Monthly Archives: April 2018

How Did Our Protestant Forebears in the 16th and 17th Centuries Think of ‘The Last Day’ and End Times?

I thought it might be interesting for anyone who might come across this post to see how the Protestant Reformed orthodox Christians of the 16th and 17th centuries thought of ‘end times.’ I came across an interesting sketch of that provided by Richard Muller as I continue to work through his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology. The ‘eschatological sketch’ comes as Muller is providing a definition for the Latin term dies novissimus. He writes:

dies novissimus: the last day; viz., the inauguration of the heavenly kingdom of God consisting in the second visible coming of Christ (adventus Christi, q.v.), and the ordained ends of the elect in eternal blessedness (beatitude aeterna) and of the reprobate in eternal damnation (see damnatio). The scholastics also note the signa diei novissimi or signa temporis, signs of the last day or signs of the time. Although they decry the attempts of the crass or gross chiliasts (see chiliasmus) to predict the exact date of the end by means of the signs of the last days revealed in Scripture, the orthodox do allow the existence of the signs and permit their careful use for admonition, edification, and hope of the faithful. They therefore classify the signs into categories of signa remota, or remote signs; signa propinqua, near signs; signa propinquiora, nearer signs; and signa proxima, proximate signs. The signa remota are often identified as the events connected with the opening of the first six of the seven seals (Rev. 6:1–17): wars and conflict, famine and pestilence, persecution and earthquakes. The signa propinqua mark more clearly the approach of the end; chief among them are the great apostasy and the accompanying increase of worldliness and unbelief. These are followed by the signa propinquiora, which include the increased the lawlessness and indifference to religion resulting from the great apostasy, great political disturbances and the beginnings of the gathering together of Israel. The signa proxima, finally, include the completion of the mission to the Gentiles, the further increase of political disruption accompanying the manifestation of the “beast” of Revelation 13 and 17, the so-called “abomination of desolation” and the great tribulation that lead to the full development of the power of the Antichrist (antichristus, q.v.), and the last battle, Armageddon. These signa proxima immediately precede the adventus Christi and the dies novissimus.[1]

This was all couched within an amillennial framework, and articulated with that type of Augustinian viewpoint in mind. It is interesting to think about the fact that there was no such thing as pre-tribulational, premillennial, dispensational thinking on the scene at this point; that wouldn’t come on the radar until the 19th century through John Nelson Darby.

What I find more interesting, and this at the popular/pastoral level, there are some out there, especially among the ranks of particular Calvary Chapel pastors (like Jack Hibbs et al.) who straight out call the amillennial framework I just presented through Muller’s definition, heresy; even worse (according to Paul Wilkinson), blasphemy. Again, they maintain the synonymy between ‘replacement theology’ and ‘amillennialism proper.’ But we don’t see that when we actually dig into the history of amillennial thought; even here in Muller’s brief sketch we see him refer to national Israel’s re-gathering. We don’t see any sort of ‘replacement’ thought in the Protestant Reformed orthodox’s amillennialism, we simply see a perspective that stands at odds with the latterly developed system of interpretation known as Dispensationalism.

I think it behooves people making charges, particularly as they make those in and among church people who don’t have access to the critical material (at least not consciously in most cases), to be much more careful; to actually do your homework (Paul Wilkinson, Jack Hibbs, David Hocking, et al.) when it comes to this issue. Were there “amillennialists” in the history who were proponents of replacement theology (i.e. the idea that the church replaced the nation of Israel as God’s covenant people)? Yes. But, again, it is a sweeping generalization to sweep all amillenialists into that approach. Be careful.

[1] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 92.

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