An Overview of Premillennial Theories

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

            When dealing with the second coming of Jesus Christ, you will find a wide variety of theories floating about the world. The vast majority of them are simply strange fantasies that have little to do with the teaching of the Bible. Yet, because the myths are repeated many times over, people accept portions of premillennial doctrine without ever questioning whether they are true.

            Discussing premillennialism is difficult because it is not a unified doctrine. There are a large number of premillennial beliefs that vary widely between the believers. However, the general belief is that we live in an age prior to the thousand-year reign of Christ; hence, the meaning of “premillennial” is “before the thousand years.” The belief is composed of numerous facets, such as the rapture, the tribulation, Armageddon, the thousand-year reign of Christ, and the restoration of the Promise Land to Israel. All premillennialists do not believe in all these facets, nor do they believe the same things in regards to the details of each doctrinal facet.

            Perhaps a few quotes will help us nail down the concept of premillennialism enough to be able to discuss it intelligently:

Baker’s Dictionary of Theology: “It is held that the Old Testament prophets predicted the re-establishment of David’s kingdom and that Christ himself intended to bring this about. It is alleged, however, that because the Jews refused his person and work he postponed the establishment of his kingdom until the time of his return. Meanwhile, it is argued, the Lord gathers together ‘the church’ as a kind of interim measure.”

Handbook of Theological Terms: “Generally, premillennialists believe that shortly before the second coming the world will be marked by extraordinary tribulation and evil and the appearance of the Antichrist. At his coming, Christ will destroy this Antichrist and believers will be raised from the dead. There will then follow a millennium of peace and order over which Christ will reign with his saints. At the close of time, Satan will be loosed and the forces of evil will once again be rampant. The wicked will then be raised, and a final judgment will take place in which Satan and all evil ones will be consigned to eternal punishment.”

Christian Doctrine - A Presentation of Biblical Theology: “For centuries the Jews have been scattered among the many nations. In preparation for the return of Christ and the beginning of the millennium, they are being gathered back to their own land, according to prophecy, in a national restoration. David’s throne will be re-established at Jerusalem, and through these restored people as a nucleus Christ will reign with his immortal saints over the whole world.”

None of these definitions are complete and you will find many premillennialists who will argue over the details presented. However, it does give us a rough idea what premillennialism is about.

            The flaws within premillennialism are numerous, but allow me time to address a few points.

            Most premillennial theories foresee Jesus as a king upon an earthly throne. Premillennialists believe that Jesus came to rule, but he was reject by the Jews as their Messiah. The problem is that the people were eager to accept Jesus as their Messiah. During the last week before Jesus’ death we read:

Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?" So the multitudes said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee." Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'" Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant and said to Him, "Do You hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes. Have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise'?"” (Matthew 21:9-16).

The rulers had problems with Jesus, but he was popular among the common people. Mark tells us that they thought Jesus was about to rule as king. “Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"” (Mark 11:9-10).

            What premillennialists ignore is Jesus’ rejection of an earthly kingdom. At the feeding of the five-thousand, Jesus spoke of the kingdom. “But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11). After being feed, the crowd was eager to make Jesus their king. “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:15). Jesus wasn’t interested in an earthly throne because his kingdom was not a physical kingdom. “Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."” (John 18:36).

            Prophecies in the Old Testament make it clear that Jesus could not reign as a king on an earthly throne. “Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol - a vessel in which is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendants, and cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the LORD: 'Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; for none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah.'” (Jeremiah 22:28-30). Coniah was the last descendant of David to rule Judah from the throne of David. God promised that there would be no more rulers from his line. Yet, Jesus inherited the right to David’s throne through Joseph who was a descendant of Coniah (also known as Jeconiah) (Matthew 1:12-16). For Jesus to sit on the physical throne of David in Jerusalem would have invalidated Jeremiah’s prophecy.

            Then, too, Jeremiah said that the nation of Israel was never to be made whole after its destruction. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot be made whole again; and they shall bury them in Tophet till there is no place to bury”“ (Jeremiah 19:11). The kingdom of Israel would not arise from the ashes of its destruction. Instead, the kingdom ruled by the Messiah would be a different kingdom. Jesus said the kingdom would be taken away from the Jews. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43).

            The New Testament does not speak of the kingdom of Christ as distant event in time. “And He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power"” (Mark 9:1). In other words, Jesus said the kingdom would be established within that present generation. For us living two thousand years later, this means the kingdom has already come!

            Where is it? A hint is seen in Matthew 16:18-19: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Notice that Jesus interchanges the phrase “my church” and “kingdom of heaven;” to Jesus they are one and the same. This is further supported by Paul. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). Paul talks of the kingdom as being in existence. When people are saved, they are brought into the kingdom. John, too, understood the kingdom was already in place and that he was a citizen of it. “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).

            Some object to the idea that the church is Christ’s kingdom. After all, it has been nearly two thousand years since the church began; yet, Revelation 20:2-9 speaks of a thousand year reign. The problem is that book of Revelation is filled with symbolism. Premillennialists assign interpretations to most of the symbols in Revelation 20, but when they get to the thousand-year reign, they suddenly decide that this is a literal number. In prophesy, the number “one thousand” isn’t used literally. It can represent a large value which cannot be counted. For example, God stated, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). God is not saying that there are literally one thousand hills on which He owns the cattle. Instead, He is claiming the cattle on every hill. In the same way, Revelation 20 is not saying that Jesus would only reign a thousand years. John is stating that Jesus would reign for all the remaining years of the world.

            This is supported by the prophecy found in Daniel 7:13-14: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” Notice the order in Daniel’s vision. Jesus, the Son of Man, approaches God, the Father, and is given an everlasting kingdom composed of people from all nations of the earth. Premillennialists have Jesus leaving the Father to take up His kingdom. Where is Jesus today? “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). He is currently beside the Father where he remains until the end. “For "He has put all things under His feet." But when He says "all things are put under Him," it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted.” (I Corinthians 15:27). Notice the use of past tense. God has put all things (except Himself) under the control of Jesus. Such is supported by Jesus’ statement, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Paul also told us the duration of Jesus’ reign. “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (I Corinthians 15:25-26). Notice the use of present tense. Jesus will continue to reign until all enemies are conquered. When death is conquered, then Jesus’ rule will come to an end. “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (I Corinthians 15:24). Hence, Jesus second coming does not mark the beginning of his reign, but the end of his reign.

            To make their theory fit with I Corinthians 15, premillennialists have Jesus returning twice: once at the beginning of his reign and again at the end of his reign. They then claim that at his third coming is when the world ends. They then have two resurrections: a resurrection of the righteous at his second coming and a resurrection of the wicked at his third coming. The problem is that the Scriptures only speak of one resurrection. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). Notice that Jesus said the hour is coming when all will be resurrected. The wording does not allow for two resurrections separated by a thousand years. At times you might find someone using a verse discussing the resurrection of the righteous, such as I Thessalonians 4:13-18, as proof of two resurrections. However, this does not offer any proof. Just because a verse discusses the resurrection of the righteous, it does not eliminate the simultaneous resurrection of the wicked.

            In premillennial terms, the separate resurrection of the righteous is called the rapture. It is an unfortunate choice of designation because it does not appear in the Bible. Proof of a rapture is sought in Revelation 20:4-6: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” The assumption is that the mentioned first resurrection is referring to the resurrection of the righteous at Jesus’ second coming. Another article, “The Thousand Year Reign,” discusses this in detail. For the moment, though, suffice it to say that the first resurrection refers to salvation. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, ... But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-7). The second death refers to Hell. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15). Hence, Hell has no power over those who have been saved. Revelation 20:5 is not talking about the rapture, but of salvation.

            Premillennialists also claim that the end of the world is preceded by a great battle, the battle of Armageddon. It is based on Revelation 16:16, “And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.” Once again, a literal meaning is assigned to a passage in the midst of a figurative book. Armageddon doesn’t exist. The word in Hebrew literally means the Mountain of Meddego. There was a city of Meddego, but it was located in a plain. The fact that the location is imaginary is an indication that the passage is to be read as symbolic and not literal. But ignoring this difficulty, the passage does not say that the battle occurs in Armageddon. It states that Armageddon is the staging area (the gathering point of the army). A battle does take place later in Revelation, but it occurs in a different location.

            Perhaps the greatest flaw in premillennialism is the fundamental belief that Jesus did not accomplish his mission when he first came to this world. The claim that Jesus was not able to set up his kingdom because the Jews rejected him is a claim that man can thwart the will of God. However, the Bible tells us that Jesus accomplished his mission. “Then He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. ... Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). The events that happened to Jesus, his rejection by the Jews and his death on the cross, were prophesied in the Old Testament. God’s plans had not changed; they were fulfilled! Jesus did not fail to set up his kingdom. His death paved the way so that fifty days later, on the day of Pentecost, the church – the kingdom of God – was founded.

            Instead of looking forward to a kingdom, realize that kingdom has come into the world. The Lord Jesus Christ reigns over it as its king and Christians are its citizens. Why not become a fellow citizen this day?