Three Views on Biblical Eschatology

As Jesus was preparing to ascend into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, he instructed his disciples to “be alert and pray” (Lk. 21:36) so that they would have the strength to endure the end times into which the world had now entered. God gave us many details about the events that would transpire between Christ’s ascension and his return precisely because he wants us to be alert and prayerful so that we can endure these end times.

Throughout the history of the Christian Church there has emerged three dominant views on Biblical eschatology: amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism (into which we will include dispensationalism).

In this study we are going to survey these three views and provide their Biblical starting points so that you can study them further.

Amillenialism

Named for its interpretation of the meaning of Christ’s millennial reign, “Amillennialism” suggests that there will be no literal, visible, and universal millennial reign of Christ on earth. Instead, Amillennialism sees Christ’s millennial reign as being a spiritual reign over the universal Church. Instead, Amellennialism sees the language in Revelation 20 that describe’s Christ’s reign as figuratively representing the long-reign of Christ in the Messianic age. Christ will reign, beginning with his resurrection and ascension, through his people on earth until his imminent physical return.

Key distinctions:

  • No personal antiChrist figure (possible “man of sin” c.f. 2 Th. 2:1-12)
  • Satan’s influence is limited because he has been disarmed
  • Christians are the true spiritual Israel (note: this is not signify replacement theology)
  • Strong belief in the imminent physical return of Christ

Key Passages: John 5:28–29; Romans 8:17–23; 2 Peter 3:3–14; 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10

Notable Representatives: Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Louis Berkhof, C. S. Lewis, R. C. Sproul.

Postmillenialism

Named for when Christ’s second coming happens in relation to his (literal or figurative) millennial reign on earth. Postmillenialism emphasizes the present aspects of God’s kingdom, which will reach fruition in the future as the millennium comes through Christian preaching and teaching and results in a more godly, peaceful, and prosperous world. The millennial reign of Christ comes about as more people are converted to Christ, and although evil will not be totally eliminated during the millennium, it will be reduced to a minimum in proportion to the increase of moral and spiritual influence from Christians. The second coming of the Lord will occur after the Church has brought the millennial reign of Christ to every tongue, tribe, and nation on earth.

Key Distinctions:

  • Christ’s return occurs after his millennial reign
  • Christ rules through the Church to solve many of the world’s economic, social, and educational problems
  • The millennial reign may be viewed as either literal or figurative
  • Satan plays no prominent role, either being viewed as “disarmed” or have a small future role to play
  • Christians are the true spiritual Israel
  • The millennium closes with the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment.

Key Passages: Psalm 2; Isaiah 2:2–4; Matthew 13; 28; John 12.

Notable Representatives: Jonathan Edwards, B. B. Warfield, Greg Bahnsen, Kenneth Gentry, Peter Leithart.

Premillenialism

Named for the Church’s present state relative to the inauguration of Christ’s millennial reign. Premillennialism believes that the kingdom of Christ will be inaugurated with supernatural signs and wonders as history reaches its cataclysmic climax just before Christ’s second coming. This view looks for signs, including wars, famines, earthquakes, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, a great apostasy, the appearance of Antichrist, and the great tribulation, to indicate the approach of Christ’s second coming. Christ’s second coming ushers in a period of peace and righteousness as he and his saints control the world. After Christ’s millennial reign, there will be the second resurrection, judgment, Satan’s final rebellion, and the New Creation wherein the Kingdom of God will enter eternity in peace and righteousness.

Key distinctions:

  • Christ millennial reign is a literal 1,000 year period of time on earth
  • Christians are part of the true Israel through faith, but Israel still holds a prominent place in God’s work
  • Christians expect a period of great apostasy and tribulation to be followed by a personal antiChrist
  • Satan is currently at work in the world, will be bound, and released for one final rebellion
  • The new heavens and the new earth feature prominently in premillennialism’s eschatalogical hope

Key Passages: Daniel 9; Psalm 2; Matthew 24; John 5:28–29; Romans 8:17–23; 2 Peter 3:3–14; 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10; 2:9-14; Revelation 6-9; 12-14; 16-18; 20-22.

Notable Representatives: Irenaeus, Wayne Grudem, Robert Gundry, Ben Witherington III, Craig Blomberg.

Summary of Views on Biblical Eschatology

Despite serious disagreement, these three views share broad agreement in many important junctures. Although amillennialists (and some postmillennialists) understand the millennial reign of Christ in Revelation as symbolic and the character of Christ’s reign as spiritual, whereas premillennialists (and some postmillennialists) take Christ’s millennial reign literally and understand the character of Christ’s reign to be visible, everyone agrees that Satan is bound during the millennium and that Christ advances/establishes peace and righteousness on earth during this time. Likewise, these three agree that the Church is the fulfillment of Israel, though some premillennialists emphasize physical Israel more.

All of these views on Biblical eschatology share share many key passages but interpret them differently. Their key differences is the weight and emphasis placed on the symbols, images, and figures that appear in prophetic and apocalyptic genres.

A Common Hope

As noted on LogosTalk,

The great tradition of the Church puts a different emphasis on eschatology than many modern Christians do. Early Church historian Ronald Heine says this well: “No one ever seems to have been pronounced heretical solely on the basis of his or her understanding of Revelation 20. We should learn from that toleration of diverse views in the early Church and let that example guide us in our thinking about the millennial question.”

Every Christian must have make faithfulness to the doctrine and character of God’s word their sole goal in interpreting Biblical eschatology. We must not become embittered against those for whom Christ shed his blood while interpreting Christ’s word!

Each of these positions holds as its ultimate hope the reality that Jesus “will come to judge the living and the dead”. His return is our hope. His return dictates the manner of holiness in which we ought to live. Let us, therefore, fix our hope on him with faithful hearts made clean by his word of truth!

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