This is Part 2 of a series on the end times. Click on the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to access all lessons under the heading, “End Times.”
The word millennium means “one thousand years” and for our study purposes comes from Rev. 20 where the word is used six times in the first seven verses:
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. [I] also [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over these, but they will be priests of God and the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison … (HCSB)
When do these 1,000 years take place? Have they already occurred, or are they in the future? Are we to take the millennium literally or figuratively? Is it possible we are in the millennium today? Christians have answered these and other related questions differently throughout the church age and in some cases have argued heatedly for their particular point of view. The purpose of our study is to identify and understand four major views of the millennium: postmillennialism, amillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. This document will briefly highlight these views.
Generally speaking, the millennium describes a period in which Christ and His followers reign; when Satan is bound; when righteousness overshadows (but does not yet eliminate) wickedness; and when, according to some views, there are significant (but not yet perfect) improvements in nature and the animal kingdom. Whether one understands the millennium literally or figuratively has a lot to do with his or her view as to when and where these events take place. All of the views call us to look for a future, visible, physical return of Christ and to anticipate the time in which He creates new heavens and a new earth. The primary differences center around whether Jesus returns before or after the millennium; whether the events described take place in heaven or on earth; whether the 1,000 years are literal or figurative; whether Christ’s return is a singular event to a two-stage event (the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing); and whether Christians will endure some or all of the tribulation – a time of intense persecution prior to the second coming.
As we look at different views of the end times, it’s important to note the biblical truths affirmed by all of these views: 1) Jesus will return physically, visibly and personally in the future; 2) Jesus will resurrect all people, who will stand in final judgment resulting in heaven or hell; and 3) He will create new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and in which Satan, demons and unbelievers have no part.
The postmillennial view
The prefix post means “after.” According to this view, Jesus will return after the millennium, a lengthy era of peace and righteousness not necessarily 1,000 years in length. Basically, postmillennialists believe that as the gospel spreads and the church grows, a larger proportion of the world’s people will become Christians. This will have a positive impact on society at all levels – government, commerce, social interaction, etc. – resulting in a world that functions more in accordance with God’s standards. In effect, the world will be Christianized. Gradually, a “millennial age” of unprecedented godliness will prepare the way for the return of Christ. When He comes, He will resurrect all people, judge them, create new heavens and a new earth, and usher in the eternal state.
The postmillennial view is optimistic about the power of the gospel to change lives and permeate society in a positive way. This view is most popular when the church is experiencing revival and when there is a general absence of war, international conflict, and suffering.
Arguments in favor of postmillennialism are:
- The Great Commission leads us to expect a Christianized world. Jesus said all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, and He has promised to be with us as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Therefore, we have every reason to believe the gospel will triumph in the hearts of individuals and around the world.
- Jesus’ parables of the kingdom indicate that the gospel will permeate the whole world. The parables of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32) and leaven (Matt. 13:33) are specifically cited.
- The world is becoming more Christian. Christianity, for example, is the largest religion on earth, far outpacing Islam, Hinduism and other major world religions.
Arguments against postmillennialism are:
- Although Christ does indeed have all authority in heaven and on earth, and while people from every tribe, nation, and language will be in heaven (Rev. 5:9), this does not mean a majority of the world’s people will become Christians or that the world will dramatically improve prior to Christ’s return.
- While the parables of Jesus indicate that the kingdom of heaven will begin humbly and then grow dramatically, they do not tell us the extent to which this growth will take place. In fact, other parables of Jesus indicate there will be much wickedness leading up to the days of Christ’s return (e.g., the parable of the dragnet in Matt. 13:47-50 and the parable of the sheep and goats in Matt. 25:31-46).
- While Christianity is indeed the world’s largest religion, evil is rampant and spreading. Two world wars and numerous other conflicts in the 20th century put a damper on postmillennial fervor.
The Amillennial View
The amillennial view is the simplest of the four major positions on the end times. The prefix “a” means “no,” and therefore those who hold this view believe there is no future millennium to which believers should look. Amillennialists say Rev. 20:1-10 describes the present church age, not some future era of 1,000 years. Presently, Satan’s influence over mankind has been great restricted so that the gospel may reach the ends of the earth. Those said to be reigning with Christ for the 1,000 years – which are not to be taken literally – are saints who have died and are with Jesus in heaven. Christ’s reign in the millennium is not His physical presence on earth but His authority being exercised in heaven as He sits at the Father’s right hand, having received all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). The exact duration of the millennium / church age cannot be known and the phrase “thousand years” in Rev. 20 is simply a figure of speech to indicate a long period of time during which God accomplishes His will on earth.
According to this view, the millennium / church age will continue until Christ returns. All people will be resurrected and brought before Christ in final judgment. Believers will receive glorified bodies and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where they will receive rewards for their earthly service. Unbelievers will be brought into final judgment and sent to hell. The eternal state will begin immediately as God brings about the new heavens and new earth.
Arguments in favor of amillennialism are:
- In all of scripture, only one passage (Rev. 20:1-6) mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, and this passage is obscure. It is best not to base a major doctrine on a single passage in the Bible. Instead, Rev. 20:1-6 is better interpreted as describing the present church age.
- The scriptures teach only one resurrection, not two (or more) separated by 1,000 years. Dan. 12:2, John 5:28-29, and Acts 24:15 indicate a single, or general, resurrection of all people.
- It seems unreasonable to think glorified believers, unglorified believers and lost sinners would live on earth at the same time, even if only for 1,000 years.
- If Jesus is literally ruling the earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem, it seems unreasonable that people would continue to reject Him and persist in sin.
- There seems to be no ultimate purpose for a literal 1,000 reign of Christ on earth. Once Jesus has returned, what’s the point of delaying the eternal state?
- Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events of the end times will occur at once, not spread out over 1,000 years or more.
Arguments against amillennialism are:
- In response to the statement that only one passage (Rev. 20:1-6) mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, it may be said that even if this were true, the Bible only needs to say something once for it to be true and to command our belief. Further, premillennialists do not find this passage obscure by any means, and they see numerous Old and New Testament passages that indicate a long period of time in the future, yet before the final state, during which Messiah reigns.
- Revelation 20 speaks of the “first resurrection,” implying there will be a second one. It also addresses those who have no part in the first resurrection; they will come to life after the 1,000 years and experience the “second death.” A straightforward (not figurative) understanding of this chapter seems best.
- The idea of glorified believers, unglorified believers and unbelievers inhabiting the earth at the same time may be difficult to understand but is not impossible. The resurrected and glorified Christ walked among believers and unbelievers in their natural state after His resurrection.
- Jesus’ physical presence on earth following His return does not rule out the possibility that many will reject Him. He was rejected by many during His earthly ministry as the Suffering Servant. Even Judas, who shared in Jesus’ ministry for three years, ultimately betrayed Him. We should not underestimate the ability of sinful and fallen people to resort to the greatest evil.
- An earthly millennial reign of Christ would show “the outworking of God’s good purposes in the structures of society” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1121).
- The amillennial view lacks a meaningful purpose for Revelation 20.
Next: Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism.