with Jeremy Westcott –
Last time, we saw how important it is to know what we are expecting when Jesus returns. In light of that, we began looking at the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth (or not). In this post I want to give you a little more understanding of the three main views people hold on this, and next time we can go on to look at what the church has believed over the centuries.
Jesus will return to set up a literal 1000-year kingdom on earth, in Jerusalem – and re-establish the whole Old Covenant sacrificial system. My immediate question is: why? Why would He want to set up sacrifices again when He is the sacrifice? Once and for all, it says (1 Pet 3:18, Heb 9:28). So to me that seems like a really strange way of thinking – but I used to think that way, because that is what I was taught. I didn’t even know there was any other way. Every book I ever read said that was the way. Until God started to speak to me about the kingdom, and how the kingdom needed to come; until I began to look for it myself; and that is what really changed things for me.
Premillennialists teach that there will be a series of key events that occur before the millennial rule of Christ on earth. These events include the secret rapture of the church and a seven-year time of tribulation. They hold various opinions about when the rapture will occur, and these can be summed up as pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, or mid-tribulation. Whereas we have seen that the Great Tribulation has already occurred, and that Jesus said there would never be another one like it. We have also seen that the rapture is anything but secret – all the world will see it. One of the problems with the premillenialist position is that there is a tendency to interpret these things not in light of what the Bible says, but in light of history, current events, and the news on TV and in the papers. They contend that they hold to a literal interpretation of prophecy and scripture, whereas in fact they don’t really believe literally at all, but rather very symbolically of things to come.
For them, the kingdom is future, and a literal 1000 years on earth with Christ. The book of Revelation is seen as also mostly future.
Amillennialism is the belief that there is no literal millennium.
It teaches that there is no future millennial earthly rule of Christ. Amillennialists tend to have an allegorical interpretation and non-literal approach to prophecy. For them, the events mentioned in the book of Revelation reveal that the situation in the world will continue to worsen before Christ returns. Christ will one day return to rescue the church. He will not be coming to establish a millennial rule on earth but to usher in the age to come. This view can often seem very pessimistic, because it does not see prophecy being literally fulfilled on earth, so all the promises of God are just spiritualised, and do not actually relate to our present reality.
For them, the kingdom is present now – but only in heaven. The book of Revelation is being played out presently in the church age, and the events it portrays happen in every age, throughout history.
Jesus returns after His people rule spiritually on earth. The 1000 years is not a literal figure, it simply represents a long period of time.
Postmillennial theology teaches that the Church will be triumphant as a result of the gospel impacting the world. After this, Christ will return, and believers will then enter the eternal state, or the age to come. When the church has finished its task, to see God’s kingdom come and fill the earth, then Jesus will return and we will enter the age to come.
In this view, the kingdom is present and will expand to fill the earth before Christ’s return. The prophetic promises of God are expected to have all been fulfilled by then.
The book of Revelation is mostly historical – talking about the destruction of Jerusalem – but continues to be applicable to the church triumphing over persecution, and overcoming, throughout history.
This view seems to me to be in line with what Jesus taught. As we have seen, He said He was coming on the Last Day, the day of resurrection and judgment – and our guiding principle must be to interpret everything through what Jesus said.
[Editor’s note: if you are looking for a fuller discussion of pre-, a- and post-millenialism, there is probably none better than Martin Scott’s series of podcasts and accompanying notes which you can find here (though we don’t see totally eye-to-eye with him on everything). And if you are planning a long journey or otherwise have a couple of hours to spare, you might be interested to download, listen to or watch this roundtable discussion between leading American exponents of each of these views, hosted by John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries.]
- Millennium? What Millennium? (freedomarc.wordpress.com)
- Which End Times Theory Stands Up? (raymondjclements.wordpress.com)
- Perspectives: Eschatology podcasts (3generations.eu) – Martin Scott