Rev. 21:5 – Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.” (HCSB)
Making everything new
In verses 5-6 John writes, “Then the One seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I am making everything new.’ He also said, ‘Write, because these words are faithful and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.’
In the creation, God makes everything out of nothing (ex nihilo) and declares all He has made to be good. Sinless perfection is the norm until Adam and Eve fall into sin, bringing death upon themselves and entropy upon the created order. From the garden, however, God provides atonement through a substitutionary sacrifice and a promise that the “seed” of Eve will crush Satan’s head and set things right.
We get glimpses of the world set right throughout scripture. Yahweh defeats the false gods of the Egyptians and parts the Red Sea for His people. A widow finds an abundance of oil and flour after she offers the last of her supply to the prophet Elijah. A leper is healed after bathing in the Jordan River. An army of 185,000 Assyrians is struck dead in a single night. And the prophets of old share inspiring predictions of a world restored, where the lion and the lamb lie down together while the child plays over the cobra’s den.
Rev. 10:1 – Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like fiery pillars, 2and he had a little scroll opened in his hand. He put his right foot on the sea, his left on the land, 3and he cried out with a loud voice like a roaring lion. When he cried out, the seven thunders spoke with their voices. 4And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!”
5Then the angel that I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6He swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will no longer be an interval of time, 7but in the days of the sound of the seventh angel, when he will blow his trumpet, then God’s hidden plan will be completed, as He announced to His servants the prophets.”
8Now the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “God, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”
10Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. 11And I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (HCSB)
God’s hidden plan will be completed (v. 7)
The second phrase of special interest in the mighty angel’s oath (the first is that there will no longer be an interval of time) is that “God’s hidden plan will be completed” at the sound of the seventh angel’s trumpet. Note carefully that the angel does not say God’s hidden plan will be revealed, but completed. And he adds, “as He announced to His servants the prophets” (v. 7). In other words, we are not to look for further revelation when the third woe is declared; we are to watch as the Lord reclaims what is rightfully His – the kingdoms of this world. He already has told us this day will come. Now He’s going to fulfill His promise.
Revelation 22:18-29 (HCSB)
To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: “The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame, and whose feet are like fine bronze says: I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first. But I have this against you: you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices. I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works. I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you. But hold on to what you have until I come. The victor and the one who keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations — and He will shepherd them with an iron scepter; He will shatter them like pottery — just as I have received ⌊this⌋ from My Father. I will also give him the morning star. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The letter to the church at Thyatira
Lydia, a seller of purple goods, whose heart God opened to the message of Christ, is from this commercial center steeped in paganism (Acts 16:14). Having heard Paul’s proclamation of the gospel in Philippi, she may have taken the good news back to Thyatira and been among the first to evangelize her city. Thyatira was a military town that also boasted guilds dealing in metals and fabric. Guild members celebrated their patron deities in festivals that no doubt tempted Christians. Some even may have given in to the message of a “prophetess” who promoted illicit sex and food sacrificed to idols. The city is known for its temple to Apollo, the sun god. Thyatira is the smallest of the seven cities yet receives the longest letter, and one of the sternest rebukes, from Christ.
Jesus identifies Himself as “The Son of God,” the only time in Revelation this name is used. The title “Son of God” is from Ps. 2:7 and expresses the unique relationship He has with the Father, just as Jesus’ favorite name for Himself, “Son of Man,” identifies Him as the Messiah and as deity (see Dan. 7:13; Matt. 26:64). Matthew Henry comments: “His general title is here, the Son of God, that is, the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, which denotes that he has the same nature with the Father, but with a distinct and subordinate manner of subsistence” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 2:18–29). Borrowing from John’s description in Rev. 1:14-15, Jesus calls Himself “the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame, and whose feet are like fine bronze” (v. 18). He sees all with his piercing, penetrating eyes and knows the hearts of men and women. Nothing escapes His attention. And though some may seek to hide themselves beneath rocks and in caves, they will be found and made to stand before Him one day without excuse. His feet of fine bronze move swiftly and surely to judge; He will not stumble, fall, or delay.
Christ’s evaluation of the church’s condition
Jesus commends the church, saying, “I know your works – your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first” (v. 19). In contrast to the church at Ephesus, which has abandoned the love it had at first, the believers in Thyatira are growing stronger in heartfelt Christian service. They are not merely busy in religious activity; they are motivated by a love for the Lord and for one another.
Nevertheless, Jesus rebukes the church for tolerating a false prophetess named Jezebel, who leads many into the same sins practiced in Pergamum – sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols. While it’s possible that a woman, Lydia, helped evangelize the city, it is now clear that a different woman, Jezebel, is leading many into grievous sins. The name Jezebel may or may not be the woman’s real name, but it suggests that she has the same influence on the church that King Ahab’s wife Jezebel had on the Israelites in Old Testament times. Jezebel’s evil is so pervasive that the Bible says her husband Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God than all the kings of Israel before him (1 Kings 16:33). Just as Ahab is responsible for the actions of those under his authority, including his wife, the leaders of the church at Thyatira are responsible for allowing the New Testament Jezebel to corrupt their congregants.
The apostle Paul makes is clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols (“We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat” – 1 Cor. 8:8), but mature believers are to abstain from such practices if they are a stumbling block to weaker brothers and sisters; no doubt, the dietary and religious aspects of eating these meats could not be separated at Thyatira. Rather that abstain, the people indulged and the church leaders did little or nothing to stop it. Apparently this has been going on for quite some time because Jesus says He gave Jezebel time to repent. She refused. Therefore, judgment is imminent.
“Look! I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices,” Jesus declares (v. 22). Note that the time of God’s grace has ended for Jezebel but not for the church. It’s not too late for those deceived into sexual immorality and spiritual adultery. They still have an opportunity to repent. It is not God’s judgment but His kindness that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Christ goes on with a dramatic statement: “I will kill her children with the plague” (v. 23). This most likely is a reference to Jezebel’s followers, not to any innocent children she may have. Disciples, whether of Christ or of those who oppose Him, often are depicted as children and may suffer the same fate as their masters. Jesus warns His followers they will be hated, persecuted, and even killed because of their devotion to Him (Matt. 24:9; John 15:18-25), and we know from church tradition that most of the apostles suffer martyr’s deaths. At the same time, those who ally themselves with Satan and his stewards should expect to suffer the wrath of a holy and righteous God (2 Cor. 11:15b). We don’t know what the “sickbed” is in verse 22 – perhaps a pestilence of some kind, a public humiliation that exposes her wickedness, or an abandonment of her false teachings. As for the death of her “children,” this could be a reference to the second death, the lake of fire. In any case, while the church tolerated Jezebel and her evil, the Lord would not.
Finally, notice the distinction between Jesus’ reference to “My slaves” (v.20) and “her children” ( v. 23). Even though believers may be deceived and led into grievous sins, they are secure in their relationship with Christ; He loses none of those given to Him. Who suffers death in “the plague?” The children of Jezebel, who are by extension children of Satan. The result of Christ’s judgment is dramatic: “Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (v. 23).
Christ’s comfort and/or commands
Jesus has a word for those who have remained faithful: “I do not put any other burden on you. But hold on to what you have until I come” (vv. 24-25). The burden of the faithful in resisting Jezebel’s tempting doctrines and protesting the church’s weak defense against them is sufficient in the eyes of the Lord. He asks them simply to “hold on” to their steadfast faith in Him and their confidence that one day soon He will make things right.
Note the commendation in other passages of Scripture to those who hold on:
- In the parable of the sower: “But the seed in the good ground – these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit” (Luke 8:15).
- In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “But test all things. Hold on to what is good” (5:21).
- In Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:13).
- In the letter to the Hebrews: “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household, whose household we are if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope” (3:6) … “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23) … “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe” (12:28-29).
Christ’s urge to listen
Jesus says in verse 29, “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” The church today is, in many respects, as corrupt as the one in Thyatira. While there are faithful believers who “hold on” to sound doctrine, there are many that tolerate false prophets and embrace their teachings, while some church leaders do little or nothing about it. Just as a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough (Gal. 5:9), a little tolerance of false teachings in the interest of political correctness or for the sake of expediency will result in a church that can barely be distinguished from the world.
Christ’s promises to the victor
Jesus says, “The victor and the one who keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations … just as I have received [this] from My Father” (v. 26-27). In the middle of these words Jesus inserts a Messianic Old Testament passage, Ps. 2:9: “[A]nd He will shepherd them with an iron scepter; He will shatter them like pottery …” Jesus not only reaffirms His Messianic claims; He confirms the authority the Father gave Him to rule the nations and promises His followers a place in His coming administration. “Though Psalm 2:9 refers to Christ’s rule, John’s quotation of it here relates the ruling (shepherding) to the believer who overcomes. Believers will have authority just as Christ does (1 Cor. 6:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4, 6)” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures).
In addition, Jesus tells the faithful He will give them “the morning star.” While the Scriptures do not elaborate on this term, Jesus uses it to identify Himself in Rev. 22:6: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star.” As the morning star appears just before dawn, Jesus one day will step into the clouds of heaven and return in power and great glory (Matt. 24:30). Every eye will see Him, for His coming will be like lightning (Matt. 24:27). Believers have an added promise: “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
The four major views of the end times – postmillennialism, amillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism – are based on biblical interpretation and may be found on a scale that ranges from a strict, literal interpretation of scripture to a figurative understanding of biblical passages concerning the Day of the Lord. So how do proponents of these views understand the Book of Revelation?
There are five major interpretations of the so-called Apocalypse of John, but one cannot say, for example, that all postmillennialists hold to a certain interpretation and all premillennialists to another. Nevertheless, in general terms, premillennialists tend to view Revelation through a literal lens, while post- and amillennialists see the text more figuratively.
The five major views of Revelation are: preterist, historicist, futurist, idealist, and eclectic:
- Preterists see the events of Revelation, for the most part, to have been fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age, either at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or at both the fall of Jerusalem and later at the fall of Rome in the fifth century. The book was written, preterists say, to comfort Christians who suffered persecution at the hands of the Romans and the Jews. Many biblical scholars favor the preterist view.
- Historicists view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history. This view meshed with the thinking of the Protestant Reformers, who equated the papal system of their day with the Apostle John’s vision of the Antichrist. This view largely has fallen out of favor due to the difficulties of matching historical events to biblical prophecy, requiring constant revision.
- Futurists argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22. Premillennialists tend to embrace a futurist interpretation of the Apocalypse. And while many scholars favor the preterist view, it may be said that the masses prefer the futurist interpretation.
- Idealists see Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – a battle that continues throughout the church age. Instead of predicting future events, Revelation inspires and encourages believers of all times as they endure persecution at the hands of God’s enemies.
- Eclectics glean the strengths of the other four views while avoiding their pitfalls. Many leading evangelical scholars today have embraced the eclectic approach, arguing that it provides a balanced approach to scripture.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these interpretations.
The preterist view
Those who hold a preterist (past) perspective of Revelation relate the book to the Apostle John and his immediate audience. In other words, they emphasize that John addresses his writings to real churches that face real challenges in the first century A.D. John uses symbolic language to tell his readers how God will intervene on their behalf to deliver them from persecution by the Jews and the Romans.
There are two main schools of thought in the preterist camp. The first prefers an earlier date for Revelation and sees the book as a prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The beast is Rome and Babylon is unbelieving Israel, which cooperates with Rome in persecuting the church. Armageddon is the siege of Jerusalem. This view, however, is at odds with a multitude of scholars who date John’s apocalyptic writing to the last decade of the first century during the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.) rather than the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.).
The second school of thought holds that Revelation predicts the fall of the Roman Empire (Babylon the Great) in 476 A.D. and allows for late-first-century authorship. The Roman system comes under judgment for oppressing Christians, who worship God alone, not the emperor. John urges his readers to stay faithful to the Lord and assures them that He will deal harshly with their enemies.
Two historical challenges provided the impetus for Revelation, according to Ken Gentry Jr.:
In the first place, it was designed to steel the first century Church against the gathering storm of persecution, which was reaching an unnerving crescendo of theretofore unknown proportions and intensity. A new and major feature of that persecution was the entrance of imperial Rome onto the scene. The first historical persecution of the Church by imperial Rome was by Nero Caesar from A.D. 64 to A.D. 68. In the second place, it was to brace the Church for a major and fundamental re-orientation in the course of redemptive history, a re-orientation necessitating the destruction of Jerusalem (the center not only of Old Covenant Israel, but of Apostolic Christianity [cp. Ac. 1:8; 2:1ff; 15:2] and the Temple [cp. Mt. 24:1-34 with Rev. 11])” (Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, pp. 15-16).
The preterist view may be traced to the rise of postmillennialism, which teaches that Jesus Christ will return after the Millennium, a period of peace and blessing brought about by the conversion of the nations as they respond positively to the gospel message. Daniel Whitby (1638-1726), a Unitarian minister in England, generally is credited with developing the postmillennial view.
The historicist view
The historicist approach argues that Revelation provides a prophetic overview of church history from the first century until the return of Christ. This view was especially popular during the Protestant Reformation and was embraced by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other prominent Christian leaders of their day. Reformers identified the Antichrist and Babylon with the pope and Catholicism. More recently, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney and Charles Spurgeon advocated a historicist approach to Revelation. Over the years, the so-called “newspaper approach” to apocalyptic literature has led historicist interpreters to identify the Antichrist with figures like Charlemagne, Napolean and Hitler.
Classical or historic dispensationalists generally interpret the letters of Revelation 2-3 using a modified historicist approach. In addition to the immediate and local applications of the letters, many expositors believe the messages to the seven churches picture the chronological development of church history. The letter to Ephesus, for example, seems to describe conditions in the church during apostolic times, while the progression of evil climaxing in Laodicea seems to foreshadow the final state of apostasy that signals the return of Christ.
While the historicist approach helps the interpreter make sense of Revelation, its weaknesses outweigh its singular strength. For example, the historicist approach sees fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies mostly in light of the Western church. In addition, because characters like the beast of Revelation 13 are usually seen as fulfilled in people contemporary to the interpreter, the historicist approach is constantly being modified as new world leaders emerge and new political, economic, social and religious realities come to pass. One final weakness of this view is that it would have held little relevance to the first readers of Revelation. For these reasons, the historicist view has largely fallen out of favor with biblical scholars today.
The futurist view
The futurist approach to Revelation argues that Revelation 4-22 relates primarily to a future time before and after the return of Christ. Rev. 1:19 is seen as a key to the rest of the book: “Therefore write what you have seen [Rev. 1], what is [Rev. 2-3], and what will take place after this [Rev. 4-22].”
Many early church leaders held to some form of the futurist view, but it gave way to the allegorical method of interpreting scripture and the amillennialism of Augustine. But by the Protestant Reformation, and especially by the 19th century, the futurist view made a comeback, and today many evangelical leaders hold to some version of it. Two forms are prominent:
- Dispensational futurism holds to a very literal interpretation of Revelation and argues that God’s plan of salvation unfolds in stages or dispensations. God elected Israel as His covenant people and has not abandoned them; in fact, there will be national revival in the last days as multitudes of Jews receive Jesus as Messiah. Meanwhile, the church holds a parenthetic place in the plan of God as Gentiles pour into God’s kingdom. At the end of the church age, Christians will be raptured, or removed from the earth, and a seven-year tribulation will follow, during which the Antichrist will rise to power and wage war against believing Jews. Christ will then return, defeat the Antichrist and his armies, and bind Satan for 1,000 years, during which time Jesus will sit on the throne of David and preside over a period of unprecedented – but not perfect – peace. Satan will be loosed for a short time after the Millennium, but Christ will defeat him, cast him into hell, resurrect all unbelievers and summon them before the great white throne. After they are given final judgment and cast into hell, Jesus will create new heavens and a new earth.
- Historic futurism reads Revelation as prophetic-apocalyptic literature, where the images often represent other realities. Revelation does not unfold in a chronological sequence. This view does not see the church as a parenthesis in God’s work through Israel; rather, the church is the true Israel and the fulfillment of God’s plan. The church will enter the
tribulation before Christ returns to rescue His people and establish His millennial kingdom. Following the defeat of Satan and the final judgment, believers will enjoy eternal life in the new heavens and earth.
Those who challenge the futurist view say it removes Revelation from its original setting so that the book has little meaning for its initial audience. Futurists respond that the second coming of Christ has always been imminent and is therefore relevant at all times throughout the church age.
The idealist view
The idealist view sees Revelation as a symbolic description of the ongoing battle between God and the forces of evil. Instead of predicting future events, Revelation inspires and encourages believers of all times as they endure persecution at the hands of God’s enemies.
This view gained a foothold through the allegorical method of interpretation promoted by church fathers such as Origen and Clement. Along with Augustine’s amellennial view, the idealist view became the dominant interpretation of Revelation for a period stretching from several hundred years after the ascension of Christ until the Reformation. The view is popular today as well among scholars who see Revelation’s meaning neither in church history nor future events, but in the ongoing struggle between God’s people and God’s enemies.
The idealist view points to the symbolic language of Revelation, arguing that the seals, trumpets and bowls are judgments that fall on unbelievers of every age, and anti-Christian leaders of all times are depicted in the beast, false prophet, and Babylon. Meanwhile, the millennium describes the present church age and the prophecies underscore the biblical truth that ultimately God will conquer evil.
This approach to Revelation appreciates the prophetic teachings of John, embraces the theological importance of the book, and highlights the spiritual importance of its message for all Christians throughout the present age. However, it has been criticized for failing to pin any of Revelation’s symbols with historical events. “If there is no particular historical fulfillment of the prophecies of Revelation, in what sense are its ideals really relevant?” (Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times, J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, C. Marvin Pate, p. 206).
The Eclectic View
This approach tries to combine the strengths of the other views while dodging their weaknesses. It agrees, for example, with preterists that Revelation must have meant something to its first readers; therefore, we should study the historical context carefully. It agrees with futurists that some portions of Revelation await fulfillment; therefore we may wait expectantly for the Lord to defeat evil at a future time. It agrees with idealists that Revelation has a relevant spiritual message for the church of every age; therefore we should seek to mine its depths for insights that have practical application today.
Many leading evangelical scholars today have embraced the eclectic approach, arguing that it provides a balanced approach to scripture and avoids the dangerous tendency to carry any view to extremes.
Much of the information for this article came from the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times by J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, C. Marvin.
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.”
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).