Why I Became A Premillennialist
March 29th, 1988 @ 12:00 PM
1 Peter 3:15
WHY I BECAME A PREMILLENNIALIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 3:15
3-29-88 12:00 p.m.
Remember, this is a busy lunch hour. Anytime you have to get up and leave, everybody understands. Stay as long as you can, leave when you must. As Brother Poole said, this is the seventy-second year our church has conducted these noonday pre-Easter services.
For the first many, many years they were held in theaters downtown. But when the theaters were closed, we moved the convocation into this sanctuary, and it is a joy unspeakable to have our academy so quiet and reverent in the balcony round, and to have our preachers’ college, with their professors present.
The theme for this year is “The Second Coming of Christ”: Yesterday; The Glory of the Premillennial Faith; today, Why I Became a Premillennialist; on Wednesday, tomorrow, The Signs of His Coming; on Thursday, The Time on God’s Clock; and on Friday, Christ, the King of Forever.
As a background text, in [1 Peter 3:15]: “Be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh your reason of the hope that is in you.” The word “answer” is our English word apology, apologia. The word refers to a verbal defense. It is a word much used in classical literature. An apology to us means to ask forgiveness. Through all the centuries, the word means justification for what you believe. The whole system of apologetics is built upon the meaning of that word, apologia. Always an answer, a verbal defense for the hope that is in you: so today, Why It Is I Became a Premillennialist.
In the beginning of the years of my pastoral work and preaching ministry, for all of those first years, I was a topical preacher, a subject preacher. I never heard anybody preach any other way—preach on justification, or on repentance, or on faith—always a subject. While I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, my pastorate before coming here, I began preaching the Bible. How it was I have tried to remember ten thousand times, and I cannot recall the reason why, but there in my pastorate in the pulpit in Muskogee, I began preaching the Bible. Where I left off Sunday night, I started Sunday morning. And where I left off Sunday morning, I continued Sunday night. When I came here to Dallas, after my introductory words, I preached through this Bible for almost eighteen solid years.
As I preached through the Book, I became slower and slower and slower in its exposition. Had I followed the same pattern, I would have been preaching through that Bible for a thousand years. I used to remember so oft times people would not say, “When did you join the church?” Well I joined in October of 1945, or September of 1952. They would answer, “When did you join the church?” Well I joined in 1 Kings, or I joined in Malachi, or I joined in 2 Timothy. I began preaching the Bible, and an unusual thing happened. When people came to hear me preach, they went away and said, “The man is a premillennialist.” When the pulpit committee of the First Church, here in Dallas, was thinking of calling me as pastor, a man who didn’t particularly savor my coming, who was later a denominational big wheel, he wrote a letter to the committee, and he said, “I think in all fairness, before you call that man, you need to know that he is a premillennialist.”
Well, the chairman, the secretary of the committee was named Orville Groener in our Annuity Board, and he took that letter to Walter R. Alexander, a distinguished executive and leader of the Annuity Board, and laid it before him and said, “Dr. Alexander what shall we do and where shall we turn?” Look, this letter says that man Criswell is a premillennialist. And Dr. Alexander looked at it, read it, raised his hand and said, “Thank God, Orville, I am a premillennialist.”
I never had a premillennial teacher in my life. I was never introduced to the doctrine in all of my growing-up years. When I went to the Southern Seminary, majored in Greek under A.T. Robertson, the greatest Greek professor we’ve ever produced, he took his syllabus, when he came to the Book of the Revelation, and he dropped it on the podium, on the lectern just like that. And he said, “Young gentlemen, in my syllabus you’ll find all the interpretations of the Book of the Revelation. The preterist, the futurist, the synchronist, the historical, you choose whichever pleases you.” And that’s the entire education I had in the Revelation, that one sentence.
What happened was, when they said, “The man is a premillennialist,” then I began to study to find out what I was. As you know, there are three great sections, divisions, in this approach to the Word of God. One is called “postmillennialism,” post, after the millennium. “We’re going to preach the millennium in. We’re going—this came with the theory of evolution. We’re going to evolve. We’re going to breed out of the human race the fang, and the tooth, and the claw, and the ape. We are going to bring in the kingdom. And then, at the end of the millennium, Jesus will come,” a postmillennialist. Dr. Truett, my eminent predecessor here, was a postmillennialist. Most of the men that I listened to and so greatly loved and admired when I grew up were postmillennialists. There’s not a one living on the face of the earth today. Not one. Not one.
The second section of this interpretation of the Bible is called amillennialism—amillennialists. Practically all of your intellectual world today is amillennial: there is not any millennium. And they take all the endless words in the Bible and spiritualize them. They give them meanings that appeal to them, but they don’t reveal, don’t stand by, don’t preach the literal meaning of the Word of God. They’re amillennialists.
The third great section of those who approach the Word of God are called premillennialists. They are literalists. They believe the Word of God, syllable by syllable, verse by verse. And according to the Word of God, they believe that sin is dark, and the only hope we have is in the intervention of God from heaven, the second coming of Christ.
So as I began to study, I learned that Jesus was a premillennialist. I went to the Lord, I had time, but it would take me a week to do it. Read the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the apocalyptic discourse of our Lord. “After the dark tribulation of those days . . . then shall they see the sign of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of glory” [Matthew 24:29-30]. Jesus was a premillennialist.
As I study the Word of God, Paul was a premillennialist. Read the first and second chapters, for example, of 2 Thessalonians, “Then shall be revealed that wicked one,” the Antichrist [2 Thessalonians 2:8], and in flaming fire shall the Lord take vengeance upon him [2 Thessalonians 1:7-8]. God, in Christ, establishes His kingdom [2 Thessalonians 1:5-10]. Paul was a premillennialist. And as I studied the Word of God, the Revelation became an open book to me.
In the first chapter [Revelation], the Lord Jesus says to the sainted apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, verse 19, “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be meta tauta, after these things” [Revelation 1:19]. So John set down according to the mandate of heaven, and he wrote the things that he had seen: the vision of the wondrous Christ in chapter 1 [Revelation 1:10-20]. Then he wrote the things which are: the churches, the churches are; the churches. And in chapters 2 and 3, he wrote the things that are [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. Now I’m looking for that meta tauta, the things beyond the age of the church. And when I turn to chapter 4: meta tauta, “I looked, and, behold, a door opened in heaven” and the rapture of the people of God. And then lest I should miss it, he says, “And I will show thee these things which must be,” and he repeats it again, meta tauta” [Revelation 4:1].
So the Book of the Revelation became an open book to me: the first chapter, the things you have seen [Revelation 1:10-20]; chapter 2 and 3, the things that obtain in this dispensation, the age of the churches [Revelation 2:1-3:22], and beginning at chapter 4, first, the terrible tribulation [Revelation 4:1-18:24], then in [chapter] 19, the Lord coming with His saints [Revelation 19:11-16], then in [chapter] 20, the great, glorious millennium, and then after the rebellion of Satan [Revelation 20:1-15], the incomparable eternity God hath for us, Christ the King of forever [Revelation 21:1-22:21].
Well, when I got through studying and poring over the Word of God, I began reading the fathers, the patriarchs of the church. And without exception, without exception, without exception every saint of God for the first three hundred years of the Christian faith was a premillennialist. I stood, for example, in Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22], looked across the Lycus River, and there was ancient Hierapolis. And the pastor of the church was Papias, an avowed premillennialist.
I have copied—would to God I could bring them with me and read them. I have copied out of the fathers their premillennial conviction and persuasion. Papias, Polycarp, Clement, who is named in the Book of Philippians, chapter 4 verse 3 [Philippians 4:3], Eusebius, the great historian Irenaeus, without exception, all of them were premillennialists. I also copied, and wished I had time to read it, from the greatest book of history ever written; Edward Gibbon,The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He has a long discussion in that book; there are two volumes, those books concerning the premillennial faith of those fathers.
Well, what happened was, Constantine was converted a little after 300 AD. And in 354 AD, Augustine was born, and Augustine was an amillennialist. He said, and he spiritualized the whole Word of God, Augustine said, “That the first resurrection is the conversion of a man, that the binding of Satan is the controlling of those temptations that swirl through your heart, that the kingdom of God is the church, that the reign of the saints is the Roman Empire, and that we are in the millennium now.” That’s what the amillennialist believes. We are in it now. Great God! Look at this world, and can you persuade yourself that we are in the millennium now? Well, such a persuasion as that has to come through the spiritualizing of the Word of God. I have in my hands the most expensive Bible ever given to me in my life. It is produced by the Oxford University Press in England. And when you turn the page, it is dedicated to the most high and mighty Prince James, king of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, the defender of the faith. So I turn in my expensive and beautiful Bible, and I read up here, “The church comforted by the Word of God” And I look down to see in Isaiah 43: “The church comforted by the Word of God.” And this is what I read, “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine”[Isaiah 43:1]—Jacob, Israel, but he [the amillennialist] says, “The church is comforted by these wonderful words.”
I turn the page to the next chapter. Up here, “The church with God’s promises,” and I look down to read about the church and the promises of God, and this is what I read: “Yet now hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the Lord that formed thee . . . Fear not, O Jesurun, My precious baby,” an endearment term, “whom I have chosen” [Isaiah 44:1-2].
I turn the page, and I read over here in Isaiah 52: “The church’s joy.” The church‘s joy, and I turn to read the church’s joy, and I read, “O Jerusalem, O captive daughter of Zion [Isaiah 52:2]. . . . 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]. “That is the church’s joy.”
May I take just one other? In Jeremiah, the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah, “The stability of the church, the stability of the church.” And I read:
Thus saith the Lord, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divided the sea; The Lord of hosts is His name:
If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.
Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord God.
That is supposed to be the “stability of the church.” What God says there is: “As long as the sun shines in the sky and as long as the moon shines by night, just so long will there be a nation of Israel living before Me.”
The only way a man can become an amillennialist is to spiritualize the Word of God, to make it mean something else, whatever he might choose personally for it to mean. I have to quit. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:32 all mankind is divided into three groups; 1 Corinthians 10:32. Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God; Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God made up of Jew and Gentile, there is no exception to that in the whole Word of God.
Whenever the Bible says “Jew, Israel” always it means Jew. When the Bible says “Gentile,” always it means Gentile. And when the Bible says “church,” always it means the church. There’s never an exception to that in all Holy Scripture. And my sweet people, if you will keep those three distinct, the Jew, the Gentile, and the church, you will have a key to the understanding of every prophecy and every revelation in this Holy Book.
May I close with an illustration of it in our midst. Some years ago, there came to Dallas two world-famous theologians, preachers, two of them. One of them was an amillennialist, I suppose the most famous professor in the world. And after he had been here for a week preaching in a North Dallas church, the elder of the Presbyterian church in which he was preaching said to me, “I have been there every night. I haven’t missed a meeting.” And he said to me, “You know, I can’t tell you one thing that he said. I had no idea what he was talking about”; spiritualizing the Word of God.
In that same time, there came another world famous preacher here to Dallas. His name was Billy Graham, a premillennialist. The meeting was scheduled for this sanctuary, but by that time, he had become so famous we couldn’t begin to hold the meeting here in our church house, so we moved it to the Cotton Bowl. And if you can remember 1952, we jammed that Cotton Bowl with over 75,000 people. And on the Sunday after the meeting was over, Billy Graham came down that aisle right there, and he brought with him one of the finest young businessmen in the city, who had been won with Christ out there in that Cotton Bowl.
And Billy Graham stood there and shook my hand and said, “I want to be a member of this wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this, my friend won to the Lord, is making a confession of his faith in Jesus and wants to be baptized.” I baptized him. This is the man that put us on television, on Channel 11, for twelve years. How I miss him! Right in the strength of his life, he died of cancer.
But as I look back on those two men, this amillennial, world-famous professor, and the elder saying to me, “I don’t know what he’s talking about”; and the other, Billy Graham, a premillennialist, a literalist, with that godly convert by his side, “I want to confess faith in Jesus and I want to be baptized.” Dear God, how thankful I am that in the world there are still those who believe this is the inspired Word of the Lord [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]: that it is literally true, that God said it, I believe it, and I am standing on the promises. My feet may tremble, but the Rock on which I stand is never moved.
Now Dr. Patterson, president of our preachers’ school, you come and stand here, and all of us will stand with you, as you lead us in our benedictory prayer; Dr. Paige Patterson.