In last week’s family article, I shared with you the four different approaches for interpreting the apocalyptic texts of Scripture: The Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, and Spiritualist (or Idealist) approaches. As I promised, I would now like to set before you the four major views of Christ’s second coming. These differing views are named for their particular perspectives of the millennium, or the thousand year reign of Christ on earth which is set forth by Scripture in Revelation 20:1-6.
Before I begin explaining the differing views, I would like to note what all the views have in common. First, all of the views believe that Christ will most certainly return to earth in His second coming. Second, all of the views believe in a rapture of the church. Third, all of the views believe that some form of tribulation will take place when the return of Christ is immediately imminent. Fourth, all of the views believe that Christ will reign on earth in some form during some period known as the millennium. Fifth, all the views believe Christ will judge all mankind of all times, and that the wicked will be cast into the eternal lake of fire with Satan and his demons while the righteous in Christ will be glorified and brought into the eternal presence of God in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21). The major differences between these views are (1) The timing and nature of the millennium, and (2) The timing of the rapture and nature of the tribulation. There are also some minor differences on matters like the status of national Israel in the end times, but delineating such nuances would take us far beyond the scope of this article.
The first view is known as Classic or Historical Premillennialism. In this view, the church age (which we are in now) will ultimately give way to a literal seven year period of global judgment and intense suffering known as the Tribulation. The church will be purified of unregenerate believers through the course of the tribulation and it will be the source of gospel proclamation during the tribulation. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return visibly in all His glory. He will take up the church to meet Him in the sky in the rapture, and then He will immediately come to earth with the saints where He will bind Satan and establish His thousand year reign over all the nations. At the end of a thousand years, Satan will be released, He will be defeated in a final battle, the final judgment will take place, and the new heaven and new earth will be established for all eternity. (Rev 20:7-21:1)
The second view is known as Dispensational Premillennialism. This view is built upon the Historical Premillennial system, so it shares the aforementioned perspective of the millennium and the final judgment. The critical difference is that dispensationalists believe that there will be a secret return of Christ at the beginning of the tribulation to rapture the church, sparing it from the experience of suffering. At the end of the seven years of the tribulation, Christ will return visibly with the saints to establish His millennial reign. After the millennium, their view follows what was detailed above.
The third view is known as Postmillennialism. Whereas “Pre”-millennialism contends that Christ will return prior to the millennium, “Post”-millennialism contends that Christ will return after the millennium. They believe that the work of Christ through His church during the church age will usher in a thousand year period of spiritual dedication, international peace, and godly prosperity wherein Christ will spiritually bind Satan and “reign” on earth through the hearts of His people. At the end of this millennial period, Satan will be released and there will be a time of tribulation (that may or may not be a literal seven years), after which Christ will visibly return. He will rapture His church, He will defeat Satan in a final battle, the final judgment will take place, and the new heaven and new earth will be established for all eternity.
The fourth and final view is known as Amillennialism, because they contend that the millennium is a figurative amount of time that coincides with the church age. In their view, the millennium began with Christ’s completed work of redemption and His subsequent ascension. In a spiritual sense, Satan is being bound and Christ’s reign over the nations is being established with every heart that is changed through the preaching of the gospel. At the end of this church age/millennial period, there will be a time of tribulation (that may or may not be a literal seven years) after which Christ will return visibly. He will rapture His church, He will defeat Satan in a final battle, the final judgment will take place, and the new heaven and new earth will be established for all eternity.
As you consider these differing opinions, remember that the nature of the Bible’s apocalyptic texts requires that we be very generous in how we discuss eschatology with one another. God has revealed His truth about the end times through very figurative and symbolic language, which is difficult to interpret clearly at many points. Thus, we should celebrate the commonalities (that I listed in my second paragraph above) even as we study and sharpen one another through our discussions of the differences.