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Volume 16, Issue 1: Eschaton

Three Questions

Jack Van Deventer

The widely distributed Left Behind book series attempts to resurrect through fictional accounts a brand of premillennial theology that is progressively fading from seminary lecture halls and pulpits around the country. For those people who find the book series intriguing, here are three perspective-building questions intended to bring biblical scrutiny to the fictional portrayal.

1. Question 1 has to do with the salvation of the world. John the Baptist recognized Jesus as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29). Christ didn't come into the world to condemn it, but to save the world (Jn. 3:17). He reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn. 2:2). Indeed, He is "Savior of the world" (Jn. 4:42, 1 Jn. 4:14).
These passages indicate that the object of Christ's redemption is the world. The postmillennialist has no problem with these passages that are consistent with Christ's Great Commission mandate to make disciples of all nations. The postmillennialist expects the gospel to grow and flourish like a mustard seed grows (Mtt. 13:31) or leaven that permeates a whole loaf (Mtt. 13:33). But how does a premillennialist explain this frequently occurring theme of global salvation which was launched during Christ's advent?
2. Question 2 has to do with the historical and biblical context of the "tribulation." Mtt. 24:21 (NASB): "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will." Biblical context: "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Mtt: 24:34).
Note: The term "this generation" refers to the time period that Jesus was speaking to. In an attempt to get around the literal meaning of this passage, premillennialists have asserted that generation really means race, nation, or Israel, but nowhere in Scripture is the word used this way. Kik calls such attempts to change the meaning of the word "unwarranted and unscriptural," while Alexander calls it "monstrous."
Rev. 1:9 (NASB): "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." Biblical context: Book of Revelation: These are things that "must shortly take place" (1:1), "the time is near" (1:3), "Behold, I come quickly!" (3:11), "things which must shortly take place" (22:6), "the time is at hand" (22:10), "I am coming quickly" (22:12 and 22:20). The entire context of Revelation is sandwiched with passages indicating a near fulfillment. Indeed, John was in the tribulation at the time he wrote.
Thus, Jesus said the tribulation would occur within a generation of the time He was speaking (Mtt. 24:21, 34). John informed his readers that "the tribulation" was in effect at the time of his writing. The "time stamps" for both of these passages indicate a near-term (or, in John's case, a present) fulfillment of the tribulation. Why do premillennialists say otherwise (that the tribulation is future)?
3. Question 3 has to do with the timing of Christ's progressive and advancing victory. The most frequently quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament (quoted or referenced sixteen times) is Psalm 110:1-2: "The Lord said to my Lord, `Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool. The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!'" With sixteen references, victory is a major New Testament theme. How long will this victory continue? Until all Christ's enemies are subdued. Until "he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15:24-25). The theme indicates a progressive, advancing victory.
Is this victory relegated to some future time period (e.g., a millennium)? Eph 1: 18-23 indicates Christ is exercising dominion now ("in this age"): ". . . according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come."
Premillennialists declare that Christ's victory cannot be implemented in full until He sits on a physical throne in Jerusalem during a future millennium, but the passage above indicates otherwise. Why do premillennialists anticipate apostasy and decline "in this age" (called the "church age" in premillennial doctrine) when Scripture indicates He is now ruling and exercising dominion at the right hand of the Father?
It is hoped that these three questions for "Left Behind" (dispensational) premillennialists will challenge a belief system popular in fictional stories but not one readily defended from Scripture.

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