The Millennium

Posted: July 11, 2010 by Greg Burkheimer in Eschatology, Kingdom of God

“Perhaps no doctrine has more divided modern evangelical Protestantism than that of the millennium”Donald Bloesch, The Last Things, 87

            What is it about eschatology (the study of the last things) that either gets people wound up or turns them off? I would place myself more in the latter category. It’s not that I don’t have a desire to learn about last things, I really do, it’s just that there are so many different views out there and it can become very confusing trying to sort it all out. Also, quite frankly, some of those who consider themselves “experts” in the topic are just plain weird, trying to fit every single event that happens into the “grand scheme” somewhere and this is all they talk about. On the other hand, I don’t like that the end times are often ignored and reduced to a level that is not important.   

           Death, the intermediate state, resurrection, rewards, punishment of the damned, the coming kingdom (Millennium), and the new heavens and new earth are just a few of the topics to be considered when discussing the last things. I am challenged by just trying to understand the different views let alone picking one of them. The purpose of this paper is not to be exhaustive but to present the different views of the millennium as I have understood them from class and personal study. I will be getting most of my information from Wayne Grudems Systematic Theology book as well as a lesson on the millennium from The Theology Program through Reclaiming the Mind ministries and Covenant Theological Seminary. I will also reference the ESV Study Bible notes.

The Approach to Eschatology

            There have been two extremes when it comes to approaching the study of eschatology. The first is what the Theology Program calls eschatomania. Eschatomania is a radical preoccupation with studying end times by making adherence to detailed theological schemes and chart maps the litmus test for orthodoxy. Eschatomaniacs are often sensationalistic and unbalanced. The eschatomaniac would teach on eschatology every week using many charts with lots of arrows. They would also tend to be sensationalistic and polemically divisive. The other extreme is eschatophobia. Eschatophobia is a radical fear of the study of end times by people who believe that making any positive or detailed observations concerning the end times is radical, sensational, and unnecessarily divisive. The person who is eschataphobic would skip the book of Revelation and reduce eschatology to the basic adherence to the second coming. The challenge is to find a good balance in between. This is not a salvation issue, and while the bible is not totally clear on end time issues, I believe we should be encouraged to study it and that there is enough information given that we should be able to grasp more than just Jesus is going to return.

Different Views of Eschatology

            Before discussing the views of the millennium, it would be helpful to briefly cover some of the different views of eschatology. These would be different approaches people would have when looking at prophecies that deal with end times, mostly from the book of Revelation and Matthew chapter 24. The following different views are outlined from The Theology Program and are good to keep in mind when considering the different views of the millennium.

Historicist View: The Historicist would view most of the eschatological events of scripture (e.g., millennium, tribulation, and antichrist) as fulfilled or are being fulfilled in history. The primary future hope that is yet to be fulfilled is the second coming of Christ.

Preterist View: The Preterist is split into two catagories, partial and full. The partial preterist would say the events of the tribulation (Matt. 24; Rev. 1-20) all occurred in 70 A.D. when Christ came in judgment upon Jerusalem. The full preterist believes that all of the eschatological events of scripture, including the second coming, have been fulfilled in the past.

Futurist View: The Futurist would see most of the major eschatological events of scripture (e.g., millennium, tribulation, and antichrist), while foreshadowed by events in the past, are yet to be fulfilled in the future.

Idealistic View: The idealist sees the major eschatological events of scripture (e.g., millennium, tribulation, and antichrist) as symbolic principles of the timeless struggle that the world will go through until Christ returns. The primary future hope is that of the second coming of Christ. This will be fulfilled literally.

The Millennium

And I saw an angel come down from Heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  (2) And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.  (3)  And he cast him into the abyss and shut him up and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more until the thousand years should be fulfilled. And after that he must be loosed a little time.  (4)  And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast nor his image, nor had received his mark on their foreheads, nor in their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  (5)  But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.  (6)  Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over these, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with Him a thousand years. -Rev 20:1-6  MKJV

 The word millennium means “one thousand years” It is a term used to describe the period spoken of in Rev 20:1-9 where Satan is said to be bound and cast into the abyss for one thousand years where he cannot deceive the nations. It also speaks of a group that will come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years. Another point of interest in verse five is that it speaks of the rest of the dead not coming to life until the thousand years have ended. In verse six there is a mention of a first resurrection and how those who share in it are blessed over which the second death has no power.

            Many questions are raised from this section in Rev 20. When will this happen? Is this a literal one thousand years? What does it mean for Satan to be bound and sealed in the abyss? Who is this group that comes to life and reigns with Christ? What does John mean by, “comes to life”? What does John mean by, “reigns”? Are there two resurrections? Throughout church history there have been three main views held about the millennium, Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism.

 Premillennialism

“ There is a certain man named John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general. And in short, the eternal resurrection and judgement of all men would likewise take place.” –Justin martyr, Dialogue to Trypho, 81

          Premillennialism, which is usually associated with the futurist view, is the belief that in the future Christ will come and set up His kingdom on earth and reign for one thousand years (also called Chiliasm, Gk. “thousand”). In the premillennial view the church and Israel are usually distinct. The next prophetic event would be the Rapture if you are a pre-tribulation dispensational premillenialist, the Great Tribulation if you are a mid-tribulation dispensational premillenialist, and the second coming of Christ to set up the millennial kingdom if you are a post-tribulation historic premillenialist. Adherents to historic premillennialism include most of the early Church fathers (pre-250), Covenant Premillenialists, Millard Erickson and George Ladd. Adherents to dispensational premillennialism would include Nelson Darby, C.I. Schofield, Dallas Seminary and Gleason Archer.

Arguments for Premillennialism

 We must confess that a kingdom has been promised to us on earth, but before heaven and in another state of existence. It will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely built city of Jerusalem, let down from heaven.” –Tertullian, Against Marcion, 3.24.3

         Premillennialist lay out several arguments for their position. The most natural reading of Rev. 20 demands that there be a one thousand year reign of Christ on earth. No other scenario can do justice to this passage. It was the view of virtually all the early Church fathers (pre-250). Irenaus believed in a future millennium, and he received his views from the writings of Papias, who was an acquaintance of John the apostle. History tells us that the Church’s subsequent rejection of premillennialism was both reactionary and motivated by unchristian views. The millennium is necessary for God to fulfill His promises to Israel (Dispensational Premillennialism). Although while Christ was on the earth, the kingdom of God was present through the advent of the King, Christ makes it clear that He did not set up His Kingdom during this time, but that it was still future. (Acts 1:6-7, Matt 6:9-10)   

 Weaknesses of Premillennialism

 “I myself at one time accepted such an opinion. But when these interpreters say that the rising saints are to spend their time in limitless gormandizing with such heaps of food and drink as not only goes beyond belief, then such an interpretation becomes wholly unacceptable save to the carnal-minded.” –Augustine, City of God, 20.7

            Some weaknesses of the premillenniasm position would be that it is problematic to base such an important doctrine on one passage in a highly symbolic book. The one thousand year reign of Christ is only mentioned in Rev. 20. If this passage were not in Scripture, we would not even know about it. Also, other Scriptures suggest that there is no interval between the second coming of Christ and the judgement.

 Amillennialism

 “Premillennialists are waiting for the millennium, Postmillennialists are working for it, but we are enjoying it” -unknown

         Amillennialism is usually advocated by idealists but consistent with some expressions of preterism or historicism. It is the belief that there is no literal millennium, but that the millennium is symbolic of a present reality realized through the Church’s reign in Heaven and within the hearts of believers. The Church and Israel are not distinct. The Great Tribulation is seen as the past and present struggle with the forces of evil. The next prophetic event the amillennialist is looking for is the second coming of Christ and the New Heaven and New Earth. Adherents to this view have been Origen, Augustine, Roman Catholic Church, Reformers, and L. Berkhof.

Arguments for Amillennialism

            Amillennialists will argue that the New Testament convincingly suggests that the kingdom of God was introduced with the coming of Christ (Matt 12:28, Mk 1:14-15, Mk 9:1, Mk 12:34, Lk 17:20-21). Christ said that all authority had been given to Him; therefore, He is now reigning from heaven and in the hearts of believers (Matt 28:18-20). The kingdom of God is ultimately found, not in a thousand year millennium, but in a new heaven and new earth. Other Scriptures make it clear that there is no interval between the coming of the Lord and the judgement, (2 Pet. 3:9-10, 2Thess. 1:5-10). There is no mention of a millennium outside the highly symbolic book of Revelation. The Greek word for “thousand” is symbolic of an extremely long period of time. The binding of Satan in Rev. 20 refers to Christ’s binding of the “strong man” in Matt. 12:29. What warrant is there for separating the two bindings other than a preunderstanding of premillennalism? The surgence of the gospel to all nations during the Church age evidences a definite hindrance (binding) in the activity of Satan. He is no longer “deceiving the nations” in that the light of the gospel is going out to all people. The Scripture does not teach two resurrections. The resurrection spoken of in Rev. 20:5 refers to the martyers’ coming into the presence of the Lord in heaven and rejoicing with Him there. John 5:28-29 speak of only one resurrection (see also Act. 24:15). Amillennialism has been the view of the Church for the majority of Church History.

 Weaknesses of Amillennialism

            Some weaknesses of the amillennial view are that while it may be feasible to spiritualize the one thousand year reign of Christ in Rev. 20, this is much more difficult to do with the two resurrections of the same passage, one occurring before the millennium and one occurring after (Rev. 20:4-6). It is also problematic to say that Satan has been bound and locked and sealed in the abyss for the last two thousand years, not deceiving the nations. Peter says that Satan “prowls about like a roaring loin, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). This does not fit with any system except that which sees the millennium as yet future. The argument about the two resurrections of Rev 20 is weak at best and the amillennial view usually does not have a future for ethnic Israel, but replaces Israel with the Church. This is problematic since Rom. 11 seems to say that ethnic Israel does have a future.

 Postmillennialism

            Postmillennialism is mostly associated with preterism but is also compatible with historicism. This view teaches that the Church ushers in the millennium through the triumph of the Gospel. The Church and Israel are not distinct. The Great Tribulation either happened in the past (preterist) and /or is the present struggle with forces of evil. The next prophetic event would be the second coming of Christ and the new Heaven and new earth. Adherents to this view are George Whitfield, Charles Hodge, Jonathan Edwards, B. B. Warfield.

 Arguments for Postmillennialism

        The Postmilliennial advocate would state that the great commission demands fulfillment during the present age, since Christ is the one who is the power behind it (see also 1 Cor. 15:25). Certain parables clearly teach that the kingdom of heaven will continue to grow and eventually transform the entire world (Matt 13:31-33). The Church does in fact continue to grow and has more than 2 billion adherents. All other eschatological views are too pessimistic. Only Postmillennialism provides for the true triumph of Christ through the Church (Matt 16:18).

 Weaknesses of Postmillennialism

            The New Testament does not suggest that things will get better before Christ comes, but much worse (Matt. 24; 1Tim. 4:1-3; 2Tim. 3:1-5; 2 Pet. 3:3-4). Postmillennialism rose during a time of great hope and enlightenment, but that hope has turned to despair in the twentieth century. Man is not improving as we thought, and the Church is not triumphing over the world. Finally, there is a limited amount of scriptural support for Postmillennialism.

Conclusion

            So, which one is correct? As I said before just understanding the views can be a challenge and I am in the early stages of my study on this matter. The first goal should be to represent the viewpoints fairly. I agree with much of what Robert Peterson form Covenant Theological Seminary has to say on the matter. None of the views are without difficulties, there is more in common among them than meets the eye and no one can explain every verse in the simplest way possible.

            As Christians we should all agree that Christ reigns now according to Eph 1:19-23. It is also true that Satan cannot stop the spread of the gospel. I like Peterson’s point that the differences in the views are more exegetical than theological in nature. So it is not essential truth that is at stake. It seems the big picture is the same in all the views. All the views have an earthly reign of Christ for all eternity.

          There are aspects of each view that I like. I like the postmillennial optimism on the victory of the gospel and I could see those holding to this view having a great emphasis on evangelism. It makes me ask myself, what am I doing to spread the gospel? I like the amillennial position that Christ is reigning now and the implications this has on our daily lives as we bow before his reign as his people. Am I submitting to the reign of Christ as my King? I like the premillennial (Historic) view because it was the view that was held very early in the church and seems to be the best way to understand Rev 20.

           I guess when I look at Rev 20, I lean toward the premillennial (Historic) position. If I look at the rest of the Scriptures as a whole the amillennial position seems to have more support. For now I hold to the historic premillennial view but very loosely and I agree with much of what the other positions state as well. Whatever position we hold, we should not let it be divisive among us but focus on what we have in common while we work out our differences as those who will one day share in the new Heavens and new earth.

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Comments
  1. shammahbn says:

    Someone once told me that you can test any teaching by its conclusion. What does the teaching end up telling you *to do*. If the application of that teaching lines up with the commands of Scripture, you can probably trust it.

    It seems important that Jesus had an application for all his end time teaching. His application was “be ready.”

    I think of some of the divisiveness I’ve seen by people who focus on end times, and it reminds me not of what Jesus said to do, but of what he said not to do. He spoke in Luke 12:45 about a servant who beat the other servants, and so many end time teachers do just that verbally.

    I suspect that even if they get the prophecy timeline exactly right, they aren’t going to do too well when the Master returns and ask how they spent their time.

  2. Greg Burkheimer says:

    Agreed, “be ready” is what we are charged with as Christians. If we miss this important application we have really missed the main point.

    I don’t think Jesus meant to have our eschatological scheme worked out and to know what position you are on the rapture so you can win every argument with those who disagree and mock them for eternity. No, the question we have to ask ourselves at every moment of every day is am I ready for the return of my King? Are my actions bringing glory to Jesus or shame? Am I even thinking about His return? Am I being obedient to the call He has placed on my life? What is the number one passion in my life? Do I act differently at work than I do at church?

    This is part of the self examination that should take place in our lives, and when we fail we repent and confess it before the Lord. Being watchful and ready not only for His return but for those things that would lead us away from Him into lawlessness.

  3. Scott Kistler says:

    Thanks for this post, Greg. I really liked the quotes from the church fathers that supplemented your clear explanations.

  4. Greg Burkheimer says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Scott. I wrote this paper as an assignment for a class I took through Sovereign Grace Institute. Matt and Rick did a great job teaching the classes. I did not know what the different views of the Millennium were going in but now I at least somewhat understand them.

  5. Scott Kistler says:

    It’s interesting how eschatological views can affect how we think about the relationship between Christ and culture.

    My understanding is that postmils (or at least some) believe that the things getting worse are in reference to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 rather than the second coming of Christ. Is that what you encountered?

  6. Greg Burkheimer says:

    I have not really looked into that aspect of the defense of the postmill position. Grudem did mention that since Matt 24 is such a difficult passage from the postmill position that several attempts have been made to explain it not as a prediction of events that will occur just prior to Christ’s coming but as something that was mainly fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

    Most of the elements of Matt 24:29-31 are then considered to be symbolic.
    What are your thoughts?

    • Scott Kistler says:

      That’s probably the toughest thing for postmills. It seems that the clearest reading of that passage would be that vv. 29-31 would really be talking about the coming of Christ directly after the rest of the events in Matt. 24.

      On the other hand, one strength of the postmill position is that the claims that the events would happen “soon” would point toward Jesus referring to AD 70. The fact that 2000 years have passed would seem to strengthen postmill in comparison to premill.

      Like you and Matt said, these passages present problems for all of the interpretations. I kind of want to be a postmill since it talks about the gospel spreading to the whole earth and transforming all cultures, but I don’t feel that I can commit to one school without more study.

  7. Matt Masiewicz says:

    Matthew 24 is difficult for every position. Question, were you present for my lecture on Rev 20 from an Amill perspective? Also Steve Gregg has some great stuff on Eschatology at http://www.thenarrowpath.org but beware his strong anti Calvinism. He is flirting with Open Theism a bit as well.

    Matt

  8. Matt Masiewicz says:

    oops, I got the link wrong. Here it is http://www.narrowpath.org

  9. Matt Masiewicz says:

    Dang, got it wrong again. Let’s try cut and paste. http://www.thenarrowpath.com/

  10. Greg Burkheimer says:

    Matt, thanks for that link. I will take some time and check it out. I may not have been present for your lecture that night? Do you have it posted at Sermon Cloud?

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