The Millennium

Introduction and Overview

Revelation 19 depicts the battle of Armageddon in which Jesus is victorious over the beast and his false prophet, and they are both thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20 then reveals what happens to Satan, and describes a 1,000 year period, commonly known as the Millennium based on the latin word for a thousand. At the beginning of this Millennium, Satan is bound and imprisoned in the abyss so that he can no longer deceive the nations. Jesus rules the earth, together with resurrected believers. At the end of the Millennium Satan is released, and raises a rebellion, but is defeated and thrown into the lake of fire. The final judgment of humanity then follows. In Revelation 21 and 22, the eternal age is revealed with the new heaven and new earth. How one interprets this sequence is pivotal to one's whole interpretation of end time prophecy.

The idea that this present earth will be ruled in righteousness by Christ and his church for an extended period of time (whether the 1,000 years is taken literally, or as symbolic of a long period of time) is described as Millennialism. A plain or literal reading of these chapters suggests a chronological flow, such that Jesus comes back before the start of the Millennium, and that the Millennium is a transitional age between the present age and the eternal age. Such an interpretation is known as Pre-Millennialism or as Millenarianism. It is also known as Chiliasm, based on the Greek word for a thousand.

However, some people assume that instead of there being an intended chronological flow, Revelation 20 is a 'recapitulation' of previous events. In other words, it presents the same events but from a new perspective. In that case, we are already in the Millennium, and Satan's rebellion and subsequent defeat at the end of the Millennium coincides with that of the beast and false prophet. So Revelation 20 is a replay of the present age from a different angle. This is the basic assumption behind Amillennialism and Post-Millennialism, which both view Christ as coming back at the end of the millennium, but differ in expectations concerning Christ's kingdom in the present age. Amillennialists understand there to be parallel growth of Christ's and Satan's kingdoms in the present age. Post-Millennialists expect Christ's kingdom to grow and fill the earth, with most of the world's population eventually turning to him in faith and obedient submission. They believe that his Church will rule the world in righteousness for an extended period of time, after which Christ will return and usher in the eternal age of the new heaven and new earth.

Within each of these three main views, Pre-Millennialism, Amillennialism, and Post-Millennialism, there are further 'sub-views'. In the first few centuries of the church, the early church fathers mainly held to pre-millennial views that are today referred to as Historic Pre-Millennialism. In the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, the church mostly abandoned pre-millennialism in favour of Amillennialism, preferring a more allegorical interpretation of biblical prophecy over a more literal one. Amillennialism then remained the main view of the Church for more than a thousand years. In the 16th century some protestant denominations began to revisit historic pre-millennialism. In the 17th century post-millennialism arose and became popular among American protestants. In the 19th century, a new type of premillennialism arose, known as Dispensational Premillennialism, or simply Dispensationalism. In the early 20th century, most American protestants abandoned Postmillennialism in favour of Dispensationalism. Amillennialism has remained the accepted view of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as many protestant denominations. Today, Amillennialism and Dispensational Pre-Millennialism are the main views. In recent years, Historic Pre-Millennialism and Post-Millennialism have had something of a come-back, but remain minority views.

It would be helpful to refer to the text of Revelation 20 before considering Millennial views in more detail:
The Thousand Year Reign
20 Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain.
2 He seized the dragon – the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan – and tied him up for a thousand years.
3 The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.)
4 Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Satan’s Final Defeat

7 Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison
8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea.
9 They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely.
10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.

The Great White Throne

11 Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds.
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds.
14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire.
15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.
Now let us consider each of the Millennial views within their historical contexts and progression.
Pre-Millennialism in Pre-Christian Judaism

The idea that the Messiah would come and usher in a temporary 'age to come' of his rule on earth, which would then be followed by 'the eternal age', was already present in 1st century Judaism. This is especially demonstrated by the Book of Enoch. Although never included in the canon of Old Testament scripture, portions of this book were present in the dead sea scrolls, demonstrating its use in the 1st Century BC. In the New Testament, the fact that Jude quotes from the Book of Enoch (Jude 1:14-15), demonstrates that the apostles of the early church were familiar with its contents and influenced by it. Although Jude seems to have accepted its genuine authorship by Enoch, the grandfather of Noah, most scholars today label it as pseudepigraphical and assume it to be an apocryphal work written during the inter-testamental period. Whether or not that is the case, it is still clear that the Book of Enoch had an influence on the thinking of the early church.

Towards the end of the book, there is a chapter called 'Prophecy of the ten weeks'. In this, Enoch gives a ten 'week' prophetic overview of earth's history. Let me summarise these, including the apparent fulfilment in brackets as might have been understood by 1st century readers.

Week 1 - The period in which Enoch was born, during which justice and righteousness still lasted
Week 2 - Injustice and deceit will arise, it will be brought to an end (the Flood), and a man will be saved (Noah)
Week 3 - A man will be chosen (Abraham) as the Plant of Righteous Judgment, from whom will come the Plant of Righteousness forever (Jesus)
Week 4 - Visions of the righteous and holy one (God) will be seen, the Law will be given, and an enclosure will be made (the tabernacle)
Week 5 - A House of Glory and Sovereignty (the Temple) will be built
Week 6 - People will become blind and sink into impiety. At the end of this, a man will ascend (Jesus), the House of Sovereignty (temple) will be burnt with fire, and the whole race of the chosen root (the Jews) will be scattered (as happened in 70 AD).
Week 7 - The Chosen Righteous one from the Eternal Plant of Righteousness (Jesus) will be chosen and given sevenfold teaching. Sin, evil and apostasy will increase, and the Holy Lord will come in wrath to execute judgment on the earth (Second coming of Jesus). The idols of the nations will be thrown into the Judgment of Fire, sinners will be killed with the sword and blasphemers cut off.
Week 8 - A time of righteousness (the Millennium), during which a sword of righteous judgment is given to the righteous, and sinners are handed over to them. At its end, the righteous receive houses for their righteousness, and a house will be built for the Great King in glory (the New Jerusalem).
Week 9 - the Righteous Judgment will be revealed to the whole world, impiety will vanish from the whole earth. The earth will be destroyed, and the whole world will look to the Path of Uprightness.
Week 10 - At the end of this the fallen angels are judged, the first heaven passes away, a New Heaven is revealed, and the Powers of Heaven shine forever.
Weeks without number - the eternal age of goodness and righteous. Sin is never mentioned again.

Notice how this prophecy is premillennial. Weeks 8 to 10 cover an indeterminate period of time between the Lord coming in week 7 and the eternal age of weeks without number.

A modern translation of the Book of Enoch by Andy McCracken can be downloaded here. You can also read about the Book of Enoch on Wikipedia.

Turning to the Old Testament, it is interesting to consider Isaiah's vision of the new heavens and new earth:

Isaiah 65:17-25 says, "For look, I am ready to create new heavens and a new earth! The former ones will not be remembered; no one will think about them anymore. 18 But be happy and rejoice forevermore over what I am about to create! For look, I am ready to create Jerusalem to be a source of joy, and her people to be a source of happiness. 19 Jerusalem will bring me joy, and my people will bring me happiness. The sound of weeping or cries of sorrow will never be heard in her again. 20 Never again will one of her infants live just a few days or an old man die before his time. Indeed, no one will die before the age of one hundred; anyone who fails to reach the age of one hundred will be considered cursed. 21 They will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 No longer will they build a house only to have another live in it, or plant a vineyard only to have another eat its fruit, for my people will live as long as trees, and my chosen ones will enjoy to the fullest what they have produced. 23 They will not work in vain, or give birth to children that will experience disaster. For the Lord will bless their children and their descendants. 24 Before they even call out, I will respond; while they are still speaking, I will hear. 25 A wolf and a lamb will graze together; a lion, like an ox, will eat straw, and a snake’s food will be dirt. They will no longer injure or destroy on my entire royal mountain,” says the Lord".

Isaiah foresaw a golden age in which God creates new heavens and a new earth, the wolf and the lamb lie down together, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem live secure lives, in close relationship with God. There would be no more weeping or crying. And yet, surprisingly, in Isaiah's vision there is still death. People live much longer, and 'anyone who fails to reach the age of one hundred will be considered cursed', but there is still death. Does this contradict with John's vision of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21:4, where there is no more death? Or is it possible that Isaiah's vision is of a millennial age, and John's vision is of the eternal age?

Given that premillennial expectations were already present, it is not unreasonable to suggest that when Jesus and the apostles spoke of the 'age to come' (Matthew 12:32, Mark 10:30, 1 Titus 6:19, Hebrews 6:5) they may have been referring to the Millennial age rather than the Eternal age.

Another apocryphal book that illustrates Jewish premillennialism is 2 Esdras. According to Wikipedia's article on 'Premillennialism':

"Second Esdras likely dates from soon after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The apocryphal book was apparently an attempt to explain the difficulties associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple to the Jewish people. During one of the visions in the book, Ezra receives a revelation from the angel Uriel. The angel explains that prior to the last judgment, the Messiah will come and establish a temporary kingdom lasting 400 years after which all of creation will be obliterated including the Messiah (7:28). Seven days after this cataclysmic event, the resurrection and the judgment will occur followed by the eternal state (7:36)."
Historic Premillennialism in the Early Church (Classic Premillennialism)

In the Patristic period, premillennialist beliefs were expressed by a number of the early church fathers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Examples include:

Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis (c. 95-120 AD), wrote that, "there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established in this earth" (The Anti-Nicene Fathers, Volume I by Roberts & Donaldson, p. 154). Papias is described by Irenaeus as "an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp".

Justin Martyr (c.100-165 AD), a Christian apologist of the 2nd century, wrote, "But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned and enlarged [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare" (The Anti-Nicene Fathers, Volume I by Roberts & Donaldson, p. 239).

Irenaeus (c. 130-202 AD) was from Smyrna in what is now Turkey, and became Bishop of Lyons in southern France. He is said to have heard the preaching of Polycarp, who in turn had heard the preaching of the Apostle John. Referring to the Antichrist, as revealed in John's vision of the apocalypse, Irenaeus wrote, "But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared that "many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"" (The Anti-Nicene Fathers, Volume I by Roberts & Donaldson, p. 560).

Tertullian (c. 155-240 AD), was a prolific Christian writer from Carthage in North Africa, and of Berber origin. His writings in latin greatly influenced the western church, and he is credited as the first to use the term 'Trinity'. Tertullian wrote, "We do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, 'let down from heaven', which the apostle also calls 'our mother from above'." (The Anti-Nicene Fathers, Volume III by Roberts & Donaldson, p. 342).

Associated with premillennialism in the early church was the sexta-septamillennial belief. According to this belief, human history would last for 6,000 years from creation to the coming of the Messiah. Earth would then enjoy a 1,000 year Sabbath rest of Millennial rule before the new creation. So this earth would last a total of 7,000 years before the start of the eternal age on the 'eighth' day. An example of this is found in the Epistle of Barnabus, written by a Jewish Christian from Alexandria in about 100 AD. Starting with a quote from Genesis 2:2, he wrote:

"'And God made in six days the works of his hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it and sanctified it'. Attend, my children to the meaning of this expression, 'He finished in six days'. This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with him a thousand years. And he himself testifieth, saying, 'Behold, today will be a thousand years'. Therefore, my children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, all things will be finished. 'And he rested on the seventh day'. This meaneth: when his Son, coming again, shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day….Further he says…'Your present sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but that is which I have made, [namely this] when giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose again from the dead" (The Anti-Nicene Fathers, Volume I by Roberts & Donaldson, pp. 146-147).

Premillennialism was somewhat discredited by Montanism, which was a charismatic-type prophetic movement led by Montanus in the late 2nd Century. Montanus prophesied that the New Jerusalem would descend upon a mountain in Phrygia in about AD 177. His followers met on the mountain, dressed in white, awaiting its descent, but were disappointed. Notably, Tertullian was a supporter of Montanism. Montanism was later rejected by the mainstream church as a heretical sect.

Premillennialism follows the most literal approach to interpreting biblical prophecies. In the early 3rd century AD, there was rising opposition to premillennialism. Origen of Alexandria (c. 184-253 AD) promoted a more allegorical approach. He also believed that eventually the whole world would be converted to Christianity, an idea that is central to post-millennialism. According to Wikipedia, "Origen was able to produce a massive quantity of writings due to the patronage of his close friend Ambrose, who provided him with a team of secretaries to copy his works, making him one of the most prolific writers in all of antiquity".

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) initially accepted premillennialism, but later rejected it in favour of amillennialism. Amillennialism is a foundational assumption in his magnum opus, 'City of God'. Augustine's theological writings and ideas dominated Catholic theology throughout the Middle Ages, and even strongly influenced the Protestant Reformers such as Luther and Calvin. Consequently, premillennialism was all but abandoned in favour of amillennialism for a very long time.

During the Protestant Reformation period, amillennialism continued to be the popular view of the main Reformers. The Lutherans formally rejected premillennialism in The Augsburg Confession. “Art. XVII., condemns the Anabaptists and others ’who now scatter Jewish opinions that, before the resurrection of the dead, the godly shall occupy the kingdom of the world, the wicked being everywhere suppressed.’" Likewise, the Swiss Reformer Heinrich Bullinger wrote up the Second Helvetic Confession, which reads "We also reject the Jewish dream of a millennium, or golden age on earth, before the last judgment." Furthermore, John Calvin wrote in 'Institutes' that millennialism is a "fiction" that is "too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation". The Anglican Church originally formalized a statement against premillennialism in the Anglican Articles. This is observed in the 41st of the Anglican Articles, drawn up by Thomas Cranmer (1553), describing the millennium as a 'fable of Jewish dotage', but it was omitted at a later time in the revision under Elizabeth (1563).

The early church mostly rejected premillennialism during the 4th century AD. This rejection became official at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, at which the Church amended the Nicene Creed, adding "and of His Kingdom there shall be no end". In other words, they affirmed the belief that the age to come is eternal, and not a temporary Millennial age. Augustine's writings, including his magnum opus, 'City of God', written between 410 and 430 AD, further cemented this Amillennial view in the church's thinking. It remains the accepted view of the Roman Catholic Church, even today.

Reasons for the church's rejection of premillennialism include:

1) A literal reading of the bible implies that the commitments God made to ethnic Israel in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12-17) are eternally binding. Also, many Old Testament prophecies, including the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-17) point to God's future restoration of ethnic Israel and Judah, reunited as one nation in their historic homeland, and ruled by their Davidic Messiah king. As time passed, the early church increasingly adopted 'replacement theology', understanding that God has rejected ethnic Israel for its unbelief, and that the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are now fulfilled through Christ and the Church instead. For example, Augustine quotes 2 Samuel 7:10 which says, "Then I shall establish a place for my people Israel, and I shall set them there and they will dwell by themselves, and shall be disturbed no more. And the son of wickedness will not continue to humiliate them as he has done from the start…" He then comments, "Anyone who hopes for so great a blessing in this world and on this earth has the wisdom of a fool…That place, then, which is promised as a dwelling of such peace and security is eternal, and is reserved for eternal beings in 'the mother, the Jerusalem which is free'' (City of God, Bk. XVII, Ch. 13, Penguin Classics 2003 edition, pp. 743-744). Augustine used the story of God tearing the kingdom away from Saul and giving it instead to David (1 Sam 15:27-28). He viewed this transference of the kingdom to the line of David as a shadow of the kingdom later being taken from unbelieving Israel and given to Christ, whose kingdom is a spiritual one (City of God, Bk. XVII, Ch. 7, p. 731).

2) A literal reading of Revelation 20:4-6 means that there are two resurrections, first a resurrection of Christian martyrs at the beginning of the Millennium, and then a general resurrection of everyone else at the end of the Millennium, followed by the 'great white throne judgment'. However, Augustine argued that the first resurrection is of the soul, and occurs whenever a person believes and is born again, being made alive in Christ when he was previously dead in sin. The second resurrection is of the body and occurs at the end of this present age when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead (City of God, Bk XX, Ch 6, pp. 903-906).

3) Augustine argued that the devil was bound at Christ's first coming, and that Christ is now plundering his house (Matthew 12:29). He wrote, "Now this binding of the Devil was not only effected at the time when the Church began to spread beyond the land of Judea into other nations, at various times; it is happening even now, and will continue to happen until the end of the age, when he is to be unloosed. For even now men are being converted to the faith from the unbelief in which the Devil held them in his power, and without doubt they will go on being converted to the end of the age; and this 'strong man' is obviously being bound in the case of every man who is snatched away from him, as part of his property" (City of God, Bk XX, Ch 8, pp. 912).

It is important to note, however, that early Amillennialists still held to futurist expectations with regards to the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation period in which he will reign.

Augustine understood that persecution was part of God's training program for the Church to prepare it for the final great persecution under Antichrist's rule. He wrote, "What of the recent happenings in Persia? Did not persecution boil up so hotly against the Christians (if indeed it has yet calmed down) that a number of refugees from Persia fled as far as to Roman towns? When I think over events like these it seems to me that no limit can be set to the number of persecutions which the Church is bound to suffer for her training. On the other hand, it is no less rash to assert that there are to be other persecutions by kings, apart from that final persecution about which no Christian has any doubt…That last persecution, to be sure, which will be inflicted by Antichrist, will be extinguished by Jesus himself, present in person. For the scripture says that 'he will kill him with the breath of his mouth and annihilate him by the splendour of his coming'" (City of God, Bk XVIII, Chs 52-53, pp. 837-838).

Augustine understood this final Antichrist to be an individual whose reign the Church must endure for the final three and a half years before Christ's second coming. Referring to the four kingdoms, depicted as four beasts in Daniel 7, Augustine wrote, "Some commentators have interpreted those four kingdoms as the Assyrians, the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans. Those who would like to know how appropriate this interpretation is should read the commentary on Daniel by the presbyter Jerome, a most learned and detailed study. Yet anyone who reads the passage in Daniel, even if half-asleep, cannot conceivably doubt that the reign of Antichrist is to be endured, if only for a brief space of time, with its bitter savagery against the Church, until by the final judgment of God the saints receive their everlasting kingdom. It is, we know, abundantly clear, from the number of days given in a later passage, that 'a time, times and half a time' stand for a year, two years, and half a year' - three and a half years, though in scripture this is often given in months". Augustine recognised that this same time period is described as 'a time, times and half a time' (Daniel 7:25, 12:7, Revelation 12:14), as '42 months' (Revelation 11:2, 13:5), and as '1260 days' (Revelation 11:3, 12:6), and that these are equivalent. He clearly took this time period literally.

Although Augustine understood that Antichrist's reign awaits the end of the age, he understood that Christ's reign is already a present reality. Christ has already been crowned and seated at the right hand of God (Psalm 110, Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 26:64). He wrote, "That Christ is at the right hand of the Father is matter of belief, not of sight; and it is not yet obvious that his enemies are put under his feet. But this is what is happening, and it will be obvious in the end" (City of God, Bk XVII, Ch 17, pp. 749). He also argued that Christians, both living and dead, presently rule with him, having already partaken in the first resurrection when they believed (City of God, Bk XX, Ch 9, pp. 917).
Protestant Amillennialism (Amillennial Historicism)
On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, exposing corruption within the Roman Catholic Church, particularly with regard to indulgences. The Protestant Reformation had begun.

In subsequent writings, Luther came up with a new eschatology, identifying Rome with Babylon the Great of Revelation 17, and the Papacy with the Antichrist. Although he remained an Amillennialist with regards to his expectations of the Millennium, his views represented a major shift within Amillennialism. Augustine held futurist expectations of the Antichrist, and understood that he would reign for the final three and a half years before Christ's return. Instead, Martin Luther taught the historicist view, associating the institution of the Papacy with the Antichrist, and understanding that his rule would extend over a much longer period of Church history, leading up to the return of Christ. Instead of understanding the Book of Revelation as a prophecy of future events at the end of the age, he understood it as a portrayal of Christians enduring the reign of the Papacy throughout much of the Church age.

Amillennial historicism became the accepted eschatological view of most Protestants for the next two or three centuries, and is still common today in some traditional Protestant denominations.

The Day-Year Priniciple
Historicists assume that in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation that identify Antichrist's reign as lasting 1,260 days, 42 months, or three and a half years, a day should be understood to represent a year in reality. If the Papacy is identified as the Antichrist, the day-year principle is necessary to explain why it has lasted such a long time. In 1704, Sir Isaac Newton, who was a keen theologian as well as being a famous scientist, predicted that the second coming would happen some time after either 2016 or 2060. 2016 is 1,260 years after the Donation of Pepin to the Papacy in 756 AD. 2060 is 1,260 years after Charlemagne became the first Holy Roman Emperor. Newton was unsure which historical date should be taken as the start of the Papacy and Rome as Babylon.

For further details, read Wikipedia's Day-Year Principle.

Contemporary books that defend Amillennialism from a Protestant perspective include:

- 'A Case for Amillennialism - Understanding the End Times', by Kim Riddlebarger, 2003
- 'Seventy Weeks - The Historical Alternative' by Robert Caringola, 1991
- 'End Time Delusions' by Steve Wohlberg, 2004
Revived Historic Premillennialism

During the Reformation, although Luther and Calvin maintained Amillennial views, historic premillennialism began to receive new acceptance among some of the smaller protestant movements. Certain Anabaptists, Huguenots, and Bohemian Brethren were premillennial. Michael Servetus taught a premillennial view, but was denounced by the Reformers as a heretic and executed in Geneva under Calvin's authority. A few in the mainstream accepted it, such as Joseph Mede (1586–1638) and possibly Hugh Latimer (died 1555), but it was never a conventional belief throughout the period.

In the 18th Century the German theologian, Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687 - 1752), was an influential historic premillennialist. In the 20th Century the American Baptist Minister and theologian, George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982) was a notable, modern proponent of historic premillennialism, and often criticised dispensationalist views. His best known work is 'A Theology of the New Testament', published in 1974. In 2009, Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung published a book entitled 'A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to "Left Behind" Eschatology'.
Counter-Reformation Eschatologies

In 1540, a Spanish priest named Ignatius of Loyola founded the 'Society of Jesus', also known as the Jesuits, with the approval of Pope Paul III. Its purpose was to form a counter-reformation Catholic missionary movement, seeking to spread Catholicism and to reconvert Protestants.

One of their challenges was to refute Protestant Historicism which identified the Pope as the Antichrist, and Rome as Babylon. Two Jesuit Priests rose to this challenge, adopting opposite strategies.

In 1585, Francisco Ribera (1537-1591), a Jesuit priest from Salamanca, published an Apocalyptic Commentary in which he re-affirmed a futurist interpretation of Revelation. Ribera assigned the first chapters of Revelation to the first century AD, and the rest to a literal three and a half year Great Tribulation at the end of the age. He taught that the Antichrist is a Jewish individual who will rebuild the Jewish temple, abolish Christianity, deny Christ, claim to be God, and conquer the world. With regard to Daniel's 70 weeks, he taught that the first 69 weeks were completed with the baptism of Jesus, and that God extended the 70th week into the future to take place at the end of the age. Ribera died the year after publishing his commentary, but his work was furthered by an Italian Cardinal, Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Bellarmine denied that the writings of Daniel, Paul or John had anything to do with Papal power. This futurist approach gained widespread acceptance among Catholics. But it was largely rejected by Protestants until John Nelson Derby began to popularise it in the 1830's. ('Seventy Weeks' by Robert Caringola, pp. 25-30).

Another Jesuit, Luis del Alcazar (1554-1613), proposed a preterist interpretation, such that the Great Tribulation occurred in the past, during the events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Preterists generally assume that Revelation was written by 68 AD, and it is interpreted as an allegorical portrayal of God's judgments upon the Jewish nation, and the struggles of the Church under Jewish and pagan persecution. As such, all but the final three chapters of Revelation are understood to have been fulfilled in the past. The Antichrist is commonly identified with the Emperor Nero. In the 17th and 18th centuries, preterism began to be accepted by many Protestants as a foundation for Postmillennialism.

Like Amillennialists, most Postmillenialists identify the Millennium with the present inter-advental age, and believe that Jesus will return at the end of it. Amillennialists expect that during this present 'millennial age', Christ's kingdom will grow in parallel with Satan's kingdom, and that the Church will continue to participate in Christ's sufferings until we are rescued by Jesus at his second coming. However, Postmillennialists believe that the Church will eventually succeed in its mission to make disciples of all nations, that the vast majority of humanity will be saved, and that governments and institutions will submit to Christ's rule. Christ's kingdom will emerge victorious, and Satan's kingdom will be defeated. There will then be an extended period of peace on earth, with Christ remaining in heaven but ruling the world through his Church. At the end of that, Satan will be released and Antichrist will arise to lead a short rebellion. Christ will then return visibly in glory, defeat the Antichrist, and usher in the eternal age of the new heaven and the new earth.

Key passages include Daniel 2, in which the stone, representing Christ, strikes the feet of the statue, understood to represent the Roman Empire, and grows to become a mountain that fills the earth. This is seen as a portrayal of the gradual growth of Christ's kingdom during the present age until it conquers the whole world. Other key passages include Psalm 110:1 and Acts 3:21, according to which Christ sits at God's right hand in heaven and must remain there until all his enemies are made his footstool. Postmillennialists therefore hold an optimistic expectation of the victorious spread and triumph of the Gospel before Christ's return.

A belief in the victorious progress of the Gospel was expressed as early as the third century AD by Origen of Alexandria (c. 184-253 AD). In 'Against Celsus' (6.68), he wrote, "It is evident that even the barbarians, when they yield obedience to the word of God, will become most obedient to the law, and most humane; and every form of worship will be destroyed except the religion of Christ, which will alone prevail. And indeed it will one day triumph, as its principles take possession of the minds of men more and more every day" (The Anti-Nicene Fathers, Volume IV by Roberts & Donaldson).

However, modern Postmillennialism began in about the 17th Century. At that time, it was articulated by a non-conformist theologian called John Owen, then by the Reformed preacher Jonathan Edwards in the 18th Century, and by the Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge in the 19th Century. It became popular in America in the early 19th century, during the time of the Second Great Awakening, and by the mid 19th Century had become the dominant end-time view among Protestant Americans. The First Great Awakening had already had a massive impact upon European and American churches in the 18th Century. The Second Great Awakening had a further massive impact on the unchurched, adding millions to existing denominations as well as leading to the formation of new denominations. Such was the perceived momentum of Christian revival that many came to view this awakening as heralding a new Millennial age. Churches gained a renewed interest in global missions, and many believed the Church would successfully reach and reform the entire world with the gospel.

In the 20th Century, the horrors of the two world wars brought an end to much of this optimism, and postmillennialism was mostly abandoned in favour of dispensational pre-millennialism. In recent years postmillennialism has had something of a comeback but it is still very much a minority view.

Regarding the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21), most postmillennialists take a preterist position. Regarding the Book of Revelation, most assume that it was written by about 68 AD, and interpret the wrath judgments from either a preterist or historicist perspective.
Dispensational Pre-millennialism (Dispensationalism)

In 1826, Rev S.R. Maitland, librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury, published a prophetic pamphlet in which he promoted Franciso Ribera's teaching on futurism, and challenged the day-year principle of interpreting the 1,260 days in Daniel and Revelation. During the 1830's, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed Ribera's ideas further, and came up with his eschatological framework known as Dispensationalism. Darby was an Anglo-Irish bible teacher, an influential figure in the original Plymouth Brethren, and a founder of the Exclusive Brethren. Dispensationalists divide human history according to the various biblical covenants, and believe that God has related differently to humans during these dispensations or periods of time. A core element of dispensationalism is its premillennialist understanding of eschatology. Particular to dispensational premillennialism is the belief that Christ's second coming occurs in two stages. Christ first returns invisibly to the world to rapture the Church before the great tribulation. At the end of the great tribulation he then returns with the Church, visibly and gloriously, to defeat evil and establish his Millennial reign.

Dispensationalists claim to interpret biblical prophecy in the most literal fashion.

After the First World War, many Americans became disillusioned with the unrealistic optimism of the postmillennial view. In 1909, an American bible student named Cyrus Scofield published the Scofield Reference Bible. This was the first modern study bible, with commentary printed alongside the biblical text, instead of in a separate volume. It also contained a cross-referencing scheme, allowing the reader to follow biblical themes from one chapter and book to another. It proved immensely popular. Scofield included John Darby's views in his commentary, and consequently popularised dispensational premillennialism. The revised edition of the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1917, also included a dating system for biblical events, including James Ussher's dating of the biblical creation in 4004 BC. So Scofield popularised both dispensational premillennialism as well as literalist creationism, at a time when American Protestants were abandoning Postmillennialism.

One of the key end-time expectations expressed by Dispensationalists was that God would restore ethnic jews to their historic homeland. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was seen as a major confirmation of the dispensationalist view. Dispensationalists expect Jesus to rapture the Church before the start of the seven-year period of great tribulation, with the rest of humanity being 'left behind'. Ethnic Israel will then play the central role in God's salvation plan for the world until the glorious visible return of Christ at the end of the great tribulation.

Dispensationalism gained increasing acceptance during the North American revival that began in about 1960 with the Charismatic movement and continued into the 1970's with the Jesus movement. It was especially popularised by Hal Lindsay's book 'The Late Great Planet Earth'. Published in 1970, this became America's top-selling non-fiction book of the 1970's. And being published just three years after the Six-Day war, it also fuelled support for the ethnic Jews as the chosen people of God. Dispensationalism was further popularised by Russel Doughton's 1972 end-time film 'Thief in the Night', estimated to have been watched by 300 million people world-wide, and by its sequels, 'A Distant Thunder' (1978), 'Image of the Beast' (1981), and 'The Prodigal Planet' (1983). More recently, dispensationalism has been popularised by Tim LaHaye's 'Left Behind' series of books, the first of which was published in 1995. These fictional apocalyptic novels portray life on Earth after a pre-tribulational rapture of Christians, and have sold over 63 million copies.
Apostolic Premillennialism

Apostolic Premillennialism is an expression coined by Mike Bickle, the leader of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), based in Kansas City. Bickle says that "Apostolic Premillennialism combines the biblical strengths of the other eschatological positions. It understands the End-Times from the perspective of the values, vision, and power of the New Testament Church in the midst of world crisis and persecution."

Bickle is a post-tribulational premillennialist, but rather than identifying himself as an historic premillennialist he chooses to define his own eschatology.

Key points of emphasis in Bickle's Apostolic Premillennialism include:
1) A victorious end-time Church with a dynamic prophetic and prayer ministry, that facilitates an unprecedented end-time revival and ingathering of souls. Key scriptures include:

Joel 2:28 “After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have prophetic dreams; your young men will see visions. 29 Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will produce portents both in the sky and on the earth—blood, fire, and columns of smoke. 31 The sunlight will be turned to darkness and the moon to the color of blood, before the day of the Lord comes—that great and terrible day! 32 It will so happen that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered. For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who survive, just as the Lord has promised; the remnant will be those whom the Lord will call" (NET).

Bickle sees this prophecy as having is greatest fulfilment during the final end-time generation before the second coming. He speaks of God raising up a generation of anointed forerunners who will prepare the way for the second coming of Jesus, similar to how John the Baptist prepared the way for his first coming. Another key scripture is:

Revelation 7:9 "After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands (NET).

Bickle understands these to be martyrs who have been saved through the great end-time revival and martyred during the persecution that occurs during the great tribulation.

2) A wholehearted end-time Church that is Christ's purified Bride. Bickle believes that during the great tribulation, persecution will have a purifying effect. Many in the Church will fall away from faith (Matthew 24:9-10 and 2 Thess 2:3), and the Church will be divided into 'Apostolic Christianity' and 'Apostate Christianity'. Bickle sees the purified Church as walking in 'Sermon on the Mount lifestyles of self-denial, serving, giving, blessing, praying and fasting as seen in the New Testament'.

3) A relevant Church which takes its stand against evil during the Antichrist's regime, and which participates with Christ through intercession in the release of his end-time judgements (e.g. Revelation 5:8 and 8:4). Bickle also foresees there being a continuity in the end-time Church's achievements from the end of this age and into the Millennial age. He emphasises that our current labours will impact our eternal rewards and ministry assignments in the Millennial kingdom (e.g. Luke 19:17)

Bickle sees Apostolic Premillennialism as confronting 5 major deceptions in the Church:

1) A lazy-friendly spiritual culture of compromise
2) Replacement theology that denies Israel's place in God's purpose
3) The idea of a pre-tribulational rapture that leaves the Church unprepared for the challenges it will face during the great tribulation
4) 'Prayerless-cessationism' that believes the gifts of the Spirit and the five-fold ministry have ceased and fails to contend for their release
5) A symbolic interpretation of most end-time prophecy that reduces, dismisses, or ignores the literal, future events that will unfold in the end-time drama.

Panmillennialism is not really a position, but more of a non-position. It is a label for people who are dismissive about eschatology, the kind of Christians who may be heard to joke that it is all 'a-pre-post-erous debate', or that 'it will all pan out in the end.' Panmillennialists often see eschatology as divisive, and question what value it holds for Christians today.

I would strongly discourage you from taking such a position. Being strongly opinionated about a debatable subject or doctrine is often perceived in the Church as arrogance, and ignorance is often mistaken for humility. But the bible gives us much detailed information about the future for a reason, and we are accountable for what we do with it. Jesus was very critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees for their failure to correctly interpret biblical prophecy, saying:

Matthew 16:2-3 "When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather, because the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, because the sky is red and darkening.’ You know how to judge correctly the appearance of the sky, but you cannot evaluate the signs of the times". (NET)

As influential leaders of the Jewish people, their failure had terrible consequences for their generation. Consider the agony of Jesus' lament:

Luke 19:41 "41 Now when Jesus approached and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side. They will demolish you—you and your children within your walls—and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (NET)

It is true that it will all 'pan' out in the end. The question you must ask yourself is 'How will it pan out for me, and for those around me?'.

'The Millennium' is probably the biggest of the end time variables. As you try to complete the 'end time puzzle', whether you choose a Pre-Millennial, Amillennial, or Post-Millennial position profoundly affects what the outer framework of your puzzle looks like, and how you will then fill in the inner pieces. However, the Millennium is not a variable that can be considered in isolation. It would be premature to choose a position at this point, without having also considered some of the other variables.