All Israel, Part 9 – A Christian View of Israel

VIII-A Christian View of Israel

An attempt has been made thus far to explore some of the commonly held views on the current state of Israel, especially as they relate to Scripture. Paul’s text from the book of Romans, chapter eleven, verses 25-27 has been taken as a springboard into the subject, primarily because so many of them point to it, claiming their authority from it. An honest attempt has been made to refute a number of false views, while at the same time, putting forth true ones from not only this text, but from all of Scripture. However, with that being said, it is admitted there has always been a diversity of views on the subject of Israel held by many good Christians. Until 1949 it was somewhat of an academic question as to how these views were to be finally realized. Since then, it has progressed from the mere academic to matters involving public policy. Hence, this subject has taken on a new light for the church of Jesus Christ. Since 1949 it seems the newspaper has taken on the aura of inspiration for those who advocate for its necessity as a matter of realized Eschatology.

Because of this reality a Christian view of Israel has now become more relevant than ever to consider. This is a task that is easier said than done, considering the number of different views that abound within the Christian church today. A study of church history provides little help in solving the problem. Although one particular view or another has enjoyed dominance at times over the last two-thousand years, there has never been a total consensus on the matter of Israel, as to how it fits in the New Covenant paradigm. Certainly, there has always been some point of agreement between Christians. Indeed, all Christians understand the church as the depository of all God’s people through the gospel, at least from the first century to the present. All Christians understand, the present recalcitrant attitude of Jews toward the gospel a matter of personal unbelief. But other than that, controversy has always surrounded any deeper discussion involving Israel as an entity in itself. Therefore, trying to determine the line that exists between truth and error on this, as well as other related subjects has been an elusive task to accomplish for the church.

This writer takes the view commonly known as a Covenant theology view of redemptive history. This is a view of history that revolves around God’s covenantal relationship with His people. Everything that happens historically has but one end in view, the establishment of God’s kingdom by the Man He has appointed to be it’s King, Jesus Christ. To this end he has undertaken to secure the redemption of God’s people. This redemption is proclaimed to the world propositionally through the preaching and teaching of the gospel. The kingdom of God is properly speaking, the Christian church. And to be even more specific, this writer has the Covenant view known today as the Amillennial view of the kingdom. Now, that being said, even among the many Christians who hold the Amillennial view, there does not appear to be any absolute consensus among them concerning the subject of Israel.

This is a problem for a number of reasons that will be explored later. But first, let us ask the question, why is there such a diversity of opinions concerning the place of Jews in the interadvental period? In order to answer this question, lets go back to the text in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. After all, this is what he was answering the Roman Christians when he wrote chapters nine through eleven in his epistle to them. The notion that large numbers either, or, all Jews would become Christians at some future unspecified time between advents, has not been believed for much of the Christian era. That is something that began to take place after the Protestant Reformation. From the second to the sixteenth century, Christians believed most Jews are excluded from the Covenant of Grace, because of their official rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.[1] This is a rejection that went in the face of their own writings, which recognized the many texts of Scripture in the Old Testament that applied to Him.[2]

The word’s “all Israel,” meaning ethnic Jews, will be saved before the Lord returns, is also something refuted by a great deal of historic opinion. The current opinion that says otherwise appears to have developed since the seventeenth century. And even then, it’s adaption to Christian thinking since then has to be qualified. Qualified we say, by the fact that the Reformers were Covenant Theology men, not Dispensational. The ideas behind Dispensationalism did not arise much earlier than the first quarter of the nineteenth century.[3] This assertion is necessary to make, for it is widely stated by all parties today that have an interest in the matter, that their own particular view has the sanction of the early church. We readily admit that not one, but all of the prevailing views today on Eschatology, except for Dispensationalism, have been around in one form or another since the second century. What we do not admit is the notion that Christians have viewed Paul’s words in Romans 11:25-27, concerning the completeness of God’s Covenant, to refer exclusively to a separate time and people that were future to his own day.

This writer did not set out to write a book on Eschatology per se, for if that had been the case, it would have been a much different book. It is impossible however, to speak on the subject of Israel today without taking up the subject of Eschatology to some extent. It has not been the intention of this writer to bash Jews because they are Jews, nor Dispensationalists because they do not agree with the views contained here. This has been an honest attempt to write a critical review of the matter, and to do so from a biblical perspective. This requires that many things of a theological nature must be brought into the discussion, such as Eschatology. This is said to point out that the issue of “all Israel” as it is currently framed, relates directly to what ones’ particular point of view is on the doctrine of the Millennium, mentioned by John in Revelation chapter twenty. Eschatology is the study of future things, and the Millennium is but one doctrine within the larger picture. These things can and have often been a playground for novelty, so we are not interested in any of that here.

In defense of their assertion concerning Israel, It is frequently pointed out by Dispensationalists that the early church fathers were Premillennialists. This means they viewed God’s kingdom as earthly in character at some future Millennial period of time before the Lord returns. It is not in dispute here that some of them did believe this. However, none of them believed in some sort of distinctly earthly kingdom for Jews in Palestine, apart from the Christian church. This is entirely peculiar to Dispensationalism. In fact, the whole issue of historic Premillennialism is generally a source of confusion in our day. Dispensationalists like to claim that all Christians who have ever been Premillennial have also been Dispensational.[4] This is an utterly false assertion. Those early Christians who did have a Millennial kingdom idea in their thinking were Covenant Christians. In other words, even though they may have believed in an earthly Millennial kingdom of God some day, it was entirely one that was Christian, made up of Jew and Gentile just as Paul teaches in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 2:11-22).

Clement of Rome

In order to prove this fact, we direct the reader’s attention to the earliest known writer after the apostles, Clement of Rome (30-100 AD). First, Clement was a friend and fellow minister of the apostle Paul (Phil 4:3). As such, he was well taught in the Scripture, especially the Old Testament. It is generally believed that Clement became an Elder in the Roman church after a previous Elder had been put to death by Nero.[5] So Clement was intimately knowledgeable of the context in which Paul wrote chapters nine to eleven of the Roman epistle, especially verses 25-27. Second, Clement was a contemporary of the apostle John too. He was alive when the book of Revelation was written, therefore, he would have understood not only Paul’s teaching about Israel and the church, but of Eschatology in general. For instance, Clement would have understood the meaning of John’s use of the term thousand (Gr.-chilioi, Rev. 20), that it was used in a figurative sense, just as the apostle Peter used it in his second epistle (Gr.-chiliarchos, II Pet. 3:8).[6]

Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthian church that is pastoral in nature. At the time it was written the Corinthian church was still having the same sort of problem as when Paul wrote to them in his day. Apparently, a faction within the church had banded together to oust the properly called Elders of that church. This is interesting in itself, for the words Clement uses are directed to the church body. In it he says things that indicate the apostolic church was in nature, an essentially congregational polity.[7] Clement points out the church had called these men as its ministers, by the common suffrage of the church. But rather than defend what that faction had done in ousting them, Clement points to their legitimate calling from the Lord, as witnessed by the original approval by the majority of the church (II Cor. 2:6, 9:2). Therefore, what these men had done, was contrary to the congregational principle, for it had caused division in the Corinthian church among the brethren (I Cor. 1:10).[8]

We can see first of all, in his letter to the Corinthians, that Clement takes Old Testament Scripture spoken first to Israel, then liberally applies it to the Christians of that church. One example of this is in God’s covenant with Israel. Clement quotes several Old Testament texts in one particular section of the letter.[9] This is in and of itself, something customary for all Christians to do when it applies to the New Covenant church. But Clement also applies specific covenant language to the church as well that Dispensationalists would never do today. “Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth, And they lied to Him with their tongue; For their heart was not steadfast with Him, Nor were they faithful in His covenant.” (Ps. 78:36,37). At the very least, Clement shows a concurrence that exists between the Covenant and Israel and that of the church. This is exactly what Paul asserts in Romans 11:25-26. It also excludes anything at all to do with ethnicity and physical claims to the real estate of Palestine, as the substance of the Covenant promise. We see the Psalmist rather, pointing to grace.

In this letter, not only does Clement talk of the Lords second coming, but he also applies seemingly fulfilled prophecy concerning “Israel” to the church. Specifically, Clement says Christ is coming to His temple, which is the church. Also, he mentions what Malachi says of this in reference to God’s covenant.[10] There is no mention of Israel, or of a Millennial age or kingdom in Clements remarks on the second coming. He talks about the Lords return to Christians as though they are the objects of God’s future purpose. Let this consideration enter into the mind of the modern Christian, this letter was written before the end of the first century, at just about the same time that John’s Revelation was penned.[11] Clement was a contemporary of the apostle John, and this is what he understood John was teaching concerning Israel. Not only is any reference to Israel being reconstituted as a nation absent, but Israel as a nation having any future Covenant purpose apart from the church as well.

And this is consistent with what Paul intended to say in Romans to the Jews. In his sermon to King Agrippa Paul says “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.” (Acts 26:6,7). Paul presents the true hope of Israel according to Moses and the prophets, with not a word spoken about earthly Israel. The hope he speaks of is the resurrection of the dead in Christ, not plots of land in the Middle East (verse 8). Paul concludes this sermon with this. “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come — that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” (Verses 22,23).

Clement viewed the church as under the same covenant promise as Israel. It is not earthly Israel, but spiritual Israel to whom these promises belong. This is not some sort of a replacement theology, but an expansion theology, for we Gentile Christians are included in “the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5,7). Clement had no problem applying the Old Testament Scriptures to the church that was made up of “the Jewish people” and of “the Gentiles.” [12] This was obviously a message Paul delivered for the present time in which he preached to Agrippa, not one that would occur in two separate segments of time as the Dispensationalists imagine. Paul says nothing in his sermon either, about some future age in which many if not all Jews will suddenly see the promise he refers to concerning Moses, and turn to Jesus. This would make the Jews brought back, instead of already present in election. No, the church was intended all along as the object of the Covenant promise, both to Jew and Gentile alike in one space of time. There are only one eternal purpose and kingdom (Eph 3:4-6, 8-11, 20-21).“to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (verse 21).

Clement refers to Abraham as “our father.”[13] It’s possible that Clement could have been a Jew, but he was not speaking primarily to Jewish people, but to Gentile Christians in the church at Corinth. This is exactly what Paul’s theology is and how it should be applied. Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham, and as such, are entitled to His covenant promise of salvation (Rom. 4:9-12; Gal. 3:6-9). Now, if they are simply hangers onto an earthly promise, does that entitle Gentile Christians to land in Palestine too? Of course not, that is a ridiculous notion. But so is the notion that says Jews have some ethnic claim to it as well. And certainly, “all Israel” cannot mean every Jew has some claim to the promise of God based on heritage or ethnicity. Paul completely removes the ethnic component from the promise. The Covenant of grace completely excludes it.[14] In the letter Clement wrote to the Corinthians, he mentions other spiritual children of Abraham’s, who do happen to be his physical children. These are brought into his point as well, in order to buttress the force of his argument.

Clement refers to the church as one of the tribes of Israel, quoting from those Scriptures which speak of the covenant in this manner (Rom. 9:5; Gen. 22:17, 28:4).[15] Clement saw in Scripture the church embodied in the tribes of Israel (Gen. 22:17,18). In this text God reiterates the end He has in view, for Abraham ‘s descendants in every nation. Jews have always imagined this will come to pass through their political conquest of the world. The writer of the book of Hebrews, who was no doubt a Jewish Christian himself, saw it differently. As an inspired author of Scripture, this writer quoted and applied the text in Genesis twenty two (verses 17,18) to the Christian church (Heb. 6:13-20). Christians are called “the heirs of promise” in reference to their multiplication throughout the world (verses 14,17). This is accomplished in no other way than through the preaching of the gospel in the world. Its fruit is spiritual, not earthly, which brings us back to the end in view shown in the last chapter, namely Abraham’s eternal inheritance of the earth. So Clement made his comments and application of this text in perfect harmony with Scripture.

And finally, Clement speaks of the coming of the Lord, quoting virtually the same words spoken in the Old Testament to Jews, and in the New Testament to Christians without distinction (Is. 40:10, 62:11; Rev. 22:12).[16] In doing this Clement clearly shows his understanding of the Lord’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is singular in nature, this is why Clement is able to quote Scripture as he does from both Testaments as one. And that the Lord’s coming is really to be taken as one event, even if it is historically fulfilled in what appears to be more than one. When the Lord ascended to heaven, He did not absent Himself from the earth in any way. No, His Spirit is present and abides with His people now, revealing Him to them and the world. There is no mention here by Clement of any dual purpose by God toward Jew and Gentile, toward Israel and the church. There is no end in view shown of any special dealing with Jews by God at some future point within the Christian era, for he sees it all as one Covenant, just like Paul did.

Furthermore, Clement does us a service in this respect, by quoting from the book of Daniel concerning the last days in the context of the book of Revelation (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 5:11, 19:1). The section in which Clement draws his text in Daniel deals with an overview of the latter days, of which both he and we now live (Dan. 7:9-28). The first thing to note from this is that Daniel received his vision while Israel was under the dominion of a foreign power (verse 1). Jesus gave His Revelation to John when he and the church were under the same circumstance as Daniel and Israel were then (Rev. 1:9). So that vision foresaw the Roman empire as an oppressor of the New Testament Church, just as the Babylonian empire was of the Old Testament church. John was in exile too, just as Daniel was when he received his vision.

The vision of Daniel chapter seven is about the presence and dominion of various kingdoms’ on earth, in contrast to the Lord’s greater dominion and kingdom over them (verses 14,27). The Lord would come in the end and destroy them all (verse 26). So Clement lived under the dominion of the Roman emperor Domitian, who had exiled John to the island of Patmos. And he understood the day he lived in, to be the day that Daniel envisioned as the time of the Lord’s kingdom, the end of the age in which all the kingdoms of the earth would be judged (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 20:9). John clearly thought this was the case too, as he penned these words from the Lord “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.” (Rev. 22:12). Little did they know there would be more than a two thousand-year span of time before the final consummation of the kingdom.

In spite of this fact, that more than two thousand years have passed since Revelation was written, it seems obvious that it was written in reference to the first century church. This was a time in which the church was sorely oppressed by the Roman empire, just like the church in Daniel’s day. Therefore, it was written in order to comfort the Christians of that era concerning the reality of the kingdom, just as Daniel’s vision was given for the same reason. No more revelation has come since that time. So although two thousand years have passed since then, its contents are still relevant to the church in the twenty-first century. Christ’s kingdom and presence are still with us now. But we are under the civil domination of world powers. Some have argued that the papacy is the final kingdom of the antichrist that will eventually impose the greatest tribulation on earth against the church that it has ever seen.

Certainly, the papacy is a continuation of the old Roman empire in this respect, it is a false system of idolatrous religion, connected to Rome. It longs to control the earth as it once did in Europe, enslaving everyone under its dominion. And the Pope is the consummate antichristian figure who leads it. When the church and Rome came together in the fourth century, it became an apostate representation of the true kingdom of God. Whether there is ever a future re emergence of the Roman state church in this way or not remains to be seen. But the writings of the New Testament are all written in the context of the situation that existed then, not in some future age that would be entirely different from it. And so we have to take the words of Paul in Romans chapters nine through eleven in the exact same way.

Early Premillennialism

Aside from Clement, a number of other church fathers interpreted Revelation in a more literal way than he had done. Perhaps it was due in part to some of the same reasons outlined above. The first three centuries after Jesus ascended were filled with repeated periods of extreme persecution against the church. These persecutions continued under the Roman authorities, making the last revelation of Jesus of more and more interest to the people who suffered under them. Certainly, a visible return of Jesus in His glorified body to reign over creation was always the expectation of the Christian church. As time lingered on however, and the Lord tarried in His reappearance to vanquish His foes, it became more and more tempting to ascribe an ultra literal meaning to the apocalyptic symbolism of Revelation.[17] We refer here to the idea that there would be a literal reign of Christ on earth before the eternal kingdom was to be fully consummated.

In the first three centuries after Jesus’ ascension, the church also encountered a tremendous amount of trouble within from heretics. Jewish Gnosticism was around in the first century, and it is clear that much of the New Testament was written in order to refute their insidious errors. One of these errors was the notion that only an enlightened number of approved initiates would ascend immediately into the special presence of the Lord, while all others would dwell in some nebulous subterranean existence after death. From the second century on, Gnosticism changed from being Jewish in character, to that which was primarily Gentile, due to a shift of converts to the Christian faith. Irenaeus wrote his famous work ‘Against Heresies’ in order to refute them.[18] The idea of a future earthly Millennial kingdom on earth would seem to some to be a good apologetic argument against the ideas of the heretics.

Premillennialism, or, Chiliasm as it was called in the early church came into prominence for a period of time. This was a view that was held by a number of the church fathers from the second to the fourth century. Historic premillennialism draws its name from the fact that many of the early Church Fathers (i.e. Irenaeus [140- 203], who as a disciple of Polycarp, who had been an disciple of the apostle of John, Justin Martyr [100-165], and Papias [80-155]), apparently believed and taught that there would be a visible kingdom of God upon the earth, after the return of Christ.[19] Irenaeus is considered an important figure for Premillennialists, owing to the fact that he was a student of Polycarp, who was a personal friend of the apostle John. That being said however, there is nothing in the known writings of Polycarp that support the assertion that is made, that Irenaeus received his ideas of a future earthly kingdom from him. And certainly, none of these men ever ascribed any earthly inheritance to Jewish people based on ethnicity, even though some of them at times made a general reference to their inclusion, in the gospel blessing of Christ.

Dispensationalists will often defend their position based on the argument that the early church fathers were all Premillennial. There is no denial that this was certainly true of some of them, though it is not a view that was exclusively held by all. In fact, this argument has backfired in recent times against the Dispensational opinion that it was the doctrine handed down from the apostles to the early church. This is due to a thesis written by a doctoral student from Dallas Theological Seminary who set out to do that exact thing. Instead, he found the opposite to be true.[20] The notion he began with came from another thesis that has since been proved to be inaccurate.[21] So not only is this true, but it is also true that early Chiliasts did not believe in the restoration of the nation of Israel, as some sort of prophetic fulfillment. They certainly did not believe in a restored temple with a sacrificial service, as something to look for at a future date.

It is easy to see how the Premillennial view might have developed among these men. The Scriptures teach that Christ will literally return some day to consummate His kingdom in the fullest sense. In that day, there will come a new heaven and a new earth. That is what we as a church pray for in the Lord’s prayer. The Lord taught His disciples to pray saying “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9,10). It is also easy to see how, in the early stages of the churches doctrinal development, there might be a tendency to misunderstand the language of Scripture concerning the Millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20). Historic Premillennialists believe Christ will literally reign on earth for a thousand years before the implementation of the new heaven and earth.

The early church however, eventually came to the point of rejecting the Premillennial view as unbiblical. This came about in large part based on futuristic interpretations the Premillennialists were applying to the book of Revelation. The problem was, in literally interpreting an apocalyptic book like Revelation, this could result in the idea the church would be displaced by Israel, owing to the Old Testament imagery contained in it. This led in turn, to a denial from many that Revelation was even an inspired book that belongs in the church’s canon of Scripture. The matter came to a head in the third century in Africa, when Dionysius of Alexandria called a regional council of Bishops to deal with it.[22] These ideas were found to be inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture by the Bishops and it was therefore, rejected as a legitimate doctrine in the African church.

The fourth century church theologian Jerome, also maintained the same position on the subject of the Millennium as Dionysius. The church fathers in the East had come to look upon Chiliasm unfavorably as well. So by the end of the fourth century, both the western and eastern churches had adopted a figurative, rather than a literal approach to interpreting the book of Revelation, and especially the wording of chapter twenty concerning a thousand-year period. Their rejection of an earthly millennial kingdom was the dominant position of the Christian church till the late middle ages. That is, until it was revived again by a movement associated with the writings of an Abbot by the name of Joachim, who was the founder of a monastic order.[23] Even then, it remained a fringe view until the time of the reformation, where interest in it returned again among some of the Protestant reformers, but only to a limited degree.[24]

Why did the church take such a negative position on a literal millennium, exactly what was their logic in doing so? It was simply this, a failure to do so it was reasoned, would inevitably lead Christians to adopt many of the Jewish falsehoods that were soundly condemned by Jesus and the apostles.[25] And what were those falsehoods that were condemned? It was the belief held by Jews then and still is, that they have an exclusive right to the promises of God, simply because of their ethnicity. Also, Jews have always dreamed of possessing the wealth of the world, and controlling it from a reconstituted position of power in Palestine. In other words, the kingdom of God to them is a carnal kingdom in this fallen world, absent of any Christian cross. Jews have always expected God to raise up another great leader like Moses who will vanquish all their foes and lead them into a utopian Paradise on earth. The messiah to a Jew is nothing more than a political figure. And this man of their dreams will do for them what they expected Jesus to do, but didn’t, which is why they rejected Him. This is what praying for the peace of Jerusalem means to the modern Jew.

The early church understood the nature of God’s kingdom that it was not of the flesh, but spiritual in nature. The kingdom of Jewish dreams, and likewise, the millennial kingdom of Chiliasts, is one in which people are doing everything they do now such as eating and drinking, marrying and having children. Jesus contradicted the teaching of the Jews concerning this, telling them His kingdom would not be as they imagined (Matt. 22:23-30). “Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Verses 29,30). There was no intervening millennial period of time in Jesus’ theology. The apostle Paul did the same as Jesus by teaching in his epistle to the Romans “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17). So if the Jews were mistaken on this, as Jesus stated in verse 29, even more so are the Chiliasts who envision an earthly kingdom, much like the Jews.[26]

An apocalyptic return of Jesus, in order to fulfill the Old Testament ideal of Israel’s kingdom was viewed by the church at that time as antithetical to Christianity. This was the dream of reprobate Jews who rejected Christianity and its message. Interpreting Revelation, or, any other portion of the New Testament in this manner was viewed as completely undermining to the Christian faith. So the early church fathers saw the Jewish dream of a restored Israel to be in error, one they could not allow into the church.[27] They saw this as the fundamental mistake of the Chiliast. God is done with the Old Testament ideal of an earthly kingdom. It was a failure in terms of its implementation. Of course, there was no failure on God’s part in this whatsoever. The failure of Israel’s kingdom is the triumph of God’s kingdom, just as the failure of the first Adam in the garden, was the triumph of Christ at the cross (Rom. 5:12-21). The idea of looking to some earthly glory concerning God’s kingdom in this fallen world is an utterly carnal idea.

A present and future kingdom

From the fifth century on, another view of God’s kingdom began to emerge, and became the dominant view throughout the Middle ages. It was one that defined the kingdom as fully present in this age and fulfilled by the New Testament church. This view of the present kingdom is not that it is fully realized in the quantitative sense, but rather, that it is in the qualitative sense. Premillennialists today ascribe this view solely to the influence of Augustine in the late fourth century, who is widely regarded as the greatest theologian of the time.[28] Augustine was a powerful teacher of theology indeed. This is so true, that a very large portion of the church today point to him as the source of their theological heritage. Augustine is especially noted for his writings on election and predestination, and in his role in the condemnation of the Pelagian heresy. Because of this, Calvinistic Reformed churches lay claim to him as their ancient doctor. But Augustine also believed in and taught among other things baptismal regeneration, which serves to undergird a sacramentalist view of salvation. So Roman Catholics and many Episcopal Protestants lay claim to him as theirs for this reason too.

There was another thing that Augustine as well as others in the early church were noted for too, that was their use of allegory in the interpretation of Scripture, something Premillennialists categorically reject. Instead of using ultra literalism like the Chiliasts, they tended to allegorize many things in Scripture. One example of this attributable to Augustine and others, is the allegorization of the days of creation in Genesis chapter one. In fact, many fundamentalists today are not aware that throughout church history there has never really been one settled conviction on whether Genesis is referring to literal or figurative days.[29] This problem in part, seems to arise from the fact that the word day is used both ways in Scripture, which forces the interpretation of it according to its immediate context. For the record, this writer takes a literal six-day approach to understanding God’s work of creation in Genesis.

There are several things that can account for this tendency toward allegorization in the early church. It is obvious, as was shown above, that Clement of Rome understood the apostles teaching to be that everything promised to Israel was fulfilled by the church, and therefore, belonged to her. This would make much of the expectation of the Old Testament to be interpreted figuratively, rather than literally. Of course, the church is not a phantom either, but a real, visible earthly organization, that manifests God’s kingdom too (Eph. 3:8-10; I Pet. 2:4-10). So the fulfillment by the church of these things is actually literal fulfillment, but in a different way. How is this? If much of what was revealed in the Old Testament was typical in nature, as the New Testament clearly says, then it would naturally require a fulfillment that is different from the picture. This is because the substance of a thing, being the antitype, is different from its analogy. This reality could and has led many times to the over use of symbolism.[30]

There is another possible reason that might explain an excessive amount of allegorizing in the post apostolic church. It may have been the result of the cessation of Jewish influence upon the thinking of Christians from the first century on, other than what they saw themselves from Scripture. After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, there was virtually no contact after that between Jews and Christians of any positive nature. The effect this could have had was to leave many Christian teachers ignorant of a great deal of understanding of the Old Testament. That would not have been the case earlier on, with so many of the Christians in the first half of the first century being Jewish converts to the Christian faith. Without the apostles around to explain the Old Testament Scripture in light of the New Covenant, it is understandable to suppose this would create a difficulty to following generations of church teachers. It also opened the door for many of the heresies the church ended up battling in the Ecumenical councils in the fourth century.

Whether one held to a literal or figurative view of the Millennium, was not considered a matter of orthodoxy in the early church.[31] Outside of the regional council in Alexandria mentioned above, there does not seem to be any condemnation or affirmation in any of the Ecumenical creeds toward one Eschatological view or another, though many have argued otherwise.[32] The reason for this can probably be ascribed to what was the main issues of concern for the church at the time. These were of the type which involved heresies concerning the nature of God, the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ. In other words, soteriology was the main concern of the church at the time. As long as someone embraced the language of the creed, they were considered orthodox. Much of the debate over these particular doctrines involved the use and definition of language from not only a theological point of view, but a philosophical one as well. So a focus on the philosophical aspect of the Christian faith may have accounted for the use of the allegorical method in Scripture interpretation as well.

It is entirely true that the church from the fifth century on did assert a view of God’s present and future kingdom that was opposite to that of what Premillennialists regard today as the apostles teaching. They lay the charge of allegory against the non literal millennium idea of the kingdom. To say that one view replaced the other however, would not be true. It is granted the fifth century church was the beginning of what the Roman Papacy became, in terms of perverting so much of the truth of Scripture. For this reason, Premillennialists accuse those who don’t share their ideas as either Romanists, or liberals. Liberals as well as Romanists pervert the Scripture in order to promote their false view of religion. Liberals are also fond of allegorizing Scripture in the pursuit of their novel interpretations. But does this necessarily mean Premillennialism is true because it happens to be based on an ultra literal method of interpretation?

In order to answer this question, it should be kept in mind the Roman church did not turn away from the orthodoxy of the first four Ecumenical creeds, although they certainly became an apostate organization over time. So to connect the many errors of Rome exclusively to a non literal meaning of the Millennial kingdom, is not really a valid argument against it. We would be cautious here in saying however, that what Rome became over time is certainly not reflective of a proper view of the doctrine of the church, by any stretch of the imagination. Rome corrupted the doctrine of salvation with its many unbiblical additions. But that in and of itself does not prove the case. Connecting Liberals to a non literal Millennial kingdom also runs into the same problem as with Rome. This is because most Liberals have always claimed allegiance to the historic creeds too, even though they err in most of what they believe on many important things. So simply identifying a villain with one particular point of view doesn’t really prove much of anything. It is still necessary to prove an argument on its own merit.

The literal view of the Millennium, of which a literal view of “all Israel” is arrived at, does happen to be the prevailing opinion at the moment in the church. However, though this view has dominated Evangelicalism for the last sixty years or so, it is significant that most of the church for the last two thousand years has not accepted a literal view of the Millennial kingdom. Any movement that cannot show continuity over time, concerning their chief ideas, should always be held suspect, and so it is here. Therefore, it does mean something to say that most of the church has historically believed the Millennium spoken of in Revelation twenty, is to be taken as a figurative designation for the present, interadvental church age.

So what exactly is an orthodox non literal view of the Millennial kingdom, and why has it usually been preferred to the literal interpretation? First of all, the non literal view of the Millennial kingdom is what is referred to today as the Amillennial point of view.[33] But rather than the term implying there is no millennium at all, it simply means there is no future millennium to expect before the return of Jesus Christ, such as that which the literal position supposes. To put it in other words, John was not using the numerical figure of a thousand years in Revelation twenty, to describe an age future to his, in which Jesus would physically return and establish a kingdom on earth, prior to what is described in the following chapter (21:1). The Amillennial view holds that Jesus established His kingdom before ascending to heaven, and in actuality, He never left His people alone and powerless in it (John 14:18-20; Rom. 8:9-10; I Cor.15:45).

We mentioned this was Augustine’s view, however, it was not always the case, for he at one time was in agreement with the Chiliasts, as he reveals in ‘City of God.’[34] Upon further study, and in realization of the kind of errors Chiliasm tended, Augustine changed his view. The reason he gives for this is that apart from a non literal view, nothing else can really adequately explain what is said in this chapter. We agree with this assessment, and for several good reasons. 1) There is no mention in this chapter of the Jews, or the land of Israel, unless one ascribes the city that is surrounded as the literal Jerusalem. 2) Those who are oppressed here are Christians, not Jews, unless any of them were previously, and had been converted. So in other words, it is the church scattered throughout the world that Jesus comes to rescue from the beast, not ethnic Jews. 3) The most troublesome aspect of a literal view is the idea that the kingdom begins sometime in the future. This idea destroys the teaching of the New Testament that shows His kingdom is presently inaugurated (Acts 2:34, 36; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9-11; I Pet. 3:22).

As it was previously shown in the last chapter, Scripture views the Lord’s return to His people from the destruction of Jerusalem on, as a single Eschatological event. The prophets saw the Messiah’s coming and His kingdom as a single event that preceded a time of judgement on the nations. This was to occur in the last days, which the apostles clearly state as present in the first century. After the resurrection and ascension, however, it was clear to them that the fulfilment of Old Testament Prophecy was in two stages, the first and second coming. The first coming was spread out more than thirty-three years by a number of significant events, such as the incarnation, the virgin birth, the three-year ministry of teaching and miracles, the triumphal entry, the arrest and subsequent crucifixion, the resurrection and ascension into heaven, and the day of Pentecost. Without every event occurring there would be no redemption, and hence no kingdom. Jesus repeatedly taught throughout His three-year ministry, the kingdom was a present reality (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 9:35, 10:7, 11:12, 12:28, 13:24,38, 16:28).

When Jesus ascended to heaven, the kingdom was already in place, though it now awaits a future consummation of it upon His return. To introduce another kingdom, in whatever form it might take, as a new and single entity located at some point between the first and second advents, is to create a third coming of Jesus that is nowhere supported in Scripture. This is perhaps the single most reason that can account for the early church finally rejecting a literal view of John’s Millennial kingdom, and adopting the figurative one instead. The non literal view of Revelation twenty fits perfectly into the overall scheme of Scripture. Augustine in the ‘City of God,’ book 20, chapters 7-17 goes through it showing the continuity of this interpretation with Scripture in the present church age. Of course there are variations on Augustine’s view that exist today. But we will summarize it here in our own words, though drawing on the help of others besides Augustine in the interpretation.[35]

Revelation chapter twenty opens with a vision John sees of an angel coming from heaven (verse 1). The angel comes with a key and a chain to restrain the Devil for a thousand years (verses 1-3). Previous to this, the Devil deceived the nations with his lies. Since the fall of mankind in the garden, until Christ came (Gal. 4:4), he had been the ruler of this world, and the god of this age (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; II Cor. 4:4). Christ’s coming, and His subsequent work of redemption on the cross, was to initiate judgement upon the Devil that would take the form of two different stages. First, the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom by His death, resurrection and ascension, ended a four thousand-year reign of the Devil as the ruler of this world on earth (Acts 17:30,31). Second, the restraint layed upon him by being chained and locked in the pit, did not prevent him completely from lashing out against the saints throughout this present age (verse 4).

The thousand-year period John sees represents a period of time that elapses between the first and second advents. This is a time in which the gospel goes forth on the earth, making great progress in the world for the kingdom. During this time the Lord gathers His elect throughout the world into the church, until He comes again to bring an end to this present evil world. Despite opposition and cruelty by the Devil and his minions, the saints persevere, refusing to bow the knee to this world’s false leaders and their religions. The saints refuse the mark of the beast which is submission to his will, instead, giving the good testimony of their faith in Jesus. So what is being shown in John’s vision is the idea that in this Millennial period, though the saints suffer at the hand of the Devil, he is actually at war with Christ Himself. But Jesus triumphs over the Devil by upholding them against all his attempts to overthrow their faith, even unto death.

John’s vision runs completely parallel to what Peter states about the interadvental period in his second letter, the third chapter. In it Peter points out that the world mocks and persecutes God’s people, because none of what they say from the word seems to them to come true (verses 1-4). Mockers deride the saints in their hope of the second coming, while at the same time forgetting about the sudden judgement that overtook the ancient world (verses 4-6). But Peter shows the world is being prepared, just like it was then for a time of coming judgement (verse 7). And here is where the meaning of the thousand-year wait comes in, it is as peter states, but a day to the Lord, who is eternal and unrestrained in all His dealings with men in the world (verse 8). The reason the Lord tarries is for the sake of the elect, who must come into the world one at a time throughout church history (verse 9). This is what the symbolism of a thousand-year reign of Christ portrays in Revelation twenty.

So what about verses 5-15 in John’s vision, what is to be seen in them? We see in them an end to the thousand years, two resurrections, a brief release of Satan from his imprisonment where he once again deceives the nations. We see in them one final battle against the Lord and His people, which ends with a victory over them, followed by a final judgement. Nowhere in this passage of Scripture is anything said by John about Jewish people, or the state of Israel, it all pertains to the church of Jesus Christ. The main emphasis if any is, the saints which are the Christian church made up of Jew and Gentile, Old Testament as well as New Testament believer, reigns with Jesus during the Millennial kingdom period. There is no separation being presented here by John between various groups of people in this age. So how do we know this to be true, and how do we know exactly who the members of the Millennial kingdom are?

The answer to these questions lies in what John says about the two resurrections. Earlier on in his gospel John recorded Jesus talking about the two resurrections to His disciples (John 5:24-30). Jesus stated in this passage the present reality of eternal life to those who hear His word and believe in Him (verses 24,25). In other words, no matter what eternal life is in an Onto-Eschatalogical sense, it begins here in this present world. Now previous to this, Jesus taught the necessity of a spiritual rebirth, in order to be a member of the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5). What is this rebirth, or regeneration Jesus was talking about, but a person who is spiritually dead being raised to life? So Jesus is elaborating further on this theme in chapter five of John in discussing the resurrection. Regeneration means a rebirth of spiritual life that was lost in Adam. Resurrection is the actual application of the new birth to an individual.

There is a second resurrection that Jesus mentions in the book of John chapter five passage, this is a resurrection of the body (verse 28). It will be remembered that spiritual and physical death was the judgement of God upon Adam and his children. Adam died spiritually the moment he sinned, but physical death for him came much later. Therefore, in Scripture there is a two-part renewal revealed to those who are the children of God, one is spiritual the other is physical (I Cor. 15:42-45). Paul states the order of things here in First Corinthians in his apologetic on the doctrine of the resurrection. When the first Adam died, he became a natural man. He became subject to decay, and in the end, death. The second Adam Jesus, restores life in His people through the new birth from the dead. Last of all, the body itself will be raised too. So here, we have two distinct resurrections shown regarding the people who make up the kingdom of God.

John brings this together in Revelation twenty for us. How does he do this? In the previous text from his gospel, John ties the two resurrections to the final judgement of God (John 5:27-30). John is restating in Revelation what Jesus previously said about this in reference to the Millennium, the present kingdom in the interadvental period (Rev. 20:4-6). The second death is the death of the body, which all men, sinner and saint experience in this life just as Adam did. The saint however, is resurrected both spiritually and physically. The sinner outside of Christ dies twice in this life too, but does so eternally as well. This is all connected to the judgement of God, committed to Jesus Christ who has accomplished redemption for His people. He alone is worthy to be the One “who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom” (II Tim. 4:1). Paul is referring here in these words to Timothy of the final consummation of the kingdom. This is something that will take place immediately following the end of the interadvental, or, Millennial period.

Before the Lord comes again there is something else revealed in Revelation twenty that takes place too. What this is however, is not a single event that occurs as something distinctly different from the rest of the church’s experience, it is rather, something which is always present, but it intensifies as the end of the age progresses. This is concurrent with the Devil eventually being loosened from his imprisonment under chains. The Devil, while kept on a leash is still deadly, able to reach the saints as is witnessed in many periods of persecution which the church endures. What happens though, as the end draws near, he is let go for a short time. When this occurs, he proceeds to trouble the saints on earth more severely than he ever did before (verses 3,4). This coincides with the last of God’s elect people being finally and effectually called into the kingdom, just as Peter alludes (Pet. 3:9).

When the time comes in which there are no more of the Lord’s people left who are to be “born out of due time” (I Cor. 15:8) as Paul was, the Devils’ ability to deceive and cause chaos will once again be on the ascendance (Rev. 20:3). It appears that his confinement during the Millennial period, is a time when the church and the gospel make all of its advance, effectually calling every saint for whom Christ died into its communion. The Devils’ deception which occurs at the end of the age seems to coincide with a general, worldwide apostasy away from “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” that Jude warned of in his epistle (Jude 1:3,4). Paul spoke of the reality of this in more than one place (II Thess. 2:1-12; I Tim. 4:1-3; II Tim. 3:1-5,13). The thing’s Paul spoke of in these several verses, are all projected forward throughout the church age, beginning with him in his day, and culminating in the Lord’s return.

“The falling away” that Paul predicts will happen to the Thessalonian believers, apparently results in a twofold opposition against Christ and His people. First of all, it involves the spread of false doctrines propagated by heretics and hypocrites in the church. Second of all, it involves false worship, which culminates in the acceptance of a system put forth by either one or more diabolical figures who deceive people into following both him and it. False teaching in the church is something that turns the heart of people away from the gospel. But it also serves to turn them toward those who propagate it. So not only will people turn away from the gospel, but they will unite in opposition to it as well. Apparently, this widespread apostasy involves the use of deceptive signs and wonders that are attributed to the occult. When people throughout the world are led to believe such things as evidence of true religion, the Devil at this point has successfully “surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (Rev. 20:9), in his bid to rid the world of Christianity.

The Satanic world system will institute a program of persecution designed to obliterate every vestige of the historic church from its midst. Johns vision however, shows the Lord will return just in time, before His church is persecuted to the point of extinction, to rescue His people, and bring judgement on the world and the Devil. Thus, we see it all ends with the Lords’ wrath being outpoured on the Devil and those who followed him in the world (II Thess. 1:3-10; II Pet. 3:10-12; Rev. 20:7-10). The finality of it comes with an absolute destruction of everything affected by sin. The world is reduced to its elements and purified of everything that offends. All that will remain will be that which is of the Lord, by way of His redeeming righteousness imputed to the saints. Those outside of Christ will be judged according to their works, and justly rewarded with eternal punishment (Rev. 20:11-13).

This is the hour Jesus spoke of in chapter five of John’s gospel, saying “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28,29). Of course, no one is able to stand in judgement based upon works. Those whose works are judged in Christ according to His merit enjoy “the resurrection of life” in all its fullness with Him now, this is the first resurrection John refers to in Revelation 20:5. The second clause of verse five does not follow sequentially what is said in the first. It is concurrent with the Millennium. To put it another way, John is saying those who live after the Millennium, are those who await judgement (Rev. 20:12,13). Their resurrection is preparation for what John calls “the second death” in verse 14.

After the judgement John speaks of in Revelation twenty, there is the restoration of heaven and earth spoken of previously in Scripture in several places (Is. 65:17, 66:22; II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). There is nothing in the verses we’ve cited, nor in the rest of the New Testament, to support the idea there is some sort of other intervening age located within the interadvental period. In fact, the New Testament is absolutely clear in asserting nothing but a two-age progression. The writers of the New Testament are consistent in asserting there is but one age that will follow the age that was present with them in the first century. They spoke of that age which is ours as entirely temporal in nature (Matt. 12:32, 24:3, 28:20; Luke 18:30, 20:34; Mark 10:30; Rom. 12:2; I Cor. 1:20, 2:6-8; II Cor. 4:4; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:21, 2:2; I Tim. 6:17; Tit. 2:12). This is set in contrast with the next eternal age which is to come afterward (Matt. 12:32, 13:40; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30, 20:35; I Cor. 6:9,10, 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 1:21, 5:5; I Thess. 2:12; II Thess. 1:5; I Tim. 6:19; II Tim. 4:18). Jesus explained the nature of His kingdom in these terms to the disciples (Matt. 13:39,40,49).

In the age to come following this one, John sees the same thing as Peter spoke of in a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. There is no sin in this new creation, for it is not a kingdom of this earth that is established. No, Jesus sits upon His throne in the new creation, after judging the Devil and his angels, condemning sin and death, and casting every reprobate from His presence into the lake of fire. Where is another earthly millennial kingdom found in this picture? The answer is of course, the term thousand years wasn’t intended to be a literal time that fits somewhere between the first and second advents of Christ. It is only a term that denotes a fullness of time relative to the purpose of God between the two advents. If one takes the literal approach, now it becomes a novelty to figure out everything possible to do with timing and events regarding these things, something Jesus said He didn’t know Himself (Mark 13:32).

The kingdom view of the Reformers

The Protestant reformation began as an attempt to reform the Roman church. It was only when the Roman church resisted these efforts toward reform, that the Protestant church arose as a new and competing organizational entity. The reason behind this attempt at reform was the re introduction of the original Greek New Testament back into the hands of churchmen like Martin Luther and John Calvin. This led in turn through their ministries, to a revival of Scripture-based faith in western Europe. It also led to a flurry of theological development unlike anything seen since the days of the apostles. One would almost wonder why nothing about it is said in the New Testament. So it is here, most likely, that many latent ideas from the early to late middle ages about the kingdom began to take shape in the minds of the reformers concerning this event. Certainly, it took on a tremendous amount of Eschatological significance to these men at the time, who connected it to the end of the church age when the Lord would return.

The reformation was amazing on many fronts. There was what seemed to be a widespread unity among the various leaders on the most important of doctrines, such as that of God, of Christ and of salvation. This is reflected in the numerous confessional statements made on these doctrines, compiled by the various Protestant churches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the same time, these various churches entertained a diversity of thought on the more peripheral, yet, still important matters. These matters included such doctrines as those that pertained to church polity and the sacraments. One of the doctrines where there was diversity had to do with the nature of the kingdom in the interadvental period. This involved two other doctrines important in their own right, God’s covenant and the millennial reign of Christ spoken of by the apostle John in Revelation chapter twenty.

These doctrines all relate to Eschatology, which as was already mentioned, became important to the church in light of events surrounding the reformation. Eschatology is the study of future things, and so, there was a sense among many that the reformation was in some way the fulfillment of what was to be expected, in terms of God’s future activity within His church. Virtually all of the Reformers believed the Pope was the antichrist spoken of in Scripture, the man of sin who would usurp the position and honor due to Christ (Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:22; II Thess. 2:3; I John 2:18,22, 4:3; II John 1:7).[36] It should be mentioned at this point that most Christians since the early church were of a belief called historic, or, partial preterism. The word preterism comes from the Latin word praeter, which means last. In a nutshell, the idea of preterism before and up to the time of the reformation was that many, if not most things prophesied in the Old Testament, were fulfilled when Jesus came the first time. However, there were things yet future to the first century that still awaited their fulfillment, at least in terms of the full manifestation of the kingdom. So the theological term we know today as Eschatology means the last things, things that will take place before the Lord returns.[37]

There have been three basic ideas of the millennial kingdom which have arisen as a result of the diversity of thought on this matter in the church, since the reformation.[38] The first two views are really a development of the Augustinian position on Revelation chapter twenty that split into two camps. This idea as already stated is the kingdom of God is present here and now, in this, the church age, between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. With that being said, there have been a number of variations on this theme among the two camps as well within each one of them. Each one views the kingdom as a literal, visible and present reality, no matter what is to happen in the future regarding it, but as to its length of time on earth that is something which is figuratively stated in the term ‘a thousand years.’ The number one thousand represents a perfect, or, a complete square in reference to the fulness of the kingdom purpose.[39] The number ‘thousand’ is used like this in many other places in Scripture, so as not to be in any way a novel interpretation (Ex. Gen. 24:60; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 50:1; II Pet. 3:8; Jude 1:14; Rev. 5:11).

The third view to arise since the reformation is a renewed interest in Chiliasm. Chiliasm was the predominant view of a number of radical sects that emerged in the sixteenth century, primarily in Germany and Switzerland. These were known as Anabaptists due to their doctrine of re baptizing converts to their sect. Although they are considered a reform movement, this collection of sects was aberrant in a great many doctrines and practices, therefore, they cannot be included in any consideration of orthodox Protestantism. They also held to fantastic ideas of God’s kingdom that it should be established here on earth by reason of force. This in turn led to a condemnation of Chiliasm by the two main churches of the reformation on the continent of Europe.[40] This rejection of Chiliasm became documented in two of the earliest reformation confessions, the Augsburg Confession of the Lutherans,[41] and the Second Helvetic Confession of the Swiss Reformed church.[42] The accusation made in them against Chiliasm is that it is “Jewish opinions” and Jewish dreams.”

Both Martin Luther and John Calvin were strictly Augustinian in their view of God’s kingdom. Likewise, neither one of these men believed in some sort of special providence concerning ethnic Jews in a future millennial kingdom. This fact is most evident in what they believed the central message of Romans 9-11 was about. Both Calvin and Luther believed Paul was concerned to teach the doctrine of individual, as opposed to corporate election in these three chapters.[43] This is important to point out, for it is the latter view that believes Paul’s expression “all Israel” means ethnic Jews. The primary reason these men cited for their interpretation, one that was in agreement with Augustine, was that Paul specifically frames his argument of election and reprobation around individuals such as Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh. In light of this then, any mention of Israel as a corporate entity must be understood as differentiating between the elect and the reprobate Jews.

Paul provides the perfect example in Jacob and Esau, of the relationship that exists between these two entities, that of corporate and individual election. Although one brother received the covenant blessing, and therefore, his family benefitted from it, all were not saved, in spite of it (I Cor. 10:5; Heb. 3:10,11). In fact, if the ultimate blessing of salvation were not given to most of Jacob’s children unconditionally then, it is hard to imagine why it should be given to all of them at some future date. Esau on the other hand, was the reprobate brother, so everywhere in the Old Testament his family is shown in this light. However, this did not exclude some in his family from salvation either (Mark 3:8). The blessings that came to Jews by virtue of the fact that they were corporately elect, were blessings to them indeed (Rom. 3:1,2, 9:4,5). Yet, in spite of this, it was only a remnant who was saved (Rom. 9:29). And furthermore, Paul applies this point to the present generation of Jews (Rom. 11:1-5).

That being said, it still did not solve every question to arise in the mind of all the reformers about election. Paul clearly asserts that God was not done with His Old Covenant people. And of course, the statement he makes in verses 25,26 can be taken from different angles. Martin Luther among others, exemplified the inherent difficulty in resolving the question of corporate and individual election found in this text. Luther agreed that it was important for the Jews to express overt faith in Christ, but if they did not, it was not due to human freedom but to the elective decision of God (9:10). [44] Interestingly, Luther viewed Paul’s argument as an expression of his own confusion over why the Jews did not receive Jesus as the Messiah. This he states in a sermon on Romans 11:33-36, where Paul assigns the difficulty of understanding the mystery as “the wisdom and knowledge of God,””His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Verse 33).[45] Luther did not really know exactly how to understand what Paul meant in verse 25, so he deferred to others. On the basis of this text it is commonly accepted that the Jews at the end of the world will return to the faith, although the text is so obscure that unless one is willing to follow the authority of the fathers who explain the apostle in this way, no one would seem to be convinced of this purely on the basis of the text.[46]

John Calvin, on the other hand, did not hesitate to reconcile the apparent difficulty that Luther saw in Romans 9-11 on the corporate and individual nature of election. Calvin expressed his understanding of what Paul meant, when writing about the church and Israel in his commentary on Romans. He understood Paul to say the present time in which he lived, was the fullness of the times. And that, “all Israel” was the church made up of Jew and Gentile alike in this present age. This interpretation by Calvin, make Paul’s words in verses 25-27 to infer that Israel is primarily a spiritual concept. The concept of Israel then is placed over and above that of a particular group of ethnic people. After all, Paul himself presents the two concepts this way at the beginning of the discourse in chapter nine (verses 6-8). Hear what Calvin says in his commentary on verse 26.

And so all Israel, etc. Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, — “When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.” This interpretation seems to me the most suitable, because Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Galatians 6:16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles; and he sets the people, thus collected from their dispersion, in opposition to the carnal children of Abraham, who had departed from his faith.”[47]

Many of the early reformers believed that the reformation itself might lead to an interest on the part of the Jews to turn to Jesus Christ. They based this on the fact that the Roman church had so corrupted the pure doctrine of the gospel that it could account for the long separation that existed between them and most pious Jews. In the early centuries following the apostolic era, the offense of the cross coupled with Gentile persecution against them, might reasonably account for this separation, at least from a human standpoint. But now, after all the time elapsed since the church had been in the ‘Babylonian captivity’ as Luther termed it, the light of the gospel was beginning to break forth once again. There was an interest on the part of scholars as well to learn the Hebrew language and Scripture. This brought a certain amount of contact between them and certain Jewish scholars. But when they were rebuffed as Gentile dogs by the Jews, it led to the realization that it was not about to happen any time soon.[48]

Another thing of interest is, the reformers all saw their circumstance as a sign or indication that the time of Jesus’ return was near. This probably accounts more than anything for the diversity of thought and interest among them about the exact meaning of Revelation twenty and the Millennial kingdom. The reformation could be taken in a couple of different ways. It could be viewed as a time of incredible persecution or tribulation for true believers, or, a time of advance in the kingdom of God. To the first way of thinking, Scripture seemed to intimate a time of future apostasy away from the gospel, followed by the advent of the antichrist and his kingdom before the Lord returns. This is what many of the reformers thought to be the case in their particular circumstance. However, some of them saw this as the beginning of a future time of prosperity for the church instead. In any case, the Protestant reformation, in light of the Roman Catholic whore as they viewed it, seemed to inspire a multitude of ideas regarding these things.

The idea that the Pope was the antichrist was very popular among all the reformers. Certainly, the Roman Catholic church after the council of Trent, cemented this notion.[49] To this day, many Protestants still believe this, and for good reason. As an apostate organization founded upon Christianity, the Roman church certainly epitomizes everything, the antichrist and his empire stands for. First of all, the Roman church had transferred everything spiritual about the kingdom of God into its outward organization and ordinances. By that, what we mean to say is, the material objects themselves became the spiritual substance of Christianity. How did they do this? They did this by the using Aristotles dialectical philosophy in determining the meanings of Scripture. Use of Greek dialecticism led them to a synergism that obscured the difference between nature and grace.[50] To put it another way, the church and its ordinances were a synthesis of the two. Hence, the seven sacraments they call the Catholic faith, all have spiritual power in them; the water of baptism regenerates. The bread and wine of the Eucharist become the literal body and blood of Christ, etc.

The Catholic church over the centuries, had collected what they claimed were relics of physical objects that came in contact with Jesus, such as pieces of the cross and the shroud Jesus was buried in. These and other things became objects of veneration to them. So the Protestant reformers rightly recognized that such a way of thinking as this turned the Christian faith into a system of idolatry. But the worst thing of all about it was the place and the power the Pope claimed for himself as the vicar of Christ on earth. The Pope claimed to be infallible when making official church pronouncements concerning its dogmas. By this method, the Pope was literally thought to be the sole interpreter of Scripture, and the one who controls access into the kingdom of heaven. Roman Catholics then and now venerate the Pope by bowing before him and kissing his signet, the symbol of his rule on earth. This sort of blasphemy was what earned the Pope the title of antichrist in the reformers eyes.

Due to the political upheaval caused by the reformation in Europe, the first hundred years that followed its beginning were mired in war and persecution for Christians. But by the end of the seventeenth century, the Protestant church had made tremendous strides, whole nations had adopted the Protestant faith. The Nordic nations were influenced by Lutheranism, Germany and the all of Scandinavia adopted it as their state religion. The Reformed church associated with Calvinism dominated Switzerland, The Netherlands, Scotland, America, and to a lesser extent, France and England. In England, the state church was Episcopal unlike the Reformed churches which were Presbyterian, yet, still it had adopted a Calvinistic confession. When viewed in this light, it would seem that Protestant Christianity was advancing in the world, much like the apostolic church did in the first century. What seemed to be halted development in the church throughout the Middle ages on account of Romanism, had now given way to the true church, broadly speaking, revealed in Scripture.

This brought great hope to Christians in Europe and America. It also brought about a new and different perspective on how to view the kingdom of God among the Puritans. Instead of looking for a literal return of Jesus Christ to deliver His people from the antichrist, by the end of the seventeenth century, large numbers of Christians were expecting His reign on earth to be realized through the church. This was to precede His second coming. In other words, it was a renewal of Chiliasm. This more positive way of thinking was aided in large part, by the doctrinal development that took place in the English speaking Calvinistic churches. Covenant Theology, or, Federalism was at the forefront of confessional development in these churches. One aspect of Federalism that was unique to the Puritans was the idea that God covenanted with nations through the church. Christ’s command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” seemed to make the extent of God’s dominion on earth all encompassing in a civil sense. This was certainly an idea that dominated much of Puritanism.

It is also exactly what went wrong at the start of the Middle ages, when Christianity became the state religion of Rome. If not for the official recognition and legal standing the church received from the Emperor Constantine, it is doubtful that Roman Catholicism would have achieved the control it did over the various kingdoms of Europe until the sixteenth century. This is owing to the fact that when the fire of persecution is rampant against the Lord and His church in the world, Christians are far more concerned about their souls than they are about politics. Nevertheless, the idea of earthly dominion has always captivated people, and Christians are no different. After all, the Kingdom of God is set against the kingdoms of this world, and its ruler the Devil. And redemption by Jesus Christ as put forth in the gospel is the most compelling reason to hope in the restoration of any society. So Covenant Theology came to imply this very thing that entire nations are now under the grace of God, at least in a cultural sense of the meaning.

The term that has been used to describe this position in English speaking countries is the ‘Puritan Hope’ or the ‘Later Day Glory.’ It is known now as Postmillennialism, which is due to the fact that it expects a literal earthly kingdom to envelop the world before the Lord returns, hence the word Post before the word Millenium. This view is based on the expectation of an eventual but certain triumph by the church here on earth over all opposition to Christ.[51] The way in which this is supposed to happen is, in a country where the Christian faith is officially recognized, participation in the political franchise is synonymous with ones standing within the church. Now of course, there are a number of different definitions to this idea of the Covenant nation. One extreme is the Erastian idea that undergirds the church of England.[52] The Presbyterian idea is far more moderate, in that it is conducive to a democratic representative form of government that defends and upholds Christian ideals. In America, partly because it discarded monarchical rule for constitutional government, it actually allowed secularism to exist in direct competition to its influence over the franchise. Even though America today appears to be entirely a secular state, matters of faith and religion still dominates virtually every public debate.

The modern view of God’s kingdom

The Puritan Hope as it is called took on an even stronger position in the Eighteenth century in the minds of Christians. This was due largely to what are termed the Great Awakening revivals in Britain and America. By the Eighteenth century, Enlightenment Liberalism had made tremendous inroads into both European and American society.[53] Its effects upon the church were extremely deadening from a spiritual point of view. European Calvinism has always been primarily Amillennial. So the decline of interest in vital religion there was explainable by this almost expected apostasy. Puritanism, as it was associated with English speaking countries was quite different in that it thrived on what it called experimental religion. Puritan Calvinism has always been a form of pietism. Puritan pietism views the Christian faith in very practical terms. This means that any spiritual decline in the church must be met with the most vigorous type of preaching, that applies both the law and the gospel to the conscience of the hearer. The Great Awakening revivals came about by use of this method. In addition to Puritan pietism, Lutheran pietism played a role in the revivals as well. Lutheran pietism then gave birth to Methodism.[54]

The seeming success of these revivals in the Eighteenth century advanced the Postmillennial Puritan Hope considerably. It also encouraged further development of political idealism as well. The success of the American revolution and the establishment of the Republic is oftentimes attributable to the Great Awakening revivals. On the other hand, revolution in France, a country that rejected Protestantism, led to the guillotine and Napoleons march on Europe. In fact, Adolph Hitler viewed the Napoleonic Empire as the first of three revived reigns of the deceased Roman Empire, his being the last. So the political success and advance in America in the Nineteenth century, was attributed by popular belief to the Puritan Postmillennial Hope of a future Christian kingdom on earth. This positive outlook on the kingdom of God in America continued to prevail right up until the first world war.

The great awakening revivals, though seemingly successful and providing tremendous hope to people in Britain and America, had done little more than to stem the tide of Liberalism. Enlightenment Liberalism continued its advance in the church through the seminary system. This created a new hybrid form of religion that claimed to be Christian, but theologically speaking, was far from it. What Liberalism did was an attempt at replacing biblical Christianity with a humanistic forgery wrapped in Christian garb. The Liberals were fairly successful in doing this. By the end of the Nineteenth century, nearly every major Protestant denomination was infected with its philosophy and teaching. Every doctrine of the Christian faith was transformed into a humanistic message of mans personal advancement on earth through science.[55]

Through this transformation, the doctrine of the kingdom of God took on a new and different meaning as well. Throughout the Nineteenth century, both in Evangelical and Liberal circles, there was a commonly held belief that God’s kingdom had advanced to the point of eliminating war on earth. After the successful rise of the American Republic, there was in Europe a sentiment toward the same. This sentiment desired an end to the ancient monarchies who comprised one large intermarried family. This extended family used Europe as their own playground for war and profit. And of course, throughout the Middle ages, the Roman church and its Pope were right in the middle of it all. Many Europeans hoped to replace this situation with some form of a democratically run secular government. Liberals blamed war on religious dogmatism such as that of the Reformed Protestant faith. However, in the end, all they got from it were Communism and Fascism, and two world wars in the twentieth century.

Since Liberals viewed the kingdom of God as an entirely earthly realm, they had dreams of a world united through the common goal of brotherly concern for humanity, divorced of religious dogma. This positive outlook on things came to a screeching halt when World War One broke out. Evangelicals had been on the retreat for some time when this happened. Through Woodrow Wilson, a liberal Presbyterian himself, they hoped to use America’s entry into the war to advance the cause of world peace through the propagation of democracy. They envisioned a sort of ecumenical world religion, a one world government and economic system emerging in place of the old order.[56] An attempt at this was made following the war through the development of a world organization known as the League of nations. When this failed and World War Two ensued, the same thing was done afterward in the establishment of the United Nations.

The situation for Evangelicals during this time was bleak. It seemed the Puritan hope had been thoroughly dashed, replaced by a devilish religion of humanism. Many Evangelicals blamed Reformed Christianity for Liberalism itself. They blamed confessional Christianity for being unbiblical and intellectual. In short, historic Christianity took on an aura of dead intellectualism for many who espoused the Christian faith. It was in this circumstance that another new and novel form of Chiliasm entered the church through The Scofield Study Bible,[57] it was called Dispensationalism. In it was found an explanation for the twentieth century tragedy. It was simply this, the age or Dispensation as they referred to it in which the church found itself, was soon to end, a new one would arise in its place.

Many Evangelicals, disillusioned by circumstances, came to attribute the decline of the church to the same sort of apostasy that Amillennialists always believed would happen. But here is the difference, Dispensationalism is Premillennial. It’s hope is in a future kingdom of God on earth just as the Postmillennialism asserts there will be, but it is not one inhabited by Christians. No, Dispensationalists have always expected to be suddenly raptured at any moment from earth, leaving everyone else here to contend with the world government of the antichrist. Following this strange event, the Lord will return and assume His kingdom in a restored Israel, temple and all. In other words, Christians came to expect an impending sudden deliverance from all the troubles they were seeing here on earth. The earthly kingdom they imagined would arise was a renewed Jewish kingdom in Palestine. Hence, we come now full-circle in our study to where we began in the Introduction. Disaster and war in the twentieth century were the perfect opportunity for political Zionism to come into its own, taking possession of a territory owned primarily by others, and establishing itself as God’s kingdom.

Christian Zionism aided and abetted this greatly, through its insistence that the kingdom is not to be found on earth in any present sense, but in the future by Jews in Israel. Imagine the delight Dispensationalists had when Israel became a nation in 1949. To them, the new state of Israel was a fulfilled prophecy, or so it seemed in their minds. Never mind that Israel is a purely secular society that merely tolerates the minority of Orthodox Jews who live there. But Christian Zionism has not been confined to Dispensationalists by any means. It is a philosophy that enjoys support from a broad spectrum of people in the west, both in and outside of the church. Indeed, in modern times, many Post and Amillennial Christians have been led to think of the state of Israel in the Middle East as somehow prophetic fulfillment too. This supposition is based largely on the dictates of so called ‘Christian culture’ without any rational proof from Scripture being offered for it.

Going back to our Introduction, this cultural mind set developed out of a sincere desire to evangelize Jews in the early part of the Nineteenth century. And, as we have already noted, the desire for this has not been confined to any one segment of the Reformed church. Even before the Nineteenth century there was the general opinion among Reformed theologians that Jews in large numbers will some day embrace Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Postmillennialists have tended to believe this true as well, and they have done so based on a futuristic interpretation of Romans 11:25,26. As far back as the Eighteenth century, historic Premillennialism began to reemerge in England among several notable men such as John Gill, Matthew Henry and Isaac Watts. Charles Spurgeon in the Nineteenth century was a historic Premillennialist too. Both Gill and Henry express sentiments in their commentaries on Romans 11:25-27 toward a future large-scale inclusion of Jews in the Christian church. Nineteenth century Postmillennialists such as Charles Hodge and Robert Haldane expressed the same sentiment in their commentaries on the same passage. Today, it is common to hear some prominent Amillennialists echo the same sentiment.

The idea that modern Israel is somehow connected to the hope that God will someday save large numbers of Jews however, just doesn’t add up. The sentiment toward “all Israel” being saved this way lacks one very important thing, that is a specific theological explanation from Scripture for the position. That is, other than an isolated text such as the one in Romans chapter eleven we have been considering. Those who have stated the view that large numbers of Jews will be saved by this text have offered it in complete isolation of any broader biblical support, other than the fact that Israel plays such a prominent role in Scripture history. They, that is, the Jewish people, have been called God’s people, and to them, much has been given. But to connect that to the state of Israel is a long stretch, it ignores the general tenor of Scripture that points away from such a view.

One thing completely ignored from Scripture is how to explain Paul’s words in Romans chapter eleven against everything else he has said in reference to the Old Testament. The Old Testament expectation of the kingdom is that of spiritually renewed people (Ez. 36:24-28). The apostle Paul labors to show the fulfillment of this is in the church, where there is no ethnic distinction to be considered whatsoever (Eph. 2:14-22). But now, according to a futuristic Millenarian interpretation of this one text of Paul’s, we are to believe there will be a reversal of everything he has said, everywhere else in Scripture. Instead of “the Jew first” and then the Gentile, now it is the Gentile first, and then the Jew who is to occupy the kingdom (Rom. 1:16, 2:9,10, 11:25,26). Remember, the words “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” are supposed to mean when God is done with Gentile conversions. Where Paul has interpreted the covenant promise to apply to the church, now we are to believe he contradicts himself in quoting Isaiah by applying it to national Israel (verse 27), all in a future Millennial reign.[58]

One other important thing to consider about current opinion on Israel is the widespread influence Dispensationalism has had on the church in general. Dispensationalism came into vogue at a time when the entire Protestant church was in theological disarray. The Reformed church in particular recovered to some extent, beginning in the 1950’s. Since that time, its success in numbers has come about through the steady decline of Evangelicalism, dominated by Dispensational theology. Large numbers of prominent Reformed theologians and ministers have actually come out of Dispensational churches. Its influence on their thinking can hardly be understated. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this influence is in political support for everything Israel. Without thinking, without any sort of coherent theological system to support it, most Christians in America naturally default toward Zionism, when it comes to world affairs. So this brings us to another important thing to consider about the church and “all Israel” in reference to God’s kingdom, is it earthly or is it spiritual, or is it both?

This question has been asked in the church many times over the last two thousand years. It has often been answered as both. More often than not, the earthly aspect of it has been political. We cite the Holy Roman Empire as the greatest proof of this. When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, and declared it the state religion this seemed like a great triumph for the persecuted church. In reality, this turned out to be a bittersweet blessing. Surely an end to persecution is a blessing. But instead, what the church got from state-sponsored Christianity was the Papacy. Even what was later called the Puritan Hope of a Postmillennial covenant kingdom was nothing but a complete failure in terms of temporal blessing. The Protestant church had numerous state churches erected along this line after the reformation. But now, take a look at where they have gone, and where we are now. The church is in sharp decline in the western world, only five hundred years removed from the start of the reformation.

Surely, when Dispensational Premillennialism began to arise in the church two hundred years ago, it did little to help the matter.[59] The church then was awash with Enlightenment Liberalism. So along came this fantastic notion that God is going to resurrect the nation of Israel in the Middle East, and give it to unbelieving Jews whom this time, will embrace Jesus as the Messiah. Along with this notion came a whole host of other novel theological ideas as well that have done nothing but distract people away from the solid teachings of Scripture. Dispensationalism solved the problem of decline in the church with a new and novel doctrine of the secret rapture. Before Israel reasserts itself in the world, the Lord will simply remove the church, leaving it to them. Two hundred years later, everyone is still waiting.[60] Christian urban myth has come into an ascendency from all this. Today most Christians seem to frame their world view around America and Israel, based on the foolish notions derived from two hundred years of Dispensational influence.

It is interesting to note how much philosophical convergence there exists between what seems to be several different theological positions, that all appear to be in complete discordance with one another. What do we mean by this? Since the seventies in America, we have seen a number of relgio-cultural movements arise in the church such as Dominionism, Theonomy, Federal Visionism, and the Moral Majority. You can add to the list the New Perspectives on Paul Teaching on Justification promoted by N.T. Wright in Britain. These movements all draw from the same philosophical well of God’s kingdom on earth. They all have tried to further some false concept of so called, Judeo-Christian heritage, which is nothing but cultural, political religion.[61] All of these movements and their associated views have one thing in common. They all want the kingdom of God to manifest itself on earth, before the Lord Jesus Christ returns. Some of these views are based on a Postmillennial ideal.

Another interesting, but revealing manifestation of the earthly kingdom philosophy is seen in a fairly new, but increasingly popular theological position called Full Preterism. Preterism, as previously noted, is simply the view that the first coming of Jesus with His subsequent death, resurrection and ascension into heaven have fulfilled Old Testament Prophecy. However, the Christian Church has always expected the Lord to return again someday to bring all things as they exist on earth now to a final conclusion. All Christians have believed in a final judgement and resurrection of the just and the wicked when this occurs. Full or Hyper-Preterists as they are called, believe that all prophecies, including what everyone else expects to happen in the future, have already happened. This occurred in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. They say this was the Lords return, and final resurrection for His people have already occurred. Therefore, this world we now see and live in is the new heaven and earth, it’s already here.[62]

The problem of competing views

The present day in which we live, can only be characterized by a single word or concept, that of the minimalist view of life. From a strictly secular angle, this is a time in which everyone seems to want to join together and sing the song ‘we are the world.’ After all, differences bring disunity, and no one likes that. The church over the last two thousand years has despised differences of thought. History reveals some of the worst persecutions that have occurred are against people calling themselves Christian, from those of the same name. Unbelievers always accuse religious faith of any kind other than pure secularism to be the primary source of all evil in the world. Nevertheless, unless one can defend one’s particular point of view against another, that view dwells in the realm of meaninglessness. Therefore, dogmatism can either be founded on true or false principles. However, unless one vigorously strives to arrive at some sort of truth or true principle in all matters of religion, they can hardly expect that anyone should listen to what they have to say.

The church has a problem today that it did not have five hundred years ago. At that time, there were but three main expressions of Christian faith to be found in the world, other than Roman or Eastern Catholicism. These three churches, all Protestant, can be divided as follows, Lutheran, Calvinistic or Anabaptistic. The first two churches represented most of Protestantism and shared the commonly held Protestant position known as the Five Solas. This is better known as the five main heads of the Christian faith, Scripture alone, Justification by Faith alone, through Christ alone, by Grace alone, all to the glory of God alone. The question of Israel reemerging in some future Millennial kingdom did not even come on the radar. There were differences of view on the Millennial kingdom, as we have duly noted. But there was no country in the world at the time called Israel either, so hence, there was no reason for anyone to concern themselves about it. That has all changed in our present time with the advent of the modern state of Israel.

Today, the church is thoroughly divided over all the fundamental issues of what it means to be a Christian. This includes the matter of God’s kingdom too. It has now come to be a major issue concerning what one thinks about Israel especially if it is not flattering to the Zionist cause. In the spirit of ‘we are the world,’ many Christians have taken the minimalist approach to this as well as many other issues. We see an ecumenical spirit among many so-called Evangelicals that reasons to quote one Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” The result of this has been an incredible amount of theological cross pollination in the church over the course of many years. It seems ironic that virtually all ideas out there at the present about the nature of the kingdom of God tend to be temporally theocratic to one extent or another. To be sure, these are all different ideas and systems of thought. But as the world veers closer and closer toward the apocalyptic vision of one worldism outside the church, inside, these competing factions all have the same goal. They want world wide Christian culture, whether it’s at the end of a sword, or through the gentle persuasion of the ballot box.

Dispensationalism has come along and provided far more than a minimalist approach to the question of the kingdom of God and Israel. It is a complicated, intellectually stultifying system, built on a mountain of presuppositions. Yet, it claims the authority of Gods word! And from what does it base its claim, but a supposed literal interpretation of Scripture? It turns the entire Bible into a study of end time prophesy that focuses primarily upon the ethnic people of the current state of Israel. It minimizes everything the New Testament has to say of the Christian faith, and literally strips the church of what Christ has secured for it at the cross, giving it all to a nation of unrepentant, reprobate Jews. This is truly amazing, but it serves to show one very important thing about the subject of Theology. Anything presented in the Bible left undefined by the church, will someday be confronted with a theological Frankenstein of epic proportions to contend with. This is exactly what has taken place in the modern church.

The Reformed Protestant church has failed among other things, to settle this matter properly and effectively for the world to plainly see. One problem is the seeming acceptance by most Reformed Christians of what can only be termed the ‘Panmillennial’ view of Eschatology. This is the ridiculous notion that because there is a diversity of opinions on these matters, it doesn’t really matter, for after all, it will all pan out in the end. These are some of the same folk who will strain at the gnat of whether it is acceptable to sing uninspired hymns on Sunday, or celebrate the cultural holiday of Christmas. These are not entirely unimportant questions by any means, but neither are the question about “all Israel.” When the Reformed confessions are examined, there’s no definitive statement on the Millenium, other than the two condemnations of Chiliasm previously footnoted.[63] The Savoy Declaration makes a decidedly Posmillennial, but vague reference to “the latter days” when “the Jews” are “called.”[64] None of them really provide much help at all in determining a single unified Reformed view of Israel.

By taking the minimalist approach to these issues through confessional indifference to the Millennial kingdom, it allows Dispensationalists to fill the void with their system. Reformed Christians, through a failure to exegetically define what constitutes “all Israel” within the Covenant kingdom, have allowed them to dominate public opinion and policy concerning the Christian church’s obligation, if there is any, toward Israel. This writer cannot count the number of times that unbelievers have brought up futurist claims about Israel in relation to the ongoing Middle east conflict. What can be said in response to that, do we speak ill of other Christians who err, or, let the error stand? Neither one is favorable option. But letting one extreme sect define popular opinion about the Bible does nothing for the cause of Christ and the gospel in the world.

Today, there seems to be tremendous support among Reformed Calvinists for some sort of earthly Christian rule on earth. This mind set cannot be proved by Scripture without importing kingdom language from the Old Testament into the New Covenant. It fails to see the world is corrupt and unable to be improved toward any redemptive purpose. The Lord coming again to bring a new heaven and earth should be sufficient for any Christian to understand its implications. For this reason, Postmillennialism is guilty of the same fundamental error as Premillennialism, whether it is Dispensational or Covenant. Both ideas fail to understand the true spiritual kingdom as revealed from Scripture, regardless of the fact that it has a visible expression. God’s kingdom has no need nor purpose for control over real estate. Canaan served a redemptive purpose according to a proper historical understanding of Biblical Theology. Now it’s over and done with. Kingdom advance in the world since the first advent of the Savior has not been measured by the same temporal standard as Israel once enjoyed, and lost.

Christian support for the state of Israel

Before bringing this study of “all Israel” to a conclusion in the next chapter, there is one more thing we think is in order to address. We refer to exactly what it is a Christian imbibes in when offering their support to the futurist notion of Israel, thinking it is part of God’s Covenant plan and purpose. It is not a neutral subject. We say this because things are being done in the Middle east in the name of Jesus Christ that amount to the theft of land and violence against its former owners. What is meant by this accusation? There is a tremendous amount of money pouring into the coffers of American politicians that comes directly from the nation of Israel through AIPAC a political action committee committed to its cause. This money, given to influence their vote toward arming and funding the state of Israel against its neighbors, would not be acceptable from anyone else, if not for the political support for it that comes from the Christian church.

There was a time when Israel could be legitimately considered an ally. This was during the cold war, when there was a tremendous amount of covert activity going on in that region, originating from the Soviet Union. Israel, to its credit, seemed to stand with America against this activity, though it is a very socialist friendly country itself. But the cold war is now old news. The money and arms that go to Israel are now being used exclusively to wage war against various groups of people the western press call terrorists. Their aim, and that of Christian Zionism, is in fact, disposed toward the expansion of Israel’s border and influence throughout the region. They could not do this successfully without the support they buy from our elected representatives, nor from the moral support they receive through American public opinion. This agenda is leading increasingly toward what could become another world war. Christians should think long and hard before they carelessly and thoughtlessly give their tacit support for the notion that “all Israel” means a piece of real estate.

The leaders of that nation know full well the amount of support they receive here in America by Christians who are disposed toward their cause. They take full advantage of it as well, even seeking to directly influence American foreign policy through direct appeals to Congress by their leaders.[65] There are two things that Christians ought to consider when they allow themselves to think that “all Israel” means political Israel. First, this is the sin of false religious motivation when supporting something as biblical when it is not. There isn’t a single text of Scripture that lends itself to this notion as what God’s will is for His people. And second, this is the sin of holding opinions based on improper standards of conduct. Zionism is a form of racism, plain and simple. It exalts a particular ethnic group of people, over and against others it vows to dominate. Make no mistake about it, Zionism is a philosophy of ethnic cleansing within its borders, one that it desires to expand.

What do Christian Zionists hope to see accomplished over there? There is a Christian movement currently active that seeks to rebuild a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which they claim belongs in the exact spot where a Mosque currently sits.[66] The Mosque is there because Palestine is a territory in which Muslims have lived since it began as a religion in the sixth century. Since then, Jerusalem has been divided between a Jewish and a Muslim section. Regardless of what anyone thinks of either Islam or Judaism, anyone with an ounce of common sense should know what will happen if this is ever forcibly attempted. Is this what Christians should support? The answer to this is of course, resoundingly no. What will come of this is simply more hatred and bloodshed in that region, which will also translate into hatred against American Christians that support it. God has not promised this land to Jews as a perpetual Covenant. Not only that, this notion acts as a complete distraction from everything Christianity actually stands for.

Notes:

[1] “It has been a standard feature of Christian preaching through the ages that the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 was really God’s decisive punishment of the Jewish people for their rejection of Jesus, who had died around the year 30.” (Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, 2nd edn. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003, pp10-16).

[2] John Owen wrote at length to prove this point. Owen shows from the Targums just how much the Jews of Jesus day and onwards, they should recognize Him as the Messiah. See Works of John Owen Volume 17, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Introduction. Exercitation 9. Promises of the Messiah Vindicated.

[3] See Christian Zionism and the Road to Armageddon, Chapter 2: The Historical Roots of Christian Zionism since 1800, Section 4.2 (p58) John Nelson Darby and the Rise of Dispensationalism (1800-1882). This is a PhD thesis by Rev. Stephen Sizer.

[4] Eschatology Comparison Chart, by Kim Riddlebarger (Excerpted From For He Must Reign: An Introduction to Reformed Eschatology), Historic Premillennialism 1. Distinctive Features and Emphases: a. While often popularly confused with “dispensational premillennialism” with but a mere disagreement as to the timing of the “rapture,” historic premillennialism is, in actuality, a completely different eschatological system, largely rejecting the whole dispensational understanding of redemptive history.

[5] Anti-Nicene Fathers Volume 1, Introductory Note to the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (p7). Philip Schaff (1819-1893) Editor, Published by Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI.

[6] Lectures on the Apocalypse: critical, expository, and practical: delivered before the University of Cambridge. F. & J. Rivington, 1849. pp. 42-77. Lecture I. On the Doctrine of a Millennium – II. What is meant by a thousand years, by Christopher Wordsworth.

[7] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XLIV.—The ordinances of the apostles, that there might be no contention respecting the priestly office (p55). Clement on congregational consent.

[8] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter LIV.—He who is full of love will incur every loss, that peace may be restored to the Church. (p65). Clement on unity.

[9] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XV.—We must adhere to those who cultivate peace, not to those who merely pretend to do so (p25). Regarding God’s covenant.

[10] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XXIII.—Be humble, and believe that Christ will come again (p34).

[11] Ibid. ANF 1, Introductory Note to the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (p7).

[12] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XXIX.—Let us also draw near to God in purity of heart (p40).

[13] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XXXI.—Let us see by what means we may obtain the divine blessing (p42). “For what reason was our father Abraham blessed?”

[14] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XXXI.—Let us see by what means we may obtain the divine blessing (p42). “Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith?”

[15] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XXXII.—We are justified not by our own works, but by faith (p43). “Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.””

[16] Ibid. ANF 1, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XXXIV.—Great is the reward of good works with God. Joined together in harmony, let us implore that reward from Him (p45). “And thus He forewarns us: “Behold, the Lord [cometh], and His reward is before His face, to render to every man according to his work.”

[17] The Kingdom of God in the Jewish Apocryphal Literature: Part 2, George Eldon Ladd.

“Jubilees, like many of the apocalypses, anticipates a period of deep trouble before the inauguration of the blessedness of the kingdom. This became a normal feature in Jewish eschatology and grows out of such Old Testament passages as Isaiah 26:17, Jeremiah 22:23, Daniel 12:1, Hosea 13:13, and Micah 4:9. In later rabbinic theology, these troubles came to be known as the “woes of the Messiah.” 5 If Jubilees was written in the mid-second century B.C., it is possible that the author is describing the evils of his own time and casting the description into an apocalyptic mold, as it was customary for apocalyptists to do. We cannot be certain that this is

the case, but the parallelisms are indeed striking.6 In the times of the Maccabees, there were strong Hellenizing influences among the Jews which led many to forsake the observance of the Law and the practice of their religious customs in favor of Greek ways. This situation is depicted in I Maccabees 1 and II Maccabees 4. The most important element in the evil times to the author of Jubilees is the abandonment of the Law (23:19); this is the reason for the evil character of the times. It was this same apostasy which brought about the Maccabean rebellion.” (P5). Dr. Ladd was a historic Premillenialist who interpreted the Millennium of Revelation twenty literally. He wrote a four part series on Jewish apocryphal literature that seeks to show the legitimacy of his interpretation, which he based on prior Jewish expectations of the kingdom. Ladd claims Jesus spoke in the same sort of apocalyptic manner in Revelation.

[18] Ibid. ANF 1, Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies (p834).

[19] Ibid. Eschatology Chart, Historic Premillennialism 1. Distinctive Features and Emphases: b.

[20] See The Athanasian Creed and the Early Church: Clearly Amillennial, Weren’t the Early Church Fathers Premillennialists? By Martin R. Bachicha (http://www.mountainretreatorg.net).

“In 1976 Alan Patrick Boyd, a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary began a challenging undertaking, writing a masters thesis whose goal was to establish the prophetic faith of the early church fathers. His professor, Dr. Charles Ryrie of Dallas Seminary fame had boldly written “Premillennialism is the historic faith of the Church.” But upon completing his thesis, Boyd concluded the following in response, “It is the conclusion of this thesis that Dr. Ryrie’s statement is historically invalid within the chronological framework of this thesis [apostolic age through Justin Martyr].” [1] (Quoted by Bahnsen and Gentry, p. 235).”[2]

[1] “A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers [Until the Death of Justin Martyr],” unpublished master’s thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977, p. 47), quoted in the web article, “Some Questions and Answers on Eschatology,” by Thomas Albrecht.

[2] House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology, by Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

[21] The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, by Charles C. Ryrie (Neptune, NJ: Loiseaux Brothers, 1953, p17).

[22] Ibid. Lectures on the Apocalypse (Lecture I., Congress and Conference on the Millennium, Note 33, Wordsworth) [33] Euseb. vii. 24, 25. Haec Dionysii narratio (says the learned Gerhard, L. C. xxxii. p. 325) utiliter monere potest, quae fuerit origo erroris Chiliastici, contemptus scilicet Scripturarum, et amor incertarum traditionum. See above, pp. 11, 12, note.

[23] Charles E Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity, 2nd

edition (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001).

[24] “We must remember that Premillennialism too was in almost total eclipse for a thousand years, between the time of Augustine and the Reformation, and that during the Reformation period and for a long time afterward it was held by only a few small sects that were considered quite heretical.” (Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, rev, ed, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, [1957] 1984, 11.)

[25] Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Volume 2, St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian

Doctrine, City of God, Book XX. Of the last judgment, and the declarations regarding it in the Old and New Testaments, Chapter 7.—What is Written in the Revelation of John Regarding the Two Resurrections, and the Thousand Years, and What May Reasonably Be Held on These Points (p972). Philip Schaff (1819-1893) Editor, Published by Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI.

[26] Regenerate, as well as unregenerate Jews did not always have a right understanding of the Old Testament Scripture. For example, Jesus constantly corrected His disciples in many areas of their understanding (Matt. 16:21-23; Mark 13:1-13; John 14:5-9; Luke 24:13-27; Acts 1:6,7). Jesus had corrected Nicodemus’ understanding of the kingdom (John 3:5). The Jews had varying views of the afterlife, as seen in the argument on this point between the Sadducees and the Pharisees (Matt. 22:23-33).

[27] Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism, Modern Reformation, Jan/Feb 1996, p. 16, by Charles E. Hill.

[28] Augustine on Revelation 20: A Root of Amillennialism. An article that appeared in the Foundations Journal, number 65 in Autumn of 2013 by David McKay. He is a Professor of Systematic Theology, Ethics and Apologetics at the Reformed Theological College, Belfast, and minister of Shaftesbury Square Reformed Presbyterian Church in the centre of Belfast.

[29] “The Space of Six Days”:The Days of Creation From Origen to the Westminster Assembly, WTJ 61 (1999) 149-74, by Robert Letham, Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

[30] The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament, C. Typology in the Life of the Church, 1. Typology in the Early Church (p5) by G.R. Schmeling.

[31] Millennialism and the Early Church Councils: Was Chiliasm Condemned at Constantinople? Christology not Chiliasm Condemned (p5). Fides et Historia 36:2 (Summer/Fall 2004):83-95, by Francis X. Gumerlock, Saint Louis University. Language on the final judgement in the second Nicene creed, can be taken as a statement against Chilism, but it did not seem to be the substance of the debate in the council, which was concerned with the nature of Christ.

[32] Ibid. Claims Concerning the Council of Constantinople (p4).

[33] A Present or Future Millennium? by Kim Riddlebarger, Pastor of Christ Reformed Church in

Placentia, California.

[34] Ibid. NPNF 2, City of God, Book XX. Chapter 7 (p972).

[35] Ibid. Augustine on Revelation 20.

[36] The Reformed Creeds all view the Pope as the antichrist.

[37] An extreme variation of Hyperpreterism developed long after the reformation was in place. It is the belief that everything pertaining to the full manifestation of the eternal kingdom has already taken place. They claim this occurred in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed. Hyperpreterists deny the resurrection and a literal return of Jesus Christ. To them, it is all supposed to be interpreted figuratively, not literally.

[38] The three commonly used terms today to describe ones position on Revelation Twenty, the Amillennial, Postmillennial, and Pre-Millenial views, are fairly recent. These terms were coined around the turn of the twentieth century.

[39] Ibid. NPNF 2, City of God, Book XX. Chapter 7 (p973).

[40] See The Reformation’s Repudiation of Chiliasm, by Prof. Russell J. Dykstra. Prof. Dykstra is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

(http://www.mountainretreatorg.net).

[41] The Augsburg Confession (1530), Article XVII: Of Christ’s Return to Judgment.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

5] They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

[42] The Second Helvetic Confession (1566), CHAPTER XI Of Jesus Christ, True God and Man,

the Only Savior of the World, THE SECTS. (p21). “We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt., chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different.”

[43] See an article entitled The Protestant Reformers Readings of Romans 9-11, with Modern Critical Response’ by Galen Johnson in the Quodlibet Journal: Volume 6 Number 1, January – March 2004. Although we do not agree with the author’s criticism of the Reformed interpretation, nevertheless, it is properly stated in the article.

[44] Ibid. p. 8.

[45] Sermons of Martin Luther: The Church Postils, vol. 8, Sermons on Epistle Texts for Trinity Sunday to Advent, ed. John Nicholas Lenker (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), p17.

[46] Luther’s Works, Vol. 25, Lectures on Romans p. 429.

[47] Calvin’s Commentary on Romans p. 273.

[48] This is the context in which Luther’s treatise entitled The Lies of the Jews was writen. It is often called an expression of anti-semiticism against the Jewish people. However, if one reads it, it is obvious that Luther is reacting in his usual bombastic way to their hatred against Jesus Christ. This followed many overtures that were made to them by the reformers to believe in the gospel.

[49] The council of Trent (1545-1563) officially stated the Roman Catholic position on the most important doctrines concerning salvation, in order to anathematize Protestants. John Calvin had previously argued in his Institutes that the church’s historic doctrine was sound, though corrupted over many years by various errors. But once these errors were codified at Trent, there was no mistaking the fact that reform would not come to the Roman church, it was essentially an apostate organization.

[50] Nature and Grace: Selections from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, General Introduction (p17). “Aquinas sought to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with the principles of Christianity.” (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library).

[51] The Puritan Hope – Revival and the interpretation of prophecy, by Iain Murray (Banner

of Truth). Murray’s particular brand of Postmillennialism expects the Latter Day Glory to be realized through a series of successive revivals throughout the world.

[52] 35. Erastians (A Theological Dictionary, Charles Buck, Woodward Edition 1825, p167).

So called from Erastus, a German divine of the 16th century. The pastoral office, according to him, was only persuasive, like a professor of science over his students, without any power of the keys annexed. The Lord’s supper and other ordinances of the Gospel were to be free and open to all. The minister might dissuade the vicious and unqualified from the communion; but might not refuse it, or inflict any kind of censure; the punishment of all offences, either of a civil or religious nature, being referred to the civil magistrate.

[53] Enlightenment Liberalism was humanistic. It did and does not believe in the supernatural intervention of God in the affairs of men. So they failed to see or believe in what the Bible teaches about sin and evil, that it is the sad condition of humans, and that it alone accounts for all suffering in the world. Likewise, humanism believes in the perfectability of man in his own strength, guided by the relativism of rational moral principles. For this reason, Enlightenment Liberalism discounted the Bible’s teaching about the necessity of a suffering Savior in Jesus Christ. Instead, they viewed Jesus in a merely historical manner, as a teacher of morality. This philosophy crept into Puritan America as early as the late seventeenth century and gave rise to many of New England’s churches becoming Unitarian. Harvard University was established (date) by the Puritans in order to train men for the ministry. However, by 1710 the Enlightenment philosophy of John Locke was being taught at Harvard.

[54] An Essay on the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening, by J. Parnell McCarter. (http://www.puritans.net).

[55] See Christianity & Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen (1923)

[56] See The New World Order, by Samuel Zane Batten (1919)

[57] See The Incredible Scofield and His Book, by Joseph M. Canfield (1988)

[58] See The Puritan Illusion, Pt 2, The Only Rule of Interpretation, by Charles D. Alexander. This is a critical review of Iain Murray’s book, The Puritan Hope. Murray presents the Postmillennial view of the Puritans, along with the general consensus that “all Israel” will be saved means all Jews someday according to the apostle Paul. However, he does this without showing any exegesis of the text in order to prove the assersion he makes, that the present state of Israel is the fulfillment of it.

[59] See A Historical Sketch Of The Brethren Movement, Chapter One The Beginning Of The Movement, by H A Ironside (1941). John Nelson Darby’s Plymouth Brethren from where Dispensationalism originates, was a reform movement in the church of England. Its original goal was to restore the church to its apostolic quality, completely apart from the political institution it had become.

[60] The secular public has been thouroughly entertained with the writings of Hal Lindsey, John Walvoord, and Tim LaHaye who have given us the exact details surrounding the Lord’s secret rapture. Lindsey gave us the date in his book entitled ‘The Late Great Planet Earth.’ He has since the time it was first published, been forced to move the date forward, due to the fact that he was incorrect. Since the time Lindsey’s book was first published, Reformed folk have found themselves subjected to the same thing by Harold Camping, who has predicted the date the world would end at least twice. Such novelties have done nothing but encourage skepticism by an already unbelieving public against the Christian faith.

[61] The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ was coined after World War Two to describe the God and religion of America and Britain, over and against Atheistic Communism which was spreading throughout the world. It is simply an ecumenical term that obliterates doctrinal distinctions.

[62] The Parousia – The New Testament Doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming, by James Stuart Russell (published by The International Preterist Association, 122 Seaward Ave., Bradford, Penn. 16701 USA). This novel and equally heretical view developed primarily in the later part of the Nineteenth century in direct reaction to Dispensationalism.

[63] Ibid. The Augsburg and Second Helvetic Confessions.

[64] The Savoy Declaration of Faith, Chapter XXVI: Of the Church, Paragraph 5.

[65] Benjamin Netanyahu, being furious over the normalization of relations with Iran, directly addressed the American Congress requesting they thwart it for Israel’s benefit. He did this by presenting false and unsubstantiated accusations, in order to terrify them and the American people against any attempt at arriving at an agreement, one that doesn’t square with a Zionist agenda. We refer to the International Atomic Energy Agency that oversees the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Iran is a signer of this treaty and has consistently allowed inspectors to verify their adherence to the requirements of the treaty. In spite of this, a propaganda campaign of lies about this floods the media airwaves in America.

[66] See The Rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Christian Zionism, by Rev. Stephen Sizer.

 

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