Category Archives: Amillennialism
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.
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.
 Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 92.
I have just recently watched a couple of videos/interviews done by Pastor Jack Hibbs with Paul Wilkinson (here and here). Paul Wilkinson has his PhD from the University of Manchester in the UK; in fact he is an Associate Pastor of a church in the UK, where Christian Zionism is a central part of the teaching, apparently. His PhD, based upon what he has communicated in his interviews, is on what he calls Christian Palestinianism. What he is referring to is the impact that he believes, what he calls, ‘replacement theology,’ has had upon many Western evangelical and Reformed churches. The result being, for Wilkinson’s view, these churches have placed the Palestinians into the historic role of the Jews—the oppressed and victimized—and the Jews into the place of the victimizer. His main focus is on the mainline denominations involved in the divestment movement, a move to not have any dealings with any Israeli businesses, with the hope of engaging in a type of economic terrorism on what these churches consider Israel to be; an apartheid state.
But the primary premise of Wilkinson’s critique is a theological hermeneutical one. He lays all of the blame for this at the feet of the Covenantal amillennial approach. He asserts that this interpretive lens requires that the adherents of this view believe that the church has replaced Israel; as such, and if this is so, he maintains that as a result of this belief it makes it easy to continue to elevate Israel as the enemy of Christ, and all those who fit into the oppressed category in the world. One might discern that Wilkinson sees replacement theology as a framework wherein ‘Israel’ becomes a symbol for what it means to be oppressed rather than an actual people who have been and are being oppressed and persecuted by the world.
I agree with Wilkinson, that any move to see Israel as an apartheid state, and consequently attempt to ‘divest’ from any engagement with the nation of Israel as a result of this is folly. What I don’t agree with Wilkinson on is that so called ‘replacement theology’ is the necessary culprit. In fact I would contend that most mainline churches don’t elevate scripture to this sort of authoritative level when it comes to constructing their ethical framework. In other words, so called ‘replacement theology’ is not even on the radar of most mainline thinkers; they have other theopolitical theories afloat in their universe, something more along the lines of a neo-Marxism or Democratic Socialism.
And the churches who are amillennial in approach (which Wilkinson maintains are churches that promote replacement theology) are typically quite evangelical and theologically conservative in every way. It’s just that they have found a hermeneutical framework—usually covenantal—that leads them to the eschatological belief that the church historical has held for millennia. This in itself does not speak to the veracity of the amillennial interpretive lens, but it does, at minimum suggest, or it should, that there is a greater more careful sobriety to this teaching than Wilkinson wants it to have. He can’t lay all the evils of the nations towards Israel at the feet of the amillennial interpretation; as if it is the church and Christendom against the nation of Israel. Indeed, historically, many, if not most amillennialists have not held to what Wilkinson et al. claim. Amillennialists are not ‘replacement theologians,’ this is a pejorative caricature, and sweeping generalization that does not withstand historical nor theological scrutiny.
Personally, I have moved back and forth between the amillennial and historic premillennial position over the last nine years (prior to that I was a card holding dispensationalist, of one stripe or another). At the moment I think the amil position makes the most sense. But I have never held to a ‘replacement theology’ in the midst of these views, nor is it incumbent upon me to do so. I do see Jesus as the reality of Israel, and all of scripture about Jesus, not Israel per se. But this is not so radical, at least not any more radical than what Jesus believed,
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, – John 5:39
Jesus maintained that the Hebrew Bible (indeed the only scriptures Israel had at that point) wasn’t intended to terminate in the nation of Israel, but instead it was intended to point to God’s terminus and telos for all of creation in his dearly beloved Son. This is why I see Jesus as ‘Israel,’ indeed a national Jew, but the One for the many in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. He went to the Jews first, and then the Gentiles; as did the Apostle Paul. The basis of the New Covenant, and what we have as the Apostolic Depositum in the New Testament writings, is indeed a very Jewish ground; a ground not superseded by the church, but a ground nonetheless that was and is and always will be about Jesus, the man from Nazareth. Within this reality, the reality of expansion, the Jew and the Gentile have become one new human (Eph. 2:1-12) in the new creation of God in Christ. Within this reality the promises made to the fathers (Rom. 11:29) indeed are irrevocable, and so it will be. But this does not mean that there are two distinct people of God, as Wilkinson’s view maintains (classic Dispensationalism); at least not according to the Apostle Paul, and the implications of the Abrahamic Covenant itself. What it does entail is that, again, Israel’s purpose was always one; to mediate God’s salvation to the nations. As such, there are certain promises made to the nation of Israel that indeed have been and will be fulfilled; it’s just that those promises are no longer seen as exclusive to the nation of Israel, but instead as exclusive to the Son of Israel, Jesus Christ. As such, all those who are participants in his life, the Jew from Nazareth, will also be partakers, along with the ‘fathers’, of the promises made originally to Abraham. I think though that it’s important to note: in Romans 4, the Apostle Paul made it very clear, as part of his argument, that the promises made to Abraham were prior to the circumcision; in other words, the promises themselves were not exclusive to the nation of Israel, but instead to the ‘seed’ (Gen. 3:15; 49:10) that the nation of Israel would mediate to and for the nations.
I think Paul Wilkinson, Jack Hibbs, and all the others who claim that ‘replacement theology’ is the vice they maintain that it is, should reconsider. For one thing replacement theology is almost a straw man these days; for another it involves a serious sweeping generalization that does not withstand critical scrutiny. Unfortunately it is these types of representations that continue to be made in large swaths of American evangelicalism (and British, to a lesser degree). I do agree that we ought to be more sensitive to the Jewish background and reality of the Christian faith, but we ought to allow that to be tempered by the fact that the ‘flesh’ itself is not the end, instead the God-man, Jesus Christ is. We cannot think of Jesus as non-Jewish, but in that, we ought also not think that his Jewishness is the terminus of God’s program; instead what is the terminus is the salvation that God has brought, in his Son, to all the nations.
Addendum: I will write a follow up post to this one where I make a distinction that Wilkinson, Hibbs, et al. do not make. Indeed, Wilkinson engages not only in the fallacy known as ‘sweeping generalization,’ but he also engages in the fallacy known as ‘reductionism’ and ‘caricature.’ He equivocates on the term ‘replacement theology’ and presumes, by assertion, that replacement theology and amillennialism are the same things; but they are aren’t. More importantly, and this is the distinction I’ll make in a later forthcoming post, Wilkinson fails to identify that most amillennialists, at least contemporary ones, are not supersessionists, and thus definitionally cannot be ‘replacement theologians’ who claim that the church has replaced or superseded the nation of Israel in God’s economy; this is utter rubbish and non-sense.
Here is something I wrote a few years ago, picked up by monergism.com:
The Amillennialist affirms that the people of Israel have not been cast off or replaced, but rather, that the Gentiles have now been included among the Jews in God’s Covenantal promises. In other words, not replacement but expansion. God’s redemptive plan, as first promised to Abraham, was that “all nations” would be blessed through him. Israel is, and always has been, saved the same as any other nation: by the promises to the seed, Christ. Amillennialists, do not believe in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth after His second coming. Rather, they affirm that when Christ returns, the resurrection of both the righteous and wicked will take place simultaneously (see John 5), followed by judgment and and the eternal state where heaven and earth merge and Christ reigns forever.
Strong points of Amillennialism
* It is highly Christocentric: it makes Christ the center of all the biblical covenants (even the “Land” covenant or Siniatic)
* It notes the universal scope of the Abrahamic Covenant (as key) to interpreting the rest of the biblical covenants
* It sees salvation history oriented to a person (Christ), instead of a people (the nation of Israel)
* It emphasizes continuity between the “people of God” (Israel and the Church are one in Christ Eph. 2:11ff)
* It provides an ethic that is rooted in creation, and “re-creation” (continuity between God’s redemptive work now, carried over into the eternal state then)
* It emphasizes a trinitarian view of God as it elevates the “person”, Christ Jesus, the second person of the trinity as the point and mediator of all history
* It flows from a hermeneutic that takes seriously the literary character of the Scriptures (esp. the book of Revelation)
Many classic Dispensationalists say that amillennialists hold to what they call “replacement theology;” meaning that, as they say, amillers believe that the Church has replaced the promises made to Israel. In fact most amillers do not believe this. The ultimate reality is that Jesus fulfilled, as the Jew, “The Seed” the promises made to Abraham and Israel. So He is Israel, but of course not without the Nation. Dispies miss this all too frequently. Dispies, in many ways, function like the Jewish zealots of old did; they are looking for a political kingdom set up on earth, and a political Messiah. God’s intention has never been to be political.