Why I am a premillennialist (and you should be, too)

Why I am a premillennialist (and you should be, too) September 14, 2010

Okay, I admit it.  The “you should be, too” part was just to get you to read this.  I don’t have any axe to grind about this and I’m not on a crusade to convert amils or postmils (are there any?) to historic premillennialism.  I admit that I would like to persuade dispensationalist premils to consider historic premillennialism as an alternative to “Left Behind” eschatology.

Recently a book about historic premillennialism was published entitled The Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology.  One of the editors is highly respected evangelical New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary).  I recommend it highly.

I was raised on the footnotes in the Scofield Reference Bible and on Clarence Larkin’s eschatology charts.  (I know; those references make me “old school!”)  Then, while in Bible College, I took courses on “Daniel and Revelation” and other books of the Bible and subjects that, according to my professors, pointed directly to a pretrib rapture of the church.  But I had trouble finding that in my Bible!

When I was first considering theology as a career I asked one of my beloved professors to recommend a good theology book for me to read.  He recommended and I bought Dwight Pentecost’s (Dallas Theological Seminary) Things to Come.  I read it thoroughly and couldn’t understand it.  The words were clear; it was the argument that I found murky at best.  (Pentecost was, of course, a champion of dispensationalism and pre-trib rapture eschatology.)  I agreed with the premillennialism as I found that solidly grounded in Scripture and early Christian history.  But the arguments for a pretrib rapture just no longer convinced me.

I have never given up on the premillennialism of my youth, however.  Under the influence of theologians and New Testament scholars such as George Eldon Ladd and Robert Gundry I discarded pretrib rapturism but kept premillennialism because it seems the only view that can make sense of all the OT references to a Kingdom of God on earth before the new heaven and new earth.  I won’t go into all of that here but only recommend that doubters read the new book or Ladd’s or Gundry’s excellent books on the subject.

Also, read the early church fathers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian–all premillennialists without any idea of a secret rapture.  It seems to me that IF premillennialism was not the teaching of the apostles Ireneaus, for example, would have known that.  (He studied Christianity under Polycarp who was a disciple of John’s.)  It was the Alexandrians (known for their allegorical approach to interpretation) and Augustine (known for his neo-Platonism) who changed to amillennialism.

While in seminary I encountered the argument that premillennialism undermines social ethics–concern for this world.  People alleged that it is inherently otherworldy.  That never made sense to me.  If I envision a Kingdom of God on earth, ruled over by Jesus Christ himself, in which poverty, sickness, injustice, violence, etc., will be abolished, how can I be comfortable with those things now?  A vision of the earthly millennium (incomplete as it may be) propels me to protest against those things now that stand in stark contrast to that.

German theologian Juergen Moltmann is this kind of premillennialist.  (I have talked with him about it.  He affirmed to me that he is a premillennialist.)  He argues for Christians being in the forefront of social transformation and environmentalism because of the revelation of the coming Kingdom on earth.  I recommend his book The Coming of God.

I continually run into people, especially in the South, who think that fundamentalists have a monopoly on premillennialism.  They are ignorant of historic premillennialists such as Ladd.  They need to read the new book The Case for Historic Premillenialism.

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  • thanks for that.
    do you think you would have been less likely to arrive at those conclusions if you hadn’t been brought up dispensationalist to start with?

  • Having held to premillenialism (post-trib) for many years, I find myself increasingly being swayed by the arguments for partial preterism. It seems that nearly all of the Olivet Discourse can easily be interpreted as Jesus’ prophecy of the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, as can many of the OT prophecies. Revelation, too can be read through the interpretive lense of partial preterism, although I will concede that Revelation causes more problems for the preterist view than do the other prophecies. I think that interpreting Revelation depends a lot on the dating of when it was written.

    The book that you recommended sounds interesting, but is it not simply a polemic against Dispensationalism? I would like to find a book that engages the partial preterist view and shows it’s weaknesses as that is where I feel that the argument is shaping up to be. Although there are plenty of rapture-ready Dispensationists still around, I feel that the view is on the decline and will stay that way.

    Perhaps the reason for the increase of interest in partial preterism is the writings of N.T. Wright and others, or perhaps it is because many have found the flaws in Dispensationalism in general and the pre-trib rapture in particular. Or perhaps it is simply because so many have heard the failed date-settings for so long that they have grown weary of premillenialism and want to discard the view completely. I personally think that it is a combination of all of those factors.

    Still, there are many questions that the partial preterists have yet to fully answer for me, not the least is how precisely to explain the reconstitution of Israel as a nation last century along with a handful or prophecies that the partial preterists do not seem to answer for adequately.

    What are your views on partial preterism, and do you know of any good books that completely engage preterism from a premillenial viewpoint.

    • Vance

      Randy, I concluded a long time ago, after years of studying these issues, that there are truths in both futurism and preterism, and that it need not be one or the other. An example is the Olivet Prophecy. It seems clear that the “great tribulation” Jesus said would befall Jerusalem and Judea happened in A.D. 66-70. The preterists make a powerful argument for this. However, they have to strain awfully hard to make Jesus’ statements about His coming and sending forth angels to gather the elect refer to an invisible “coming in judgment” (or “coming” to the Ancient of Days–i.e., the Ascension) and a sending out of preachers to gather the elect through proclaiming the gospel. I think an either/or approach will ultimately lead to misinterpretation of the text.

  • Vance

    I read The Case for Historic Premillennialism shortly after it came out and was not disappointed. Blomberg’s contribution alone is worth way more than the price of the book.

    Too many people think of ideas popularized by The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series when they hear the term “premillennialism.” Hopefully, this book will help more people realize that belief in a future millennial reign of Christ on this earth is not the exclusive property of today’s popular dispensationalism or of fundamentalism.

  • Clay Knick

    Great post, Roger! I’m a panmillenialist! 🙂

    Ladd was a big influence on me in theological school. I’m going to get that book.

  • I discarded pretrib rapturism but kept premillennialism because it seems the only view that can make sense of all the OT references to a Kingdom of God on earth before the new heaven and new earth.

    We have to be careful to not read any OT reference about the kingdom of God, or any issue, without viewing it through the lens of the coming of Christ, the coming of the kingdom of God via Christ and the establishing of the new covenant. I believe we will fail to understand OT prophets and words if we now read them apart from the fuller revelation of Christ and the NT.

  • As an editor of the book ‘A Case for Historic Premillennialism’, I greatly appreciate your commendations.

    • I should have mentioned you as co-editor with Craig Blomberg. Thank you for adding your message here. It’s a very good book and timely, too.

  • As an editor of the book, A Case for Historic Premillennialism, I greatly appreciate your commendations.

  • S.D. Parker

    …Or maybe since Jesus was what has been titularly called a millenarian prophet, his immediate subsequent disciples were led to appropriate the notion of an imminent apocalypse into their writings? *shrugs*

  • Garrett League

    I experienced the same epiphany not too long ago: “Wait, where’s this pre-trib rapture stuff in the bible? Heard lots about it but can’t find a verse. Oh, there isn’t one? Huh, guess I should have double checked that one a long time ago!” Now I’m amil. But like Dr. Olson, I’ve got no beef w/ other views, like historic premil. Dispensational premil, ok, that needs a response. Laddian premils are fine by me; we agree on so much (relatively speaking!).

  • Charles Billups

    Mr. Olson, If you would allow me to call you Dr. Olson, not by the world’s standards, but by tending to the ailments of misinterpretation of scripture. For me being exposed to historic premillennialism after being “Left Behind” by the pretrib theology of “babylon” (confusion) is refreshingly sensible. There is a staunch difference between “tribulation” and “wrath of. God.” First of all let us be reminded that God is not the author of confusion. We are all over the place in our interpretation of scripture.
    We serve a complex God who understands that we only understand simple things; that’s why The Lord spoke to us in parables.

    1. The plan from the very beginning was so that God and man would dwell in could have fellowship one with another here on earth
    2. Adam failed over some fruit, so God started over
    3. Noah failed over some fruit (got drunk)
    4. Jacob (which means “trickster”) lies to his father; says his name is Esau in order to steal a birth right that wasn’t rightfully his
    5. Jacob wrestles with The Angel of the Lord, and when The Angel of the Lord asked Him his name; he didn’t lie and say Esau, but he confessed and said I’m Jacob (a trickster) the God changed his name to Israel which means “Victory With God” ( a type of confession, and repentance unto salvation).
    6. Israel has children, and becomes a nation
    7. The nation fails and ultimately rejects Christ.
    8. Christ fulfills the task that Adam, Noah, and the Nation of Israel could not complete (Making it possible for man to be reconciled with God)
    9. Christ establishes the Church to invite sinners into the Kingdom
    10. The devil makes war with the saints through tribulation
    God decides enough is enough and consumes many with the brightness of his coming
    11. The Chuch Is caught up into Heaven, because of God’s wrath uponb theEarth ( for we are not appointed unto wrath)
    12. The God continues with his plans of having His dwelling with man in a new Earth, and a New Jerusalem.

  • Kris Battles

    I came to be what I later found out to be an “Historical Premillennialist” after years of study, having been heavily influenced and weaned on the “Late Great Planet Earth” type books of Midwestern American Evangelicalism…! I thought I was strange, or that I must be the only one, as all of my Christian friends were “Pre-Tribbers”, until my pastor gave a great sermon on the different millennial views. I then said, “AHA! That’s what I am!…”

    Thanks for arguing for the historical premillennial view..

  • Philip Harris

    I know this is an old post but have you read “The Approaching Advent of Christ” by Alexander Reese. I have read Ladd’s “The Blessed Hope” and was wondering how they compare.

    • rogereolson

      I haven’t read it.

  • Glenn loewen

    I have both Ladd’s “The Blessed Hope”, and Bloomberg’s book….I much prefer Ladd’s.
    To me it seems there is a rise toward “restorative eschatology”; or simply put; post-millennialism.
    This one stuns me a little, especially in the contest of our increasingly decadent and spiraling Western culture.
    When I visited some of our Chinese brothers and sisters in China after the shocker earthquake a few years back, 2 of them spoke freely of this in the context of God’s judgment. “Judgment” a very sober word, which preachers in my community seem to be recoiling at and dismissing….As a pastor, I feel alone with my convictions here in my city.

  • As a Brit and prof of NT, I say amen to the absolutely distinguished work of Ladd and Gundry, and I thoroughly recommend that everyone read the finest classic of all on this subject. Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ. No one could remain, I think, other than a convinced classical Premill, and futurist (f0r the 70th week) after reading Reese. The partial preterist view of Matt. 24 fails, I am sure, on the easy fact that the Parousia will happen “immediately after” (Matt. 24:29) the great trilbulaion. Is any one prepared to imagine a Gt Tribulation which began in 70 AD and has been going on continuously for nearly 2000 years! Mark says that the days of the Gt Tribulaion are days when it will impossibly hard for pregnant women! That is certainly not true of a period of nearly 2000 years! My own book is “Our Fathers Who Aren’t in Heaven.” Thank God that peace is coming to our torured earth. The Hal Lindsey Pre-Trib theory is completed unsupported, I think.

  • Michael Read

    Professor Anthony Buzzard (a convinced classical Premill, and futurist) says that: “the Parousia will happen “immediately after” (Matt. 24:29) the great trilbulaion.” This is a greater error than his spelling of “tribulation.”
    For Mt.24:30 is NOT the Parousia, but refers to Mt.26:64 where Jesus said unto the high priest: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

    Obviously the “coming” of Mt.24:30 and that of Mt.26:64 are one and the same event and must have occurred within the lifetime of the high priest and
    therefore cannot be the Parousia, but must refer to the “great tribulation”
    (Mt.24:21) that befell the inhabitants of Jerusalem when the Lord Jesus “sent
    forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city”
    (Mt.22:7) in 70 A.D.