In our last study we introduced four major positions associated with end-time Bible prophecy: amillennialism, postmillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. Each of these four views contain with word millennialism in them, which identifies them as having a particular relationship to the prophecy of 1,000 years found in Revelation 20:1 – 4.
The first of these that we will consider is amillennialism. Now, the prefix “A” in amillennialism simply means the opposite of millennium, so in essence means no millennium – no future literal 1,000 year reign of Christ in earth. According to this position, the millennium – and the reign of Christ – is actually currently occurring, but it is a spiritual reign by Christ over the church in believers’ hearts, and in heaven over redeemed souls (Mark Hitchcock, “The End”, p. 402).
This is a clue as to one of the main features of amillennialism. Generally speaking, amillennialists take a non-literal, “spiritual” approach to much end-time Bible prophecy. They do not interpret Revelation 20:1-4 in a literal way, but rather in a symbolic or “spiritual” way. Writer Anthony Hoekema notes that amillennialists such as himself do not believe in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth following the Second Coming (Hoekema, “Amillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, p. 155-156). Rather, for amillennialists, the 1,000 years described in Revelation 20 is symbolic – not meant to be understood literally. According to Anthony Hoekema, the reign of Jesus Christ described in Revelation 20 is currently being realized as the rule of God through Christ Jesus over all of creation. It is also a reign in heaven by all Christian believers who have died during the era of the church. The timeframe of both of these reigns (God through Christ over creation, and deceased believers reigning in heaven) is merely symbolized by the 1,000 years of Revelation 20. Thus, the amillennialist rejects a future, literal, 1,000 year earthly reign of Jesus Christ. In essence, for amillennialists, the reign of Christ described in Revelation 20 as lasting for 1,000 years is a spiritual kingdom unfolding between the first and second advents of Jesus Christ (Hitchcock, p. 402) – now approximately 2,000 years in duration.
Since this position applies a non-literal method of interpretation to much Biblical prophecy, the outline of future prophetic “things to come” in amillennialism is much less elaborate than some other interpretive schemes, as we shall see in future weeks. This is because they do not take several of the details of end-time Biblical prophecy literally, but spiritually and symbolically. For amillennialists, there is no pre-tribulation Rapture distinguished from the Second Coming. Though they believe in a time of tribulation, they do not limit this to a 7-year period immediately preceding Christ’s return as other systems of interpretation do (Hoekema, “Amillennialism”), but do acknowledge that tribulation will intensify just before Jesus returns (Hoekema, “Amillennialism”). Interestingly, Hoekema does affirm that amillennialism recognizes the coming of an Antichrist. Amillennialism also affirms the future resurrection of deceased believers, and the glorification of living believers at the time of Christ’s return. But for amillennialists, the Second Coming will not be followed by a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth, but rather, the final judgement recorded in Revelation 20:11-15. After the final judgment, will come the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem described in the closing portions of the Book of Revelation.
St. Augustine was an early promoter of what is today known as amillennialism. Martin Luther and John Calvin also can be identified as amillennialists. Amillennialism is also the position of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church. It has been closely associated with the historical Reformed tradition.
One major implication of amillennial theology is that under this interpretive system, any notion of a messianic reign in this present earth over a restored nation of Israel is lost. Those who affirm a literal restoration of Israel, and a literal restoration of the Davidic monarchy under the messianic reign of Jesus Christ, identify the time period of this Jewish, Davidic messianic reign with the 1,000 years of Revelation 20. Thus, the amillennial rejection of a literal 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ following His Second Coming rules out any literal, bodily reign of Jesus over a restored nation of Israel in this present earth, since in amillennialism, there is no reign of Christ on this present earth after His Second Coming. In the amillennial system, the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ in Revelation 20 is not understood to be a literal reign of Jesus Christ over a restored nation Israel from a restored Davidic throne in this present earth, but rather a current spiritual reign of God in Christ over all of creation (Hoekema, “Àmillennialism”).
There are some problems with the amillennial view. First of all, amillennialism was not the predominant position held in the Patristic era of the church – the era of the Church Fathers that followed the Apostolic era. Amillennialism is usually traced back by its own adherents only to the third and fourth centuries after Christ (John Walvoord, “The Millennial Kingdom”, p. 6). While this is significant, we must also caution that the positions of the Church Fathers do not in and of themselves determine the rightness (or wrongness) of a theological position. Scripture must have the final word, regardless of what the Church Fathers believed. A second issue with amillennialism relates to its non-literal approach to interpreting Bible prophecy. Prophecies that have already been fulfilled literally – and there are many – suggest that we have good reason to take a consistent, literal approach when interpreting passages not yet fulfilled. This argues against the prevailing “non-literal” approach taken by amillennialists. Thirdly, Revelation 20:2 tells us that Satan is bound during the 1,000 year reign of Christ. Surely it is difficult to conclude that Satan is currently bound in the way Revelation 20 describes. Hoekema claims that the “binding” of Satan means that during the present church era Satan cannot deceive the nations (Hoekema, “Amillennialism”). But this appears to be a shallow argument, as surely it is reasonable to suggest that scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 John 5:19, and 2 Corinthians 11:14 include deception as part of Satan’s current strategy. And while 1 Peter 5:8 does not explicitly mention deception, one can hardly accept that Satan is currently bound as Revelation 20:2 describes if he is free to prowl “around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (NASB). Finally, the Old Testament predictions concerning the literal reign of the Jewish, Davidic Messiah and the restoration of national Israel – both in this present earth – argue against the amillennial position since a future period of time is needed prior to the new heaven and the new earth for these predictions to find fulfillment (more will be said on this coming Davidic, messianic reign in future weeks). As such, we conclude that the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ outlined in Revelation 20 cannot be taking place right now in any form, as amillennialists claim.
Next time we will take a look at a position closely associated with colonial America and the revivals of the Great Awakening: postmillennialism!