Q&A: Old Testament Premillenialism

Old Testament Premillenialism

Question

I'm reading The Israel of God, by O.P. Robertson. On p. 160 he quotes Eldon Ladd, a historic premillennial guy, as saying that "a millenial doctrine cannot be based on Old Testament prophecies, but should be based on the New Testament alone." Robertson agrees, but I know many people who do base their premillenial beliefs on Old Testament prophecies, at least on what they believe is the fulfillment of these prophecies. Do you agree with Robertson and Ladd on this point? Why or why not?

Answer

Interestingly, just today I was just talking to a friend about the idea of eschatology and the Old Testament in reference to Bruce Waltke (an extremely well-regarded Old Testament scholar, far more authoritative than Robertson and almost anyone else these days). Waltke used to teach Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he taught Dispensational Premillennialism from the Old Testament. As he gained more experience in hermeneutics and with the Old Testament, however, he realized that he could not maintain a legitimate hermeneutic and still affirm Dispensational Premillennialism from the Old Testament. His further study of the Old Testament led him to the conclusion that the Old Testament actually teaches amillennialism. Of course, this meant he had to leave Dallas. Now, this does not prove the point, but as anecdotal evidence it is in my mind even more powerful than the opinions of Robertson and Ladd. After all, Waltke is not only an even more reputable scholar, particularly in Old Tetsament, but he was willing to lose his job over this conclusion. I'm not sure what specifically convinced Waltke, but I'm happy to offer my own opinions on the subject (though they are worth far less than his!).

First, it is worth mentioning that all "millennial" positions must appeal at some point to the New Testament because the "millennium" is only mentioned in the New Testament (Rev. 20). They must also appeal to the New Testament to determine the shape and nature of the development of the restoration of the kingdom. Of course, the primary issue of a millennial stance is the timing of Christ's advents and of the kingdom of God in relation to the millennium. Since the Old Testament does not mention the millennium, it also does not speak to the timing of the millennium relative to anything. Still, all millennial views can appeal to the Old Testament for the idea that the Messiah will one day completely restore the kingdom of God, bringing judgment on his enemies and infinite blessings on his people.

Speaking in broad generalizations, Old Testament prophecies tend to mention only one coming of Christ, whether as a conqueror or as a suffering servant. Regardless of the way they depict the Messiah, however, the Messiah is always associated with the restoration of the kingdom of Israel/Judah, i.e. the kingdom of God. Even more often than this, the restoration of the kingdom is mentioned without reference to the Messiah. In any case, the Messiah was to be the Davidic king who was to retake the land, establish everlasting peace and prosperity, and bring all nations under his blessed reign. The point is that the Old Testament always saw the coming of the Messiah as marking the beginning of the restoration of that kingdom.

Because amillennialism and some versions of postmillennialism place the beginning of the kingdom of God at the first coming of Christ, they are able to begin formulating aspects of their millennial views without appealing to the New Testament. Specifically, they may speak of the timing of the restoration of the kingdom of God relative to the coming of Christ.

Premillennialism and some versions of postmillennialism do not place the millennium immediately after the first coming of Christ. In so doing, they deny that Christ began to restore the kingdom at his first advent. This is a point at which I believe the Old Testament does not even hint. Thus, these views cannot appeal to the Old Testament for the timing of the restoration of the kingdom relative to the coming of Christ, save to say only that his coming must precede the restoration (but not by how much).

Thus, I think that certain elements of millennial views can be established by looking at the Old Testament, though premillennialism and some versions of postmillennialism find less support in the Old Testament than do amillennialism and those versions of postmillennialism that place the beginning of the kingdom of God at Christ's first coming. Nevertheless, the New Testament is necessary to filling out and shaping all millennial positions.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.