Isaiah (Part 73): Problems with Premillennialism (Eschatology intro to Chs 60-66, Part 2)
As discussed last time, one of Kinship Theology’s three supporting pillars regards eschatology. Eschatology is the study of last things. Three (or four) primary eschatological systems dominate Christian thought. Premillennialism argues that Christ’s second advent will occur prior to a 1000 year time of peace and prosperity on the earth during which Jesus will reign physically here in the world. Postmillennialism promotes the idea that the Bible’s description of this time of peace and prosperity relates to the current age having gone through slow but sure transformation to a Christianized world based on the gospel successfully converting the nations of the earth through the power of the Holy Spirit prior to the return of Christ. Amillennialism equates the peace and prosperity of Scriptural description with the restored relationship of God and his covenant people during this age based on the redemption won by Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit to those of faith.
The term millennium is a Latin word meaning one thousand. It refers to the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation 20. The prefix a- in amillennialism is a Greek prefix meaning not or against. By the name, then, an amillennialist is one who does not believe in a literal 1000 year time period that is distinct from our current age (although the amillennialist does accept all the Ezekiel and Isianic description of the peace and prosperity but merely applies it differently). Of course, postmillennialists also are amillennialists in the strict sense that they do not necessarily see the golden age of peace and prosperity as lasting for a literal 1000 years. However, they still view that peace and prosperity like the premillennialists—as a visible expression of the physical world.
As I’ve mentioned before, my view agrees with the amillennialist (although I do have some minor differences with traditional amillennialism). Amillennialism, I believe, fits in best with Kinship Theology as explained in our previous discussion. For our current discussion, I am going to present ten reasons of logic as to why I disagree with the premillennial position. In other words, these are not merely ten verses that I interpret my way which can be countered by a premillennialist interpreting them another way. These are reasons that seem to me to be logical inconsistencies in the premillennarian position.
Premillennialism is actually divided into two major camps. Classic or historical premillennialism has been around for centuries—millennia, in fact. Many today may be more familiar with it by the name of post-tribulationism. This is the view that Christ does return prior to the millennium but after a future tribulation period. Dispensational premillennialism, which had some spotty support here and there prior to the 1800s, took hold as a major system of thought in the early 1800s when written about by John Darby and then promoted by Charles Scofield in his reference Bible. Traditional Dispensationalism understands human history to be divided into seven dispensations—time periods during which God interacts with humankind according to a specific primary focus that is different from his primary focuses in all other dispensations. During each dispensation God presents revelation and then tests humankind according to their acceptance and activity in regard to his revelation. Thus, we have the dispensation of innocence during the Garden of Eden period. The dispensation of conscience took place from the fall to Noah. From the flood to Abraham was the dispensation of government. The dispensation of patriarchy or promise occurred from Abraham to Moses. Then law took over until the time of Christ. Our current dispensation, between the two advents of Christ is grace (also called the Church Age). Finally, when Christ returns he will initiate the millennial kingdom for a thousand years.
Premillennialists (especially dispensationalists) insist that the main factor differentiating their system from others is their hold on a literal hermeneutic, meaning that they give “to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking” (Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p.9). Does this mean that the Bible cannot, for the dispensationalist, contain any figurative expression? No. But the literalist argues that, if figurative meaning is intended, the Bible will let us know that it is meant figuratively. And this leads us to the first of our ten problems.
#10 – Although premillennialists insist on a literal hermeneutic, certain Scriptural statements are accepted by them as being non-literal without expressed qualification.
Revelation 6:13 mentions stars falling to earth. Of course, stars can be several million times larger than the earth. Even one star falling to the earth would destroy it before it even got close. Yet these several stars fall, and the earth survives. The literalist would not want to exchange the concept of star for that of meteor because, after all, that would not be the literal “normal, ordinary, customary usage” of the word. (See, for example, 1 Cor 15:41 for how Paul uses the word in its normal, customary usage.) Thus, the literalist must, to be consistent, hold to the idea of an actual star. However, the literalist also holds to the fact of an omnipotent God. Therefore, if God has a star fall to earth, and God cares to do so, he is very well able to sustain the life of the planet no matter the size or intensity of the star. But it makes for a difficult picture. At least, however, here the premillennialist is being consistent. The star is a star, just as the 1000 years in Revelation 20 is a 1000 years.
But when we turn to Revelation 13:1, premillennialists suddenly employ a different interpretation method. In Rev 13:1, a beast with seven heads arises from the sea. Well, it seems too ridiculous to actually insist that a seven-headed beast actually does take over the world, and so premillennialists usually cast a literal interpretation aside and equate this beast with a man—the Antichrist. But where is there any direction from Scripture to do so? There is no direction from Scripture to do so. The premillennialist does so simply because it seems more logical, more fitting, more in line with other Scripture to interpret it that way.
This waffling on interpretative method is not true of the premillennialist only in understanding Revelation. Our current study is Isaiah. In Isaiah 60 (our next chapter), we will read in verse 9 of “ships of Tarshish” bringing “your children from far away.” Premillennial commenters, attempting to maintain consistency in literal hermeneutic, have written that this means when the 144,000 Israelites of Revelation 7 return to Jerusalem in the end times, they will be traveling on Spanish ships. (Tarshish is generally believed to have been located in Spain.) Yet, further in the chapter (verse 16), we read of them nursing at the breast of kings. No one, not even the most ardent premillennial literalist understands this to be literal.
Here’s the problem. You cannot insist that your system is the only true one precisely because you interpret consistently literally when at times you dismiss literal interpretation to follow the exact same method an amillennialist uses—interpretation as figurative because it aligns with other Scripture, God’s plan, and logical sense. Therefore, while the amillennialist is consistent in his/her hermeneutic, the premillennialist is not.
#9 – The Bible never states in plain and literal statement several of premillennialism’s major tenets.
For a system whose proponents insist on literal concept from the ordinary, customary use of words, it appears highly conflicting to center its beliefs on such things as a pre-tribulational rapture when the Bible nowhere ever states that the rapture precedes the tribulation. The Bible does not state that the 70th week of Daniel is split off from the other 69 weeks. The Bible does not state that the tribulation period is the same as the 70th week of Daniel. Nowhere do we have any literal statements for these major doctrines, and nevertheless the premillennialist believes these tenets and still insists that the Bible must always be received literally.
#8 – In dispensational premillennialism, the rapture occurs prior to the tribulation so that the Holy Spirit may be withdrawn from the earth allowing the Antichrist to be revealed. Yet, they still insist that people will be saved during the tribulation.
This inconsistency centers on the interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8. That verse reads, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way, and then the lawless one will be revealed.” Premillennialists insist that the restrainer of these verses is the Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of Christians. For the Antichrist to be in power, the Holy Spirit must be out of the way—removed through the rapture of the Church. But then how do people get saved during this future tribulation?—apart from the Holy Spirit? If salvation does work through the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit can be present for these conversions, why was it necessary to remove him earlier? Either the Holy Spirit impedes the rule of the Antichrist and must be removed for the entirety of the Antichrist’s reign, or the Holy Spirit does not impede the rule of the Antichrist and that purpose has nothing to do with restraining until removed.
#7 – Premillennialists must include multiple resurrections not revealed in the Bible.
We find in Isaiah 65 that those who enter the millennium in their natural bodies (for the dispensationalists, these are people who come to Christ during the tribulation period), still die albeit possibly with longer life spans. The question then arises as to when these "dead in Christ" receive their glorified bodies. The church saints received theirs at the rapture. Paul says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord—but, according to premillennialists, the Lord is physically present on Earth during this time. So…do those of Christ die in the millennium and immediately pop back up in glorified bodies? Do their spirits depart away from Christ awaiting a resurrection at the end of the millennium? The answers to these questions and the extra resurrections seemingly necessary are not found in Scripture. They are derived (not literally determined) by the force of the system rather than by the revelation of the Bible.
#6 – John 5:28-29 reads as follows: “…a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.” According to premillennialists, these verses cannot be considered in their literal sense. We must interpret two calls of Christ and two resurrections separated by 1000 years.
This obviously opposes the premillennial claim to a literal hermeneutic.
#5 – The first chapter of 2 Thessalonians discusses Christ’s second coming in verses 5 through 10. In that discussion we find that at the time of the second coming, both God’s people will find rest and God’s enemies will receive “eternal destruction.”
First, dispensational premillennialists argue that this does not happen at the same time but seven years occur between the rest for God’s people and the judgment for God’s enemies. This is hardly a literal reading.
Furthermore, and importantly, the judgment for God’s enemies is pronounced with this description: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence….” However, in the premillennialist’s conflicting chronology, these enemies go to eternal destruction only to come back again to the Lord’s presence at the Great White Throne judgment at the end of the millennium to again be judged and condemned to eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence.
#4 – Premillennialists insist we receive our resurrected bodies at the beginning of Christ’s reign although the Bible indicates the resurrection is at the end of Christ’s reign.
This is a particularly troubling inconsistency for the premillennialist. Whether dispensational or historic, the premillennialist recognizes the rapture at that point in time when saints are changed into glorified bodies (I Cor 15:52). Follow this carefully. First Cor 15:25-26 tells us that death is defeated at the end of Christ’s reign. First Cor 15:54-55 tells us that death is defeated when we receive our resurrected bodies. Therefore, we must receive our resurrected bodies at the end of Christ’s reign. This is exactly contrary to the premillennialist’s insistence.
#3 – Premillennialists insist that our resurrection (at the rapture) is separated from creation’s resurrection by at least 1000 years.
Paul ties creation’s resurrection to our resurrection in Romans 8:19-23. At best, the premillennialist is simply not reading this literally. At worst, the premillennialist defies Paul’s connection of resurrection of the physical creation with our physical bodies.
#2 – Premillennialists say that OT covenant promises were (1) made to Abraham and his offspring and (2) unconditional. And yet (1) Jews of the Church Age are not allowed to participate in these covenant blessings to Israel, and (2) the unregenerate of Israel are not allowed to participate in these covenant blessings to Israel.
If the covenant promises were truly unconditional, even the unregenerate (e.g., Israelites like Jezebel) would still receive the promised blessing. But if there is some kind of condition—like necessary righteous relationship with God—then actually NO Israelite was worthy of receiving the promised covenant blessings…except…of course…for the one Israelite who DID maintain righteous relationship with God—Jesus! Thus, if the covenant blessings were conditioned on righteousness, only Jesus would receive the covenant blessings. And…of course…Jesus’ children. All those born of Christ (according to Hebrews) inherit that righteousness and blessing from Christ. And thus, covenant blessing ought to pass only to Christ and then to Christ’s offspring—all his covenant children. Maybe that’s what Paul meant in Romans 2:28-29: “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter.”
#1 – According to Dispensationalism, Christ offered the kingdom to the Jews, and they rejected it. If they had not rejected it—in other words, if it had truly been God’s intent that the Jews accept Jesus as king instead of sending him to the cross—how then would we be saved?
Premillennial theologians have actually answered this by saying that then the sacrificial system of animals would have remained in effect and people would have restored relationship with God through this system. This is directly contrary to the declaration in Hebrews 10:4: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” By this claim alone, premillennialists forfeit the heart of the gospel—that it is God alone who takes away sin.
These ten logical inconsistencies are not meant to drive a wedge between Christians who believe differently about eschatology. We are one in Christ. The gospel knits us together without loose threads. We must hold to each other, embrace each other as Christ has called us to do. We will always differ about things until some day when perfect clarity is possible with the eradication of sin. But during this time of continued struggle, we cannot allow sin to divide us as the unregenerate do. Christ holds all authority, and we depend on him. Embrace that and embrace him and embrace each other as we sharpen each other seeking to understand and know our God better.
You may have answers you believe to be satisfactory to these ten problems I’ve presented. And if you can rest in that, that is how you should proceed. But don’t dismiss these problems simply to hold on to a system in which you’ve placed blind loyalty. Know truth. Grapple with these until you are settled in heart and mind. That’s what studying “to show ourselves approved unto God” is all about.