Our church just finished up a 7-week series on eschatology. Among our elders, all four of the end-times views are represented—historic premillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. My sermon was on amillennialism, which I posted to my blog last week. You can listen to other messages in this series by going to fbclindale.com.
The following are questions we received in response to the series. I am singling out only those questions directed at the amil or postmil view. These questions were submitted anonymously and we received quite a few, so perhaps I’ll do a Part II later on. Questions are in bold, followed by my response.
“If the position of Postmillennial and Amillennial (and others) do not believe in a pretribulation rapture, how do they explain verses such as these:
“‘I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left’ (Luke 17:34-35).
“‘Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord’ (I Thessalonians 4:17).”
The pretribulation rapture is a belief in dispensationalism that Jesus will return to rapture up his saints prior to a 7-year period of tribulation. During the 7 years, God will complete His discipline of the nation of Israel, the antichrist will be revealed, and God will judge the godless who have reached the fullness of their depravity. Most dispensationalists believe that the majority of the book of Revelation describes what will happen during the period of Great Tribulation, which is the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation. The 7 years conclude with the Second Coming of Christ to set up His millennial kingdom on the earth.
Not every dispensationalist believes the rapture will be at the beginning of the 7 years. Some believe it will be 3 1/2 years into the tribulation. This is the mid-trib rapture view. Others believe it will be at the end called the post-trib rapture. But this is all supposing there’s even a 7-year period of tribulation, which is not explicitly stated in Scripture. Belief in the tribulation comes from a certain interpretation of Daniel 9:27, and then that interpretation is read into other texts.
Luke 17:34-35 and the parallel passage in Matthew 24:40-41 are popular rapture texts. In the classic song I Wish We’d All Been Ready, Christian singer Larry Norman attempted to capture the picture he believed Jesus was presenting in these verses:
A man and wife asleep in bed,
She hears a noise and turns her head, he’s gone;
I wish we’d all been ready.
Two men walking up a hill;
One disappears and one’s left standing still;
I wish we’d all been ready.
There’s no time to change your mind;
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.
But Jesus was not talking about the rapture at all. He was talking about the judgment of God. In Luke 17, beginning in verse 26, Jesus said:
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”
In these examples, who gets “taken”? Not the believer who is raptured, but the unbeliever who is judged. Honest dispensational teachers agree the context of this passage is about judgment, not rapture. Said John MacArthur, “This is clearly not a reference to the catching away of believers described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.”
That said, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is not about a pre-trib rapture either. Can you point to me where a tribulation is mentioned and how the rapture of the saints precedes it? The Apostle Paul simply said that on the Day of Christ’s return, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
As I shared in my sermon, the simplest, straight-forward reading of 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 is that the return of Christ, the rapture of His saints, and the judgment of God upon unbelievers are all the same event.
“How can, per scripture, Satan be walking the Earth ‘seeking who he can devour,’ also be in Heaven being the ‘Great Accuser,’ and be currently bound in prison?”
This question presents one of the most common objections to amillennialism. Revelation 20:2-3 says that Satan has been “bound for a thousand years… so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended.” But if Satan is currently bound, how can he be prowling “around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)?
Revelation is full of symbols, and Satan being “bound” is itself symbolic. All that we are told in Revelation 20 is that Satan is bound so that he can no longer deceive the nations (a word often synonymous with Gentiles). This does not mean Satan is powerless. It simply means that he cannot prevent the gospel from going out into all the world. As I said in my sermon, Satan is “bound” so that you and I can hear the gospel and be saved, just as Jesus said (Mark 3:27).
Consider that Colossians 2:15 says that Satan and his forces have been disarmed and defeated, yet Ephesians 6:16 says they’re armed with flaming darts. Both statements can be true. Against Christ, no weapon can stand. Against us, Satan has many tools at his disposal. Satan can be bound from deceiving the nations and also be a very present enemy until his ultimate destruction.
“How can Satan be currently imprisoned if Paul and other apostles reference his direct involvement during the church age? (See Acts 5:3, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, etc.) And if Satan were imprisoned due to the victory on the cross, is that victory undone when Satan is released?”
References to Satan attempting to sabotage the advancement of the church actually strengthens my argument, not weakens it. Has Satan been successful at preventing the church from advancing? No. Why? Because he’s been defeated and bound. Again, this doesn’t mean he’s not a present adversary. He just cannot prevent the gospel from going to the Gentiles (or nations).
Now, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says, “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” However, Scripture also says it is God who has blinded the unbelieving (John 12:40). God uses Satan as a secondary cause to accomplish His purpose. Satan is not a free agent who can thwart God’s plan.
Revelation 20:3 says that after the millennium, Satan “must be released for a little while.” Hence the question, “If Satan were imprisoned due to the victory of the cross, is that victory undone when Satan is released?” Well, is Satan being disarmed in Colossians 2:15 undone by him having flaming darts in Ephesians 6:16? It is God’s will in God’s plan for Satan to be released at a specific time He has appointed for a specific purpose. Satan cannot undo the victory of the cross.
Not one person whom Christ has purchased by His blood will be lost. In John 6:37-39, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but I will raise it up on the last day.”
“In Revelation 7:9-17, we clearly see the resurrected Church in heaven. This reference is given between the 6th and 7th seals. God’s wrath is poured out with the 7th seal and opening of the scroll. Here it seems like God is protecting His people from His wrath. Why would God allow His Bride, the Church, to experience His harshest wrath when we are promised that God’s wrath is for the ungodly (2 Peter 3:7) and not for the believer (1 Thessalonians 5:9)?”
God’s harshest wrath is poured out on unbelievers in hell. The church will in no way undergo any part of that wrath, thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord! In Revelation 6:12-17, upon the breaking of the sixth seal, wrath is poured out on all the wicked described in six classes of people: kings, great ones, generals, rich, powerful, everyone slave and free (v.15). The judgment there is not poured out on the saints, who receive a seal of a different kind (Revelation 7:3). As for the identity of the people described in Revelation 7, see my answer below regarding the 144,000.
“What is wrong with having a panmillennial view (it will all pan out in the end) as long as we know that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, the dead in Christ will rise first, and we who are left will be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord, and we will reign with Him forever in His perfect and glorious kingdom?”
There’s nothing wrong with being unsure where you stand on a particular view of the end-times (I’ve often joked that panmillennials are just amillennials in denial). Maybe you can’t explain the details of Christ’s return, but you know He will return. He will judge the living and the dead, and all who believe in Jesus will be with the Lord forever.
If you camp on being panmillennial, be careful not to have an attitude that A) this is unimportant, or B) you’re above it all. The reason we study the end of the age is because it’s in the Bible. Eschatology is about the return of Christ as He promised He would return, His exaltation, the judgment of all mankind, and eternity in heaven or hell. That’s a pretty big deal.
But we’re also talking about prophecy, things that have yet to happen. Because the signs and symbols shown to us in Scripture can be confusing, there are different opinions as to what they mean or the order in which these events will take place, even to the point that these opinions have divided churches—I’ve witnessed that first hand. You might be tempted to think, “I’m above all of that,” and settle on being “panmillennial” to avoid controversy. But that can be just as prideful as anyone else with their position.
Though I have my own opinions about the end times, I’m resolved not to divide over them. When Paul first addressed the Thessalonians about the certain return of Christ, he said, “Therefore, encourage one another with these words,” and, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11). Twice, he says to be an encouragement to one another. That’s what I want to be in my end-times teaching—not dividing, but a pleasure to the body of Christ.
“If all the elders hold to the same grammatical historical hermeneutical method of interpretation, how is it possible to have such differing views on eschatology? Or how can you say that you hold to that view consistently and still hold an amil or postmil view?”
How we interpret the Bible is called hermeneutics. The best method for interpretation is called the grammatical historical method. According to an article in Tabletalk Magazine, “This hermeneutical approach investigates the original cultural setting of the text and focuses on grammar and syntax in order to understand what the author of the text meant when he wrote to his original audience. Only this method can give us the original meaning of the biblical text.”
The grammatical historical method is not synonymous with literalism—meaning that you have to interpret all words according to their most basic sense or your hermeneutic is bad. Sometimes the grammatical historical approach leads us to have to interpret signs, symbols, and typology, which fills apocalyptic literature such as Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. This is no easy task and leads to differing opinions, which is why we have differing views of the end times.
The late R.C Sproul’s ministries, including Ligonier and Tabletalk which I just cited, incorporate a grammatical historical method of interpretation, and they come to a mostly postmillennial view of eschatology. John MacArthur’s ministries, including Grace to You and Masters University, also employ a grammatical historical method of interpretation, and they come to a dispensational view of eschatology. Yet in Sproul’s lifetime, he and MacArthur were close friends.
Do not look down on others from your view of the end-times. Otherwise, you become as divided as the Corinthians, who were saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul rebuked the Corinthians even for saying “I follow Christ” in a divisive manner. That’s what you do with your eschatology when you say, “I’m a Pre-Trib,” or “I’m a Classic Premil,” or “I’m Amil,” or “I’m a Post-Mil Theonomic Reconstructionist.”
Perhaps your eschatology is doctrinally sound. But as Paul responded to the Corinthians, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” You were not baptized dispy, premil, amil, postmil, or panmil. You were baptized into Christ. “Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
“Isn’t replacement theology a Catholic and Lutheran doctrine? Doesn’t Amill, Postmill and historic Premill all replace Israel with the church or spiritualize Israel?”
Regarding Roman Catholicism, my understanding is that they believe in a dual-covenant theology, meaning that the Law remains for the Jews while the New Covenant is for Gentiles. Lutherans can be as mixed in their end-times views as any protestants.
As I said in my sermon, I do not believe in replacement theology, this idea that the church has replaced Israel as God’s covenant people. To any dispensationalist accusing me of replacement theology, I would kindly press back that you examine your own doctrine in light of your accusation.
Reformed theology consistent with any reformed protestant confession (London Baptist Confession, Westminster Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, etc.) has never fashioned any category of “replacement theology.” The Bible says that Christ “has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” and has made two people, Jews and Gentiles, one people in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22). “There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Dispensational theology, on the other hand, maintains a distinction between Israel and the Church. God’s promises with Israel are on hold while He is fulfilling His promises toward another group of people, the church. According to a popular dispensational website, “Dispensationalists believe that, just as God is in this age focusing His attention on the church, He will again in the future focus His attention on Israel.”
Between reformed and dispensational theology, which sounds more like Israel is being replaced? That is my question for the dispensationalist accusing me of replacement theology. Now, I’m not calling dispensationalism “replacement theology.” The label is erroneous. But I believe the dispensationalist has more to answer for regarding the charge of “replacement” than I do.
“How can you discount God’s covenant with Israel which the Bible says will be fulfilled in the thousand year reign of Christ? (Ezekiel 37:27).”
Ezekiel 37:27 says, “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” How does that say God’s covenant with Israel will be fulfilled in the thousand year reign of Christ? In fact, those words in Ezekiel are quoted in Revelation 21:3 with regards to the church, which is there called the New Jerusalem. All who are in Christ, Jew or Gentile, will dwell with God.
“How can you discount or spiritualize away the 144,000 Jewish witnesses that will be sent out by Christ during the 7-year tribulation? (Revelation 7:5)”
What 7-year tribulation? Where is that in Revelation 7? The 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8 and the “great multitude” in verse 9 are the same group of people. Notice that in verse 4, John only hears the number of the sealed. He doesn’t actually see them. In verse 9, he sees who they are, “a great number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
The vision of the people in chapter 7 is in response to the question asked at the end of chapter 6: “The great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” The answer is those standing around the throne, the servants of God who have been “sealed.”
For a more detailed exposition, I refer you to this sermon by Dr. Voddie Baucham from his series on the book of Revelation. Though I have taught through Revelation twice, I have not yet recorded or written an exposition. But God-willing, I will soon.
“What do you do with the two witnesses in Revelation 11:3 that will be seen by the entire world, at the same time, as they lay dead?”
The two witnesses in Revelation 11:3 are the church. In fact, this whole section in Revelation 11:1-13 is about the church. In verse 1, John is told to “measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there.” So not just the temple, but the people, too. This “measuring” is comparable to the “sealing” of the people of God in chapter 7.
The “two witnesses” are said to be “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” Lampstands stood for the church in the first three chapters of Revelation, and the church is presented as an olive tree in Romans 11. This theme of two is prevalent throughout the section: two witnesses (v.3), two types (two olive trees and two lampstands), “if anyone would harm them” mentioned twice (v.5), what “they have the power” to do mentioned twice (v.6), their bodies will lie in two cities (v.8).
Two is the number of witness. Scripture says, Old Testament and New, that every charge must be established on the evidence of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6, Matthew 18:16, John 8:17, 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19). The church is God’s prophetic witness to the world, “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), calling out sin, warning of the judgment that is to come, and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the testimony of the two witnesses is finished, verse 7 says, the beast rises from the bottomless pit and makes war on them and defeats them—as in Daniel 7:21 where the adversary “made war with the saints and prevailed over them.” Verse 8 says that their “dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” In Revelation, the “great city” is Babylon which stands for all the ungodly in the world. Jesus was crucified by the ungodly.
Verses 9-13 say that the entire world will witness their defeat and resurrection. It is commonly believed, thanks to Hal The Late Great Planet Earth Lindsey, that this can only mean the whole world will watch them on TV (or in the present age the internet). Is that what John and his first century audience would have understood? Of course not. To John and his hearers, the whole world will witness the seeming defeat and rise of the “two witnesses” because this is the church, visible in and to every nation. The church will not be defeated, and all will see us reign with Christ.
Someone might say, “Gabe, how can you read that so symbolically?” Because verse 8 says this is symbolic (or spiritual in some translations). If this is read literally without symbolism, then the two witnesses are literally olive trees and lampstands (v.4), they literally breathe fire (v.5), a literal beast somehow literally rises from a literal bottomless pit (v.7), and Jesus was crucified in a city other than Jerusalem (v.8).
When reading Revelation, literalism is more confusing than reading to understand the signs and symbols set forth from the very beginning of the letter. It is meant to be read this way, with help from hundreds of Old Testament references. The majority of those references are from Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel—books filled with symbolism. This is how John’s audience understood this book, and this is how we should endeavor to understand it as well.
When the Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians about the return of Christ, he did not give them a robust theological chart about the sequence of events. His message was simple and his purpose was to encourage, that they also would encourage one another. And so should we. These things should not be a cause for division, but that we would be united in hope. The King is coming soon!
Continue to study the Bible, the very word of God. Test all things according to the Scriptures. Be careful “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:14-15).