STUDENTS OF ESCHATOLOGY usually hold one of three major views,
depending on their understanding of the timing of the return of
Christ and the millennial kingdom of God. The three systems are
known as PREmillennialism, AMillennialism, and POSTmillennialism.
John E Walvoord (p.845) describes his "premillennial" faith as
"an interpretation that the Second Coming of Christ will occur
before His literal reign of one thousand years on earth." After
His victorious intervention into history, Christ will personally
reign from Jerusalem, ushering in a time of peace, prosperity,
and righteousness. Premillennialists see the present era as the
church age, which is separate and distinct from God's plan for
Israel. Christ's redemptive work is the only basis for salvation
in every age.
Floyd E. Hamilton, a proponent of "amillennialism," teaches that
"Christ's millennial kingdom extends from His Resurrection from
the tomb to the time of His Second Coming on the clouds at the
end of this age." At no time will Christ reign on the earth in
Jerusalem. On earth, Christ's kingdom "is not of this world," but
He reigns in the hearts of His people on earth. After the second
coming of Christ, believers from all of history will enter into
heaven for eternity immediately following the final and single
judgment of all mankind.
Norman Shepherd supports "postmillennialism," "the view that
Christ will return at the end of an extended period of
righteousness and prosperity (the millennium)." Like
amillennialists, postmillennialists see the current age as the
kingdom of God. However, they see the reign of Christ not just in
the hearts of believers today but also impacting society and
bringing in the kingdom of God on earth. Postmillennialists
believe that the kingdom was established at Christ's first coming
and is currently expanding through the preaching of the gospel
until an overwhelming majority is converted to Christ. Such
gospel success will create a climate of reception to the things
of Christ, including His mediated rule through the church of the
THE SIMILARITY Of AMILLENNIALISM AND POSTMILLENNIALISM
Walvoord (p.6) has observed that "premillennialism is obviously a
viewpoint quite removed from either amillennialism or
postmillennialism." This is so because the premillennial view is
consistently more literal in its hermeneutical approach than the
other two views.
Some postmillennialists have noted their closer kinship with
their amillennialist brethren as well. David Chilton links
amillennialists and postmillennialists because of their common
belief that the kingdom or millennium is the current age.
Postmillennialism is an optimistic form of amillennialism. Also,
the amillennial and postmillennial views do not interpret God's
promises for national Israel literally. Rather, they apply them
to the church.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MILLENNIAL SYSTEMS
Premillennialism (known in the early church as "chiliasm") is the
oldest of the three systems. The other two systems developed in
reaction to Ante-Nicene premillennialism.
Premillennialism, or chiliasm as it was called in the early
church, was the pervasive view of the earliest orthodox fathers.
This is the consensus of both liberal and conservative experts of
early church theology.
Church historians acknowledge that premillennialism or chiliasm
was dominant through the middle of the third century. The great
theologians who followed the second-century apologists (Irenaeus,
Tertullian, and Hippolytus) were exponents of millenarianism.
J.C. Ayer (p.25) observes, "Primitive Christianity was marked by
great chiliastic enthusiasm.... By chiliasm, strictly speaking,
is meant the belief that Christ was to return to earth and reign
visibly for one thousand years. That return was commonly placed
in the immediate future."
No orthodox church father contradicted premillennialism until the
beginning of the third century, when Galas (or Caius) first
launched an attack. Gaius is the first person in recorded church
history to interpret the 1000 years symbolically. He also
rejected the book of Revelation, believing it was written by
Cerinthus and should not be in the canon. Nonetheless,
premillennialism was still very much the eschatology of the day.
Antimillennialism arose before amillennialism or
postmillennialism. Hans Bietenhard (p.30), after noting how the
early church was solidly chiliastic in its interpretation of
Revelation 20 and other Scripture until the time of Augustine,
says, "Today, it is admitted on all hands - except for a few
Roman Catholic exegetes - that only an eschatological
interpretation [in the context meaning chiliastic one] is
consistent with the text. If the question is still open whether
the hope is to be maintained or not, it will now be decided by
other than exegetical and historical considerations."
Antimillennialism did not arise from the study of Scripture but
rather as a result of the disturbed sensibilities of individuals
who were already affected by pagan thought. The Alexandrian
school in Egypt attacked premillennialism during the middle of
the third century. In the East, Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339),
the court theologian to Constantine and theological heir of
Origen, was a strong leader in the rejection of apocalypticism.
With the rise of Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as
the empire's official religion, alternate perspectives fell into
disfavor. As the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, chiliasm
seemed an unnecessary option.
Historically, allegorical interpreters have commonly looked down
on literal interpreters who rejected the "deeper" or "more
spiritual" insights of the allegorical approach. A classic
example of this attitude can be seen in Eusebius' comments about
Papias' lack of intelligence because he interpreted the Bible
In the Latin West, Jerome (347-420) and Augustine (354-430) also
reacted strongly to prophetic interpretation. In his commentary
on Daniel, written shortly before the year 400, Jerome argued
that "the saints will in no wise have an earthly kingdom, but
only a celestial one; thus must cease the fable of one thousand
Jerome was not alone in his attack on literal interpretation and
millennial expectations. In "City of God" Augustine repeatedly
dismisses any hope for an earthly or physical millennial kingdom.
Through the writings of men such as Jerome, Julian of Toledo,
Gregory the Great, and most notably Augustine, literal
interpretation of the Bible, and especially Daniel and
Revelation, quickly faded. The Augustinian influence in the West
eclipsed the original premillennial faith of the early church
Postmillennialism was the last of the three major views to
develop. It is similar to amillennialism, but it adds a positive
twist. Eschatological optimism does not necessarily relate to
current events. The current revival of postmillennialism is
fueled by the rise of New Age optimism in a postmodern culture.
Postmillennialism almost died out after the two world wars of the
twentieth century. However, recent years have witnessed a renewed
emphasis on postmillennialism. The "Christian Reconstruction"
movement has been the primary catalyst for the recent resurgence
of postmillennialism. "Indeed, it is no accident," declares Aiken
Taylor (p.11), explaining the recent rise of postmillennialism,
"that both postmillennialism and theonomy...have sprouted in the
soil of a strong Reformed revival."
This misguided optimism is a major error in postmillennialism.
Evangelical postmillennialism is to be distinguished from the
liberal form, but one should not overlook the role that
postmillennialism played in the rise and development of the
social gospel. Conversely, postmillenarians blame
dispensationalism for creating a climate of retreat from social
and political issues.
HERMENEUTICS AND PROPHECY
Dr.John Walvoord often predicted that the major theological
challenge in the days ahead will be the hermeneutical problem of
not interpreting the Bible literally, especially the prophetic
passages. Amillennialists and postmillennialists do not interpret
the entire Bible, especially prophecy, literally. Oswald Allis
(p.238) admits, "The Old Testament prophecies if literally
interpreted cannot be regarded as having been yet fulfilled or as
being capable of fulfillment in this present age."
A NATURAL INTERPRETATION
Amillennialists and postmillennialists both spend a lot of time
explaining why they are opposed to premillennialism, especially
dispensational premillennialism. Just as in the early church,
modern amillennialists and postmillennialists often begin
explaining their positions by attacking premillennialism.
A natural, literal, detailed exposition of the Scriptures shows
that the Bible teaches premillennialism. Dr.Gerald Stanton
summarizes premillennialism with the following points:
* The Bible should be interpreted consistently and literally.
* The Abrahamic covenant is unconditional.
* The Old Testament teaches a literal earthly kingdom.
* The kingdom is carried unchanged into the New Testament.
* Christ taught about an earthly kingdom.
* Scripture references multiple resurrections.
* Revelation 20 teaches premillennialism.
* The early church was premillennial.
* Premillennialism harmonizes the entire Bible.
* Only premillennialism provides a satisfactory conclusion to
The terms premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism
exist because Revelation 20 speaks of a 1000-year reign of Christ
that will take place after His return in Revelation 19. Sound
theology should be developed from the Bible itself, and the Bible
teaches only a single viewpoint on any issue. Amillennialism and
postmillennialism are nowhere to be found, but premillennialism
is found throughout the Bible. The strength of premillennialism
is the text of Scripture.
Allis, Oswald. "Prophecy and the Church." Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian & Reformed, 1952.
Ayer, J.C. "A Source Book for Ancient Church History" NewYork:
AMS Press, 1970.
Bietenhard, Hans. "The Millenniai Hope in the Early Church."
Scottish Journal of Theology 6, 1953.
Chilton, David. "Days of Vengean" Fort Worth, TX Dominion Press,
Taylor, Aiken. "Postmillennialism Revisited." Presbyterian
Journal. September 6, 1978.
Walvoord, John F. "Premillennialism" Floyd Hamilton.
"Amiliennialism" Norman Shepherd. "Postmillennialism." In
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids:
Indeed the CLEAR and SIMPLE teaching of the entire Bible,
especially the prophets and book of Revelation, is that Christ
Jesus the Messiah, will return in GLORY and POWER (and it is only
ONE visible return, not a "two phased" return as many
fundamentalists teach) to establish the Kingdom of God on earth
for 1,000 years after which He hands the Kingdom over to the
Father (1 Cor.15) who comes down from heaven to the new earth,
with the heavenly holy city Jerusalem, to dwell with His children
The details of Christ's coming and reign on earth for 1,000
years, is all fully expounded upon in many studies on this
Website - Keith Hunt, April 2009.