Understanding the End Times
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” I have heard this ever since I started attending my assembly 17 years ago. This is a popular verse not only among the “brethren” but also among all evangelicals. I can recall the very first time I went to Sunday school. The topic was the Second Coming of Christ. I heard that the Lord would return and rule the earth for a thousand years. Growing up this thought remained with me and although I didn’t know the theological term, I was a dispensational premillennialist.
Most who attend an assembly believe this hermeneutical approach to eschatology. I have come to realize some lack understanding why biblically they should accept this approach. Many claim to believe in a pre-tribulation rapture and a reign of Christ for a thousand years but wouldn’t even know where to begin scripturally. It is my goal to try and convey the biblical reason for being a dispensational premillennialist over a number of different articles. In this first article it would be profitable to give a small overview of the different viewpoints.
In order to understand more about these different viewpoints, one word has to be defined – millennium. Millennium is a thousand years and is derived from Revelation 20:4-6. It is from the Latin, mille, meaning a thousand. A dispensational premillennialist therefore believes that the millennium is a future event and Christ will return before (pre) the thousand years, and He will literally reign on earth.
Postmillennialists believe that Christ will return after (post) the millennium. They believe that preaching the Gospel and social transformation of the whole world will result in the world being Christianized. This will usher in the thousand years and, at the end of the thousand years, Christ will return. Generally postmillennialists believe that the Old Testament promises of the kingdom on earth will be fulfilled.
Amillennialist believe there will be no (A) literal thousand-year reign of Christ. Sometimes this can be a poor name for this belief system. They don’t believe it will be a literal reign of Christ but that it will take place. They spiritualize the thousand years in Revelation 20:4-6 to be either a reign in heaven or currently a reign on earth in the believers’ hearts now.
Similar to Dispensational Premillennialism, those that hold this view believe that Christ will return before the thousand years to reign on earth. However, they believe that believers will endure the tribulation. They also believe that the promises made to Abraham and his descendants were conditional promises, based on obedience. Israel’s persistent disobedience violated God’s covenant with them. Therefore, the Church has replaced Israel. God will fulfill his covenant made to Israel through the Church.
How can there be so many?
Having 4 different viewpoints makes it seem like there are 4 different Bibles. What it actually all comes down to is how you interpret prophecy. Dispensational Premillennialists interpret prophecy literally. This is known as the grammatical-historical method. Postmillennialists interpret prophecy using the covenant-historical method. This method simply looks at the development of the kingdom of God throughout Scripture and holds that it should be progressive and continue to get better and better until the Kingdom of God is ushered in.
Amillennialists interpret prophecy using the spiritual method. An example of this would be Israel and whether or not it should mean something other than Israel, such as the Church mentioned in the New Testament composed of mostly Gentiles. That, by definition, is spiritualizing. All of these interpretations will be discussed in further detail throughout the upcoming articles. One last thing I would like to point out.
This should not cause division among believers. We shouldn’t look at an Amillennialist and call them a heretic.
There are common presuppositions among the different interpretations. They all believe in the inspiration of Scripture, in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the literal bodily return of Christ, a literal resurrection of all men, and a future judgment of all men and eternal existence in heaven or hell. There are weaknesses in each viewpoint. But there is no weakness in the viewpoint that we ought to be unified as the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians makes that very clear.
Our next article will be looking at the beliefs of Dispensational Premillennialism in further detail.