What is Premillennialism ?

 ( In case there is any doubt, I am pre-mil )


by Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D.

Premillennialism (or Chiliasm) is a theological position that attempts to address the relationship of the second coming of Jesus Christ with the promised 1000-year kingdom that is mentioned in Revelation 20:1–6.

In short, Premillennialism is the view that the second coming of Christ will occur before the establishment of the millennium (the word millennium is Latin for “one-thousand years”). The prefix “pre” means before; thus, the second coming of Christ will take place “before” the millennium begins.

Those who are premillennialists assert that in the end times there will be a Tribulation Period in which an Antichrist will emerge and God will pour out His wrath upon the world. At the end of this Tribulation, Jesus will return visibly and bodily to earth to defeat Satan and the Antichrist, and then He will establish a millennial kingdom on the earth. At this time, those who died earlier as believers will receive glorified bodies and reign with Christ. Those believers who survive the Tribulation will also reign with Christ. During this period, Satan will be bound and thrown into a pit. At the end of the 1000 years Satan will be released and will orchestrate a final rebellion against God. He will be defeated and sent permanently to the lake of fire.

Most premillennialists view the millennial kingdom as covering a literal 1000 years, but some view the 1000 years of Revelation 20:1–6 as representative of a long period of time. All premillennialists, though, assert that the millennium is an intermediate kingdom that will give way to the Eternal Kingdom (or Eternal State) which will be the final destination and state for all believers.

Unlike other views of the millennium like Amillennialism and Postmillennialism, Premillennialism views the millennium of Revelation 20:1–6 as being fulfilled in the future. The other two perspectives view the Millennium as somehow being in operation now in this period between the two comings of Christ.

Biblical Support for Premillennialism

Premillennialism is based on a literal and chronological reading of the Book of Revelation. Revelation 19 describes the return of Jesus Christ to defeat His enemies. Revelation 20:1–6 tells of the 1000-year reign of Christ. And then Revelation 21–22 describes the New Heavens and New Earth that begin shortly after the millennium. A literal reading, therefore, indicates that a millennial kingdom comes after the present age but before the final Eternal Kingdom.

Although Revelation 20 is the only passage in the Bible that explicitly mentions a 1000-year reign of Christ before the Eternal Kingdom, some premillennialists believe there are Old Testament passages that are consistent with the idea of an intermediate kingdom after the present age but before the Eternal Kingdom. For instance, Isaiah 65:20 states: “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.” This passage speaks of longevity of life that is not true of the present age, but it also mentions the presence of death which will not be true of the Eternal Kingdom either. Thus, premillennialists understand passages such as this to refer to an intermediate kingdom of Messiah. Zechariah 14:5–17 is another passage used in support of Premillennialism. Here the Lord is said to be King over all the earth, but there is still disobedience and rebellion on the part of some nations. According to premillennialists, both these conditions can only occur in an intermediate kingdom between the present age and the Eternal Kingdom.

Premillennialists also point out that the promised function of reigning with Christ is proof of Premillennialism. Revelation 20:1–6 promises that believers will reign with Christ for 1000 years, but nowhere in the New Testament is it stated that Christians are already reigning with Christ. Thus, this reigning with Christ must be future.

Two Forms of Premillennialism

There are two forms or variations of Premillennialism—Dispensational Premillennialism and Historic Premillennialism.

The main difference between these two forms of Premillennialism is the emphasis that each gives to the nation Israel during the Millennium. Dispensational Premillennialists hold that the nation Israel will be saved and restored to a place of preeminence in the Millennium. Thus, Israel will have a special function of service in the Millennium that is different from that of the Church or saved Gentiles.

Most Historic Premillennialists, on the other hand, hold that the nation Israel will undergo a national salvation immediately before the Millennium is established, but there will be no national restoration of Israel. Thus, the nation Israel will not have a special role or function that is distinct from the Church.

Another difference is that most Dispensational Premillennialists hold that the millennium is for a literal 1000 years, while some Historic Premillennialists assert that the 1000 years is figurative for a long period of time.

Premillennialism in Church History

The doctrine of Premillennialism has strong support in church history. In fact, Premillennialism was the prevailing millennial view for the first 300 years of church history. As the historian Philip Schaff states, “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:614).

In the early church, Premillennialism was well represented by Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Commodianus, and Lactantius. Papias’s belief in Premillennialism is especially significant since he was a disciple of Polycarp who in turn was a disciple of the Apostle John who penned the statements about a 1000-year reign of Christ in his Book of Revelation.

Through the influence of important church fathers such as Eusebius and Augustine, belief in Premillennialism waned significantly around the fifth century. With some exceptions, most in the Christian Church during the Medieval and Reformation eras held to Amillennialism and the view that the millennium was being fulfilled in a spiritual manner in the present age. However, the last 150 years has witnessed a strong resurgence of Premillennialism. Much of this can be attributed to the rise in popularity of Dispensationalism which affirms a future 1000-year reign of Christ upon the earth.

Modern Proponents

In recent years, many theologians have affirmed Premillennialism. Proponents of both forms of Premillennialism are found in the writings of the following men:

Historic Premillennialism

J. Barton Payne

George Eldon Ladd

Wayne Grudem

Millard Erickson

Dispensational Premillennialism

John Walvoord

J. Dwight Pentecost

Alva J. McClain

Charles Ryrie

Robert Saucy

Craig A. Blaising

Darrell L. Bock

John S. Feinberg

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One Response to What is Premillennialism ?

  1. Robert Hoge says:

    Well, it seems that the free e-book Walkabout: The History of a Brief Century I wrote is premillennialist. I thought of it as just an attempt at popularizing the End Times prophesies as I read them in the Bible, without regard to any particular view, but lo and behold: I ended up with much the same set of events as described here. Who would have thunk it!

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