As I sit to write this, I am a little hesitant because I’m not sure I have landed concretely on any position concerning the millennial reign of Christ. The most popular view held today is the premillennial view. In 2019, I remember being at a lunch for reformed pastors in our area. One of the other pastors asked what my millennial view was. Without hesitation, I answered, “Premil.” That was less than two years ago. In 1918, when premillennialism essentially became the national view of United States citizens with the rise of fundamentalism, mainstream Christians (who were mostly postmil at the time) warned that the premillennial position (which they unnecessarily conflated with Nazi socialism) would lead Christians to forsake the world and the United States, which happened. In the aftermath of World War I (1914-1918) and the accompanying civil and social unrest, premillennialism became attractive because it explained why the world seemed to be getting so terrible and why the liberal agendas (primarily women’s right to vote) of the age seemed to be winning. The American version of premillennialism emerged from the new dispensational theological camp and became associated, at first, only with fundamental baptists. The premillennial viewpoint was and is as diverse as any other theological perspective because people think differently, including historic (which I was in 2019) and progressive premillennialism today. Much of my life, I was premillennial because I grew up learning from mostly premil teachers. Though I was aware of other positions, I cared not to work out my own eschatology because the church environments I found myself in were so eschatologically charged. I did not feel free to investigate the Scriptures because I felt the church would not allow it. Such dogma would have been my reason for leaving the church altogether, but the Holy Spirit was more persuasive than wretched people. The Holy Spirit is the only reason I, who almost forsook the church, became a preacher.
Prior to the 20th Century, protestants in America were mostly postmillennial, a theology which influenced the founders, even if they were not postmillennial, of the United States to form a Christian union in order to bring the kingdom of heaven to the earth. Their viewpoint was positive, nationalistic, and, unlike premillennials, enabled them to make the world a better place. At the dawn of premillennialism, the populous postmillennials saw their premillennial brothers and sisters as defeatists and pessimistic. Though postmillennialism is not as popular today, there has been a revival of the viewpoint in the 21st Century because Christians noticed the mass secularization of the nation—which can be traced back to the premillennial revolution in the 1900s.
I desire to be a postmillennial, but I am not yet convinced that it is the biblical position. I like the optimism. The viewpoint that most closely aligns with what I currently see in Scripture is the amillennial perspective, though I am sure I disagree with other amillennials about some things (e.g. a future seven-year tribulation). Historic theologians like Augustine, Calvin, and Luther held to an amillennial view of the millennial reign of Christ, as did R.C. Sproul and does Voddie Baucham, Sam Storms, and Ben Merkle. I have come to realize that not many really know what the position entails. Like many things, people scour the internet and make assumptions. Then they accuse others of all sorts of awful things based on their own assumptions about what a position is or implies (that’s called a straw-man). Or, they find information from someone who does not represent any position other than his own well. I receive emails from people who tell me they disagree with me, but they prove to have no understanding about what I believe by arguing against positions I do not take. Just this week, someone lambasted me for “…aberrant/twisted theology with unchecked license for unfettered allegory—worse than the Catholic church!” Such accusations are interesting since I hold strictly to a historical-grammatical (otherwise known as “literal”) interpretation of Scripture. It is important to seek understanding rather than make assumptions. So, I will explain the amillennial perspective and briefly defend my outlook against postmillennialism and premillennialism—knowing full well that I am not antagonistic toward either disparate perspective. I also do so knowing that Scripture can change my position because it has been changing my position in the last couple years. These words should not be taken as my final statement about the issue. My goal is simply to observe the biblical evidence, not forming an opinion based on worldly events or what I previously believed but Scripture alone. Before late 2019, and possibly up until June 2020, I would have identified as a historic premillennial—and I could have defended it vigorously by parroting what I heard from others. The sincere study of Scripture is the thing changing my mind because I could not reconcile certain passages of Scripture with my eschatology. When our worldview does not match Scripture, we have the responsibility to change.
To anyone reading this, please know that I arrive at my doctrinal convictions painstakingly by wrestling intensely with the text of Scripture and poring over the plethora of thoughts and scholarship on each issue before speaking about it.
Ammillennialism is a bit of a misnomer. It is not the belief that there is no millennium. It is the belief that the millennium is not earthly but heavenly. The distinctive characteristic of amillennialism is the belief that the 1,000 year reign of Christ in Revelation 20:2-3, a time during which Satan is bound, is the indeterminate amount of time in between Jesus Christ’s incarnation or ascension in the 1st Century AD and His return at the end of the church age. During this time, Christ is reigning from Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:18-21 HCSB).
Amillennialism is essentially different from post and premillennialism in the following ways:
|Christ reigns from heaven in the current age.||Christ reigns through the church on the earth in the current age.||Christ will reign physically on the earth at a future time.|
|Satan is currently bound from deceiving the nations concerning the Gospel.||Satan is currently bound from deceiving the nations concerning the Gospel.||Satan will be bound from doing anything at a future time.|
|Sees the kingdom of God as existing alongside the kingdom of Hell until Christ’s return.||Sees the kingdom of God as taking over the world progressively until the entire world is conquered by the church.||Sees the kingdom of Hell as taking over the world progressively until Christ returns, destroys everything, and sets His kingdom on the earth (progressive premil is an exception).|
Though these are the most basic differences, you see why a person’s millennial perspective shapes the way he interacts in the world and with the Bible. I am not currently convinced of the postmillennial perspective because, though I do recognize the slow expansion of the kingdom of heaven on the earth in Scripture (cf. Matthew 13:31-35), I also recognize the existence of evil up until the return of Christ—which does not seem to cohere with the idea that the kingdom will simply take over the world until the church is the only nation. I am not currently convinced of the premillennial position because Scripture seems to indicate that Christ is currently reigning over this earth rather than beginning His explicit reign at some point in the future. The amillennial perspective will become clearer as I work through the biblical evidence.
My biblical investigation into the millennial perspectives began when I started preparing for our current Revelation series at The Church at Sunsites. If I did not have to teach it, I would have had no reason to investigate as thoroughly as I have. My previous understanding was simply a parroting of teachers from whom I heard the premillennial position taught. Like many things in theology and practice, the Bible indicates something different from what is popularly taught. I have had to constantly wrestle with the Bible during my investigation, and, surprise, the Bible is winning against what I previously believed. Here, I will mention particular references that have persuaded me.
First, you should know that there are several references that can be interpreted coherently in light of every perspective. Such references include Matthew 24:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 8:13, and 20:2. I will include a chart explaining how at the end of my argument, which includes more references. The Great Commission, however, was sufficient to cause me to question the premillennial point of view. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus claimed that all authority had been given to Him. As a premillennial, I was taught that the reign of Christ upon the earth was being reserved until a future period of time. Either Christ is reigning now on David’s throne or will begin reigning at some point in the future. He simply cannot both be reigning now and not reigning now. Further, Christ ascended into heaven—which means that from the moment of His ascension, Christ is reigning over the earth with all authority from the right hand of the Father in Heaven. The amillennial viewpoint is the only viewpoint that describes Christ currently reigning with all authority from heaven, though the realization does not exclude the postmillennial viewpoint—which espouses that Christ is reigning upon the earth through His church. Christ’s revelation about the timing of His own authoritative, kingdom rule upon the earth represents what He taught throughout His ministry, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), not thousands of years in the future. In order to believe that the kingdom of heaven would wait, I would have to take Jesus’s explicit revelation about His own person and work figuratively (or think that Jesus was wrong)—and I’m simply not comfortable doing that.
Jesus’s disciples asked Him, “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). Jesus answered their question by telling them all the prophetic signs that the Old Testament prophets foretold. Jesus even gave them a timeline, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). Jesus predicted that His kingdom would come to the earth with all the eschatological signs within the generation of His disciples. By Matthew 28:18, Jesus claimed that all authority had been given to Him—everything had been fulfilled, which fits not with premillennialism but, again, does not exclude postmillennialism.
To match what Jesus taught about the coming of His kingdom, John the Revelator revealed that the 1,000 year reign of Christ “must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1). He was writing in the First Century AD. John was describing an imminent reign of Christ, not a distant one. By John’s own words, if we take him at his explicit and literal word, the reign of Christ upon the earth was within sight of his own generation, which he learned from Jesus. That is why, in Revelation 3:12, John described the New Jerusalem as currently coming down out of heaven. Once again, we see the Bible explicitly describe Jesus currently reigning on David’s throne from Heaven. The realization does not exclude the postmillennial viewpoint. The explicit and literal claims of Scripture do, however, directly contradict the premillennial viewpoint. If anyone wants to be premillennial, I will maintain fellowship with that person—millennial views are no reason to divide Christ. Please understand that the premillennial theological position must see Scripture as, at best, generally figurative, and at worst, not inerrant. Even great expositors like John MacArthur assert away such explicit claims while accusing amillennials of doing the same. He misrepresents and conflates the postmil and amil views. I love MacArther as an expositor, but he has a bad habit of making certain assertions without defending those assertions. I only mention MacArthur because I am often accused of being ignorant because I don’t agree with him. If only people realized that most reformed, calvinistic theologians disagree with MacArthur because he tried to mix reformed and dispensational theology, and the two do not mix well. Premillennialism puts us in a precarious position as Christians because it gives Christianity’s critics ammunition to fire at the kingdom of heaven. I have heard more than once that Christ cannot be God because He was wrong about the establishment of His own kingdom and our Bible is incoherent and unreliable because it contradicts itself concerning the millennium. In reality, the Bible does not contradict itself. Christians simply do not know their Bibles. Instead, they only seem to parrot what they have been taught by others—some of which is irreconcilable with Scripture’s explicit claims.
None of the previous references negated a postmillennial viewpoint. There are a few claims in Scripture that currently keep me from ascribing to the postmillennial position even though I find the position attractive. If I were to take a position based on my own preferences, the postmil position would be it. John the Revelator described dead saints being raised to life and reigning with Jesus Christ over the earth during His immanent reign (Revelation 20:4-6). If we presume a postmillennial position, identifying Christ’s kingdom as directly on the earth through the church, we should expect that saints who die in the church age would be immediately resurrected from their graves to abide with the church on the earth. We do not, though, see our dead brothers and sisters in Christ currently occupying our auditoriums with us on Sunday morning. If we presume a premil position, our interpretation of the text demands a sort of soul sleep until a future 1,000 year reign and requires that some Christians enter into the glorified state prior to others and prior to the final judgment—which contradicts even the proposed premil timeline (which places the final judgment prior to the resurrection and glorification). So, the premil position contradicts itself and forces incoherence in one’s worldview if one believes Scripture. If we take an amil position, those saints are recognizable as Christians dying, going to heaven, and reigning with Christ there until Christ’s second coming—which seems the simplest and plainest reading of the explicit text.
John the Revelator also revealed that Satan will be released at a time following the expansion of the Gospel during the reign of Christ. Christ’s reign does not end, but Satan will be loosed (Revelation 20:7-10). Postmillennial proponents generally claim that Christ’s reign began at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. From that moment, the kingdom would slowly overtake the whole earth until the kingdom of heaven is the only kingdom remaining. Such a trajectory seems to not account for an unbounding of Satan either at junctures in human history or the end of the age prior to the final judgment. Further, it seems not to allow for a future judgment with fire—a reality about which the New Testament seems clear (cf. 2 Peter 3:7).
In Matthew 19:28, with reference to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18, Jesus identified the end of the age as His death burial and resurrection—a time at which the apostles would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve nations of Israel. Jesus did not identify the end of the age as AD 70 like many postmillennials do. He did not identify the regeneration as an indeterminate future time like premillennials do. He identified it as the time at which He was granted all authority in heaven and on the earth, about AD 33.
Conclusion (sort of)
It seems to me that the plainest and most literal reading of Scripture indicates a basically amillennial position. It seems to me that premillennials must allegorize, or at least see as figurative, many passages that are meant to be accepted literally—which is why the dispensational, premillennial interpretation of Revelation seems so fantastical and Christ is seen as not currently reigning even though He revealed that all authority was given to Him. It seems to me that postmillennials do not allow for great apostasy, the loosing of Satan, or a final judgment of the world by fire. This short paper does not represent the full depth of my own thought. It is a brief survey and basic reasoning. It is not my resolved, final statement on the millennium.
Bible reference chart
The following chart represents my current biblical concerns with my own shortnotes. Green means that the view seems to correspond to the Biblical reference(s). Red means it does not seem to me to correspond. White means that I am unable to conclude whether or not it currently seems to me to correspond to the biblical text. I am still adding references and considering each view as we walk through Revelation together and still discovering new eschatological viewpoints. Ken is working on a similar defense of postmillennialism to help us come to our own conclusions. I am still looking for someone able and willing to write a biblical defense of premillennialism. If you are able and willing, and will do so respectfully, please let me know. I need something I can publish without copyright issues.
- W. Carter Heath and Laura Porter, “The Rise of Fundamentalism,” inTurning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2017.
- W. Carter Heath and Laura Porter, “Antebellum Reform,” inTurning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2017.
- John Hesselink, “The Millennium in the Reformed Tradition.” 99ff.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1oEmg6iqow&t=1166s John MacArthur asserts that postmillennialism is another form of amillenialism, that all amillennials hold a replacement theology, and that amillennials believe there is no millenium. Almost none of his claims about the opposing positions are true for everyone who hold those positions, which is frustrating. MacArthur commits the straw-man and hasty generalization fallacies without apology and makes many assertions that he does not defend with evidence, biblical or otherwise.
Catch up on our Revelation series: