Herman Bavinck on a Hermeneutic of New Testament Fulfillment (Contra. Chiliasm)

In the following quotations, taken from the final section of his chapter on “Visions of the End,” Bavinck offers an extended critique of what is sometimes referred to as chiliasm, i.e., the belief in a future millennial messianic reign prior to the very end of all things (eschaton). And although he does not use this particular label for what he’s describing, Bavinck’s critique would quite fittingly apply to what is often referred to as dispensationalism.


“Now it is true that that future is depicted in images derived from the historical circumstances that then prevailed, so that Zion and Jerusalem, temple and altar, sacrifice and priesthood, continue to occupy a large place in it. But we must remember that we ourselves do the same thing and can only speak of God and divine things in sensuous, earthly forms. One reason God instituted Old Testament worship as he did was that we would be able to speak of heavenly things, not in self-made images but in the correct images given us by God himself. The New Testament, accordingly, takes over this language and in speaking about the future kingdom of God refers to Zion and Jerusalem, to temple and altar, to prophets and priests. …

Nor must we forget that all prophecy is poetry that must be interpreted in terms of its own character. The error of the older exegesis was not spiritualization as such but the fact that it sought to assign a spiritual meaning to all the illustrative details, in the process … often losing sight of the main thought. … 

[E]veryone senses that in these lines one has to do with poetic descriptions that cannot and may not be taken literally. The realistic interpretation here becomes self-contradictory and misjudges the nature of prophecy.

It is also incorrect to say that the prophets themselves were totally unconscious of the distinction between the thing [they asserted] and the image [in which they clothed it]. …

[I]n Old Testament exegesis the question is not whether the prophets were totally or partially conscious of the symbolic nature of their predictions, for even in the words of classic authors there is more than they themselves thought or intended. It is a question, rather, what the Spirit of Christ who was in them wished to declare and reveal by them. And that is decided by the New Testament, which is the completion, fulfillment, and therefore interpretation of the Old. The nature of a tree is revealed by its fruit. … [N]ot Judaism but Christianity is the full realization of the religion of the prophets.

The New Testament views itself—and there can certainly be no doubt about this—as the spiritual and therefore complete and authentic fulfillment of the Old Testament. … 

The peculiar nature of the old dispensation consisted precisely in the fact that the covenant of grace was presented in graphic images and clothed in national and sensuous forms. Sin was symbolized by levitical impurity. Atonement was effected by the sacrifice of a slain animal. Purification was adumbrated by physical washings. Communion with God was connected with the journey to Jerusalem. The desire for God’s favor and closeness was expressed in the longing for his courts. Eternal life was conceived as a long life on earth, and so forth. In keeping with Israel’s level of understanding, placed as Israel was under the tutelage of the law, all that is spiritual, heavenly, and eternal was veiled in earthly shadows. … 

The shadow, while not itself the body, does point to the body but vanishes when the body itself appears. The New Testament is the truth, the essence, the core, and the actual content of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is revealed in the New, while the New Testament is concealed in the Old (Vetus Testamentum in Novo patet, Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet). … The benefits of salvation promised and foreshadowed under the Old Testament have become manifest in Christ as eternal and authentic reality. All the promises of God are “yes” and “amen” in him (2 Cor. 1:20). The Old Testament was not abolished but fulfilled in the new dispensation, is still consistently being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled, until the parousia of Christ. …

[T]he New Testament itself has given to the particularistic ideas of the Old Testament a universal and cosmic meaning.

Totally wrong, therefore, is the chiliastic view according to which the New Testament, along with the church composed of Gentiles, is an intermezzo, a detour taken by God because Israel rejected its Messiah, so that the actual continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament can begin only with Christ’s second coming. The opposite, rather, is true. Not the New Testament but the Old is an intermezzo. The covenant with Israel is temporary; the law has been inserted in between the promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in Christ….

In the days of the Old Testament the people of Israel were chosen for a time that salvation might later, in the fullness of time, be a blessing for the whole world. Israel was chosen, not to the detriment of but for the benefit of the nations. From its earliest beginning the promise to Adam and Noah had a universal thrust….

Therefore the New Testament is not an intermezzo or interlude, neither a detour nor a departure from the line of the old covenant, but the long-aimed-for goal, the direct continuation and the genuine fulfillment of the Old Testament. Chiliasm, judging otherwise, comes in conflict with Christianity itself. In principle it is one with Judaism and must get to where it attributes a temporary, passing value to Christianity, the historical person of Christ, and his suffering and death, and it only first expects real salvation from Christ’s second coming, his appearance in glory. … 

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, ch. 15 (pp. 659-662).

The Millennium (Revelation 20:1-10), Pt. 1-3

In this series of three episodes, we address the matter of the 1,000-year reign, also known as the millennium, as expressly mentioned in Revelation 20. In so doing, we offer a more detailed case for the interpretation known most popularly as amillennialism.


Pt. 1: The Four Views on the Millennium

In the first episode, we overview the four main positions as it relates to the millennium: (1) dispensational premillennialism, (2) historic (or classic) premillennialism, (3) postmillennialism, and (4) amillennialism.

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)


Pt. 2: Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10

In this second episode, we look specifically at Revelation 20:1-10 and examine the case for amillennialism from this text itself.

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)


Pt. 3: New Testament Arguments for Amillennialism

Finally, in this third episode, we consider other New Testament arguments against a literal, futurist, premillennialist position and in favor of a symbolic, “church-age” interpretation of the millennium.

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)


See all other content in the entire series on Revelation.



The Martyrs’ Reign (Revelation 20:1-10)

The Martyrs’ Reign (Revelation 20:1-10)
CrossWay Community Church
September 5th, 2021

Podcast link.

See all other content in this series.


Meet Mr. Complementary Hermeneutic: A Glance at Israel, the Church, and the New Covenant

The New Covenant–Old Testament

A huge theme that pervades all of scripture is the theme of promise and fulfillment. In the Old Testament, many promises were made to the nation of Israel that anticipated future fulfillment. One very significant example would be the promise and provisions of the New Covenant (i.e., Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-36).

Now the Old Testament, without any exceptions, explicitly affirms that the parties of this covenant will be God and Israel (i.e., Jeremiah 31:33). That’s key to our discussion, so allow me to state it again. The Old Testament promises that the New Covenant will be made between God and Israel.

The New Covenant–New Testament

But a normal, simple, natural, and literal reading of various texts in the New Testament reveals that the Church participates in the New Covenant. For example, the Lord’s Super, an ordinance of the Church, refers to the to cup of the New Covenant (Luke 22:19-21; Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:24; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Paul, the self-proclaimed apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) and minister of the mystery of the Church (Ephesians 3:6-8), called himself a minister of the New Covenant (presently), saw the New Covenant as having presently superseded the Old Covenant, and spoke of the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit as a present reality (2 Corinthians 3). And the author of Hebrews is explicit about the present reality of the New Covenant and Christ’s present ministry as the mediator of this New and better Covenant (for a brief sampling see Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 10:16-17; Hebrews 12:24).

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