In recent days, Matt Svoboda has posted two essays at this site explaining why he has adopted Amillennialism and the problems he has with premillennialism. I was away at a speaking engagement and did not have either the time or the internet access to engage the discussion. So, I thought that I would write a response to Matt’s post and deal point-by-point with his assertions about premillennialism.
Matt and I harass each other a lot about eschatology. Frankly, I think he is jealous of me! Neither of us believes that these issues are fundamental to our faith. We agree that those who love Jesus and his Word can disagree about last things without compromising that faith or without breaking fellowship with one another.
Within those limits, though, we can confront one another sharply on these issues. Matt’s posts and the comment streams that followed were not gentle on those of us who hold to premillennialism, especially dispensationalists like me. This post will deal directly with the arguments and assertions Matt made. We will argue directly. But anytime Matt is willing, I will take him back out on the golf course and beat him handily!
- I am going to use the points in Matt’s posts as the framework for this response. He makes five key points in the first post, and four in the second. (Actually, as it turns out, I will deal with the five points made in the Amillennialism post in this essay, then follow up with part two later and deal with Matt’s Premillennialism post.
- My key purpose is not to convince anyone else of my position, but to show that Matt’s arguments are not as devastating and decisive as he seems to think. The comment streams of both posts contained a lot of amillennial back-slapping over their logical and theological superiority. I am realistic in that I will not convince them of premillennialism, but I would like to poke a few holes in their self-congratulation.
- I also realize that simply answering Matt’s arguments does not prove my position or devastate amillennialism. I am narrowing my focus to dealing with his arguments, not trying to deal systematically with eschatological viewpoints.
- Now, to begin the discussion, let me air my personal gripe against Matt and others. I deal with those who disdain dispensationalism pretty often. I hear complaints against premillennialism, especially pretribulationism, with great frequency. One prominent blogger has posted broadsides against dispensationalism often, attacks that demonstrated little grace and ignored the truth almost completely. But it seems to me that opponents of dispensationalism dismiss it with very little effort of understanding what we believe. I just wish that before people attacked premillennialism or dispensationalism, they would study it enough to understand it. It is not enough to read the “Left Behind” series or watch a little bit of Jack and Rexella’s sensationalism and think you have an understanding of the doctrine. Seriously, I have some problems with my own system. There are a few verses and arguments that are troubling to my system. I think any honest student of eschatology will have to admit that whatever their view. But most of the arguments I hear made evidence a sad lack of understanding of dispensationalism. I wonder if Matt has read Michael Vlach (from Master’s Seminary) or Ryrie, or Walvoord, or Pentecost, or Blaising or Bock? It seems to me that he may have read what those who oppose dispensationalism say about dispensationalism, but has probably not read much at all of the dispensationalists themselves. I’d love to hear a response to that accusation from him. Matt (and others): have you read Vlach, Pentecost, Blaising, Walvoord or any other scholarly dispensationalist?
- Last thing, before I begin my arguments. Most of Matt’s arguments are accomplished through ridicule and assertion, not through exegesis. He ridicules dispensational or premillennial viewpoints without answering them with either logic or scripture. He makes bold assertions without evidence. In his first post, under the first point, he mentions that dispensationalists “ramble” about the promises given to Abraham. That is not argument, that is dismissal by ridicule. In his fourth point, about “schools of interpretation” Matt speaks of the viewpoint of the early church about the interpretation of Revelation and says, “I promise you, they would not have understood an apocalyptic/prophetic boo to not have a serious symbolic undertone.” That is an assertion which is accompanied by no evidence. Throughout these posts, Matt makes these kind of bold assertions but does not provide the evidence upon which he makes those assertions.
Now, to the arguments themselves. First, the points made in the Amillennialism post.
Again, Matt makes an assertion for which he provides no evidence. He says, that we must “interpret the lesser revelation by the fuller revelation.” By that, he seems to be saying that we should interpret the teachings on the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. This, of course, would be a standard hermeneutical principle among conservative sholars.
However, great care has to be observed when you follow this principle. You can use the New Testament to illumine the Old Testament, but not to nullify it. The OT revelation was God-breathed and fully true. While they may not evidence the full light of the NT revelation, they are nonetheless scripture and must not be interpreted in ways that do hermeneutical violence to their original context.
I believe that he does this in his treatment of Galatians 3:16. He uses the statement made in that verse to nullify all the Old Testament promises of God to Abraham. The nation of Israel cannot expect the literal fulfillment of all the promises God made to them because they are all fulfilled in the “one offspring” Jesus Christ.
I think that Matt strains at a gnat and swallows a camel. Dispensationalists agree that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment, but we maintain that Jesus does not abrogate the literal promises made to Abraham and the nation of Israel.
Matt’s interpretation of this passage completely ignores the context of the verse, and therefore misses the mark. The verses that follow clarify the meaning. The so-called Judaizers were demanding that Christians obey all aspects of Jewish law and Paul was arguing that Jesus fulfilled the law. The passage is about how salvation is found through Christ. It is not a passage about eschatology or the covenants.
I do not believe that it is warranted to hang an entire eschatological system on a verse such as this. Michael Vlach’s essay about “Christ as True Israel” would be helpful here to anyone who genuinely wants to understand what dispensationalists actually believe.
2) Two-Age Model
The basis, as I understand it, of Matt’s overall argument is revealed in this section. Throughout key passages in the New Testament, there is no intermediate state between this age and the age to come. There is something appealing about the simplicity of Amillennial eschatology, even if I do not believe it reflects the biblical evidence.
I am not sure the evidence Matt gives is quite as cut-and-dry as he assumes. Luke 18:30 just mentions this age and the age to come, without mentioning the second coming at all. Mark 10:30 simply mentions that the faithful will receive rewards in both this age and the age to come. In Luke 20:34, Jesus tells us that there is no marriage in the age to come as there is in this age. Titus 2:11-12 tells us to deny ourselves in this present age so that we will be rewarded when Jesus comes back. 1 Timothy 6:17 talks about those who are rich in this present world. Matt lists a lot of verses, giving the impression that his assertion is commonly supported in scripture. But the verses he mentions are by and large taken out of context and are used in ways that proper exegesis does not warrant.
He claims that Matthew 13:39 clearly shows the demarcation between this age and the age to come is the coming of Christ alone. Matthew 13:39-40, 49 simply states that at the end of the age, judgment will fall on evildoers. None of these verses do what Matt claims. They do not make it clear that there is nothing between this age and the age to come except the second coming. Matthew 24:3 makes it clear that the second coming of Christ ends this age and ushers in the next. No argument.
But the assertion of premillennialism is that there is, in fact, an intermediate kingdom between the present age and the eternal state. It is all part of the “age to come” but eternity does not begin immediately at the second coming.
Of course, Revelation 20 is the clearest revelation of this truth. But contrary to what Matt (and those he has read to form his eschatology) asserts, this is not a lonely passage in setting forth an intermediate kingdom. Revelation 20 clearly delineates this intermediate earthly kingdom, but it is in line with the “Kingdom” teachings of Jesus throughout Matthew and the other gospels.
I would encourage readers (and especially Matt) to read Michael Vlach’s article “Is Revelation 20 the Only Supporting Text for Premillennialism?” on his website, Theological Studies (www.theologicalstudies.org). He quotes Wayne Grudem saying,
“Several Old Testament passages seem to fit neither in the present age nor in the eternal state. These passages indicate some future stage in the history of redemption which is far greater than the present church age but which still does not see the removal of all sin and rebellion and death from the earth.”
Vlach references Isaiah 65, Zechariah 14 and Psalm 72 as examples of the OT assertion of an earthly kingdom that is substantially different that this present age but is not quite the eternal state of blessing yet – a messianic age which still has sin and death as realities – just as is taught in Revelation 20.
3) Revelation 19-20
Continuing his theme from the two-age argument, Matt references Grant Osborne’s interpretation of Revelation 19 and 20. Matt asserts that the battles of Revelation 19 and 20 are the same battles. He again uses his “argument by assertion” to say that it “seems like nonsense” to him to interpret the passage as premillenialists do.
Through all the disdain Matt shows here for those who disagree with him, the simple question is this: Are Revelation 19 and 20 the same battle from different perspectives or two different events?
We would agree that Revelation 19 describes the second coming of Christ. Jesus strikes down the armies that oppose him with his Word. Revelation 20:1 continues the story. The “kai” seems to be a continuation of the story that was presented in chapter 19. After having dealt with the Antichrist and False Prophet, Jesus binds Satan and casts him into the abyss. Matt’s academic response to this view? “ROFL!” he does not deal with the premillennial interpretation, he just mocks it.
In spite of his ridicule, I would assert that Satan is bound from more than just deception. He actually is bound and cast into the abyss. That is different than what happens in the lives of the redeemed. Yes, when I am saved I am no longer bound by Satan’s lies. But he has not been bound and cast into the abyss. I have been freed from his lies, but he has not been bound from telling them. That is different here. The passage speaks of Satan’s being bound, not just the redeemed being freed.
In the fourth point, Matt decries the criticism I would level against the Amillennial hermeneutic, they by ignoring the literal hermeneutic Amils “make it say whatever they want it to say.” I think that is exactly what is happening here. A natural reading of this passage would indicate that this is a sequential story. Second coming – Satan bound – millennial reign – Satan released – final battle – final judgment.
One more thing. Matt makes much of Jesus “treading the winepress of the fury of the Wrath of God.” His assertion seems to be that the destruction is so complete that there would be nothing left to begin the millennium. That is not warranted here. Jesus destroys all the armies gathered to fight against him, but the passage does not say that all flesh everywhere on earth is destroyed. He is, again, making a mountain out of a molehill and reading way more into a verse than sound exegesis warrants.
4) Schools of Interpretation
Like most Amils, Matt here makes much of the Apocalyptic nature of Revelation. But is Revelation typical of ancient Apocalyptic literature? I would encourage readers to look at Erik Swanson’s article, “The Genre of Revelation.”
He describes Apocalyptic literature and demonstrates that while there are some similarities, the assertion that “Revelation is Apocalyptic” is not completely accurate.
5) Biblical Theology
Matt really makes no new point here, but recaps the things he has said earlier.
Since this essay has become long, I will come back with a “part 2” to deal with Matt’s second post on “Problems with Premillennialism.”