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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: The Status of Prophetic Interpretation

    I. Three Epochs Predominant in Prophetic Emphasis

    The dawn of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of the third distinctive epoch of prophetic interpretation in the Christian Era. The first epoch spanned the first three centuries. But this was submerged under a twofold assault—first a frontal attack upon the integrity of the actual books of Daniel and the Apocalypse, then a more successful flanking attack upon the five great determining factors in the exposition of eschatological prophecy: (1) the literal first resurrection of the righteous dead at the second advent; (2) the millennium, introduced by the second advent; (3) the outline prophecies, reaching their climax at the second advent; (4) the Antichrist, emerging from the breakup of the Roman Empire, dominant during a special allotted period, and finally destroyed at the second advent; and (5) the kingdom of God, established by divine interposition through the second advent. 1These are presented in detail in Vol. I, and their vicissitudes through the centuries are recorded in Vols. II and III, as well as here in Vol. IV.PFF4 382.1

    But there was an eclipse of sound prophetic interpretation through the injection of extra-Biblical and non-Christian elements during the “falling away” in the church. And these five principles were distorted into a spiritual first resurrection, a mysticized view of the prophecies, with an individual Jewish Antichrist as a future tyrant, a carnalized kingdom of God in the form of a powerful Catholic Church, and a present millennium, with Satan already bound.PFF4 382.2

    In reviewing the background of the issues of the 1840’s in America, it is essential to sketch the development of several views on the details of the millennial kingdom. This has heretofore been given little space in these volumes, because most of these interpretations are based almost entirely on prophecies outside of Revelation 20, which is the only Biblical passage mentioning a reign of a thousand years. The whole fabric of the “kingdom on earth,” particularly in its Jewish aspects, is built, not upon the New Testament, but upon Old Testament prophecies that lie outside the purview of the present work, which is concerned principally with the interpretations of Daniel and the Revelation. Yet the millennium must be examined as a principal issue in the interpretation of the 2300 days at a time when its beginning was regarded as imminent.PFF4 383.1


    The early church, strongly premillenarian during the first three centuries, had expected a literal kingdom of Christ introduced by divine interposition after the personal second advent. But in going beyond Revelation 20 to apply to the millennium certain unrelated Old Testament texts, some of the early chiliasts took over Jewish apocalyptic ideas, derived from Jewish nationalistic hopes. It was this misconception of the Messianic prophecies—the idea of a political world dominion centering in Jerusalem—that caused the Jews to reject Jesus at His first advent. They refused to accept His teaching that His kingdom was not of this world. Thus it was forfeited by the unbelieving Jews, but was accepted by the true nation of God, the righteous of all nations, the true children of Abraham. 2See Prophetic Faith, Vol. I, pp. 120, 121, 137-139 (cf. Matthew 8:11, 12; Luke 13:24-30; Matthew 21:33-45; John 8:39).PFF4 383.2

    The same sort of misunderstanding plagued the early church, which inherited these Jewish notions, along with certain non-Christian elements concerning a golden age of material plenty and prosperity. In the time of Origen these crude concepts of extreme chiliasm, derived from Jewish and pagan traditions, were particularly incompatible with a growing allegorism introduced into the church from neo-pagan philosophy. This caused a revulsion against all belief in a future millennium, and temporarily against the Apocalypse itself. The earlier persecuted Christians aspired to a future earthly rule of the church triumphant; but they applied the Messianic kingdom, not to the Jewish race, but to spiritual Israel, the church. These hopes were replaced first by allegorism, and then, after the elevation of Christianity to imperial honors, by the Augustinian millennium as the present reign of the Catholic Christian church during the Christian Era. 3Ibid., pp. 301-307, 892. 893.PFF4 383.3


    The ante-Nicene premillennialists of necessity placed most prophecies in the future. They could not yet see the fulfillments in church history “because so little church history had transpired, and they expected the advent immediately.” 4D. H. Kromminga. The Millennium in the Church, p. 335. Therefore, says Kromminga pertinently, the ancient premillennialists should not be called Futurists, for they saw no long gap before the bulk of prophetic fulfillment, but rather events “already in the making” in their day. Thus:PFF4 384.1

    “Their futurism did not involve the interpolation of some long church-period between the first advent of Christ and His return; it was simply due to the fact that in their days so little history had as yet come to pass in fulfillment of the Apocalypse. They simply were adherents of a continuous historical approach.” 5Ibid., pp. 313, 314.PFF4 384.2

    Indeed, knowing that the mystery of iniquity was already working (2 Thessalonians 2:7), they had their eyes on imperial Rome. This historical approach was but natural, since it was already the accepted mode of interpreting the prophecies of Daniel, initiated by the prophet Daniel himself. The “falling away “ iri the church was not clearly understood until it was clarified by the actual historical developments.PFF4 384.3

    The nature of the millennium was a cause of major misunderstanding. But the year-day principle, applied by the Jews before Christ to the 70 weeks, was accepted by the early Christians as having already been fulfilled in history by the death of Christ in the 70th week. This principle was not yet extended to the other prophetic time periods, for they could as yet have no concept of the long period of apostasy. Time was foreshortened to their gaze. Looking for the advent to come soon, they could not envision 1260 year-days before the setting up of the kingdom of glory. 6Prophetic Faith, Vol. I, pp. 241, 242, 701. But the hope of the future kingdom died down after persecution ceased and the church became predominant in the empire; then Augustine’s spiritualized millennium became entrenched in the thinking of the church.PFF4 385.1


    Centuries later, when ecclesiastical corruption had increased until it became impossible to reconcile the visible church with the kingdom of God on earth, the medieval “pure church” ideal of twelfth-century Joachim of Floris took the form of a new millennialism—a sort of postmillennialism. Joachim’s ideal was not a schismatic church, but a future age for the present church, in which he envisioned the dominance of the Spirit. But after his time the protest against ecclesiastical corruption culminated in the Spiritual Franciscans and various “schismatic” groups. 7Ibid., pp. 697, 698, 709, 712, 731 ff.; D. H. Kromminga, op. cit., pp. 131, 164, 300.PFF4 385.2

    Joachim completed the restoration of the historical concept of prophecy, and applied the year-day principle to the 1260 days, though for some two centuries it had already been extended by medieval Jewish writers to the longer periods of Daniel. Joachim’s followers soon extended this principle of reckoning to the 1290, 1335, and even the 2300 days, in further study of the outline prophecies. The “continuous-historical” approach, which, as Kromminga remarks, was apparently the usual approach to the Apocalypse all along-except insofar as Augustine’s spiritualization adulterated it” 8D. H. Kromminga, op. cit., p. 161.—then became dominant again.PFF4 385.3


    From Joachim’s day on, the road climbed steadily into the second J i epoch in the predominance of the historical view of prophetic—”’ fulfillment, reaching a peak during and after the Protestant Reformation. For this era was, in fact, introduced by the pre-Reformation repudiators of many of the papal perversions, including not only the Waldensians and others outside the Roman church, but even churchmen like Eberhard of Salzburg and John of Wyclif, who saw in both the Little Horn and the Antichrist, symbols of the historical Papacy. The great prophetic outlines, although recognized as reaching their climax at the second advent, were studied with an increasingly clearer and fuller understanding as to their progressive fulfillment through the centuries. By the Protestant Reformation expositors the Antichrist was almost universally recognized to be the great papal apostasy, with its allotted 1260 year-days well advanced, and its day of doom awaiting as the second advent should draw on.PFF4 386.1

    This historical approach to prophetic fulfillment, combined with the pure-church ideal, was characteristic of the pre-Reformation and Reformation identification of Antichrist with the long-developing apostasy in the church. As the Reformers’ rallying cry was sounded in the call to come out of Babylon, the pure-church concept was stressed by the “sects.” Some of these groups sought to blend the medieval pure-church ideal and the early-church kingdom ideal through political and social revolution, like some of the Continental Anabaptists, and the English Fifth Monarchy Men. However, such extremes were few, and the established churches that grew out of the Reformation emphasized the historical view, and avoided extreme millennialism.PFF4 386.2


    But even while these basic prophetic truths were being re-established, the great Catholic Counter-Reformation launched its shrewd counter systems of interpretation, which struck at the heart of the newly revived Protestant prophetic interpretation, with its historical principles. So, around 1600 two conflicting Jesuit schemes were projected: (1) Preterism, pushing the fulfillment of most of the prophecies back into the early centuries; and (2) Futurism, thrusting fulfillment far into the future—with Antichrist as a malign, atheistic dictator Jew, to be established at Jerusalem for 3i/L literal years at the end of the age. 9Treated in full in Vol. II, chaps. 21, 22. Thus was introduced a great gap between the initial fulfillments in the early church and the events of the time of the end. And with this went the inevitable denial of the year-day principle—all in order to divert the symbols of the Little Horn, Beast, Antichrist, et cetera, away from the Papacy.PFF4 387.1

    Tragically enough, these specious concepts began to infiltrate and confuse not a few who had stood upon the Reformation platform. Alcazar’s disruptive pro-Catholic Preterist thesis was adopted into the Protestantism of the rationalist school. About the same time the Protestant Historicists returned to premillennialism. But Futurism remained within the Catholic ranks until much later. It did not permeate the ranks of Protestantism until the third decade of the nineteenth century.PFF4 387.2


    Then the captivating postmillennial theory, introduced about 1700 by Protestant Daniel Whitby, swept like a tidal wave over Protestantism. It did not penetrate America, however, untilits espousal by Jonathan Edwards. Premised on a spiritual first resurrection and a world conversion that introduces the millennium without direct divine intervention, postmillennialism put the second advent at the close of the millennial period, anywhere from 1,000 to 365,000 years in the future. 10Covered in Vol. II. pp. 649-657, 805-807.PFF4 387.3

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