Basic Eschatology - Prophetic Schools of Interpretation

Three major schools of prophetic interpretation are (1) Amillennial, (2) Postmillennial, and (3) Premillennial.  Within each school of thought there are differences of opinion.  For this reason it is difficult, if not impossible, to represent each doctrinal position to the satisfaction of all.

AMILLENNIALISM

Amillennialism is the belief that there will not be a 1,000 year reign of Christ upon the earth.  Those who hold this view interpret Revelation 20:2-7 symbolically.  They insist that apart from this passage in Revelation there isn't any Scriptural basis for a millennial reign of Christ.  First they deny the teaching of millennium, and then they explain it.

The first amillennialists were known as Augustinian amillennialists.  Augustine (354-430) was the most influential Christian leader of his day.  He wrote a book, The City of God, which expressed his amillennial belief.  Augustine taught that the millennium would be spiritually fulfilled in the Christian church on the earth.  He also predicted that the 1,000 years would end at the second coming of Christ around the middle of the seventh century.  Obviously, that prediction did not come to pass.

Around the end of the nineteenth century amillennialism had a new leader in B. B. Warfield, a professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.  He taught that the millennial kingdom was Christ's reign over the church in heaven.  Unlike Augustine he didn't set any dates.

Amillennialism was the accepted doctrine of the Christian church from Augustine until it was challenged by the postmillennialism of Daniel Whitby (1638-1726).  Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Christian leaders of the Reformation were amillennialists.  Even today amillennialism is alive and well in some Christian churches, especially those of the Reformed faith.

Amillennialists have a simple prophetic view of the future.  Christ will return at the end of the world.  All of the dead will be raised and everyone will be judged.  There will be one general resurrection and judgment.  Those who are saved will go to heaven.  Those who are lost will go to hell.

Amillennialists do not make a distinction between the rapture of the church in the air, and the return of Christ.  Reformed theologians have next to nothing to say about the great tribulation.

Is there a biblical basis for their belief?  They present the following Scriptures to prove that the second coming will be simultaneous with the resurrection of the dead.  See Daniel 12:2; John 5:28, 29; 6:40, 44; 11:24; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 20:11-15.

They also believe in a general judgment at Christ's coming, and offer the following verses to support their view.  See Matthew 7:21, 23; 13:30-43; 16:27; 25:31-46; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:5, 16; 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Jude 15; Revelation 1:7; 20:11; 21:1.

POSTMILLENNIALISM

Postmillennialism taught that Jesus Christ would return at the end of the 1,000 years.  Through a worldwide missionary outreach the kingdom of God would be established upon the earth...and then the Lord would return.

Postmillennialism came on the scene as early as the twelfth century, and was especially popular in the Netherlands.  However, postmillennialism as a system is usually attributed to Daniel Whitby.  His views of a coming golden age for the church was something that most people wanted to hear.  Their favorite Bible verse was Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come."

Optimism prevailed and postmillennialism became popular in many churches.  It gave birth to many missionary societies.  Even today we unwittingly sing some postmillennial missionary hymns.  The most obvious hymn is We've a Story to Tell to the Nations.

Today postmillennialism is dead!  Two world wars laid that school of prophetic interpretation to rest.

PREMILLENNIALISM

Premillennialists believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will return and reign on the earth for 1,000 years.  They claim that the early church was premillennial in its belief.  Even some amillennialists agree, but not all.

According to Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church, he agrees that the early Christian church was premillennial, but believed that the millennial reign of Christ would occur "before the general resurrection and judgment."  Justin Martyr, an early church leader, wrote that "those who believed in our Christ would spend a thousand years in Jerusalem, and thereafter...the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place."

The biggest boost to premillennialism came from the Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909.  C. I. Scofield founded the Philadelphia School of the Bible, and the doctrine of the premillennial return of Christ spread through a growing Bible conference movement, Bible Institute movement, and many periodicals devoted to Bible study.  Premillennialism is overwhelmingly associated with the conservative theological movement in the United States today.

Premillennialists quote the following Scriptures to support their belief in the millennial reign of Christ.  See Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:4-10; Jeremiah 23:5, 6; Daniel 2:44; Micah 4:3, 4; Zechariah 9:10; Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:1-6.

Even though premillennialism in the early church may have believed in a general resurrection and judgment that teaching has changed through the years.

Most premillennialists today believe in four phases of God's resurrection program.

  1. The resurrection of Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:23.
  2. The resurrection of church age saints at the rapture.  1 Thessalonians 4:16.
  3. The resurrection of the tribulation saints together with the resurrection of Old Testament saints at the return of Christ to earth.  Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:3-6.
  4. The final resurrection of the unsaved dead at the end of the millennium.  Revelation 20:5, 11-14.

The first three resurrections listed above are all considered part of "the first resurrection."  Revelation 20:5, 6.

Premillennialists also teach three judgments are to take place in the future.

  1. The judgment seat of Christ, where the judgment here is not of the unbeliever, but of the believer.  1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:4.  For the Christian there is no condemnation.  Romans 8:1.  However, God will hold each believer responsible for his works.  1 Corinthains 3:10-15.
  2. The judgment of Gentile nations, who survive the great tribulation, at Christ's return to earth.  Matthew 25:31-46.
  3. The great white throne judgment, where the unbelieving dead of all ages will be judged after the thousand year reign of Christ.  Revelation 20:11-15.

As mentioned before, amillennialists and postmillennialists do not believe in the rapture of the church and are somewhat silent regarding the great tribulation.  However, premillennialists believe in both the rapture and the tribulation, but are divided into three groups.

  1. Pretribulation Rapture.  Pretribulationists believe that Jesus will come in the air for His Church before the tribulation period.  The nature of the tribulation is one of wrath and judgment.  See Revelation 11:18; 14:7, 8; 15:1, 4, 7, 19; 17:1; 18:10; 19:2.  A biblical basis for this belief is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, and Revelation 3:10.
  2. Midtribulation Rapture.  Those who adhere to a midtribulation rapture believe that the church will be raptured at the end of the first three and a half years of the 70th week of Daniel 9.  They teach that the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15, and the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52, and the trumpet of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 are identical.  This view places the rapture of the church in the middle of the tribulation period.
  3. Posttribulation Rapture.  Posttribulationists believe that the church will go through the great tribulation.  When Christ returns they will be caught up in the air to meet Him, and then return to earth with Him to reign for 1,000 years.  They link the resurrection of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 with the first resurrection of Revelation 20:5, 6.

 

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