Friday, April 25, 2008

A Literal Birth and a Figurative Throne?

The prophecy of Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:30-33 is an interesting one for amillennialists.

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."

Every evangelical amillennialist takes the first part of this prophecy literally. They believe that a literal young lady will literally become pregnant and will have an literal son, who will literally be named Jesus. (If you deny this, you are not an evangelical.)

But then these same evangelical amillennialists take a strange turn when they deny that this literal son literally named Jesus born to a literal young woman will literally rule on the throne of David over the house of Jacob.

They suddenly resort to a spiritual interpretation that the throne of David (which historically was in Jerusalem) is now found in the heart of believers everywhere, and that that house of Jacob (which in the Old Testament was unquestionably a reference to the ethnic descendants of Jacob) is now an amalgamation of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

The only thing I cannot figure out is why they make this sudden change in hermeneutics. There is no textual reason to make a change, and no necessary theological reason. Mary certainly would not have understood some type of spiritual kingdom.

This sudden switch, as best as I can tell, arises, not from the text, but from a precommitment to not having a literal fulfillment of this prophecy.

But why this precommitment? That is what I have never understood.


Anonymous said...


I. Which evangelical amillennialist denies that Jesus will literally rule on the throne of David over the house of Jacob?

A) The opposite of "literal" is not "spiritual". Some truth is literally material and some is literally spiritual. The opposite of "literal" is "figurative" or "metaphorical" or "allegorical".

B) Unless premillenialists believe that the actual chair in which David sat has been preserved somewhere and will be brought out of storage and given to Jesus to use for the duration of the "millenium", then they must admit to reading "throne of David" figuratively or metaphorically -- "Throne" meaning the office/position/place of rule.

C) Amillennialists would certainly not oppose reading "throne" in that way. However, the amillennialists I know still believe that Jesus will literally/materially rule over the house of Jacob forever from a literally/material throne in Jerusalem -- the new Jerusalem. Currently, Jesus is reigning over the house of Jacob from heaven and in the hearts of his people. But, one day, he will return and reign from the figurative/material throne of David in the literal/material New Jerusalem for a literal forever -- not a mere 1,000years.

D) I've already said that the amillennillialists I know do not believe that Christ's kingdom will be exclusively spiritual (it will be spiritual and material -- even today the church is quite material). Even so, I'm not sure how speculating about what Mary would have understood helps in this discussion at all. Do premillenialists think that Mary's thoughts were inerrant?

E) There certainly is textual and theological reason to believe that the house of Jacob includes more than the ethnic descendants of Jacob. Here are just a few texts which make it clear that Jacob's house has expanded beyond his gene pool: Romans 4:1-14, Romans 9:6-8, Romans 9:25-27, Romans 11:11-26, I Corinthians 10:17, Galations 6:15-16, Ephesians 2:11-14, Colossians 2:11-17

II. What I can't figure out is on what hermeneutical or textual basis does a premillennialist find "the millenium" (as they understand it) addressed in Luke 1:30-33? And, do premillenialists believe that Jesus will reign on the literal, material throne seat of David in Jerusalem forever, or only for a thousand literal years? If they don't think he'll sit in that seat in that city forever, then why the sudden change in hermeneutics (since the text literally says forever)?

Could it be that premillenialists have a precommitment to their understanding of prophecy that causes them to see things like "the millenium" where it isn't even being addressed? If so, why?


Larry said...

I. All of them, so far as I know. I would think this would be obvious given that the foundation of amillennialism is a kingdom now rather than a kingdom future.

A. Of course. But hardly on point.

B. The "throne of David" is certainly a metaphor for his kingdom and rule. Amillennialists deny that Jesus will rule in that kingdom.

C. You make my point. The "throne of David" was never in a new Jerusalem. The text has to be recharacterized to reach such a conclusion. That does not arise from the text but from a precommitment to a position. The only way that position works is if you change the meaning of "throne of David" and Jerusalem" without warrant, and in a way that is different than the way you treat the rest of the language of the passage.

D. "Speculating" about Mary's thoughts goes to the nature of communication. Heremeneutically, the task is to determine what the original hearer would have understood the message to mean.

E. I am not aware of any textual warrant for the house of Jacob being changed to be more than the ethnic descendants of Jacob. Those texts you offer certainly do not teach such, apart from the presupposition that such a conclusion is justified. If you did not start with that conclusion, you would never find it there. And even starting with it, it is exceedingly hard to support.

II. The textual basis for a millennium in Luke 1:30-33 is the promise that the son of Mary will rule on the throne of David. That has not yet happened, and thus we conclude that it is 1) in the future, or 2) won't happen (which has significant implications).

Jesus will rule from the throne of David for 1000 years, until this world is completely destroyed and the New heavens and the new earth are created.

I can't speak for other premillennialists, but I believe that my precommitment is to Scripture, the nature of language, and the nature of communication. Given that, I can't just switch hermeneutics in teh middle of a verse in order to support a theory.

So the precommitment is not to an understanding of prophecy, but to an understanding of language and communication.

Anonymous said...

You have changed your hermeneutic in the middle of a verse. The verse literally says that Jesus will reign from the throne of David over the house of Jacob forever in a kingdom that will have no end. Yet, you change "forever" and "no end" into 1,000 years.

You say that "the foundation of amillennialism is a kingdom now rather than a kingdom future." However, that is absolutely not true. Amillennialism believes in a kingdom which has already begun but which has not yet come in its fullness. Furthermore, this kingdom is forever. It is a kingdom now and future. So, again, I'll ask, can you name and quote an evangelical amillenialist denying that Jesus will literally rule on the throne of David over the house of Jacob forever?

You say, "The 'throne of David' is certainly a metaphor for his kingdom and rule. Amillennialists deny that Jesus will rule in that kingdom." However, they absolutely do not deny that Jesus will rule in that kingdom. They believe that he will rule in that kingdom forever.

You say, "The 'throne of David' was never in a new Jerusalem." You go on to say that the amillenialist position requires changing the meaning of "throne of David and Jerusalem . . ." Here it seems that you are missing the point because you are treating the Old Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem as completely different places/things. But, the new Jerusalem is just yesterday's and today's Jerusalem redeemed, restored, and glorified. Jerusalem is Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem is not something altogether different and other than the Jerusalem of David's time. The new Jerusalem is new in the way that you will be a new you after your resurrection. In that New, glorified Jerusalem, from the throne of David, Jesus will reign forever. And, I get forever right from Luke 1:30-33.

You say "Hermeneutically, the task is to determine what the original hearer would have understood the message to mean." Is that really the premillenialists' hermeneutic? To me, it seems much more important to determine what the passage was and is intended to teach -- whether or not the hearer understood it properly. The pharisees were the original hearers for much of the New Testament -- while I might want to determine what they understood, I do not want to share their understanding.

You say that the texts I offered do not teach that the house of Jacob includes more than the ethnic descendants of Jacob. How does, "Abraham is the father of all who believe whitout being circumcised" (Romans 4) not teach that gentile believers are descendants of the house of Jacob?How does "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches" (Romans 11) not teach that gentile believers have been made a part of the house of Jacob? Etc.

You say that Jesus will rule from the throne of David "for 1000 years." However, that time frame is not mentioned in this text. You say that after the 1000 years, "This world is completey destroyed and the New heavens and the new earth are created." However, destruction and creation are not mentioned in this text. What is the hermeneutic basis for reducing "forever" to 1000 and adding destruction and creation?

Every amillenialist I know will assert that his precommittment is to scripture just like you do. And, they will all deny a precommittment "to not having a literal fulfillment of this prophecy," just like you deny a precommitment to an understanding of prophecy.

So, maybe it would be more productive were we all to refrain from speculating about other people's precommittments and instead actually deal with their arguments and explanations.


Larry said...

First, you are surely aware that “forever” has a meaning of “for a very long time,” for which a thousand years certainly qualifies. Remember, some of your amillennialists friends want to define the “forever dwell in the land” promise of Genesis 15 promise to the reign of Solomon which is far less than 1000 years. Furthermore, such a “forever” can only exist as long as the land and kingdom exists. Since the Bible plainly declares that this earth will have an end, it is clear that the kingdom of David was never intended to be an eternal kingdomon earth, but one that would give way to an eternal kingdom.

Second, amillennialism does believe in a kingdom now that will come in its fullness in the eternal state. The problem with that is that it overlooks so many statements of Scripture that cannot be fulfilled either here or in the eternal state. Amillennialists, by definition, deny that Jesus will literally rule on the throne of David over the house of Jacob as the Bible describes, because they change “throne of David” to mean something that it did not mean in the Bible. If you read the Bible for an answer the question, “Where is the throne of David,” you will not find “human heart” or “heaven.” I can’t imagine you can dispute that. The only way an amillennialist can affirm Jesus ruling on the throne of David is by changing “throne of David” to mean something it never means in Scripture. And to me, that smacks of a precommitment to a position, no matter what the exegesis says.

As for the old Jerusalem and new Jerusalem, you accuse me of treating them as completely different things. Which is a good thing. 2 Peter 3 tells us that this world will be destroyed with a fervent heat and a new heavens and new earth will be created. That means that the old Jerusalem will completely cease to exist and a new Jerusalem will be created. So yes, they are completely different things. Again, I can’t imagine how you can dispute that.

You talk about original intent/understanding hermeneutics. That is basic biblical hermeneutics. If the reader/hearer would have misunderstood, God is in commitment ot communicate would have communicated it differently. I think here you are reading 21st century bias back on ancient clarity. There is no reason to think that the original reader would have misunderstood. The hermeneutical basis for “changing forever to 1000 and bringing in destruction and creation” is found in the meaning of the OT concept and context and in comparing Scripture with Scripture.

The answer to your verses is simply found in reading the texts in their context. They are both talking about the church, and neither brings Gentile church age believers into the OT covenants of promise to Israel, and as Gal 4 makes clear, the Law did not annul the promise. That means that the promise made to Israel is still good, which means there has to be a future restoration of the nation of Israel to the land. I think there are some difficult texts, but there is no biblical basis I know of for equating the house of Jacob to the church.

You say that it would be more productive to refrain from speculation. You will notice that my whole post was based on a question of trying to understand the precommitment to a position. I am not speculating on what they believe. I know what they believe and for the most part am pretty familiar with how they argue for it. I am questioning why they believe it.

I guess, Keith, all I can say is that your interaction here (while appreciated) has not furthered my understanding. I think it has revealed your own precommitment to a position that I find biblically untenable. It leaves too many promises of God unfulfilled for my conscience.

Anonymous said...


Regardless of what figurative uses one can make of "forever" (and yes I am aware that we can use that word colloquially to mean a very long time that is seemingly/figuratively endless) that word literally means "for a limitless time." Further, the immediate context of the use of "forever" in Luke 1 says that this forever reign will have "no end". If you are going to argue for a literal throne in a literal Jerusalem, on what basis do you justify a figurative "forever"? Again, if you are going to argue from what Mary would have understood, how can you justify equating forever with 1,000 years?

I don't see what the fact that some amillenialists tie "forever dwell in the land" to the reign of Solomon has to do with anything. You are the one demanding consistent literalism in Luke 1, but you are not using it. Why not?

You assert that the Bible plainly declares that this earth will have an end, but it does not make that declaration here. You assert that the kingdom of David was never intended to be an etenal kindom on earth, but one that would give way to an eternal kingdom -- but where will that eternal kingdom be? And, where does the Bible say all of this as plainly as you claim?

Saying that "'forever' can only exist as long as the kingdom" appears very much to be a case of you bringing a precommitment to this text. If I were to say my car will last forever and then, when it broke down two weeks later, defend my original claim by saying, "It did exist forever because it existed as long as it existed," every sensible person would laugh.

I have not said, nor do most amillenialists say, that the throne of David exists only in human hearts or heaven. The throne of David is wherever David's heir sits to reign. At present Christ, the last heir of David, reigns in the hearts of believers but he will return to rule in Jerusalem. I don't see what statements of Scripture this leaves unfulfilled. On the other hand, what do you do with the statement of Scripture that the Kingdom is within you?

As for 2 Peter 3, yes this world will be destroyed with a fervent heat. And, every human dies and decomposes (returns to dirt, eaten by worms, etc.). Nevertheless, dead and decomposed believers will resurrect and be glorified. They aren't completely different people when they resurrect, they are restored and glorified as Jesus was following his resurrection. The new heavens and the new earth are the current heavens and earth similarly restored. They have been destroyed and restored.

I am very familiar with the context of the two passages from Romans that I quoted. The one indicates that gentile believers (the church) are Abraham's descendants, the other says that the church has been grafted into Israel. The context does nothing to minimize those truths. The new testament is full of this teaching. I agree that the Law did not annul the promise, the promise stands, and all who have faith like Abraham will receive the promised blessings.

You claim to want to understand a precommitment to a position, but I am telling you that amillenialists don't interpret these verses as you say they do due to the precommittment you suggest. You claim to know what amillenialists believe, but you have not demonstrated accurate knowledge thus far.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the following comments might help further your understanding of what real amillenialists actually believe (this info can be found at, summaries are by Aaron Orendorff):

Graeme Goldsworthy, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology:
The third way in which the kingdom comes in the NT [the first being in and through the original Jesus-event and the second being in and through his people] is the future or eschatological consummation.
The kingdom comes through the ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel in all the world. It is both the reign and the realm of God for, although in the present age the locus of the kingdom in the world is diffuse, it is defined by the presence of Jesus at the right hand of the Father. It is both present and future until its consummation at Jesus’ return. It is also at least one possible theme by which biblical theology can be integrated. It is the focus of both creation and redemption: God’s plan of redemption is to bring in a new creation. The entire biblical story, despite its great diversity of forms and foci, is consistent in its emphasis on the reign of God over his people in the environment he creates for them. The kingdom depicted in Eden is lost to humankind at the beginning of the biblical account. The history of redemption begins immediately the kingdom is lost, and tells of the way the kingdom of God will finally be established as a new people of God in fellowship with him in a new Eden, a new Jerusalem, a new heavens and a new earth (620).

Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future:
Dispensationalists commonly say that we amillennialists spiritualize prophecies of this kind by understanding them as being fulfilled either in the church of this present age or in heaven in the age to come. I believe, however, that prophecies of this sort refer neither primarily to the church of this age nor to heaven, but to the new earth. The concept of the new earth is therefore of great importance for the proper approach to Old Testament prophecy. All too often, unfortunately, amillennial exegetes fail to keep biblical teaching on the new earth in mind when interpreting Old Testament prophecy. It is an impoverishment of the meaning of these passages to make them apply only to the church or to heaven. But it is also an impoverishment to make them refer to a thousand-year period preceding the final state. They must be understood as inspired descriptions of the glorious new earth God is preparing for his people (205-06).
Dispensationalists accuse us amillenarians of “spiritualizing” prophecies of this sort so as to miss their real meaning. John F. Walvoord, for example, says, “The many promises made to Israel are given one two treatments [by Amillennialists]. By the traditional Augustinian amillennialism, these promise are transferred by spiritualized interpretation to the church. The church today is the true Israel and inherits the promise which Israel lost in rejecting Christ. The other, more modern type of amillennialism hold that the promises of righteousness, peace and security are poetic pictures of heaven and fulfilled in heaven, not on earth.” On a later page, after quoting and referring to a number of prophetic passages about the future of the earth, Walvoord goes on to say, “By no theological alchemy should these and countless other references to earth as the sphere of Christ’ millennial reign be spiritualized to become the equivalent of heaven, the eternal sate, or the church as amillenarians have done.

To the above we may reply that prophecies of this sort should not be interpreted as referring either to the church of the present time or to heaven, if by heaven is meant a realm somewhere off in space, far away from earth. Prophecies of this nature should be understood as descriptions – in figurate language, to be sure – of the new earth which God will bring into existence after Christ comes again – a new earth which will last, not just for a thousand years, but forever. … There will be a future fulfillment of these prophecies, not in the millennium, but on the new earth. … It is, however, not correct to say that referring these prophecies to the new earth is to engage in a process of “spiritualization” (275-76).

Sam Storms, “The Kingdom of God: Already but Not Yet – Parts 1 & 2”: [Quoting Ladd] “As the messiahship of Christ involved two phases, a coming in humility to suffer and die, and a coming in power and glory to reign, so the kingdom is to be manifested in two realms: the present realm of righteousness or salvation when men may accept or reject the kingdom, and the future realm when the powers of the kingdom shall be manifested in visible glory. The former was inaugurated in insignificant beginnings without outward display, and those who accept it are to live intermingled with those who reject it until the consummation. Then the kingdom will be disclosed in a mighty manifestation of power and glory. God’s kingdom will come; and the ultimate state will witness the perfect realization of the will of God everywhere and forever.”
At the close of the old dispensation we are left with an as yet unfulfilled prophetic hope of God’s earthly rule over His people according to the promise given to the fathers. Since we have shown that the promised inheritance was neither forfeited nor fulfilled, what options are left?

[After dismissing the “figurative” or “heavenly/spiritual” fulfillment as “an impoverishment of the OT covenant promise”, Storms states] The land promise will yet be fulfilled, literally, earthly; but the question is “When”?

[The second of four answers Storms proposes reads] The promise of God’s earthly rule over His people has not changed, nor have believing Israelites been disinherited or displaced by the Church. The only change is that concerning the recipients of the promise: none has been deleted, but many have been added, i.e., believing Gentiles!

The second answer, proposed by Amillennialists, is the “new earth”, which inaugurates the eternal state. According to this view, the OT promise of a Messianic reign among God's people in the land will be literally fulfilled. It will be fulfilled, however, not on the present, unredeemed earth, but on the new earth described in Rev. 21-22.

[Storms then reviews the amillennial approach to the land promises – particularly as they are applied to Abraham in Hebrews 11-13 and Romans 4 – and concludes, as does N.T. Wright, that the land of Canaan is expanded in the NT to include the entire world. While Hebrews calls this city/country a “heavenly” one, Storms maintains,] Note well: although it is "transcendental", "eternal", and "heavenly", it is still a country. The point is that the patriarchs did not seek in the physical land of Canaan their everlasting possession. The focal point of the OT land promise was on land, to be sure, but on the heavenly land of the new earth with its central feature, the New Jerusalem.

The Abrahamic land promise, as well as prophecies such as Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 32:15; 35:2,7,10; 11:9, which speak of a restoration of the cosmos, are to be fulfilled on the new earth in the new creation, not on a millennial earth in the old one.


Larry said...

Thanks Keith.

I am familiar with with all of those men, though I have only read Storms and Hoekema. There is nothing new there to me, and nothing that addresses what I believe are the core issues. I have not found those arguments to be convincing in the least.

So I am sure we will continue to disagree on this.