The Necessity of Literality

by Steven Ira , Christian Examiner Contributor |

I remember the first time I realized that God really will speak. It was about four decades ago. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of a Christian bookstore reading the foreword to a book I'd just purchased. The book was about the three major views on the Millennial Reign of Christ—amillennialism, postmillennialism and premillennialism. After reflecting on the pros and cons of each I asked in prayer, "Lord, which one of these is right?"

Although there was no audible voice from empty air, the unbidden phrase rising immediately in my consciousness was almost as attention-getting: "The necessity of literality..." Despite being only a sentence fragment, that phrase affirmed, if nothing else, that the Epistle of James should be taken literally: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

So what did the Holy Spirit tell me about the Millennial Reign of Christ that day? At once I understood Him to say that if I would read relevant Scriptures for what they actually said—and not what my imagination or supposed human wisdom thought it should have said—I would have the answer to my question.

I began to do just that. I started reading Scripture for what it actually says. I studied individual words in their original language using Strong's Concordance. I paid attention to context. I used chain references to study related passages. Only many years later, after reading the works of several respected, orthodox theologians, did I come to know that I had been using a method of interpretation called the historical-grammatical hermeneutic—which simply means to read Scripture in the same way you would read any other material intended to communicate truth.

Consider the Millennial Kingdom as portrayed in Isaiah chapter eleven using this hermeneutic. There in verse six the prophet describes a time and place where, "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat... and a little child will lead them...." You cannot reasonably construe this as a picture of Heaven (as many amillennialists insist). Especially, it cannot be so construed in light of verse ten, in which Isaiah says the Lord will call forth His people from, "...Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Babylonia...." The setting Isaiah describes is clearly the earth after being gloriously transformed by Israel's Messiah.

And look at Revelation chapters nineteen and twenty. There John explicitly shows that Christ's Second Advent occurs before the earth becomes the paradisiacal place both he and Isaiah describe—not after some supposed Christianization of the world (as postmillennialists expect).

Interpreting these passages using the historical-grammatical hermeneutic I concluded that premillennialism was God's answer to my question. And as the following list attests, these two passages hardly exhaust the evidence for a literal Second Advent preceding a literal Millennial Kingdom: Is. 9:6-7; 63:1-6; 65-66; Dan. 7:13-14; 2:44; Zech. 2:10-11; 14:3-11; Ps. 2; 24; 50; 96; 110.

Continuing to apply the historical-grammatical hermeneutic to passages about the Millennium, I discovered that the literal Millennium has significance peculiar to each of the three distinct "people groups" recognized by Paul in 1 Cor. 10:32: the Church, Israel and the Gentiles. In Rev. 5:10 we learn that the Church will share in the reign of Christ during the Millennium. In many places throughout the Old Testament we see that it is during the Millennium that Israel's national promises are fulfilled. And in many of these same passages we learn that the Gentiles will share in Israel's blessings during that coming reign of Christ.

Based on these observations I eventually realized that God did much more that day in the parking lot than answer my question about the correct view of the Millennial Reign of Christ. The meaning I initially understood was limited: It is necessary to read the Bible literally if I would understand what God intended to convey. In other words, it is the historical-grammatical hermeneutic which is the necessity. And that reading is still perfectly valid.

But God was not content to convey only that one message. I now know He was also telling me that those things which He literally conveys in Scripture are those things which are necessary to His plans and promises. In other words, the necessity of the specific things literally revealed can be emphasized with equal validity.

To illustrate, it is necessary that the Millennium be literal because only under such circumstances can God's original purpose in creating Adam ever be accomplished (to subdue and replenish the earth). It will be accomplished on a restored earth by Christ Personally—which is why He is called the last Adam.

It is necessary that the Millennium be literal so that the promises to Israel can be fulfilled. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel is promised a perpetual nation, a land, a kingdom and a King. Only after the Personal return of Christ and the renewal of the earth can these promises be fulfilled.

The Church is promised that each of its members will be perfected and glorified, and that they will be co-reigners with Christ. Only the literal presence of Christ on the Millennial earth makes the fulfillment of these promises possible.

There is then a two-fold meaning to the phrase the necessity of literality: (1) the use of the historical-grammatical hermeneutic is necessary if we would accurately understand God's Word; and (2) what is literally conveyed in God's Word are those things necessary to the fulfillment of His plans and promises.

Applying this historical-grammatical hermeneutic to the whole Bible, I know one day I will step onto this earth in the physical presence of Christ and the whole Church. In that day, we will all be conformed to His image—including possessing glorified resurrection bodies. I know this because that is the literal understanding of Romans 8:29. That day is a necessity if God's promises to the Church are to have literal fulfillment!

— Steven Ira, as a college undergraduate in English, intended to be an English teacher. He changed his mind, earned an MBA and spent his entire career as a small businessman. Having retired from active business he has returned to his first love, writing.

Throughout most of those business years he regularly studied the Bible, including the works of several well-known theologians: Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, Mark Hitchcock and others. His first three novels in the Daniel Goldman series, "Voices," "Babylonian Harlot" and "The Last Prophet,"are based on Tribulation era prophecies, especially those revealed in the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. The vision for this series was to write stories about people caught up in the perilous times following the Rapture of the Christian Church. The stories are primarily about those people, yet they carefully follow Bible prophecies about the times themselves.

The Bible offers many specifics about the social and geopolitical circumstances in the period between the Rapture of the Church and the Second Advent of Christ. The series remains faithful to those details. Yet even in this area the Bible allows wide latitude for imagination since it describes only the essences of those circumstances.

In short, Ira's novels seek to show possible, plausible ways in which Bible prophecies of the end times might be literally fulfilled.

Find out more about Steven on his website: https://stevenira.com/ and find his books on his Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Steven-Ira/e/B01M7RGMOG.