Skip to comments.Four Views on the Millennium
Posted on 08/10/2006 1:04:21 PM PDT by Frumanchu
When Christians discuss their millennial views, they are speaking of their interpretation of the much debated passage in Revelation 20:1-10.
"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
"Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
"When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever." (NASB)
Some see this as a future earthly theocracy by which Christ will rule over the nations for a thousand years. Others see it as a time during which Christ will rule earth from heaven through the life-changing power of the Gospel. Still others look at it in another way. And the multitude of others holds a multitude of other interpretations.
One's final interpretation of the thousand years from Revelation 20 depends more upon certain factors related to a Christian's hermeneutic than the strict text of the ten much debated verses. There are several ways in which orthodox Christians choose to come to Scripture (these are discussed in our FAQ explaining how to interpret Scripture) and depending on which of these methods is used, one's understanding of eschatological issues and a host of others as well will experience changes both significant and trivial. And since one interprets Scripture primarily through the filter of his understanding of other passages in the Word, one's millennial view does have an effect (whether great or small) on the way in which he lives his life.
Since space is limited, we are unable to treat all the current millennial views, but we do hope to give a brief, but accurate account of the main tenets of the four main existing viewpoints as well as some of the reasons both Scriptural and interpretive behind each view. These four main eschatological systems that we shall treat are as follows: dispensational premillennialism, historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. Please realize that though these views differ significantly on the topic at hand, the Christians who disagree on these matters agree with each other on probably ninety percent of the rest of the Christian life.
Also, in coming to one's own view, there are certain poor arguments from which one should shy away. A couple of these are arguments from history and arguments from the deeds of those who are proponents of a given view. Arguments from history, while having some use, should generally be avoided for the simple fact that not only were the eschatological views of the early church largely undefined, but most of the Second and Third Century church fathers held to some beliefs that would today be considered odd or even unorthodox. Arguments against an idea from the "bad fruit" of that idea's proponents, while a popular form of argumentation, should be left behind; as it happens, every view has had its embarrassing supporters who claim to act from their beliefs but represent something altogether outside of Christianity. Amillennialists are accused because Nazis misapplied some of their beliefs. Postmillennialists are judged because some over-zealous rebels in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries misused their principles. Premillennialists come under attack because both a) the majority of Christian cults take up their ideas of end-times cataclysm and b) some of those who profess premillenialism get caught up in setting dates for Christ's return. With those cautions noted, we shall examine each of these four views individually.
Dispensational premillennialists hold that Christ will come before a seven-year period of intense tribulation to take His church (living and dead) into heaven. After this period of fulfillment of divine wrath, He shall then return to rule from a holy city (i.e., the New Jerusalem) over the earthly nations for one thousand years. After these thousand years, Satan, who was bound up during Christ's earthly reign, will be loosed to deceive the nations, gather an army of the deceived, and take up to battle against the Lord. This battle will end in both the judgment of the wicked and Satan and the entrance into the eternal state of glory by the righteous. This view is called premillenialism because it places the return of Christ before the millennium and it is called dispensational because it is founded in the doctrines of dispensationalism.
Features and Distinctions:
View the visual interpretation
A strictly literal hermaneutic is foundational to the dispensational premillenialist viewpoint. Interpreting Scripture in this manner will in fact demand such perspectives unique to dispensationalism as:
Dispensational premillennialism holds that a seven-year tribulation (forseen in Daniel 9:27) will precede a thousand-year period (Revelation 20:1-6) during which time, Christ will reign on the throne of David (Luke 1:32).
Immediately previous to the time of great tribulation, all the dead saints will rise from their graves and all the living members of the church shall be caught up with them to meet Christ in the clouds (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17); this is known as "the rapture." During this time of tribulation, there will be three-and-a-half years of world peace under an AntiChrist figure (Daniel 7:8; Revelation 13:1-8) who will establish a world-church (Revelation 17:1-15), followed by three-and-a-half years of greater suffering (Revelation 6-18). At the end of this period, Christ will return (Matthew 24:27-31; Revelation 19:11-21), judge the world (Ezekiel 20:33-38; Matthew 25:31; Jude 14-15), bind Satan for one thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3), and raise the Old Testament and tribulation saints from the dead (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:4).
At this time, the millennial reign will begin and Christ will reign politically over the earth at this time from His capital in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3). Throughout His reign, there will be no war (Isaiah 2:4) and even the natures of animals will dwell in harmony (Isaiah 11:6-9). At the end of this era of peace, Satan will be released and instigate a colossal (but futile) rebellion against God (Revelation 20:7-9). After this fated battle, Satan and the wicked are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10), while the righteous proceed into their eternal state in the realm of the new heaven and the new earth Revelation 21:1ff).
Historical premillennialists place the return of Christ just before the millennium and just after a time of great apostasy and tribulation. After the millennium, Satan will be loosed and Gog and Magog will rise against the kingdom of God; this will be immediately followed by the final judgment. While similar in some respects to the dispensational variety (in that they hold to Christ's return being previous the establishment of a thousand-year earthly reign), historical premillennialism differs in significant ways (notably in their method of interpreting Scripture).
Features and Distinctions:
View the visual interpretation
The historical premillennialist's view interprets some prophecy in Scripture as having literal fulfillment while others demand a semi-symbolic fulfillment. As a case in point, the seal judgments (Revelation 6) are viewed as having fulfillment in the forces in history (rather than in future powers) by which God works out his redemptive and judicial purposes leading up to the end.
Rather than the belief of an imminent return of Christ, it is held that a number of historical events (e.g., the rise of the Beast and the False Prophet) must take place before Christ's Second Coming. This Second Coming will be accompanied by the resurrection and rapture of the saints (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18); this will inaugurate the millennial reign of Christ. The Jewish nation, while being perfectly able to join the church in the belief of a true faith in Christ, has no distinct redemptive plan as they would in the dispensational perspective. The duration of the millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:1-6) is unsure: literal or metaphorical.
The postmillennialist believes that the millennium is an era (not a literal thousand years) during which Christ will reign over the earth, not from an literal and earthly throne, but through the gradual increase of the Gospel and its power to change lives. After this gradual Christianization of the world, Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked. This is called postmillennialism because, by its view, Christ will return after the millennium.
Features and Distinctions:
View the visual interpretation
There are several different versions of postmillennialism, but one of the views gaining the most popularity, is that of the theonomists. Generally speaking, the postmillennial theonomist viewpoint holds to a partial-preterist interpretation of Revelation and the various judgment prophecies in the Gospels, believing that the majority of those prophecies were fulfilled in 70 A.D. at the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
The postmillennialist sees the millennial kingdom as the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham that he would become "a great nation" and that "all peoples on earth would be blessed" through him (Genesis 12:2-3). This holy reign will come about via gradual conversion (rather than premillennialism's cataclysmic Christological advent) through the spread of the Gospel this incremental progress is drawn from many pictures found throughout Scripture (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:22 and Ezekiel 47:1-12).
Postmillennial optimism is also nurtured through many of prophetic psalmody. The Psalms often speak of all nations fearing Him, salvation being known among all nations, the ends of the earth fearing Him, et cetera (e.g., Psalms 2; 22:27; 67:2,7; 102:15; 110:1). Another passage that well feeds this earthly optimism is Isaiah 2:2-3 in which the nations will stream to the righteousness of God.
The amillennialist believes that the Kingdom of God was inaugurated at Christ's resurrection (hence the term "inaugurated millennialism") at which point he gained victory over both Satan and the Curse. Christ is even now reigning (hence the term "nunc-millennialism" nunc means "now") at the right hand of the Father over His church. After this present age has ended, Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked. The term "amillennialism" is actually a misnomer for it implies that Revelation 20:1-6 is ignored; in fact, the amillennialist's hermeneutic interprets it (and in fact, much of apocalyptic literature) non-literally.
Features and Distinctions:
View the visual interpretation
Eschatology is the study of the eschaton; the eschaton is equated with "last things." While other views focus on the final days of humankind on earth, amillennialism sees "the last things" as having been initiated at Christ's resurrection and so, being applicable from the earliest days of the Christian church (cf. Acts 2:16-21; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:1-2; and 1 Peter 1:20). The amillennialist perspective sees the whole of God's redemptive revelation as twofold - promise and fulfillment; it also emphasizes that a strict-literal interpretation of Old Testament is not necessarily the most accurate way of determining what the text means.
The amillennial perspective emphasizes that the coming of the Kingdom of God is a two-part event. The first portion dawned at Christ's first advent (John the Baptist proclaimed at this time, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" Matthew 3:2). At the cross, Christ won final victory over death and Satan. And then He ascended to reign upon the throne of David forever (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:30-31). Now because we "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18) because of this, the amillennialist sees the final things already accomplished, though not yet seen by sight, but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).
An important note is the amilleniallist's view of the church in this world: a role of suffering. The Christian will be hated by all, just as was Christ (Matthew 10:22), for a servant is not greater than his master. Seeing this as the church's role on earth to suffer as did Christ the amillenialist can hold no hope for an earthly exaltation and longs for the fulfillment of the second stage of the coming of the Kingdom.
This second stage of the amillennial perspective is the final consummation of all the heavenly promises. The Christian will no longer see by faith alone, but by sight. All the shadowy things will pass away and our eternal reign with Christ will begin. The amillennialist, expecting no earthly glory for the church, places all his hope on this heavenly glory.
So what should be concluded from all of this? Before coming to a dogmatic millennial perspective, the lone fact that so many well-intentioned and intelligent Christians believe so variously when it comes to Revelation 20 must give us pause. The Book of Revelation itself is probably the most curious and oft-debated piece of the canon. This ought to place us in a position of caution when either accepting or dismissing another's interpretation.
As with any body of Christians, there are members of the Blue Letter Bible team with differing opinions on the matter. However, in light of all the Scriptures on the subject, the Blue Letter Bible feels that the most consistent viewpoint with a literal interpretation of the Bible is dispensational premillennialism. Our ultimate advice is to go to the Bible itself (Acts 17:11). The best way in which to interpret the Word of God is to see what it has to say about itself. And if, in the final analysis, you are yet undecided, do not fear for salvation is not built or broken on Revelation 20, but on the person of Jesus Christ.
Nice formatting. Thanks for the ping.
I've got Hoekema's Bible and the Future (recommended many places) and Vern Poythress' Understanding Dispensationalism, wending their slow way to me. A little light defensive reading.
Thank you, that was the book I was trying to remember.
I agree that this part of Christian faith is not worth getting in a big argument over or being dogmatic over. The Book Of Revelation is very confusing and I think maybe purposely so. I think that in time it will make more and more sense to Christians. But I do think it should be thought about and discussed.
And of course it has a huge and obvious impact on foreign policy and politics (see Israel, national IDs, etc).
I agree that this part of Christian faith is not worth getting in a big argument over or being dogmatic over.
Oh, that's no fun.
The big picture's the same, in all the eschatological models worth considering. We're somewhere in the middle, bettween Christ's ascention and the "He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead." part.
Models not worth considering are those that deny one or more necessary Christian doctrines.
This two-view approach to the investigation ignores the often fierce controversy between the historic premills and the dispensationalists, and it also ignores the rather-less-fierce controversy between the postmills and the amills.
I think that this two-view-approach is potentially very useful, since the key question is that of whether Christ's Second Advent inaugurates the Millennium (the view of both the historic premills and the dispensational premills) or terminates it (the view of both the postmills and the amills).
Great to hear from you, brother! You are the person most responsible for breaking me out of the premill, pretrib eschatology I once held and introducing me to partial-preterist amillennialism :)
For the sake of analysis, I agree that the Two-View approach is categorically useful, yes.
And, of course -- for reasons both fraternal and tactical -- I will always stand with my Supralapsarian and Post-Millenial Calvinist brethren against the Arminian and Romanist hordes.
However, in the spirit of semper reformanda, I do not think that we should sacrifice either the Truth of Infralapsarianism or the Truth of Amillennialism for the sake of our fox-hole alliances.
At the end of the day, Post-Millennialism is just too darn concerned about Material Victory over this Material World.
In Ezekiel 33, the Lord instructs the watchman to signal the approach of the enemy against His people, warning that the watchman who fails to blow the trumpet of alarm shall be guilty of the blood of the people.
Reformed Amillennialism sees the Enemy of the Church approaching. It sees this in light of the Word of God, Holy Scripture. It is giving the warning. No opposition from dreamers of coming earthly peace will stop its trumpet.
As for those who refuse to heed the warning, their blood will be upon their own heads.
~~ Professor David J. Engelsma, A Defense of Reformed Amillennialism
I suppose that Amillennialists (who are, not to put too fine a point on it, THE Creedally-recognized Heirs of Protestantism from Lutheranism to Calvinism and across the entire Reformed landscape) can tolerate the Errors of the PostMillennialists for the time being, for the sake of fraternal charity.
But, ultimately, PostMillennialists (like Pre-Millennialists) must be taught to live in the NOW, to realize that the Victory is already won, and to see the world through Spiritual Eyes.
The funny thing is, Schlissel claims to be (and writes theology as) a PostMillennial.
But he Prays like an Amillennial.
He got you too? ;-)
Along the same vein, I found myself introducing junior high and high school kids to the theology of infant baptism today. That was quite a trip for a kid who grew up Plymouth Brethren.
(Remember: I said that the controversy between the postmills and the amills is rather-less-fierce than that between the historic premills and the dispensationalists. The disagreements between postmills and amills are still pretty fierce--quite properly so, in my amillennial opinion.)
(All kidding aside, though, thanks for your posts.)
P.S. Where is ears_to_hear lately?