Jesus is coming back!
All biblically conservative Christians believe that to be true. The Second Coming of Christ is one of the cardinal doctrines of the faith. Questions arise, however, as to the timing of Christ’s coming and the nature of His Kingdom.
Before we try to answer those questions, a distinction needs to be made. Although some might disagree, the Rapture of the church and the Second Coming of Christ are two separate events. The Rapture is when the bride of Christ is caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The Second Coming is when Jesus Christ sets His feet on planet Earth once again. The timing of the Rapture in relationship to the Second Coming is its own discussion. For the record, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry takes the position that the Rapture will occur prior to the Tribulation Period and thus at least seven years prior to the Second Coming.
As to the questions surrounding the Second Coming of Christ, theologians have coined terms that aren’t found in the Bible, but they do serve as tags by which we can identify the various views. These terms are Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Premillennialism. What do these terms mean and how do they differ?
The majority view of the early church up until the 5th century, Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus Christ will return to planet Earth prior to or pre- the Millennium. This comes from a natural reading of the biblical text.
First, you’ll notice that each term has the same core word, millennialism. Living in the 21st century, most of us have heard of Millennials. Millennials refers to young adults born just before or up to the turn of the century, or more accurately, the turn of the millennium. Millennium comes from two Latin words that mean a period of 1,000 years. Thus, Millennialism is the topic of or belief in a period of 1,000 years. The Bible mentions a period of 1,000 years only 10 times (Ps. 90:4; Eccl. 6:6; 2 Pet. 3:8 [twice]; Rev. 20:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Although the Revelation passages are the numerical basis for the doctrine of millennialism, the doctrine entails much more than just a length of time. It also entails the nature of Christ’s Kingdom.
The second thing you’ll notice about our three theological terms—Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, Premillennialism—is that all three begin with a prefix. These prefixes are a clue as to what each view holds. The prefix A- means not or lacking. The prefix Post- means after or subsequent to. The prefix Pre- means prior to or before.
So what exactly do our three theological terms mean?
Amillennialism: Taking root in the 5th century, Amillennialism is the belief that there will not be a future, material, literal, 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth. Rather, Christ’s Kingdom is present and immaterial, one where He reigns spiritually in the hearts of His believers on Earth and in heaven. The 1,000 years of Revelation 20 are not literal of time, but symbolic of the entire period between Christ’s resurrection and His return. According to Amillennialism, Satan is currently bound. Even so, good and evil will increase until the end of the age. At that time, Satan will be released and lead a worldwide apostasy. Christ will then return, the dead will be raised, and Christ will adjudicate one final judgment of all people. His followers will subsequently enter the Eternal and Blessed State.
Postmillennialism: Dominant in the 19th century and making a comeback today, Postmillennialism is similar to Amillennialism in that Christ’s Kingdom began in the 1st century, is present now, the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 are to be understood symbolically, and Satan is currently bound. Postmillennialism differs with Amillennialism as to the Kingdom’s location. Postmillennialism claims the Kingdom will actually be on the earth, but not as a consequence of Christ’s return. More optimistic than Amillennialism, Postmillennialism asserts that through the preaching of the gospel and the progressing, positive social influence of the church, eventually peace, faith, and righteousness will prevail over most of the world for an unknown period of time. Jesus will then return to the earth. Thus, His return is after or post the “millennium,” the golden age. Like Amillennialism, Postmillennialism holds to a general resurrection, a general judgment, and the Eternal and Blessed State of believers in Christ following Christ’s return.
Premillennialism: The majority view of the early church up until the 5th century, Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus Christ will return to planet Earth prior to or pre- the Millennium. This comes from a natural reading of the biblical text. Christ’s Second Coming in Revelation chapter 19 precedes His Millennial Reign in chapter 20.
There are two predominant branches of Premillennialism. The first is Historic Premillennialism. The second is Dispensational Premillennialism. The primary differences between the two are 1) Historic Premillennialism does not see a sharp distinction between Israel and the church in God’s program, while Dispensational Premillennialism does, and 2) Historic Premillennialism believes in a Post-Tribulation Rapture, while Dispensational Premillennialism generally does not. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry holds to Dispensational Premillennialism.
In Dispensational Premillennialism, Christ’s Kingdom is future, not present. Its time frame of 1,000 years is literal, not symbolic. It will be material, not immaterial. It will be headquartered in the city of Jerusalem in Israel on the earth, not in the hearts of believers. Believers are presently citizens of the Kingdom by virtue of their position in Christ, but they are not yet residing in the Kingdom. Dispensational Premillennialism asserts Jesus Christ will sit on the throne of David, as well as fulfill all of the Old Testament covenants and promises to Israel. Israel will be glorified among the nations. The church will be present, reigning with Christ, but still distinct from Israel. Although Satan is not currently bound in this age, he will be during the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign. Once Satan is bound, the first resurrection following Christ’s return occurs. This is the resurrection of Old Testament and Tribulation saints (Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20:4). During the Millennium, Jesus will righteously rule over the entire earth bringing peace and prosperity. After the 1,000 years, Satan will be released to deceive the nations and lead them one last time in a failed rebellion against Christ. Following that will be the Great White Throne judgment for resurrected unbelievers from every age. Since their names will not be found in the Book of Life, they will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Believers, on the other hand, will enter the Eternal and Blessed State of a New Heaven and a New Earth.
Jesus is coming back! First for His bride, the church, before the Tribulation. Next with His bride after the Tribulation. He will then set up His Kingdom on the earth for 1,000 years, gloriously reigning as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.