Introduction. Dispensational premillennialism75 can be identified through two basic features: (1) a distinction is made between God’s program for Israel and His program for the church; (2) a consistently literal interpretation of the Scriptures is maintained. Dispensational premillennialists believe that the church will be raptured (1 Thess. 4:13–18) prior to the Tribulation period; God will judge unbelieving Gentiles and disobedient Israel during the Tribulation (Rev. 6–19). At the end of the Tribulation Christ will return with the church and establish the millennial kingdom on earth. Following the thousand-year reign, Satan will be freed once more, whereupon he and his followers will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7–10). The eternal state will follow.

The church from the beginning was premillennial in belief. The Didache (c. a.d. 100), Clement of Rome (a.d. 96 or 97), the Shepherd of Hermas (a.d. 140–150), Ignatius of Antioch (a.d. 50–115?), Papias (a.d. 80–163), Justin Martyr (b. c. a.d. 100), Irenaeus (d. a.d. 200), Tertullian (a.d. 150–225), and other sources indicate that the early church believed in the return of Jesus Christ to personally establish His earthly kingdom.76

Interpretation. There are two basic features that identify dispensational premillennialism. (1) Literal hermeneutic. Literal interpretation refers to “normal” interpretation—understanding words and statements in their normal, customary way.77 Because prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, it makes good sense to expect the prophecies concerning His second coming to be interpreted literally. Furthermore, if prophecy can be spiritualized, all objectivity is lost. Dispensational premillennialists emphasize consistency in interpretation by interpreting prophecy literally. In this premillennialists criticize conservative amillennialists and postmillennialists for changing their methodology in hermeneutics by interpreting literally except in the case of prophecy.

(2) Distinction between Israel and the church. The term Israel always refers to the physical posterity of Jacob; nowhere does it refer to the church.78 Although nondispensationalists frequently refer to the church as the “new Israel,” there is no biblical warrant for doing so. Many passages indicate Israel was still regarded as a distinct entity after the birth of the church (Rom. 9:6; 1 Cor. 10:32). Israel was given unconditional promises (covenants) in the Old Testament that must be fulfilled with Israel in the millennial kingdom. The church, on the other hand, is a distinct New Testament entity born at Pentecost (1 Cor. 12:13) and not existing in the Old Testament, nor prophesied in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:9). It exists from Pentecost (Acts 2) until the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13–18). Herein lies the reason for belief in the pretribulation rapture: the purpose of the Tribulation is to judge unbelieving Gentiles and to discipline disobedient Israel (Jer. 30:7); the church does not have purpose or place in the Tribulation.

Covenants. Although Revelation 20:4–6 confirms dispensational premillennialism, that is not the foundation of it; the foundation of dispensational premillennialism is found in the covenants of the Old Testament.79 These covenants were literal, unconditional, and eternal. There are no conditions attached to the covenants and as such they unequivocally promise Israel a future land, a Messianic rule, and spiritual blessings. (1) The Abrahamic covenant. Described in Genesis 12:1–3, the Abrahamic covenant promised a land (v.l; cf. 13:14–17; further developed in the Palestinian covenant); numerous descendants involving a nation, dynasty, and a throne (v. 2; cf. 13:16; 17:2–6; further developed in the Davidic covenant); and redemption (v. 3; cf. 22:18; further developed in the New Covenant).

(2) The Palestinian covenant (Deut. 30:1–10). This covenant guarantees Israel’s permanent right to the land. It is unconditional, as seen in the state ments “God will,” without corresponding obligations. This covenant promises the ultimate return of Israel to the land in repentance and faith (v. 2) in circumstances wherein God will prosper them (v. 3). This covenant will be fulfilled in the Millennium.

(3) The Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:12–16). The provisions of this covenant are summarized in v. 16 by the words “house,” promising a dynasty in the lineage of David; “kingdom,” referring to a people who are governed by a king; “throne,” emphasizing the authority of the king’s rule; “forever,” emphasizing the eternal and unconditional nature of this promise to Israel. This covenant will be fulfilled when Christ returns to rule over believing Israel.

(4) The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–34). This covenant provides the basis by which God will bless Israel in the future—Israel will enjoy forgiveness of sins through the meritorious death of Christ. The unconditional nature of this covenant is once more seen in the “I will” statements of vv. 33–34.

If these covenants are understood according to their normal meaning, then they call for a future blessing of believing, national Israel in the land under Messiah’s rule. These covenants await a fulfillment in the Millennium.

The rapture. The term rapture comes from the Latin translatio n, meaning “caught up,” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The rapture, which is distinguished from the second coming of Christ, is taught in John 14:1–3; 1 Corinthians 15:51–57; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. Prior to the advent of the Tribulation, Christ will descend from heaven, catching up the church to be with Himself while the Tribulation is unleashed on an unrepentant and unbelieving world.

The pretribulation rapture is espoused for a number of reasons.80 (1) The nature of the Tribulation. The seventieth week of Daniel—the Tribulation—is an outpouring of the wrath of God throughout the seven years (Rev. 6:16–17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1; 16:1, 19); it is described as God’s judgment ( Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:5–7; 19:2) and God’s punishment (Isa. 24:21–22). (2) The scope of the Tribulation. The whole earth will be involved (Isa. 24:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 21; 34:2). It also involves God’s chastisement of Israel (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9:24). If this is the nature and scope of the Tribulation, it is inconceivable that the church will be on earth to experience the wrath of God. (3) The purposes of the Tribulation. The divine intentions of the Tribulation will be to judge people living on earth (Rev. 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:8) and to prepare Israel for her King (Ezek. 36:18–32; Mal. 4:5–6). Neither of these pertain to the church. (4) The unity of the Tribulation. The Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel; Daniel 9:24 makes it clear that it has reference to Israel. (5) The exemption of the Tribulation. The church is the bride of Christ, the object of Christ’s love, not His wrath (Eph. 5:25). It would be a contradiction of the very relationship of Christ and the church for the church to go through the punishments of the Tribulation. Specific statements affirming the church will be kept from the Tribulation (cf. Rom. 5:9;81 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rev. 3:10).82 (6) The sequel of the Tribulation. The signs of Matthew 24 (and numerous other passages) were given to Israel concerning the second coming of Christ; no signs, however, were given to the church to anticipate the rapture (which means it will come suddenly, as pretribulationists have affirmed). “The church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them in His presence (John 14:2–3; Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:51–52; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 6:14; James 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:3–4).”83

The tribulation. The Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel (Dan. 9:27), a week according to the prophet’s terminology equaling seven years. It is the last of a seventy-week (490 years) prophecy regarding Israel’s future (Dan. 9:24–27), which began in 444 b.c. Sixty-nine weeks (483 years) concluded with the death of Christ (Dan. 9:26). There is a gap between the sixty-ninth week (a.d. 33) and the seventieth week (the future Tribulation period).84 As the seventieth week of Daniel, the Tribulation has particular reference to Israel (not the church), because Daniel was told, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people” (Dan. 9:24). When Jesus detailed the events of the Tribulation in Matthew 24–25, He explained to the disciples what would happen to the nation Israel, indicating the Tribulation has reference to Israel.

The Tribulation will begin with the signing of the covenant by the beast, who promises to protect Israel (Dan. 9:27). Technically, the rapture does not begin the Tribulation; there may be a brief period of time between the rapture of the church and the signing of the covenant. The Tribulation will involve the judgment of God upon an unbelieving world, as detailed in Revelation 6–19. The consecutive series of seals, trumpets, and bowl judgments of Revelation detail God’s judgment upon unbelievers, climaxing in the triumphant return of Christ to earth with His bride, the church (Rev. 19:11–21).

A prophetic year was regarded as 360 days, with emphasis on the last half of the Tribulation period, called the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21) and referred to as 42 months (Rev. 11:2) or 1,260 days (Rev. 11:3).

The nature and purpose of the Tribulation is important in resolving the issue of the church’s participation in it. (1) Nature of the Tribulation. It has already been shown that the Tribulation is a time of the outpouring of the wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 6:16, 17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1; 16:1, 19); it is a time of punishment (Isa. 24:20–21); a time of trouble (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1); a time of great destruction (Joel 1:15; 1 Thess. 5:3); a time of desolation (Zeph. 1:14, 15); a time of judgment (Rev. 14:7; 16:5; 19:2). If the church is the object of Christ’s love, how can it be present during the Tribulation?

(2) Source of the Tribulation. Posttribulationists suggest the Tribulation is a time of Satan’s wrath, not God’s. The emphasis of Scripture, however, is that the Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath poured out in judgment upon an unbelieving world85 (Isa. 24:1; 26:21; Zeph. 1:18; Rev. 6:16–17 ; 11:18; 16:19; 19:1–2, etc.).

(3) Purposes of the Tribulation.86 The first purpose of the Tribulation is to bring about the conversion of Israel, which will be accomplished through God’s disciplinary dealing with His people Israel (Jer. 30:7; Ezek. 20:37; Dan. 12:1; Zech. 13:8–9). The second purpose of the Tribulation is to judge unbelieving people and nations (Isa. 26:21; Jer. 25:32–33; 2 Thess. 2:12).

Judgment seat of Christ. The judgment seat of Christ is mentioned in Romans 14:10, 1 Corinthians 3:9–15, and 2 Corinthians 5:10. It does not denote a judgment concerning eternal destiny but rather rewarding church age believers for faithfulness. The term judgment seat (Gk. bema) is taken from the Grecian games where successful athletes were rewarded for victory in athletic contests. Paul used that figure to denote the giving of rewards to church age believers. The purpose of the judgment seat will be recompense for deeds done in the body, whether good or worthless (2 Cor. 5:10). The believer’s works will be examined (1 Cor. 3:13) whether done by self-effort or whether done by God through the individual. If the believer’s works do not endure, he is saved but receives no reward (1 Cor. 3:15); if the believer’s works are genuine, he is rewarded (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 5:4; James 1:12).

That the rewarding takes place prior to the Second Advent is seen in that the bride has already been rewarded when returning with Christ (Rev. 19:8).87

Marriage of the Lamb. Prior to the Second Advent, the marriage of Christ and the church takes place in heaven. When Christ returns with His bride in Revelation 19:7 the marriage has already taken place.88 The marriage has reference to the church and takes place in heaven, whereas the marriage supper has reference to Israel and takes place on earth in the form of the millennial kingdom.89

Second coming of Christ. At the end of the Tribulation Christ will return physically to earth (Zech. 14:4) to render judgment and to inaugurate the millennial kingdom (Zech. 14:9–21; Matt. 25:31; Rev. 20:4). The Old Testament and Tribulation saints will be raised at that time to inherit the kingdom (Rev. 20:4). At the Second Advent Christ will judge Jews and Gentiles. The Jews will be judged on the basis of their preparedness for His return (Matt. 25:1–13) and their faithfulness as stewards of the Word of God (Matt. 25:14–30). The saved Jews will enter the millennial kingdom (Matt. 25:21), while the unsaved will be cast into outer darkness (Matt. 25:30). Unbelieving Gentiles will be judged in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Kidron Valley; Zech. 14:4) regarding their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3:2; Matt. 25:40). A positive response would indicate their belief in Messiah; these will inherit the kingdom (Matt. 25:34), while the unbelieving will be turned away into everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46).

Millennial kingdom. When Christ returns to earth He will establish Himself as King in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David (Luke 1:32–33). The unconditional covenants demand a literal, physical return of Christ to establish the kingdom. The Abrahamic covenant promised Israel a land, a posterity and ruler, and a spiritual blessing (Gen. 12:1–3); the Palestinian covenant promised Israel a restoration to the land and occupation of the land (Deut. 30:1–10); the Davidic covenant promised a ruler for the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:16); the New Covenant promised Israel forgiveness—the means whereby the nation could be blessed (Jer. 31:31–34). At the Second Advent these covenants will be fulfilled as Israel is regathered from the nations (Matt. 24:31), converted (Zech. 12:10–14), and restored to the land under the rulership of her Messiah

The conditions during the Millennium will depict a perfect environment physically and spiritually. It will be a time of peace (Mic. 4:2–4; Isa. 32:17–18); joy (Isa. 61:7, 10); comfort (Isa. 40:1–2); and no poverty (Amos 9:13–15) or sickness (Isa. 35:5–6). Because only the believers will enter the Millennium, it will be a time of righteousness (Matt. 25:37; Ps. 24:3–4); obedience (Jer. 31:33); holiness (Isa. 35:8); truth (Isa. 65:16); and fulness of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28–29).

Christ will rule as king (Isa. 9:3–7; 11:1–10), with David as regent (Jer. 33:15, 17, 21; Amos 9:11); nobles and governors will also rule (Isa. 32:1; Matt. 19:28; Luke 19:17).

Jerusalem will be the center of the world and rule (Zech. 8:3), rising physically to reveal its prominence (Zech. 14:10). There will be topographical changes in Israel (Zech. 14:4, 8, 10).

At the end of the Millennium the unsaved dead of all ages are resurrected and judged at the great white throne. They will be condemned and cast into the lake of fire, their final abode (Rev. 20:11–15). The devil, the beast (the Antichrist), and the false prophet are also cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).

Eternal state. Following the Millennium, the heavens and the earth are judged (2 Pet. 3:10), because they were the domain of Satan’s rebellion against God. The eternal state, the abode of all redeemed (Heb. 12:22–24), will be ushered in (Rev. 21–22).




The History of Interpretation

Across the centuries of church history there have been various interpretations of Revelation and of prophecy in general.

My Word Bible Handbook (Word) sums up the history succinctly:

The Early Church. The Didache was probably written about a.d. 100. It gives this picture of the future as understood in the post-apostolic church: “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ye ready, for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh. When lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate and betray and persecute one another, and then shall appear the ‘world-deceiver’ as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish, but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the sign of an opening in heaven, the outspreading of the heaven; (b) then the sign of the sound of the trumpet; and the (c) third, the resurrection of the dead, yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, 382).

In a.d. 140–160 Justin Martyr wrote, “I, and as many as are orthodox Christians, do acknowledge that there shall be a resurrection of the body, and a residence of a thousand years in Jerusalem, adorned and enlarged, as the Prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, and others do unanimously attest” (Fathers, Vol. 1:239).

Irenaeus, a great missionary and church father, who died in a.d. 202, summed up the picture of the future taught in his day. “When the Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then shall the Lord come from heaven in clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man, and those who follow him, into the lake of fire; but bringing for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which the kingdom of the Lord declared that ‘many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob’ ” (Fathers, Vol. 1:560).

It is clear from these early fathers, as well as from the writings of Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius and others, that for some 300 years the church did integrate Old Testament and New Testament prophetic pictures and took them in their literal sense. They expected Christ’s return to precede a time of blessing, promised in the Old Testament, before the world would end.

To the Reformation. A review of commentaries on the Book of Revelation shows a shift in understanding prophecy occurred after the early centuries. A leader of the African church, Tyconius, wrote a commentary around a.d. 390 in which the events Revelation describes were spiritualized. His allegorical approach was adopted, and later used to justify the development of the papacy as a political power. The allegorical method of interpreting Revelation was followed by Pirimasius (ca. a.d. 550), Alcuin (a.d. 735–804), Maurus (a.d. 775 836), and Strabo (a.d. 807–859).

Joachim of Fiore (ca. a.d. 1130–1202) challenged the dominant allegorical interpretation by introducing a chronological division. He divided all of history into three ages: the Age of the Father (Creation to Christ), the Age of the Son (Christ to his own day), and the Age of the Spirit (his time, until final judgment). When the Reformation came, this chronological approach was fastened on by Luther, Calvin, and others. The Antichrist-beast of Revelation 13 and the harlot of Revelation 17–18 were interpreted as the papacy, and as Rome. Events in the history of western Europe were linked to the various seals and trumpets of the book.

The Catholics responded with a commentary on Revelation in which Francisco Ribera (a.d. 1537–1591) argued that the Antichrist was an individual who would come in some future time, not the pope. Other Catholic writers argued that Revelation applied only to events before the fall of Rome, in a.d. 476.

The medieval scholars, the Reformers, or the later Catholic theologians attempted to relate Revelation to the prophetic picture found in the Old Testament and build a unified picture of the future.


Ezekiel and the Millennium

The interpretation of the Book of Ezekiel must involve more than exegesis and text-critical analysis. It must involve relating the message of the book to biblical theology as a whole. Since Ezekiel’s message is largely an eschatological one, this means relating Ezekiel to the Bible’s teaching on eschatology.116 The major questions in this regard are: Who are to be the recipients of the redemptive promises of Ezekiel? What is to be the nature of the fulfillment of those promises? Various answers to these questions largely distinguish four primary hermeneutical frameworks applied to biblical eschatology.117

Dispensational Premillennialism. Premillennialism is the teaching that Christ’s second coming will inaugurate a visible kingdom of righteousness that will comprise the whole earth. The term “dispensationalism” refers to a system of scriptural interpretation that stresses literal fulfillment of prophecy as well as distinctions in God’s administrative program historically, that is, “dispensations.” The various dispensations (some of which may overlap) reflect different aspects of God’s purposes in his plan for history.

The thousand years of Rev 20 are considered to be literal in fact and duration, fulfilling Old Testament promises of a Davidic messianic kingdom (distinct from the universal kingdom of God), including a restored national Israel and a redeemed earth. J. S. Feinberg has written, “While a prophecy given unconditionally to Israel has a fulfillment for the church if the NT applies it to the church, it must also be fulfilled to Israel. Progress of revelation cannot cancel unconditional promises.”118 During the millennium Satan will be bound, signifying the elimination of his influence from the world. Most important, Jesus will reign as Messiah on earth, and believers will be his administrators. The millennial kingdom will entail blessings for all nations but will have a distinctive Jewish emphasis, including a form of worship involving a rebuilt Jewish temple and the reinstitution of certain sacrifices. There will be two resurrections, the first unto life before the millennium and the second unto judgment at the end of the millennium.119

Classic (or “essentialist”) dispensationalists maintain a sharp distinction between the church and Israel. The church age is understood as a parenthesis in God’s prophetic program, during which focus is on the salvation of Gentiles. God’s program with Israel will be renewed after the church has been temporarily removed from the earth during the tribulation. Jesus’ second coming to the earth with the church will begin the millennium, during which there will be two distinct peoples of God, the church and Israel.120

A contemporary variation known as “progressive dispensationism” places greater stress on ultimate fulfillment of divine purposes in the final eternal kingdom of the new heavens and earth. Also while maintaining the expectation of the restoration of national Israel in the millennium, they see the current church age as having inaugurated the Davidic kingdom in some sense and as having begun the fulfillment of Old Testament promises of spiritual blessing, including Gentile salvation. Thus this current age is not a parenthesis in God’s prophetic program, and there is only one people of God united in Christ. In the millennium as well, although an ethnic distinction between Jew and Gentile will be recognized as “different dimensions of redeemed humanity,” there will be only one people of God.121 Also stress is placed on fulfillment of prophecy not in Israel or in a Davidic kingdom but in Christ.122

Historic Premillennalism. This hermeneutical approach is based upon a literal interpretation of New Testament prophecy and thus agrees with dispensational premillennialism that there will be two resurrections and that Jesus’ second coming will inaugurate an earthly millennial kingdom (whether or not literally a thousand years).123 Christ’s messianic reign, however, is believed to have begun in an invisible form at his resurrection and ascension, so that the millennial kingdom is only part of Christ’s reign.124 More important to the distinctiveness of the view, Old Testament prophecies of the coming kingdom of righteousness are thought to be fulfilled in the New Testament church. G. E. Ladd explains that the “basic watershed between a dispensational and a nondispensational theology” is that dispensationalism “forms its eschatology by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and fits the New Testament into it.”125 Nondispensational eschatology, however, follows the principle of the New Testament and reinterprets the Old Testament “in light of the Christ event.”126 Thus the church is identified as spiritual Israel, the people of God, although a future conversion of literal Israel is affirmed, perhaps in the millennium.127 Nevertheless, the millennial kingdom is not interpreted as a Jewish kingdom involving temple and sacrifices but as a kingdom of Christ.128

Postmillennialism. This view, not widely held, while agreeing with premillennialism that there is a future earthly kingdom, asserts that the blessings promised to Israel in the Old Testament are in process of being fulfilled in the church. Initiated by the first coming of Christ, the kingdom of God is being extended through the work of the church with the growth and power of the gospel. According to J. M. Kik, “The post-mill looks for a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the glorious age of the church upon the earth through the preaching of the gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit.”129 Those who hold this position expect the conversion of all nations prior to the second coming of Christ. The millennium is understood as a gradually beginning period of indeterminate length during which there will be unprecedented peace and righteousness on earth. It will be the final stage of the church age which will end with Christ’s return and with one general resurrection of those who have lived in all previous ages of human history.130

Amillennialism. The word “amillennial” means “no thousand years.” This is the view, then, that there is to be no literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth. Rather, the millennium of Rev 20:1–10 is “not exclusively future but is now in process of realization.”131 In the sense of a present “inaugurated” reality it is most commonly considered to be a heavenly kingdom in which believers who have died reign with Christ. As such it extends from the first advent of Christ to just before the second.132 An older view defines it more as symbolic of the reign of Christ in the church in the present age. Christian history since the ascension is the story of the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan. Many biblical passages regarding the millennium relate to this ongoing spiritual struggle which will intensify until a climactic conflict symbolized by the battle of Armageddon and the destruction of Gog and Magog (Ezek 38–39; Rev 16:16; 20:7–10) is ended by the return of Christ.133 The binding of Satan (Rev 20:2–3) is frequently interpreted as his restriction from deceiving the nations, making possible the evangelistic work of the church.134 To an even greater degree than in historic premillennialism, the church is equated with spiritual Israel and is considered the direct recipient of Old Testament promises.135 Christ’s return and the final judgment will conclude the millennium, thus ending human history and inaugurating the final eternal state of believers and the new heavens and earth.136 Many of the Old Testament prophecies commonly applied to the millennium by premillennialists are interpreted by amillennialists as referring to the new heavens and earth, which is understood to follow the church age as the second phase of the kingdom of God.137 This approach advocates less literalness in the interpretation of prophecy and is less preoccupied with details and chronology of events related to the end of time since many eschatological events are expected to occur almost simultaneously.138

One’s eschatological view will have a definite affect on the hermeneutical methodology employed in interpreting Scripture.139 While there are capable scholars who favor each of the above approaches to the interpretation of end-time events, this commentary will follow the dispensational premillennial framework as that which best fits the exegesis of the text and which correlates with the theology of the rest of Scripture. A rationale for this orientation is presented in the next section.



The English word church is related to the Scottish word kirk and the German designation kirche, and all of these terms are derived from the Greek word kuriakon, the neuter adjective of kurios (“Lord” ), meaning “belonging to the Lord.”1 The English word church also translates the Greek word ekklesia, which is derived from ek, meaning “out of,” and kaleo, which means “to call,” hence, the church is “a called out group.” Ekklesia appears 114 times in the New Testament, 3 times in the gospels, and 111 times in the epistles. In the gospels it appears only in Matthew 16:18 and 18:17 (twice). The latter two occurrences are probably used in a nontechnical sense of a Jewish congregation. Thus in a technical sense, ekklesia is used only once in the gospels, and in that passage it is a prophetic reference to the church. This helps establish the fact that the church began after the ascension as recorded in the book of Acts and is a particularly Pauline doctrine.

The word ekklesia, however, does not indicate the nature of the called out group; it can be used in a technical sense of the New Testament church, or it can be used in a nontechnical sense of any kind of group. For example, in Acts 7:38 it refers to the congregation of the people of Israel as the ekklesia (it is translated “congregation” ). In Acts 19:32 it refers to the mob at Ephesus that was angry at Paul (here it is translated “assembly” ). Most often, however, the word is used in a technical sense to designate the New Testament church, a group of called-out believers in Jesus Christ.


The local church. The most common use of the word church in the New Testament is to designate a group of believers that is identified as a local assembly or congregation. Thus there was a church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:22), in Asia Minor (Acts 16:5), in Rome (Rom. 16:5), in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1), in Galatia (Gal. 1:2), in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1), and in the home of Philemon (Philem. 2).

These early believers did not have special buildings in which to meet; instead, they met in homes (Rom. 16:5; Philem. 2). The early believers came together for worship (1 Cor. 11:18), fellowship (Acts 2:45–46; 4:31), instruction (Acts 2:42; 11:26; 1 Cor. 4:17), and for ministry such as sending out missionaries (Acts 13:2; 15:3). The result was that people were continually being saved (Acts 2:47).













The universal church. While the local church views the church as a group of believers gathered together in a particular locality, the universal church views “all those who, in this age, have been born of the Spirit of God and have by that same Spirit been baptized into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Pet. 1:3, 22–25).”2 It was this corporate group of believers that Christ promised to build (Matt. 16:18); it was this Body for whom Christ died (Eph. 5:25), and He is the head over it, giving it direction (Eph. 1:22–23; Col. 1:18). In Ephesians 1:23 the church is referred to as “His body.” This cannot refer to a local assembly but must depict instead the universal body of believers (cf. Col. 1:18). A particular emphasis of the universal church is its unity, whether Jews or Gentiles, all together compose one body, in a unity produced by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 4:4).

The universal church is sometimes referred to as the invisible church and the local church as the visible church3 (although some deny this equation). Men like Augustine, Luther, and Calvin all taught this distinction, which upheld the invisible church as emphasizing the perfect, true, spiritual nature of the church, whereas the visible church recognized the local assembly of believers with its imperfections and even unbelievers having membership in a local church. The term invisible is also used to indicate that its exact membership cannot be known. In reality, the members are entirely visible!4



75 75. Dispensational premillennialism will hereafter frequently be referred to simply as premillennialism. It is safe to say that the vast majority of premillennialists are also dispensationalists; by Ladd’s own admission, historic premillennialists are similar to amillennialists in their view of eschatology. It is, in fact, a serious question whether “historic premillennialism” is an apt designation for that eschatological position because it was not, we think, the position of the apostles and because it eliminates the dispensational elements that are historically integral to most premillennialism.

76 76. Charles C. Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1953), pp. 17–26. This is an extremely valuable source in not only tracing the history of premillennialism but also explaining the hermeneutical principles and the biblical foundation of premillennialism in the unconditional covenants of the Old Testament.

77 77. See Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody, 1965), pp. 86–98; and Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), pp. 119–27.

78 78. The only passage that is somewhat debatable is Galatians 6:16. The Greek kai should probably be understood epexegetically as “even.” Israel of God thus refers to believing Israelites who walk by faith and not as the legalistic Judaizers.

79 79. For a detailed discussion of these covenants see J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), pp. 65–128; Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, pp. 48–125; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), pp. 139–220; and Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, 3d ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1980).

80 80. See Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 193–218.

81 81. The statement “wrath” is emphatic in the Greek text, being at the end of the sentence, and additionally is definite by use of the article in tesorges. Both of these factors show that it is not just any wrath that is referred to, but a specific wrath—the wrath of the Tribulation. If God loved us while we were sinners He has promised to deliver us from the wrath to come.

82 82. For comprehensive studies of this subject see John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979); and Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956).

83 83. Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 203.

84 84. See Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), pp. 115–39 where Hoehner discusses the seventieth week and es tablishes the necessity of a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. See also Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940).

85 85. Ibid., pp. 235–37.

86 86. Ibid., pp. 237–39.

87 87. The plural term “righteous acts” suggests the righteous deeds of the believer that have been rewarded.

88 88. The phrase translated “has come” in Revelation 19:7 is the Greek aorist form, elthen, indicating it has already taken place.

89 89. Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 227.

[1]Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997, c1989), 389.

[2]Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary, Includes Index. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1987), 1066.

116 The importance of one’s eschatological approach is discussed in G. E. Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. R. G. Clouse (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977), 18; E. E. Johnson, “Premillennialism Introduced: Hermeneutics,” in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 15–34; P. L. Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake, Ind.: Assurance, 1974), 201–36.

117 Our concern here is only with those positions based on belief in “predictive prophecy” in the Bible and also in the personal visible return of Christ to the earth in glory. A careful yet succinct survey of the issues may be found in B. Hunt, Redeemed! Eschatological Redemption and the Kingdom of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 240–304.

118 J. S. Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” in J. S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1988), 76. Also see R. L. Saucy, “A Rationale for the Future of Israel,” JETS 28 (1985): 433–42.

119 The two resurrections are discussed in H. A. Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium, 92; J. P. Newport, The Lion and the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman, 1986), 94–102. For a thorough contemporary presentation of premillennialism see D. K. Campbell and J. L. Townsend, eds., A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus (Chicago: Moody, 1992.

120 M. J. Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 117–22; C. A. Blaising, “Dispensationism: The Search for Definition,” in C. A. Blaising and D. L. Bock, eds., Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 13–34; Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” 67–86.

121 R. L. Saucy, “Israel and the Church: A Case for Discontinuity,” in Continuity and Discontinuity, 239–40.

122 See C. A. Blaising and D. L. Bock, “Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church: Assessment and Dialogue,” in Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church, 377–94; V. S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 19–38.

123 Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 32–40; idem, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 141–49; R. H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 356.

124 Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 29–32; idem, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 218.

125 Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 27.

126 Ibid., 21.

127 D. J. Moo, “The Posttribulation Rapture Position,” in The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-tribulational (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 207.

128 Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 18–29.

129 J. M. Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974), 4.

130 Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology, 55–58; S. J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 65–89. For recent expositions of postmillennialism by its proponents, see L. Boettner, “Postmillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. R. G. Clouse (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977), 117–41; D. Chilton, Paradise Restored (Tyler, Tex.: Reconstruction Press, 1985); J. J. Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986).

131 A. A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, 155–56.

132 Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 164–72, 177–81; idem, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 234–35; M. G. Kline, “The First Resurrection, WTJ 37 (1975): 372–75; J. A. Hughes, “Revelation 20:4–6 and the Question of the Millennium,” WTJ 35 (1973): 288–302; V. S. Poythress, “Genre and Hermeneutics in Rev 20:1–6,” JETS 36 (1993): 53–54.

133 See, for example, G. C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 314–15; R. F. White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1–10,” WTJ 51 (1989): 325–36.

134 W. Hendricksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), 226; Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 161–64.

135 See T. R. Schreiner, “The Church as the New Israel and the Future of Ethnic Israel in Paul,” Studia Biblica et Theologica 13 (1983): 17–38; M. W. Karlberg, “The Significance of Israel in Biblical Typology,” JETS 31 (1988): 257–69; O. T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 134–59; W. Hendricksen, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), 16–57. While “all Israel” in Rom 11:26 usually has been understood by amillennialists as the elect from all the ages, many today interpret it as the remnant from literal Israel (see O. P. Robertson, “Is There a Distinctive Future for Ethnic Israel in Romans 11?” in Perspectives on Evangelical Theology, eds., K. S. Kantzer and S. N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 217–27. Also see W. A. VanGemeren, “Israel as the Hermeneutical Crux in the Interpretation of Prophecy,” WTJ 45 (1983): 143.

136 Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 160, 181–86.

137 M. W. Karlberg, “Legitimate Discontinuities Between the Testament,” JETS 28 (1985): 18.

138 Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 172–76; Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology, 74–75; Newport, The Lion and the Lamb, 82–86; Grenz, Millennial Maze, 152.

139 See Grenz, Millennial Maze, 181–84.

[3]Lamar Eugene Cooper, vol. 17, Ezekiel, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1994), 45.

1 1. Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God’s Program (Chicago: Moody, 1972 ), p. 11.

2 2. Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, revised by Vernon D. Doerksen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 307.

3 3. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 3:1043–48; cf. Douglas Kelly et al., eds., The Westminster Confession of Faith, 2nd ed. (Greenwood, S.C.: Attic, 1981), p. 44.

4 4. Saucy, The Church in God’s Program, p. 17.

[4]Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997, c1989), 347.


~ by timmywarner on January 10, 2012.

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