The second foundation stone supporting the pretribulational rapture
of the church is the biblical doctrine known as premillennialism.
Premillennialism teaches that the second advent will occur before
Christ's thousand-year reign from Jerusalem upon earth. In the
early church, premillennialism was called chiliasm, from
the Greek term meaning 1,000 used six times in Revelation 20:2-7.
Charles Ryrie cites essential features of premillennialism as
follows: "Its duration will be 1,000 years; its location
will be on this earth; its government will be theocratic with
the personal presence of Christ reigning as King; and it will
fulfill all the yet-unfulfilled promises about the earthly kingdom."1
Premillennialism is contrasted with the postmillennial teaching
that Christ will return after He has reigned spiritually from
His throne in heaven for a long period of time during the current
age, through the church, and the similar amillennial view that
also advocates a present, but pessimistic, spiritual reign of
Christ. Biblical premillennialism is a necessary foundation for
pretribulationalism since it is impossible for either postmillennialism
or amillennialism to support pretribulationism.
Without question, premillennialism was the earliest and most widely
held view of the earliest centuries of the church. The dean of
church historians, Philip Schaff has said, "The most striking
point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene Age [A.D. 100-325]
is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, . . . a widely current
opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papia, Justin
Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius."2
German historian Adolph Harnack has said, "First in point
of time came the faith in the nearness of Christ's second advent
and the establishing of His reign of glory on the earth. Indeed
it appears so early that it might be questioned as an essential
part of the Christian religion. . . . it must be admitted that
this expectation was a prominent feature in the earliest proclamation
of the gospel, and materially contributed to its success. If the
primitive churches had been under the necessity of framing a 'Confession
of Faith,' it would certainly have embraced those pictures by
means of which the near future was distinctly realized."3
Premillennialism began to die out in the established Catholic
Church during the life of Augustine (A.D. 354-430). Ryrie summarizes
this change: "With the union of church and state under Constantine,
the hope of Christ's coming faded some. The Alexandrian school
of interpretation attacked the literal hermeneutic on which premillennialism
was based, and the influence of the teaching of Augustine reinterpreted
the concept and time of the Millennium."4 Premillennialism
has always survived, even when it has not been dominant or widely
known. Chiliasm, though suppressed by the dominant Catholic Church,
nevertheless survived through "underground" and "fringe"
groups of Christians during the 1,000 year mediaeval period. During
the Reformation, Anabaptists and Hugenots helped to revive premillennialism,
until it was adopted on a wide scale by many Puritans during the
The last 200 years have seen the greatest development and spread
of premillennialism since the early church. Starting in the British
Isles and spreading to America, consistent premillennialism, known
as dispensational premillennialism, has come to dominate the Evangelical
faith. This form of premillennialism has given rise to the most
rigorous application of the literal hermeneutic which has lead
to the championing of pretribulational premillennialism in our
Biblical Basis for Premillennialism
Even though the strongest support for premillennialism is found
in the clear statement of Revelation 20:1-7, where six times Christ's
kingdom is said to last 1,000 years, the Old Testament and the rest
of the New Testament also support a premillennial understanding
of God's plan for history. Jeffrey Townsend has given an excellent
summary of the biblical evidence for premillennialism in the following
Developed from the Old Testament
"The OT covenants with Abraham and David established unconditional
promises of an Israelite kingdom in the ancient land ruled by
the ultimate Son of David. The OT prophets, from the earliest
to the latest, looked forward to the establishment of this kingdom.
Its principle features will include: regathering of the Jews from
the nations to the ancient land, mass spiritual regeneration of
the Jewish people, restoration of Jerusalem as the principal city
and her Temple as the spiritual center of the world, the reign
of David's ultimate Son over the twelve reunited tribes dwelling
securely in the land as the pre-eminent nation of the world. Based
on OT Scripture, a this-earthly, spiritual-geopolitical fulfillment
of these promises is expected.
Developed from the New Testament
The NT writers do not reinterpret the OT kingdom promises and
apply them to the church. Instead the church participates now
in the universal, spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic, Davidic,
and New Covenants without negating the ultimate fulfillment of
the covenant promises to Israel. The NT authors affirm rather
than deny the ancient kingdom hope of Israel. Matthew, Luke, and
Paul all teach a future for national Israel. Specifically, Acts
1 with Acts 3 establishes that the restoration of the kingdom
to Israel takes place at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Romans
11 confirms that at the time of the second advent, Israel will
have all her unconditional covenants fulfilled to her. First Corinthians
15 speaks of an interim kingdom following Christ's return but
prior to the eternal kingdom of God during which Christ will rule
and vanquish all His enemies. Finally, Revelation 20 gives the
chronology of events and length of Christ's kingdom on this earth
prior to the eternal state.
In sum, the case for premillennialism rests on the fact that the
OT promises of an earthly kingdom are not denied or redefined
but confirmed by the NT. The basis of premillennialism is not the
reference to the thousand years in Revelation 20. That is merely
a detail, albeit an important one, in the broad pattern of Scripture.
The basis of premillennialism is the covenant-keeping nature of
our God, affirmed over and over again in the pages of Scripture.
God will do what He has said He will do, for His own glory among
the nations. And what He has said He will do is fulfill the Abrahamic,
Davidic, and New Covenants to a regathered, regenerated, restored
nation of Israel at the second coming of Jesus Christ, and for
a thousand years thereafter, prior to the eternal kingdom of God."5
Premillennialism is merely the result of interpreting the whole
Bible, Genesis to Revelation, in the most natural way -- literally.
Many of the critics admit that if the literal approach is applied
consistently to the whole of Scripture, then premillennialism is
the natural result. If the Old Testament promises are ever going
to be fulfilled literally for Israel as a nation, then they are
yet in the future. This is also supportive of premillennialism.
Premillennialism also provides a satisfactory and victorious end
to history in time as man through Christ satisfactorily fulfills
his creation mandate to rule over the world.
Premillennialism is a necessary biblical prerequisite needed to
build the later biblical doctrine of the rapture of the church
before the seven-year tribulation.
1 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide
To Understanding Biblical Truth (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books,
1986), p. 450.
2 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York:
Scribner, 1884),, Vol. 2, p. 614.
3 Adolph Harnack, "Millennium," The Encyclopedia Britannica,
Ninth Edition (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1883), XVI,
pp. 314-15. Cited in Renald E. Showers, There Really Is A Difference!
A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr,
N.J.: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1990), p. 117.
4 Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 452.
5 Jeffrey L. Townsend, "Premillennialism Summarized: Conclusion"
in Edited by Donald K. Campbell & Jeffrey L. Townsend, A
Case For Premillennialism: A New Consensus (Chicago: Moody
Press, 1992), pp. 270-71.