As I sat down to write more about the subject of pre-millennialism, I asked my husband how he remembers this and that. So he’s handed me several books on the subject of prophecy. About a weeks’ worth of reading. 🙂 Prophecy is so complex and so much could be written, but I’d really like to keep this simple for those of you who are interested in reading it.
Let’s start in the dim distant past….
The Dormant Pre-millennial Doctrine Starts to Grow
According to Dave MacPherson in his book, The Incredible Cover-Up – © 1975 by Logos International – there was some pre-millennial thinking in the US colonies before 1830. It did rise somewhat during the mid-1800s with currents blowing in from a mini charismatic revival in Scotland and England, together with J N Darby’s teachings. It really began to take hold during the Civil War and by the 1870s folks were starting to say this was the only biblical understanding of the end times.
John Nelson Darby has had a huge impact on evangelical thinking in various ways. Born in 1800, Darby became a priest in the church of England in 1826, but after a time was burdened about the dissatisfaction he felt in his own Christian life. He had an experience where he came to understand that salvation can never be earned; it comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Feeling like he’d been cleansed and set free, he began an attack on the Church of England for not guiding him aright.
According to Frank’s book, Christians of that era – especially in the US – were upbeat, seeing the Christian church as an army “marching forth triumphantly to spread the gospel and inaugurate the millenium.” As in the song, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Evangelicals were right ready to trample those grapes of wrath: slavery, booze, and whatever other sins they saw as drawbacks to the coming kingdom.
Jesus said, “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.“ Matt 16:18
Darby disagreed. “The church is in ruins,” he said. The established church was broken beyond repair and believers who wanted to carry on the true Christian faith should abandon churches and assemble as small groups of believers without a formal organization or title. Calling themselves “Christians gathered in the name of the Lord,” the group has become known as the Plymouth Brethren.
The Church As the Spiritual Successor to Israel
This was a commonly accepted belief prior to Darby’s time. Pre-, Post- and A-millennialists were agreed: Israel ceased to be God’s people when they rejected Christ and the Church became the spiritual successor of Israel. Theologians and preachers taught that all believers are now the people of God, both Jews and gentiles. As the Apostle Paul writes:
“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Colossians 3: 11-14
Darby nixed this belief, too. Rather, he claimed that the Christian church is God’s heavenly kingdom and Israel is still God’s earthly people. Even though the Jews were unfaithful in keeping the laws of Moses, Darby said, God will still follow through with his promise to make Israel a great nation. Someday. We just need to understand the time frame for this.
“The Only Credible Explanation of Scripture”
Analyzing and “rightly dividing” he came up with the doctrine of dispensationalism. This doctrine divides history into six different eras, or dispensations. The Bible, to scholars who embraced his ideas, became like a jigsaw puzzle with various verses neatly divided and reconstructed into “easy-to-understand” eras. My grasp is hazy; a real Bible scholar who follows Darby’s thinking wold have this down pat.
The time of Adam & Eve and their descendants is one; the time of Noah and his ark is another; The Israelites of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob’s time is another. When Israel settled in the Promised Land and became a country is another. I think Jesus time on earth is part of that era, but then we have the Gospel era – the time since Christ – which, according to these teachers, is an interruption of God’s plan. The future “Thousand Year Reign of Christ on earth” is counted as another. I may not have these all as they are taught today, but you get the general idea.
Here in North America a theologian, minister, and writer named Cyrus I Scofield caught the vision of dispensationalism. He felt it was the only credible explanation for many Bible passages and set about to publish it. His annotated Scofield Reference Bible, with its explanations and cross references, became a best-seller and dispensationalism was widely accepted by evangelicals in North America.
The Rapture: Secret or Open?
Will cars crash, planes fall from the sky, teachers, workers, students disappear in a poof? According to the “secret rapture” thinking, Yes. According to other interpretations of prophecy, No. When Jesus returns to this earth, everyone will know it.
The a-millennial view has been that when Jesus returns in the clouds, the archangel will sound the trumpet and all Jesus children will be gathered up to glory with him. The Rapture will be a one-time thing, open for all to see. At that time the earth and the sea will give up their dead and those responsible for crucifying him “Will look upon him whom they have pierced.” Those who have rejected him will be so dismayed and afraid, they will, “will cry to the rocks and the hill to cover them” from his face.
As to the “time of great tribulation” foretold by Jesus, that mainly took place at the destruction of Jerusalem. The Christians of that day did forsake the city, as Jesus warned them to, when they saw the Roman army gathering around it. (To some extent this tribulation has been going on since, as Christians have been persecuted and many still are.)
The post-millennial idea is much the same. When Jesus comes back “every eye shall see him.” They understand from various scriptures that he will return to earth at the end of a period of great tribulation (which is going on now) and set up his kingdom, but they say it’s the church herself that will usher in this millennium of peace. As I said in an early post, that theory has about disappeared.
The Pre-Millennial Theory: Four Different Camps
According to Dave MacPherson, there are four positions re: the millennium to come:
— those who espouse the “pretrib” theory say there will be a secret Rapture where all Christians drawn up from the earth to meet Jesus before the time of tribulation comes, so that no Christians need to suffer through the natural disasters and war that will befall this earth.
— those who think “mid-trib” see the Rapture coming somewhere in the middle of these seven years of tribulation.
— Those who espouse the “post-trib” theory sees the Rapture as coming at the end of the seven years of tribulation
— partial rapturists who believe there will be more than one Rapture, which may occur at several points before/during/after the time of tribulation.
“Pre-trib rapture” was unheard of before Darby visited a fifteen-year old Scottish girl who, in 1830, had a vision about Jesus’ return. From her vision of a select group of Christians being carried away secretly, Darby built his “pretrib” teaching. According to Douglas Frank, Darby came to North American seven times between 1862 and 1877 to share his doctrinal system with evangelicals and it caught on. Christians were glad to hear that they’d be removed before the coming woes.
Back home in England, any of his fellow Plymouth Brethren who didn’t agree with him over these doctrines were threatened with excommunication and eternal punishment. For all that, over the years the Plymouth Brethren have had various schisms resulting in PB 2, PB 3, PB 4, etc. We once met a couple from Plymouth Brethren Four, and that was a very strict group. For one thing, services every evening — and you’d better be there!
Dave MacPherson, a preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid, grew up hearing prophecy discussed. However, he found that Bible teachers weren’t very open to viewpoints other than their own:
“In my Bible institute days I learned the hard way that there are sharply disagreeing schools of prophetic interpretation. I would discuss prophecy at various times with other students and bring up viewpoints differing in detail from the school’s official position.
This finally resulted in my dismissal.”
Did Jesus Fail to Establish the Kingdom God Intended?
Some of this premillennial thinking is built on the idea that Jesus planned to set up the kingdom, but when he was rejected, that plan was scrapped.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” applied to Jesus first visit to Earth.
But… “He came unto his own, and his own received him not…”
So, according to pre-millennial thinking, when the Jewish nation rejected Jesus and had him done away with, he went back up to heaven and Plan B kicked in. Or was Plan B always the real plan because God knew Jesus would be rejected? Depends on the Bible scholar that’s teaching this.
Plan B – which again varies according to who’s explaining it – is that Jesus will return twice – or maybe three times before his work on earth is finished. He’ll come for his church (secretly or not, once or twice.) Seven years of severe tribulation will befall the earth. Then he will come again openly, bringing all the saints with him, and set up his headquarters in Jerusalem. He and his saints will rule over all the earth. Israel will be a great nation again. All the people of earth will obey him.
In 1919 J.C. Masee wrote:
“I am not looking for an immediate residence in Heaven. I expect to be there only a little time and then I am coming back with him to live in a redeemed earth, and rule here with him in the earth. I would regret to believe that I would have to spend my thousand years in heaven. The reward of the saints is to have the privilege of coming back with Jesus to reign here over the nations with him.
(Philadelphia School of the Bible)
At the end of the thousand-year reign (the Millenium), there will be a major satanic-led rebellion and Jesus will totally crush this. Then will come the great Judgment Day. This present earth and heaven will pass away; in a new heaven and earth Jesus will take his rightful throne and “the government will be on his shoulders and his kingdom will be an everlasting one.”
For Lo! The Kingdom of God is Within You.
As you can guess, I don’t accept the pre-millennial thinking of our day, nor do I put a lot of faith in prophetic speculation as a whole. I’m far more concerned with TODAY. What will come, will come. I believe many Christians feel somewhat the same: it’s interesting to speculate, but so many verses can be understood in different ways, literal or figurative. The most important thing is, “What do I need to know to live my Christian life today?
And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. – Ezekiel 36: 27