«Pre-millennial Protestantism By Gordon Dane (This sermon was preached at a Prophetic Conference in Rhiwderin, South Wales on 16th November, 2007.) We ...»
By Gordon Dane
(This sermon was preached at a Prophetic Conference in Rhiwderin, South Wales on 16th November, 2007.)
We believe that Protestantism is the religion of the Bible. The Reformers wanted to return to the principles
annunciated in the Word of God and they would have no other authority. They believed that ‘All scripture is
given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16). I have heard the Reformation described as a ‘Back to the Bible movement.’ It is therefore ironic that one of the criticisms that is sometimes levelled at those who want to take the Scriptures in as straightforward a manner as possible in their understanding of prophecy is that they are not Protestant enough!
Great Reformers like Luther and Calvin were a-millennial in their thoughts, and so in the minds of many this has come to be the epitome of Reformed and Protestant doctrine even though a-millennialism was the major view of the Roman Catholicism the Reformers had left. But there can be no doubt, and we would not deny it, that Reformation doctrine identified the papacy with the antichrist. It has to be borne in mind that the Waldensians and the Albigenses and many who carried the truth of justification by faith alone during the Dark Ages were pre-millennial in their view. Nevertheless, the major persons of the Reformation carried on the prophetic views they had learned as Roman Catholics, but they had come to view the pope as the antichrist.
Because of this, in many minds, historicist views have become identified with Reformed doctrine and with Protestantism.
Much work has been done identifying the antichristian nature of the papacy, and the elements of pagan religion that have been included in the papacy. We think of Hislop’s book, ‘The Two Babylons,’ and so on.
We would not deny the antichristian nature of the papacy. We have no problem in seeing that there is Babyloniansm in Roman Catholicism. What we would not do, as Pre-millennialists, is identify the papacy as the final antichrist, who is spoken of in Scripture. Because of that, pre-millennialism has been thought of as somehow less protestant. Now I am sure we all glory in what happened at the Reformation, and we all rejoice in our Protestantism, but some people see pre-millennialism as somewhat less than Protestant because of the fact that it does not say that the pope is the final antichrist spoken of in Scripture.
Then there is the accusation that Pre-millennialism stemmed from a Jesuit. I want to refute that and show that far from being something less Protestant, pre-millennialism is, in fact, most Protestant. Pre-millennialism should be the very heart of Protestantism for a number of reasons.
The Allegations thatare Made First of all, I want to show that Pre-millennialism is Protestant despite the allegations that are made. The allegation is that what we believe, as Pre-millennialists, has come about as a result of a Jesuit plot. I have come across this statement a number of times. One was made by Pastor David Carson and it was reported in the British Church Newspaper. Now I have met Pastor Carson a couple of times and some of the members of his church; I believe that he is a God-fearing man; I am not trying to denigrate him in any way, but he had a protest and it was reported that he said, ‘individual Christians and whole groups who have swallowed the Jesuit inspired Futurist lie do not see the point of earnestly contending for the faith.’ Well, I am a Futurist and I do see the point of earnestly contending for the faith and have organized and attended many protests. But the point I want you to notice is the mention of the ‘Jesuit inspired Futurist lie.’ Sadly, many have the idea that Premillennialism came from a Jesuit priest who put it forward as a way of undermining the teaching in the Protestant church about the pope being the antichrist.
I came across an article on the Internet at www.siscom.net which said, ‘The early apostles did not teach a millennial reign. That doctrine came much later in church history when the Roman Catholic pope commissioned two Jesuit priests (Ribera and Alcuser) to publish a teaching that would counter the Protestant belief that the pope was the antichrist. Eventually the book that Ribera and Alcuser wrote fell into the hands of protestant leaders, who unwittingly spread its teachings throughout their churches. The heart of the Reformation preaching challenged the high papal claims and questioned the teachings of Catholicism. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other reformation preachers accused the pope from the word of God as the antichrist. The result of their preaching disarmed the strangle hold of papal authority … and papal power began to tumble as multitudes of people forsook the Roman Catholic Church because of this teaching. The pope fought back with a false teaching contrived by Ribera and Alcaser. They developed a plot that rivalled the protestant interpretation of the Antichrist. Their plot designed a ‘futurist’ theory with a future antichrist and a future millennium …leaving out the Roman Catholic Church as being part of any prophecy. They fed their plot to the Protestants, who adopted it as Biblical truth … and who continue to teach it to this day. The Jesuits invented a mysterious and horrible person as the antichrist who would come in the future just before Christ returns to earth. A large segment of Protestants accepted their interpretation, which played into the hands of the Jesuits … who had then accomplished the purpose of the pope far beyond any of their expectations.’ There you have it set out as clear as can be. They allege that the future antichrist and future millennium is a theory resulting from a Jesuit plot. Many people believe that. Of course, that would be a very serious thing for us if that were true.
But it is not true. It is a lie; and if people base their objections on that, they are standing on a broken reed. It is one of those dangerous fallacies because there is a little truth behind it. It is true that one of the first in relatively modern times who returned to the idea that the antichrist is future was a Spanish Jesuit by the name of Ribera in
1590. And it is true that his idea was to counter Protestant teaching that the pope was the antichrist by writing a commentary on the Book of the Revelation that said that the antichrist would be a single person who would be received by the Jews, rebuild Jerusalem, abolish Christianity and rule for three and a half years. To that extent there is some truth. But could I make two points here?
The first is that pre-millennialism quite definitely did not start with those two Jesuits. They may have made use of the ancient teaching that can be traced back to the times of the apostles to try and further their purpose at the time, but pre-millennialism stretches back to the very earliest days of the Church, and we would contend that it is the teaching of Scripture itself. We could make a very strong case that pre-millennialism was what the early church believed. One of the earliest pieces of Christian literature, after the New Testament was written, is called ‘The Didache.’ And in the last chapter of this there is a section about the woes expected at the time of the end;
and it says there ‘shall appear the deceiver of the world as a Son of God and shall do signs and wonders and the earth shall be given over into his hands and he shall commit iniquities which have never been since the world began.’ And it continues in much the same vein. Iraneus in the second century said, ‘When antichrist shall have ravaged all things in the world, reigning three years and six months and shall have sat in the Temple at Jerusalem, then the Lord shall come from heaven in clouds, in the glory of the Father, to cast him and those who obey him into the lake of fire.’ Cyril of Jerusalem said in 360 AD, ‘antichrist shall reign three and a half years only. I say not this from Apocryphal writings but from Daniel for he says and it shall be given into his hand until a time times and half a time. Now a time is one year.’ Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church said, ‘The most striking point in the eschatology of the anteNicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius, while Caius, Origen, Dionysius the Great, Eusebius (as afterwards Jerome and Augustine) opposed it.’ So this was the widespread teaching of the early Church. We would not go by the teachings of the Fathers.
All I am showing you is that this was the widespread belief of the early Church and long before the Jesuit, Ribera. So it is quite easy to refute the contention that this was the invention of the Jesuits.
The second thing is that the teaching that Ribera put out was not pre-millennialism. Ribera was not was a Premillennialist because he did not believe in a Millennial reign. He followed the Augustinian idea to which Romanism held - that the millennium is the period that stretches from the cross to the Second coming. So when it is asserted that a Jesuit invented the whole of our pre-millennial doctrine we have to say that what he taught was not pre-millennialism. He was not even a Pre-millennialist at all. When you hear the assertion that what we believe was something that Jesuits invented and surreptitiously put like poison into the bloodstream of Protestantism, that is a lie.
So, I say that Pre-millennialism is Protestant despite the allegations that are made. I say that the evidence is that pre-millennialism, as we hold to it, is the belief that stretches right back to the times of the apostles.
The Antichrist it Identifies The second thing that I want to say is that Pre-millennialism is Protestant despite the antichrist it identifies.
Again because we identify the final Antichrist as other than the pope of Rome we are accused of not being Protestant enough. Michael Bunker, in an article he has posted on the internet entitled The Doctrine of the Papal Antichrist, puts it like this, ‘The uniform reformed position that the papacy is the seat of antichrist, and the Bishop of Rome that ‘man of sin’, is now under renewed attack by both Futurists and Preterists, who would put forth pet prophetic interpretations that require that we discover antichrist somewhere other than in Ecclesiastical Rome.’ There are many people, particularly in Northern Ireland, who want to be as Protestant as they can be, and so the teaching that the pope is the antichrist is one that is very attractive.
There is one thing that I want to make absolutely plain before I proceed, and that is that I believe that the pope is an antichrist. I believe that popery is antichristian. I can concur with what the Westminster Confession of Faith declares of the pope, that he is ‘that antichrist in the Church.’ However, I do not think that the pope is the antichrist of 1 John 2:18 or the man of sin or ‘that wicked’ who is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10. The Bible indicates that the final antichrist will be an individual who will come. While the pope, being antichristian, displays many of the characteristics of the final antichrist yet there are others that he does not display. Let me show you very briefly some of the things he does not display.
First of all, it is very evident from the Bible that the antichrist holds such commercial power that he can forbid people to buy or sell if they do not have his mark. Look at Revelation 13:16-17: ‘And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.’ It has never been true that the pope has ever had power like that. It has not even been true in Roman Catholic countries. I know that when I lived in the Republic of Ireland there were priests involved in commercial operations and economic activity but they could not forbid me, as a Protestant, to buy or sell. Nor could they forbid anyone else. And it is certainly true of the Roman earth as a whole. So, this is to be a prominent characteristic of the prophesied man of sin and it is not true of the pope.
Then, look at another aspect of the final antichrist, which is not fulfilled by the pope. In Revelation 13:11 we read of ‘another beast.’ ‘And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.’ And it goes on to speak of this second beast or false prophet acting as the prophet to the first beast, the antichrist. We are told that this second beast directs that the antichrist should be worshipped, and in order to reinforce this, he calls fire down from heaven to demonstrate to people that the antichrist is God. There has never been such a prophet to the pope. Furthermore, we are told that an image of the beast, or the antichrist, is made by the false prophet and the image is caused to speak and to command that whosoever would not give worship to it should be put to death. Revelation 13:15 says ‘And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.’ Now there never has been such a speaking image associated with popery either. Again, there are aspects of this man of sin that are not fulfilled by the pope.