Friday, January 11, 2008

Eschatology Q & A: What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Different Millennial Views?


Kim Riddlebarger @

Lëmi asks: "Could you explain briefly all the millennial positions pointing out their main strengths and weaknesses?"
Thanks for the question Lëmi. Although I could write a book-length answer to your question (and hopefully will one of these days), I'll do what I can to give you as concise an answer as possible.
Lets start with premillennialism. As for its strengths, there seem to be two. One is the fact that Revelation 19 depicts the return of Christ, while Revelation 20:1-10 depicts the reign of Christ on the earth. If these chapters describe consecutive events (a point with which I would take issue) then this would place the millennial age after Christ's return. A second apparent strength is that a number of church fathers state that this was the teaching passed on to them by the eyewitnesses to the ministry of the apostles, although this was not the only view in the early church (see Charles Hill's Regnun Caelorum)--Click here: Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity: Books: Charles E. Hill

There are several serious weaknesses with premillennialism. The first weakness is that premillenniarians have to explain how it is that people make it through the return of Christ and yet remain in natural bodies. Jesus taught that his return marks the end of the age (Matthew 13:39) and that after his return, people no longer marry or are given in marriage (Luke 20:34-36). At Christ's return, he judges the world, making it tough for someone to be judged and yet not eternally condemned or rewarded with eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46). This is especially problematic for premillennarians, since they claim that their view is based upon a "literal" interpretation of prophecy. Where, then, is the one-thousand year gap between the return of Christ and the judgment (which, according to premillennarians takes place at the end of the millennium) when Jesus teaches that judgment takes place at his return? Those who take the Bible "literally" find themselves having to insert a gap into the biblical text which isn't there.
The other problem with premillennialism is, if it be true, there is a great apostasy on the earth after one thousand years of Christ's rule (Revelation 20:7-10). If there cannot be people on earth in natural bodies during the thousand years (which supposedly comes after Christ returns), then who are the people who revolt against Christ at the end of the millennium? And that after Christ's own rule? It makes much more sense to see Revelation 20:1-10 as a description of the entire inter-advental age, since the scene takes place in heaven where the thrones are (vv. 1-6), before shifting to the earth in verses 7-10.
As for dispensational premillennialism, both the strengths and weaknesses of premillennialism generally apply. But if we consider dispenationalism on its own terms, its main strength is a stress upon progressive revelation (the careful consideration of how God interacts with his people throughout the different stages of redemptive history). We can also say that one of its strengths is its emphasis upon the imminent return of Christ.
As for weaknesses, there are many. One is that the presuppositions of dispensationalism (which, despite protests to the contrary, is a hermeneutic) cannot be sustained. The belief that God has distinct redemptive purposes for Israel and for the Gentiles is highly problematic in light of a text like Ephesians 2:11-22. Another serious problem with dispensationalism is the way in which the "literal interpretation" of Scripture is worked out in practice. The dispensational stress upon "literalism" actually amounts to an Israel-centered hermeneutic, largely taken from the Old Testament prophets which then predetermines what the New Testament authors can tell us about Israel.
As I have argued elsewhere (Click here: Riddleblog - A Reply to John MacArthur), this approach is seriously flawed. The New Testament presents a Christ-centered reading of redemptive history and reinterprets the place of Israel in that redemptive history in light of the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the true Israel.
As for postmillennialism, remember that both postmillennarians and amillennarians hold in common the idea that the millennial age precedes the return of Christ and the consummation. So the structural strengths and weaknesses of each will be similar. The essential difference between postmillennialism and amillennialism is in how we understand the nature and character of the millennial age.
Postmillennialism's greatest strength is the rhetorical stress upon optimism regarding the kingdom of God and its ability to transform the nations of the earth before Christ returns. Postmillennarians extend the kingdom of God beyond spiritual matters (word and sacrament) to the transformation of culture--a point with which I would disagree. Postmillennarians generally believe that Jesus returns to a saved earth, he does not return to save the earth (as amillennarians believe).
This means that the biggest weakness of postmillennialism is the determination of the beginning of the millennial age--"when do the thousand years begin?" Some have seen this in the conversion of Israel, the overthrow of Antichrist (usually defined as Romanism or Islam) and the conversion of the nations. Obviously, these things have not yet happened. Therefore, the biggest weakness of postmillennialism is the denial of an imminent return of Christ--which explains why so many postmillennarians are attracted to preterism, the understanding Christ returned in judgment upon Israel in A.D. 70.
As for amillennialism, it has no weaknesses whatsoever, since it is the biblical position (I'm being facetious). In all seriousness, Amillennialism's strength is its understanding that imminent return of Christ is the consummation of all things and marks the fullness of both the kingdom of God and the age to come. Christ will return to judge the world (Matthew 13:36-43; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), raise the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57) and make all things new (2 Peter 3:3-15). He does not return to set up a kingdom (as in premillennialism), but to usher in the eternal state and create a new heaven and earth--the final consummation.
The biggest weakness of amillennialism is in the details--what does John mean by the binding of Satan? Can we really say Satan is bound now? (I say "yes"). What about the first resurrection in Revelation 20? Is John referring to regeneration, or the bodily resurrection? These things require a fair amount of explanation, especially since most American evangelicals know only the premillennial view.
That's a very brief answer. For more information, I would suggest my two books: A Case for Amillennialism (Click here: Riddleblog - A Case for Amillennialism - Understanding the End), and Man of Sin (Click here: Riddleblog - Man of Sin - Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist), or the book by Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Click here: The Bible and the Future: Books: Anthony A. Hoekema)

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