Saturday, July 16, 2022

Futuristic Premillennialism: The Scriptural View of the End Times (Explained)

Many different approaches to cosmic eschatology exist. Because I get asked from time to time, the one I believe to be most faithful to Scripture is futuristic premillennialism. Let me then explain this view. As a refinement of dispensational premillennialism, futuristic premillennialism affirms a futuristic view of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:27), which includes the events of Matthew 24 and the judgments of seals, trumpets, and bowls described in Revelation 6–18. Not only is the millennial kingdom of Revelation 20 future, so too is the tribulation period that precedes the millennium. This futuristic understanding of Daniel’s seventieth week contrasts with other eschatological approaches, such as amillennialism and postmillennialism, which place Daniel’s seventieth week and the tribulation period in this present age.

Futuristic premillennialism is based on three main beliefs. First, it accords with the consistent use of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation to all areas of the Bible, including its prophetic and eschatological passages. This means prophetic passages must be understood according to their normal and natural sense. This approach takes into account the various genres found in the Bible and the use of symbols that convey literal truths. As a result, futuristic premillennialism expects a literal fulfillment of all physical, national, land, and spiritual blessings in the Bible, including those to Israel and the nations.

Second, futuristic premillennialism maintains the biblical distinction between Israel and the church and understands that the Bible does not confuse the two. The identity of Israel in the Bible always includes physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, all seventy-seven uses of Israel in the New Testament refer to ethnic Israel. Sometimes the term Israel is used of believing Jews only (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 6:16), but it is never used to speak of a spiritual community regardless of ethnicity. Also, the church is never called Israel. For example, in the book of Acts, Luke refers to the church nineteen times and to Israel twenty times, but he never calls the church Israel. This compellingly demonstrates God’s intention in keeping these identities distinct.

Futuristic premillennialism rejects all forms of replacement theology or supersessionism, in which the church is viewed as the replacement or fulfillment of promises to national Israel in such a way that removes the theological significance of Israel in God’s plans. It affirms the great importance of the church in God’s kingdom purposes but looks forward to a future fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel and the nations in a future millennial kingdom. Israel will be both saved and restored, and it will have a role of leadership toward the nations. Futuristic premillennialism understands that the identity of Israel does not expand to include Gentiles. Instead, “the people of God” expands to include Gentiles alongside believing Israel (Isa. 19:24–25). Futuristic premillennialism also affirms that the fulfillment of God’s promises occurs in stages. What was not fulfilled with Jesus’s first coming must be fulfilled with events leading up to and including his second coming.

Third, futuristic premillennialism recognizes that Scripture presents a coming fulfillment of Daniel’s seventieth week that is a seven-year period of tribulation and that comes before Jesus’s earthly millennial kingdom (Dan. 9:27). While the church faces tribulation generally in this age, a future special period of tribulation will involve God’s unique and catastrophic judgments and wrath on the entire earth (Revelation 6–19). This tribulation includes the judgments of seals, trumpets, and bowls described in Revelation 6–16. This coming tribulation culminates in the return of Jesus and the establishment of his thousand-year kingdom on earth. Futuristic premillennialism contrasts with theological beliefs that often view this present age between the two comings of Jesus as both the predicted tribulation period and the kingdom of Jesus. For futuristic premillennialism, the tribulation of Revelation 6–18 precedes the coming of Christ, the establishment of his kingdom (Revelation 19–20), and the eternal state (Revelation 21–22).

Premillennialism has the backing of Scripture. First, it offers the clearest understanding of Revelation 19:11–21:8, which includes a sequence of events with a chronological time marker—kai eidon (Gk. “then I saw” in Rev. 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11, 12; 21:1). These markers indicate a progression of events beginning with a tribulation period and followed by the second coming of Jesus, a thousand-year reign of Jesus, and finally, the eternal state.

Second, the binding of Satan described in Revelation 20:1–3 must be a future reality and not a present one. The language of 20:1–3 indicates a dramatic incarceration of the person Satan in a specific location—the Abyss. Much more than a curtailing of Satan’s deceptive activities, this is the incarceration of Satan himself. The binding of Satan is not occurring today. In fact, Satan’s ability to deceive the world is evident in this present age. Paul states that “the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). Peter warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). John declares, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). These passages, written by three apostles after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, reveal that Satan is actively involved in worldwide deception. Plus, Revelation 12:9 states that before Jesus returns, Satan will be actively deceiving the nations with much success: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”

Third, the reign of the saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4 best fits with a future kingdom reign after Jesus’s second coming. This passage says that the martyred saints “came to life,” which refers to physical resurrection. These saints first appeared in Revelation 6:9–11 as those who were killed for their testimony for Jesus. Coming to life means the resurrection of the body for these faithful saints, and since physical resurrection has not yet occurred, “came to life” in Revelation 20:4 refers to resurrection after the return of Jesus. Also, Revelation 5:10 affirms the coming reign of the saints on earth—“they shall reign on the earth.” However, the experience of the church in this age is persecution, not reigning (Revelation 2–3). Reigning is held out as a motivation for those who endure until Jesus returns (Rev. 2:26–27).

Fourth, several Old Testament passages point to an intermediate kingdom that is far better than this present age but not yet perfect like the final eternal state. For example, Isaiah 65:17–25 predicts a time of incomparable prosperity, peace, and harmony of creation, yet a time when the possibility of death still remains. Isaiah 65:20 states, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.” The reason why Isaiah 65:20 points toward a coming earthly kingdom is that the conditions described here do not fit this present age when lifespans are around eighty years. Nor do they fit the coming eternal state, when sin will not exist and no one will die. But they do fit an intermediate kingdom, like that described in Revelation 20. Some have speculated that Isaiah may be using “ideal language” to indicate long life without death actually occurring, but this is unlikely. In Isaiah 25:8, the prophet explicitly predicts the eradication of death (“He will swallow up death forever”), showing that Isaiah knew how to state that death would be totally removed.

Zechariah 14 also depicts conditions consistent with a future millennial kingdom. The opening verses describe a great siege of Jerusalem by the nations of the earth (Zech. 14:1–2). But this is followed by the Lord fighting on behalf of Jerusalem, which leads to the Lord’s feet touching down on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). After this the Lord will reign over the earth: “And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one” (Zech. 14:9). Yet during this time of the Lord’s reign on the earth, nations can still sin and suffer the consequences. Such a scenario is described in Zechariah 14:16–19:

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

This passage describes a period when the nations will be required to go up to Jerusalem. Those who do not, like Egypt, will face the prospect of “no rain,” “plague,” and “punishment.” Such conditions in which the nations of the earth travel to Jerusalem with the possibility of punishment for disobedience does not fit this present age or the coming eternal state. These conditions are not fulfilled today since no nation on earth serves the Lord or even attempts to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Nor will these conditions be true of the eternal state in which no sin or consequences for sin are possible. Yet the events of Zechariah 14 fit well with an earthly kingdom.

An Old Testament backdrop for an intermediate kingdom is also found in Isaiah 24. The first twenty verses of Isaiah 24 describe global judgments on the earth for transgressing God’s laws (Isa. 24:5). Then a two-stage judgment of God’s enemies is mentioned in 24:21–23: “On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. Then the moon will be confounded.” Both evil spiritual forces (“the host of heaven”) and evil human forces (“kings of the earth”) will be judged. There will also be an incarceration. They will be “gathered together as prisoners in a pit,” and “shut up in prison.” But then we are told, “After many days they will be punished.” The order of events here is imprisonment for many days and then punishment. The “after many days” phrase coincides well with the concept of an intermediate kingdom of a thousand years in Revelation 20, which says that Satan will be bound in the Abyss for a thousand years, then released for a short time, and finally, sentenced to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1–3, 7).

A fifth reason for premillennialism is that this view best fits the Bible’s redemptive storyline. God created the first Adam to rule from and over the earth. Adam failed, but Christians now look to the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) to succeed where the first Adam failed. Man’s task from Genesis 1:26–28 was to rule from the earth and over the earth. In the premillennial scenario, this is exactly what Jesus does. He successfully rules from earth over the earth with an extended reign that is recognized by all. When Jesus does this, he then hands the kingdom over to God the Father so that the eternal kingdom can commence (1 Cor. 15:24, 28). Those who belong to Jesus are also destined for a kingdom reign on the earth. Persecution on earth is the norm for the saints in this age, but a time is coming when the saints will rule in the realm where they are currently persecuted (Dan. 7:26–27; Rev. 2:26–27; 5:10).