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Historic Premillennialism

by Alan Bandy

In the earliest period after the apostles, most of the discussions on the end-times focused on the nature of the future Kingdom of Christ when he comes to inaugurate 1,000 years of ruling with the resurrected saints on Earth based on Rev. 20:1-6.

The belief in a literal 1,000-year earthly reign of Christ to be realized at some point in the future is called chiliasm—from the Greek word for a thousand. The vast majority of interpreters during the second and third centuries were chiliasts. Their literalistic interpretation of Rev 20:1-6, however, was eclipsed by more allegorical and spiritual approaches emphasizing the timeless and successive fulfillment of these prophecies throughout church history.

In modern times, the premillennial position enjoys pride of place among most evangelical Christians, which affirms a futurist approach for interpreting the Book of Revelation that views chapters 4–22 as referring to future events. Not all premillennialists, however, agree as to how Revelation portrays the unfolding of these future events. Therefore they usually take one of two basic forms: (1) historic premillennialism deriving from the chiliasm of the early church; and (2) dispensational premillennialism that developed during the 19th Century in Great Britain and popularized in America with the Scofield Study Bible.

I want to highlight historic premillennialism and share some of the core beliefs maintained by its proponents. Historic premillennialism has been increasingly adopted or adapted by a number of conservative evangelical and Southern Baptist scholars over the last 40 years. For a more exhaustive study, I recommend the helpful book titled A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to ‘Left Behind’ Eschatology, edited by Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung.

At the heart of historic premilliennailism is an uncompromising belief in the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible. Due to this commitment, they believe in the future fulfillment of prophecy, especially a literal, visible, glorious and victorious return of Christ to Earth at the end of the age. When Jesus returns, He will bind Satan, the saints will be raised (first resurrection), and they will reign with Christ over the nations on Earth for a millennium of peace and prosperity. At the end of this millennium, Satan will be released to allow one last attempt to rally the nations in battle against Christ—a futile effort doomed to failure and the lake of fire. The great white throne will descend, followed by a general resurrection (second resurrection) of all people who ever lived and they will all stand judgment. After the final judgment, God will create a new Heaven and new Earth, where He will dwell with His people for eternity.

Historic premillenialists affirm only one return of Christ and typically believe that the church will persevere through the tribulation. This differs from dispensationalists, who maintain that the second coming of Christ will involve a secret return for the church prior to the tribulation followed by his visible return after seven years. One reason they do not necessarily affirm the need for the pretribulation rapture is due to the reality of the new covenant that makes all believers in Jesus the spiritual descendants of Abraham and, therefore, covenant members of the people of God—true Israel (Rom. 11:1-24; Eph. 2:11-22; Gal. 3:28-29).

However, this does not mean that they deny a future hope for ethnic Israel (Rom. 11:25-32), but God’s promises include, rather than exclude, the church with His plan for Israel. What is more, they believe that the Kingdom of God has already been inaugurated with the resurrection and ascension of Christ, but is not yet fully realized on Earth. We now live between “this age” and the “age to come” in that the Kingdom is already a reality, but not yet fully consummated on Earth.

Historic premillennialism is appealing because it enables interpreters to maintain the future orientation of John’s vision, while affirming a historically sensitive approach that utilizes the best interpretative methods used today by conservative evangelical scholars. They recognize that Revelation was originally written to churches in Asia Minor at the end of the First Century, and must have had meaning for the original audience. That meaning, then, is something that would be true and applicable for all Christians as they seek to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of a satanically influenced society. The primary strength of historic premillieniallism, in my opinion, is that it treats the Book of Revelation as Scripture to be obeyed with a message that has always been relevant for the church throughout church history—both past and present.

Recommended readings:
• Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God by George Eldon Ladd
• A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Sung Wook Chung and Craig L. Blomberg, editors.

Alan S. Bandy is Rowena R. Strickland assistant professor of New Testament & Greek at Oklahoma Baptist University

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Author: Alan S. Bandy

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