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Are we bored with traditional eschatology?

Is Dispensationalism Dead?
By J.R. Ensey
Nothing grabs the attention of the average person quicker than predictions of the future. Numerous magazines, tabloids, talk shows, the palm reader down the street—and even quite a few so-called ministers—have prospered for generations by marketing their warped perception of future events. Even when their predictions fail, they seem to be impervious to criticism. They are right back the next day with new prognostications.

This interest spills over into the realm of Christian eschatology. Virtually everyone wants to know when Jesus is coming again, how the world will end, and what their personal fate may be. It is popular to speak with an air of authority about these things since they evoke the most enthusiastic response. It is not time to avoid them, however, with the endtime upon us. We are obligated to call attention to the signs of the times and keep the blessed hope of His glorious appearing alive in our hearts.

Consistently crying wolf can jade our listeners to the realities of our times. Too much emphasis on “88 Reasons,” Y2K and other false alarms can cause people to look around for new theories that may not focus on the imminent return of Christ. Have you discerned that many are becoming bored with the traditional pattern of Apostolic eschatology and seem to be shopping for new ideas? Boredom invites curiosity and curiosity can lead to deception. We see some of our own ministers and faithful saints plugging into new (or, in some cases, old) theories that are getting a lot of pulpit and paper time right now. We must be especially careful since the spirit of deception is particularly strong in these perilous times.

One of the current theories attracting attention from Apostolics is preterism—the position that Jesus’ Second Coming occurred in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem fell to the Romans. It has some interest because the expected pre-tribulation, premillennial second coming of Christ has not yet occurred, causing some to lose faith in the traditional Apostolic eschatological positions. “Where is the promise of His coming?” some are asking. “Perhaps there is another endtime scenario that we need to consider.” A new approach always generates some excitement and interest, but often to the detriment of the body of Christ. Eschatology has historically been a point of entrance for doctrinal deviations and heresies. While Apostolics have not been too exclusive in our prophetic interpretations, allowing great latitude for the most part, we must recognize that somewhere a line must be drawn so that theories that lead to serious heresy are not countenanced. No individual should set himself up as a judge of all others’ eschatological positions, but we do need to encourage each other to be vigilant in these perilous times.

While it is true that there is no unanimity among us concerning the chronology of endtime events, we must acknowledge that the majority of Pentecostals have generally been dispensational premillennialists, subscribing to a pre-tribulation, premillennial Rapture as the first phase of the Second Coming of Christ. It is not difficult to point to supporting scriptures in both testaments. When prophecy and symbolism are combined great carefulness in the interpretation process is demanded. A sound hermeneutic and scriptural harmonization that does no violence to clear fundamental doctrines is imperative.

A definition of dispensationalism would begin with an explanation of the term dispensation. A dispensation is generally posited as a period of time, in distinction to others, in which God deals with men in a specific way, obligating them to certain soteriological requirements. The Greek word oikonomia is found nineteen times in the New Testament and is translated as “steward” seven times, “stewardship” three times, “dispensation” four times, “fellowship” once, and “edifying” once. These usages suggest that God administers or “manages” His affairs with men by particular standards during various periods. Dr. C. I. Scofield in his study Bible defines it as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” He and others have put forth a suggested list of dispensations as follows:

•Innocence - Creation of man to the Fall (Genesis 1:26-3:6)
•Conscience - From the Fall to the Flood (Genesis 3:7-6:7)
•Civil Government - From the Flood to the dispersion at Babel (Genesis 6:8-11:9)
•Patriarchal, or Promise - From Babel to Mount Sinai (Genesis 11:10-Exodus 18:27)
•The Law (of Moses) - From Mount Sinai to Pentecost (Exodus 19:1-Acts 1:26)
•The Church - From Pentecost to the Rapture (Acts 2:1- Revelation 4:1)
•The Tribulation - From the Rapture to the Second Coming to earth (Revelation 4:2-20:3)
•The Millennium - From the Second Coming to the White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:4-15)
•The New Heavens and the New Earth (“world without end”) - From the White Throne Judgment throughout eternity (Revelation 21:1- 22:21)

Scofield’s nomenclature may or may not be exactly that of all other theologians; however, all must admit to some number of time periods—whatever their designation—in which God dealt with men in different ways. A broader scope of dispensationalism might add other periods of time to these; for example, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached” (Luke 16:16). During John’s ministry God evidently demanded repentance and water baptism (not Christian baptism as described in Acts). Also, the Holy Spirit was not given during this time so it was not a part of the process. During the ministry of Jesus, prior to His death and ascension, He could forgive and accept a dying thief into paradise in response to nothing more than just an expression of faith (Luke 23:42,43).

Dispensationalism simply views time as being divided into periods in which God obligated man to certain forms of obedience and expressions of faith in distinction to other periods. Theologians may differ on their name and number but none can deny that the Bible reveals dispensationalism. Adherents insist that it grows out of a consistent hermeneutical principle of literal interpretation. This principle does not exclude usage of figures of speech, but posits that behind every figure is a literal meaning. Application of this principle allows scholars to distinguish between God’s program for Israel and that for the church. Thus, dispensationalism teaches that the church, which began on the day of Pentecost and not in the Old Testament, does not replace Israel in God’s overall plan. They are two separate entities. This is sometimes called “two covenant” (Israel and the church) teaching.

Like other eschatological theories, dispensationalism has had its share of those who embrace a portion of it and others who take it to the extreme. Some have established weird and unusual periods or dispensations, even establishing dates later than Pentecost in Acts 2 as the inauguration of the church age. These attracted little attention however, and traditional mainstream dispensationalism has marched on little impeded by extremists or detractors. The present challenge by postmillennialists, amillennialists, and particularly by preterists has made some Christian leaders take a second look at precisely where they stand on the endtime issues.

Millennialism, or chiliasm (from the Greek chilioi, “a thousand years” in Revelation 20:2,3), sometimes called millenarianism, comes from the Latin mille anni. Premillenarians or premillennialists hold to the belief that Christ will appear again before the millennium. This paper will examine millennialism and dispensationalism in history. These two views are inseparably linked, although they are spoken of separately in historical documents, primarily because the latter term did not come in wide usage until the nineteenth century. Millennialism was a common term from early church history, but neither view is recent. Adherents see them clearly embraced by the apostles and other early church leaders. Let’s look at the history of these twin concepts, beginning with the apostolic church of the first century.

Millennialism and Dispensationalism in Early Christian History

Jewish eschatology looked for a “messianic era” that would be ushered in by the Messiah (Hebrew, Mashiach or Moshiach) or “the Anointed One.” Within Judaism, the Messiah is a human being who will be a descendant of King David continuing the Davidic line, and who will usher in an era of peace and prosperity for Israel and all the nations of the world. They look for a time when:

1. All of the people of Israel will come back to Torah.
2. The people of Israel will be gathered back to the land of Israel.
3. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt.
4. Israel will live free among the nations, and will have no need to defend herself.
5. War and famine will end, and an era of peace and prosperity will come upon the earth.1

This sounds a great deal like the Christian perspective of the earthly millennial kingdom when the Prince of Peace shall reign supremely, when men shall not engage in war (Isaiah 2:4), their armor and battle instruments shall be transformed into useful implements (Micah 4:3), animals will be carnivorous no more (Isaiah 11:6-8), and the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9).2 The saved shall reign with Christ as kings and priests (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). These events were expected to occur when Messiah came. The disappointment of the Jews was evident when Jesus failed to meet their social agenda and national expectations. Instead, He spoke of an inner kingdom (Luke 17:21). They assumed He was an impostor and called for His crucifixion. They are still looking for someone to fulfill their national vision.

It appears that Paul and other first century leaders embraced the concept of an imminent return of the Lord in their own time. They wrote epistles to the churches instructing them to follow the admonition of Jesus to “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42; Luke 21:36). The second coming of the Lord was their “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). Paul and Peter spoke about the end of the age and the return of Christ at times as though the church, in that or a future generation, would be caught away without warning to meet Him in the air (I Thessalonians 4:15-17; II Peter 3:8-13). This “catching away” of the body of Christ was compared to a “thief” coming in the night (I Thessalonians 5:2; II Peter 3:10; Revelation 1615). At other times their statements expressed the fact that He will come to personally execute judgment on His enemies in the sight of all (Revelation 1:7; II Thessalonians 1:7-10). This is seen as an indication of a two-part coming (to the air and to the earth) that would feature the Rapture (the translation of the saints) and the ushering in of the great tribulation, to be followed by the coming of Christ to the earth. Although the post-apostolic believers were not told the time of His return, they were instructed to always be alert and watchful for it (I Peter 4:7; Revelation 3:3). These admonitions were evidently carried forward to other converts and disciples since we have the records of their writing to reference. One thing for sure, they did not view the destruction of Jerusalem as the fulfillment of the Book of Revelation or view it as the coming of the Lord. I have seen no record in Christian literature of that era which spoke of the destruction of the Temple as the fulfillment of Second Coming promises.

The preponderance of evidence affirms that virtually all of the early church leaders subscribed to millennialism. Dr. I. M. Haldeman, in The History of the Doctrine of Our Lord’s Return (pp. 14-20,24) cites the following sources in support of this position:

“Millenarianism became the general belief of the time and met with almost no other opposition than that given by the Gnostics.”3

“Millenarianism prevailed universally during the first three centuries. This is now an assured historical fact and presupposes that chiliasm was an article of the apostolic creed.”4

“How widely the doctrine of millenarianism prevailed in the first three centuries appears from this, that it was universally received by almost all teachers.”5

“The doctrine was once the opinion of all orthodox Christians.”6

“That the Saviour is to reign a thousand years among men before the end of the world, had been believed by many in the preceding century (that is, the second), without offense to any.”7

“Many Christians seized hold of an image which had passed over to them from the Jews, and which seemed to adapt itself to their own present situation. The idea of a millennial reign which the Messiah was to set up on the earth at the end of the whole earthly course of his age—when all the righteous of all times should live together in Holy Communion.”8

“This doctrine of Christ’s second advent, and the kingdom, appears so early that it might be questioned whether it ought not be regarded as an essential part of the Christian religion.”9

“Premillenarianism was the doctrine of the Christians in the first and second century. The fathers expected the Antichrist to arise and reign, and meet his overthrow at the personal coming of the Lord, after which the Kingdom of Christ for a thousand years would be established on the earth.”10

“The early Fathers lived in expectation of our Lord’s speedy return…They distinguished between a first resurrection of the saints and a second or general resurrection. These they supposed would be separated by a period of a thousand years, during which Christ should reign over the saints in Jerusalem….”11

Papias of Hieropolis (c. A.D. 65-150) was perhaps the earliest post-apostolic writer to express belief in a post-rapture, 1000-year earthly kingdom of Christ. He was known as a disciple of the apostle John and was acquainted with “others who had seen the Lord.”12

It is safe to say that he probably learned it directly from the apostles themselves. Eusebius quotes him as saying “that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth.”13

A surviving manuscript of Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-165) provides this testimony: “But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.”14

He linked the beginning of the Millennium to Christ’s second advent. Justin adds: “And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place. After the millennium the world will be annihilated, or transformed.”

Other writers followed Justin’s lead, not the least of which was Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130—200) who had been taught by Papias and Polycarp. In Against All Heresies he maintained that the departed saved will be raised and will reign with Christ a thousand years. Jerusalem would be rebuilt (obviously including the Temple), famine would be unknown, animals will be tame—all to occur after the coming of the Antichrist and the second coming of Christ. (Irenaeus insists that such descriptions should be interpreted literally and not allegorically [5:35:2].) He defends the millenarian hope taught by Papias, as well as giving an account of the Antichrist, who will rage for three and a half years. He teaches that Christ will appear to set up His millennial kingdom following the destruction of the Roman empire. He argues for a resurrection in two stages and an earthly millennial inheritance followed by the final judgment.

This view of millennialism “was held by a large percentage of Christians during the first three centuries of the Christian era, and is found in the works of Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Commodian, and Lactantius.”15

The early Ebionites, in their particular form of Messianism, emphasized the very material character of the expected Messianic kingdom. Jerome alludes to this type of millenarianism when he writes, “The Jews and the Ebionites, heirs of the Jewish error, who have then the name of the ‘poor’ through humility, understand all the delights of the thousand years in a literal sense.”16

The millenarian hope apparently remained strong in the Alexandrian world during the third and fourth centuries, despite Origen’s criticism. An Egyptian bishop named Nepos, who was a contemporary of Origen, wrote a tract entitled Against the Allegorists. Nepos attacked allegorical exegesis and defended the traditional, literal interpretation of the thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 and 21. His followers had formed a schismatic group that differed from the official church in this point.

It should be noted that these examples are not drawn out in an effort to “prove” millennialism, since persons believing a certain doctrine neither adds to or detracts from its validity. They are included here to merely show its prominence in the first centuries of Christian history.

Historians seem to be in agreement that post-apostolic writers were convinced that millennialism was scriptural. Social events and official attitudes toward the church would change, however, and with these changes, other belief systems would be introduced. Even Eusebius thought the Millennium might have been inaugurated with the conversion of Constantine. How could things get any better with Christians in power everywhere that mattered? “While the church was alternately persecuted and contemptuously tolerated by the Roman Empire, the belief in Christ’s speedy return and his millennial reign was widely entertained…When the church was recognized and patronized by the state, the new order of things seemed so desirable that the close of the dispensation ceased to be expected or desired.”17 “Immediately after the triumph of Constantine, Christianity having become dominant and prosperous, Christians began to lose their vivid expectation of our Lord’s speedy advent, and to look upon the temporal supremacy of Christianity as a fulfillment of the promised reign of Christ on earth.”18 The church suddenly felt more secure and the “signs of the times” far less threatening. The hope for the imminent return of Christ to establish an earthly kingdom were prominent as long as Christians were a persecuted minority, but once Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire during the fourth century, millenarian yearning declined. Now the destinies of Christianity and Rome seemed to have been providentially united, and many Christians even felt that any expectation of the downfall of Rome was disloyal to the empire as well as to God. Theologians increasingly viewed millenarianism as an outmoded reading of the Scriptures. They now interpreted the Book of Revelation not so much as a prophecy of the last events of history, as an allegory of the conflict between good and evil in the church.

A man who would change Christian theology and eschatology for a millennium was about to make his entrance.

The Reign of Amillennialism in the Middle Ages

Augustine (A.D. 354-430), bishop of Hippo in North Africa, was converted to Christianity in mid-life but quickly became one of the most influential persons of the Roman Catholic Church. He was largely responsible for the establishment of amillennialism (no Millennium, or that the present age is the Millennium) as the formal church position. It remained the generally accepted system throughout Christianity until the 19th century.

In A.D. 412 Augustine began writing his seminal work, The City of God, as a defense against those who blamed the Christians for the fall of Rome. After Alaric and his Goths sacked the city in A.D. 410, some claimed the traditional pagan gods of Rome were angry with the people for abandoning their worship in favor of the Christian religion. In the first half of the work, Augustine argued the implausibility of this thesis based, for example, on the calamities that befell the city long before the birth of Christ. Augustine devoted the remainder of the work to expounding a Christian interpretation not only of contemporary events, but also of the entire sweep of human history.

Augustine’s defense was nothing less than a philosophy of history that interpreted events in the lives of nations and people as the redemptive acts of God in history, culminating in the appearance of Christ and the establishment of the church. What developed was a doctrine that was clearly gleaned from a temporal condition rather than exegeted from the Word of God. Augustine formulated his philosophy in terms of an ancient and on-going struggle between two societies: the heavenly city, or city of God, as symbolized by Jerusalem, and the earthly city whose symbol is Babylon. The city of God consists of the elect among humanity and of the holy angels, while the “city of men,” i.e., the earthly city, is made up of all those angels and humans who are in rebellion against God. The two are characterized by their respective loves, whether it is love of God or love of self apart from God.

Augustine’s philosophy of history does acknowledge history’s culmination in a bodily resurrection and a final judgment, but his eschatological vision differs markedly from that found in most of the New Testament. Augustine rejected chiliastic, or millenarian, interpretations of the thousand-year reign mentioned in Revelation 20. His view of the first resurrection was that it was spiritual and takes place throughout the church’s history as the spiritually dead “hear the voice of the Son of God and pass from death to life.” Those who have not come to new life in Christ during this era will, at the second resurrection, pass into the second death with their bodies. As for the return of Christ, amillennialists hold that Christ will never again set foot upon the earth, but will only return to the air to receive the saved at the end of the world.

Augustine’s interpretation of Revelation 20:4 as “the seats of the authorities by whom the church is now governed.” The judgment they exercise is what Jesus spoke of when He said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” This interpretation, along with his emphasis on the church as the kingdom, ultimately led to notions that he could not have envisioned: in the Middle Ages, the church was viewed as the place where God’s rule was exercised on earth through a papal monarch.19 He considered the time when the devil is bound and cast into the abyss to be the beginning of this present age of the church when Christ bound the “strong man” (Mark 3). The “first resurrection” of Rev. 20:5 is, then, that of the soul, i.e., regeneration according to faith that takes place in the present life by means of baptism. Further, those who come alive in it and reign with Christ are the elect in the church. Finally, the “thousand years” signified for Augustine the completion of the years allotted to this world, regardless of how long that might be.20 Augustine’s amillennial view became the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and remains so until this day, although they generally avoid the use of the term.

Major cultural changes and celestial signs such as comets, meteor showers, etc., seemed to spark a new wave of wonderment about the end of the world in the late Middle Ages. Augustine’s approach was not invulnerable to dissent, and there were a number of personalities who arose during this time with a different perspective. The Roman Catholic system came under attack by Renaissance thinkers who were motivated to take a new look at the Bible and the endtime events. Adso, a French monk, and Joachim of Fiore (Italy) were two of several who made millennial waves in the Middle Ages through their prognostications of endtime events. Even Savonarola got into the act by suggesting that the French army might be the prelude to the coming of a holy, pure, millennial world. King Charles VIII just might be the Antichrist himself. After Charles was defeated, Savonarola was burned at the stake. The poor and the common people sought social justice through millennial movements. The church was so corrupt and foundered on ease, immorality and luxury that underlings could only hope for something better and many grasped at each one as it went by. The leaders of such movements were far off the mark in determining the time of the end or who the major players would be, but they proved that not everyone was totally committed to the official prophetic views of the Roman Catholic Church.

Amillennialism was not a major issue of the Reformation. Luther, Calvin, et al., were seemingly content with the theory. Luther rejected a future millennial reign and interpreted Revelation 20 as a description of the historical church rather than the end of history. However, he was not afraid to proclaim the possibility that “the pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ, for the pope will not permit Christians to be saved except by his own power.”21 Calvin applied the 1000 years of Revelation 20:4 to the various disturbances that awaited the church while toiling on earth. Anglican reformers likewise avoided resurrecting millennialism.

In Strasbourg (now in France), however, there arose one Melchoir Hoffman whose fiery sermons helped launch the radical wing of the Reformation. He emphasized a literal millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth and gripped the imagination of the of Anabaptist movement. Such a reign was imminent, he cried, and with all the fire and fury of a frontier revival preacher, he proclaimed his inspired images and visions. His hearers could see for themselves that an age was ending; therefore, he convinced them the end was at hand. He announced that God had chosen Strasbourg as the “new Jerusalem.” Some of his converts became extremists, one declaring himself to be Enoch—one of the witnesses in the Book of Revelation. Those failing to embrace him as such would be cast into hell with the devil and his angels. Another traveled to Munster to take the message and decided that Hoffman was wrong on the place of the new Jerusalem—it would be Munster. Anabaptists virtually took over the town in anticipation of the coming end of the world. Munster would be a “city of refuge.” One extreme act calls for another and soon Jan Matthys, the Anabaptist leader in Munster, was calling for “purification” of the city in preparation for its role in divine history. All not embracing his Anabaptist doctrine would be executed. All who did would have to be re-baptized. The frenzy ended when the local Roman Catholic bishop besieged the city and ultimately captured Matthys and beheaded him. After taking the city, the bishop rounded up the rebel leaders, tortured them to death with hot irons, then put their bodies in cages and hung them from the church bell tower. Their bodies decomposed to skeletons in the iron cages. Those cages still hang from the Strasbourg tower today. The new millennial kingdom was short lived, but it revealed a hunger in the hearts of Christians for a hope that amillennialism did not kindle.

Officially, many mainline Protestant denominations—including many Reformed theologians and some Baptists—still teach amillennialism.22 Most hold that the kingdom of God is present in the world today through the presence of the heavenly reign of Christ, the Bible, the Holy Spirit and Christianity. Both good and evil will continue in the world until the current church age ends suddenly as Christ returns to the earth. The Redeemed are transported to heaven where they will adopt spiritual bodies. Unbelievers will be sent to Hell at this time for eternal punishment. The world will be abandoned (consumed or renovated by fire). History is no more. Under this belief system, some amillennialists say that we are currently living in the Millennium and in the Tribulation period. Events described in The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) and in most of the book of Revelation are seen as occurrences which have already happened, or which are symbolic in nature and not to be taken literally. The Antichrist is looked upon figuratively and not as a real person. The 1000-year period spoken of in Revelation 20 is also seen as figurative, merely representing “a very long period of indeterminate length.”23 As with other theories, there are variations of the basic theme. For example, B. B. Warfield taught that Christ’s kingdom involves deceased saints who are reigning with Christ from heaven.

Amillennialists today arrive at their conclusions through an interpretive system, which they apply to the Book of Revelation, known as progressive parallelism. Rather than viewing the events of that book in any chronological or sequential pattern, they see it as describing the church from several parallel perspectives that run concurrently. This line of thinking has many difficulties. For instance, the events of Revelation 20:1-6 do not follow those of chapter 19:11-21. The binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3) supposedly took place at Christ’s first coming and ushered in the millennial kingdom. A method of describing such binding had to be developed. To do this, amillennialists turn to an illustration used by Jesus in Matthew 12:29 where He discusses the binding of “the strong man.” However, the context has Jesus casting out devils, demonstrating His power and authority over the spirit world. Indeed, the kingdom of God had come—the King Himself was standing in their midst.

Amillennialists (and many postmillennialists) say that the “binding” or limiting of Satan has to do with his ability to deceive the nations, or perhaps more specifically, to hinder or destroy the church. We know that the gates of hell cannot ultimately prevail over the church (Matthew 16:18); however, Satan can certainly create hindrances for the church as the Book of Acts confirms. He was able to fill the heart of Ananias and Sapphira with lies and deception (Acts 5:1-11). He deceived the citizens of Samaria by Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-11) and a possessed girl in Philippi (Acts 16:16-21). He can also deceive the saints. Many passages in the New Testament warn believers of the one “seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8) and even describes some of those who had been deceived and led astray. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). For this battle we are given the “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-19). John declared at one point that “the whole world lies in the control of the evil one” (I John 5:19). It is said that almost one third of the books of I & II Timothy and Titus have to do with doctrinal error and warnings about false teachers. If Satan is bound and cannot deceive the nations or the church, why all the warnings? It must be admitted that even within the main sections of Revelation itself, Satan is described as having an ongoing deceptive influence on the nations. In fact, in Revelation 12:9 the “whole world” is deceived. Revelation 13:14 and 18:23 also show Satan as a current deceiver. The binding in Revelation 20:1-3 clearly depicts a cessation of activity, not just a limiting of his powers. The fact that demons are subject to Spirit-filled believers (Luke 10:17,18) does not suggest that Satan is bound. Without question, Satan was not bound in the sense of Revelation 20:1-3 at the first advent but will be at Christ’s second coming to earth.24

It is probably safe to say that amillennialism is not currently gaining favor in most conservative Protestant theological circles. This does not hide the fact that some of its principles are being resurrected in the preterist doctrine.

The Rise of Postmillennialism

One of the eschatological theories that began to get a foothold in Western theology during the post-Reformation period (eighteenth to twentieth centuries) was postmillennialism. This view 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 (or a great part of it) eventually is to 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.”25 The theory is based on the perception of a gradual movement towards social perfection, at least experiencing moral progression. They predict that aggressive evangelism producing a massive religious revival, spiritual awakening and purification will occur as the world is gradually Christianized. A millennium of peace and righteousness follows. After the Millennium, Jesus returns to earth, resurrects the dead believers, and conducts the last judgment. The Rapture and Tribulation are largely ignored.

When it appeared that events were pointing toward a religious awakening (often translated as an answer to the prayer, “thy kingdom come”) postmillennial optimists seemed to move to the forefront. The American “Great Awakenings” of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries undergirded the postmillennial view. The theory dominated the religious press, was taught in the leading seminaries of the day, and was optimistically called “the commonly received doctrine” among American Protestants.26 A leading proponent was Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), a New England Congregational minister. During the Great Awakening of the 1740s he strongly suggested that the Millennium might be starting. Later, when revival fever cooled, he became more cautious, announcing that the Millennium might be delayed until the year 2000. He suggested that some events still remained to be accomplished, including the fall of Satan’s kingdoms (the papacy and the Ottoman (Muslim) Empire), the conversion of the Jews, and the spread of Christianity “through the vast regions of the earth.”27 Edwards held that the time was coming “when neither divine nor human learning shall be confined and imprisoned within only two or three nations of Europe, but shall be diffused all over the world.” He looked forward to the reformation of society as a whole, a time of great holiness when “visible wickedness shall be suppressed everywhere, and true holiness shall become general, though not universal,” and a time of great prosperity. He regarded Constantine’s era a type of the greater reality to come, so he also expected the Millennium to be a time when true religion would be held in great esteem and saints would rule on all fronts.” How would this all come to be? “This is a work that will be accomplished by means, by the preaching of the gospel, and the use of the ordinary means of grace, and so shall be gradually brought to pass.”28

New England Puritan preacher, Cotton Mather, declared that “many arguments…persuade us that our glorious Lord will have an Holy City in America”—obviously meaning that New England would likely be the capital of the millennial kingdom. Revivalist Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) picked up the postmillennial torch and urged maximum evangelical exertion to bring about the earthly kingdom. “If the church will do her duty,” he declared, “the Millennium may come in this country in three years”29 Such urging motivated many groups to join in the optimism and religious reform swept many parts of the country—temperance and anti-slavery movements developed, expansion of education and women’s rights and progress in missionary endeavors were witnessed. Prominent Presbyterian pastor Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) announced “the Millennium would commence in America.”30 The editors of The Independent exulted in 1851 that “a grand feature of our times is that all is Progress.” Christianity and culture seemed to be marching together “onward and upward” toward the “grand consummation of prophecy.” The revival of 1858 quickened such hopes, such that Joseph Berg, Dutch Reformed pastor in Philadelphia, could exclaim: “Who does not see that, with the termination of injustice and oppression…with the establishment of righteousness in every statute book... with art and science sanctified by the truth of God, and holiness to the Lord graven upon the walls of our high places, and the whole earth drinking in the rain of righteousness...Oh! This is the reign of Jesus.”31

During this period a number of utopian societies and religious movements were established on the postmillennial premise. Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), founder of the Disciples of Christ, thought that unity of the various denominations, based upon the Word of God alone, was imminent. Campbell held that “the Scriptures afford us ground to believe that the church will arrive at a state of prosperity which it never has yet enjoyed; that this will continue at least a thousand years, or a considerable space of time, in which the work of salvation may be fully accomplished in the utmost extent and glory of it; and that this will be a state of great happiness and glory. The Jews shall be converted, genuine Christianity diffused throughout all nations, and Christ shall reign, by his spiritual presence, in a glorious manner.”32

The Civil War seemed to burst the postmillennial balloon. The grand reformation of society dissipated on all fronts. Urbanization, migration of the poor, and industrialization created problems for those expecting the establishment of the millennial kingdom in America. The last vestiges of postmillennialism merged with the social gospel movement, which jettisoned notions of a transcendent second coming of Christ but still called for “the conversion of the industrial, commercial, political, educational, and social interests of the world to Christ.”33 These ideas prefigured the theories upon which the Reconstructionists, Kingdom Now and Dominion advocates built in the mid-twentieth century.

Postmillennialism regained some degree of prominence after the spike of postwar interest in Christianity in the late 1940s and 50s. It looked like everyone was reading their Bibles, joining churches and believing in God. In America, unchurched unbelievers were becoming hard to find. Religious book printing and radio programs highlighted the emphasis on faith. In 1954 the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance. The Charismatic revival of the early 1960s added impetus to the movement. The age of the megachurch was dawning. These societal factors played a role in the rise of postmillennialism. When it looked like Christianity was steamrolling other religions and missionary endeavors were flourishing, such a theory prospered simply by the appearance of things.34 However, Bible doctrines should not be determined simply by the appearance of societal trends, regardless of the positions they project. Modern postmillennialism became linked with “Christian Reconstruction,” “Kingdom Now Theology” and “Dominion Theology.” Prominent Charismatic groups and parachurch ministries actively promoted these theories. A few Apostolic ministers washed out of the ministry after casting their lots with such movements.

History reveals, however, that the general religious revival in America peaked in 1955. Although momentum would carry it forward, Christianity in America had apparently reached a high-water mark. Some churches would continue to grow, including Pentecostals groups, but mainstream denominations began to dwindle. Some have lost millions of members in the past three decades. Immigration of millions of non-Christians has also been a factor in the gradual demise of Christians influence in the U.S. This socio-religious trend has had a negative impact on postmillennialism.

Postmillennialists have much in common with amillennialists. For example, many of them also suggest that Revelation 20:1-3 is a picture of the work of Calvary, of Jesus binding the devil and limiting his influence during the current age. In retrospect, however, it is clear that there has been no Millennium as the Bible describes, nor has the devil been bound to a noticeable degree beyond any other period in time.

Protestant Christianity is waning in America and is falling upon hard times in many other areas of the world. Removal of Christian symbols from public buildings and property, the discontinuation of prayer in schools, and the recent court decision to remove “under God” from the Pledge signal that even more difficult times may lie ahead. It is increasingly popular to criticize Christians in public office, to belittle traditional mores, and promote atheism and evolution. The signs of the times are not difficult to read.

These facts should not deter us from aggressive evangelism. The Pentecostal movement has been in revival since early in the twentieth century. The Spirit is still being poured out. We can expect to see a continuing harvest of souls until the coming of the Lord. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). Some anti-millennialists accuse the dispensationalists of negativism if they hold that things are apt to get worse before the coming of the Lord. But regardless of how difficult things might become for believers, the power of the Spirit can keep us and make us effective evangels of this Apostolic message!

Another view of prophecy that drew quite a few adherents during the post-Reformation period was historicism, basically a belief that interprets Revelation as a symbolic history of the church from apostolic times to the return of Christ and the judgment. It denies a literal millennial reign of Christ on the earth and subjectively and arbitrarily selects events in history as the fulfillment of particular passages in Daniel and Revelation. Advocates hold a wide range of opinions about the prophecies and symbols contained in those books. Historicism attracts few Evangelicals outside of one or two denominations.

The Current Status of Millennialism

Millennialism, ultimately declared a heresy in 431 after Christianity gained favor under Constantine, was given new life in the nineteenth century. It revived in the form of dispensational premillennialism. Most people credit John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), a founder of the Plymouth Brethren, with the development of that system of belief, although some say that Edward Irving (1792-1834) and Morgan Edwards (1722-1796) had embraced and promoted it. Pierre Poiret and Isaac Watts were also early assenters to dispensationalism, but the doctrine was destined to be systematized into its present form by John Nelson Darby in the nineteenth Darby’s work provided a foundation for dispensationalists in the twentieth century, prominent among whom were James Brookes, James Gray, C. I. Scofield, and L. S. Chafer.

Darby’s division of history into dispensations caught on gradually as believers could see that it seemed to make it easier to understand the Bible. Each dispensation was marked by a distinction in how God dealt with sin and the extent of man’s responsibility. While that was not new or radical thinking, his system was different in that he focused on the conviction that God had two separate plans operating in history: one for an earthly people, Israel, and the other for a heavenly people, the church. He emphasized the covenants God had made with Israel—the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, the law-oriented Mosaic Covenant, the royal Davidic Covenant, and a new Messianic Covenant.

Until Messiah’s coming, however, God’s earthly people must suffer Gentile domination, prophesied by Daniel. This Gentile hegemony would end at the coming of Messiah, seventy weeks after one of the Gentile rulers issues a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to repair its broken walls (Daniel 9:25). But when the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God suspended the prophetic timetable at the end of Daniel’s sixty-ninth week and began building a new and heavenly people—the church. The Gentiles and Jews would both be partakers of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ and become one in Christ in the church (Galatians 3:28). It does not appear that God will deal with Israel and the church concurrently. Consequently, God will remove the church before proceeding with the final plans for Israel.

This removal prior to the Tribulation and/or the Millennium is dispensationalism’s most distinctive doctrine—the Rapture, or “catching away” of the church. Many earlier premillennialists believed the Rapture would occur at the end of the Tribulation, at Christ’s second advent. But dispensationalists separated the Rapture (when Christ will come to the air for His saints, His bride) from the Second Coming (when he will come with his saints to the earth). Once the saved have been raptured, Darby believed, the divine script could be played out to the end. The Antichrist will rise, Christ and his saints will break through the clouds and destroy him and his followers in battle (the Second Coming), the nations of the world will be judged, and the devil will be bound. Then, with the conclusion of Daniel’s seventieth week, the victorious Messiah will restore the throne of David and the Millennium will begin. This will be followed by the last judgment and a new heaven and earth. The seven dispensations (by his count) then over, time shall be no more.35

The distinctly prophetic aspects Darby’s dispensational teaching may be summarized briefly as follows:

1. The millennium is the future period of human history during which Christ will reign personally and visibly with His saints on and over the earth for a thousand years.

2. A visible coming of Christ will precede it.

3. This coming will be in two stages, the rapture and the appearing, with a considerable interval of time between them, in which important events will take place.

4. The rapture may take place at “any moment,” and will certainly precede the great Tribulation.

5. The rapture is the “blessed hope” of the church.

6. The church is composed of those, and those only, who are saved between Pentecost and the rapture.

7. The church age is a mystery period (a parenthetical dispensation unknown to prophecy) lying between the 69th and 70th weeks of the prophecy of Daniel 9.

8. Between the rapture and the appearing, the events of the last week of the prophecy of Daniel 9, some of Matthew 24, and of Revelation chapters 4-19 are to take place.

9. After the rapture a Jewish remnant will take the place of the church as God’s agent on earth for whomever God may choose to save.

Premillenial dispensationalism received a burst of general acceptance by most Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians after the publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. Some quibbled over the number and names of the dispensations as he had listed them but it seemed that their time had come. An added boost came in the second decade of the twentieth century through the publication of Clarence Larkin’s graphic depictions of dispensationalist thought. His largest book, Dispensational Truth, is still popular with present day adherents.36

Every eschatological theory has difficult passages to deal with. Even dispensational premillennialism, sometimes called “futurism” today, has to deal with the “time-texts” of Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and several verses in Revelation. Futurists point out that terms used by Jesus and the apostles such as “shortly come to pass,” “the time is at hand,” “the last days,” etc., are relative and do not necessarily mean immediately. Such terms were used in the Old Testament of events that did not occur for centuries (Isaiah 13:22; 5:26; 51:5; et al.). The Lord is not bound to reckon time as we mortals do (II Peter 3:8). Opponents such as P. A. Smith also like to say that advocates of dispensational premillennialism generally believe “that the moral conditions of the world and the church are destined get increasingly worse. When they get almost unbearably bad, the Lord Jesus will return in the clouds to ‘rapture’ the living saints up to heaven.”37 There is no one I know of who is establishing an “unbearably bad” situation as a criterion for the Second Coming. Such a position assumes that the same conditions would prevail in all parts of the world simultaneously. Even now, in several areas of the world Christians are suffering persecution and death. In America and most Western nations, that is not the case. Dispensationalists believe that the coming of Christ is imminent and could happen at any time. The Bible clearly states that morals and ethics will erode in the last days (II Timothy 3:1-4; I Timothy 4:1,2; et al.). If conditions do continue to deteriorate, the badness of the world may bring out the goodness of the saints.

Also claimed by opponents is that futurists’ resistance to sinful behaviors such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex, adultery, value-free sex education in schools, access to physician assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells in healing, etc., are actually delaying Jesus’ return and the 1000 year millennium. That statement assumes that the forgoing views about dispensationalists and worsening world conditions are altogether true, which they are not. Dispensationalists simply see those behaviors as sin and propose to speak out against them until the end of the present age. The attempt to curb these activities is primarily to protect the saints of God and their children from the corruption that is in the world through lust (II Peter 1:4). The expectation of futurism is not the conversion of the whole world because that is an unrealistic objective, albeit well intentioned. Our task is to preach, convert and disciple those who believe so that God will add them to the church (Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 2:47). We obey; the results are up to God.38

Walvoord makes the following statement regarding the historical nature of premillennialism: “The testimony of history unites in one river of evidence that the theology of the Old and New Testament and the theology of the early church was not only premillennial, but that its premillennialism was practically undisputed except by heretics and skeptics until the time of Augustine. The coming of Christ as the prelude for the establishment of a kingdom of righteousness on earth in fulfillment of the Old Testament kingdom prophecies was the almost uniform expectation both of the Jews at the time of the incarnation and of the early church. This is essential premillennialism however it may differ in its details from its modern counterpart.”39

The Entrance of Preterism

Into the current milieu of eschatological systems comes preterism (Latin for “past.’ This is a belief that the events prophesized in the New Testament have already happened. The events of Revelation and the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24 and Luke 21) were fulfilled when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, many Jews were killed and the rest were driven from Palestine by the Romans. When Jesus talked about the end of the world, he did not mean that the physical world would be no more. He taught that the old worldview held by various contemporary Jewish groups was coming to an end, to be replaced by a new concept, the Kingdom of God. Thus, all of the major elements in the book of Revelation (Tribulation, Armageddon, Rapture, etc.) actually took place in the first century. Preterists largely interpret the contents of Daniel and Revelation as having no prophetic significance for us today. Some believe that the purpose of the book of Revelation was to stiffen resolve in the early Christian movement to withstand persecution by the Roman Empire. Thus, its purpose was to predict persecutions and other events that were to happen within forty years after Christ.

Preterists come in two general categories—“full” (or “consistent,” as some refer to themselves) and “partial,” or “moderate.” The full preterist holds that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem that is viewed as the Second Coming of Christ. (He came to witness the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army, “the clouds” in preterist philosophy.) They reject any belief in a future return of Christ. Denying a future bodily resurrection, they place themselves outside the parameters of virtually any sphere of orthodoxy. Partial preterists, like R. C. Sproul and many of the Reformed theology tradition, believe in one future “general” (for saved and unsaved) resurrection at the very end of time. The Olivet discourse was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem. This eliminates the Rapture, a literal seven-year Tribulation period, a literal Antichrist, the Millennium, and the future binding of Satan.

One of the tenets of preterism is that God has no future plans for Israel. Their existence is an “accident of history” perpetrated by “ignorant premillennialists” who supported the Balfour Declaration that eventually led to the formation of the modern state of Israel.40 Preterists claim that the church has replaced Israel and all of the Old Testament prophecies relating to them have been transferred to the church. This is called “replacement theology.” This approach deprives Israel of any national future. Replacement theology was hardened into a doctrine by Augustine and preterists have largely adopted his amillennialism vision in which the church totally displaces Israel and establishes the kingdom of God upon the earth. Preterists appeal to Paul’s statement to the Galatians for support that Israel is out of the picture—“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” Galatians 3:28,29). The key words here are “in Christ.” The ground is level at the foot of the cross. All become one in Christ regardless of our ethnic background. But there is still national Israel and the covenant God made with them. He has not forgotten them just because some of them became Christians. He fashioned a gospel that would be preached “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16), and “For the promise is unto you [Israel], and to your children, and to all that are afar off [Gentiles], even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). The preservation of Israel in God’s plans frustrates the preterist position and therefore has to be set aside to make room for their doctrine.

Another problem for the preterists is the dating of the Book of Revelation. Since they see it fulfilled by A.D. 70, then they have to arrive at a date prior to that as its composition. This presents a grave problem since the preponderance of evidence falls on the side of it being written in the mid-90s when John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos.41

Preterism circumvents the literal interpretation of the Bible in favor of the more liberal allegorical approach. What next will be shuffled off into the tar pit of symbolism—the Virgin Birth? The Flood? Jonah and the whale? The resurrection of Christ Himself? The doctrine has Christ as the one who breaks the covenant with Israel in Daniel 9:27 pitting the two as adversaries. In the same vein, preterists posit Jerusalem as the Babylon on Revelation 17-18.

Preterism diminishes the significance of communion, which Jesus said should continue “until He comes.” In preterism’s view, that command would have been in effect only for thirty-seven years, until A.D. 70. If Jesus has returned, there would be no reason to observe communion. How can the church obey His command to “occupy till I come” if He already came nearly two millennia ago. In Matthew 24:42-44, Jesus said, “Stay awake, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming…Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (ESV). How can that possibly be applicable to the fall of Jerusalem that was observably imminent for at least three years before the city actually fell to the Romans. It is indeed strange if the Lord came at the time the Temple was sacked and burned but no one knew. The Christians living then had no knowledge of such an event nor was there any indication that they viewed Jerusalem’s destruction as having been the Second Coming.


The original apostles and the early church looked for a Second Coming of Christ that would deliver them permanently from the corrupt world (Romans 7:17-25; II Timothy 4:18), supply them with new bodies (I Corinthians 15:42-57), and usher them into the physical, eternal presence of the Lord (Philippians 1:20-23; I Thessalonians 2:19). John’s vision from the Lord on the Isle of Patmos revealed how the future would unfold to bring these things to pass.

The Lord did not come during their lifetime and the Revelation explains why He did not. There was an unfinished work that had to be accomplished. The delay has prompted impatience in some who have fashioned their own theories as to why. A number of doctrines developed over the centuries—amillennialism, postmillennialism, historicism, preterism, and others, but the church has firmly held to the conviction that Jesus’ coming is still in the future. There is no hard evidence that events in the Book of Revelation after chapter three have been fulfilled. (See addendum below.)

The ensign of dispensationalism, although a little ragged from the theological storms, is still unfurled. The shells still burst around her, but she still proudly flies over the bulwarks of the church.

1. Online Encyclopedia: “Jewish eschatology”
2. It should be noted that dispensationalists do not believe that the future building of a Jewish temple will mean that God will reinstate animal sacrifice. All persons coming to God in this or any future time frame must come through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on Calvary.
3. Norman Geisler, Church History, Vol. 1, p. 166
4. Dr. Horatius Bonar, Prophetic Landmarks
5. Meuncher, History of Christian Doctrine, Vol. .11, p. 415
6. Stackhouse, Complete Body of Divinity
7. Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, Vol. .1, p. 185
8. Neander, Church History, Vol. .1, p. 650
9. Adolf Harnack D.D., Encyclopedia Britannica, article on “millennium”
10. Sheldon, Church History, Vol. .1, p. 145
11. Crispen, History of Doctrine, p. 231-232
12. Fragments of Papias, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, pg. 153,155
13. Ibid., pg. 155
14. Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 80
15. Lonnie Kent York, “History of Millennialism” at
16. Jean Danielou, Theology of Jewish Christianity, Trans. & ed. John A. Baker (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964
17. Crispen, History of Doctrine, p. 231-232
18. Smith, New Testament History, p. 273
19. David Wright, “"Millennium Today",” Christian History, Vol. 18, p. 15
20. Mike Bone, Augustine and the City of God; Online at Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia
21. John R. Franke, “Salvation Now, Salvation Forever,” Christian History, Vol. 18, p. 20,21
22. The current rank and file are generally uninitiated in eschatological issues. They are more likely to be impacted by popular books and television presentations than by the bland pulpits of their denominations.
23. Anthony Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, Robert G. Clouse, ed. (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity, 1977); p. 61)
24. Some of the information in this section of the paper was drawn from
25. Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, P&R Press, (1992)
26. Steven R. Pointer, “Seeing the Glory,” Christian History, Vol. 18, p. 28
27. Ibid., p. 28
28. Ibid., p. 29
29. Ibid., p. 30
30. Ibid., p. 30
31. Ibid., p. 30
32. Foy E. Wallace, “Neal-Wallace Discussion On The Thousand Years Reign of Christ,” Gospel Advocate, 1933; p. 31
33. Pointer, p. 30.
34. For example, Samuel Hopkins, a disciple of Jonathan Edwards, believed that ultimately the vast majority of human beings would be saved, with the saved outnumbering the unsaved 1000 to one. Ibid., p. 29
35. Timothy Weber, “The Dispensationalist Era,” Christian History, Vol. 18, pp. 34,35
36. As with any exhaustive work dealing with biblical prophecy, not all of his views were acceptable to all who subscribe to premillennial dispensationalism. He especially erred concerning the new, emerging Pentecostalism that clashed with his Presbyterian background.
37. P.A. Smith, “Jerry Falwell’s eschatological schizophrenia,” WorldNetDaily™, at:
38. Among premillennialists, the majority holds to a pre-tribulation Rapture. Some view the Rapture as possibly occurring in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation (sometimes called “pre-wrath Rapture), while others hold that it will occur at the end of that period just before the beginning of the Tribulation. Traditionally, the variations of the premillennial dating of the Rapture have not been an issue that brethren have broken fellowship over. Latitude has been granted in that regard, but somewhere a line has to be drawn beyond which fellowship cannot be extended. Paul made the dangers of heresy in this area very plain (II Timothy 2:18).
39. John Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973); p. 113-114
40. Ed Hindson, “Modern Day Scoffers,” Midnight Call, 10/05; p. 31
41. For more information on the dating of the Book of Revelation, please see the chapter by that title in the newly released book Upholding our Future Hope: An Apostolic Response to Preterism, various authors (Hazelwood, MO: Pentecostal Publishing House, 2005)

This paper was written prior to the 2005 General Conference of the UPCI. There an official position paper was adopted by the General Board of that organization supporting the traditional premillennial view and rejecting all forms of preterism. That paper is attached below.

Adopted by the General Board in 2005

In this increasingly post-denominational world, there is decreasing emphasis on doctrinal teaching. In such a climate, mention of the coming of the Lord is often absent from songs, teaching, and preaching. Even in the Oneness Pentecostal church, there has sometimes been a de-emphasis on this important doctrine, leading to apathy and in some cases acceptance of erroneous teaching. One false teaching, generally termed preterism, alleges that the coming of the Lord was fulfilled in the first century. Preterists teach that most if not all of the scriptural prophecies of the coming of the Lord addressed judgment upon the Jews, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

While the UPCI allows diversity in views regarding the timing of the coming of the Lord, particularly with reference to the Tribulation, the expectation of the soon return of the Lord is integral to our identity as a movement. In fact, the modern Pentecostal movement was reborn at the beginning of the twentieth century, out of the anticipation that the Lord wanted to prepare His bride for His soon return. We believe that when the New Testament speaks of the “soon” return of the Lord, it gives the promise to assure the church of its future hope. Paul expressed this anticipation, for although he expected martyrdom, he promised that a crown was not merely waiting for him alone but for all those who love His appearing. (See II Timothy 4:8.)

We reject preterist notions that the prophecies of Revelation 4-19 were fulfilled prior to A.D. 70, that Satan is bound, and that we are now living during the thousand years described in Revelation 20. As Oneness Pentecostals, we believe New Testament prophecies of the return of Christ are literal, still to be fulfilled. Further, while Israel has been blinded in part, there will come a time when they will be grafted in again (Romans 11:17-26). We look forward to a time when the church will reign with Christ in the Millennium, a time when Christ will reign supreme and will restore peace on the earth.

The early church universally believed the prophecies of Revelation and the promise of the return of Christ to be future and not past. It was the medieval church that formally did away with a futurist reading of the Book of Revelation and taught that the church was living in the Millennium. As Oneness Pentecostals, we reject any new “revelation” which suggests that the consistent teaching of the ancient and modern Oneness Pentecostal church is in error and that the medieval teaching is in fact correct. We are looking for the catching away of the saints, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth, the establishing of Christ’s millennial kingdom, and ultimately the institution of the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem.

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