12 Jul 2024

We’ve covered the amillennial position, now we’re on to the next one which not only is probably the most widely held position, but also the one you are probably most familiar with. This position is also one of the wider ones we’ll look at as there are a number of flavors of this position. It is called premillennialismpre (before) and millennium (the 1000 years of Christ’s reign). All flavors of this view hold that Jesus will return before (pre) a literal 1000-year reign (millennium).

If premillennialism were a tree and the view of the tribulation were branches, it would be a tree with two trunks – dispensational premillennialism and historic premillennialism, with dispensational trunk having two branches – pre-trib and mid-trib, while the historic trunk has only one branch – post-trib.

By far, the majority position of the modern American Evangelical church is premillennialism, specifically, dispensational premillennialism.  Books like “Left Behind” and “The Late Great Planet Earth” literally defined this view as the default position of the end times for the typical evangelical for generations (though some dispensationalists will disagree with the contents of those books, they are based on that school of thought.) Even so, this view is now practically the “default” view of the modern church, but it was unknown until the mid-1800s when John Nelson Darby began teaching it as a sort of extension of the belief of the Plymouth Brethren.

Before that time, from the early years of the church until now, another form of premillennialism has been believed – historic premillennialism (so named because of it being the oldest form.)  There are many differences between dispensational premillennialism and historic premillennialism.

These views are summarized in the following sections.

Dispensational Premillennialism

Dispensational premillennialism is characterized by unique teachings such as:

  • A secret coming of Christ before the Great Tribulation
  • A rapture of the saints that removes them from the world suddenly and without warning
  • A 7-year tribulation that is sometimes divided into two 3½-year periods (depending on whether you are pre-trib or mid-trib)
  • The division of history into 3, 5, 7, or 8 periods or “dispensations” that are based on how God deals with humanity during those times
  • The millennium will include a return to the Old Testament temple sacrificial system
  • The church and Israel are on two different redemptive plans

    Among all of the end times views, this one is far and away the most elaborate.  It involves a fractured Roman Empire under dictatorial guidance (Daniel 2:26-35), followed by reading a period of 70 “weeks” (Daniel 9:24-27) which aren’t really weeks but weeks of years (7 to be exact).  This period of 70 weeks begins when Nehemiah rebuilds Jerusalem but pauses at the end of week 69 when Christ is crucified.  This period resumes either at the rapture or when the antichrist breaks the 7-year peace treaty he signed with Israel, and the final week (of years) is the Great Tribulation.

    This diagram is a simplified version of what is commonly taught, but it catches the drift.

    A major distinctive of this position is a pre-tribulation rapture of believers, which makes dispensational view a pre-millennial and a pre-tribulation view. It teaches that Christians will be removed from the world (raptured) before the tribulation comes, and proponents of this view interpret the following scriptures that way. Though the vast majority of the dispensational camp believes in a pre-tribulation rapture, some hold to a mid-tribulation view.

    For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15–18 ESV)

    For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:5–10 ESV)

    “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. (Revelation 3:8–10 ESV)

    A second major distinctive of the dispensational view is the belief that Revelation is chronological and leads up to Revelation 20 chronologically following Revelation 19, which would describe the period when Christ establishes a 1000-year kingdom on earth:

    Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:1–3 ESV)

    Historic Premillennialism

    In contrast to its recent and elaborate dispensational relative, historic premillennialism is ancient and simple (though not quite as simple as amillennialism.) This view places the millennium between the second coming of Jesus and eternity.  Virtually all who hold this position are post-tribulational (meaning that Jesus will return after the Great Tribulation and that the church will endure through it and not be raptured away) – a view it shares with amillennialism. However, it differs from amillennialism in this: historic premillennialism teaches a literal 1000-year reign of Jesus on earth before He sets up His eternal kingdom.

    It may seem odd, but historic premillennial believers use many of the same texts that amillennial believers do, and they even use them to prove the same things, namely:

    • the church is the true Israel:

    But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:6–8 ESV)

    • the church will suffer through the tribulation

    And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 5And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (Revelation 13:1–8 ESV)

    • there is one judgment at the end

    For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:26–28 ESV)

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ (Matthew 25:31–43 ESV)

    This view usually, but not always, sees a literal 1000-year period in Revelation 20.  When it doesn’t, it is virtually identical to amillennialism but for the second coming and eternity being separated by the millennial kingdom.

    Summary

    The premillennial position is interesting to me. It is old…very old. The proponents of historic premillennialism go back to the likes of Juistin Martyr in the 200s AD. But even though its roots (historic premillennialism) were popular in the earliest centuries of the Christian church, it wasn’t until a different version of it (dispensational premillennialism) not only became wildly popular, but also became the default position for vast sectors of western Christianity. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that “regular Joes” started to hear about it again, and because it promised escape form tribulation, became widely believed. In fact, a popular word picture followed close behind – “live like you will escape the great tribulation but prepare as if you won’t.”

    Though I personally don’t hold to premillennialism, and believe that there are some serious issues with it, my view, amillennialism, doesn’t escape challenge either. In fact, we’ll see that no end times position is bulletproof. We need to recognize the differences, know why we believe what we believe, and be able to defend our views from scripture.

    Premillennialism teaches that Jesus will return for His church. Amen!

    Premillennialism teaches that Jesus will set up an eternal kingdom and rule in perfect holiness forever. Amen!

    Premillennialism teaches that, though believers will escape the great tribulation, we will not escape tribulation in general, but that God will preserve us through trials. Amen!

    We can find agreement among all the valid end-times positions and that ought to lead us to rejoice together even as we have distinct and sometimes deep differences. But we are the church, and we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and while end times positions can be powder kegs of emotion and defensiveness, it ought not be that way. There are hills to die on within Christianity, and this isn’t one of them.

     

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