The Plymouth Brethren, or simply “Brethren,” began around 1827 with four individuals in Ireland who assembled by themselves since they had difficulties with the “professed” churches of the day. They did not see the Scripture for the doctrines of the churches around them and thus began preaching this to other individuals. Many “gatherings” grew up throughout the United Kingdom, with the most well-known group being founded in Plymouth, England, from which the name “Plymouth Brethren” is derived. The Brethren are known for simplicity in meeting and a “non-denominational” approach to their church; they are, however, best known for the origin in John Darby of the dispensational/premillennial belief system, incorporated today in much of Evangelical teaching.
Sections on this Page
- General Considerations
- Premillennialism = Literal Teaching?
- Prophetic Language
- The Nature of Prophecy
- Old Testament Prophecy
- Daniel 2: The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar
- Daniel 7: The Beasts
- Daniel 9: The Duration of Israel
- Daniel 11: Historical Prophecy
- Joel 2: The Gift of the Holy Spirit
- Malachi 4: Elijah
- New Testament Prophecy
- Matthew 24-25: The “Olivet Discourse”
- 2 Thessalonians 2: The “Man of Sin”
- Revelation: Cornerstone of Prophecy
- The Resurrection
- The Judgment
- The Nature of Christ’s Kingdom
The Plymouth Brethren have had some division, notably over the nature of church discipline, whether a disciplinary action by one church was binding on all congregations or only those affected. The exclusive group, believing that the action was binding on all congregations, has in its ranks the best known teachers, including John Darby; their position, however, led to more divisions that have since been healed. The open group, believing that the action was only for those groups that were affected, is known more for their evangelism and such things.
Instrumental Music [debated within]
The Plymouth Brethren are well known for the doctrinal system which they believed to have “restored,” known as Dispensationalism/Premillennialism. Dispensationalism is the determination of different periods of time in the history of God’s involvement with humanity, called “dispensations1.” To the Dispensationalists, there are three main periods:
- The Mosaic Law
- The Time of Grace
- The Millennial Kingdom2
These can be further broken down into seven dispensations:
- Innocence (the Garden)
- Conscience (between Adam and Noah)
- Government (Noah to Abraham; so named because of the determination of eating meat and the “death penalty” in Genesis 9:5-6)
- Promise (Abraham to Moses on Sinai)
- Law (Moses to Christ)
- Grace (Christ to the Millennial Kingdom)
- Millennial Kingdom (1,000 year reign of Christ in Jerusalem)3
The dispensational theology further says that its system shows God’s progressive development in His dealings with mankind and that God will deal with not only the church but also Israel in the end times4.
Dispensationalism goes hand in hand with premillennialism, for dispensationalism attempts to show God’s plan through the ages which will reach a climax in the millennial kingdom; premillennialism attempts to explain exactly how we will reach this “millennial kingdom.” Dispensationalism requires the premillennial theology in order to exist: specifically, the idea that we must interpret all prophecy literally, and then direct it to concern the “end times.” We will see in our study of premillennialism that many of these prophecies have already been fulfilled, and the literal use of some of the prophetic language of the Bible is not consistent with other truths described in Scripture. We surely agree that there have been different covenants made by God with man in history, notably with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Christ. Since then, the Scriptures demonstrate that God’s judgment will take place in a day (cf. Acts 17:30, 2 Peter 3:7-10), we will see that the idea of a literal, physical “millennial kingdom” is not in harmony with the Scriptures.
Premillennialism is a doctrine that was purportedly “restored” by John Darby, one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren. It has since grown in popularity, and the majority of those in the Evangelical movement adhere to its tenets. “Premillennialism” means “before a thousand years,” and it refers to the belief that we are currently living in the period before Christ returns to reign for a thousand years on earth. The premillennial system of belief, however, tends to go beyond the mere belief in a thousand-year period to come. Premillennialists have developed a belief system concerning the “end times,” or the period of time just before the coming of Christ to establish said kingdom, by adapting Old Testament and New Testament prophecies to fit within the frame of the Revelation, all of which are taken “literally5“.
Premillennialists believe that there will be a period of seven years just before the millennial kingdom known as the “tribulation,” when the judgments of God as seen in the Revelation will be fulfilled literally6. The premillennialists believe that the church will be “raptured,” or taken up to be with Christ, at some point during this period; it is internally debated whether it will be before the Tribulation, in the middle of it, or at its conclusion7. Finally, they believe that Christ will return and establish His millennial kingdom on earth, at the conclusion of which all evildoers will be thrown into the lake of fire and the righteous will live in the “new Jerusalem” as described in Revelation 21:1-22:68. Is this belief system in harmony with the Scriptures? Let us examine the tenets of premillennialism.
Premillennialism = Literal Teaching?
That dispensational premillennialism represents the “literal” understanding of Biblical prophecy is one of its foundational principles9. Others, in their view, have “allegorized” the prophecies, leading to apostasy10. Is this an accurate analysis?
It should be noted here that premillennialism is not a belief system that takes every prophecy concerning the end of time literally. We have two Scriptures which speak concerning the return of Christ, and neither is accepted literally according to the premillennial perspective: Acts 17:30-31 and 2 Peter 3:10:
“The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
Premillennialists hold to the belief that the “day of the Lord” as described in these two passages is not a literal 24-hour period, but rather the time of the tribulation, God’s judgments upon the earth11. Why can this period not be a 24-hour period as we recognize a “day?” If this were so, it would completely uproot the whole premillennialist belief in the tribulation period and the millennial kingdom, so they allegorize the term “day” in Acts 17:31 and 2 Peter 3:10.
Therefore, it is evident that premillennialists consciously determine which Scriptures they will interpret literally and which ones they will interpret symbolically or allegorically in order to fit their belief system. As we will see, there are other ways of looking at Scriptures concerning Christ’s return that by no means necessitate the premillennial system of belief.
Another founding premise of premillennial theology is the literal rendering of prophecy, using the following guideline:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise12.
We certainly agree that as often as possible, the literal meaning of a text should be used; however, the premillennialists have missed an important criterion: we should read the text so that it is in harmony with the text as a whole. Many times, if we were to interpret all texts literally, we would have a contradiction: a good example was used previously, with the “day of the Lord” in Acts 17:30 and 2 Peter 3:9 versus the “millennial kingdom” of Revelation 20:4. In these situations, then, how are we to understand what to interpret literally and what to interpret symbolically/allegorically?
For our considerations dealing with Christ’s return, we must understand that God has used prophetic language since the days of old to communicate the events of the future. We can recognize that much prophetic language, especially in an eschatological context, is language full of symbolism and allegory used to help facilitate the understanding of future events in a way not immediately obvious. Even the premillennialists understand this use of prophetic language, since many of the figures of the Revelation require non-literal interpretation. An example is the first horseman of Revelation 6:2:
And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon had a bow; and there was given unto him a crown: and he came forth conquering, and to conquer.
Does this mean that there will appear a man on a white horse with a bow and a crown conquering? By no means! The language used demonstrates to us that this individual will be given authority to conquer. The question, therefore, is not whether we interpret prophetic language literally or figuratively, but how we understand the referent of the language.
Probably the best text to use to demonstrate the differences between literal and prophetic language is Acts 2:16-21:
“But this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘And it shall be in the last days,’ saith God, ‘I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: yea and on My servants and on My handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'”
Peter is quoting Joel 2:28-32 here; we will be discussing this verse below as it pertains to the arguments of the premillennialists. We see, however, that Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit as seen in Acts 2:4, says that “this,” the apostles speaking in the tongues of those present, “is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel.” If we accept the literal words of Peter, we must believe that the whole of what is quoted from Joel was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. It may be said, however, that the sun did not turn to darkness, nor the moon to blood on that day, and literally, this is true. If we were to take the literal rendering of this whole text, we would have a contradiction indeed. Yet, there is prophetic language full of imagery here: the darkening of the sun and the moon into blood can refer to the fall of kingdoms and the destruction of rulers, and one can see that the preaching of Jesus as Lord and Christ establishes His Kingdom on earth above all others. Therefore, in our study of prophecy, we should always strive to recognize when figurative language is used, and at what level that language must be interpreted.
The Nature of Prophecy
Another distinction within prophecy must be made before the discussion of the premillennialist view of prophecy. We must understand that predictive prophecy takes on two forms within the Scriptures: prophecy by word and prophecy by sign/vision. Prophecy by word is exactly that, when one prophecies or receives revelation by word. The Scriptures abound in examples of these, including the “Olivet Discourse” of Matthew 24:1-25:46, Acts 17:30, 2 Peter 3:9-11, and as an Old Testament example, Daniel 11:1-45. These prophecies are somewhat easier to interpret, for we can look at the events of history and to events in the future and see what historical/future events would most closely parallel with the language presented by these prophets. Daniel 11:1-45 is a good example: Daniel comforts king Darius of Persia concerning the kings that will rule after him (Daniel 11:1); the rest of the chapter is devoted to the kings ruling after Darius. We can look back into history and see the fulfillment of all of these prophecies, from the kings of Persia to Alexander the Great to the kings of Seleucia and Egypt.
Prophecy by sign/vision is more difficult to follow. These prophecies come about when God shows a sign or gives a vision to a prophet, sometimes with explanation, sometimes not. These prophecies require more interpretation than the prophecies by word, for the signs and the vision require deeper analysis. The vision in Daniel 7:1-14 of the four beasts is a good example; we do not doubt that Daniel literally saw the four beasts, but no one would assert that we are to expect the four beasts coming out of the water to be a historical event. This vision is explained in Daniel 7:15-28, which helps to alleviate doubt about the meaning of the vision.
Another relevant example of this type of prophecy is the Revelation given to John. We do not doubt that John was given a vision of heaven with the four beasts and the twenty-four elders, and all the rest of the visions given to him. Does this mean, however, that we are to interpret these things literally, that there are literally four beasts in heaven along with twenty-four elders, and the whole of Revelation is a glimpse of actual historical events? This would not be consistent with the rest of prophecies given by signs and visions.
Having established these matters, let us now examine some of the prophecies used by premillennialists and their interpretation.
Old Testament Prophecy
Premillennialists will often use some of the Old Testament prophecies and assign them to the “end times.” Let us examine some of these prophecies now.
Daniel 2: The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar
Premillennialists use the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel’s interpretation of it to describe the tribulation period and the millennial kingdom13. Is this an accurate way of interpreting this passage?
Here are the portions of the text in question, Daniel 2:31-35, 40-45:
“Thou, O king, sawest, and, behold, a great image. This image, which was mighty, and whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the aspect thereof was terrible. As for this image, its head was of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of brass, its legs of iron, its feet part of iron, and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon its feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them in pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken in pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, so that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”
“And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things; and as iron that crusheth all these, shall it break in pieces and crush. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron doth not mingle with clay. And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.”
It is generally acknowledged that the gold refers to Babylon, the silver to Persia, the bronze to Greece, and the iron to Rome, yet there is disagreement on the iron mixed with clay. The premillennialists believe that the kingdom of the iron mixed with clay will be a democracy in the future, at the time in which the end shall come14. Does this interpretation fit the text?
If we look at the interpretation itself, some clues are given. It is notable to see that each kingdom is given a distinct metal: gold is for Babylon, silver for Persia, bronze for Greece, iron for Rome…and then “iron mixed with clay.” Daniel does not call it “another” kingdom, but a “divided” kingdom. Furthermore, all of the kingdoms that are listed exist one after another in direct succession: the Persians overthrow the Babylonians, who are themselves overturned by the Greeks, who are finally dethroned by the Romans. There is no mention of a separation between the times of any kingdom, and yet we are to believe that there is a 1,600+ year separation between the “iron” Rome and the “iron mixed with clay” of later times?
Finally, concerning the kingdom established after the time of the “iron mixed with clay,” we are told by Daniel that this kingdom will last forever (Daniel 2:44), yet the millennial kingdom is just that: a millennium. A much more sound interpretation that fits the events that Daniel describes would be that the “iron” kingdom refers to the Roman Republic and the “iron mixed with clay” refers to the Roman Empire, whose internal strength was always compromised by the tension among the emperor, army, senate, and subjects. During this period, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, was born, and He established a kingdom that will last forever and one that is far greater than any kingdom created by man.
Daniel 7: The Beasts
Daniel 7:1-8, 15-28 is another passage referred to by the premillennialists to demonstrate the “end times”:
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream and told the sum of the matters. Daniel spake and said,
“I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of heaven brake forth upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon two feet as a man; and a man’s heart was given to it. And, behold, another beast, a second, like to a bear; and it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and, lo, another, like a leopard, which had upon its back four wings of a bird; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was grieved in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things. These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was diverse from all of them, exceeding terrible, whose teeth were of iron, and its nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet; and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, and before which three fell, even that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake great things, whose look was more stout than its fellows. I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And as for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise: and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings. And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High; and he shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and half a time. But the judgment shall be set, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High: his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts much troubled me, and my countenance was changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.”
There is not much discussion over the first three beasts, nor really the beginning of the fourth; they represent the same kingdoms as did the statues of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The premillennialists believe, however, that the little horn that comes from the fourth beast is the Antichrist15. Is this consistent with the text?
The most accurate way of placing this prophecy within a temporal context can be seen in Daniel 7:9-14:
“I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit: his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and the wheels thereof burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld at that time because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld even till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and it was given to be burned with fire. And as for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
We have already seen from Daniel 2:31-45 that the future of the world could not possibly be complete without the mention of Jesus and His Kingdom, represented in Roman times. Therefore, in a parallel account in Daniel 7:1-28, why should we expect any less? This kingdom, as with the one in Daniel 2, will last forever: how, then, can it refer to a thousand-year kingdom? The Kingdom in Daniel 7:9-27 is no different from the kingdom in Daniel 2:31-45: Christ’s spiritual kingdom, manifested on earth by His church. Knowing this, that the fourth beast and all of its outgrowths come before Christ does, we can be sure that the ten-horned beast represents Rome, most probably the Roman Republic, and thus the “little horn” perhaps the emperor of the Roman Empire, who would become a great persecutor of the truth in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, as the text indicates, the “one like a son of man” must come up to Heaven to receive the Kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14), not to “go down” to receive it on earth. Daniel 7:1-28 is an important text in regards to the first advent of Christ and His vindication in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem; therefore, there is neither need nor contextual ability to assign the role of the “little horn” to the supposed “Antichrist” of the “end times.”
Daniel 9: The Duration of Israel
Daniel 9:20-27 is one of the two pivotal prophecies of the premillennialists outside of the Revelation. Daniel 9:24-27 supposedly gives the “time frame” of the tribulation and the end times: the “seventieth week” at the beginning of this period with the Antichrist’s pact with Israel for the latter to build a third temple, leading to the violation of that pact in the middle of the period16:
“Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed one, the prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: it shall be built again, with street and moat, even in troubled times. And after the threescore and two weeks shall the anointed one be cut off, and shall have nothing: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and even unto the end shall be war; desolations are determined. And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate.”
When we examine this prophecy, we must first recognize to what this prophecy refers, and our answer is in Daniel 9:24: “your people and your holy city.” This without doubt refers to the Jews and Jerusalem, respectively; thus, the prophecy relates to the future of the Jews and Jerusalem. “Seventy weeks” have been given for them to finish their iniquity; in the Hebrew, the term “weeks” is literally “sevens,” so “seventy sevens” have been given. What does this mean?
“Seven” was understood to be the number of perfection or completion. “Seventy sevens” seems to be an indefinite period. This is used by Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22 to explain the need for forgiveness:
Then came Peter and said to him, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?”
Jesus saith unto him, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.”
Would anyone declare that Jesus is telling us to forgive our brother only 490 times in this passage? Yet we are to understand that the “seventy sevens” of Daniel 9:24-27 are literal? It is evident from the Scriptures that this “seventy sevens” refers to an indefinite period of time in which all things will be completed.
We see that this period of “seventy sevens” is broken down further: there are “seven sevens” until the Temple is rebuilt, and then “sixty-two sevens” until the Messiah will come. Premillennialists will point to history to show that the Temple was rebuilt in forty-nine years, yet their evidence is that since all the rest of prophecy was fulfilled, this one must have been also17. This circular logic proves nothing; we can be sure that the Temple was rebuilt in the first section, deemed “complete,” the “seven sevens.” The “sixty-two sevens” refers to the period between the Temple and Christ, as universally admitted. The premillennialists then say that there is a significant gap of time and then the “one week” will be initiated by the Antichrist signing a pact with the Jews18. Is this consistent with the text?
We see that the first sixty-nine “sevens” are in order. We are not told of any temporal separation between the events of the first “sixty-nine sevens” and the “one week” of Daniel 9:27. The most significant evidence will be discussed in more detail later, but is seen in the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:15:
“When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that readeth understand).”
We thus can say that whatever Jesus is discussing in Matthew 24:1-36, this is what the abomination of desolation will be. Our study below will show conclusively that the topic of conversation in Matthew 24:1-36 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which included the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the Mosaic Temple cult. This period of time truly does allow the Jews “to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy,” as declared by Gabriel in Daniel 9:24.
Daniel 11: Historical Prophecy
Premillennialists also use Daniel 11:1-45 to provide prophecy concerning the “Antichrist,” specifically, Daniel 11:36-45:
And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods; and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the gods of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above all. But in his place shall he honor the god of fortresses; and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honor with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. And he shall deal with the strongest fortresses by the help of a foreign god: whosoever acknowledgeth him he will increase with glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for a price. And at the time of the end shall the king of the south contend with him; and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass through. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries; and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him; and he shall go forth with great fury to destroy and utterly to sweep away many. And he shall plant the tents of his palace between the sea and the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
Premillennialists believe that these verses refer to the Antichrist and his desire to have people worship him and a “world war” in the middle of the tribulation19. Is this in harmony with the text?
In order to understand Daniel 11:1-45, we must see first to whom it is directed, and this is said in Daniel 11:1:
And as for me, in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him.
Daniel is speaking to Darius, attempting to “confirm and strengthen him;” essentially, Daniel is letting Darius know that he will rule over a prosperous empire, and so will some of his descendants.
Then, Daniel begins his discussion in Daniel 11:2-4:
And now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and when he is waxed strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece. And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion wherewith he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides these.
Daniel speaks of the final kings of the Persian Empire, and its fall to Alexander the Great. He then goes on to relate the death of Alexander and the distribution of his empire amongst his four generals, of whom Ptolemy and Seleucus concern us.
Now Daniel focuses in on the future of the area around Israel in Daniel 11:5-6:
And the king of the south shall be strong, and one of his princes; and he shall be strong above him, and have dominion; his dominion shall be a great dominion. And at the end of years they shall join themselves together; and the daughter of the king of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement: but she shall not retain the strength of her arm; neither shall he stand, nor his arm; but she shall be given up, and they that brought her, and he that begat her, and he that strengthened her in those times.
Here we are introduced to the “king of the south” and the “king of the north,” who will occupy the rest of the discussion in Daniel 11:7-45. The “king of the south” refers to Ptolemy and his descendants on the throne of Egypt; these rulers were powerful and often exerted much influence over the areas to the north. The “king of the north” refers to Seleucus and his descendants, the Seleucid rulers of Syria. The history of the power transfers between these groups is discussed in the body of Daniel 11:7-45; the king under discussion in Daniel 11:36-45 is Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Seleucia. From Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century CE, we learn that this Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Jerusalem and plundered the temple, designed to destroy the Jews, and did act most impiously, sacrificing swine on the altar in the Temple20. It was at this time that the Maccabees revolted against the rule of the Seleucids, and were successful; thus, this Antiochus makes a fitting end to Daniel’s comfort of Darius, for he has prophesied the future of the foreign rulers of the land of Israel until they would rule themselves again.
The account of Josephus concerning Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the record in Daniel about this “king of the north” coincide greatly. We can see that the context of Daniel 11:1-45 does not facilitate a gap in time between the actions of the same “king of the north” of over 2000 years, and since we have historical witness consistent with the events described by Daniel, we have no need to look any further than Antiochus Epiphanes to see our final “king of the north” over the Jews.
Joel 2: The Gift of the Holy Spirit
The premillennialists will often quote Joel 2:28-32 in reference to the “end times:”
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD cometh. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, as the LORD hath said, and among the remnant those whom the LORD doth call.
The premillennialists say that Joel speaks partially on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-48 and more completely as the giving of the Spirit upon the evangelists of the tribulation period21. Is this what the Scriptures teach?
There should be no question about this prophecy and its fulfillment. Peter says the following in Acts 2:16-21:
“But this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: Yea and on My servants and on My handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'”
Peter here says definitively that “this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel” (emphasis mine; Acts 2:16). If we follow the text “literally” as the premillennialists say we must, then it is evident that the whole of the prophecy was fulfilled.
Against this it is said that none of the signs in heaven and on earth were seen on the day of Pentecost. While it is true that they were not literally seen, Peter does say that the day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of this prophecy. In this scenario, we have three possible answers to accept:
- Peter was not accurate when he said that “this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel.”
- Peter quoted too much of Joel.
- The day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32, with the signs in heaven and earth being fulfilled in a symbolic way.
If we accept the Bible as inspired and inerrant, the only choice we can take is number three. It is sometimes seen that the sun turning to darkness is a sign of a change of power, and the moon turning to blood represents the destruction of a kingdom. These things can be seen, especially considering the language of Daniel 2:31-45 and 7:9-28 above, as the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom, which was certainly on the day of Pentecost.
Peter demonstrated the referent of the prophecy, and that should be the end of it. There is absolutely no need to have Joel 2:28-32 refer to the “tribulation soul harvest.”
Malachi 4: Elijah
It is argued by premillennialists that the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6 concerning the return of Elijah corresponds to the witnesses of God in Revelation 11:1322. They argue that this cannot be John the Baptist, as the Scripture says, because John himself said that he was not23. Let us examine Malachi 4:5-6 and John 1:21:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
And they asked him, “What then? Art thou Elijah?”
And he saith, “I am not.”
“Art thou the prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
Does this mean, then, that John the Baptist is not Elijah? We have the witness of Jesus in Matthew 11:13-14:
“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, that is to come.”
Are we to reject the words of Jesus because of the humility of John? We must accept Jesus’ words; therefore, let us declare that John the Baptist was the Elijah of Malachi 4:5-6, lest we be guilty of rejecting the words of God.
New Testament Prophecies
The premillennialists also discuss many New Testament prophecies in connection with the “end times.” Let us examine these prophecies now.
Matthew 24-25: The “Olivet Discourse”
Matthew 24:1-25:41 is the “backbone” of premillennial theology. It is called the Olivet Discourse, since it takes place on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem. The premillennialists consider it to be the outline of the happenings of the end times: deception, war, tribulation, and finally, the return of Christ24. Is this what Jesus is saying?
Let us examine first the text of Matthew 24:4-36:
And Jesus answered and said unto them, “Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ;’ and shall lead many astray. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places. But all these things are the beginning of travail. Then shall they deliver you up unto tribulation, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all the nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many stumble, and shall deliver up one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold. But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come. When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that readeth understand), then let them that are in Judaea flee unto the mountains: let him that is on the housetop not go down to take out things that are in his house: and let him that is in the field not return back to take his cloak. But woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on a sabbath: for then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ,’ or, ‘Here;’ believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand. If therefore they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west; so shall be the coming of the Son of man. Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; even so ye also, when ye see all these things, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.”
What, then, are we to do with this prophecy? Our first goal is to recognize what Jesus is discussing. In the account in Matthew, the discussion begins as follows, in Matthew 24:1-3:
And Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way; and his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. But he answered and said unto them, “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
The disciples ask Jesus two questions: when and with what signs will the Temple be destroyed, and the nature of the end of the world. How can we be sure about these being the two questions? We see the parallel passage in Mark 13:1-4:
And as he went forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, “Teacher, behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings!”
And Jesus said unto him, “Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down.”
And as he sat on the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?”
The rest of the passage in Mark 13:5-37 parallels almost exactly Matthew 24:4-36. The same is true for the account in Luke, Luke 21:5-36. The premillennialists focus on the last question in Matthew concerning the “end times,” but nothing of the sort is mentioned in Mark and Luke! Therefore, we can conclude by textual evidence that the questions concerning Jesus and the signs of the destruction of the Temple comprise Matthew 24:1-41, and when we examine the historical accounts of the destruction of Jerusalem, especially from Josephus, we see the fulfillment of these prophecies. We will find that Jesus discusses preparation for the coming trials in 70 CE and in the future for His return in Matthew 24:42-25:30, and gives us a full picture of the Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. Indeed, this story is vastly different from the picture portrayed in premillennialism!
This demonstrates clearly the error of premillennialism: the tribulation, the witness of the Gospel to the whole world, and the false Christs do not belong to the “end times,” but to 33-70 CE; furthermore, the “abomination of desolation” of Daniel 9:24-27 is also fulfilled in this event, therefore, the “one week” of Daniel 9:27 is not the “Antichrist” signing a pact with Israel, nor does the Temple need to be rebuilt in the future. Therefore, the whole structure of the premillennial viewpoint has no basis in Scriptural fact.
2 Thessalonians 2: The “Man of Sin”
The premillennialists also use 2 Thessalonians 2 to represent the deeds of the Antichrist, described by Paul as the “man of sin25.” Let us examine the text, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12:
Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Is Paul speaking of the Antichrist in this passage? It is highly doubtful, since Paul says that the mystery of this lawlessness was already in action at the time of the writing of the letter (2 Thessalonians 2:7); it is difficult to believe that the man has not yet been revealed after well over 1,900 years. It may refer to a series of individuals perverting the truth since the time of the Apostles, and we can think of many that thus have done. This seems to be more consistent with the suggestion of the passage: this perdition had originated in the first century CE, and we are still here over nineteen centuries later with similar perdition still around us.
Revelation: Cornerstone of Prophecy
The Revelation of Jesus Christ to His Apostle John is the primary and foundational text used by those advocating premillennialism. It is not my desire to examine all of the different signs and visions in Revelation and examine the various interpretations of them; Revelation is a work that each individual must study and arrive at his or her own conclusions. It is necessary, however, to examine portions of the Revelation that we can gauge their meaning with accuracy.
The Revelation begins with Revelation 1:1-3:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John; who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand.
The Revelation also ends on a similar note in Revelation 22:6-7, 12, 20:
And he said unto me, “These words are faithful and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angels to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass. And behold, I come quickly.” Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book.
“Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is.”
He who testifieth these things saith, “Yea: I come quickly.” Amen: come, Lord Jesus.
Here we have the declaration, five times, that the things discussed in the Revelation were to “shortly come to pass.” One may quibble over how “short” time must be to be qualified as “shortly,” yet according to premillennialism, the time has not yet arrived for these things to begin. It is very difficult to believe that 2,000+ years can be considered as a “short” time. The idea that the Revelation would begin shortly does coincide with a more historical understanding of the Revelation.
A fundamental problem with the premillennial view of Revelation involves its placement within the New Testament. It would seem, from the way that premillennialists interpret Revelation, that Revelation stands out in marked contrast to the rest of the inspired writings. Are we really to believe that the humble Savior of the World, who strove to promote peace and well-doing both during His earthly ministry and afterward (cf. Matthew 5:21-58, Romans 12:14-21), all of a sudden acts like a despotic ruler?
When such a viewpoint portrays Revelation entirely apart from the rest of the New Testament, we should give pause. More telling is that within Revelation, Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb” throughout the majority of the book, represented as the “Lion of Judah” but once (Revelation 5:5; yet cf. Revelation 5:6). Does a story of great violence correspond with the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God?
Any likely reading of Revelation will complement the rest of the New Testament, not stand against it. John is writing concerning the revelations Jesus gave to him to the seven churches of Asia Minor in the late first century; to truly understand Revelation in context, then, we should seek to understand how the vision would provide comfort and understanding to persecuted Christians of the first century. When viewed in this light, the premillennial interpretation falls flat.
There are many other difficulties with the premillennial view of Revelation:
The “seven churches”: Many premillennialists believe that the “seven churches” of Revelation refer to those churches and also as the “seven periods” of church history. They believe that the “Ephesian Age” was from 30-100, “Smyrna” from 100-312, “Pergamum” from 312-606, “Thyatira” from 606-present, “Sardis” from 1520-present, “Philadelphia” from 1750-present, and “Laodicea” from 1900-present26. They believe that the commendation and condemnation of each church also represents a portion of church history, the positives and negatives of each27.
This philosophy flies completely in the face of the whole belief of premillennialism, that Scripture must be read at its literal level. Furthermore, while the connection may be able to be made generally, it cannot stick completely: who wants to declare that the churches of Thessalonica and Philippi had “left their first love” because they were in the Ephesian Age? Is it not rather convenient that the age of the Philadelphian church happened to coincide with the Evangelical movement? If the periods were so well-determined, how come the last four still exist?
In the end, we must see that there are applications of the “seven churches” beyond the seven specific churches mentioned. We have said before that the number seven represents completion; it makes much sense to say that the situations within the seven churches are the situations which churches will deal with. If we honestly examine any congregation, we will be able to place it within the context of one of the seven churches to which John writes. To go further and dictate that the seven churches represent historical periods is subjective and a demonstration of unsound exegesis.
The church in Revelation: Premillennialists help support their theory on the rapture, discussed below, by showing that the church is never referred to in the book of Revelation after chapter 328. Corresponding to that, they then say that the Jewish nation is under discussion for the rest of the book due to the extensive use of terms referring to the Jews29. Is this a valid assertion?
If we examine the New Testament, we will often see language that was once used to refer to the Jews redefined to refer to Christians. We see this in James 1:1:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion, greeting.
Will we say that James is addressing the Jews, and the whole book is not of value to Christians? By no means! He uses language of the “chosen people” to refer to the “chosen people” of his time.
We further have Romans 2:28-29 and Philippians 3:3:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
Paul here shows that we are a part of the chosen people of God, the “true circumcision” (cf. also Galatians 4:21-31, Galatians 6:16), and thus as “Jews” or “Israel”.
Therefore, we can see clearly that the Revelation can speak of the church and its members using the language that once referred to physical Israel and now refers to the spiritual Israel, the Church of Christ. God’s dealings with physical Israel were irreparably ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, seen in Daniel 9:24-27; His only dealings are with those who have called upon the name of His Son.
Futurist interpretation: The premillennialists believe that all of the events of the Revelation will occur in the future30. They base this on Revelation 1:19:
“Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter.”
John here is surely commanded to write the following:
- “which you have seen”: the Revelation so far, the lampstands and the Christ
- “things which are”: the status of the seven churches in Asia, present reality
- “things which shall come to pass hereafter”: the events of the future
The question must be, therefore, “when is hereafter?” The only answer possible is the period of time after John. As we have seen above, John said that the events of the Revelation were to “shortly come to pass”; therefore, it is most feasible to examine the text of Revelation as a series of events, many of which have already occurred, with final stages yet to occur.
The book of Revelation, therefore, does not support the main premillennial doctrines.
Premillennialism teaches that there will be three resurrections, the first for the saints of the “church age,” which will be raptured according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-1831:
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
They also suggest that the second resurrection is for the Old Testament saints, according to Daniel 12:1-232:
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
In this system, the final resurrection is for the “tribulation saints,” which is inferred from Revelation 6:9-11, 20:4, in which these “saints” are told, supposedly, to wait to be resurrected, but are resurrected before the millennium33.
Further, there is a second distinction made with the resurrections, the resurrection of the believers and the resurrection of the unbelievers, termed the “first” and the “second” resurrections, the second of which is seen in Revelation 20:7-1534:
And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.
Are these teachings in accordance with the Scriptures?
First of all, let it be said that there are no Scriptures that speak of the “resurrection” of the “tribulation saints;” it is inferred from “evidence” within Revelation. We have seen from Matthew 24:1-36 that the tribulation that the premillennialists speak of is not even in the proper time setting. Daniel 12:1-2 is perhaps the most concrete Old Testament referent to the resurrection; its phraseology, in fact, conforms to the view that there will be one resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, along with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. We see further proof of this in John 5:28-29:
“Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.”
How can one say that there will be two resurrections, one for the “believing,” and one for the “unbelieving,” when Jesus says quite clearly that the “hour” will come in which the good have the “resurrection of life” and the evil have the “resurrection of judgment?”
We have further evidence in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
According to these accounts, we will rise when Christ returns and we shall be changed. This is the Scriptural “rapture,” the term favored by the premillennialists; it will not be people shedding even their clothes to be with Christ in the air, but the transformation of the corruptible body into the incorruptible, as seen in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. At that one resurrection, all will be resurrected, and the Judgment following will take place. The concept of three resurrections of believers and one for the unbelievers is not in harmony with the teachings of the Scriptures.
Premillennialism teaches that there are three judgments: the first comes at the rapture, when Christ will judge those who have been raptured according to 2 Corinthians 5:1035:
For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Premillennial doctrine declares the second judgment is Christ’s judgment of nations at the “Glorious Appearing,” seen supposedly in Matthew 25:31-4636. The third and final judgment is for the unbelievers, according to Revelation 20:11-1537:
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.
Will there be three judgments? Let us examine the Scriptures.
The concept of three judgments is necessitated by the four resurrections of the premillennialist system. The three texts quoted above represent one single judgment:
2 Corinthians 5:10: at the Judgment, “all” will be recompensed for their deeds in the body: where is the qualifier that shows definitively that only Christians will appear before this seat, especially when Jesus makes the same type of statement in Matthew 16:27?
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds.
Matthew 25:31-46: This is the definitive text for the Judgment. Is Christ literally judging nations, or is He judging the members of all nations? In the text itself, the qualification of righteousness versus unrighteousness is the assistance of those in need: is this done collectively or individually? Christ says above in Matthew 16:27 that every man will be judged according to his deeds. Matthew 25:31-46 is in complete harmony with this: Christ will judge every man according to his deeds. The fact that He will gather all nations demonstrates clearly that there is one judgment, not many.
Revelation 20:11-15: This text can be seen as quite similar to the scene in Matthew 25:31-46, with the book of life representing the judgment of Christ. The text itself says that “every one of them were judged according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:13), the same language of Matthew 16:27. The language of Revelation 20:15 is to be noted also: the fact that it is a conditional (if anyone’s name was not found…thrown into the lake of fire), and is not causal (since their names were not found…thrown into the lake of fire). If this judgment is to condemn all unbelievers, why is the conditional used? This is not consistent with the textual evidence.
We are also told the following about the Judgment in Acts 17:30-31 and 2 Peter 3:9-11:
“The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; wherof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
These verses also clearly point to a singular judgment in one day, wherein all will be judged according to their deeds and the earth and heavens will be destroyed.
As there is no need to have four resurrections, there is no need to have three judgments. If the “rapture” and the “glorious appearing” are really a part of the same event, the return of Christ to judge the world, there is simply no need for more than one judgment. 2 Corinthians 5:10, Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20:11-15, and many other Scriptures all refer to the same event which will happen in the future.
The Nature of Christ’s Kingdom
The fundamental principle of premillennialism, as exhibited in its name, is the belief in the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth. This belief is based in a reading of Revelation 20:1-638:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Does this mean that Christ will return to Earth and rule for a thousand years? Let us examine the complete body of Scripture to see if it is so.
Christ spoke much about His Kingdom; almost every parable He spoke related to that Kingdom. He does speak about its existence, nature, and inauguration. We hear of this Kingdom in Luke 17:20-21:
And being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, ‘Lo, here!’ or, ‘there!’ for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.”
We are told more about this Kingdom in John 18:36:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
It is spoken of in terms of a present reality in Colossians 1:13:
Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.
This is the same Kingdom prophesied of by Daniel in Daniel 2:44 and 7:14:
And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
This Kingdom was instituted on the day of Pentecost, prophesied by Joel in Joel 2:31-32 and confirmed by Peter in Acts 2:20-21:
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We can see clearly the nature of this Kingdom: it is spiritual, it is everlasting, and it exists today. There is a sense in which, of course, the Kingdom is not yet present, since Christ has not yet returned in Judgment and returned the rule back to His Father (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28), yet the future aspect of the Kingdom in no way necessitates the premillennialist view. Furthermore, how can a kingdom described as “everlasting” be construed to fit a period of 1,000 years? The only conclusion that we are able to make with the Scriptures supporting us is that the 1,000 years of Revelation 20:1-6 refers to a general period of time of considerable length. The Kingdom is at hand; the only thing left to be done is the final Judgment of God of all men, believer and unbeliever together, the final separation of the wheat and the tares, the former entering eternal life, the latter, eternal punishment. In a sense, the truth about the “millennium” and the “end times” is that we are in the “millennium” and the “end times,” for we know not when Jesus will return to judge the world. Such illustrates the real danger of premillennialism: many are deceived into thinking that there will be future chances in this “tribulation” period when Jesus clearly demonstrates that at His return there will be no more chances, clearly seen in Matthew 25:1-12:
“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For the foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there is a cry,
‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him.’
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, ‘Give us of your oil; for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise answered, saying, ‘Peradventure there will not be enough for us and you: go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.’
And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’
But he answered and said, ‘Verily I say unto you, I know you not.’
Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour.”
Let us be constantly diligent in our service to God, expecting His return at any moment (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10)!
- In the Last Days…
- In the Last Days…
- Interpreting the Bible: Literal vs. Figurative Language
- Introducing Revelation
- It’s (Not) the End of the World as We Know It, Since Everyone’s Still Here
- The Judgment
- Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia
- The Nature of the Kingdom
- Popular Beliefs: Premillennialism, Part I: Introduction and Issues
- Popular Beliefs: Premillennialism, Part II: Old Testament and Gospels
- Popular Beliefs: Premillennialism, Part III: New Testament Epistles and Revelation
- The Resurrection
- The Resurrection of the Body
- Revelation and the Mark of the Beast
- The Seven Seals
- The Throne and the Lamb in Heaven
- Understanding Prophecy
1: From http://www.dispensationalism.com
5: Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, pp. 9, 12-13, 18 [It should be noted that Tim LaHaye is not a member of the Plymouth Brethren, but is acknowledged as a spokesperson for the premillenialist belief system] 6: Ibid., pp. 135-136, 138-139, 141
7: Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?, pp. 106-112
8: Ibid., pp. 234, 244-245, 249; Revelation Unveiled, p. 357 9: Are We Living in the End Times?, p. 6
10: Ibid., p. 238
11: Revelation Unveiled, p. 344
12: Dr. David L. Cooper, qt. in Are We Living in the End Times?, p. 5
13: Ibid., pp. 130, 162, 164
14: Ibid., p. 164
15: Ibid., p. 166
16: Ibid., pp. 122, 127, 277; Revelation Unveiled, pp. 136, 139
17: Ibid., p. 135
18: Ibid., p. 139
19: Ibid., p. 201, 210
20: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13.8.2
21: Revelation Unveiled, p. 151; Are We Living in the End Times?, pp. 308-309
22: Revelation Unveiled, p. 186
24: Are We Living in the End Times?, pp. 29-43
25: Revelation Unveiled, pp. 210, 215
26: Ibid., pp. 24, 35-36
28: Ibid., p. 100
30: Ibid., p. 21
31: Ibid., p. 325
32: Ibid., p. 326
34: Ibid., p. 328
35: Are We Living in the End Times?, p. 102
36: Ibid., p. 103
37: Ibid., p. 250
38: Ibid., pp. 235-236