Those who have studied eschatology (end-times) for any amount of time have heard the standard breakdown of eschatological views: 1) amillennialism, 2) postmillennialism, and 3) premillennialism. Though the first two are commonly held in the modern church, they were foreign to the apostolic church. Thus, they ought to be disregarded, simply upon the basis that the apostles were premillennial, and they delivered to us the very Scriptures from which we seek truth.

From the Constantinian revolution in the 4th century (not all revolutions are good) until the mid-1800’s premillennialism was mostly marginalized (though some monastic sects, Anabaptists, Puritans, and Pietists sustained the lineage). The dispensational movement (John Darby, Cyrus Scofield, Lewis Chafer, etc.) propagated a form of conservative, evangelical premillennialism for almost 100 years. However, in the 1950’s a conservative Baptist scholar, George Ladd (raised dispensational) began to denounce some of the perversions of dispensationalism (e.g. pre-tribulational rapture, two plans of salvation, etc.), while holding to the premillennial view. The dispensational schema began to break down (with the enthusiastic help of many amil and postmil scholars), and subsequently we now commonly refer to two forms of premillennialism: 1) dispensational and 2) historic.

George Ladd did the church a great service by bringing to the forefront of many evangelical circles the centrality of the resurrection, the messianic kingdom, and the hope of a new heavens and new earth. His “inaugurated eschatology”, i.e. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, Day of the Lord, resurrection, etc. at the first coming (“already”) and will complete them at the second coming (“not yet”) has been generally received… though with some uneasiness, especially in Reformed circles that emphasize Luther’s “theology of the Cross”. Indeed, if Jesus “inaugurated” the kingdom, which inherently involves punishing the wicked and blessing the righteous who will inherit the earth (cf. Mt. 13:36-43; 1 Cor. 15:23ff; 2 Thess. 1:5ff; Rev. 11:15), then what is the place of the Cross? Of mercy to the wicked? Of the suffering and sojourning of the righteous? The inaugurational schema has no place for these.

In a close examination, Ladd’s inaugurationalism ends up breaking down. The primary support texts involving the kingdom being “at hand” (e.g. Mt. 3:2), having “come upon you” (e.g. Mt. 12:28), and being “within you” (Lk. 17:21) turn out to be fundamentally imprecatory in nature (i.e. cursing, threatening, and accusational), aimed at the Pharisees and the self-righteous. Rather than the supposed inaugurated blessing upon the righteous, the kingdom “at hand” involves things like, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Mt. 3:7) and “he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Lk. 3:17). “At hand” is simply a prophetic reiteration with judgmental connotations concerning the imminent Day of the Lord (cf. Is. 13:6; Zeph. 1:14; Lk. 10:11f; 1 Pe. 4:7; Rev. 22:10). Likewise, the kingdom “coming upon you” is always-and-everywhere a REALLY BAD THING (e.g. Deut. 28:15; Is. 51:19; Zeph. 2:2; Mt. 23:36; Eph. 5:6; 1 Thess. 2:16; Rev. 3:10), as is evident from the surrounding context of Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees (Mt. 12:24-37). Moreover, whatever Jesus means by the kingdom being “in your midst”, it is clearly apocalyptic and radically punitive, akin to the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah (Lk. 17:22-32). The other secondary passages used to support the inaugurational doctrine (cf. Mt. 11:11; 1 Cor. 4:20; Rom. 14:17; Col. 1:13) are likewise better understood in an eschatological context.

What then are we left with? Very simply this: The Messiah had to suffer on the Cross for the sins of man before entering his glorious eschatological kingdom (Lk. 24:26; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pe. 1:11). God is restraining from the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21) and the judgment of the Day of the Lord (Rom. 2:5f), because he loves sinners (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8) and wants all to be saved from the wrath to come (2 Pe. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). And before his return, Jesus commands the church to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations (cf. Mt. 28:19; Lk. 24:47). This is all in context to a future thousand-year transitional kingdom before death and corruption are completely destroyed on the New Earth (1 Cor. 15:24ff; Rev. 20:1-6). Thus, we could term this approach cruciform premillennialism (cruciform meaning “shaped like the Cross”). In contrast to dispensational and inaugurational premillennialism, we seek a future hope of the kingdom, while maintaining the centrality of the Cross in this age. Let the church take up her Cross in this age (cf. Lk. 9:23; Jn. 12:26) that she might “receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 1:11).