Is the Millennium Characterized by a Return to Old Testament Types and Shadows? The Problem with the Dispensational Interpretation of the Millennium
Dispensationists must not only face the problem of evil and apostasy during the millennial age associated with all forms of premillennialism, but as a distinct theological system in its own right with a distinct hermeneutic, dispensationalists also face a number of additional problems created by dispensational modifications of traditional premillennialism (Click here: Riddleblog - The Latest Post - A Huge Problem for Premillennarians -- The Presence of Evil in the Millennial Age).
The problem with the dispensational interpretation of the millennium has to do with how we are to understand the general flow of redemptive history. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s prophets foretell of the coming messianic age in terms of that prophet’s own particular time and place in the unfolding drama of redemptive history. What is especially germane to our present question is the fact that Israel’s prophets speak of the glorious messianic age yet to come in terms of the types and shadows associated with Old Testament messianic anticipation.
But Old Testament types and shadows are subsequently reinterpreted in the New Testament in the greater light of the dawn of the messianic age associated with Christ’s coming. This is why one of the major aspects of the eschatology of the New Testament era is that what was promised in the Old Testament has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The redemptive-historical pattern clearly moves from type and shadow to fulfillment and reality. Because this is the case, the New Testament writers anticipate the final consummation at our Lord’s return and not a return to an earthly rule of Jesus Christ understood in terms of Old Testament types and shadows which were destined to pass away.
For example, when Israel’s prophets speak of the restoration of Israel, the New Testament contends that this promise of restoration is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the true Israel (Click here: Riddleblog - The Latest Post - Amillennialism 101 -- Jesus Christ: The True Israel). When Israel’s prophets speak of the land of Canaan, the city of Jerusalem and the mountain of the Lord, the authors of the New Testament, in turn, point out that these themes are fulfilled in Christ and his church. In many instances, they do so as a polemic against Jews who did not accept Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, sent by God to redeem his people from their sins. The literal interpretation of these Old Testament messianic passages is supplied by the New Testament. Therefore, Old Testament prophetic expectation must not be the basis for understanding the eschatology of the New.
In order to understand the biblical teaching about the millennium, we must determine how the various authors of the New Testament apply messianic typology to Jesus Christ, and how, in turn, Jesus Christ fulfills the Old Testament messianic expectation, thereby guaranteeing his Second Advent and the final consummation.
What is especially problematic about the dispensational understanding of the millennial age is that the millennium as conceived by dispensationalists amounts to a return to the types and shadows associated with the Old Testament prophets and the typological understanding of the messianic age which has now been realized in Jesus Christ. Once Christ has come and fulfilled these particular prophetic expectations, how can the dispensationalist justify his belief that the future millennial age is characterized by a redemptive economy of type and shadow, when the reality to which these things pointed, has already come? This pre-messianic Old Testament millennial expectation, complete with restored temple worship and the reinstitution of animal sacrifices, can only be justified by a redemptive historical U-turn (Click here: Riddleblog - The Latest Post - Jesus, the True Temple).
According to dispensationalists, type and shadow are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who, in the millennial age, supposedly re-institutes these same types and shadows which are inferior and have passed away. This is highly problematic and does great violence to the overall thrust of biblical history. This peculiar feature of dispensationalism explains the rise of progressive dispensationalism, which seeks to avoid this highly-problematic aspect of traditional dispensationalism.
This supposed return to type and shadow during the millennial age is seen in the dispensational interpretation of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. When dispensationalists contend that the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant is not fulfilled until Israel is reborn as a nation and returned to her ancient homeland in Palestine in 1948, they run head-long into Paul’s assertion that the Abrahamic covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, since even Gentiles who embrace the messianic promise through faith are Abraham’s children and members of this covenant (Galatians 3:15-29; Romans 4:1-25). It is Paul who “spiritualizes” the promise of a land in Palestine which originally extended from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, (Genesis 15:18) to now include the whole world (Romans 4:13).
This same tendency to ignore the way in which the New Testament writers apply Old Testament messianic expectations to Christ can be seen in the dispensational insistence that Christ has not yet fulfilled the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 since, supposedly, this will not occur until the millennial age, when Jesus rules the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem. But the writers of the New Testament could not be any clearer when they teach that this prophecy was fulfilled at the time of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, when God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him on high by seating him at his right hand in heaven. This event, Peter says, fulfills God’s messianic promise to David that one of his own descendants would sit on his throne (Acts 2: 30-35). In fact, it is because Jesus fulfilled this promise that Peter urges his fellow Jews in the temple that first Pentecost Sunday to “repent and be baptized.”
Finally, the dispensationalist interpretation of redemptive history hinges upon a distinctive reading of the great messianic prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27, which supposedly places the seventieth week of Daniel in the future. As I have argued elsewhere, Daniel’s prophecy is gloriously fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who in his active and passive obedience has finished transgression, put an end to sin, atoned for wickedness, brought in everlasting righteousness, sealed up vision and prophecy and anointed the most Holy place (v. 24). Since Messiah was cut-off in the middle of the seventieth week and has made a covenant with his people (vv. 26-27), the seventy weeks prophecy has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ at the time of his first advent. Therefore, there is no future seven-year tribulation period as taught by dispensationalists, nor does the Bible anticipate a peace treaty to be made between the Antichrist and the nation of Israel. These are both essential features of the dispensationalist’s expectation for the future (Click here: Riddleblog - The Latest Post - Eschatology Q & A -- What About the Remaining 3 1/2 Years in Daniel's Prophecy of t).
Because of these factors, amillennarians believe that the dispensational understanding of redemptive history in general and of the millennial age in particular is seriously flawed. The millennial age is not depicted in the Bible as a return to the types and shadows of the Old Testament, complete with temple worship and animal sacrifice, while Jesus rules the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem. Instead, the biblical data demonstrates that the millennium is this present age, where Jesus Christ rules the earth from heaven, and where his saints who do not worship the beast or his image, triumph in death, when they come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years. The millennial reign of Christ is a present reality.
This is an edited excerpt from my book, A Case for Amillennialism. For more information, Click here: Riddleblog - A Case for Amillennialism - Understanding the End