“And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.” (Ez 37:28)
I come from an evangelical background, but I belong to a reformed church because I subscribe to Reformed theology and the “Doctrines of Grace.” But when it comes to eschatology, or the study of the end times, I have always held to the evangelical position. This is called “Pre-millenialism.” It is one of a few different positions that Christians hold regarding prophecy. Because prophetic passages can be interpreted either literally or figuratively, there is latitude for various understandings among true believers.
Now that I belong to the reformed tradition, I thought I should learn more about their view of prophecy, or “A-millenialism” as it is called. Here is a summary of both positions, beginning with the one that is most familiar to me:
The Pre-millenial View
1. Jesus Christ will one day return to earth to reign for one thousand years before inaugurating His eternal kingdom on a new heaven and earth.
2. Prior to that event there will be a seven year period of judgment in which God pours out His wrath on an unbelieving world in a series of natural disasters. This is called the “Tribulation.”
3. Just before that time, God will take all believers, both living and dead, to heaven. In the process, He will give them new glorified bodies to fit them for paradise.
4. There they will join in a great marriage feast, The “Marriage Feast of the Lamb,” in which the church is united to Christ as His bride.
4. At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return with his glorified saints to reign with them over an earth restored to its original splendor.
5. God will save 144,000 Jews from death during the Tribulation. They will recognize Jesus Christ as their Messiah and enter His millenial kingdom with the returning saints, but in their natural bodies.
6. During Christ’s earthly reign these Jews will glorify God among the nations by worshiping Him in righteousness in a new temple. They will also experience all the temporal and spiritual blessings of the Old Testament covenant that they had forfeited by their former disobedience.
7. At the end of this time, Satan and all his followers will be destroyed and the millenial kingdom will give way to a new heaven and earth in which God the Father will reign forever.
The A-millenial View
1. All Old Testament covenants have been fulfilled in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
2. God no longer distinguishes between Jew and Gentile for the purposes of salvation. He has broken down the dividing wall between them, making them one people under one new covenant (Eph 2:14-16).
3. In Jesus Christ all believing Jews have already experienced all the spiritual blessings Israel had forfeited by their unbelief and corrupt worship.
4. Therefore there will be no need for a thousand-year earthly kingdom to afford Israel the opportunity to glorify God through their worship and to experience the temporal and spiritual blessings of obedience.
5. All that remains in God’s plan of redemption is for Christ to return in judgment of unbelievers and to gather all believers to Himself in the new heavens and earth.
6. God will not spare believers from the Tribulation that precedes the millenium.
Why The Differences?
The key to understanding the differences between these two positions is that the a-millenial view takes the biblical references to a thousand-year reign as figurative, whereas the pre-millenial view takes them literally. For the reformed person, the millenium is the period of Christ’s rule through the church from the time of Pentecost to His bodily return to rule the new heaven and earth. However, it cannot be a literal thousand years because over 2000 years have already passed since Pentecost.
During this time, the church will continue to expand until, like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a great tree in Jesus’ parable (Mk 4:30-32), it spreads throughout the whole earth. Reformed people see the kingdom’s fruition in the fact that what began as a church of just 120 believers in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, has now grown to a worldwide phenomenon that has transformed individuals, cultures and even whole nations, bringing the blessings of salvation and enlightenment through the gospel.
The pre-millenial view, on the other hand, characterizes this present period of worldwide church growth as the “church age” aimed primarily at gathering Gentiles, or non-Jews into the church. It reserves a literal 1000 year reign after the church age for God to bestow all the covenant blessings of the Old Testament to the Jews and to receive glory among the nations through their righteous worship. This basic difference between the two views underlies all of their other differences.
A Partial Hardening Has Happened to Israel
So what does the Bible have to say regarding these things? First, what about the idea that God no longer makes a distinction between Jew and Gentile with respect to His covenants?
Romans 11:25-27 says, “..a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.
This passage does seem to indicate that God still makes a distinction between Jew and Gentile with respect to His covenants. He has set Israel aside for a time in order to save Gentiles. But this is a temporary situation lasting only until He has gathered the full number of Gentiles into His kingdom. Then He will return to the Jews, saving the entire nation. According to the pre-millenial view, this will happen during the millenium.
The Jews Will Return to Their Homeland
There are numerous passages throughout scripture that point to a re-gathering of the Jews so that God can begin His dealings with them as one nation again:
“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them” (Amos 9:14a)
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.’” (Ez 37:21-23)
This process has already begun. Israel’s homeland was restored in 1948. No other nation has ever been scattered over the face of the whole earth and then re-gathered to their homeland 2000 years later. As Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the modern state of Israel, said in an address to the United Nations:
“Let’s not forget what this is about. We survived Pharaoh, we survived the Greeks, we survived the Romans, we survived the inquisition in Spain, we have the pogroms in Russia, we survived Hitler, we survived the Germans, we survived the Holocaust, we survived the armies of seven Arab countries, we survived Saddam. We will survive the enemies present…”
“Let us remember: all nations or cultures who once tried to destroy us, no longer exist today – while we still live!” (https://bit.ly/2EegnEE)
“Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Israel have come home, never to be uprooted again.” (https://bit.ly/2SCjZZQ)
The modern state of Israel could not have happened if God had not miraculously preserved the Jewish nation for over two millenia.
Israel Will Realize Spiritual and Temporal Blessings That Haven’t Yet Been Fulfilled
The pre-millenial view still awaits a time when all Israel will be redeemed and flourish as a nation:
“They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. ‘I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,’ says the Lord your God” (Amos 9:14-15)
“The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” (Rom 11:27)
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez 36:26)
“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them…I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them”
(Ez 37:24, 26)
“Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord” (Ez 37:11-14).
The Jewish Temple Will Be Rebuilt In the New Nation
Another indication that God will turn His attention to Israel once again is the prophecy that the temple will be rebuilt and its service re-established according to God’s righteous ordinances:
“As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan. If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them” (Ez 43:10-11).
This temple will be about one mile square, much larger than Solomon’s temple, in order to accommodate the worship of believers from all over the world, not just Jews. It will be larger than the temple mount itself, indicating there will be a change in topography (Ez 48:10). The sacrificial system will be restored but the sacrifices will be sacramental in nature, like the Lord’s Supper, not efficacious (Ez 4:10-11). The Levitical feasts will be reinstated with the exception of the Feasts of Pentecost, Trumpets, and Atonement, since these have all been fulfilled in Christ. The glory of God, which departed from the temple in Ezekiel 10:18-19 will return (Ez 43:1-5), and God will dwell there (Ez 43:7).
Why Do Some Blessings Still Await Fulfillment?
The original intent of the covenant with Israel was that God would be glorified among the nations by their obedience and righteous worship of Him (Ex 19:5-6). Instead, He was disgraced by their idolatry and the desecration of the temple worship. In the millenium, He will finally receive the glory He is due from an obedient people who offer a restored worship in a restored temple:
“And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.” (Ez 37:28)
“When I bring them back from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies, then I shall be sanctified through them in the sight of the many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God because I made them go into exile among the nations, and then gathered them again to their own land; and I will leave none of them there any longer. I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel” (Ez 39:27-29).
The Bible Describes Two Different Comings
Now what about the second coming of Christ? Is there one or are there two? The Bible describes the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age in two very different ways. In one instance, Christ returns during a time of peace and safety when people are completely unsuspecting:
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt 24:37-39).
“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, there is peace and security, then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape”
(1 Thess 5:2-3).
At this time Christ will take some people away and leave others behind, based on whether or not they are “destined for wrath“:
“Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left” (Mt 24:40-41).
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day...For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:4, 9-10).
Other Bible passages depict Christ’s return as a time when people are living in dread of His coming, well aware that something terrible is about to happen:
“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk 21:25-26).
“Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)
Clearly these passages describe very different events. The first event refers to something like a rescue operation. The second looks more like a search and destroy mission. Pre-millenialists say the first is a reference to a pre-tribulation rapture of the saints, taking them out of the world before God rains down judgment on the wicked. The second describes His coming at the end of the Tribulation to finish off the wicked and establish His thousand-year rule in a newly-restored creation.
The argument for a pre-tribulation rapture of the saints is that God’s wrath is reserved for sinners, not the righteous. If God spared Noah and his family from the flood, the Israelites from the plagues on Egypt, and Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, why would He not spare the righteous from the greatest judgment ever to befall mankind? For the Bible teaches that the Tribulation will be a near-extinction event, greater than even the flood:
“For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Mt 24:21).
“Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it.” (Is 13:9)
“I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold and mankind than the gold of Ophir”
“For thus it shall be in the midst of the earth among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is done.” (Is 24:13)
Certainly God would not pour out such wrath on His own children.
The Bible Also Describes Two Different Kingdoms
Not only does the Bible describe the return of Christ in two different ways, but it also describes two different kingdoms with two different rulers. Both the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul speak of a restored kingdom that depicts a creation that has been delivered from the curse. In his address to the crowd that witnessed the healing of the lame beggar, Peter said, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:19-21). The Greek term used for “restoration” here means to return to the perfect state before the fall (Morphology: N-GF-S Strong’s: 605).
In Romans 8:19-22 the Apostle Paul tells us why the creation will be restored, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” This is not a new creation, but the same one that was cursed for Adam’s sake. Having suffered on account of Adam, it will be set free along with the his sons when Christ returns.
This restored kingdom will be glorious, but not perfect. There will still be sin and death and judgment. Psalm 2:7-9 says the King will rule with a rod of iron, “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’” This implies there will be rebellion. There will be marriage and divorce and death. Speaking of the Levites in the new temple, Ezekiel says, “And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest” (Ez 44:22). Animals will be killed as part of the temple sacrifices, “During the seven days of the feast he shall provide as a burnt offering to the Lord seven bulls and seven rams without blemish on every day of the seven days, and a male goat daily for a sin offering.” (Ez 45:23). According to pre-millenialism, this is a temporal kingdom ruled by the Son of God, not an eternal kingdom.
But other passages of scripture indicate that this temporal kingdom will one give way to a new heaven and earth, “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet 3:7). The Apostle Peter says, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet 3:10b). Unlike the restored earth, this new earth will be untainted by sin, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). According to pre-millenialism, this is the eternal kingdom. Whereas the millenial kingdom will be ruled by Christ, the eternal kingdom will be ruled by God the Father, “Then comes the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24).
In this new kingdom there will be a new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. There will be no need for a temple because God will make the new Jerusalem His dwelling place. Death and sorrow and pain will all pass away. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev 21:1-4). This will be God’s eternal Kingdom.
End times prophecy in the Bible clearly makes a distinction between Jew and Gentile, between a secret return of Christ and a climactic return, and between two separate kingdoms — one temporal and one eternal. One kingdom will be ruled by Jesus Christ and the other by God the Father. The temporal kingdom will restore the righteous worship of God in a new temple so that He might finally receive the honor due Him from all people. It will also bestow upon the Jews all the spiritual and temporal blessings promised in the Old Covenant. The eternal kingdom, on the other hand, will have no need of a temple because God will tabernacle among men in the new Jerusalem. The original creation will finally give way to a new heavens and earth, the eternal home of righteousness, when all of Christ’s enemies will be cast into the lake of fire and God the Father will rule forever (Rev 20:7-15,)(1 Cor 15:24-27). This is the kingdom for which we wait.