James Montgomery Boice on the Distinction Between the Rapture and the Lord’s Day

Two Great Days: The Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ

What The Bible Has To Say About The Future: Part 3 in a Series of 9 – By Dr. James M. Boice

To the people of the ancient east the stars had great significance. They were the means by which people determined the hours of the night and the seasons of the year. The morning star was particularly important for it heralded the rising of the sun and the coming of a new day. The Lord Jesus Christ is our morning star, according to the book of Revelation (Revelation 22:16). He is coming. The dark night of human history may be long and filled with grim terrors, but the Daystar is coming and with Him the dawning of a new age.

We will consider the importance of this theme in biblical prophecy, to distinguish between two important aspects of Christ’s coming under the descriptive phrases “the day of the Lord” and “the day of Jesus Christ,” and to develop the relevance of the theme of the Lord’s return.

A Prominent Doctrine

It is unfortunate that in our day the second coming of Jesus Christ has faded to a remote and sometimes irrelevant doctrine in the opinion of many persons, even, it seems, within large segments of the evangelical church. That may be true in part because many extravagant, foolish, and utterly unscriptural  teachings have been linked to the doctrine of the Lord’s return. But that has been true of all biblical doctrines at some point of history, and that alone should not deter us from seeking to appreciate a theme which is prominent in the Word of God.

How prominent is this doctrine? In the New Testament 1 verse in 25 deals with the Lord’s return. It is mentioned 318 times in the 260 chapters of the New Testament. It occupies a prominent place in the Old Testament, inasmuch as the greater part of the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ in the Old Testament deal, not with His first advent in which He died as our sin-bearer, but with His second advent in which He is to rule as King. The return of Jesus Christ is mentioned in every one of the New Testament books except Galatians (which deals with a particular problem that had emerged within the churches of Galatia) and the very short books of the New Testament such as 2 and 3 John and Philemon.

The various New Testament writers obviously believed in the Lord’s return. Mark traced the origins  of his belief to the very words of Jesus. The first reference to the return of Jesus in Mark occurs in chapter 8. There is recorded Peter’s great confession of faith – “You are the Christ” – which was in turn the occasion of a greater revelation by Christ of the most important events that were to come in His ministry. First, He foretold His death and resurrection. He spoke of discipleship. Then, at the very end of the chapter, He spoke of His coming again.   Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 13, where Jesus outlined what would come in the last days, is also full of this doctrine. Jesus spoke of the horror of the days immediately preceding His return, then added, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” At this point the discourse moved on to teach that the disciples should be watching for this return; Jesus emphasized the point by an illustration: “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning– lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (34-36).

Finally, this doctrine is mentioned in the account of Christ’s trial before the Jewish high priest (Mark 14). Jesus answered a question about whether or not He was the Messiah by saying, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Here are three expressions of the truth of Christ’s return in a book which most scholars consider to be the oldest of the four gospels.

In the other three gospels the same doctrine is prominent. Matthew and Luke repeated most of the sayings about the second coming given by Mark, sometimes with additions and variations, and John added others. For instance, John recorded a number of lengthy farewell discourses given by Jesus just before His crucifixion. In one of these Jesus declared, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Christ’s return is also referred to in the last chapter of John’s gospel, in the record of Jesus’ conversation with Peter after His resurrection. The reference is incidental to Jesus’ point, but is all the more authentic on that account. Jesus had been encouraging Peter to faithfulness in discipleship, but Peter with his usual impetuosness turned and saw John. He asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21-22). John himself then points out that although many of the Christians of his day had interpreted that to mean that John would not die until Christ came back, that was not what Jesus had said. He had said only that even if that were the case, it should not affect Peter’s call to faithful service.

In all four gospels, then, there are unmistakable quotations from Jesus Christ to the effect that He would return to this earth a second time in glory, and these are quoted in such a way that we cannot doubt that the early church believed that these promises were to be fulfilled literally and in detail, possibly within its lifetime.

Paul’s letters are also full of this doctrine. To the church at Thessalonica he wrote, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). To the Philippians Paul wrote: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:2–21).

Peter called the return of Jesus Christ our “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3). Paul called it our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), John declared with conviction: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7a). The same author ended the New Testament with the words, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

In these verses and in many others the early Christians expressed their belief in a personal return of Jesus Christ, a return  which would be the first of the unfolding events prophesied in the end time. The return of Jesus would be associated with a time of great wickedness on earth, the resurrection and transformation of their own bodies, an earthly rule of Jesus, and a final concluding judgment upon all men and nations. They comforted themselves with these truths in the midst of persecution or some while attempting to live their lives on a moral plane that would be honoring to the returning One.

The Day of the Lord

In the picture I have just presented, however, two important ideas have been merged. Therefore, to paint the prophetic picture for the end times in clearer detail and to have a basis for understanding some of the most important New Testament prophesies we must distinguish between them.

The first idea is associated with the phrase “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is quite prominent in the Old Testament, but it occurs frequently in the New Testament too, even in the context of some of the passages I have been quoting. This phrase is a technical phrase used initially by the Old Testament prophets to designate a future period of catastrophic judgment. Literally, it the day of Jehovah, the day in which Jehovah will break silence and intervene in history to judge Israel and the Gentile nations. The characteristics of this day can be seen in the following quotations:

“For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up–and it shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:12).

“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!…Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light” (Isaiah 13:6, 9-10).

“Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”  (Amos 5:18-20).

It is obvious from the reference to the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars that this is the event referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24, where Jesus taught that He would exercise judgment. It is also the event of which Peter spoke when he wrote,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).

In the liturgy of the church this is expressed by the Dies Irae, which means the day of the wrath of God. From an examination of these and other texts (Jer. 46:10; Lam. 2:22; Ezek. 30:3ff.; Joel 1:15; 2:1-11; 3:14-16; Zeph. 1:7-2:3; Zech. 14:1-7; Mal. 4:5) several things are clear.

  • First, the day of the Lord is the day of God’s judgment.
  • Second, the day is still future.
  • Third, it is preceded by a time of great trouble on earth.
  • Fourth, it is followed by the earthly rule of the Messiah.
  • Fifth, it has nothing to do with the church of Jesus Christ, for the church is not in these prophecies and was, in fact, completely unknown to the Old Testament writers who compiled them.

To be sure, as Kenneth S. Wuest, who summarized much of the data in his collection of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, observed, “Some of the references to the day of the Lord in the Old Testament have a fulfillment in the past, and are precursors of the day of the Lord to follow (Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966, p. 35]). But that does not alter the fact that the strict fulfillment of most of these prophecies awaits a future day.

That day is coming. The disasters of this life — pestilence, famine, wars, natural catastrophes — are only little judgments which come in the most part from man’s activities. When the day of God’s wrath is revealed, these things will pale by comparison, and no one who is not united to Christ by faith will be able to stand against Him.

No one can be sure of defending himself even from man-made destruction. For instance, there is an extensive military radar network called DEW line (Distant Early Waning), which stretches across the North American Continent. This line of defense has cost the United States billions of dollars. It was designed to limit to a minimum  the breakthrough of Soviet long-range bombers coming to wreak nuclear destruction on the United States; but today it is outmoded by missiles. Man can never defend himself adequately against the possibility of future destruction.

Thus, too, does he stand before God. Man has run away from God, and God has pursued him. God came to die for him in Jesus Christ. God has warned us of judgment — distant warnings and near warnings, early warnings, and late warnings — and He has warned us that He can penetrate any defense which we may try to throw up against Him. Man stands naked before God. The day of judgment is near. If you are not yet a believer, let me encourage you to turn to Christ. Martin Luther looked at this day and wrote for those of his time:

Great God, what do I see and hear!

The end of things created!

The Judge of mankind doth appear

On clouds of glory seated!

The trumpet sounds, the graves restore

The dead which they contained before:

Prepare, my soul, to meet him.

If you are a believer in Christ, let me encourage you to look up and be faithful to Him.

The Day of Christ (The Rapture)

The second major idea is associated with the phrase “the day of Jesus Christ.” That is not the same as “The day of the Lord.” The day of Jesus Christ is a happy day rather than a day of judgment. Moreover, far from warning men to fear it, the New Testament actually speaks of it as an event to be warmly anticipated. Christians are to be ready and watching, and they are to encourage one another because of it.

What is the nature of this day? The clearest answer to this question is in the verses already quoted from Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. They were in sorrow over certain of their number who had died, and Paul wrote to them to comfort them with the thought that they would see their departed friends once again at the day of Jesus Christ. He describes it thus:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Quite obviously, this day does not concern Christ’s earthly rule. It is an aspect of His coming to draw believers out of this world to Himself. He will come in the air and gather His church up to meet Him, first those who have died and then — almost in the same instant — those who are living.

Jesus described this event, also stressing its unexpected and selective nature:

“Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:40-42).

In biblical theology this event is generally called the rapture. It is the first in the whole series of events prophesied for the end times. It is possible that at this point some of this teaching has become confusing. So let me elaborate upon the distinction between the day of Jesus Christ and the day of the Lord by looking at the way the Apostle Paul dealt with a similar confusion in his day.

Wherever he went, Paul apparently preached the full body of Christian doctrine as it had been revealed to him. And that included, quite naturally, the doctrine of the Lord’s imminent return to be followed, after certain events, by God’s judgment. These events  included persecution and great tribulation. We know that this doctrine had been accepted by the church at Thessalonica, for Paul alluded to it in his first letter, reminding the Christians there that they were to be comforted by the doctrine of the Lord’s return in face of the death of their friends. Some time after he had written this letter, however, a time of persecution broke out in the church at Thessalonica. Because the persecution seemed terrible and intense, someone began to teach that the persecutions were those leading to the day of the Lord, with its ultimate judgements, and that the Christians in Thessalonica, therefore, had missed the rapture. The Thessalonians may actually have received a letter purporting to be from Paul which affirmed this idea (2 Thessalonians 2:2).

News of their distress reached Paul, and he immediately wrote to the Thessalonians again, attempting to explain the meaning of their present persecution assuring them that they had not missed the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ for those who believe in Him. First, he dealt with the meaning of present persecution. This occupies the first chapter. Then, in the second chapter, he begins to deal with the view that Christians might already be going through days of tribulation.

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5).

Paul’s main points clearly were that the present suffering of the Christians at Thessalonica was not the tribulation prophesied  in the Old Testament and taught by himself, that the final tribulation would not come until after the Christians were caught up to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air, therefore, that the coming of Christ rather than the final judgment should be uppermost in the minds of believers.

(Note: There is a view in prophetic theology known at “posttribulationism.” According to this view, the church of Jesus Christ will go through the great tribulation, after which Jesus will return for those believers who are remaining. In reply, it is enough to note that, although the church has gone through periods of great persecution in the past and undoubtedly may go through intense persecutions before Christ’s return, nevertheless, the view of a posttribulation rapture is impossible for the simple reason that it makes meaningless the very argument that Paul was presenting in the Thessalonian letters. Paul was arguing for the imminence of Christ’s return. That is to be a major source of comfort for suffering believers. If Christ will not come until after the great tribulation [that is, a specific time of unusual and intense suffering still in the future], then the return of the Lord is not imminent and tribulation rather than deliverance is what we must anticipate. In view of the Bible’s message we must be careful not to adopt any view which turns our minds from Christ. If anything must occur before we see Christ personally, then the anticipation of that event will turn our eyes from Him to it. We may even guess that Satan will try to turn the believers’ eyes from Christ to events or signs that are supposed to precede Him and we should be warned accordingly).

All these themes will be treated in later articles, but even at this point we need to note the importance of the two events which Paul says must take place before the day of God’s judgment. The second event is the appearance of one whom he calls “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3). This person will attempt to centralize all human worship in himself, and will actually sit in the temple at Jerusalem, claiming that he is God. Since that has not happened, says Paul, the day of the Lord is yet future.

The first event that must take place before the day of the Lord comes is called “the falling away” in the Authorized Version of the Bible (2 Thess. 2:3). This is an unfortunate translation. The basis for this translation lies in the fact that elsewhere in the Bible a time of great apostasy or “falling away” from true Christian doctrine is prophesied for the time preceding the Lord’s return. Although this is true in itself, however, it is not the meaning of the Greek word here. The word apostasia, preceded by the definite article. Apostasia has given us our word “apostasy,” but the word itself simply means “a departure.” In a context where the truth or falsity of doctrine is in view, the word would naturally mean, “a departure from true doctrine” or “apostasy.” But here, where the issue is the past or future coming of Jesus Christ for his saints and where a particular event is specified by the use of the article, the word can mean equally well “the departure of believers to be with Jesus” or “the rapture.”

In Kenneth S. Wuest’s study, referred to earlier, these following additional facts are elaborated. Apostasia occurs in the New Testament only twice. But it is based on the verb aphistemi which occurs fifteen times. Eleven times it is translated “depart,” never “a falling away.” Unfortunately, most of the English versions follow the leading of the Authorized text (The ESV translates apostasia as “rebellion”). But it is significant that in the versions that precede the publication of the King James Bible — those of Tyndale (1534), Coverdale (1535), Cranmer (1539), and the Geneva Bible (1560) — apostasia was translated as “departure,” and the reference was obviously to the much-anticipated rapture of God’s saints.

It is worth pointing out that precisely the same order of events is presented in 1 Thessalonians. Once again the two different days — the day of the Lord and the day of Jesus Christ — are in view, as well as two distinct classes of people. The day of the Lord is a day that should concern unbelievers. Paul speaks of this group as “they” and “them.” The day of Jesus Christ is for believers only. Paul speaks of this class as “us” and “you.”

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief…So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 6, 9).

Paul’s teaching clearly indicates that the rapture, “the day of Jesus Christ,” must come first. Then will come the unfolding of the other events of prophecy, beginning with a period of great tribulation and continuing though Christ’s return to earth to judge Israel and the nations, the millennium, the final judgment, and a complete transition from the life of this world to the life of eternity.

These are the two greatest days of future world history — the day of Jesus Christ and the day of the Lord. Every man who has ever lived must stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on one of these two days. Which will it be in your case? Will it be the day of the Lord with its judgments? Or will it be the day of Jesus Christ with the joy of seeing Him and the glorification and rewarding of believers? Believers wait only for the coming of Jesus Christ, and they rejoice, knowing that this the next event in the unfolding of God’s prophetic timetable.

A Practical Doctrine

Thus far in our study of the return of Jesus Christ we have dealt with the importance of the doctrine of the New Testament books and with the precise meaning of His return as it is related to the catching away of believers first and to God’s judgment. It would be wrong to stop at this point, however, for we must go on to see that the doctrine of the Lord’s return is practical. In other words, it should have a bearing on our lives.

(1) First of all, the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be an incentive to godly living. That is the point Jesus Himself made when talking about His return in Matthew 24. The chapter is filled with imperatives: “See that no one leads you astray” (v. 4); “See that you are not alarmed” (v. 6), “flee to the mountains” (v. 16); “pray” (v. 20); “do not believe it” (vv. 23, 26); “learn” (v. 32); “know” (v. 33). Jesus concluded with the warning, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). The apostle John, who undoubtedly heard the Lord on this occasion, later made the identical point in one of his letters, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who this hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

This thought should affect every aspect of your personal life — your prayer life, your choices in the area of ethics and morals, even your social concerns. Lord Shaftesbury, the great English social reformer and a mature Christian, said near the end of his life, “I do not think that in the last forty years I have ever lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.” In his case, the expectation of meeting Jesus was undoubtedly one of the strongest motives behind his social programs.

Are you looking for Christ’s return? In an earlier study of this same subject I once wrote:

If you are motivated by prejudice against other Christians or others in general, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, cultured or culturally naive, or whatever they may be–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you are contemplating some sin, perhaps a dishonest act in business, perhaps trifling with sex outside marriage, perhaps cheating on your income tax return–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If your life is marked by a contentious, divisive spirit in which you seek to tear down the work of another person instead of building it up–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you first protect your own interests and neglect to give food, water, or nothing to the needy as we are instructed to do in Christ’s name–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you (James Montgomery Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], p. 249).

(2) The second result of a belief in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be an effort on our part to comfort Christians who are suffering, particularly those who are suffering the close loss of a friend or relative. We have already seen how the Apostle Paul did this in the case of his friends at Thessalonica. They suffered persecution. They had lost friends through death. Paul wrote to them, reminding them of the blessed hope of Christians. He then observed, “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Dr. R.A. Torrey, a former president of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) and a great Bible teacher, wrote along the same line: “Time and again in writing those who have lost for a time those whom they love, I have obeyed God’s commandment and used the truth of our Lord’s return to comfort them, and many have told me afterwards how full of comfort this truth has proven when everything else has failed” (R.A. Torrey, The Return of the Lord Jesus [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966], p. 15). The return of the Lord Jesus Christ is the one doctrine with which God commands us to comfort suffering saints.

(3) Finally, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ should make us more and more energetic in evangelism. If it is true that the Lord is coming, then it is not true, as scoffers say, that all things will “continue as they were from the beginning” (2 Peter 3:4). The end is in sight. The days for evangelism are numbered. Is it not a lesson for our own time that, when the disciples began to ask Jesus Christ for specific details of the time of His coming after His resurrection and before His ascension, He brushed their requests aside and instead reiterated the church’s great commission to evangelize throughout the duration of this age? They were not to look for a precise timetable. They were to go into the world with the Gospel.

He said to them “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

These were Jesus’ last words on earth. The next words we hear may well be the question: “How well have you carried out my commission?”

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. He was one of only a handful of reformed theologians that was premillennial in his eschatology (Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Erwin W. Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Rodney Stordtz, John Hannah and John Piper also come to mind). However, what makes him really unique is that he was not Historic Premillennial – but leaned Dispensational (Held to a pre-tribulation rapture) as well. This article was adapted from Chapter Three in one of the first of James Boice’s plethora of books, and is entitled: The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1974 (currently out of print). This book is based on 9 sermons that Dr. Boice preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1972. Though this book was written almost 40 years ago – it is just as relevant as when it was first written since many of the prophecies taught in the Scriptures and addressed by Dr. Boice in this book have yet to be fulfilled. Scripture verses are quoted from the more modern English Standard Version – DPC.

 

 

Dr. James M. Boice Makes An Excellent Case For Premillennialism

A Presbyterian Who Was Premillennial!

“Earth’s Golden Age: The Future Coming Kingdom Reign of Christ on Earth”

[James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. He was one of only a handful of reformed theologians (that I know of, Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Erwin W. Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Rodney Stordtz, John Hannah and John Piper also come to mind) that was premillennial in his eschatology. However, what makes him really unique is that he was not Historic Premillennial – but Dispensational (Held to a pre-tribulation rapture) as well. This article was adapted from Chapter Two in one of the first of James Boice’s plethora of books (currently out of print), and is entitled: The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1974. Though this book was written almost 40 years ago – it is just as relevant today as when it was first written since most of the prophecies taught in the Scriptures and addressed by Dr. Boice in this book have yet to be fulfilled – DPC] 

What The Bible Has To Say About The Future: Part 2 in a Series of 9

 By Dr. James M. Boice

At the heart of biblical prophecy lies the statement that the same Jesus of Nazareth who came to this earth to die for salvation will one day come again to establish perfect social order – a golden age. To be sure, His coming is a complex affair, as we shall see. His return, in part, will be to take his followers to be with Him in heaven. Shortly after that He will appear on earth bodily to set up an earthly kingdom. He will appear once again as a judge of men and nations. Nevertheless, at the heart of these prophecies lies the promise of a golden age for mankind which will be established by the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming.

This thought should be of great interest to us all, of course, for one of the dreams shared by thinking people from all periods of history and all cultures is of an age in which men and women can live in peace and prosperity and find life meaningful.

The idea of a golden age exists in the philosophical writings and myths of most of the world’s great civilizations. Plato wrote of a perfect age in his Republic. Virgil popularized the theme for the Romans in his Fourth Eclogue. In more recent history the dream of a utopia has been voiced by Thomas More, Samuel Butler, and Edward Bellamy, as well as by Henry David Thoreau, Robert Owen, and Leo Tolstoy, all of whom actually tried to create one. In our day communists express the same vision as “the classless state,” by western governments in terms of material prosperity, and by the youth of most countries as a time of universal love, brotherhood, peace, and understanding. The difficulty is that no person or culture has ever achieved this ideal and even the future, which has always been the bright hope of dreamers, does not look promising.

Even though men dream of a golden age and have some idea of what it should be like, nothing in actual history gives us any ground for hoping that anything like a utopia is forthcoming. One writer concluded:

The rule of man…has been characterized with irreconcilable ambitions and conflicts of interests. The brains of man have been dedicated to the production of military machines and accouterments for the scattering of death and desolation among the inhabitants of the earth. The highest considerations and culture of the race have been blown to pieces by the withering blasting of bursting shells. Man has looked for peace and found war. He has talked of brotherhood and love and seen hatred and persecution. He has boasted of his civilization, enlightenment, and progress, and the so-called heathen have upbraided him for his godless practices. He has bowed down to the god of gold and broken the backs of old and young, and starved millions to get it. He has spent billions of dollars for war; millions for pleasure; and only a few paltry thousands of spreading the gospel of Christ. He has professedly worshiped in his mosques, cathedrals, temples, synagogues, and churches, and over many of them God has since written “Ichabod”—“the glory of God has departed,” due to formalism and ritualism, which have been substituted for the blood of Christ, and to the sinful denials of the faith. Everywhere and in every age, the rule of man has been characterized by greed, avarice, covetousness, robbery, plunder, rebellion, confusion, pride, presumption, boastings, poverty, pestilence, disease, suffering, and sin. It is no better now and gives no promise of improvement. As it was, so it is, and will be until the King comes back. There has not been a period since the fall of man in which the race has enjoyed or witnesses the condition which prophecy declares shall obtain in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ  (Note 1: Quoted in W.H. Rogers, The End From the Beginning. New York: Arno C. Gaebelein, Inc., 1938, 262-263).

Some people would think these words too harsh. But they are a far more accurate description today than in the day when they were written. For Rogers wrote in 1938, before World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnamese conflict, or any of the other social upheavals and problems that characterize our time. We dream of a golden age. But if there is ever to be such an age, it seems certain that God Himself must establish it.

 God’s Rule

This, of course, is exactly what we find in the Bible. One of the prophets who had the clearest vision of the golden age was Isaiah. He lived in a period of great social upheaval, witnessing the overthrow of the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. In Isaiah’s day events were growing worse and worse. Yet even as they did, he wrote prophetically of a better and, indeed, perfect day to come.

The theme first occurs in the second chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy.

It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the Lord

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be lifted up above the hills;

and all the nations shall flow to it,

and many peoples shall come, and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go the law,

and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

According to these verses, there will come a time when God Himself will rule the earth from Jerusalem and war will cease.

In chapter 4 Isaiah speaks of the golden age again, referring on this occasion to the rule of the messiah, whom he terms “the branch of the Lord” (v.2). Chapter 9, which speaks of the birth of this Messiah, also foretells His eventual reign.

Then, in chapter 11, the theme is developed in much greater detail.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,

and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze;

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy

in all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)

From this point on the idea of a golden age is repeated again and again, almost as leitmotif throughout the prophecy (in chapters 25, 32, 42, 49, and 52), until near the end of the book the tempo picks up again.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

In these final chapters the prosperity of the earth under the rule of the Messiah is emphasized, as well as the special blessing that will come upon the Jewish nation.

It is impossible to give here all the references in Scripture to the coming age of God’s rule. But in addition to these full prophecies of Isaiah, several other significant passages should be mentioned.

First, in the Book of Micah there is a prophecy of great material prosperity during the same period. Micah writes, “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and not one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4). This is Micah’s way of describing individual prosperity in an age when neither life not possessions will be threatened by warfare.

Second, in Jeremiah 33 there is a lengthy description of the blessing that will come upon Jerusalem in that age. The special and solemn emphasis upon the literal nature f the promises is noteworthy. The opening verses say that God will return the captivity of Judah—that is, He will bring those who were exiled from Judah back to their own land – and He will cleanse them of sin. The middle verses speak of the rule of the Messiah. Then God says, “If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers” (Jeremiah 33:20-21). In other words, God vows by the regularity of the day and night that the promise to David of an heir to reign upon his throne forever will be fulfilled.

The third passage that deserves special mention is in Revelation 20. In this chapter two new ideas are introduced. First, the chapter tells us that in the golden age the devil, who has long deceived the nations, will be bound that he might do no more harm. And adds that this binding of Satan will last one thousand years, after which he will be loosed for a little time. “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:1-3). This phrase “thousand years” occurs six times in the first seven verses of this chapter and has given us, as an Anglicization of the Latin word for thousand, the important theological term “millennium.”

A Literal Millennium?

At this point we must stop and ask a question which has become prominent in biblical interpretation: Is the promise of a golden age to be understood literally or is it only a symbol of something spiritual? In discussions about the millennium there have been three major views, two of which regard the millennium as literal and one which sees it as symbolic. They are premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial interpretations.

Literally, the term postmillennial means that Jesus Christ will return after the millennium. But the heart of the postmillennial position lies in its view of history. According to those who have held this view, the church will, little by little, bring truth and righteousness to the whole earth so that all will eventually be converted. During this time Jesus will reign in and through the church. He will return to the earth bodily as judge only after the church’s mission is accomplished. The great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas and reformed theologians Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield were proponents of this view.

One who holds the view in our day is Loraine Boettner, author of the valuable studies The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium. Several years ago in an article for Christianity Today he wrote,

The redemption of the world, then, is a long, slow process, extending through the centuries, yet surely approaching an appointed goal. We live in the day of advancing victory and see the conquest taking place. From the human viewpoint there are many apparent setbacks, and it often looks as though the forces of evil are about to gain the upper hand. But as one age succeeds another, there is progress. Looking back across the nearly two thousand years that have elapsed since the coming of Christ, we see that there has been marvelous progress. All over the world, pagan religions have had their day and are disintegrating. None of them can stand the open competition of Christianity. They wait only the coup de grace of an aroused and energetic Christianity to send them into oblivion…The Church must conquer the world, or the world will destroy the Church. Christianity is the system of truth, the only one that through the ages has had the blessing of God upon it. We shall not expect the final fruition within our lifetime, nor within this century. But the goal is certain and the outcome sure. The future is as bright as the promises of God. The great requirement is faith that the Great Commission of Christ will be fulfilled through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and preaching of the everlasting Gospel (Note 2: Quoted from Loraine Boettner, “Christian Hope and the Millennium,’ Christianity Today, September 29, 1958, p. 14).

What should be said about this view? One objection to it is clearly that this does not seem to be happening, as Boettner admits. In fact, the pagan religions are actually experiencing a resurgence, though they were not in 1958 when these words were written. One may argue, as Boettner does, that we must judge by faith rather than sight. But the reply is surely that the kingdom, even according to postmillennialists, is literal and therefore must be literally seen. If we do not see it, it is not irreligious or faithless to doubt that it is coming.

A second objection to the postmillennial position is that, if these views are right, then all the promises of literal blessing upon Israel in the future age (some of which we have outlined) must either be forgotten or else spiritualized; that is, applied not to Israel but to the church.

The third, and, in my opinion, the decisive objection is that the Scriptures themselves teach something entirely different for the course of this age. For instance, Jesus warned the disciples against supposing that, as the result of their preaching, the whole world would eventually come to believe in the Gospel and that, therefore, truth and righteousness would prevail.

In Matthew 13 is a collection of parables called “the parables of the kingdom,” by which Jesus forecast the developments of the church during the present church age. The first parable is the parable of the sower. A certain man went out to sow seed, and the seed fell on different types of soil. Some of it fell by the wayside where it was quickly eaten up by the birds. Some seed fell on stony ground where it sprang up quickly, only to be scorched by the sun. Some fell among thorns and the growing plants were choked. The rest fell on good ground and produced in some cases a hundred bushels of grain for one bushel of seed and, in others, sixty for one or thirty for one (v.8).

Jesus then explained the parable, showing that the seed stood for the Gospel. The Gospel would always be received in four distinct ways by those who heard it. The devil would quickly snatch away the seed of the Gospel from those without understanding. Others who heard the Gospel would apparently receive it with joy, but it would not penetrate deeply and so would easily be scorched out by persecution. For still others, the cares of the world would choke out the message. Only a fourth part would actually hear the Gospel and have it take root and produce fruit in them.

This parable must mean that the church age is to be a seed-growing age in which only a part of the preaching of the Gospel will be successful. This parable alone dispels the idea that the preaching of the Gospel will be more and more successful as time goes on and that it will eventually bring a total triumph for the church.

The second parable makes the same point. It is the story of a man who had sowed grain in his field but discovered that an enemy had come and sown tares. The servants of the owner of the field wanted to root out the tares, but they were told not to do so lest they tear up some of the wheat in their zeal to exterminate the weeds. Instead, they were to let both grow together until the harvest, at which time the entire field would be harvested, the wheat separated from the chaff and gathered into the barns, and the tares burned. When Jesus explained this parable to the disciples, He showed that the field was the world and that the world would always contain believers and unbelievers mixed together until the day of His judgment.

The rest of Christ’s parables in this chapter are unexplained. The explanation of the first two, however, gives us the clue by which the rest of the parables are to be understood. Thus, the parable of the mustard seed points to the unnatural growth of church structures. The parable of the leaven shows that in this age the kingdom of heaven will always have evil present within it, since leaven is a symbol of evil in the Bible. The stories of the field with treasure in it and the pearl of great price tell of the sacrifice Jesus made to redeem a people for Himself, while implying at the same time that He did not die to save everyone. Finally, the parable of the dragnet points to the day in which Jesus will be the judge of all men, separating those who have been made righteous through His death and resurrection from those who have not and who will be put away from Him forever.

In our age God is calling out a group of people to Himself – people from every walk of life and with every imaginable ethnic and intellectual background – and is changing them into men and women who are becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is worth adding that whatever our particular view of Christ’s parables, this was nevertheless the message that got through to the disciples. For there is very little in their writing that can be interpreted as optimistic regarding the course of human history. Thus Peter wrote of the last days: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:1-2). Jude wrote “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (Jude 18). Paul declared, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). He added later, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

None of these verses envisions an increasingly successful expansion of the gospel message. Rather, they encourage a faithful adherence to and preaching of the Gospel in spite of the fact that it will not be universally received and that there will be a period of increasing unbelief and lawlessness. It is significant that the period of recent history culminating in two world wars has witnessed the death of any widespread enthusiasm for the postmillennial position.

Amillennialism

In the place of the old postmillennialism, there developed in some important circles a new interest in a view known to be amillennialism. This means there is to be no literal millennium, as we have already indicated. There were individuals who spoke along such lines previously, but many of them assumed the amillennial position non-critically. That is, they tended to be amillennial by default. It is not until fairly recent times that this view has had any great development (Note 3: The Reformers were apparently amillennialists, but their views on prophecy must not be overstated inasmuch as they tended to view most prophetic ideas as referring to the struggles of their own day. Thus, the Pope became the Antichrist, the Roman Catholic Church became the great whore of Babylon, and so on. Augustine has also been cited as an amillennialist, largely due to his heavy polemic against the Chiliasts, who were excessively literal in their views. However, since he went on to identify the millennium with the history of the church on earth – in his City of God – he seems to me much more of a post-millennialist).

According to amillennialists, much of what has been said in criticism of the postmillennial position is right. There will be no gradually unfolding triumph for the church militant before Christ’s return. But, on the other hand, there will be no literal reign of Christ either. According to this view, the millennium (if it is even right to speak of it as “the” millennium) must be spiritualized.

Now we must say that most amillennialists hold to important doctrines of conservative biblical theology. The doctrine of man is correct. There is a genuine expectation of Christ’s literal, second coming. Salvation is of grace. The period of the offer of God’s grace is followed by judgment. All this is good. Yet I cannot help but feel that the spiritualizing of the prophecies concerning Christ’s rule is inadequate.

The amillennial view cannot answer the problem of unfulfilled prophecy, for example, the promise of God to Abraham that his descendents would possess the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates. This promise is contained in Genesis 15 and is set in the context of the most solemn and unconditional pledge of the truth of the promise to Abraham. We are told that God commanded Abraham to prepare animals in the form of a ceremony often used in antiquity (“And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth” – Jeremiah 34:18-20).

He then appeared to Abraham to renew His promises and to forecast the next four hundred years of Jewish history. The Lord reiterated His promise of blessing, saying, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:18-21).

It is not possible to identify precisely all the territory possessed by the people listed in these verses, but it is certain that it covered an enormous expanse of land involving at least all of what we would today call Sinai, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and portions of Turkey, and it is fairly certain that the Jews have never literally possessed all of it (Note 4: it has been argued persuasively by proponents of the amillennial position that Israel has possessed the land promised to Abraham, as a comparison of Genesis 15:18-21 with 1 Kings 4:20, 21 and 2 Chronicles 9:26 is supposed to show. We may agree that there is a resemblance between these descriptions of the borders of the land possessed by Solomon and God’s original promises of the land to Abraham. However, there are three difficulties:

(1) even at the height of his great power Solomon did not actually possess all the land described in these verses but only a part of it, receiving tribute from the rest;

(2) the word used for “river” in the phrase “the river of Egypt” does not mean “wadi” or “stream” [there is another word in Hebrew for that] but actually denotes a river. Thus the reference is to the Nile rather than the Wadi el Arish, and this marks off territory which Israel has never possessed;

(3) if the land of the Hittites is in view in Genesis 15:18-20, then this area also lies outside any land previously occupied by the Jewish nation. This point is negated, of course, if the reference is only to the Hittite people or there were Hittites in Canaan [Exodus 3:8; Deut. 7:1; 20:17]).

What are we to do with such promises? We cannot dismiss them, for there is nothing in the words of God to Abraham to suggest that they were conditional, as some other promises were. We cannot apply them to the church, for there is no relationship between these precise geographic boundaries and the church’s nature, growth, or commission. The promises must be literal. Thus, if they have not yet been fulfilled in history, then they must be fulfilled in the future. The obvious time for that is in the period immediately following the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in power at the end of this age.

God’s Rule

The third of the three major views on the millennium is premillennialism. Premillennialists hold that the millennium is literal, that Christ will rule, and that this will follow and indeed be the direct result of His return in power to this earth, as He has promised.

Some of my reasons for interpreting the promises concerning the earth’s golden age in this way are already obvious.

First, there is an obligation to interpret Scripture as literally as possible; that is, to take a passage in the literal sense unless it is demonstrably poetic or unless it simply will not bear a literal interpretation. Thus, to give one example, when this principle is applied to Revelation 20, it is hard to escape the feeling that a definite time sequence is envisioned, whatever one may think of the actual figure of one thousand years. We come to the chapter after a description of the proclamation of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-10), the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ riding forth in glory to conquer the nations (Rev. 19:11-16), and the account of Armageddon (Rev. 19:17-21). The description of this period is then followed by an account of the final judgment and of the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 20:11-22:5). Clearly, there is no reason why this cannot be a listing of a series of literal events.

The second reason for anticipating a literal millennium has already been given in part. It is the unfulfilled nature of some of the promises made to Israel during the Old Testament period. It is true, of course, that some of the promises made are conditional; but not all of them are. Among these unconditional promises are some that have not been fulfilled, such as the promises regarding the land. We may remind ourselves here that Paul lived after Jesus Christ’s first coming and was quite aware of the fact that, temporarily at least, Israel had forfeited her heritage. But it was Paul above all the other New Testament writers who stressed a future period of national blessing for Israel (Rom. 11:26-32).

To my mind, however, the best and ultimate reason why there must be a literal millennium is that only in a literal millennium do we have a meaningful culmination of world history.

We must realize at this point that one of the reasons for the continuation of history as we know it is God’s desire to demonstrate man’s utter ruin in sin and man’s total responsibility for the state of the world as we find it. God has told us that before Him “every mouth will be stopped” (Rom. 3:19), and yet men’s mouths have never yet stopped finding excuses for themselves and for encouraging sin.

The first obvious excuse men had for their conduct must have been voiced shortly after Cain had killed Abel and God had responded by marking Cain so no one would kill him (Gen. 4:15). We are told that the state of affairs in the world then grew so bad there were multiple murders and other evil acts. Now if God had approached men at this time and had asked them, “What have you done? Why is there so much wickedness?” men could have replied by throwing the blame back upon God. They could have said, “It’s your fault, God. When Cain killed his brother, You protected him. Since nothing happened to Cain, others thought they could get away with murder too, and that’s why things are as they are. Why, if You had let us make an example of Cain, we’d have dealt so roughly with him that no one would ever have done such a thing again!”

“Well,” God may have said then, “we’ll try it your way. We’ll institute capital punishment.” So we read several chapters later in God’s message to Noah after the flood, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). Obviously conditions did not improve. Thus, while capital punishment may be a deterrent to crime in some instances, no one would dare to argue that even the most rigid enforcement of capital punishment would bring in the age we long for.

At this point men had what we could call the powers of human government. But when the world did not improve by the exercise of such powers, there was “True, we now have the power. But the difficulty lies in the fact that we do not know where to apply it. In short, we do not know what You want us to do.”

“All right,” says God, “I’ll tell you what to do.” So the law of Moses was given, but  the unanimous and united testimony of the race is that law, even the law of Moses, cannot bring the millennium.

“Well,” says another, “the problem now is that the law is abstract. It is full of do’s and don’ts. If only we could see an example of what You want to be done.” So God sent the Lord Jesus Christ, the only perfect Man who ever lived, the Man who could say to His enemies and leave them speechless, “Which of you can convict me of sin?” And what was the result? Christ so exposed the moral and spiritual failures of even the best men of His day that they hated Him for it and eventually had Him executed on false charges.

Following the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, God gave His own Spirit to those who believed in Christ, so that today we may be said to be living in an age of great grace out of which God provides for all the needs of His children. But still men will not accept God’s way and continue to devise their excuses.

Some of the excuses are merely repetitions of those which have already been given, but there is one excuse that has not been exposed. Today, while men can no longer truly blame God for the present state of the world – and will not blame themselves – a little thought will show anyone who really seeks an escape that he can still blame the devil. “Satan must be responsible,” he can argue. Those who know the Bible know, of course, that is untrue. James, the Lord’s brother, wrote his brief letter, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Jesus Himself declared, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). The Bible clearly declares that the blame lies on man. And yet, men still have a chance to blame the devil and the environment they declare he created.

The millennium, then, will be the final proof of man’s total depravity and full responsibility. God says He will establish a perfect age, a golden age. He will begin by eliminating the devil as a factor in world affairs (Rev. 20:2,3). Satan will be bound for one thousand years. God will establish a perfect government on this earth under Jesus Christ, who will rule in and through the redeemed of all ages. The earth itself will be transformed, experiencing an increase in fertility.

That will mean the abolition of the “curse” to which the earth was subjected as the result of God’s initial judgments upon sin (Rom. 8:19-23). It will mean the end of the predatory nature of the animal kingdom (Isa. 11:6-9). Out of this change great prosperity will come. There will be no more war. All the desirable elements that the philosophers, sociologists, historians, theologians, and dreamers have ever envisioned for the earth’s golden age will appear – literally and abundantly. There should then be total and eternal gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has brought such conditions to the earth. And yet, to prove the totally perverse nature of the human heart, when Satan is released at the end of the thousand years, men will immediately cry out upon seeing him, “Thank God for the devil.” And they will rebel against Christ.

This rebellion is the great purpose of the millennium. We know from the scriptural account that this final, great rebellion will not succeed. In fact, we know it will be brief and will be followed at once by God’s final judgment upon sin and by the entrance of all things into the eternal state. Nevertheless, the fact will have been demonstrated. Men cannot run their affairs by themselves and are, in fact, themselves the reason why they cannot.

Teaching for Today

We must not lose sight of the fact that several important doctrines for the present follow from this millennium teaching. First, if we really understand the purpose of the millennium, as I have outlined it, then called in reformed the “total depravity” of man. We will do what we can in this world. We will always work to see that truth and righteousness prevail. Nevertheless, we will not be fooled by the futile belief that men will solve their own problems; men are the source of their problems. So they need a Savior.

Second, we will be increasingly dependent upon God. Salvation does not come by men or through men. So if they will ever be even a limited amount of truth and righteousness in this age, it will come only through those whose lives are yielded to God. This gives us a great present role as His children.

Third, it teaches us patience. It is true that history has continued without significant moral change for thousands of years. It may continue much longer. But if it does, we may be sure that God has His own definite purposes in it all. What are these purposes?

One of them is to draw out people to Himself. If you are a Christian, aren’t you glad that the Lord Jesus did not return to establish His reign before you were born and grew old enough to understand these things and become a thinking believer? That is exactly what Peter was talking about in his second letter when he wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That does not mean that all men will be saved, but that God is delaying the return of Jesus Christ until all whom He has chosen in Christ will be born and be saved. You are among this great company if you are a Christian.

On the other hand, if you have not yet believed, the very fact that Christ has not returned is your hope. Won’t you turn to Him who alone is your Savior? Commit yourself to Him. Say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I have fallen short of what You require, that I am a sinner; but I also know that You died for me and are able to give me new life. Take me now as one of Your children and give me assurance of salvation.”

About the Author: James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a brilliant Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He is the author of numerous Bible expositions and one of my favorite Systematic Theologies called Foundations of the Christian Faith.