Eschatology is the theology and doctrine relating to the “last things” (Greek: eskaton) or the end of human history and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The study of eschatology is divided into three major belief systems: premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism. These differing views of eschatology do not determine biblical orthodoxy. All Christians believe in the literal, bodily return of Jesus Christ. Christians may differ in their opinions as to the nature of the millennium and the exact sequence of end-times events. The following are brief definitions of the three major eschatological positions, all of which fall into the realm of biblical orthodoxy.
Postmillennialism: Literally, “after the thousand years,” the belief that Christ will physically return to the earth only after a non-literal millennium is completed. Postmillennialism is optimistic about the end times. Christ’s reign over the earth from heaven increases during the millennium, which is thought to be “a very long period of time.” Postmillennialism places the Church in a role of transforming whole social structures before the Second Coming and endeavoring to bring about a “Golden Age” of peace and prosperity with great advances in education, the arts, sciences, medicine, civil politics and all areas of culture.
Amillennialism: Literally, “no thousand years,” the belief that the “thousand years” of Revelation chapter 20 is simply a metaphor for the Church age; an amillennialist believes that history will continue until the Second Coming of Christ with no major victories for either good or evil in society, but sees in equal measure both upward and downward movements of righteousness and evil in the world throughout history.
Premillennialism: Literally, “before the thousand years,” the belief that the actual, physical Second Coming of Christ must occur prior to the beginning of the millennium, or a literal thousand year period. Premillennialism places the Church in a position of an evangelistic role in the end times and tends to view the end of history with wickedness on the increase and only a remnant of the Church surviving or escaping tribulation.
A spin-off of premillennialism is dispensational premillennialism or dispensationalism, which teaches a pre-tribulational rapture, a conspiratorial view of history, and divides the end times into several dispensations. Dispensationalism is the system devised by two men who wrote in the 1800s, John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield. It is the idea that God has worked in different ways throughout history through different economies or dispensations. A dispensationalist makes a major division between the Covenants, with God acting in wrath and vengeance in the Old Testament, and love and grace in the New Testament.
Suffice it to say that all of the millennial views that existed prior to 1829 are compatible with preterism. It is the “new kid on the block,” dispensational premillennialism, that represents a departure from the sound interpretation of the Bible. In brief, we are not headed toward a tribulation with evil on the rise and nearly every biblical prophecy yet to be fulfilled in the end-times. Scofield, Darby and other dispensationalists in the 1800s wrote that since the time was so short (so they thought) and since evil was on the rise, Christians ought not to involve themselves in social or political issues, but ought to be concerned instead with the saving of souls. Although dispensationalists have taught this view since the 1800s, it became popular with evangelicals only in the last 100 years, especially after the First and Second World Wars. Thus pessimistic, conspiratorial thinking has become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Christians have retreated from involvement in the world because of a faulty theology that states that the world is predestined to get worse and worse.
While eschatology does not determine your right standing with God, it has astounding implications for how we should live our lives. I believe that God has placed in every Christian a vision for earthly victory. We are not preprogrammed to be losers. We are told in 1 John 5:4 that our faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Postmillennialism is the engine that allows the fuel of our impulse for victory to burn smoothly.