By Ian Shaw
(This message was given at a Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony meeting in
Our subject is the theological system of a-millennialism, and I purpose to define this system of interpretation, and to show its errors and weaknesses. My approach is not an academic one, but I trust it will be a practical one. As a Christian, and with over 25 years in pastoral work and preaching, I have come across people with the view that we are discussing. I have read their theological works and their commentaries. I have spoken with them, and listened to their preaching.*
[* The Jew is right by interpreting literally the words of God’s prophets of old, concerning the “day” to come, (2 Pet. 3: 8; Rev. 20: 4, 6). The Anti-Millennialist would prove, if he could, that there is only one kingdom of God – an everlasting kingdom in “a new heaven and a new earth”, (Rev. 21: 1): but they overlook God’s promises to our Lord Jesus Christ (Psa. 2: 6, 9), to Abraham and Jews (Gen. 22: 18. cf. Acts 7: 5) and to regenerate believers, (Gal. 3: 16, 18, 29): that is, to the overcomers amongst them (Rev. 3 & 4): “I am coming soon, Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Rev. 3: 11).
William Tyndale was quoted as having said: “There is none other way into the
“He who does not expect the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ to rule this earth nullifies the plain meaning of [God’s] prophets and apostles and of the Lord Himself, that is, the Bible entire; and, there being simply no other guide to the future, he sails into coming international darkness and tempest with neither chart, compass, rudder, nor star of hope by which to steer or to be cheered. Yea, more and worse; he will be misled by man’s unwarranted expectations which will utterly disappoint him:” (G. H. Lang).
“He (Jesus Christ “the
King”) will rule from sea to sea and from
the River (
My desire is to understand the teaching of the early church. It is not what 19th Century Presbyterians believed, or even what 16th Century Reformers or 17th Century Puritans understood, but what the early church, as revealed in the Book of Acts, learned from the Prophets.
I have no desire to set up a straw man and knock it over; that would not be profitable. More importantly, it would not be glorifying to the Lord. I try to be honest and faithful with this subject, in my reading and studying, and in my conversations with a-millennialists. I seek to understand their viewpoint, and I have done this seriously because my background is not a-millennial, but post-millennial. Thus, I am delving into a position from which I have not come, nor experienced.
In my research I have read theological works and
commentaries of some of the leading a-millennialists of this century and the
last century; but most particularly the
19th century, as it was then that this idea really developed as a
system. It seems to me the idea
of a-millennialism began with Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century,
and it has been held by people throughout the centuries; but, as I see it, it became a theological system with the
Princeton Theological Professors in the
I give an example. I have attended a church without a pastor, which therefore had itinerant [wandering] preachers. There were a-millennialists who came, and the same passage would be preached on with completely different understandings being manifested. Although there may have been a general consensus of opinion, there was a lot of variety.
I wish to confine our thoughts to the Book of
the Acts, as it records the time when truth was passed on to others by the
apostles. This was when the church
Further, in my studies, I have realised that the Book of the Acts is the battleground between the ‘pre,’ ‘post’ and ‘a’ millennial positions. I think if we have a good understanding of the Acts of the Apostles (in its prophetic sections - where it quotes from the Old Testament), then we shall better understand the other parts of the New Testament. It has clarified my own thinking on how the Old Testament was treated by Christians living in New Testament days. It is the fruit of that study that I want to bring to you.
A Definition of the Word ‘Whither’
Our subject is ‘Whither a-millennialism?’ The word ‘whither’ has three definitions, depending on the tense used. These are, ‘to what place,’ ‘to what point,’ or, ‘how far.’ I have taken the last, for that is what we cannot trust - how far this system [of a-millennial teaching] takes people. It has many weaknesses as well as dangers. There are dangers for the soul, dangers for our blessing, and, more importantly, dangers because it robs God of His Glory. I find that it is human-centred rather than God-centred. It is pessimistic rather than optimistic. I believe our pre-millennial view is an extremely optimistic one in the sense that we look forward to the Christ of God coming into our midst, ruling and reigning upon the [this] earth,* and having a thousand years of glory, showing what the earth will be like when ruled by the Creator of all things.
[*As we look at God’s groaning creation, and
the way in which its sufferings are increasing day by day, we have a vivid
picture of pregnancy: and that pregnancy must increase until the time of the birth
from below. That is, at
the time of Christ’s descent, and not before then for, “the dead in Christ [now in ‘in the heart of the earth’] will rise [up out of Hades] first:” (1 Thess. 4:
But, are all ‘the dead in Christ,’ going to be resurrected when Jesus returns? No. Only “those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age” (Luke 20: 35). That is, the Millennial Age when His “glory” will be displayed over the whole earth: “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11: 9). Jesus’ words point us forward to an “age” yet to come at the time of His return. It will also be a time of “rest” for those of His redeemed people, who “make every effort to enter” (Heb. 4: 11). That “rest” is millennial-rest; it is “a Sabbath-rest” for His redeemed people. It is also a ‘rest’ for this earth for “a thousand years”- there will be “no longer any sea” in the “new earth”: (Rev. 21: 1).]
An A-Millennial Statement
Professor Louis Berkhof stated in his book, ‘Systematic Theology,’ in a section on Millennial Views, ‘the idea of the millennium ... is not an integral part of Reformed theology.’ However, after that, he conceded that ‘Reformed theology cannot afford to ignore the wide-spread millenarian views.’ The a-millennialists of today have ignored Dr Berkhof because they have ignored pre-millennialism. Sadly, I have found, in my own experience, that a-millennialists neither know nor understand our position, and fear its implications.
A Definition of ‘A-millennialism’
Here is a definition of a-millennialism by Dr Berkhof. He said, ‘There are large numbers, however, who do not believe that the Bible warrants the expectation of a millennium, and it has become customary of late to speak of them A-millennialists. The a-millennial view is, as the name indicates, purely negative.’ (With that second phrase we would concur). ‘It holds that there is no sufficient Scriptural ground for the expectation of a millennium, and is firmly convinced that the Bible favours the idea that the present dispensation of the kingdom of God will be followed immediately by the kingdom of God in its consummate and eternal forms.’ I must say that the present is not the kind of millennium I find attractive.
Dr. Berkhof is not alone in his theories. I refer later to Mr J A Alexander, because he wrote a commentary on Acts. He was a Presbyterian of the 19th Century, and a man greatly respected by the peers of his time and by those who survived him. His books are still being published.
The a‑millennial theory is based on a spiritual interpretation of the prophetic writers concerning the future, and the outlook of the spiritual fulfilment rather than the literal fulfilment. When a-millennialists go to the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, they only look for spiritual interpretations, and do not take what is printed on the page as literal.*
[* By looking for amd using spiritual
interpretations, the deplorable thing about much of today’s litriture is
that it should never have been written.
By denying the wonderful outburst
of prophetic light in the nineteenth century, they are set on restoring the
prophetic outlook of four centuries ago, with a present millennium, an historic
Apocalypse, no literal reign of Christ on this earth and the nation of
You might well wonder about those poor Christians who do not have a theological education or do not hold theological degrees, who are not steeped in Hebrew and Greek, and who have not spent their lives in academia. You may well wonder about all those glorious Christians with a simple faith from the first century until now, who just went to the Word of God and found their theology there, by reading and believing what it said. I say reverently, we are not commanded to merely read the Bible and understand it, but the Lord intends us to believe His Word and accept by faith those things we do not understand.* Reading and believing are necessary. There are things in the Bible that I do not understand, and there are things that I do not expect to understand until I experience the great joys to which I look forward in the future, but I believe these things by faith.
[* It would appear that the majority of Christians do not understand that God is a Rewarder of all who diligently walk in obedience to His commands. Enoch walked with and pleased God, and was rewarded by being rapt into heaven; Noah walked and pleased God, and was saved through the Flood; and Christians who walk with God by living to please Him, will escape the Great Tribulation, (Luke 21: 34-36; Rev. 3: 10).
“If we understand aright his [God’s] character, and abstain from those things which justly offend him, all his divine perfections are on our side. But if we transgress, the wrecks of former ages may assure us, that he will vindicate his own glory on us, as he did on the guilty ones of old.
“This history of
“The First Recurrection is limited to a portion of the redeemed Church; that while eternal life and [an eternal] inheritance are of faith and free grace, and common to all regenerate believers freely as such, the millennial crown and the first resurrection are a reward – the reward of suffering for and with Christ; a special glory, designed to comfort and support believers under persecution: a need and use which I have little doubt the Church will before long be called on collectively to experience…” (William Bough). “All honest difficulty on this truth vanishes, I think, when we examine what God rewards:” (D. M. Panton).]
Acts 1: 6 - 11
Dr Berkhof said, ‘It is remarkable that the New Testament, which is the
fulfilment of the Old, contains no indication whatsoever of the
re-establishment of the Old Testament theocracy by Jesus, nor a single
undisputed positive prediction of its restoration.’ I would answer his comment by going to
this passage of the Word of God. In
verse 6, we see a corporate [united] coming
together of the disciples immediately prior to our Lord leaving the earthly
scene in His ascension. They
brought a corporate question to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking, ‘Lord, wilt Thou at this
time restore again the kingdom to
What would we say if we knew someone was going to [heavenly] glory? What would be our last conversation? This is what was happening here, and there was this burning question. It was not just a random question. It was not just an impulse of Peter’s. This was the burning question, and it was a corporate question. It was not only one person asking but the whole group as they gathered together, and within the question there was a burning priority.
The burning priority was about the timing – ‘Is it now?’* Our a-millennial friends seem to miss this point; they think of the event, not about time. Our Lord graciously answered the disciples by saying that it was not for them ‘to know the times and the seasons.’ Then, the Lord said that the Father had put such times into ‘His Own power.’ Here we see human ignorance, and the latter part of the verse tells us of divine knowledge. The Father knows the time. These disciples had no problem with the event.
[* There can be no doubt that the regenerate are now
They believed that the kingdom was to be restored. The timing was the important question, which is entirely in keeping with what we read in the Gospels. It is not for us to know that time either, so there is nothing new here. We are kept in ignorance about the time and it is good that it is so.
The disciples’ question was in parts. It relates to the ‘restoring again,’ ‘the kingdom to
The Lord Jesus Christ was laying the foundation of His second advent and the restoration of His kingdom at the beginning of this new era and this was an opportunity to clarify false hopes and misunderstood teaching. This would have been the occasion because He was about to ascend into heaven and it was the last time that they would view Him, and hear Him in the flesh. If their question was wrong, if the priority within the question was wrong, if their [millennial] hopes were wrong, this would have been the time to put them right, but the Lord does not do this.
There is encouragement in the Lord’s reply
to believe the literal hope fostered
by the inspired prophets. What our
Lord told His disciples was, that it was not for them to know the times and the
seasons of the great future event.
Then, in verse 8, we have the further
revelation by the Lord of what would be given until the manifest kingdom of our
Lord, ‘But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye
shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in
Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ Here the Lord spoke of the era before the restoration of the manifest kingdom. It is the era of God the Holy Spirit
when He will give power to His Church.
He was to send out His people; they were to begin initially at
Verse 9 tells us of the Lord being ‘taken up,’ and in verses 10 ‑ 11 we read, ‘And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, Which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.’ Here is the encouragement to believe that the kingdom, asked about by the disciples, will be post [after the] second advent, after this age of God the Holy Spirit, in which we are now living.
was the teaching of the church in those days.* The truth was to be taken into the
world; there was to be preaching of foundation truth concerning salvation and
redemption in Jesus Christ alone.
We might imagine some of those disciples, years later, recalling how
they took the message of the atonement, the resurrection, the doctrine of
election, to the world, and as they thought of the ascension, they would
remember that they had also made known the hope of the restoration of
[* Barnabas in the first century thus comments upon these words of Moses: “ ‘And God made in six days the work of his hands, and he finished on the seventh day, and he rested in it, and sanctified it.’ This it signifies, that the Lord God will finish all things in six thousand years. For a day with him is as a thousand years; as he himself testifieth, saying, ‘Behold this day shall be as a thousand years.’ Therefore, children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, shall all things be consummated. ‘And he rested the seventh thousand day’; this signifies, that when his Son shall come, and shall abolish the season of the Wicked one, and shall judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun and the moon and the stars, then he shall rest gloriously in that seventh day” (Epist. Cap. 15).]
Now if the a‑millennial assumption of the
Old Testament prophets merely having a spiritual meaning is correct, then
surely when a prophet is quoted in the New Testament we would expect the
meaning of the prophecy to be made clear.
The desire of the a‑milennialist is to assume that this prophecy
should read ‘rule My church,’ or
‘rule My disciples,’ or ‘rule My elect;’ but that was not said. It is ‘My people
We have noted that the a-millennialist gives no warrant in the New Testament for a future kingdom [upon this earth], and we have observed from Acts 1 that there certainly is such warrant. Acts 2:17-21 is a quotation from Joel 2: 28-32. Mr Alexander, dealing with this passage, said, ‘The negative defence is followed by the positive.’ That is true. Peter said those men were not drunken, it being only the third hour of the day. Mr Alexander added, ‘This is not intoxication, it is inspiration, and the fulfilment of a signal prophecy.’ So, we have an a-millennialist saying that Joel 2:28‑32 is ‘a signal prophecy.’ Signals on the road are to be followed to preserve our own safety and that of others; and they are to be looked for because they give guidance as to when to stop and when to go.
He gives, in this passage, three ways in which we should of necessity go. He says, ‘In all such cases, it is necessary, first, to identify the passage; then, to ascertain the form of the quotation; and finally, to fix the sense in which it is applied.’ That gives us an idea of his thinking. He does not use the word ‘interpreted,’ but ‘applied.’ Let us follow him.
He says, ‘The first question is determined here, partly by the mention of the prophet’s name.’ Well, I would not say just partly but particularly ‑ by the prophet’s name. We are told in verse 16, ‘But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.’ It is not Amos, not Isaiah, not David, not Jeremiah, but Joel. There is nothing ‘partly’ about that; it is definitely Joel. So far we agree the prophet’s name, and the actual existence of the passage quoted in the text of the Old Testament. Basically, he says we find in Acts 2: 16-21 the passage from Joel. Thus he asserts the first part has been answered.
Next, he desires that we ‘ascertain the form of the quotation,’ and by that he means, to whom is it directed? We find a wide array of people mentioned in verses 17-18. It is to ‘all flesh,’ ‘your sons, and your daughters,’ ‘your young men,’ ‘your old men,’ male and female servants. We know where this Scripture comes from; we know of whom it is speaking; and we know who it is going to affect because we read it in the passage. So far we are in agreement with Mr Alexander. However, he has a problem in verse 17 with the three words ‘prophesy,’ ‘visions,’ and ‘dreams.’
Mr. Alexander says, ‘As we do not read of any such effects at Pentecost, the terms of the prediction must have been understood by the apostles as figures and types of extraordinary spiritual influence, and not as the precise forms in which the promise was to be fulfilled.’ As he did not see prophecy, visions, or dreams, he thought they must be figures and types. Now where does he go for his authority? He concluded Pentecost is not in the precise form that Joel predicted. It was not the exact form because they spoke in tongues.
Prophecy in the Bible is not just foretelling the future; it is also forth-telling. In earlier days, Scottish Free Church Presbyterian Ministers were called prophets, not because they foretold events but because they forth-told the Word of God, or, in other words, they preached. Could that not be part of the prophecy, forth-telling the Word of God?
Who knows whether these people at that time ‑
or the night before, or in weeks succeeding ‑ had visions and
dreams? That may be conjecture, but
a-millennialists make fatal errors.
Look at this passage in Acts; notice
‘they were all with one accord in one place.’ Those mentioned in chapter 1: 6 would have been there, and also the
hundred and twenty referred to later in the chapter together with the vast
array of people spoken of in Acts 2: 9-11,
who were from different parts of what was then the
Let us have a careful look at the passage. Joel 2: 28
speaks about the start of an age.
That is important because Mr Alexander, who is representative of
a-millennialists, sees that this prophecy will be fulfilled in one day, but
that is not what Joel predicts. The
age is to begin with dreams and visions; and in the Acts of the Apostles we
find prophets - one named Agabus; we find people speaking in tongues - the
verification of the message from heaven in the apostolic era; we see Peter and
Comelius having visions, dreams. Joel was not predicting a one-day event; he
was speaking of an age. Going
on to Joel 2: 32, this passage speaks of
calling upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, which we do in the age in which we are living. In Joel 2:30
we read of the approach of the end of the age. Verse 31
gives the events immediately prior to the end of the age. Also in verse
31 we see the second advent itself.
At the end of verse 32, we note the Deliverer will come to
Joel was predicting an age, from the apostolic
era with the apostolic gifts, to the Deliverer coming to
The passage in Acts follows exactly the same format in its every detail. It is the initial formalisation of the age. Verse 17 refers to the day of Pentecost. In verse 21 is the calling of the elect through this age. Verse 19 speaks of the end of this age. Verse 21 gives the precursors of the second coming, and at the end of verse 20 there is the second advent itself, ‘The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.’
You will know other texts that would compare with that, but Mr Alexander (with other a-millennialists) has a problem with this verse. He says, ‘These are prophetic figures for great and sudden revolutionary changes’ ‑ not astral events but mere revolutionary changes in that day. So Mr Alexander comes to this verse and because the things stated did not happen on the day of Pentecost he considers it must be figurative; he says ‘it is symbolical.’ He must find another meaning; and countless thousands of others who have come to this passage have done the same.
Matthew 24: 29-30 speaks of astral activity before our Lord Jesus comes back again. Comparing scripture with scripture it becomes obvious that a-millennialists show blinkered reasoning. They look upon this as a day and not as an age. The prophet saw far beyond the day of Pentecost. He was still looking onward through the coming centuries, looking at the whole age from its inception to its culmination.
I do some climbing in the
We could ask the a-millennialist, when will be ‘that great and notable day of the Lord’ mentioned in verse 20? If they look upon that as being one day, it cannot be the first advent as that has passed. You may be forgiven for saying it is the first advent of our Lord Jesus Christ if you only had the Book of Joel, but it is explained here in Acts. Surely, we cannot miss the understanding that it speaks of an age. The a-millennialists would be more ready to apply this to our moral and ethical situation, rather than give us the plain meaning of it.
This is the first key to be found, that a-millennialists do not clearly distinguish prophetic, especially apocalyptic, Scriptures. They do not distinguish between the first and the second advents. I am becoming more and more convinced that they see the second advent from the New Testament only, not from the Old Testament. I could be wrong with that, and given the variety of a-millennialists, there are probably exceptions to the rule, but I think, generally speaking, that when an Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament, they have a problem distinguishing what is the first advent and what is the second advent - the great and notable Day of the Lord. You need a key to open a door and this first key opens a door to our understanding. This is one area in which a-millennialists fall down, they do not distinguish between the first and the second advents. That is why, when they preach, they are blurred on one aspect or the other, because they do not clearly distinguish.
Acts 2: 29-36
This passage is another example of how weak the a-millennial system of interpretation is. It is agreed that this passage is a quotation from three passages of Scripture - 2 Samuel 7: 12-16, Psalm 89: 34, and Psalm 132: 11. Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit, shows that these passages speak of the resurrection of the body,* and in particular, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We agree with a-millennialists here; but the Scripture speaks of more. They only see resurrection, as they do not look into the verses which follow. We are in complete agreement that this passage speaks of the resurrection, and particularly the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, but a-millennialists try to find a complete fulfilment. They look for the whole prophecy to be fulfilled at that time.
[* The expression, ‘the resurrection of the body’ is nowhere to be found in Scripture; we read always of, “the resurrection of the dead.” Why? Because Resurrection, when it takes place, embraces the whole man and not just his body. It effects the state of not just the decomposed ‘body,’ but also that of his disembodied ‘soul’: “Moreover my flesh (i.e. the body) also shall dwell [Gk. ‘tabernacle’] in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades: (Acts 2: 26b, 27, R.V.) As long as the body lies in the grave, the soul remains in Hades: that is, not inside a tomb or a coffin, but “in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12: 40; 16: 18. cf. Luke 16: 23, etc.). Hence Paul saught the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, and hoped to “attain unto the resurrection (out) from the dead” (Phil 3: 10-12, Lit. Gk.). The inspired apostle knew that not all who were regenerate would attain the ‘First’ resurrection; and to be resurrected at that time, would enable one to enter the Messiah’s millennial kingdom before the last general ‘resurrection of the dead,’ ‘a thousand years’ later.]
In 2 Samuel 7: 12‑16, we see God speaking to David, in verse 12, about Solomon (not about Christ in this case). That is confirmed in verse 13 because it speaks about Solomon building the temple and the Lord God establishing Solomon’s kingdom; and notice the words, ‘for ever.’ In verse 14, God is clearly speaking about Solomon’s future conduct, not the Lord Jesus Christ; not Rehoboam, not others, but Solomon in particular. Verse 15 continues the same, but when we come to verse 16 we notice a covenant is being initiated, the eternal covenant that was established with David. Notice it has three parts ‑ (1) his house, (2) his kingdom, (3) his throne. So, we have here a person, a kingdom, and a throne promised and predicted with the addition, ‘for ever.’
In Psalm 89:3a there is a quotation from 2 Samuel 7 but with inspired additions. In verse 3 there is mention of a covenant with a particular person, a chosen servant, David, confirmed by a divine oath with referenc to the future. It is to be established with his seed ‘for ever,’ and the throne built ‘to all generations’ (verse 4).
In Psalm 132: 11 more evidence is given to the everlasting covenant of God with David, ‘the LORD hath sworn in truth.’ That is repeated, for it continues, ‘He will not turn from it.’ So, we find a triple affirmation with the truth of this passage and the other two passages, and in Acts all these passages are brought together. This triple affirmation is by One Who does not need any affirmation because He is the Lord God, Creator and Maker of heaven and earth. The promise is that ‘of the fruit of thy body (notice, a person) will I set upon thy throne.’ There the throne is spoken of again, and it is David’s throne that is mentioned.
We can conclude from these three passages, and their being brought together in Acts, that we are looking for two clear events not one; and this is where the a-millennialist falters. We have seen that these verses speak of the resurrection, as does Acts 2: 31, ‘He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ,* that His soul was not left in hell [Hades], neither His flesh did see corruption.’
[* After a preview on the Mount of Transfiguration, of the coming messianic kingdom, Jesus told the three disciples not to mention what they saw “until the Son of Man had risen [out] from the dead” (Mark 9: 9, Lt. Gk.). Now these words troubled the disciples. Why? Because of the Greek preposition “ek” (“out”). Ek nekron anaste ‘risen OUT FROM dead ones’. It was the presence of this preposition in His statement, that caused the disciples, on that occasion, to question meaning of His words. It was something which was additional to their common creed. It was this select resurrection that demonstrated Christ with “power to be the Son of God” and “the Firstborn of the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rom. 1: 4; Rev. 1: 5): when He left the place of the dead, all others in Hades were left behind, to await His judgement before the time of their resurrection. This is the main thrust of Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost for he said: “David DID NOT ASCEND TO HEAVEN” (verse 34). Now if the soul, as is commonly believed, can ascend into heaven at the time of death, what need would there be for Resurrection? Does resurrection not have to include both body and soul? When Jesus rose from the dead, His soul was united to His body: and He did not return to His Father in heaven until some time AFTER His resurrection, (John 20: 17): and neither can we. Those who believe they can are mistaken; and with so many regenerate believers now holding on to mistaken and unscriptural teachings, who would be interested in reigning with Christ upon this earth, if they were already enjoying the presence of God in heaven? It is no wonder the importance of a select resurrection to be attained is being ignored; and the belief of the Millennium is being openly rejected by the A-millennialists. The “First Resurrection” is the door which will lead those “considered wiorthy” into an earthly inheritance in “the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 5: 20). Luke 20: 35; Rev. 20: 4-6.
“How strange,” says Robert Govett, “that any, after this clear passage – (that ‘David is not ascended’) – should fancy that the saints are in heaven now!”
“For if you have conversed with some that are called Christians, and do not maintain these opinions (the millennarian), but even dare to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and say that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that the souls, as they leave the body, are received up into heaven, take care that you do not look upon these as Christians…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho).]
But we have the protection and preservation of the line in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in Rehoboam or Hezekiah, but in the preservation of a line for the future in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice, we have two confirmations in verse 32, ‘This Jesus hath God raised’ (the divine affirmation) and, ‘we all are witnesses’ (the human confirmation). After this, we find in verses 33-34, the Lord’s ascension and exaltation [: and not David’s].
This is not rocket science; it is simply taking up the Bible and reading in Acts. There we find a quotation from the prophet; we read the prophet and understand the prophet better, and understand the Acts better. Firstly, we realise there is a resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, followed by Pentecost, all at the beginning of the [this evil] age. Secondly, there is an exaltation of the Lord to sit at the right hand of the Father (verse 34) ‘until I make Thy foes Thy footstool’ (verse 35). This ‘until’ reminds us of a future time [and ‘age’], and when we make comparisons with other Scriptures, we find that this will be the time when the Lord Jesus Christ comes back in power and manifest glory.
Now, the a-millennialists think David’s throne is transferred into heaven, but the passage tells us that ‘David is not ascended into the heavens,’ because he has not, as we have not, experienced the bodily resurrection yet. So David’s throne cannot be in heaven. The throne that he has never sat upon cannot be his throne. Some time ago I was able to sit on the seat of the great John Gill. It was his chair because he sat on it; but that throne in heaven could never be David’s because he has never sat on it (and I do not think that it is any mistake that the inspired writer has included this phrase here).
So, the first part of the Davidic promise was fulfilled with the resurrection [of Jesus Christ]. The second part of the promise relates to Christ sitting upon the [Father’s] throne, waiting until His enemies are made His footstool ‑ till His second advent ‑ and then sitting upon the throne of David. We, as pre-millennialists, see a part fulfilment here and a continuing fulfilment when the Lord shall return from His divine throne to sit on David’s throne, exactly as predicted.
A-millennialists try to find a complete fulfilment, not only in these verses but in all these passages. They try to find a complete fulfilment whenever a prophet is quoted. You do not find that method of understanding in passages in the gospels when it speaks about our Lord’s first advent. So, is it legitimate to expect that method in passages dealing with the second advent? Looking for a complete fulfilment in New Testament quotes from Old Testament prophetic Scripture is clearly a weakness in their system. It leads to fanciful reasoning, unwarranted conclusions, and disharmony amongst commentators. I have found some a-millennialists will not even deal with those parts of Scripture. Here is the second key – that a-millennialists constantly look for a complete fulfilment.
When I looked for J A Alexander’s handling of the throne I found he does not deal with it. Looking for the rebuilding of the tabernacle mentioned in Acts 15, he does not deal with that. It seems that when a-millennialists [and post-millennialists] come across something they find difficult they go round it. These are commentators preparing pastors (who have busy ministries) to understand the Word, and they do not deal clearly with Scriptures in the Old Testament dealing with the second advent. In fact, and this is serious, some a-millennialists will even turn away from the Authorised Version and will introduce an alternative reading because it suits their particular viewpoint. So, they turn from the Textus Receptus to an unreliable version because it suits their fancy.
I thought I may have just stumbled across one example, but no, I found this pattern in many passages, and not just in one a-millennial writer. They are always ready to use the spiritualising approach, ‘How can we get out of this? Is there another reading?’ If there is one that favours their view, they will use this reading. That is unfaithful. They are willing to accept some words in the one version but not the rest.
The handling of this passage shows how a plain straight-forward Scripture is muddled by a-millennialism. J. A. Alexander commented on the phrase, ‘Those things, which God before had shewed.’ He tells us, ‘Before had showed is more exactly rendered in the Rhemish version’ ‑ a papal version which substantiates his own point of view.
Verse 19 says, ‘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.’ Mr Alexander has a difficulty because this is speaking, at the end of the verse, about the second advent, so why is there the space of time between people repenting and having to wait for refreshing from the Lord at His second coming? I record this to show you the tensions that they perceive.
Of the word ‘refreshing’ he says, ‘the English versions’ (which would include the Authorised Version) ‘must be set aside upon a double ground; because it violates the usage of the language to ... be philologically justified ... Looking simply at this verse, the times of refreshing ... might denote nothing more than the relief from pain and other pleasurable feelings, which accompany repentance and conversion.’ They always have to be redefining these Scriptures. They cannot accept them as the straightforward passages they are. They look for other authoritics. They make tensions for themselves.
This is the strange thing. I could go on, but will leave it at that, although I would like to have mentioned Acts 15.
Having had a number of a-millennialists in my home, I have tried an experiment - I have told them exactly what I believe to see what reactions I would get. I have found that the vast majority of them have not shown us the respect of seriously considering the pre-millennial viewpoint. They are not familiar with the truth that we hold.
One minister was aghast that Philippians 2, which speaks about the Lord being known in all the earth, was a prophecy about the second advent. He told me it was a theological passage dealing with the first advent! He was staggered that I looked upon it as a second advent passage. It is, of course, a quotation from Habakkuk in the Old Testament. It is very clearly second advent, but because he had not studied it he was unaware of its implications.
As discussions have developed, I found that such ministers have no reasoned or reasonable reply. One of them said that things were getting better in the world. Clearly things are getting worse. There may be localised revivals in some parts of the world, like areas in Africa or South East Asia; but we are living in a post-Christian culture in this country, and, generally speaking, the more advanced men become the more depraved they are. Giving them computers or adding to the length of life through medical advances does not make society any better.
A-millennialists seem to me to be abysmally
ignorant of what we stand for - some of
them even associate our beliefs with dispensationalism. A guest in my home, from a
dispensational background, said that when he went to college he was taught the
a-millennial viewpoint; and he threw away all his dispensational baggage. I think that they consider that our
pre-millennial position goes to the same excesses as that of dispensationalism,
with the same type of false conclusions and muddled thinking; but we are not dispensationalists, we are
historic pre-millennialists. We hold to the same viewpoint, by and
large, that the church did for the first three centuries - before
A-millennialists also tend to associate our viewpoint with that of the cults. Some cults may have a form of
pre-millennialism, but at least they have an optimistic viewpoint, which is
more than we can say for a-millennialists!
We give Christ His place as
co-equal with the Father, whereas the cults do not. One of the powers of cults is that they
take strands of the truth and weave it into their false beliefs, but that does not make that misused truth
any less true. I do not know if
I have also found that a-millennialists tend to think that pre-millennialism is immature, and consequently naive. I have even heard a chairman of a conference say that as a young Christian matures he progresses from pre-millennialism to a-millennialism to post millennialism. Many of those training for the ministry do not want to be found holding to a belief which is seen as immature!
Today pre-millenialism is a minority wiewpoint, and while minority does not mean incorrect, how many people want to be in the minority? Remember the twelve spies that came back to Moses. There was a majority report which was unfavourable and there was a minority report by two of them, Joshua and Caleb.
Another viewpoint links pre-millennialism with Arminianism. I have asked, ‘Have you not heard of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony, which proclaims the doctrine of grace and pre-millennial truth?’ but sad to say, many do not know there is a group of people who hold to the doctrine of grace and give the Lord His due glory, and who also have this great optimistic view of the future.
I feel that the a-millennial position is one of intellectual snobbery, which seeks human approbation. Men tend to ask, What says Luther? What says Calvin? What says David Brown? Well, I say, What saith the Scriptures? That is where we should be looking for approbation. We should not bother about what men, however great or good, say. They may have been men greatly used of the Lord but they were only men.
Years ago, I was post-millennial. Looking back, I can say I did not hold to that belief out of conviction but because it was a generally held belief of the peer group in which I was. It seems to me that many a-millennialists hold that position because it is the consensus of the majority of the men they have been taught to respect.
Let me close by telling you of an American of the last century, a man named George Eldon Ladd. He said that more people have become modernists and liberals from an a-millennial position than from a pre-millennial point of view. I do not doubt that this is the case because the pre-millennial viewpoint causes us to be honest with the Scriptures and honest to ourselves; and above all things we want to glorify the Lord of the Scriptures.
I think, as the Lord’s people, we have to bear a testimony, and I desire to continue my challenges to a-millennialists. I take the things that I glean from studying the Scriptures and with these two keys of which I have spoken, I try to show the sad mistakes being made. Oh! what a vast amount of blessing these people lose; and what a vast amount of blessing I have received since Mr James Payne first sent me the magazine. I started reading the books and getting tapes and the blessings that I have had since 1979 to this day have been some of the greatest blessings that I have had from the Word of God. A-millennialists are denying themselves these blessings, but more importantly, they are denying the Lord His glory.