THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
Historic Premillennialism and Amillennialism
March 14, 1999
In the final message of this series, Ben is going to look at two end times views – Amillennialism and Historic Premillennialism. Both views believe that the Christian church will have to endure the most intense suffering, persecution, and martyrdom that we have ever known about. He will compare and contrast these two views by discussing the time lines, the hermeneutics, the Old Testament promises to Israel, and the kingdom of God.
I don’t like to think about suffering. I especially don’t like to talk about Christians throughout the ages and in this century today that have been tortured and martyred for the faith. A lot of times we want to think that all the persecution and all the tribulation to the church happened a long time ago. But do you realize that more Christians have been killed and martyred and persecuted for their faith in the 20th century than in all the history of the Christian church combined?
There was a missionary a while back who was suddenly snatched out of his home with his son. They tied him up and tortured him as they were trying to get him to renounce his faith. They beat him, hit him, spit on him, and said, “Renounce! Recant your faith in Jesus Christ!” He said, “I will not do it.” They went away for a while and they came back with a tray. They said, “Do you see what is on this tray? Do you know what is on the tray? What is lying on this tray in front of you?” He said, “Those are the precious hands of my son.” They had been chopped off. They asked him again, “Will you recant?” He said, “No. I will not recant my faith in Jesus.” So he, along with his son, was killed. And I know they are in heaven right now with Him.
The blood of Christians is seed for the church to grow and advance. There are many people that believe that we are to be taken out of here and that we are not going to experience that level of persecution and suffering. They believe that He is going to zap us out at some secret rapture. In this lesson, we are going to look at two end of times views that don’t buy that – they believe that the church, that Christians, will have to endure the most intense time of suffering and persecution and martyrdom that we have ever known about. It is called the period of the great tribulation.
We are continuing our trek on a study we have called The End of the World As We Know It. The purpose of this study is to prepare us for the second coming of Jesus Christ, that we might have a yearning for His return. The end of times is not so much about some type of Star Wars/Armageddon/Galactic Battle of bombs and explosions. The end of times is about Jesus Christ. We are studying the four major views, the four millennial views concerning the second coming of Christ to better prepare us for His return.
The second week we looked at the most prevalent Eschatological view, the most prevalent end times view in the last 150 years, dispensational pre-millennialism. At the heart of this end times view is the belief in a literal hermeneutic and that God has two programs: the program for Israel which He put on pause when Israel rejected the Davidic kingdom when Christ offered it to them, and then the program for the church. He has two programs: the Israel people and the church people. The church period will end, it’s over, stop tape at the rapture. Then turn on the Israel tape again and you have the tribulation and the millennial reign and the final judgment.
A second view is postmillennialism. I said I liked this view a lot. It is very optimistic and it is like the growth of the McDonald’s hamburger chain, so to speak. When I was a little kid, the sign at McDonald’s said, “Over 7 million served.” Then it went to 10 million, then it went to 15 million, and now its billions and billions served. That is the progress in postmillennialism because the gospel is powerful and it will influence lives and millions will be saved. There will be a point in time when the majority of the people on the earth will be saved. They will know Jesus Christ and they will Christianize the world, which will usher in the millennial reign. Then there will be a skirmish at the end and Satan will try to rebel again. Then you will have the second coming, the general resurrection and the final state – the new heaven and the new earth.
In this lesson we are going to look at amillennialism and historic premillennialism. Remember I said during the second lesson of our study that you needed to put on your thinking cap. Well, you need to be engaged as you read this one. You need to be willing to think and to follow along as we look at amillennialism and historic premillennialism.
Recently, many people have been asking me, “Ben, where do you stand on all this stuff? Are you a dispensationalist, postmillennialist, premillennialist, amillennialist – where are you?” My response was, “I’m still circling the airport.” But, at this point in my pilgrimage, in my spiritual journey, if I had to land anywhere I would land, I would lean to an amillennialist interpretation or historic premillennialism interpretation of the end of times.
I want to share with you these two views, and why I think that they are plausible from a Biblical perspective. First of all, we are going to look at amillennialism and historic premillennialism. We are going to define the terms, we are going to talk about the similarities between the two views, and then we are going talk about the differences. Lastly, we will look at why this really matters. So, that is the outline of this lesson.
I am sure all of you have been studying your glossary terms. I like the glossary – it helps me. I still have to keep going back to it. The glossary will define a lot of the terms we are talking about in greater detail. Remember, we are looking at the millennium, and that is the thousand year reign of Christ talked about in the book of Revelation chapter 20.
The term premillennium refers to the second coming; it means Christ will come before the millennial reign. Postmillennial means Christ will come after the millennial reign. Amillennialism means the millennium refers to the current period in which Christ spiritually reigns in our lives and in the world. Christ’s second coming will occur at the end of this period. So, some people would say amillennial means no millennium that they don’t believe in a millennium. That’s not necessarily true. Amillennialists read the New Testament back into the Old Testament and they see many of the prophetic signs and symbols and numbers in the book of the Revelation and in Daniel as figurative. So, they don’t see the millennial reign as a specific thousand year reign. They see it as the reign of the saints who have departed, who are now reigning with Christ in heaven, and they see the millennium spiritualized and happening inside of you and inside of me.
Augustine was one of the first noted theologians to champion the amillennial view back in the 400’s, around 400 AD. He wrote a very famous theological book called, The City of God. Augustine said what really matters is not the Roman Empire, it is not the fact that the emperor is now a born-again Christian – that’s not important. What really matters is not Jerusalem, but it’s the city of God, the heavenly, the spiritual realm. He thought of the fact that Christ would reign on this earth and that the millennium would be experienced on earth as rather crass.
Now, we look at the amillennial view today and say, “Who would be an amillennialist? Everybody today believes in the secret rapture of the church. Everybody today believes in the Israel program and the church program – everybody believes that.” Do you realize that amillennialism has been the dominant view throughout church history? The church primarily held to an amillennial view for 1500 years. The dispensational premillennial views have been in vogue for about, 100 to 150 years. Amillennial is a very plausible interpretation of the end of times and Augustine was the first to champion that. The reformers, Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli, continued that stream throughout the process of The Reformation.
On the other hand, in historic premillennialism the millennium refers to the period after the tribulation. They believe in a distinct tribulation, then the second coming of Christ, and then Christ reigning with believers for a period of time on the earth.
Many times people would think historic premillennialism has more in common with dispensational premillennialism because they both have that premillennial term in it. But that’s not true. Premillennial is closer to amillennial because of the way they interpret certain passages, especially by the way they interpret Israel and the church. They see the church being the spiritual Israel; they see the church as fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about Israel. Just like the amillennialist’s would do. They do believe in a distinct tribulation. A distinct time of tribulation, it may be seven years, it may be longer – that time period is at the end of the church age. Then you have the cataclysmic powerful second coming of Christ after the tribulation. The church goes through tribulation – you have the second coming of Christ and then Christ rules and reigns in the millennium on earth. But the church is the focal point of the millennial reign in this scheme not national Israel that has not embraced Him as the Messiah.
Justin Martyr, who was one of the early church fathers around 100 AD. – remember Christ was crucified and rose again around 32 or 33 AD. Martyr, was the first to really champion the historic premillennial view and it has also been a very popular view throughout church history. As a matter of fact, historic premillennialism was held up until the point when Constantine became the emperor of Rome. Constantine was the first Christian emperor of Rome and he issued the edict of Milan. This edict was a tremendous relief because of the great persecution Christians had gone through during the reign of Nero and during the reign of Diocletian. Once that happened, Constantine began to Christianize everything and Christianity became the official state religion. What did Christians turn to then? Things are getting better and better! Everyone goes postmillennialists for a while.
Let’s look at the similarities between these views. First of all, the hermeneutics (remember hermeneutic is simply a fancy word which means interpretation). The way they interpret Israel and the church is the same. Amillennialists and historic premillennialists see Israel and the church as one people of God. You don’t have the Israel program put on pause, then the church program, and then God pushes the Israel program once again during the tribulation and during the millennial reign.
Another similarity will be the Old Testament promises to Israel as being fulfilled in the church, or the spirit – they see the church as the spiritual or the new Israel. Another similarity would be the kingdom of God. Both of these views believe that the kingdom of God is now. They believe we are experiencing a fore-taste of glory divine; we are tasting some appetizers of the kingdom of God. It is here now, but at the same time, it’s not yet.
In these schema’s, you have the kingdom of good and God’s kingdom growing, and the kingdom of evil and Satan’s kingdom is growing right along with it.
So, the kingdom has been inaugurated but has not been consummated. Sounds very “preachery,” doesn’t it? It has been inaugurated, but it’s not been consummated. An example of that would be the movie Saving Private Ryan. The allied troops landed on the beaches at Normandy and for all practical purposes, World War II was over. But it was not fully realized. As bodies were flying and people were dying, every step they took as the allied forces advanced was a step for freedom and victory, and the stamping out of evil and hatred and tyranny. But the Germans were still wreaking havoc; they were still causing death and suffering, killing people, and wiping them out. The final victory was not consummated till a year later. The “D-Day” in a sense inaugurated the victory in World War II for the allied forces. That’s what happens when the kingdom of God comes, when Jesus Christ came to the earth, He inaugurated the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, according to these views, lives within your heart and my heart. As the church advances, as we advance in Him, we are breaking ground for the kingdom of God. Yet, there is still evil and Satan and suffering in the world, and that is all going to affect us. It is still going to be a part of this world until finally all of that is done away with, at the final judgment, and we enter the new heavens and the new earth.
Those were some of the similarities between the views, let’s look at the differences. The differences also go back to hermeneutics on how they interpret Scripture. Amillennialists take the New Testament as a whole to interpret end times passages, where historic premillennialists take latter New Testament text over earlier New Testament text. For example, the Amillennial time line is the easiest to understand because everything happens at once. Boom. You have the general resurrection, one resurrection, you have one second coming, you have one judgment and then you have the eternal states. Everything happens at one time, simultaneously. Amillennialists would say, as you look at the New Testament, you see it talking primarily about one resurrection – this is not referring to the resurrection of Christ – but the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked. You see the Bible talking about primarily one resurrection until Revelation chapter 20 when it mentions two. They will say that Scripture interprets Scripture; the majority report is there is one resurrection. Historic premillennialists will say, “Yes, it teaches that, but let’s take the book of Revelation, which was the last book to be included in the New Testament canon, make that the norm and say that the book of Revelation is authoritative when it speaks on the two resurrections.” So, the hermeneutic is different.
Their view of the tribulation and millennium is also different. For example, historic premillennialists believe in a literal tribulation and in a literal millennial reign when Christ is physically present on the earth and the church is ruling and reigning with Him on this planet. Amillennialists would say they believe that a spiritual millennium. That the millennial reign is happening right now for the saints who are dead, they are with Christ in heaven, and that the millennial reign could be occurring through us because the kingdom of God, through Christ, is in us and we are advancing the kingdom of God. Also, they would say they differ in the tribulation. Again, the historic premillennialists would say there is going to be a specific time period after the church age when there is going to be this intense tribulation and the antichrist comes into power. The amillennialists would say the tribulation began in the first century. If you read some of the stuff that the first Christians went through, some of the persecution and tortures and the way they would be put to death, you would believe the tribulation may have started in the first century as well.
A lot of people would criticize amillennialists by saying, “Well, the problem with amillennialists is that you spiritualize certain Old Testament passages. In other words, you read the New Testament into the Old Testament.” The Amillennialists defense of that or historic premillennialist defense would say that is what the Holy Spirit does. You look at certain passages of Paul and Peter, and they will use an Old Testament historical example, but they will spiritualize it and read that into the Old Testament. They are simply using the hermeneutic of the Holy Spirit, the hermeneutic of Peter and Paul as they interpreted Old Testament events.
Let’s continue to look at the differences. I have mentioned some of them already. Again, amillennialists believe in one general resurrection. One general resurrection. It is a very simple configuration. Historic premillennialists believe in two resurrections. If Christ comes again, there will be the resurrection of the righteous. The dead in Christ will rise again and then after the millennial reign, after they reigned with Christ and ruled with Christ, there would be a second resurrection – that’s the resurrection of the unrighteous as they are prepared for the final judgment.
Let’s look at the time line for amillennialism. You have the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He inaugurates this spiritual kingdom, it is not an earthly Davidic kingdom he offered them, as dispensationalists would say, but it’s a spiritual kingdom. The kingdom of God is now. It is growing and growing, but there is going to be a point in time where evil begins to rise and evil really starts taking hold when the antichrist tank comes into power.
Then Christ comes at a second coming, the resurrection of everyone – those who were righteous, those who were wicked – they appear before the judgment of God. Some go to heaven in the new heavens and new earth, and some are cast into hell for eternity. That is the amillennial time line.
Let me explain another time line that describes how these things happen together. The second one shows the crucifixion and the resurrection – boom – then you have the kingdom of God growing along with the kingdom of darkness. So, as the kingdom of God progresses, the kingdom of Satan and evil is also progressing. The kingdom of Satan is progressing even though his faith has already been sealed by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then that moves to a point when Christ comes again, the general resurrection occurs, you have the judgment, and you have the new heavens and the new earth.
Now let’s look at the historic premillennialism time line. You have the crucifixion and the resurrection which inaugurates the church age. At the end of the church age you still have the kingdom of God progressing. At the end of the church age you have the tribulation, which is unreal and unfathomable persecution that the Christians will go through. Then you have the second coming, some believe that He comes in the middle of the tribulation, some believe He comes after the tribulation, and the dispensationalists believe He comes before the tribulation – there’s no pain there. Then you have Christians waiting for the bride. This is followed by the millennial thousand year fiscal reign of Christ. The church is the focal point of the millennial earthly reign and now that Israel has embraced Jesus as Messiah you have the second resurrection. This is the resurrection of the wicked, the judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth.
We have covered all four major millennial views that sincere Christians have held throughout history. Now again, I have said from the onset – you can’t hold your particular view in a dogmatic fashion. That is what bothers me about a lot of people today. People will say, “I turned on the TV last night and saw some prophesy guy, he has it all figured out.” Baloney. They don’t. So whatever view you hold, hold that view with conviction, but also hold it with humility. As we can see Christians have interpreted Scriptures differently when it comes to this issue for many, many years.
We can be sure of this – and this is orthodox Christianity – that Jesus Christ is coming again. That the end of times is about a person, the end of times is about Jesus Christ. Our hope should be fixated on Him, serving Him, and giving Him the glory in everything that we do.
Now why does this matter as we look at these two views? I think it matters for several reasons. First of all, it matters because both of these views are realistic about suffering. They are very realistic about suffering and the evil that is happening in our world today. Now a problem I have with some people, who may be on the fringes of the charismatic movement, is how they deal with their problem of evil and suffering. A lot of Christians in this stream have no place for Job or they have no place for Paul. They have no place for sickness. They have no place for true suffering. They have no place for poverty in their particular theology, and I think that is anti-Biblical. They are kingdom now, kingdom now, kingdom now, everything now, everything’s in the atonement, your healing is in the atonement, and your wealth is in the atonement. If Paul would have had the faith that I have today, he wouldn’t have had the thorn in the flesh and Job would have failed. That is wrong. That is wrong.
We have to be realistic about the evil and suffering that’s happening in the world today. And we haven’t really cracked the code on that. God is sovereign. God is holy. God is in charge. And yet horrendous, catastrophic, inexplicable things happen to babies, to children, to people – whether they’re a Christian or whether they’re not a Christian. So these views are realistic about suffering in this present time.
Also both of these views are still hopeful. Why? Because the final word is not found in the doctor’s report that you have a deadly disease or sickness. The final report is not what you hear at Earthman Funeral Home or George Lewis Funeral Home when someone dies and you hear the eulogy. That’s not the final report. What is really real is not necessarily what we can see with our eyes. The story of suffering or hurting, or persecution or injustice in your life, that’s not the final story. The final story is God’s story; God’s story of sending His Son, Jesus Christ. He is sending His Son back to right every wrong; and to reward His people; and to bring us into this new heaven and new earth where we will rule and reign with Him. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Our hope is that Christ is with us now, and then we will fully be with Him in the future.
Also, these views matter because these views keep us from what I call “last day’s millennial madness.” Do you remember the Y2K bug that was the entire news scare before the turn of the millennium of the year 2000? There were some who predicted (quite confidently) that Y2K was going to be the end of the world. But the Bible says that no one will know the time of His coming. No one. No one knows.
We can live with the tension that yes, Jesus is coming soon. But we don’t know exactly when that will be and we shouldn’t buy into all of the predictions of the end of the world. The Bible says no one will know for certain.
I remember when I first moved to Houston years ago in 1978. I heard this teacher and he was not from the states so he had this great accent which made him seem so much smarter. He had this schema all figured out that somehow the planets were going to line up and he had all the magazine articles and reports and according to his calculations Christ was coming back in 1982. I was fifteen years old then. And I told my Dad, “Dad, Jesus Christ is coming back in 1982. So I need to get out of high school and we need to start mobilizing people and witnessing to people. I know because this guy told me and all the signs have been fulfilled.” You know people will continue to say, “Hey I know when Christ is coming back. I know when the world is coming to an end.” Don’t believe them. Jesus said no one knows when the time will be. But rest assured He is coming back.
We live in a world where evil is increasing and increasing. But we know that Christ is with us. To be honest with you, I don’t believe the Bible teaches that we will be zapped out – or raptured away before the tribulation. I don’t believe that is what the Word of God says. Here’s a little free tribulation tip. I say, “Pray for Pre, but prepare for Post.” Prepare for the fact that Christ might come after the great tribulation. The good news is Jesus Christ is really with us. The good news is that like Paul, we will share in the fellowship of his sufferings and the glory of the resurrection. That is our hope. Don’t get lost in all the fancy theological terminology. Don’t get confused by all the prophecies, doomsayers, and alarmists. Remember, our hope regarding the end of the world is in the person of Jesus Christ. Our focus should be on Him. Our prayer should be, Come Lord Jesus! Do you yearn to be with Christ? Do you yearn to be with Him like two lovers who have been separated in different parts of the world? Do you yearn for Christ to come again?