Dispensationalism: Three Theories on the Millennium of Revelation 20

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Introduction

Revelation is a book full of prophecy, metaphor and intrigue. For the believer, there is no greater promise than that of Christ returning and ultimately bringing all prophecy to a final conclusion. Scholars and Bible interpreters have long struggled with the poetic nature of Revelation and have still not come to a concrete consensus of what Christ revealed to John. The metaphor, the majesty, and the imagery is very intense and ripe throughout this vision so it is no surprise that many are at a loss of description in regards to the events foreshadowed in Revelation.

The purpose of this blog focuses specifically on Revelation 20: 1-6 in which a millennial period is referenced and describes the period of time following the Rapture and Tribulation which has Christ reigning for a period of 1,000 years on earth.  Revelation 20:6 specifically references this time period as it states, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”[1] This kingdom which is referred to as the millennium comes from the Latin words mille (one thousand) and annum (year)[2]. Just when this period is going to occur depends on who you happen to ask.

Over the years, three leading camps have come about in an effort to discern Christ’s Second Coming in relation to the millennial period. Premillennialism is a view that sees the second coming of Christ occurring prior to the millennial age and it is a view which is largely held by biblical scholars who take Scripture literally[3]. Postmillennialism hold the view that the world itself will become “Christianized” more and more meaning the kingdom of Christ will gradually evolve[4]. Amillennialism results from a spiritualized, nonliteral interpretation of Scripture which views the millennium as a description of Christ’s current reign from heaven and not representative of an earthly kingdom[5]. The three views will now be presented for consideration.

The Three Views

Amillennialism

Amillennialists believe that there will be no literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth and they spiritualize all prophecies regarding the Kingdom and attribute prophecies regarding Israel to the Church[6]. According to amillennialism, the promises which God made to Abraham, Israel, and David in the Old Testament are being fulfilled by Christ and His church during this, the millennial age[7]. Further, the covenants with these patriarchs are considered void by amillenialists because they did not meet the conditions God set forth[8]. According to amillennialists, when Revelation speaks to Satan being bound for 1,000 years (Revelation 20), it has already occurred through Christ’s death and resurrection meaning that because the Gospel of Christ is being preached, Satan is not free to deceive the world[9]. Also, Christ is presently reigning in heaven for the 1,000 years between the First and Second Advent (First and Second Coming) and at the end of the millennial age (1,000 years), Satan will run loose allowing for a general resurrection of the dead with Christ’s return and final judgment[10].

Amillennialism is quite inaccurate. For one, amillennialism is not biblical. According to Revelation 19 and 20, Christ will return and sets up His reign for 1,000 years and amillennialists have no Scripture evidence to support their stance[11]. Second, the idea that preaching the Gospel somehow bounds Satan is simply wrong. The continual decay of society is evidence that Satan is not bound in the slightest. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 15-50; Galatians 5:21; James 2:5; and Ephesians 5:5 all allude to the church inheriting the kingdom at a future time which means not even Paul saw the church in a position of current inheritance[12]. The removal of Israel in regards to the future church and reign of Christ is very troubling. A simple reading of Acts can confirm that God envisioned a church consisting of all nations, but His prophecies regarding Israel’s restoration are still unfulfilled and He does not break His promises. Regardless of whether Christ is reigning in heaven or not, the fact remains that prophecy points to a reign on earth which has yet to be fulfilled.

Postmillennialism

The postmillennial view asserts that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead after His 1,000 year reign (occurring now) with the belief that the church must work for and expect the Christianization of the world before Christ will return and bring an end to world history[13]. Transforming society and leading society in Christian values is important to the postmillennialist and a proponent of this view, Charles Finney, has stated that trying to bear witness to Christ by winning souls and not transforming culture is unthinkable[14]. A positive thing that can be said about postmillennialists is that they advocate working in society and advancing the cause of Christianity and Christ. This is a very important element in the Christian calling and mission.

Postmillennialism is considered closely linked to amillennialism and is seen as a positive form of it and this view also views God’s promises for a national Israel as symbolic representing the church[15]. The same faults found with Amillennialism are present here as well.

The strongest evidences of Scriptural support for postmillennialism come from Luke and Matthew.  In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus seems to suggest the Kingdom of God was already among them in a sense as the kingdom would be gradually growing over time with Jesus seemingly seeing a continuation between the then and now[16]. In Matthew 13:33, Jesus uses the illustration of a woman working on yeast until it is leavened in a way that seems to envision a gradual expansion of the kingdom of God over the entire world which calls on Christians to work for the expansion of the kingdom on earth[17]. Also worth noting as support for work within society is Matthew 28:18-20 where Christ instructs Christians to go into the world and convert in His name[18].

Premillennialism

Premillennialists (closely identified with Dispensationalism[19]) is the view popularized by the Left Behind series. It stands on a rule of interpretation known as the grammatical-historical approach and this approach means that a passage should be taken literally in keeping the grammatical meaning of forms and words[20]. In describing premillennialists, John Walvoord notes, “History is history, not allegory. Facts are facts. Prophesied future events are just what they are prophesied. Israel means Israel, earth means earth, heaven means heaven.”[21]

Because they take Scripture at face value, they hold a very literal time table for the events described in Revelation and therefore the order they assert is:

  1. The Rapture
  2. The Tribulation
  3. The Triumphal Return of Christ
  4. Defeat of Antichrist
  5. Binding of Satan
  6. Millennial Reign[22]

They hold to ten tenets to back their stance as well:

  1. God promised a literally restored kingdom to Israel (Isaiah 11:9-16; 60: 18-21)
  2. God will give Abraham’s descendants land He promised them forever (Genesis 17:7-8; Psalm 105:8-11)
  3. God’s covenant with Israel has never been cancelled (Leviticus 26:40-44)
  4. The nation of Israel will return to inherit the land forever (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Jeremiah 31:35-37)
  5. The second coming of Christ will establish a literal kingdom on earth (Revelation 11:15)
  6. The kingdom of Christ will last 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-6)
  7. The Temple from Ezekiel’s vision will exist literally during Christ’s millennial reign (Ezekiel 40-48)
  8. Redeemed Israel and the raptured church will reign with Christ on earth (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:4-5)
  9. God’s promises regarding Jerusalem will be literally fulfilled 9Psalm 132:13-14; Isaiah 62:1-2; 65: 17-25)
  10. The throne of David will be in Jerusalem with Jesus Christ (the Son of David) literally ruling upon it during His millennial kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Luke 1:32-33)[23]

The premillennial position claims to be ripe with Scriptural support and said to clearly understand God’s prophecy as a literal fulfillment instead of some sort of metaphorical timeline of events. The way they list their events seems to be spot on with what Revelation says and really reveals the awesome Power of God.

Early Christians (as early as the first three centuries of the church) are the earliest examples of premillennialists as the disciples and those who were taught by them thought the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom on earth would be seen in their lifetime[24]. Premillennialists hold the view that the rapture, Tribulation, and glorious appearing of Christ will each occur before the millennium begins and Satan will be bound for 1,000 years during the millennium as a theocratic kingdom on earth will be established with Jesus at the helm as King allowing for the righteous who were raised from the dead prior to the millennium to participate in the millennium’s blessings (Revelation 20:4)[25].

Premillenialists do recognize that all passages cannot be taken literally and they do identify specific examples of passages which cannot be taken literally and should be seen in a symbolic light[26]. For example, the “rod out of the stem of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1[27]) with a “branch” that will “smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:4[28])[29]. Here, the premillennialist would say that the literal prophecy of judgment on the wicked at the Second Advent is the implied through the use of figurative context[30]. This acknowledgment may open the door for postmillenialists and amillenialists to interpret other passages as theoretical in their stances, but they are still seriously misguided. Premillennialists do acknowledge the symbolic nature of some passages.

Premillennialism holds to a restoration and glorification of the church in Israel. This idea hinges on Acts 1:6 in which the disciples ask, ““Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”[31] to which Christ responds in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”[32] which points to the future restoration of the literal church of Israel[33].

Premillennialists view the present age as a time in which evangelism should be the primary focus of followers of Christ, but few will be saved and the world will continue to become more wicked and fall into decay[34]. For the premillennialist, believers should look forward to the church’s rapture as the church cannot bring in the kingdom on its own because it would be desperately falling behind in that regard[35]. For a small element of this premillennialist view of the present age, they are spot on. The continual decay of society is evident and wars continue to be rampant throughout the world. The church is indeed far behind what Christ called it to do, but the church does need to prepare the way for the kingdom through its evangelism and outreach.

There is no room in this stance for a golden age before the Second Advent and no call to improve society as a whole with Scriptural support coming from Paul seemingly making no effort to influence the political government for the better or correct social advances alongside apostles who were mum on any social, political, moral, or physical improvement of an unsaved world[36]. As Walvoord presents this stance, “It was a matter of saving souls out of the world rather than saving the world. It was neither possible nor in the program of God for the present age to become the kingdom of God on earth.”[37] This is the major weakness of premillennialism. God has allowed man to live on earth to take care of and help turn to Him. To be apathetic to governmental activities and the decay of society is a very narrow view of the calling believers have as Christians. Does Christ not instruct believers to bear good fruit in His name in Matthew 28:16-20? Simply spreading the Gospel is not enough, God works through the believer to bring change into the world. The failures of the church are the believer’s to own, not to explain away.

[1] NIV.

[2]Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004): p. 232.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: p. 232.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: pp. 17-18.

[7] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003): p. 40.

[8] Ron Rhodes, The Popular Dictionary of Bible Prophecy: More than 350 Terms and Concepts Defined, 1st ed. (Eugene, OR: 2010): p. 24.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: p. 19.

[12] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: p. 20.

[13] Gregory A Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology.  2nd ed.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009): p. 268.

[14] Gregory A Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed.: p. 269.

[15] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: p. 274.

[16] Gregory A Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed.: p. 269.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Gregory A Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed.: p. 271.

[19] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times: p. 33.

[20] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Dunham Publishing Company, 1959): p. 129.

[21] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology: pp. 129-130.

[22] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: p. 280.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: pp. 232-233.

[25] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: pp. 233-234.

[26] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology: p. 130.

[27] KJV.

[28] KJV.

[29] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology: p. 130.

[30] Ibid.

[31] NIV.

[32] NIV.

[33] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: p. 281.

[34] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology: p. 134.

[35] Edward Hindson and Tim LaHaye, gen.eds.  The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. 1st ed: pp. 281-282.

[36] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology: p. 134.

[37] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology: p. 134.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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