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.