26. Is Premillennialism always dispensational?
Although premillennialism is often seen as a dispensational way of understanding Revelation 20, and while many premillennialists are in fact dispensationalists, there is nevertheless nothing about premillennialism in itself that demands dispensationalism. In fact, in early Church history, more than a thousand years before the development of dispensational theology, there was a group called the Chiliasts (from the Greek word for “thousand years”), which held to a premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20. In recent history, there have still been some premillennialists who are not dispensational, most notably George Ladd. Many of these prefer to distance themselves from dispensational theology by using the term “historic premillennialism,” as opposed to “dispensational premillennialism”.
The basic difference between historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism consists in the latter's insistence on maintaining a distinction between the nation of Israel and the Church. According to dispensationalists, the millennium will be the period of history in which God reverts back to fulfilling his Old Testament promises made to ethnic Israel, after this parenthetical “Church Age” in which we live is concluded. Hence, the millennium will be a state of Jewish ascendency over all the world, complete with a renewed Jewish temple and priesthood. The Christians who reign with Christ will all have been given eternal, glorified bodies, and will reign spiritually, while the Jews will own the world physically, and will live, marry, and die (although evincing incredible longevity), just as people have throughout the history of the world. It is only after this thousand-year period, in which God fulfills his promises to ethnic Israel, that Christ will put down a final rebellion and usher in the eternal state, with its New Heavens and New Earth. Historic Premillennialism requires none of this strict dichotomy between God's spiritual people the Church, and his physical people, ethnic Israel; it merely looks ahead to a time when Christ will reign visibly on the earth, before he brings in the eternal state.
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