Tagged: second coming of Jesus

10 truths about the return of Jesus

200321147-001Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times.  The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.

Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.

Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.

Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.

There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.

With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.

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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.”

LISTEN:  Podcast – “A quick view of premillennialism”

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).

A quick look at post- and amillennialism

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.”

LISTEN: Podcast – “A quick look at post- and amillennialism

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.

What every Christian should believe about the end times

LISTEN: Download podcast: “What every Christian should believe about the end times”

Our life group at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church has begun a study of the end times, the events surrounding the return of Christ. I have to confess that I am less than thrilled with the assignment to teach this course — not because the Day of the Lord is unimportant, but because for centuries Christians have focused more on debating the details of Christ’s return than understanding the clear teachings about it in Scripture and heeding our Savior’s call to “be ready” by living in the light of eternity.

So, whether you’re a pre-tribulation-rapture premillennialist, an amillennialist, a postmillennialist, a panmillennialist (“it will all pan out in the end”), or someone else altogether in your view of the end times, I offer these 10 simple truths every Christian should keep in mind:

  1. Jesus has finished the work of salvation and today is seated at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor.
  2. Jesus is coming back to earth one day personally, physically and visibly.
  3. There will be a resurrection and final judgment of all people.
  4. Jesus will create new heavens and a new earth completely purged of sin.
  5. Believers will spend eternity with Christ and enjoy face-to-face fellowship with Him.
  6. Unbelievers will spend eternity separated from Christ in hell.
  7. The kingdom of heaven is here now (in the hearts of believers) but will be fully revealed and established at the return of Christ.
  8. Christians who uphold the truth of Scripture may disagree about how to interpret the prophetic passages about the end times, but they should never be disagreeable.
  9. End-times prophecies that generate confusion now will become crystal clear when they are fulfilled.
  10. The teachings of Jesus and the apostles concerning the Second Coming urge us to be prepared.

READ: Download Word document, “What every Christian should believe about the end times”