PREMILLENNIALISM – The belief that Jesus Christ will physically return again to earth before the millennium begins.
There are two major premillennial views:
- Historic Premillennialism – Otherwise known as simple premil; one-stage premil; classic premil; or post-tribulational premil. This position teaches that Jesus Christ will return after a period called the Great Tribulation. This was the majority view of the early church (up to about 250 AD).
- Dispensational Premillennialism – Otherwise known as dispensationalism; two-stage premil; pre-tribulational premil. This position teaches that the church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation. This view has become popular since the 1830s, and is closely associated with American fundamentalism.
While it appears that the only difference between the two views is one over the timing of the Rapture, these two views differ greatly in their understanding of redemptive history. They are two very separate views, not to be confused.
What Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism Hold in Common
Both positions believe:
- There will be an earthly reign of Jesus Christ for approximately one thousand years. Some understand the thousand years to represent a substantial but indefinite period of time. This reign will be personal and bodily. Believers will reign with Christ for this period.
- Prior to the millennium, there will be a period of turmoil, persecution, and suffering called the Great Tribulation. The world will be at its worst.
- The millennium will not begin gradually. It will begin with a cataclysmic event.
- The millennium will be a time of world peace and harmony. Nature will be freed from its curse.
- There will be two literal physical resurrections.
- Israel will have some special significance in the millennium.
Arguments for Premillennialism
- A clear and natural reading of Revelation 20:1-6 favors premillennialism. For instance, it suggests that there are two separate physical resurrections separated by a period of one thousand years.
- Other passages hint at a resurrection of a select group (Luke 14:14; 20:35; 1 Corinthians 15:23; Philippians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) or a resurrection in two stages (Daniel 12:2; John 5:29).
- The binding of Satan in Revelation 20:2-3 refers to a greater restriction in his activity than anything we experience today. Therefore, the millennium has not begun.
- Several passages seem to neither fit the present age or the eternal state (e.g. Psalm 72; Isaiah 11:6-11; 65:20; Zechariah 14:5-17). This seems to suggest that there will be a time in which our redemption will be far greater than the current age, yet a time in which death and sin are still present.
- Other New Testament passages, besides Revelation 20, suggest a future millennium (1 Corinthians 15:23-25; Revelation 2:26-27).
- Nowhere in Scripture are we told that Christians (alive or dead) are already reigning with Christ. However, the Bible teaches that believers will reign with Christ and be given authority to reign over the earth (Luke 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 6:3; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21).
- There are no biblical passages with which premillennialists cannot cope. However, the reference to two resurrections in Revelation 20 gives amillennialists and postmillennialists difficulty.
Responses to Premillennialism
- The two resurrections of Revelation 20 are not necessarily physical. They could be two different types of resurrections (spiritual and physical) or both spiritual.
- The Scriptures cited do not demand two separate physical resurrections.
- Satan is restricted in his activity today (Matthew 12:29; Luke 10:17-18; John 12:31-32).
- Old Testament prophecies are not always fulfilled in a way that we might expect (e.g. Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1). These prophecies could predict conditions on the new earth.
- Christ is now reigning at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1:3). Revelation 20 is the only passage that speaks of an actual millennium.
- The idea of a provisional kingdom, in which glorified and mortal men mingle, finds no support in Scripture. It seems odd to think of resurrected saints and ordinary mortals mingling for a thousand years. The purpose of this millennial reign is unclear.
- Other interpretations exist for Revelation 20 and the other passages cited. The scene appears to take place in heaven, not earth.
GREAT TRIBULATION ->
SECOND COMING ->
What Historic Premillennialism Teaches
- The present church age will continue until a time of Great Tribulation comes on the earth.
- After the Tribulation, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom. When he comes back, believers will be raised from the dead. Their bodies will be reunited with their spirits. Believers who are alive will receive their resurrection bodies.
- Christ will be physically present on earth during the millennium, and will reign as King over the entire earth, along with the glorified believers. This reign will take place for a thousand years (understood as a literal thousand years to some; others as a substantial but indeterminate time).
- Many, but not all, unbelievers will be saved. There will be peace on the earth, as Satan will be bound during the millennium.
- Israel will find its place within the church. Large numbers from Israel will be converted.
- At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be loosed and will join forces with many unbelievers who appeared to believe, but remained inwardly hostile to Christ. Satan and these unbelievers will rise against Christ, but will be decisively defeated.
- At this point, unbelievers who have died throughout history will be raised and judged.
- After the final judgment, believers will enter into the eternal state.
GREAT TRIBULATION ->
SECOND COMING ->
What Dispensational P remillennialism Teaches
- The present church age will continue until, suddenly and secretly, Christ returns to the earth to take believers out of the world to heaven.
- After Christ returns to heaven with the believers, a seven-year period of Tribulation will begin. Many signs that will precede Christ’s return will take place. Many Jews will return to Christ.
- At the end of the Great Tribulation, Christ will return to earth with his saints to reign on the earth for a thousand years.
- At the end of this millennial period, Satan will be loosed and will lead a rebellion. Satan will be finally defeated. Unbelievers will be resurrected and judged, and the eternal state will begin.
- There is a clear distinction between the church and Israel. The Jewish people remain distinct from the church. All God’s promises to Israel remain unconditional and continuing, and are not transferred to the church.
- Biblical prophesies are to be interpreted literally where possible.
Will Christ Return Before or After the Great Tribulation?
Arguments for a Pretribulation Rapture
- The Tribulation is a time for the outpouring of God’s wrath. It is not appropriate for Christians to be subjected to God’s wrath. Paul promised the Thessalonians that they would not experience the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).
- Jesus promises in Revelation 3:10, “I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” This seems to indicate that the church will be taken out of the world before that hour of trial comes. In fact, nowhere does Scripture speak of the church being present during the Tribulation.
- If Christ returns after the Tribulation and defeats all his enemies, then there will not be enough unbelievers left to populate the millennial kingdom.
- The pretrib position allows for Christ to return at any moment (his secret coming), and yet for many signs to be fulfilled before his coming (after the Tribulation). Nothing remains to be fulfilled before the rapture.
- The Tribulation is a part of God’s program for Israel (Daniel 9).
Arguments for a Posttribulation Rapture
- Matthew 24 says the elect will be present during the Tribulation. Consistent with the usage of this term throughout Scripture, the elect refers to believers.
- Revelation 3:10 does not go so far as to say that the entire church will be taken out of the world before the Tribulation. It is made to one church. It could refer to a time of suffering that took place in the Roman Empire. It promises that God will guard them, but not necessarily remove them from the world.
- There is a distinction between the wrath of God and the Tribulation. The wrath of God comes upon the wicked (John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Revelation 6:16-17) but not believers (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). However, believers will experience tribulation (Matthew 24:9; Revelation 7:14). This will not be God’s wrath, but the wrath of Satan and unbelievers.
- Tribulation has been the experience of Christ and the church throughout the ages (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Therefore, it would not be surprising if the church endured the Great Tribulation.
- Many verses, naturally interpreted, seem to indicate that the hope of the church is the return of Christ after the Tribulation (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-8; 2:1-12; Revelation 19:1-9).
- Posttribulationalism allows that Christ could return at any time. The remaining signs could be fulfilled in a very short period of time.
- The New Testament does not support a distinction between Israel and the church. The church is the new Israel (Matthew 21:43; Romans 2:28-29; 9:6-8; 11:17-24; Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 2:16; Hebrews 8; 1 Peter 2:4-10).
- If the church is going to be taken out of the world before the Tribulation, one would think that the New Testament would explicitly teach this. Instead, the Bible teaches a public and visible rapture just moments prior to his coming (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
- The Tribulation is clearly linked with the Lord’s return (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
- The New Testament does not seem to justify the idea of two separate returns of Christ (once for his church, and seven years later to bring judgment).
- Pretribulation teachings are based on inferences from disputed passages. If Scripture clearly taught the pretribulation position, it should have been discovered before the nineteenth century. Instead, the majority of those in church history have believed that the church would go through the Tribulation.