At Genesis we are near the end of a study on the Biblical themes of eschatology. In this series our focus has been on the big picture issues found in the Scriptures, the things which Christians around the world and throughout time have believed together. This does not mean that the issues in which there is disagreement are not important, but at Genesis, we want to hold those positions with an open hand. This means that we believe that there are some issues within theology that we hold passionately, will will not give up, and that we believe are necessary in order to remain true to the Gospel. Those issues include things like the reality of heaven and hell, the bodily return of Jesus, the resurrection from the dead, and the eternal reign of Christ. These issues have been affirmed in creeds throughout the history of the church. But there are other theological issues that we hold with open hands. We can have a hearty debate, come to differing views, and still love Jesus and be on mission together. At Genesis, we believe the view of the millennial reign of Christ is one of those issues. But, I thought it might be helpful to write a blog explaining the four primary views and their subsequent understanding of some things in the Bible. I plan on posting another blog with a reference of many materials for further study.
To begin, I need to start by defining the millennium, or one thousand year period and its place in the Bible. The disagreement surrounds the meaning of Revelation 20:1-6, a passage near the end of the book that shows a vision of Satan being bound for a thousand years and Christ reigning with those who have been risen during that time.
 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.  And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,  and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(Revelation 20:1-6 ESV)
By this time in the book of Revelation, quite a bit has happened, including all kinds of judgments, rebellion by humankind, the rise of the beast and false prophet, and acts of God in the creation. The questions arising from this text include (1)When exactly does this millennial kingdom take place? (2)Does the return of Christ happen before or after this period? (3)Is the use of 1,000 years literal or figurative, in other words, is is a literal 1K period of time or more of a reference to a long span of time? (4)In exactly what way is Satan bound? (5)How does the rest of the book of Revelation and the themes of the end times relate chronologically to this event? (6)When in the story does the Rapture of the Church take place? The rapture is a reference to the point in time where Christ comes for His church, the dead in Christ rise and those who are alive and remain are caught up with Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4).
As you can see, lots of issues, and generally, a person’s view of the millennium will impact their approach to many of the other eschatological issues. In church history there have been four major approaches to the interpretation of this text. My goal here is to give a brief explanation, and then to encourage further study if you have interest. At Genesis, we have Elders who believe at least three of these, and would consider all four to be within orthodox Christianity. I will deal with them in alphabetical order, so as not to show a bias here.
Amillennialism – The term literally means “no millennium” and comes from the basic belief from this group that the reference in Revelation 20 is nothing more than a picture of the previous age of the church. There is no golden age of Christianity or a literal earthly reign of Christ on earth. Rather, Amillennials believe that this reign of Jesus is happening right now either in heaven among the martyrs and others who lived faithfully on the earth or here on earth or is happening with the advance of the Gospel and the spread of the church. Satan’s binding began with the first coming of Christ and His victory at the cross, and alludes to Satan being kept from thwarting the mission of God and the advance of the Gospel, so that the hearts of the elect cannot be kept from faith by Satan’s influence and the purpose of God in redeeming His people will happen. The exact amount of time for the millennium is unknown, since the image here is primarily symbolic in nature, but the topic is the current church age. During the current age both evil and the Gospel will flourish and grow and will continue to do so until Jesus returns. Upon the return of Jesus all of the things associated with this will happen at once (the resurrection, rapture, judgment, new heaven and new earth).
Historic Premillennialism – There are two views that encompass the idea of premillenialism, historic and dispensational. Both of these agree that the 1,000 year reign of Christ will take place after the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the church age, and that the thousand year reign of Christ and binding of Satan are literal events. So the 1,000 year reign of Christ follows the Second Coming. During this time Christ will be physically present on the earth in His resurrected body and will reign as the True King over all the earth. He will reign with resurrected Christians who have received their renewed bodies. Since the book of Revelation has all taken place before the Return of Jesus, including God’s judgments and the Battle of Armageddon, most rebellious people have entered judgment and died. But there are some non-Christians on the earth, but during this time most of them will come to Christ since the influence of Satan has been banned. This is a golden age for Christ and the people of God on the earth, fulfilling many of the Old Testament prophecies about such a time. Then, after 1,000 years Satan will be released from the Bottomless Pit and allowed to wreak havoc with some remaining unbelievers on earth, ending in the final destruction of Satan and evil and the resurrection of unbelievers into judgment, which will usher in the New Heaven and New Earth and the eternal state. The difference between the two Premillennialist views deals with the time of the rapture of the Church and the period of the Tribulation. Historic Premillennials basically believe that the Second Coming of Jesus, the Rapture, and the Resurrection of believers happen at once at the end of the church age and a time of Tribulation (much of the events outlined in Revelation).
Dispensational Premillennialism – The big difference between this view and the previous comes from their understanding of the time of the Rapture and the purpose of God with the nation of Israel. In this view there are actually two “comings” of Christ. The first is a secret coming where Christ the church is suddenly taken away, the Rapture, leaving the world without the influence of Christians. The result is a seven year period (that number comes from a reference to 70 weeks in Daniel 9, a completely different issue which can’t be addressed in this blog) called the Great Tribulation. In this view, the Rapture would take place before Revelation 4, and most of the book of Revelations takes place in this seven year period (Revelation 4-19). This view is called the “Pretribulation Rapture of the Church.” Another distinctive in this view is the place of Israel in the plan of God, as they see God’s redemptive plan for the church and for Israel being different, so that there are two distinct peoples of God, the church and Israel. God’s plan for Israel will reappear during the Tribulation resulting in a new Temple in the city of Jerusalem.
Postmillennialism – The title explains the view, that there will be a real millennium, and that the Return of Christ will come at the end of this 1,000 year reign. In this view there is still to be a thousand year period of time that is probably still in the future, where Satan will be bound, and the church will have a golden age. The work of the Holy Spirit in the mission of the Church will advance the Gospel so that larger and larger portions of the world’s population are following Jesus and the influence of Christianity around the globe will result in changed cultures and values. This view holds a very optimistic view of the future and believers there will be a real time where Christ reigns on earth through the church and the presence of the Holy Spirit resulting in a great period of peace and stability. Christ will return, ushering in the resurrection of believers and unbelievers, the rapture of the church, and the judgement at the end of this time. This view was incredibly popular at the beginning of the 20th Century, as western culture held optimism about the future, but has waned since the two World Wars, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and the growth of all kinds of world problems that suggest the world is not getting better but worse.