The Christian world-and-life view speaks about both the past and the future–addressing humankind’s origin and destiny.
In part four of this series I began a discussion of the major areas of difference among Christians when it comes to the controversial areas of eschatology (study of “last things”).
Three Major Eschatological Differences
1. Understanding of the Bible’s Apocalyptic Literature
2. Relationship between Israel and the Church
3. Nature of the Millennium
The word millennium comes from Revelation 20:4-6 and refers to the “thousand-year reign of Christ.” The various millennial perspectives have different understandings of the nature of this era. Some view this era as being a literal one thousand-year period. Others view it symbolically. Millennial perspectives also adhere to different chronological orders of such events as the great tribulation (intense period of earthly trial and suffering), the rapture (the snatching away of the church), and the second coming (the glorious second advent of Jesus Christ).
Here are four major views on the millennium held by Christians throughout the centuries. The viewpoints appeal largely to the same set of Scriptures, but interpret them differently.
This viewpoint asserts that the second coming of Christ will take place prior to the millennium, but after the great tribulation period (Matthew 24:3, 21, 29-30). The millennial reign consists of a literal one thousand-year period. According to this view, there is no secret rapture of the church. Rather the rapture takes place at the same time as the second coming. The raptured saints usher in the coming of their Messianic King.
According to this perspective, the second coming will take place prior to the millennium. Like historic premillennialism, this viewpoint sees the millennial era as literal one thousand-year period (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). However, this perspective asserts that Christ will come secretly to rapture the church prior to the great tribulation period. Afterward, Christ will return publicly at his second coming to inaugurate his earthly millennial kingdom.
Unlike the previously mentioned interpretations, this view asserts that Jesus Christ returns after the millennium (Isaiah 2:2, 4). According to this perspective, the millennium refers to a long period of peace and spiritual advancement made possible through the preaching of the gospel message. A distinctive feature of this perspective is that the Christian church is successful in winning the world for Jesus Christ and moving civilization and culture in a morally positive and peaceful direction.
This perspective proclaims that there is no literal earthly millennium (Revelation 20:4-6). Rather it is interpreted as being the period of time between Christ’s first and second advents (the church age). Jesus’ second coming takes place after the great tribulation. After Christ returns (an event that corresponds with the rapture), he engages in the works of resurrection and judgment of humankind, and then creates the new heaven and the new earth.
Differences concerning the millennium have been evident throughout Christian church history and remain an area of dispute and debate among Christians today. Therefore it is important that Christians be made aware of the different perspectives held concerning these critical future biblical events.
The nature of the millennium is the third of three broad areas of contention that reflect the essential conflicts that Christians have concerning last things. But, to underscore, it is very important to remember the broad areas of agreement that all Christians share (see parts two and three of this series).
Future articles address other issues relating to this controversial topic.
For an introduction to the topic of general eschatology, see Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things and Robert Clouse ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. For a summary of the millennial positions and their Scriptural support, see John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts.