Anthony Charles at thenewgeneva.com released a blog post recently, subtitled, “A Concise Case for Reformed Amillennialism.” It seems like a worthwhile platform for dialogue, so here is a Dispensational Premillennialist’s reaction to the article.
His opening hook is a reference to John MacArthur’s (absolutely awesome) 2007 ShepCon talk.
“The lecture was regarded by Reformed theologians as an inaccurate and embarrassing straw man argument against amillennialism. This caused MacArthur to lose a great deal of credibility in the Reformed community.”
This is just an assertion with no sources or reasons given, so I’ll just offer an opposing assertion: no. MacArthur made an absolutely devastating point that strikes at the heart of the issue. But this article isn’t really about the MacArthur message, so let’s move on.
He defines some terms, and I find no faults in his definitions. In fact, I really like this definition of Dispensationalism, which includes the belief, “…that the prophecy of the Old Testament needs to be interpreted literally.”
Speaking about the dispensationalist hermeneutic, he says, “They believe in taking Scripture as literally as possible, unless the text explicitly says to take it as something else” – This is close, but I would phrase the second clause differently. We believe in taking scripture literally as the default. Which means there needs to be textual or contextual reasons for taking it in a different sense.
“A Reformed hermeneutic is one that considers the genre of literature, the grammatical words used, the book’s historical situation and it’s place in in redemptive history.” [SIC]
This falsely implies that these things are not part of the Dispensationalist’s hermeneutic. Dispensationalists consider the historical and grammatical context, and through this context recognize various genres of literature.
He says that the best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself, and in a sense, we agree. Michael White demonstrates this principle in relation to prophecy and apocalyptic literature, here.
“Reformed hermeneutics gives priority to the New Testament in interpreting the Old Testament.”
Dispensationalists argue that the progress of revelation builds upon previous revelation. New revelation is added to the old, and new revelation assumes knowledge of past revelation. If this is true, then neither testament is a lens through which to view the other, but the Old is the foundation for the New, and the New completes the Old. Now, we agree that to fully understand the Old Testament, one needs to consider the New, because the full implications of the Old are revealed by the New.
But, as John MacArthur said in that same (achingly fabulous) 2007 talk, if the New Testament is necessary to properly interpret the meaning of the Old, then in what sense can we even call it revelation at the time it was given?
Intriguingly, Anthony references Luke 24:27 to support the Reformed method of using the New Testament to interpret the Old. This verse says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
However, I don’t think this verse supports the Reformed method. The previous two verses state: “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’” In other words, He admonishes them for not understanding the Old Testament, and begins to explain it to them. If it were impossible to interpret the Old without the lens of the New, then Jesus’s admonishment of them makes no sense. He was not supplying them with the decryption key for the first time. The Christ and His suffering were always in the Old Testament — they simply misunderstood it.
“The Old Testament Teaches Amillennialism.”
His argument in this section is that the Old Testament never mentions a “thousand” years: “There is ZERO said about a thousand-year earthly kingdom.” The thousand-year length of time is never mentioned in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament is full of descriptions of an earthly kingdom. The essence of the millennium debate isn’t about its length of time, but about its literal, earthly character. The millennium, according to premillennialists is a glorious, eschatological kingdom of God upon the earth but distinct from the eternal state. It is a climactic golden age to end history (and a final test of sinful humanity, but that’s beyond our present scope).
Which means, every passage in the Old Testament that describes a glorious and indestructible kingdom, but one in which the possibility of sin and death remain, would qualify as an Old Testament teaching on the millennium. There are many passages that if taken literally would suggest such a period of time prior to the eternal state. For example, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 14:1-2, Isaiah 65, and Zechariah 14. In particular, notice Zechariah 14:17: “And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain.” This comes on the heels of one of the most detailed descriptions of Messiah coming, n judgment on the nations, to rescue the remnant of Israel. As Brian Reynolds likes to say, I challenge any amillennialist to explain Zechariah 14 in detail.
“In fact, the Old Testament describes the Messiah’s kingdom as an everlasting kingdom that cannot be destroyed (Daniel 2:44).”
Now this is an interesting misunderstanding. Almost all Dispensationalists would not characterize Messiah’s kingdom as coming to an end, but simply continuing into eternity. Its character changes once all enemies are destroyed, but it does not end. As William MacDonald puts it, commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:24, “All opposition will have been put down and all enemies destroyed. The reign of Christ as Son of Man will then give way to the eternal kingdom… His reign as Son of God… will continue forever.” (MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, page 1821.)
But this should not shock amillennialists. According to them, Christ is reigning over His kingdom now. If Christ’s kingdom is everlasting, then they would not say it ends when He returns to usher in the eternal state. Neither does the premillennialist say His kingdom ends.
“The Gospels teach Amillennialism”
Both sides could cherry pick statements about the kingdom from the gospels to support their view of it. The fact is a biblical theology of the kingdom in the gospels would require a comprehensive study of the narrative. I will just point out here that the premillennialist recognizes different phases and senses of the kingdom of God. (Check out Mike White’s teaching on the Kingdom in the gospels here).
“Who is participating in the millennium?”
“We see no mention of resurrected Christians ruling with Christ in an earthly Jewish kingdom, having children, and ruling over non-resurrected people. This is something a premillennial dispensationalist is inserting into this passage.”
The statement about “resurrected Christians… having children” is odd, and I think the most charitable way to read it is as a typographical error. Just for clarification, resurrected Christians will be immortal during the millennium, and will neither be married nor given in marriage (Matt 22:30). Mortal inhabitants of the kingdom, the righteous who survive the great tribulation, will have children, so I think this is what he meant to say.
He goes on to say the millennium description in Revelation 20 is, “a picture of believers who have died in the faith…. And with the souls of deceased believers, He reigns with them in heaven.”
While Rev 6:9 describes martyred souls with Christ in heaven, a premillennialist would say that this is not the millennium, but the tribulation period. Rev 20:4 does indeed describe the same saints, but it goes on to say, “and they lived and reigned” (ESV even says, “They came to life and reigned”). The next verse says of this, after a parenthetical statement, “this is the first resurrection.” For a premillennialist, this makes perfect sense. But what does this resurrection mean, for amillennialists? They are forced to read this as referring to regeneration, a spiritual resurrection, taking place before they had been martyred. This reading is awkward at best, and grammatically impossible at worst.
“He is bound and on a short chain (Revelation 20:1–3). Being bound means Satan can no longer deceive the nations as he did prior to Christ’s first coming. This has enabled the church to go forth to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations.”
I won’t comment on this. I’ll just recommend reading Revelation 20:1-3 and asking yourself if this fits the description.
He goes on to argue from the authority of the Creeds, Confessions, and Calvin. These have authority inasmuch as they teach what the Bible teaches. If the Bible teaches premillennialism, they are wrong. So, the only relevant question is, does the Bible teach it? In the next section of the article, he says that dispensational premillennialism is unorthodox. But the only worthwhile definition for “orthodox” is regarding that which we would deem “essentials” of the Christian faith, like the doctrine of God, Christology, the atonement, the resurrection, and the simple fact of the second coming (not the details). The supposedly “novel” distinctives of dispensationalism do not touch these essentials of orthodoxy. The truth is dispensationalism has been a thoroughly orthodox tradition.
“To me, a Reformed Christian or ‘self-respecting Calvinist’ should not be a premillennial dispensationalist because it’s unbiblical, unorthodox, divisive (bringing back the dividing wall between Jews and gentiles), and it brings dishonor to Christ (in saying that there is sin and failure in His Kingdom).”
This is a loaded paragraph. He attempted to argue for its being unbiblical and unorthodox, but the charges that it is “divisive” and that it brings dishonor to Christ (!) come out of nowhere. He claims that it brings back the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Since he doesn’t develop this argument, I won’t speculate much on what he might mean. However, within the church age, this is absolutely not true. Dispensationalism recognizes the biblical distinction between Israel and the Church, between Israel’s time, and the Church’s time. The Church is a body in which there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. As for the future beyond the church age, dispensationalists believe the Bible teaches that the Lord will deal with nations, again; the families of the earth, with one particular family having a privilaged political position. We don’t know exactly what life will be like for redeemed mortals in the Kingdom, but whatever the nature of fellowship between Israel and the Gentile nations will be, it will not be according to the Mosaic law. The veil is still torn.
John MacArthur’s (volcanically sublime) 2007 ShepCon message emphasized the unshakable promises of God in scripture. If the meaning of the plain words of Old Testament promises to Israel can change as dramatically as amillennialists would have us believe, then how can we trust the plain words of the New Testament’s promises to us? Anthony Charles ends his blogpost with, “All the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament ‘find their Yes’ in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).” To this verse of course we say amen. All the promises of God find their “Yes” in Christ. Jesus will reign over the kingdom of God on the earth, fulfilling this and every other great promise scripture makes, whether to Jews, Gentiles, or the Church of God.
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Thanks for the links to the MacArthur sermons series!