D. The Advocates of Amillennialism.
If the doctrine of Amillennialism is contrary to Scripture, as we believe it to be, we must ask the question, “How did it come about?” How did the teaching manage to gain such popularity? Thus, it will be interesting to briefly trace the history of Amillennialism, and we shall see that the evangelicals who hold it today are in a very “unholy alliance” with others both from history and the present day.
We previously looked at the scriptural evidence and did not find Amillennialism in Scripture. But what about those who lived shortly after the completion of Scripture, some of whom knew the apostles like Peter and John personally? Many of the writings of the so-called “church fathers” unequivocally show that they expected literal fulfilment of the prophecies concerning Christ’s return and the establishment of His earthly kingdom. They include Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian. Even many sympathisers of Amillennialism admit that for the first 3 centuries or so of the church’s history, the Pre-Millennial view was widespread.
The opponents of the literal interpretation in the very early years were the well-known heretical groups such as the gnostics, Platonists, and Montanists, for all of whom non-literal interpretation went far beyond future events. This is hardly illustrious company for the present-day evangelical Amillennialists, but at least they were consistent: they took their non-literalness to its logical conclusion, while present-day evangelicals prefer to pick and choose which parts of scripture they accept and which they try to explain away!
It is very widely accepted that the first advocate of Amillennialism to lay down a formal theory of interpretation was Origen (185-254 AD). He refused to accept Scripture references to the Millennium literally, instead propounding the allegorical method of interpretation. He and others at the “Alexandrian School” used his method of interpretation to explain away not only the doctrine of the Millennium, but also many other teachings of Scripture. Instead of bringing out the sense of Scripture, he introduced all sorts of fanciful ideas. He would, had he been alive today, not be regarded as a “sound” evangelical by any stretch of the imagination, and would be denounced as a heretic by many who accept his view of the Millennium, yet the growth of Amillennialism in those days perhaps owed more to him than to any other person. His work was carried on by men such as Dionysius and Augustine, and his allegorical methods of interpretation gradually gained the upper hand.
It is not difficult to see why it gained popularity in those days. Up until then the church had been a persecuted minority, and the hope of the Lord’s coming burned brightly. It was clear that the church was distinct from all the systems of the world. But with the so-called unification of the church and the state by Constantine, the distinction became blurred. Increasingly the Church of Rome saw itself as the fulfilment of the promises of the earthly kingdom and therefore, the hope of a future literal kingdom at Christ’s return was in a great measure lost. To teach that the present kingdom of Rome would be replaced by a future coming King, would not exactly please the Roman rulers! Thus, the Amillennial doctrine, (which did away with the teaching of a future earthly kingdom) flourished. The rise of Amillennialism is therefore indissolubly associated with the rise of ecclesiasticism and the papal system (again, not very good company for our evangelical Amillennialists of today!)
Amillennialism was the accepted doctrine of the Church of Rome throughout the Dark Ages and remains so to this day. With the Reformation much Scriptural truth was “rediscovered”, but most of the reformers continued to hold to the Amillennial doctrine. This was not necessarily because they had studied prophecy in great detail and came to the Amillennial conclusion, but rather because their major studies were not in the field of future events. It has thus been true that in Protestantism in general, the Amillennial view has continued to be held, not so much because it has been extensively studied, but by default, from Rome.
Throughout the ages the pre-Millennial truth was however never completely lost, but burned dimly for many years. During the last century and to the present day more Christians returned to the literal interpretation of Scripture and became the most faithful and consistent in teaching it.
Amillennialism is widely held, but for very different reasons:
For Roman Catholics, because their system views itself as the fulfilment of the kingdom prophecies and will not countenance the thought that it could be superseded or done away with.
For Protestant Denominations, by default from Rome. The bulk of Protestantism has never seriously questioned Roman teaching on future events.
For Reformed teachers, because “it’s what the early Reformers believed”. Constantly, reformed teachers will state that in holding their views, they are “standing foursquare with those who defended the faith in the days of the Reformation”. They claim that Amillennialism has been the historical view of the church for about 1700 years. But shouldn’t it rather be a matter of what Scripture teaches, rather than what the church of Rome taught? It is highly ironic that those who regard themselves as most opposed to Rome obtain their eschatology from Rome and still hang on to it.
For Liberals and Modernists, because they simply do not accept the full verbal inspiration of Scripture. They spiritualise all sorts of truths, or else flatly deny them, and so they have no compunction at denying the literal fulfilment of prophecy.
For Charismatics, because they come from all areas above, and have taken their own systems’ teaching on future events along with them. Moreover, the charismatic’s tendency to substitute supposed experience and fanciful interpretation of Scripture for sound exposition finds a ready ally in the allegorical view of future events.
It is an unholy alliance indeed: Roman Catholic, Protestant churchman, Reformed teacher, Modernist, and Charismatic, all united by very little, other than their allegiance to Amillennialism. May the Lord preserve us from such a group.
E. The Anomalies of Amillennialism.
It may be helpful to list some of the contradictions involved for an evangelical who holds to the teaching of Amillennialism. This section is really a drawing together of points already made in previous sections, so a detailed discussion will not be given.
For a true believer who is an Amillennialist, he is in an anomalous position for many reasons, including:
1. He claims to believe that every word in Scripture is inspired by God, and that Scripture is totally infallible. Yet in holding on to Amillennialism, he is accepting a system which effectively says that not every part of Scripture is to be accepted as literally true.
2. He claims to believe that Scripture is the only authority on all matters of doctrine and practice. But to introduce allegorical interpretation, is to leave the decision as to the meaning of Scripture open to the whims of men. Unless one accepts literal interpretation of prophecy, one can make it mean whatever one wants. There is nothing with which to control one’s whims. One is effectively introducing an authority outside God’s Word, and that “authority” is oneself, or whoever else one wants to believe!
3. He claims to believe that it is impossible for God to lie. Yet Amillennialism effectively teaches that when God made certain promises, He never had it in His mind to fulfil them in the way in which the hearers understood them.
4. He claims to believe that God is omnipotent, yet he effectively denies that God has the ability to perform what He has said. He raises all sorts of “practical difficulties” with literal fulfilment, forgetting that “with God nothing shall be impossible”.
5. He uses literal interpretation to study the Scriptures in general, but when it comes to prophecy, he changes his rules and uses allegorical interpretation. He thus abandons consistency of interpretation of Scripture.
6. Even within prophecy, he is not consistent in his interpretation. With some prophecies (e.g. those concerning the Lord’s birth) he is happy to adopt the literal method, but with others (e.g. the coming kingdom) he rejects the literal method.
7. In holding his view, he is holding doctrine which can be directly traced back, not to Scripture, but to heretics in the early days of the church age.
8. He is in alliance with all sorts of present-day groups with which he would disagree on other major doctrines, such as Roman Catholics and Liberals.
9. He is holding on to a system which, although it tries hard, fails, even by its own standards, to consistently explain away the prophetic passages. There are numerous examples of such inconsistencies, but we will confine ourselves to one:
Consider 3 facts taught in Revelation 20:
Christ and His people reigning 1000 years (v.4,6).
Satan being put in a bottomless pit for 1000 years and being able to deceive the nations no more (v.2,3).
Satan being loosed after the 1000 years and deceiving the nations (v.7,8).
It is clear that the above 3 statements all refer to the same period of time. Even if the Amillennialist does not accept that it is literally 1000 years, he has to accept that it is the same period of time to which reference is made. He claims that the period of time is the present age, and the reigning being referred to is Christ at present reigning spiritually with His people. If this is true, then it must follow that:
• at present, Satan is bound, and is not deceiving the nations, and
• at the end of the age, Satan will be loosed again and will deceive the nations again.
But this reveals big flaws in the Amillennialist’s argument:
• If Satan is bound, in what sense is he bound at present? The Amillennialist simply has no satisfactory answer to this question. Revelation states that during his binding he will deceive the nations no more. Has this been the case, in any sense, during the past 2000 years? On the contrary, the whole course of the history of this age is a catalogue of Satan’s deception of the nations. The Amillennial line here is self-contradictory.
• If Satan is bound now, what is the meaning of the statement that he will be released again and deceive the nations again? This, no matter how it is taken, cannot be satisfactorily explained. The Amillennialist believes that the present age will continue as at present right to the end of the world, when Christ will return, raise the dead, judge everyone, consign some to glory and others to damnation, and then the eternal state will begin. Thus, in his own scheme, there is no place for anything corresponding to the releasing of Satan.
This is only one of numerous examples of the self-contradictions found in the Amillennial system. The Amillennialist is therefore really in a very anomalous position. For a true believer to hold on to Amillennialism is to put him in an inconsistent position.
F. The Attacks of Amillennialism.
From what we considered in these articles it should be clear that Amillennialism is an attack on many things that we hold dear, and so in this final section we will look at some of the attacks that it makes. As previously, this section will be doing little more than summarising material in previous sections, so points made will not be enlarged.
Some of the objects of the attack of Amillennialism are:
(a) God’s character:
Amillennialism implies that God says certain things that He does not really mean; that He makes promises that He does not intend to fully fulfil; that He uses language which He knows people will take in a different way to what He intends, yet He chooses to keep them in the dark about it; and that He does not have the ability to deliver that which He has promised. Such a view of God must be rejected in its entirety.
Amillennialism states that there are many passages of Scripture which do not really mean what they say; and that we can either spiritualise these away, or else ignore them altogether.
(c) Sound interpretation:
Amillennialism teaches that sound interpretation of Scripture, taking into account the grammar, context, literal meaning of the words, and comparing Scripture with Scripture, can in certain circumstances be set aside; thus leaving us without any yardstick with which to test interpretation, leaving it open to whatever ideas we wish to introduce. The logical conclusion of Amillennialism is to lead to Liberalism. Once we introduce the possibility of allegorical interpretation, there is no telling where it can lead. Why stop with prophecy? Why not go all the way? Amillennialism and Modernism are natural allies; pre-millennialism and Modernism are incompatible.
(d) The created world:
It follows from the teaching of Amillennialism that there is no hope for the present creation, which is “groaning and travailing” in pain at present, to have fulfilled the promises given in Scripture to be delivered and restored to its former glory.
Amillennialism categorically states that the nation has been permanently set aside; that there is no future for it; that the myriad promises made to the nation have no hope of fulfilment Amillennialists is a form of being anti-Semitic. Taken to its extreme, we see the persecution of Jews by the Roman Church during the Inquisition and by Hitler (who was also a Roman Catholic) this century. Of course, it would be going too far to blame this totally on Amillennialism. However, had the belief of the Roman Church been Pre-Millennial, with its promise of the restoration of Israel, it is certain that they would never have carried out these atrocities. Amillennialism was undoubtedly a major factor in the build-up of anti-Semitic forces which have been released with such satanic ferocity at various times in the history of Christendom.
(f) The Church, Christ’s Body:
Amillennialism teaches that many promises which God made in the OT will never be literally fulfilled. If this is true, then what right have we to assume that what He has promised to us as the Church will be literally fulfilled either? If Israel is not to be given all that it was promised, are we likely to fare any better? If Amillennialism is true, then we have difficulty in taking any of the promises to us at face value.
(Source: Amillennialism Examined – by David McAllister (Zambia))