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THEOLOGY > Future > The Millennium > Three Millennial Views  


At least three interpretations of the thousand years in Rev. 20:1-7 have been advanced: Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism. Basic to the question of proper interpretation is the position taken on the nature of the one thousand years, whether the period is literal or symbolic, that is, whether the years are totally future or simply synonymous in some sense with the current age.

The three views have appeared in the following historical sequence, namely, Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism. Premillennialism characterized the early church era, and Amillennialism was prominent during the Middle Ages, while Postmillennialism arose after the Protestant Reformation. And believers in the present day embrace all three views. The three views will be presented in the reverse order of their historical appearance.

Postmillennialism teaches that the Millennium will be a golden age brought about by the preaching of the Gospel. Rather than society becoming more wicked as we approach the end-time, it will become more Christian. It is thought that the Kingdom of God will come to fulfillment through the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Church. Slowly but surely the Gospel will triumph. Evil will be reduced to a minimum, and right will dominate; the Gospel will be victorious. Together, the work of the Church and the power of the Gospel establish the Kingdom of God, which develops slowly, but finally fills the whole earth. Instead of a concentrated period of evil at the end-time, there will be an extended period of goodness and relative peace before the consummation.

Following the triumph of the Gospel, Christ will return, a return that is after (“post” meaning “after”) the Millennium. Christ, therefore, does not introduce the proverbial golden age, but He will return after it has been realized through the power of the Gospel. Following a period of righteousness, the Lord will return to this earth; there will be the judgment, and eternity will begin.

Postmillennialism arose out of the thought of the Puritan thinkers and was initially promoted by Daniel Whitby (1638-1726). Whitby felt that the world would be won to Christ and that the Church would rule the world, an incipient idea that developed into full-fledged Postmillennialism.

This interpretation was popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but was greatly weakened by the two world wars of the twentieth century.  Recently the view has been revisited by Loraine Boettner in The Millennium. Postmillennialism is mainly the view of some Reformed thinkers, especially Reconstructionists, and, arising after the Reformation, is the most recent interpretation of the one thousand years of the book of Revelation.

Amillennialism rejects the idea of a literal Millennium, stating that there will be no (“a” denotes “no”) Millennium. Thus, the thousand years are symbolic.

Rather than the Millennium being the literal reign of Christ on the earth, the word speaks symbolically of the current age that is characterized by the spiritual conflict between good and evil. The Kingdom of God is, according to this interpretation, continually at work in the world and experiences persistent opposition from the Satanic kingdom. Good and evil are abiding enemies throughout Church history, and this era of ongoing hostility toward each other is synonymous with the Millennium—the Church age is identical to the Millennium.

At some point in the future the Lord will return and evil finally will be terminated; thus, the Second Coming will bring to an end the Millennium. When the Lord returns there will be the general judgment and the beginning of eternity.

Amillennialism is attributed to Augustine, who identified the Millennium as the period from the time of Christ until His return to the earth, a period which would be one thousand years after His life on earth. So for Augustine the Millennium was equal to the first one thousand years of Church history. At this point Augustine was influenced by the spiritualizing principles of Origen, who spiritualized much of Revelation, as well as the rest of Scripture. Eclipsed in Augustine’s interpretation, which was to dominate the Middle Ages, was the older Premillennialism of the early Church. When one thousand years passed without the Second Coming, the Millennium became synonymous with the age of the Church, however long that proved to be.

At the time of the Reformation, Augustine’s Amillennialism continued to be embraced, although with some variations. Revelation was viewed mainly as the history of the Church Age, which was also the age of Tribulation; and at the conclusion of the Church Age the Lord would return as described in Revelation 19. Many of the Reformers identified the papacy as the Antichrist or as the second beast of Revelation 13, but lost in such thinking was any concept of a literal Millennium. Although some embraced Premillennialism, the Reformers did not recover the understanding of the early Church; therefore, the essential character of Roman Catholic eschatology was kept by the leaders of the Reformation.

Amillennialism is still held today, mainly by Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and some Protestants from various denominations.

Premillennialism affirms a literal Millennium, with Christ coming back to the earth before (“pre” means “before”) the Millennium. Adherents to this view believe that Christ will establish the visible Kingdom of God when He returns, though this does not deny that the Kingdom of God is already at work in an invisible manner in the lives of His people. After His Return, Satan will be bound, evil will be controlled, and the era of peace and blessing predicted by the prophets will be realized, with Christ Himself ruling on this present earth for one thousand years.

Furthermore, Premillennialism affirms that before the Millennium there will be a period of Tribulation. And after the Tribulation, but before the Millennium, Christ will return. Therefore, the coming of Rev. 19 separates the Tribulation from the Millennium. This means that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation (see: The Great Tribulation) and will experience intense suffering on the earth prior to the Lord’s return. According to this interpretation, the Second Coming of Christ is a single event, with the event occurring just before the Millennium at the time of the Battle of Armageddon (see: Battle of Armageddon). Consequently, the Church will be on the earth during the Tribulation (see: The Rapture Question).

End-time events will unfold in the following order: Antichrist (see: The Antichrist) and the Tribulation, the Battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ and the first resurrection (see: The First Resurrection), the Millennium, the second resurrection and the Great White Throne Judgment, and, finally, eternity. For the first four hundred years of the Church this perspective was the accepted interpretation.

The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius; while Caius, Origen, Dionysius the Great, Eusebius (as afterwards Jerome and Augustine) opposed it (Schaff, History, Vol. 2; see: Testimony of the Fathers).

, a Greek word meaning “thousand” and appearing six times in Revelation 20:1-7, provides in its transliterated form a synonym, “chiliasm,” for the word “Millennialism” and is so used by some writers, especially writers of an earlier period.

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