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Historic Premillennialism

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by Alan Bandy

In the earliest period after the apostles, most of the discussions on the end-times focused on the nature of the future Kingdom of Christ when he comes to inaugurate 1,000 years of ruling with the resurrected saints on Earth based on Rev. 20:1-6.

The belief in a literal 1,000-year earthly reign of Christ to be realized at some point in the future is called chiliasm—from the Greek word for a thousand. The vast majority of interpreters during the second and third centuries were chiliasts. Their literalistic interpretation of Rev 20:1-6, however, was eclipsed by more allegorical and spiritual approaches emphasizing the timeless and successive fulfillment of these prophecies throughout church history.

In modern times, the premillennial position enjoys pride of place among most evangelical Christians, which affirms a futurist approach for interpreting the Book of Revelation that views chapters 4–22 as referring to future events. Not all premillennialists, however, agree as to how Revelation portrays the unfolding of these future events. Therefore they usually take one of two basic forms: (1) historic premillennialism deriving from the chiliasm of the early church; and (2) dispensational premillennialism that developed during the 19th Century in Great Britain and popularized in America with the Scofield Study Bible.

I want to highlight historic premillennialism and share some of the core beliefs maintained by its proponents. Historic premillennialism has been increasingly adopted or adapted by a number of conservative evangelical and Southern Baptist scholars over the last 40 years. For a more exhaustive study, I recommend the helpful book titled A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to ‘Left Behind’ Eschatology, edited by Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung.

At the heart of historic premilliennailism is an uncompromising belief in the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible. Due to this commitment, they believe in the future fulfillment of prophecy, especially a literal, visible, glorious and victorious return of Christ to Earth at the end of the age. When Jesus returns, He will bind Satan, the saints will be raised (first resurrection), and they will reign with Christ over the nations on Earth for a millennium of peace and prosperity. At the end of this millennium, Satan will be released to allow one last attempt to rally the nations in battle against Christ—a futile effort doomed to failure and the lake of fire. The great white throne will descend, followed by a general resurrection (second resurrection) of all people who ever lived and they will all stand judgment. After the final judgment, God will create a new Heaven and new Earth, where He will dwell with His people for eternity.

Historic premillenialists affirm only one return of Christ and typically believe that the church will persevere through the tribulation. This differs from dispensationalists, who maintain that the second coming of Christ will involve a secret return for the church prior to the tribulation followed by his visible return after seven years. One reason they do not necessarily affirm the need for the pretribulation rapture is due to the reality of the new covenant that makes all believers in Jesus the spiritual descendants of Abraham and, therefore, covenant members of the people of God—true Israel (Rom. 11:1-24; Eph. 2:11-22; Gal. 3:28-29).

However, this does not mean that they deny a future hope for ethnic Israel (Rom. 11:25-32), but God’s promises include, rather than exclude, the church with His plan for Israel. What is more, they believe that the Kingdom of God has already been inaugurated with the resurrection and ascension of Christ, but is not yet fully realized on Earth. We now live between “this age” and the “age to come” in that the Kingdom is already a reality, but not yet fully consummated on Earth.

Historic premillennialism is appealing because it enables interpreters to maintain the future orientation of John’s vision, while affirming a historically sensitive approach that utilizes the best interpretative methods used today by conservative evangelical scholars. They recognize that Revelation was originally written to churches in Asia Minor at the end of the First Century, and must have had meaning for the original audience. That meaning, then, is something that would be true and applicable for all Christians as they seek to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of a satanically influenced society. The primary strength of historic premillieniallism, in my opinion, is that it treats the Book of Revelation as Scripture to be obeyed with a message that has always been relevant for the church throughout church history—both past and present.

Recommended readings:
• Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God by George Eldon Ladd
• A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Sung Wook Chung and Craig L. Blomberg, editors.

Alan S. Bandy is Rowena R. Strickland assistant professor of New Testament & Greek at Oklahoma Baptist University

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  • Carlin Lawrence

    How important is God’s Word To You?

    Do you believe that God speaks to His people? Do you believe that God is controlling the lives of people and nations? Do you believe that God cares about what happens on this earth? It is impossible for a person to say that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior and not believe that God speaks to them in His Word, the Bible. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). The constant message of the Old and New Testament is that God’s people listen to the voice of God. The only place of security for a Christian is for them to listen to the direction of Almighty God—there is no other point of security on this earth. The prophetic Word of God has many aspects to it, including showing us what we can expect for the future of this earth. But the primary purpose of the Word of God is to give us God’s perspective on how we are living our life, and how we should live our life to please Him.

    Christians sometimes use Scripture to try and get God to see our life from our perspective. “Lord, do You see the problems I am having?” But the Bible actually teaches us to learn and adopt God’s perspective for our life. Christians need to understand that God’s perspective on our life can be known. Think how powerful that can be in our everyday life! Peter tells us to pay attention to God’s prophets, as a light shinning in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19). When Jesus approached Jerusalem He wept because the Jewish religious leaders failed to recognize the tremendous suffering that was going to come upon Jerusalem because they didn’t recognize God’s perspective of them. What about you? Your attitude towards God’s Word will determine your attitude towards God. If you are indifferent about God’s Word, you will be indifferent about God Himself. If God’s Word takes second place in your life, then God has taken second place in your life—you cannot escape that fact.

    Most Christians in America sit in sanctuaries and pass judgment on the Word of God. We decide which parts are significant, and which parts are irrelevant. Many Christians look at God’s Word as a heavenly menu. We want to listen to a little bit of this topic, and a little bit of that topic, because those are the topics we are interested in. We push aside the parts we think are not relevant for today. We ignore major parts of God’s Word because we are spiritually lazy or don’t believe the total Word of God is important. By doing this we are putting ourselves in the place of authority and judging God’s Word. But don’t think for a minute that you are getting away with your irreverent attitude towards the living Word of God. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered, laid bare for the eyes of Him whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13).

    Has American Christendom come to the point that we are not hungry for God’s Word? Christians are constantly asking when the Lord is going to rapture the church out of this world. But a better question for Christians to ask themselves is where I am in relation to God’s purposes for my life? Am I being obedient to God’s will for my life? Or am I indifferent and casual towards God’s Word, and hoping God isn’t paying attention to my attitude towards Him and His Word? One of the characteristics of the writers of the New Testament letters is that they wrote and lived as if Jesus’ return was imminent—they believed that Jesus could take His church out at any moment. Living with the attitude that Jesus’ return is imminent has an enormous impact on holy living, purity of thinking, and obedience to God’s Word. Are you allowing the Word of God to open your eyes and unstop your ears, and teach you God’s ways? Or are you indifferent, casual, and lazy towards the study and teaching of God’s Word?

    Carlin Lawrence

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