The term comes from Revelation 20:4-5 where it says that certain people came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. In Revelation 20:2-3 it says that an angel came down from heaven and seized the devil and bound him for a thousand years.
(A) EXPLANATION OF THE THREE MAJOR VIEWS
This position holds that the passage in Revelation 20:1-10 describes the present church age. Those who are said to be reigning with Christ for the thousand years are Christians who have died and are already reigning with Christ in heaven. Jesus' reign is not a bodily one here on earth, but a heavenly one. This church age will continue until the time of Christ's return when there will a resurrection of believers and unbelievers, judgment and the new heavens and new earth will begin.
This position holds that Christ will return after the millennium. The growth of the church will gradually increase so that a larger and larger proportion of the world's population will be Christian. Because of this there will be significant Christian influence on the world leading to a period, "millennial age" of peace. Christ will return at the end of this age when there will a resurrection of believers and unbelievers, judgment and the new heavens and new earth will begin.
a. Classic or Historic Premillennialism
This position holds that the present church age will continue until a time of great tribulation, Christ will then return to establish a millennial kingdom. At this time there will be a resurrection of believers and these believers will reign on earth for a period (some believe a thousand years, some see this number as symbolic). Some say we will see a new heaven and earth during this reign, others do not. At the end of this period Satan will be released, will gather those in rebellion to Christ and will be decisively defeated in battle. Then all unbelievers will be raised for final judgement. After this judgement, believers will enter into the eternal state.
b. Pretribulational Premillennialism (or Dispensational Premillennialism)
This view is similar to classic premillennialism, but says that Christ will return twice. He will return part of the way and call believes to himself before the tribulation. During this seven year period of tribulation many of the signs that will proceed the return of Christ will occur. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will return with his saints to reign on the earth for a thousand years. After this there will be a rebellion resulting in the final defeat of Satan, resurrection of unbelievers, final judgement, and the beginning of the eternal state.
(B) A CONSIDERATION OF THE ARGUMENTS FOR AMILLENNIALISM
ARGUMENT: Only one passage (Revelation 20:1-6) teaches a future earthly millennial rule of Christ and that passage is obscure. It is unwise to base such a major doctrine on one passage.
RESPONSE: The Bible only needs to say something once in order for it to be true and something that we must believe. Premillennialist do not see the passage as obscure as it is pretty specific. They look at it (interpret it) in a very straightforward sense.
ARGUMENT: The binding of Satan in verses 1-2 is the binding that occurred during Jesus' earthly ministry. Matthew 12:28-29 and Luke 10:18 are used to support this view.
RESPONSE: While these verses do speak of binding Satan, the binding of Satan in Revelation 20 seems to be much more extensive than that. It speaks of an angel coming down from heaven and throwing him into a pit and sealing the pit so he can no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years is over. It gives the idea of a total removal of influence on earth. This does not fit the present world situation of the church age that we are living in now. Scripture teaches that Satan's activity is still very strong in this world (1 Peter 5:8; Acts 5:3; 1 Corinthians 10:20; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12; 1 John 4:3; 1 John 5:19)
ARGUMENT: The statement that Satan should deceive the nations no more simply means that the gospel can now be preached effectively among the nations and not that he will have no influence.
RESPONSE: It seems more consistent to say that this deception is going on now during the church age and ends only when the millennium begins; especially in the context of Revelation, which says Satan deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9) and deceives all nations before judgment comes (Revelation 18:23). The idea of the phrase is that he deceives no more, not less.
ARGUMENT: Verse 4 describes something that is happening in heaven and not on earth; therefore the reign is in heaven.
RESPONSE: Verse 1 says that an angel came down from heaven indicating that this scene is taking place on earth.
ARGUMENT: The phrase "came to life" in verse 4 and the phrase "first resurrection" in verse 5 refers to a coming to heavenly existence or coming into the presence of God.
RESPONSE: The Greek term for "came to life" never takes on this meaning in the NT. Elsewhere in the NT, resurrection signifies a bodily resurrection and not going to heaven.
ARGUMENT: Scripture only teaches one resurrection when both believers and unbelievers will be raised, not two resurrections as premillennialist say. Amillennialist use John 5:28-29, Acts 24:15 and Daniel 12:2 to support this view.
RESPONSE: Revelation 20:5-6 specifically says "the first resurrection" implying that there will be a second resurrection. All three passages used to support the idea of one resurrection do not exclude the idea of two resurrections. In Acts 24:15, Paul says there will be a resurrection of both the just and unjust, but does not say that they will happen at the same time. Similarly, Daniel 12:2 does not specify if the resurrections of each group will happen at the same time. John 5:28-29 hints at the possibility of two resurrections when he mentions a "resurrection of life" and then separately mentions the "resurrection of judgment". This combined with the explicit phrase in Revelation 20:5-6 gives strong support for two resurrections; one for believers and one for unbelievers.
ARGUMENT: The idea of glorified believers and sinners living on earth together is too difficult to accept.
RESPONSE: While it does seem strange to us now, it is certainly not impossible for God to bring this about. Jesus lived on the earth with a glorified body for 40 days after his resurrection. There were many other OT saints who lived with glorified bodies on earth during this time as well (Matthew 27:52-53)
ARGUMENT: If Christ comes in glory to reign on the earth, then how could people still persist in sin?
RESPONSE: It has happened before. Judas lived with Jesus for three years and then betrayed him. The Pharisees saw Jesus' miracles including raising people from the dead and still did not believe. Even when the disciples were in the presence of the glorified Lord Jesus, we read that "some doubted" (Matthew 28:17). Sin is highly irrational and only God can save.
ARGUMENT: There seems to be no convincing purpose for such a millennium. Once the church age has ended and Christ has returned, then what is the reason for delaying the start of the eternal state?
RESPONSE: One purpose could certainly be to show the outworking of God's good purposes in the structures of society in family and civil government. There are certainly others. While we may not know all of God's purposes for a future millennium, that does not mean we should not believe something that Scripture teaches.
ARGUMENT: Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events yet to come before the eternal state will occur at once. Christ will return, there will be one resurrection of believers and unbelievers, the final judgment will take place, and a new heaven and new earth will be established. Then we will enter immediately into the eternal state, with no future millennium.
RESPONSE: It is hard to reconcile these statements with Revelation 20, which paints a different picture.
(C) A CONSIDERATION OF THE ARGUMENTS FOR POSTMILLENNIALISM
Grudem prefaces these arguments with the fact that many who hold to the postmillennial argument view the millennium differently than a premillennialist. While premillennialist view it as a renewed earth with Jesus physically present and reigning as King, postmillennialist are simply talking about an earth with many Christians influencing society.
ARGUMENT: The Great Commission leads us to expect that the gospel will go forth in power and eventually result in a largely Christian world (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus promise to be with us in the fulfillment of this commission, we should expect that it would transpire without hindrance and eventually triumph in the whole world.
RESPONSE: The Great Commission does indeed speak of the authority that is given into Christ's hand, but that does not necessarily imply that Christ will use that authority to bring about the conversion of the majority of the population of the world.
ARGUMENT: Parables of the gradual growth of the kingdom indicate that it eventually will fill the earth. Parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32). Parable of the leavened bread (Matthew 13:33)
RESPONSE: The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven do tell us that the kingdom of God will gradually grow from something very small to something very large, but they do not tell us the extent to which the kingdom will grow. The postmillennial argument is taking these parables beyond its intended purpose
ARGUMENT: The world is becoming more Christian. The church is growing and spreading throughout the world, and even when it is persecuted and oppressed it grows remarkably by the power of God.
RESPONSE: While it can be said that the church is growing and spreading throughout the world, the world is also becoming more evil. The modernization of Western societies has brought with it a moral decline that cannot be denied. Even in areas with large Christian populations there is nothing like an earthly millennial kingdom.
Grudem notes there are several passages that seem to give explicit denial to the postmillennial position.
- Jesus teaches that the gate to life is narrow and the way is hard, which would indicate that those who will be saved will be few in contrast to those who are not (Matthew 7:13-14)
- Similarly, Jesus asks the rhetorical question - will he find faith on earth when he returns? (Luke 18:8) This does not seem to indicate that the earth will be filled with believers.
- Paul predicts rebellion and lawlessness before Christ returns, not that the world will get better (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5,12-13; 2 Timothy 4:3-4)
- Jesus speaks of a great tribulation that will precede his return (Matthew 24:15-31), not a time of peace. It says the tribes of the earth will mourn, not rejoice. To maintain their position, postmillennialists are forced to interpret this passage as symbolic, but there are numerous problems with this interpretation.
- The passages listed before indicating that Christ could return soon and we must be ready for this return are a significant argument against postmillennialism.
(D) A CONSIDERATION OF THE ARGUMENTS FOR PREMILLENNIALISM
The position advocated by Grudem is historic premillennialism. The arguments against premillennialism have been presented in discussion of the other positions so he does not cover them again. He gives several arguments from Scripture that further support this position.
(1) Several OT passages indicate some future stage in the history of redemption which is far greater than the present church age, but which still does not see the removal of all sin, rebellion, and death from the earth.
- Isaiah speaks of infants not dying in infancy and men not dying prematurely, but death and sin are still present (Isaiah 65:20)
- Isaiah speaks of a renewed nature where the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the lion shall eat straw like the ox yet there are still those seeking Jesus and coming to salvation (Isaiah 11:6-11)
- The psalmist speaks of a messianic rule on earth that cannot be David or Solomon because it says all nations will serve him and he will endure as long as the sun and moon. But there are still the needy who cry out and those who need to be rescued from oppression and violence so once again it is not the eternal state (Psalm 72:8-14)
- Zechariah prophesies of a time in which there is great transformation in the earth, in which the Lord is King over all the earth, and in which there is still rebellion and sin, suffering, and death. So once again it is different than this present age, but not the eternal state. (Zechariah 14:5-17)
(2) There are other NT passages other than Revelation 20 that speak of a future millennium.
- Revelation 2:26-27 indicates a rule of force over a rebellious people that will be given to those who keep his works until the end.
- 1 Corinthians 15:23-25 says that Christ must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet indicating that there is an interval of time between Christ's second coming and the end.
(3) Another look at Revelation 20
- The binding of Satan in the bottomless pit implies a far greater restriction of his activity than we know in this age (Revelation 20:2-3)
- The statement "came to life" (Revelation 20:4) is most likely referring to a bodily resurrection because in verse 5 it is called the first resurrection. The verb for "came to life" is the same verb in Revelation 2:8 where Jesus speaks of his resurrection.
- The interpretation of reigning with Christ in verse 4 as something still in the future is consistent with other NT passages that speak of a future time when believers will reign with Christ and be given authority by him to reign over the earth (Luke 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 6:3; Revelation 2:26-27; Revelation 3:21)
- Revelation 6:9-10 shows saints in heaven before Christ's return crying out to the Lord to begin to judge evildoers on the earth. It does not say they are already reigning with Christ.
- Revelation 20:4 includes those who had not worshiped the beast and had not received its mark among those who would reign with Christ. This refers to the persecution by the beast from Revelation 13. Since this is something that will happen in the future, the reign with Christ must be in the future as well and is not something that is happening in the present church age.
(E) THE TIME OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION
Will Christ return before or after the "great tribulation"?
Historic premillennialism believes that Christ will return after that tribulation. This is primarily based upon Matthew 24:15-31 that speaks of the great tribulation and says after this Christ will return. There are some that believe there will be a "pre-tribulation rapture" where the church will be raptured before the tribulation.
Arguments for pre-tribulation:
ARGUMENT: The entire period of the tribulation will be a time of the outpouring of God's wrath on all the earth. Therefore it would not be appropriate for Christians to be on the earth at that time.
RESPONSE: All the suffering during the tribulation is not the result of the wrath of God, but because wickedness is multiplied (Matthew 24:12) and opposition from Satan greatly increases. Also, avoiding the wrath of God does not mean that believers will avoid all suffering.
ARGUMENT: Jesus' promise in Revelation 3:10 where he says, "I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world" indicates that the church will be taken out of the world before the tribulation.
RESPONSE: This promise was made specifically to the believers in the church in Philadelphia and not to the church as a whole so it should not necessarily be applied to the church as a whole. The hour of trial may not actually refer to the tribulation. The promise that they will be guarded does not necessarily imply that they will be taken out of the world, but could mean that they will be kept faithful or guarded from being harmed.
ARGUMENT: If Christ returns after the tribulation and defeats all his enemies, then where will the unbelievers come from who are necessary to populate the millennial kingdom?
RESPONSE: Saying that Christ will defeat all the forces arrayed against him does not necessarily mean he will kill all of them.
ARGUMENT: This view makes it possible to believe that Christ could come at any moment.
RESPONSE: The position that it is unlikely but possible that the signs have been fulfilled is consistent with the idea that Christ could come at any moment as well.
ARGUMENT: The warnings and encouragements given to believers in Matthew 24 applies to Jewish believers during tribulation and not the church generally. (they believe the Jews will constitute the people of God on earth during the tribulation and then during the millennial kingdom and not the church in general)
RESPONSE: The real basis of this argument is that they wish to preserve a distinction between the church and Israel, but the NT does not support this distinction.
Additional arguments for post tribulation position:
- The NT nowhere clearly says that the church will be taken out of the world before the tribulation.
- It is hard to reconcile 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 with the idea that there will be some type of secret coming of Jesus where he "raptures" the church before the tribulation. This passage describes a very open and public event that everyone can see.
- The tribulation is clearly linked with the Lord's return in several passages. They are all tied to a last trumpet call that is blown just before the millennium (Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
- The NT does not seem to justify the idea of two separate returns of Christ that would be necessary for the pre-tribulation position.
- What is the millennium? When does it occur? Will Christians go through the Great Tribulation?