Nov 28, 2013

A Rationale for Premillennialism: The Need for a Visible Reign of Jesus on Earth

Michael VlachBy Dr. Michael J. Vlach
Theological Studies

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Since the fall of man God has enacted a plan to bring this rebel planet back into conformity with His will (see Gen 3:15). Central to this plan is God's Son, Jesus the Messiah, whom the Father wants to establish as King over the nations (see Psalm 2). Through the prophecies of the Old Testament and direct connections made in the New Testament, the Bible presents Jesus as the One who will bring salvation to God's people and the One who will reign as King over this world.

Yet we must acknowledge that while millions in history have bowed the knee to Jesus as Lord and Savior, the vast majority of the world has not. They do not worship Jesus as Lord and Savior. Just look at a world map and survey the nations of the world today and ask which of these are bowing the knee to Jesus the Messiah. There are none. They have not yet acknowledged glory and honor of King Jesus. The nations with their leaders are still in active rebellion against God's "Anointed One" (see Ps 2:2). We see this in the myriads of false religions and philosophies along with overt acts of rebellion that characterize what Paul called "this present evil age" (Gal 1:4).

While the church has accomplished much during its two-thousand year history, its existence has not led to global recognition of Jesus. Even geographical areas that were once permeated with Gospel awareness such as Europe during the Reformation, and the American Northeast with the Great Awakening, are far removed from worship of the true God. Some of the most anti-Christian areas today are those that once had much exposure to the Gospel. [1]

There is no evidence from Scripture or experience that the appropriate honor due Jesus will occur before His second coming to earth. [2] All Christians agree that such honor will be given with Jesus' return to earth. When Jesus returns to earth in glory every eye will see Him. He will slay His enemies and there will be no doubt as to His power. On the other hand, it is also true, as 1 Cor 15:24-28 indicates, that when the "end" occurs, Jesus "hands over the kingdom to the God and Father" (v. 24). Verse 28 states,

"When all things are subjected to Him [Jesus], then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all."

So a time is coming when Jesus will hand His kingdom over to the Father. This does not mean that Jesus ceases to reign but His messianic kingdom will transition to the universal kingdom of the Father.

This leads to an issue that must be addressed. It is the Father's will that His Son rule the nations and all be subjected to Him. But in this "present evil age" not all things are subject to Jesus. Also, the Bible tells us that Jesus will one day hand His kingdom over to God the Father. This appears to be the time period of the Eternal State. So the issue is this—When does Jesus the Messiah rule in His kingdom and receive the glory and honor in this world that He richly deserves and the Scripture promises? Is it simply at His second coming to earth? Saucy asks this relevant question:

"To be sure, the world will recognize Christ when he returns in glory. But does a short period of destruction and judgment before he turns the kingdom over to the Father for the eternal state provide an adequate explanation of the centrality of Christ and a sufficient manifestation of his glory within history?" [3]

The answer to this question is no. Jesus' second coming with its destruction and judgments is not all there is to Christ's manifestation. Those are magnificent displays of glory, but more is to come. As Saucy notes,

"So far in history, the experience of Christ and his people has been one of oppression and nonrecognition (cf. 1 Jn 3:1). If history comes to its end with the coming of Christ, there will be no significant time within history when his centrality is manifest." [4]

So where does the needed recognition come from?

An intermediate or millennial kingdom "provides just such a time when Christ's glory will pervade human history and his significance will be rightly recognized." [5] Thus, a millennial reign of Jesus after His second coming but before the "end" when Jesus hands His kingdom over to the Father is the ideal time for the Son to be manifested in His glory to the world. Therefore, the millennial kingdom of Jesus after His return will be the time period when the Son reigns over this world, rewarding His servants and punishing His enemies. When He has completed this reign from His glorious throne He will then hand His kingdom over to God the Father and the Eternal State will commence.

Perhaps one objection to this claim would be that Jesus' current session in Heaven, fulfills the idea of a sustained reign that the Bible predicted. This position is not satisfactory and does not give justice to Jesus' kingdom reign for several reasons. First, although Jesus' exaltation to the right hand of the Father is a powerful display of glory to the courts of Heaven and evil spiritual forces, the world continues in its rebellion and non-recognition of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. We cannot conceive of a messianic reign of Christ where the vast majority of the world is not aware of it. Yet this must be the case if the millennium is currently present. On the other hand, when Christ's kingdom is established at His coming it will be recognized by all. As Zech 14:9 indicates:

"And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one."

When Jesus the Messiah rules on the earth, there will be no other religions or false worship systems, unlike today. To put it in simpler terms, when Jesus is ruling, you will know it. Everyone will recognize it.

Second, Hebrew 10:12-13 states that Jesus is at the right hand of God "waiting" for His enemies to be subjected to Him:

but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. [6]

The wording here relies on Psalm 110 in which David's Lord, the Messiah, is said to have a session at the right hand of God "until" His enemies are defeated and the rule from Zion (Jerusalem) occurs (Ps 110:2). Thus, a session at the right hand of the Father by the Messiah precedes a kingdom reign upon the earth.

Third, the reign of the Messiah includes more than personal salvation, as important as that is. It also involves societal/political transformation for the nations of the earth (see Isa 2:2-4). International harmony under the ruling Messiah will occur. While messianic salvation has been inaugurated in this present church age, the promised transformation of societies in all their dimensions has not happened yet. Passages like Isa 19:24-25 and Zechariah 14 predict that nations as national entities will worship God. But such societal and international harmony has not happened yet. How can there be a messianic or millennial reign in which the nations continue in open rebellion against God and His Messiah? The best answer is that this societal transformation will occur with the second coming of Jesus. As Saucy points out:

"The prophets pictured the saving work of the Messiah as both personal and societal renewal. The kingdom work of Christ has entered this age to bring personal salvation, but the transformation of society in terms of peace among peoples and the expression of God's righteousness in the structures of human society are never promised for this age. They await the return of the messianic King, who will destroy the evil structures of this age and institute a righteous rule over the earth for the first time in human history." [7]

To summarize, Jesus must be honored with a kingdom reign that is visible to all. God's intent is for His Son, Jesus the Messiah, to rule the nations, including His enemies, from Jerusalem and a restored Israel (see Ps 110:2). Before the perfect Eternal State comes, Jesus must rule over this planet that has rejected God since the fall and over the world that rejected Him at His first coming. He will rule with righteousness but also with a rod of iron over His enemies (see Pss 2; 110; Rev 2:26-27). While Jesus is currently at the right hand of God in Heaven possessing all authority, the nations are still currently in rebellion against God. There is no national entity today that acknowledges and worships God as they should. But that will change when Jesus comes again. At His second coming He will then sit on His glorious throne (see Matt 19:28 and 25:31), and He will rule over this world to the glory of God. This He does in the millennial kingdom after He returns to earth. When this phase of the kingdom program is over the Son will hand the kingdom over to God the Father and the millennial kingdom will merge into the universal kingdom or what is often referred to as the Eternal State (see 1 Cor 15:24-28).

Let us look at this point from the other direction. If the premillennial view is not correct and the millennium is spiritual and now as other views claim, what would this mean? It would mean that there is no significant period in human history where Jesus is recognized as King by this world before the Eternal State. The present age is characterized by wickedness and persecution of God's people by the world and Satan. Also, Jesus' messianic reign would be characterized by non-recognition and continual widespread rebellion by the nations. In addition, while a present millennium would include personal salvation of some, it would not involve societal transformation and international harmony that the Bible predicted (see Isa 2:2-4). If the premillennial view is not correct there is no significant period in history where Jesus is given the honor and glory that He deserves.


[1] This point alone should be a concern for those considering the validity of postmillennialism which affirms societal renewal by the Gospel before the return of Jesus.

[2] See Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Zondervan), 289.

[3] Saucy, 289-90.

[4] Ibid., 290.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Emphasis is mine.

[7] Saucy, 290.