By Loraine Boettner
This article by Mr. Boettner is a brief description of the different schools of thought on the doctrine of Eschatology, or The Second Coming of Christ. Brother Boettner’s total work on the subject is some 400 hundred pages in length and is a wonderful source for many topics surrounding “things to come.”
Mr. Boettner was a Postmillenarian but presents opposing views with great fairness and with a blessed Christian Spirit. His work on this subject is well worth the study thereof.
The Kayelton Group does not embrace Postmillennialism, but we do embrace Brother Boettner, a grand servant of Jesus Christ.
Broadly speaking, there are three general systems which profess to set forth the teaching of Scripture regarding the Second Coming of Christ and the future course of the Kingdom. They are: Postmillennialism, Amillennialism, and Premillennialism.
The essential presuppositions of the three systems are similar. Each holds that the Scriptures are the word of God and authoritative. Each holds to the same general concept of the death of Christ as a sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice and is the only ground for salvation of souls. Each holds that there will be a future, visible, personal Coming of Christ. Each holds that every individual is to receive a resurrection body, that all are to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that the righteous are to be rewarded in heaven, and that the wicked are to be punished in hell. Each of the systems is, therefore, consistently evangelical and each have been held by many able and sincere men. The differences arise, not because of any conscious or intended disloyalty to Scripture, but primarily because of the distinctive method employed by each system in its interpretation of Scripture, and they relate primarily to the time and purpose of Christ’s coming and to the kind of kingdom that is to be set up at His coming.
It should be helpful at the beginning of this study to define each of the systems as clearly as possible. Exact definitions cannot be given since numerous variations are found within each system. However, we submit the following as essentially correct. The first is our own. The latter three, including that of Dispensationalism, which is a radical from of Premillennialism, are given by Dr. J. G. Vos…These definitions are presented as the most accurate and comprehensive that we have found.
Postmillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually will be Christianized, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the Millennium.
This view is, of course, to be distinguished from that optimistic but false view of human betterment and progress held by Modernist and Liberals which teaches that the Kingdom of God on earth will be achieved through a natural process by which mankind will be improved and social institutions will be reformed and brought to a higher level of culture and efficiency. This latter view presents a spurious or pseudo Postmillennialism, in a evolutionary process, whereas orthodox Postmillennialism regards the Kingdom of God as the product of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in connection with the preaching of the Gospel.
“Amillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the Bible does not predict a ‘Millennium’ or period of world-wide peace and righteousness on this earth before the end of the world. (Amillennialism teaches that there will be a parallel and contemporaneous development of good and evil—God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom—in this world, which will continue until the second coming of Christ. At the second coming of Christ the resurrection and judgment will take place, followed by the eternal order of things—the absolute, perfect Kingdom of God, in which there will be no sin, suffering nor death).”
“Premillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the second coming of Christ will be followed by a period of world-wide peace and righteousness, before the end of the world, called ‘the Millennium’ or ‘the Kingdom of God,’ during which Christ will reign as King in person on this earth. (Premillennialist are divided into various groups by their different views of the order of events associated with the second coming of Christ, but they all agree in holding that there will be a millennium on earth after the second coming of Christ but before the end of the world).”
“The false system of Bible interpretation represented by the writings of J.N. Darby and the Scofield Reference Bible, which divides the history of mankind into seven distinct periods or ‘dispensations,’ and affirms that in each period God deals with the human race on the basis of some one specific principle. (Dispensationalism denies the spiritual identity of Israel and the Church, and tends to set ‘grace’ and ‘law’ against each other as mutually exclusive principles).”
The word millennium is derived from two Latin words, mille, meaning thousand, and annum, meaning year. Hence the literal meaning is a thousand years. The term is found just six times in Scripture, all in the first seven verses of the twentieth chapter of Revelation, and admittedly difficult and highly symbolical portion of Scripture. The prefixes Post, – A-, and Pre-, as used with the word designate the particular view held regarding the thousand years. Premillennialists take the word literally, holding that Christ will set up a Kingdom on earth which will continue for precisely that length of time. Postmillennialists and Amillennialists take the word figuratively, as meaning an indefinitely long period, held by some to be a part, and others to be the whole, of the Christian era.
The best definition of the Rapture that we have found is that given by Dr. Robert Strong, who says:
“By the Rapture is meant the sudden and possibly secret coming of Christ in the air to catch away from the earth the resurrected bodies of those who have died in the faith and with them the living saints.” (The Presbyterian Guardian. Feb. 25, 1942).
Historic Premillennialism holds that there is to be but one return of Christ, that is, but one “second coming,” and that this occurs immediately before the establishment of the millennial Kingdom. It differs from Dispensationalism in that it holds that the Church is to go through the Tribulation, which it believes is foretold in Matthew 24. It holds that the return of Christ will he heralded by certain signs, such as wars and unrest among nations, an apostasy from the faith (some think that the present wave of Modernism in the Church fulfills that condition), the return of the Jews to Palestine, and the appearance of the Anti-christ. It holds further that the Tribulation is to be of indeterminate, although of comparatively short, duration. At the end of that period the saints, both the living and the dead, are to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and almost immediately thereafter Christ and His people return to the earth for the millennial reign. This was the standard premillennial doctrine until the rise of the Plymouth Brethren movement, in England, under the leadership of John N. Darby.
Post- and Amillennialist too believe that the Rapture comes at the end the present world order, although Postmillennialist believe that it is preceded by the Millennium, while Amillennialists believe there is to be no Millennium in the usual sense of the term, some holding that it relates to the entire Church age, while others hold that it relates to the intermediate state.
Dispensationalists, on the other hand, hold that the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation, that Christ’s coming is without further signs and literally may occur “at any moment,” and that following the Rapture Christ and His people are to be in the air for a period of seven years (the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy) while the Tribulation is in progress on the earth. Dispensationalism further holds that while the saints are with Christ in the air during this period there occurs the judgment of the saints, which consists primarily in the assignment of rewards, and the marriage feast of the Lamb. At the end of this seven year period Christ and the saints return to the earth, and the millennial kingdom is instituted. Thus the first resurrection, the Rapture, and the first judgment take place more than a thousand years before the end of the world.
Statement of the Doctrine
We have defined Postmillennialism as that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world eventually is to be Christianized, and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the “Millennium.” It should be added that on postmillennial principles the second coming of Christ will be followed immediately by the general resection, the general judgment, and the introduction of heaven and hell in their fullness.
The Millennium to which the Postmillennialist looks forward is thus a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, during the Church age, and is to be brought about through forces now active in the world. It is an indefinitely long period of time, perhaps much longer than a literal one thousand years. The changed character of individuals will be reflected in an uplifted social, economic, political and cultural life of mankind. The world at large will then enjoy a state of righteousness such as at the present time has been seen only in relatively small and isolated groups, as for example in some family circles, some local church groups and kindred organizations.
This does not mean that there ever will be a time on this earth when every person will be a Christian, or that all sin will be abolished. But it does mean that evil in all its many forms eventually will be reduced to negligible proportions, that Christian principles will be the rule, not the exception, and that Christ will return to a truly Christianized world.
Furthermore, the fact that some that designates themselves Amillennialist hold that the present Church age constitutes the Millennium and that Christ will come at the close of the Church age might seem to make them Postmillennialists. But since the primary tenet of Postmillennialism as generally understood is that the coming of Christ is to follow a golden age of righteousness and peace, those who look upon the entire Church age as the Millennium are not commonly referred to as Postmillennialists
“Some premillennialists have spoken of Amillennialism as a new view and as one of the most recent novelties, but this is certainly not in accord with the testimony of history. The name is new indeed, but the view to which it is applied is as old as Christianity. It had at least as many advocates as Chiliasm among the Church Fathers of the second and third centuries, supposed to have been the heyday of Chiliasm. It has ever since been the view most widely accepted, is the only view that is either expressed or implied in the great historical Confessions of the Church, and has always been the prevalent view in Reformed circles” (Dr. Berkhof; Systematic Theology).
“Reformed eschatology has been predominantly amillennial. Most if not all the leaders of the Protestant Reformation was amillennial in their eschatology, following the teachings of Augustine” (Dr. John F. Walvoord; Bibliotheca Sacra Jan-March 1951).
Premillennialism holds that the world is not to be converted during this dispensation that it is, in fact, vain to hope for its conversion before the return of Christ. It holds rather that the world is growing progressively worse, that the present age is to end in a great apostasy and rebellion climaxed by the reign of the Antichrist and the battle of Armageddon, at which time Christ comes with sudden and overwhelming power to rescue His people, destroy His enemies, and establish a one thousand year earthly kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. Many seem convinced that we now are in the last stage of the Laodicean apostasy, and that the end is very near. Premillennialism thus despairs of the power of the power of the Gospel to Christianize the world, and asserts rather that it is to be preached only as a witness.
It has also been a standard doctrine of Premillennialism in every age that the coming of Christ is “near” or “imminent,” although every generation of Premillennialists from the first century until the present time has been mistaken on that point.
As we attempt to understand the premillennial system, particularly as it is set forth in Dispensationalism, it is not without some misgivings that we grope our way through a bewildering maze of dispensations, covenants, second comings, resurrections, judgments, etc. Present day Dispensationalism, which is the popular form in the United States, sets forth seven dispensations; eight covenants (the Edenic covenant before the fall, and after the fall one each with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David), the Palestinian covenant (Deut, 30), and the New Covenant instituted by Christ (Scofield Bible, p. 6); two second comings (a coming of Christ for His people at the Rapture, and a coming with His people seven years later at the Revelation); at least three and perhaps four resurrections (the resurrection of the righteous dead at the Rapture, a resurrection of the martyrs who died during the Great Tribulation which occurs at the Revelation, a resurrection of the wicked dead at the end of the Millennium, and a resurrection of the righteous who die during the Millennium if such there be); and from four to seven judgments (the judgment of the righteous immediately following the Rapture, the “sheep and goats” judgment of the nations at the Revelation, the judgment of the wicked at the end of the millennium, and a judgment of angels,–presumably also a judgment of the righteous who lived during the Millennium. Scofield adds a judgment of the believer’s sins at the cross in the person of Christ, a judgment of self in the believers (conscience), and a judgment of Israel).
During the Millennium the saints in glorified bodies mingle freely with men who still are in the flesh. This latter element in particular seems to us to present an inconsistency,–a mongrel kingdom, the new earth and glorified sinless humanity mingling with resurrection bodies living in a world that still contains much of sin and amid scenes of death and decay.
Amillennialists, of course, reject both the post-and the premillennial conception, and are usually content to say that there will be no Millennium at all in either sense of the word.
Amillennialism, too, differs from Postmillennialism in that it holds that the world is not to be Christianized before the end comes, that the world will in fact continue much as it now is, with a parallel and continuous development of both good and evil, of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. It agrees with Postmillennialism, however, in asserting that Christ does not establish an earthly, political kingdom, and that His return will be followed by a general resurrection and general judgment. Post- and Amillennialists thus agree that the Kingdom of Christ in this world is not political and economic, but spiritual and now present in the hearts of His people and outwardly manifested in the Church.