I wrote a blog recently on the importance and relevance of eschatology; that was meant to precede and be a foundation for this blog. You can read that at this link here. I purposefully put the picture above, because when people usually think of eschatology, what comes to mind are fanciful visions contained in Revelation, and many wonder about the practical relevance of this topic.
In this second part, I want to address the differing stances on eschatology, weigh out the truths in each one, and give a few reasons for the view I believe (and why I believe it’s more than practical and relevant today).
As I said in the first post, eschatology is by its very nature, a gospel issue. It is the final outworking of our salvation in Christ. If you have been rescued and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, Paul says that we await our final redemption when our bodies, and the world, will be glorified, without sin and death (Rom 8:30, 1 Cor 15). Eschatology is an out branching of what Christ has already accomplished on the cross. Every eschatological position centers around the concept of this principle.
There are three main eschatological positions–premillennialism, a-millennialism, and post-millennialism. As you may guess, each position centers around the word: Millennium. This word, when translated, means one-thousand. And the word itself comes from a key text found in Revelation 20:1-10. This text describes the return of Christ. It describes Christ returning, binding Satan, resurrecting his saints with him, and reigning as King for one-thousand years over the earth. This is the hope of any Christian, no matter how you interpret this text. We long not only that we would be redeemed from our sin, but that the reign of God would be restored over the earth. We want God to be king. And Jesus secured an eternal kingdom by his death on the cross.
God first established his reign over the earth through his chosen leader, Adam (Gen 1:26-31). But, instead of obeying God and furthering God’s reign, he disobeyed and sinned against God (Gen 3:1-15). Because of this, Adam and all humanity plummeted into sin, and became enslaved to sin and Satan. Instead of being under the reign of God, all humanity fell into the dominion of Satan (2 Cor 4:4, Eph 2:1-3)
God then began to establish a new kingdom through the nation of Israel as the means by which He would reign over the earth once again (Gen 12-17); but because of their sin, their kingdom, like Adam, was trampled by pagan nations and left desolate (Lk 13:35). The Prophets, however, looked to a time when someone else would come and restore the kingdom that both Adam and Israel lost (Ezek 36, Jer 31-32, Is 2).
This is Jesus, who came to restore the reign of God over the earth, and to regain an eternal kingdom that would thwart and crush Satan’s (Gen 3:15, Rom 16:20).
The question of the three eschatological positions brings up the question: when and how will Jesus finally and fully establish this kingdom, and what will it look like?
Again, they all center around this millennium, or the thousand year reign of Christ, found in Revelation 20. Let’s look at a brief summary of how each position sees this text, and sees how and when Jesus will return to accomplish this kingdom.
The first position is called pre-millennialism, and simply means, before (pre) the thousand year reign. This position says that Christ will return in history before the kingdom is established. He will return into history, and establish this kingdom on this earth for 1,000 years. During this thousand year reign, Christ will bind any and all activity of Satan, and will reign over the nations as the final Adam and King of Israel. After this 1,000 year reign is finished, Satan will be unbound to attempt one final attack against God and his reign, and be destroyed. Christ will then remove sin and death from the earth, and enter into the eternal state with his saints.
Involved in this position is the thought that the kingdom must be established on this present earth, and not in the eternal state. Also involved in this mindset is the thought that the kingdom, while having spiritual ramifications, also has earthly and national purposes. Christ will reign over a redeemed Israel (Ezek 36), and will restore what Adam lost through his disobedience (1 Cor 15).
The amillennial position means, no (“a” means no in latin) millennium. This term is less than helpful. The proponents of this position believe in a kingdom, but believe that the kingdom is spiritual in nature rather than material as in the premillennial position. They interpret Revelation 20 less literally, and understand Christ’s return and this “binding” of Satan in light of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Because Christ dealt with sin and death on the cross, Satan is bound in his ability to condemn people, because they can now be securely saved in Jesus. Satan’s activity has been hindered.
In amillennialism, the thought is that Christ’s purpose was not to restore Israel’s earthly kingdom, but rather to set up a new and superior spiritual kingdom. And all those who believe in Jesus have already entered into the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:18). So, in a way, we are in the kingdom now. Yet the kingdom will be fully consummated when Jesus returns and enters into the eternal state.
Unlike premillennialism, amillennialism denies an earthly reign in this present world, and instead sees the kingdom as heavenly and spiritual, being consummated when we are in heaven with Jesus.
This position is much like premillennialism in that it expects an earthly kingdom in this present age, in which the saints are victorious with Jesus. There is however, a large difference. Jesus returns after he, through the activity of the church, establishes a world-wide time of peace and prosperity.
This position believes that, since the church is the body of Christ, and an extension of his very person, Christ will establish his kingdom through the evangelistic efforts of the church (Mt 13). Christ himself illustrates the church like leaven spreading through a loaf of bread in Matthew 13–so, through the activity of the Christ’s body, the entire world will slowly be Christianized and experience a thousand-year period of peace and prosperity. After this time is accomplished, then Christ will return and usher in the new heavens and new earth.
What do I believe?
I am a premillennialist. I appreciate the other positions, but I believe that the premillennial position presents a holistic view of the purpose and nature of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has both spiritual and earthly ramifications. There are great truths found in each of these position. I can appreciate the amillennial stress toward the spiritual realm of the kingdom. Texts like Colossians 1:18 do tell us that we experience the reign of Christ even now. But amillennialism falls short in looking at the earthly, and even political realm of the kingdom of God. Also, I can appreciate the positive view of postmillennialism that envisions the church’s efforts as victorious and meaningful. And certainly, when we share the gospel, we should rest assured that God is not unable to accomplish what he promised he will. However, in the ultimate scheme of history, I see the Bible presenting a grim and hard future for the church before Christ returns.
With that said, what are some of the main reasons I am premillennial? While I could write a multitude of reasons why I am premillennial, I will give a brief five reasons.
(1) The first reason is because the passage in Revelation 20 says plainly that when Christ comes back, he will reign for a thousand years on this earth with his saints, and only after this thousand years, he will establish the new heavens and earth. The new heavens and new earth, while being the final culmination of and finish to all of God’s purposes, does not seem to constitute the kingdom in Revelation 20. The kingdom seems to be rooted in Christ’s victorious reign over this present earth.
(2) A second reason that I am premillennial is because of the Prophetic books. When read literally, I believe it is hard to take any other position. There are clear prophetic texts that point to a time when Christ will reign on this present earth: Isaiah 24-25 speaks of a time when Jesus returns and sets up a kingdom in Israel, and after this kingdom, he destroys sin and death. Zechariah 13-14 talks about a time when Jesus is reigning over the nations, and that if the nations refuse to worship him, he will curse them. This clearly implies that there are unbelievers present during this reign. What this tells me is that the eternal state is not identical to Christ’s kingdom!
(3) This brings us to the third conclusion, that the amillennial position and postmillennial position must reinterpret very clear prophetic texts that speak about an earthly, political kingdom. The amillennial position reinterprets these texts to mean spiritual truths about the church. However, if we are to take scripture seriously, I can’t do that. I do want to affirm that we can and do experience the reign of Christ now as believers. But Christ’s reign will not be full until he fulfills clear biblical prophecy. Also, there are clear texts that negate postmillennialism. While I do agree that the church is the body of Christ, I don’t think the world will get better until Jesus himself comes back.
(4) A fourth theological proof for premillenialism is the prophetic promises of the restoration of Israel’s kingdom. The prophets look forward to a time when a Messiah King will reinstitute and reestablish the present kingdom that Israel lost. In the prophets’ minds, the kingdom of God is not merely a heavenly etherial one, but a restored, redeemed and fulfilled version of what Israel experienced in the Promise Land. Ezekiel 36 talks about the restoration of Israel to their land during a time when God would save them and give them a new heart, that they might experience the kingdom as they never could have. Romans 11 talks about the return of Jesus centering around the salvation and reconstitution of the capitol of Israel. Zechariah 12 talks the return of Christ being centered around the punishment, salvation, and restoration of Israel as well.
The Bible seems to communicate that God is still not done with the nation and capitol of Israel, and that although Israel may have failed to establish God’s kingdom, Jesus will restore them and establish the kingdom for them and through them. This means that part of the nature and goal of the kingdom of God is for the Messiah to reign over the earth in and through the present earthly Jerusalem, through a restored and redeemed national Israel.
(5) A fifth reason I believe in premillenialism is because Jesus is the last Adam (1 Cor 15). What this means is that Jesus not only came to save Israel, but also to redeem all humanity and clean up the mess that Adam created. This means that Jesus must return on this present earth to clean up and restore humanity to its original purpose. Where Adam failed to have dominion and rule as God’s King, Jesus will succeed. He will reign for a thousand years on this sin-stained earth, cleaning up and restoring what Adam lost through his sin. And during this time, the prophets say that men will live for hundreds of years (Is 65:20), that there will be world-wide peace among the nations (Is 2:1-4), and that even animals will have peace and prosperity (Is 11:6). This will be an unprecedented time, not during the eternal state, in which the world will experience universal peace. Jesus needs to come to the same arena that Adam destroyed in order to accomplish this.
In my view then, the millennium is a special time period when Jesus will reign as the final King over the earth, and only after this will we enter into eternity. It is a time when all the lose ends of Adam, Israel, prophecy, and the like will be tied together. And God will be glorified through Jesus’ reign.
I hope that this post helps clarify what each position is, and why I believe premillenialism is correct. As I said in my last post, I hope that whichever position you take, you make it central to the gospel. I believe premillennialism ultimately because I see Jesus being glorified and fulfilling his actions on the cross through it.
Which position do you believe?