Why I Became a Premillennialist
April 8th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM
WHY I BECAME A PREMILLENNIALIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-8-84 8:15 a.m.
Welcome, the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled Why I Became a Premillennialist. As a background text, reading from Luke 24:25-27:
Our Lord said to His disciples, O slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets—
He diermēneusen, He expounded; He explained, He interpreted—
unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
A postmillennialist is someone who believes that we are going to evolve better, and better, and better, and better until finally we become angels and maybe archangels; that we are going to preach and we are going to win this world to Jesus, and by our human efforts we are going to bring in the millennium. Then at the end of the millennium, Christ will come—postmillennium. Amillennialism is the doctrine of no millennium. “All of these things we read in the Bible are just figures of speech. They have no reality or realization. There is to be no millennium.
Premillennialism is the doctrine that it is the coming of Christ that will bring righteousness to this world. And if I could summarize the premillennial faith, it would be like my five fingers; the chronological order of the premillennial faith is this: first, and without any advanced advertisement or notice, first: secretly, furtively, clandestinely, as a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:4], Christ will come for His own. That is called the rapture. God will take His church, His sainted people, to heaven, and the dead will be raised first, and we who are alive and remain shall be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. That’s first: the secret coming of our Lord for His people, dead and alive.
Second: the great tribulation that follows after for seven years [Revelation 4:2-18:24]. Third: it closes with the war of Armageddon [Revelation 19:11-21]. Four: in that war Christ comes openly with His people, and there is the conversion of the nation of Israel [Romans 11:26]. And five: then we enter into the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6]. That is the premillennial faith.
Now what happened to me was I preached for the first good many years of my life as I’d heard everybody else preach. They preached topically, they preached subjectly, they preached sermons that concern and then you can just name the topic: “The Great Need of Comfort,” or “The Problems We Have in Life,” or “The Things that We Ought to Do.” I preached like that. I preached subject sermons; I preached topically. That’s the way I heard everybody else preach, and I did the same thing; didn’t know any different.
For some reason that I cannot for the life of me recall, while I was pastor at Muskogee, Oklahoma before coming down here to Dallas, I began to preach the Bible. Where I left off Sunday morning, I began Sunday night; and where I left off Sunday night, I began Sunday morning. And I began to do that, just preaching the Bible; page after page of it, paragraph after paragraph of it, chapter after chapter of it, book after book of it, just preach Sunday morning up to as far as I could get, and then start Sunday night, carried on, and then the next Sunday morning, start over again where I left off the previous Sunday night.
What happened was, people went away from the church at Muskogee and said, “That man is a premillennialist; that man is a premillennialist.” I hardly knew what they were talking about. I had never had a premillennial teacher in my life, not in my life. I had never listened to a premillennial preacher preach, not in my life. All of the preachers that I heard and all of the teachers that I had were either postmillennialist or they were amillennialist, all of them. And yet when they heard me preach, just preaching the Bible, the people went away and said, “That man is a premillennialist.” I tell you truly, I did not quite know what they meant.
For example, I had the greatest Greek teacher in the world, Dr. A. T. Robertson. When you go to these seminaries, doubtless the grammar they will study is by Dr. A. T. Robertson. He was my professor of Greek, and I began my doctoral work under him, and he died just as I began that Ph.D. program. When Dr. A. T. Robertson, who was teaching his syllabus, when Dr. A. T. Robertson came to the Revelation, he dropped his syllabus on the podium, the lectern, just like that, just dropped it down and said, “Young men, in my syllabus you will find the differing theories of this interpretation: the futurist theories, the preterist theories, the synchronous historical theories, and the continuous historical theories—and you take your choice.” That was my teaching of the Revelation. And that was all.
When I began preaching through the Bible and people went away saying, “Why, that man is a premillennialist,” I hardly knew what they meant. And when the pulpit committee of the First Baptist Church of Dallas was considering me, a dominational executive found it out and wrote a letter to the pulpit committee and said, “You ought to know, before you consider that man, that he is a premillennialist; he’s a premillennialist.”
The secretary, Orville Groener of the pulpit committee took that letter to Dr. Walter R. Alexander, who then was head of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and a fellow elder in this church; he was a tall, handsome Philadelphian. Orville Groener took that letter to Walter R. Alexander and said, “Dr. Alexander, look. Look! What in the world? Look at this!”
This executive says, “By all means you ought to know this man is a premillennialist.” Tragic! Cataclysmic! “This man is a premillennialist.”
Walter R. Alexander looked back into the eyes of Orville Groener and said, “Orville thank God! I am a premillennialist.”
Orville said, “You are a what?”
“I am a premillennialist.”
Well, I began studying. I poured my life into that, and the results are what you’re going to hear just as long as that clock up there will let me talk: Why I Became a Premillennialist.
I began to study, I began to study the Scriptures, and here are nine things that I learned in the Scriptures. Number one: the apocalyptic discourse of our Lord in Matthew chapter 24 is premillennial. Look at one sentence. Matthew 24:29-30, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days… shall appear the Son of Man in heaven.” He is coming after the tribulation [Revelation 19:1-14], and just before the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6].
Number two: the Revelation, the Apocalypse, is absolutely and positively premillennial. In Revelation 4:1, John is raptured up to heaven, a picture of the rapture of the church. And the church disappears from the earth and does not reappear until the church comes with Christ in Revelation chapter 19. Then in chapter 20 is the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6]: the Revelation is absolutely and positively premillennial. Christ comes [Revelation 19:11-21] and then the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6].
Number three: the tribulation, which is in Revelation chapters 6 through 19 [Revelation 6:1-19:21], the tribulation is premillennial, it is before the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6]. It is the coming of Christ that puts an end to those dark days and then brings in that wonderful period of peace and glory [Matthew 13:41].
Number four: the appearance of the final Antichrist, the world dictator, is premillennial. He is destroyed by the brightness of the coming of Christ. That’s in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. There is no millennium on this earth, you put it down, there’s no millennium on this earth while the Antichrist rules this world. It is given unto him, according to Daniel chapter 7, “to wear out the saints” [Daniel 7:25]; he’s our enemy.
Number five: before the millennium, the seven-headed, ten-horned beast that bore on his back the scarlet woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, will exist to persecute the people of God until Christ comes [Revelation 17:6-18].
Number six: before there can be a millennium [Revelation 20:1-6], Satan must be bound, and Satan is bound in chapter 20:1-3 of the Revelation, and then is the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6].
Number seven: the condition of the earth is tragic, not euphoric. The condition of the earth is tragic before Christ comes [Matthew 24:4-30].
Number eight: the tares are to be gathered out of the kingdom at the coming of Christ [Matthew 13:40-43]. Then comes the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6].
And number nine: the restoration and conversion of the house of Israel will take place at the return of Christ and before the millennium [Romans 11:25-29].
Now I learned a second thing. Not only did I learn that the Scriptures teach us the premillennial return of our Lord [Revelation 19:11-20:6], but I learned that the premillennial faith is the ancient faith of the church. All of the ancient church fathers, all of them, were premillennial. Polycarp, Papias, Ignatius, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Tertullian, Lactantius, all of the ancient fathers, all of them were premillennial.
Let me give you an instance of that. The greatest history that has ever been written is Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Let me read you from that marvelous history a summation of the ancient doctrine of the church. Quote from Edward Gibbon:
The ancient and popular doctrine of the millennium was carefully inculcated by the succession of church fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, men who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was the preceptor of the son of Constantine.
It appears to have been the reigning teaching of all orthodox believers. It was productive of the most salutary effect upon the faith and practice of the Christians.
End quote. While they were being persecuted, fed to the lions, burned at the stake, it was the “blessed hope” as Paul calls it [Titus 2:13]. It was the premillennial hope of the Lord’s coming that gave the church strength to go through those tragic days.
Now as you remember, the sermon two Sundays ago, after the conversion of Constantine and after the church became the lap dog of the court and everybody was baptized into it—the basilicas, the temples, the priests, the images, the rituals, the litanies—after the whole thing became Christian, they ceased to look for the coming of Christ. They ceased to expect His return, and they followed the amillennial doctrines, the teachings of Augustine, and the doctrine of the premillennial return of our Lord was repudiated by the luxurious court church.
But I learned in studying church history, the true millennial faith never died. It was preached by what history will call the “morning stars of the Reformation” like Savonarola of Florence, like John Wycliffe of England, like John Huss of Bohemia. It never died. It was the doctrine of the preachers of the Reformation without exception: Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin, Zwingli. It was the doctrine of the Anabaptists who laid down lives by the thousands, and it was the doctrine of the Baptists.
When the Puritan preachers came to America, it was the premillennial faith that they declared. Listen to Increase Mather, born in 1639, listen to Increase Mather: “That which presseth me so, as that I cannot gainsay this millennial opinion, is that the thousand apocalyptic years are not past, but future. There will be a glorious day for the elect upon the earth.” And then listen to his son, Cotton Mather, great Puritan preacher in Massachusetts in Boston, 1663 he was born. Listen to him:
It is well known that in the earliest of the primitive times, the faithful did, in a literal sense, believe the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the rising and the reigning of the saints with Him a thousand years before the rest of the dead live again. This doctrine of the millennium is truth.
End quote, from Cotton Mather.
I learn then that the original faith was premillennial. I learned that the premillennial faith is not a later doctrinal development, but it was the faith of the church from the beginning. And I learned that amillennialism and postmillennialism are a recent development. Now that’s what I learned from studying the Bible, and that’s what I learned from studying history.
Now I want to make some comments about what happens when we turn from the premillennial faith. First of all, we fall into a hermeneutical confusion. Hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation. And when we turn aside from the premillennial faith, it makes for hermeneutical confusion. The Bible becomes a book of impossible, jumbled enigmas.
Look at it. According to 1 Corinthians 10:32, there are three divisions of mankind: the Jew, the Gentile, and the church. Amillennialism is the tragic human misinterpretation of Scripture that loses sight of these three distinctions. It makes the Bible increasingly meaningless, and finally when you follow it, you’ll come to the conclusion that the Bible is nothing other than a collection of heterogeneous, antique literature.
Now I want to give you an illustration of that: I have in my hand here a beautiful Bible, a very expensive one given me with my name printed in gold. It’s the most beautiful Oxford Bible published by that great world press. So I open the Book, and I read the caption up here, “The church comforted with God’s promises” in Isaiah 44. So I look down there to see how the church is comforted with God’s promises, and this is what I read:
Hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen:
Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, My servant; and thou, Jesurun—that’s a lovely pet name for Israel that God uses—and thou, Jesurun—My little sheep, My little lamb, My little loved one—whom I have chosen.
[Isaiah 44:1, 2]
And yet it says up here, “The church comforted.”
I turned the page and I read the caption of, “The church’s joy,” so I look down there to read about the church’s joy, and this is what the text says in Isaiah 52, “Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem” [Isaiah 52:9].
I turn the page to Isaiah 63, and up here it says, “Christ’s mercy towards His church.” And I look down here to see what He has to say about His church, and this is what it says:
According to all that the Lord hath bestowed upon us… and toward the house of Israel…
Then He remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people…
Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer; Thy name is from everlasting.
Yet that’s supposed to be the mercy of God toward His church.
And then I turn the page, just one other instance, to Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah 31, and I read the caption up here, “The stability of the church.” And this is what I read:
Thus sayeth the Lord God, as long as that sun shines up there in the sky in the daytime, and as long as that moon shines up there in the nighttime, just so long will the nation of Israel live before Me.
Yet, that is supposed to refer to the stability of the church.
What happens to you is, the Bible becomes meaningless. It becomes enigmatic; it has no pertinency at all. We are taught in the Word of God that the church is the mustērion; it is a secret God kept in His heart until He revealed it unto His apostles. That’s in Romans 11:25, in Romans 16:25; that’s in Ephesians 3:3-4, 9; that’s in Colossians 1:26. The prophets never saw the church; they never prophesied concerning the church. They never mentioned it. It was a secret God kept in His heart. The church age, the age of grace, this age of the Holy Spirit is a secret God kept in His heart until He revealed it to His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:3-11]. It’s the great interlude between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of Daniel [Daniel 9:26-27].
All through the Scripture, all through the Scripture, without exception, all through the Scripture the Gentile is the Gentile, the Jew is the Jew, the church is the church [1 Corinthians 10:32]. And if you will let the Bible say what it says and teach you what it wishes to teach, the Bible will become the most meaningful book in this world. But when you turn aside from its plain teaching, it becomes a jumbled mass, and finally you give it up altogether.
The only way an amillennialist can be taught and teach his doctrine is to spiritualize the plain teaching of the Scriptures, to make them mean something other than what they say. That’s the only way an amillennialist can teach the Bible, is to take its plain words and make those words mean something else.
Now I have taken, for example, the amillennial teaching of Augustine—and the whole church followed him after he began teaching his amillennial faith. After the church became the lap dog of luxury, and the darling of the court, and they turned aside from the teaching of the coming of our Lord, Augustine’s amillennialism became the doctrine of the Roman Church. Now let’s look at what we mean by spiritualizing the teaching of the Bible.
Augustine taught, one: the binding of Satan took place during the earthly ministry of Christ—he spiritualizes the fall of Satan [Luke 10:18].
Number two: the devil is bound and expelled from the hearts of those who believe in Christ: he spiritualizes the blessed hope [Titus 2:11].
Number three: the first resurrection is the new birth of the believer. He spiritualizes the resurrection from the dead [Revelation 20:5].
Four: the reign of the saints is their personal victory over sin and the devil—he spiritualizes the whole concept of the kingdom [Revelation 20:6].
Number [five]: the beast, the Antichrist, is this wicked world and his image is hypocrisy: he spiritualizes the coming Antichrist [2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 John 4:3].
And number six: the millennium is this present period of the church age—he spiritualizes the whole concept of a millennium. We’re in it now [Revelation 20:1-6]. Do you believe that? Do you believe we’re in the millennium now? Do you believe that Christ is reigning over this world now? That sin and death are cast out of the world now? Do you believe that? But that is the teaching of the spiritualizer. He has to do something with the literal words of God, so he spiritualizes it.
And that’s what Augustine taught; the millennium is this present age, this present church age, we’re in it now. And all of your amillennialists believe that; all of them—which means practically every theological teacher in the world teaches that—I’m talking about our own people too. It stuns you, dumbfounds you, that’s what I learned.
All right, a second avowal: when we turn aside from the premillennial faith, we lose our own assurance that God will keep His promises to us. You listen to this. The amillennialist teaches that God is through with Israel, that they have no future, that they have no remembrance, that there is nothing else waiting for God’s chosen people Israel. That’s what the amillennialist teaches.
I wish you’d just talk to any man, they’re around us by the thousands, just talk to them. And ask them about that, all amillennialists, all of them, all the professors, all of them believe that God is through with Israel, Israel is done. But I have a comment to make about that: if God breaks His promises to Israel, how do I know but that He will break His promises to me? Why should I be persuaded He will keep His promises to me when He breaks all of His promises to Israel?
Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good? Let’s just look at two or three of the promises that God made to Israel.
Number one: I refer to it in Jeremiah chapter  and those verses that follow, “God said, as long as there is a sun to shine by the day, and as long as there is a moon to shine by night, just so long will the nation live before Me [Jeremiah 31:35-36].
Number two: God has said the land of Palestine is His. Psalm 105:
He hath remembered His covenant for ever . . .
Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac;
And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance.
Number three: God says he will return to his Palestinian home to dwell there for ever [Amos 9:15].
Number four: he will be converted; he will accept the Lord Jesus Christ as His Savior and as his Messiah. He will do that, according to Zechariah [Zechariah 12:10], and according to [Romans 11:25-26], when He appears to His people. Christ appeared to His brethren James, Jude, Joseph, and Simon, and He won them to Himself [Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:7]. He appeared to Paul ektrōma, before the time, before this time [1 Corinthians 15:8], and won Paul to Himself [Acts 9:3-18]. One of these days He is going to appear to the nation Israel, and they’re going to be converted [Matthew 23:39; Romans 11:26].
Number three: we see [a four-fold] confirmation of this premillennial prophecy in present history. [First,] the death of postmillennialism is an amazing development in my lifetime. When I was a young fellow beginning to preach, all the preachers that I heard were postmillennial. One of the greatest preachers in the world was the pastor of this church, a postmillennialist. One of the greatest theologians we ever produced was Dr. B. H. Carrol, a postmillennialist. When I was growing up, all of them were postmillennialists. There’s not a postmillennialist who lives in the world today, not one. They have disappeared from the face of the earth. The Second World War made them sound ridiculous and inane! For a man to stand up today and say that, “By evolution and by all of these concordats, and treaties, and United Nations’ promises, we’re going to bring in the kingdom of God,” it would sound foolish and ridiculous. There’s not a postmillennialist who lives in the world today; not one.
Number two: the birth of the nation of Israel, the fifteenth day of May in 1948, affirmed the prophecies of God for two thousand years—that they’d return in unbelief, according to Ezekiel 36:24-28.
Number three: the consummation of history is there. Armageddon is there [Revelation 16:16], the attention of the world is riveted there, the nations are going to gather there. In the days when I had friends in the president of the United States, I was in the Oval Office in a briefing by Henry Kissinger, at that time secretary of state. And we were in the midst of the Vietnam War, and in that conference I asked Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state, I said, “Do you think that in Vietnam we’re going to have this great confrontation, atomic, with Russia and the enemies of America?”
He said, “No, not at all.” He says, “The great confrontation between the nations of the world is going to be in the Middle East.” That’s exactly what the Bible says [Revelation 16:16].
Number four: we see the confirmation of the premillennial faith in the effective messenger and message [2 Timothy 4:2]. It is difficult, it is difficult to face the world, to try to convert the world, believing that the Bible is a jumbled mass of enigmas. I’ll give you an illustration of that. Some time ago, not too long ago, there came to Dallas two great worldwide figures. One was Paul Tillich. He was the darling—he died recently—he was the darling of the new orthodox liberal world. For years and years and years he was the professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He came here to Dallas. You didn’t even know he was here. That great world darling of the liberal amillennial faith came here to Dallas and spoke for a week at one of our churches, a church in the city of Dallas. I asked an elder in the church, it was a Presbyterian church, I asked an elder—he’d been there every service, he’d been there every service—I asked him how it was, and he said to me, he said, “I listened to him every time he spoke, and to this moment I can’t tell you a thing that he said. I have no idea what he was talking about.” Naturally, he’s an amillennialist.
About the same time there came to Dallas a great premillennial preacher, and he held his revival meeting at the Texas Stadium. And if you went up there to hear Billy Graham, you saw thousands and thousands come down those aisles to the Lord. That’s the difference. It’s a difference in the message and the messenger. The minister is always doing one of two things. He’s either moving toward the Bible, he’s getting deeper into the Word of God, he’s studying it and giving his life to it, or else he’s moving away from the Bible, and he’s moving more into the interpretations of men, and he’s moving more into all those topical subjects that you hear the preacher preach. He’s talking about economics, he’s talking about politics, he’s talking about all the civic enterprises and all the amelioration of the culture and the society. A preacher’s always doing one of two things, he’s moving toward or he’s moving away from the Word of God. And you can count on it, for these years and years and years and years your pastor is moving toward the Word of God, into the Word of the Lord.
Goodness, we’ve got to sing our invitation hymn. To give your heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], to put your life with us in the church, to answer God’s call in your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing. “This is God’s time for me, preacher, and I’m on the way. I’m on the way.”