Four Possible Scenarios, Part One: Dispensational Pre-millennialism
The Testimony of Jesus, Chapter 11
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen. Revelation 1:7
In Chapter 10, we examined the fourfold benediction from Christ Jesus, who brings His reader greetings along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Today’s verse is an addendum to the fourfold benediction from Christ and the salutation from the Tri-une God (Rev 1:4-6).
Before we consider the details in this addendum of our King, because this verse specifically mentions the Lord Jesus’ second coming, we should consider that, historically, there are four possible eschatological scenarios. While each view has its strengths according to the Scripture proofs provided by their respective proponents, each one of the four views has its particular Scriptural problems. In other words, not a single view among the four can be exclusively elevated to say this one is the correct one.
I believe it was specifically designed by our loving, merciful, and sovereign God to be this way, so that we may trust Him for the outcome, and moreover, that we can have the eyes of our faith fixed upon Jesus, and not upon the signs of His coming.
The four different end times scenarios are the dispensational pre-millennial view, the post-millennial view, the amillennial view, and the historical pre-millennial view (aka post-tribulational). We will look at them one by one, focusing on the dispensational pre-millennial view today.
Dispensational pre-millennialism is the most recent eschatological view of the four scenarios, This scheme was first introduced by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), the founder of the Plymouth Brethren. Other adherents of this system include Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921), Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952), John Dwight Pentecost (1915-2014), Harold Lee “Hal” Lindsey (b.1929), John Fullerton MacArthur, Jr. (b.1939), and Ray Comfort (b.1949), among many others.
The Left Behind series of fiction, published in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, popularized this view greatly; as did the 1972 film, A Thief in the Night, and Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, published two years before that, in 1970. Because of its pervasive embrace, there are many in the church today who know of no other system. It may possibly be the most popular view in the U.S., at least among many Baptist and charismatic denominations, and among many non-denominational congregations and assemblies. Not only is the dispensational pre-millennial scenario the newest and most recognized view in the U.S., it is also the most complex among the four systems.
Dispensational pre-millennialists generally believe that Israel and the church are distinct entities, each having different functions, fulfillments, and futures in God’s overall plan. This eschatology also widely holds to an appearance of Christ before a seven-year, worldwide tribulation, whereas Christ’s church is caught up, or raptured, prior to this tribulation in order to facilitate a continued fulfillment of OT promises to Israel, by salvation through the Messiah. This worldwide tribulation will be followed by the physical return of Christ with His saints, which will, in turn, mark the beginning of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth. Following this Messianic reign, there will be a final battle between the satanic forces on earth and Christ, the latter easily dispatching the rebellion. The rest of the scenario of the final judgment of redeemed and reprobate humans, as well as the new heaven and new earth to follow, is similar to the other three systems, with a few variations; and of those variations, they are typically minor and based upon personal interpretive opinions.
We should also bear in mind that there are also variations to this particular view. One such is the mid-tribulation rapture view. Another is called a progressive dispensational view. Many features are so similar to the dispensational pre-millennial scenario that we will only consider the traditional system here.
One of the hallmark features within this system is the insistence among its advocates in using a literal approach to interpreting Scripture. Ironically, the dispensationalist’s “literal” approach to Scripture becomes the first and greatest difficulty within this system (there are too many difficulties to cover in the space and time allotted in this chapter, so we will only briefly cover a few). A huge majority of dispensational teachers, moreover, accuse the other systems of “spiritualizing” or “allegorizing” Scripture, while they alone (according to them) follow a literal method of interpretation. Sadly, they forget there are prophecies specifically interpreted spiritually, when others might have viewed a prophecy of Scripture with a literal view or physical manner. One such example was interpreted spiritually by the Lord Jesus Himself, with regard to the coming of Elijah before the Messiah’s appearance:
10 And the disciples asked Him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He was speaking to them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13 (see also Matt 11:7-15)
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, while not denying the historical events that had actually taken place in the Old Testament, the apostle Paul speaks of the events surrounding Abraham’s two sons through Hagar and Sarah as representing the law and grace, even using the words, “interpreted allegorically” (Gal 4:24),
21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. Galatians 4:21-24
Now, there is nothing wrong with spiritualizing Scripture because, truly, the Bible is a spiritual revelation through and through. Nevertheless, by their insistence upon a literal interpretation, they violate their own hermeneutic (interpretation; explanation). Immediately, in Revelation, the seven churches mentioned in the second and third chapters are also allegorized by dispensationalists as symbolic of pictures of the church throughout 2,000 years of New Testament history leading up to the time of the rapture of the church.
Again, literal interpretation is immediately violated in the first two verses of Revelation’s fourth chapter:
1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. Revelation 4:1-2
A literal reading behind this portion is clear. A real, historical person named John heard the voice of the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ, and upon the command of Christ, was transported, “in the Spirit,” from his temporal reality on the isle of Patmos to the greater, heavenly reality of the throne of God.
While not denying that this was about John, the dispensationalist insists that this allegorically represents the rapture of the church before the great tribulation upon the earth. Cyrus Scofield states,
“This call seems clearly to indicate the fulfillment of 1 Th. 4:14-17. The word ‘church’ does not again occur in the Revelation till all is fulfilled.” C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible, Oxford University Press; 1909
If challenged that this is not a literal interpretation, the reply by dispensationalists is often that the literal does not exclude figurative or symbolic language. Nevertheless, this is exactly what proponents of the three other views believe. The truth is that all four systems of end times interpretation combine both literal and figurative methods of interpretation; however, they do not always agree as to how, when, and where something is literal or allegorical.
A second feature of, and difficulty with, this system is its unyielding insistence upon separate purposes, peoples, and destinies with regard to Israel and Christ’s New Testament church. Dispensationalists claim that the Old Testament prophets did not “see” the church age, thus they argue that all the Hebrew prophecies are centered upon the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in other words, Israel. Yet, we find the New Testament church fathers constantly quoting the Old Testament Scriptures in reference to the New Testament church. Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 as being fulfilled in the birth of Christ’s church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). James, the Lord’s younger half-brother and one of the leading elders in the church of Jerusalem, quotes Amos 9:11-12 as an authoritative interpretation of Gentile believers being admitted to the church. Paul was imprisoned several times, twice in Rome, and eventually beheaded for what he understood as “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), wherein is found “the word of the truth, the gospel” (Col 1:5b), being “the hope [in Christ Jesus] laid up for [believers] in heaven” (Col 1:5a). In explaining his predicament before the Jewish leaders in Rome, Paul told them,
“For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” Acts 28:20
Moreover, if Israel’s destiny is not salvation in Christ Jesus through His church and His gospel therein, why would Paul be so adamant for the salvation of Jews within the construct of Christ’s church? He states emphatically,
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
Above, Paul states that the adoption, glory, covenants, the law, the worship, and the promises of the Old Testament are forfeited by them apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, by his statement, we may logically conclude that Paul interprets those promises, viz., adoption, glory, covenants, law, and worship, belong to the redeemed of Christ’s church. Jesus is truly the Messiah, “who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
The third great difficulty found in the dispensational pre-millennial view arises in its explanation of worship in the millennium, that is, in the 1,000-year reign of Christ upon earth. Most dispy-premil adherents will readily acknowledge that the Old Testament sacrifices were types and foreshadows of the coming Christ, yet many insist our Lord Jesus Christ, as reigning King, will restore those Old Testament laws, especially in the re-establishment of the Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices. This clearly opposes Scripture, and worse, diminishes the ultimate fulfillment of the sacrificial system in Christ’s atonement upon the cross, as well as trivializing the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Aaronic and Levitical types and shadows. It is written,
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:11-14
I’m almost hesitant to bring up the fourth major difficulty found in the dispensational pre-millennial system because it is the most complicated, and the more its proponents attempt to answer these issues, the more questions (and confusion) their answers raise. This fourth issue arises in explaining the resurrection of the dead as it fits within the scheme of this system. While the post-millennial and amillennial proponents teach a general resurrection prior to a general judgment at Christ’s second coming, the dispy-premil, by and large, presents a resurrection that unfolds in a series of events spanning a period of 1,007 years. Dr. Pentecost explains:
“The order of events in the resurrection program would be: (1) the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the resurrection program (1 Cor 15:23); (2) the resurrection of the church age saints at the rapture (1 Thess 4:16); (3) the resurrection of the tribulation period saints (Rev 20:3-5), together with (4) the resurrection of Old Testament saints (Dan 12:2; Isa 26:19) at the second advent of Christ to the earth; and finally (5) the final resurrection of the unsaved dead (Rev 20:5, 11-14) at the end of the millennial age. The first four stages would all be included in the first resurrection or resurrection to life, inasmuch as all receive eternal life and the last would be the second resurrection, or the resurrection unto damnation inasmuch as all receive eternal judgment at that time.” J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, Durham Publishing Co., 1958; Zondervan reprint, Grand Rapids, MI; 1964, pg. 339
The reason for this first stage of the resurrection seems to be because of a denial by dispy-premills that Jesus Christ is not yet seated upon His throne, as Scofield points out from his comment made on Revelation 3:21, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
“This passage, in harmony with Lk. 1:32-33; Mt. 19:28; Acts 2:30, 34-35; 15:14-16 is conclusive that Christ is not now seated upon His own throne. The Davidic Covenant, and the promises of God through the prophets and the Angel Gabriel concerning the Messianic kingdom await fulfillment.” C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible, Oxford University Press; 1909
This difficulty begs the question, “Why did the New Testament writers use such haphazard language by implying that the Lord Jesus Christ is presently seated upon His throne?”
See Acts 2:30-36; John 17:5; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20-23; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3; 10:12-13; et al.
With this staged program, there are other difficulties, such as the evangelizing which needs to take place during their view of the seven-year tribulation by 144,000 Jewish evangelists, recorded in the seventh chapter of Revelation. First, there is an issue with the number, 144,000, as well as with the number of each tribe, 12,000. If a literal interpretation is required, the numbers themselves must be allegorical, because in the original Greek language the numbering is plural, so as to be interpreted, 144,000s, and 12,000s from each tribe. We will cover this in a bit more detail when we arrive at the seventh chapter. Nevertheless, this, and other issues, should be addressed, which have heretofore, been either ignored or insufficiently answered.
The fifth major difficulty arising from the dispy-premil view comes from the pre-tribulation rapture taking place as a separate event from the Lord’s second coming. Yet, the language of the New Testament presents the catching away of the living saints (rapture; Greek harpazo) as occurring simultaneous with Christ’s second coming:
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:15
Despite its many difficulties and unanswered issues, there is a desirable character trait inherent in this particular view, being an enthusiastic anticipation for the Lord Jesus’ imminent return. All four of the major end times views hold to a rapture of living saints in accordance with 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18; however, because this view presents a separation between the rapture and actual second coming of the Lord Jesus, the expectation of the Lord’s imminent, unknown return is emphasized. We, as believers in Christ, should anticipate and be excited for the Lord’s return. Because it can come at any time, there are opportunities for the redeemed in Christ to exhibit holiness in life, exercise godliness in an ungodly world, and evangelize fervently for the glory of God. Regardless of which view we may have the greatest conviction, an enthusiastic anticipation for Christ’s imminent return should be in every believer. After all, our salvation means that we will be with Jesus. If we don’t want Jesus, we don’t want heaven or eternal life because Jesus is who makes heaven heavenly and eternal life alive.
There are detrimental characteristics prevalent to this last days view, all of which we should shun.
First, because of the corruptions still remaining in mortal flesh, we will have a tendency to rest on our spiritual laurels. Some may wrongly judge that if Jewish people will be evangelized during the tribulation, then there is no need to witness to them or share the gospel with them. No one should be excluded from the gospel and it is shameful that this attitude should rear its despicable head.
Second, because of its popularity and prominence in many churches today, there is a tendency toward spiritual snobbery, esteeming this view as the “only correct” system while pooh-poohing the others without any study, examination, or consideration. Our opinions concerning something that has not yet happened should NEVER be a point to cause division in Christ’s church. Nevertheless, it happens quite frequently; and I dare say, I’ve seen it most prevalent in dispensational pre-millennial churches. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who unifies us, and any mystery concerning the doctrine of His return was not given by the Holy Spirit for His people to be divisive because of it.
Third, as it relates to the second detestable characteristic above, the disregard for the other eschatological views will almost automatically cause us to de-emphasize the strong, admirable, and desirable characteristics inherent in the other views.
My last thoughts here may very well be my concluding remarks with regard to each of the four end times views— if the eyes of our faith are upon the Lord Jesus Christ, we will see Him when He comes, and the details of His coming will fall into place.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the post-millennial system of eschatology, along with its difficulties.
May the Lord Jesus continue to bless and keep you.
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