One of the challenges that many people face when dealing with end-time Bible prophecy is the multitude of views and positions on various prophetic themes. For example, some believe that the Rapture of the church will precede the rise of Antichrist and the tribulation period. Others feel that the church will go through the entire tribulation. How do we come to grips with the many different views? Who is right? What I would like to do over the next several weeks is take a look at the four major positions on Biblical prophecy and highlight their differences. Looking at these four positions will not cover every difference there is with respect to prophetic interpretation, but they are the main viewpoints, and most – if not all – positions on Bible prophecy will fall under one of these four interpretive schemes. I believe that it is important to look at these four positions, since the reality of varying viewpoints – and the challenge that presents to those who are searching for the truth – is an inescapable reality when dealing with this subject matter. It needs to be dealt with honestly, and practically.
There is a key passage of Scripture that is central to the debate between these four positions. It is found in the Book of Revelation:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-4, NASB).
This passage speaks of a one-thousand year period that involves the reign of Jesus Christ. The notion of a one-thousand year reign of Christ is central to the four main positions on end-time Bible prophecy, so much so that the word millennialism (millennial for 1,000) is found in each of the four major positions. The four main positions that we will look at are: amillennialism, postmillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. How one understands the 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20, and its relationship to Jesus Christ, Israel, and the church, determines which prophetic scheme they are reflecting or representing.
Admittedly, these are heavy-sounding theological words. Fear not! We will look at each one individually, and will see that they are not nearly as complicated as they sound!
It should be stated here that each of these positions support the biblical teaching of a literal, bodily, return of Jesus Christ – so on that point, the four positions are in agreement. Next time, we will take a close look at amillennialism.