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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources

Joe asks the following question (October 29, 2007):

"I am reading your messages on Revelation (
Click here: Riddleblog - Sermons on the Book of Revelation (pdf), and right at the beginning something jumped out at me. You say that we must interpret this book through `the lens of the Old Testament'. Isn't this the position that dispensationalists use to justify their interpretation. That is, all prophesy in the New Testament must be interpreted by the Old Testament. Can you elaborate, please?"

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My Answer:

Joe, thanks for the chance to clarify this.  I believe that the Book of Revelation is, in one sense, God's answer to all the redemptive-historical loose ends of both the Old Testament and the first advent of Christ.  I see the scope of Revelation's various visions as covering the entire inter-advental period, each from a different perspective.  Dennis Johnson quite helpfully describes this phenomenon as different camera angles on the same event.

When I say that we need to see Revelation through "the lens of the Old Testament," I simply mean that when John uses some particular symbol (say "locusts") the reference is to the Old Testament--in the case of locusts to the Book of Joel.  My sense is that those who heard the Book of Revelation read in the churches, and who were steeped in the Old Testament, would have immediately understood what John was talking about, because they knew to find the explanation of the symbol in the Old Testament. 

For many of our dispensational friends, however, this is not the case.  They take John to be trying to describe some modern technology which did not exist in the ancient world.  Hal Lindsey, for example, thinks John saw a Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter and since such a thing was beyond his comprehension, John described this amazing flying thing as looking like a locust--which, in a way, it does.  But is John trying to describe an as yet unknown technology?  Or is he using an image drawn from the Old Testament to make a point about the suffering of God's people before Christ comes back?

I would say that the key to understanding John is to go back to the Old Testament and see what locusts do when they swarm--they destroy everything.  Joel presents locusts as a form of judgment.  Lindsey, on the other hand, says this is a picture of a modern technology unknown to the ancients.  But it is obviously a judgment motif, because that is how the figure appears in the Old Testament.

One of my primary concerns with the dispensational hermeneutic is that the Old Testament "interprets" the New Testament, a concern which lies at the heart of your question.  The title of John Walvoord's famous commentary on Daniel makes my point--Daniel:  The Key to Prophetic Revelation.  According to dispensationalists, Daniel lays out the basic prophetic pattern and then John follows along behind in the Book of Revelation. 

Reformed amillennarians hold that Daniel was told to seal up the scroll, because he could not understand these things before the coming of Christ.  John is ordered to open that same scroll in the Book of Revelation because he will tell us--in the clearer light of the coming of Christ--about those things to which Daniel had been referring, but which were still hidden in type and shadow until Christ came.  Now that Jesus has indeed come, and has died for our sins and was raised from the dead before ascending on high, John is given this vision to explain to God's persecuted people how Christ's triumph over death and the grave impacts the future course of history so as to bring all things to their final consummation.

This is why I think Walvoord and the dispensationalists have it backwards.  The Apostle John tells us what the prophet Daniel means, not vice-versa.

I hope that helps!

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Joyce asks the following question (September 2007):

I am wondering why, with all the destruction of Jerusalem, and "no stone left on top of another" in the temple --why would John write the Book of Revelation and never even mention these events? I would think, when writing to the seven churches, it would have been important for John to note the fulfillment of the prophecies Jesus made concerning the temple as an encouragement and as a warning of the coming of similar tribulation--if, in fact, John was talking about some tribulation other than what they had already lived through.

My question is, then, what proof is there that John wrote Revelation sometime in the 90's rather than sometime before AD70?"

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Joyce:

Great question!  On the face of it, this seems like a powerful argument for an early date for the Book of Revelation (i.e., before AD 70).  But upon closer inspection, I think the case for the traditional dating (about AD 95) holds up quite well.

Man%20of%20sin%20small.jpgThere are a couple of important things to consider when trying to determine the date of the Book of Revelation.  First, there is no "proof" by which to date of the Book of Revelation one way or the other.  There is however, a great deal of internal and external evidence which, in my estimation, points strongly toward the traditional date of about AD 95.  The evidence adduced for an early date by Gentry and others is not nearly as strong as appears at first glance.  I deal with this extensively in my book The Man of Sin (Click here: Riddleblog - Man of Sin - Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist).  I also deal with this in an Academy lecture given at Christ Reformed Church, which can be found here: Click here: Christ Reformed Info - MP3's and Real Audio (of Academy Lectures).  Scroll down to the lecture "Problems for Preterists." 

Second, the date of the Book of Revelation does not effect my interpretation of Revelation, one way or the other.  As a Reformed amillennarian, I hold to the modified idealist (eclectic) position advocated by Beale, Johnson, and others.  My position is not dependant upon the dating of Revelation.  On the other hand, if the Book of Revelation was written after AD 70 the preterist position collapses.  I get the sense that preterists develop their view from the Olivet Discourse and secondarily from 2 Thessalonians 2, and because of that understanding then have to prove that Revelation was written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  For a host of reasons I spell out in my book, I don't believe that you'd come to the early date based upon an objective look at the internal and external evidence.  I think preterists have already painted themselves into a corner elsewhere, and then have to prove the early date of Revelation to make their interpretive scheme work.   

Third, an argument from silence is exactly that--a silent argument.  The absence of any mention of the destruction of the Temple can be explained in one of two ways.  One is that Revelation was written before the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed (on the early date interpretation).  The other is that Revelation was written to the churches in Asia Minor nearly twenty-five years after the destruction of the temple, and this was not a theological or pastoral issue for these churches (the traditional dating).  In fact, as Beale and others have argued, the only time the Temple is mentioned in Revelation (Revelation 11:2), the passage cannot be referring to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Neither the context of the passage nor the historical circumstances of the Gentiles occupying the outer-court for 42 months, allow for this to be a reference to the Jerusalem Temple.  I discuss this in my book as well (Man of Sin, 181-183).

Fourth, as Colin Hemer documents, the historical situation of the seven churches as depicted in Revelation 2-3 fit much better with the traditional date of Revelation--about AD 95.  Especially important in this regard are the churches in Ephesus (which is depicted as losing its first love--a situation which wouldn't make sense if Revelation were written before AD 70), and the church of Laodicea (which John depicts as wealthy.  But since an earthquake completely devastated the area in AD 61, its hard to imagine this could be the case, if Revelation were written before AD 70.  It is much more likely that John is speaking of a later period).  To check out Hemer's book,Click here: Amazon.com: The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (The Biblical Resource Series): Books

I hope that helps!

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Lëmi asks (October 31, 2007):  "Could you explain briefly all the millennial positions pointing out their main strengths and weaknesses?"
Thanks for the question Lëmi.  Although I could write a book-length answer to your question (and hopefully will one of these days), I'll do what I can to give you as concise an answer as possible.
Lets start with premillennialism.  As for its strengths, there seem to be two.  One is the fact that Revelation 19 depicts the return of Christ, while Revelation 20:1-10 depicts the reign of Christ on the earth.  If these chapters describe consecutive events (a point with which I would take issue) then this would place the millennial age after Christ's return.  A second apparent strength is that a number of church fathers state that this was the teaching passed on to them by the eyewitnesses to the ministry of the apostles, although this was not the only view in the early church (see Charles Hill's Regnun Caelorum)--Click here: Amazon.com: Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity: Books: Charles E. Hill

There are several serious weaknesses with premillennialism.  The first weakness is that premillenniarians have to explain how it is that people make it through the return of Christ and yet remain in natural bodies.  Jesus taught that his return marks the end of the age (Matthew 13:39) and that after his return, people no longer marry or are given in marriage (Luke 20:34-36).  At Christ's return, he judges the world, making it tough for someone to be judged and yet not eternally condemned or rewarded with eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46).  This is especially problematic for premillennarians, since they claim that their view is based upon a "literal" interpretation of prophecy.  Where, then, is the one-thousand year gap between the return of Christ and the judgment (which, according to premillennarians takes place at the end of the millennium) when Jesus teaches that judgment takes place at his return?  Those who take the Bible "literally" find themselves having to insert a gap into the biblical text which isn't there. 
The other problem with premillennialism is, if it be true, there is a great apostasy on the earth after one thousand years of Christ's rule (Revelation 20:7-10).  If there cannot be people on earth in natural bodies during the thousand years (which supposedly comes after Christ returns), then who are the people who revolt against Christ at the end of the millennium?  And that after Christ's own rule?  It makes much more sense to see Revelation 20:1-10 as a description of the entire inter-advental age, since the scene takes place in heaven where the thrones are (vv. 1-6), before shifting to the earth in verses 7-10.
As for dispensational premillennialism, both the strengths and weaknesses of premillennialism generally apply.  But if we consider dispenationalism on its own terms, its main strength is a stress upon progressive revelation (the careful consideration of how God interacts with his people throughout the different stages of redemptive history).  We can also say that one of its strengths is its emphasis upon the imminent return of Christ. 
As for weaknesses, there are many.  One is that the presuppositions of dispensationalism (which, despite protests to the contrary, is a hermeneutic) cannot be sustained.  The belief that God has distinct redemptive purposes for Israel and for the Gentiles is highly problematic in light of a text like Ephesians 2:11-22.   Another serious problem with dispensationalism is the way in which the "literal interpretation" of Scripture is worked out in practice.  The dispensational stress upon "literalism" actually amounts to an Israel-centered hermeneutic, largely taken from the Old Testament prophets which then predetermines what the New Testament authors can tell us about Israel.
As I have argued elsewhere (Click here: Riddleblog - A Reply to John MacArthur), this approach is seriously flawed.  The New Testament presents a Christ-centered reading of redemptive history and reinterprets the place of Israel in that redemptive history in light of the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the true Israel.
As for postmillennialism, remember that both postmillennarians and amillennarians hold in common the idea that the millennial age precedes the return of Christ and the consummation.  So the structural strengths and weaknesses of each will be similar.  The essential difference between postmillennialism and amillennialism is in how we understand the nature and character of the millennial age.
Postmillennialism's greatest strength is the rhetorical stress upon optimism regarding the kingdom of God and its ability to transform the nations of the earth before Christ returns.  Postmillennarians extend the kingdom of God beyond spiritual matters (word and sacrament) to the transformation of culture--a point with which I would disagree.  Postmillennarians generally believe that Jesus returns to a saved earth, he does not return to save the earth (as amillennarians believe). 
This means that the biggest weakness of postmillennialism is the determination of the beginning of the millennial age--"when do the thousand years begin?"  Some have seen this in the conversion of Israel, the overthrow of Antichrist (usually defined as Romanism or Islam) and the conversion of the nations.  Obviously, these things have not yet happened.  Therefore, the biggest weakness of postmillennialism is the denial of an imminent return of Christ--which explains why so many postmillennarians are attracted to preterism, the understanding Christ returned in judgment upon Israel in A.D. 70.
As for amillennialism, it has no weaknesses whatsoever, since it is the biblical position (I'm being facetious).  In all seriousness, Amillennialism's strength is its understanding that imminent return of Christ is the consummation of all things and marks the fullness of both the kingdom of God and the age to come.  Christ will return to judge the world (Matthew 13:36-43; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), raise the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57) and make all things new (2 Peter 3:3-15).  He does not return to set up a kingdom (as in premillennialism), but to usher in the eternal state and create a new heaven and earth--the final consummation.
The biggest weakness of amillennialism is in the details--what does John mean by the binding of Satan?  Can we really say Satan is bound now? (I say "yes").  What about the first resurrection in Revelation 20?  Is John referring to regeneration, or the bodily resurrection?  These things require a fair amount of explanation, especially since most American evangelicals know only the premillennial view. 
That's a very brief answer.  For more information, I would suggest my two books:  A Case for Amillennialism (Click here: Riddleblog - A Case for Amillennialism - Understanding the End), and Man of Sin (Click here: Riddleblog - Man of Sin - Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist), or the book by Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Click here: Amazon.com: The Bible and the Future: Books: Anthony A. Hoekema)
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Meg. T. asks:

"Dr. Riddlebarger, what is your take on Ezekiel's description of the Temple?  I've never heard an amil explanation of the cooking pots and rooms for slaughtering the sacrifices of the people, and the chamber for the prince & his sacrifice.  Puzzled."

Tyler asks:
"Dr. Kim, I was wanting to understand the Amill interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48. There is a lot of talk about a future temple. Thanks for your help."
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These are great questions because discussions of the temple come up frequently, especially in light of the dispensational expectation of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation and then during millennial age.  While I don't have the space to cover all of the details that Meg mentions, hopefully, I can give you a sense of how these things should be interpreted.
 
For starters, G. K. Beale has written an important book on this topic and anyone who has questions about Ezekiel's vision should get it and read it carefully (The Temple and the Church's Mission).  For more information about Beale's book, Click here: Amazon.com: The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (New Studies in
As Beale points out, there are four main interpretations of Ezekiel's prophecy and how it is fulfilled (or not) in the New Testament.  Dispensationalists believe that this vision is a prophecy of an earthly temple to be built within Israel during the millennial age (cf. Pentecost, Things to Come, 393; Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, 169).  Dispensationalists base this interpretation upon their literal hermeneutic, which they say demands that a prophecy such as this one be interpreted literally, unless there is good reason to believe the prophecy should be interpreted figuratively.
 
Unlike dispensationalists, advocates of the other main interpretations all agree that the context demands a figurative interpretation.  I agree.  Some see this an ideal temple never intended to be built upon the earth (in my estimation, the weakest interpretation), others see this as a vision of the ideal temple (OK, as far as it goes), while still others see this as a picture of a real heavenly temple, which will be established on the earth in a non-structural way in the latter days (Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission, 335). 
 
In other words, I believe Ezekiel is giving us a picture of the new earth in the prophetic terms with which his readers were familiar (Hoekema, The Bible and Future, 205).  This is a picture of the new earth as the dwelling of God.  Ezekiel prophesies it in earthly terms (complete with all the temple utensils), while John describes its fulfilled version (in eschatological terms).
 
Based upon a number of factors, I think it is clear that the prophecy is points to a non-structural end-times temple.
 
First, the prophecy cannot be interpreted literally and still make any sense.  When God places the prophet on a very high mountain (40:1-2) he sees something like a city (obviously Jerusalem).  Yet, there is no such high mountain near Jerusalem from which the prophet could have had such a vantage point.  But this literal high mountain is required by the dispensational view.  Where is it?  Given the nature of Ezekiel's prophecy, this language should alert us to the fact that what follows is given the symbolic geography of the prophet. 
 
This is confirmed in Revelation 21:10, where John is carried away "in the Spirit" to a high mountain from which he sees the Holy City coming down out of heaven.  Obviously, the visions are related to each other as type-antitype (earthly language, eschatological fulfillment).  What Ezekiel promised, John sees as a reality, and yet the reality seen by John far exceeds anything in Ezekiel's vision.  As Beale points out, there are a significant number of other instances in this prophecy which make the literal interpretation very unlikely, if not impossible (pp. 337-340).
 
Second, there are a number of features within the prophecy which refer to something much greater than a localized temple in Jerusalem during the millennium.  In verse 40:2, it is clear that Ezekiel sees a structure "like a city" (the temple), while in the final verse of the prophecy (48:35) he says that the cities' name is "the Lord is there."  Here we have the expansion of the localized temple into an area the size of the entire city of Jerusalem.  This expansion of God's temple is a consistent theme throughout Ezekiel (Beale, pp. 340-345)  There are allusions to Eden throughout the prophecy (47:1-12).  The city is depicted as a perfect square and the reference to the river is obviously symbolic, since it is deep enough that it can only be crossed by swimming (47:5). 
 
Finally, it is obvious that Revelation 21 presents Ezekiel's vision in its consummated fulfillment.  In other words, John is given a vision of the same temple, but now from the vantage point of Christ's death and resurrection and the dawn of the new creation--something which would have made no sense whatsoever to Ezekiel or his hearers.  As Beale points out (pp. 346-345), the new heavens and earth are now the holy of holies, as well as the new Jerusalem, and the new Eden.  On the last day, all creation becomes the temple of God.  The temple has been expanded (extended) from a building, to a city, to all of creation.
 
This means that Ezekiel's vision is a prophecy not of an earthly temple (although the prophet uses earthly language his readers could understand), but of an eschatological temple, depicted in its consummated form and unspeakable glory by John in Revelation 21-22.
 
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ElShaddai Edwards asks (January 17, 2008):

Have there been any exegetical rebuttals of full preterism that you’re aware of?  I was just browsing Keith Mathison’s book on post-millennialism and he includes a rebuttal of FP based on creedal tradition and the authority of the Holy Spirit to the Church.  As far as I can tell, this is the standard rebuttal.  Has anyone published a critique of FP strictly from the Biblical text?

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Mr. Edwards:

Yes, indeed, there is such an exegetical critique of hyper (or full) preterism, and better yet, it is still in print.    I refer you to “When Shall These Things Be?”  A Reformed Approach to Hyper-Preterism (P & R, 2004).  The book is edited by Keith Mathison, whom you mention.  For more information on this volume, Click here: Amazon.com: When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism: Books: Keith A. Mathison

As with most volumes like this where there are multiple contributors, some of the chapters are better than others.   It is also a bit problematic when the contributors don't agree among themselves.  In this case, two authors don't see eye to eye about the date of the Book of Revelation--Ken Gentry argues for an early date (pre-A.D. 70), while Simon Kistemaker argues for the traditional (and late) dating of about 95 A.D.

Those minor criticisms aside, there are two real gems here which make the book well worth the purchase price.  

The first is Robert Strimple’s marvelous essay, “Hyper Preterism on the Resurrection of the Body.”  In my humble estimation, Strimple completely destroys the various schemes offered by hyper-preterists to define the resurrection body so as to escape the obvious implications of the biblical teaching of a future, bodily, resurrection of believers.  Strimple’s exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15 is utterly compelling and he does the very thing you are seeking--a refutation of full or “hyper” preterism directly from the biblical text.  Strimple clearly exposes hyper-preterism for what it is--an unbiblical heresy.

The second outstanding essay is Charles Hill’s piece, “Eschatology in the Wake of Jerusalem’s Fall."  Hill deals with the pink elephant in the eschatological room, namely, "why, if hyper-preterism is true, did no one in the early church (post A. D. 70) ever say anything about the fact that the second coming of Christ, the general resurrection, and the final judgment, had already taken place?"  Hill's essay is compelling and I think his thesis is also problematic for those partial-preterists who see in the events of A.D. 70 a genuine parousia of our Lord (but who don't buy into the hyper-preterist heresy).

I also found Keith Mathison’s essay “The Eschatological Time Texts of the New Testament” to be very useful in showing the inability of the hyper-preterists to deal with the same “time-texts" which they claim support their  view.  I'm not fully on board with Mathison's treatment of some of these terms, but he does take them away from the full preterists, and that is a good thing.

When Shall These Things Be? is hated by hyper-preterists (read the reviews on Amazon).  I take that to be a very good sign that the arrow has struck its intended mark.

Hope that helps!

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 Joel Asks (Sept 2006):

“What is the most logical method of interpreting the final 3 1/2 days of Daniel's prophecy of 70 weeks.  I see the messianic fulfillment and how the one who confirms a covenant is Christ, not an anti-Christ figure, but still have difficulty with the last 3 1/2 `days.’ While the previous 69.5 weeks can reasonably interpreted as years, it seems like most interpretations end up extending the time period indefinitely or imposing a gap between the first and second halves of the `week.’”

Joel:

This is a question that troubled me for some time as I was working my way from premillennialism toward amillennialism.  When I read Meredith Kline’s essay (“The Covenant of the Seventy Weeks”-
Click here: Covenant_70th_Week) all of a sudden the answer hit me--and it had been right in front of me the whole time.  In the ninth chapter of Daniel's prophecy, not only was Daniel talking about the Messiah and not an Antichrist (based upon the glorious things that are to be accomplished by the Messiah before end of the 70 weeks–see Daniel 9:24), but in the Book of Revelation, John actually tells us what happens during the last 3 ½ years of Daniel’s 70th week!  It is a time of tribulation for the people of God.

In Revelation 12:14, John speaks of a “time, and times, and half a time.”  The same time reference also appears in Revelation 11:1-2 and 13:5-6 (forty-two months).  Obviously, this is figurative language depicting the fulfillment of that eschatological time of tribulation predicted by Daniel and left open-ended in Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks.  Kline argues that this is the period of time of the church in the wilderness (“The Covenant of the Seventy Weeks,” 469).  Likewise, Beale holds that these references are based upon the eschatological period of tribulation foretold by Daniel not only in Daniel 9:27, but throughout his entire prophecy (Beale, The Book of Revelation, 565). 

In Revelation 11, the forty-two months are connected to Elijah’s ministry of judgment, and to Israel’s time in the wilderness (which included forty-two campsites), and which may have entailed forty-two years in the wilderness-- if Israel came under God’s judgment after spending an initial two years in the wilderness before coming under curse.

Therefore,  Daniel is predicting a time of tribulation for the people of God after the Messiah comes, but before the last Jubilee (since the seventy-sevens of Daniel’s prophecy are ten Jubilee eras–see Kline’s essay, where he argue for this point).  As we see in Revelation 12:5-6, John tells us that this three and a half “years” of tribulation are inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection and will be consummated at his second coming (Beale, Revelation, 567).  When we notice that Christ’s own public ministry lasted three and one-half years, the image should be pretty clear--it applies to the entire church age.  

While dispensationalists have a fit with this "non-literal" interpretation, it is John himself who tells us that the final 3 ½ years of Daniel’s prophecy anticipates the entire period of time between Christ’s first advent (his death and resurrection) and his second advent (in which the final trumpet announces that the earth is redeemed and all of God’s people are forever freed from the guilt and power of sin).

The way we interpret this 3 1/2 weeks is a great example of the hermeneutical difference between Reformed amillennialism and dispensationalism.  As we Reformed amillennarians see it, the New Testament (especially in a vision given by John in which he proclaims to the church the contents of the scroll which Daniel was told to seal  until the time of the end), ultimately interprets for us what Daniel was prophesying.  In other words, the New Testament interprets the Old Testament.  The bottom line is that in Revelation 11-13, John tells us what those remaining three and a half years of Daniel's prophecy really mean.  Thus, we are not left in the dark about what this means, and we have in Daniel 9:24-27 a glorious messianic prophecy centering upon the active and passive obedience of Christ (v. 24).
 
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Nick asks (February 17, 2008):  

Dr. Riddlebarger:  How do we/should we discern the times without either, falling into error,(as the cults or some eschatological schemes) or becoming complacent or paranoid and so avoid deception?


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Nick:

Another great question.  Before I tackle it, let me just say, "OK, I know that some of you are thinking, at last, a practical question!”  Actually, I think most questions dealing with eschatology are quite practical.  But thanks Nick, for asking us to deal with a very important and practical matter.  "How do we discern the signs of the times?"

The place to start is with the biblical boundaries.  Let me say from the outset that  Jesus is crystal clear that no one knows the day and hour of his return (Matthew 24:36).  So, whenever anyone sets a date and claims to have figured out when and how Jesus will return, we can almost be certain that will be the one date upon which the Lord will not return.  (Are you getting that Harold Camping?  No, of course not).  

Yet, in the very same discourse when Jesus tells us that we cannot know when he is coming back, Jesus gives his disciples a whole list of signs of the end in response to a series of questions they have put to him.  Jesus does this to make a very important point.  

First, Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard for false teachers who will deceive the people of God.  This warning is very much like that given to the church by John regarding that series of antichrists who will come and deny that Jesus is God in human flesh (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7).  The presence of false teachers is a sign of the end, and they will be present with us until Christ returns.  The very fact that Jesus warns us of this means that we cannot be complacent about orthodoxy.  The church will always be under attack from within by those who will attempt to draw followers unto themselves, and away from Christ.  In this case, the presence of the sign (false teachers), carries with it the warning to be diligent (oppose them with the truth).  

But Jesus also warns the disciples of great upheaval among the nations.  “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”  Furthermore, he tells us that there will be famines and earthquakes, which Jesus describes as birth pains (Matthew 24:8).  I believe that these signs of the end, which began in the lifetime of his apostles, will continue until our Lord’s return (cf., Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary, 33B, 692).  Since Jesus speaks of these signs as birth pains, I take him to mean that there will intermittent periods of turmoil and peace and then when the tumult reaches its zenith, our Lord will suddenly return.  This means that it will be nearly impossible to figure out when Jesus will return, because a time of great tumult and distress for the people of God, might be followed by a period of great blessing.

But why would Jesus speak of those signs which precede his coming, and then in the parables of Matthew 25, tell us that his coming will be delayed (Matthew 25:5)?  Here, the implication is that Jesus’ coming is off in the distant future.  The reason is simple.  Wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and false teachers will be present the entire time from our Lord’s death and resurrection until his Second Advent.  The signs of the end are exactly that.  When we see them, we know our Lord will return.  But as Jesus told his disciples, “
the bridegroom was delayed,” so that God’s people must keep watch (Matthew 25:5; 13), because they do not know the day or the hour of our Lord’s return.

In other words, the signs of the end are the guarantee that our Lord will come again.  But these signs are like birth pains, so there will be alternating times of trouble and peace, increasing in intensity before the end.  Our inability to know when the Lord will return becomes the incentive to watch and wait in expectation.  The tension between signs which precede our Lord’s return and the suddenness of his coming is certainly deliberate.  Our Lord’s warning to keep watch means that we cannot set dates, and the signs of the end warn us not to be idle before that day comes.  There is much to do.  As Luther once said, “even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Adding to Jesus’ teaching on this, we have Paul’s discussion of the mysterious man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.  Paul speaks of a principle of evil which was already present when he wrote this epistle (vv. 6-7).  Paul also speaks of a mysterious restrainer, who keeps this evil in check until being taken out of the way (v. 7) when the end is finally at hand (v. 8).  At that point, the man of sin (whose appearance is tied to a great apostasy, v. 3), is revealed, so that he might be destroyed on the day of judgment.  This passage is very similar to what John describes in verses 7-10, of Revelation 20.  When Satan is released from the abyss, the nations are again deceived, and then revolt against Christ and his church, only to be destroyed at the Lord’s coming.

All of that is to say, the signs may all be present, but God’s time for Christ to return is not yet.  Remember, the entire Reformed tradition saw in the papacy and in the geo-political events of the late sixteenth-early seventeenth century, all of the signs of the end.  They were right.  All the signs were there!  But the preaching of the gospel (the restraining power) kept Rome in check, and after the days of Cromwell and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, the gospel flourished for a time and postmillennial expectations became commonplace.  

That is why we must be very careful to keep the proper perspective on these things.  When we identify the signs of the end, we have every reason to hope that our redemption draws nigh.  But with Luther, we plant that apple tree knowing that only our Father in heaven knows the date of Jesus’ return!

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Melissa asks (February, 21, 2008):

Dear Mr. Riddlebarger, I have been listening to your series (Amillennialism 101) with great interest.  Having only been taught and believing premil dispensationalism (but with a lot of questions about it), I do find compelling arguments in your series.  I am seriously studying this matter for myself and trying to set aside my presuppositions and beliefs.

I was just wondering how amils interpret passages such as Matt 19:28 (referring to the regeneration specifically) and also Rev 3:10 in which believers will be kept from the hour of testing.  Any response would be most appreciated.

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Melissa:

While you make an important point about presuppostions, and then ask about two different passages, all of these matters are closely related.  So I'll tackle them together in one Q & A.

First, you are absolutely right when you stress setting aside dispensational presuppositions when analyzing verses such as these.  These are both important passages to dispensationalists, because they make perfect sense when read through the dispensational lens.  So, for the sake of argument, let us analyze the two verses apart from the dispensational grid, and then see if they make  better sense on amillennial presuppositions.

Matthew 19:28 reads, “Jesus said to them, `Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (ESV).   Dispensationalists understand this passage as teaching that there will be a future restoration of the nation of Israel, in which the disciples will exercise an important role in an earthly millennial kingdom (Campbell and Townsend, A Case for Premillennialism, Moody, 1992, 176-178).  John Walvoord says that this “is clearly a picture of the millennial earth, not heaven” (Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come, Moody, 1974, 146). 

I beg to differ.  The problem for dispensationalists in particular, and premillennarians in general, is that Jesus says this will happen when he sits on his throne, “in the new world.”  In the Greek text, the phrase is en te palingenesia, which literally means “rebirth” or “regeneration.”  The phrase en te palingenesia may be used in a similar sense to the way the word apokatastaseos is used in Acts 3:21, where it is translated “restoration.”  The temporal aspect of this renewal or rebirth is tied to what follows (“when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne”), simply meaning that this is a reference to the renewal of the world at the end of the age, and is not a reference to an earthly millennium (see Hagner, Matthew 14-28 Word Biblical Commentary 33a, Word, 1995, 565).

Since the contrast between "this age" and "the age to come" is a contrast between the temporal and the eternal (see the discussion of the "two-age model in my A Case for Amillennialism, 81-99), this cannot be a reference to an earthly millennium after Christ comes back.  When Jesus returns, he judges the world (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15) raises the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11) and makes all things new (2 Peter 3:3-15).  This makes it pretty clear that there is no one left on the earth in natural bodies over which the disciples can rule!  In other words, this is a reference to the eternal state, not an earthly millennium.
 
On the dispensational/premillennial scheme, Jesus is telling the disciples that they will rule over Israel during the millennial age, while on the amillennial view, the rule depicted here is when the twelve disciples represent the true Israel and are vindicated by Jesus himself.  In effect, Jesus is telling those who gave up everything to follow him, that they will be vindicated in the end.

As for Revelation 3:10, the passage reads, “because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (ESV).  Dispensationalists believe that this is a reference to the rapture, in which the faithful church (symbolized by the church in Philadelphia) is removed from the earth immediately before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period.  Indeed, dispensational presuppositions require that the Gentile church be removed from the earth at the start of the Seventieth Week of Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27), so this verse is taken as proof of that pre-determined fact.

The problem is that dispensational presuppositions clearly get in the way of the text, and when you set them aside it is easy to see a better way to understand this verse.  John tells the church of Philadelphia (the actual church in Philadelphia at the time John writes this letter about. A.D. 95),  that a world-wide hour of trial is coming--perhaps a reference to persecution of the faithful by the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:1-10) and the beast from the land (Revelation :1311-18)--and that this particular congregation will be spared from this extensive period of tribulation because they have been faithful.  Jesus will preserve them.

Notice that the same power which kept them strong, will preserve them (vv. 7-8)–  “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.  “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” It is this same power (weak in man’s eyes) which will maintain for them their status (v. 9)– “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.”

Because the Philadelphian Christians have been faithful witnesses to Christ in the past, Jesus now tells them that he will be faithful to them when some sort of horrible tribulation comes upon them in the near future.  In other words, Jesus himself will preserve this congregation in the midst of whatever trial is about to come upon them.  There is no hint here that these people will be taken out of the world before the trial comes, much less does this passage event remotely hint at the dispensationalist’s rapture. 

But this passage does tell this congregation that when the hour of trial comes, they will be "kept" (preserved) from its evil effects.  We know this because the same Greek word translated as “keep from” (tereso)  appears only here (with ek, “from”) and in John 17:15, where we read, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” 

I would argue that John is saying pretty much the same thing to the Philadelphians in Revelation 3:10, that Jesus said to his disciples in John 17:15.  He will preserve his people in the midst of tribulation by protecting them from the evil around them.

This is why your first point, about setting aside your presuppositions for a time to investigate this matter, is so wise.  Yes, dispensationalists can make sense of these passages in light of those particular presuppositions.  But their presuppositions are clearly faulty on a number of levels, and as we’ve just seen, the amillennial reading of these passages makes far better sense of these verses.

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Reg asks (February 2008):

Dr. Riddlebarger:  I have read both of your recent books and found them compelling.  There is one passage of Scripture however which I cannot seem to integrate into amillenialism or even other biblical end times passages, that is Zechariah 14:16-21.  How does this passage fit into the scheme of things. Is this a description of life in the New Jerusalem?  If so what's with the sacrifices, the curse of no rain, etc?  I hope you can explain this for me.  Thanks.

Eric asks (July 2006):  

Premillenialists insist that Zechariah 14 is support for their view. I disagree.  But I am not currently able to explain very well why I disagree. Part of the reason I disagree is simply because so much other Scripture disproves the premillenial theory. One problem is that a few translations, including the KJV, translate Zechariah 14:1 as "the day of the Lord" cometh. Other translations translate it as "A day of the Lord comes...". I definitely believe "a day of the Lord" is the correct way of translating it, but I wondered if you could shed some light on this.

Verse 2 seems to be describing what happened in 70 AD. Verse 4 is one that premillenialists interpret literally but I believe it is referring to the first coming of Christ when he stood on the Mount of Olives. I believe the splitting of the mountain is figurative and refers to the divide that was created between those that are saved and those that are not.  Verse 5 again seems to be referring to 70 AD. But premillenialists point to where it says "the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee". I believe that is a reference to the first coming but I don't know how to back that up with Scripture. Maybe you can help.  I believe verse 8 is fulfilled in John 7:37-39 where it talks about the living water that comes from the Holy Spirit.  Anyway, while I believe the entire passage refers to the first coming of Christ, as well as 70 AD, it is difficult to prove that. So, what is your interpretation of Zechariah 14?


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In answering the basic question, “how does one interpret Zechariah 14?” we need to admit from the outset that this is a very difficult passage, in part, because it is never directly quoted in the New Testament, and given a definitive interpretation--although there are a number of allusions (echoes) to it, especially in the Book of Revelation (see, for example, the Scripture index in Beale’s work, The Book of Revelation, Eerdmans, 1999, 1196-1197).

Dispensationalists believe the prophecy describes Christ’s second coming, and the establishment of the subsequent millennial kingdom on the earth (Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, Zondervan, 94.)  Walvoord believes that vs. 16-21 specifically refer to the sacrifices made in Jerusalem during the future millennial kingdom (Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, Zondervan, 310-311).  J. D. Pentecost believes that these verses refer to Christ’s rule and punishment of any sin which may break out in the millennial age during Christ’s rule (Pentecost, Things to Come, Zondervan, 503).

Calvin saw the passage as tied to the time of Antichrist (Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 5:405).  The great puritan John Owen saw this passage fulfilled in the end-times glory of the church (see Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, 1971, 38, where Murray cites Owen’s sermon “The Advantage of the Kingdom of Christ in the Shaking of the Kingdoms of the World”).  Gary DeMar, argues that this prophecy is fulfilled by the events of A.D. 70, when Jesus returns in the clouds to judge both Jerusalem and the temple (DeMar, Last Days Madness, American Vision 1999, 437-443).

One very helpful interpretation of this passage is found in Gerard Van Groningen’s Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament (Baker, 1990), 911-913).  Van Groningen argues that as we attempt to understand this most difficult passage, there are three very important things to keep in mind.  

First, the prophecy is apocalyptic in terms of its structure.  The use of dramatic symbols and metaphors (the reference to the Mount of Olives splitting open forming a large valley, “living water,” etc.) tells us that a literal interpretation is not likely, and that the prophecy will remain somewhat mysterious until the coming of the Messiah and the dawn of the messianic age.  

Second, there is a fair bit of prophetic perspective throughout the chapter.  In other words, in previous chapters of his prophecy (especially chapter 13), Zechariah has been predicting what will happen when the messianic age dawns–the Messiah will be pierced, and a fountain will be opened the cleansing of sin, which is a reference to Christ’s satisfaction for our sins upon the cross.  By using images from Israel’s past (i.e., during the days of Uzziah) when YHWH defended his people, Zechariah is now pointing ahead to the fact that although additional trials and tribulation will certainly come, God will continue to deliver his people in the most amazing of ways.  Zechariah foretells of how YHWH will defeat his enemies on behalf of his people (v. 3), that he will reign over the entire cosmos (vv. 4-5), and that he will rule over the nations (vv. 12-15), so as to provide freedom for his people to worship (v. 16).  He will restrain those who oppose his rule (v. 17-19).  Indeed, his Spirit will sanctify all of life (vv. 20-21) which clearly anticipates, and presupposes the out-pouring of the Spirit @ Pentecost.  

Third, this is the final chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy and is clearly messianic.  The death of the Messiah on behalf of his people (depicted in chapter 13), secures the benefits God’s people will enjoy as enumerated in chapter 14.  That YHWH rules and subdues his enemies while protecting his people, is the result of the Shepherd’s death and the cleaning fountain which results.  Jesus’ death is dawn of the new creation and establishes the conditions depicted in chapter 14.

To put it simply, Van Groningen sees Zechariah 14 as a prophecy of the messianic age yet to come, using apocalyptic language and symbols which relate the past experience of God’s people (in great tribulation) to their future expectations in the messianic age to come.  What comes about in chapter 14, clearly flows out of the Messiah’s death and subsequent rule, ensuring that the messianic kingdom yet to come will completely surpass anything that the theocratic kingdom of Israel could ever bring about or experience.

Meredith Kline takes this same general interpretative approach, but takes the prophecy one step farther (which I think is very helpful).  What is inaugurated by the Messiah (all of the blessings secured by the Messiah’s death, and the cleansing and sanctifying power which results) is ultimately brought to realization by the divine warrior (Jesus) who brings judgment to the nations (vv. 3-5), the establishment of the new creation (v. 6 ff).  According to Kline, at that time “the saints will possess a holy and blessed world, purged of all of God’s enemies.  The consummation of joy and glory typified by the Feast of Tabernacles will be realized.  And echoing Zechariah 6:8; 14:9 characterizes that day as the time when Yahweh alone will be king over the whole world” (Kline, Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions, Two-Age Press, 2001, 216). 

What Zechariah foresees then, is not only that the Messiah inaugurates the messianic age, but that he brings it to final consummation.

Thus the dispensationalists are correct to tie the prophecy, in part, to Christ’s second advent.  They err when they ignore the elements of this prophecy to be enjoyed in the present messianic age before Christ returns, and especially by tying this prophecy to a future earthly millennium on a partially redeemed earth, as opposed to Zechariah’s focus upon the prophecy's ultimate fulfillment in the final consummation, upon a new heaven and earth.
 
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Robert Mosley (December 2006) asks:
    
I skimmed through your A Case For Amillennialism (reading most of it). It would seem to me that Ephesians 2:11-22 would be the clearest biblical answer to the dispensational claim of two plans of salvation.  But you make no reference (that I saw) to this passage.  Why?

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Robert:

This should be a lesson to you not to skim my books!  I do indeed quote this passage on pages 120-121, and state that this passage (along with Galatians 3:28) “are clear challenges to the dispensational notion of two distinct peoples of God with separate redemptive economies" (A Case for Amillennialism, 120).  But your question gives me a chance to elaborate a bit more on this very important text, and the dispensational interpretation of it.

Dispensationalists obviously struggle with this critical Pauline passage because it so clearly states something completely different from the dispensational claim that although there is but one gospel, nevertheless, there are distinctive redemptive purposes for national Israel, as well as for the Gentiles.

It is helpful to see how various dispensational writers approach this passage.  Pentecost, for one, argues that this passage describes God’s purpose for the present age, but not for the millennial age.  Pentecost contends that this passage is indicative of God’s distinct program for his earthly people Israel, and for the church (J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come, Zondervan, 1978, 528-529). 

John Walvoord sees the passage as referring to the “new program” for the church (which was a mystery in the Old Testament), in which a living union is formed so that Jew and Gentile are brought together so that all racial tensions are eliminated (Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, Zondervan, 1991), 241-242. 

Charles Ryrie cites Ephesians 2:15 as proof that the church was a mystery in the Old Testament (Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody, 1996), 125.  While Charles Dyer agrees with this, he gives the following caution.  “One must be careful in reading too much meaning into an analogy,” referring to Paul’s use for the phrase, “the new man.”  Dyer concludes, “the mere presence of an analogy does not automatically argue for the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy” (Charles Dyer, “The Biblical Meaning of Fulfillment” in Issues in Dispensationlism, Moody, 1994, 60). 

Barry Horner contends that the Reformed interpretation of this passage--which he correctly acknowledges is to us a critical passage--completely eliminates any distinction between Jew and Gentile.  Horner sees this as a “fundamental error” because it supposedly obliterates any cultural distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians, when the New Testament allows for such distinctions.  (cf. Barry Horner, Future Israel, B & H Academic, 2007, 269-275).

There are several things to say in response to the dispensational interpretation of this passage.  First, suppose, for the sake of argument, that this passage is indeed talking about God’s “new program” for the church age, and that Paul is describing what happens when God temporarily joins Jew and Gentile together in the church (his purpose in this present age).  But what happens when the Gentile church is raptured from the earth at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period?  From that point on (according to dispensationalists), God’s redemptive purposes once again shift from salvation of the Gentiles, back to national Israel during both the tribulation and millennial age.  That which Christ came to do–make the two peoples one (Ephesians 2:11-22)–is now completely undone in the millennial age. 

If dispensationalists are correct, this means that redemptive history moves forward (from type and shadow to fulfillment and reality) until the tribulation.  Then, in one gigantic redemptive-historical U-turn, God's purposes now return to the same Old Testament types and shadows which existed before the coming of Christ, which pointed to him, and which he fulfilled!  This, of course, is not the case.

Second, as Charles Dyer points out, dispensationalists need to be clear that Paul is only using an analogy here, and that he is not speaking literally.  This is rather amusing, since dispensationalists often chide amillennarians about supposedly allegorizing clear passages and “spiritualizing" them.  Now, says Dyer, the heart of Ephesians 2:11-22 (v. 15) is a mere analogy about the "new man" and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. 

Don’t you just love it when those (like Dyer) who claim to hold their view because they interpret the Bible “literally,” now fall all over themselves to deny the literal interpretation of a passage which largely serves to undo the entire dispensational hermeneutic.  Yes, Paul is using the new man analogy in verse 15 to explain to his readers the wonder of what has happened with the coming of Christ.  Gentiles, who were separated from Christ and aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, who were strangers to the covenants of promise, who were without hope, and without God in the world (vv. 12-13), have now been brought near by the blood of Christ (v. 13)!  Wasn't all of this prophesied in the Old Testament, and fulfilled by Christ during his messianic mission?  What I am missing?

More than that, God took these two different groups and made them one, making Jew and Gentile alike fellow citizens of the same spiritual house (the church--vv. 19-22).  This is why Paul can speak of the barrier wall, which separated the outer court of the Gentiles from the inner court in the Jerusalem temple, as being "torn  down" (v. 14).  This happened, in a theological sense, when Christ fulfilled the Mosaic economy (rendering it obsolete--cf. Hebrews 8:13), and united both Jew and Gentile into one "new man" (v. 15-18).  The ground of God's hostility toward us (our sin), as well as our hostility toward each other (Jewish exclusiveness and Gentile godlessness) have forever been removed.  That which was hidden in type and shadow in the Old Testament has been fulfilled, and now fully brought into the open through Christ's redemptive work.

Third, Horner completely misses the point Reformed amillennarians are making about this passage when we speak of God's purpose in Christ as making the two peoples (Jew and Gentile) one in Christ.  When God brings Jews and Gentiles together in the church, he never insists that Jews stop living as Jews (culturally or ethnically).  Rather, the apostles repeatedly warn Jewish Christians (cf. Galatians 1-3; Acts 15) that it is a condemnable error to insist that Gentile converts to Christianity live as Jews (and accept ritual circumcision, keep the dietary laws, and feast days) in order to be justified.  Paul's point is that God takes ethnic Jews (with all of their history and culture--indeed Paul himself lived as a Jew, although he was willing to become all things to all men) and then joins them together with Gentiles (of every race and tongue) into one church, the temple of the living God.  

In fact, God’s joining of Jew and Gentile together into one new man takes place on the basis of Christ’s redemptive work (v. 16), not because Jews give up their cultural identity.  Don't forget that it was the same Apostle Paul who tells us in Galatians 3:26-29, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise?”

If Horner’s take on the Reformed hermeneutical principle is correct--that the joining of these two different peoples into one church requires us to deny any diversity whatsoever--then we as Reformed Christians would certainly argue that once we become Christians, men and women are to become androgynous, because the joining of male and female into one body (the church) obliterates all diversity.  There's a reason why we don't argue that way in Galatians 3:28.  There's a reason why we don't mean such a thing in Ephesians 2:11-12.  Surely, Dr. Horner ought to rethink that charge. 

Furthermore, as someone who is not Dutch (I'm a German) and yet who serves as a minister in a largely Dutch Reformed denomination, I can tell you that people of various cultures and ethnic backgrounds, get along just fine in the church, even if the ethnic and cultural differences remain.  Throw in several Asian cultures, some hispanics, and add a few Filipinos to the mix, and that's just part of what you'll find in our church.  What unites us is a common faith, not a common culture.  That is what was to unite the Ephesians as well.

In this passage, I take Paul to be making the following point.  Through the redemptive work of Christ (vv. 13, 16), God has brought Gentiles (formerly aliens and strangers, vv. 12-13) into God’s house (the church, vv. 19-22), along with those Jews who likewise embrace Christ through faith (vv. 14-19).  This was God's purpose from the beginning.  Indeed the church is God’s holy temple, indwelt by Christ's blessed Spirit.  This is not a temporary situation.  Rather, this points us in the direction of the final consummation, because that same indwelling Spirit guarantees the resurrection of our bodies (Ephesians 1:13-14), so that we dwell upon a new heaven and earth, the home of righteousness.

To insist, as dispensationalists do, that this glorious temple which Jesus is currently building is somehow torn apart when Christ returns to remove the Gentile church (which includes Jewish believers) and set up his millennial reign upon the earth, misses the whole point of Ephesians 2:11-22.  To argue that the point of this passage is but a mere analogy with no reference to fulfilled prophecy also misses (rather badly at that) Paul's point.  And to argue that the Reformed interpretation somehow requires a complete obliteration of the distinction between Jews (ethnically/culturally) simply cannot be sustained.

It is hard for me to see how this passage is anything but a serious challenge to the dispensational reading of Scripture.

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