The following is excerpted from The Four Keys to the Millennium, a book I helped to write a few years ago. Copies are now available through this website.
There is not much disagreement between amillennialists and postmillennialists concerning the chronological order of end-times events. In both views, the millennium is a metaphor for Christ’s kingdom on earth. First, the millennium will be completed. Then simultaneously, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment will occur.
This was the unified, general view of the church for many centuries. This view was held by church fathers, such as Athanasius and Augustine and also by the reformers of the 1500s, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.
The premillennial view has also been around since the early centuries A.D. However, prior to modern times, it was the minority view. Premillennialism was called either chiliasm or millenarianism. Both phrases mean literally, “thousand” (from the Greek and Latin, kilo and mil).
It is important to remember that the pre-, a- and post- prefixes are fairly modern adaptations to describe millennial thinking. Postmillennialism is a phrase that came into being after centuries of Puritan and Calvinist influence in creating a Christian social theory from a biblical perspective. Prior to the 1600s, there was no distinction between postmillennialism and amillennialism. Postmillennialism was first called “progressive millennialism,” to distinguish it from both amillennial and chiliastic thinking.
There is no difference between the sequence of end-times events in the postmillennial and amillennial outlooks. The two views are akin. Even historical premillennialism can be seen as a distant cousin to postmillennialism. Postmillennialism, amillennialism and historical premillennialism form a continuum. However, dispensational premillennialism stands at the opposite end of the spectrum.
If we were to graph the views to show their similarity, they might fall along a line as follows:
Disp. premil. ————> Hist. premil. ————> Amil. —> Postmil.
Some may look at this line graph and ask: What then is the difference, if any, between amillennialism and postmillennialism?
The answer: Historical optimism.
Most amillennialists tend to spiritualize (or idealize) the events in Matthew 24 and Revelation or put them “sometime in history.” That is another difference between amillennialism and postmillennialism. Virtually no postmillennialist is a futurist. Among postmillennialists, there are mainly historicists and preterists. Amillennialists tend to be historicists or idealists. The amillennial futurist view exists, but it is more rare. However, this underscores my main point of rebuttal. Amillennialism tends to be more pessimistic about the end-times. According to the amillennialist, the Gospel is preached to the nations and many people are converted. However, there is no transformation of whole political and social structures.
Premillennialism teaches that there will be a blissful state of Christian mankind in the millennium after the Second Coming.
Amillennialism places the millennium prior to the Second Coming, but there is no Golden Age of Christianity prior to Christ’s return. “There is really no millennium,” says the amillennialist. Amillennialism means literally, “no millennial reign.” There is no Golden Age in the amillennial view.
Postmillennialism stresses that there will be a Golden Age of Christianity in time and history prior to Christ’s return. Postmillennialism is sometimes called optimistic amillennialism for this reason. In reality, an amillennialist who is optimistic about the end-times is a postmillennialist.
One can have an optimistic form of amillennialism without being postmillennial. I believe that the kingdom will be large and God will save people from all tribes and peoples, but I do not forsee a worldwide rule by Christians, nor necessarily a majority of people in the world as being Christians, although I believe Christianity will spread all over the world, and indeed has, for the most part.
I believe that all of the Book of Revelation is in the past except for Revelation Chapters 20 and 21. Rev. 20 represents the time between Christ’s death and His Second Advent. The Kingdom of God on earth will grow during this time. The world is better than it was two thousand years ago when the Roman Empire fell in AD476. We do not have Germanic Tribes moving around Europe as Pagans. Communism is practically a dead issue. Although the world is not perfect, the Gospel of Christ is spreading throughout the world.
I am an optimistic amillennialist and believe that the millennium of Christ began at His death on the cross and will end at His Second Advent. The world has been getting better since the Gospel of our Lord is being taught throughout the earth. Society has improved, and education has removed us from a primitive world. There is still much work to be done. I am also a Partial Preterist and believe that Rev. 20 is past, present, and reaches to the Second Coming. The new heaven and earth occur when Jesus returns. I know whom I have believed that he is able to teach that which I have committed unto Him against that day. Heaven is my home and my parents already dwell there.
I believe that the millennium is the church age, the time of our Lord’s First Coming and His Second Coming. The world is not perfect; however, whenever I study history, it is definitely better than it was two thousand years ago. Can you imagine how Europe was after the fall of Rome? Education has certainly improved. I would rather live now than five thousand years ago. I hope you will approve this.
I must agree that optimistic amillennialism is a type of postmillennialism. It is different from old postmillennialism in that the millennium is the church age. Old postmillennialism said that the millennium was the last thousand years of this world. Charles Finney would support this view. Benjamin Warfield would support the modern view of the millennium.