Millennial Views: Defined and Critiqued

Post-Millennialism

A.  Definition & History

  1. This view holds the Church has inherited the promises which were originally given to Israel, meaning Israel no longer has any special place in the plan of God.
  2. Instead, the Church will progressively "Christianize" the world (meaning Christianity will hold influence over society) for an unspecified period of time, after which Christ will return (according to some versions) to judge the world and usher in the eternal state.
  3. This view is not widely held today.  The only period when the view was widespread was the 18th and 19th centuries, corresponding to the ascendancy of optimistic humanism.  It also finds important theological precedent in the medieval Roman Catholic church.

B.  Critique: see "Amillenialism" section B.

Amillennialism

A.  Definition & History

  1. Like post-millennialism, this view holds that the Church has dispossessed national Israel of her millennial promises.  However, unlike post-millennialism, this view does not hold for the Christianization of the world as a precondition for the return of Christ.  The amillennial position is that the millennial kingdom will never appear in any literal way.  Instead, it is already being fulfilled through the Church Age in a spiritual sense.  The Church is "spiritual Israel" (Romans 2:28,29; Philippians 3:3; Galatians 6:16).  Satan is already bound as predicted in Revelation 20:2.  The kingdom is "in our midst" (Luke 17:21).  Often, the amillennialist believes in a final intensification of evil (although not usually of seven literal years) preceding the Second Advent.
  2. This view, like the previous one, has its roots in medieval Roman Catholic hermeneutics.  The allegorical method of interpretation opened the door for this kind of understanding.[1]  It was later elaborated during the medieval period, and accepted by the Reformers without essential change.  Today, it has become the dominant view in the Protestant and Catholic Church.

B.  Critique

  1. The view that Israel has been rejected as regards the millennial promises because of their rejection of Christ is explicitly denied by both the Old and New Testaments.
    1. Old Testament: Isaiah 54:9-17; Jeremiah 31:31-37; Ezekiel 36:24-27; 37:1-14; 39:28,29; Joel 2:28,29.
    2. New Testament: Luke 21:24; Romans 9:4; 11:25-29**; Matthew 19:28; 24:20ff; 2 Thessalonians 2:4ff; Revelation 7:3-8; 11:2.
  2. Both post & amillennialism employ an inconsistent hermeneutical approach to scripture.
    1. While they interpret the Old Testament prophecies of the first Advent literally, they interpret the Old Testament prophecies of the second Advent  figuratively.  This hermeneutic leaves the interpreter in authority over the scripture.  In addition, vast portions of scripture become non-interpretable and therefore useless (i.e. Ezekiel 40-48).
  3. Satan is not "bound" yet in the sense spoken of in Revelation 20:2 ("he no longer deceives the nations").  See 1 John 5:19; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Peter 5:8.
  4. Their exegesis of Revelation 19,20 requires that chapter 20 go back to a time previous to chapter 19--to the Church Age.  However, both chapters form a continuous narrative beginning with the Second Advent (chapter 19) and ending with the details of the millennial kingdom (chapter 20).

Historic Premillennialism

A. Definition & History

  1. This view holds that there is a literal millennial kingdom, but not necessarily a Jewish-dominated kingdom.  As in amillennialism, Israel is replaced by the Church, although it is granted that many Jews convert (as part of the Church) shortly before the Second Advent.  The claim is made that New Testament authors used a figurative hermeneutic in handling Old Testament prophecies (Acts 2:14-21; 15:16-18; Romans 9:24,25; Hebrews 8). Therefore, since we do not know how they would have interpreted other unfulfilled Old Testament prophecies, we cannot use them in constructing our view of the end.
  2. The main proponent of the view, G.E. Ladd, makes much of the premillennialism of the early Church.  He claims that they were premillennial, but they viewed themselves as the inheritors of the Millennial Kingdom.  Thus the term "historic premillennialism."  This view holds to a post-tribulation rapture, and is gaining widespread popularity in our day.

B. Critique

  1. The hermeneutic of historic-premillennialism is essentially the same as amillenialism.  Therefore, the critiques of the amillennial hermeneutic apply here as well.
  2. Since the historic-premillennialist interprets Old Testament prophecies figuratively, it is difficult to find a description of the millennial kingdom except for Revelation 20:1-10.  This is scanty basis for the doctrine of a millennial kingdom.
  3. Scriptures cited from the New Testament to support this view generally fall into the category of double-reference prophecy according to premillennialists.[2]  The partial fulfillment of these passages which is pointed out in the New Testament does not negate their literal fulfillment at the Second Advent (see Romans 11:25-29**).
  4. Criticisms of the post-tribulation rapture apply to this view.  See sheet on "Rapture Views."

Premillennialism

A. Definition & History

  1. This view holds that the present age is preceding the literal theocratic rule of Christ on earth as foretold in the Old Testament.  The Church, it is claimed, partakes partially in the promises given to Israel, by virtue of the fact that we are "spiritual Israel," but the literal and complete fulfillment of those promises are still to be expected at a later date.  It is the claim of premillennialists that prophecies concerning the second Advent can be and should be interpreted according to the same hermeneutical restrictions as applied to the predictions of the First Advent.  As a result, the premillennialist has a much more detailed doctrine of the end-times.
  2. The early post-apostolic church was definitely premillennial.  However, as G. E. Ladd and amillennialists have repeatedly pointed out, their end-times scenario was not well developed.  Even if this point is granted, it still cannot be argued that they were amillennial.  After going into eclipse after the time of Augustine (along with a literal hermeneutic), this view reappeared in the early 19th century in connection with the Plymouth Brethren.  Since then, it has been popularized by authors such as C. I. Scofield, L. S. Chafer, and Hal Lindsey.  The view has sometimes been held guilty by association with bizarre splinter groups and unreliable teachers.

B. Critique

  1. The chronology of events in Revelation 20 is difficult for the premillennialist to harmonize with their interpretation of other prophetic passages.
    The objection is that the "first resurrection in vs 5 is not really the first resurrection in the Dispensational scenario; it is the second.
    The response is that John is referring in context to the return of JC.  This is the "first" resurrection after His return in contrast to the "second" resurrection after His return - for the GWT (vs 6,13).
  2. It is argued that the premillennialist is unable to present a consistent interpretation of all predictive prophecies.
    The differing views on Ezek 37,38 are cited.  The amount of passages involved does make it difficult to harmonize all of them; also it is likely that we will be unable to see how they all fit together until that time (Dan 12:4,8-10).  But at least they try; they don't just relegate vast portions of the OT to the junk pile!!
  3. Amillennialists hold that the millennium cannot be literal, since it involves animal sacrifice (see Ezekiel 40-48).  It is held that this would contradict the argument of Hebrews.
    The answer would be that they are commemorative of JC's sacrifice, just as the Last Supper is for the Church.  In both cases, they perform the same action, but now with a commemorative rather than foreshadowing purpose.
  4. There are clear instances of the New Testament authors spiritually applying prophecies, intended for the nation of Israel, to the church (Amos 9:11-15 in Acts 15:16-18; Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 10:16,17).
    See above.  This does not prove that there is no literal fulfillment of those same passages.

[1] It is probably not unfair to say that anti-semitism added to the credibility of the view that the Jews had been disenfranchised.

[2] See the "Unforeseen Partial" section in "Double Reference in Biblical Prophecy," Xenos Christian Fellowship.