The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology
Part 12: NCT Described (VI)
“NCT also challenges the two redemptive purposes of DT, one for the Church and one for Israel, and it challenges some of DT’s presuppositions and literal hermeneutic for understanding key elements of Bible prophecy.” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Described)
This blog post will focus upon Dispensational Theology’s literal hermeneutic for understanding key elements of Bible prophecy. This particular blog entry will focus upon the issue of the millennium, which Dispensational Theology insists will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on David’s throne from Jerusalem. I will demonstrate the non-premillennial position of New Covenant Theology using three passages: 2 Peter 3:3-12; Rom 8:19-23, and Hebrews 11:9-16. This post will not address the twentieth chapter of Revelation, the only eschatological passage which explicitly mentions the “thousand years” (chilia etē – Rev 20:2-7). I have chosen to do this for three reasons. First, an exposition of Revelation 20 is beyond the scope of this blog entry. Second, a detailed explanation of Revelation 20 is not required to demonstrate that premillennialism is inconsistent with biblical hermeneutics. Why? The predominant genre of the book of Revelation is apocalyptic, a highly-disputed genre which is notoriously difficult to interpret. Because Revelation 20 belongs to the apocalyptic genre, it is significantly more obscure than any of the eschatological passages addressed in this paper. If the ‘clearer’ eschatological passages of Scripture (e.g. 2 Peter 3:3-12; Rom 8:19-23, and Hebrews 11:9-16, etc.) do not teach a future premillennial kingdom, the literal (i.e. premillennial) interpretation of more ‘obscure’ eschatological passages, such as Revelation 20 and Ezekiel 40-48, must be called into question. The analogia fidei (Latin: analogy of Scripture), a foundational principal of biblical hermeneutics, teaches that the clearer passages of Scripture must interpret the less clear passages, not the other way around. If the ‘clearer’ eschatological texts do not teach a premillennial kingdom, I would assert that Revelation 20 does not teach a premillennial kingdom either.
The Cosmos Will Be Consumed by Fire at Christ’s Return
(2 Peter 3:3-12)
Second Peter 3:3-12 is a New Testament passage which strongly asserts itself against any form of premillennialism. In 2 Peter 3:4, the last day scoffers brazenly mock, “Where is the promise of His coming (tēs parousias)? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” Like the occurrence of tē parousίa autou in 1 Corinthians 15:23, tēs parousias (i.e. the coming) in 2 Peter 3:4 is a reference to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The context of the passage indicates that the scoffers are mocking God’s promise that He will return to judge mankind, destroy the earth with fire, and destroy the wicked (2 Pet 3:5-7). In verse 10, Peter responds to the scoffers’ mocking by declaring: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”  The context clearly indicates that the Apostle Peter understands Christ’s parousίa and the “Day of the Lord” to refer to the same eschatological event.
The fact that Peter understands Christ’s parousίa to be synonymous with the Day of the Lord becomes even more apparent when 2 Peter 3:10 is understood in light of its three subsequent verses. 2 Peter 3:10-13 reads:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12looking for and hastening the coming [tēn parousian] of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. [emphasis mine]
In other words, when the Lord Jesus returns in glory, the entire cosmos will be destroyed with fire. When the understanding of 1 Corinthians 15 is combined with understanding of 2 Peter 3:3-12, it clearly reveals that Christ’s parousίa signals His return in glory, the destruction of His enemies (including death, the last enemy), the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, and the destruction of the cosmos by fire. With the entire cosmos destroyed by fire, where will this literal, earthly millennium take place? Interestingly, Peter’s equation of Christ’s parousίa and the Day of the Lord has staggering implications for many New Testament eschatological passages, in particular 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10.
‘Resurrection’ of the Cosmos Tied to the Resurrection of Believers
Like 2 Peter 3:3-12, Romans 8:19-23 is another passage which eliminates any possibility of future premillennial kingdom as taught by all versions of premillennialism. This Scriptural pericope clearly teaches that the resurrection of believers is inextricably linked to the resurrection or recreation of the cosmos. How? First, God’s Word declares that all believers will be resurrected when the Lord Jesus returns at His parousίa (cf. 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 3:13). For instance, 1 John 3:2 states, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.” This verse evinces that when Christ returns, all believers will be made like Him in His sinless and resurrected humanity. Second, Scripture also declares that when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, His followers will be revealed with Him. For example, Colossians 3:4 proclaims: “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Now, if all believers are both resurrected and revealed in glory when Christ is revealed from heaven, it is evident that the apokalypsis (“revealing”) of Christ and the apokalypsis (“revealing”) of all believers occur simultaneously. This has staggering implications for Romans 8:19-23:
19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing [tēn apokalypsin] of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul compares the current state of believers to that of creation. Just as “we ourselves groan within ourselves” (Rom 8:23), all of “creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom 8:22). Moreover, just as “we ourselves” await “eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23), the cosmos longs to “be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).
Furthermore, Romans 8:19 declares that the creation anxiously awaits the revelation of the sons of God, which is their resurrection. Why does the creation so eagerly await this eschatologically climactic event? The creation eagerly awaits “the revelation of the sons of God” because the “resurrection” of creation in the New Heavens and the New Earth will occur simultaneously with the resurrection of the elect. Concerning Romans 8:19-23, Robert Strimple writes, “The apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, teaches us that the resurrection glory of the children of God will mark the resurrection glory of creation as well. At Christ’s coming, not a millennium later, ‘the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay’ and come to enjoy a glory that is likened to ‘the glorious freedom of the children of God.’” Elsewhere, he notes:
Paul describes the deliverance of creation as creation’s liberation ‘from its bondage to decay…into the glorious freedom of the children of God’ (Rom. 8:21). Thus, the deliverance of creation itself from all the corrupting consequences of human sin as they have affected the creation will be as complete and as final as the deliverance from sin and its consequences are for God’s people….Here again the apostle directs our attention to when this deliverance will be achieved: when ‘the sons of God [are] revealed’ (Rom. 8:19). That day of their ‘revelation’ [apokalypsis] as God’s children is the glorious goal of the believers’ expectation, and it is the goal of the creation’s expectation also. At that time the creation itself ‘will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God’ (v. 21). The ‘revealing of the sons of God’ and ‘the glorious freedom of the children of God’ cannot be postponed beyond the coming of Christ and the resurrection, nor can the deliverance of creation be postponed beyond that great day.
Therefore, when “those who are Christ’s” are resurrected “at His coming” (1 Cor 15:23), the cosmos itself will be re-created into the New Heavens and the New Earth. When the understandings of 2 Peter 3:3-12 and now Romans 8:19-23 are combined, it clearly reveals that Christ’s Parousía signals His return in glory, the destruction of His enemies (including death), the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, the destruction of the cosmos by fire, and the recreation of the cosmos into the New Heavens and New Earth. Again, how can there be any room for a literal, earthly millennium?
Looking for a Heavenly Country
Hebrews 11:9-16 also strongly argues against the existence of a future premillennial kingdom as taught by all versions of premillennialism. This passage teaches that the patriarch Abraham was not looking for an earthly country but a “heavenly one” (Heb 11:16) and “the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God” (Heb 11:10), that is, the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Heb 12:22). Hebrews 11:9-16 declares:
By faith he [i.e. Abraham] lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; 12therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
A plain or “natural” reading of this passage strongly indicates that Abraham was not looking for a literal, earthly, millennial kingdom. Nevertheless, Barry Horner, a Premillennialist, writes:
Abraham, summoned by God and converted from paganism in Ur of the Chaldeans, entered Canaan via Haran and was confronted with more paganism in the land of promise. He explored his inheritance from north to south as an unsettled nomadic tent-dweller and, it is reasonable to assume (Deut 18:9-14; 20:17-18), continued to be appalled at its pervasive unholiness that only the future leadership could begin to cleanse. His search for “a better country, that is, heavenly one” must be understood not according to a Gentile worldview, but the Hebrew worldview of the author….Abraham’s hope was eschatological, but not in the sense of heaven’s superiority to the earth, of the spiritual as superior to the material. Rather, his hope was of the future messianic age, the millennial kingdom in which heaven would be manifest on earth and residence there would be gloriously holy, permanent.
However, there is a pivotal text that Horner has seemingly overlooked in his explanation.
Hebrews 11:39-40 is an interpretive crux for the entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews and strongly indicates that Abraham was not looking for an earthly millennium. Verses 39-40 proclaim, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” First, the author of Hebrews states that all Old Testament (OT) saints (including those mentioned in Hebrews 11) did not receive “what was promised” so that “they should not be made perfect” apart from New Covenant believers. Interestingly, both David and Samuel are explicitly mentioned in Hebrews 11:32, two men who lived during the days when Israel possessed the land of Canaan. However, Hebrews 11:39-40 informs us that even David and Samuel “did not receive what was promised.” Clearly, an earthly, premillennial kingdom in which Israel possesses the land of Canaan is not in view here. Second, Hebrews 11:39-40 also indicates that whatever these OT saints were looking to receive, we are as well. So, what was Peter, an ethnic Jew and New Testament apostle, looking for? 2 Peter 3:13 declares that he was “looking for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (cf. Paul’s hope – 2 Tim 4:18). Moreover, Romans 4:13 states that God promised Abraham that he would be “heir of the world (kosmou),” while Matthew 5:5 declares, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” In view of the preceding biblical facts, Hebrews 11:9-16 clearly teaches that Abraham was looking for the New Heavens and New Earth, not a literal, earthly millennium.
I respectfully disagree with the highly respected scholar, George Eldon Ladd, whose sole basis for his premillennial views is what he calls “the most natural exegesis” of Revelation 20:1-6. What is “natural exegesis” with respect to the difficult passages will depend on the analogy of Scripture and the context. See George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 17, 32 and A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 266-67.
Many Dispensational Premillennialists understand the term “Day of the Lord” to refer to either the seven-year tribulation or the entire period extending from the pre-tribulation rapture to the end of the premillennial kingdom. See J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1964), 229-232. The Dispensational conclusion that the “Day of the Lord” is a period greater than a twenty-four-hour day demonstrates the inconsistency of the literal or normal hermeneutic of Dispensational Premillennialism.
An exhaustive contextual word study of parousίa and other synonymous terms is beyond the scope of this paper. However, such a study should include the following terms and references: 1) parousίa (Matthew 24:27-31, 24:37-39; 1 Thess 3:13, 4:15-17, 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1, 2:8; 2 Pet 3:4, 3:10-12; 1 Cor 15:22-26), 2) apokalypsis (1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thess 1:4-10; 1 Pet 1:7, 1:13, 4:13), 3) epiphaneia (1 Tim 6:14; 2 Thess 2:8; 2 Tim 4:1, 4:8; Titus 2:13), 4) Day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:10-12; 2 Thess 2:1-2; 1 Thess 4:15-5:10; Zeph 1:14-18; Isa 13:6-13; Joel 2:1-11; cf. Matt 24:27-31, Rev 6:12-17), and 5) Day of Christ (Phil 1:6, 1:10, 2:16; 1 Cor 1:8; 2 Cor 1:14). Special attention should be given to overlapping references where a few of these terms are clearly equated or used interchangeably (e.g. 2 Pet 3:10-12; 1 Cor 1:7-8; 2 Thess 2:1-8). Furthermore, the absence of any explicit reference to unbelievers, judgment, torment, punishment, glory, etc. does not justify understanding any of the above verses as a reference to a pretribulation rapture. Such argumentation is from silence and extremely weak.
Although Dispensationalists typically understand Jesus’ reference to “the thief in the night” analogy in Matthew 24:43 as applying to the pre-tribulation rapture, the context of Matthew 24:43 reveals that it is in fact a reference to His Second Coming. When Peter states in 2 Peter 3:10 that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” he is obviously making an allusion to Matthew 24:43. Like Jesus, he uses it not to describe a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church but the Second Coming of Christ in glory.
Paul uses apokalypsis in three primary ways: (1) he uses ἀποκάλυψις to indicate a revelation of truth (Rom 16:25; Eph 1:17), (2) he uses apokalypsis to indicate a revelation through vision(s) (Gal 1:12; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Cor 14:6; 1 Cor 14:26; 2 Cor 12:1; 2 Cor 12:7; Gal 2:2; Eph 3:3), and (3) a revelation of the disclosure of secrets belonging to the last days (Rom 2:5; Rom 8:19; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thess1:7). See Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 112. Romans 8:19 specifically details the “time when they [i.e. believers] will be revealed in their glorified status” (“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing (apokalypsis) of the sons of God.”); in other words, “revelation of the sons of God” is the general eschatological resurrection when they will receive their resurrection bodies. It is also important to note that Romans 2:5 also deals with eschatological revelation, as it speaks of “the day of wrath and revelation (apokalypsis) of the righteous judgment of God.”
Robert Strimple, “Amillennialism,” in Three Views On The Millennium And Beyond, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 106.
See Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 517. Moo, a Premillennialist, is convinced that this passage does not exclude the existence of a premillennial kingdom. See also Barry E. Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2007), 64. Horner states, “Romans 8:22-33 clearly presents a similar prophetic vision that anticipates the future glorious Messianic kingdom which will manifest Christ’s reign from Jerusalem over Jew and Gentile.” While this passage is asserted to be consistent with a premillennial eschatology, it is certainly not clear which aspects logically lead to such a conclusion.
Barry E. Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2007), 249-50.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit as “the blessing of Abraham” (Gal 3:10-14) is included here, but this particular promise is not my focus with regard to Hebrews 11:39-40.
See Long, Context, 8-9.