Were Jesus and His Disciples Premillennial?

In March 2007, Grace Community Church (home of John Macarthur) held its annual Shepherd’s Conference. It was during this conference that John Macarthur gave a pretty controversial address concerning eschatology. It was entitled, “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is a Premillennialist.” I know you are probably thinking, “Dude. 2007 was a while ago. Get with the times!” Well, this was banging around in my brain earlier as I was discussing the kingdom of God with a brother. I don’t want to comment on Macarthur’s talk in total. A lot can be said about it, especially in regard to the “replacement theology” accusations. I definitely plan to write more about these topics in the future, but for this post, I really just want to briefly nail a particular point he made.In one portion, he makes the point that the disciples did not believe the kingdom would come spiritually, as shown in their questions directed to Jesus in Acts 1. Here is what John Macarthur said:

And so during this 40 days, Jesus is speaking. What’s He speaking about? Listen to this. “Speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God. And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised which He said you heard of from Me, for John baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” For 40 days, okay? 4-0, He taught them concerning the Kingdom of God. Verse 6, here’s the telling verse, “So when they had come together, they were asking Him saying…” listen to this question, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the Kingdom to Israel?” Do you understand the importance of that question? They had just had 40 days of instruction about the Kingdom of God and after 40 days of instruction concerning the Kingdom of God, they only had one question…and the question is not…why did You cancel the Kingdom? The question is not…why is the Kingdom now spiritual and not for Israel? They have one question, verse 6, “Is it at this time You are restoring the Kingdom to Israel.” He must in 40 days have affirmed to them unmistakably that the Kingdom promised to Israel was still coming. The only question was…what?…when? It’s unmistakable. And this is His response in verse 7, “Where did you get that crazy idea?” Is that what it says? “Where did you get that wacky notion? Have I wasted My 40 days trying to tell you that you’ve been replaced and you don’t get it? You blockheads.”

We have no idea what Christ was telling them about the kingdom during the 40 days because it is not disclosed to us. Matthew 13, for instance, is a passage within the gospels in which Christ offers parables concerning the kingdom. Does He spend His time offering the views of the futuristic understanding of the millennial kingdom? No. He speaks largely of the cost. Does He ever speak of the kingdom given back to the Jews? Never. He only mentions that it will be taken from them.

To argue from the disciples’ ignorance seems to be a little foolish. The disciples had proven to be very ignorant of many of the teachings of Christ before Pentecost. For one, they needed parables explained to them (Matthew 13:36; 15:15). Secondly, Peter wanted to build tabernacles for Moses and Elijah when Christ was transfigured before Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:5). Thirdly, the disciples were saddened by the death of Christ (Mark 16:10, Luke 24:17). Fourthly, the disciples didn’t believe Mary Magdalene when she told them that Christ came back from the dead (Mark 16:11; 13) – and you may have thought that Thomas was the only one who doubted?

The disciples’ very question about the kingdom showed ignorance in their understanding. Jesus simply told them that the time had not yet come, and that times were not for them to know. He then assured them that they would have power when the Spirit came upon them. Christ knew that when the Spirit came upon them, they would understand the nature of the kingdom. It’s arguable that not even until the conversion of the Gentiles did they fully understand, since many of them were indignant concerning the Gentile conversion. The kingdom was taken from national Israel, and given to a people that would bear the fruit of it (Matthew 21:43). Consider what Christ’s response was to the Pharisees, who also had a similar question concerning the kingdom:

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Luke 17:20-21

Why didn’t the disciples recall these words of Jesus in Acts 1 when they had asked Him the same exact question that the Pharisees did? Why didn’t Jesus say, “I already answered this question!”

Daniel had a vision of the inauguration of Christ’s reign in Daniel 7:

“I saw in the night visions and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14

This is a vision in which “one like a son of man” came before the Ancient of Days, the Father, and was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom. This was where Christ went after His ascension in Acts 1. “A cloud took Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), and “with the clouds of heaven” He was “presented” before the Father. (Daniel 7:13).

The kingdom of God has been on the earth for a very long time. It is comprised of the children of God. Oftentimes, people view it as being a future “event,” or even something that is only partially revealed, but when Christ returns, the kingdom will really be here. This isn’t true. I’m not saying that this is “as good as it gets,” but that doesn’t mean that the kingdom of God will become more real or something. Christ said it Himself,

“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Many people confuse the state of things post-second coming as the kingdom, confusing a restored state of things as the kingdom. Confusing physical things with spiritual. They are looking to something physical… like a castle or something.

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24

If you’d like to view the transcript of what MAcarthur said, or even give it a listen, please click here.

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