A Historical Understanding of Millennial Thought

Premillennialism

This is the belief that, when Jesus Christ returns to this Earth, He will set up His kingdom and rule in Jerusalem for one thousand years before creating a new heaven and a new earth.

This was the general view of the early Church until the third and fourth centuries. I would argue, since this was the most widely held view during the time of the apostles and in the two centuries after their deaths, that this understanding of the end times would make the most sense. However, like many of us know, there is much disagreement on the details surrounding the last days which are still to come. Nevertheless, this belief has made a resurgence in the last few centuries and is again the most widely accepted understanding of the future millennial reign of Christ.

I would like to point out that the early Church held this viewpoint even after the city of Jerusalem had been completely destroyed. They still believed that one day Jerusalem would be rebuilt and Jesus would rule from there on His throne for one thousand years. It seems that, even though they did not understand all of the details, they relied heavily on the Word of God to determine their beliefs and doctrines. They may not have understood how it would all come about, but they knew that it would because their final authority was not based upon their own understanding (Prov. 3:5) but upon the revealed written Word of God.

Postmillennialism

This is the belief that the Spirit of God will, by means of the Church, eventually Christianize the world and make everything good for Jesus when He returns. Additionally, only after a period of a thousand years of peace and prosperity will Christ return to then recreate the heaven and the earth.

I appreciate the optimism these individuals hold, but the idea of world peace without Christ physically ruling the nations of the world is not very realistic. If anything, it removes Him as Savior. The book of Revelation is all about Jesus coming to rescue His people from both the persecution of the world and ultimately the wrath of God. Christ’s first coming was salvation-focused and the same will be true for His second coming.

Also, this idea does not take reality, or even what we know from history, into consideration. Proponents of this view tend to look at the past Great Awakenings and increasing missionary efforts to show that the world is getting better, yet many forsook this view when World War II occurred. The war revealed that mankind was not getting better but worse, which is exactly what you would expect when you gather more and more sinners together as the world continues to globalize.

A historical example that many tend to forget about though is when Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire both legalized and officially declared Christianity to be the state religion. What Constantine did sounds good in a perfect world, but what happened? Many people all throughout the Roman Empire only claimed Christianity so they could receive the economic and social benefits when they were, in fact, not Christians. This then led to an enormous amount of corruption within the churches spread out all over the empire. With unsaved people claiming to be Christians rising to positions of authority, they were polluting the doctrine of the Church. This lesson from history supports the Biblical truth that the world is indeed lost.

Amillennialism

This is the belief that there is no future millennial reign of Christ, only a “spiritual” one. They would say that, immediately upon our Lord’s return, He will remake the heaven and the earth.

This view was popularized by Augustine during the fourth century. Though it did not originate with him, he was placed on such a high pedestal in the Church that few questioned him for the next thousand years. One of his reasons for propagating this view was due to the delay of Christ. In his mind, he could not seem to reconcile Christ’s statement that He was coming soon with the Church still waiting three hundred years later.

What many today don’t seem to realize is that the reason this was the most accepted view in the Church for over a thousand years was due to two reasons:

  1. The average churchgoer relied wholly on the teachings of the priest. This was because the Catholic Church forbade the translation of the Bible into the common language of the people. Thus, most people could not read the Bible for themselves because it was not accessible to them. For this reason, Amillennialism prevailed because Biblical literacy did not.
  2. Most of the priests had exalted Augustine’s thoughts on theology and Biblical interpretation above the actual written Word of God. When the famous monk, Martin Luther, came on the scene in 1517, many of the priests were not even developing their own sermons. Instead, they would just read a sermon by Augustine. This is how highly they esteemed him. Yes, he was indeed a great man of God who studied the Scriptures diligently. However, he is also an example of why we should never elevate someone to the same level of God’s Word.

Conclusion

I understand that many will read this and still disagree with me regarding the Millennial Kingdom. I write this to present some historical background for these three main views which have governed interpretations regarding this controversial subject. My exhortation to us all is to always and constantly go back to the Word and see what God has to say about, not just the Millennial Kingdom but, all aspects of life.

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