The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views

Written by Robert G. Clouse (ed.) Reviewed By Robert H. Gundry

This book contains elementary presentations of historic premillennialism (by G. E. Ladd), dispensational premillennialism (by H. A. Hoyt), postmillennialism (by L. Boettner), and amillennialism (by A. A. Hoekema). Each presentation is followed by short responses from the representatives of the other viewpoints. In an introduction R. G. Clouse defines the positions and surveys the history of interpretation. In a postscript he singles out premillennialism—because of its dominance (on the American evangelical scene)—for a final, largely warning comment.

Ladd presents premillennialism as the most natural understanding of Romans 11:26 and Revelation 20:1–6, but takes pains not to divide sharply God’s dealings with Israel and the church, not to deny the New Testament application of Old Testament prophecies dealing with Israel and the kingdom to the church, and not to treat biblical prophecy simplistically and sensationally as history clearly written beforehand so far as details are concerned. Hoyt faults Ladd for not taking Old Testament prophecies literally enough to make them provide some detailed information about the millennial kingdom. Boettner rejects as too fantastic the mingling of the glorified Christ and his saints with natural bodied people on a millennial earth. Hoekema attempts to turn back Ladd’s ‘natural’ reading of Revelation 20:1–6.

According to Hoyt, the writing of the Bible in the language of common people means that we ought to take its words in their normal sense (i.e. literally unless otherwise indicated by context). This means, in turn, that Old Testament prophecies do indeed furnish abundant proof of a millennial kingdom and many descriptive details concerning it. Hoyt thinks that the kingdom offered by Jesus to Israel was ‘suspended’. Not only does Ladd doubt this because a number of Jewish people did in fact believe, but also Hoyt himself thinks that during the present suspension the church is partially experiencing the kingdom in preparation for sharing Christ’s millennial rule. But Boettner will not be satisfied with suspension, whether partial or complete. Nothing less than abolition of the old covenant pleases him as he appeals to passages such as Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8. Abolition of the old covenant would cancel the Old Testament prophecies that figure prominently in dispensational premillennialism. Hoekema undermines Hoyt’s appeal to the normal, literal meaning of Old Testament prophecies by showing that to maintain that method consistently, Hoyt avoids the normal, literal meaning of some relevant passages in the New Testament.

Finding it impossible to believe in the fewness of the saved, Boettner argues for postmillennialism from the presumption of success in divine election and in the church’s evangelization of the world. Social progress through the centuries of the Christian era gives him confidence in this presumption, for that progress shows the growing effects of the gospel. Boettner’s presumption leads Ladd to dismiss postmillennialism in a very short response that calls attention to lack of very much scriptural argumentation and to the possibility of understanding the modern world very pessimistically. Hoyt makes the same points at greater length—as does Hoekema, too, with an additional argument that post-millennialism does not easily square with Revelation 20:1–6.

Hoekema argues that in accordance with its parallelistic structure and symbolic language elsewhere, the book of Revelation backs up to the beginning of the Christian era when we come to chapter 20. Thus the thousand years represent the age of the church, during which Satan’s activities are curtailed for the advancement of the gospel. Believers who die come to disembodied life in heaven, where they share Christ’s rule until their physical resurrection at the second coming. There immediately follow the last judgment and, for the saved, eternal bliss, figuratively described in passages such as Isaiah 11 and 65. Ladd counters that the angel’s ‘coming down from heaven’ in Revelation 20:1 sets the whole scene on earth and that the coming to life of the saints refers elsewhere in the New Testament to after-life only as a result of resurrection. Hoyt scores Hoekema’s evasion of natural meaning. Boettner uses his general agreement with Hoekema’s exposition of Revelation 20:1–6 as an opportunity to revel in what he sees to be the ongoing improvement of the world.

In his postscript Clouse warns against premillennialists’ non-involvement in society at large except by way of evangelistic activity and against preoccupation with interpreting current events by means of biblical prophecy. At the same time, he commends premillennialists for focusing attention on a major aspect of biblical theology, viz., futuristic eschatology. A selected bibliography and thumbnail biographical sketches of the authors close out the volume.

Robert H. Gundry

Robert Gundry is professor emeritus and scholar-in-residence at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2010).