4 Major Views Pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ

Eschatology, or the study of the end-times, is perhaps the most divisive area of the Christian faith, and rightfully so as eschatology deals with things that are yet to come as opposed to the things that have already taken place. Due a great degree, eschatology always holds a degree of speculation. However, some views hold greater biblical weight than others. Such is the case when one examines the various views pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ. Eschatological systems find their main difference when it comes to the interpreter’s view of the Millennial Reign of Christ. This article will provide information pertaining to the four major views pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ. But before one can evaluate the four views, one must first answer, just what is this Millennial Reign of Christ anyway?

Millennial Reign of Christ Defined

The idea of the Millennial Reign of Christ stems from Revelation 20:1-3. The text describes a time when Christ rules while Satan is bound. A millennium refers to 1,000 years, the time that Satan is said to be bound and which Christ will reign. Perhaps the best way to understand the concept is to read the text to which the doctrine is referenced. John writes,

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 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” (Revelation 20:1-3).[1]

The question scholars ask relates to the literal vs. symbolic nature of the event. Jones, Gundersen, and Galan inquire, “Are these centuries intended to be taken as a precise time-period or as a symbol of something greater?”[2] Thus, interpreters approach this event from four different perspectives.

The Amillennial View

The amillennial view holds that the Millennial Reign of Christ is a symbolic gesture in Revelation that refers to the church age. During this reign of Christ on earth through the church, tribulations will naturally occur as the Church seeks to proclaim the gospel to the world. Eventually, amillennialists hold, the world will be evangelized and will progress until Christ returns, judges the world, and establishes the physical heaven and hell for all eternity. For the amillennialist, Revelation is symbolic and should not be taken literally. Thus, for the amillennialist, there is no future Millennial Reign of Christ. Now is the time that Christ rules through the church. Many mainstream denominations consider themselves amillennial. Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther are normally considered to be amillennial in their approach to eschatology.

Strengths:

Amillennialism places a high value on the work of the church and stresses the importance of the leadership of Christ. In addition, amillennialists are less prone to the sensational claims that other interpretations tend to hold.

Weaknesses:

Ed Hindson of Liberty University summed it up well in a video post when he claimed, “If God was literal in the fulfillments of prophecy in the past, what makes us think that God would not fulfill future prophecies in a literal manner?”[3] In addition, amillennialists certainly take certain portions of eschatological Scriptures seriously as they would hold to a literal return to Christ and a literal heaven and hell. Thus, where does symbolism end and literalism begin in the amillennial model?

The Postmillennial View

Postmillennialism is much like amillennialism with one major distinction; postmillennialists believe in a distinct time of tribulation for the church. Towards the end of the tribulation, Christ will be victorious through the church, the world will be evangelized, and the world will become better until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom which will lead into eternity. Famous postmillennialists include such Reformed thinkers as the great intellectual giant R.C. Sproul and B.B. Warfield. However, one small addendum needs to be added. Postmillennialists do not agree that a literal tribulational period will commence before the return of Christ.

Strengths:

Postmillennialists, like amillennialists, focus on God’s work in and through the church. In addition, postmillennialists stress evangelism and the change that the Christ can bring to a culture through the church.

Weaknesses:

Postmillennialism suffers from one, potentially fatal, blow; that is, that postmillennialists hold that the world will become better as time progresses and as the gospel is proclaimed. For 2,000 years the gospel has been proclaimed. At times, certain societies have improved due to their acceptance of the gospel message. But, most would concede that the world is becoming more and more evil as time progresses and as more people reject the grace of God.

The Dispensational Premillennial View (Pretribulational and Mid-Tribulational)

Dispensational premillennialists hold that God is working both through the church and Israel. Dispensationalists generally agree, especially in the progressive interpretation, that God is bringing forth salvation to the world. However, God is going to establish His Millennial kingdom through Israel. Thus, the promises made to Israel through Abraham still apply. Dispensational premillennialists hold that Christ is working through the church. But, a time is coming where God will focus His attention on Israel and will call out the church by an event called the Rapture. This Rapture event will leave behind many to endure a 7-year period termed the Great Tribulation. During the tribulation, God will judge the world and reestablish Israel as a world leader in which time Christ will return to establish a literal Millennial kingdom for 1,000 years on earth. During this time, some hold, judgment will occur which will lead towards the establishment of a physical heaven and hell. Within this paradigm, two different subsets are presented. Pretribulationalists holds that the Rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation as God will judge the world on a national level during this time. Midtribulationalists, otherwise termed pre-wrath, advocates hold that the church will endure a portion of the tribulation but will be Raptured out of the world before the wrath of God is poured out upon the earth. Some famous advocates of dispensational premillennialism include Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), John N. Darby, C.I. Scofield (author of the Scofield Reference Bible), John MacArthur, John Hagee, Norman Geisler, and Tim LaHaye (author of the Left Behind series).

Strengths:

Dispensational premillennialism is among one of the most literal interpretations of the Bible. Dispensational premillennialists hold the veracity of future prophecies in a literal fashion as they do past prophecies. Dispensational premillennialists are also pro-Semitic in their approach. Unfortunately, past amillennialists such as Martin Luther have taken an unfortunate anti-Semitic approach in their interpretations. Such is not the case with dispensational premillennialists as they hold that Israel still possesses great value to God.

Weaknesses:

Dispensational premillennialism is one of the newer systematized theologies pertaining to eschatology. However, while this view was not developed as it is now, some in the early church tended to hold views consistent with some attributes of dispensational premillennialism, termed chiliasm. However, it would be anachronistic to claim that any early church leader would completely be considered dispensational in their approach. In addition, dispensational premillennialists are perhaps the most prone towards sensationalism. The church has been plagued with individuals attempting to pinpoint the date and time that the Rapture event would occur.

The Historical Premillennial View (Posttribulational)

The last view pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ is held by those who are historical premillennialists. Historical premillennialists believe in a literal time of tribulation. However, historical premillenialists, sometimes called post-tribulationalists, hold that the Rapture and the Return of Christ are the same event. Thus, the seven-year tribulation will usher in the return of Christ. In the historical premillennialist view, the church will endure the seven-year tribulation. After the period of time is over, Christ will return to establish His kingdom on earth, judgment will occur, and then after Armageddon, eternity in heaven and hell will begin. Unlike postmillennialists, historical premillennialists hold that the world will progressively become worse until the time that Christ reappears. Famous historical premillennialists include Albert Mohler, Jr. (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, Gordon Clark, and Millard Erickson. It must be noted that many in the early church such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Polycarp. Some trace the view back to the Apostle John himself.

Strengths:

Historical premillennialism enjoys the support of many giants in the faith (both modern and ancient). Like dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism is very literal in its approach in its interpretation of Scripture. Unlike dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism is far less likely to become imbibed by the sensationalism in which some dispensationalists find themselves.

Weaknesses:

This view holds the least amount of weaknesses of any view. However, some opponents of the view, as well as dispensational premillennialism, claim that there must have been some reasons that the church eventually parted ways with the interpretation. Also, some Reformed historical premillennialists find themselves in a peculiar situation as they, on the one hand, promote Augustine’s views pertaining to election, but, on the other hand, find themselves battling Augustine in his perspective for amillennialism.

Conclusion

It must be noted that this writer has not completely settled his viewpoint concerning eschatology at the time this article was released. However, I find myself gravitating around a premillennial perspective. For me, postmillennialism is certainly out as no one could claim that the world is getting better unless they were delusional. Amillennialism is attractive because it is less complicated in its approach. The church does its work and then Christ comes. End of story. However, as I find myself as one who takes the claims of the Bible seriously, I find myself gravitating around a premillennial perspective. Both dispensational and historical versions of premillennialism hold some attractive aspects. Thus, while this writer cannot promote a precise eschatological paradigm for you the reader, I can state that premillennialism seems to be a better option than either amillenialism or postmillennialism.

Chart not original to Pastor Brian Chilton. All rights reserved to the authors of the chart.

Chart not original to Pastor Brian Chilton. All rights reserved to the authors of the chart. Note that historical premillennialism is termed post-tribulational premillennialism on this chart.

11/17/14

 © Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

 

 

Bibliography

Hindson, Ed Hindson and Daniel Mitchell. “The Seventy Weeks of Daniel.” Video (2012). Liberty University. Accessed November 17, 2014.

Jones, Timothy Paul Jones, David Gundersen, and Benjamin Galan. Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy. Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, 2011.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

[2] Timothy Paul Jones, David Gundersen, and Benjamin Galan, Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy (Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, 2011), 67.

[3] Ed Hindson and Daniel Mitchell, “The Seventy Weeks of Daniel,” Video (2012) Liberty University.