A well-known seminary president has said that within ten years few evangelical organizations will retain their premillennial stance. That trend among evangelicals creates a powerful concern that in the abandonment of premillennialism much more may be surrendered than is immediately apparent. This essay reflects that concern. To speak of premillennialism is to immediately identify oneself with traditional evangelicalism and with a fervent belief in the return of Jesus Christ. It is also to identify oneself with the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation, and implies a certain view of Scripture, in that the six biblical references to 1,000 years are all contained in Revelation chapter 20. (There are other biblical passages which support the concept of a 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ, but the twentieth chapter of Revelation is the key.) Related issues to be addressed in this paper include definitions, history, hermeneutics and biblical authority as it interfaces with a number of biblical concerns. Some attention will also be paid to the positions of the Reformers and the era in which premillennialism emerged anew in the evangelical context. And strategic biblical arguments for the premillennial belief will be brought forward. Finally, the potential impact of amillennialism on the missionary mandate will be examined, and the propensity of amillennialism toward liberalism and evolution will be explored.
A. Millennialism can be described as the belief that there will be righteous rule of 1,000 years on this earth: “Israel will be the center of that kingdom and Jerusalem will be the capital of it. All nations will come to worship at Mount Zion.”1 Implicit in the concept of millennialism is the idea that Christ the Ruler will return before the millennium as Revelation chapter 20 clearly indicates. B. Premillennialism can therefore be described as the express belief that Jesus Christ will indeed return before the millennium described in Revelation chapter 20 and that He will rule and reign for 1,000 years. C. Postmillennialism may be described as follows: “Those who believe Christ will not return until after the millennium are called post-millenarians.”2 The practical anticipation is that the Church through its activity and influence will so permeate society that the kingdom of God will be fashioned before the King appears. The prophecies of both Testaments are not literal but are spiritualized. D. Amillennialism is the disbelief in the literal meaning of the millennial passages in Revelation 20 that ultimately can be traced to Origen. Whitby, as cited in Haldeman, following the hermeneutics of Origen, taught for example that “all the promises of the kingdom should be taken in a spiritual and allegorical sense.”3 The abandonment of the grammatical/historical “plain sense” hermeneutic is essential to the embrace of amillennialism.
II. History and Premillennialism
Historical patterns on any given subject have profound significance. Nowhere is this more true than in Church history. And in the case of premillennialism, the facts of history are of special impact.
The early church was premillennial, as Paul L. King well illustrates elsewhere in this book of essays. Thiessen flatly says that “the early church was premillennial”4 and Fisher (in a comment of interest to me since I have come to this conclusion on my own) blames the Montanistic heresy of the second century with its prophetic eccentricities for the overthrow of Chiliasm in the early Church.5 Unfortunately, in the early Church, millennialism (i.e., Chiliasm) was thought by some to be both sensual and “grossly materialistic.”6 After Origen, it is nearly impossible to overestimate Augustine’s formidable contribution in the intervening centuries. Through his influence and writings (including The City of God), amillennialism became the de facto theology of the Church. With the Reformation...