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RDean/Daniel Lesson 8

Interpreting God's Plan; Premillennialism – Daniel 2:31

 

When we come to a study of the Scripture one of the fundamental issues is always interpretation.  We live in an era when people want to interpret the Bible in any way that they deem fit, their own way of looking at life, their own presuppositions, their own inclinations and to justify whatever it is that they're already doing.  But there are rules to interpretation, which I always say is clear on April 15th because that's how you have to interpret how you fill out your income tax returns, and if most people who interpret the Bible in some sort of allegorical, non-literal or spiritualized way interpreted their instructions to fill out their income tax return the same way they would all be in jail—perhaps that would not be a bad idea after all. 

 

Nevertheless, interpretation is crucial to being able to understand the Scripture.  And one canon of interpretation is that the Bible must always be interpreted in the time in which it was written, which means you have to understand the historical background.  The second canon of interpreta­tion is the Scriptures must be interpreted in a consistent literal manner.  And a third canon is that Scriptures must be interpreted in context. 

 

We are studying Daniel, and Daniel in context is not a book of prophecy; it contains prophecy and a lot of people enjoy studying the prophecies in Daniel and some of the greatest and most significant prophecies in all the Bible are located in Daniel but Daniel was not written primarily or foremost to be a book on prophecy but a book on wisdom, a book on wise living.  However we interpret Daniel, however we apply Daniel, we must first and foremost understand the principle.  Daniel was written for the purpose of teaching people how to live wisely, how to have skill in living in Satan's world; how one individual, for the most part, stood firm, stood strong against an entire civilization that was against him, a civilization that was steeped in paganism.  It teaches us how one individual can have skill in coping with the kingdom of man, with the paganism that surrounds us in our non-Christian culture. 

 

So it's a contrast between one lone believer and the society around him.  Daniel, through the prophecies in Daniel, answers the question for us: who wins?  Ultimately in this struggle there is a victor and that victor we learned is the Lord Jesus Christ; that victory comes towards the end of human history and so we have to realize that prophecy relates to history and so much of what we discover in Daniel is to clue us in as to what God's plan and purposes are for history.  But the purpose for this is not just to titillate our curiosity about the future but is given to comfort the believer so that he can endure with steadfast obedience during times of testing and trial.  It's necessary for us to understand what God is doing in history for us to understand what our priorities should be, that we should devote our time and our energy and our talent to that which survives and endures throughout eternity and not that which is just good for the moment or good for a short amount of time. 

 

By studying prophecy we understand that which has eternal value and can distinguish it from that which has limited value.  By studying prophecy we learn how to have stability in the midst of confusion, how to orient our life because we know what the future holds.  We understand what continues, what endures, what survives and we know what doesn't, and above all we understand the principle that Jesus Christ controls history that history is His story; history is the outworking of God's plan and purpose so we don't have to succumb to the fear tactics of those that would have us think that somehow man will destroy himself, that somehow man will destroy his environment or blow himself up in some nuclear holocaust or whatever the fad terrorist doctrine is of that particular decade. Every decade the fear mongers come out and promote some new doctrine that man is going to destroy himself in some other way and then they get everybody all energized and the pass reams of legislation, they take away more and more freedoms rather than realizing, like the believer does, that we can just relax.  We don't have to try to save the planet because Jesus Christ controls the plane; we can't save it and we can't destroy it, it's outside of our control.  That's one thing we learn from doctrine.

 

Now as we get into Daniel 2 we'll look briefly at what we see in Daniel 31 just to remind you a little bit about where we are in terms of the structure of the book.  In Daniel 1 we learned that Daniel and a number of other hostages were taken from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar back to Babylon, and in Babylon they were taken through a three year training program where they were inculcated with all of the science, all of the mythology, all of the mathematics, all of the astronomy, astrology, all the religious thinking of the Babylonians, in order to train them and prepare them to function as high level bureaucrats in the government of Babylon.  These men were not dumb, they weren't even average thinkers, they'd all passed whatever they used for an intelligence evaluation exam at that time and they were the cream of the crop.  They were the smartest in all of Israel.

 

About that time Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, as we put it together, just prior to their graduation Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and that dream disturbed him.  It came at a time in Nebuchadnezzar's life when he had had tremendous military victories; he had defeated the Assyrians, he had defeated the Egyptians, he had brought the Levant under his control, that's the area surrounding the Mediterranean, he had brought Judah and Israel under his hegemony so that he controlled all the power bases in the ancient world, and he was the mightiest man in the world and he had the greatest empire in the world.  On top of that he was the wealthiest man in the world and he had tremendous native ability and native talent.  So he was at the top of his game, probably around 30 years of age when suddenly God gave him this dream, and the dream bothered him.  He didn't know what it meant but he sensed that somehow this indicated that all that he had given his life for, all that he had devoted himself to, all that he had built, was temporary, it was finite, it would eventually blow away like the dust and so he was disturbed. 

 

So he went to those he trusted to give him answers and he challenged them to give him answers and they couldn't because the human viewpoint system, the pagan system of the world can never give us answers to life's problems.  It can't give ultimate solutions, it can't give answers to the questions about the nature of the soul, eternal life, is there an after life, is there an eternity, what is ultimately good and what is ultimately bad.  Nebuchadnezzar realized it was like building the finest boat in the world and then having no maps, no plans, and nowhere to go.  And that's what happens in paganism, you're left adrift upon a world of chance and a world of chaos where there's no direction, no plan and no purpose. 

 

So he reacted in anger when his leaders would not answer him, because he gave them a simple test, if you're system is really true, let's put it to the test: you not only interpret the dream for me but you tell me what the dream was.  And then they craw fished; they couldn't tell him what the dream.  They said nobody can do that, only God could do that, there's no way any person could do that, no king ever asked anybody to do that.  Nebuchadnezzar said well, if you can't do it and you're system is false then I'm tired of everybody lying to me so you're all going to die, and he sent out the execution squads and he was going to turn their homes, their houses into public latrines to show exactly what he thought of all of this. 

 

And while the execution squads came out we saw they came to Daniel his three friends and Daniel knew that God would give him the meaning of the dream, reveal the dream to him and its interpre­tation, and so he went to the king and we stopped last time as he was about to tell the king the dream and its interpretation. 

 

Daniel 2:31, "You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome.  [32] The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze.  [33] Its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.  [34] You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them.  [35] Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found.  But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the while earth.  [36] This was the dream; now we shall tell its interpretation before the king.  [37] You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength, and the glory; [38] And wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all.  You are the head of gold.  [39] And after you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.  [40] Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces.  [41] And in that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay.  [42] And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle.  [42] And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.  [44]  And in the says of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.  [45] Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take lace in the future; so the dream is true, and its interpretation is trustworthy." 

 

Now this is one of the greatest outlines of human history ever penned.  And it is one of the greatest ever penned in the Bible.  As you can tell from just this cursory reading of these verses it is a tale of kingdoms; the kingdoms of man versus the ultimate kingdom of God that will destroy the kingdoms of man.  The kingdoms of man are temporal, they're finite.  The kingdoms of man are represented in all their finest as viewed from man's perspective, they're viewed as gold, silver, bronze, precious metals, but the kingdom of God is a kingdom that destroy all of man's finest.  Now when it comes to interpreting these verses we have to recognize that there is a bit of controversy as to how to interpret these verses, not just this chapter but also the various prophecies in Daniel.  And as we continue our study in Daniel we'll see that in Daniel 5, 7, 9 and 10, as we go through this we keep coming back to foundational images that are established in this prophecy.  Failure to correctly interpret this prophecy means the latter prophecies in Daniel will be poorly understood.  Not only that, but Daniel 2 is the basis for how you approach every other prophecy in Scripture.  The way you approach this prophecy will determine how you interpret Matthew 24 and 25, Revelation, Zechariah, Zephaniah, many of the other prophets in the Old Testament. 

 

Therefore, it is crucial for us to stop before we get into the details of this statue, in order to understand a framework for prophecy.  What are the major discrepancies, disagreements, the controversies over the interpretation of prophecy that affect how you interpret Daniel 2?  So we are going to begin by looking at the fact that there are basically three views of prophecy.  And since prophecy is history told beforetime, they tell us something about three distinct Christian views of history.  How you interpret history is ultimately going to affect many things, from how you interpret law, politics, authority, family, it would affect your view of sociology, your views of society culture, the ramifications go on and on.  We're not just talking salvation and spiritual life, we're talking about the profound implications in almost every arena of human intellection that flows from an understanding of prophecy.  That's why prophecy is so important.

 

In the history of Christianity there has never been a creedal statement written about prophecy.  It's not like the doctrines on Trinitarianism hammered out at the Council of Nicea, the doctrines on Christology which were penned at the Council of Chalcedon, it's not like some of the statements that were formulated by the Reformed churches, like the Helvetica Confession, the Geneva Confession, the Westminster Confession, and Augsburg Confession for the Lutherans, there has never been a formal statement of prophecy adopted by any denomination.  Now there are some denominations that do take specific stands on prophecy.  But many, many others don't.  One reason people stay away from prophecy and they've been afraid of prophecy, perhaps, is because it covers so much of Scripture. 

 

My belief is that understanding of prophecy is foundational to understanding almost every area of Scripture.  If you have a distorted view of prophecy you may be distorted on other areas of Scripture as well.  Prophecy is a vast subject, it covers almost every book of Scripture; it involves a tremendous amount of detail and I think that scares off a lot of people.  Then you always have the folks who are pan-millennialist, you know, there are those who are premillennialist, postmillennialist and amillennialist, but the pan-millenialist just thinks it'll all pan out in the end.  They're the ones who really don't to think too much for once they start thinking about prophecy smoke just comes out of their ears and you start hearing the gears grind and the teeth breaking off the gears and they decide to shut down and just go back to something simple, like maybe soteriology.  But Biblical prophecy is important.  I've often heard people say I don't want to teach prophecy.  Not long ago I heard someone in a church say my pastor never teaches prophecy because he thinks that if he does that people will just come to hear the sensational and so he's not going to do it.  I thought what a supercilious self-righteous attitude. 

 

Prophecy is crucial; we need to be taught in Daniel, in Revelation and the other prophecy passages.  For one thing, God revealed them to us for our edification and we need to learn them.  To say we don't need to and you're going to ignore it is to say that God, You really didn't need to take the effort because it's not relevant.  Walt Kaiser, in a book called Back Toward the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy states: "The number of prophecies in the Bible is so large and their distribution so evenly spread through both testaments in all types of literary forms, that the interpreter is alerted to the fact that he or she is dealing with a major component of the Bible."  In fact, another write on Biblical prophecy published an Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, by the name of J. Barton Payne, calculated that 28% of the Bible deals with prophecy; only the small books of the Old Testament of Ruth and Song of Solomon and in the New Testament the tiny epistles of Philemon and 3 John have no prophecy whatsoever.  In fact, Kaiser goes on to state that "the highest percentages of predictive material are found in the small books of Zephaniah, which is 89% prophecy, Obadiah which is 81% prophecy, Nahum which is 74% prophecy.  In the New Testament the honors go to Revelation which is 63% prophecy, Hebrews is 45% prophecy and 2 Peter is 41% prophecy.  That tells us that prophecy is indeed important.

 

Furthermore, when we're asked the question, why study prophecy, we need to realize that 28% of the Bible, at least, that's conservative, I think it might have been closer to 40%, was prophetic when it was originally revealed.  28% was prophetic when it was originally revealed; 15% of the Bible is still unfulfilled prophecy.  Of that, 18% of New Testament epistles are unfulfilled prophecy, one out of every five verses.  Furthermore, one in twelve verses in the New Testament refer to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  And one in ten verses in the epistles refer to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  And one individual has stated that as many as 60% of the New Testament verses are affected, in terms of their interpretation, by eschatology issues—60% of the verses in the New Testament are affected by eschatology issues in order to be properly understood.  Eschatology is a fancy word for prophecy; it means the study of the last days.  Any time you run across the word "kingdom," the word "mystery," automatically you have to understand eschatology before you can properly interpret or understand those particular verses.  Many of the parables that Jesus taught in the Gospels relate to one degree or another to prophecy or their interpretation is indirectly affected by how we understand prophecy.  Prophecy is vital to our spiritual life and to understand and orient to what God is doing in history.  With that in mind, we have to study prophecy. 

 

One of the books I had to read when I was doing my doctrinal work in Church history was a book by James Orr called The Progress of Dogma.  Now Orr wrote at the turn of the last century, the beginning of the 20th century, and Orr developed an interesting theory and there's a certain amount of truth to it.  He developed the idea that during the 1900 years of Church history up to that time there was a progress, a clear progress in how Christians came to understand doctrine.  We started off in the first couple of centuries trying to understand the Trinity, the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, and you had the great Trinitarian controversies that were resolved by the Council of Nicea.  That was followed by the Christological controversies of Apollonarianism, Eutychianism, Nestorianism, and those were finalized at Chalcedon.  Following that the Church spent a great deal of time trying to probe the understanding of the atonement, what exactly is the nature of the atonement, and it was Anselm that wrote the treatise, Cur Deus Homo which defined the nature of substitutionary atonement, which became standard for much of the Middle Ages.  And then by the Reformation there was a recovery of the soteriological doctrines, the doctrines of salvation that have been taught earlier and a clear defining of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  And that was hammered out by Luther, Calvin and many others. 

Then as you go through the subsequent centuries, the 17th century, the 18th century, they hammered out a better understanding of the nature of the Church.  And of course there is disagree­ment there, there was never any consensus, never any ecumenical creedal, by "ecumenical" I use that in this context in a positive way because the early creeds were called "ecumenical" because you only had one church, so everybody got together and agreed and that became the standard definitions for orthodoxy.  But you don't have that kind of agreement any more after the Reformation.  Orr thought that eschatology would be the final area of theology to be clarified and he predicted that in the 20th century that would be the focus, where much word would be done to finally understand eschatology.  And I think much work was done to understand eschatology but there's also been many battles between these three different groups of individuals and how they understand prophecy.

 

So we're going to look at these three ways to try to understand this framework and I'm going to approach it a slightly different way than I have before to let some of their advocates speak for themselves to give you a different perspective on what they believe.  We'll approach it differently from how we have in the past. 

 

There are three basic views and they are amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism.  Amillennialism numerically is the most popular view; by far the vast majority of Christians and evangelical Christians in America are amillennial.  When we look at this I want to look at a couple of different issues to define millennialism.  There are two things we have to look at.  The first is the relationship of the Church to the kingdom, the Messianic kingdom.  The kingdom refers to that time in history when the Messiah would come to rule over Israel; when the king would be on planet earth reigning over all the nations.  The kingdom of God, the kingdom of Messiah is God's answer to the kingdom of Nimrod first established in Genesis at the tower of Babel.  So this is the key, is understanding the relationship of the kingdom to the Church. 

 

In amillennialism the Church is the kingdom; the Church is a spiritual form of the kingdom, there's not a literal kingdom, there is a spiritual kingdom, so that the Church Age, the age in which we now live, is synonymous with the Millennial Age.  You didn't know you were living in the utopic millennium, did you?  So we are now living in the spiritual kingdom, and it ends with a literal Second Coming of Jesus Christ at which time history ends and we go into the eternal state.  This is amillennialism.  Of the three schools that we're looking at, amillennialism, postmillennial­ism and premillennialism, it's the only prophetic school or theology that is officially held by denominations today.  The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod and Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the Christian Reformed Church all officially hold to this position.  It's unofficially held by many Baptist churches, many Churches of Christ, and by Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Church, unofficially.

 

The second view is postmillennialism.  The words "a" in amillennial and "post" in postmillennial­ism and "pre" in premillennialism have to do with how they understand the relationship of Christ coming to the millennium.  "A" is the prefix for no, or in English we use "un," there's no literal millennium so Christ's coming isn't related to that because there's not any millennium.  In post­millennialism they believer there is a literal utopic kingdom on the earth and the Church brings in the kingdom.  For amillennialism the Church is the kingdom; postmillennialism the Church is going to bring in the kingdom.  It's going to happen slowly, imperceptibly by degrees ad the Holy Spirit expands the influence of Christianity the Church is going to conquer and subdue and the kingdom will come in and then Jesus Christ is going to return afterward.  So postmillennialism maintains that the Church produces the kingdom in history.  Now in recent years postmillennial­ism has had a resurgence.  It was a dominant view in liberal theology at the end of the 19th century and it was just wiped out by World War I, that optimism they had that things were going to get better and better in every way and we're going to bring in a utopic society was blown away by the realities of chemical warfare and trench warfare in World War I.  Postmillennialism also tended to die about that time, but it had a resurgence in the late 70s and now has become more and more popular.  And then the view that we hold here at Preston City Bible Church is premillennialism, that Jesus Christ will return physically to the earth before the millennium and the Church precedes the kingdom.  In amillennialism the Church is the kingdom; in postmillennialism the Church brings in the kingdom, and in premillennialism the Church is not the kingdom, it doesn't bring in the kingdom but it precedes the kingdom and Jesus Christ comes back to inaugurate and establish the kingdom at the Second Coming.

 

Now let's set up a little chart to help understand what some of these issues are and I've outlined three questions.  The issue will be stated and then we'll look at how it's treated in premillennial­ism, amillennialism and then postmillennialism.  The first question: Christ's return ends history; does the return of Jesus Christ end history?  The second question: the kingdom of God; will it some time dominate this world's culture, will the kingdom of God sometime dominate this world's culture.  The third issue: how long does evil remain, does it remain in force until Christ returns or not?  

 

The first question—in terms of Christ's return and history, the amillennialist believes that Christ's return ends history.  Remember the Church is coextensive with the kingdom and when Jesus Christ returns that ends history and the eternal state begins.  The same is true for the post­millennial­ist.  Christ's return comes at the end of the millennium and then the heavens and earth are destroyed and then God establishes the eternal state.  That might not be correct for all post­millennialists.  There's a new group coming up and they believe that all prophecy was fulfilled, all prophecy, everything, everything was fulfilled in 70 AD, so you're now living in heaven.  You didn't know that, did you?  You're now living in heaven.  Most postmillennialists don't believe they're living in heaven, they think that somehow they're in the millennium, but then I think if that's true I must be living in a millennial ghetto. 

 

The second issue—what's the relationship of the kingdom of God to the world's culture?  Will the kingdom of God dominate the world's culture?  Premillennialism says yes it will, but not until Jesus Christ returns.  When Jesus Christ returns it will dominate the world's culture and the world's culture will be ruled by the saints and Jesus Christ will be the ultimate ruler of all the earth.  Amillennialists deny that, they do not think the kingdom of God will ever dominate this world's culture and when Jesus Christ comes back He will simply destroy this world's culture.  Postmillennialists would agree with premills at this point because remember, they're gradually bringing in the kingdom so they're gradually going to take over the world's culture.  And one positive thing about postmillennialists, they're one of the few groups that are actually engaged at an intellectual level trying to work out what it means to have a Christian view of history, a Christian view of philosophy, a Christian view of arts, a Christian view of music, a Christian view of literature, a Christian view of law and politics.  Why?  Because in their view the Church is going to take over, gradually take over all these different aspects of culture.  Premillennialists ought to be doing that as well, but we're afraid to because we're so convinced that Jesus is coming back tomorrow that most premills have folded their hands and escaped the culture around them rather than actively engaging it on the basis of divine viewpoint. 

 

The third question is whether or not evil will remain until Christ returns—the premillennialist says evil will remain in all of its horror and all of its force until Jesus Christ returns, only under His power will it be defeated.  The amillennialist would agree, they think evil will continue until Jesus returns and only then will it be defeated.  The postmillennialist is an optimist; he thinks the Church is somehow going to overpower evil.  That's where they're a bit naïve and dangerous, I believe.

 

So that gives us a little orientation to three views, premill, amill and postmill.  Now what I want to do is look at each one of these, where they came from and what they hold to.  And the reason I want to do that is because I think a lot of times in our churches we never spend a whole lot of time talking about Church history and somehow we feel historically disengaged; we don't understand that we have beliefs that are rooted in beliefs, in doctrines that were clearly taught in the early church, and that there is a historical continuity, and that means that our faith is an apostolic faith.  In fact, I would argue that the faith of amillennialism and postmillennialism is not an apostolic faith but was introduced later.  So let's begin by looking at just a little bit on the origin and history and the basic features, characteristics, of premillennialism.

 

First of all we could say that the premillennial position goes as far back as perhaps 100 BC.  That's right, 100 BC, at least 200 years before John wrote Revelation; 100 years before Jesus Christ was born.  What would I base that on?  There's a group of books that were never accepted by the Jews into the Old Testament canon of Scripture called the Apocrypha.  The Apocrypha was a collection of books that were written in the period between the testaments, between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  And they are good history, they give good background, they provide information about what was going on in Israel during that intertestamental period of time.  So by reading that literature we can get a good handle on how people who lived at the time of Christ thought, what their beliefs were, how the people who John the Baptist ministered to, what they believed, how they acted, what they were expecting in terms of the Messiah. 

 

Two of those books are 1 and 2 Enoch; they're not inspired, they're not canonical, they're not infallible but they give us a peak at the beliefs at that time, and it is in those books that there is some interest in the coming of Messiah.  They provide a glimpse into the eschatology, the prophecy, the understanding of prophecy in the ancient world and they tell us something about the kind of kingdom that the people at that time, at the time when Jesus was born, were expecting.  And in those two books appear two, apparently new ideas, about the New Testament came out.  We're talking about 100 years before Christ; two ideas developed as they studied the Old Testament prophecies. 

 

The first of those ideas is that the coming Messianic kingdom would not be permanent.  Most thought that it would be permanent, that Messiah would come and establish a permanent kingdom, but they did not think that it would be permanent, but it would be a temporary kingdom, because they appreciated the depths of depravity of the human heart.  They understood Jeremiah when he said, "the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things, who can know it."  And so they realized that even the rule and reign of the Messiah would not be enough to completely remove the effects of sin and to root out the depravity that had invaded the universe.  And so they knew that even though the Messianic reign was a perfect reign it was not a reign that was without sin, that it would not be able to root out all of the evil, suffering, sickness, disease and horror that's part of the experience in a fallen world.  They thought the Messianic kingdom would last but a short time after which there would be an eternal state.  Now that's clearly a premillennial position, that the Messiah would come before the kingdom. 

 

The second thing they came up with which is interesting is that they are the ones that first originated a septamillennial view of history.  That's a big word, septamillennial; septa is seven, millennial is a thousand, that just as God created the heavens and the earth, or created the earth, the restoration period of six days in Genesis 6 and rested on the seventh, that human history would be six thousand years long and then the last period, the last age would be a thousand years in length.  So they came up with the idea that the Messianic kingdom would be a thousand years in length 200 years before God revealed that to the Apostle John in Revelation 20.  You don't have to go to Revelation 20 to get a thousand year figure.  It was already there as part of the spiritual economy of the ancient world at the time that our Lord Jesus Christ appeared on the earth.  Now I don't believe that the septamillennial view is Biblical or correct, but that was what they developed at that time.  So it gives us a bit of an idea as to what these ideas were.

 

Now since these ideas dominated the world, the cultural milieu of John's time, then it would be, if John disagreed with those ideas, don't you think it'd be up to John that he was making clear that he was taking another position.  But John did not take another position and so we move from the period before Christ to the apostolic period, and there we turn to Revelation 20 and look at verses 1-10 to understand our basic passage, our core text for understanding a premillennial view of history. 

 

That begins in Revelation 20:1; this is after the Tribulation, and John says: "And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  [2] And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years," I want you to count how many times in these ten verses we read the figure, "a thousand years," that's one.  Verse 3, "And threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that they should not deceive the nations any longer until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  [4] And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  [5] The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.  This is the first resurrection."

 

Verse 6, "Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  [7] And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, [8] and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.  [9] And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.  [10] And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." 

 

So six times John emphasizes the figure, a thousand years; that's not a figure that should be taken symbolically or a figure that should be taken allegorically or spiritualized to mean the whole Church Age period which has now lasted two thousand years, or that it's just a figure of perfection.  It is to be taken as a literal number of one thousand 360 day years.  I say 306 days because as we've studied in the past the prophetic year used by the Jews was a calendar based on a 30 day month, or a 360 day year.  So the New Testament reveals that there will be a return of Jesus Christ, which occurs at the end of Revelation 19, and precedes this one thousand year period.  It ends, it's a thousand years where the devil is locked away and cannot influence mankind; at the end of the thousand years he's released, there's a quick rebellion, God destroys those who revolt against Him and then the earth is destroyed by fire and God establishes the new heavens and new earth.  That is the basic framework for premillennialism.

 

Now what happened to premillennialism?  We've seen that it was available for people to understand before Christ; it was clearly revealed in Revelation?  What happened after that, what happened in the post-apostolic period?  Well, in the age from 100-400 AD, every major church historian, whether they're premillennial, amillennial or postmillennial, no matter what they believed, every major church historian worth their salt will say that the majority [tape turns] church fathers was premillennial; all the major leaders at that time in history were premillennial, men like Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Papius, Polycarp, many, many others, were premillennial. 

 

For example, we have a statement from Justin Martyr; Justin Martyr learned his doctrine from men who studied directly under the apostles.  Justin Martyr wrote in The Dialogue of Justin, in chapter 81 he states: "But I and whoever are at all points like-minded," in other words, other Christians, "know that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah and others declare."  Furthermore he states, "And further there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ who prophesied by a revelation that was made to him that those who believe in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem and that thereafter the general, and in short the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place."  How much more clear could one be?

 

Another individual who was quite important in the ancient church was Irenaeus; he was the bishop of Leone in France, and he wrote in his book, Contra Haereses, (Against Heresies), the following:  "But when this antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months and sit in the temple at Jerusalem and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds in the glory of the Father, sending this man those who follow him into the lake of fire, but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom," see, Christ returns before the kingdom, "and this is the sabbath rest, the hallowed day, and restore to Abraham the promised inheritance."  Notice that last, he sees that the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Abrahamic Covenant will be eventually literally fulfilled in the future.  This brings in another distinctive of premillennialism and that is a distinction between Israel and the Church, that God has a literal plan and purpose for Israel and that He had not fulfilled those promises yet and He will at some future date, when Jesus Christ returns at the Second Coming.  So even the early church fathers under­stood that Christ's return was before the kingdom and that during the kingdom the inheritance, the rewards, the promises to Abraham would be fulfilled. 

 

Now, premillennialism was the dominant view in the early church. "Premillennialism" means that  Christ's coming is before His thousand-year reign (from the Latin mille for one thousand). It has also been called "chiliasm" (both from the Latin chilias and the Greek chilias, meaning one thousand). Now, if premillennialism was the dominant view in the early church, why did it die out?  It died out for three basic reasons.  The first was political; can you imagine that, the church being affected by the political climate. That's what happened.  Remember the first 300 years the Church was persecuted, the Church was outlawed by Rome.  There were many different persecutions; there were only two or thee mass persecutions, but there were many persecutions that went on throughout the empire.  But after Constantine became emperor and legalized Christianity, in fact he made it the mandatory state religion, at that point they became the church triumphant, they were no longer the church persecuted, they were the church triumphant and now the Church had a political power base.  So they began to identify themselves with the kingdom, and as a result, obviously if the Church is now in a position of power and running things, and they're the kingdom, then premillennialism must have been wrong so the idea began to die off and it wasn't long before it was gone. 

 

The second thing that happened was the philosophical influence that took place against Christianity at that time.  One of the dominant philosophies in the Greek world, the Greco-Roman world, was Neo-Platonism.  As part of Neo-Platonism matter was inherently evil only the spiritual was good.  We've seen the problem that that created in Gnosticism, where you separated matter and spirit.  This had an impact on some of the early church father.  None of them went quite that far but they just couldn't quite reconcile the significance of matter, a material world just couldn't be as important as a spiritual, the spiritual had to be so much better.  How could God have a physical kingdom when matter is as important as spiritual?  So men like Origen, Origen introduced…by the way, he was the first one to introduce an allegorical or spiritual way of interpreting Scripture, so things didn't mean what they said literally but they had just a symbolic value, that Noah's ark really didn't have to happen historically, it just represented something, a spiritual truth.  So when you come to Revelation 20, it talks about a thousand years, it didn't happen literally, it's just a figure for something more significant. 

 

So Origen, and Augustine reacted to that, they were both influenced by Neo-Platonism, and furthermore there were some millennialists who had distorted the idea of a literal kingdom into almost, what we would say today is like a Moslem view of the kingdom, where it was just one big drunken orgy and the people gave themselves over to the lust of the flesh.  So they had the idea that matter was inherently evil and Augustine wrote a book called The Kingdom of God which was probably the most influential book all throughout the Middle Ages, and in The Kingdom of God he emphasized an amillennial view, so that from about 400 AD on everybody is thinking in terms of amillennialism and only a few people here and there show up who go back to a literal interpretation of Christianity. 

 

The third thing that influenced the interpretation of prophecy is that there was a progressive anti-Semitism in the Church.  Anti-Semitism is one of the most horrible things in the world and it's one of Satan's tools because Satan is trying to destroy Israel and remove them from off the face of the planet so God can't literally fulfill His promises to them.  He thinks that if he can do that he'll win, and so the Church became more and more anti-Semitic and began to pass laws against Jews, so that Jews, Hebrew Christians were compelled to deny their Jewishness.  Now premillennialism is based on an ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Israel, but if Israel is now bad, because they crucified Christ, then there is no longer any reason for us to expect that God's going to keep His promises to those horrible Jews after all.  So not only did they begin to persecute Jews but they wrote special creeds for Hebrew Christians that were different from the creeds of the Gentiles and they had to purge themselves of all of their Jewishness, they had to renounce everything that they had had to do with Jews and the Church wanted to purge itself of Jewish dreams and millennial hopes and so the Jews had to renounce that there would ever be a future Jewish state or that Israel would ever be the future capital of the world, or that Israel would ever be the nation that all the other nations would go to for blessing.  So there was a progressive anti-Semitism. 

 

Now following Augustine, throughout the Middle Ages, from 400-1600, the Church was predominantly amillennial.  Then we have the Reformation and at the Reformation they continued to be amillennial.  They only applied a literal interpretation to salvation, but not to eschatology.  For example, in the Lutheran Augsburg Confession they write: "Jewish opinions that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall occupy the kingdom of the world, the wicked being every where oppressed, we deny."  See, they continued to reject that idea, there continued to be this latent anti-Semitism.  Also, in the Reformed churches, those who followed Calvin, in the second Helvetic Confession they stated: "We condemn Jewish dreams that before the Day of Judgment there shall be a golden age on the earth."  So it was only later, as a literal interpretation began to have its impact on the Church, into the 1600s and 1700s that men began to interpret the Bible literally, men like Increase Mather and Cotton Mather among the Puritans in this country, later John Wesley and others began to move toward a premillennial view. 

 

Then in the 19th century you had men like John Nelson Darby who developed the dispensational approach to the study of Scripture.  And then the great prophecy conferences at the end of the 1800s, like the Niagara Bible Conferences and the Northfield Conferences that Moody had in Massachusetts, and there was a tremendous return to a premillennial view of history that has carried through and produced many great seminaries and Bible colleges into the 20th century, like Dallas seminary and Talbot seminary, and Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary and many other schools, and it's had a fantastic impact on missions, especially missions to Jews because there was a recognition that God would return His favor to Israel and that there would be a restoration of the nation in the land.  So there were many, many missionaries who went to Jews to give them the gospel.

 

That gives us the historical background and next time I want to look at the basic characteristics of premillennialism and then we'll compare and contrast it to amillennialism and postmillennialism.