By J.S. Smith
Premillennialism is a system of religious belief wherein the kingdom of Christ does not now exist, but will be established as an earthly nation in the future. Jesus will sit on the literal throne of David in the city of Jerusalem and physically rule the world.
Premillennialism is built on one highly untenable principle: that when Jesus was incarnated, he intended to establish that earthly kingdom, but the Jews would not let him. Premillennialists ironically argue that the Jews were anticipating an earthly kingdom and Jesus came to establish an earthly kingdom and so the Jews pre-vented him. That doesn’t even make for good nonsense. If Jesus were establishing the kind of kingdom they wanted, why would they stop him?
Premillennialists will concede that the prophecy of Daniel 2:36-44 pointed to a kingdom being instituted in the first century A.D., but submit that the fulfillment was postponed until such a time as the Jews could be converted en masse to Christ and allow him to take his throne. But for prophecy to be accurate, it cannot be postponed. I predicted in 1992 that the Atlanta Braves were a team of destiny and would win the World Series. Am I therefore accurate because my prediction was merely postponed until October 1995? Of course not; the uncooperative Toronto Blue Jays proved me wrong.
The point is simple and unavoidable: Either the kingdom was established as prophesied or the prophets were false, Jesus was a failure and God is impotent. The postponement theory is an apology for God’s supposed downfall.
Look more closely at Daniel 2 and see if it allows for a postponement. Daniel said that four great empires would rule the world until God’s kingdom was set up. He identified the first as that of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, to whom he spoke. Tracing Daniel’s prophecy from that point, the next empire was the Medo-Persian(539 B.C.), less splendid and unified, but larger and more enduring. The third nation to follow was the Greek of Alexander the Great (330 B.C.). Then came Daniel’s fourth empire, the Roman, stronger, brutal and unrefined. “And in the days of the these kings the God of heaven will set up his kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).
There is no way around the conclusion that God’s kingdom would be established in the days of the Roman empire, the period in which Jesus lived. Either Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in that era or it failed. We have shown that postponement of its fulfillment is tantamount to failure.
But did Jesus fail to set up God’s kingdom? Or did he set up a kingdom of different quality than the Jews anticipated?
Soon after baptizing Jesus, John the immerser was executed for the lusty whim of Herod. To this, the Lord “began to preach and to say, `Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17). It is undeniable that as Jesus began his ministry, he was under the impression that his messianic mission would succeed. He taught his early disciples to pray in Matthew 6:10 that the kingdom would come and instructed them in its gospel (Matt. 9:35).
In Matthew 10, he gave the twelve apostles supernatural powers and sent them into Judea to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Lord still thought its establishment was imminent.
Time and the Lord’s journeys brought him to Caesarea Philippi where he asked his disciples whom they thought he was. Peter confessed him as the Messiah, the one who was prophesied to institute the kingdom of God, and to him (and the other apostles, Matt. 18:18) was given the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:18-19). If the kingdom was not established in Peter’s lifetime, he carried those keys in his heart without ever using them. What a futile and pointless day was spent then in Caesarea Philippi!
But a short time later came the coup de grace. Matthew 16:21: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
Please understand it: from the very time that Jesus promised the keys of the kingdom to Peter, he began to sketch his impending crucifixion for them. If he were ever planning to establish an earthly kingdom with himself on its throne, death was sure to cramp those plans. Could it just be that this death would send him to a figurative throne over a spiritual kingdom?
Peter, fresh with the keys in his pocket, rebukes the Lord’s prophecy, thinking that death would prevent him from using those keys. Jesus, however, returns the rebuke, accusing Peter of being engrossed in the things of men, rather than God (Matt. 16:23). The Jewish/Premillennialist pre-occupation with putting Jesus on an earthly throne is labeled as self-serving and ungodly.
You can try to two-step around that promise all day long, but either Jesus knew what he was talking about or he is less than we think. The last of those early disciples would have died by A.D. 125 at the latest. If the kingdom did not come in their lifetimes, your Lord is a failure and only a dishonorable Premillennialist could continue to trust in him.
Of course, all Jesus predicted did happen. He entered the city of his demise upon a donkey to the sneers of the gentry and the cheers of the commoners. He was tried by the vindictive Jewish and Roman authorities and put to death on the cross. For the Jew, the fulfillment of the kingdom prophecy seemed to be postponed until the real Messiah came along. For the Premillennialist, the kingdom was postponed until the crown prince Jesus thinks it safe to emerge from his exile.
But, Peter, taking the keys of the kingdom out of his pocket and opening the door, teaches us better. “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:29-31). Reread the italicized words and keep looking for the kingdom. Christ sits on his throne, ruling a kingdom that transcends the lines of human treaties and boundaries. His kingdom is worldwide, claiming citizens in every corner of the globe, of every race, Jew or Gentile (Acts 10:34). “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).
His church, promised in the same context as the kingdom in Matthew 16, is no afterthought, the feeble grasp at power of a failed revolutionary. His church is that kingdom of prophecy, established in the midst of the fourth empire since Babylon, a kingdom “which shall never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:44), and “which the gates of Hades will not prevail against” (Matt. 16:18), and “which cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28). Citizens are constantly being conveyed into her (Col. 1:13), and she will be delivered back to God, not born, when the Lord returns (1 Cor. 15:24).
Don’t count Jesus as a failed crown prince in Jewish-imposed exile. Revere him as the true King he is and attain citizenship in the empire of the saved. For if Jesus failed the first time, what makes you think he can succeed the next?
Guardian of Truth XLI: 20 p. 8-9
October 16, 1997