Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (April 2013)
There are two ways of interpreting biblical prophecies, i.e. the spiritualised and literal methods of interpretation. These two approaches lead to completely different and even conflicting expectations on what the future holds, and therefore confront us with the responsibility of gaining greater clarity on each of them. We should indeed know what lies ahead if we wish to be ready for it.
False expectations on the future give rise to disillusionment, confusion, as well as uncertainty on how the Bible should be understood. The absence of a clear future expectation produces lukewarm believers who are not properly acquainted with the Bible’s prophetic programme. Only a correct, biblical expectation enables us to be vigilant and to correctly interpret the signs of the times (Luke 12:54-56).
The approach of spiritualising biblical prophecy is subjective, confusing and completely unsystematic. It is totally out of touch with important prophetic themes such as the restoration of the people of Israel, the emerging of an antichristian new world order, and the literal establishment of Christ’s millennial reign of peace on earth. The spiritualising and denial of a literal millennial reign after the second coming of Christ is described as amillennialism. Supporters of this approach express themselves against the promise of a literal millennium as a final dispensation in humanity’s history of salvation.
Although amillennialists reject the idea of a millennial kingdom after Christ’s coming, that does not mean that they reject the revelation of God’s kingdom on earth in principle. Their error lies in wrongly interpreting this kingdom by equating it with the church dispensation. They do not recognise the chronological order in the unfolding of God’s prophetic plan, and therefore fail to observe the systematic, dispensational sequence in the fulfilment of biblical prophecies. Because of their preconceived dogmatic orientation they make wrong assumptions on how and when certain prophecies will be fulfilled.
This error of judgement gives rise to a major dilemma, since nothing works out properly when the concept of the kingdom – and specifically the revelation of this kingdom – is erroneously interpreted. The following are the major problems encountered by amillennialists in their eschatological views:
· The duration of the future dispensation of the kingdom will be one thousand years (Rev. 20:4, 6), but the church dispensation with which they equate the kingdom has been in progress for almost two thousand years now. At what point did the millennium begin and when will it end?
· During the kingdom dispensation, Christ will reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem (Luke 1:32; Acts 15:16-17; Isa. 9:7), but this throne is still fallen down with nobody reigning from it. Amillennialists are clearly not mindful of the fact that the physical revelation of God’s kingdom on earth can only occur in association with a fully restored Israel in the Holy Land. Israel first has to accept Jesus as Messiah and King before their own kingdom, as well as the Messiah’s kingdom, can be revealed.
· During the kingdom dispensation, Jerusalem will be the religious and political capital of the world, and the Lord Himself will be consulted and served in this city by the nations (Isa. 2:2-3; Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:22). In stark contrast to this situation, Jerusalem was destined to be trampled by the nations during the church dispensation (Luke 21:24), and could therefore not in any sense have been the main seat of the Messiah’s kingdom.
· The physically as well as spiritually restored Israel will, during the millennium, be the Lord’s special witnesses on earth and all of them will serve Him in perfect unison (Isa. 27:6; Jer. 31:34; Zech. 8:23). At present, the great majority of Jews still reject Jesus as their Messiah. They first have to be reconciled with Him before they will fully revived spiritually and able to serve Him as they should (Zech. 12:10; 13:9).
· The church dispensation does not culminate in great revivals as a manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth, but in widespread deception and a great tribulation under the rule of the Antichrist (Matt. 24:21; 29-30; 2 Thess. 2:3-4). The battle of Armageddon will occur at the end of the tribulation period, when Christ will destroy His enemies (Rev. 16:16; 19:19-21). There is no biblical reference to a great revival right at the end of the church dispensation before Christ comes.
· During the kingdom dispensation, the devil will be bound in the pit and shut up so that he should deceive the nations no more. The names of the idols will be cut off (Zech. 13:2), the nations will all live in peace and no longer wage any wars (Isa. 2:4; Jer. 3:17), the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord (Isa. 11:9), and Jerusalem will be a praise in all the earth (Isa. 62:6-7). It is completely unrealistic and unbiblical to expect conditions of this nature to prevail on earth during the church dispensation.
What are amillennialists doing to justify the impossibility of their own prophetic scenario, and what explanations do they offer to account for all the contradictions in it? They resort to spiritualising and allegorising in order to escape the literal implications of a large number of prophecies. If they still cannot succeed in sweeping certain end-time prophecies under the carpet they apply them to the distant past by alleging that they were fulfilled long ago (e.g. during the reign of Nero). The following are some of the deceptive statements which are made by amillennialists in an effort to justify their unsystematic eschatology:
· They do not accept the fact that Christ’s millennial reign will last for one thousand years, despite the fact that the duration of His reign of peace has been clearly stated in six verses in Revelation 20 to be one thousand years. According to them, “one thousand” is a symbolic number which merely indicates “a long time”. Does that apply to all numbers in the Bible, e.g. the 70 years of the Babylonian exile of Israel? (Jer. 25:11).
· The promise that Christ will restore the throne of David and rule the world from this throne is not at all taken to be literal. It is argued that Christ now rules over His kingdom from heaven. Since when is the throne of David in heaven (Luke 1:32), and how can the nations now go up to earthly Jerusalem to be instructed by Him? (Isa. 2:2-3; Zech. 8:22).
· The promise that the saints will be raised from the dead to reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 5:9-10; 20:6), is also spiritualised. It is alleged that the deceased saints are now reigning in heaven with Christ. How do people fulfil this function before they have received their resurrection bodies? Revelation 20:4 says about the martyrs of the tribulation period: “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
· The hundreds of promises on the restoration of Israel as a people in their own land (cf. Ezek. 36:22-28; 37:21; Isa. 11:11-12; Rom. 11:25-26), are spiritualised and applied to the church. To which country are Christians restored in the end-time? The Lord clearly only addresses Israel when He says: “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek. 11:17). Likewise, prophecies on the time of Jacob’s trouble, which refer to Israel’s experience during the coming tribulation period (Jer. 30:7), are spiritualised or interpreted historically.
· Amillennialists hold the view that we are now living in the kingdom dispensation and that the devil is presently bound “so that he should deceive the nations no more” (Rev. 20:1-3). However, this prophecy will only be fulfilled after Christ has returned, destroyed the Antichrist and false prophet and judged His enemies (Rev. 19:11-21). The devil will remain incarcerated during the entire course of the millennium, and this period has not yet begun. As for the present situation, the Bible says that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), and that we should put on the whole armour of God to remain standing against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:11-12). He is described as “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30), and also as “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). That is the reason why Christians are living in a predominantly evil world during the church age, in which we suffer tribulation (John 16:33) and are faced with the responsibility of waging a spiritual war against the kingdom of darkness. We are clearly not living in the millennial kingdom of peace, and daily experience the hard reality that Satan has not yet been bound in a pit and sealed off from the world.
· Amillennialists adamantly defend their view that the church dispensation will not end in a period of an unprecedented spiritual and moral falling away as a prelude to the great tribulation. They also reject the literal fulfilment of prophecies on a personal Antichrist who will rule over the world during the tribulation period. Neither do they believe in the promise of the rapture shortly before the revelation of the Antichrist, since they don’t expect an Antichrist to appear on the scene. They are of the opinion that all the dark prophecies pertaining to the tribulation period were fulfilled in the first century during the reign of the Roman dictator, Nero. He was allegedly the Antichrist. But what then about prophecies which clearly state that the Antichrist will be a living person when Christ comes? (2 Thess. 2:6-12; Rev. 19:19-20). And who is his withholder who must be taken out of the way so that he can be revealed? There is clearly an “escape” for believers before the pouring out of divine judgements on earth, and believers should watch and pray to be found worthy for this imminent event (Luke 21:36).
· Because of their particular view on the kingdom, amillennialists cannot accept the fact that the church dispensation will end in a Laodicean state of utter failure and deception (Rev. 3:15-17), followed by the revelation of the Antichrist and his world government (Rev. 13:3-7). To them, it is much more acceptable that great revivals should occur now to usher in a global process of Christian transformation. That is the vision which they entertain, and many of them are even prepared to engage in ecumenical ties with other faiths in order to ensure a worldwide adoption of their peace plans.
It is evident that amillennialists are pursuing a manmade, ecumenical kingdom from which the following biblical characteristics of the future revealed kingdom of Christ are absent: the nation of Israel does not feature in it; the city of Jerusalem was never during the church dispensation even close to being a world capital; the throne of David upon which Christ will rule as King, is still fallen down; the devil is far from being bound and still walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8); the Gentiles do not live in peace and have definitely not yet started beating their swords into ploughshares; neither do they honour Israel (Zech. 8:23; Isa. 60:10-12) but rather persecute and harm them in every possible way.
In spite of all the differences between the manmade kingdom of heaven and the real kingdom of heaven, amillennialists are proceeding with their efforts to transform the entire world into a Christian kingdom. The fact that they are trying to do it in an unbiblical, ecumenical way is a certain indication that they will not succeed in their efforts. However, they continue with their plans, among which are transformation rallies which are held annually in different countries throughout the world.
The following is one of the scriptures which they often use at transformation meetings: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). This promise was given to Israel, the people called by the Name of God. However, most of the time they were unfaithful to the Lord and because of their apostasy they forfeited His blessings. During New Testament times they were driven from their land because they were spiritually blind and unaware of the fact that God had visited them through the Messiah (Luke 19:41-44).
Are there any nations today that formally associate with the Name of the Triune God by recognising Him in their constitutions, offering Christian education to the young generation, observing Christian morality, and imposing biblical penalties on serious criminals? There are no such nations, and that is precisely the reason why the Bible says that the whole world is under the control of the devil.
It is always the right thing to call people to repentance, but that should primarily be done with a view to saving souls – not in vain attempts to save nations. The number of people who react positively to the call to repentance when preaching the gospel, will never be so high that it will dramatically change the character of an entire community. The Lord Jesus has warned that only a minority of people would repent when invited to do so. Because of this situation, the broad way will always carry the heaviest traffic, regardless of how eagerly we may exert ourselves to bring about change (Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24).
It is of no avail to entertain unrealistic expectations that entire cities and even countries will repent in sackcloth and ashes, thereby experiencing a complete transformation to Christian standards. Strategic spiritual warfare and the attempted pulling down of evil strongholds in the air are unbiblical and unfeasible, and only give rise to false expectations. We should rather accept the fact that in the last days perilous times will come (2 Tim. 3:1), culminating in a great tribulation as there never was since the beginning of the world (Matt. 24:21). This scenario is on the verge of fulfilment.
The Bible clearly prepares us for a great falling away that will occur in the end-time: “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:11-12).
People should be warned against the impending judgements, to ensure that they remain vigilant and take care not to be swept along by the rising tide of spiritual and moral falling away. Unsaved people should be plucked like brands from the fire. It will be of no avail to try and declare an entire apostate country like South Africa to be Christian in the hope that all its citizens will heartily repent. The only thing which they will do in unison after the rapture will be to follow and worship the Antichrist: “And the whole world marvelled and followed the beast ... and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him? ... And he was given authority over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Rev. 13:3-4, 7).
Of what benefit is it to pursue an ideal of national transformation while the entire country, whole communities, and even large churches with their theological seminaries, are built upon the sand of spiritual deception, prophetic ignorance and moral opportunism? False hope cannot avert the disasters which are in the offing. Believers should rather be admonished to watch and pray to be worthy to escape the coming judgements and tribulation, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).
Instead of transformation rallies, basic evangelistic work should be done while strongly emphasising the current fulfilment of biblical prophecies. We should intercede for all unsaved people, and specifically also for the people of Israel, in the hope that some of them will be saved. However, many of them will still take wrong decisions, as was the case during the first century when the Lord Jesus said: “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (John 5:43).
People still reject the true Christ and His Word, thereby rendering themselves candidates to accept, follow and worship the coming Antichrist. One of his ideologies against which people should be warned now is that of globalism. In terms of this approach, world unity is pursued in all spheres of life: a world government, an alliance of world religions in which all the deceived faiths will worship the false Christ, and a world economy which will enable the Antichrist to fully control all people.
The erroneous interpretation of biblical prophecies by amillennialists is responsible for the fact that they are ignorant about these dangers and consequently do not warn other people against the demanding times ahead. Their wrong view on the kingdom is the main reason why they are inadvertently building the Antichrist’s world empire by way of a modern tower of Babel.
There is definitely symbolism in the Bible, but the Bible itself explains these symbols. From the context in which figurative language is used it will be evident whether a literal interpretation is fitting or not. If a statement is logical it should be literally interpreted: “If the plain sense of the word makes common sense, then seek no other sense.” When the Bible speaks of Israel, Jerusalem and the 144 000 saved Jews of Revelation 7, these concepts should not be spiritualised and applied to the church. The same rule applies to numbers and periods such as a thousand years, seven years, 42 months and 1260 days.
When it is clear that metaphoric language is used, it is usually done with a view to emphasising certain characteristics of a person or a group of people. The metaphor therefore does not only have an abstract, allegorical meaning which is far removed from the physical reality as, in most cases, it has a literal antitype. The Lamb of God refers to Christ, the snake and dragon to the devil (Rev. 12:3, 15), the stars which Satan drew from heaven during his fall refer to fallen angels, while the beast with seven heads depict the Antichrist (Rev. 13:1-2). Likewise, the future world economy of the beast, in which all transactions of buying and selling will be controlled by way of allocated numbers, should also be taken literally (Rev. 13:16-18).
The battle of Armageddon – a big world war that will be waged during the second coming of Christ – is the description of a literal, physical confrontation and not merely a spiritual war somewhere in the sky (Rev. 16:13-16; 19:19-21; Zech. 14:1-13). Even an abstract, spiritual concept such as “the mystery of lawlessness” is associated with a person, the Antichrist or “man of sin”, who will be physically revealed on earth in the end-time, shortly before the coming of Christ (2 Thess. 2:3-8). In similar fashion, reference should not only be made to the devil as a metaphor of evil; he is a specific being, an evil god who will be bound in a pit after the second coming of Christ, and afterwards judged because of all the evil deeds committed by him (Rev. 20:1-3, 10).
In view of all these clear prophecies we should accept the fact that we are living in an evil world and do not find ourselves in God’s revealed kingdom right now. The Lord Jesus came to the world “that He might deliver us from this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). When He comes again, He will reward His servants and judge the sinners as well as the demonic triumvirate of the devil, the Antichrist and the false prophet (Rev. 11:18). The sooner we accept the intrinsic value and true meaning of the Bible, the better we will be prepared for the future.
We are waiting for a kingdom which has not yet been revealed because the King of kings has not yet come to eradicate the strongholds of evil. After His coming, the time of our pilgrimage in an evil world will be over, and then only will we rule with Him as kings on earth (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:9-10).
The integrity of the prophetic word in the Bible should always be honoured. In the final chapter of the Bible we are warned not to take anything away from biblical prophecies, nor should we add anything to it (Rev. 22:18-19). People who do engage in practices of this nature have no place in the kingdom of heaven.
In the end-time, there are many self-appointed prophets and prophetesses who claim that, through dreams, visions and other means, the Lord has revealed to them new prophetic information on the future, which is supplementary to what we find in the Bible. Such prophecies are false! In this way, a direct assault is made on biblical revelations, suggesting that they are incomplete and insufficient for our edification. According to modern seers, prophetic appendages should be added to the Bible after the book of Revelation. However, all these additional prophecies are, with the passage of time, proven to be false, thus underscoring the Lord’s strict warning against presumptuous people who are guilty of this practice.
Conversely, biblical prophecies are also undermined by taking away certain parts of it. That may be done by denying certain prophecies, e.g. that there is a personal devil who will be cast in hell together with sinners, that there will be a first resurrection for the just, etc. The most common way of depriving the Bible of some of its promises and warnings is to argue them away and misrepresent them by way of spiritualising. This presumptuous attitude has already given rise to the practical denial of the fulfilment of the following biblical prophecies on the end-time: the great falling away of the last days, the emergence of an antichristian new world order, the restoration of Israel in their land, the rapture, the appearance of a personal Antichrist and false prophet, the tribulation of seven years under their rule, the battle of Armageddon, as well as the subsequent thousand-year reign of peace.
People who deny the basic meaning of the prophetic word through spiritualising or allegorising, usually go further and also, in a similar fashion, rob other biblical statements of their obvious and literal meaning. Because of this, many of them no longer believe in the virgin birth of Christ, the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and eventually they also deny the redemptive significance of His crucifixion. In this way they disqualify themselves to have any part in the biblical Jesus, and in the resurrection, eternal life and heavenly kingdom which He has promised to His true disciples. How will they escape if they neglect so great a salvation? (Heb. 2:1-4)