Joint Heirs With Jesus!
Premillennialism isn’t only about Israel. Here’s a look at this teaching as it affects the future of the church.
I have often heard the dispensational, premillennial view of the Bible criticized as too pessimistic and being all about Israel to the point that it denigrates the church. Both criticisms flow from traditional Replacement Theology that maintains the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan, and both criticisms are illegitimate.
The charge that Premillennialism is pessimistic is partially, but not entirely, true. Premillennialism is pessimistic in its assessment of the human race, but it is optimistic about God’s plan for history. Premillennialists are pessimistic about man, but optimistic about God. In other words, we are realists when it comes to looking at the world. Our pessimism stems from the firm conviction in the depravity of man (Rom. 1:18–32; 3:1—4:5; Eph. 2:1–3). All people are sinners and must be delivered from their wickedness and guilt.
The Right Balance
When we read honest history books or look at current news sources, we are reminded that world history is measured by war, strife, and murder. We saw the news reports of the 11 Christians ISIS terrorists murdered at Christmastime last year. A common saying among soldiers is “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
When left to itself, the world cannot muster any measure of righteousness to change the narrative; and it will continue to be this way until Jesus comes. After all, the apostle Paul called the world we live in “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) from which Christ delivers us. Premillennialists accept this depiction of the current human condition.
Of course, Christians can always work to help improve the sad situation in the world today, but we should not expect the church to usher in the Kingdom without the presence of the King. Indeed, a premillennialist balances the truth about the present evil world with the comforting and exciting fact that Christ is coming again to stop the progression of human evil. He will set up His earthly Kingdom and establish His righteous standards throughout the world (Isa. 11:1–5; Rev. 19—22).
When He comes, He will put an end to warmongering, genocide, abuse, and sin. Jesus will rule from Jerusalem as the Messianic King over Israel and the entire world.
Though dispensational premillennialists acknowledge national Israel’s central role in this future earthly Kingdom, we do not dismiss the church’s glorious role in God’s plan for the future. Church saints are joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). Positionally, we are citizens of that coming Kingdom today, a wonderful truth that should impact our daily living. During the Kingdom (Millennium plus eternal state), we will rule and reign with Christ forever (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 5:10; 22:5).
But what will ruling with Christ look like? Obviously, not every believer will rule at the same level. People will enter God’s coming Kingdom by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. However, their roles there will be based on how well they lived the Christian life in their mortal bodies.
This truth is found in Jesus’ parable of the minas1 (Lk. 19:11–27). The purpose of the parable was to let the audience of Jesus’ day know that the Kingdom was not coming right away. It was going to be delayed. The next section of Luke’s Gospel describes Christ entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with the crowds hailing him as King. They desperately wanted Him to throw the Roman authorities out of the land and inaugurate the Kingdom. After all, Jesus was the Messiah and could do such a thing. But He wanted them to know it was not yet time. He had to die before the Kingdom could become a reality.
It is also clear the parable anticipates the Church Age. Jesus told of a nobleman (representing Christ Himself) who goes off to a far country to receive authority to rule (v. 12). His followers are called servants (v. 13). Ten servants are given 10 minas each to do the master’s bidding while he is away (v. 13). The first earns 10 more minas (v. 16). His reward is to rule over 10 cities (v. 17). The second earns five more minas (v. 18). His reward is to rule over five cities. The third fails to earn additional minas (vv. 20–22).
The text does not mention the third man’s ruling level in the Kingdom, but his situation is not as favorable as the others. What is most interesting is that Christ did not describe the job of ruling in an abstract, supra-spiritual way but, rather, in concrete, administrative terms: ruling over cities.
Although we do not know all the details, it is clear Church Age saints will rule in the coming Kingdom at levels determined by their work for Christ during their lives on Earth. What a great privilege! We will rule with Christ for eternity. What exciting projects He must have for us to carry out as we work together with Him to enjoy His presence forever!
The Best, the Worst
Are premillennialists overly pessimistic? Do we talk only about Israel and downplay the church in God’s plan? Of course not!
One of the world’s greatest novelists was 19th-century Englishman Charles Dickens who gave us A Tale of Two Cities, a story of the turbulent times of the French Revolution. Dickens introduced this work with the now-famous words, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In a sense, the premillennial Second Coming of Christ fits this sentiment. For those who reject the Messiah, His coming will bring severe judgment that cannot be remedied: the “worst of times.” Premillennialists mourn over this state of affairs and proclaim our faith in Jesus, hoping that many more from every tribe and kindred will come to the Lord through personal faith in Him.
On the other hand, the Second Coming will be the beginning of the “best of times” for those who have trusted in Christ as their only hope for heaven during this life. It will be the time of the great role reversal expressed in 2 Thessalonians 1:6–12: The oppressors are brought low, but church saints are lifted high before the world when Christ returns to highlight those who belong to Him. In the end, God will vindicate the true church before the world.2
It is a glorious position that the church will hold for all eternity. The church has something grand to anticipate in the days ahead. The best is yet to come. As a result, even a premillennialist can be positive about tomorrow.
- A mina was a weight used for payment, or a measure of money. It was worth about three months’ wages.
- The best summary of this position can be found in Charles C. Ryrie, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus: What You Need to Know About the Rapture (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996), 58–62. See also Mike Stallard, “The Post-Trib and Amillennial Use of 2 Thessalonians 1,” The Journal of Ministry and Theology 6, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 60–80.