We have already entertained a brief introduction to the different interpretive options available while reading the Bible's major prophecy passages. And in due time, we will return extensively to discussing preterism. But it is time to stoke a separate fire on the debate concerning the millennium. There really are no "apple to apple" comparisons between a person's millennial view and their interpretive method for the book of Revelation. However don't despair. A short introduction to millennial vocabulary will help us understand future topics and be incorporated into some of the preterist discussion.
The first millennial view is the familiar premillennial. Without a doubt, this is the more common of the "literal" millennial positions. As the name indicates the Lord's second coming is before (pre) the millennium. The view is strongly (some advocates and critics would say exclusively) based on a literal reading of Revelation 20. The literally reading demands a chronological reading and it is from this that one develops the familiar chronological development of Revelation 20. These include two distinct resurrections for the wicked and righteous, a physical reign of the bodily Jesus Christ on earth and an earthly rebellion of sinful men and Satan against the resurrected saints and Christ.
The premillennial position has an extensive history and has been involved in many recent developments. Originally it was associated with Gnosticism and denounced as heretical (chiliasm) by the church. Originally it was a sensual and overtly earthly doctrine. Today's versions have nothing in common with this old heretical view.
More recently the introduction of Dispensational theology has sparked a resurgence of premillennial thought. Given the fundamental hermeneutics of this theology and the renewed focus on Revelation as a future and chronological book, premillennialism has been taught with a church rapture and a Jewish millennium with Christ reigning in a newly built Jerusalem.
This Dispensational form of premillennial differs from "historic" premillennialism which does not teach a church rapture and does not exclude Gentiles from the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth. Both views however are strong in their emphasis on the future conclusion of many Biblical prophecies. This view is almost solely accepted within Baptist and other non-denominational churches. The overall Evangelical opinion has been saturated with this viewpoint.
The amillennial position is a bit of an anomaly. It in fact was not an official label until the 19th century while likely being the majority view of the church throughout history. It had previously been subsumed under the postmillennial title because of its agreement that the millennium would precede Christ's return. The amillennial position denies any form of an earthly reign by a bodily/visible Jesus Christ and works to promote a solely spiritual emphasis of His reign. This reign is a very real reign and it is presently occurring either in heaven exclusively (variant #1) or also on earth by the church (variant #2).
The amillennial view became distinct from postmillennialism when stronger language was used to describe the success of the church within posmillennial scheme. Certain key passages in the prophets (e.g. Isa 61:17-25) are seen to describe the eternal state by the amillennial view while postmillennialism looks for an earthly fulfillment. This primarily is the difference between those two views.
The amillennial view has many options available to them with their approach to the Scripture. There are adherents who maintain that many of the Bible's prophecies remain to be fulfilled, adherents who permit an idealist approach and even a few preteristic adherents. This would help to explain why Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and even Baptist teachers have held to this view. With the exception of the Baptist denomination, it could even be argued that amillennialism is the unchallenged view of the church throughout history.
Postmillennialism is almost a hybrid view. It shares many attributes and concepts with pre- and a- millennialism. Along with the premillennialist, the postmillenist anticipates an earthly reign. But this reign will be of Christ through the Holy Spirit in the Church on earth before Christ's second coming which will occur at the end of history. So like the amillennialist, the postmillennial view permits a kingdom already established and in full force. However it has not reached its peak yet and is still waiting on a complete victory for the gospel.
The differences between amillennial and postmillennial views can be minute and great depending on their position in their respective spectrum. Almost inherent to the postmillennial view is the eventual conversion of Israel (Rom 11:26) to the gospel and their incorporation with the church. Amillennialist debate internally about this.
The postmillennial position has a history of both future and historicist approaches to Biblical prophecy. Most modern postmillennialist have turned to the preterist view in their explanation of Biblical prophecy. Throughout history the majority of postmillennial thought has been contained to the Reformed view although it experienced a brief period of success within Baptist circles.
It has only recently become my position that the postmillennial perspective is the correct one. I feel that only this view takes seriously the already but not yet of Pauline theology. The amillennial position is so similar, that only the interpretive challenges of the Old Testament prophets convinced me to switch labels.
In effect, it was my acceptance of certain premillennial traits that convinced me of the validity of postmillennialism. A more in depth look at the postmillennial view will be addressed in the future including brief biographies and theological snippets from postmil theologians.