I have been reading “The Thousand Years” by Nathaniel West – actually perusing might be a more accurate term. This book is long… and written in 1889. Most theological books written over a hundred years ago are near about torturous to read in style, at least in my not so humble opinion. So I can make no claim to have read this thoroughly, and there may have been some finer details that I have missed, but I do think that I have grasped the main portion of the thing.
West’s goal is to try and prove that the idea of “the thousand years” is scattered throughout the whole Bible and not just isolated to Revelation Chapter 20. In this I believe he performs a neat trick in some respects of switching the goal posts. He leaves the impression that those dastardly “spiritualizers” deny that the “1000 years” are mentioned anywhere else – which of course is false. Nearly all of the abundant texts that he brings forth to show that the “Millennium” is not an isolated concept would be agreed upon by amillennialists and postmillennialists (though to be fair, the postmillennialists of his day are not of the same school as today – so I will limit my comments to amillenialists so as not to force anachronistic requirements upon West) who would agree that those passages refer to the “Millennium.” What West needs to prove is two-fold, one, that the “thousand years” is a literal one thousand years, and in that he fails miserably. Second, that the “thousand years” is a future period of dispensational blessing for Israel. He does a much better job at that, though of course I disagree. He is very thorough in his dispensational ferreting I will give him that. The tediousness is not his fault, it is simply a stylistic chasm between then and now.
His main premise is that the “thousand years” is mentioned by other equivalent names such as “many days,” “latter times,” “the Third Day,” etc. However, why would John use a completely new term when he didn’t hesitate to use Old Testament terminology hundreds of times in Revelation - and when we go through the Old Testament to see how “thousand” IS used, well, let’s just say the results aren’t favourable to Mr. West’s position.
The work is highly polemical in some spots, flinging aspersions upon “spiritualizers” without much interacting and supporting the polemic. This may also be characteristic of the time, I must confess ignorance in that regard.
So following is just some bits and pieces I thought good to discuss. West’s whole premise is that unfolding revelation settles on the idea that there are three “ends” and four ages – he diagrams this below:
However, right from the get-so, West has shot himself in the foot. He claims (page 19) “that what is to us now ‘the world to come,’ will be to its own inhabitants ‘the present world,’ even as our present age was the world to come, to pre-Christian Judaism.”
How does this defeat West from the starting gate? Well first, the alleged “millennial kingdom” was the “world to come” to pre-Christian Judaism, which in his scheme is now. To get around this obvious problem, he claims that as revelation unfolded, hints of the present intervening age, were revealed. Yet his statement above simply states “pre-Christian Judaism.” He, like all dispensationalists, has to assume a gap or parenthesis, and is stuck with a dogma seeking a proof-text. But even more devastating to this summary statement is the New Testament Pauline statement:
By this time, West claims that this “three ends and four ages” view was revealed – yet Paul states that the “age to come” is one in which Christ reigns IN heaven and we reign with Him IN heaven.
Ephesians 1:15-22 - Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 2:4-6 - But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Much later in the book, West waxes long and poetic about how the Christian saints in the Millennium rule on earth and not in heaven (pages 298-306)…. yet if the Millennium is the “Age to Come” - where does that verse say that Paul’s readers would be? In the heavenly places at the right hand of the Father
I deal with that more extensively in my article Angels We Have Heard on High: The Location of Christ’s Reign
My regular readers will note that in my Evans review posted a few weeks ago, I went into some detail about the idea that there can in fact be a “skipped” period when relating the history of ethnic Israel, because after their rejection of Christ – they simply are a non-issue as an ethnic covenant people until the consummation. This truth is often distorted by dispensationalists in order to support their “parenthesis” theory, and to the extent that the nugget is there, there is in fact an element of accuracy. West (page 26) quotes an author by the name of Auberlen in Der Prophet Daniel (141) as stating, “Israel, after having rejected salvation, ceased to be the object of sacred history, and became that of profane history alone.” I can agree with this, though I disagree with West’s extrapolation of this concept. [I also note that I cannot check if West is fairly using Auberlen in the context of the original statement – I don’t read German and don’t have access to that original source material]
Oddly enough, West alleges that Daniel 12 does not speak of a “resurrection of the wicked” but only the righteous - this of course is critical to his view - and he must pull a similar maneuver with John 5 - in one case alleging improper translation, and in the other, sheer eisegesis. Here is how he alleges Daniel 12:1-3 should be translated:
And (at that time) many (of thy people) shall awake (or be separated) out from among the sleepers in the earth-dust. These (who awake) shall be unto life everlasting, but those (who do not awake at that time) shall be unto shame and contempt everlasting. (page 266)
West, like many other premillennialists, pushes the panic button with this little diddy:
If, moreover, we allegorize one event, to be consistent we must allegorize all. This wrecks the whole prediction [he is referring to the order of events in Revelation, but hey, to be consistent, he must apply this standard everywhere right?], and denies the vast body of literal Scripture elsewhere with which it stands connected. (page 57)
That is one nice and irrational ipse dixit there. Too bad West doesn’t tell us exactly what gauge is the chain that is holding satan fast during the millennium. Inquiring minds want to know. Does Home Depot carry it? What is doubly ironic about his statement is how in his exposition of these “connected” Scriptures, he breezily equates “days” as “years.” Tsk, tsk, dirty allegorizer.
And check this out:
… the “End of the Days” of which Ezekiel and Isaiah speak, in the texts already referred to, is the end of “the thousand years,” the “end” which Paul has in view, in 1 Corin. 15:24, when Messiah’s victory is complete, and, all rule, authority and power being put down, and death itself destroyed, the kingdom is surrendered to the Father, and God is all in all, 1 Corin. 15:24-26. (pages 59-60)
Wow. That’s a lot of commas. But beside that, the passage says no such thing about any “thousand years.” The end of which Paul speaks occurs AT the Second Coming - not one thousand years later. It is only some mighty heaving that can wedge a thousand years in there.
Oh and he uses the much abandoned “genea” means “race” error. I would have loved to seen him seriously interact with that text (page 79).
Surprisingly, well maybe not, West asserts without qualification that the entire early church was premillennial (chiliastic) - AND that it was a test of orthodoxy with Justin Martyr denouncing as heretics those who held otherwise. Well that is simply incorrect - Justin does no such thing, and in fact, gives proof that there were true and devout Christians who were not chiliasts, though Justin himself was.
“I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion [chiliasm], and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.”
Justin was much less dogmatic than West. And if West truly wants to go there, what is arguably the earliest creed of the Church, the Apostle’s Creed, CAN be interpreted as excluding premillennialism:
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
No mention of a millenium and strongly insinuates that His Second Coming is coincident with the final judgment.
What is very deceptive about West’s use of Justin Martyr is the fact that while Justin was a chiliast, he was definitely NOT dispensational, but believed that the Church was Israel. Much more on this can be found here.
West unabashedly places the Cross in the “gap” in seventy weeks prophecy which has nothing to do with Israel, effectively stating by implication that Israel has no need of the Cross (page 115). The blasphemy of this overt statement shocks me. When I was dispensational I held it without realizing it, and when I did finally realize the implicit teachings of my position, I was rightly aghast. Any theology that places the Cross anywhere else other than the focal point of all things deserves to be flushed into the sewer with the rest of the feces. Many sincere and well-meaning Christians hold this position, and it just saddens me to the core.
And then West has the chutzpah to say that the 70 weeks are literal! (page 127) It truly is a bizarre interpretation of “literal” that places gaps in the middle of a tight numerical time frame. West holds that the beginning point of the 70 weeks must necessarily be the decree of Cyrus and spends a great deal of time showing how that can work out chronologically, but it was quite tedious, and I just don’t have the stomach for it here. Here is a thumbnail sketch, he inserts another gap of 57 “Gentile” years into the chronology to make it fit. I kid you not.
Suffice it to say, I found it odd that a whole chapter entitled “Symbolic Numbers” in a book about the “thousand years” didn’t really deal with the Old Testament usage of “thousand.” West did interact with the existence of symbolic numbers but claimed that such had both symbolic and literal purposes. Yes that can be true. However, this does not appear to be the case with the numerous other examples of “thousand,” and he just doesn’t deal with this. MOVE ABOVE, THERE IS A CHAPTER ON THIS LATER
There is a statement (which up until his faulty conclusory remarks) that I was nodding in some sympathetic agreement with - and again - this is where I think most preterists miss the boat.
Such the frame and filling of the 70th Week in the Olivet Prophecy, a double prophecy, which looks, perspectively, through Jerusalem of A.D. 70 to Jerusalem of the End-Time, and covers both the near and far horizons in its minute yet great and comprehensive expressions. [DDW - I wouldn't find it minutely covering the future] As in the prophetic representation in Daniel, Antiochus insensibly glides into the last Antichrist [again, a difference there but the point remains even if we hold Nero or some other past figure to be in view], so here, Jerusalem and Israel of A.D. 70, glide into Jerusalem and Israel [DDW - I wouldn't hold to that last portion] of the End-Time. The Parousia or Advent of the Lord, at the End of our own Age, is seen through the Judgment on Jerusalem at the End of the Jewish Age, A.D. 70…. [he then blathers off into nonsense](page 212)
And if you thought only modern futurists were incurably goofy:
Jerusalem and Mount Zion, by means of physical convulsion and geological changes suddenly effected through disruption, depression, fissure and elevation, at the Lord’s appearing, shall be “exalted” or “lifted high” above the surrounding hills, and the adjacent region be reduced to a “plain”….
I can’t take it. I just can’t take it. Seriously did someone vacuum all sense out of this guy? I am starting to really skim the book at this point… Christianity is morphing into a Chick tract before my eyes the more I read this book. Honestly, it is cartoonish rubbish like this that makes Mormonism seems believable - heck golden plates are nothing compared to this.
In an appendix discussing Jewish ideas of the duration of Messiah’s reign and noting that there were differing opinions, he makes this odd statement:
If one Rabbi teaches differently from another, it is not that the one is to be deemed false, and the other true, but all are entitled to the same religious respect.
Umm. Okay. I have had enough. I skimmed through the rest and want to spend my time with less excruciating reading.