A Millennial or A-millennial Future: Which? (9)
8. The Context of Quotations
In this series we have given reasons to believe in a 1,000-year reign of our Lord Jesus Christ here on this earth. However, those who take the opposite view quote certain NT passages, which, they claim, spiritualize the OT prophecies, and hence (they say) are not to be taken literally. In an article of this scope, we can consider only a sample of such quotations.
An example often quoted concerns the term “Abraham’s seed,” which is used of present-day believers in Galatians 3. Thus (says the amillennialist) all promises in the Bible to the “seed of Abraham” are fulfilled in us, and have no future fulfillment to Abraham’s literal seed.
But let us look at the context in which we are referred to as “Abraham’s seed.” Consider Galatians 3:8, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, ‘In thee shall all nations be blessed.’” In the remainder of this chapter, Paul goes on to show that the promise, that all nations would be blessed through Abraham, is fulfilled in the salvation which people of all nations receive, through faith, because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (vv 14, 26, 28). Thus, he can close the chapter (v 29) with the words, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Which promise? From the context, it is the promise stated in verse 14: “The promise of the Spirit through faith.” Thus, we, as the spiritual seed of Abraham, in Christ (vv 19, 29), fulfill the promise made of blessing to the world through the gospel. Nothing is said which nullifies any of the promises about the nation and the land. They are not even mentioned. They await literal fulfillment to literal Israel.
Another set of quotations used by the amillennialist is Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:15-17, referring to the “new covenant” promise given to the house of Israel and the house of Judah in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The fact that these promises are quoted to believers in this age means (claims the amillennialist) that “Israel and Judah” and “the Church” are one and the same, and hence we are the complete fulfillment of this prophecy, and there is no future fulfillment for the nation.
Once again, let us carefully examine the context, and we will see that nowhere does the writer to the Hebrews say that the new covenant promise is completely and finally fulfilled by the Church. The basis for the new covenant is the shedding of the blood of Christ (Luke 22:20; 1Cor 11:25; Heb 9:15), and the result for those who come under it is that their sins will be remembered no more (Jer 31:34; Heb 8:12, 10:17). Thus, a person who receives Christ as his Savior today comes into the blessings of the new covenant. That is the teaching of the Hebrew epistle. However, this does not in any way militate against its future fulfillment for Israel. Israel is still in unbelief, but when she turns to the Lord, Jeremiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled to the nation. Present day believers are already in the blessing of what Israel still awaits. But the fact that we have it now does not mean that Israel will be denied it in the future.
Another example used by the amillennialist is Hosea 1:10, 11 and 2:23, which Paul quotes in Romans 9:23-26. The context of Hosea 1 and 2 shows that he is referring to the restoration of Israel; Paul is referring to the bringing of blessing to the Gentiles. Thus, says the amillennialist, Paul is stating that the Church is the fulfillment of Hosea’s promise to Israel.
But Paul is not saying that. He is simply borrowing Hosea’s words, and applying them in a different context. His words are clear: “As He saith also in Osee (Hosea)” (v 25). He does not state that Gentile blessing is the fulfillment of Hosea’s words, but just that Hosea’s words can be applied to it. He is not denying the future literal fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy.
Another case is James in Acts 15:14-17, quoting Amos 9:11, which, the amillennialist claims, shows that Gentile blessing in the present fulfills the prophecy that God will “build again the tabernacle of David.”
But once again, James says no such thing. Examination of his words shows that present Gentile blessing is in “agreement” (v 15) with this prophecy. Rather, it is “after this” (v 16) that the tabernacle of David will be restored. In the meantime, God is taking out of the Gentiles “a people for His name” (v 14). This is in agreement with what Amos has said; it is not the fulfillment of it.
This analysis of quotations in their context has certainly not been exhaustive; however, we trust that enough has been written to show that, when an amillennialist quotes certain “proof texts” for his doctrine, a careful examination of them, in their context, will show that they do not support his theory.
In this series we have considered some reasons why we believe in a future, literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth: because the Scriptures teach it; because current conditions in the world do not answer to the alternative view; because it is in line with consistent principles of interpretation; because it preserves the distinction which the Scriptures make between Israel and the Church; because it is the only way in which God’s covenants with the fathers will be fulfilled; because it is necessary to the completeness of God’s program for the ages; because it is consistent with God’s character; and because Scriptures which may seem to suggest otherwise, when examined in their rightful context, say nothing of the sort.
We gladly join with Paul as he unequivocally teaches the restoration and blessing of Israel: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! … For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11:33, 36).