There is much misunderstanding in the church about the differences between the 3 basic millennial positions. As we continue to walk through Revelation during our Sunday lunch series, I wanted to provide the distinctives. I also want to encourage you not to give-in to the sin of hasty-generalization. Even if someone technically falls into one category or another, we cannot assume to know exactly what they believe or how they apply their personal doctrine. For instance, many premillennials (doctrine) I know live more like postmillennials (practice). The best way to know what someone believes about something is to ask. If we do not ask personally, we judge others based on our own thoughts rather than theirs. I hope this brings some clarity to the millennial perspectives and helps to dissipate the cloud of apocalyptic confusion many find themselves in.
Premillennial: fundamental, separatist
- Definition: Christ’s second coming will precede His millennial reign.
- The millennium comprises a literal 1,000 years at some point in the future.
- Generally sees the world as getting progressively worse. Christ will return when the world is bad enough to destroy the wicked and establish His kingdom.
Postmillennial: reformed, activist
- Definition: Christ’s second coming will follow His millennial reign.
- The millennium comprises the time between the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and Christ’s second coming.
- Generally sees the world as getting progressively better. Christ will return at the consummation of His kingdom, which is currently overtaking the world through the church.
Amillennial: reformed, pacifist
- Definition: Christ is reigning in Heaven and on Earth during the millennium established in Heaven.
- The millennium comprises the time between the crucifixion and Christ’s second coming.
- Generally sees the world as being conformed more to the image of Christ, but allows for an up and down struggle between good and evil until Christ’s return. The world won’t necessarily always be progressing or digressing. Christ will return when He sees fit in order to finally consummate His kingdom on the earth.
Eschatology and World Engagement
A person’s view of Christ and His work determines the way he or she engages the world, participates in church, and generally relates to others. If someone is premillennial, for instance, he or she is more likely to be dogmatic about personal beliefs and separate from those who believe differently. Why? Because inherent in the premillennial position is the idea that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket. The church is departing from Christ. The Christian’s responsibility is to remain utterly unstained from the world. So, premillennials generally teach a separatistic approach to life and ministry, forbidding Christians from going to certain places and doing certain things on the basis of their remaining holy and pursuing righteousness.
Those who hold the postmillennial position are most likely to encourage the church not to separate from the world but, instead, lead culture, arts, sciences, and literature. Why? Postmillennials generally teach that the kingdom of Heaven (i.e. the church) is currently taking over the world. American Christians were historically postmillennial, which is why the founding fathers of the United States waged war against Britain—freedom and equality were “kingdom of Heaven” issues. Postmillennialism has experienced a recent revival along with the social justice movement, though the two should not be conflated. Many of the young, restless, and reformed camp moved quickly from the Gospel to social activism (or social justice) because of the postmillennial roots in the movement. Not all postmillennials are social justice proponents (many are not), but the application of the theology demands they take a leading role in reforming the world, politics, culture, arts, sciences, and literature.
Those who hold the amillennial position are generally pacifistic as they engage the world because they believe that Christ is already reigning and will have His way. They tend to engage the world, but in a less radical way than postmillennials. They are not separatists. They believe that God is renewing His world and strive to participate with Him—though they are less prone toward activism. They believe that the world will get better overall, but allow for great apostasies and the loosing of Satan at the end of the church age. Christ will be the one to establish His kingdom at the end of the church age. Amillennials differ widely in their theology, some even embracing a seven-year future tribulation, through which the church will live.