A Correct Understanding of

Pre-Millennial Truth - An Aid to Faith


Ivan Foster


(This message was given at a meeting of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony in London on 23rd June, 2006.).


This subject is an important one. In these days, many people want a light-weight religion. They like food that can be purchased and eaten in a few minutes. This desire to have everything instantly has an effect upon religion; but that is not the way of God. God does not respond to public demands. God does not alter His truth, His purpose, His will, because the public are looking for something different from what He has given.  In John 6, the Saviour preached doctrine which so many found difficult to take in and many went away and walked no more with Him. He did not run after them and ask them to wait and see if He could amend His message to please them. The Lord will not alter His truth, and it is our duty in these days to hold fast to the truth of God, irrespective of how unpopular it becomes.

The subject is this: If we have a right view of what is going to happen at the end of the age, a right understanding of the sequence of events that God has purposed and which He will most assuredly carry out, then our faith will be strengthened. During the years of trouble in Northern Ireland , we had Christian visitors from America and England . We would pick them up at the airport and transport them home. We live out in the west, and it would not be too long before we would come round a corner and there was the army stretched out on the side of the road, guns at the ready, stopping all the traffic. We were used to this sort of goings-on as we saw it happening every day; it never cost us a thought, we hardly took any notice. But the visitors were startled because they did not know who it was - friend or foe. They wondered what would happen. Their confidence was shattered, simply because they did not know that this might occur.

This applies to the scene of life.  If we are not acquainted with what God has said, we will be baffled.  There will be corners that we will come round, and we will feel faced with circumstances we never expected, and we will wonder what is happening. Our minds and hearts will be full of doubts and fears. But if we have a right understanding of that presented plainly in the Scriptures, we will know what lies ahead and these events will not shake our faith.  Rather than be startled, faith will be confirmed and we will realise that what is happening is what God said would take place. We can trust God for His Word is true. That is what we mean by the subject - a correct understanding of pre-millennial truth is an aid to faith.

Let me set out some basic truth regarding the confusion that there is in the hearts of many Christians regarding prophecy.

Lying at the heart of the confusion that, sadly, fills the minds of many believers on the hallowed subject of the return of Christ, is a doubting of God's Word, or an unbelief.  When the devil said to Eve: 'Yea, hath God said?' (Genesis 3: 1), there was sown a seed that continues to germinate and bear fruit to this day, even in the hearts of those who, through the mercy of God have been converted, who have been awakened to recognise the deceit of the devil, and who have been brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Even in their hearts that seed has been sown which must be fought and resisted. There is an involuntary questioning of God's truth with which the Christian must battle all his days.

Many of the interpretations placed upon the Bible's revelation of the future presuppose that it just cannot mean what the words plainly seem to say, therefore another explanation is required.  That is the common source of the alternative prophetic views. Men come to the Bible and look at prophecy.  Ideas have come to them from various quarters, and they admit that, at the first reading, they would understand these words simply to mean one thing, yet they maintain that the words do not mean what they plainly appear to say.  That is unbelief.  That is, we need someone to interpret for us what God has said, and that makes the interpreter the authority, not God.  If someone speaks to me in a foreign language and I have another to interpret, I utterly depend on what the interpreter tells me.  Thus, when prophetic teachers say what God means when He has said something different, we would have to put our trust in them, and not in what the Bible says, if we accept such adjusting of the plain language of God. That is the problem source.  That is the common pattern in all of the alternative prophetic views that are to be found amongst God's people, an alternative to the simple understanding that what God says is precisely what He means.

As in the matter of the saving of the soul,* poor sinners who, when wonderfully enlightened by the grace of God, come to see themselves as they have never seen themselves before, their eyes being opened, they see themselves as sinners, and they see God in all His love, goodness, mercy and grace.  Such would say, 'I remember the time God saved me.  It was so simple. I saw it all.'  What does the poor sinner see?  He sees that what God says in the gospel is clearly what God means.  He sees, 'Jesus died for me.'  It does not matter what those who consider themselves mighty authorities have to say about phrases like, 'Christ died for the ungodly,' 'Christ shed His Blood for His elect.' It does not matter what men may say they think such phrases mean, giving an interpretation the mind finds great difficulty in following.  There is no difficulty in grasping that Christ died for the ungodly.  In the hour of saving grace, we abandoned all the notions of men (like baptism, going to church, putting something in the plate, calling on our neighbour, lifting up our hands or being nice) as being able to save us.  We abandoned all that for what the Scripture teaches, that [initial] salvation* is not by works of righteousness which we have done but by the wonderful work of Christ upon the cross. We simply believe what God said.

[* It should be apparent that the salvation of souls (1 Pet. 1: 9), is not initial salvation which we received upon first faith in Jesus Christ. This future salvation is “the goal of your faith”, and has to do with suffering for Christ’s sake, and “the glories that would follow” (verse 11).]

We would condemn as a modernist, anyone who casts around for a figurative meaning for the terms and processes associated with regeneration such as the new birth, conversion, and believing in Christ.  We would regard as a liar a teacher who tries to tell us things from the philosophers' point of view as to what the Bible means.  He is a modernist, a tamperer with God's Word. But men come close to doing that very same thing when it comes to prophecy.  They assert God did not mean what He has said.  When God spoke of Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, a thousand years, etc., no man has any right to say God means something other than the meaning that these expressions ordinarily convey.  You see, that is the same spirit that is at work in the one who would deny the plain message of being born again, of repentance, of trusting in the Blood of Christ to forgive sin, or of the substitutionary death of Christ.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Never let anyone tamper with the book or impose upon it an interpretation that runs contrary to the commonsense understanding of words of Scripture.  That is the rule that we should follow in understanding Scripture, that God simply means what He says and we understand it subject to commonsense.

As a taking of God at His Word in the day of our regeneration resulted in a flood of light filling our souls and having a fuller view of ourselves, of the world around us and of the mercy and love of God, so it is with a simple acceptance of the plain meaning of God's Word in all matters prophetic.  What a scene opens up to us; what a rolling back of mists and darkness and confusion; what a glorious and blessed view of the wonderful purpose of God regarding His promises to His ancient people when we accept the plain and simple meaning of God's words.

1. Ignorance of the Prophetic Truth of God Has Wrought Much Evil.

Ignorance has always been the harbinger of ill.  Wherever there is ignorance there will be a doleful and horrible harvest following that ignorance. We call the 'Middle Ages' the 'dark ages' because ignorance prevailed, the people lived in misery, and they lived in the direst of circumstances. It was by the mercy of God, through the Reformation and the spread of the gospel, of the grace of God that the nations were lifted out of this misery and entered upon an easier way of life.  When a man walks in the midst of darkness he will stumble and walk into things, because he is ignorant of what is in front of him.  Let the light shine and he will not stumble.  So, ignorance of what God has said in His Word, particularly in those sections that we call prophetic truth, has resulted in much evil to men.  This is well illustrated for us in the lives of the apostles after the death of the Saviour.

His death had been the topic of many prophecies.

The Lord Jesus Christ on many occasions had spoken to His disciples about His forthcoming death.  He explained to them in detail what was going to happen.  Prophecies had been given hundreds of years before, and He had explained to His disciples that He had come to die, that He would go to Jerusalem and the elders and the leaders of the nation would reject and crucify Him but that three days later He would rise from the dead.  He taught this repeatedly.

Look at Luke 24:25-27, “Then He said unto them, 0 fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself These are familiar verses.  They show us the sympathy the Saviour gave to these disciples.  They were cast down, mournful, miserable, and sad.  The sympathy the Lord gave them would not go down well in modem circles with the views of how one should pastor the flock.  But if a man is a ‘fool’ he needs to be told he is a fool, not patted on the back and encouraged to go on in his foolishness.  The Saviour rebukes them for being slow of heart to believe the prophets.  That was their problem.  That was the cause of their misery.

It is the same in verses 44-47, “And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem Despite these times of plain instruction they were dismayed when the events to which He referred came about.  They did not remember and that was why they were in this state of depression.  Had they remembered they would not have been cast down.  We bring misery on ourselves.  He had explained at the very beginning of His ministry that He had come to die and that is why John [the Baptist] introduced Him as the Lamb of God, the sacrifice.  Why were they so surprised, therefore, when He did die on the cross? What was wrong with them when they stood at the cross?  Why did they not understand that this was what Christ had come to do?  It was because they had forgotten.  Unbelief had taken over.  And unbelief blots out everything that God ever said.

This matter had been repeatedly taught to them.

“And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). “And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again” (Matthew 20:17-19).  Even the enemy knew that Christ had taught His disciples this truth.  “Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, After three days I will rise again” (Matthew 27:63).  But despite this instruction, the disciples were dismayed by events.  You can be robbed of the simple truth of a promise by unbelief.

The spirit of unbelief manifested itself in the apostles.

“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.  Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee.  But He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:21-23).  Note the source of such unbelief - Satan!  Peter rebuked Christ.  That is how bold and brazen unbelief is.  Do not think Peter outdid every other believer in unbelief.  All who try to correct God do as did Peter on this occasion.  The Saviour turned to him and called him Satan because it was Satan's work, it was the accent of hell, coming from the pit.  Opposition to accepting what God says when it does not meet with our approval has given rise to the various notions on prophecy.  Men say they do not want it to happen, or they cannot accept that it can possibly happen, therefore they presume there is bound to be another way.  That is not abandoning all our views and silly notions, and submitting to the truth of God.  It is rejecting God's authority. And that is what lies behind the interpretations that have been foisted upon the church by many sources throughout the ages and particularly are manifesting themselves today.

Great confusion and despair resulted from this unbelief.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were an example of this.  They did not recognise the Saviour when He drew alongside them.  We can get so far away from God's truth that we do not even know His presence. “And He said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?” (Luke 24:17). ‘Sad’ means sullen, despondent.  There was a resentful, rebellious element to their sorrow.  It sprang from their unbelief in the plain words of Christ regarding the prophecies of old which declared His death.  They were sulking because things had not worked out as they thought they should have worked out, and that is the consequence of abandoning the plain, straightforward understanding of God's truth.  If those disciples had just taken in what Christ said, rather than rejecting it and objecting to it, they would not have had that attitude.  You know, the disciples looking back in later life at the cross could never say they stood there and glorified God.  They stood there and questioned why it was happening. Their unbelief robbed them of the opportunity of worshipping God at that highest moment of God's manifested love and mercy.  It seems to me that there are people today who, when you talk about Christ's coming, resent it and they respond that it is not going to happen like that.  We could imagine if it was not for the transforming grace of God they would resent the Lord coming in a fashion they had not anticipated.  That is the sulkiness to be found in the two on the road to Emmaus and representative of the rest of the disciples.  I have no doubt that their ignorance did not end there.  They did not learn anything.

Even on the day of Christ's ascension they are still in ignorance of the purpose of Christ.

He had taught them that He would be going away to His Father and that for a ‘long time.’ “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for My Father is greater than l.” (John 14:28). “Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country  ...  For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods” (Matthew 21:33; 25:14). In Luke 20:9, the Saviour specifically says He would be away for a ‘long time  “Then began He to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time This teaching was given by the Saviour because the apostles persisted in the vain hope that the [millennial] Kingdom of God would appear in their day.  “And as they heard these things, He added and spake a parable, because He was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11).  But their unbelief was the basis of their getting the matter entirely wrong and of their suffering the miserable consequences of misunderstanding Calvary.  Had they but rightly understood what the Saviour, and the prophets before, had plainly taught they would have stood at Calvary and marvelled at the boundless grace of God but instead they stood in a misery of despair and thought that the Lord Jesus had made a great mistake.  Such are the consequences of failing to simply believe God's Word.

They persisted so that on the day the Saviour ascended to heaven the last thing they asked Him is recorded in Acts 1:1-6. “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me, for John truly baptised with water; but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.  When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel They still did not understand prophecy.  That is why the cross was such a disappointment to the believers at that time.  They saw it as the end of the glorious prospect of Jesus becoming king and of their becoming top executives in His government; they were still occupied with this earthly notion.  He had just told them that the Holy Ghost would come upon them and as a result, they would be baptised with power not many days after but they did not take it in.  They were interested in the kingdom, and whether it would be restored then. Unbelief is hard to shake off.  Darkness is hard to dispel.

2. The Grace of The Holy Ghost Alone Can Lift This Darkness.

A change came into the hearts and minds of the apostles with the coming of the Holy Ghost.  The doubts and questions of Acts 1: 6 had gone by Acts 2:16, 3:17-21. “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel ...  And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.  But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, He bath so fulfilled.  Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God bath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Note the assurance and confidence in the words of Peter in both sermons.

It is a blessing from the Holy Ghost to possess such knowledge.

The transformation from Acts 1 to Acts 2 and 3 was the result of the mighty grace supplied through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.  On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost descended and Peter answers those who said that the disciples were drunk.  I have no doubt that the apostles were excited, but I do not mean uncontrollably excited, but their very countenances would have been animated.  They had a joy filling their souls, the like of which they had never known before, and there was light and knowledge spreading through their being and, of course, they were delighted.  Would that there were some of that life and animation amongst God's people today.  We do need life.  I do not mean the crazy performances that go on in many places that are supposed to be manifesting the life of the Holy Ghost.  Can you imagine these men?  They were not staggering around but their faces were beaming out, there was a shining in their eyes, a smile on their lips, and Peter says, “These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is about the third hour It is not too hard to answer foolish notions.  He affirmed that they were not drunk but it was that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.  It is even more clear when you come to the second sermon.  A little time had elapsed and Peter had had time to ponder and meditate.  He was growing in knowledge.  In chapter 3 he called men to repentance.  Since the beginning of prophecy these things were declared about Christ’s death and resurrection, and he spoke of the time of Christ’s coming again, which is called ‘the time of restitution The Holy Ghost taught him this.

When we think of the state of the church today, there is need of the power of the Holy Ghost.  In congregations, God's people ought to pray for the power of the Holy Ghost.  I was converted in 1964 and I will ever bless God that like the surfer who watches for the wave and catches it when it comes, when I was converted a wave was just coming. It was not in me. It was God’s timing.  People were converted and literally within weeks they had grown into spiritual giants.  They understood so much of the Bible.  They understood the controversies that were going on.  And today I hear Christians say things that make me despair.  How am I ever going to get across to them that the notions they have about ecumenism and church unity are completely misguided?  We need the power of the Holy Ghost and I pray for our young people.  David, as an old man, prayed that he would see the power of God in the land of the living.  Our young people need to experience the power of the Holy Ghost.  They need a refreshing shower.  They will never get through what is lying down the road without that.  We need to pray for that.  God have mercy on them.  The work of God is so dead, so cold, so formal, so lifeless.  Where is the fire of the men of old?  I come to England and love touring around where God worked in the past.  I have stood at a farmhouse where there is a plaque saying that Charles Wesley, John Wesley, and Daniel Rowland all stayed in this place, and I have thought what power there would have been in prayer meetings in that house.  May God send the fire.  God has not changed.  We believe His Word.  When Jesus comes again He is going to pour out His Spirit on men.  Zechariah 12 tells us, “I will pour ... out the Spirit of grace and supplications.” Not only will men be converted and brought to Christ but instantly they will become knowledgeable.  They will recognise Him Whom they pierced, the One Whom they rejected. That is the grace of God and that is what is needed today.  Christian, boast not in yourself should grace have brought you to an understanding of these things!  

This truth regarding prophecy is an essential part of the gospel message.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20).  The instruction of Christ in Matthew 24 and 25 is part of that ‘all things’ to which Christ referred in His great commission.  Such instruction was required in apostolic teaching.  “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you” (1 Thessalonians 5: 1). There was no need for Paul to write because he had diligently instructed them in such matters during his brief ministry in that place (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).  

Vagueness and uncertainty regarding prophetic truth in general leads to an undermining of the authority of the gospel.

In this day of gross departure from the truth of God and the strident voices of false prophets, how important it is that the flock of God is under instruction from men who 'have understanding of the times!'  Who will trust a man when he speaks of eternity if he is hesitant and all at sea regarding the nearer future?

3. Confusion about the Future is of the Devil.

As already noted, the devil is the source of unbelieving challenges of God's Word (Matthew 16:21-23).  He is the blinder of minds and the sower of confusion.  This confusion may be traced to the wicked influence of the devil upon men since the beginning of time.  This we have already referred to in our comments on Genesis 3: 1.  Peter warns of the voice of the devil which will be heard questioning the prophetic promises of Christ. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3). The purpose of the mockers is made plain by the answer Peter gives to their sneers. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 19). The Lord is not 'slack,' He does not loiter over the fulfilling of His promises. He will diligently fulfil each one that He made, including those to Israel !

4. A Right Understanding of God's Prophetic Truth

Strengthens and Makes Bold.

  What a gift to the church is such knowledge!

In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read of men who were especially helpful to David. “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment Israel submitted to their wisdom and benefited as a result.

What an aid to the cause of the king are such men.  These Issacharites were listed amongst the mighty men who assisted in the gathering of Israel under her true king, David, the restoration of true religion and the delivering of her from the tyranny of Saul. “And these are the numbers of the bands that were ready armed to the war, and came to David to Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the Word of the LORD ... And David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader.  And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the LORD our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren every where, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: and let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we inquired not at it in the days of Saul” (1 Chronicles 12:23; 38: 13 1-3).  Men instructed in the prophetic truth will yet again come to the aid of the Church of Christ in its approaching hour of great need.

5. In the midst of trial this knowledge strengthens.

If you know what God is doing, you will be content. Daniel 11:32 refers to those who ‘know their God That does not mean just knowing the person.  It means that, but it means more, knowing His purpose, His plans.  It is an unspeakable privilege to share the secrets of God.  Men may not know, but God shares with us what He is going to do and how He is going to do it, and if you know God you will be strong and do exploits.  What made the men who were thrown to the fire face that?  It was their knowledge of God.  God can save our bodies if He so desires or He can take us to heaven.  Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, but he realised God could manage the situation, because he knew God.  The Christian church would be a happier church, a stronger church, a more victorious church if it would but believe what God has said in His Word what He purposes to do regarding His ancient people.  I cannot see how anybody can entertain an interpretation that is based on the idea that God would break His promise to Israel.  I cannot see how that becomes the basis of any confidence.  I would have to ask, How can He keep His word to me?

“And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.  And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days” (Daniel 11:32-33).  This is the time of ‘great tribulation' of which the Saviour spoke.  It is then that such knowledge will be valued and sought after as it ought.




[* “The apostle James,” says Philip Mauro, “speaking to ‘beloved brethren’ who have already been begotten again with the word of truth, exhorts them to lay aside all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and to receive with meekness the engrafted word, ‘which is able to save your SOUL’ ” (James 1: 21)

Therefore, the saving of the ‘soul’ in James 1: 21, has nothing to do with initial salvation received by grace through faith in Christ Jesus: it is something distinct from the new birth and something yet future.  “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” ... “And they were told to wait a little longer,” – (i.e., in Hades, the place of the dead.) - “until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed as they had been was completed:” (Rev. 6: 9-11).

** The word ‘Salvation’ in the Scriptures must always be interpreted by a careful examination of the context in which it is used: and it does not always mean the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life which every regenerate believer receives upon conversion.]