This blog post is a book review of Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond edited by Stanley Gundry (series editor) and Darrell Bock (general editor), Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999. 330pp. In Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond three writers present their views of the millennium. The premillennial view is presented by Craig Blaising, professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The postmillennial view is presented by Kenneth Gentry Jr., executive director of GoodBirth Ministries.
The amillennial view is presented by Robert Strimple, professor of systematic theology at Westminister Seminary California. Each of these writers summarizes his position on the doctrine of the millennium using a hemeneutical framework and specific biblical texts to support his view. 1
A. A Summary of the Premillennial View
The premillennial position believes that Jesus will establish his rule for a literal 1,000 years on earth (p. 157). This view believes that Christ will come again at the beginning of the literal 1,000 years of his kingdom and before the new heaven and new earth are created. This 1,000 year kingdom is seen as a complete replacement of the conditions humans now experience on the earth (p. 193).
Currently, the conditions that we live in now are a result of Christ ascending to heaven (Acts 1), Christ sitting at the right hand of God, and the Holy Spirit indwelling believers. But the “fullness of the eschatological kingdom has yet to come” (p. 196). Part of the basis for the premillennial view is that prophets in the Old Testament speak of the future restoration of Israel with the expectation of a worldwide kingdom (Dan 2:34-35, 44; Isa 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-8; p. 193). This worldwide kingdom appears to be uniquely different than what we experience now on earth.
There are three stages of resurrection in the premillennial view:
2. Those who belong to Christ (who are raised at his coming)
3. The end of the kingdom (2 Cor 15:23-24; pp. 203-204).
With Jesus’ coming he will raise the dead in two stages:
1. At the beginning of the kingdom so that some can participate with him in the Millennial Kingdom
2. At the end of the kingdom he will raise the rest of the dead and institute he final judgment (1 Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15:51-58; p. 157-158).
B. The Hermeneutics of Premillennialism
The hermeneutics of premillennialism believes that the “New Testament carries forward the OT eschatological hope and adds to it the Revelation that the Messiah of the eschatological kingdom is Jesus of Nazareth” (Lk 1:32-33; p. 195). Furthermore, premillennialism is based on progressive revelation and how the New Testament clarifies possible meanings of Old Testament prophesies and texts. This is often called the “literal-historical-grammatical” interpretation of Scripture which places an emphasis on understanding the message of Scripture as a whole. For example, the primary basis of premillennialism’s literal 1,000 year reign is the understanding that Revelation 19-20 is a literal and consecutive vision from John. Premillennialists see a progression in the book of Revelation that reveals the past and future history of Jesus Christ. Premillennialism sees Rev 1:8, 18; and 22 all referencing Jesus Christ (p. 210).
With this strong emphasis on Revelation 20 being the basis of the literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth, Blaising presents six reasons to support this view:
1. The visions of 19:11-21:8 are a transition between the vision of Babylon and the view of the new Jerusalem
2. The visions of 19:11-21:8 are a unified sequence because there is no structure marker to indicate a break of the sequence.
3. Six out of the eight visions of 19:11-21:8 are seen as contemporaneous with the second coming of Christ
4. Satan’s interactions with the world in 20:1-3 are not compatible with how Satan interacts with the world prior to the second coming of Christ
5. The rebellion after the Millennium (vv. 7-10) is described in a way that distinguishes it from the state of affairs before the second coming of Christ
6. There is a 1,000 year reign of believers who have been raised to life based on Rev 20:4-5 (pp. 214-221). 2
C. The Key Scriptures in Support of the Premillennial View
Rev 19-20 is the primary text used to understand Christ’s second coming as a literal 1,000 year reign on earth. Important Old Testament prophesies for the premillennial view are Isa 2:2-4; 65:17-25; 66:18-23; Dan 2:34-35, 44; and Micah 4:1-8. Important New Testament texts on the rapture are 1 Thess 4:13-18; and 1 Cor 15:51-58
A. A Summary of the Postmillennial View
The postmillennial view states that Christ’s glorious return to the earth will happen after the nonliteral 1,000 year reign of believers on earth. While the premillennialist says Christ comes to bind Satan, the postmillennialist says that Christ already bound Satan when Christ came in the first century. Therefore, the Christian, according to the postmillennial position, is already in the non-literal 1,000 year reign. This means that Satan still has some level of dominion over the world now, but it is not in the same way that he did before Jesus came to earth in the first century AD.
The postmillennial position is partially based on Isa 2:2-4 and Jer 31. Gentry states that Judah and Jerusalem in Isa 2 represent the whole people of God (p. 36). He develops this further stating the “mountain,” “house of the God of Jacob,” and “Zion” referenced in these texts refer to the church, not to the nation of Israel. A belief that the church is now in the nonliteral 1,000 year reign means there is an expectation that a large percentage of the world’s population will turn to Christ by the spirit-blessed proclamation of the gospel (p. 22) which can be summarized into the three theological foundations of postmillennialism: (1) God’s creational purpose based on God’s creation of the perfect world in Genesis means he still has a hope for its restoration (Gen 1:31; Rom 11:36; Col 1:16; p. 23), (2) God’s sovereign power to do what he does because he chooses and brings things back together in the end (Eza 46:10; 55:11; Zeck 4:6; Eph 1:11), and (3) God’s blessed provision that he has provided us what we need to proclaim the gospel (Rom 8:31).
With this, the postmillennial view sees all people as blessed through Abraham’s seed (12:5-7) as a “plural” element (meaning the entirety of the church is the blessing and the blessed), not as a “singular” (Christ being the “seed”). Therefore, the hope of postmillennialism is earthly through the belief that the “earth” is the focal point from Genesis to Revelation (p. 55).
B. The Hermeneutics of Postmillennialism
Postmillennials see the rest of the Bible as speaking about the millennium in much clearer terms than Revelation 20. Gentry claims that this passage (Rev 20) is the “tail that wags the dog” 3 when it is placed as the predominant text about the return of Christ (p. 50). Instead of looking at the book of Revelation as a cohesive vision from John, postmillennials believe other parts of Scripture reveal more about the Millennium. One example of this is Gentry’s view of Jesus’ teaching on Matt 13 where Jesus tells the stories of the farmer scattering seed, the wheat and seeds, and the mustard seed. These stories are interpreted in a way that sees the millennial kingdom being present in the world now as Christians attempt to evangelize the world. This type of interpretation is what many would consider “spiritual” interpretation versus the “literal-historical-grammatical” interpretation of the premillennial view.
C. The Key Scriptures in Support of the Postmillennial View
Some of the most important Old Testament texts in the postmillennial view are: Gen 12:3 (a key emphasis from the postmillennial view is the “all peoples of the earth” in this verse); Ps 2; Isa 2:2-4; and Jer 31:31-34 (this new covenant is seen as something for all people). Important New Testament passages are Matt 13; 28:18-20; John 12:31-32; 1 Cor 15:20-28; and Rev 20.
A. A Summary of the Amillennial View
The amillennial view states that the New Testament teaches all events of Christ’s second coming will occur at the same time in a cluster (p. 100). This is based upon the understanding that anyone who has accepted Christ is the “true Israel” because Christ is Israel and anyone who is in Christ is also in Israel (p. 88-89). With this position, the amilliennialist believes that the day lies ahead when Christ will come again, believers will be resurrected, there will be judgment for all, the New Heaven and New Earth will be created, the final kingdom will be inaugurated, and those who have been redeemed will be in a blessed state (p. 129). This “day” according to the amillennial view is a short period of time in which all these events happen at once.
There is not a literal 1,000 year of reign of Christ (premillennial) nor is there a non-literal 1,000 year reign of believers (postmillennial). This position is based on John 2 where Jesus refers to himself as the true temple of God (p. 98-99). In addition, the amillennialist does not believe that the Old Testament teaches a future millennial kingdom of Christ (p. 100) but rather that the Old Testament prophets speak of the Messiah’s everlasting kingdom and blessing (Gen 17:7-8; 48:4; 2 Sam 23:5; 1 Chr 16:17-18; Ps 105:10-11; Isa 45:17; 55:3; 61:7-8; Jer 32:40; 50:4-5; Ez 16:60; 37:26; Dan 4:3, 34; 7:14, 27; 12:2).
Additionally, the promise of the Old Testament for Israel to take the promised land is no longer binding, but instead it is now promised to the “elect in Christ” (p. 99). As a result of this there will be a restoration and renewal of the earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1) which should be seen as the New Heaven and New Earth, not for a 1,000 years but for eternity (p. 91). Therefore, the amillennial view does not see Rom 11 or Rev 20 as describing a 1,000 year reign with Christ at the beginning (premillennial) or end (postmillennial). 4
B. The Hermeneutics of Amillennialism
The hermeneutics of amillennialism are often described as a “spiritualization” of the text. This view places a very strong emphasis on reinterpreting Old Testament prophesy according to the revelation of the New Testament Scripture. What confuses the amillennial spiritualization of the text is that sometimes this view takes a spiritual view of the text yet at other times it takes a literal view of the text. For example, it takes the meaning of “day” to be literal in 2 Thess 1:5-10 and “hour” to be literal in John 5:28-29. Seeing these two passages as “literal” indicates that the end times events will all take place at the same time. However, when coming to Rev 11 and Rev 20 they do not take the meaning of “year” to be literal.
C. Key Scriptures in Support of the Amillennial View
The amillennial proponents provide a thorough list of Scripture that they believe say there will be no 1,000 year reign of Christ or believers on earth: Isa 42:1-7; 44:1-2, 21, 45:4; Jer 31:31-34; Rom 4:13; Gal 3:7-9, 26-27, 29; and Heb 8, 10. Some of the key New Testament passages that Strimple cites to support the amillennial view are John 5:28-29; Rom 8:17-23; 1 Cor 15:20-26; 2 Thess 1:5-10; and 2 Peter 3:3-14.
Conclusions about Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond
General editor of Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, Darrell Bock, brings these three views together saying, “These essays reveal significant differences in the various views, yet they all affirm the ultimate victory of God—a victory that has fundamental significance for all Christians in expressing the hope that is part of the gospel” (p. 279-280). After a look at these views of the millennium it is clear that the authors agree on several important topics: (1) Scripture reveals that Jesus is coming back, (2) Satan will loose, (3) we will be joined with Christ in the New Heaven and New Earth. Even though there are clear differences among these views I believe these authors have all agreed on the most important thing—Christ shall redeem and rule.
- Throughout this article I will share that “the premillennial view believes” or “the amillennial position thinks” as a way to articulate the position of each viewpoint. However, I realize that within premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism there are various differences even within each view. Therefore, I will present each view as if that is “the” view for that entire system of thought while also acknowledging that there is a uniqueness within each of these views. ↩
- Another element of the hermeneutics of premillennials is that Jesus coming is connected to the Day of the Lord (which is based on 1 Cor 1:7-8; 1 Peter 1:8; 13). The “day of the Lord” passages are a little more complex to discuss and have been omitted from this review due to limited space. ↩
- James Blevins, “Revelation, Book of,” in Mills, ed., Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, 761. ↩
- It should be noted that Strimple’s article is 46 pages. However, 17 of those pages Strimple uses to explain that neither Rom 11 or Rev 20 teach that there will be a 1,000 year reign on earth. ↩