Rev. Joseph Mede wrote an extremely important commentary about the book of Revelation in 1627 entitled The Key of the Revelation that upheld the ancient apostolic Church's premillennial teaching regarding Christ returning to earth to defeat the Antichrist and to establish His literal one thousand year kingdom of God: "Whatsoever almost is found from the Jews, whatsoever is delivered by the Lord in His Gospel, or any where in the New Testament by the Apostles concerning the day of the great judgement; that is taken out of this vision of Daniel (Daniel 7); to wit, that judgement to be accomplished by fire, Christ to come in the clouds of heaven, to come in the glory of His Father with multitude of Angels, the Saints with Him to judge the earth, Antichrist to be abolished 'with the brightness of His coming', etc. So that they go about wholly to undermine the pillar of the Evangelical Faith concerning the glorious coming of Christ, who neglecting the ancient tradition of the Church, endeavour to turn this prophecy to another end." (Joseph Mede, The Key of the Revelation, 1627).
And again: "The kingdom therefore which neither shall be as before the appearance of our Lord, nor after the last resurrection, is necessarily to be concluded between them." (Joseph Mede, The Key of the Revelation, 1627) Clearly, here we have one of the venerable Church Fathers who believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, giving the lie to those who would say this kind of interpretation was a new concept brought to the fore somewhere in the early part of the 1900's.
Therefore, a question that often presents itself to my mind is, how can two men, equally saved, equally godly, equally bright, equally well trained, equally well read and who agree on at least 75% of their theology, be so dramatically, so diametrically opposite to each other in the area of eschatology?
I had the privilege of meeting two such men, both were pastors in the association of Baptist Churches in Ireland and both were the dearest and closest of friends, their theology and eschatology were subjects both held deeply and loved dearly. You see, very early in their ministerial lives they discovered another very powerful truth; theology must have doxology! (Psalm 119v54) that is, what we believe by way of theology must produce the joy of the Lord in our hearts; it must produce a song in our hearts. If what I believe is going to do my hearers good and be a spiritual feast to them, something they will want to return to me for again and again, it will first of all have to have deep seated joy and blessing to my own soul. If I may venture such a statement amongst so many great preachers in the making, or who may read these words on the internet, far too much preaching is neither from the heart nor to the heart.
I make that statement because I would have you understand I do not try to persuade you to change your sought out and settled belief. I do not want to debate or argue about the subject to hand; quite simply I lay before you my own sought out view on how I have arrived through a literal interpretation at a Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millennium, Dispensational, eschatological position.
Let me begin if I may with trying to clear some of the myths, which surround the eschatology to which I completely subscribe and upon which I have stood these many years. I am a Pre-Millennialist, I am without apology a Pre-Millennialist, without shame I am a Pre-Millennialist and that, because I have sought by the study of the Word of God for myself to become a workman unto God rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Whatever you are or whatever you are becoming, I trust you have integrity enough to arrive there by your own study and a careful searching through God's very precious Word.
One of the many myths from those who like to poke fun at another's viewpoint simply because they disagree with it is the myth that all of the teaching surrounding the Pre-Tribulationist, Pre-Millennialist, Dispensationalist hinges on a secret rapture. A secret coming again of the Lord Jesus to the air. It’s something very mysterious, nobody knows about it, it came out of the imaginations of Edward Irving, Margaret McDonnald, and John Nelson Derby and started as a nineteenth century vision, Dave McPherson has probably perpetuated that myth more than any other writer or preacher I know. But I would respond to that to say that there is absolutely nothing secret about the rapture. The fact of the rapture is clearly revealed in the Word of God. Whatever theological foundation you stand upon; you might be a Pan-Millennialist, hoping that some way or other it will all pan out, you might be Pro-Millenniaist, I don’t understand what it's going to be but whatever it is I'm for it, or you may take one of the other positions. One thing you cannot do is to deny there is going to be an event that's described in God's Word as a snatching away, whatever it is, whenever it is, most certainly it is not secret.
Another myth is that those who believe in a Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millennium, Dispensational position have simply abandoned their understanding of the Word of God to come up with this view. We might have misinterpreted the Scriptures getting there, that's a logical possibility, but we did get there through a study of the Bible and the belief we hold so deeply and dearly we base upon the Word of God. If you are espousing a differing view, I am sure, I would believe, not one of you arrived at what you now believe by any other route than by a careful study of the Bible. I am sure we need to lay that kind of integrity upon each other right from the outset.
Pre-Millennium, Pre-Tribulation, Dispensationalists, have also been accused as those who would like an easy escape from the tribulation, they are afraid of suffering so they concocted this strange belief to get them off the hook. I would say with deep emphasis, nothing could be further from the truth. You simply ask any Russian Christian and remember that almost all, if not all, at least 99% of the Baptist Union in Russia is Pre-Millennium, Pre-Tribulation and Dispensational and there are few who have suffered for the faith more than they. And that is a crass argument any which way you look at it.
Some have been saying recently, look, this whole issue will never come to a conclusion upon which we all agree so why bother. Well, that is probably true, some of the great issues of the Word of God are more difficult to find agreement on than others yet the Word of God continually spurs us on to what? Pursue the truth, Ponder the truth, Proclaim the truth, Practice the truth. As long as we live and are serving God, we are to apply ourselves to that task as diligently, enthusiastically and as skilfully as we know how, that we might understand the mind of God.
Some have even said, if the issue could be decided there is no value in trying. My response to that is, hey, if it’s in God's Precious Word, God expects us to endeavour to understand it the best way we can and that makes it absolutely worth while trying to interpret the text truthfully.
Another thing which troubles me greatly in this whole argument or debate is that historically, those who have embraced Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millennium, Dispensational truth, and those who have held another view have been every bit as discourteous and at times every bit as disingenuous to each other to the degree neither side brings the least glory to our wonderful God. I am sure it must be an area we must learn to disagree agreeably.
Now, those are at least some of the myths that are used in argument against those who hold a Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millennium, Dispensational view. So I simply wanted to get those off the board so as not to hinder what I want to say about this great truth.
I present therefore my argument, all-be-it briefly, for my interpretation of Prophetic Scripture in a literal approach.
The Dispensational, Pre-Tribulational and Pre-Millennium belief is identified through two basic features: Firstly the distinction made between God's program for Israel and His program for the Church. And secondly the consistently literal interpretation of the Scriptures which is maintained.
The Distinction Made!
The first basic feature that identifies Dispensational, Pre-Tribulation,
Pre-Millenniumists is the distinction made between Israel and the Church. You see, the term Israel always refers to the physical posterity of Jacob; nowhere does it refer to the Church. Although Non-Dispensationalists often 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.9v6, 1 Cor.10v32). Israel was given unconditional promises or covenants in the Old Testament that must be fulfilled with Israel in the Millennium Kingdom. The Church on the other hand, is a distinct New Testament entity born at Pentecost (1 Cor.12v13) and not existing in the Old Testament, nor indeed prophesied in the Old Testament (Eph.3v9). The church exists from Pentecost (Acts 2) until the rapture spoken of in (1 Thess.4vv13-18). And upon such teaching lies our belief in the Pre-tribulation Rapture: As already stated, the purpose of the Tribulation is to judge the unbelieving Gentiles and to discipline disobedient Israel (Jer.30v7), the Church does not have purpose or place in the tribulation. I will return to thoughts about the rapture.
At the conclusion of that Great Tribulation period Jesus Christ will return with the church and establish His Millennial Kingdom upon this earth. Following the thousand-year reign, Satan will be loosed for a short period following which he and all of his followers will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20vv7-10). The eternal state will follow.
May I say this, I firmly believe the church from its inception was pre-millennium in belief. Read some of those early church fathers! I have already quoted one earlier, Joseph Mede. Others who lived much earlier were, Clement of Rome, The Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius of Antioch, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian and other sources declare strongly, whatever we may have thought of some of their other Theology, they did with pathos and passion believe that Jesus Christ would return and establish His earthly kingdom.
A literal Hermeneutic, (The science of interpretation) The second basic feature is literal interpretation. Literal interpretation refers to "normal" interpretation, that is, understanding words and statements in their normal, customary way. Because prophecies concerning Christ's first coming were fulfilled literally, it surely makes excellent sense to interpret the prophecies surrounding His Second Coming, literally as well. You see, if Prophecy can be spiritualised, all objectivity is surely lost. (0bjectivity=The state, condition, or quality of being objective) Of course it’s in that very area Pre-Millennialists differ strongly from A-Millennialists and Post-Millennialists for changing their methodology in hermeneutics by interpreting literally except in the case of prophecy.
Allow me to take time to highlight those promises or covenants spoken of earlier:
Although (Revelation 20vv4-6) gives confirmation to a Dispensational Pre-Millennialism, we do not accept that that is the foundation of it; the foundation for Dispensational Pre-Millennialism is to be found in the promises or covenants of the Old Testament. Such 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 blessing.
1. The Abrahamic Covenant:
The Abrahamic Covenant is described in (Genesis 12vv1-3) the Abrahamic covenant promised a land (v1+Ch.13vv14-17) numerous descendants involving a nation, and a dynasty, also a throne (v2+Ch.13v16 + Ch.17vv2-6) and redemption (v3+Ch.22v18).
2. The Palestinian Covenant:
The Palestinian covenant mentioned in (Deut.30vv1-10) guarantees Israel's permanent right to possess the Promised Land. It is unconditional, as we notice in the "God will" statements without corresponding obligations. This covenant promises the ultimate return of Israel to the land in repentance and faith (Deut.30v1+2). And that return in circumstances which will bring them great prosperity (Deut.30vv3-10). This covenant will be fulfilled in the Millennium.
3. The Davidic Covenant:
The Davidic covenant is mentioned in (2 Samuel 7vv12-16). The provisions of this covenant are very wonderfully summarised for us in (2 Sam.7v16) with the words "house," promising a dynasty in the lineage of David; "kingdom," referring to a people who are governed by a king; "throne," emphasising the authority of the king's rule; "forever," emphasising the eternal and unconditional nature of this promise to Israel. This covenant will be fulfilled when Jesus Christ returns to rule over believing Israel.
4. The New Covenant:
The New covenant mentioned in (Jer.31vv31-34) provides the basis by which God will bless Israel in the future. Israel will enjoy forgiveness of sins through the meritorious death of Jesus Christ. The unconditional nature of this covenant is once more seen in the "I will" statements of (Jer.31vv33-34).
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 fulfilment in the Millennium.
Now, back to what I was saying earlier about the rapture. Let me repeat.
The church exists from Pentecost (Acts 2) until the rapture (1 Thess.4vv13-18) and upon such teaching lies our belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture:
The term rapture comes from the Latin word "rapto" translated "caught up," "to catch away" as in (1 Thessalonians 4v13-18). Before the advent of the tribulation, Jesus Christ will descend from heaven, catching up the church to be with Himself thus the term, Pre-tribulation rapture.
The Pre-tribulation rapture is espoused for several reasons!
A. The Tribulation and it's Nature:
The seventieth week of Daniel, the Tribulation is to be an outpouring of the wrath of God through that specific seven-year period. I would refer you to (Rev.6vv6-17; 11v 18; 14v19; 15v1; and 16v1+19; it is described as God's judgement (Rev.14v7; 15v4; 16vv5-7; 19v2), and God's punishment (Isa.24vv21-22).
B. The Tribulation and it's Scope:
The whole earth will be involved (Isa.24vv1-6+21; 34v2). It also involves God's chastisement of Israel (Jer.30v7) (Dan.9v24). If this then is the nature and scope of the tribulation, it is surely inconceivable that the church will be on earth to experience the wrath of God.
C. The Tribulation and it's Purpose:
The divine intentions of the Tribulation will be to judge people living on the earth (Rev.6v10, 11v10, 13v8, 12&14, 14v6, 17v8) and to prepare Israel for her coming king (Ezek.36vv18-32, Mal.4vv5-6). I submit, in my humble opinion, neither of these pertains to the Church.
D. The Tribulation and it's Unity:
The Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel; Daniel 9v24 makes it very clear that it has reference to Israel.
E. The Tribulation and it's Exemption:
The Church is the bride of Christ, the object of Christ's love, not His wrath (Eph.5v25). It would surely be a contradiction of the very relationship of Christ and the church for the church to have to face the punishments of the Tribulation. In fact there are, I believe, some very specific Scripture references to teach otherwise. (Rom.5v9) 1 Thess.5v9, 2 Thess.2v13, Rev.3v10)
F. The Tribulation and it's Sequel:
The signs of (Matt.24) and numerous other passages were given to Israel concerning the Second Coming of Christ. The Church was instructed to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them into His presence. (John 14 v 2-3, Acts 1 v 11, 1 Cor.15 v 51-52, Phil.3 v 20, Col.3 v 4, 1 Thess.1 v 10, 1 Tim.6 v 14, James 5 v 8, 2 Peter 3 v 3-4).
Let’s take a closer look at the Tribulation to confirm our thinking so far:
The Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel (Dan.9v7), a week according to the prophet's terminology equalling seven years. It is the last of a seventy-week (490 years) prophecy regarding Israel's future (Dan. 9vv24-27), which began in 444 BC Sixty-nine weeks (483 years) concluded with the death of Christ (Dan.9v26). There is a gap between the sixty-ninth week (AD 33) and the seventieth week (the future Tribulation period). 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.9v24). When Jesus detailed the events of the Tribulation in (Matthew Ch's24-25), 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, which promises to protect Israel (Dan.9v27). 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 (Daniel 12vv11-13). The Tribulation will involve the judgement of God upon an unbelieving world, as detailed in (Revelation Ch's 6-19). The consecutive series of seals, trumpets, and bowl judgements of Revelation detail God's judgement upon unbelievers, climaxing in the triumphant return of Christ to earth with His Bride, The Church (Rev. 19vv11-21).
A prophetic year was regarded as 360 days, with emphasis on the last half of the Tribulation period, called the Great Tribulation (Matt.24v21) and referred to as 42 months (Rev.11v2 or 1,260 days Rev.11v3).
I categorically believe the nature, source and purpose of the Tribulation are so very important in resolving the issue of the church's participation in it. Although having already touched on the nature and the purpose of the Tribulation let me endeavour to strengthen my thinking by returning briefly to those three thoughts and especially the purposes of the Tribulation.
1. The 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.1v10; Rev.6vv16+17; 11v18; 14v19; 15v1; 16v1+19). It is a time of punishment (Isa.24v20+21). A time of trouble (Jer.30v7); (Dan.12v1), A time of great destruction (Joel.1v15; 1 Thess.5v3), A time of desolation (Zeph.1v14+15), A time of judgement (Rev.14v7; 16v5; 19v2). If the church is the object of Christ's love, how can she be present during the Tribulation, the out-pouring of His awful wrath?
2. The Source of the Tribulation.
Post-Tribulationists, 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 judgement upon an unbelieving world (Isa.24v1; 26v21; Zeph.1v18; Rev.6v16-17; 11v18; 16v19; 19v1+2), etc.
3. The Purposes of the Tribulation.
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.30v7; Ezek.20v37; Dan.12v1; Zech.13v 8+9).
The second purpose of the Tribulation is to judge unbelieving people and nations. (Isa.26v21; Jer.25v32+33; 2 Thess.2v12).
But that is not the kind of judgement the believer is awaiting, the sequence of events for the church is somewhat different. Follow with me!
A. Judgement Seat of Christ:
The judgement seat of Christ is mentioned in Romans 14v10, 1 Corinthians 3vv9-15, and 2 Corinthians5v10. It does not denote a judgement concerning eternal destiny but rather rewarding church age believers for faithfulness. That’s the judgement for believers! The term judgement seat, (Greek) Bema is taken from the Grecian games where successful athletes were called to what was known as the place of reward, reward for victory in athletic contests. Paul used that figure to denote the giving of rewards to church age believers. The purpose of the judgement seat will be recompense for deeds done in the body, whether good or worthless (2 Cor.5v10).
The believer's works will be examined (1 Cor.3v13) 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.3v15); if the believer's works are genuine, he is rewarded (1 Cor.9v25; 1 Thess.2v19; 2 Tim. 4v8; 1 Pet. 5v4; James 1v12). 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.19v8).
B. 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 19v7 the marriage has already taken place. The marriage has reference to the church and takes place in heaven, whereas the marriage supper is an event separate from the marriage.
"Those which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev.19v9) are invited guests. Every wedding has its guests. Now we must understand, the guests are not the bride, surely the bride is not invited to her own wedding supper, has she not already an assured place of honour next to the bridegroom at the marriage supper. It would appear to be quite within the bounds of possibility to believe that the guests here are those Old Testament saints and those saints who were saved in the Great Tribulation. John the Baptist, who died before the death of our Lord, will be there as one of the guests. You will remember that he called himself "the friend of the bridegroom" (John 3v29). The marriage takes place in heaven, but it would appear that the marriage supper occurs on earth, the latter when the bridegroom returns with His bride. This I believe is the explanation of the parable of the ten virgins in (Matthew 25vv1-13).
C. Second Coming of Christ:
At the end of the Tribulation Christ will return physically to earth (Zech.14v4) to render judgement and to inaugurate the millennial kingdom (Zech.14vv9-21; Matt.25 v31; Rev.20v4). The Old Testament and Tribulation saints will be raised at that time to inherit the kingdom (Rev.20v4). 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 25vv1-13) and their faithfulness as stewards of the Word of God (Matt.25vv14-30). The saved Jews will enter the Millennial Kingdom (Matt.25v21), while the unsaved will be cast into outer darkness (Matt.25v30). Unbelieving Gentiles will be judged in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, Kidron Valley; (Zech.14v4) regarding their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3v2; Matt.25v40). A positive response would indicate their belief in Messiah; these will inherit the kingdom (Matt.25v34), while the unbelieving will be turned away into everlasting punishment (Matt.25v46).
D. Millennial Kingdom:
When Christ returns to earth He will establish Himself as King in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David (Luke1v32+33). The unconditional covenants demand a literal, physical return of Christ to establish the kingdom. The Abrahamic covenant promised Israel a land, posterity and ruler, and a spiritual blessing (Gen.12vv1-3). The Palestinian covenant promised Israel a restoration to the land and occupation of the land (Deut.30vv1-10); the Davidic covenant promised a ruler for the throne of David (2 Sam.7v16); the New Covenant promised Israel forgiveness-the means whereby the nation could be blessed (Jer.31v31+34). At the Second Advent these covenants will be fulfilled as Israel is regathered from the nations (Matt.24v31), converted (Zech.2vv10-14), 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.4vv2-4; Isa.32v17+18); joy (Isa. 61v7+10) comfort (Isa.40v1+2); and no poverty (Amos9vv13-15) or sickness (Isa.35v 5+6). Because only the believers will enter the Millennium, it will be a time of righteousness (Matt.25v37; Ps.24v3+4); obedience (Jer.31v33); holiness (Isa.35v8); truth (Isa.65v16); and fullness of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2v28+29). Christ will rule as king (Isa.9vv3-7; 11vv1-10), with David as Regent (Jer.33v15, 17,21; Amos 9v11); nobles and governors will also rule (Isa.32v1; Matt.19v28; Luke 19v17). Jerusalem will be the centre of the world and rule (Zech.8 v 3), rising physically to reveal its prominence (Zech.14v10). There will be topographical changes in Israel (Zech.14v4, 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.20vv11-15). The devil, the beast (the Antichrist), and the false prophet are also cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20v10).
E. Eternal State:
Following the Millennium, the heavens and the earth are judged (2 Pet.3v10), because they were, the domain of Satan's rebellion against God. The eternal state, the abode of all redeemed (Heb.12vv22-24) will be ushered in (Rev.Ch's21-22).