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Dr. James M. Boice Makes An Excellent Case For Premillennialism

A Presbyterian Who Was Premillennial!

“Earth’s Golden Age: The Future Coming Kingdom Reign of Christ on Earth”

[James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. He was one of only a handful of reformed theologians (that I know of, Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Erwin W. Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Rodney Stordtz, John Hannah and John Piper also come to mind) that was premillennial in his eschatology. However, what makes him really unique is that he was not Historic Premillennial – but Dispensational (Held to a pre-tribulation rapture) as well. This article was adapted from Chapter Two in one of the first of James Boice’s plethora of books (currently out of print), and is entitled: The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1974. Though this book was written almost 40 years ago – it is just as relevant today as when it was first written since most of the prophecies taught in the Scriptures and addressed by Dr. Boice in this book have yet to be fulfilled – DPC] 

What The Bible Has To Say About The Future: Part 2 in a Series of 9

 By Dr. James M. Boice

At the heart of biblical prophecy lies the statement that the same Jesus of Nazareth who came to this earth to die for salvation will one day come again to establish perfect social order – a golden age. To be sure, His coming is a complex affair, as we shall see. His return, in part, will be to take his followers to be with Him in heaven. Shortly after that He will appear on earth bodily to set up an earthly kingdom. He will appear once again as a judge of men and nations. Nevertheless, at the heart of these prophecies lies the promise of a golden age for mankind which will be established by the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming.

This thought should be of great interest to us all, of course, for one of the dreams shared by thinking people from all periods of history and all cultures is of an age in which men and women can live in peace and prosperity and find life meaningful.

The idea of a golden age exists in the philosophical writings and myths of most of the world’s great civilizations. Plato wrote of a perfect age in his Republic. Virgil popularized the theme for the Romans in his Fourth Eclogue. In more recent history the dream of a utopia has been voiced by Thomas More, Samuel Butler, and Edward Bellamy, as well as by Henry David Thoreau, Robert Owen, and Leo Tolstoy, all of whom actually tried to create one. In our day communists express the same vision as “the classless state,” by western governments in terms of material prosperity, and by the youth of most countries as a time of universal love, brotherhood, peace, and understanding. The difficulty is that no person or culture has ever achieved this ideal and even the future, which has always been the bright hope of dreamers, does not look promising.

Even though men dream of a golden age and have some idea of what it should be like, nothing in actual history gives us any ground for hoping that anything like a utopia is forthcoming. One writer concluded:

The rule of man…has been characterized with irreconcilable ambitions and conflicts of interests. The brains of man have been dedicated to the production of military machines and accouterments for the scattering of death and desolation among the inhabitants of the earth. The highest considerations and culture of the race have been blown to pieces by the withering blasting of bursting shells. Man has looked for peace and found war. He has talked of brotherhood and love and seen hatred and persecution. He has boasted of his civilization, enlightenment, and progress, and the so-called heathen have upbraided him for his godless practices. He has bowed down to the god of gold and broken the backs of old and young, and starved millions to get it. He has spent billions of dollars for war; millions for pleasure; and only a few paltry thousands of spreading the gospel of Christ. He has professedly worshiped in his mosques, cathedrals, temples, synagogues, and churches, and over many of them God has since written “Ichabod”—“the glory of God has departed,” due to formalism and ritualism, which have been substituted for the blood of Christ, and to the sinful denials of the faith. Everywhere and in every age, the rule of man has been characterized by greed, avarice, covetousness, robbery, plunder, rebellion, confusion, pride, presumption, boastings, poverty, pestilence, disease, suffering, and sin. It is no better now and gives no promise of improvement. As it was, so it is, and will be until the King comes back. There has not been a period since the fall of man in which the race has enjoyed or witnesses the condition which prophecy declares shall obtain in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ  (Note 1: Quoted in W.H. Rogers, The End From the Beginning. New York: Arno C. Gaebelein, Inc., 1938, 262-263).

Some people would think these words too harsh. But they are a far more accurate description today than in the day when they were written. For Rogers wrote in 1938, before World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnamese conflict, or any of the other social upheavals and problems that characterize our time. We dream of a golden age. But if there is ever to be such an age, it seems certain that God Himself must establish it.

 God’s Rule

This, of course, is exactly what we find in the Bible. One of the prophets who had the clearest vision of the golden age was Isaiah. He lived in a period of great social upheaval, witnessing the overthrow of the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. In Isaiah’s day events were growing worse and worse. Yet even as they did, he wrote prophetically of a better and, indeed, perfect day to come.

The theme first occurs in the second chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy.

It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the Lord

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be lifted up above the hills;

and all the nations shall flow to it,

and many peoples shall come, and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go the law,

and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

According to these verses, there will come a time when God Himself will rule the earth from Jerusalem and war will cease.

In chapter 4 Isaiah speaks of the golden age again, referring on this occasion to the rule of the messiah, whom he terms “the branch of the Lord” (v.2). Chapter 9, which speaks of the birth of this Messiah, also foretells His eventual reign.

Then, in chapter 11, the theme is developed in much greater detail.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,

and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze;

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy

in all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)

From this point on the idea of a golden age is repeated again and again, almost as leitmotif throughout the prophecy (in chapters 25, 32, 42, 49, and 52), until near the end of the book the tempo picks up again.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

In these final chapters the prosperity of the earth under the rule of the Messiah is emphasized, as well as the special blessing that will come upon the Jewish nation.

It is impossible to give here all the references in Scripture to the coming age of God’s rule. But in addition to these full prophecies of Isaiah, several other significant passages should be mentioned.

First, in the Book of Micah there is a prophecy of great material prosperity during the same period. Micah writes, “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and not one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4). This is Micah’s way of describing individual prosperity in an age when neither life not possessions will be threatened by warfare.

Second, in Jeremiah 33 there is a lengthy description of the blessing that will come upon Jerusalem in that age. The special and solemn emphasis upon the literal nature f the promises is noteworthy. The opening verses say that God will return the captivity of Judah—that is, He will bring those who were exiled from Judah back to their own land – and He will cleanse them of sin. The middle verses speak of the rule of the Messiah. Then God says, “If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers” (Jeremiah 33:20-21). In other words, God vows by the regularity of the day and night that the promise to David of an heir to reign upon his throne forever will be fulfilled.

The third passage that deserves special mention is in Revelation 20. In this chapter two new ideas are introduced. First, the chapter tells us that in the golden age the devil, who has long deceived the nations, will be bound that he might do no more harm. And adds that this binding of Satan will last one thousand years, after which he will be loosed for a little time. “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1-3). This phrase “thousand years” occurs six times in the first seven verses of this chapter and has given us, as an Anglicization of the Latin word for thousand, the important theological term “millennium.”

A Literal Millennium?

At this point we must stop and ask a question which has become prominent in biblical interpretation: Is the promise of a golden age to be understood literally or is it only a symbol of something spiritual? In discussions about the millennium there have been three major views, two of which regard the millennium as literal and one which sees it as symbolic. They are premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial interpretations.

Literally, the term postmillennial means that Jesus Christ will return after the millennium. But the heart of the postmillennial position lies in its view of history. According to those who have held this view, the church will, little by little, bring truth and righteousness to the whole earth so that all will eventually be converted. During this time Jesus will reign in and through the church. He will return to the earth bodily as judge only after the church’s mission is accomplished. The great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas and reformed theologians Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield were proponents of this view.

One who holds the view in our day is Loraine Boettner, author of the valuable studies The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium. Several years ago in an article for Christianity Today he wrote,

The redemption of the world, then, is a long, slow process, extending through the centuries, yet surely approaching an appointed goal. We live in the day of advancing victory and see the conquest taking place. From the human viewpoint there are many apparent setbacks, and it often looks as though the forces of evil are about to gain the upper hand. But as one age succeeds another, there is progress. Looking back across the nearly two thousand years that have elapsed since the coming of Christ, we see that there has been marvelous progress. All over the world, pagan religions have had their day and are disintegrating. None of them can stand the open competition of Christianity. They wait only the coup de grace of an aroused and energetic Christianity to send them into oblivion…The Church must conquer the world, or the world will destroy the Church. Christianity is the system of truth, the only one that through the ages has had the blessing of God upon it. We shall not expect the final fruition within our lifetime, nor within this century. But the goal is certain and the outcome sure. The future is as bright as the promises of God. The great requirement is faith that the Great Commission of Christ will be fulfilled through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and preaching of the everlasting Gospel (Note 2: Quoted from Loraine Boettner, “Christian Hope and the Millennium,’ Christianity Today, September 29, 1958, p. 14).

What should be said about this view? One objection to it is clearly that this does not seem to be happening, as Boettner admits. In fact, the pagan religions are actually experiencing a resurgence, though they were not in 1958 when these words were written. One may argue, as Boettner does, that we must judge by faith rather than sight. But the reply is surely that the kingdom, even according to postmillennialists, is literal and therefore must be literally seen. If we do not see it, it is not irreligious or faithless to doubt that it is coming.

A second objection to the postmillennial position is that, if these views are right, then all the promises of literal blessing upon Israel in the future age (some of which we have outlined) must either be forgotten or else spiritualized; that is, applied not to Israel but to the church.

The third, and, in my opinion, the decisive objection is that the Scriptures themselves teach something entirely different for the course of this age. For instance, Jesus warned the disciples against supposing that, as the result of their preaching, the whole world would eventually come to believe in the Gospel and that, therefore, truth and righteousness would prevail.

In Matthew 13 is a collection of parables called “the parables of the kingdom,” by which Jesus forecast the developments of the church during the present church age. The first parable is the parable of the sower. A certain man went out to sow seed, and the seed fell on different types of soil. Some of it fell by the wayside where it was quickly eaten up by the birds. Some seed fell on stony ground where it sprang up quickly, only to be scorched by the sun. Some fell among thorns and the growing plants were choked. The rest fell on good ground and produced in some cases a hundred bushels of grain for one bushel of seed and, in others, sixty for one or thirty for one (v.8).

Jesus then explained the parable, showing that the seed stood for the Gospel. The Gospel would always be received in four distinct ways by those who heard it. The devil would quickly snatch away the seed of the Gospel from those without understanding. Others who heard the Gospel would apparently receive it with joy, but it would not penetrate deeply and so would easily be scorched out by persecution. For still others, the cares of the world would choke out the message. Only a fourth part would actually hear the Gospel and have it take root and produce fruit in them.

This parable must mean that the church age is to be a seed-growing age in which only a part of the preaching of the Gospel will be successful. This parable alone dispels the idea that the preaching of the Gospel will be more and more successful as time goes on and that it will eventually bring a total triumph for the church.

The second parable makes the same point. It is the story of a man who had sowed grain in his field but discovered that an enemy had come and sown tares. The servants of the owner of the field wanted to root out the tares, but they were told not to do so lest they tear up some of the wheat in their zeal to exterminate the weeds. Instead, they were to let both grow together until the harvest, at which time the entire field would be harvested, the wheat separated from the chaff and gathered into the barns, and the tares burned. When Jesus explained this parable to the disciples, He showed that the field was the world and that the world would always contain believers and unbelievers mixed together until the day of His judgment.

The rest of Christ’s parables in this chapter are unexplained. The explanation of the first two, however, gives us the clue by which the rest of the parables are to be understood. Thus, the parable of the mustard seed points to the unnatural growth of church structures. The parable of the leaven shows that in this age the kingdom of heaven will always have evil present within it, since leaven is a symbol of evil in the Bible. The stories of the field with treasure in it and the pearl of great price tell of the sacrifice Jesus made to redeem a people for Himself, while implying at the same time that He did not die to save everyone. Finally, the parable of the dragnet points to the day in which Jesus will be the judge of all men, separating those who have been made righteous through His death and resurrection from those who have not and who will be put away from Him forever.

In our age God is calling out a group of people to Himself – people from every walk of life and with every imaginable ethnic and intellectual background – and is changing them into men and women who are becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is worth adding that whatever our particular view of Christ’s parables, this was nevertheless the message that got through to the disciples. For there is very little in their writing that can be interpreted as optimistic regarding the course of human history. Thus Peter wrote of the last days: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:1-2). Jude wrote “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (Jude 18). Paul declared, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). He added later, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

None of these verses envisions an increasingly successful expansion of the gospel message. Rather, they encourage a faithful adherence to and preaching of the Gospel in spite of the fact that it will not be universally received and that there will be a period of increasing unbelief and lawlessness. It is significant that the period of recent history culminating in two world wars has witnessed the death of any widespread enthusiasm for the postmillennial position.

Amillennialism

In the place of the old postmillennialism, there developed in some important circles a new interest in a view known to be amillennialism. This means there is to be no literal millennium, as we have already indicated. There were individuals who spoke along such lines previously, but many of them assumed the amillennial position non-critically. That is, they tended to be amillennial by default. It is not until fairly recent times that this view has had any great development (Note 3: The Reformers were apparently amillennialists, but their views on prophecy must not be overstated inasmuch as they tended to view most prophetic ideas as referring to the struggles of their own day. Thus, the Pope became the Antichrist, the Roman Catholic Church became the great whore of Babylon, and so on. Augustine has also been cited as an amillennialist, largely due to his heavy polemic against the Chiliasts, who were excessively literal in their views. However, since he went on to identify the millennium with the history of the church on earth – in his City of God – he seems to me much more of a post-millennialist).

According to amillennialists, much of what has been said in criticism of the postmillennial position is right. There will be no gradually unfolding triumph for the church militant before Christ’s return. But, on the other hand, there will be no literal reign of Christ either. According to this view, the millennium (if it is even right to speak of it as “the” millennium) must be spiritualized.

Now we must say that most amillennialists hold to important doctrines of conservative biblical theology. The doctrine of man is correct. There is a genuine expectation of Christ’s literal, second coming. Salvation is of grace. The period of the offer of God’s grace is followed by judgment. All this is good. Yet I cannot help but feel that the spiritualizing of the prophecies concerning Christ’s rule is inadequate.

The amillennial view cannot answer the problem of unfulfilled prophecy, for example, the promise of God to Abraham that his descendents would possess the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates. This promise is contained in Genesis 15 and is set in the context of the most solemn and unconditional pledge of the truth of the promise to Abraham. We are told that God commanded Abraham to prepare animals in the form of a ceremony often used in antiquity (“And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth” – Jeremiah 34:18-20).

He then appeared to Abraham to renew His promises and to forecast the next four hundred years of Jewish history. The Lord reiterated His promise of blessing, saying, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:18-21).

It is not possible to identify precisely all the territory possessed by the people listed in these verses, but it is certain that it covered an enormous expanse of land involving at least all of what we would today call Sinai, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and portions of Turkey, and it is fairly certain that the Jews have never literally possessed all of it (Note 4: it has been argued persuasively by proponents of the amillennial position that Israel has possessed the land promised to Abraham, as a comparison of Genesis 15:18-21 with 1 Kings 4:20, 21 and 2 Chronicles 9:26 is supposed to show. We may agree that there is a resemblance between these descriptions of the borders of the land possessed by Solomon and God’s original promises of the land to Abraham. However, there are three difficulties:

(1) even at the height of his great power Solomon did not actually possess all the land described in these verses but only a part of it, receiving tribute from the rest;

(2) the word used for “river” in the phrase “the river of Egypt” does not mean “wadi” or “stream” [there is another word in Hebrew for that] but actually denotes a river. Thus the reference is to the Nile rather than the Wadi el Arish, and this marks off territory which Israel has never possessed;

(3) if the land of the Hittites is in view in Genesis 15:18-20, then this area also lies outside any land previously occupied by the Jewish nation. This point is negated, of course, if the reference is only to the Hittite people or there were Hittites in Canaan [Exodus 3:8; Deut. 7:1; 20:17]).

What are we to do with such promises? We cannot dismiss them, for there is nothing in the words of God to Abraham to suggest that they were conditional, as some other promises were. We cannot apply them to the church, for there is no relationship between these precise geographic boundaries and the church’s nature, growth, or commission. The promises must be literal. Thus, if they have not yet been fulfilled in history, then they must be fulfilled in the future. The obvious time for that is in the period immediately following the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in power at the end of this age.

God’s Rule

The third of the three major views on the millennium is premillennialism. Premillennialists hold that the millennium is literal, that Christ will rule, and that this will follow and indeed be the direct result of His return in power to this earth, as He has promised.

Some of my reasons for interpreting the promises concerning the earth’s golden age in this way are already obvious.

First, there is an obligation to interpret Scripture as literally as possible; that is, to take a passage in the literal sense unless it is demonstrably poetic or unless it simply will not bear a literal interpretation. Thus, to give one example, when this principle is applied to Revelation 20, it is hard to escape the feeling that a definite time sequence is envisioned, whatever one may think of the actual figure of one thousand years. We come to the chapter after a description of the proclamation of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-10), the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ riding forth in glory to conquer the nations (Rev. 19:11-16), and the account of Armageddon (Rev. 19:17-21). The description of this period is then followed by an account of the final judgment and of the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 20:11-22:5). Clearly, there is no reason why this cannot be a listing of a series of literal events.

The second reason for anticipating a literal millennium has already been given in part. It is the unfulfilled nature of some of the promises made to Israel during the Old Testament period. It is true, of course, that some of the promises made are conditional; but not all of them are. Among these unconditional promises are some that have not been fulfilled, such as the promises regarding the land. We may remind ourselves here that Paul lived after Jesus Christ’s first coming and was quite aware of the fact that, temporarily at least, Israel had forfeited her heritage. But it was Paul above all the other New Testament writers who stressed a future period of national blessing for Israel (Rom. 11:26-32).

To my mind, however, the best and ultimate reason why there must be a literal millennium is that only in a literal millennium do we have a meaningful culmination of world history.

We must realize at this point that one of the reasons for the continuation of history as we know it is God’s desire to demonstrate man’s utter ruin in sin and man’s total responsibility for the state of the world as we find it. God has told us that before Him “every mouth will be stopped” (Rom. 3:19), and yet men’s mouths have never yet stopped finding excuses for themselves and for encouraging sin.

The first obvious excuse men had for their conduct must have been voiced shortly after Cain had killed Abel and God had responded by marking Cain so no one would kill him (Gen. 4:15). We are told that the state of affairs in the world then grew so bad there were multiple murders and other evil acts. Now if God had approached men at this time and had asked them, “What have you done? Why is there so much wickedness?” men could have replied by throwing the blame back upon God. They could have said, “It’s your fault, God. When Cain killed his brother, You protected him. Since nothing happened to Cain, others thought they could get away with murder too, and that’s why things are as they are. Why, if You had let us make an example of Cain, we’d have dealt so roughly with him that no one would ever have done such a thing again!”

“Well,” God may have said then, “we’ll try it your way. We’ll institute capital punishment.” So we read several chapters later in God’s message to Noah after the flood, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). Obviously conditions did not improve. Thus, while capital punishment may be a deterrent to crime in some instances, no one would dare to argue that even the most rigid enforcement of capital punishment would bring in the age we long for.

At this point men had what we could call the powers of human government. But when the world did not improve by the exercise of such powers, there was “True, we now have the power. But the difficulty lies in the fact that we do not know where to apply it. In short, we do not know what You want us to do.”

“All right,” says God, “I’ll tell you what to do.” So the law of Moses was given, but  the unanimous and united testimony of the race is that law, even the law of Moses, cannot bring the millennium.

“Well,” says another, “the problem now is that the law is abstract. It is full of do’s and don’ts. If only we could see an example of what You want to be done.” So God sent the Lord Jesus Christ, the only perfect Man who ever lived, the Man who could say to His enemies and leave them speechless, “Which of you can convict me of sin?” And what was the result? Christ so exposed the moral and spiritual failures of even the best men of His day that they hated Him for it and eventually had Him executed on false charges.

Following the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, God gave His own Spirit to those who believed in Christ, so that today we may be said to be living in an age of great grace out of which God provides for all the needs of His children. But still men will not accept God’s way and continue to devise their excuses.

Some of the excuses are merely repetitions of those which have already been given, but there is one excuse that has not been exposed. Today, while men can no longer truly blame God for the present state of the world – and will not blame themselves – a little thought will show anyone who really seeks an escape that he can still blame the devil. “Satan must be responsible,” he can argue. Those who know the Bible know, of course, that is untrue. James, the Lord’s brother, wrote his brief letter, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Jesus Himself declared, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). The Bible clearly declares that the blame lies on man. And yet, men still have a chance to blame the devil and the environment they declare he created.

The millennium, then, will be the final proof of man’s total depravity and full responsibility. God says He will establish a perfect age, a golden age. He will begin by eliminating the devil as a factor in world affairs (Rev. 20:2,3). Satan will be bound for one thousand years. God will establish a perfect government on this earth under Jesus Christ, who will rule in and through the redeemed of all ages. The earth itself will be transformed, experiencing an increase in fertility.

That will mean the abolition of the “curse” to which the earth was subjected as the result of God’s initial judgments upon sin (Rom. 8:19-23). It will mean the end of the predatory nature of the animal kingdom (Isa. 11:6-9). Out of this change great prosperity will come. There will be no more war. All the desirable elements that the philosophers, sociologists, historians, theologians, and dreamers have ever envisioned for the earth’s golden age will appear – literally and abundantly. There should then be total and eternal gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has brought such conditions to the earth. And yet, to prove the totally perverse nature of the human heart, when Satan is released at the end of the thousand years, men will immediately cry out upon seeing him, “Thank God for the devil.” And they will rebel against Christ.

This rebellion is the great purpose of the millennium. We know from the scriptural account that this final, great rebellion will not succeed. In fact, we know it will be brief and will be followed at once by God’s final judgment upon sin and by the entrance of all things into the eternal state. Nevertheless, the fact will have been demonstrated. Men cannot run their affairs by themselves and are, in fact, themselves the reason why they cannot.

Teaching for Today

We must not lose sight of the fact that several important doctrines for the present follow from this millennium teaching. First, if we really understand the purpose of the millennium, as I have outlined it, then called in reformed the “total depravity” of man. We will do what we can in this world. We will always work to see that truth and righteousness prevail. Nevertheless, we will not be fooled by the futile belief that men will solve their own problems; men are the source of their problems. So they need a Savior.

Second, we will be increasingly dependent upon God. Salvation does not come by men or through men. So if they will ever be even a limited amount of truth and righteousness in this age, it will come only through those whose lives are yielded to God. This gives us a great present role as His children.

Third, it teaches us patience. It is true that history has continued without significant moral change for thousands of years. It may continue much longer. But if it does, we may be sure that God has His own definite purposes in it all. What are these purposes?

One of them is to draw out people to Himself. If you are a Christian, aren’t you glad that the Lord Jesus did not return to establish His reign before you were born and grew old enough to understand these things and become a thinking believer? That is exactly what Peter was talking about in his second letter when he wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That does not mean that all men will be saved, but that God is delaying the return of Jesus Christ until all whom He has chosen in Christ will be born and be saved. You are among this great company if you are a Christian.

On the other hand, if you have not yet believed, the very fact that Christ has not returned is your hope. Won’t you turn to Him who alone is your Savior? Commit yourself to Him. Say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I have fallen short of what You require, that I am a sinner; but I also know that You died for me and are able to give me new life. Take me now as one of Your children and give me assurance of salvation.”

About the Author: James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a brilliant Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He is the author of numerous Bible expositions and one of my favorite Systematic Theologies called Foundations of the Christian Faith.

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“Prophecy and the Bible” By James Montgomery Boice

What The Bible Has To Say About The Future:

Part 1 in a Series of 9 By *James M. Boice

Years ago the noted English agnostic Thomas Huxley was in Dublin, Ireland, for some speaking engagements. On one occasion he left his hotel in a hurry to catch a train, taking one of the city’s famous horse drawn taxis. Huxley thought that the doorman at the hotel had told the driver where he was going, so he simply settled back in the cab and told the man at the reins to drive fast. The driver set off at a vigorous pace. In a few minutes Huxley realized that the cab was headed away from the station. “Do you know where you are going?” he shouted to the driver, “No, your honor,” the driver answered, “but I’m driving fast.”

This story seems to sum up more than just the spirit of Huxley and his followers toward the end of the nineteenth century. It is also an illustration of the outlook of many in our tumultuous age. There is much motion, much speed. Yet few in our day seem to know where they are or where they are headed. For most of our contemporaries, life is as Franklin Delano Roosevelt described it in his inaugural address: “We don’t know where we are going but we are on our way.”

This state of affairs is completely abnormal, of course. Or, to put another way, the confusion is not God’s fault. In fact, God’s revelation in the Bible exists to accomplish just the opposite. The Bible is God’s revelation to men of where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed. It is a revelation of our past, present, and future; and these are revealed, not only in reference to the individual, but also as the concern nations and the movements of history. What will happen to us in the years to come? Where is history headed? How will it end? Is God in control or has He forgotten us? Do the events of our life have significance?

If you are interested in these questions and have not been satisfied with the predictions of politicians or pollsters, then this series of studies of what the Bible has to say about the future is for you.

 Why Study Prophecy?

 I must admit that for many years I have been reluctant to write on this subject – for two reasons. First, I believe that in the last generation there has been an overemphasis on prophecy in the writings of certain evangelical leaders. Prophecy is a part of the Bible. It should be studied. Yet sometimes prophecy has been discussed to the exclusion of many other vital and urgent doctrines. That is inexcusable when some still do not know about sin or about Christ’s atonement.

The second reason that I have hesitated to write on this subject has been an inner suspicion that much teaching on prophecy has been directed toward a wrong level of involvement both for the teacher and for the listener. Many are interested in prophecy solely because of a desire to know something that no one else knows, to have the final word on things to come in the future. In some circles this has led to a certain smugness which has destroyed the very compassion and outreach to humanity that a true understanding of the subject is intended to produce.

Since in the face of such misgivings, I have decided to write a series on biblical prophecy, it would be well to give you my reasons. There are four of them.

Four Reasons To Study Biblical Prophecy

First, for anyone who has determined, as I have, to explore the whole counsel of God by means of a thorough exposition of the Bible, it is impossible to avoid prophecy, for the Bible is full of it. In fact, from one point of view, the Bible is almost entirely prophecy. It is the record of God’s promises of a Redeemer and of the salvation of the human race, together with a record of the fulfillment of those promises insofar as they occurred. One-fourth of the Bible is specifically prophetic. Whole books, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, are devoted to prophecy. It is a recognition of this fact that has led most good Bible students to treat the subject at least to some degree. A list of them would include such names as Sir Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, H.A. Ironside, I.M. Haldeman, C.I Scofield, Arno C. Gaebelein, G.H. Pember, and, in our day, J. Dwight Pentecost, Hal Lindsey, Billy Graham, and many others.

It is relevant here to point out that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not let us regard prophecy, any more than any other part of Scripture, as unprofitable. For we are told, “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

My second reason for treating prophetic themes at this time is the current secular interest in the future, particularly as shown by the involvement of many with astrology and spiritualism. It is true that humanity has had an interest in the future throughout history. The Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all had fortune-telling priests and astrologers. Although condemned by Christianity, astrology was popular in the western world until after the Renaissance, when increased scientific study discredited it. However, the study of astrology has revived in recent years. Today an interest in the future is everywhere apparent. Astrological signs abound. Newstands are filled with books and pamphlets on what is to come. Astrology was brought to the popular level by the rock musical Hair, with its highly successful song “Aquarius.” Millions consult their horoscopes daily. In fact, according to Hal Lindsey, a new and popular writer on prophecy, columns on astrology now run in 1220 of 1750 daily newspapers in the United States. Twenty years ago only 100 papers ran astrology columns.

There is also an interest in the more popular prophets of the day such as Jeanne Dixon, Carroll Righter, and Syndey Omarr. In Europe there are literally thousands of mediums. According to one estimate, there is a fortune-teller for every 120 Parisians. I have been told that there are over 200 mediums in the city of Zurich, Switzerland, alone. Certainly, this kind of interest needs to be countered by the legitimate biblical approach to the events associated with the culmination of our age.

The third reason is the current renewed interest in biblical eschatology by established theologians. The best known of these is the German theologian named Juergen Moltmann, a professor of systematic theology at the University of Tuebingen. His first widely successful book, The Theology of Hope, is an attempt to look at all Christian doctrine from the perspective of God’s future promises, and it has set off a wide range of related studies by others. Thus, although a generation ago many scholars laughed at any interest on the part of conservatives in biblical prophecy, today many would agree with Henry P. Van Dusen who has argued that “the problem of eschatology my shortly become, if it is not already, the framework of American theological discussion,” and perhaps indeed of theological discussion generally (Henry P. Van Dusen, “A Preview of Evanston,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review, March, 1954, p.8).

God’s Challenge

My fourth and final reason for writing this series of studies is the most important one, however. It completely overshadows the others. The reason is this: God Himself appeals to the fulfillment of prophecy as evidence that He alone is God and that He is faithful to all who follow Him. In fact, He challenges those who do not yet believe to investigate personally the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

I know that some will say, “But I have never heard of that. Where in the Bible does God make such an appeal?” God does so in many places, but the greatest appeal is in a section of nine chapters from the heart of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-48. The theme of these chapters is the greatness and majesty of the true God, and the appeal is to prophecy.

In chapter 40 God begins by contrasting His own performance on behalf of His people with the performance of idols. The point is that the idols can do nothing.

To who then will you liken God?

Or what likeness will you compare with Him?

As for the idol, a craftsman casts it,

A goldsmith plates it with gold,

And a silversmith fashions chains of silver.

He who is too impoverished for such an offering

Selects a tree that does not rot:

He seeks out for himself a skillfull craftsman

To prepare an idol that will not totter. (Isaiah 40:18-20, NASB)

 

In the next chapter an appeal is made to the idols:

“Present your case,” the LORD says.

“Bring forward your strong arguments,”

The King of Jacob says.

Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place;

As for the former events, declare what they were,

That we may consider them, and know their outcome;

Or announce to us what is coming.

Declare the things that are going to come afterward,

That we may know that you are gods;

Indeed, do good or evil,

that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.

Behold, you are of no account,

And your work amounts to nothing;

He who chooses you is an abomination. (Isaiah 41:21-24, NASB)

The point of these verses is that the idols are ineffective. No one but God Himself can tell the future, since no one but God can control it. The argument continues in this vein for several chapters until it is summed up in chapter 48, “Who can foretell the future?” God asks.

I declared the former things long ago

And they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them.

Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. (Isaiah 48:3, NASB)

This is the test of the true God and of the one who claims to speak in His name. No one in biblical times – or today, for that matter – doubts that there are people in every age who will pretend to possess insight into future events. The idols, as well as Jehovah, had their prophets. There have always been astrologers and mystics. But the question is not “Are there prophets?” The question is “Whose prophecies come true?” By this standard, it is the claim of God and of the Bible that all that is prophesied in the Bible has either come to pass or is coming to pass and that men should believe on the God of the Bible because of it.

God’s Spokesman

In this series we will be looking primarily at the biblical prophecies of things that have not yet come to pass. Yet it would be inadequate to look at prophecies that relate to the future without at least considering some of the many prophecies that are also part of the biblical revelation. For one thing, we need to look at the past to meet God’s challenge to Isaiah. For another, only as we do this will we be able to approach the future prophecies, not as guesses by reasonably intelligent men, but rather as further divine revelations, through those who have already been tested, of what awaits this race and the individuals in it.

An excellent place to begin is with a little known prophet, Micaiah. His story is told in 1 Kings 22. Micaiah was a prophet of God in Israel during the days of the divided monarchy when Ahab was king of Israel and Jehoshaphat was king of Judah. At one point in their reigns Jehoshaphat went north to visit Ahab, and the two kings got into a discussion about an area of ancient Palestine called Ramoth-gilead, which bordered on Israel. Ahab had wanted the land for some time, and he saw an opportunity in Jehoshaphat’s visit to possess it. He suggested, “We could take Ramoth-gilead if we did it together, you and I. Shall we do it?”

Jehoshaphat answered, “I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses.” Ahab was not a worshiper of Jehovah and, in fact, was quite wicked, while Jehoshaphat was more or less a believer in God. So, before they went to battle, Jehoshaphat said, “Let’s consult the Lord before we break camp.” Ahab responded by producing four hundred of his court prophets and asking them, “Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear?” The prophets gave the answer that the king wanted to hear.

“Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king.” This word from the prophets satisfied king Ahab (actually, he would gone even without consulting the prophets) but Jehoshaphat was not satisfied. These men were paid mouthpieces, and Jehoshaphat knew it. So he said to Ahab, “But isn’t there a real prophet, a prophet of the Lord, that we may ask the outcome from him?” Ahab replied that there was one, a man named Micaiah, but that he hated Micaiah because Micaiah never prophesied anything good about him, only evil. Nevertheless, at Jehoshaphat’s insistence, Micaiah was called.

Now if ever there was a situation in which the deck was stacked against one poor prophet, this was it. First, Micaiah was warned as to what he should say. Second, he was brought into the capital city and into the marketplace where all the troops, the false prophets, and the two kings were assembled. Third, he was confronted by the king who hated and feared him. The question was asked: Micaiah, shall we go against Ramoth-gilead to battle; or shall we forbear?”

At first Micaiah ridiculed the kings. He said, “Go and prosper; for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king.” What Micaiah said was a direct quotation of the false prophets, and everyone knew it. Ahab became angry. He literally roared at Micaiah: “I adjure thee that thou tel me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD.” So Micaiah replied, “I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd. And the LORD said, These have no master; let them return every man to his house in peace.”

Ahab recognized that this was a prophecy of his death. He turned to Jehoshaphat and said, “See? What did I tell you? Didn’t I say that he would prophesy no good about me, only evil?” Ahab then disguised himself. But in the fighting one of the Syrian soldiers shot an arrow at random which entered a joint in Ahab’s armor and killed him. So the king died and the people of Israel were scattered, as Micaiah had prophesied.

Isaiah

A much better known prophet is Isaiah. Isaiah had a long life, prophesying over a period of sixty years, during the lifetimes of four successive kings of Judah. Many of his prophecies have been fulfilled, some during and others after his lifetime.

In the year 701 B.C., in the fourteenth year of the reign of King Hezekiah (the third king under whom Isaiah prophesied), the Assyrian king Sennacherib besieged the city of Jerusalem, threatening its total destruction. Sennacherib later wrote that he shut up Hezekiah “like a caged bird…in…his royal city.”

In the midst of the siege, which dragged on and on because of the city’s strong fortifications, Sennacherib sent one of his deputies named Rabshaketh to Jerusalem with a speech intended to weaken the morale of the defenders and perhaps lead to a revolt within the city and subsequent surrender. Rabshaketh spoke in Hebrew, rehearsing all that had happened to other cities and then threatening the same fate for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The speech had a deadly effect, so much so, in fact, that the city officials asked Rabshaketh to speak Aramaic, the language of international diplomacy, lest the people be further discouraged by hearing him. At this confession of weakness, the deputy merely kept on with his destructive propaganda.

Word came to Hezekiah of what was happening, and he was dismayed. He sent to Isaiah and asked him to pray for the people and the city. Instead, Isaiah immediately sent back a prediction of what would happen. He said, “Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blight upon him, and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:6, 7; Is. 37:6,7).

That is precisely what happened. Soon a plague swept through Sennacherib’s army. Then the king apparently heard rumors of rebellion and insurrection at home, and the army left Palestine. Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons when he returned to Nineveh (2 Kings 19:35-37).

Later Isaiah predicted the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Babylon, the captivity of the people, the overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and the Persians, and the eventual return of the Jewish exiles to their homeland. All these events took place roughly one hundred, one hundred fifty, and two hundred years after Isaiah had foretold them.

Prophecies of the Messiah

Spectacular as these specific prophecies relating to Jewish history are, however, the most important of Isaiah’s prophecies are not those relating to the nation at all. They are the prophecies of the Messiah. Here, however, the testimony of Isaiah is supplemented by the predictions of many other prophets who lived both before and after his time.

These men told a great deal about the Messiah and they told it in exquisite detail. The Old Testament tells us that the Messiah was to be a descendent of Abraham through King David (2 Sam. 7:12, 13; 1 Chron. 17:11-14; Jer. 23:5). Micah, one of the so-called Minor Prophets, wrote that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). This prophecy was quoted by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalm as an answer to the Wise Men, who came to the city inquiring where the King of the Jews had been born. Isaiah revealed that the Messiah would be the child of a virgin (Isa. 7:14). He also foretold the King’s rejection by Israel and described His suffering (Isa. 53). Zechariah spoke of the price of the Messiah’s betrayal: “So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” (Zech 11:12). Parts of the Psalms describe the crucifixion and intense suffering of the Chosen One; Psalm 22 contains prophecies of the mocking of the Messiah, the piercing of His hands and feet, and the division of His garments by those who carried out his execution.

In Daniel there is even a prophecy of the time at which this would take place. The Messiah was to come shortly before the destruction of the temple built by Herod; that is, before A.D. 70 (Dan. 9:24-26). Moreover, Daniel foretold that the time between the publishing of the decree permitting the rebuilding of the temple after the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians and the “cutting off” of the Messiah would not exceed 483 years (69 weeks of years or 69 times 7). Since the date of the decree to permit the building of the temple has been fixed from several sources at 445 B.C., the latest possible date for the death of the Messiah is fixed at A.D. 38, meaning that if the prophecies of the Bible are correct, all the events foretold about the Messiah had to be fulfilled before that time (note: The prophecy may be even more accurate than these figures show. For if, as Charles C. Ryrie argues, the “years” of Daniel are based upon 360 rather than 365 days, the prophecy spans 173,880 days and the cutoff date for the Messiah falls on 6 April A.D. 32, the most probable date for Christ’s crucifixion. Justification for a 360-day year lies in the fact that the Scriptures seem to equate 1260 days with 42 months or 31/2 years in prophetic passages, See Ryrie, “The Bible and Tommorow’s News”, Wheaton, ILL.: Scripture Press, n.d., pp.52-56).

Were these prophecies fulfilled? Of course, they were fulfilled. They were fulfilled in the genealogy, birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who is thereby identified as the Messiah, the Son of God.

A Future World

In Part Two of our series we will begin to look at the biblical prophecies of things to come. But before we do that, we need to take note of the following three conclusions. First, if the prophecies we have already looked at have been fulfilled, as the Bible and history reveal them to have been fulfilled, then the  God of the Bible is the true God and we should worship Him. That is the conclusion that must be reached if we take God’s own challenge through the prophet Isaiah seriously.

Second, if these prophecies have been fulfilled, as we know them to have been fulfilled, then the Bible is a supernaturally trustworthy and totally authoritative book. This will guide our approach as we turn to future things. The Bible is a record of prophecy. If the prophecies have been fulfilled, then what Peter said about this Book is true. “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21). God Himself stands behind this Book. It follows that we can trust the Bible for what it has to say about our own condition and about God’s plan of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Finally, if the biblical prophecies about the past events have come true and if we may expect the biblical prophecies about future events to come true, then the future is bright for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are His followers. One day the rays of the sun will rise on that last and future world that has been spoken of so much by our contemporaries. But it will not be a world devastated by an atomic holocaust, as some are predicting. It will not be a world decimated by the inevitable encroachment of worldwide famine, which others are warning about. It will not even be a dehumanized world composed of machines and the men who serve them. These things may come. The Bible even predicts that some of them will come. But this will not be the end. The Bible teaches that there is a future beyond them when the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah who came once to suffer and will return again, will reign in righteousness and will establish a social order in which love and justice will prevail.

[This article was adapted from Chapter One in one of the first of James Boice’s plethora of books, and is entitled: The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1974. Though this book was written almost 40 years ago – it’s contents are just as relevant today as when it was first written, since most of the prophecies taught in the Scriptures and addressed by Dr. Boice have yet to be fulfilled.]

*Dr. James Montgomery Boice (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He was the author of numerous expositions of the Bible (e.g. Genesis and Romans), Theological writings (e.g. Whatever Happened to Grace? & Foundations of the Christian Faith), and on the practical Christian life (e.g. Living By The Book & The Cost of Discipleship).

 

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