THE MILLENNIAL POSITIONS

INTRODUCTION

Theological Terms

The technical theological term that describes the study of Bible prophecy is: “eschatology.” It is based on two Greek words: eschatos, which means “end, last”; logos, which means “word or study.” Thus, “eschatology” is technically “the study of the last things.”

Another technical theological term that has become so popular in modern discussions is: “millennium.” It is based on the Latin: mille, “thousand”; and annum, “year.” Thus, the term means “thousand years.” It is derived from Rev. 20:1–6, the only place in Scripture which associates 1000 years with Christ’s rule.

Basic Positions

In attaching prefixes to the term “millennium” we link the second coming of Christ to the millennium that is mentioned in Rev. 20: amillennial, premillennial, and postmillennial. These three most basic positions may be briefly defined in terms of their chronology as follows:

Amillennialism: The privative a in “amillennialism” emphasizes that there will be no earthly millennial kingdom as such. As amillennialist George Murray puts it: “amillennial, a term which indicates a denial of any future millennium of one thousand years’ duration.”

Premillennialism: The prefix pre indicates that eschatological system that expects a literal earthly millennial kingdom which Christ introduces by his second coming before (pre) it. This kingdom will transpire on earth under Christ’s direct rule.

Postmillennialism: The prefix post points out a lengthy (though not literal 1000 year) earthly period in which Christ’s kingdom influences the world, which period will conclude (hence, “post”) at Christ’s second advent. Postmillennialism tends to see the thousand years as a symbolic figure covering the entirety of the Christian era.

An important subclass of premillennialism arose in the 1830s: “dispensationalism.” Because of its current prominence (Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind) and its vigorous rejection even by historic premillennialists, we will present it as a fourth, separate and distinct view (see below).



House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology
By Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

This book demonstrates that dispensational theology has been shattered by its own defenders. They are no longer willing to defend the original system, and their drastic modifications have left it a broken shell.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Interpretive Sorting Device

A helpful interpretive sorting device works quite well in classifying the three basic millennial positions. Two questions tend to sort the positions into one of the three most basic schools. These questions are:

(1) What is the chronology of the kingdom?
(2) What is the nature of the kingdom?

The question of chronology focuses on the timing of Christ’s second advent in relation to the kingdom’s establishment. If his coming is before the kingdom, then the position is premillennial; if it is after the kingdom, then it may be either amillennial or postmillennial.

The question of nature highlights its historical character. If the kingdom will have a radical, objective, transforming influence in human culture, it is either premillennial or postmillennial; if it will not, it is amillennial.

Amillennialism

With the golden-age connotation of the word “millennium,” the label “a–millennial” appropriately describes the system. As Anthony Hoekema notes: “The word amillennial means that the Second Coming of Christ is to be without a millennium.” Kim Riddlebarger states that “amillennialism is an eschatological orientation that awaits no future earthly millennium.”

Descriptive Features

1. The Church Age is the kingdom which the Old Testament prophets predict. God expands his people from the one nation of Israel in the Old Testament to the universal Christian church of the New Testament, making this phase of God’s people the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

2. Christ binds Satan during his earthly ministry at his first coming. His binding prevents Satan from stopping gospel proclamation. This allows for multitudes of sinners to convert to Christ and insures some restraint upon evil.

3. Christ rules spiritually in the hearts of believers. We may expect occasional, short-lived influences of Christianity on culture and society, especially when Christians live out the implications of their faith.

4. History will gradually worsen as evil’s growth accelerates toward the end. This will culminate in the great tribulation, with the arising of a personal Antichrist.

5. Christ will return to end history, resurrect all men, and conduct the Final Judgment, and establish the eternal order. The eternal destiny of the redeemed may be either in heaven or in a totally renovated new earth.

He Shall Have Dominion small


He Shall Have Dominion
(paperback by Kenneth Gentry)

A classic, thorough explanation and defense of postmillennialism (600+ pages). Complete with several chapters answering specific objections.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Dispensationalism

This term highlights the view that history is divided into seven distinct compartments or “dispensations.” The final dispensation is the millennium.

Paul Benware provides a thorough definition of dispensationalism from which I will draw several key elements:

Certain fundamental elements characterize this type of premillennialism. . . . The belief that the Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth before the establishment of His kingdom. . . . The belief in two resurrections, which are separated by a thousand years. . . . That the millennial kingdom is a literal kingdom that will exist on this present earth. . . . That the millennial kingdom will be established only after human kingdoms have come to an end. . . . That the purpose of the millennial kingdom is to fulfill the covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants. Premillennialism thus gives a much greater place to the nation of Israel than the other major millennial views.

Descriptive Features

1. Redemptive history is divided up into seven categorically distinct dispensations, wherein God works with men under each dispensation in different ways. Hence, the name “dispensationalism.”

2. Christ offers renewed Davidic Kingdom — an earthly, political structure — to the Jews in the first century. They reject it, leading him to postpone it until the future.

3. The Church Age is a wholly unforseen and distinct era in the plan of God. It was altogether unknown to and unexpected by the Old Testament prophets.

4. God has a separate and distinct program and plan for racial Israel, as distinguished from the church. The church of Jesus Christ is a parenthetical aside in the original plan of God.

5. The church may experience occasional small scale successes in history, but ultimately she will lose influence, fail in her mission, and become corrupt as worldwide evil intensifies toward the end of the Church Age.

6. Christ will return secretly in the sky to rapture living saints and resurrect the bodies of deceased saints (the first resurrection). He is removing them out of the world before the great tribulation. The judgment of the saints transpires in heaven during the seven-year great tribulation period before Christ’s bodily return to the earth.

7. At the conclusion of the seven-year great tribulation, Christ will return to the earth in order to establish and personally administer a Jewish political kingdom headquartered at Jerusalem for 1,000 years. During this time, Satan will be bound, and the temple and sacrificial system will be reestablished in Jerusalem as memorials.

8. Toward the end of the Millennial Kingdom, Satan will be loosed so that he may surround and attack Christ at Jerusalem.

9. Christ will call down fire from heaven to destroy his enemies. The second resurrection and judgment of the wicked will occur, initiating the eternal order.

Historic Premillennialism

According to historic premillennialist Wayne Grudem, this view holds that:

The present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of great tribulation and suffering comes on the earth . . . . After that time of tribulation at the end of the church age, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom. When he comes back, believers who have died will be raised from the dead, their bodies will be reunited with their spirits, and these believers will reign with Christ on earth for one thousand years. During this time, Christ will be physically present on the earth in his resurrected body, and will reign as King over the entire earth. The believers who have been raised from the dead, and those who were on earth when Christ returns, will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will never die, and in these resurrection bodies they will live on the earth and reign with Christ. Of the unbelievers who remain on earth, many (but not all) will turn to Christ and be saved. Jesus will reign in perfect righteousness and there will be peace throughout the earth. At the beginning of this time Satan will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit so that he will have no influence eon the earth during the millennium (Rev. 20:1–3).

At the end of the thousand years Satan will be loosed form the bottomless pit and will join forces with many unbelievers who have submitted outwardly to Christ’s reign but have inwardly been seething in rebellion against him. Satan will gather these rebellious people for battle against Christ, but they will be decisively defeated. Christ will then raise from the dead all the unbelievers who have died throughout history, and they will stand before him for final judgment. After the final judgment has occurred, believers will enter into the eternal state.

Descriptive Features

1. The New Testament era church is the initial phase of Christ’s kingdom, which the Old Testament anticipates especially in its prophetic books.

2. The New Testament 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 current era, the Church Age.

3. The church will pass through a future, worldwide, unprecedented time of travail. During this period a personal Antichrist will arise, possessing great religious and political power. This era is known as the great tribulation, which will punctuate the end of contemporary history. Historic premillennialists differ significantly from dispensationalists in that their system is posttribulational.

4. Christ will return at the end of the tribulation to rapture the church, resurrect deceased saints, and conduct the judgment of the righteous in the “twinkling of an eye.”

5. Christ then will descend to the earth with his glorified saints, fight the battle of Armageddon, bind Satan, and establish a worldwide, political kingdom, which Christ will personally administer for 1,000 years from Jerusalem. (Historic premillennialists often do not demand the Revelation’s 1000 years be a literal time frame.)

6. At the end of the millennial reign, Satan will be loosed and will cause a massive rebellion against the millennial kingdom and a fierce assault against Christ and his saints.

7. God will intervene with fiery judgment to rescue Christ and the saints. The resurrection and the judgment of the wicked will occur and the eternal order will begin. The eternal order may be either a recreated material new heavens and new earth, or it may be simply a heavenly environment.

Postmillennialism

We may succinctly define postmillennialism as follows:

Postmillennialism holds that the Lord Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his Church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.

Descriptive Features

1. Postmillennialism holds that the Lord Jesus Christ founds his Messianic kingdom on the earth during his earthly ministry and through his redemptive labors. His establishing the “kingdom of heaven” fulfills Old Testament prophetic expectations regarding the coming kingdom. The kingdom which Christ preaches and presents is not something other than that expected by the Old Testament saints. In postmillennialism the church is the fulfilled/transformed Israel and is even called “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

2. The kingdom’s fundamental nature is essentially redemptive and spiritual, rather than political and corporeal. Although it has implications for the political realm, postmillennialism is not political, offering a kingdom in competition with geopolitical nations for governmental rule. Christ rules his kingdom spiritually in and through his people in the world, as well as by his universal providence.

3. Because of the intrinsic power and design of Christ’s redemption, his kingdom will exercise a transformational socio-cultural influence in history. This will occur as more and more people convert to Christ, not by a minority revolt and seizure of political power in history nor by the catastrophic imposition of Christ at his second advent from outside of history. As Rushdoony notes: “The key to remedying the [world] situation is not revolution, nor any kind of resistance that works to subvert law and order. . . . The key is regeneration, propagation of the gospel, and the conversion of men and nations to God’s law-word.” This is because “evil men cannot produce a good society. The key to social renewal is individual regeneration.”

4. Postmillennialism, therefore, expects the gradual, developmental expansion of Christ’s kingdom in time and on earth before the Lord returns to end history. This will proceed by a full-orbed ministry of the Word, fervent and believing prayer, and the consecrated labors of Christ’s Spirit-filled people. The ever-present Christ is directing kingdom growth from his throne in heaven, where he sits at God’s right hand.

5. Postmillennialism confidently anticipates a time in earth history (continuous with the present) in which the very gospel already operating will win the victory throughout the earth, fulfilling the Great Commission. “The thing that distinguishes the biblical postmillennialist, then, from amillennialists and premillennialists is his belief that the Scripture teaches the success of the great commission in this age of the church” (Greg Bahnsen). The overwhelming majority of men and nations will be Christianized, righteousness will abound, wars will cease, and prosperity and safety will flourish. “It will be marked by the universal reception of the true religion, and unlimited subjection to the sceptre of Christ” (David Brown). “It shall be a time of universal peace.” “It will be characterised by great temporal prosperity” (Lorraine Boettner).

6. Postmillennialists look forward to a great ‘golden age’ of spiritual prosperity continuing for centuries, or even for millenniums, during which time Christianity shall be triumphant over all the earth. After this extended period of gospel prosperity, earth history will draw to a close by the personal, visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ (accompanied by a literal resurrection and a general judgment) to introduce his blood-bought people into the consummative and eternal form of the kingdom. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.


Your Hope in God’s World (Kenneth Gentry)
5 DVDs; 5 lectures
This series of lectures presents the theological and exegetical argument for the postmillennial hope in our fallen world. The last lecture answers the major practical, theological, and exegetical objections to postmillennialism. An excellent series for both introducing and refreshing one’s understanding of postmillennialism.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


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10 thoughts on “THE MILLENNIAL POSITIONS

  1. apocalypse2blog September 3, 2019 at 5:44 am

    Where does it say Christ will reign?

  2. Howard King September 3, 2019 at 6:45 am

    Excellent, concise description and differentiation of the four systems. There is no one like Dr. Gentry.

  3. Kenneth Gentry September 3, 2019 at 6:48 am

    Two of the six millennial verses speak of Christ’s reign:

    Rev 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

    Rev 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

  4. J. Elliott September 3, 2019 at 8:22 am

    This is a really good and fair article on the different millennial views. Mr. Gentry, what are your views on the Puritan view of Postmillennialism (Rev 20’s resurrection fulfilling Eze 37 for the “golden age” of the church), and is it held by many today? I personally think it is somewhat forced, but it is still an interesting view. Thank you for all your work on this website!

  5. Kenneth Gentry September 3, 2019 at 9:45 am

    The Puritan view was certainly a prominent view in its time. I like the concept but don’t feel it is exegetically warranted.

  6. Colin September 3, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    I am having difficulty understanding the postmillennial position. For example, I have just re-read “Revival and Revivalism” by Iain Murray, which examines the second great awakening in America from the 1790’s to 1860’s. In the primary source quotes, there are many eyewitness exclamations that with the huge surge in converts that surely the millennium is about to begin. How does one differentiate postmillennialism which expects a literal 1000 years of uncertain start year, versus the definition you offer? The non-literal postmillennial position appears strong in theonomic writing and I agree more with it, but how does one classify other postmillennial positions through history? Is the non-literal postmillennial position only more common in recent times?

  7. Fred V. Squillante September 4, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Good am Dr. Gentry and all. A good article for sure and I’d like to offer a comment or two. The millennium and millennialism correctly derives from the Latin prefix mille for one-thousand. Now, I know that you know that since the Revelation was written in Greek and the Greek prefix being chilia, that is where chiliasm, or chiliast got their names. Chiliasm hasn’t had the nicest of connotations throughout the years. In fact, the primary early sources for any serious study of Revelation being Irenaeus, who uses Papias would show that Papias clearly was a chiliast. Irenaeus maybe not so but his writings on the number of the beast, Antichrist, and so forth are certainly far-fetched. Millennialism, or chiliasm, has given rise to all of those delineations you listed, as man has constructed truly mind-numbing doctrines based on each and every one. While I relished David Chilton’s “Days of Vengeance” nobody has the market cornered on the interpretation of Revelation – especially those of the first and second centuries. Your depiction of post-millennialism is probably the soundest, as you’ve stated it, but getting “in the weeds” and listening to the details of the doctrines based on that depiction, they are left wanting. Just a thought.

  8. Kenneth Gentry September 6, 2019 at 10:12 am

    The two most basic positions are the Puritan postmillennialism, which expected a literal 1000 years to follow the conversion of the Jews and the modern version which (like amillennialism) sees the 1000 years as symbolic of a long period of time, which began with the establishing of Christ’s kingdom in the first century.

  9. Kenneth Gentry September 6, 2019 at 10:12 am

    I am not sure what you saying . . . .

  10. Fred V. Squillante September 6, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    So be it. I repeat: no one can study Revelation or eschatology without coming face to face with Irenaeus. His writings on the number of the beast and Antichrist are way out there. He cites Papias, and he was a chiliast. Eusebius profusely cites Irenaeus. There really isn’t much of a choice besides them. That’s why there is Pre, A, and Post Millennialism; Pre, Mid, and Post Tribulation; and so on. Post Millennialism is the best of the three, but, as I said, when you get into all the details of that doctrine there are things that leave me wanting. But that’s to be expected because, as I also said, no one has the whole apocalypse figured out.

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