The Error Of A-Millennialism
Thus says the Lord, “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 divided into two kingdoms ... And they will be my people, and I will be their God” - Ezekiel 37:21-23.
Writing from the depths of exile, Ezekiel foresaw the glorious day when the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel would be reunited in their ancient homeland, under the Kingship of the LORD. The nation had been torn apart after Solomon’s death in 922BC, and for two hundred years the two kingdoms lived in bitter estrangement from each other. Finally in 722BC Israel was exiled to Assyria, with Judah capitulating to the Babylonians 136 years later.
History teaches us that Israel and Judah were never restored to their predicted nationhood in Bible times, and this has led some scholars to conclude that Ezekiel’s prophecy has failed. But we must look beyond the biblical horizon to the present day, some 2,500 years later, to see the fulfilment of God’s Word. In our day, the world has witnessed scenes of unprecedented historical significance, as Jews in their hundreds of thousands have returned to the land of Israel. They have made “aliyah” (the Hebrew term for “immigrating to Israel”) from over one hundred nations, among them the Ethiopian Falasha Jews officially acknowledged to be the descendants of the ‘lost’ tribe of Dan, which had been exiled 2,700 years ago. Judah and Israel, the “twin sticks” of Ezekiel’s prophecy, are fast becoming one in God’s hand (Ezekiel 37:15-23), and it is only a matter of time before Messiah makes His own “aliyah” and establishes His throne in their midst in Jerusalem.
Amillennialists view the belief in Israel’s literal restoration and Messiah’s thousand-year reign as the stuff of storybooks or an object of redundant ridicule. The LORD has a controversy with those who deny Israel their place in His sovereign purposes, and they would do well to heed His words:
Have you observed what this people have spoken, saying, “The two families [Judah & Israel] which the LORD chose, He has rejected them? Thus they despise my people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight. Thus says the LORD, “If my covenant for day and night does not stand ... then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David” - Jeremiah 33:24-26.
It is important to note from the outset that the Hebrew word used for “nation” in this passage is “goy”, a term which specifically denotes a political, ethnic and territorial nation, not simply a racial group. Since its establishment in 1948, Israel stands before God as a nation (goy) in her own right, in fulfilment of His prophetic promise. How tragic it is that so many are unwilling to acknowledge the fact.
The Origin of A-Millennialism
A-millennialism owes its existence to Augustine of Hippo (AD 354- 430), one of the Church’s most influential theologians, revered by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. Augustine drew his ideas from Tyconius (d. circa. AD 400) a Donatist theologian whose writings had the profoundest effect on him. He was also heavily influenced by the philosophical doctrines of Plato (427-327 BC), many of which helped shape his theological schema. What is perhaps surprising to learn is that he once walked in the footsteps of the pre-millennial fathers; as he says, “I myself, too, once held this opinion.” (Augustine, City of God, book 20, chapter 7.)
Augustine is the Charles Darwin of the Church, who abandoned biblical literalism in favour of allegory, and pioneered a survival-of-the-fittest theological system which centred on the Church as the New People of God. He believed Israel was finished and that all unfulfilled Old Testament prophecies were to be reinterpreted spiritually or allegorically in favour of the Church. Consequently, references to Israel, Zion and Jacob, with their attendant promises, no longer referred to the Jewish nation. Augustine explains how his system works:
And therefore we ought to take this saying, “And I will bring you into your own land ... And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers,” not literally, as if they referred to Israel after the flesh, but spiritually, as referring to the spiritual Israel. For the Church, without spot or wrinkle, gathered out of all nations, and destined to reign for ever with Christ, is itself the land of the blessed, the land of the living. (Augustine, Christian Doctrine, book 3, chapter 34, para 49.)
This ‘doctrine of demons’ has led generations of unsuspecting Christians astray. Spiritual application is important, but not at the cost of the plain, primary meaning of the text. The great nineteenth-century bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle, protested against the allegorising of the Bible:
I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in CETF #63 Magazine AUST.indd 24 Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences. (J.C. Ryle, Prophecy, (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Ltd, 1991), p.147. Previously published in 1867 under the title, Coming Events and Present Duties.)
I made this point to one a-millennialist preacher who argued that not only did the Church inherit Israel’s promises, but that Christ fulfilled every geographical land feature recorded in the Bible. This is allegory at its shoddiest, and is nothing short of cowboy exegesis. It is little wonder that God’s house lies in such a dilapidated state.
Augustine’s a-millennialism quickly became the accepted view of the Church, and was formally adopted at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431. At that meeting, the bishops also condemned pre-millennialism as superstitious, which ostensibly outlawed it from the Church. This was a black day in the history of biblical interpretation, and one that has cast a dark shadow over the Church to the present day. So decisive and influential was Augustine’s coup on the Scriptures that his doctrines formed the bedrock upon which the Protestant Reformers built their theologies. Lutheranism and Calvinism in particular owe a huge debt to Augustine, as does the monolithic Westminster Confession with its zero tolerance of pre-millennialism. Indeed, those who espouse pre-millennialism are condemned as heretics by the Greater Westminster Confession. In fact, all the Reformed creeds are expressly a-millennial, and repudiate the major tenets of other millennial positions, including pre-millennial dispensationalism.
The Westminster Confession towers over the Protestant Church, commanding obeisance from Presbyterians, and some other traditional churches. It houses the great doctrines of the Bible which have buttressed Evangelicalism in its centuries-long stand against Rome, and for that we thank God. However, in its stony rejection of pre-millennial truth, it has cast Israel’s promises into the dust of history, and this is cause for serious concern. The same is true of the Lambeth Conference, a worldwide gathering of bishops of the Anglican Communion, which meets every ten years. In its long history, the subject of Israel has been raised a mere six times. On four of those occasions concern was expressed negatively about Israel’s relationship with the Arab world. It seems that denominational a-millennialism has little time for God’s prophetic Word.
A-millennialism, which is embedded in Reformed Covenant Theology, makes no distinction between Israel and the Church, asserting wrongly that there is only one people of God and one overarching covenant, the covenant of grace. A-millennialism further asserts that the millennium is symbolic of the Church age, in which Christ reigns in the hearts of believers on earth and over the souls of the saints in heaven. The millennium is therefore seen as that indeterminate period between Christ’s first and second Advents, which closes with His return. Then come the judgements, resurrections, and the eternal state.
Amillennialists also believe that Satan was bound at Calvary – the beginning of the Church age – and they enlist Matthew 12:29 in support (see Revelation 20:1, 2). If that were the case, opponents argue, Satan must be on a very long chain! Interestingly, like their pre-millennial opponents (but unlike the post-millennialists), a-millennialists generally have a pessimistic view of the days prior to Christ’s return. They believe that the end of the age will be characterised by apostasy and social disintegration, and that the love of many will ‘wax cold.’ One particular feature of a-millennial doctrine is its belief that the Pope is the Antichrist, a view developed by the sixteenth-century Reformers. Pre-millennialists generally agree that the Pope is part of the antichrist system, but would tend to argue that the Antichrist is more likely to be a political leader.
In his book, The Momentous Event, a-millennialist W.J. Grier scurrilously denounces as “extravagant and absurd,” belief in pre-millennial doctrine. He follows the example of his mentor, John Calvin, who, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, vilified the pre-millennialists of his day with equal venom:
Either such persons are utterly ignorant of everything divine or they are trying by a devious malice to bring to nought all the grace of God and power of Christ...Even a blind man can see what stupid nonsense these people talk.... (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 3, chapter 25, para 5.)
I encountered this clichéd attitude in a theology lecture some years ago. My lecturer, an eminent theologian, was charting the Church age from the Incarnation to the Second Advent. I noticed the millennial kingdom was missing from his chart and questioned the omission. With a look of utter astonishment he turned to me and said, “No-one believes in the millennial kingdom today!” My desk- mate and I assured him that we did, and pointed to the fact that so did many of the early Church fathers, a point he duly conceded.
In spite of clear biblical and historical evidence to the contrary, a-millennialists, like their post- millennial cousins, believe that the Church is the New Israel of God. Popular author and speaker, R.C. Sproul, argues the case with his much- publicised statement:
We believe that the Church is essentially Israel. We believe that the answer to, “What about the Jews?” is “Here we are.”
Jewish Bible teacher, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, responded to Sproul’s outlandish statement with this piercing riposte:
Too bad you were not declaring this on the streets of Berlin around 1941.
Although it is hotly denied by a-millennialists, there is no question that a-millennialism is rooted in the soil of Augustinian Roman Catholicism, and, as such, has a tendency towards anti-Semitism. The Jewish people have been twice robbed by the a-millennial Church: first of their prophetic Scriptures, and then of their land. If a-millennialists want to protest their innocence, then I invite them to tell the Jewish community that the biblical Land promises no longer apply to them. Some a-millennialists have done precisely that, including former pre-millennialist Stephen Sizer, who is regarded by many Christians and Israelis as an enemy of Israel because of his virulent anti-Zionist position. Sizer speaks for the a-millennial academia when he argues that “it is fundamental that Christians read the Scriptures with Christian eyes.”
When we consider that approximately 80% of the Bible relates to Israel, of which at least 26% is predictive, and that the name ‘Israel’ is used over 2,000 times in Scripture, one wonders how Sizer can possibly believe that it all refers to the Church. Even when “Israel” occurs in the New Testament (over 70 times) it always refers to ethnic Israel, and that includes the much-disputed Galatians 6:16 text, which even the a-millennial translators of the Geneva Bible footnoted as referring to the Jews. It is a fact of theological history that the Church was never identified as Israel until about AD160 (the time of Irenaeus), by which stage replacement theology was becoming well established at the heart of mainstream Christian belief.
A-millennialists have been described as the “greatest magicians of spiritualising Scripture found anywhere,” which is a fitting description of those who trade the counsel of the Lord for the opinion of man. Paul spoke of such men when he warned the Ephesian saints not to be carried away “by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming”(Ephesians 4:14). The apostle uses two interesting Greek words which perfectly describe the a-millennial tricksters: Kubia, which is translated ‘trickery’ and denotes ‘dice playing’ and can be rendered ‘sleight of hand;’ and methodia, which is translated ‘deceitful scheming,’ and literally means ‘the process of systematising error.’ There are great dangers in contorting the Word of God, as J.C. Ryle points out:
Never does a man take up an incorrect principle of interpreting Scriptures without that principle entailing awkward consequences and colouring the tone of his religion. (Prophecy, p148.)
The ‘Unauthorised’ Version
A-millennialism is a laundered system, which has bleached out the plain meaning of Scripture. The doctrine cannot be deduced from Bible study but must be taught. It is my belief that anyone reading the Scriptures for the first time, without tutoring, would never arrive at an amillennial position. Conversely, I know people who came to the Bible for the first time, and instantly understood God’s purposes for Israel. One of the most successful pieces of a-millennial replacementist propaganda the Church has ever produced appears in the King James Version of the Bible. First published in 1611, and recently celebrating its four-hundredth anniversary, the KJV dominated the English speaking Church (and still does in many parts) for nearly three hundred years, until the emergence in 1881 of the Revised Version, which was followed in quick succession by a number of other translations. Contained in the KJV are numerous unauthorised allegorical chapter headings, which have brainwashed generations of readers into believing the a-millennial lie. Some amillennialists regard these insertions with almost canonical reverence, and tenaciously defend their inclusion. Although some of the more recent KJV editions do not contain these chapter headings, it is essential to note that they formed an integral part of the fabric of the 1611 edition and subsequent editions right into the nineteenth century. The following examples show the extent to which amillennial dogma permeates the English Church:
Isaiah 30:18 - “God’s mercies towards his Church.”Isaiah 33:1 - “God’s judgments against the enemies of the Church.”Isaiah 43:1 - “God comforteth the Church with his promises.” See End Note.
Those who held to a literal fulfilment of prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel in those days took their lives in their hands. Sir Henry Finch (1558-1625), a lawyer, whose landmark work The World’s Great Restauration or The Calling of the Jews, and with them of all the Nations and Kingdomes of the Earth, to the Faith of Christ was published in 1621, advocated a literal reading of prophecy. He declared that where
Judah, Zion, Jerusalem... are named... the Holy Ghost means... Israel properly descended out of Jacob’s loins. The same judgement is to be made of their returning to their land and ancient seats.... These and such like are not Allegories... but meant really and literally of the Jews. (Henry Finch, A Briefe and Summarie Declaration of the Prophecies of the Old and New Testament, so far as they concerne the calling of the Jewes from The World’s Great Restauration..., p. 6.)
His millennial views, especially that the day would come when all rulers would surrender power to a restored Jewish state, was too much for King James 1st, who had him brutally imprisoned. Commenting on the views of Finch and others of like mind, Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), the Anglican historian, in his book A Pisgah-sight of Palestine and the Confines thereof, with the Historie of the Old and New Testament acted thereon (1650), responded in much the same way that modern critics do. He wrote,
It is a conceit of the modern Jews, that one day they shall return... to the Countrey of Canaan, and City of Jerusalem, and be re-estated in the full possession thereof. If any object, that their land, now base and barren, is not worth the regaining: They answer, when they shall recover their Countrey, the Countrey shall recover its former fruitfulness; as if God would affect miracles, as fast as man can fancy them. With them concur some Protestant Divines [including Sir Henry Finch who taught]... that all Christian Princes should surrender their power... to the... supreme Empire of the Jewish nation. (Thomas Fuller, Book 5, chapter 3, para 1, p. 194).
Thomas Fuller and the theological mainstream of the Jacobean era mocked any possibility that the Jewish homeland could be restored, arguing as their a-millennial followers do today, that all the restoration promises were fulfilled in the return of the Jews from their Babylonian captivity. The pre-millennialists of today may no longer be locked away by their a-millennial adversaries, but the same threat and intimidation that Sir Henry Finch faced characterises many in the anti-Israel camp. Be that as it may, let us never forget that one man with the truth is always a majority.
A Creed Worth Reciting
Every generation has produced its pre- millennial champions, those willing to “seek the welfare of the sons of Israel”(Nehemiah 2:10). Included in their number are such notables as John and Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Lord Shaftesbury, J.N. Darby and F.B. Meyer, founder of the Advent Testimony Movement (now Prophetic Witness Movement International). Of particular note is J. C. Ryle, who framed eleven statements relating to the end times, which he entitled “the chief articles of my prophetical creed.” These became highly influential in the development of the Prophetic Conference Movement of the late 19th and early 20 th centuries. Ryle’s reflections on his study of the end- times should stir our hearts. He wrote:
The older I grow, the more do I feel convinced of their truth, and the more satisfied am I that no other principles can explain the state of the Church and the world.
His creed is well worth reciting: (Ryle, Prophecy, pp. 8-9.)
Article 7: “I believe that the Jews shall ultimately be gathered again as a separate nation, restored to their own land, and converted to the faith of Christ, after going through great tribulation.”
Article 8: “I believe that the literal sense of the Old Testament prophecies has been far too much neglected by the Churches... and that under the mistaken system of spiritualising and accommodating biblical language, Christians have too often completely missed its meaning.”
Another champion of Jewish restoration was John Brown, the seventeenth-century Scottish shepherd-boy turned pastor who learned Hebrew and Greek in a “rough shelter in the hills”. His studies resulted in the incredibly popular Self-Interpreting Bible that bears his illustrious name. Of particular interest is the inclusion, in most editions, of A Collection of the Prophecies which concern the Calling of the Jews, and the Glory which shall be in the Latter Days (the table also appears in some editions of Scott’s Bible.) The following extracted examples are replete with Scriptural references:
- The Jews shall be gathered from all parts of the earth where they are now scattered, and brought home to their own land;
- The land of Judea shall be made eminently fruitful, like a paradise;
- Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, and after the full restoration of the Jews, shall never be destroyed nor invested with enemies anymore;
- They shall have the victory over all their enemies, and all kings and nations shall submit unto them;
- A little before the time of the Jews’ call and conversion, there shall be great wars, and confusion, and desolation throughout all the earth.
History in the Making
In recent years we have witnessed a virtual rewriting of Middle East history as Christians have engaged in the process of historical revisionism. This is anti-Semitic opportunism clothed in a-millennial garb, whereby Jews are portrayed as Zionist upstarts, illegal immigrants and bullyboys who usurp the rights of the Palestinians and steal Arab land. Christian Aid is among those organisations which further the a-millennial lie by branding Israel an “occupying force” responsible for Palestinian poverty, yet it is well known that Yasser Arafat was an immensely rich man, leaving behind him a personal fortune estimated at between $1 and $3 billion.
As for land acquisition, the facts are very different from those peddled by the a-millennialists. In the 1930s before the modern State of Israel was founded, Zionist organisations paid inflated prices to Arab landowners for vast tracts of fallow or marshland, much of which was malaria-ridden. The Geographical Magazine (July 1936) reports that one Jewish Corporation paid £192,000 for the right to convert the 10,000 acre malarial swamps of Lake Huleh into agricultural land, on the condition that one-third was given free of charge to the hut-dwelling Arab fellaheen. Since those early pioneering days, the desert has truly blossomed like the rose under the watchful eye of Israel’s God. The legitimacy of Israel’s claim to the Land is supported biblically, historically and legally, but that does not stop the spread of lies.
Israel is the only democratic nation in the Middle East; she has survived five major wars in which she was the innocent party, and suffered countless terrorist attacks. Unbelievably she is cast in the role of aggressor by politicians and clergy alike, which explains why 65 United Nations Security Council resolutions were passed against her between 1955 and 1992, and none against the Palestinians. How well the anti- Israel a-millennialist lobbyists have learned the Joseph Goebbels’ maxim that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” That is precisely what is happening in the Church which proclaims its anti-Israel message, not under the swastika as the Nazis did, but in the shadow of the Cross.
Ready for Christ’s Return?
A pastor, when asked which millennial position he held, responded by saying that he was a “pan-millennialist.” When asked what he meant, he replied: “I believe everything will pan out in the end.” Another pastor was asked what he believed, and in reply admonished the enquiring sister by telling her never to ask him such a question in public again. The Jewish nation is being gathered to the Land in readiness for Jesus’ return, but the eyes of many Christians are closed to the reality. Instead of ducking the issue, leaders need to apply themselves to an honest study of God’s prophetic word concerning the restoration of the Jewish nation. They need to recognise the lateness of the hour. The tide of biblical prophecy washes around the feet of the a-millennial Church, but like vain king Canute, she sits proudly enthroned, vainly believing that she can halt what God has decreed by His own authority.
The Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will have the final say, of that we can be sure. He will vindicate His people and establish them in righteousness. The nations will bow at Israel’s feet; they will call her “the city of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14). Before then, though, the Jewish people must pass once more through the “cruel kindness” of God’s will, through the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:3-9), out of which the nation will be saved.
Anti-Semitism grows tall in the a-millennial seedbeds of our churches and Israel is looking for true friends to stand with her in these dark days. Let us do just that, but more importantly, let us share the good news that Messiah could return at any moment to take His Bride home to His Father’s house. “Even so, Come Lord Jesus!”
END NOTE: Comment by Author.
Re KJV - These are just a few examples of the numerous references to the Church in the chapter headings. This is the wording in my facsimile of the 1611 and in my original copies of 1637, 1641, 1648, 1653, 1758, 1762, 1764. Later editions vary – some include the headings others don’t. The same headings even appear in my Welsh Bible c. 1665-1670.
The point is that the headings were incorporated as part of the overall printing plan from the outset and the Royal printers were not at liberty to vary the manuscript, which included the headings. Even amillenialist W J Grier (The Momentous Event, pp 44f) defends their inclusion in the KJV - “Times without number have we heard premillenarians scoff at the chapter headings of our Authorised Version.... “Such headings are all wrong”, say these premillenarians, “they are a display of appalling ignorance on the part of those who inserted them....”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Andrew Robinson was born in Penarth, South Wales in 1951 and was raised in Christian Science. He and Pat were born again in 1987, while he was working as a senior youth and community worker in Bury, Lancashire. Married for 37 years, they have 3 grown daughters and a son, who are all following the Lord. They also have 3 young grandsons. He has taught at Manchester Bible School and for the last 15 years has pastored Hazel Grove Full Gospel Church in Stockport, an independent Pentecostal fellowship which came into being in the wake of a Jeffreys brothers’ campaign in South Manchester in the late 1920s. Andrew resigned from Assemblies of God in 2001