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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Plains Baptist Challenger, March 1987
This article is one in a series of messages preached by Forrest Keener, during the Sunday evening services, at Bethel Baptist Church in 1985, and transcribed for use in The Baptist Watchman. The essence of purpose, in preparing and delivering this series of messages, is not eschatological, but rather to seek an overall biblical view of the vast doctrine of the kingdom of God as it is revealed in the New Testament. It is my hope and expectation that eschatology will then fall into place rather easily. It is my prayer that God will bless this brief work to the edification of His people, wherever it may reach.
Open you Bibles tonight to Romans chapter 11 verse 13, and we will read through verse 36.
"For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?"
Let me pause briefly to point out to you that in this verse we have the casting away of a people and the receiving of that same people. I fail to see how it can conceivably be anything but national Israel. If you say that the receiving of these is spiritual Israel, that is the spiritual seed of Abraham, those who are the elect, the saved, as opposed to national Israel, then you have them having been cast away, and this is inconceivable scripturally. But let's go ahead. Verse number 16:
"For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."
For my text this evening I want us to look at three verses,–a longer portion than I usually call a text–but three verses. Verses 27 through 29:
"For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins."
Now, he is making reference back to verse 26 where Paul is apparently quoting Zechariah. And he says, This is my covenant with them at that time, when I shall take away their sins.
"As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching election, they are beloved for father's sakes."
"For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance."
It very clearly is making reference to national Israel, if I have any contextual perception in the Bible. One of the great difficulties in approaching tonight's subject is choosing a text, not because of rarity of texts, but because of the great multiplicity of them, that is the abundance of them in the Bible. It is hard to know just which is the best and clearest text to select for the subject.
We are in message number 21 in the series on The Mysteries of the Kingdom. I am speaking this evening on the premillennial view of eschatology; that is my subject for the evening: The Premillennial view of eschatology. Essentially, as far as I am concerned, every verse in your Bible pointing to the second coming of Christ, speaks obviously of the premillennial view. Now, I say, Obviously of the premillennial view, which is to say, that only when we try to come at this subject from an amillennial or a postmillennial direction do we need "indepth" and "greatly involved" explanations.
In other words, if you just take it like it comes out of the Bible, unrefined, straight, with no mixtures or dilution, you may have a lot you do not understand, you may have a lot that is difficult, but what it is going to teach, it seems to me, is a simple premillennial view of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are going to have to digest several books besides this one, before you can become a postmillennialist or an amillennialist.
I am really very seriously persuaded that no person who was not raised in a staunch a-mil or post-mil church ever became an amillennialist or a post-millennialist merely by reading his Bible. I do not think you can ever find a person who did that. Now, you can find a lot who CLAIM they did, but I say to them, You read a bunch of books along the way that were written by amillennialists who were very able writers in other areas. I think I am right on that. I do not think anybody is going to persuade me to the contrary. That, of course, would not mean that I am right, but I believe that I am indeed right in that area.
I think the best rule, the best basic rule of Bible interpretation is to see what it seems to say in its context. You do not have to see what Dr. Hop-and-Stumble says it says,–see what it seems to say in its context. This is the best basic approach to biblical interpretation that I know of. I believe that when we look at verses like Acts 1:6, 'Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?,' or Romans chapter 11 and verse 25, "...blindness in part is happened unto Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in," and verse 26, which teaches us that God is going to send a Deliverer in Sion and take away the sins of Jacob, that those verses talk about and mean exactly what they seem to mean. We do not need to do some kind of qualifying and tampering with them. They mean exactly what they seem to mean. But volumes of books, I mean literally libraries of books, have been written to negatively explain those verses.
Even as I sit in my study preparing these messages I am staying out of books essentially, and and in my Bible, because I have enough books in my library, that scream for the a-mil, or the post-mil view of eschatology, that if I paid attention to those books, surely I could never preach a premillennial message, unless I was able to just blot out everything they say. But if I stay with my Bible, the premillennial message seems to come through very clearly.
I have already essentially violated my plan, because it was my purpose to deliver a message dealing with what postmillennialists teach, and one with what amillennialists teach, and one with what premillennialists teach, without asserting myself as being one or the other until I had gotten through, and of course, I have not even begun to succeed with that. I am a little bit more up-front than I intend to be sometimes, I suppose, but nevertheless you know where I stand. Most of you knew where I stood before I started the series, so there is no great revelation in that.
There are three things that I want to touch upon, this evening, and I am going to try to do it in rapid enough fashion that we can get it all on a 45-minute tape,–I want to do that.
First of all, I want to speak to you concerning the peculiarities of premillennialism.
Secondly, some of the problems premillennialists have faced and do face today.
And thirdly, the premillennial view of eschatology and the blessed hope that is mentioned in your Bible.
I. The Peculiarities of Premillennialism
First of all then, what are the peculiarities of premillennialism? By that I do not mean, where are they strange, or off-the-wall, or off-base,–that is not the idea. What I am talking about is this: What are the doctrines held by premillennialists that necessarily separated them from amillennialists or postmillennialists?
In other words, what are some doctrines that if you believe, you could not be an amillennialist, you would have to be a premillennialist. Or, What are some doctrines that if you believe, you would have to hold to the premillennial theory as opposed to anything else. I am going to mention just four. Not that I couldn't mention many more, it would be as easy to preach forty messages, on this division of thought, as four. But my purpose is to state the over-all issue, and to give you enough scripture to show you what I am talking about. Therefore, I have to confine this division to about four messages.
First of all, the premillennialist peculiarly holds to the imminence of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now: Do not read something into that, that I am not saying! I am not saying that if we were to go back to the first century, that every prophecy would have to have been fulfilled, by the end of the first century, so Christ could come, in order for the premillennial view to be true. That is not the case! He did NOT come in the first century. And because He did not come in the first century, then we can easily conclude that He never INTENDED to come during the first century. And since He did NOT intend to come during the first century, it was certainly not necessary for all of the prophecies to be fulfilled at that time.
But what I am saying is this, that the doctrine was presented to the children of God in that century as in this century in such a way, that they were never to know that the coming of Christ was somewhere way out in the future, but it was essentially presented as imminent, and is imminent today. By that we mean, that it can take place at any time; that it is a constant threat to those who would walk in sin and carelessness. Let me give you just a few scriptures to show you why I believe that to be true. Matthew 24 and verse 37; and once again, perhaps I said that wrong,–not just why I believe that to be true, but why I think the scripture teaches that, and that of course is a premillennial view of this thing. Verse 37 of the 24th chapter of the gospel of Matthew:
"But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be."
And then, if you will, notice in the same chapter, verses 42 through 44:
"Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh."
Now notice: the Lord says to these people, even those who walked with him, watch for you know not. I, for the life of me, cannot get anything out of that less than a warning of an imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the book of Luke, chapter 12 and verse 37, we have essentially the very same nature or category of warnings:
"Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them."
He says, when he comes those servants will be watching. Why are they watching? What are they watching for? They are watching for his coming. Why are they watching? They are watching because they are persuaded that his coming his imminent. If I were to read my Bible as a young man, or a teenager, or a young lady, or a housewife, or a father,–not a person who spends his time reading theology books, but a person who reads his Bible,–as I read my Bible like that, I believe that without any shadow of doubt, the Bible points me to an imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I read through my Bible it seems to say, Watch, for the Lord cometh. It was saying that to the saints of the first century. It seems that all of those people looked for the coming of the Lord. The world today for that reason says He is not coming, it is all a myth. No, I do not think so, I think that the Bible reveals to us that we are to look for an imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. One other verse and I will go to another point. I Corinthians 1:7:
"So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Consider that for a moment! Those people at Corinth, according to Paul, were looking for and waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Was he rebuking them for it? I think not. There is no question in my mind that he was not rebuking them for it, but he indicated that it was a gift from God, that it was an indication of a certain element of propriety in their conduct toward God. Now, this is a doctrine that is peculiar to the premillennialist.
A person who looks for the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and who is consistent in his thinking at all, is a premillennialist. There might possibly be some a-mils who would tell you that they are looking for the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, most of them will tell you, Definitely not, the circumstances have not so matured at this point, and He will not be here in our lifetime. Any a-mil who would be looking for the imminent return of Christ would be a very rare creature,–kind of like a three-headed goat, as far as rarity is concerned. But all premillennialists essentially look (at least philosophically) for the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A second peculiarity is the restoration of Israel;–I am choosing these words carefully, so listen to what I am saying–the restoration of Israel to their land in a national sense. I am being very specific with those words because I do not want you to say, Well, that is something that may be spiritualized. Not in this way! No, the way I am saying it, it cannot be. The restoration of national Israel–not spiritual Israel–the restoration of national Israel to their land, or ON their land, I should say, in a national sense, is a peculiarity of premillennialism. Amillennialists do not believe that at all, nor do postmillennialists look for that. Matthew chapter 19 and verse 28:
"And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
If that is taken literally, you will have a very difficult time finding any place for it, except during the millennium. Acts chapter 1 and verse 6:
"...Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"
There are those who will try to indicate, that these Apostles, since they were saved, and since they knew about the spiritual nature of the children of Isaac, were not talking about national Israel. I not only challenge that, I deny that! There is no question in my mind, as I look at the discussions of the people of God, in that day and time, that they were talking about nothing more or less than national Israel: Wilt thou at this time...? No, He would NOT at this time; there is something else to do at this time,–that will take place in God's own time, it is not for you to know the times that are in the hands of God, but they are events that will take place in their proper time. That is the implication of Acts chapter 1, verse 6 and following. Romans chapter 11 and verse 25:
"For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in."
Now, is it spiritual Israel unto which that blindness in part has happened? I do not think so, I do not see how it could possibly be, but whatever group it is that has suffered this temporary blindness, it is temporary because it is to last only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And as we look at the term 'Gentiles' there as opposed to the term 'Israel,' there is no real doubt in my mind that it is talking about national Israel.
And once again I would remind you, that if the average John Doe on the street–not the scholar, not the great theologian, but the average John Doe on the street–picks up his Bible, and he reads it, and he reads it, and he reads it,–when he comes to that verse of scripture he is going to think that God will one day restore national Israel. So far as I am concerned, that is EXACTLY what God intends for him to think. This is a book of revelation, it is not a book of secrets,–it is a book of revelation!
The third thing is a physical and literal one thousand year reign of peace upon the earth. This is peculiar to the premillennialists. Neither the postmillennialists, nor the amillennialists essentially hold to this doctrine. There may be some areas in which the postmillennialist would grasp some of it, but if we take it as I said: a PHYSICAL AND LITERAL one thousand year reign of peace upon this earth, neither the post-mil nor the a-mil could even stomach the thought of it. He won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. In the book of Isaiah chapter 2, verses 1 through 5, we have the indication that God is going to bring about a reign of peace upon the earth, in which men are going to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. In the book of II Timothy, if you want to turn there right quickly, chapter 2 and verse 12, the scripture says:
"If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:"
Is that reign in heaven, or is that reign upon the earth? As you study your Bible concerning the passages of scripture that indicate the reign of the saints of God, you will invariably find that the implications point to a reign upon the earth. Revelation chapter 5, and verse 10:
"And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth."
The book of Revelation, as a whole, terribly complicates any view of eschatology except the pre-mil view. Now, I am not saying that in meanness, or to be facetious, or sarcastic, or anything like that,–the fact of the matter is, as I said earlier in a previous message, that any amillennialist or postmillennialist would find it not just as easy, but even easier, to teach his view of eschatology if the book of Revelation did not exist. He does not need it.
There is nothing in it that sheds significant light upon his teaching. He does not need it for that. Now, there are places that he uses; for instance the fifth chapter of Revelation would have some precious verses to him concerning salvation, but he does not use it in his teaching of eschatology. He rather finds it a burden that needs to be explained way. And so we find that the teaching of a thousand-year-reign is peculiar to the premillennialist. Look at Revelation chapter 20 and verse 5. No, I am sorry, we have to read more that just verse 5 there, we would have to read verses 4 and 5 to get that together:
"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
You say, Is that upon the earth? You read the context to verses 1 through 5, and brother, you will find that the context is an earthly context.
"But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection."
Beloved, if you look at those verses, what they seem to say is this: that there is a group of people who are going to live and reign with Christ for a thousand years upon the earth, and don't fall into any of the translation traps that they may lay for you; saying, Well, that says 'thousands' instead of 'thousand,' in the original.
What they are doing is, they are going back and taking the Greek word that is translated 'thousand,' and saying it is a plural word, and therefore since it is a plural word, it cannot be translated 'thousand,' it must be translated 'thousands.' That is ridiculous! The word 'thousand' is a plural word. The word 'hundred' is a plural word. Certainly, it is a singular unit, but it is a plural word, and if you understand the difference in the nature of the Greek language and the English language, there would be no surprise that it was a plural word without saying that this is a violation to translate this 'thousand.' It SHOULD be 'thousand.' One thousand,–that is what it is talking about and it is a perfectly proper translation, don't you think anything else about it.
Fourthly, the premillennialist believes in a two-part as opposed to a general resurrection. Now, while there would be some minor segments in amillennialism, and perhaps some major ones in some areas of postmillennialism,– which is essentially dead today, who might hold to a two-part resurrection, that is comparatively rare.
The basic teaching of the premillennialist, on the other hand, in fact uniformly, the teaching of the capable premillennialist necessarily believes in a two-part, as opposed to a general, resurrection. Notice Luke chapter 20, and verse 36 for a reference here. Luke chapter 20 and verse 36:
"Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection."
Notice here that He speaks to these people as being the 'children of the resurrection' who cannot die any more. He uses the term 'resurrection' there in a singular fashion. If we had a general resurrection as opposed to a two-part resurrection, that verse of scripture would be very hard to explain. For who would be the children of the resurrection? Both the saved and the damned, both those who would spend eternity with God and those who would not spend eternity with God.
But here He is speaking specifically of those who spend eternity with God, and they are referred to as 'the children of the resurrection'. It HAS to be a first resurrection or a resurrection of the saved, because it speaks specifically of the saved and it refers to them as 'children of the resurrection,'–do you follow what I am saying? Not just 'children of resurrection,' and the article is there: 'the children of THE resurrection.' John chapter 5, verses 28 and 29:
"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
I would not say that is conclusive, and no other interpretation can be given to it, but I think a very good indication that there are two resurrections. I Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 16 and 17. We made a reference to this earlier in another message, but in First Thessalonians chapter 4, begin to read with verse 13:
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Will anybody read that verse and think that is the resurrection of all of the dead? In no way! Listen, the idea of a general resurrection essentially comes out of Catholicism through Protestantism into much of our literature today, but it cannot be found in the Bible. In other words, if you start reading about the resurrection in the Bible,–if the Bible is what you start with, you start with no other pre-formed ideas–the conclusion that you are easily going to come to is that there is a resurrection of the dead and another resurrection of the living.
One more scripture reference in Revelation chapter 20, something of a read-over of what we read a moment ago, but it is equally relevant to this point. Verse number 4:
"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the FIRST resurrection."
In other words, the group that was resurrected at this point, that compiles with the FIRST resurrection. Now notice:
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."
Now, Again, any simple Bible student who reads that is going to say, there is no question that those in that category, those who were in the first resurrection, are those upon whom the second death has no power, and that there is a thousand-year span between the two resurrections. You may not understand all about it, but you will come to the conclusion that there is a thousand-year span between those two resurrections. It is just very clear,–you cannot get away from that! 'The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.'
You may say, Well, I am not sure who all is included in the first resurrection,–you may wonder about that, (I don't really know why you would, but you might) but you will know that there is a thousand-year span and that the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished, and then they were resurrected and there was another judgment. It is just very clear in the scripture.
Those are only four of the many, many doctrines that are peculiar to premillennialism. We could give many more. For instance, the doctrine of a personal Antichrist is taught by premillennialism, whereas it is essentially denied by the others. It has been held by many post and a-mils, for instance, that the office of the Pope constituted the Antichrist.
In most of the areas of amillennialism, if you go back three or four hundred years to the strength of amillennialism during the time of Reformation, it was held by a great many of those people that the office of the Pope constituted the antichrist, not a person, but a popery as an office. So the premillennialists believe that it is a particular individual. I think that the premillennial module or theory of eschatology stands, if you have one single one of these four legs. I have just mentioned four of many–but the point is this: you could not tear down three of them and destroy premillennialism,–you would have to tear down all four of them. As long as one of those stands, you have to have a premillennial theory of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, so far as I am able to tell from studying my Bible. I think it is absolutely necessary.
What are some of the problems of premillennialists? By that I do not necessarily mean inconsistencies in the doctrine. I am not going to point you to any of those because I do not know what they are. I know of some inconsistencies in the teaching of the supporters of the doctrine but not in the doctrine itself. I will deal with those. And secondly, I will deal with premillennialism as it is related to the blessed hope, which is described in our Bibles. I will try to enlarge upon this second portion because really, it is not as extensive as the other part, but if I were to go ahead and do any justice to any of these tonight, I would necessarily keep you another half an hour and it would not at all go on one tape as I had designed it to do, or hoped that it would do. And so I am going to conclude this message and close at this point.
I want to say this to you in closing tonight: Whatever else we may not know, or whatever of the theories of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ may be dark and difficult for us, there is one thing you need to know: The Bible teaches you that He is going to come again, and it teaches you that you are to watch, and it teaches you that those who are unprepared when He comes are in a desperate situation before God.
So I ask you in closing tonight: Are you ready to meet Him? He may come before you hear the last part of this message. If you are a child of God you will not suffer loss by not having heard the rest of my message. If you are not a child of God you will suffer very greatly for not being prepared for His coming. If you do not know Him tonight I urge you to flee to Him, to cast yourself upon Him. He has pardon for the vilest sinner.
Open you Bibles tonight to Romans chapter 11, and to II Thessalonians, chapter 2. In the eleventh chapter of Romans, I want to read three verses which are among the verses we read last Sunday night. Then I want to draw your attention to three verses in II Thessalonians. Romans 11:27:
"For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance."
And then II Thessalonians, chapter 2 and verse 1, and we will read down to verse 3:
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;"
The texts that I have read tonight–especially the second–is not to prove the premillennial theory, but it is to emphasize some problems that premillennialists face today. These are not problems with the Bible, but problems with their own conduct, to which this particular verse of scripture very definitely applies.
Now, I am continuing my series on The Mysteries of the Kingdom; this is message number 22, and I am speaking tonight on the premillennial view of eschatology, especially the premillennial view of the second coming of Christ. This is a continuation of what I began last week. I started last week on the subject and was not able to even come close to completing what I had hoped in my outlines. So tonight I am going to deal with the other side of the issue, that is, some problems that are faced by premillennialism.
Last week I spoke on the doctrines that are peculiar to and absolutely necessary to premillennialism. By that I mean doctrines that all premillennialists necessarily hold, and doctrines without which you could not have premillennialism. I mentioned that I touched only four of those and they were as follows: The constant imminence of Christ's return, The restoration of national Israel to their land, A literal thousand-year reign upon the earth, and a two-part resurrection, as opposed to a general resurrection.
Now, it may well be argued, both by some postmillennialists and some amillennialists that they could, or do, hold to one or two of these particular doctrines that I have mentioned. But if you expand upon those doctrines, so that you have anything of major consequence to do with the implications that naturally flow out of them, it will necessitate a very strong variation on their part. For instance, a postmillennialist may say, I believe in the thousand-year-reign (and they do), but it would not be a literal thousand-year-reign such as we are looking forward to, as premillennialists. It would be very different. They would change the nature of the thousand years as such, and we could go on with the variations that would have to be noted. I have pointed out that premillennialism stands sure, so long as any one of these basic doctrines or concepts stands unrefuted.
In other words, if you can prove any one of those four–let me say again, The constant imminence of the Lord's return; the restoration of national Israel to their land; a literal, earthly thousand-year-reign; and a two-part as opposed to a general resurrection–prove any of those unquestionably and you will ultimately have to be a premillennialist. If you believe them you will have to be a premillennialist. As long as one of them stand, premillennialism necessarily stands.
Tonight I want to 'turn the coin over,' so to speak, and I want us to consider some of the problems that premillennialism faces. Not in that they have a difficulty with the Bible as far as I am concerned, but I do think they have some difficulties in the way that they have used the Bible, and in some cases in having not used it.
I. The Natural Human Tendency to Doubt Whatever Tarries
The first problem that I want to mention, is the natural human tendency to doubt anything that we have to wait on very long. The premillennialist invariably declares the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I frankly do not know of anything that would cause the natural man to doubt the imminent return of Christ and the premillennial philosophy any more than the length of time that we have waited for the return of Christ.
Now you say, Preacher, are you saying that all of the men who do not believe the premillennial theory are natural men as opposed to being spiritual men? No, that is not what I am saying. But I am saying that everyone of us, whatever our scheme of eschatology is, still has enough of the natural man hanging on to us, that we will invariably relate to some of those natural tendencies. The classic illustration of this is in the book of II Peter, chapter 3, verses 3 through 10, where Peter said concerning the scoffers of his day, that they say, "Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were." Now Peter said, "For in this they are willingly ignorant," and I would say the same thing to anybody who says that today–but there is a sense in which all of us are bent in that direction.
The fact of the matter is this: Anything what we have to wait for very long, we become rather skeptical concerning it. When you study the parable of the tares among the wheat in the New Testament, when you study the parables of the ten virgins, and many of the other parables, you see a very common tendency brought out quite clearly, and that is the tendency to doubt that, or to question that, which does not happen immediately.
You remember one of the things that the Pharisees questioned about the Lord, was why He was not bringing about the Kingdom as they expected. He was not going to do things the way that they expected that He would, but that was not the great issue there. Their impatience for their expectation was the issue. So whether or not we look at the return of Christ...viewing it as salvation, or viewing it as judgment, we definitely know that we have to see it as having lingered.
The promise has been there a long time. The Apostle Paul said to the disciples of his day and time that they were looking for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were expecting, they were anticipating the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. If they were, they were unquestionably premillennialists. Did you know that? Listen to me, if there was a Christian anywhere in Paul's day that was in any way looking for the second coming of Christ in his lifetime or or anywhere close to it, he had to be a premillennialist. Surely you can figure that out, and it does not take very long. He had to be a premillennialist. There is no way that you could get a millennium into that time frame in any reasonable sense, and I do not see how an amillennialist could even claim the possibility of that. But that is not the point, I just threw that in there to be ornery.
Let me go on with my point: When we begin to see the time extension...in other words, we see something promised, and we think we understand how it is going to operate and it doesn't do that, and it doesn't do that, and it doesn't do that, and we wait, and we wait, and we wait, we begin to wonder: did we have it wrong? Were we mistaken about how this was going to come to pass? And I think this is one of the great seeds of amillennialism and postmillennialism, so let's not feel that every man that felt that way, or feels that way, is a fool!
Do you remember John the Baptist? When the Lord Jesus Christ did not do things the way he thought he was going to do them, and as quickly as he thought, he sent of his disciples to the Lord and he said, Art thou he that was promised, or should we seek another? And so human nature is invariably running in that direction.
Premillennialism, as a doctrinal concept, has that to contend with. This is not a biblical problem that they have, but it is a practical problem that we must fight against.
II. The Simplistic Drawn by Its Simplicity
Secondly, and this is not quite as nice: the simplistic who are drawn by the simplicity of this doctrine. Do you hear what I am saying to you? There is a difference in simplicity and being simplistic. But the fact of the matter is, that wherever you find simplicity, simplistic people will usually radiate to it.
I am not trying to be insulting, but what I am saying is this, that when you begin to read your Bible, not as a scholar, but as a simple Joe Blow man on the street, you are basically going to be a premillennialist. There are many, many very ignorant premillennialists today. Now, this does not discredit the doctrine! Some people think it does. In other words, if you can find an ignorant premillennialist, by all means put all the attention you can on the ignoramus because that will tend to discredit the doctrine!
But do you realize that this very same rationality, or rationalization, or rationale, was used concerning Christianity in the early days? 'They perceived that these were unlearned and ignorant men...' surely this thing called Christianity must not be real because these are base men that we see,–these are not men of high degree, these are not Pharisees, these are Galileans! These are, so to speak, the scum of the earth! We certainly could not lower our religious integrity, and our standards of religious integrity, by embracing something like that! You see, it does not discredit the doctrine, even though the fact of the matter is, it has been rightly that way with Christianity.
The very principle of Christianity is that. He praised God and he said, 'Thou hast hidden there things from the wise and the prudent and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for it seemed good in thy sight.' Never discredit any kind of a biblical doctrine on the basis of the fact that it does not seem to be embraced by the intellectual, or conversely on the basis of the fact that it is embraced by many people who are very simple. The truth of the scripture is not reserved for the scholar. Did you hear me?
I have nothing against being a Bible student. I believe we ought to be Bible students. I believe we ought to search the scriptures. I believe we ought to desire and ought to strive to rightly divide the word of truth, but let me tell you something and you hear what I am saying, God wrote this book for His children, for His simple little children to sit down and read and to learn from. And when we assume that what the average, earnest, seeking Christian reading this book, would conclude merely by reading this book, is wrong because it is not garnished with scholarship, we are terribly wrong in our assumption. It is ridiculous for us to think like that.
Contrary to that, men seeking to be students sometimes tend to go away from the simple and to look for the complex. In other words, that verse of scripture seems so obviously to say that, any dumbhead reading that verse of scripture would understand that,–it must have some kind of a deeper, more complex meaning reserved for smart fellows like myself. You would be amazed how many people tend to think like that.
God forbid that we think that way! It is out of order! If it sounds higher, we will seek it. If it sounds simple, down to earth, surely it is out of order. Now, because of the fact that the simplistic people have been drawn to this doctrine, many outlandish statements, foolish statements, ignorant statements, unbiblical statements, unfounded statements, unreasonable statements, even ungodly statements, have been made by people who believe in premillennialism, who always talk and seldom think! It is a fact...a sad fact, but it is a fact. But that does not make the doctrine untrue! Do you follow what I am talking about? Just the fact that someone disgraces a doctrine by stupidity, does not make the doctrine any less true, but what it does do is it makes you and I have to be more careful about how we present it. If not, we will align ourselves with and identify ourselves with those people who would take away from the doctrine.
III. The Prolific Scholarship of A-mils in Other Areas of Doctrine
A third problem that premillennialism has is the prolific scholarship of the amillennialists in other areas. I want you to understand what I am talking about. If we listen to a man and he speaks eloquently, biblically, exegetically, thoroughly and with obvious accuracy in many areas, and we hear him speak for a long, long time, we hear what he says and it seems to be right, and it seems to be good. He handles his Bible well, he uses his Bible profusely, we will begin to have great confidence in that man.
And so when he come to us and tells us something that is new or different from that which we have heard before, we tend to say, I had better listen, I had better just back off and see what he has to say because since he is right in these other areas, he very possibly is right in this area also. Almost every pastor I know, including myself, has the book shelves in his study filled with basically good writers of amillennialists, but writings which are good in other doctrinal areas. Now, what am I talking about?
Well, if you go up to my study, or to about any other pastor's study that I know anything about, you will find theology books by such men as Louis Berkhoff, Charles Hodge, and many other Bible students or theologians who have written good material down through the years, and these are going to be men who are basically Princeton theologians. By that I mean they are essentially Presbyterians. Not all Presbyterians hold to amillennialism, but essentially those men do. So when you begin to read after those men in areas of theology you are going to find them to be very thorough, and they are going to be accurate. They are going to be basically deep, they are going to delve into theological issues. I am talking about theology proper, those issues that deal with God, and the personality of God, and the triunity of God. They will be deep and they will be thorough, and they will be accurate most of the time, and they are going to be impressive!
And when you move on to the area of soteriology you will find them accurate and very impressive. May I say this, that in areas of soteriology they are always incomplete and inconsistent. For even though they will essentially tell you that you are saved 100 percent by grace,–they sill also claim, and I think it is a contradiction that is so glaring, that you are brought into that grace by various means of grace, such as infant baptism, and things of that nature. This is very inconsistent, but the point is this: they are impressive in all those areas.
Conversely, there has been a tremendous neglect of premillennialists in our day and time,–that is premillennialists contemporary with those men and following–there has been a tremendous neglect to write, to study and to set down these truths in organized, systematic fashion to leave for our young men to read. If you want to read accurate Baptists in any great length you will have to go farther back, and you will be picking up men who write in rather difficult English. But as you look at contemporaries of our day and our father's days you are going to find that Baptists have essentially been too negligent in this area. Therefore, when young men begin to read the Princeton theologians and those following them in areas of eschatology, there is no one standing nearby to discredit them. Do you see what I am talking about?
I want to read something to you... I very seldom quote myself–I often repeat myself, but I seldom quote myself–but I want to do so for a purpose tonight. I want to read something that I wrote some years ago. This is taken from the Baptist Watchman, May of 1979, and it is a tape special called 'Grace, not Calvinism.' I want you to listen to something that is said here, and I want you to see how it has come to pass,–and I did not even get it from prophecy, I got it from looking, and seeing what was then beginning to happen:
"Because the doctrine of salvation by pure grace in any organized and consistent system is frequently tagged 'Calvinism' or associated with the same, I've tried to set forth in order these eight messages for the sake of what I hope is clarification of the issues before us. I have entitled the series 'Grace, not Calvinism.' The series contains eight messages: over seven hours of Bible exposition and preaching on the doctrines of grace. It is my earnest desire and prayer to God that they may be used to teach God's plan of salvation and exalt the God of our salvation as well as showing that 'whosoever will' may freely partake of that salvation. In order that this series may be available at the very lowest possible price, I have produced them in consecutive order on five 90-minute tapes without wasting the space at the end of the tapes."
Now, listen to this:
"Please, brethren, we live at a time when these issues have been so misunderstood and falsified, that they are almost totally neglected. Consequently, our young men who want answers from contemporary teachers must go to Presbyterian or Reformed theologians, who are most often universal-church men and amillennialists, to read or hear any objective exposition of the subject at all. Such things ought not to be. Some basically sound schools outlaw the study, teaching, and some even the discussion of these issues. Opinions arrived at by mere supposition and avoiding of a subject must always be either erroneous or at least held with bad conscience. Please seek to have and hold an objective Bible view of this subject..."
"...or we will soon lose the respect or our young preachers. I get letters every month to establish this."
This is a plea to my brethren, to contemporary preachers of my day to talk with their young preachers about the issues of pure grace. We have distributed hundreds of sets of these tapes,–I do not even know how many, but many, many. One church in California ordered 22 sets at one time. What I got in response to this plea, instead of agreement and support from my fellow independent Baptist preachers, was essentially anger that I suggested that the subject must be discussed.
As a result we have young men all over the country today who have fallen and are falling prey to the Princeton theologians and their amillennialism, because independent Baptist preachers to some extent have carelessly but also bullheadly discredited themselves with their own young preachers. It is sad! It ought not be! Scholarship is never necessarily wisdom. Because these amillennial Princeton theologians can sound scholarly and can write both prolifically and carefully and accurately, does not mean they are right!
But we will never prove they are not right unless we teach carefully and accurately. Innuendoes and wild, ignorant statements will not do the job. I know that having said that I am going to be accused of innuendoes and wild, ignorant statements. I know that, and I am expecting it, but it cannot be helped.
I would simply say this, I would to God that we had in our day and time able writers for instance like John Gill, who are premillennialists...now someone may say, Oh, Brother Keener, John Gill was not a premillennialist! I beg your pardon! Though he embraced some terms and some terminologies and even some postmillennial philosophy that I would disagree with, and he held some eschatological views that are now obviously wrong, he was very definitely a premillennialist and a man who believed in a resurrection of the saved a thousand years before the resurrection of the unsaved, and a literal 1000-year reign of Christ upon this earth. A good writer. Again, I would not agree with everything he said, but a good writer.
We do not have writers of that stature today. I never could be; I could not be in a million years because I do not have the education. I do not have the ability,–it is just not there. But there are men who do, and who will not take the time, who will not direct themselves and discipline themselves in that area. I have said before and I will say it again: there is a sense in which I resent having to do this work that I am trying to do on the Kingdom of God, because there is no doubt in my mind that there are men alive today who are infinitely better qualified that I, but they will not put out the tremendous amount of work that is necessary to do it.
I believe that one of the problems that premillennialism faces today is the the scholarship, not the accuracy,–not the biblical foundation, but the scholarship of many of the amil writers. Let me say one more thing: the pendulum swings, if you know what I mean. If you go back to the late forties and the early fifties, there was a great resurgence of premillennialism in this country, and much fighting the postmillennialism, which was in the process of dying anyhow. But if you go back and read you will find there was great issue between them.
Men were separating fellowship over this issue, and premillennialism became the order of the hour. Young preachers who took their Bibles and just began to read their Bibles were premillennialists, as they should be. There were men who put together good funds, and foundations, and institutions, and started book publishing companies, to promote premillennialism, and it was promoted. But do you think the amils are going to sit still for it? They are not!
About the turn of the decade 1960 to 1970 the cat came back, so as to speak, and the bookshelves began to be flooded with inexpensive and even free books, being distributed everywhere, by the a-mils to counteract what had been done by the pre-mils twenty years earlier. And so today we have in the ...what should I say...the unseasoned, gullible, the seeking young men an influence in the directin of amillennialism and/or reformed postmillennialism, which was exactly what we had around 1950 and following of the young men in the other area. So the pendulum swings, but the truth does not change.
IV. Inadvertent Slander by Careless Speculation
The last problem I want to talk about, that we have as premillennialists, is a serious problem, and not to our credit at all, and it is this. It is inadvertent slander, not for the purpose of slander, but through careless speculation. I have said before, any ignorant dumbbell, that does not know one end of his Bible from the other, can put a large, full-page ad in the paper announcing a meeting out here at McMahon auditorium, or any where else from Carnegie Hall to a coon hunter's convention, and can announce the most far-fetched, ridiculous, unbiblical (so long as they are sensational) subjects upon which he is going to speak, and fill the place!
Now I realized that the great majority of premillennialists are not like that, but in some instances, in the process of trying to prove our point, or to create interest in our opinion, we radiate that. No enemy of any doctrine can do it as much harm as a careless friend. Do you know what I am talking about?
The greatest damage to any cause can always be most easily done from the inside. I mean, the Trojan-horse-theory always works better than battering down the walls, and the devil can work from the inside of the ranks of premillennialism and do more damage than he will ever be able to do from the outside. During my ministerial lifetime I have heard enough speculation by men, who are premillennialist on the whole subject, to make it both suspect and repulsive to me. In other words, if I were not studying my Bible–I do not mean studying books about the Bible– but if I were just sitting on the side line and listening to men preach and listening to the two sides present their issues, I have heard enough stupidity quoted by premillennialists to make the whole subject repulsive to me. That is sad! They inadvertently slander the doctrine while claiming to–and I think trying–to promote it. Let me give you an illustration.
This has not happened during my ministry, but during my lifetime. During the Second World War, we had two men who were acclaimed to be the antichrist very boldly and vocally by pre-eminent independent Baptists: Mussolini and Hitler. Both of them were very unquestionably proclaimed to be the antichrist. Now, in the last fifteen years I have heard some very strong, and read some very strong statements, that both Henry Kissinger and Khomeni probably were the antichrist. Isn't that sickening? And listen, that is just a couple or three out of dozens! Some men actually think they are commissioned to such speculation. With that kind of stupidity floating around, is it amazing that a young preacher would say, Let me read another book that does not sound so stupid?
It is not amazing to me at all, and he falls right into the scholarship trap! It happens over, and over, and over again. During my ministry, and I think within the last 10 years,–I know within the last 15 years– I have heard independent Baptist preachers proclaiming that the Lord Jesus Christ was going to come back in a specific month. Would you believe that some of them re-financed, sold property, and re-arranged property, on the basis of this claim that went out among independent Baptist preachers.
Can you imagine the damage that this did to teenage boys in those churches who have since surrendered to the ministry and began to study. Can you imagine the amount of discrediting that came upon premillennialism by that kind of foolishness? I ask you tonight: do such things as that promote watchfulness and diligence and proper anticipation on the part of the average Christian sitting in the pew, or does it promote skepticism and religious folly? And I answer you: it will not promote proper watchfulness! When we have all of these 'dingbats' running all over the country crying, Wolf, wolf, and writing all kinds of little theories such as tales about 666 on somebody's credit card and all that kind of good garbage and pure hogslop, you cannot expect that young men are going to feel that there is a great credibility in premillennialism, unless by God's grace they get it from their Bibles. God help us to realize that the devil is always going to be fighting truth.
In conclusion, let me say this, that our only proper course is to lay aside the spurts and spits of the experts and open our Bibles, and try to digest our Bibles. Let me say to every member of this congregation and to every person who listens to this series of tapes: Do not build your eschatological views upon what Forrest Keener has to say! And don't build them upon what any amillennialist, or postmillennialist, or premillennialist, has to say, digest your Bible! Study the kingdom of God from the perspective of your Bible, and if it makes a postmillennialist, or an amillennialist, or a pan-millennialist, or a premillennialist out of you,–so be it! Whatever the Bible will do to you, will be good for you. and I believe it will make a premillennialist out of every one that studies it.
I do not, in any way, sanction all that he has done through the years, but so far as Bible preaching and teaching is concerned, a significant man of our day is Dr. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist church of Dallas, Texas. I do not approve of his union with the Southern Baptist Convention, or of the perpetual compromise that he has made with the Southern Baptist Convention through the years, but he is a tremendous teacher of the Word of God.
Some years ago I read an article that Dr. Criswell had written on 'Why I am a Premillennialist,' and I am not even going to go into all of the reasons he gave, I am certainly not ever going to use his outline although there is nothing wrong with it, but I am trying to do this without reproducing and regurgitating other men's brains and books. I told you I would try to do that when I started, and I intend to do so. But I simply want to mention the introduction to his message. He said:
“Years ago, in my church, I began to preach through my Bible, simply expounding scripture as I came to it with nothing else.” And he said, “As I began to deal with issues of the second coming of Christ, my contemporaries began to say to me, You sound like a premillennialist.”
Now, this was in a day and time when it was very unpopular to be a premillennialist among the upper echelon of Southern Baptist preachers. That was one of the big issues between Dr. J. Frank Norris and Dr. George W. Truitt, and some of the men, some of the contemporaries in his day and time. They were postmillennialists and amillennialists. Most of those that were post went back to the a's.
And so it was unpopular for Dr. Criswell to be a premillennialist. And he said, “I do not know what I am,–I have just been preaching what I came to as I came to it in my Bible. If that makes me a premillennialist, alright.”
Now, I think that is a good attitude! Whatever else he has done, I think that is a good attitude. And I believe in the depths of my heart and soul that any person who will seek not to be overly affected by men, Forrest Keener included, and will take their Bible and sit down and begin to read their Bible and say, What does this book have to say to me about the second coming of Christ, will be a premillennialist when he gets through. I believe that with all of my heart. Only if he will digest the Book and not mix it with too much garbage, either from premillennialists or anti-premillennialist along the way, read the book, read the book.
Having said that, may I close by saying, The Lord is coming back! I am not going to tell you in this decade, in this generation, in this century. I am not going to tell you anything like that, because I do not know. I would be a fool to tell you because He told us that He was leaving us in the dark, not totally, but relatively, concerning that day and hour. We know something about the signs, but oh, they can be difficult. The point is this, that it could be any time. So far as I can tell from my Bible, He might come back today.
Are you ready to meet Him? Is your house in order?