Big Difference Between the Two Systems
The basic difference between Covenant Amillennialism and
There is an easy approach to discussing the basic difference between these two systems, for those who are learning about them.
To begin with, it should be understood that both systems are the result of Bible studying people of the Reform persuasion, and no truly systematized exposition of the whole Bible ever really existed prior to that time. Although the ancient Church was progressing in a positive direction, apostasy cut the effort short, and most all progress and insight in Scriptural exposition was lost through Roman Catholicism and the Dark Ages.
Of the two systems, Covenant Amillennialism was the first to emerge, in the first part of the seventeenth century. Johannes Cocceius is credited as it's chief architect. It sees the Bible as a presentation of but one religion concerning but one peoples--the elect throughout all ages--and it sees the crucifixion and salvation of this "elect" as the central doctrine of the Holy Bible.
Dispensational Premillennialism was the second to emerge, in the first part of the nineteenth century. John Darby is credited as it's chief architect. It sees the Bible as containing at least three or more religions and peoples, and it sees the renewal of the creation through the Messiah's Reign as the central doctrine of the Holy Bible, salvation of individuals being a mere sub-category in the divine plan - "God all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28).
With the above in mind, the question that needs to be asked of both systems is this:
What occurred at the transition?
What occurred at the first century transition from Judaism to Christianity?
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer understood the significance of this particular issue in the whole scheme of things. He describes the situation as follows:
"Due thought should be given to the need of divine wisdom in introducing to earnest men the successive steps in the greatest transition the world has ever experienced, namely, one from Judaism to Christianity. The stupendous change which demands the new birth of Nicodemus and the regeneration of Saul of Tarsus is not clarified or even approached by a Covenant theology which, while embracing a unifying idealism respecting a supposed single divine purpose, can ride unconsciously over these mighty changes as though they did not exist." - Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol.5, pp.239-240
"Judaism has its field of theology with its soteriology and its eschatology. That these factors of a system which occupies three-fourths of the Sacred Text are unrecognized and ignored by theologians does not demonstrate their nonexistence, nor does it prove their unimportance. A Covenant Theology engenders the notion that there is but one soteriology and one eschatology, and that ecclesiology, such as it is conceived to be, extends from the Garden of Eden to the great white throne. The insuperable problems in exegesis which such fanciful suppositions engender are easily disposed of by ignoring them. On the other hand, Scripture is harmonized and its message clarified when two divinely appointed systems--Judaism and Christianity--are recognized and their complete and distinctive characters are observed. No matter how orthodox they may be in matters of inspiration, the Deity of Christ, His virgin birth, and the efficacy of His death, Covenant theologians have not been forward in Bible exposition." - Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol.4, p.248
I think the easiest and quickest way to describe the difference between the two systems is to focus on the transition which occurred, approximately AD 30, in which an age of Judaism came to an end, and the era of the Christian Church began. Why did that happen? What exactly happened then? Who was effected? How were they effected? Is there any continuity between the two ages? If so, what are they and what do they mean? Did Bible prophecy talk about a time an age for Israel would end? Does it describe this end? Does it describe the age which is to follow afterward? These questions are answered quite differently by the two systems.
Below is an illustration of the state of affairs at the time of Christ's first advent:
At the time of Christ's first advent, the prophesied Kingdom of God had not yet come. Yes, contrary to the assumption of many, Jesus Christ's first advent ministry actually took place during the Old Covenant dispensation for Israel. It may come as a surprise to some to discover that Jesus was in fact an Old Covenant Jew. His first advent ministry took place under the dispensation of Mosaic Law. This is why the New Testament opens with the ministry of John Baptist and then of Jesus, proclaiming that "the times were fulfilled" and "the Kingdom of God was at hand." A transition--for Israel--from an Old Covenant pre-kingdom era to the New Covenant era of Messiah's Kingdom was anticipated at the time of Christ's advent (Daniel 9:24; Jeremiah 31:27-40; John 1:45).
Now, remember those questions I listed above? Start asking them to yourself.
The big difference
The Covenant Amillennial system suggests that what we have here, with the transition in the first century A.D., is actually a remarkable metamorphosis in which Israel was changed into a new kind of people-group, whom then entered into the New Covenant blessings of the Messianic Kingdom. This view is illustrated as follows:
So, Covenant Amillennialism basically sees the Christian Church as the fulfillment of the Messianic Kingdom era in which Israel enjoys a New Covenant relationship to God. Simple enough, eh? We'll discuss some of the problems with this view later in the article.
Now here is concept as held by the Dispensational Premillennial system:
As you can see, the Dispensational Premillennial view regards the Christian Church as an additional pre-kingdom era. Further, this era does not pertain to the people Israel, and was not prophesied in the Old Testament. A little harder to grasp than the other position, eh? It might seem that way at first, but with Bible study and time it will become clear to you that this is the correct understanding of God's plan.
The big problem
Problems for the Covenant Amillennial view are countless, but I want to bring forth here what I believe to be the biggest flaw of the Covenant Amillennial position. This flaw is so serious and unanswerable, it leaves only premillennialism as the valid view and should cause people to seriously consider adopting the Dispensational Premillennial model.
The problem for Covenant Amillennialism is: When did the Great Tribulation take place? You see, Scripture provides a very clear and extensive chronology of events leading up to the establishment of the Kingdom, and the brief period immediately prior to it is that famous "Great Tribulation" you've heard about. Compare Daniel 2:34-35, 43-44; Daniel 7:11-14, 23-27; Daniel 9:24-27; Daniel ch. 11:36-12:13; Jeremiah ch. 30-31; Zechariah ch. 13:7-14:11; Matthew ch. 24:15-25:46; Revelation 20:4, and all other prophetic passages providing the chronology of events leading up to the establishing of the Messianic Kingdom. We know the Great Tribulation was yet future when the Apostle Paul penned his second letter to the Thessalonians in the 50's A.D. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4), so any attempt to place the start of the Kingdom at the cross (or wherever they place it) is doomed from the start.
Here, I'll show you what I mean. Some Covenant Amillennialists think the Great Tribulation will be toward the close of the Messianic Kingdom, as illustrated below:
Strangely, this notion can be found in Augustine as follows:
"'And he cast him into the abyss,'—i.e., cast the devil into the abyss. By the abyss is meant the countless multitude of the wicked whose hearts are unfathomably deep in malignity against the Church of God; not that the devil was not there before, but he is said to be cast in thither, because, when prevented from harming believers, he takes more complete possession of the ungodly. For that man is more abundantly possessed by the devil who is not only alienated from God, but also gratuitously hates those who serve God. 'And shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years should be fulfilled.' 'Shut him up,'—i.e., prohibited him from going out, from doing what was forbidden. And the addition of 'set a seal upon him' seems to me to mean that it was designed to keep it a secret who belonged to the devil’s party and who did not. For in this world this is a secret, for we cannot tell whether even the man who seems to stand shall fall, or whether he who seems to lie shall rise again. But by the chain and prison-house of this interdict the devil is prohibited and restrained from seducing those nations which belong to Christ, but which he formerly seduced or held in subjection. For before the foundation of the world God chose to rescue these from the power of darkness, and to translate them into the kingdom of the Son of His love, as the apostle says. For what Christian is not aware that he seduces nations even now, and draws them with himself to eternal punishment, but not those predestined to eternal life? And let no one be dismayed by the circumstance that the devil often seduces even those who have been regenerated in Christ, and begun to walk in God’s way. For 'the Lord knoweth them that are His,' and of these the devil seduces none to eternal damnation. For it is as God, from whom nothing is hid even of things future, that the Lord knows them; not as a man, who sees a man at the present time (if he can be said to see one whose heart he does not see), but does not see even himself so far as to be able to know what kind of person he is to be. The devil, then, is bound and shut up in the abyss that he may not seduce the nations from which the Church is gathered, and which he formerly seduced before the Church existed. For it is not said 'that he should not seduce any man,' but 'that he should not seduce the nations'—meaning, no doubt, those among which the Church exists—'till the thousand years should be fulfilled,'—i.e., either what remains of the sixth day which consists of a thousand years, or all the years which are to elapse till the end of the world. . . . But when the short time comes he shall be loosed. For he shall rage with the whole force of himself and his angels for three years and six months; and those with whom he makes war shall have power to withstand all his violence and stratagems. And if he were never loosed, his malicious power would be less patent, and less proof would be given of the steadfast fortitude of the holy city: it would, in short, be less manifest what good use the Almighty makes of his great evil. For the Almighty does not absolutely seclude the saints from his temptation, but shelters only their inner man, where faith resides, that by outward temptation they may grow in grace. And He binds him that he may not, in the free and eager exercise of his malice, hinder or destroy the faith of those countless weak persons, already believing or yet to believe, from whom the Church must be increased and completed; and he will in the end loose him, that the city of God may see how mighty an adversary it has conquered, to the great glory of its Redeemer, Helper, Deliverer. And what are we in comparison with those believers and saints who shall then exist, seeing that they shall be tested by the loosing of an enemy with whom we make war at the greatest peril even when he is bound? Although it is also certain that even in this intervening period there have been and are some soldiers of Christ so wise and strong, that if they were to be alive in this mortal condition at the time of his loosing, they would both most wisely guard against, and most patiently endure, all his snares and assaults. . . ." - excerpt from Augustine, The City of God, Book 20, ch.7-9
Augustine, The City of God, Book 20, ch.7
Augustine, The City of God, Book 20, ch.8
Augustine, The City of God, Book 20, ch.9
Some do not see significance to Augustine's statements regarding the final revolt--even the 3 1/2 years he ascribes to it--and understand him to have held a view more along the lines illustrated below:
Either way, both views contradict all of prophetic chronology in the Holy Bible. The Great Tribulation does not occur at the end of the Kingdom, nor is the Great Tribulation perios one-and-the-same-as the Kingdom period. How can a person possibly read Revelation 20:4, then make the mistake that the Great Tribulation is described in Revelation 20:7-10? A simpleton error, indeed. And the idea that the Great Tribulation runs concurrent with the Messianic Kingdom is utterly contrary to all Biblical prophecy pertaining to the Messianic Kingdom in which we find universal peace, justice, righteousness and worship of Yahweh.
Another view exists, illustrated below, and these people place the Great Tribulation at 70 A.D.
This is the preterist view. This view also fails to place the Great Tribulation prior to the Messianic Kingdom, and is therefore as unbiblical as any other of the confused spiritualized positions.
When you study Covenant Amillennialism, you'll soon discover that they don't know what the Great Tribulation is, when it allegedly was (or is, or will be), and they have to spiritualize the meaning out of it. They don't know what the Kingdom is, or when it allegedly began. Some think it began at Christ's baptism, some think during his miracles, some say at the cross, some at His resurrection, some at His ascension, some say it began on Pentecost, some say it began at 70 A.D., some reject all of these starting points, and some accept all of the starting points despite the glaring contradiction. They have to move the return of the Lord to the end of the Kingdom age, over against all Bible prophecy. There is not anywhere in Scripture an "advent of Messiah" at the end of the Kingdom. The very notion is stupid on the face of it. In denying the premillennial advent of Messiah, they find themselves denying the premillennial resurrection of the righteous to reign with Christ in his Kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:51), and find themselves inventing a single, universal resurrection event which contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture in many, many places (Luke 20:35; Philippians 3:11). Their main reason for believing as they do is this: "John Calvin held it." Covenant Amillennialists have nothing helpful to offer you in the way of Scriptural exposition.
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