Earlier I wrote about President Bush's millennial hope--a time of peace and prosperity brought about by democratization and free markets. here and here I labeled him a postmillennialist, because this view of history in Christian thought is known as postmillennialism: Jesus will return after a lengthy period of peace and justice brought about by the spread of the gospel. (Ironically, our chief adversary in the world today is the Iranian president who has his own millennial ideas involving an apocalypse and the return of the Hidden Imam. post here)

Responding to a query from Joab, I promised here to engage in a series of posts explaining (and defending) each millennial position. My explanation and defense of postmillennialism, an extremely influential world-view among American evangelicals in the 19th century, is here. Below is my explanation and defense of amillenialism.

As background, I repeat some earlier material.

Premillennial: believing that when Jesus Christ returns he will usher in a long period of peace and justice (the millennium). In other words, there is a radical discontinuity [the return of Jesus] between present human history and the evident reign of God on earth in human history (Shalom). After the millennium comes the fulfillment.

Amillennial: believing that Jesus will return and then usher in the fulfillment, without a period of God’s evident reign within human history. In other words, hope for Shalom will be met only beyond human history.

Postmillennial: believing that the return of Jesus will be preceded by a period of peace and justice in which God’s reign on earth will be seen. Then comes the return of Jesus and the fulfillment. In other words, there will be a continuity between present human history and the establishment of Shalom.

All Christians are optimistic in an ultimate sense: we believe that Jesus will return and triumph over his foes, and ours, including death and suffering. But is there reason for optimism before the End? In other words, do Christians expect there to be any real, overall progress within human history? The answer given to this question will vary between Christians holding differing millennial views.

Answering “No,” are amillennialists and premillennialists. While there may be material progress within human history in areas such as technology, there is no actual human progress in a moral sense. All technological advances, for example, simply will allow us to kill one another in greater numbers. The amillennialists expect that the human history will continue a mixed-up mess of sin with some virtue, without real progress, until Jesus comes again. The premillennialists, most of them, expect that human history will continue a downward course getting worse and worse, a retrogress in effect, at least near the end of time. On the contrary, answering “Yes,” are the postmillennialists. The history of the human race, through the work of the Holy Spirit, does and will show moral progress as the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads over the world.

One’s attitude toward the progress, or lack of progress, within human history will affect political attitudes. (Wondering out loud: Reagan was postmillennial down to his bones, Carter?)

The American attitude, traditionally, has been optimistic regarding the future: we have thought of history in terms of progress. One of the roots of this optimism has been the influence of Christian postmillennial thought, the understanding of the majority of American evangelical Christians until some time in the twentieth century. Even today, though, I would venture to say that most Americans reject the idea that evil can triumph within human history until the End. In other words, I would say that most Americans reject the idea that God would allow a Hitler or a Stalin to envelope the world in a horror of tyrannical evil for centuries or millennia until Jesus comes again. We Americans seem to have a postmillennial heart, whatever doctrine is in our heads.

Amillenialism does not believe in a literal thousand year era of peace and justice. Those holding this position do believe, though, in the return of Jesus Christ to usher in the last things (judgment, heaven and hell in their fullness).

Amillenialism is more optimistic than premillenialism in believing that Christ's death and resurrection have produced a victory over Satan already. As Jesus said in the Gospel of John as he entered Jerusalem for the last time, "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show by what death he was to die. John 12:30-32 Obviously, from this passage, the crucufixion (and resurrection) were a defeat for Satan. The nature of this defeat is shown by the words "I . . . will draw all men to myself." In other words, Satan now is prevented from stopping the spread of the gospel in the world so that those whom the Father gave the Son (to use language again from the Gospel of John) will be drawn to Christ through the preaching of the gospel. This corresponds with the words of the Book of Revelation that during the thousand years Satan would be bound so that "he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended." (Rev 20:1-3) Since none of the other visions of the Book of Revelation are taken literally (bowls of wrath poured out, monsters arising out of sea and earth, etc.) it does not make sense to take "thousand years" literally. Therefore, amillennialists interpret it as referring to the age of the spread of the gospel.

Amillenialism, however, is more realistic than postmillenialism. It understands that until Christ comes again for final victory, Satan still can work in many ways, even if he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. Jesus said that wars and rumors of wars would precede his return. In so speaking he described the human condition as it always is, implying that it will remain politically and socially in the mixed-up mess we see now, until Jesus returns. And, there is the warning that just before Christ's return, Satan will "be loosed for a little while," to conduct savage warfare against the saints. Just as the saints (the saved) are at one and the same time "justified and yet sinners" so human history is at one and the same time being sanctified in the kingdom of God, and yet remains sinful in the kingdom of the world.