Home > Antichrist, Postmillennialism, The 1,000 years, The Gospel > David Brown: The Blessed Hope 2

David Brown: The Blessed Hope 2

November 10, 2011

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Below is the second article of a series by Rev. David Brown, D.D., in which he critiques the premillennial theory, and presents his views on the Blessed Hope of the gospel.



The Christian, 17 Nov. 1870.

The essential principle of the “premillennial” theory of the Second Advent—as the phrase itself implies—is, that there is to be a thousand years’ reign of Christ and his risen and changed saints upon earth, over a world peopled by men still in the flesh, under all the conditions of a mortal state, “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage.” The reigning ones consist of all dead saints, raised to life, together with all saints who, being found alive at Christ’s coming, shall be instantaneously changed into a resurrection-state, and caught up together with the risen ones to meet the Lord in the air, to appear with Him in glory as one company, and with Christ take the rule of the earth for a thousand years. Those reigned over will consist of Jews (converted by the sight of Jesus in His glory, as held now probably by all premillennialists, and re-established in their own land) and of Gentiles—then, for the most part, total strangers to Christ, but to be gradually brought into believing subjection to Him, just as now, through the Gospel and the operation of the Holy Ghost. It is possible that I have put more into this statement than is essential to premillennialism, and that among those who hold this some slight difference may obtain in their mode of conceiving the subordinate features of it. But the one thing which I have in view throughout the following papers is that feature of the system which certainly is its essence—namely, that after Christ comes the second time in the glory of His Father, there will continue a world peopled with men still in the flesh, and under all the conditions of mortality, over whom He is to reign, along with all who have been His saints up to that time, risen from the dead, or changed into a resurrection-state, for a thousand years.

In inquiring whether this expectation is sustained by Scripture, our first question must be, What are the scriptural characteristics of Christ’s Second Coming? And here I must, at the very outset, lay down the principle by which I myself am guided, and which, whether attended to or not, must commend itself to every candid student of Scripture as sound and scriptural. It is that the Old Testament must be interpreted by the New, the dark by the light, and figurative by naked statements. To lay down so obvious a canon of interpretation would be superfluous, were it not so continually and systematically reversed in practice, and were I not convinced that it needs but a faithful adherence to it to set at rest some of the most important differences among Christians on this great subject.

What, then, are the scriptural characteristics of Christ’s Second Appearing? I answer—

The Second Advent will be attended by events which preclude any mortal state thereafter, and consequently any millennial reign over mortal men here below.

The following are some of these :—

I. The simultaneous resurrection and eternal judgment of the righteous and the wicked.

By simultaneous I mean, not that the resurrection and judgment of the righteous will not at all precede those of the wicked, but that the period for both will be one and the same; in proof of which, I confine myself to such passages of the New Testament as seem to speak for themselves.

“There cometh an hour [1] [said the Judge Himself] in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good [2] unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil [3] unto the resurrection of judgment” (meaning here, as in our Authorized Version, “damnation”—John v. 28, 29). If this does not proclaim (1) that the whole of both classes are to hear His voice, and come forth at one and the same time, in the sense explained; (2) that they will come forth to be judged; (3) that it will be a judgment of each individual according to his works; (4) that it will be one transaction, issuing in “life” and “damnation” to the two classes respectively; and (5) that this issue will be final;—if, I say, all this is not announced here by the Judge Himself, I despair of understanding the teaching of the New Testament on any subject. But if this be so, of course it puts an end to the theory of a millennial reign after His coming, over a world of mortal men.

But let us hear the Judge again, in the parable of the Tares and the Wheat. “As the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend [or ‘occasion stumbling’], and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. xiii. 40—43). Observe here, first, the time—”the end of the world,” or, as some prefer to render it, “the end of the age.” For reasons which will be found in the footnote, I think our Authorized Version here gives the preferable rendering; [4] but it is of no consequence to my argument, since all agree that the time denoted by this phrase is that of the Second Advent. What, then, does the Judge say will then take place? When “the children of the wicked one are cast into a furnace of fire, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth; then,” says He, “shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of their Father;” in other words, these two great events shall be simultaneous, as in their very nature they are personal and final. The resurrection could not have been brought into this parable without incongruity, the figure employed in it being simply the gathering out of a field its good and bad products respectively. But that this is implied will be manifest, I think, if it is observed that in all the seven parables of this chapter the “kingdom” stretches from the commencement to the close of the sowing-time of the Gospel upon earth—small at first, as a grain of mustard-seed, but eventually overshadowing the earth. As the whole product of the gospel net is brought to shore at last, so in the sown field its whole produce is gathered and disposed of in one judicial transaction—in other words, all of both classes, righteous and wicked, and whether alive at His coming or raised from the dead for that end, are disposed of personally and finally in one august judicial transaction.

Again, “Not every one that saith unto Me,” as a professed disciple, “Lord, Lord, shall,” in that day, “enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? etc. And then will I profess (or ‘declare’) unto them, I never knew you. Depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. vii. 21—23). At what time, then, the Judge shall say to his own from the throne of His glory, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, into the kingdom prepared for you,” He will at the same time say to those who professed that they knew Him but in works denied Him, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” And was this meant to apply only to such as should be alive at His coming? Was it not uttered before the vast crowds that heard Him as a learning to themselves? If it was, then it must embrace in its awful sweep all of both classes, whether then living or dead raised—summoned alike before His great white throne ‘to take the punishment or prize from His unerring hand.’

The same two classes reappear, I think, beyond reasonable doubt, thrice in Matt. xxv.: in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins; in the parable of the talents (the two faithful traders with their lord’s money, and the one unfaithful servant being summoned and dealt with together on his return); and in the picture of the sheep and the goats assembled together, and together arranged on the right and left hand of the Judge, with the subsequent incomparable description of the way in which both classes of men are to be disposed of in one and the same august transaction—the time the same, and the issues in both cases final—”And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life everlasting.” [5]

Such is the teaching of Him from whose lips shall go forth the weal or the woe, the blessing or the blighting, of each soul for eternity. And if, as I read it, it tells us that at his Second Appearing all are to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and all to be then disposed of personally, finally, eternally, of course it follows that any millennial reign of Christ and risen saints over mortal saints, or men in mortal and corruptible bodies at all, is out of the question; the whole mortal state being then at an end.

Let us next hear His inspired apostles, limiting ourselves still to such passages as seem the plainest, and least disputable.

“The times of this ignorance (said Paul to the Pagan philosophers of Athens) God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent; because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom fie hath ordained, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts xvii. 30, 31). Observe here (1) the strict universality of this judgment; it is a judgment of “the world.” What this means is put beyond doubt both by what precedes and by what follows. “The times of this ignorance,” during which the whole world outside the pale of Judaism lapsed into idolatry, “God winked at”—”suffering all nations in times past to walk in their own ways” (Acts xiv. 16); but now that this is at an end, God will no longer tolerate such departure from Him, but “now commandeth all men everywhere to repent, because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world,” giving assurance of this “unto all men, in that He hath raised from the dead that Man whom He hath ordained” to be their Judge. Now since this was uttered as a warning to his Athenian auditors not to trifle with the message he was bringing them, surely “the world,” which the apostle says is to be “judged,” must have been meant to include themselves; in other words, that it would be a judgment, not of the living only, still less of saints only, but of “all men everywhere.” Observe (2) the character of this judgment—personal and final: “God hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness.” Mark (3) the definite time at which all this is to be done—He “hath appointed a day” for this transaction. [6]

Again, “After thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou (unbelieving Jew) treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds; to them who by patient continuance in well-doing, etc. (that is, the righteous), eternal life; but unto them that do not obey the truth, etc. (the wicked), tribulation and anguish… in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom. ii. 5—16). Here again we have (1) the character of the judgment—personal (“every man according to his deeds,” yea, “the secrets of men”), and universal (embracing not only the receivers and rejecters of Christ together, but the heathen, who never had the Gospel to receive or reject—”the Gentiles which have not the “written law,” but have it “written in their hearts”). Mark (2) the time when all these classes are to meet, and be judged together—”in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” This the apostle calls emphatically “his gospel,” that is, the great circle of truths which he everywhere preached, carrying in the bosom of its message of grace the vengeance awaiting all the rejecters of it. And all this will be, according to his representation of it, one unbroken transaction.

“Wherefore we labour that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether they be good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord we persuade men” (2 Cor. v. 9—11). If this does not proclaim that genuine and false-hearted Christians are to appear together, and that the personal, righteous, final judgment of both classes is to be one transaction. I must repeat that I despair of making sense of anything that the New Testament says on this or on any other subject.

One other similar passage, which seems to speak for itself, I may quote: “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord shall be revealed from heaven, [7] with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and on them [another class] that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power, when He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in them that believed [8] in that day” (2 Thess. i. 6—10). In what conceivable language could one hope to convey more clearly, variously, and emphatically than is here done these great truths—that the “tribulation” awaiting the persecutors, and the “rest” of the persecuted saints will be awarded to both at the same time; that this will be “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire”; that He will then “take vengeance both on the heathen, who know not God,” and on those who, though they have heard it, “obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and more particularly that they are to be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and admired in all that believed,” even “in that day”? Now since this was written to cheer the persecuted Thessalonians with the assurance of a final “rest” along with himself (“rest with us”), of course it must mean that they would rise to receive it, just as their persecutors would rise to receive at the same time “the tribulation to be recompensed to them.”

The only other passage I might refer to on this head is the grand resurrection chapter, 1 Cor. xv. But as it may come up again under another head, I will pass from it at present with this one remark—that though it treats only of the resurrection of believers, because what the apostle had to say of it would apply only to them, premillennial brethren should beware of inferring from this that the righteous only are to rise at what time the trumpet shall sound. For annihilationists argue from exactly the same premises, and on just as good ground, that the righteous only are to rise at all—the wicked being punished by ceasing to exist. [8]

Thus, then, I read the New Testament; and so reading it, I find the whole ground for a millennial reign over a world of mortal men, after Christ’s Second glorious Appearing, swept from under my feet; mortality being brought to an end by the Second Advent, the judgment of the world then taking place, and “these going away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”

Notes & References

1.  ***.

2. ***.

3. ***.

4. Two words are used in the Now Testament for “world”— the one (***) pointing to its external “order and beauty;” the other (***) viewing it as conditioned by “time.” And since space and time are the two notions under which we speak of all things here below, it comes to pass that the same things arc both “seen and temporal,” and the world” itself may be denoted quite as correctly by the word which points to its time divisions, as by the other word. Certainly it is so in Heb. xi. 3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed (***) by the word of God”—meaning, not the ages or dispensations, but the palpable universe (compare Psa. xxxiii. 6)—”so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Manifestly, it is created objects which are here meant, and in this sense the best critics understand the word in the parable of the Tares. Dean Alford, for example, though premillennial in his views, so renders it in his “Revision” of the Authorized Version.

5. It is beside the purpose of these papers to go into detailed examination of other interpretations of the passages above quoted; else it would not be difficult. I believe, to show that the attempt to make the judgment of Matt. xxv. to be a temporal judgment—a judgment of “nations” as nations, not of individuals, and for time, not eternity—is excessively harsh, not to say intolerable; further, that the perspective theory of Mr. Birks, by which two events, separated by a thousand years, are here understood to be seen at a distance as one event, is against the plain sense of the whole three pictures; and once more, that any view of the parable of the virgins which would limit “the wise’ class to the expectants of a premillennial advent (which I should have thought no one would have ventured on, did I not hear and read it from sensible people), and which would make even “the foolish” to mean unready believers, not to be finally shut out from Christ—is what they incur very serious responsibility, I think, who broach and maintain.

6. But since “a day” is an indefinite time, which may last a thousand years as well as twenty-four hours, why (it is asked) may not the judgment of the righteous take place at the beginning, and that of the wicked at the end of it? Of course, whatever length of time the judgment may take, so long will its “day” last. But let me ask any reverential and impartial student of the New Testament whether such a heterogeneous set of things as are expected to occur from first to last can be legitimately brought within the limits of this “day”—the resurrection of the dead, and the change of the living, to meet the Lord in the air; a visible descent of these to the earth, to reign over the converted and pestered Jews and over the Christianized Gentiles, all walking by faith in the midst of sight, for a thousand years; and then the resurrection and judgment of all the wicked dead—let me put it, I say, to candid readers whether the words, “He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world,” can be so understood as to include all these heterogeneous things without violence to the natural meaning of language.

7. Literally, “in” or ” at the revelation of the Lord Jesus,” etc.

8. *** is the true reading; the received reading (***) has next to no support.

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