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Debunking Popular Lies About Premillennialism

Jonathan Brentner

Has the definition of Premillennialism changed in the past few decades? I ask this because during the past several years, a few pastors told me they were Premillennial, but they didn’t adhere to a futuristic interpretation of the book of Revelation or the restoration of a kingdom to Israel.

For me, Premillennialism has always signified a belief in Jesus’ return to earth after a literal seven-year Tribulation at which time He will setup His thousand-year rule over the nations of the earth, which certainly includes a gloriously restored Israel.

What’s causing the shift away from these beliefs that were a mainstay of Bible-believing churches for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

Could it be that just as with the Rapture, there’s a stigma attached to it because of the errant assumptions that people make about Premillennialism?

Let’s examine some of the popular lies that Christians often accept as facts.

Premillennialism Began With Darby

In spite of overwhelming evidence that Premillennialism dominated the first three centuries of the church, many scoffers insist it began with John Darby, which alone makes it unacceptable to them.

The early church ascribed to a futuristic interpretation of the book of Revelation, which included Jesus’ reign over the nations (20:1-10). In his book, Dispensationalism Before Darby, Dr. William C. Watson wrote:

The early church fathers overwhelmingly believed in the return of Christ to set up an earthly millennium.

Author and defender of the faith, Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), affirmed a strong belief in “the premillennial return of Christ and the resurrection of the righteous before the beginning of the thousand-year kingdom.” He summed up the passion of early believers in this quote from his famous book, Dialogue with Trypho:

But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah declare…. And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem.

In my book, The Triumph of the Redeemed, I document Premillennial beliefs in the following key early church theologians:

  • Papias (AD 70-163)
  • Irenaeus (AD 130-202)
  • Tertullian (AD 155-240)
  • Lactantius (AD 240-320)

Because many of the early church fathers believed that God had rejected the nation of Israel, some who also believe this today refer to themselves as “historic premillennialists.” However, those who identify as such routinely reject both a literal tribulation and the thousand-year reign of Jesus, both widely-held beliefs during the first three centuries of the church. There’s nothing historic or Premillennial about what most historic premillennialists believe.

Belief In Israel’s Restoration Began With John Darby

Other critics of our hope mistakenly teach that belief in Israel’s future restoration began with John Darby, whom they designate as the “father of dispensationalism.”

Dispensationalists divide history into different dispensations that describe God’s varying ways of interactions with the human race. The age of innocence in the Garden of Eden comes first with periods such as the Law followed by the current age of grace occurring after that. They believe that God will once again turn His attention to Israel, beginning with the Tribulation, which will lead to the nation’s repentance and restoration during Jesus’ millennial rule, which is the final dispensation.

Was John Darby the first theologian to teach a future restoration of Israel and divide biblical history into varying dispensations? No, he was not.

Dozens of theologians and writers during the sixteenth and seventeenth century believed that Jesus’ thousand-year rule would include His restoration of a kingdom to Israel. Isaac Newton (1642-1726), based on his study of Daniel and the book of Revelation, predicted that Israel would become a nation in the future. Below is a summation of his beliefs, which closely mirror dispensational beliefs today:

Newton was convinced that Christ would return . . .  and establish a global Kingdom of peace. . . Before the Second Coming, the Jews would return to Israel according to the predictions made in biblical prophecy. The Temple would be rebuilt as well. Slightly before, or around the time of Christ’s return, the great battle of Armageddon would take place when a series of nations (the “Gog and Magog” confederacy of Ezekiel’s prophecy) invade Israel. Christ and the saints would then intervene to establish a worldwide 1000-year Kingdom of God on earth. Citing the prophet Micah, Newton believed this Kingdom would usher in a time of peace and prosperity, a time when people would “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks” and when “nations shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3).

In his book, Dispensationalism Before Darby, Dr. William C. Watson provides quotes from many writers in the two centuries immediately following the Reformation who not only divided biblical history into dispensations, but also believed that God would, in the last days, restore Israel to the Land God promised to them.

In a previous post, The Rabbi Who Sparked Israel’s Quest for the Land, I recounted the story of a close friendship that developed between Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1657) and English theologian Isaac La Peyrere (1596-1676). Despite their differing beliefs regarding the Savior, the two became united in their passion to see the Jewish people return to the Land God promised to them.

La Peyrere and other likeminded English theologians secured the English publication of the Rabbi’s book, The Hope of Israel. It provides the Old Testament (OT) basis for the Lord’s future regathering of His people from their dispersion back into the Land.

The Reemergence Of The Nation Of Israel Was A Fluke

Replacement Theology is home to those who reject both the thousand-year reign of Jesus and the restoration of Israel. As the name suggests, they mistakenly believe that God rejected the nation and replaced it with the church, which in their view represents the fulfillment of His OT kingdom promises.

Because they believe that God rejected with Israel, they regard the rebirth of the nation in 1948 as a fluke of history with no prophetic significance for today’s believers. This is not true. Adherents to this false teaching overlook several key facts concerning Israel’s reappearance as a nation in 1948:

  1. It was over-the-top miraculous. Apart from God, it’s impossible that a nation could cease to exist for two thousand years and then resurface as a sovereign country with its original language.
  2. It fulfilled the amazing prophecy of Isaiah 66:8 where the Lord told the prophet that Israel would become a nation again in a day. That’s exactly what happened in May of 1948.
  3. Satan’s fierce opposition toward the nation and the Jewish people tells us that God’s purpose for His people surely remains intact. How else can one explain the devil’s unrelenting and murderous hatred toward them if God has truly rejected His people? Strange as it may seem, the devil’s hostility indicates that the Lord’s purposes for the descendants of Jacob remain incomplete.
  4. God’s providential protection of Israel since 1948 has been supernatural and unexplainable apart from attributing it to His direct intervention.

The Apostle Paul’s insistence that God has not rejected Israel (Romans 11:1-2) also signifies that its reemergence as a nation has great prophetic value. We don’t yet see the full restoration of its kingdom as promised by many of the Old Testament prophets, but Israel’s miraculous existence points to God’s intention to do so in the future.

It Doesn’t Matter What We Believe About Israel’s Future

Churches immersed in Replacement Theology, often in an effort to appear inclusive of other end time viewpoints, assert that matters of Bible prophecy are tertiary, or of third importance. Even though they teach that God has rejected Israel (and exclude all those that say otherwise), they claim it’s of minor importance what one believes about the nation’s future. I strongly disagree.

In his book, Living in the Daze of Deception, well-known pastor Jack Hibbs explains why it’s so much more than just a doctrinal debate:

If God does not keep His future promises to Israel and the Jewish people, then He has no obligation whatsoever to keep His New Testament promises to you, me, and the church.

When God made His covenants with the Patriarchs and King David, He did so in full awareness that the Jews of the first century AD would reject their Messiah (see Zechariah 12:10). The prophecies in Zechariah 14 concerning Jesus’ return to the Mount of Olives, the rescue of the Jews fleeing from Jerusalem, and the Lord’s reign over the nations from Jerusalem flow from the Lord’s prophecy of Israel’s repentance and recognition of their true Messiah as the One that they “pierced.”

If the Lord can renege of His promises to Israel because of behavior He knew would occur when made those pledges to them, then Jack Hibbs is correct. Who is to say He will not do the same for us as New Testament saints?

There was nothing hidden from God’s sight about us or our future when we responded in saving faith to the Gospel and He declared us forever “not guilty” (justification by faith). He is never surprised by anything we do as born-again saints because He knew all about it at the moment of our regenerations. As a result of His unsurpassed love and mercy toward us, absolutely nothing can change our righteous standing before Him (Romans 8:31-39).

I once heard Amir Tsarfati say, “Israel’s future guarantees our salvation.” That’s why Premillennialism is not just a tertiary doctrine of little importance to us. It’s all about God keeping His promises both to Israel and to us.

Premillennialism is a message of profound significance for believers today and one that pastors must proclaim. I say this because this message:

  1. Glorifies the Lord as a promise-keeper to both Israel and to us as New Testament saints.
  2. Reassures believers of their hope in these perilous times.
  3. Provides a much-needed counter to the anti-Semitic mindset of our day.

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