Search This Blog

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Is Premillennialism An Essential Doctrine

Is Premillennialism An Essential Doctrine
[A pastor-friend of mine asked me to write this article on premillennialism for a newsletter that was going out to the pastors in his denomination--a denomination that was considering a revision of its articles of faith that would no longer include premillennialism.]

Whenever an article of Christian Scripture is termed "non-essential," the thoughtful believer must feel discomfort. After all, it was the founder of the Church Himself who proclaimed in the very hottest part of the battle that "every" word of God" is essential for life (MT 4:4, italics mine).

If, therefore, the doctrine that proposes that Christ's second coming will precede a millennial kingdom is really a component of God's Word, it could hardly be thought of as non-essential. Indeed, the essential nature of a doctrine must never be judged by the charge of emotions associated with it, but simply by its clear presence or absence in God's written revelation.

The doctrine of premillennialism rests on two simple premises: that there will be a very special time of righteousness and prosperity someday on planet earth, and that this "golden age" will be initiated by the appearance of Christ on earth. Either of these premises can be found with even the most cursory acquaintance with God's Word.

Very early in Isaiah's prophecy, for example, the Bible student is introduced to "a rod out of the stem of Jesse" (i.e. messiah, 11:1), who "with righteousness shall judge the poor...and smite the earth with the rod of his mouth" (11:4). In this wonderful age peace will reign, for "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb," predators "shall not hurt nor destroy, the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD," and this "root of Jesse" will secure a "rest" that can only be described as "glorious" (11:5-10).

Scholars are perfectly unanimous in understanding that this prophecy concerns the career of Messiah. It is also rather evident that the conditions described here are those of earth, not heaven, for the earth is specifically mentioned twice, and one would not be expected to see wolves, venomous snakes, and other predators in heaven. Only by doing violence to the natural reading of the text can the implications of an "earthly" kingdom in Isaiah 11 be avoided.

Furthermore, the student of Isaiah's prophecies will soon discover that this sort of speech is very customary for Isaiah, and not for him only. Ezekiel's works are filled with similar references. The reader of Ezekiel 34 sees that God will one day set forth "one shepherd" (v. 23). In his day God "will make" a special "covenant of peace," and cause all "the evil beasts to cease out of the land" (v. 25). He will also bless the earth with abundant crops, "and the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase" (v. 27). At this time all the people "shall be safe in their land...and none shall make them afraid" (v. 28).

It is apparent again that Ezekiel is addressing the blessings of the end times, for no such peace has ever existed on earth since the delivering of Ezekiel's promise. And heaven cannot be the subject of Ezekiel 34 since heaven has never been threatened with evil beasts, enemy troops, or crop failures of any kind. A golden age on earth is the hope constantly held out to the readers of biblical prophecy.

Thus will the student of Scripture come upon Daniel's smiting stone, at the arrival of which "the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom" to replace all other governments and "fill the whole earth" (Dan. 2:35, 44). And he will read of Zechariah's prediction of a time when "the LORD shall be king over all the earth (Zech. 14:9), and "there shall be no more destruction" (14:11), but "all the nations" will travel to "Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts" (14:16-17).

And after he has read dozens of similar texts in the Old Testament*, the Bible reader will discover Jesus' own promise to come to earth again in power and glory, to judge nations on earth as one who separates sheep from goats (MT 25:31-34), and to rule His kingdom on earth with a rod of iron (Rev. 2:26-27) for a thousand years (Rev. 20). These are all things that the Bible clearly states and as such, they are the words of God. This simple reality powerfully and forever answers the question of whether the doctrine of premillennialism is essential.

Perhaps premillennialism is not essential for salvation. On the other hand, many profess that they have come to the Savior as a result of a study on eschatology. Perhaps premillennialism is not essential for Christian sanctification. On the other hand, the person who rejects a clear teaching of Scripture because of peer pressure, for example, is quenching the Spirit and cannot therefore be Spirit-filled. Perhaps premillennialism is not essential for fellowship. On the other hand, a corporate Bible study in which the face-value reading of the text is censured might lead to frustration and misunderstanding between honest brothers.

Beyond any doubt, however, these prophecies are essential for any saint who wishes to be diligent with the Word of Truth, to "cut it straight," and to apply it accurately to those around him. If it is a matter of "Thus says the Lord," let us be sure that it is essential.

* See also statements in Is. 1:25-31; 2:1-5; 4:1-6; 11:1-16; 24:1-23; 25:6-19; 27:13; 29:17-24; 30:18-26; 32:1-18; 35:1-10; 51:3; 54:1-4; 55:12-13; 60:14-22; 65:20-25; 66:7-9; Jer. 3:16-18; 46:27-28; 50:4-20; Ez. 34:12-28; 36:8-35; chs. 40-48 in entirety; Dan. 2:34-44; 7:7-14; 9:24; 12:1-12; Joel 2:28-32; Amos 9:11-15; Obad. 17-21; Micah 5:2-4; Zeph. 3:9-20; Zech. 8:20-23; Zech. 14:8-21; Luke 1:70-71, 74.