A quick survey of premillennialism
This is Part 3 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.”
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The word millennium means “one thousand years” and for our 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.
Last week we surveyed post- and amillennialism. This week we will look at premillennialism.
The Historic / Classical Premillennial View
The prefix “pre” means “before,” and therefore premillennialism teaches that Christ will return before the millennium. Historic or classical premillennialism has a long history dating back to the early centuries of the church. According to this view, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of suffering known as the Tribulation comes to earth. After the Tribulation, Christ will return to establish the millennial kingdom, which some premillennialists understand as a literal 1,000 years and others take to be simply a long period of time. At the return of Jesus, believers who have died will be resurrected and given glorified bodies. Believers who are alive at this time will receive glorified bodies as well, and all believers will reign on earth with Christ throughout the millennium. Many, but not all, unbelievers on the earth will trust in Christ as Savior. Satan will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit, where he will have no influence over mankind until the 1,000 years (or long period of time) are through. Some historic premillennialists believe we will see the new heavens and earth at this time, while others hold to the view that this will not take place until after Satan, demons and all unbelievers are cast into hell following final judgment.
At the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed and join forces with unbelievers, many of whom have submitted outwardly to Christ’s reign but inwardly are rebellious. Together, they will wage war against the Messiah, who defeats them decisively. Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire (hell). All unbelievers will be resurrected, stand in final judgment, and be separated eternally from God in hell. Believers will then enter the eternal state.
The premillennial view has been most popular throughout history during times of persecution, although it became an especially attractive view in the 20th century due in part to authors like Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, who tied current events to end-times prophecies and who popularized the dispensational premillennial view in novels.
Arguments for historic premillennialism include:
- Revelation 20 is best understood as referring to a future earthly reign of Christ prior to the eternal state.
- Several Old Testament passages seem to fit neither the present age nor the eternal state and therefore suggest a millennial reign of righteousness, for example Ps. 72:8-14; Isa. 11:6-9; 65:20; Zech. 14:5-17.
- There are New Testament passages other than Revelation 20 that suggest a future millennium (1 Cor. 15:23-24; Rev. 2:26-27).
- The New Testament suggests that persecution/tribulation will affect all believers, who should not expect to be spared a time of trial (2 Tim. 3:12).
Arguments against historic premillennialism include:
- Only 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Dispensational / Pretribulational Premillennial View
This view is similar to the historic premillennial view with one major exception: It holds that the present church age will end suddenly with the Rapture of the church – the physical removal of dead and living believers from the earth – prior to a seven-year Tribulation, which is followed by the return of Christ to earth. “According to this view, the church age will continue until, suddenly, unexpectedly, and secretly, Christ will return part way to earth, and then will call believers to himself: ‘The dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air’ (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Christ will then return to heaven with the believers who have been removed from the earth. When that happens, there will be a great tribulation on the earth for a period of seven years” (Grudem, p. 1113). Some interpreters hold to a “midtribulation rapture,” meaning that the church will go through the first 3 ½ years of the tribulation before being caught up into heaven.
During the tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to appear before Christ’s return will be fulfilled – for example, the redemption of a large number of Jews as they receive Jesus as Messiah, and effective worldwide evangelism led largely by Jewish Christians. At the end of the tribulation, Jesus will return to earth with the saints to reign for 1,000 years. Following the millennium, Satan will be loosed from his 1,000 bondage and lead a worldwide rebellion, which Jesus will put down. This will be followed by the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and new heavens and earth.
This view became especially popular in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is embraced by those who wish to maintain a clear distinction between Israel and the Church. The pretribulational view maintains this distinction because the Church is removed from the earth prior to the conversion of the Jewish people. This view also holds to a “literal where possible” interpretation of scripture, which applies especially to Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and a reading of the Book of Revelation.
Arguments for and against dispensational premillennialism are much the same as those for and against historic premillennialism, with one notable addition: The dispensational view insists that Christ’s return (specifically, the Rapture) could occur “at any moment” and supports the biblical warnings to be ready, while at the same time allowing for a literal fulfillment of the signs preceding Christ’s return (specifically, the glorious appearing / second coming).