Millennial Views-Part 1

By: Dr. Renald Showers; ©2003
During the history of the Church three major views have been held concerning the future Kingdom of God. These are the premillennial, a millennial, and postmillennial positions. Dr. Showers explains the premise of each one.

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A Description Of Millennial Views

During the history of the Church, three major views have been held concerning the future Kingdom of God foretold in such biblical passages as Daniel 2 and 7. Today those views are called Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism. The names of these views all contain the term millennialism (a form of the word millennium). They use this common form as a synonym for the expression the Kingdom of God.

Premillennialism. The prefix pre means before. Thus, Premillennialism is the view which states that Christ will return to the earth before the Millennium or Kingdom of God. He will return in His Second Coming for the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. This kingdom will last for 1,000 years on this present earth (Revelation 20:1-7), and it will be a literal, political kingdom with Christ ruling worldwide as King together with the saints of God.
The word millennium was derived from the concept of 1,000 years. It is the combination of two Latin words: mille (1,000) and annum (year). In the early days of the Church, the Premillennial View was called chiliasm (derived from the Greek word meaning 1,000).
Amillennialism. The prefix a means no. Thus, Amillennialism is the view which states that there will be no literal, political Kingdom of God on earth. The future Kingdom of God foretold in such passages as Daniel 2 and 7 is totally spiritual in nature. It consists either of the Church of this age, or of Christ’s present rule from Heaven over the hearts of believing human beings, or the future eternal state. When Christ returns to the earth in His Second Coming, there will be a general resurrection of all the dead, a general judgment, the end of this present earth, and the immediate beginning of the future eternal state.
Postmillennialism. The prefix post means after. Thus, Postmillennialism is the view which states that Christ will return to this earth after the Millennium or Kingdom of God. There will be a literal Kingdom of God on this earth, but it will not be established through the supernatural intervention of Christ into history at His Second Coming. Instead, it will be established through human efforts, such as man’s expanding knowledge, new discoveries and inventions, increasing ability to exercise dominion over nature, and the expanding influence of the Church. The Church has the responsibility to help bring in the Kingdom. Christ’s Second Coming will occur at the close of the Millennium as the crowning event of that golden age.

The Earliest Millennial View

Numerous historians declare that Premillennialism (initially called chiliasm) was the first major millennial view of the Church, and that it was the predominant view of orthodox believers from the first to the third centuries. A sampling of historians will be quoted as evidence for this declaration.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), the noted English historian who wrote the classic work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, stated the following:

The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred, that this long period of labor and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection….
The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostle, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine. Though it might not be universally received, it appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers.[1]

It should be noted that Gibbon had an unfriendly attitude toward Christianity. Therefore, he was not biased in favor of Premillennialism. His comments have added significance in light of that fact.

J. C. I. Gieseler, Professor of Theology at the University of Gottingen, Germany, in the early 19th century, a highly acclaimed historian in his time and himself not a premillennialist, wrote the following when referring to some early Christian literature which was produced between 117 and 193 A.D.: ”In all these works the belief in the Millennium is so evident, that no one can hesitate to consider it as universal in an age, when such mo­tives as it offered were not unnecessary to animate men to suffer for Christianity”.[2]

Henry C. Sheldon, Professor of Historical Theology at Boston University in the late 19th century, said that chiliasm “was entertained in the second century not only by the Ebionites, and by writers who, like Cerinthus, mixed with their Gnosticism a large element of Judaism, but by many (very likely a majority) of those of the Catholic Church”.[3] It should be noted that Sheldon used the term Catholic (which means universal) to refer to the entire organized Church. This was the sense of that term during the early centuries before the Roman Catholic system was formed.

A further sampling of historians will be quoted in the next article.

For a comparison of Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology obtain the follow­ing book: Renald E. Showers, There Really Is A Difference! (The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Telephone: 800-257-7843. Mailing address: P.O. Box 908, Bellmawr, NJ 08099).

NOTES

  1. Edward Gibbon, History of Christianity. New York: Peter Eckler Publishing Company, 1916, pp. 141-4.
  2. J. C. I. Gieseler, Text-Book of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. I, trans. from the third German Edition by Francis Cunningham. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, and Blanchard, 1836, p. 100.
  3. Henry C. Sheldon, History of Christian Doctrine, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1886, p. 145.

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