[This post is part of the Eschatology series]
I realize not only has this blog been somewhat neglected, but this eschatology series has been as well. Some of that, to be honest, is due to lack of interest on my part. The other part of it is the cognitive dissonance that I experienced in trying to resolve many of the issues eschatology brings to the table.
One such issue, and not a small one at that, is concerning the millennium.
When framed this way, it is more or less a question of how to interpret Revelation 20, since that is the only passage that says anything about 1000 years of anything.
The typical premillennial understanding is that this is a literal, 1000 year reign of Christ from the throne of David in Israel. The pre- part comes in as affirming that Christ’s second coming is prior to the millennium.
Accordingly, the postmillennial understanding is that Christ comes after (hence the post-) the 1000 year reign, and they do not take the 1000 years as a literal time indicator. Pre and post millennials do not share the same understanding of what the millennium itself entails, but they both take it in an earthly sense (that is to say either way, it is something that happens on this earth).
In light of that, one is tempted to think that amillennials deny the existence of a millennium (hence the a-). However, it really just entails a denial of any sort of earthly reign. Along with postmillennials they do not take the 1000 years in Revelation 20 as a literal time indicator. However, they take the reign as occurring from heaven and construe the millennium as the entire church age.
In terms then of how the millennium is understood, it could be broken down like this:
- Premillennials expect a geo-political 1000 year kingdom physically ruled by Christ on earth that starts after the 2nd coming, and ending with a mass rebellion and judgment and the beginning of the eternal state
- Postmillennials expect a golden church age lasting an indeterminate amount of time, ending with a mass rebellion and judgment that culminates with the 2nd coming, and the beginning of the eternal state.
- Amillennials believe we are currently in the millennium, which is marked by an already/not yet overlap of this age and the age to come, ending with a mass rebellion and judgment that culminates with the 2nd coming, and the beginning of the eternal state.
Specifically, certain questions could be posed to each system of interpretation.
The question that should first be posed to premillennials is whether or not Scripture allows for a 1000 year gap to be inserted between the second coming and the final judgment. Certainly there are many Old Testament prophecies that seem to demand an earthly fulfillment through a national Israel, but how are those prophecies re-interpreted by Christ himself and the apostles in the New Testament? Further, can it be established that there is any hint of this kind of gap in the rest of the New Testament, or are other passages to be made subordinate to the face value interpretation of Revelation 20 (i.e. one yielding a geo-political 1000 year reign post 2nd coming)?
The question for postmillennials is whether or not Scripture places the expectation in this age, or in the age to come. Certainly we should be optimistic about the advance of the Gospel in light of Christ’s Lordship and the sovereignty of God, but many prophecies postmillennials interpret for the millennial age seem more at home in the eternal state. Can it be shown clearly that those prophecies must find fulfillment prior to Christ’s return?
The question for amillennials might be whether or not it is legitimate to see Revelation 20 as applying to the church age. Issues of chronology in Revelation come to mind, as well how one is to then interpret what seem like straight forward prophecies for a national Israel in the OT. Do amillennials over-spiritualize passages that should be taken literal? Are they guilty of ignoring straight forward readings of certain texts (i.e. Revelation 20) because it does not fit their system?
The question then really is, which one of these scenarios makes the best sense of the Biblical data?
In other words, all of the options have their problems. Part of this is because we are asking questions about how the future is going to pan out. As such, we shouldn’t expect any one system to yield an iron clad answer. However, this does not permit neglect as eschatology is not the illegitimate step cousin of “real doctrine.” It may be the hardest to wrap one’s mind around, as well as the one that seems to have the least solidarity, even among evangelical believers.
Some of this may be because the question of the millennium is not an essential question. That is not to say one shouldn’t endeavor to be convinced in his own mind what the correct Biblical interpretation is. Rather, it is that your faith for salvation, nor your future hope, are to be placed in the shape of the millennium. Our hope and faith is in Christ, whether or not he comes back before or after the millennium and whether or not He literally reigns on earth, or whether His rule is all from heaven.
That being said, I think there is an interpretation that is better than the other two. But my understanding of it will have to wait until the next post. Hopefully this can generate some discussion as I may slay a few sacred cows, though that depends on the perspective of the readers. I guess we will see.