What is the difference between Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism?
Revelation 20:1–10 describes a thousand-year period or millennium.
Revelation 20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
Revelation 20:2 And he took hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;
Revelation 20:3 and he threw him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
Revelation 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their foreheads and on their hands; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Revelation 20:5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
Revelation 20:7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,
Revelation 20:8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.
Revelation 20:9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
Revelation 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
This text describes two main events that happen during and after the millennium: the dead being raised to life and Satan being bound and released. During the millennium, some of the dead are raised to life and reign with Christ. After the millennium, the rest of the dead come to life. During the millennium, Satan is bound and unable to deceive the nations. After the millennium, Satan is released and goes to deceive the nations and gather them for battle against the saints, but fire from heaven consumes them, and Satan is thrown into the lake of fire for all of eternity.
While all who affirm the truthfulness of Scripture accept these basic details of the text, still many questions about the millennium remain. When does the millennium occur, particularly as it relates to the second coming of Christ? Does Jesus return before the millennium or after the millennium? What kind of time period is John describing? Is this a literal 1,000 years or is the term “thousand years” a figurative reference to an unspecified amount of time? As students of Scripture have sought to answer these questions, they have arrived at several different views of the millennium.
Premillennialists believe that the millennium John saw was a future period of time, and that Jesus will return before the millennium (“pre-” = “before”). Premillennialists understand that the old earth will deteriorate spiritually throughout the Church Age and until the second coming of Christ, at which time Jesus will inaugurate the millennium, an era in which Christ will reign on the old earth with believers. Premillennialists believe that the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4–6 is the physical resurrection of believers at the beginning of the millennium, whereas the second resurrection is the physical resurrection of unbelievers after the millennium.
Within premillennialism are two major subgroups: historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism. The differences include their understanding of the meaning of “thousand years.” Some historic premillennialists understand the millennium to be a literal 1,000 year period, while others do not. Dispensational premillennialists, on the other hand, believe in a literal 1,000 year period. These two groups also differ in terms of their understanding of the order of events prior to the millennium, particularly the rapture and the tribulation. Not all historic premillennialists hold to a pre-tribulational rapture, while all dispensational premillennialists do hold to a pre-tribulational rapture. Finally, dispensational premillennialists especially emphasize the place of Israel during the millennium. They see the millennium as a time during which the prophecies of God’s blessings to Israel will be literally fulfilled in the Jewish people themselves.
Postmillennialists believe that the millennium John saw was a future period of time, and that Jesus will return after the millennium (“post-” = “after”). Unlike premillennialists, who believe the old world will be deteriorating spiritually as the second coming of Christ approaches, postmillennialists believe the old earth will gradually improve as the second coming of Christ approaches. They understand that, as the Church shares the gospel and more people become believers, that eventually Christianity will be so widespread in all spheres of culture, government, and commerce that this will gradually usher in the millennium. Some postmillennialists interpret the thousand years as figurative, while others believe it to be a literal 1,000 period, but they all understand it to be a “golden age” of peace and righteousness occurring at the end of the Church Age. During the millennium, believers reign on earth as Christ reigns from heaven in their hearts, ultimately culminating in the physical return of Christ. Postmillennialists understand the first resurrection John mentioned in Revelation 20:4–6 to be the spiritual resurrection of believers, whereas the second resurrection is the physical resurrection of all people, believers and unbelievers, when Christ returns at the end of the millennium.
Amillennialists do not believe that the millennium John saw was a future period of a literal 1,000 years (“a-” = “no”). While the term “amillennial” literally means “no millennium,” amillennialists do believe in a millennium. And, like postmillennialists, they believe that Jesus will return after the millennium. But, unlike postmillennialists, they do not believe the millennium is a golden age at the end of the Church Age just before the return of Christ. Instead, amillennialists understand the thousand years to be a figurative reference to the entire Church Age, which begins at the first coming of Christ. Like postmillennialists, amillennialists understand the first resurrection of Revelation 20:4–6 to be the spiritual resurrection of believers. Unlike postmillennialists, however, amillennialists understand that believers reign with Christ during the millennium not on earth but in heaven with Christ, until He returns with them at His second coming. The second resurrection, then, is the physical resurrection of all people that occurs when Christ returns.
Throughout the ages, faithful Christians, submitted to Scripture, have come to different conclusions on these issues. Considering this, all Christians, regardless of their view on the millennium, ought to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience with one another” (Colossians 3:12), even when they differ with one another. And all Christians can share in our eager expectation of the day that our God will dwell among us, and we shall be His people, and God Himself will be among us (Revelation 20:3).