Premillennialism

The view which asserts that Christ will come a second time before the 1,000 years of His millennial rule, upholds a general chiliastic theology of Millennialism, and places the rapture of saints, the first resurrection, the tribulation, and Second Advent before the Millennium in prophetic time sequence, with the brief release of bound Satan, the second resurrection, and Last Judgment afterward. This view was held by early Church Fathers until Origen,* Eusebius,* and Augustine* modified it, and it has been revived in the modern era by J.N. Darby,* W.E. Blackstone,* and C.I. Scofield,* among others.

See also Millenarianism.


PREMILLENNIALISM. Also called millennialism and chiliasm, it is an interpretation that the Second Coming of Christ will occur before His literal reign of one thousand years on earth.

Contrasting views.

Premillennialism is contrasted to amillennialism or nonmillennialism, which considers prophecies of the millennial kingdom as being fulfilled between the First and Second Advent of Christ, i.e., a spiritual reign of Christ in the heart of believers in the present age. Some amillenarians consider the millennium fulfilled in the intermediate state in heaven between death and resurrection. Premillennialism also is contrasted to postmillennialism, which regards the last one thousand years of the present age as a triumph of the Gospel, fulfilling the millennial promises of a kingdom on earth, with the Second Coming of Christ occurring after the thousand-year reign.

Literal interpretation of Scripture.

Premillennialism depends upon a literal interpretation of prophecy, taking the words in their ordinary meaning. This was the prevailing opinion in the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Christian era. The first significant challenge to premillennialism was by the liberal school of theology at Alexandria led by Origen and Clement of Alexandria. They advanced the interpretation that the millennium should be considered as a symbol and that it would be fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the present age between the two advents of Christ. Although early considered a heresy not acceptable to orthodox interpreters, amillennialism gradually replaced premillennialism because of the influence of Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries. Augustine rejected the premillennial view of a millennial reign as too carnal and literal. He introduced a dual system of interpretation, recognizing literal interpretation as normal for most Scriptures, but following the principle of figurative or spiritual fulfillment for prophecy. Following Augustine, amillennialism became the dominant doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and was generally adopted by the Protestant reformers. Premillennialism has been a minority position ever since Augustine, but in modern times this position has attracted conservative interpreters of the Bible who consider prophecy as subject to the same rules of interpretation as other forms of divine revelation. The decision between the two major interpretations—premillennialism vs. amillennialism—is almost entirely determined by principles of interpretation.

Old Testament doctrine of the kingdom.

Although only Revelation 20 specifically mentions a thousand-year period, many passages in the OT anticipate a kingdom on earth and prophesy a period of righteousness and peace with Christ reigning in Zion and the nations completely under His control. Psalm 2, which prophesies the rejection of Christ, portrays God as holding the nations in derision, speaking to them in His wrath, stating, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill” (Ps 2:6). Yahweh declares, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (2:8, 9).

Psalm 72, in the form of a prayer of David, describes the reign of Christ as having “dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” (72:8). The whole earth is described as filled with His glory (72:19).

Isaiah 2 parallels Micah 4:1-5 in describing the rule of Christ, with His capitol in Jerusalem, in a period of universal peace. The prophecy relates to Judah and Jerusalem (Isa 2:1), and describes the nations as coming “to the house of the God of Jacob.” “The law” is stated to come “out of Zion” and “the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (2:3). Universal peace is described:

they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (2:4).

Such a period obviously is not being fulfilled in the present age and requires a future presence of the King of kings on earth in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah speaks frequently of this glorious kingdom, as in Jeremiah 23:5-8 where a descendant of David is declared to reign as a king. He “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” at a time when “Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely” (Jer 23:5, 6). The name of the king is “The Lord is our righteousness” (23:6). This kingdom period is preceded by the regathering of Israel “out of all the countries where he had driven them” (Jer 23:8). Many similar passages can be found of a kingdom reign of Christ following His Second Advent (see nodetitle).

Premillennialism is related to the major Biblical covenants of the OT. The covenant of Abraham, introduced in Genesis 12:1-3, promises the perpetuity of title to the land to his physical seed, a promise subsequently ratified by hundreds of OT prophecies. Because of their number and detail, most premillennial interpreters consider prophecies of Israel as necessarily being fulfilled to the literal seed of Jacob, and prophecies of the land as literally referring to the geographic area described in detail in Genesis 15:18-21. Only by spiritualizing and denying the natural and literal interpretation of such passages can views other than premillennialism be supported.

The covenant with David (2 Sam 7), which assures David’s seed that his throne will be perpetuated forever, requires fulfillment on earth in keeping with the earthly character of the Davidic kingdom. A Davidic throne was never spiritual nor heavenly. David understood the covenant as being literal, and this interpretation is confirmed in the NT (Luke 1:32, 33).

Many OT passages predict the revival of the rule of David, as does Amos 9:11-15, with a glorious period of a kingdom on earth being fulfilled. The new covenant promised Israel in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (cf. also Isa 61:8, 9; Ezek 37:21-28) predicts a future time of spiritual blessing in Israel when all will know the Lord and missionary effort will be unnecessary, a purpose of God supported by the prediction that God will never cast off Israel (Jer 31:35-37). Although the NT also outlines a new covenant for Christians in the present age, no claim is made that the new covenant in the present age fulfills the particulars of the covenant with Israel. A literal interpretation of these covenant promises, accordingly, requires a future kingdom on earth with fulfillment to the descendants of Jacob.

New Testament doctrine of the millennium.

In the NT, numerous confirmations of the OT doctrine are found. The Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel was led to believe concerning her Son, “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33). It is inconceivable that if the intent of the OT promise was to be a spiritual role of God in the heart of believers, that the common anticipation of Israel of an earthly kingdom should be confirmed to Mary on this occasion. Mary obviously understood the prediction literally.

In like manner, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matt 20:20-23), anticipated an earthly kingdom in which her two sons might reign with Christ, indicating the general belief in such an earthly kingdom. Christ did not contradict her view, but He did rebuke her ambition for her sons. Christ also predicted that in His kingdom the apostles would “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). The kingdom in view seems to be a future earthly kingdom. In the Olivet Discourse, Christ outlined a sequence of events beginning with the future great tribulation (Matt 24:15-22), His glorious Second Coming to the earth (24:27-30), and the establishment of His throne on earth (25:31). Here the earthly throne follows the great tribulation and the Second Coming in chronological sequence, which by any normal interpretation harmonizes only with a premillennial view.

On the occasion of the Ascension of Christ, the disciples asked the question, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Christ did not rebuke them for misapprehension that such a restoration was in prospect, but stated only that it was impossible for them to know when it would occur.

Undoubtedly, the classic passage on millennialism is in Revelation 20 where a reign of a thousand years is mentioned six times. Although amillenarians interpret Revelation 20 as a recapitulation of the preceding chs. with considerable spiritualization in the fulfillment of the prophecy, the text itself reveals Revelation 20 as a subsequent action to Revelation 19. John sees in vision the binding of Satan, the thrones of judgment, and the resurrection of those martyred in the persecution preceding the Second Advent. This vision is then given interpretation relative to its duration—a thousand years in length—and to its purpose. The first resurrection, which includes specifically the resurrection of those martyred in the preceding great tribulation, is declared to begin the thousand-year reign. The purpose of the binding of Satan is declared to be that he will not be able to deceive the nations during the thousand-year reign. The loosing of Satan at the end of the thousand years builds upon the normal and literal interpretation of the preceding prophecies. Whereas a vision could be subject to various interpretations, the text interprets the vision, and such interpretation should be regarded as giving the real meaning in nonsymbolic language. The amillennial interpretation is in obvious difficulty in this passage because there is no possibility of any reasonably literal fulfillment of these predictions in the present age when the nations are being deceived and Satan obviously is not bound. The martyred dead of the tribulation period do not suffer their fate until just before the Second Coming.

The details of the prophecy also specify that the wicked dead are not raised until after the thousand years and after the final loosing of Satan (Rev 20:2, 3, 7, 12-14). If the resurrection of the wicked dead in the ch. is literal, so also is the resurrection of the martyred dead before the Second Advent, and the two events are separated by the thousand-year reign of Christ.

The majority of contemporary premillenarians contrast dispensationally the age of Israel under the law of Moses, the present age since Pentecost, and the future age of the millennium following the Second Advent. Coupled with this is the contrast between Israel and the Church, the future fulfillment of prophecies relating to Israel’s regathering into the Holy Land, and Israel’s spiritual renewal and reconstitution as a political kingdom under Christ, following Christ’s Second Advent. The millennial kingdom, while possessing many qualities of high spiritual life and universal knowledge of the Lord, can be fulfilled only when Christ is actually reigning as universal King on earth.

Some contemporary premillenarians such as George E. Ladd consider the millennial kingdom essentially soteriological and spiritual rather than political, and tend to interpret prophecies relating to Israel in a spiritualized sense rather than racially, politically, or nationally. In his interpretation, the kingdom is primarily spiritual and soteriological, and an extension of the spiritual kingdom concept found in the OT and NT. This form of premillennialism builds upon the Augustinian view of a special principle of interpretation regarding prophecy as spiritually fulfilled, and often is indistinguishable from the nonliteral interpretation characteristic of amillennialism.

Summary.

All forms of premillennialism regard the millennial kingdom as subsequent to the Second Advent, and to various degrees find literal fulfillment of prophecies relating to this period of the earthly rule of Christ. Amillennialism and postmillennialism require extensive nonliteral interpretation of prophecies of the OT and NT as being fulfilled either in earth or in heaven, contemporaneously to the present age.

Bibliography

C. F. Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism (1936; 2nd Ed., 1954); L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV (1947), 255-439; J. Bright, The Kingdom of God (1953); J. F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (1959); J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come (1961); A. J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (1968).

Additional Material

mi-len’-i-um

Divergent Views--Scope of Article I. THE TEACHING OF JESUS

The Millennium Not before the Advent

(1) Parable of the Wheat and Tares

(2) Parable of the Pounds

II. TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES

1. Expectation of the Advent

2. Possibility of Survival--Its Implications

3. Prophecy of "Man of Sin"

4. No Room for Millennium

5. Harmony of Christ and Apostles

LITERATURE

Divergent Views--Scope of Article:

The great majority of evangelical Christians believe that the kingdom of God shall have universal sway over the earth, and that righteousness and peace and the knowledge of the Lord shall everywhere prevail. This happy time is commonly called the Millennium, or the thousand years’ reign. Divergent views are entertained as to how it is to be brought about. Many honest and faithful men hold that it will be introduced by the agencies now at work, mainly by the preaching of the gospel of Christ and the extension of the church over the world. An increasing number of men equally honest teach that the Millennium will be established by the visible advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. The aim of this brief article is to set forth some of the Scriptural grounds on which this latter view rests. No reference will be made to objections, to counter-objections and interpretations; the single point, namely, that the Millennium succeeds the second coming of Jesus Christ, that it does not precede it, will be rigidly adhered to. Those who hold this view believe that neither Christ nor His apostles taught, on fair principles of interpretation, that the Millennium must come before His advent.

I. The Teaching of Jesus.

The Lord Jesus said nothing about world-wide conversion in His instructions to His disciples touching their mission (Mt 28:19,20; Mr 16:15; Lu 24:46-48; Ac 1:8).

The Millennium Not before the Advent:

They were to be His witnesses and carry His message to the race, but He does not promise the race will receive their testimony, or that men will generally accept His salvation. On the contrary, He explicitly forewarns them that they shall be hated of all men, that sufferings and persecutions shall be their lot, but if they are faithful to the end their reward will be glorious. But world-wide evangelism does not mean world-wide conversion. The universal offer of salvation does not pledge its universal acceptance. In His instructions and predictions the Lord does not let fall a hint that their world-wide mission will result in world-wide conversion, or that thereby the longed-for Millennium will be ushered in. But there is a time to come when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters the sea, when teaching shall no longer be needed, for all shall know Him from the least to the greatest. Our dispensation, accordingly, cannot be the last, for the effects stated in that are not contemplated in the instructions and the results of this. To the direct revelation of Christ on the subject we now turn. In two parables He explicitly announces the general character and the consummation of the gospel age, and these we are briefly to examine.

(1) Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43).

Happily we are not left to discover the meaning and scope of this parable. We enjoy the immense advantage of having our Lord’s own interpretation of it. Out of His Divine explanation certain most important facts emerge:

(a) The parable covers the whole period between the first and second advents of the Saviour. The Sower is Christ Himself. He began the good work; He opened the new era.

(b) The field is the world. Christ’s work is no longer confined to a single nation or people as once; it contemplates the entire race.

(c) His people, the redeemed, begotten by His word and Spirit, are the good seed. Through them the gospel of His grace is to be propagated throughout the whole world.

(d) The devil is also a sower. He is the foul counterfeiter of God ’s work. He sowed the tares, the sons of the evil one.

(e) The tares are not wicked men in general, but a particular class of wicked brought into close and contaminating association with the children of God. "Within the territory of the visible church the tares are deposited" (Dr. David Brown). It is the corruption of Christendom that is meant, a gigantic fact to which we cannot shut our eyes.

(f) The mischief, once done, cannot be corrected. "Let both grow together until the harvest." Christendom once corrupted remains so to the end.

(g) The harvest is the consummation of the age. This is the culmination of our age; it terminates with the advent and judgment of the Son of God. He will send forth His angels who will "gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire ..... Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."

Here, then, we have the beginning, progress and consummation of our age. Christ Himself introduced it, and it was distinguished for its purity and its excellence. But the glorious system of truth was soon marred by the cunning craftiness of Satan. No after-vigilance or earnestness on the part of the servants could repair the fatal damage. They were forbidden to attempt the removal of the tares, for by so doing they would endanger the good grain, so intermixed had the two become! The expulsion of the tares is left for angels’ hands in the day of the harvest. This is our Lord’s picture of our age: a Zizanian field wherein good and bad, children of God and children of the evil one, live side by side down to the harvest which is the end. In spite of all efforts to correct and reform, the corruption of Christendom remains, nay, grows apace. To expel the vast crop of false doctrine, false professors, false teachers, is now as it has been for centuries an impossibility. Christ’s solemn words hold down to the final consummation, "Let both grow together until the harvest." In such conditions a millennium of universal righteousness and knowledge of the Lord seems impossible until the separation takes place at the harvest.

(2) Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27).

Jesus was on His last journey to Jerusalem, and near the city. The multitude was eager, expectant. They supposed the nodetitle was immediately to appear. The parable was spoken to correct this mistake and to reveal certain vital features of it. "A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return." There is little difficulty in grasping the main teaching of this suggestive narrative. The nobleman is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; the far country is heaven; the kingdom He goes to receive is the Messianic kingdom, for the victorious establishment of which all God’s people long and pray. The servants are those who sustain responsible relation to the Lord because of the trust committed to them. The rebellious citizens are those who refuse subjection to His will and defy His authority. His return is His second coming. The parable spans the whole period between His ascension and His advent. It measures across our entire age. It tells of Christ’s going away, it describes the conduct of His servants and of the citizens during His absence; it foretells His return and the reckoning that is to follow. Mark the words, "And it came to pass, when he was come back again, having received the kingdom." It is in heaven He receives the investiture of the kingdom (Re 5:6). It is on earth that He administers it. The phrase, "having received the kingdom," cannot by any dexterity of exegesis be made to denote the end of time or the end of the Millennium, or of His receiving it at the end of the world; it is then He delivers it up to God, even the Father (1Co 15:24-28).

The order and sequence of events as traced by the Lord disclose the same fact made prominent in the parable of the Wheat and Tares, namely, that during the whole period between His ascension and His return there is no place for a Millennium of world-wide righteousness and prosperity. But Scripture warrants the belief that such blessedness is surely to fill the earth, and if so, it must be realized after Christ’s second coming.

II. Teaching of the Apostles.

1. Expectation of the Advent:

There is no unmistakable evidence that the apostles expected a thousand years of prosperity and peace during Christ’s absence in heaven. In Ac 1:11 we read that the heavenly visitants said to the apostles, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven?" This attitude of the men of Galilee became the permanent attitude of the primitive church. It was that of the uplifted gaze. Paul’s exultant words respecting the Thessalonians might well be applied to all believers of that ancient time, that they "turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven" (1Th 1:9,10). It is the prominent theme of the nodetitle epistles. In the New Testament it is mentioned 318 t. One verse in every thirty, we are told, is occupied with it. It is found shining with a glad hope in the first letters Paul wrote, those to the Thessalonians. It is found in the last he wrote, the second to Timothy, gleaming with the bright anticipation of the crown he was to receive at the Redeemer’s appearing. James quickens the flagging courage, and reanimates the drooping spirits of believers with this trumpet peal: "Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (5:8). Peter exhorts to all holy conversation and godliness by the like motive: "Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (2Pe 3:12 margin). Amid the deepening gloom and the gathering storms of the last days, Jude 1:14 cheers us with the words of Enoch, the seventh from Adam, `Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon .... the ungodly.’ John closes the Canon with the majestic words, "Behold, he cometh with the clouds," "Behold, I come quickly." These men, speaking by the Spirit of the living God, know there can be no reign of universal righteousness, no deliverance of groaning creation, no redemption of the body, no binding of Satan, and no Millennium while the tares grow side by side with the wheat; while the ungodly world flings its defiant shout after the retiring nobleman, "We will not have this man to reign over us"; and while Satan, that strong, fierce spirit, loose in this age, deceives, leads captive, devours and ruins as he lists. Therefore the passionate longing and the assurance of nearing deliverance at the coming of Christ fill so large a place in the faith and the life of the primitive disciples.

2. Possibility of Survival--Its Implications:

In 1Th 4:17 Paul speaks of himself and others who may survive till the Lord’s coming: "Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (compare 1Co 15:51,52).

This implies fairly that the apostle did not know that long ages would elapse between his own day and Christ’s advent. There was to his mind the possibility of His coming in his lifetime; in fact, he seems to have an expectation that he would not pass through the gates of death at all, that he would live to see the Lord in His glorious return, for the day and the hour of the advent is absolutely concealed even from inspired men. The inference is perfectly legitimate that Paul and his fellow-disciples did not anticipate that a thousand years should intervene between them and the coming.

3. Prophecy of the "Man of Sin":

Furthermore, the Thessalonians had fallen into a serious mistake (2Th 2:1-2). By a false spirit, or by a forged epistle as from Paul, they were led to believe that "the day of the Lord is now present" (English Revised Version), 2Th 2:2. The apostle sets them right about this solemn matter. He assures them that some things must precede that day, namely, "the falling away," or apostasy, and the appearing of a powerful adversary, whom he calls "the Man of Sin," and describes as "the Son of Perdition." Neither the one nor the other of these two, the apostasy and the Man of Sin, was then present. But the road was fast getting ready for them. There was the "mystery of lawlessness" already at work at the time, and although a certain restraint held it in check, nevertheless when the check was removed it would at once precipitate the apostasy, and it would issue in the advent of the Man of Sin, and he should be brought to nought by the personal coming of Jesus Christ. This appears to be the import of the passage.

Here was the appropriate place to settle forever for these saints and for all others the question of a long period to intervene before the Saviour’s advent. How easy and natural it would have been for Paul to write, "Brethren, there is to be first a time of universal blessedness for the world, the Millennium, and after that there will be an apostasy and the revelation of the Man of Sin whom Christ will destroy by the brightness of His coming." But Paul intimated nothing of the sort. Instead, he distinctly says that the mystery of lawlessness is already working, that it will issue in "the falling away," and then shall appear the great adversary, the Lawless One, who shall meet his doom by the advent of Christ. The mystery of lawlessness, however, is held in restraint, we are told. May it not be possible that the check shall be taken off, then the Millennium succeed, and after that the apostasy and the Son of Perdition? No, for its removal is immediately followed by the coming of the great foe, the Antichrist. For this foe has both an apocalypse and a parousia like Christ Himself. Hence, the lifting of the restraint is sudden, by no means a prolonged process.

4. No Room for Millennium:

The apostle speaks of the commencement, progress, and close of a certain period. It had commenced when he wrote. Its close is at the coming of Christ. What intervenes? The continuance of the evil secretly at work in the body of professing Christians, and its progress from the incipient state to the maturity of daring wickedness which will be exhibited in the Man of Sin. This condition of things fills up the whole period, if we accept Paul’s teaching as that of inspired truth. There appears to be no place for a Millennium within the limits which the apostle here sets. The only escape from this conclusion, as it seems to us, is, to deny that the coming of Christ is His actual, personal second coming. But the two words, epiphaneia and parousia, which elsewhere are used separately to denote His advent, are here employed to give "graphic vividness" and certainty to the event, and hence, they peremptorily forbid a figurative interpretation. The conclusion seems unavoidable that there can be no Millennium on this side of the advent of Christ.

5. Harmony of Christ and Apostles:

Our Lord’s Olivet prophecy (Mt 24; 25; Mr 13; Lu 21) accords fully with the teaching of the apostles on the subject. In that discourse He foretells wars, commotions among the nations, Jerusalem’s capture and the destruction of the temple, Israel’s exile, Christians persecuted while bearing their testimony throughout the world, cosmic convulsions, unparalleled tribulation and sufferings which terminate only with His advent. From the day this great prophecy was spoken down to the hour of His actual coming He offers no hope of a Millennium. He opens no place for a thousand years of blessedness for the earth.

These are some of the grounds on which Biblical students known as Premillennialists rest their belief touching the coming of the Lord and the Millennial reign.

LITERATURE.

Premillenarian: H. Bonar, The Coming of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus; Wood, The Last Things; Guinness, The Approaching End of the Age; Seiss, The Last Times; Gordon, Ecce Venit; Premillennial Essays; Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom; West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments; Trotter, Plain Papers on Prophetic Subjects; Brookes, Maranatha; Andrews, Christianity and Antichristianity; Kellogg, Predition and Fulfillment.

William G. Moorehead