As I write these articles, the world is in the middle of the so-called COVID19 pandemic. I am not intending to talk about that here, except, perhaps, to illustrate a few points. What I have noticed, in conversations, is that the outbreak is causing Christians to think and talk about end-times, in a way that they have not been doing in recent years and decades. By the way, when I talk about end-times, this might give the wrong impression, so from this point on, I am going to use the technical theological term, even if you are not familiar with it. The term is eschatology, and it is derived from two Greek terms – eschaton (εσχατον), meaning last, or last thing, and logos, which most people know means word or law, but is usually used in these contexts to mean “the study of…”. Hence, eschatology – the study of the last things, end times, end of the world, second coming of Christ, apocalypse, or last judgment.
This brings us to the problem that many people interpret what the Bible says about eschatology in different ways. Many people know that I have a sort-of three-tier system of assessing doctrines1. There are primary doctrines, disagreement on which breaks all fellowship. Then there are secondary doctrines, which are also important, and on which a church ought to take a position. But disagreement on a secondary doctrine does not stop churches working together on certain issues. Tertiary doctrines are of less importance still, and people within the same church might hold slightly different views, without being out of step with the leadership. I place eschatology at the secondary doctrine level. Therefore, I believe it is important to get our doctrine on the subject right, according to what the Bible teaches, but I can still work with other churches that take a different view.
Another problem that we face, in my opinion, is that most evangelical2 churches have attempted to fit their theology into one of two main traditions, both of which I consider to be in error – again, I will emphasize, not such a strong error that it would lead to disfellowship. What you will notice, as we dive deeper into this subject, is that the eschatological system or tradition, to which one adheres, greatly influences how one interprets Bible prophecy, and can also have a huge impact on the way we approach a Christian’s or a church’s interaction with society. To this extent, eschatology matters, but I believe it is important to derive one’s eschatology, as far as one can, from the pages of Scripture, and not by its conformity with a presupposed system or tradition. In these pages, you will eventually see how I approach this topic, and my approach is not unique – it does indeed have an eschatological label, as so many other systems do. But I do not want to compress my views into a system, but rather try, as humbly as I can, to expound the relevant passages from Scripture.
At this point, we need to make a quick survey of the various eschatological positions. There are three main views, all of which make reference to the subject of the Millennium, or thousand years, found in Revelation 20 (which we will define later). Within each of these three main views, there are sub-divisions. The three main views refer to the position of the bodily return of Jesus Christ, with reference to the “thousand years”. These views are therefore known as postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism. The definitions of these are complicated a bit further by the fact that most Christians, who consider themselves to be amillennial, are, in fact, postmillennial. Confused? Don’t be – let’s run through some very, very simplified definitions. Now, please understand that all these definitions are over-simplifications, because whole books have been written on each one. The definitions given here might also betray my own prejudices on the subject. But I have to do my best to give a one paragraph outline of each system, whose followers have written copious books elsewhere.
The millennium refers to a period of a thousand years. In the Bible, a figure like this could be used of literally one more than nine hundred ninety nine, or it could be used figuratively of a long period of time. I will explain what I think it means in the next chapter.
Postmillennialism, therefore, is the belief that Jesus will return after the thousand years. There are two ways of looking at this.
1.1 Spiritual Postmillennialism
In this system, Jesus is currently reigning spiritually, while in heaven. The millennium is that period of time between Christ’s first and second coming. Therefore, the millennium is not a literal thousand years; it has already lasted for two thousand years. Eventually, after the Gospel has been preached to every nation, Jesus will return bodily, bringing the millennium, and this world, to an end.
Readers might say that this is a view to which they hold, but to which they have always referred as amillennialism. That is why I say that many who think that they are amillennial are actually spiritual postmillennialists, because they believe the millennium is real, and happening now, but that Christ will return AFTER this.
1.2 Political Postmillennialism
Political postmillennialists do not think that we are currently in the millennium. They are looking for Christians to take over more and more of the world, until the world is well-governed by Christ, from a human point of view. Then Jesus will return. They do not know whether this future millennium will be a literal thousand years or not, and there are some who teach each view. To complicate matters more, there are two theological camps that tend to hold to this view. One group could be called reconstructionists, and tend to follow the teachings of people such as RJ Rushdoony (though not all such postmillennialists follow Rushdoony). A similar view was prevalent in 19th Century Britain, as the rise of the British Empire seemed to be heralding an era of universal evangelism. The British version really died a death after major historical shocks, such as the sinking of the Titanic, and the two world wars. However, reconstructionism is strong among conservative presbyterians, as well as some reformed baptists, in the US. Rushdoony also advocated theonomy – which refers to the law of God. They desire to see Torahic law introduced into society. Although theonomy is common among such postmillennialists, there are people of other eschatological persuasions who follow at least some ideas of theonomy.
A second group of political postmillennialists are the hyper-charismatic groups, following what is known as dominion theology or the seven mountain mandate. In this version of postmillennialism, the adherents wish to work towards Christian dominion over seven spheres of cultural authority. Despite the very different background of these two groups, there seems to this author to be considerable overlap between reconstructionism and dominionism.
In this system, adherents do not expect a millennium at all. There tend to be two types of amillennialists.
2.1 Skeptical Amillennialists
This is the view taken by a lot of liberals. It is the idea that the millennium is just too far fetched, and cannot actually happen. As this book is directed towards people with a higher view of Scripture than this, we do not need to dwell on this category.
2.2 Mythical Amillennialists
These people see the idea of a thousand years as a myth, not as a real thing. They are analogous to those who see the six days of Genesis as mythological, and not even necessarily in the right order – particularly those in the BioLogos camp.
This view accepts the thousand-year reign of Jesus to be a literal thousand years, occurring in the future. They expect Jesus to return to earth first, ushering in this thousand years, during which He will reign on earth literally from Jerusalem. There are a number of flavors of premillennialism.
3.1 Historic Premillennialism
In this view, also frequently known as posttribulation premillennialism, a period of about 3.5 to 7 years of tribulation is expected, after which Jesus raises dead Christians and takes up living Christians (an event often referred to as the rapture) to return immediately with them for His millennium reign.
3.2 Dispensational Premillennialism
Also called pretribulation premillennialism, this view teaches that Christians will be raptured before the seven years of tribulation. Therefore, Jesus’ second coming is split into two events – a secret coming, to take Christians away, and a third coming, when He returns to usher in His thousand year reign.
We will also need to note later how this view is part of an entire biblical framework, known as dispensationalism, in which God’s method of saving people (soteriology) has changed in seven distinct periods, or dispensations – i.e. God’s grace was and is dispensed differently in different dispensations.
3.3Other Forms of Premillennialism
There are a few other variations on premillennialism. The pre-wrath view, whose followers confusingly also call themselves posttribulationists, believe that Christians will remain on earth during a period of tribulation, but will be raptured before God pours out His wrath on the world at the end of the tribulation, prior to the glorious appearing of Jesus. The mid-tribulation view is similar to that of the pre-wrath view, but mid-tribbers divide the tribulation into two sections of 3.5 years each, and expect as rapture at the mid-point. Adherents of both these latter two views hold varying views about the timescale of each event.
Wow! Are you confused? Don’t be. I will try to bring some clarity now. Let me conclude this chapter with two points.
- As I try to present my eschatological views for you, I will do so by exegesis of Scripture, rather than by trying to force adherence to a particular system.
- However, you probably want to know which of the positions above I take. For some of you, my answer here will give you the opportunity to throw the book at the wall or on the fire! But I would invite you to read on, so that you can see how I derived my conclusion – because I did not start with my conclusion. For the record, my view would be broadly described as historic or posttribulation premillennialist. (that is view #3.1 above).
In the chapters that follow, I will draw out from relevant passages of Scripture what I believe they are saying about eschatological matters, and how these should affect the way we live now.
1Taylor, P.F. (), Itching Ears,
2I am in the habit of using this term to refer to a Bible-believing church.