Is Premillennialism Consistent with New Covenant Theology?

Is Premillennialism Consistent with New Covenant Theology? All forms of premillennialism rely to some degree on a literal interpretation of prophetic passages in Scripture. For example, Historic Premillennialism largely interprets the millennium of Revelation 20 as a literal one thousand years following the bodily return of Christ in glory. Other forms, such as Classical Dispensationalism, tend to interpret the land promises to Abraham’s offspring and the restoration of the Davidic monarchy in a more literal fashion. New Covenant Theology (NCT) offers a different approach in that it seeks to consistently ensure that New Testament has interpretive priority over the Old Testament (since the former is the final revelation of God). In short, the New Testament (especially its clearer passages) has the final interpretive say. For instance, NCT generally understands Hebrews 11:9-16 as teaching that the patriarch Abraham was not looking for an earthly country but a “heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). The passage also states that he was looking for “the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10) – in other words, the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Heb. 12:22). Put differently, the land promise to Abraham is ultimately realized in the new heavens and new earth (Rom. 4:13; 2 Pet. 3:3-13; Rev. 21-22). Additionally, NCT generally understands Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 to indicate that Christ’s current reign in heaven at God’s Right Hand is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. How so? First, the apostle emphasizes that David died and was buried (Acts 2:29). This is an important point since the Lord promised David, “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam. 7:12). Certain versions of premillennialism teach that Christ will reign over the earth from Jerusalem after David has been resurrected. However, Acts 2:29 and 2 Samuel 7:12 appear to teach that David must be dead for God to raise up David’s Greater Son and establish his kingdom. Second, the apostle emphasizes that Christ’s pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost demonstrates that God has fulfilled His promise to David in raising Christ from the dead and enthroning Him as Lord at His Right Hand (Acts 2:30-36). In my opinion, for these reasons and others, premillennialism is not consistent with NCT.

 

That being said, let me unequivocally state that the question of the millennium is a non-essential matter of the Christian faith. Can an individual hold to premillennialism and still be an advocate of NCT? Of course, they can. In fact, I used to be such an individual, at one time holding to Historic Premillennialism and NCT. Moreover, I know of excellent theologians who ascribe to both NCT and premillennialism – theologians whose works I find very edifying and would unreservedly recommend to others. In my opinion, there are five eschatological essential on which all Christians should be able to agree: (1) a future bodily return of the Lord Jesus Christ in victory; (2) a future bodily resurrection of all believers for glory; (3) a future bodily resurrection of all unbelievers for reprobation; (4) a future, final judgment for believers and unbelievers; and (5) the eternal state, consisting of both an eternal hell for the reprobate and the eternal New Heavens and New Earth for believers. All other eschatological questions are secondary. Thus, a premillennialist, whether Historic or Dispensational, should never be excluded from NCT. At the same time, I do think that believers can and should be able to cordially discuss the hermeneutics that lead to particular eschatological positions. Others in NCT may disagree with my view here, believing instead that the hermeneutics of NCT do not lead way from the premillennial position. That’s completely fine. 🙂  It is my personal view that Revelation 20, being in the genre of apocalyptic prophecy, is less clear than other prophetic passages in the New Testament – passages such as Romans 8:19-23, 2 Peter 3:3-12; the aforementioned Hebrews 11:9-16, the aforementioned Acts 2:29 & 2 Samuel 7:12, and 1 Corinthians 15 (with its recapitulative structure). In short, it is my view that when the clearer prophetic passages of the NT guide the less clear prophetic passages of the NT, a non-premillennial view is more consistent with NCT overall. Put differently, I personally view this to be a consistent application of the analogy of faith as it relates to the New Testament having interpretive priority over the Old Testament – a principle strongly held by most, if not all, advocates of NCT. I also recognize that my hermeneutical presupposition of Revelation 20 being a less-clear passage (due to it being in the genre of apocalyptic prophecy) is integral to this view. Others, who do not consider Revelation 20 to be a less-clear passage and interpret it in a more literal fashion, will differ with me. That’s perfectly fine. 🙂

6 Comments

  1. gregtravillian

    A straight forward question: doesn’t Covenant theology also use the Redemptive-Historical hermeneutic and arrive at a different interpretation?

    1. Zachary Maxcey (Post author)

      I’m not entirely sure what interpretation your question is specifically referring to. Do you mean Revelation 20 itself, the comments on Acts 2, the comments on Hebrews 11:9-16, or something else? I just want to make sure so I can better answer the question. Thanks.

      1. gregtravillian

        Does Covenant Theology interpret any of the passages you listed differently?

        1. Zachary Maxcey (Post author)

          In my opinion, I think those within NCT who hold to a non-premillennial view would, generally speaking, share significant hermeneutical common ground with Covenant Theology when it comes to eschatology. To be sure, there is a mixture of views within NCT regarding such secondary eschatological questions such as the millennium. Some are premillennialists. Some are non-premmillennialists. Speaking for myself as a non-premillennial NCT proponent, I largely agree with G.K. Beale’s interpretation of the Revelation 20 – Beale being an example of a Covenant Theologian who uses a Redemptive-Historical hermeneutic. G.K. Beale also interpets ‘the heavenly country’ in Hebrews 11:9-16 as speaking of the new earth (A New Testament Biblical Theology, P. 145). With reference to Acts 2:29-36, Beale writes “the NT prophecies of the reestablishment of David’s throne in the eschaton have begun in Christ through his resurrection and ascension. Acts 2:29-36 is one of the NT passages expressing this notion most clearly” (A New Testament Biblical Theology, P. 768-769). Speaking for myself, I also largely agree with Robert Strimple’s view of Romans 8:19-23 in The Millennium and Beyond, and Robert Strimple is a Presbyterian, if I remember correctly. I largely agree with these interpretations, and I know other non-premillennial NCT proponents who would agree as well.

  2. gregtravillian

    So do you hold the same interpretation as CT when identifying the woman in Revelation 12?

    1. Zachary Maxcey (Post author)

      Speaking for myself, I would say that the woman in Revelation 12 is another area where I share some hermeneutical common ground, eschatologically speaking, with CT. I personally interpret the woman to be God’s elect remnant in redemptive history. I say this for several reasons: (1) the juxtaposition of the dragon/serpent versus the woman, along with the reference to her individual Seed (the male child, i.e. Christ) and her corporate seed (Rev. 12:17, i.e. believers) brings to mind Eve and the seed of the woman vs. the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3:15; (2) the twelve stars, sun, and moon are a reference to Genesis 37:9 with the patriarchs of Israel; (3) the woman gives birth to a male child, which few dispute refers to Christ; (3) the woman is persecuted by the dragon and his agents following Christ’s ascension and exaltation; and (4) her corporate seed, i.e. “those who keep the commandments of God & hold the testimony of Jesus” clearly refers to believers as well. Thus, I would understand the woman of Revelation 12 as Spirit-inspired synthesis by John of multiple OT references, which together refer to God’s elect remnant. As a result, I would not directly equate the woman with Israel or the Church.

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