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Premillennialism

Do you look forward to a day when Jesus is ruling from the mountain of the Lord and the animal kingdom will be at rest?

We would expect the Reformers to buck the trend. Surely Sola Scriptura was going to suggest a literal interpretation of Revelation 20 and a return to premillennialism, the literal understanding of a 1,000 year reign after Christ's Second Coming? Wrong! Martin Luther, John Calvin and the theologians of the Anglican Church felt they had no reason to go against Augustine and his amillennialism.

Martin Luther had very negative feelings about the Book of Revelation and stated in his Preface to the book that "it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic. Christ is neither taught nor known in it" (although he eventually changed his mind and rewrote his Preface). It was also the only Bible book that John Calvin didn't write a commentary for. This is very curious, particularly in the light of the verse near the head of this chapter:

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

What was going on here with the Reformers? Were other forces at work here? Why did they so readily continue with many of the views of Augustine, such as amillennialism, which were so blatantly influenced by pagan philosophy? John Calvin was so negative about premillennialists, that he wrote the following:

Now their fiction is too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation. (Institutes, 3. 25. 5)

As a result of these opinions, the major Protestant denominations rejected premillennialism. But read on ...

The Lutherans, in the Augsburg Confession of Faith in 1530, state:

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. (Article XVII)

The Reformed Second Helvetic Confession of 1562 states:

We also do reject the Jewish dream of a millennium, or golden age on earth, before the last judgment.

The 41st (of 42) article of the Church of England originally described premillennialism as a fable of Jewish dotage.

Where do the Jews come into all this? Why had premillennialism been rejected by the Reformers on the basis of Jewish interest? Surely the Jews of the day had no influence in the Church, they were too busy being persecuted and reviled. What is the Jewish connection with premillennialism? Actually there is a definite Jewish connection in later forms of premillennialism, but these will be talked about in a later article. So as not to confuse the two, the form of this doctrine present at the time of the Reformers is known as historic premillennialism.

There is a Jewish connection to historic premillennialism. It's called the Bible. As the chief feature of this doctrine at the time of the Reformers is the literal 1000 year reign of Christ on the Earth, this is what they deemed a bit Jewish and hence to be rejected. Here are just two Old Testament passages that probably gave them difficulties over this:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths."

The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Do you see this figuratively or literally? A premillennialist would look forward to a day when Jesus is ruling from the mountain of the Lord and the animal kingdom will be at rest. An amillennialist would see this all as figurative language.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)

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