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Different Views on the Millennium

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Among evangelical believers and scholars there are wide divisions in the understanding of the events of end-times. There are several main viewpoints, which are mostly derived from different interpretations of the thousand year reign of Jesus. This is called the millennium, from the Latin word “mille”, meaning a thousand.

Chapter 20 of Revelation tells about a period of a thousand years, during which Satan is bound so he can deceive the nations no longer (20:3). The saints and martyrs rule with Christ for a thousand years (20:4-6). At the end of the thousand years, Satan is released and goes out to deceive the nations (20:8). They march and surround the camp of the saints, when fire comes down from heaven and destroys them (20:9), and the devil is thrown into the lake of fire (20:10).

Unfortunately a number of long words are used to describe these different viewpoints, which often only add to the confusion. I will attempt to explain them clearly! It is also important to be aware that within each of these major viewpoints, there are a large number of smaller variations from different teachers, and that views develop and change over the years.

Please note that the diagrams below are not drawn to scale, and are not intended to indicate the length of any the periods of time.

1. Pre-millennial view

Jesus returns before the thousand years (the “pre-” meaning “before”), during which he will reign on earth. This is argued from the fact Jesus appears on his white horse in chapter 19, then sets up his rule in chapter 20, so the chapters are taken strictly chronologically. It should be noted that this view makes a separation of a thousand years between second coming and the final judgement.

Within the pre-millennial view, there are two distinctly different approaches:

1a) Dispensational Pre-millennial View (Pre-tribulation rapture)

Dispensationalism is more than a particular view on “end-times”, but is a distinct approach to the understanding and interpretation of Scripture. It was started by John Nelson Darby from the Brethren in England in 1830 and was popularised through the Scofield Reference Bible. Darby divided up all of Biblical history into seven dispensations, in each of which God offered salvation to mankind in a different way. In each dispensation, God made a covenant with mankind, and each time they failed to keep it, so a new covenant was made, establishing a new dispensation. Each passage of scripture has to be assigned to its correct dispensation, known as “rightly dividing the Word of truth”. The age of the church is the sixth dispensation, and the millennium is the seventh.

Cross &
Resurrection
Rapture 2nd Coming Final judgment
Old Testament Church Age (Gentile) 7 year tribulation
(Jews)
Millennium = 1000 years
(Jesus rules in Israel)
New heaven
and new earth

The main characteristic of this view is the complete separation of God’s dealing with the Jews from his dealing with the church, so the establishment of the modern state of Israel becomes central to the understanding of eschatology.

The understanding of history is built from the seventy weeks of Daniel chapter nine. Jesus came in the 69th week, when he offered the kingdom to the Jews, which was rejected, so the focus changed to the church and the “prophetic clock was stopped”, making a long gap between Daniel’s 69th and 70th week. At some unknown time the church will be raptured, secretly taken up to heaven, after which the 70th week of Daniel will begin. The rapture comes before the tribulation, hence it is referred to as a “pre-tribulation rapture”. The seven-year tribulation is a terrible time when believing Jews will face persecution, and the Antichrist will rise to power. After seven years, Jesus will return and establish his kingdom in Jerusalem for a thousand years as king of the Jews, literally fulfilling the predictions in the O.T. of a glorious future for Israel.

There are a wide variety of differences within this basic viewpoint. Some people say the rapture will come in the middle of the tribulation (mid-tribulation rapture), or at the end of the tribulation (post-tribulation rapture), but most would teach a pre-tribulation rapture described above. This view is quite complex, with three separate events expected in the future: the rapture, the second coming, and the final judgement. This opinion is widespread today, with many popular books and films made from this perspective. However many scholars have serious doubts about this view. It has a fundamentally pessimistic view of the church and of the present age.

It should be noted that the word “rapture” never appears in the Bible. It comes from a Latin word meaning to snatch. The equivalent Greek word is used when the Holy Spirit snatched Philip away after he witnessed to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:39). Paul used the same word when he taught that the believers will be snatched up, or caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:17). The question for us to consider is whether this happens at the same time as the second coming, or seven years before. For more about the rapture and the tribulation, please see the article about the Rapture.

1b) Historic Pre-millennial View

Cross &
Resurrection
Rapture &
2nd Coming
Final judgment
Old Testament (Time of the church) Millennium = 1000 years
(Jesus rules on earth)
New heaven
and new earth

This view is “historic” because it was taught by some of the early church fathers, and at other times in church history. This understanding is simpler, in that there is no separation of the rapture from the second coming by seven years. At the second coming, Jesus will return to earth to establish his kingdom for a thousand years, but he will rule through his church, rather than over a Jewish kingdom. There is still a separation of a thousand years between the second coming and the final judgement. The emphasis is on God’s dealing with the church, consisting of both Jewish and Gentile believers.

2) Post-millennial view

Jesus returns after the thousand years, (the “post-” meaning “after”). Jesus returns after a thousand years of peace on earth. There is no separation of the second coming from the final judgement.

Cross &
Resurrection
Rapture,
2nd Coming &
Final judgment
Old Testament (Gospel spreads) Millennium
(peace on earth)
New heaven
and new earth

There are two varieties of this view, distinguished by the events which cause the establishment of the millennium.

In the classic view, the millennium would be brought in by the church preaching the Gospel, when the majority of the population of the world will become believers and peace will be established on earth. This was widely believed in the 19th century, when there was a dramatic growth of Christian missions around the world, but was brought to an abrupt stop by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, which ended almost a century with any major world-wide wars.

The second variety of the post-millennial view is increasing in popularity. It is called Reconstructionism or Dominion Theology, which says that the millennium will be established by the church taking dominion in society and establishing a Christian government based on the law of Moses.

It will be noted that post-millennianism has a more optimistic view of the church, the spread of the Gospel and its impact in the world.

A-millennial view

The millennium is not a literal thousand year period (the “a-” meaning no millennium). Instead of a separate period of thousand years, the millennium is symbolic for the time of the church between the first and second comings of Jesus. This is the simplest view, with no separation of the second coming from the final judgment.

Cross &
Resurrection
Rapture,
2nd Coming &
Final judgment
Old Testament Millennium = a long time New heaven
and new earth

The millennium is the period when Satan is bound so he can no longer deceive the nations. Satan was bound when Jesus died on the cross, so the Gospel can now go to the Gentiles. In Old Testament times, the knowledge of God was largely restricted to the Jews. After Pentecost, the Gospel broke out of its Jewish roots to go to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The saints rule and reign with Jesus now. This view has been held consistently through all of church history, particularly by the Reformers, and continues to be held by many today.

Historical Note

It is interesting to trace changing views on the millennium at different times in history. Post-millennial thinking became popular during the 19th century, a time of increasing prosperity, fewer wars and growth in Christian mission. However, during the 20th century, the church was threatened by the growth of secular thinking and liberal theology, and had to face the terrible suffering of two world wars. As a result, the pre-millennial view, especially dispensationalism, became widespread. Many Christians had little hope for the present age, but eagerly anticipated the rapture, when they would be taken out of this world. This had an unfortunate impact on the evangelical church, as it withdrew from the social involvement which characterised the evangelical movement of the 19th century, leaving the church largely irrelevant to society. Because they believed in an immanent rapture, the church also had nothing to say about environmental issues, leaving much of the environmental movement to be taken over by New Age groups. Towards the end of the 20th century post-millennial views were increasing again. This may be linked with the renewal of the church, particularly in the non-western world, and the increasing interest in world mission, as optimism in the church increases once again.


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