Rev William MacLean
The Rev. William MacLean (1907-85) became minister of the Ness congregation in 1948, of the Gisborne congregation in New Zealand in 1962, and of the Grafton congregation in Australia in 1973. In 1976 he returned to pastor the Ness congregation again, and remained there until his death. The following article is his preface to the Westminster Standard booklet, The Millennium, by Jonathan Edwards, which is available from Palmerston Villa, 4 Millburn Road, Inverness, IV2 3PS, or from the F.P. Bookroom, 133 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6LE.
THERE are three main views regarding the Second Coming of Christ relative to the Millennium: the A-millenarian, the Pre-millenarian and the Post-millenarian.
I. The A-millenarians, while believing that Christ will not come again until the Day of Judgement, deny the doctrine of an earthly millennium. While both Pre-millenarians and Post-millenarians hold that the Millennium will be on earth, A-millenarians hold that the thousand year period is symbolic of the completeness of the rest of Gods saints in their intermediate state from the time of their souls entering heaven until the Resurrection of the Great Day, when soul and body shall be re-united. The Millennium of the A-millenarians is not on earth but in heaven. The A-millenarian view is as the name indicates, purely negative, a theory of gloom and pessimism as far as the future of the Cause of Christ in this world is concerned. The usual A-millenarian interpretation of Revelation 20:2 is that the “binding” of Satan took place at the first advent of Christ, and that it was accomplished when He triumphed over him at the cross. The Scripture cited to prove this is Matthew 12:29, “How can one enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.” “The statement that he is to be bound and cast into the abyss,” writes Loraine Boettner in his excellent book The Millennium, “so that he can no longer deceive the nations, teaches that this restraint is to be placed on him during the course of this present world, that is during the Gospel age while the nations still are in existence. It cannot relate to the intermediate state, as some say, nor to the eternal state, as others say, for in neither of those cases will the nations have any meaning. Furthermore, the angel who was to bind Satan was seen coming down out of heaven to the earth, (Rev. 20.1). The A-millenarian interpretation that the binding of Satan took place at the first advent of Christ seems rather far-fetched and unconvincing. It is open to the objection that if that is the meaning of the binding of Satan, then the loosing spoken of in Revelation 20:3, 7, which is the opposite of binding, must mean the reversing of the work of Christ, that is the annulment of the atonement, or at least a time when it becomes ineffective. But that is impossible even for a little time. We prefer to take Matthew 12:29 as a simple statement of the superiority of Christ over the Devil, and the casting out of the demon recorded in the same context as a proof of the Deity of Christ”.
The A-millenarian view was set forth most clearly by a German theologian, Kliefoth (1874). He held that Revelation 20 follows chronologically after Revelation 19. But not finding what he believed to be a Scriptural support for a millennium on earth, he concluded that the reign of the saints with Christ could only relate to the intermediate state. A-millenarianism has been most fully developed by the Dutch theologians, Drs. Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and others. It is the official view of the conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, which has a membership of more than 2,000,000 and sponsors a world-wide “Lutheran Hour” radio programme. It is also the view of the equally conservative Christian Reformed Church, likewise sponsoring an extensive radio programme known as the “Back To God Hour,” and by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
II. Pre-millenarianism holds that Christ is to return to this world to resurrect the righteous dead (according to its interpretation of the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20), to set up His seat of government in Jerusalem, and to usher in the Millennium, which is represented as a time of great prosperity and blessedness during which the Jews will enjoy special pre-eminence and honour above the Gentile Christians. After the thousand years have elapsed the remainder of the dead shall rise; this, the Pre-millenarians teach, is the second resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20. Christ will then judge the world.
That the “first resurrection” cannot be understood in a literal sense as the Pre-millenarians hold is evident from what the Lord Jesus Christ says on four different occasions: that at the last day He will raise up those who believe in Him (John 6:39, 40, 44, 56). “Clearly,” as Dr. Boettner observes, “there can be no other days after the last day.” (The Millennium, p. 169).
Dispensationalism, which is also Pre-millenarian, differs in certain respects from the generally accepted Pre-millenarian position and is a fairly modern system of Bible interpretation represented by the writings of J. N. Darby and the Scofield Reference Bible. Despite its apparent Scriptural plausibility, Dispensationalism is a subtle perversion and subversion of the doctrines of free and sovereign grace. In Dispensationalism, Satan appears as an angel of light in a distinctly evangelical garb. Philip Mauro says: “Dispensationalism may be fascinating as a work of art, but as a revelation it rests upon a foundation of sand. The entire system of dispensational teaching is modernistic in the strictest sense: it is modernism, moreover of a very pernicious sort, such that it must have a Bible of its own (i.e., the Scofield Reference Bible) for the propaganda of its peculiar doctrines since they are not in the Word of God.”
When George MulIer, of Bristol, came up against the dispensationalist doctrines of the Brethren Movement he severed all connection with it. “The time came,” he said, “when I had either to part from my Bible or part from John Darby. I chose to keep my precious Bible and part from John Darby.”
In connection with the Scofield Bible the Bible of Dispensationalism it has been rightly said: “It is a matter of great concern to many Christians that a book should exist, and be offered for sale, wherein corrupt words of mortal man are printed and set forth as positive statements in the midst of the Holy Word of God Almighty. Is not this an affront before God Himself? Let God be true and every man a liar (Rom. 3:4).”
It is to be noted, however, that while Dispensationalism is Pre-millenarian, all Pre-millenarians are not Dispensationalists, and many of them refute and reject the tenets of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism only includes those Pre-millenarians who follow the erroneous teachings of Darby and Scofield.
III. The Post-millenarians view (so called because it asserts that the Second Coming of Christ is after the Millennium and at the great Day of Judgment), is that the Millennium shall be ushered in through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, blessing the everlasting gospel of the grace of God in all lands. In the words of the theologian, Dr. Charles Hodge, this has been “the common Church doctrine”. Bound up with the Millennium is the fulfilment of the prophecies regarding the destruction of the Antichrist, of Mohammedanism or the false prophet, and of all false religious systems; and the ingathering of the Jews. The conversion of the Jews as Dr. C. Hodge observes will be national. As their casting away was national, although a remnant was saved, so their conversion shall be, although some may remain obdurate. The “first resurrection” of Revelation 20 is understood not literally but in a spiritual sense.
Note: The Post-millennium view (extracted from Jonathan Edwards writings) is given in the next article.