Overview of the Four Views
Today, in preparation for in-depth studies, we will give a final overview of the four views we have been discussing. Our goal is to understand the basic rudimentary positions and chronologies of the four views before we begin investigating underlying theology, scriptural support, and scriptural weaknesses.
Recall that, of the four views, two are premillennial, meaning that Christ returns before the millennium of Revelation 20. These two are dispensational premillennialism and historic premillennialism. Two views are postmillennial, teaching that Christ will return after the millennium. These are amillennialism and postmillennialism.
PostmillennialismPostmillennialism teaches that Christ will return after the millennium, and that the millennium is a future golden age on earth where the church will reign victorious.
I’m not dead yet
Postmillennialism reached its apex in the American church in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its optimistic outlook fit nicely in the "Age of Reason (and science)", but it suffered two near fatal blows in the twentieth century:
- Overall optimism with man’s ability to affect beneficial change through education and science was replaced with pessimism born of two world wars, genocide, and the advent of weapons of mass destruction.
- Postmillennialism became "guilty by association" with other optimistic perspectives, including secular progressivism (man can improve the world on his own) and religious liberalism (man is basically good and can improve the world if he gives occasional credit to the big grandpa in the sky.)
In The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), Hal Lindsey wrote:
No self-respecting scholar who looks at world conditions and the accelerating decline of Christian influence today is a postmillennialist.
Dispensationalist J. Dwight Pentecost put it this way:
Postmillennialism is no longer an issue in theology. World War II brought about the demise of this system.
Actually, I’m feeling better
Nevertheless, postmillennialism has fought back, and is once again on the increase. The first criticism is answered by pointing out that things might already be getting better, especially if one views long term trends, and also if one takes into account the non-Western, non-white Christian church. In addition, it is not what is happening now that is relevant, but what scripture promises will occur before the Second Coming. The second criticism is rebutted by stating clearly that, unlike the secular progressives and religious liberals, postmillennialism does not suggest that the golden age is achieved by man’s efforts through better government, increased education, etc., but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Basic FeaturesThe basic features of postmillennialism are: 11, 12
- The Messianic Kingdom was founded on earth during the earthly ministry of Christ in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The New Testament church is the transformation of Israel, the Israel of God about which Paul writes:
Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. (Gal. 6:16)
- As the gospel spreads throughout the earth and brings its divinely intended and Spirit-energized results, evil (and perhaps an antichrist) is routed and the millennium arrives.
- During this era, Satan is bound and the nations live in peace. The great commission will succeed. The kingdom of Christ will gradually expand.
- After the millennium ends, Satan is loosed to lead a final, short-termed (and doomed) rebellion.
- Satan’s rebellion is ended by the triumphal return of Jesus. Only in postmillennialism does Jesus return to a church victorious (a victory achieved through His power, not man’s). In all other views, Christ returns to a church on the run.
- The Second Coming is followed by the general resurrection, the judgment, and the eternal state—heaven and hell.
Another feature of postmillennialism is there is no discontinuity. The church age gradually transits into the millennium, perhaps even imperceptibly. As more are regenerated through the Holy Spirit, there will be a diminishing of evil in human affairs, but this will occur slowly. The changes that occur will be changes in extent, not content. 13
Postmillennialism’s dominance during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is reflected in some of the great hymns of that era. For example Lead On O King Eternal (#483 in our hymnals) contains these postmillennial lines:
For not with swords loud clashing, Nor roll of stirring drums; With deeds of love and mercy, The heav’nly kingdom comes.
The hymn Joy to the World! Which we sing as a Christmas carol, is actually proclaiming Christ’s Sceond Coming (not His first) from a postmillennial perspective.
Dispensational PremillennialismDuring the twentieth century, dispensational premillennialism replaced postmillennialism as the dominant viewpoint among American evangelicals. At its apex, it was so pervasive as to become a test of orthodoxy, like the doctrine of the Trinity or The Incarnation. Theologian Clarence Bass wrote of his encountering this position (that dispensational premillennialism is an essential of Christianity):
Even today some of my dearest friends are convinced that I have departed from the evangelical faith. No affirmation of my belief in the cardinal doctrines of the faith—the virgin birth, the efficaciousness of Christ’s death, the historicity of the resurrection, the necessity of the new birth, even the fervent expectancy of the personal, literal, actual, bodily return of the Lord to earth will convince them because I have ceased to rightly divide the word of truth. 14
Dispensational Premillennialism has two aspects that make it very appealing:
- It employs a literal hermeneutic of interpreting biblical prophesy.
- It seems to fit very well and even "foresaw" the current state of the world, especially in regards to the Middle East. The creation of Israel in 1948 was a spectacular boost to dispensational premillennialism. The break-up of the Soviet Union, the secularization of Israel, and the over-expansion of the European Union has restrained some of its excessive prophetic boasting.
Dispensational Premillennialism has the most complex feature set and chronology of all the views: 15
- God offered the Davidic Kingdom to the Jews. They rejected it, and it was postponed to the future.
- The current church is a "parenthesis", unknown to the Old Testament Prophets.
- God has separate programs for the church and Israel.
- The church will continue to lose influence, ultimately becoming apostate at the end of the church age.
- Christ returns secretly to rapture the church before the tribulation (the seventieth week of Daniel). The church is taken to heaven to stand before the "judgment seat of Christ" and celebrate “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19)
- On earth, the appearance of the antichrist marks the beginning of the tribulation.
- After the tribulation, Christ will return to fight the battle of Armageddon. Israel acknowledges Christ as the long awaited Messiah. Christ establishes and administers a Jewish political kingdom based in Jerusalem for 1000 years. Satan will be bound, the temple will be rebuilt, and animal sacrifice will be re-instituted.
- Those who are converted during the tribulation, including the 144,000 Jews, go on to repopulate earth.
- Near the end of the millennium, Satan will be released and Christ will be attacked at Jerusalem.
- Christ will call down judgment from heaven and destroy His enemies. The (second) resurrection and the (Great White Throne) judgment of the wicked will occur, initiating the eternal order.
Historic PremillennialismIn the modern era, historic postmillennialism is increasing. Some scholars believe that as classic dispensationalism wanes, its former proponents, desirous to hold on to a premillennial view, are turning to the older variant. Grenz writes:
Many of the evangelical thinkers who rejected classical dispensationalism remained staunchly premillennial. Consequently, for guidance in the constructive theological task they took another look at the history of doctrine. To their delight they discovered that a tradition of non-dispensational premillennialism has been present in the church at least since the patristic era.
The basic features of historic premillennialism are: 17
- The New Testament church is the initial phase of Christ’s Kingdom, as prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. 18
- The church may win occasional victories in history, but ultimately she will fail in her mission, lose influence, and become corrupted as worldwide evil increases toward the end of the church age.
- The church will pass through a future, worldwide, unprecedented time of travail (the Great Tribulation), which will punctuate the end of contemporary history.
- Christ will return at the end of the tribulation to rapture the church, resurrect dead saints, and conduct the judgment of the righteous.
- Christ will then descend to earth with His glorified saints, fight the battle of Armageddon, defeat the antichrist, bind Satan, and establish a worldwide political kingdom which will be personally administered by him in Jerusalem for 1000 years.
- At the end of 1000 years, Satan will be loosed and a fierce rebellion will ensue. God will intervene with fiery judgments to rescue Christ and the saints. The resurrection and judgment of the wicked will occur and the eternal state will begin.
The main feature distinguishing historic premillennialism from dispensational premillennialism is the post-tribulation rapture. The blessed hope of the church, according to historic premillennialists, is not the rapture but the Second Coming.
However, the main theological underpinning that distinguishes the two premillennial views is that historic premillennialists believe that the church is indeed the new Israel, and that covenantal relations between the God and the Jews have passed over to the church.
Unlike postmillennialism, the millennium is not inaugurated gradually, but suddenly through the appearance of Christ at the end of the tribulation. Also unlike postmillennialism, historic premillennialism anticipates a gradual deterioration of conditions. Christ returns to “rescue” a church in retreat, not to be welcomed by a church victorious.
Historic premillennialists anticipate worldwide peace and harmony during the millennium. They also look for the effects of the fall on nature to be removed or greatly mitigated during the millennium. The age will enjoy a cessation of hostility among the animals and man:
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:8-9)
AmillennialismAmillennialism sounds of if it teaches no millennium. In fact, what is holds is that the millennium is now. Proponents prefer to be called present or realized millennialists.
- The present church age is the millennium; it is also the Kingdom era prophesied in the Old Testament.
- The New Testament church is the "spiritual" Israel. However, some amillennialists hold that, for example, the phrase "all Israel" (as found, for example in Rom. 11:26: and so all Israel will be saved ) might indeed refer to ethnic Jews, but unlike dispensationalist view they are not the Jews of an eschatological nation of Israel but the elect among the Jews, i.e. the remnant.
- Satan was bound, or more accurately restrained, during Christ’s ministry, particularly when he was defeated on the cross and in the initiation of the great commission. Consider Luke 10:18:
And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. (Luke 10:18).
Given that this is spoken to the 70 returning disciples, an amill might view it as referring not to Satan's original fall but to the reduction of his power concurrent with Christ’s ministry.
- Christ is ruling now through the hearts of believers. The Kingdom of God is now. Thus amillennialists are delighted with verses that read "The Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is at hand”, which they say implies a near term fulfillment.
- Toward the end of the age, evil’s growth will accelerate (Satan’s is unleashed, for a short while, as described in Rev. 20) culminating in the tribulation and (possibly) the appearance of the antichrist.
- Christ will return to end history and judge all men. The same glorious consummation described in all views.
Unlike postmillennialism which has a gradual or evolutionary aspect to it, amillennialists actually proclaim the biggest discontinuity of all the millennial views. The present church age, is the Kingdom of God. Satan is already bound although not completely powerless (hence the paucity of demonic possession?). Throughout this age, a diminished (but strengthening) kingdom of evil will coexist with the Kingdom of God. Both will be replaced virtually instantly (in the twinkling of an eye) with the eternal dispensation. There is no 1000 year buffer between this age and the ultimate age. This age, and indeed history itself, will end abruptly with the Second Advent, which will occur in the midst of a final intense persecution of the church.
The main feature of the amillennialist end-times chronology is its simplicity and suddenness. The present age, which is the millennium, ends. The eternal state begins. This is evident in the following summary of William E. Cox, as quoted by Grenz: 19
When the trumpet sounds, things will take place simultaneously. Our Lord will begin his descent to the earth, the brightness of this event will put down Satan, and all the graves will be opened…All the saints will go together to meet the Lord and to escort Him to the earth. …The unsaved … will be forced to bow the knee and acknowledge that this is of a certainty the Christ… They will see the suffering Servant reigning now as Judge of the quick and the dead, and they will seek a place of hiding but will find none:
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Rev. 1:7)
Reasons to be Pessimistic
While postmillennialism is criticized for being unrealistically optimistic, amillennialism is charged with being too pessimistic. There is no rapture to spare believers from the tribulation. Nor is the tribulation reserved for unconverted Jews. The church itself will endure the tribulation (and may be doing so right now) as things gradually get worse, perhaps culminating with the appearance of the antichrist. The is no danger in this view being co-opted by utopian liberal progressives, as was the case with postmillennialism.
The different eschatological views also result in different anticipations in terms of the numbers of people saved. Postmillennialists, who look forward to the ultimate success of the great commission in converting many nations, generally expect a much more "populated" heaven than do the amillennialists.
11 Grenz, The Millennial Maze, pp. 72.
12 Kenneth Gentry, as quoted in Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, pp. 200-201.
13 Grenz, pp. 71.
14 The rightly divide is a reference to classic dispensationalism, which its proponents claim “rightly divides” God’s plan into (usually) seven distinct dispensations.
15 Kenneth Gentry, as quoted in Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, pp. 197-198.
16 Grenz, pp.127-128.
17 Kenneth Gentry, as quoted in Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, pp. 199-200.
18 This is in vivid conflict with dispensationalism, which holds that the present church age was unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets.
19 Grenz, 152-153.