Speculation on the "end times" is certainly a popular pastime these days. In 1970, author Hal Lindsey wrote his best-seller The Late Great Planet Earth, predicting that in that generation the present state of mankind would cease. He updated his predictions in his book The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. In the preface of that book, he wrote:
"During the 25 years I have been studying prophecy, I have seen incredible events forecast 3,000 years ago happen right before my eyes. Especially in the past 10 years, I have watched current events push us toward the climax of history the prophets foretold. I believe many people will be shocked by what is happening right now and by what will happen in the very new future. The decade of the 1980's could very well be the last decade of history as we know it." (emphasis his).
Lindsey took the escalating cold war, and attempted to insert into prophecy a battle between Israel and the now defunct Soviet Union. His efforts convinced many that the end of time was coming. Now, despite the failure of his predictions, he continues to write and predict, and his writings are still followed by millions. His speculations are characteristic of most who believe in the theory of premillennialism.
Today a new series of books have captured the imagination of those who believe premillennial doctrine. The Left Behind Series, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, consists of 9 books (12 will eventually be written) the last of which, Desecration, was released October 30, 2001. These fictional novels purport to describe a plausible scenario and rely upon a premillennial interpretation of scripture to drive the plot. The first novel in the series, Left Behind begins with the "rapture," an aspect of Premillennial doctrine where it is claimed that all Christians will be caught away before the final days of earth. Note the following summary of the book:
In one cataclysmic moment, millions around the globe disappear. Vehicles, suddenly unmanned, careen out of control. People are terror-stricken as loved ones vanish before their eyes. Some blame space aliens. Others claim a freak of nature. Still others say it was a high-tech military attack by a world conqueror. But airline captain Rayford Steele's wife had warned him of this very event. If Irene Steele was right, both she and their young son have disappeared. What about their older daughter? Like Rayford, Chloe had been skeptical. In the midst of global chaos, Rayford must search for his family, for answers, for truth. As devastating as the disappearances have been, the darkest days may lie ahead.
Certainly stirring stuff. Perhaps that is why, as one reviewer notes, "'Left Behind' became a publishing juggernaut soon after its 1995 debut, selling more than 27 million copies in the series, with another 10 million items of related products such as wallpaper and postcards. Even the uneventful arrival of the millennium failed to dampen enthusiasm, with readers snapping up books at a current clip of 1.5 million per month."
It is not uncommon to request a Bible study with one ignorant of the scriptures, and the first thing they want to study is the book of Revelation. Everyone is interested in what will happen at the end, but few are willing to accept what the Bible teaches on the subject.
The term "premillennialism" is a difficult sounding term, but in reality is very simply explained. The prefix "pre-" means before, and "millennial" has reference to 1,000 years. Hence, the theory postulates that Jesus Christ will return to earth before the establishment of a literal kingdom, the duration of which will be 1,000 years in accord with Revelation 20.
It is very difficult in a short space to deal with all aspects of Premillennial doctrine. In fact, the number of different permutations of the doctrine is almost as diverse as its adherents. Much of the theory is speculative, and most premillennialists look to current events in an attempt to interpret symbolic prophecy. So, depending upon which "prophet" you consult, the details concerning the theory vary wildly.
There are, however, certain constituent elements to the theory that can be easily debunked, and as such the theory can be exposed as error. Note the following aspects of Premillennial theory
By refuting any or all of the above tenants of the theory, Premillennialism is exposed as error. Though there are simple and scriptural treatments which explain the prophecies and symbols of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, (and as such no need for the wild speculation of the premillennialist), there is plain language in scripture which reveals that the entire concept of a literal, future kingdom is wrong.
No one disputes that in Daniel 2, the prophet foretold the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom. "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44). Nor is there a dispute that the time in which this kingdom would be set up would be during the Roman Empire. Both secular and biblical history agrees that the fourth world kingdom, following the Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Grecian kingdoms, is Rome. So, prophecy indicates that in the days of the Roman kings, the kingdom would be established. While premillennialists agree that this is what the prophecy teaches, they deny this happened. There are several explanations, but most assert that there will of necessity be a reconstitution of the Roman empire with a world dictator before the literal kingdom is established. Most common is the assertion that Jesus' rejection by the Jews thwarted his attempt to establish his kingdom, and instead he established his church in the interim until he returns. An examination of the preceding five tenants of premillennial theory show these assertions to be untrue.
Jesus Himself debunked this claim in his answer to Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, "Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.'" The Jews, too, had a misconception as to the nature of Christ's kingdom. In fact, one of the reasons Christ was rejected by them was because of their disappointment when he predicted future suffering rather than temporal glory. Rather than exaltation upon a physical throne, prophecy records of Jesus, "He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him" (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus was not thwarted in his desire to set up his physical kingdom. He said to Peter, who had just raised a sword in his defense, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?" (Matthew 26:52-54). Jesus never intended to establish a physical kingdom on earth. The warfare he and his disciples waged was not temporal, using carnal weapons. His was a spiritual kingdom, and His ascension to the throne was made possible through his death on the cross. As He told Peter, "it must happen thus."
Premillennialists teach that the kingdom has not yet been established. They believe that current events indicate we are the generation among whom these events will occur. Again, this does not jibe with what the scripture teaches.
In many places, Jesus proclaimed the imminent establishment of the kingdom. "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 4:17). In Mark 9:1, he got very specific, "And He said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power'" (Mark 9:1). This passage is significant for two reasons. First, it establishes that the kingdom would come into being in the lifetime of the disciples then living. Second, it affirms that the establishment of the kingdom would be with "power."
This prophecy of Jesus is clearly fulfilled in the pages of the New Testament. Before His ascension into heaven, he instructed the apostles to tarry in Jerusalem, and said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The fulfillment of that promise is seen clearly in Acts 2, "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). Only the presupposition that the kingdom is temporal or physical can obscure the plain fact Christ ascended to his throne in heaven, and established his kingdom (the church) on that Day of Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago. As did the Jews, too many today are looking for a physical kingdom, and can not see that Christians are citizens in that kingdom now! "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." (Colossians 1:13).
is not yet sitting upon his throne
This contention does not accord with Paul's statement in Philippians 2, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:8-11). Here Paul contends that Christ's exaltation has already taken place. He is already reigning. His name is already above every other name. In fact, there is no indication that Christ will ever set foot on earth again. Paul described what would happen at his second coming, "Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). When Christ comes again, it will be to deliver the kingdom to the Father, not to establish it. At that time Peter reveals that "both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10).
This position can be simply stated as a misunderstanding of the symbolic language of Revelation. Remember Jesus' testimony to Pilate, "If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36). Rather than seeking a literal fulfillment in carnal battle, the text of Revelation 16:16 should be understood for what it is, a signifying or symbol of the great and decisive battle between right and wrong - between truth and error - between Christ and Satan.
The definition of the term "imminent" is, "ready to take place." Premillennialists seek to discern the times, and predict the day, month or year of Christ's coming. In reality, Christ's coming has been "imminent" for 2,000 years! The only thing that has kept Christ from coming is the longsuffering of God! "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:9-10).
Peter here reveals that we can not know the time when Christ will come again. "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night." It may happen tonight, it may not happen for 1,000 years, "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). What we can do, rather than looking to the sky and partaking in all this silly speculation, is prepare for his coming by living lives of righteousness. "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter 3:11-12). In so doing we can hasten his return.
Premillennialism is an enticing doctrine. It captures the fancy of the religious, and makes for good fiction. But it does not pass the test of scripture. It is error, and must be exposed.
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