It’s the End of the World As We Know It – Classical Premillennialism

13Jan12

Classical Premillennialism

There have been only a few passions in my life that have reached the level of obsession. They are Theology, Christian Music, the University of Southern California football Trojans and the Los Angeles, Anaheim, California Angels. The latter was my first obsession as my father was a police officer for the city of Anaheim and would take me to games as a young child when he worked at the stadium earning overtime pay.

While working for the Christian record company throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s I discovered a way to combine two of my great passions. When I discovered a certain player from the Angels was a Christian I would drop off a box of music for the player with my business card. Without fail I would receive a call within a day or two from the player thanking me for the gift as they travel long distances and having music to listen to was a great pleasure. Some players used the music to try and minister to other ballplayers on the team as well.

One other advantage is that I was able to garner some friendships with many of the players and they would, on occasion, offer me tickets to games at home and even on the road to the cities I would travel to. The tickets were always in the team’s “family section” and I got to know several of the wives and girlfriends of the players as well. I soon was known as “the Christian Music guy.”

One such player was a perennial All Star that the Angels had recently acquired during free agency. He was known for his very public stand for God and even wrote the words “Jesus Loves You” on his batting glove and would then wave to the camera.

I met him in foul territory on Opening Day and mentioned that I appreciated the “batting glove” incident. He came over and we began a friendship that lasted his tenure on the Angels. During that time I was invited to attend a few “players only” Bible Studies that he was leading. One of those studies was a warning about a soon coming collapse of the world’s economic system and the rise of an Antichrist that would lead the world out of that chaos and become the world’s dictator.

I was all on board!

Until he said that Christians would need to begin saving cash and hording supplies like food, water and natural gas to survive the upcoming seven year tribulation. Jesus was not going to return until after the Great Tribulations and Christians must be able to survive and thrive during this horrific season.

When someone at the study questioned him about the Rapture he responded, “There’s no such thing as the Rapture. That’s a new fantasy that was created in the 1800’s. The Church has always believed that Christ would return before the Millennium, but never believed in that Pre-Tribulation Rapture thing…that Dispensationalism. Don’t confuse what I’m talking about with that view.”

“I’m a Classical Premillennialist!”

Now that we have completed our discussion of the two positions that espouse a “post” Millennial return of Jesus Christ (Amillennialism and Postmillennialism) we will now turn our attention to the Millennial positions that teach that Jesus will return physically and literally “before” the Millennium. These two positions are classified as Premillennialism.

The most popular Premillennial view is the commonly held Dispensational Premillennial view. This view is relatively new in the historical framework of ideas with a creation date in the early 1800’s. This is the view that will be dealt with in future chapters and will garner the majority of our attention.

The other Premillennial position is the historic position of Premillennialism which we will call Classical Premillennialism. This view can trace its history back to the first century and was easily the most popular view in the first few centuries of Church history. This most likely stemmed from the continuing presence and influence of the Jewish belief of a Golden Age of Messianic rule prior to the creation of the Eternal State at that time.

The list of early Church adherents to the view is rather lengthy, but it should also be noted that there was no consensus even amongst the like-minded adherents as to the details of the Millennial period. Many simply expected something similar to the description of the New Heavens and the New Earth prophesied in Isaiah 65 and 66.

The recent rise in popularity of the Dispensational model of Premillennialism has caused the Classical view to diminish in its overall popularity. There is also quite a bit of confusion between the two Premillennial views amongst the average evangelical which adds to the difficulty in completely understanding and differentiating between the two.

The most popular and ardent adherents to the Classical Premillennial view today would include many Reformed Baptist in the line of Charles Spurgeon and those attached to the Seventh Day Adventist church; though it should be noted that many great thinkers and theologians today are Classical Premillennialist including popular eschatological author Dr. George Eldon Ladd.

The Classical Premillennial view though ancient in its origins lost a great amount of influence throughout the Middle Ages as the influence of Augustinian Amillennialism became the norm of eschatological ideology. This remained throughout the time of the Reformation where the influence of Postmillennial optimism also took root within the Protestant Reformers.

Though losing its primary influence on the Church as a whole, the Classical Premillennial thought never disappeared and has still maintained a very strong and loyal number of adherents. The primary interpretive method of most Classical Premillennialist is either a Futurist or Historicist view. Throughout Church history the Historicist view is most closely associated with the Classical Premillennial position.

Classical Premillennialist that embraces the Historicist interpretive method view the book of Revelation as chronological. They would argue that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is seen in the 19th chapter of Revelation in which Jesus goes to battle while riding on a white horse. This would be followed by the resurrection of chapter 20. This Historicist, chronological exposition leads naturally to a Premillennial understanding.

It is my hope with the description below to not only fairly present the Classical Premillennial view, but to show the differences between that view and the Dispensational model, though similarities will persist. Being able to grasp the differences will most assuredly help the reader work through the potential confusion that may lie ahead. So, there will be notes below within several bullet points in which the Classical position will be expressed and juxtaposed against the Dispensational model.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

CLASSICAL PREMILLENNIALISM

1. The New Testament is church is the “initial phase” of the Kingdom of God as expressed in history. It will not reach fulfillment and reveal its physical attributes until the physical, literal Millennial reign of Christ on Earth.

2. The New Testament Church will win occasional victories throughout history, but will fall victim to a Great Apostasy and lose influence as the world passes into a future Great Tribulation.

3. The Church will go through a yet future Great Tribulation lasting a debated time ranging from a couple years to seven years. Classical Premillennialism is Post-Tribulational in that the Rapture or resurrection of the Church is “after” the tribulation. This is set against the Dispensational model which is primarily Pre-Tribulational in that the Rapture of the Church is “before” the Tribulation.

4. Premillennialist are, by definition, futurists as they set Tribulational events from prophetic passages into the future. Historically, most Classical Premillennialist used the Historicist method of prophetic interpretation which means they believe that many events found in the book of Revelation are historical events, but much lies in our current future.

5. Jesus Christ returns at the end of the tribulation to Resurrect and Judge the elect and set up an earthly kingdom. This is called the “first” resurrection of Revelation chapter 20:1-6. It should be understood that there is no special placement for the Jewish nation of Israel, nor a return to a theocratic Jewish state that accompanies the Dispensation model.

6. Christ binds Satan at this Second Coming and this event is what initiates the actual Millennium as the binding of Satan removes his evil influences and allows for a more glorious earthly experience.

7. Satan is loosed after 1000 years and rises up an army against the people and city of God. This is seen by most to be a literal, militaristic setting that many claim is the Battle of Armageddon (see a later chapter for more details on this). Jesus is relegated to defensive actions until the Father sends fire from heaven down to destroy Satan’s final attack.

8. The Second Resurrection follows the consuming fire where the damned will be judged for all eternity.

9. At this point the Eternal order is established and the prophetic promise of a New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21) is fulfilled.

Early Church Adherents Include – Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian

Modern Church Adherents Include: Erdman, Spurgeon, RA Torry, George Eldon Ladd

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

Critics argue the view has difficulty overcoming the time text determinations of the prophetic passages that allude to the actions being soon, near, at hand and within the generation of the original audience.

Other critics complain the two resurrections are not warranted and it is derived from a misunderstanding of the terminology of the two resurrections in Revelation 20. These critics point to other passages in which there is apparently only one resurrection of both the elect and the damned (John 5) as well as only one single time for judgment (Matthew 25). This view also appears to deny the idea that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father until His enemies are made His footstool (Psalm 110)

One last criticism to consider will be dealt with in detail in the Chapter called “The Second Humiliation of Christ.” This chapter will detail the issues surrounding the timing and the nature of the loosening of Satan and the actions that follow. There is not enough time or space to adequately deal with this proposition in this brief summary chapter.

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