In my post from yesterday I revealed the informal results from a casual Sunday survey I conducted recently about end times. And I suspect those who whom I unintentionally frustrated with the survey may have been equally irritated with the post, mainly because I still didn’t provide a synopsis of the various views.
Well, at least now you know why that didn’t happen, at least on the day of the survey. But fear not—here are those brief summaries/descriptions (in alphabetical order), along with a simple glossary of other end-time terms and concepts.
Amillennialism (or Realized Millennialism):
The first view to be explained here, amillennialism, is really the simplest. According to this position the passage in Revelation 20:1-10 describes the present church age. This is an age in which Satan’s influence over the nations has been greatly reduced so that the gospel can be preached to the whole world. Those who are said to be reigning with Christ for the thousand years are Christians who have died and are already reigning with Christ in heaven. Christ’s reign in the millennium, according to this view, is not a bodily reign here on earth but rather the heavenly reign he spoke of when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt. 28:18).
This view is called “amillennial” because it maintains that there is no future millennium yet to come. Since amillennialists believe that Revelation 20 is now being fulfilled in the church age, they hold that the “millennium” described there is currently happening. The exact duration of the church age cannot be known, and the expression “thousand years” is simply a figure of speech for a long period of time in which God’s perfect purposes will be accomplished.
According to this position, the present church age will continue until the time of Christ’s return. When Christ returns, there will be a resurrection of both believers and unbelievers. The bodies of believers will rise to be reunited with their spirits and enter into full enjoyment of heaven forever. Unbelievers will be raised to face the final judgment and eternal condemnation. Believers will also stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10), but this judgment will only determine degrees of reward in heaven, for only unbelievers will be condemned eternally. At this time also the new heavens and new earth will begin. Immediately after the final judgment, the eternal state will commence and continue forever.
This scheme is quite simple because all of the end time events happen at once, immediately after Christ’s return. Some amillennialists say that Christ could return at any time, while others (such as Berkhof) argue that certain signs have yet to be fulfilled.
Dispensational Premillennialism (or Pretribulational Premillennialism):
A variety of premillennialism has gained widespread popularity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. According to this position, Christ will return not only before the millennium (Christ’s return is premillennial), but also it will occur before the great tribulation (Christ’s return is pretribulational). This position is similar to the classical premillennial position mentioned above, but with one important difference: it will add another return of Christ before his return to reign on earth in the millennium. This return is thought to be a secret return of Christ to take believers out of the world.
According to this view, the church age will continue until, suddenly, unexpectedly, and secretly, Christ will return part way to earth and then will call believers to himself: “The dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thess. 4:16-17). Christ will then return to heaven with the believers who have been removed from the earth. When that happens, there will be a great tribulation on the earth for a period of seven years.
During this seven-year period of tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to precede Christ’s return will be fulfilled. The great ingathering of the fullness of the Jewish people will occur, as they trust Christ as the Messiah. In the midst of great suffering there will also be much effective evangelism, especially carried out by the new Jewish Christians. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will then come back with his saints to reign o the earth for one thousand years. After this millennial period these will be a rebellion resulting in the final defeat of Satan and his forces, and then will come the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and the beginning of the eternal state.
Historic Premillennialism (or Classic Premillennialism):
The prefix “pre-“ means “before,” and the “premillennial” position says that Christ will come back before the millennium. This viewpoint has a long history from the earliest centuries onward.
According to this viewpoint, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of great tribulation and suffering comes on the earth. After that time of tribulation at the end of the church age, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom. When he comes back, believers who have died will be raised from the dead, their bodies will be reunited with their spirits, and these believers will reign with Christ on earth for one thousand years. The believers who have been raised from the dead, and those who were on earth when Christ returns, will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will never die, and in these resurrection bodies they will live on the earth and reign with Christ. Of the unbelievers who remain on earth, many (but not all) will turn to Christ and be saved. Jesus will reign in perfect righteousness and there will be peace throughout the earth. At the beginning of this time Satan will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit so that he will have no influence on the earth during the millennium.
According to the premillennial viewpoint, at the end of the thousand years Satan will be loosed from the bottomless pit and will join forces with many unbelievers who have submitted outwardly to Christ’s reign but have inwardly been seething in rebellion against him. Satan will gather these rebellious people for battle against Christ, but they will be decisively defeated. Christ will then raise from the dead all the unbelievers who have died throughout history, and they will stand before him for final judgment. After the final judgment has occurred, believers will enter in the eternal state.
This view in Christian eschatology holds that some of the biblical prophecies concerning the Last Days refer to events which took place in the first century after Christ’s birth, especially associated with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning past, since this view deems certain biblical prophecies as past, or already fulfilled.
Prophecies such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the advent of the Day of the Lord as a “judgment-coming” of Christ were fulfilled circa 70 AD when the Roman general (and future Emperor) Titus sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple, putting a permanent stop to the daily animal sacrifices. It identifies “Babylon the great” (Revelation 17-18) with the ancient pagan City of Rome or Jerusalem.
Most Partial Preterists also believe the term Last Days refers not to the last days of planet Earth or the last days of humankind, but rather to the last days of the Mosaic covenant which God had exclusively with national Israel until the year AD 70. As God came in judgment upon various nations in the Old Testament, Christ also came in judgment against those in Israel who rejected him. These last days, however, are to be distinguished from the “last day,” which is considered still future and entails the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous dead physically from the grave in like-manner to Jesus’ physical resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of a literal (rather than covenantal) New Heavens and a New Earth, free from the curse of sin and death which was brought about by the fall of Adam and Eve.
Partial Preterists believe that the new creation comes in redemptive progression as Christ reigns from His heavenly throne, subjugating His enemies, and will eventually culminate in the destruction of physical death, the “last enemy” (1 Cor 15:20-24). If there are any enemies remaining, the resurrection event cannot have occurred.**
The prefix post- means “after.” According to this view, Christ will return after the millennium. According to this view, the progress of the gospel and the growth of the church will gradually increase, so that a larger and larger proportion of the world’s population will be Christians. As a result, there will be significant Christian influences on society, society will more and more function according to God’s standards, and gradually a “millennial age of peace and righteousness will occur on the earth. This “millennium” will last for a long period of time (not necessarily a literal one thousand years), and finally, at the end of this period, Christ will return to earth, believers and unbelievers will be raised, the final judgment will occur, and there will be a new heaven and new earth. We will then enter into the eternal state.
For even more end-time terms and definitions, check out the glossary we distributed to our small group leaders the week we taught from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. You’ll find this helpful as well.
*From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem