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This is part of a series of articles about premillennial teaching. To see a list of all the articles, please click here.
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Premillennialism is dangerous for many reasons. My main objections are that it (perhaps unintentionally) belittles the authority of Christ, the death of Christ, and the significance of the church and the gospel, while at the same time exalting materialistic goals, Jewish nationalism (respect of persons), and Mosaic practices. These problems affect our present service to God. [For details about these points, see the link above for our other articles on premillennialism.]
Yet premillennialism also contradicts clear gospel teachings about the second coming of Jesus. The purpose of this lesson is to examine these contradictions.
Premillennialists vary widely in their theories. The following is a general summary as believed by many, but remember that there are many variations. [See God's Prophetic Word, by Foy Wallace, p. 347-349; cf. Lion and the Lamb on Planet Earth, by Rodney Miller]
Jesus will first come invisibly, unknown to men in general (the parousia), raise the righteous dead, and take them from the earth for a 7-year period of "rapture." During this time will be great suffering on earth called the "tribulation."
At the end of this 7 years, the forces of evil will gather to fight against Jesus, who will visibly return (epiphaneia) to defeat them at the battle of Armageddon.
Jesus will then establish an earthly, civil kingdom over which He will reign as King from Jerusalem for 1000 years. At the end of 1000 years, the wicked dead will be raised, then all men will be judged and receive their eternal rewards.
The Bible teaches that Jesus will personally come again, just as He left (Acts 1:9-11). As we consider what will happen when He comes, please note the contradictions to premillennialism.
John 5:28,29 - The "hour" is coming in which "all" will be raised, both good and evil. "Hour" should mean a particular (short) period of time. Since premillennialists insist that prophecy must be taken literally, this leaves no room for 1000 years between the resurrection of the good and evil. The difference between the resurrection of the good and that of the evil is not when they will occur, but the reward each will receive.
Acts 24:15 - Paul looked for a (one) resurrection of both the just and the unjust, not two resurrections separated by 1000 years. [23:6]
[Some claim "resurrection of the dead" differs from "resurrection from the dead." But cf. Col. 1:18 to Rev. 1:5; Acts 23:6 to Phil. 2:11; Luke 20:35 to Matt. 22:30f.]
2 Corinthians 4:18 - Things seen are temporary, not eternal. Some people claim the earth must stand forever, but it follows from this passage that the earth must be destroyed eventually.
2 Peter 3 gives information about the destruction of the earth. This should be taken literally, since the context is doctrinal instruction, not symbolic or poetic. Since premillennialists insist on taking prophecy literally, let them do so here.
Vv 3,4 - Mockers ask about the promise of Jesus' coming (parousia), which premillennialists say is the invisible coming before the rapture and millennium. But both of the "comings" are before the 1000-year reign.
Vv 5-7 - God once caused the earth to perish in a flood. The present heavens and earth are likewise reserved for fire at the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
Vv 8,9 - As we wait for that time, God is longsuffering so men can repent and not perish.
Vv 10-13 - When the "day of the Lord" comes, the heavens will pass away and be dissolved, elements will be dissolved and melt with fervent heat, and the earth will be burned up. This will happen at the day of judgment (v7) which is Jesus' coming or parousia (v4).
So this passage would mean that the judgment and the destruction of the earth would be at Jesus' coming (parousia), not 1000 years later.
Vv 14-17 - Paul taught the same things, including some things hard to understand. But those who pervert this teaching, do so to their own destruction. Watch out lest we are carried away by error and fall from steadfastness. So false teaching about these matters can lead us to sin and be lost.
[Some argue the "day of the Lord" may be 1000 years long, per v8. But it also says "1000 years is as one day," so by their logic the millennium might last one literal day! Actually, v8 is describing the length of waiting till Jesus comes, not the length of time while He is here. And it describes how long this seems to God, not to people.]
There is no room for 1000 years between Jesus' coming (parousia) and the judgment.
At the coming (parousia) of the Lord (v15), the righteous, whether they were dead or alive, will be with the Lord forever (always - v17). This is eternal reward, not a 7-year rapture.
Further, this coming (parousia) will not be silent, invisible, or unobservable. It will be accompanied by a shout, voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God (v16). The wicked will know when this happens for they will suffer destruction, not just tribulation - 5:3.
Some say "the dead in Christ rise first" (v16) means they will rise at the first resurrection, 1000 years before the wicked are raised. But the context contrasts the dead in Christ (v13) to the alive in Christ (v15), not to the wicked dead. V16 says the dead in Christ rise "first," then those who are alive in Christ are caught up to meet the Lord (V17). The resurrection of the wicked is not under consideration and is not mentioned.
"In that day" when Jesus' comes (v10) and is revealed from heaven with the angels (v7), the following will happen: afflicted Christians will receive rest (vv 4,7) and those who know not God and obey not the gospel will receive vengeance in flaming fire, punishment, even eternal destruction (vv 7-9).
The righteous will enter their rest from trouble on the same "day" that the wicked will be punished. But premillennialism says the righteous will rest and rejoice through the rapture and millennium before the wicked are punished.
When Jesus comes with the holy angels, then all nations are gathered and separated good from evil. The righteous will enter eternal life, and the wicked will depart into everlasting fire (vv 41,46).
There will not be two comings, nor will the righteous be enjoying rest and bliss 1000 years plus the rapture before the wicked are punished. Both enter their reward at the same time.
[1 Cor. 15:22-26 - At Jesus' coming (parousia), then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom back to the Father, having raised all who died through Adam (v22).]
[Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 16:27 - After death comes judgment, each person being judged according to what he did in the body, good or bad. When Jesus comes, then He will reward every man. Cf. Luke 16:19ff; 2 Cor. 1:7,8]
[Premillennialists say Jesus will come invisibly (the parousia) "for" the saints to take them to the rapture, then at the end of the millennium he comes visibly "with" the saints (the epiphaneia). But 2 Thess. 2:8 refers to "the manifestation (epiphaneia) of his coming (parousia)." And 1 Thess. 3:13 says His coming (parousia) will be "with" the saints, not "for" the saints.]
* William Miller set 1844, then 1845. His followers began Seventh Day Adventism.
* Charles Russell and Judge Rutherford, of Jehovah's Witnesses, set 1914 then 1918.
* Herbert Armstrong (Worldwide Church of God) and Jehovah's Witnesses stated or implied Jesus would return in 1975, but backed off as the time drew near.
* Others claimed Jesus would come in the year 2000.
Some try to observe signs and claim Jesus must come soon, usually within their lifetime.
He may come back anytime, and no one can know when.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 - Regarding the "times and seasons" (of Jesus' coming to raise the dead - 4:15), the day of the Lord comes as a thief in night (totally unexpected with no signs or warning) - vv 1-3. Not only do we not know the specific day, we do not even know the times and seasons.
Vv 4-6 - Since the time is unknown, we should watch and be ready all the time. What is the value in knowing a specific time? If we knew He would return in 2010, people would wait till 2009 to start obeying! But meanwhile we can die any moment. If we can die or He can come at any moment, we are motivated to live right all the time.
2 Peter 3:10 - The day of the Lord will come as a thief. No one can set a day or year. Those who set dates mark themselves as false teachers, for they claim to know what the Bible expressly says no one can know.
[Matt. 24:35,36,42,44,50. Note that Paul and Peter knew He would not come in their lifetime - Acts 20:29,30; John 21:18,19; (2 Peter 1:14)]
In previous studies we examined most Old Testament, and many New Testament, passages used by premillennialists. We here consider their main New Testament texts. Since the Bible does not contradict itself, we must not interpret these in ways that contradict plain passages.
Premillennialists often quote symbolic passages, tie them together without proving they go together, ignore context, then make unfounded assertions. If you challenge their conclusions, they demand that you explain these verses. If you cannot, they conclude they must be right!
Illustration: Two men see a woman across the street. The first says, "There goes your wife." The second replies, "That's not my wife." First: "Who is it then?" Second: "I don't know." First: "If you don't know who it is, how do you know it's not your wife?" Second: "Because I know my wife and that's not her!"
These passages are offered by premillennialists to prove their view. They are obligated to prove their conclusions follow from the verses. If I disagree, I am not obligated to explain what they do mean; I must show simply that they do not mean what premillennial folks claim. We have proved our case by other clear doctrinal passages. I do not have to understand all symbolic passages to know they do not teach things that contradict other clear doctrinal passages.
The passage says nothing about a reign of Jesus on earth for 1000 years, hence it cannot be used to prove premillennialism. It is mainly used to prove Jesus is about to come plus the "rapture." But we have already seen there will be no signs for Jesus' second coming.
The discussion began with a prophecy of the destruction of the temple (which occurred in 70 AD). Disciples asked when this would happen, what would be the signs of His coming and of the end of the age. It was the disciples, not Jesus, who tied the destruction of the temple with the end of the age.
Mark 13:2-4 - The signs pertain to Jesus' coming in judgment in the destruction of the temple. [Luke 21:5-7]
Jesus warns them not to be led astray. Many today are led astray in these matters.
All these signs can be shown by the Bible or history to have been fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD:
(1) False Christs and false teachers (vv 5,11,23-25; cf. Acts 8; 5:36ff; Wallace, 249)
(2) Wars and rumors of wars (vv 6,7). Note that "the end is not yet." (Wallace p. 249
(3) Famines and earthquakes (v7; cf. Acts 11:28ff; Wallace, p. 250).
(4) Persecution of Christians (vv 8-13; cf. Acts 6-12, etc.)
(5) Gospel preached to the whole world, then the end shall come (v14). Note that this was fulfilled in the first century - see Col. 1:5,6,23.
Vv 15-20 - The final sign plus exhortation to flee the city.
V15 - The abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place as spoken by Daniel [Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11]. Luke 21:20 explains that this was a prophecy that Jerusalem would be surrounded by Roman armies. [Cf. Matt. 23:38]
Vv 16-20 - Then those in Judea should flee. Luke 21:20,21 - When "Jerusalem" is surrounded, people in the city should leave and those outside should not go in. If this is Jesus' return to rapture His people, why flee to the hills? Why should only those in Jerusalem and Judea flee? [Luke 21:24]
Josephus says the Romans entered the temple, then unexplainably retreated, Christians fled, and the siege began (Wallace, p. 252).
Vv 21-31 - Prophecy of suffering during the siege and destruction
Vv 18-26 - Great tribulation during those days. Josephus says the famine, disease, and war killed 1,100,000 people. (Wallace, p. 253f).
Vv 27-31 - The Son of Man comes in judgment and destruction. This is symbolic, not a personal coming. The Old Testament used similar language for God's coming in destruction and judgment on a nation (Isa. 19:1; 13:10; 27:13; 34:4,5; Jer. 15:9; Ezek. 32:7,8; Joel 2:10,30,31; cf. Matt. 26:64; Psalms 97:2,3).
[Sending forth the angels (lit. "messengers") to gather the elect refers to preaching the gospel, which went forth as a result of the fall of Judaistic persecution (Isaiah 11:11-16; Acts 2:39; Romans 15:12; Wallace, p. 254f; cf. "elect" in v22).]
Vv 32-34 - Summary of the nature of signs and time of events
Vv 32,33 - These are signs like signs of seasons. By them you know an event is coming.
V34 - This is the key verse. "This generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled." The destruction of Jerusalem occurred within 40 years of this time.
"Generation" (Greek gene) - "the whole multitude of men living at the same time ... used esp. of the Jewish race living at one and the same period ..." - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer.
[Ex. Matt. 23:36; 12:39-45; 17:17; 11:16; Luke 17:25; Acts 2:40; Phil. 2:15; Heb. 3:10. Note that people in the distant past or future are a different generation - Luke 1:48,50; Acts 13:36; 14:16; 15:21; Eph. 3:5,21; Col. 1:26]
This section could still refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, or it could begin a prophecy of Jesus' second personal coming (with literal destruction of heaven and earth - v35 cf. 2 Peter 3). In either case, the lesson is that, as at the flood of Noah, men would be caught unprepared, so Christians should get ready. [Cf. Wallace, p. 257ff]
Vv 40,41 - Two in the field or grinding - one taken and the other left. This simply refers to a separation.
Note it does not say one would be mysteriously whisked away to be with Jesus. It does not say where one would be "taken" or what would happen to the other who would be "left."
If this is the destruction of Jerusalem, believers would flee and be saved, but unbelievers would remain and suffer; hence, a separation (vv 15,16ff).
If this is Jesus' personal return, all will gather before Jesus for judgment (25:31-46). Of the two which had been in the field, etc., there would be separation when they come before Jesus for judgment - one taken to eternal reward and one left to destruction.
In any case, Matt. 24 does nothing to prove the premillennial view.
Read vv 4-6. This is the only Scripture that mentions a 1000-year reign of any kind. Other "proof-texts" premillennialists offer do not even mention a 1000-year reign. If this one does not prove a literal, earthly 1000-year reign of Christ, then no passage anywhere proves it.
A literal resurrection followed by a literal 1000-year reign.
Revelation 1:1,2 - The introduction of the book shows that the message would be conveyed in symbols or "signs." The visions John saw were "signified" to him. "Signify" means "to give a sign, to signify, indicate" - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer (related to the word for "a sign, mark, token"). By definition a sign or symbol is something that refers to something else, but not literally to itself. (Examples illustrating this use of "signify" are John 12:32,33; 21:18,19; Acts 11:28.)
Note some examples of symbols in Rev. 20: chain (v1), dragon (v2), beheaded souls (v4), beast (v4). Are these all literal?
Note some symbols in the context of Rev. 20: great harlot (19:2), the Lamb (19:9), marriage of the Lamb (19:9), rides a white horse (19:11), eyes like a flame of fire (19:12), sword out of his mouth (19:15,21), treads the winepress of God's wrath (19:15). Are these literal descriptions of a literal king?
If these are not literal but symbolic, then why take the 1000 years, the first resurrection, or the reign to be literal, earthly, or physical? Should one passage in a symbolic context be used to reach conclusions completely contrary to clear truths taught elsewhere in doctrinal contexts?
Note other obviously symbolic uses of the number 1000 in poetic or prophetic contexts. The idea is a large and complete number: the whole or completeness of some large quantity.
Psalms 50:10 - The cattle on a thousand hills belong to God.
Psalms 105:8 - God's word is remembered to a thousand generations.
Psalms 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8 - 1000 years is as a day and a day as 1000 years.
A resurrection of all the righteous
Premillennialism says all the righteous will participate in the first resurrection, but the passage says it is a resurrection of those beheaded for Jesus' testimony (v4) - beheaded martyrs. If we take the passage literally, as premillennialists insist, then what will happen to those faithful saints who were not beheaded?
A reign on earth, especially in Jerusalem
The passage nowhere mentions the earth, Jerusalem, or even Palestine. All these things are essential to premillennialism, but none are found in Rev. 20, which is the only passage mentioning a thousand-year reign. Where is there any passage that says Jesus will set foot on earth again, let alone reign from Jerusalem in Palestine?
A civil, political reign like David's.
The nature of the reign is nowhere stated as being political like David's. Yet that is what premillennialism requires.
A reign that follows Jesus' second personal coming.
The personal, literal coming of Jesus is nowhere mentioned as occurring before this 1000 years. [The battle of chap. 19 is symbolic like Old Testament comings in judgment - see notes on Matt. 24 above.]
How can this passage serve as the fundamental proof text of premillennialism, when it omits most of the major elements of the doctrine? All it mentions are 1000 years, a reign, and a resurrection, but the context implies these are symbolic not literal. And all the other major elements of premillennialism are missing. Is this a solid foundation for premillennialism?
Perhaps the following explanation can be improved, but I simply seek to illustrate the fact that explanations do exist which fit the passage and harmonize with other passages.
The context of the book
Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Asia, who were suffering persecution (1:4; chap. 2,3). It is written to offer hope of deliverance (2:9,10; 3:13). It discusses things that must come to pass "shortly" (1:1,3; 22:6,10,12,20). It was written in symbolic language so Christians would understand it but enemies would not. [Cf. Matt. 13:11]
6:9-11 - Souls under the altar are God's faithful people who have been martyred for His cause. They ask when their blood will be avenged. Despite their faithfulness, they appear to have suffered defeat and want to know when victory will come.
The resurrection - another symbol
20:4-6 - The same beheaded, martyred souls here reign victoriously. Physical resurrection is victory over death. So "resurrection" serves as a symbol of victory - in this case victory over the oppressors who cause suffering and persecution (see Isaiah 26:13-19; Hosea 13:14; Ezekiel 37:1-14). Note especially the Ezekiel passage, where people were suffering and thought they had no hope. But God offers them hope, symbolized by a resurrection or return to life.
If that is the meaning here, then the first-century Christians were suffering, persecuted, and needed hope. Had their hope died? No, the assurance here is that they will be victorious! They will live again - i.e., they will be victorious, and this assurance of victory gives hope. This is the "first resurrection" - a resurrection of hope and victory despite persecution and suffering.
The reign with Christ - yet another symbol
In 2:26,27 Jesus had promised that those who overcome will rule the nations with a rod of iron even as he had received authority from His Father. In 3:21 He makes a similar promise to the Laodicea church that they will sit with Him on His throne, as He sat with His Father on His throne after He overcame.
But how does Jesus rule? He rules now as King of His spiritual Kingdom the church. See Psalms 110:5,6 (cf. vv 1-4); Rev. 12:5; Acts 2:29-36; 13;33; Eph. 1:20-23 (see our studies about the spiritual reign of Christ in His church). And His faithful rule with Him: Rev. 1:5,6; 3:21; 5:9,10; 20:4,6; 22:5; Rom. 5:17; cf. Luke 19:19-19; Matt. 25:21,23; 19:28; 2 Tim. 2:12; Dan. 7:9,22; 1 Cor. 6:2.
It follows that the reference to Christians sitting in Christ's throne is spiritual, not physical, even as Jesus' rule is spiritual not physical. The passage symbolically describes the victory of persecuted saints over their enemies. The saints have been slain (death/defeat) but are raised to rule by achieving victory over their enemies. The 1000 years does not refer to a specific length of time but represents the completeness of the victory (1000 represents completeness).
The application to us is that, just as these people suffered for the Lord, so will we at times. But just as they were ultimately victorious to reign over their enemies, so will we.
Premillennialism is a theory unproved and unprovable. The texts used to uphold it provide no evidence that they teach what the theory states.
The danger of the doctrine is that it contradicts, denies, and undermines many essential truths of the gospel. It is much more than just unfounded speculation. It is false doctrine that leads those who accept it to belittle the position of Christ, the nature of His kingdom, the significance of His church, the gospel, His death, and the importance of spiritual matters in general.
Every true Christian must oppose it.
This is part of a series of articles about premillennial teaching. To see a list of all the articles, please click here.
Copyright 10/95, 8/06 David E. Pratte; www.gospelway.com
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