Church History

5 Ways Amillennialism Distorts the Biblical Worldview

5 Ways Amillennialism Distorts the Biblical Worldview

This is my third article on how an amillennial view of Scripture can, over time, open the day to Socialism. I’m writing in response to an article depicting how socialism is gaining a foothold in many churches across the United States.

Please note I am not saying all amillennialists are Socialists, certainly not. My point is that churches with a long history of amillennialism and its accompanying worldview seem to be much more susceptible to a Marxist way of thinking.

I believe this is because they distort the biblical worldview in a number of ways:

Is Belief in the Rapture Relatively New?

Is Belief in the Rapture Relatively New?

Those who oppose our beliefs in a pretribulation rapture fill up social media and the Internet with stories mocking the rapture as something no one believed until the nineteenth century. They discredit it based on its recent appearance in the life of the church.

So, is our belief in the rapture relatively new in church history? No, absolutely not! As will see in the following sections, saints in the early days of the church looked for Jesus’ appearing to take away His church ahead of a time of tribulation on the earth. The doctrine existed long before people began calling it “the rapture” during the 1800’s.

Why Premillennialism Matters

Why Premillennialism Matters

I recently read an article by Bert Farias on the Charisma News website entitled The Corruption of American Christianity: The Evil Agenda to Destroy America. In it, the writer shows how Marxist and Communist ideologies have gained a foothold in many churches and denominations throughout the United States.

Through a mixture of truth and error, the promoters of this leftist agenda not only sabotage the Gospel, but also the scriptural purpose of the church.

But why do some Christians fall for such errors while others immediately see their subversive intent? Why do so many elevate a purely social agenda above the Gospel?

Isaac Newton: Groundbreaking Theologian or Heretic?

Isaac Newton: Groundbreaking Theologian or Heretic?

Do you remember your grade school image of Isaac Newton? I still picture him sitting under an apple tree about to discover gravity as an apple hits him in the head.

A more realistic picture recognizes him of the most influential scientists of all time. He laid the foundation for all the scientific advances in the fields of physics and astronomy that came after him. In addition to his numerous scientific accomplishments, he was also a Theologian with groundbreaking views.

5 Key Errors of Preterism

5 Key Errors of Preterism

Why am I writing about preterists? It’s because their beliefs are growing in popularity and causing much harm in the body of Christ! My purpose is to point out the errors of this false teaching.

Preterists teach that all biblical prophecy has been fulfilled; this includes Matthew 24 as well as the entire book of Revelation. They claim all these things happened before and during AD 70 when Titus and the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. They believe Jesus returned as the city fell thus fulfilling His promise to return to the earth.

Should We Still Be Watching?

Should We Still Be Watching?

Most people disdain the whole idea; many Christians regard it as an out of date belief.

“Who really believes in the Rapture anyway?” some ask. “Why should I put my hope in something that no one believed until the nineteenth century? Why would anyone look for something that only recently appeared in the long history of the church?”

Premillennialism and the Reformation

1529MartinLuther This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

As Luther studied Scripture, he saw that God justifies sinners solely by faith apart from any good works on their part. This challenged centuries of tradition within the church that added human merit to God’s grace as a requirement for salvation.

Both Luther and Calvin rejected the allegorical or symbolical method of interpreting Scripture that, along with human tradition, had introduced error into the churches’ teaching on justification by faith, a doctrine critical to our faith.

Luther replaced the allegorical way of looking at God’s Word with two principles of biblical interpretation, which made Scripture the final authority of all matters of faith and practice and made the Bible a commentary on itself. The later became known as “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

These two principles became the basis for a literal approach to Scripture through which Luther as well as Calvin corrected the errors of the church that had added works to the obtaining of salvation.

They did not, however, apply this literal method of interpretation to the passages dealing with future things.  When biblical scholars did so after them, they overturned the long-held Amillennialism of the church; a belief based on an allegorical approach to prophecy. Let me explain what happened after the Reformation.

The Reformers and Amillennialism

Amillennialism is the belief that God has rejected Israel as His people and as such, the church now fulfills “spiritually” the kingdom promises made by the prophets in the Old Testament. As the term suggests, Jesus does not return to restore the kingdom to Israel or reign over the nations for a thousand years. Instead, he comes back at the end of the age to judge humanity and bring in the eternal state.

Although both Luther and Calvin condemned the allegorical method with Calvin going so far as to call it “satanic,” neither challenged the allegorical interpretations that supported the Amillennialism of their day.

Why did this disconnect exist between how the reformers interpreted passages of Scripture relating to salvation versus prophetic passages? Why did they continue to follow an allegorical interpretation when it came to prophecy despite their clear denunciation of such a method?

Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first.

I believe God intended for the reformers to bring the church back to a true scriptural understanding of the Gospel without the added burden of also reforming errant beliefs regarding the end times. Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first. God knew He had enough time to correct other beliefs also based on an allegorical method of interpretation.

Did the Reformers fail in regard to eschatology? No, I believe that their two key methods of interpretation became the foundation for Premillennialism as biblical scholars after them applied their literal approach to prophecy.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton, born a century after Luther died, undertook an extensive study of the books of Daniel and Revelation during the later years of his life. Newton’s commentary on these books, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, was published six years after his death. In his book, Newton expressed his belief that Israel would someday be a nation again predicting it would happen before the tribulation and the return of Jesus to establish His kingdom on earth after this great time of suffering upon the earth.

Isaac Newton further stated that the study of prophecy would intensify during the latter days of human history as the time of Jesus’ return drew closer. He believed the Lord would reign for a thousand years in Jerusalem thus literally fulfilling kingdom prophecies found in Daniel and Revelation.

Newton applied the Reformers' literal method of biblical interpretation to the books of Daniel rather than the allegorical approach that had been in place for over a thousand years. Did he consciously follow their biblical interpretative methods? We do not know that for sure.

We do know Newton let Scripture speak for itself and as a result his beliefs closely mirror those held by Premillennialists of the past 150 years. While Newton receives much attention for his predictions of when things would occur, once you look past that you see someone who rejected the time honored way of allegorically interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation.

Later Church History

This pattern of applying the literal method of biblical interpretation to prophetic passages became more widespread in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As conservative scholars used Scripture as their sole source of beliefs and allowed Scripture to interpret Scripture, the church returned in large measure to the Premillennial viewpoint that dominated the first three centuries of the church.

Although Luther and Calvin did not apply their literal interpretative methods to prophetic portions of the Bible, when others did it resulted in the beliefs that God would once again restore Israel as a nation, the temple would be rebuilt, there would be a terrible time of tribulation upon the earth, and Jesus would return after that time to set up His kingdom.

These same principles also helped establish the belief that Jesus will come for His church before this time of tribulation upon the earth. Contrary to popular belief, John Darby came up with his pretribulation rapture idea from his study of the nature of the church; he saw that it did not fit for Jesus to allow His church to endure the wrath of the tribulation.

The view that Jesus would return for His church before the tribulation exploded in popularity as many Bible teachers took a literal approach to the words of Scripture. This view dominated evangelical churches from the late 1800's until the past couple decades. Sadly, this view had faded lately as pastors in large numbers have abandoned teaching on this subject.

While perhaps many would disagree with me, I see a link between the biblical interpretation methods of Luther and the rise of premillennialism. Isaac Newton rejected the same allegorical approach as did the Reformers and came to the same conclusions as the premillennialists who followed him a couple centuries later.

Luther’s rejection of the allegorical method restored the biblical doctrine of justification by faith of Paul and the early apostles.

Newton’s rejected of the allegorical method resulted in the restoration of premillennialism, which was dominant in the first three centuries of the church.

 

 

The Reformation and the Gospel

Luther 95 Theses This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

Earlier in 1517, a friar by the name of Johann Tetzel began selling indulgences in Germany as a mean to raise funds for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. By purchasing an indulgence, one could gain the release of a sinner from purgatory or help ensure one’s own salvation. For example, if someone suspected that Uncle Joe was not quite ready for heaven when he died, dropping several coins into the box carried around by Tetzel would remedy that situation by instantly delivering Uncle Joe from purgatory into heaven.

Luther condemned this practice of indulgences, the subject of several of his 95 Theses. It’s easy to see why he objected to such manipulation of the people.

Justification by Grace Along with Works

In the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day, justification had become a lifelong process through which one received grace through the church and its sacraments that enabled him or her to do the good works necessary for salvation.

Can you see how such teaching would create much uncertainty regarding one’s final status before God? How could anyone know if they had been faithful enough in avoiding sins so that God would pronounce them righteous or justified at the end of their life?

The priests of Luther's day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

This is why young Luther spent hours at a time confessing his sins to a priest. He believed that getting into heaven that he confess all his sins and live as good a life as possible. As a result, he meticulously and fervently confessed everything he thought might even possibly be a sin. The priests of Luther's day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

Justification by Faith Alone

As Luther studied Scripture, he realized that God did not base our salvation on a combination of grace and personal merit. He saw that our justification, or our righteous standing before God, did not result from a lifelong process of resisting sin and doing good works, but rather took place the moment we place our faith in Jesus.

The word the Apostle Paul used for justification denoted a judge in his day pronouncing a not guilty verdict upon the accused person standing before him. Sinners, like the person standing trial, are declared righteous once and for all time. It's not something that happens over time.

Justification takes place the instant we call out to the Lord in saving faith, not at the end of our lives. In Romans 5:1, Paul says “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Our right relationship with God comes instantly; He declares us righteous the moment we believe.

The Apostle Paul often emphasized that God saves us totally by grace through faith apart from any merit of our own (see Titus 3:4-7 and Eph. 2:8-9). Good works come after our adoption into God's family, not before.

Luther based his revolutionary teaching at the time solely on Scripture. An allegorical interpretation of God’s Word had begun centuries earlier as a way for some to view Old Testament prophecy symbolically. As a result, those who interpreted the Bible in such a way viewed the Old Testament promises of a kingdom for Israel as something the church fulfilled spiritually.

Unfortunately, this allegorical way of understanding Scripture later eroded the purity of the Gospel as it opened the door for church tradition to contaminate biblical beliefs, especially those pertaining to salvation.

A Literal Interpretation of Scripture

Both Luther and John Calvin condemned such allegorical interpretations and the adding of human tradition to the teaching of Scripture. They brought their followers back to a literal way of interpreting God’s Word through two key principles.

The elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

The first such principle was that of “sola Scriptura.” This signifies that Scripture alone is our sole source and supreme authority when it comes to all matters pertaining to faith and practice. For the reformers, this meant that the Bible was sufficient for all spiritual matters and thus took precedence over all the traditions of the church and the teachings of all previous popes.

This elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

Secondly, Luther emphasized “Scripture interprets Scripture” as essential for interpreting the Bible. This precept stresses that all of Scripture is God’s Word and as such does not and cannot contradict itself. Scripture thus acts as its own commentary.

A section of the Bible where the meaning is clear can and must be used to interpret a related section of Scripture where the interpretation is less evident or open to several differences of opinion.

These principles of interpretation advocated by Martin Luther and the other Reformers forever changed the course of church history and remain the standard for biblical interpretation for most Protestant churches today.

These two principles of interpreting Scripture in a literal way had another significant long-term impact on the teaching of the church, one that did not appear until well after the time of the Reformers. This later result of interpreting Scripture literally will be the topic of my next article celebrating the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.

Can anyone guess what this future impact might be?

 

Understanding the Times

Signs pointing up In 1 Corinthians 10:6, Paul says that the sins of the Israelites in the wilderness happened as an “example” that we might not follow in their footsteps. On the other hand, we find many positive models of faith in the Old Testament we can follow such as some men from the tribe of Issachar.

In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read this about them, “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.” What did they understand? They knew it was time to make David king over all of Israel, not just Judah. They understood the times in which they lived.

The Pharisees, during the time of Jesus, lacked such insight. In Matthew 16:1-4, Jesus scolded them for not recognizing Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They correctly predicted the weather based on signs in the sky, but they missed all the signs identifying Jesus as the promised One of Israel. They failed to understand the times in which they lived.

What about us today? Do we understand the times in which we live?

There are eight times more references regarding Jesus’ return to earth than for His first appearance.

There are eight times more references regarding Jesus’ return to earth than for His first appearance. In Matthew 24, Jesus repeatedly instructs us to be watching and ready for His return. He said this after providing many signs of His return so we would know when that time was drawing near.

In spite of this, many believers are asleep today. They hear no urgency regarding Jesus’ return in their churches. Instead, many pastors downplay any imminence regarding Jesus’ appearing. They tell us that Jesus will someday bring heaven to us, but not any time soon. Jesus’ return is a far distant event, they tell us, without any relevance for our current lives.

This is NOT how the early church regarded Jesus’ appearing.

Early Believers Eagerly Awaited Jesus’ Appearing

If there is one thing that the Lord has impressed upon me during the past year, it’s that the apostles instilled an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return in the hearts of early believers.

In 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul said this, “. . . as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostle repeated this same thought in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The sense in both verses is not just that of simply waiting, but of an eager anticipation of Jesus' return for them. The believers in Corinth and Philippi deeply longed for Jesus’ appearing. They watched for it with great desire as well as fervent expectation.

We also see this same sentiment among the Thessalonian believers. Turning to Jesus, away from their idolatry, led to their eager awaiting of His return (see 1 Thess. 1:8-10). In Titus 2:13, Paul said that the result of  turning to Christ signified, among other things, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” For these early followers of Christ, believing the Gospel was synonymous with waiting and watching for Jesus’ appearance.

A GEICO commercial portrays a spy fleeing from both armed men and a black helicopter. His phone rings as his adversaries appear ready to capture him. Thinking the call is from those coming to rescue him he answers the phone shouting, “Where are you?” We then see and hear his mom calmly talking about squirrels in the attic after which the narrator says, “If you’re a mom, you call at the worst time. It’s what you do.”

Reflecting on what Paul said in the verses quoted above, we might expect him to say something similar: “If you believe the Gospel, you live in expectancy of Jesus’ return. It’s what you do.”

Passage after passage in the New Testament points to Jesus’ appearing as our immediate expectation.

New Testament believers watched for and anticipated the appearing of Jesus as something that could happen at any moment.

The Early Church

Many object to the idea of such imminency reasoning that if this was the expectation of New Testament believers, why did no one in the early church, after the time of the apostles, believe this?

Church history tells us a much different story than what many might expect.

The Didache, which means “teaching” in the Greek, is a brief document from the early decades of the church that provides insight into its beliefs regarding Jesus’ return or the rapture, as we call it today. Scholars believe the Didache originates from as early as AD 70, although it likely was not formally compiled until around AD 300.

Chapter 16 of this short document contains instructions regard watching for the coming of the Lord, “Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.”

Reflecting on Jesus’ command in Matthew 24, the Didache reflects the same imminency regarding the Lord’s appearing that we see in throughout the New Testament.

The church, well into the fourth century AD, remained almost uniformly premillennial. The early church looked for Jesus to return, setup His kingdom, and reign for 1,000 years. Prominent early church fathers such as Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian strongly advocated the literal interpretation of Revelation 19-20. They uniformly proclaimed their belief in Jesus’ return to reign upon the earth!

Irenaeus, writing late in the second century AD envisioned the Lord coming for His church just as Paul promised in 1 Thessalonians 4.

Irenaeus, a prominent early church father, believed Jesus would return for His church before a period of tribulation upon the earth. In his famous book Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 29, he said this, “And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, ‘There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.’”

Using the same terminology as Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Irenaeus said Jesus would take believers out of this world before a time of great tribulation upon the earth. Irenaeus, writing late in the second century AD envisioned the Lord coming for His church just as Paul promised in 1 Thessalonians 4. This would happen, according to Irenaeus, before a time of tribulation on the earth.

Another reference to the imminency of Jesus’ return comes from a most interesting person in church history known as Ephraem the Syrian (also known as Saint Ephraim of Edessa). Born in AD 306, he became a monk, a poet, a writer of hymns, and a preacher. Some believe he attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325.

In his sermon entitled On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, Ephraim clearly referred to the Lord coming for believers before the day of the Lord, before the tribulation. As such, he strongly encouraged believers to be ready for the soon appearing of Jesus to take His church out of this world after which the world would be engulfed in a time of great turmoil and suffering.

The belief in the imminency of Jesus’ return for His church did not end with the apostles. It carried over into the early centuries of the church. As late as the fourth century AD, we find an example of someone warning believers to be ready for Jesus’ return ahead of a period of tribulation upon the earth.

What Are the Signs Today?

Fine, you may be saying, but how does that relate to us today? Is there any evidence Jesus is coming soon? After two thousand years of waiting, should we still be expecting Him to appear at any moment?

YES! (I’m so glad you asked!) There are many, many signs we are living in the days leading up to the Great Tribulation and hence to Jesus’ return for us just prior to that, known as the rapture.

In Matthew 24:15, Jesus repeated Daniel’s prophecy that a coming world leader, the antichrist, would defile the temple in Jerusalem during a time of tribulation upon the earth. Irenaeus, 150 years later, also wrote about how the antichrist would someday perform such an abomination in the temple.

Although the Jews currently have no temple, a group known as the Temple Institute is busily preparing for its construction. The architectural designs are complete as are many of the furnishings for the Third Temple. The altar is ready for sacrifices and if you are a Levite, you can attend a special school to train for serving as a priest in the new temple.

The signs Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:4-14 are coming true today as never before in human history. We live in amazing times!!!

The signs Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:4-14 are coming true today as never before in human history. Indicators of Jesus’ return to earth at the end of the tribulation abound today. Earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, famines, and persecution of believers already occur with increasing frequency and intensity and will continue to do so all through the tribulation. Just like birth pangs, these signs are occurring more frequently and with greater intensity.

Ezekiel 38-39 speaks of a great war against Israel in the later days. Remarkably, we see the nations lining up exactly and precisely as predicted in these chapters. The nations prophesied to come against Israel have now joined forces as never before in history. The countries that remain on the sidelines during this conflict, including Saudi Arabia, are now aligning with Israel, at least to some degree.

Each day, we see increased tensions between Israel and the leaders of this coalition: Russian, Iran, and Turkey. The discoveries of rich deposits of natural gas and oil in Israel add to the intrigue and provide much motivation for these countries to someday attack Israel.

As Amir Tsarfati recently stated, today we see the history being written that will lead up to the great conflict of Ezekiel 38-39.

The Bible also predicts that a one world government and one world religion will engulf the world during the tribulation. The foundations for both these realities are carefully being laid so that once the church is gone, they can quickly be put in place. Not since the time of the Roman Empire has there been such an emphasis on unifying the planet under one world order.

With so many indicators of the approaching tribulation abounding today, why do so many preachers push Jesus’ appearing to the far distant future?

Why do so few believers recognize the signs of Jesus’ soon imminent return? Why do so few really understand the times in which we live?

I am often perplexed myself by these questions.

In my next post, I will examine why I believe so many pastors as well as believers do not understand the day in which we live and hence are not watching for Jesus’ return.