Historic Premillenialism

Reformed Theology And Premillennialism(1)

Reformed theology and Reformed churches have never had a unified position on eschatology (Greek for the doctrine of future things). The Reformed churches of the continent have traditionally favored amillennialism.  Presbyterian churches have for the most part historically favored postmillennialism.  All three positions were represented at the Westminster assembly and such noted personages as Dr. Twisse, the moderator, and Goodwin, the Independent, were premillennialists.  The Westminster standards therefore allow for all three and basically take a position of eschatological liberty.

For those uninitiated in eschatological matters a few definitions may be in order.  The millennium is the future period of peace and prosperity foretold by the prophets.  It represents a future Messianic age when all these promises will be fulfilled.  Amillennial means no millennium.  This position basically states that there will be no literal millennium on earth.  It spiritualizes the millennium and sees the Lord?s people spending a future eternity in heaven in an exalted spiritual state.  Postmillennial means after the millennium.  They believe that Christ will return after the millennium.  This position does believe that the ancient promises and prophesies of the Old Testament prophets will be literally fulfilled on this earth.  But they believe in a postmillennial return of Jesus Christ.  They believe that, by the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit, the nations will be progressively converted to Christianity.  And they believe this will usher in the promised golden age of peace and prosperity.  They have a Messianic age but without the Messiah present.  Premillennial means before the millennium. It refers to a belief in the premillennial return of Jesus Christ.  It believes that Christ will return and lift the curse and bring in everlasting righteousness.  It believes in a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness. It believes this will happen at the return of Jesus Christ in power and glory to establish his kingdom, to deliver his saints, and to rule the wicked with a rod of iron as the Judge of all the earth.

Unlike the bulk of their Presbyterian brethren, the American Presbyterian Church confesses historic premillennialism as its creed.  The Church therefore made a conscious decision not to adopt a position of eschatological liberty.  It was felt that we require a lot of things in our standards such as infant baptism by pouring or sprinkling.  However for every scripture verse that deals with baptism there are literally dozens of verses that deal with eschatological matters.  If God attaches such importance to these doctrines how can we as a church say that it doesn?t matter and that men are free to believe and interpret, to teach and to preach, as they please in this critical area.  The Church believed that it had to maintain a clear testimony to what the scriptures taught in this area and to clearly set forth for the people the exact nature of their future hope in the coming and kingdom of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Christ.  If, as Paul says, the return of Christ is the “blessed hope” of the church we ought to know exactly what that means.  The faithful ought to be specifically instructed in the great inheritance that they have in Jesus Christ.

It is important to point out that the American Presbyterian Church rejects dispensationalism and dispensationalist premillennialism.  We are covenant theologians. We take our eschatology from the scriptures and especially from the divine covenants wherein God?s promises for the future are revealed.  We believe that all that the first Adam lost by his failure to keep the Covenant of Works will be restored by the atoning work of Jesus Christ through the New Covenant.  We believe that the future, glorious kingdom of God is a covenanted kingdom and is the very heart of all things eschatological.  We believe that this kingdom is the fulfillment of all the covenants and especially of the Trinitarian Covenant that planned all this.  And also of the Abrahamic Covenant with its promises of a king, of a land as an everlasting possession, and of a people, justified by faith, as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sand of the seashore.  And particularly of the Davidic Covenant, with its promise of an eternal king that will come from David?s seed and rule over God?s people forever in a future eternity.  These are the precious covenant promises from which we have developed our eschatology.  These covenant promises form our hope for the future, a future in which we will by God?s grace inherit the most glorious kingdom imaginable at the triumphal return of Jesus Christ.


Essential Definition:

Premillennialism believes that there will be a literal, physical reign of Jesus Christ with the saints on this earth before the institution of the eternal state. It believes that this will happen at the second coming, at the glorious visible return of Jesus Christ at the end of this age. Hence it is called Premillennialism, believing in a premillennial return of Jesus Christ.

Eschatological Calendar:

1.   End times characterized by great wickedness and a great apostasy in the church.

2.   The rise of Anti-Christ, and the concomitant persecution of the Church.

3.   The great tribulation.

4.   The return of Christ at the end of the age.

5.   The resurrection of the just and the simultaneous rapture of the living saints.

6.   The conversion of the Jews at the glorious visible return of Christ.

7.   The institution of the millennial kingdom.

8.   The final revolt of the unbelieving at the end of the millennium.

9.   The resurrection of the wicked and the final judgment.

10.The eternal state in the new heavens and the new earth.

Common Ground With Amillennialism:

Take away the millennial reign of Christ on this earth at the end of this age and unite the resurrections of the just and of the unjust into one general resurrection and you have the basic amillennial eschatalogical scheme. Both positions have the same view of the eternal state and the same eschatalogical calendar leading up to the glorious, visible return of Jesus Christ.


It doesn’t spiritualize Christ’s millennial reign as the other positions do, believing neither that this reign can be Christ?s reign in the heart, or Christ?s reign over the saints in heaven in the intermediate state, nor Christ?s reign on earth through the church. It alone holds to a millennial reign of Christ where Christ is physically present and ruling on this earth in a Messianic Age before the institution of the eternal state.

Major Weaknesses:

It has been a minority position since about the 4th century after Origen, Augustine, et al spiritualized the millennium. And since the Reformation it has always been a minority position among the Reformed. Its corruption by Darby, Scofield, et al, into Dispensational Premillennialism has confused and discredited the Premillennial position in general.

Representative Statement: (2)

Until the second quarter of the nineteenth century general agreement existed among pre-millennial advocates of our Lord’s Coming concerning the main outlines of the prophetic future: amidst differences of opinion on the interpretation of the Apocalypse and other portions of Scripture, the following scheme stood out as fairly representative of the school:
  1. The approaching Advent of Christ to this world will be visible, personal, and glorious

  2. This Advent, though in itself a single crisis, will be accompanied and followed by a variety of phenomena bearing upon the history of the Church, of Israel, and the world. Believers who survive till the Advent will be transfigured and translated to meet the approaching Lord, together with the saints raised and changed at the first resurrection. Immediately following this Antichrist and his allies will be slain, and Israel, the covenant people, will repent and be saved, by looking upon Him whom they pierced.

  3. Thereupon the Messianic Kingdom of prophecy, which, as the Apocalypse informs us, will last for a thousand years, will be established in power and great glory in a transfigured world. The nations will turn to God, war and oppression cease and righteousness and peace cover the earth.

  4. At the conclusion of the kingly rule of Christ and His saints, the rest of the dead will be raised, the Last Judgment ensue, and a new and eternal world be created.

  5. No distinction was made between the Coming of our Lord, and His Appearing, Revelation, and Day, because these were all held to be synonymous, or at least related, terms, signifying always the one Advent in glory at the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom.

  6. Whilst the Coming of Christ, no matter how long the present dispensation may last, is the true and proper hope of the Church in every generation, it is nevertheless conditioned by the prior fulfilment of certain signs or events in the history of the Kingdom of God: the Gospel has first to be preached to all nations ; the Apostasy and the Man of Sin be revealed, and the Great Tribulation come to pass. Then shall the Lord come.

  7. The Church of Christ will not be removed from the earth until the Advent of Christ at the very end of the present Age - the Rapture and the Appearing take place at the same crisis ; hence Christians of that generation will be exposed to the final affliction under Antichrist.

Such is a fair statement of the fundamentals of Premillennialism as it has obtained since the close of the Apostolic Age. There have been differences of opinion on details and subsidiary points, but the main outline is as I have given it.

These views were held in the main by Irenaeus, the “ grandpupil “ of the Apostle John, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and the primitive Christians generally until the rise of the Catholic, political Church in the West, and of allegorical exegesis at Alexandria (Harnack). In later times they were also held and propagated by Mede and Bengel, who did so much to revive the primitive hope of Christ’s Coming. And since the begin ning of last century what a galaxy of preachers, theologians, and expositors have appeared to maintain the ancient faith!

In Britain and America the names of Alford, Andrews, David Baron, Birks, Bonar, Ellicott, Erdman, Gordon, Guinness, Kellogg, Moorehead, Miiller, Maitland, B. W. Newton, Ryle, Saphir, Stifler, Tregelles, Trench, and West pass before us ; whilst in Germany and the Continent generally, we meet with an imposing list of exegetes and theologians such as Auberlen, Bleek, Christlieb, Delitzsch, De Wette, Diisterdieck, Ebrard, Ewald, Godet, Hofmann, Lange, Luthardt, Orelli, Rothe, Stier, Van Oosterzee, Volek, and Zahn, who assented to, and expounded, the pre-millennial doctrine set forth above.’

The fact that so many eminent men, after independent study of the Scriptures, reached similar conclusions regarding the subject of Christ’s Coming and Kingdom, creates a strong presumptionon - on pre-millennial presuppositions - that such views are scriptural, and that nothing plainly taught in Scripture, and essential to the Church’s hope, was overlooked. About 1830, however, a new school arose within the fold of Pre-millennialism that sought to overthrow what, since the Apostolic Age, have been considered by all pre-millennialists as established results, and to institute in their place a series of doctrines that had never been heard of before. The school I refer to is that of “ The Brethren “ or “ Plymouth Brethren,” founded by J. N. Darby.

(1) Adapted from publications of the American Presbyterian Church. Visit their website @ www.americanpresbyterianchurch.org
(2) Statement from “The Approaching Advent of Christ” by Alexander Reese, pp. 17-19.