Monday, December 02, 2002

Historic Premillennialism

There is a somewhat forgotten child in the millennial debates: historic premillennialism. This eschatology shares many features with its more famous competitor: dispensational premillennialism. In particular, the basic chronology is very similar:

  • The present age will end under deteriorating social conditions.
  • The antichrist will make his appearance on the world scene.
  • There will be a tribulation period.
  • The tribulation will end with Christ’s return, where the antichrist is judged, and the righteous are resurrected.
  • Satan will be bound, and an earthly millennial kingdom, ruled by Christ, will be established. This will be an unprecedented time of peace on earth.
  • At the end of the millennial kingdom Satan will be loosed. There will be a brief rebellion that will be crushed. This is followed by a general resurrection the eternal state.

The main eschatological difference, as we will discuss, is the question of when the rapture occurs relative to the great tribulation.

However, before looking into that, it is worth noting that the differences under the hood are far more important and substantive than differences in end-time chronology. Unlike dispensationalists, historic pre-mills generally do consider the church to be the new Israel, and see many Old Testament promises as being fulfilled in her. They do not view the church as a parenthesis interrupting God’s plan for the Jews. As such, they envision the (earthly) millennial kingdom much differently; as Christ reigning over a spiritual kingdom of righteous believers rather than a type of Jewish theocracy that more characterizes the dispensationalist’s perspective.

There is a well established trend in evangelical academic circles to move away from classic dispensationalism. Many of those "dropouts" are adopting historic premillennialism. This may be resulting in what is detectable-- but still too early to declare as an absolute: that dispensationalism has reached its acme, not just in the seminaries but also in the pews. It will take at least another decade to see if the trend is real or just a perturbation.

When is the rapture?

The main superficial differences between the two premillennial views comes in the timing of the rapture and its nature. Almost all dispensational pre-mills look for a pretribulational rapture, whereby believers are taken away, off to enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, while the earth endures the seven year tribulation. For the historic pre-mills, the rapture, which takes place after the tribulation (which may or may not have been seven years) is viewed more as a welcoming party sent to greet the king outside the gates, and escort him back to establish the millennial earthly kingdom.

Thus the dispensational pre-mills see the church as being spared from the tribulation, while the historic pre-mills claim the church will be present during the tribulation, but will be spared the brunt of it. (Rev 3:10, 7:15).

Historic pre-mills make this claim: Some of the Parousia texts obviously place the second coming after the rapture. None "obviously"place it before. The rest are neutral. The shoe-horning of the rapture in front of the tribulation is done, so they claim, to accommodate the dispensationalist’s view of God’s desire to return His attention to the ethnic Jews.

One passage used to support a post-tribulation rapture is from the Olivet discourse:
21For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again. 22If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (Matt. 24:21-22, NIV)

The historic and dispensational pre-mills have different "glorious" hopes: The dispensationalists looks for the rapture to whisk away the faithful in glory and spare them of the tribulation. The historic pre-mill looks to the second coming to end the tribulation and initiate the millennial kingdom.

Now don’t shoot me about any of this, I’m just the messenger. I don’t agree with either position!

And yes, I know, there are also those pesky mid-tribulation rapture types…

No comments:

Post a Comment