A-Millennialism believes that there will not be a literal Millennium at all, and the Lord will not return until the end of the world.
“Amillennialism” is a big word, but its meaning is relatively straightforward: The Latin word for a thousand is “Mille” (e.g. a millipede is supposed to have 1000 legs!). The Latin for “years” is “annum”, so millennium is literally “1000 years”. When a word is prefixed by the letter “a” this means, “not” or “against”, i.e. the opposite of what follows it, so “Amillennium” could literally be translated “Not 1000 years”!
THE ADVANCE OF AMILLENNIALISM
Post-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation and Post-Millennium theories have all declined in popularity in recent years. It is getting rather difficult to find people who believe them, or at least who are prepared to propagate them. The very opposite is the case for Amillennial teaching. The number of people holding it is increasing rapidly, and they are increasingly confident and vocal in their propagation of it. There are doubtless many reasons for this, but one is definitely the resurgence in popularity of so-called “Reformed doctrine,” which is totally dismissive of any other position. Consequently, in seminaries, in books, in magazines, in conferences, and wherever possible, the Amillennial position is now propagated either without question, or if any alternative is mentioned, it is mentioned only so that it can be contemptuously dismissed. In evangelical circles today, it takes a strong fish to swim against the strong tide of Amillennialism.
Here are several reasons why believers cannot afford to ignore it:
- Amillennialism is not just an argument about future events. The issue at stake is more fundamental, i.e. Is Scripture to be taken literally or not?
- It is better to counter it before it does more damage and deceives those who still holds on to biblical eschatology.
- It should ever be our desire and prayer that believers in denominations will see the truth of scriptural gathering, leave their man-made systems, and come into fellowship with ourselves.
The believer who tries to reason with an Amillennialist on the grounds of what the Scripture teaches will soon find himself up against a difficulty. The difficulty is that we may be able to quote every verse from Genesis to Revelation which refers to future events, but the Amillennialist will constantly respond with, “It is to be interpreted spiritually, not literally.”
And so, when seeking to combat the error of Amillennialism, we need to know something of how Amillennialism came about, what it is based on, what are its main arguments, and how these can be answered from Scripture.
THE ANALYSIS OF AMILLENNIALISM
When God spoke to Abraham, He made a number of promises to him, promising a blessed future for his seed. These promises were totally unconditional, and thus they will be fulfilled literally to the nation of Israel. These blessings have not been transferred to the church, which is distinct from the nation of Israel, and is a mystery which was not revealed in the Old Testament. After the church has been removed from the earth and the Great Tribulation has taken place, Israel will be restored as a nation to its place as the people of God. Christ will sit on the throne of David, and there will be a period of peace and justice on earth for 1000 years, which we thus call the Millennium, during which the many promises given in the Scriptures will be fulfilled.
And now, by contrast, the Amillennial position:
When God made the promises to Abraham, these promises were conditional upon obedience by Abraham’s descendants. Due to the nation’s disobedience, they forfeited these blessings, so that they will not be fulfilled literally to the nation of Israel, but rather spiritually to the church. The church is not a distinct entity revealed in the New Testament; rather, it did exist in the Old Testament, and consists of all believers, from Old Testament times right up to now. There will be no restoration of the nation of Israel. Christ will not return to sit on the throne of David; such references in the Scriptures are fulfilled by His present session at His Father’s right hand. There will be no 1000-year reign. The promises of peace and justice in the Scriptures are presently being fulfilled spiritually in the blessings of the church.
Clearly both views cannot be simultaneously correct! In analysing the above views, it would be easy to get into deep water quickly and to lose sight of where we are going. So we will set ourselves 5 questions to answer; questions which deal with key differences in the above 2 points of view:
We will seek to answer each question in turn. In the interests of space, Scripture references will be given, but the passages will not be quoted. This is because it is assumed that the articles will be read with an open Bible alongside, and that every reference will be looked up and read carefully. The Scripture references are of immeasurably more value than anything that will be said about them.
QUESTION 1: WERE THE PROMISES GIVEN TO ABRAHAM UNCONDITIONAL OR CONDITIONAL?
If they were conditional, then Israel could forfeit them by disobedience. Doubtless there was much failure in the nation, so if the promises were conditional, then we have no right to believe that Israel has any hope of receiving them. If, on the other hand, the promises were unconditional, then Israel’s failure does not nullify them, and they must be fulfilled to Israel.
The following show that the promises were unconditional:
- Once Abraham had obeyed God and left his country and kindred, the covenant with him was stated and repeated several times without any conditions whatsoever (Gen 12 .1-3; 13.14-17; 15.1-7, 18-21; 17.1-18). If it had been conditional, God would have stated the conditions, as He did in the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19.5; see also Deut. 28.1-15).
- Not only was the covenant repeated and amplified to Abraham several times; it was also repeated to Isaac (Gen. 17.19; 26.2-4) and Jacob (Gen. 28.13-15), always without any conditions attached. By the time we have reached Gen. 28 and God states it to Jacob, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have all failed in different ways, yet the covenant is unaffected. It is not nullified by failure on the part of the nation.
- The Abrahamic Covenant is explicitly referred to as “everlasting” in Scripture (Gen. 17.7,13,19; 1 Chron. 16.16,17; Ps. 105.9,10). A covenant which can be broken by man is not in any sense, everlasting.
- In solemnizing the covenant (Gen. 15.9-17), only the Lord passed through the pieces. Normally both parties to a covenant passed through the pieces. In this case the covenant did not depend on man for its fulfilment, but entirely on God.
- Even in the midst of apostasy, God states that He will not cast aside Israel (e.g. Jer, 31.35-37). Failure on the part of the nation does not nullify His promises.
- Failure on the part of an individual to be circumcised resulted in that person individually losing out on the blessings of the covenant (Gen. 17.14). This shows that disobedience by an individual affected only his own relationship to the covenant; it did not nullify the covenant.
- In the New Testament, after the nation of Israel has committed the worst sin possible: rejecting and crucifying the Messiah, it is specifically stated that the covenants are still theirs (Rom. 9.3,4 and Ephes. 2.12). Even their rejection of Messiah did not nullify God’s covenants with them.
- In Rom. 11.1,2, Paul categorically states that “God hath not cast away His people which he foreknew”. We will return to this passage later, so will not add further here.
There are further reasons, but we trust that these are sufficient to show that the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant are unconditional, and will surely be fulfilled. Israel’s disobedience has not nullified the promises of God.
QUESTION 2: WILL THE PROMISES BE FULFILLED LITERALLY (TO ISRAEL) OR SPIRITUALLY ONLY (TO THE CHURCH)?
There are many prophecies in the Old Testament, and also in the New, which have not been literally fulfilled; in particular ones relating to a time of unprecedented tribulation and a time of unprecedented peace on earth the earth. The Amillennialist says that these were never intended to refer to literal events on earth; they have a spiritual fulfilment only. We therefore need to try to determine whether or not we can expect a literal fulfilment for these Scriptures.
The following points are put in favour of a literal fulfilment:
- Abraham received many promises which all must agree have been fulfilled literally. He was promised a great nation stemming from him; a great name; a blessing for those who blessed him; cursing for those that cursed him; a blessing for all families of the earth through him; that he would have an heir; that he would be the father of many nations; and that kings would come out of him. These promises have been fulfilled literally. There is not the slightest need to spiritualise any of them. Now when we come to the issue of the promises regarding inheriting the land, which are part of the same covenant, surely we are entitled to expect that these promises will also be literally fulfilled. Consistency of interpretation will not allow for anything other than a literal fulfilment. To suggest otherwise is to accuse God of inconsistency; a very serious charge indeed.
- In Genesis 15, Abraham is told by God that it is “this” land which the Lord brought him out of Ur, to inherit (v7). This can only mean the physical land of Canaan. Abraham asks how he will know he is to inherit it (v8), and in response God solemnizes the covenant in a most emphatic way, indicating to him beyond doubt that he will inherit the very land he is standing on. God emphasises again that it is “this” land (vl8). And as if any further proof were needed that it is the literal land of Canaan He is talking about, God precisely delineates its boundaries in vl8—21. In the same passage God predicts the period of suffering in Egypt, referring to it as “a land that is not their’s” (vl3). This clearly refers to a literal land, and it was fulfilled literally. Abraham would have had no doubt whatsoever that God was referring to literal land throughout this passage. To suggest that when God gave such a clear and specific promise and description of the land, He did not have in His mind any intention of ever giving Abraham the land, is not only to rob language of any meaning; a serious enough error in itself, but, more seriously, it is to accuse God of deliberately deceiving Abraham.
- Later references in the OT (e.g. Gen. 50.24 and Ex. 32.13), and, very significantly, in the NT as well (e.g. Acts 7.3—8 and Hebrews 11.9), categorically state that the land Abraham and his seed were promised was the literal land of Canaan.
But the Amillennialist sometimes goes even further than this. He says that when God made these promises to Abraham’s “seed”, He was not referring to Abraham’s natural descendants at all; He was referring to believers, whether Jews or not. Thus the nation of Israel has no entitlement to the blessings.
Another look at Gen. 15 will answer this point: In vl3 we have already seen that God says “Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their’s”, and He goes on to describe the affliction in Egypt, and the Exodus (vl3—16). Thus, the term “thy seed” must refer here to the nation of Israel. By no stretch of language or imagination can it mean the church. Abraham would have had no doubt that the term “thy seed” was literal. Moreover, in Gal. 3.8, 15 Paul makes it clear that the promise “In thee shall all nations be blessed” is fulfilled ultimately in Christ. He was literally a descendant of Abraham, so again the word seed is to be taken literally.
(We acknowledge that the term “seed of Abraham” is also used in a spiritual sense in the N.T. We are not avoiding that issue and will come to it later. But for now, we are trying to decide whether the promises in the OT were meant for Abraham’s literal seed or his spiritual seed, and the above reasons would point to the fact that they were given to the former, and hence will have a literal fulfilment for the nation of Israel.)
Moreover, the promises of the covenant are stated as having been given not only to Abraham’s seed, but also to Isaac’s “seed” (Gen. 17.19) and to Jacob’s “seed” (Gen. 28.13). To support their theories, many Amillennialists must construe the OT references to Abraham’s seed to mean his spiritual seed, due to NT references calling all believers the seed of Abraham. No such construction can however be made from the seed of Isaac or seed of Jacob, as NT believers are never referred to as “Isaac’s seed” or “Jacob’s seed”. The only way these terms can possibly be taken is literally.
Other uses of the word “seed” in Genesis include 7.3, 9.9, 38.8, 46.6, 48.11, and 48.19. Examination of the context in each case shows that each must refer to literal descendants. Neither is there any reason to believe that in the Abrahamic Covenant it refers to anything other than literal descendants.
- The above discussion has been largely confined to the Abrahamic Covenant, but the argument for literal fulfilment goes much further than that. Frequently in the OT we have references to Christ’s first coming, which were fulfilled literally (e.g. that He would be a descendant of David, that He would be born in Bethlehem, that He would be born of a virgin, descriptions of His earthly ministry, the manner of His death, and the circumstances surrounding it). There is not the slightest doubt but that these prophecies were literally fulfilled. But in the same OT, there are many prophecies regarding His return to earth, judgments, a blessed future for Israel, and a time of peace. Often these are side by side with prophecies of His first coming. For example, we do not doubt the literal fulfilment of Isa. 53 at the Lord’s first coming. Why then doubt the literal fulfilment of Isa. 11 and 12 at His second coming? Consistency demands a literal fulfilment for these as well. It is absurd to suggest that everything that has been fulfilled up to the first coming was meant literally, but everything else spiritually only.
- There is not a single scripture that the Amillennialist can produce in order to substantiate his claims that OT promises of the land have been spiritually transferred to the church. Never in Scripture is the promise to Abraham cancelled, never is it stated or implied that the literal boundaries given are only of spiritual significance, and never is it indicated or even hinted that the church inherits these promises. If the Amillenniaiist proposes that the promises have a totally different meaning than the plain sense of their words, the very least we can expect is a clear statement from scripture to back up his claims. This has never been produced, only lots of convoluted arguments, which we will consider later.
Thus, we conclude that the promises given to Israel in the OT must be literally fulfilled, and this can only happen in a future literal reign of Christ on earth. There must be a Millennium.
Question 3: Is the church a distinct entity, seen only in the NT, or did it exist in OT times as well?
If it can be shown that the church is not the subject of OT prophecy, then it follows that it cannot be the fulfiller of the OT promises to Israel.
The following shows that Church is distinct from Israel:
- The use of the word “mystery” to describe many of the major truths of the church. Four verses in particular give us the meaning of the word “Mystery”:
- Romans 16.25: “the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began”
- Colossians 1.26: “The mystery which hath been hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints”
- Ephesians 3.4,5: “The mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”
- Ephesians 3.9: “the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God”
Thus, we clearly see that a mystery is a truth hidden in the OT but revealed in the NT.
Now let us look at some things pertaining to the church which are described as a mystery, and which thus are new revelations in the NT, and not in the OT:
Eph. 3.1-12. This describes the mystery of the one body, which Paul calls a “new man” in 2.15. Nothing could be clearer: the church has not been incorporated into Israel, nor is it a fulfilment of it, rather it is an entirely new and distinct entity. In v 9 it is stated that it was “hid in God” from “the beginning of the world” and in v 10 it is stated that it has been revealed “now”. There could be no clearer statement of the fact that the church is not in the OT.
Col. 1.27. This describes the fact that Christ indwells each believer. “Christ in you” was never the case for individual Israelites, let alone Gentiles. Something never revealed heretofore has been revealed and realised in the church.
Eph. 5.32. This speaks of the relationship between Christ and the church. It is a mystery, never before revealed. The description of God as the husband of Israel was known (Isa. 54.5). The relationship of Christ to the church is distinct.
1 Cor. 15.51,52. This describes the rapture of the church. This was not revealed in the OT.
Thus, so many major truths concerning the church are clearly indicated to have been hidden before and have been revealed in the NT. The church must therefore be seen as distinct from Israel.
- The Lord Jesus in Matt. 16.18 says, “I will build my church.” The tense is future, clearly showing that when the Lord Jesus spoke, the church was not yet in existence.
- The church’s purchase and purification depend on the shed blood of Christ (Acts 20.28 and Eph. 5.25-27). Therefore, it could not have existed before the death of Christ.
- The church is the body of Christ, and this Head and body relationship is consequent upon Christ’s resurrection and glorification (Eph. 1.20-23).
- Entrance into the body of Christ was by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12.13), and this did not take place until Pentecost, so this fixes the beginning of the church at Pentecost.
- The word “church” is never used of Israel in the NT (or the OT for that matter) in the sense of being the body of Christ. The use of the word “church” in Acts 7.38 and Heb. 2.12 refers to a congregation or assembly of people, and would be better translated as such, as was done elsewhere, e.g. Acts 19.39,41. Acts 7.38 no more proves that the church was in the OT than Acts 19.40,41 proves that the riotous mob at Ephesus was the body of Christ! The Amillennialist’s use of Acts 7.38 to try to prove that the church as the body of Christ was in the OT shows just how short of evidence he is.
- In the NT, there are many references which refer to the church and Israel as being distinct, e.g. 1 Cor. 10.32; Rom. 9.4,5; 11.1-27.
Question 4: Will the nation of Israel be restored, or is their setting aside permanent?
If the Amillennialist is right, then there is no future for the nation of Israel in the purpose of God. If he can prove that God has cast them away irrecovably, then he has a very strong case for his Amillennialist position. If on the other hand we can show that there is a future for Israel, then his argument is doomed.
A couple of points before looking at the evidence:
Firstly, many of the points cited above are also evidence for the restoration of Israel as a nation. For example, proving that the promises to Israel were unconditional is proof that Israel will have to be restored. Also, proof that the promises will be fulfilled literally to Israel is proof of their future restoration. Thus, in this section we will look only at evidence not yet considered, but we should bear in mind that the restoration of Israel is essential in view of what we have already seen.
Secondly, we must confine our evidence in this section to the NT. Whatever OT Scriptures could be quoted as evidence (and there are many) the Amillennialist will not admit it, but will claim it has to be spiritualised away. We thus confine ourselves to NT Scriptures.
- There is one passage which will be more than sufficient to totally prove that Israel will be restored. The Scripture in question is Rom. 9-11. No-one can deny that the subject of this section is the nation of Israel. At the start of each chapter: 9.3-5; 10.1-3; 11.1,2 we are left in no doubt that physical Israel is being referred to; it cannot by any stretch of imagination be the church. Many verses, particularly in ch.ll, indicate that Israel’s fall is not final (e.g. v.2,11,12,15,23,24). However, of particular concern to us is 11.25-27. Again it must be stressed that these verses must refer to literal Israel, as phrases such as “blindness in part is happened to Israel” (v.25), “turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (v.26), “I shall take away their sins” (v.27), “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies” (v.28) cannot by any means refer to the church.
These few verses show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Israel’s blindness is partial (v.25), temporary (v.25), will cease when the Deliverer comes out of Sion (v.26), and removes their ungodliness (v.26) and sins (v.27), and saves them as a nation (v.26).
- Several times people spoke to the Lord Jesus when He was on earth, mentioning the hope of the coming earthly kingdom, and the Lord never contradicted them. Of particular interest and significance is Acts 1.6,7, because it was after the ultimate rejection by the nation (the crucifixion), and also because it specifically mentions Israel’s restoration. When the disciples ask Him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”, the Lord’s reply, had the Amillennialist been right, would have been undoubtedly to make it very clear to them that such a thing was never going to happen. On the contrary, however, His reply confirms that it will happen (“the times and the seasons”), but it is not for the disciples to know when it will happen. But undoubtedly the Lord’s words would have left the disciples in no doubt about the fact that it would happen.
- Other examples of references by people to the earthly kingdom include:
- James and John’s mother in Matt.20.21-23
- those who thought the kingdom of God should immediately appear, in Luke 19.11
- the dying thief spoke of the Lord coming into His kingdom in Luke 23.42.
In every case, the Lord does not even hint that there is not going to be an earthly kingdom, but is clear that it will not be immediately. But come it will, indeed He Himself makes many references to His literal earthly kingdom (e.g. Luke 22.30, when He speaks of the apostles sitting on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel).
- Passages such as Acts 15.14-17 show that in the present age God is taking from the Gentiles “a people for His Name” (v.14), and that “after this” (v.16) Israel will be restored (v.16) and there will be universal blessing (v.17).
Thus, we see that there is going to be restoration for the nation of Israel. This cannot take place under the Amillennialists’ scheme. Either we accept the evidence of the above (and many other) Scriptures or we accept the Amillennialist theory. We cannot do both.
Question 5: Will Christ reign on the throne of David, or does this refer to His present glory in Heaven?
The Amillennialist denies that there will be a restoration of the earthly throne of David and says all such references in Scripture refer to the Lord Jesus’ present session in Heaven. If he can show there will be no restoration of David’s earthly kingdom, his case is strengthened. If, however, we can show that there will be a literal reign on the throne of David, this can only be fulfilled in the Premillennial scheme since Amillennialism has no place for it.
The following points indicate the restoration of the Davidic throne, with Christ sitting on the throne of David:
- The covenant with David, promising that his throne would be established forever is given in 2 Sam, 7.12-16. Much of what was said above regarding the Abrahamic Covenant is also true of the Davidic Covenant, and so will be given in summary form: It is unconditional and demands literal fulfilment:-
- it is described as “everlasting” (2 Sam. 23.5), “for ever” (2 Sam. 7.13,16)
- its promises are often repeated, in the midst of failure (Isa. 9.6,7; Jer. 23.5,6; 33.14-17,20,21; Zech. 14.4,9) – disobedience on the part of Solomon will bring chastening on him but will not nullify the covenant. The words of 2 Sam. 7.13-15 could not make this clearer.
- it was confirmed by an oath (Ps. 132.11)
- God says He will not break it (Ps. 89.34)
- much of 2 Sam. 7.12-16 has already been fulfilled literally (e.g. David was given a son, it was his son who built the temple, his kingdom was established, Solomon was chastened for his iniquity, but God’s mercy did not depart from him, and did not result in a destruction of the Davidic line). Since all these were fulfilled literally, consistency demands literal fulfilment for the promise in vl6.
- David expected a literal fulfilment (2 Sam. 7.18-29). To propose that it will not be fulfilled literally is to say that God was deliberately deceiving David, and indeed the nation of Israel.
- In the OT Christ is the ultimate fulfiller of the promises to David, and that it will be literally, e.g. the well-known passage in Isa. 9.6,7. The reference to the child born and the son given (v6) must be taken literally. For consistency so must the reference to His “government and peace . . . upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom”. We cannot take verse 6 literally and spiritualise verse 7.
- Turning now to the NT, no clearer example could be afforded to us than the words of the angel to Mary in Luke 1.31-33. He tells her that she will conceive in her womb, bring forth a son, and call His name Jesus. These are literal, if ever anything was. Then in the next verse the angel says, “the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” The Amillennialist cannot have it both ways: if he takes the details of the Lord’s birth as literal, then he must take the reign over Israel as literal. If he denies the literalness of the reign, then to be consistent he must deny the literalness of the details of the Lord’s birth.
- There are many references to David in the NT, and there are also many references to the Lord’s present position in Heaven. Nowhere is His present session said to be on the throne of David. On the contrary, His present position is at God’s right hand (e.g. Heb. 12.2) or the Father’s throne (e.g. Rev. 3.21). Moreover, to equate David’s throne with the Father’s throne is to say that David’s throne has existed from all eternity: a strange suggestion indeed!
- The Lord Jesus Himself refers to His return to earth and sitting on His throne, e.g. in Matt. 25.41, He says “When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit on the throne of His glory’. The linking of the two words “When” and “then” show clearly that the sitting on the throne is not until He comes again. Thus, it is future (so it cannot be His present sitting in Heaven), and it will be on earth (again showing that it is not His present session in Heaven).
- Acts 15.14-17 show that the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David is “after” God takes out a people for His name, and it will be at his “return.”
So we see that the promises of Scripture can only be fulfilled by a literal reign of Christ on the throne of David. Amillennialism cannot be true if this is so.
In closing this long section, we must summarise. We have analysed 5 major planks of Amillennialism:
- The claim that God’s promises to Abraham and the nation were conditional on obedience, and that thus they were irrevocably forfeited.
- The claim that the promises to Abraham and the nation were not meant to be taken literally.
- The claim that Israel and the church are not distinct.
- The claim that there is no future restoration for the nation of Israel.
- The claim that Christ’s session in heaven is the fulfilment of the promises regarding the throne of David.
In order for Amillennialism to stand, it must be able to show that all five statements above are true. If any one of them falls, the whole system falls. We trust that it has been shown that each one of them is false, and thus that Amillennialism must be rejected.
(Source: Amillennialism Examined – by David McAllister (Zambia))