The Glory of the Premillennial Faith
January 21st, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
THE GLORY OF THE PREMILLENNIAL FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1-21-87 7:30 p.m.
Nor could anything please me more than to address the subject out of God’s precious Book that consumes our interest and our time this precious evening: The Glory of the Premillennial Faith.
Back there in our prayer room before our service tonight, some of my fellow ministers were speaking in terms that I have heard all through the years:
"I am not a premillennialist."
"I am not a postmillennialist."
"I am not an amillennialist."
"I am a panmillennialist. All of it will pan out in the end."
And another one said: "I am a promillennialist. I’m for it."
The implication of these humorous observations is this: that the subject is confusing; that there are good men on both sides, or all sides, who differ concerning the interpretation. Therefore, we pretend that the issue does not exist. Like ostriches who are supposed to hide their heads in the sand, we don’t look; we don’t propose to know; and least of all, do we think to understand. But these three millennial positions are three different approaches to theology: the meaning and interpretation of God’s Word and the program and purpose of God for the world. As such, they impact the whole Word and conception of God.
First, postmillennialism: postmillennialism proclaims that by the preaching of the gospel by men, the whole world will one day be brought under the rule of Christ; and then, Christ will come to reign over His victorious kingdom – a kingdom brought to pass by the efforts of men in making converts in preaching the gospel. Man, unaided by divine intervention, will usher in the "golden age." That’s postmillennialism, and some of our greatest men have embraced that persuasion – men like Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Hodges, and B.H. Carroll, and his pupil George W. Truett. These men were typically postmillennialists.
We look now at the theological approach. First, postmillennialism contradicts human history. World War II decimated and devastated the theory. World War II exposed to view – the death of eighteen million men – it exposed to view the deep depravity of humanity.
When I was a youth, if you studied in a great graduate university, you went to Germany. There are no schools like them in the earth. When I was a youth, German culture and German literacy were incomparable. Their achievements in science, and literature, and every endeavor and area of human life were unexcelled. Then came Adolph Hitler and World War II.
I went through Dachau one time, a long time ago soon after the war, before it was made into the world shrine that you look upon now. I could not believe that in the name of culture, and science, and experiment, and academic excellence, they experimented here with human beings. Put them, for example, in water and gradually cooled it down until the subject froze to death in order to learn at just how deep the thermometer falls before the life is extinguished and how long a human being could withstand such cold – with human beings. And here they learned to fight with bayonets with live subjects to thrust through the living human being – on and on throughout the camp. I could not believe such things in the name of academic excellence, experimentation, scientific achievement. World War II did something to that theological approach of postmillennialism.
Man’s scientific and technological advances have been spectacular and phenomenal in our day – we who now live. We’ve seen technological prowess put a man on the moon. In two of our great hospitals here in Dallas, they are transplanting human organs like the heart and the liver, and no one could subvert the thought that the miracle of radio and television is beyond imagination. We can sit in our living room and watch what is done in the four corners of the world.
But with all of our scientific and technological advance, we are still on the same level as in the days when Cain slew Abel [Genesis 4:1-16; 1 John 3:11-12]. In our souls, in our hearts, in our lives, we are no different [Ecclesiastes 1:9b; Matthew 5:21-22; Romans 3:9-20]. Even believers, saved by grace, members of the household of faith, are filled with the old Adamic nature [Romans 7:14-24]. There is strife in the church [1 Corinthians 1:10-11]. There is division [1 Corinthians 1:12-13, 11:18]. There is weakness in personal life beside the universality of death.
If I could describe this planet earth as one thing above anything else, I would say it is a vast cemetery in which to bury our dead. Not only does postmillennialism contradict human experience and human history, but it also contradicts the Word of God. Scripture denies such a view of history as that by human effort we will create and bring in a golden age. Satan is still unbound [2 Corinthians 11:14; Ephesians 6:12-13]. He is still loose, and he oversows God’s gospel with his tares. Overwhelmingly, the majority of men will never accept the gospel according to the Word of God [Matthew 7:13-14. 22:14; Luke 13:23-30; Romans 9:27-29].
In Matthew 13, verses 3 to 8, is the Parable of the Sower. Some fell – of the seed – some fell on the wayside, and dirty birds devoured it [Matthew 13:4, 19; Luke 8:5, 12]. Some fell on stony places, and it soon wilted under the rising sun [Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21; Luke 8:6, 13]. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns choked it to death [Matthew 13:7, 22; Luke 8:7, 14]. Some fell on good ground [Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:8, 15]. Only one out of four brought fruit unto God [Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:8, 15].
Take, again, Matthew 13:24-30: the Parable of the Tares. Our Lord said of the oversowing, "An enemy hath done this" [Matthew 13:28]. In Matthew 13, verses 31 and 32: the mustard seed. It grew into a great tree, but then every dirty and unclean bird roosted in it. That’s the history of the preaching of the gospel and the growing of the church. In Matthew 13:47-50, fish are caught in a net. Some of it is good and is kept. Some of it is bad, and it is thrown away.
According to the Word of God and according to history and according to human experience, humanity is no nearer heaven today than it was in the beginning. There are wars, and turmoil, and disobedience, and desolation. As Daniel 9:26 says: "Wars are determined unto the end."
Even the name for the church signifies a world of evil and darkness. In the Bible, the word "church" is ekklēsia, "a called-out assembly." It presupposes a dark, and evil, and lost world out of which God is choosing His sainted people [1 Corinthians 1:2, 12:2; Galatians 1:2, 4:7-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 4, 9-10]. And in the final analysis, postmillennialism is a veiled form of humanism – namely, that man doing through the gospel what only Christ can do at His return.
Our hope for a golden kingdom – for an age of incomparable peace, and happiness, and life, and blessedness – lies in the closing prayer of the sainted John in the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation and the twentieth verse: "He which saith these things saith, ‘Surely, surely I come quickly’" [Revelation 22:20]. And then, the last and closing prayer: "Even so, come, blessed Jesus!" [Revelation 22:20] We have no other ultimate hope.
Amillennialism: that is, there will be no such thing as a millennium. In the Greek language, "a" can be used as an alpha privative, an alpha negative. You have it in many of our words like theos is "God;" atheism – there’s "not any God." In Greek, "to know," gno, G-N-O; put an "a" in front it: an "agnostic" – he doesn’t know. In the Greek word tom is "cut;" atom is "uncut, indivisible." "Cellular;" "acellular" – "no cells". So the word "a" placed in front of "millennial," "amillennial," amillennialism: there’s not any such thing as a millennium. This is the theological stance of practically all of the theological world and is the theological stance of most of our Southern Baptist professors and teachers and universities and seminaries. Practically all of the theological world is amillennial.
It teaches that we are now in the millennium. The only millennium we’ll ever know is now. There will never be a literal, physical, visible, kingdom of Christ on earth established by Christ and over which He will rule. Amillennialism is not a doctrine that arose out of a study of the Scripture. If you were to read the Scripture and say there is not a millennium, you would have read the wrong book. The doctrine never arose out of a study of the Word of God, but rather, it arose out of a reaction against premillennialism: "I will not believe what this Book has said."
The fundamental interpretation of amillennialism is this: that the church is Israel. All the promises made to Israel are spiritualized and fulfilled in the church. Israel before God becomes no more than any other nation, or people, or tribe, or group. That is the basic spiritualization of the amillennial approach to the Bible.
As such, amillennialism exhibits an amazing scriptural interpretive inconsistency, and it’s this: all the curses upon Israel are for literal Israel, then all the promises for Israel are for the church. When God condemns Israel for breaking the Law, that is to be interpreted literally. Israel has disobeyed God, and Israel shall bear the curse and condemnation of God because of their disobedience. Now, that is for literal Israel. But Israel rejected Christ, for example, they bear that judgment of the rejection of their Messiah. That is literal Israel. But when God speaks of blessing, and restoration, and salvation for Israel, that is the church. They spiritualize it.
Now, I want you to listen to it. This’ll be one – I’ve chosen three passages out of hundreds and hundreds. Now, you listen to this: spiritualizing the Word that God has said to Israel. For example, in Isaiah 46, verse 3:
Hearken unto Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by Me from my loins, which are carried by Me from the womb.
I bring near My righteousness.
Even to your old age . . . and even to hoar hairs will I carry you! I have made, I will bear; I will carry, and I will deliver you.
My salvation shall not tarry. I will place salvation in Zion, for Israel My glory.
That’s not Israel. The amillennialist says that is the church.
Let me read from Jeremiah, chapter 31:
"Behold, the days come," saith the Lord, "that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which by covenant they brake . . .
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days," saith the Lord, "I’ll put my law in their inward parts, I’ll write it in their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me . . . and I will remember their sin no more."
Thus saith the Lord God, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night . . .
"If those ordinances depart from before Me," saith the Lord, "Thus then shall the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever."
Thus saith the Lord: "If the heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done," saith the Lord.
The amillennialist says that is the church.
It is absolute idiocy to a man of any right-thinking judgment to say when God makes these promises to Israel, He’s talking about the church. The Book says Israel. The Book says the house of Judah. The Book says the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
May I just take one other out of a multitude of them? In the second chapter of Zechariah: "He that toucheth Israel toucheth the apple of My eye" [Zechariah 2:8]. That’s the church, they say. That’s not Israel.
"Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of thee," saith the Lord.
And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be My people. And I will dwell in the midst of them. And thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me unto thee.
And the Lord shall inherit Judah His portion in the Holy Land, and shall choose Jerusalem again . . ."
That’s what God says about Israel, and Judah, and the Holy Land; but the amillennialist says, "He’s not talking about Israel. He’s not talking about Judah. He’s talking about the church."
There’s a confirmation of God’s Word in human history. I have never seen a Hittite, or a Jebusite, or a Gergashite, or an Ammonite, or a Moabite, or any other of those "-ites;" but God said, "Israel will be here when I come again" [Romans 11:25-29]. And I meet them down every street of Dallas, and as a nation they exist before God in Palestine today.
There are glorious promises made to the church – and we haven’t time even to begin to recount them – but there are also glorious promises made to Israel, and God will faithfully keep them both. He’ll be the Lord of His people Israel; and He’ll be the Savior, and Friend, and Brother of His saints in the church.
Now I have a personal conclusion. If God breaks His promises to Israel – as I have read just three in the Holy Bible – if God breaks His promises to Israel, how can I know but that He’ll break His promise to me? If God changes His mind in relation to His purposes for Israel, how can I know but that He may change His mind and His purposes for us in the church?
It becomes a matter of the character of Almighty God. Is He faithful or not? And the Old Testament closes with an avowal. Malachi 3:6: "I am the Lord, I change not." You can depend on God. You can count on God. He is faithful.
All right, what I do believe: I am not a postmillennialist. I am not an amillennialist. I am a premillennialist. Jesus will return at the end of this age as He promised, and He will set up His kingdom in this earth as He promised. For one thousand years He will reign interrupted only by the loosing of Satan for a season. Then, in eternity, He will be our Friend and our Brother in heaven.
Millennium – that’s from two Latin words: mille which means "a thousand" and annus which means "year." The time period of a thousand years is set forth in Revelation 20, verses 2, verses 3, verse 4, verse 5, verse 6, and verse 7; but the concept of a kingdom age permeates the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I haven’t time to read the glorious descriptions of this golden kingdom age, save from one book even, from Isaiah, say, chapter 9, say, chapter 11: "When the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . . When they will not hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain, when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" [Isaiah 11:6, 9].
All through the Bible will you find the revelation and the conception of a coming golden age. It is just that the twentieth chapter of the Revelation spells it out, gives it detail – that time period of a time when the Lord dwells with His people.
Premillennialism is based upon the literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of the Word of God. It is antithetical to spiritualizing. It is delivering an exposition of the Word of God as the Lord hath written – not adding to, not taking away, not explaining away, but delivering the message of God. The original church, from the beginning and for the first hundreds of years, was premillennial. It was chiliastic: the Greek Word chilioi, "thousand."
Well, where did it change? It changed under Augustine, and Jerome, and others who identified the kingdom of God on earth with the Roman Catholic Church. That’s where the denial of the hundreds of years of the original church in its premillennial faith came from; but the Bible is a premillennial book, and I am a premillennial preacher.
May I add a personal word? In that day of forty-three years ago when the committee seeking a pastor for this wonderful church was thinking of me, the committee received a word from a certain leader in the Baptist faith and denomination. And I read the letter in these later years, and he said to that committee, "You ought to know – before you call that man, you ought to know that he is a premillennialist."
The secretary of the committee was Orville Groner who was the treasurer of the Annuity Board across the street; and Orville Groner being a layman and not a theologian – Orville Groner took the letter to Dr. Walter R. Alexander who was the executive leader of the Annuity Board. And he laid it before Dr. Walter R. Alexander and said, "Dr. Alexander, look. Look! This man that we are thinking of calling as pastor of the church is a premillennialist."
And Dr. Walter R. Alexander, he was a Philadelphian. He looked like a Philadelphian lawyer: tall, cultured, astute, gifted. Dr. Walter R. Alexander looked back at Orville Groner and said, "Orville, praise God. Thank the Lord! I am a premillennialist."
And Orville Groner said, "You are a what?"
And Dr. Alexander said, "I am a premillennialist. Praise God. Praise the Lord. This man the church is considering calling is a premillennialist." And, of course, from then on Dr. Alexander and Orville Groner began to work for this young fellow that later they call your pastor.
Now, may I, in just this minute, may I follow through the program of the consummation of the age? You read a large part of it in 1 Thessalonians. The first thing that happens at the end of the age, the first thing that happens is the dead in Christ shall rise [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. That’s the first. If anybody tells you Jesus is come, or that He’s here, or you can see Him over yonder, all you need to do is go to the cemetery and see if God’s sainted dead are still in their graves. The first thing that will happen: the dead in Christ shall rise. That’s the beginning. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is you, the living saints, will be changed. They will be glorified. They will be given in a moment, in the twinkling in an eye, a new and heavenly body; and they will be raptured with these who are raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:17]. They’ll be raptured to meet the Lord in the air. Then we shall stand at the bema of Christ – all of us raptured to glory, we shall stand at the bema of Christ there to receive the rewards of our service for the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:5-10]. Then we shall be seated with our Lord at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. Then we shall return to this earth with our Savior [Colossians 3:4]. Then we shall reign with Christ a thousand years in this earth [Revelation 20:1-6]. Then Satan will be loosed for just a season [Revelation 20:7-10], and that season will close with the resurrection of the lost dead who shall be judged at the Great White Throne and be cast away [Revelation 20:11-15].
What an infinite tragedy! All that is unclean, and unbelieving, and rejecting will be cast out of God’s universe; and these who follow in that way of rejection and unbelief will be cast out [Revelation 21:8]. The Lord will purge this earth and all that is in it. He will gather to Himself His saints, those who have found refuge and faith and trust in Him, and will cast out and away those who refuse His grace and His mercy. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment and damnation and separation, and His saints will go to be with our Lord forever and ever and ever [Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:25-26; John 3:36, 5:25-29, 10:27-28; Romans 2:7-16; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10; 1 John 5:11-13; Revelation 14:10-11 ].
There will be a new heaven and a new earth [2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:1-27]. I think that word "new" refers to a renovation. There’ll be no more burned-out planets. There’ll be no more deserts on this earth; but the whole universe will be remade, and we shall inherit the whole kingdom of God.
I have often said, in the renovation, I pray God will give me a planet of my own; and I will set on it my little soapbox, and I’ll open my Bible, and there’ll be no more clocks, and there’ll be no more watches, and there’ll be no more time, and I can just preach forever and ever and ever and ever. I won’t have to look at that sorry thing right staring me in the face – just praising the Lord, world without end.
O God, what a glory, and what a happiness, and what a goodness, and what a grace the Lord hath prepared for them who love You. No wonder Paul exclaimed, "Eye hasn’t seen and ear hasn’t heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of a man, those marvelous things God hath prepared for those who love Him" [1 Corinthians 2:9]; and it is ours for the having, for the taking, for the asking, for the receiving [John 1:12, 3:16; Romans 6:23]. O God, grant, without loss of one, we’ll all be there when He comes, when He comes. Now, may we pray.
Our Lord, what a preciousness; what a glory, O Christ Jesus, that we’ll see Thee some day, that You’ll live in our midst, that we’ll be with You in this very earth fellow heirs, reigning over God’s renovated, renewed kingdom. It is beyond our thinking and our thought. And, Lord, without loss of one, may we all be there inheriting that good and wonderful thing God hath given to us through His love and grace.
And in this moment that we sing a hymn of appeal: to answer that call of God in your heart with your life, make the decision now and come. Welcome. "Pastor, tonight I’m giving my heart in faith to the blessed Lord Jesus;" or, "I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this dear church;" or, "God’s spoken to me, and here I stand." And, our Lord, bless them to come in Thy saving name, amen. I’ll be standing right here; and to give your heart to the Lord or to answer His call to your heart, you come and stand by me. A thousand times welcome while we stand and while we sing.