Millennium is a term that refers to a time period of one thousand (1,000) years. When used in reference to Scripture, and eschatology specifically, it is the future time in which many believe Christ rules on earth for 1,000 years (Rev 20:1-4).
When studying the millennium, one encounters three differing views: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. Premillennialism teaches that Christ will return to the earth and, afterward, rule for one thousand years; Jesus returns before the millennium. Post-millennialsim teaches that Christ returns after a long period of time when Christianity has brought about a time of prosperity and peace; Jesus returns after the millennium. Amillennialism teaches that there is no millennium, either figurative or literal. Of these, pre- and amillennialism are the more prominent today.
Premillennialist theology teaches that at some time in the future, following Jesus’ return, he will literally rule on the earth for one thousand years. Many Christians today ascribe to this understanding. Two major variations of premillennialism exist: historic premillennialism and dispensationalism.
Historic premillennialism teaches that the church exists today in what is often called the “church age.” This era will be followed by a time of great tribulation, though this view’s adherents differ on how long that tribulation lasts. At the end of the tribulation, Jesus will return in the Second Coming at which time believers are raptured to meet Christ in the air. After his coming, Jesus will rule on earth.
Prominent Historic Premillennialists
Early church fathers Lactantius (240-320), Irenaeus (130-200), Justin Martyr (100-165), and Papias (disciple of Apostle John, some scholars disagree on Papias’ eschatological theology);
Modern scholars: David Dockery, John Warwick Montgomery, George R. Beasley-Murray, Robert Gundry, and George E. Ladd.
Dispensationalism, unlike historical premillennialism, makes a distinction between Israel and the church; historical premillennialism makes no strong distinctions. Two versions of dispensationalism exist today: classical dispensationalism and progressive dispensationalism. The major difference is how distinct one make Israel and the church. Both views believe that the church today exists in the church age. At some time in the future, Jesus rapture the believers, ending the church age. Following the rapture will be a tribulation. After the tribulation, Jesus will return to earth and then rule for one thousand years. This is the more widely held premillennial view today.
J. Nelson Darby, C. I. Scofield, Harry A. Ironside, Gleason Archer, Donald G. Barnhouse, Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, John MacArthur, Charles Ryrie, Charles Stanley, Norman L. Geisler, Tim LaHaye, Jack Van Impe, John Hagee, Darrell Bock, and Craig Blaising (Bock and Blaising are two of the leading proponents of progressive dispensationalism).
Postmillennialists believe that Jesus will return after the millennium. Many believe the one thousand to be figurative while many accept it as literal. In the postmillennial paradigm, the world gradually improves spiritually and socially due to evangelism and missions. During the church age, the change is slow. However, near the end of the church age, the change becomes more rapid. This period of rapid change begins the millennium, a time when the world has submitted to Christ, Satan loses power over the earth, and evil powers fall. After a long period, Christ will return to enact final judgment and eternity begins. Both the tribulation and rapture are debated by postmillennialists.
Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, B. B. Warfield, Augustus H. Strong, Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, Loraine Boettner, and R. C. Sproul.
Unlike the pre- and postmillennialism, amillennialism denies a literal millennium, believing it to be figurative of what is called the church age. Rather than Jesus literally ruling on earth after the church age, Jesus rules on earth in the hearts and lives of the believers from the birth of the church until his Second Coming. During the millennium, persecution continues, though Satan has no real power over the church because Christ already defeated him on Calvary. The tribulation represents the church persecution throughout the millennium. At some point in the future, Jesus will return and initiate final judgment and eternity. A literal rapture is rejected by amillennialists, seeing is as the resurrection of the living and the dead to final judgment.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, E. Y. Mullins, Abraham Kuyper, G. C. Berkouwer, Herschel Hobbs, Stanley Grenz, J. I. Packer, and probably Augustine of Hippo (354-430).
Articles in Series