so he introduces what he calls a mystery. This same nation which at present appears to be rejected by God, will eventually be saved. For all who state that Paul is talking about the Church there is a failure to grasp what Paul has been saying during the previous chapters. Also there is a failure to grasp the significance of the meaning of the way in which Pauline writing uses the word “mystery”. It speaks of what was unclear and unknown but which from that point on is a clear and established part of revealed truth. It is no longer a mystery.  So what Paul is saying is that although it all seems vague and perhaps even impossible, the nation as a whole is going to turn to God in the future.[6] He does not say when this will happen other than that he links it to the point at which the “full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Rm. 11: 25b).  That is at the end of the dispensation of the Church and at the beginning of the millennial reign of Christ. It cannot be before.  The Pauline teaching alone is sufficient grounds upon which to establish the veracity and hope of a millennial reign.

 

  • Early Church History Supports a Premillennial Return of Christ:

 

The history of the doctrine may be regarded with suspicion but it is evident that in the literature of the earliest post-apostolic period and from the turn of the First Century premillennialism is the preferred doctrine of the Church. The apologists Justin Martyr, and Iranaeus[7] the polemicist emphasized the return of Christ and the millennial kingdom on earth as did others like Papias and Tertullian. Justin who lived in the first half of the second century considered all who did not expect an earthly reign of Christ to be flawed in their faith.[8] It was only with the influences of the allegorical school at Alexandria and the rise of Augustinian theology that the spiritualization resulting in amillennial and postmillennial position displaced premillennial teaching in the Church.

 

It can be suggested with more than mere supposition that amillennial views regarding the entire question under debate have entered traditional Pentecostal circles through the influences of Evangelicalism and the Charismatic movement. This thrust sprang from the denominations, which have always held to their amillennial views and where for the most part the importance of eschatology has not been considered a matter of major importance. These Charismatics may have modified their understanding regarding the Holy Spirit but for the most part they still hold to Augustinian positions as the basis of their other Theology.

 

  • Premillennialism and the Founding Fathers of Pentecost:

 

The premillennial Second Coming of Christ was presumed basic to the founding fathers of Pentecost on both sides of the Atlantic. Even if it can be demonstrated that they based their declaration on emphasis and intent more than on exegesis there would have to be a very good reason to remove it from the AOG statement of faith. The premillennial return of Christ has been one of the major reasons behind the motivation for world mission and evangelism and even if it can be demonstrated that amillennialists can be just as motivated in missions the fact of the matter is that it is premillennial believers and not amillennialists who have been the motivating force in the present World Missionary movement. The Pentecostal movement worldwide and especially the Pentecostal Church in the Two-Thirds world is premillennial in its faith and in its understanding of the urgency that this implies to the task of world evangelisation. Overall statistics demonstrate that amillennialists are not as motivated in mission and are generally less concerned about the urgency of the task because time, from their perspective, appears to run on forever. Premillennialists believe in the urgency of the hour, or at least they used to even if they do not do so any longer in the West. Perhaps that is why a fair majority of the pastors in the AOG in Great Britain and Ireland, according to Robert Mountford’s statistics,[9] no longer concern themselves in any meaningful way with the missionary task and are totally satisfied with local evangelism. A survey of the entire student body at Mattersey-Hall, and that includes those from a wide range of backgrounds and a variety of other denominations, indicated that the entire subject of eschatology is rarely taught in AOG[10] churches. It can therefore be suggested without too much fear of contradiction that the link between the urgency of the hour in which we live as represented by a Premillennial Second Coming of Christ and the need for World Mission is not present in the thinking of the majority of the members in our AOG churches. The nonchalance is most troublesome as this was certainly not the position of early Pentecostals. It would not be an overstatement to say that premillennialism was, understood along with the equipping of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the driving force of mission and the AOG well into the 1960s.

 

The question under debate should be viewed not merely as a matter of indifference regarding the doctrine of Last Things, but one of the vital ingredients in a composite and holistic position which presents what we as Pentecostals stand for. Pentecostals are what they are not just because of their doctrine regarding the Holy Spirit even if their teaching on that subject is central to their identity. They are a passionate group of believers who, animated by their understanding of the reason for the person and work of the Holy Spirit, are driven to engage the world with a life-giving proposal made available only in the Gospel. There is a time factor which is crucial. The premillennial teaching regarding the timing of the Second Coming of Christ helps the believer to focus on the mandate of the Church and hold it in tension to a greater degree than does amillennial teaching. It appears that most of us are able to work more effectively and efficiently when we have frameworks that highlight the importance of deadlines which are constantly held before us. Premillennialism provides us with this framework and keeps us focused on the task before us.

 

The moment the Pentecostal movement places in question the criteria upon which it was established it is likely that this is only indicative of a greater malaise because it has run out of momentum in its overall thrust. That is the reason why it is becoming increasingly introspective and less engaged in the matters that really matter. During the early days of its existence it had no concern with what we regard as Theological questions because it was taken up with ‘The task’.[11] Pentecostals were doers of the truth and had little time for the theory behind their practice. The movement was too busy evangelising; it was at the forefront of mission. It was growing and it was not too concerned with the criticism of the non-Pentecostals. We have come of age. God help us if this is what maturity brings! It could be suggested that the subtle influences introduced by the Charismatics and the Evangelicals  have far greater outcomes than in the area of eschatology.

 

[1] A number of those who call themselves amillennialists are unaware of the fact that they are actually postmillennialists in the way they understand eschatology because they believe that the Church will usher in the final Age of Perfection.

[2] There is a section division in most Bibles at the end of verse 6 but the question of the thousand years is included in the text of verse 7. For this reason it is treated as one inclusive section here. The space involved in this presentation does not permit a thorough exegetical treatment of this passage.

[3] Cf. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Carlisle, Paternoster, 1979, p. 228

[4] James A. Hughes, “ Revelation 20:4-6 and the Question of the Millennium” in Westminster Theological Journal 35, 1973, p.300

[5] Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1998, p. 93

[6] We cannot spend time on looking at the implications of this statement. Whatever is understood it does mean that even if not every Jew is saved there will be a national turning to the Messiah.

[7] Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 30.4 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed. Roberts and Donaldson ), Buffalo, Christian Literature, 1885-1896, vol. 1, p. 560

[8] cf. As reported in Erickson, op. cit., p. 94 citing A.J. Visser, “A bird’s Eye View of Ancient Christian Eschatology,” in Numen, No. 14 (1967) pp. 8,9

[9] Cf. Robert Mountford, “Programme or Purpose” Unpublished MA dissertation presented to the University Sheffield/Mattersey Hall, September 2000

[10] The survey was undertaken at Mattersey Hall during the year 2001-02. The picture indicated that all denominations approach the subject of eschatology with little if any conviction if they approach it at all. Even subjects like eternal reward and punishment are hardly broached in the majority of churches. Where they are it is at the most basic of levels.

[11] I am not saying that we should not engage in the theoretical aspects of our faith but that in all things there has to be balance and Christianity has to be practical for it to be of any significance.

1 Comment

  • Troy Day
    Reply September 10, 2019

    Troy Day

    get to know the view of some UK AG Pentecostal theologians who are basically the lead voices on the subject @joshwa bedford

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