In 2007, John MacArthur delivered “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist” at the March 2007 Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church. The premise of MacArthur’s talk was based on the everlasting covenant with Israel. MacArthur, who believes in “sovereign election” as it relates to individual salvation, is surprised that many of his sovereign grace colleagues who are amillennial and postmillennial do not hold to the sovereign election of Israel. He concludes that only premillennialists take Israel’s national election seriously. His logic goes like this: If you believe in the sovereign election of the individual, then you must be a premillennialist since only premillennialists hold to the sovereign election of Israel.
What MacArthur and other premillennialists fail to admit is that God’s covenant made with Israel has nothing to do with premillennialism since Israel is not mentioned in Revelation 20. That’s right. The chapter that is supposed to be about the restoration of Israel to the land with Jesus reigning on the earth is not found in Revelation 20. In fact, there is not a single verse in the New Testament that says anything about Israel returning to their land as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future
Nearly every prophecy book being published today points to the Gog and Magog alliance as evidence that we are living in the Last Days, and the world is on the eve of an inevitable destructive war and the death of billions. Ezekiel 38 & 39 are being used by today's prophecy writers as a prophetic blueprint for our time. These same prophecy writers almost never tell their readers that there is a long history of failed predictions based on these two chapters.Buy Now
To claim that only premillennialists take the promises made to Israel seriously is an exercise in historical revisionism and exegetical manipulation especially. Most of the following historical information is adopted from Peter J. Leithart’s chapters in The Reduction of Christianity.
The future place of Israel in prophecy has had a long history among non-premillennial Calvinists, something MacArthur should know. Theodore Beza (1519–1605), John Calvin’s successor in Geneva, taught, according to English theologian Thomas Brightman, that the world would “be restored from death to life again, at the time when the Jews should also come, and be called to the profession of the Gospel.” Martin Bucer (1491–1551), the reformer of Strasbourg and perhaps the continental Reformer who had the most direct influence on English Puritanism, wrote in a 1568 commentary on Romans that Paul prophesied a future conversion of the Jewish people. As J. A. DeJong points out in his As the Waters Cover the Sea, Peter Martyr Virmigli (1499–1562), Bucer’s associate in Strasbourg, agreed.
In England, the place of the Jews in prophecy was a prominent issue in the seventeenth century and was most true among the generally postmillennial English and Scottish Puritans. Iain Murray summarizes the seventeenth-century concern for Israel in this way:
The future of the Jews had decisive significance for them because they believed that, though little is clearly revealed of the future purposes of God in history, enough has been given us in Scripture to warrant the expectation that with the calling of the Jews there will come far-reaching blessing for the world. Puritan England and Covenanting Scotland knew much of spiritual blessing and it was the prayerful longing for wider blessing, not a mere interest in unfulfilled prophecy, which led them to give such place to Israel.
This emphasis fits neatly into what many modern-day postmillennialists believe: The latter-day glory of the Church will be inaugurated by the conversion of the Jews to Christ; this is what Paul meant when he said that the conversion of the Jews would be “life from the dead” (Rom. 11:15). There were other views of Paul’s prophecy in seventeenth-century England. One school of interpretation claimed that Romans 11:26 (“all Israel shall be saved”) referred not to a future dramatic conversion of the Jews but to the gradual conversion of the Jews throughout history, a view that is popular among many amillennialists today.
Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope provides abundant documentation of the postmillennial concern for Israel. This view was advanced in the 1560 Geneva Bible and Peter Martyr’s commentary on Romans (1568). Scottish theologian Charles Ferme, writing sometime in the late sixteenth century, argued that Paul indicated that “when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have been brought in, the great majority of the Israelitish people are to be called, through the gospel, to the God of their salvation, and shall profess and own Jesus Christ, whom, formerly, that is, during the time of hardening, they denied.”
In a 1635 letter, the Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford expressed a wish to live to see the conversion of the Jews:
O to see the sight, next to Christ’s Coming in the clouds, the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon one another’s necks and kiss each other! They have been long asunder; they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, thee and the ancient people in mutual embraces.
Rutherford, a postmillennialist, found a place for Israel in prophecy, and, just as clearly, it was an important element in his view of prophecy, second only to the Second Coming of Christ.
William Perkins, a leading Puritan teacher and writer, taught that there would be a future national conversion of the Jews. Similarly, Richard Sibbes wrote that “The Jews are not yet come in under Christ’s banner; but God, that hath persuaded Japhet to come into the tents of Shem, will persuade Shem to come into the tents of Japhet.” Elnathan Parr’s 1620 commentary on Romans espoused the view that there would be two “fullnesses” of the Gentiles: one prior to the conversion of the Jews and one following: “The end of this world shall not be till the Jews are called, and how long after that none yet can tell.”
Speaking before the House of Commons in 1649, during the Puritan Revolution, John Owen, a postmillennial theologian, spoke about “the bringing home of [God’s] ancient people to be one fold with the fulness of the Gentiles … in answer to millions of prayers put up at the throne of grace, for this very glory, in all generations.” Owen even believed, as he explained in his popular 1677 book, Israel Redux, that the Jews would someday return to the land of Palestine.
Contrary to MacArthur, the historical record demonstrates that postmillennial Calvinists had developed a prophetic role for the Jews hundreds of years before Scofield. The books and articles that make this case are not obscure or difficult to find. Iain Murray, the author of The Puritan Hope, a book that makes the historical case against MacArthur’s claims, spoke at the Shepherds’ Conference in 2001.
What did MacArthur fail to tell the attendees at the Shepherds’ Conference? In the mid-seventeenth century, the Westminster Larger Catechism, in the answer to Question 191, displayed the hope for the future conversion of the Jews. Part of what we pray for in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” is that “the gospel [be] propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in.” In his commentary on the Larger Catechism, Thomas Ridgeley (1667–1734) wrote, “Hence, we cannot but suppose that those prophecies which respect [to the conversion of the Jews], in the latter-day, together with the fullness of the Gentiles being brought in, shall be more eminently accomplished than they have hitherto been.” Ridgeley spends several pages refuting “ancient and modern Chiliasts, or Millennarians” and defending what can only be described as postmillennialism over against premillennialism.
We freely own, as what we think agreeable to scripture, that as Christ has, in all ages, displayed his glory as King of the Church, so we have ground to conclude, from scripture, that the administration of his government in this world, before his coming to judgment, will be attended with greater magnificence, more visible marks of glory, and various occurrences of providence, which shall tend to the welfare and happiness of his church, in a greater degree than has been beheld or experienced by it, since it was planted by the ministry of the apostles after his ascension into heaven. This we think to be the sense, in general, of those scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament, which speak of the latter‑day glory.
* * * * *
We have, hence, sufficient ground to conclude, that, when these prophecies shall have their accomplishment, the interest of Christ shall be the prevailing interest in the world, which it has never yet been in all respects; so that godliness shall be as much and as universally valued and esteemed, as it has hitherto been decried, and it shall be reckoned as great an honour to be a Christian, as it has, in the most degenerate age of the church, been matter of reproach…. In short, there shall be, as it were, a universal spread of religion and holiness to the Lord, throughout the world.
This is postmillennialism. Ridgeley knew his history well enough to know that the majority of theologians in the seventeenth century held to an advancing kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel which includes the future conversion of the Jews. Amillennialist Johannes G. Vos, in his commentary on the Larger Catechism, takes a similar view.
How do the amillennial and postmillennial views differ from what premillennialists teach? Premillennialists teach that during a future seven-year period that includes the Great Tribulation, Israel will come under severe persecution from the Antichrist and his followers resulting in the slaughter of two-thirds of the Jews living in Israel based on Zechariah 13:7–9. Only then will a remnant of Israel — the one-third — reign with Jesus during the thousand years. I’ll deal with this issue in tomorrow’s article.
On February 23, 2013 Gary DeMar participated in ‘Revelation: An Evangelical Symposium with Sam Waldron and James Hamilton. The participants barely scratched the surface in their presentations. A great deal was left unsaid and unchallenged. That’s to be expected. Because there was not an opportunity to respond to a number of claims and charges made by Mr. Hamilton, who holds a historic premillennial position, and Mr. Waldron, who advocates for amillennialism, Mr. DeMar decided to respond in print with this short book.Buy Now
Quotations from J. A. DeJong, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millennial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-America Missions, 1640–1810 (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1970), 9.
Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (London: The Banner of truth Trust, 1971), 59–60.
Quoted in Murray, The Puritan Hope, 64–65.
Quoted in Murray, The Puritan Hope, 98.
All quotations from DeJong, As the Waters Cover the Sea, 27–28.
Quoted in Murray, Puritan Hope, 100.
Peter Toon, God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), 152.
Thomas Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, 2 vols. (Edmonton, AB Canada: Still Waters Revival Books,  1993), 2:621. Ridgeley’s original work was titled A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Explained and Defended, Being the Substance of Several Lectures on the Assembly’s Larger Catechism and was published in 1731.
Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, 1:558–562.
Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, 1:562.
Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, 1:563–564.
Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, ed. G. I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 552–553.