Today we turn our attention to what’s distinctive about the third view of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20: premillennialism. As a reminder, I am hoping to present each of the three views (postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism) with charity. I’m going to withhold my perspectives on these until later. Next week, we’ll start diving into particular passages and how these three approaches interpret those passages.
The premillennialist position holds that the vision of Revelation 20 is entirely in the future and is born out of a literary, grammatical, and historical interpretation of Scripture. In short, Revelation 20 presents a sequence of events where Christ returns to the earth in bodily form to institute his kingdom, of which a 1,000-year-reign is a part.
What makes premillennialism the more difficult perspective to grasp is the variety of perspectives within premillennialism, of which there are at least 4 to 5, depending on how one wants to break it down. But there are only 2 overarching categories of premillennialism. Some of the perspectives contradict aspects of the others, which adds to the complexity. I will try to give the general sense of premillennialism below.
Here are the main points of premillennialism:
First, Jesus will resurrect the dead physically in two stages. His initial return raises the justified who will reign with him for the millennium. At the end of that time, the reprobate will be raised for final judgment and consignment to eteral punishment.
Second, even if 1,000 years is understood as a symbolic span of time, it is still a future event and not to be interpreted as something in the past or present.
Third, Satan is bound in a new way throughout the entirety of the millennium.
Fourth, the millennial kingdom precedes the new creation and is therefore both a part of and yet distinct from the new creation.
The main dividing line between camps within premillennialism is the nature of the relationship between Israel and the church.
There are 2 main categories of premillennialism, under which the rest fall.
First is historic premillennialism. The term “historic” does not necessarily reflect the exact same perspective as the early church, but it is meant to distinguish this view from all the others. It genuinely affirms a literary, grammatical, and historical interpretive method of the Bible. Historic premillennialism interprets passages about Israel and the church as the church being a branch of Israel or the "true Israel" of God since the church is in Christ, who himself is the "true Israel" of God. Therefore, for many, what is said about the millennium and the eternal state is true for both regenerate Jews and Gentiles. It holds to all the main premillennialist convictions except those that are particular to the second main category, which is:
Dispensational premillennialism. This form is also known as “classical” dispensationalism even though it wasn’t formulated until the mid 1800s. If you’ve heard of John Nelson Darby, it’s because he formulated most of the particulars while the Scofield Reference Bible popularized it. It was dualist in nature, meaning that God has one plan of salvation for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. It also posited that in the new creation, the new earth would be for the Jews and the new heaven would be for the church. It interprets certain passages dealing with the relationship between Israel and the church to mean that there was hardly any relationship at all. Those who hold to this position also generally hold to a pre-tribulation rapture. So, during the millennium, the church reigns with Christ from heaven while the Jews and the nations are on earth. This is the real meaning of “dispensation” related to the millennium: one dispensation takes places on earth (Israel and the nations) while another takes place in heaven (the church). The rapture was first formulated in this way around this same time.
It is important to see that historic and dispensational premillennialism, while they share the same essentials listed above, diverge at several points. This adds to the notion that premillennialism is difficult to understand.
In general, premillennialism sees the millennium not as something clearly revealed before Revelation 20 but as something that aligns easily with Old Testament prophecy of a coming kingdom. Certain Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 24-25 and 65 all refer to a new kingdom of God and a new creation. However, while Isaiah 24-25 speak of the perfection of that kingdom, Isaiah 65 notes that a person who dies at age 100 will be considered young. Premillennialism reconciles these seemingly disparate prophecies, which both teach about the future kingdom in some way, as looking to two different spans of time: one refers to the millennium, and the other refers to the new creation. Simply put, one passage points to the time before sin and death are finally squashed, and one passage points past it.
Postmillennialism says the millennium comes after Christ has won the nations to himself and the church fulfills the great commission. The millennium is a golden age of Christian influence and worship of God, after which Christ returns to hand the kingdom over to the Father. It can be understood as a literal 1,000 years or symbolic of a great span of time. Postmillennialists are divided over whether prophecies about the end of the age have already come to pass (known as full- or partial-preterism). The transition from this age to the next will be almost seamless.
Amillennialism says the millennium was inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection and will be consummated at his return. The present age is the millennium, so the number 1,000 is therefore completely symbolic. There may or may not be a series of catastrophic events that precede the second coming.
To summarize, the main distinctive of premillennialism, of all stripes, is its insistence on a sequential reading of Revelation 20. That sequence is what gives rise to a reading of the text that assumes two physical resurrections, an earthly millennial kingdom, and the binding of Satan.
Next week, we’ll start to look at specific passages and interpret them within their context, both the book they’re in and the Bible as a whole, to find some solid ground on which we can stand to better understand this seemingly difficult-to-interpret truth.
For discussion below, what might lead a person to choose one interpretation over another?