This morning I wrapped up a short doctrine series I had been helping to teach in Finaghy Baptist Church. Appropriately enough, the final part of the series had to do with the return of Jesus.
When I was growing up, it was not unusual to have preachers (complete with illustrated chart) talk about their view of how the Bible mapped out the end of time. In the 70s, when there were just 6 states in the ‘Common Market’, there was great anticipation about the eschatological (doctrine of the end times) significance of adding a further 4 to bring the number up to 10: would we have a reconstituted Roman Empire, and would that be a fulfilment of part of Revelation?
Down the years, there has been speculation about various signs and some people have even suggested a date for the return of Christ. On the other hand, some people are more inclined to shrug their shoulders and take refuge in the knowledge that they are serving on the welcome committee and not the planning committee – so don’t ask them for details.
I don’t think there are quite the same hard lines drawn these days on the details of the Lord’s return. More charity exists between the various views.
One of the big questions is the interpretation of the 1000 years of Revelation 20 – the Millennium. What does this period signify and what is it’s relationship to the coming of Jesus?
- Pre-millennialists believe that Jesus will return before (pre-) the (perhaps) literal period of 1000 years.
- Post-millennialists put his return at the end of the 1000 years.
- While a-millennialists prefer to see the 1000 years not as a specific, clearly defined part of the future, but as a way of looking at the whole time period between Jesus’ first and second comings.
I read recently of a New Testament professor (no theological slouch) who was preaching a series of sermons on the book of Revelation: at the start of the series he was a-millennial, but by the time he had finished preaching through chapter 20, he was pre-! Perhaps that should serve as a cautionary tale lest any of us get too dogmatic on the issue!
It seems to me that there are possible flaws in each view and that each view has something to commend it. I’d set post-millennialism in a category of its own for a moment, as it seems to me that the strengths and flaws of pre-millennialism and a-millennialism are mirrors of each other.
- A-millennialism seems (to me!) to make most straightforward sense of the overall New Testament picture of Christ’s return and the end times. However, its biggest potential flaw seems to be in the way it interprets details of Revelation 20. Pre-millennialism may do a better job with Revelation 20, but it’s not as neat a system overall as a-millennialism (that does not mean it is wrong!).
- Post-millennialism (in my view) does not seem to give sufficient weight to the warnings of sin and difficulty that accompany ‘the last days’; on the other hand, its strength is its strong confidence in the gospel to change the world and that the nations will indeed be won.
So what kind of millennialist are you?
Perhaps you like the idea of pan-millennialism: everything will pan out in the end!