End Times Education (Part 3): What is Amillennialism?
Amillennialists think we are experiencing the "thousand-year reign" already
Are you pre-trib, pre-wrath, or post-trib? Are you premill, amill, or postmill? Futurist or preterist?
These are all theological positions related to Bible prophecy. Are you confused by them? Do you understand what they all mean? If you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you’re more educated than most about the end times. After all, that’s why you have subscribed to Tipping Point!
But even so, the interpretation options available to us can sometimes seem overwhelming. No wonder I so often hear people say, “I’m a pan-millennialist—because I believe it will all pan out in the end.”
I chuckle when someone says that because I know they are joking. But deep down, I feel grief. Never in church history has there ever been such disagreement about eschatology—the part of theology focused on the end times—and I believe this is a work of Satan. If we’re confused about our “Blessed Hope,” it doesn’t feel nearly as blessed.
That’s why I’m writing this series of articles designed to make eschatology simple. Perhaps you noticed my article last week on Preterism. This week, I’d like to zero-in on Amillennialism. This is the belief that there is no coming thousand-year reign of Christ in the future…because we are in it already.
There are five distinctive characteristics of this branch of eschatology:
1. A “Realized Millennium”
The prefix A- is a negative one. Just as the word atheist means “no God,” and the word asymptomatic means “no symptoms,” the word Amillennial means,“no Millennium.” But that’s not quite literal with this belief. So before you react too quickly to this seemingly massive disregard for Revelation 20—which directly teaches there is a Millennium—we should define it a little more closely. I think it’s important not to misrepresent a view that, to be very frank, dominated church history for 1500 years.
Instead of “no Millennium,” Amillennials prefer the term “Realized Millennium” or “Inaugurated Millennium,” because they do in fact believe in a Millennium. They just believe that it’s happening right now. They don’t believe in a future Millennium.
Outside of the preterist/futurist debate mentioned in the previous article, the timing of the Millennium is the next most central question of eschatology: Does the Millennium happen after Christ returns, as a simplistic reading of Revelation 19-20 seems to imply, or does it happen before Christ returns?
Amillennialists answer decisively that the Millennium began with the ascension of Jesus, when Christ was seated at the right hand of God. They believe that He presently reigns over the world from heaven.
2. Figurative Interpretations
For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you might be wondering how Amillennialists can claim that the “thousand-year reign of Christ” from Revelation 20 has somehow been happening for two thousand years—ever since the ascension. That’s a very good question! This introduces the second characteristic of Amillennial eschatology: it’s highly figurative. This is true not only for their interpretations of Revelation, but also, of much of the Old Testament.
This has massive implications with regard to “Replacement Theology”—the idea that the church (the new covenant) replaces Israel (the old covenant)—which I’ll discuss in a future post in this series. It also seems to dismiss as figurative certain Old Testament passages that prophetically describe a future “Golden Age” (an earthly Millennium) that is far better than our current experience, but which still falls short of perfection.
Isaiah 65:17-25 is a good example of one of these passages. It talks about the “new heavens and new earth,” a coming period of time that is better than today, but still is imperfect. Why? Because this “new creation” is still impacted by death:
“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.”—Isaiah 65:20
3. The “first resurrection” is spiritual
Revelation 20:5 mentions the “first resurrection.” Some Amillennialists believe that this is a reference to deceased saints who spiritually reign with Christ from heaven like the beheaded martyrs in Revelation 20:4. Others believe the “first resurrection” refers to Christ’s action on behalf of living saints who reign with Christ spiritually. They typically point to the way Christ has “raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7), as an example of spiritual resurrection.
In both forms of Amillennialism, the thread that binds them is their belief that the Millennium is already happening by way of “spiritual resurrection.”
As a Premillennialist, I would respond that this seems to be playing fast-and-loose with the meaning of the word “resurrection” in Revelation 20:5. If the “second resurrection” is physical, as all agree that it is, it only makes sense that the “first resurrection” would be physical also—a reference to resurrected saints in the Millennium.
4. Satan is already “bound”
Another hallmark of Amillennialism is the belief that Satan is presently “bound” from deceiving the nations (Revelation 20:2-3) so that the Gospel can flourish during the “Age of Proclamation.” This is perhaps the hardest interpretation for Premillennialists to stomach, for it seems quite clear that Satan is nothing close to “bound,” not even figuratively.
Do you look at our world today and think to yourself, “Yes, Satan seems already to be imprisoned in the bottomless pit and unable to affect our lives”?
I certainly don’t! On the contrary: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
At the very end of this age, Amillennialists believe that Satan will be “released for a little while” (Revelation 20:3, 7), at which point he will launch a global persecution against the church—which lives through the Tribulation. Satan will then deceive the nations, empower the Antichrist, and inspire Armageddon. But all of this will be cut short by Christ’s return, which is the final hallmark of Amillennialism.
5. An all-inclusive Second Coming
Amillennialism has a very simplistic view of the Second Coming. They do not believe in a Rapture before the Tribulation. They do not separate the resurrection of the righteous and wicked by a thousand years. They don’t envision an interim “Golden Age” before all things are made new.
Since Amillennialists believe the Millennium is already taking place, Christ’s return IS the ultimate consummation for them. It marks the end of the Millennium. There will be a general resurrection of the righteous and the wicked. We will experience the Final Judgment and a destruction and renewal of the cosmos, with the establishment of the New Heavens and New Earth.
While the simplicity of the Amillennial perspective might be attractive, there is such a thing as being too simplistic. This kind of simplicity seems to require dismissing or downplaying otherwise clear passages, as noted above.
As a result, it is very different from the Dispensational Premillennialism that I believe in and teach about here. Yes, Premillennialism can indeed seem complicated—but sometimes the most beautiful things in our universe are beautiful because they are complex. Diamonds sparkle because they are multi-faceted, after all.
That kind of beauty is something I hope to help you appreciate as I write these articles and point you toward the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.