Premillennialism (Section 3.05) Historic Premillennialism
COPYRIGHT 1957 (C)
BY LORAINE BOETTNER
One of the distinguishing marks of Premillennialism is that its adherents all believe in the appearing of a personal Antichrist shortly before the coming of Christ. This character is thought to be a wicked secular or ecclesiastical ruler who is referred to by that name in the First and Second Epistles of John, who in the Book of Revelation is termed the Beast or the False Prophet, and who is the same as the Man of Sin described by Paul in 2nd Thessalonians 2:3, 4. It is said that he is to live in the very last days of the present dispensation, and that he will be exalting himself on the earth at the time Christ returns to set up His millennial kingdom.
Premillennialism usually holds too that the Roman empire is to be revived, and that the Antichrist is to be the king or dictator of this realm. His kingdom is said to include ten nations (Dan. 7:7,20) in central and southern Europe, western Asia, northern Africa, and England. He is not to be revealed as such until after the Rapture of the Church, although he may be the ruler in his kingdom before that time. He is to have more power than has ever before been exercised by any king or dictator. The unbelieving Jews in Palestine are to make a covenant with him, but after three and one-half years he breaks the covenant and institutes a fierce persecution against them. When the Jews are shut up in Jerusalem and are about to be overwhelmed, Christ returns, destroys the Antichrist and his armies in the battle of Armageddon, delivers the Jews, and sets up His millennial kingdom. Some say, however, that the Jews are first to be attacked by a king who invades Palestine from the north, usually said to be the king of Russia, that they appeal to the Roman dictator for help and enter into an agreement with him. According to this view the Roman dictator goes to the aid of the Jews. The armies are drawn up on the plains of Esdraelon, the scene of so many past battles, and in the ensuing battle the Antichrist is victorious. This, however, leads on shortly afterward to a war against the Jews, which is climaxed by the battle of Armageddon. At that moment Christ returns, overthrows the Antichrist, delivers the Jewish people, and sets up His millennial kingdom. In either event the Antichrist still is in the future, and will not be manifested until the Church has been removed at the Rapture.
Many Post- and Amillennialists also believe that a personal Antichrist is to appear in the last days. Some hold that he will be a political ruler. Others identify him with the Pope or the line of popes. Such was the belief of the Reformers, and it continues to be held in the Lutheran Church even to the present day. All of these likewise believe that he will be destroyed at the coming of Christ.
In view of the rather elaborate programs that have been built up around the person and work of the Antichrist it may come somewhat as a surprise to find that there are but four verses in Scripture in which the word “antichrist” occurs. Other alleged references, such as the “Man of sin” mentioned by Paul, the beast or the false prophet mentioned by John in Revelation, and the “little horn” mentioned in Daniel 7, are such only by inference. The verses that mention Antichrist are as follows:
1st John 2:18: “Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour.”
1st John 2:22, “Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son.”
1st John 4:3, “And every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh: and now it is in the world already.”
2nd John 7, “For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
In the first place we notice that the word “antichrist” as here used by John is applied to many persons existing in the first century. He says clearly that “even now have there arisen many antichrists.” And concerning these he says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us” (1st John 2:19).
In other words, the antichrists of John’s day were Christian apostates, those who had forsaken the Church and who were teaching false views concerning our Lord’s person. The distinguishing mark of the antichrist, or an antichrist, says John, whether an individual or a class of individuals, is the denial of the essential deity of Christ. Those who so denied Him reduced Him to a mere man, perhaps a great and good man, but still only a man. The denial of His deity was especially heinous, because on that fact depended the entire fabric of man’s salvation and of God’s redemptive plan. To strike at the deity of Christ is to strike at the very heart of the Christian system. Hence such deniers are branded as liars, deceivers, false prophets, and antichrists. 1st John 2:19 makes it clear that they were men who had gone out from the disciples, that is, apostates and heretics who had deserted the Church and were opposing it.
In this same context John also contrasts “the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1st John 4:6), indicating that in some instances the spirit of antichrist is not necessarily personal. Briefly, we may say that anyone who opposes Christ and His kingdom, any opposition to the person and work of Christ, is antichrist and anti-Christian. This spirit is at work in the world today, and it was already at work in John’s day. Notice, too, that the American Standard and King James versions do not capitalize the word “antichrist,” indicating at least that in the opinion of the translators it was not the name of one particular individual.
In the main, however, the antichrists of whom John wrote were those who denied the true deity or the true humanity of Christ. The Scriptures teach clearly and repeatedly that Christ is truly God and that He is also truly man, One who had come from heaven, who lived a perfectly normal life among men for a period of thirty-three years, who really died, arose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and who will come again in His glorified resurrection body. There were, says John, many who denied that teaching in his day. He does not point them out as atheists, or infidels, or pagans, but as false prophets, liars, deceivers, those who had been within the Church but who now were denying its doctrines. In John’s day and in every generation since there have been “many antichrists.” As John uses the term every person or thing that is opposed to Christ is antichrist. Certainly it is not confined, if indeed it has any reference at all, to one particular person who is to appear in aggravated form just before the coming of Christ. Too much is read into these verses when that meaning is placed upon them.
The fantastic lengths to which some Premillennialists go, however, and the detailed events which they believe they are able to foretell, are well illustrated in the following exposition by George W. Beckwith:
“The dictator will increase his activities rapidly during the tribulation period after he breaks the covenant with the Jews. He will carry his conquest into Egypt (Dan. 11:42, 43). This will be the start of his last campaign …The king of the south will come against him, and the beast will conquer. He will conquer all of the Mediterranean countries except Edom, Moab, and Ammon (Dan. 11:41). These nations will be a place of refuge for the remnant of the Jews.
“The Northern Confederacy,” he continues, “also is preparing for conquest while the beast of the Roman federation is conquering around the Mediterranean sea with his eye on Palestine. Russia and Germany, as well as all the other countries of the earth, also have their eyes on Palestine.
“The Northern Confederacy is described in Ezekiel 38:8, 9. ‘In the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee’…
“The antichrist will be troubled by tidings out of the East and out of the North. With his federation of ten nations, he will meet the Northern Confederacy, with Gog as their head, in the valley of Esdraclon. Both of these confederations will seek the wealth of Palestine. The antichrist will be the conqueror. He will become the head of the armies of all nations. This will lead him to the battle of Armageddon, to war against God’s chosen people, the Jews. This war therefore will be fought by the combined armies of the Gentile nations under the leadership of the antichrist against the Jews. Then will occur the Revelation of Jesus Christ as the Rider of the white horse from heaven. The result of Christ’s coming on His white horse from heaven to battle against the antichrist will be that the hosts of the antichrist will be slaughtered in great numbers. The dead will be buried in the valley of Himmon-Gog. The house of Israel will be seven months burying the dead of the armies of the antichrist.
“Thus will end the power of the antichrist, the king of the Revived Roman Empire . . . Christ will come with all His hosts of heaven, at the time of His Revelation, to the Mount of Olives, to put a stop to the work of the antichrist, to judge the nations and to usher in His kingdom” (God’s Prophetic Plan, pp. 104-106).
We have no need to enter into a detailed refutation of such an elaborate theory. It is a fundamental rule of exegesis that every passage must be understood in the light of its context. Yet not one single reference in Daniel or Ezekiel or Paul or the Book of Revelation which Premillennialists allege refers to the Antichrist is connected in any way with the verses in the epistles of John that mention antichrist. All is based on inference. Let the reader search for himself and see how far-fetched that connection is. We make bold to say that this picture of Antichrist as a world ruler who persecutes the Jews during an alleged tribulation period and then leads the armies of the Gentiles against the Jews in Palestine is pure fiction, without so much as one clear supporting verse in all Scripture.
Nor do we find any adequate support for the view generally accepted by Amillennialists and some Postmillennialists, that the Antichrist will emerge as a powerful political or religious leader shortly before the coming of Christ. That too impresses us as built largely on inference, and as in fact contrary to other Scripture which teaches the future glorious state of the Church and its victorious sweep before the end comes.
2nd Thessalonians 2:3—The Man of Sin
The verse most often cited as teaching that an Antichrist is to appear shortly before the end is 2nd Thessalonians 2:3. This verse speaks of a “Man of sin” and of a “falling away” or apostasy, and with its context reads as follows:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to naught by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they should be saved” (vss. 1-10).
There have been many attempts down through the ages to identify the Man of Sin or the Antichrist. The early Christians believed him to be the persecuting Roman emperor. It was noted by the Christians that the name Nero, Neron Kesar, written in Hebrew letters, had the numerical value of 666 (cf. Rev. 13:18). Mohammed, the false prophet, or his successors in the Caliphate, were thought by some to be the Antichrist. The Reformers believed that both of these prophecies, John’s references to the Antichrist and Paul’s references to the Man of Sin, were fulfilled in the Roman Pope, or in the succession of the popes, and that the “falling away” found its fulfillment in the corrupt condition of the medieval Church. Luther publicly burned the Pope’s decree of excommunication, calling it “the execrable bull of Antichrist.” The Reformers wrote this view into their commentaries and creeds. Strengthening this view was the fact that the Latin title of the Pope, Vicarius Filii Dei, Vicar of the Son of God, had the numerical value of 666.
|V — 5||F||D — 500|
|I — 1||I — 1||E|
|C — 100||L — 50||I — 1|
|A||I — 1|
|R||I — 1||Total – 666|
|U — 5|
Intriguing though this scheme may be, we do not believe that the papacy is the specific agency intended by either John or Paul. We are told that the Man of Sin “opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God” (vs. 4). He therefore is not a religious figure at all. He is not only opposed to the true God, but to every form of true worship and even to the idea of God, He is notoriously anti-religious. This cannot be said of the Pope of Rome, or of the succession of the popes; for they very definitely have been religious figures.
There have been still other candidates for the title of Antichrist or Man of Sin. Napoleon, the “Tyrant,” the scourge of Europe, was thought by some in his day to be the one spoken of. At the time of the First World War some leveled this charge against the Kaiser. Between the wars and during the first part of the Second World War Mussolini and his “restored Roman empire” was set forth by many as a likely candidate for this role. Numerous articles were written and sermons preached to that effect. Typical of those who advocated this view was Dr. John R. Rice, who in a book, World-Wide War and the Bible, published in 1940, in answer to the question, “Is Mussolini the Antichrist?” said:
“He may be. I know of no reason why he should not fit the description of this terrible Man of Sin, He is an Italian. He is evidently an atheist. He once debated for atheism. He has the ruthless disposition, the ruling genius. He has an obsession to restore the Roman Empire. Furthermore, he is already in power in Rome. If Christ called His saints today, and if every saved person should be taken out to meet Christ, then soon Mussolini might have a mandate over Palestine, make the promised treaty with the Jews, and in three and one-half years attain world-wide power and then reign another three and one-half years, forty-two months, over the whole world. Mussolini is somewhat past fifty, neither too young nor too old for the brief but meteoric rule of the terrible Man of Sin. The Man of Sin must be a ruler in Rome, and Mussolini might be the man.”
It was particularly this latter fact, that Mussolini was a Roman, that misled many Premillennialists, for they insist that the Antichrist when he comes will be a ruler in Rome. But since his sudden and ignominious fall we hear nothing more about Mussolini and his restored Roman empire.
It should also be clear that the Man of Sin is not Satan, for while Paul’s description breathes a satanic atmosphere, it is said that his coming is “according to the working of Satan.” That is, he is like Satan, but be is not Satan.
The usual amillennial view identifies the Man of Sin and the Antichrist, and holds further that the rise of the Antichrist and an apostasy immediately precede the return of Christ. Hamilton says concerning 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-10:
“This declares that there will be a ‘falling away,’ that the man of sin will arise and that he will deceive the unbelievers before the coming of Christ to destroy him with the breath of His mouth. The world will not be converted before the coming of Christ, but on the contrary there will be a great apostasy before the coming of Christ” (The Basis of Millennial Faith, p. 105).
It should be clear, however, that Paul was not writing about a personage and event of the remote future, some abstract figure who would not manifest himself until nineteen or more centuries later and who therefore could not have been of any interest to the hard-pressed Christians in the early Church. Rather he was writing of a person and an event of his day, for he says, “The mystery of lawlessness doth already work” (vs. 7). In other words, the apostasy was happening then. Similarly, his statement that “he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God” (vs. 4), contemplates the temple as still standing, and therefore prior to its fall in 70 A. D.
The best opinion, we believe, identifies the Man of Sin with the Roman emperor, or the line of emperors of that time. The apostasy or “falling away” (vs. 3) was then the Jewish apostasy, which would not reach its climax until the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersal of the Jewish people. The Jews had rejected their Messiah, they had crucified the Lord of Glory, and now they were persecuting His followers to the death. This view as regards the apostasy is confirmed by Paul himself in 1st Thessalonians 2:15, 16, where he says that the Jews “killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved; to fill up their sins always;” and then he adds, “But wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” In other words, Judaism was then, as it has been in every age since, bitterly anti-Christian. It is contrary to God’s plan and purpose and so is subject to His wrath.
Probably the most accurate analysis of these expressions, the “Man of Sin” and the “falling away” or apostasy, is that given by Dr. Warfield. He says:
“We cannot fail to observe that in his description of the Man of Sin, the Apostle has a contemporary, or nearly contemporary, in mind. The withholding power is already present. Although the Man of Sin is not yet revealed, as a mystery his essential ‘lawlessness’ is already working—‘only until the present restrainer is removed from the midst.’ He expects him to sit in ‘the temple of God,’ which perhaps most naturally refers to the literal temple in Jerusalem . . . and if we compare the description which the Apostle gives of him with our Lord’s address on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24), to which Paul makes obvious allusion, it becomes at once in the highest degree probable that in the words, ‘he that exalteth himself against all that is called God, or is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the sanctuary of God showing himself that be is God,’ Paul can have nothing else in view than what our Lord described as ‘the abomination of desolation which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (Matt. 24:15); and this our Lord connects immediately with the beleaguering of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 21:20). This obvious parallel, however, not only places the revelation of the Man of Sin in the near future, but goes far toward leading us to his exact identification. Our Lord’s words not only connect him with the siege of Jerusalem, but place him distinctly among the besiegers; and led by the implication of the original setting of the phrase (in Dan. 11:36) which Paul uses, we cannot go far wrong in identifying him with the Roman emperor.
“Whether a single emperor was thought of or the line of emperors, is a more difficult question. The latter hypothesis will best satisfy the conditions of the problem; and we believe that the line of emperors, considered as the embodiment of persecuting power, is the revelation of iniquity hidden under the name of the Man of Sin. With this is connected in the description certain other traits of Roman imperialism—more especially the rage for deification, which, in the person of Caligula, had already given a foretaste of what was to come. It was Nero, then, the first persecutor of the Church—and Vespasian the miracle-worker—and Titus, who introduced his divine-self and his idolatrous insignia into the Holy of Holies, perhaps with a direct anti-Christian intent—and Domitian—and the whole line of human monsters whom the world was worshipping as gods, on which, as a nerve-cord of evil, these hideous ganglia gathered—these and such as these it was that Paul had in mind when he penned this hideous description of the son of perdition, every item of which was fulfilled in the terrible story of the emperors of Rome.
“The restraining power, on this hypothesis, appears to be the Jewish state. For the continued existence of the Jewish state was both graciously and naturally a protection to Christianity, and hence a restraint on the revelation of the persecuting power. Graciously, it was God’s plan to develop Christianity under the protection of Judaism for a short set time, with the double purpose of keeping the door of salvation open to the Jews until all of their elect of that generation should be gathered in and the apostasy of the nation should be rendered doubly and trebly without excuse, and of biding the tender infancy of the Church within the canopy of a protecting sheath until it should grow strong enough to withstand all storms. Naturally, the effect of the continuance of Judaism was to conceal Christianity from notice through a confusion of it with Judaism—to save it thus from being declared an illicit religion—and to enable it to grow strong under the protection accorded Jewish worship. So soon as the Jewish apostasy was complete and Jerusalem given over to the Gentiles—God deserting the temple which was no longer His temple to the fury of the enemies, of those who were now His enemies—the separation of Christianity from Judaism, which had already begun, became evident to every eye; the conflict between the new faith and heathenism culminating in and now alive almost only in the Emperor-worship, became intense; and the persecuting power of the empire was inevitably let loose. Thus the continued existence of Judaism was in the truest sense a restraint on the persecution of Christians, and its destruction gave the signal for the lawless one to be revealed in his time…
“Finally, in this interpretation, the apostasy is obviously the great apostasy of the Jews, gradually filling up all these years and hastening to its completion in their destruction. That the Apostle certainly had this rapidly completing apostasy in his mind in the severe arraignment that he makes of the Jews in 1st Thessalonians 2:14-16, which reached its climax in the declaration that they were continually filling up more and more full the measure of their sins, until already the measure of God’s wrath was prematurely filled up against them and was hanging over them like some laden thunder-cloud ready to burst and overwhelm them—adds an additional reason for supposing his reference to be to this apostasy—above all others, ‘the’ apostasy—in this passage.
“…As a matter of mere fact the growing apostasy of the Jews was completed—the abomination of desolation had been set up in the sanctuary—Jerusalem and the temple, and the whole Jewish state was in ruins—Christianity stood naked before her enemies—and the persecuting sword of Divus Caesar was unsheathed and Paul had himself felt it keenness: all the prophecy had been fulfilled before two decades had passed away” (Biblical and Theological Studies, pp. 472-475).
One further point needs to be cleared up. After saying that “the mystery of lawlessness doth already work; only there is one that restraineth now, until he is taken out of the way,” Paul adds: “And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to naught by the manifestation of his coming” (Vs. 8). We believe that this refers not to Christ’s final coming, as so many assume, but to His coming in judgment on the Roman emperor or on the line of emperors, in the same way that He came in judgment on Jerusalem and the nation of Israel. In the Old Testament God’s judgment on Egypt was foretold in these words: “Behold Jehovah rideth upon a swift cloud, and cometh unto Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall tremble at his presence; and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it” (Is. 19:1); and His judgment on Samaria and Jerusalem was foretold in similar language: “For, behold, Jehovah cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth” (Micah 1:3). Paul was a student of the Old Testament and was quite familiar with its prophetic phraseology. Hence it should not be thought strange that he should sometimes express himself in their spirit and style, as present day speakers sometimes employ the spirit and style of the New Testament to express their messages. When he says that the Lord. Jesus will “bring to naught” the lawless one “by the brightness of his coming,” anyone who is well versed in Old Testament prophecy will not understand him as having reference to the Second Coming of Christ, but rather as predicting in figurative language the Lord’s coming in judgment on the lawless person. The Old Testament has numerous such phrases in its prophetic portions.
Hence the present day premillennial interpretation, and to a lesser extent the amillennial interpretation, of John’s references to “antichrist,” and Paul’s brief reference to a “man of sin,” is a typical example of how an obscure reference can be blown up to fantastic proportions and given an interpretation that misses the writer’s meaning completely. John’s references to “antichrist,” not always with clear indication as to whether he had in mind a personal or an impersonal agency, and his statement that “even now have there arisen many antichrists,” shows how scanty is the Scriptural evidence for this alleged evil character of the end time. We are convinced that nothing in any one of John’s references requires the embodiment of this anti-Christian influence in a single individual, but rather that the term is applied to false teachers who denied the incarnation. Similarly, we are convinced that Paul’s statement that “the mystery of lawlessness doth already work,” indicates quite clearly that he was writing of something that related to the problems of his day, not about some mythical figure of the future, who after a lapse of nineteen centuries still has not appeared, and the mention of whose appearance therefore could have had no conceivable value for the people to whom he was writing. The Christians in the early Church needed practical information and encouragement that would prepare them for the fiery trials and suffering that were just ahead. A careful reading of Paul’s words should convince an open-minded Bible student that the Antichrist and the apostasy are long since past. Few seem to realize how frail is the foundation on which their doctrine of an Antichrist rests. This, incidentally, if it is the true interpretation as we believe it is, clears another important obstacle out of the way for the postmillennial doctrine that the world is to be converted to Christianity before the end comes, and that when Christ returns He comes to a world in which His cause has already been magnificently victorious.
Postmillennialism: Section 1
Amillennialism: Section 2
Premillennialism: Section 3
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