By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Biblical Teachings

  • Revelation 20:4 states, “They will come to life and reign with Christ a thousand years.” (Most scholars think “they” refers to the saints who have already been killed, the righteous dead.)
  • Thoughts about the millennium have varied over the years.
  • The term “millennium” is derived from a Latin word, mille, meaning “thousand” and annus meaning “year.” Together, “millennium” means “a thousand years”.
  • Scholarly discussion on the millennium falls into three basic schools of thought: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism.
  • Premillennialism falls into two categories: Historical Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.
    • Historical premillennialism was popular for about three centuries after Christ.
    • Its adherents included Barnabas, Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and others.
    • They believed that the Antichrist would appear, followed by seven years of tribulation. The Rapture would follow. After all this, Christ would come to earth to rule for 1000 years.
    • This 1000-year rule would be a time of order and peace. All evil would be eliminated.
    • After 1000 years, all people would be judged. Those whose names were written in the book of life would spend eternity in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
    • Those whose names weren’t written in the book would suffer eternal damnation.
    • This means that Christ would physically rule on earth with the “saints” for 1000 years.
    • This is not part of church doctrine and was determined to be heresy by the fourth century.
    • It had been opposed by Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine.
    • Dispensational premillennialism was revived in the mid-1800s.
    • Its popularity continues and has been embraced by the Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of God, Seventh-day Adventists and many Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians.
    • It has also been the subject of many books, including the Left Behind series.
    • The primary teaching is that there will be marked turbulence throughout the world; the Antichrist will appear only to be destroyed by the coming of Christ.
    • Christ and his believers will reign for 1000 years, which will be followed by another brief stint with Satan, at which point he will be defeated.
    • Satan and his followers will suffer eternal punishment.
    • The saints will have eternal life.
    • The primary argument against this position is that it requires a very materialistic view of Christ’s reign.
    • Nonetheless, its followers are on the lookout for signs of the tribulation, which would be an indication that Christ would be arriving soon.
    • In other words, things have to get much worse before they get better.
  • Amillennialism has also been present from early on.
    • Its proponents include Origen, Eusebius, Jerome and Augustine – basically all those who opposed premillennialism.
    • These scholars were more interested in an allegorical, rather than a literal, reading of Biblical texts.
    • These scholars did not take the words of the apocalypse literally.
    • They believed that Christ is already in the world, in a world that is comprised of both evil and good.
    • Christ now sits on the throne of David; the kingdom of heaven is embodied in the Church.
    • At some future point, Christ will return to the heavens and the saints will follow (the Rapture).
    • Those who are not redeemed will experience eternal punishment.
    • Since proponents do not believe in a literal rendering of 1000 years, they feel that we are already living in the “millennium” and in the period of tribulation simultaneously.
    • The events described in Revelation are not meant to be taken literally and are only symbolic. So the Antichrist, among other things, is not a real person.
    • Amillennialism involves a more spiritualized view of the world.
    • Most Roman Catholics and Protestant reformers accept these teachings, though they do not use “Rapture” terminology.
    • They do not believe that Scripture teaches a physical reigning of Christ, nor will it be in an actual political kingdom.
    • This view became more popular once Christianity was the legal religion.
  • Postmillennialism is the most modern understanding of millennium. This became popular during the 19th century.
    • This is the most optimistic view of the end of time.
    • The idea here is that the kingdom of God is already present -- through the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.
    • As the world continues to be Christianized, the forces of Satan will gradually erode, leading to his ultimate defeat.
    • In short, good will triumph over evil.
    • The bottom line is that the preaching of the gospel will be successful. Things will get better and better as time goes by.
    • More and more people will convert to Christianity.
    • Ultimately, the world will evolve into a place where righteousness and peace are the norm. This will exist for an indefinite period of time. Then Jesus will return, raise the dead, and carry out the final judgment.
    • This will be the end of history.
    • The period of righteousness and peace has sometimes been referred to as “The Golden Age,” that time when Christians will prosper and dominate.
    • There is no terminology about the Rapture or a specific time of tribulation.
    • Most of these adherents think the 1000 years is merely a figurative term.
    • The moment at the end of time is much less dramatic than the events proposed by the premillennialists.
    • The postmillennialists also believe that many of the prophecies in Revelation were fulfilled in the time John was writing.
    • Several reformed churches have embraced the postmillennial position.


Aune, David, E. "Revelation." Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997.

Barclay, William. "Revelation." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975.

Boring, M. Eugene. "Revelation." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press. 1989.

Gaebelein, Frank. "Revelation." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.

Keck, Leander. "Revelation." New Interpreter's Bible. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1995.

Osborne, Grant. "Revelation." Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002

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