There are three main views about how things will unfold towards the end of time.
This is the belief that Christ will return and reign on earth for a thousand years prior to the final battle against evil and judgement day. There are a few variations on the theme. First, we might distinguish historic-pre-millennialism, which had a strong pedigree in the early church from dispensationalism which is a more recent phenomenon particularly associated with Schofield and Darby -key players in the founding of the Brethren movement.
Then there are disagreements over whether or not the church will be raptured prior to this literal thousand year reign or not and if so, whether that will be prior to a period of great tribulation and the reign of the anti-Christ or after.
As the name suggests, this is the opposite view to pre-millennialism. Post-millennialists believe that the church will reign for a thousand years before Christ returns. Many post-millennialists do not insist that the 1000 years is intended to be taken literally. Rather, they believe that there will be a significant period of awakening and revival, potentially to the point where Christian faith is in the majority and believers are even able to influence the structures of government in many nations.
A-millennial suggests -as per words like a-sexual that there is an absence of a millennium. In other words, a-millennialists do not believe that there will be a specific and distinct 1000 year period. Rather, they believe that when the Bible talks about Christ’s reign and the reference to a 1000 year period that it is referring to the whole of history between Christ’s first and second coming, the number being symbolic of a long period.
If pre-millennialists, especially of the dispensational kind believe that history is divided up with a specific period of intense persecution, known as The Tribulation followed by Christ kingdom reign, then a-millennialists argue that these co-exist and go hand in hand. At any point in history, we see Christ reigning over and through his church whilst at the same time we must go through trials and tribulation. If post-millennialists claim to be the optimists seeing a time when things will keep getting better and better, a-millennialists believe that those fruitful days are not set for a future time but we are already seeing that fruit in parallel with persecution.
Where does this come from?
The different theories arise out of a few verses in Revelation 20:1-10 and in fact the phrase is confined to verse 2 and verse 7. They describe how Satan is bound and constrained for a period of 1000 years and during that time Christ reigns with those who had been martyred and refused to bow to the Beast.
My personal view is that we shouldn’t be seeking to develop a whole theology of the end times based on two verses. Indeed the risk is that we allow the tail to wag the dog, we use these short mentions to determine our interpretation of the rest of Revelation and other Scriptures. This goes against the principle that we interpret Scripture in context. We should allow the rest of Revelation to help us determine how we understand these few verses.
So, I personally have come to the conclusion that the a-millennialist perspective best fits what we know about the rest of Revelation including
- That there is a lot of symbolism, especially when it comes to numbers.
- That we seem to see a series of visions that do not require a chronological time frame but rather invite us to treat them as different perspectives on the same events.
I’ve written in more detail about the different views here and here.
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