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THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM
Four Views on How to Interpret the Millennium

This article is a spin-off of our Interpretation chapter within our Introduction to the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  In this book filled with prophecy, apocalyptic language, and sometimes mysterious symbolism, perhaps no portion has generated more controversy and disagreements amongst competent and conscientious scholars than the thousand year reign of Christ, commonly known as the millennium, as found in Revelation 20.  The most common aspects of the debates involve questions of whether the text, and by extension the text of related events, should be interpreted literally or figuratively (symbolically).  In addition, there are also chronological and interpretive disagreements about the relation between the Millennium, the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ and other end time events. 

In this article, we’ll survey the various schools of interpretation, each of which falls within the structure of historic Christian orthodoxy.  In general, the method (or view) by which each student of the Word interprets our subject topic will influence not only how he or she will interpret other related biblical texts, but their overall approach to prophetic literature as a whole.

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What is the Millennium?

As described in Revelation 20:1-6, the millennium (pronounced “muh-len’ee-uhm” or “mih leh’ ni uhm”) is a future thousand-year period in which Christ will reign on earth along with those who will come to life in the first resurrection.  If we take a plain reading of the text, this period follows the Second Coming of Christ, portrayed as the Rider on the White Horse with the name “King of kings and Lord of lords” on His robe and thigh.  He then proceeds to conquer and destroy the enemies of God (Rev 19:11-21).

The millennium begins when Satan is bound and locked into the Abyss (bottomless pit) to prevent him from deceiving the nations during the period (Rev 20:1-3).  It ends when Satan is freed after a thousand years, and he deceives the nations (unbelievers who were born during the millennium) into gathering for the final battle (Armageddon).  Afterward, the nation’s armies surround God’s people but are devoured by fire from Heaven.  Satan is thrown into the Lake of Fire (Hell) and the dead receive the final judgment.  All whose name are not found in the Book of Life are also throne into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:7-15).

Some critics have complained of the use of the term “millennium” since it’s not found in the Bible.  The simple reason of course, is that the New Testament (NT) was originally written in Greek, not English or Latin.  The Greek term is “chília étē”, which translates into Latin as “milli annum”, and into English as “a thousand years”.  Thus, the word millennium originated from compounding the two Latin words, milli (the number 1000) and annum (year), or one thousand years.  Incidentally, the terms “chiliasm” or “Chiliastic Kingdom” from the Greek have also been used on occasion to refer to the millennium.

It is actually a bit more accurate to refer to this time as the “Millennial Kingdom of Christ” or the “Millennial Kingdom” for short, but many shorten the term even further to “the millennium”.  Since the terms essentially refer to the same event, we’ll use them interchangeably.

We can find narratives of a future earthly reign of the Messiah, followed by accounts of a final judgment in ancient Jewish apocalyptic writings (eg 4 Ezra), but we’ll confine our study to the Christian Bible.  Although there are many passages in both the Old and New Testaments that allude to or appear to describe conditions during the millennium (perhaps Isaiah chapters 54-66 is the longest), the doctrine itself is primarily derived from Revelation 20.  When dealing with future prophecies in the Bible, different interpretations often arise, and the doctrine of the millennium is no exception.  The overriding theological question related to the Scripture is whether the text is to be taken literally or figuratively (symbolically).  The rejection of the literal meaning of the text by many interpreters has spawned a number of diverse alternate explanations intending to exclude a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth.  An interrelated question involves the chronological relationship between the event and the related end-time events such as the Second Coming of our Lord.

In simplest form, the varying answers to these questions initially led to three basic views of the millennium.  The first is called Premillennialism, in that the Second Coming precedes the Millennial Reign of Christ on the Earth.  In the second view, called Postmillennialism, the Second Coming follows a period of peace on earth instituted by Christ working through the church.  In a third view Amillennialism (literally “No Millennial”), it is believed that Christ is reigning spiritually through His people until His return.

Even within the various views, there are also interpretive disagreements among supporters on various portions of Scripture, and about the relation between the millennial and other events such as the Rapture and the Tribulation.  Within the Premillennial view, the internal positions varied to the point that this position is usually split into two camps, known as Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.  Thus, we’ll treat them separately and end up with four differing positions.

As we can see, the use of the prefixes “a”, “pre”, and “post” to differentiate between the various millennial positions is a bit of over-simplification.  The differences are more complicated than just chronologically positioning the Second Coming of Christ in relation to the millennium.  However, since the terms are so widely used, and are already familiar to a number of readers, we’ll continue with their use since the introduction of more descriptive terms would probably cause more confusion than clarity.

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Postmillennialism

In simplest terms, Postmillennialism is the view that the Second Coming of Christ takes place after the millennium.  Since we’ve already mentioned that the differences among the various views extend past the chronological relationship between the various events in Revelation, we must further expound on the various beliefs associated with this position.  Postmillennialists generally take a non-literal or symbolic viewpoint when interpreting the text of Revelation.  According to this view, the world’s spiritual condition will continue to improve to the point that will usher in the millennium.  The millennium is usually seen as a long period of time, not necessarily a thousand years, in which a great era of peace, or a golden church age occurs.  Thus, it is not a literal reign of Christ on earth during the millennium, but a spiritual reign through the church that establishes His kingdom on the earth.

In an attempt to construct a rough chronological sequence of related end times events according to postmillennial thought, advocates generally see the “labor pains” beginning in the mid 60s AD with the persecution of Christians by Roman Emperor Nero, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Roman General Titus in 70 AD.  The Tribulation is thought to symbolize the historical conflict between good and evil that will continue until the millennium, which begins when the world has been “Christianized” by the work of the church who is now in the process of gradually transforming the culture by preaching the gospel and rehabilitating society.  During the millennium, Christ reigns on earth spiritually through the church.  At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released from the bottomless pit.  Christ will then return to defeat Satan, conduct the final judgment of all people, and reign on the recreated heaven and earth with His people in God’s eternal kingdom.

Postmillennialism was the last of the schools of thought associated with the millennium to be developed.  Although some seeds of the thought may go back to the fourth or fifth century, it was primarily formulated in the seventeenth century, during a time when true Christianity was at one of its highest points of influence upon the world.  Reformation was sweeping Europe and America was being founded on Christian principles.  During this time, it was relatively easy to envision the world being “Christianized”, and this view remained popular though much of the nineteenth century.  Then came the twentieth century however, with its two world wars and increasing secularism across most of the developed nations.  As a result, Postmillennialism essentially dissolved and almost all of its advocates converted back to Amillennialism since, even though the two schools of thought have a few differences, they also have much in common as we'll further see below.

In addition to the historical challenge posed by the twentieth century, the Apostle Paul appears to refute the idea of an increasingly time of righteousness on earth during the end times.  In 2nd Timothy 3:1-4, he writes “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.”  In addition, we can observe that most modern churches are too busy attempting to assimilate into the culture in a misguided attempt to be relevant rather than attempting to evangelize and transform the culture.

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Amillennialism

Like Postmillennialism, Amillennialism understands Revelation 20:1-6 as merely symbolic of a long period or environment during which Christ is reigning though and in the hearts of believers (His church).  Unlike Postmillennialists however, Amillennialists believe that, instead of a future time of peace, the thousand years of Revelation 20 refers symbolically to the era between the Ascension of Christ and His second coming.  Thus the thousand years are thought to be synonymous with the Church Age in which the prophecies are currently being fulfilled through the church. 

In the Greek, the prefix “a” means “no”, “not”, “without” or “absence of”.  It basically negates the meaning of the word that follows (for example, “moral” vs “amoral”).  So, “Amillennial” means “no millennial” or “no thousand years”.  Thus, some Amillennialists would object to the use of the term “millennial”.  The basic idea of Amillennialism is that the thousand years are not so much a period of time, but merely symbolic of a spiritual state in which we presently enjoy the blessings of living in Christ.

The Amillennial view was held by a few early church leaders and systematized by St Augustine of Hippo in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD.  Augustine believed and taught that the Scripture verses generally had four meanings, a literal, allegorical, spiritual and moral.  In “De Utilitate Credendi III” (The Profit of Believing 3), he wrote that “the Old Testament has a fourfold division as to history, etiology, analogy and allegory.  The Letter [literal] speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy [mystical or spiritual] our destiny.”  Augustine still holds a large influence on both Roman Catholics and Reformers (particularly Presbyterians and Lutherans) alike.   Modern advocates of Amillennialism include Reformers such as Louis Berkhof who wrote several volumes of systematic theology in the early-to-mid 1900s, William Hendriksen who published a New Testament Commentary Set in the 1980s, Abraham Kuyper former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and prolific neo-Calvanist theologian in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and Gerhardus Vos the long-time Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary (1893-1932).  On a personal note, I’d like to add that, even though I have some differences with him regarding his eschatology, Vos remains one of my favorite Biblical theologists.

Due to the frequent use of nonliteral interpretive methods, broad differences in meaning can often be found among various Amillennialists in their interpretations of the entire Book of Revelation.  In general however, we believe the following summation of beliefs regarding our subject text is typical of most who hold to an Amillennial position.

As we’ve noted, adherents generally believe that the millennium is symbolic of the “Church Age”, that is, of the entire current period between the First and Second Comings of Christ.  Thus, we are currently living in this age.  Rather than a literal, future thousand year reign of Christ on the earth during which Satan is bound in the bottomless pit, Christ is reigning spiritually through believers, and Satan is considered bound in the sense that he has been defeated by the work of Christ on the Cross.  Rather than interpreting the “first resurrection” (Rev 20:4) as the martyrs that will reign with Christ during the millennium, many Amillennialists view this resurrection as an individual’s entrance into the kingdom after putting the “old man” to death (Rom 6:5-6).

Rather than a literal period of Tribulation, many Amillennialists see the Tribulation comprised of various events, including “labor pains”, that have and will occur during the history of the church.  Most advocates believe that the persecution of Christians will continue to grow increasingly severe.  Most even believe that an (or the) Antichrist will establish a worldwide kingdom.  A minority argue that there will merely be many antichrists per the Apostle John’s first epistle in which he states “even now many antichrists have come” (1Jn 2:18).  This is easily refuted by looking at the context in which John was issuing a warning against denying Jesus as the Son of God.  Verses 18-20 read “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.  This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.”  Notice John writes “the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come”.  In writing “many antichrists” he uses the plural adjective and noun (polloi antichristoi), but when writing “the antichrist”, he uses the singular noun (antichristos) preceded by the singular article for “the” (ho).  Thus John was referring to both the single Antichrist that would come in the “last hour” (end times), and the many with the spirit of antichrist that pretended to be with Jesus for a time, but later renounced their belief in the Faith.

Amillennialists believe that the Church Age will end with the second coming of Christ, the “rapture” of Christians into his presence, a general resurrection, the final judgment, and the consummation of God’s eternal kingdom on a new heaven and earth.

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Historic Premillennialism

Premillennialism is the view that the Second Coming of Christ precedes the the period of the millennium, and that the related events are still in the future.  This position, based on a more literal interpretation of the text than the previous discussed views, was held by a considerable majority of the early church fathers of the first three centuries such as Papias, a purported student of the Apostle John, Ireneaus, Justin Martyr and Tertullian in the second century, and Hippolytus, one of the most orthodox and influential theologians of the third century.  Thus it is no surprise that this view was dominate amongst Christians of the era, but as we noted above, popularity shifted somewhat toward the allegorical interpretations due to the influence of  St Augustine in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries.

Distinctions between Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism

As we noted above, Premillennialism is usually split into two camps, known as Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.  The primary difference between the two relates to Israelology, that is to say how each position views the relationship in the Bible between Israel and the Church.  Most Historic Premillennialists take a systematic approach known as Covenant Theology that sees virtually no historical distinction between Israel and the Church.  That is, Israel was the chosen people of God in the OT, while the church, made up of true believers from the Jews and Gentiles alike, make up the chosen people of God in the NT (and now).  Dispensational Premillennialists believes there is a historical distinction between Israel and the Church throughout the Bible, but no distinction in regard the method of salvation (both groups are saved by grace though faith alone).  Most Covenantalists also take an allegorical approach in interpreting most prophecies, leading many to an Amillennial position with regard to the Millennium.

To detail the various differences between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism will require a separate article(s).  We'll just note here that both interpretive systems generally arrive at the same conclusion with regard to all essential doctrines of Christianity, but can differ somewhat on certain secondary and tertiary doctrines.  With respect to our subject, Historic Premillennialists believe that whenever Israel was mentioned in the OT, the prophets basically foresaw the prophecy as ultimately applying to the NT church.  With regard to differing views of the timelines of various end times events for the Covenantal and Dispensational views, see our graphical representation in our 70 Weeks of Daniel article.

One final difference to mention, most Historic Premillennialists are Posttribulationists (the belief that the Rapture will occur after the Tribulation) while most Dispensational Premillennialists are Pretribulationists (the belief that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation).

Historic Premillennialism Continued

Even though this view existed in the early Christian era, perhaps the most influential advocate of Historic Premillennialism is George Eldon Ladd, a NT scholar, Baptist minister, and professor of theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California from 1950-1980.  His writings on “inaugurated eschatology” are popular not only among Historic Premillennialists, but among many within the other views (to a varying degree).  Inaugurated eschatology, also referred to as “partially realized eschatology”, basically teaches that OT prophecies concerning the kingdom of God were partially fulfilled with the first coming of Christ, but won’t be fully fulfilled until His second coming.  You may have heard it called by the familiar phrase “already and not yet”, in that the last days began with the first coming (Heb 1:2), but the kingdom won’t be fully consummated until the end times.  Some of the best known OT passages are Isaiah 2, 35 and 40-66, and Joel 2 as relayed to the people at Pentecost by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:14-21.  Many Historic Premillennialists believe that the church has access to the kingdom promises right now, even those meant for national Israel.  Others stress that the establishment of the millennial reign on earth will prompt the nation of Israel to turn to Christ, thus fulfilling many of the Old Testament prophecies for Israel.

Historic Premillennialism confirms a future literal reign of Christ which His saints on earth, during which Satan is bound a thousand years.  Many take this to be a literal 1000 years, while others believe that, even though the reign will be literal, the length of the reign may be symbolical.  Chronologically, the end times according to this position begins with a seven-year Tribulation, or “labor pains,” during which Christians are persecuted by a single antichrist.   The Tribulation ends with the Second Coming, the killing of the Antichrist, and the binding of Satan.  These events in turn, (in this view, the Rapture and the Second Coming is seen as a single event), initiate Christ’s millennium reign with the resurrected saints.

The millennial kingdom will end with the release of Satan, his deception of many, and the defeat of his evil forces by Christ.  This will be followed by the final resurrections and judgment of the dead, and the creation of the new heaven and new earth.  

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Dispensational Premillennialism

Before we examine the position of Dispensational Premillennialism, we should take a brief look at Dispensationalism for those who may not be familiar with the term.  As with most other systems of interpretation, there are minor disagreements amongst proponents and a precise definition is difficult, but we’ll attempt a very brief overview that we hope will be helpful to all.

What is Dispensationalism?

Basically, Dispensationalism is a theological system based on an essentially literal translation of the Bible that organizes the historical timeline in several (usually seven) basic periods during which God is providentially dealing with, or administering to His people.  The most common division is the Age of Innocence - Creation to the Fall (Gen 1:1-3:7), the Age of Conscience - ends with the Flood (Gen 3:8-8:22), Age of Human Government - ends at the Tower of Babel (Gen 9-11), Age of Promise - from Abraham to Moses at Mt Sinai (Gen 12 - Ex19), Age of the Law - from the giving of the Ten Commandments to the Ascension (Ex 20 - Acts 1), Age of Grace / Church Age - from the Ascension to the Second Coming(Acts 2 - Rev 19), and the Millennial Kingdom (Rev 20:1-6).  Some add an eighth dispensation or administration, often called the Eternal Kingdom or Age of Eternity (Rev 20:7 to 22:21).

As we can see, these periods often correspond with the various covenants and can be thought of as a series of progressive phases in God’s divine self-revelation.  We could perhaps picture these periods similar to chapters in a book.  What we must never do is to assert that God Himself, or His plan of salvation ever changes.  Almost all dispensations end with a judgment, but ultimately point to Christ and His Grace for us to carry on.  Although Dispensationalists recognize some historical distinctions between Israel and the Church, there is only one plan of Salvation for all.  For example, even though Abraham lived in the dispensation of “the Promise”, he was justified by faith (Rom 4; Heb 11:8-10).  Likewise, Moses lived in the dispensation of “the Law”, but “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb 11:26).  In the Westminster Confession of Faith 1647 (Chapter 7, Article 6), one of the primary creeds subscribed to by the Covenantals, it is stated that the overarching Covenant of Grace was administered “under various dispensations”.

Thus, we could probably summarize Dispensationalism as a theological system that emphasizes the essentially literal interpretation (plain reading with allowances for typical figures of speech) of all Scripture including prophecy, organizes the Bible into various administrations, and recognizes a historical distinction between Israel and the Church.

Dispensational Premillennialism

We've already covered some aspects of Dispensational Premillennialism in contrasting the position with that of Historic Premillennialism, but for the sake of organization and clarity (at the risk of repeating ourselves), we'll briefly summarize its various elements here.  First and foremost, Dispensationalists believe that a literal interpretation of the Bible (plain common everyday language meaning with allowances for figures of speech, symbology etc) is the best hermeneutic (methodology of interpreting the biblical texts).  This literal interpretation also leads to a mostly chronological reading of Revelation except where the text indicates otherwise (there are several visions recorded by John in earlier chapters that are fulfilled later in the book).  This in turn, particularly when applied to chapters 19-22 of Revelation, naturally leads to a Premillennial Second Coming of Christ.

In constructing a chronological sequence of related end times events according to Dispensational premillennial thought, we actually must begin with the Rapture, an event not explicitly mentioned in Revelation, but depicted by Paul in 1Th 4:13-17 as true believers will “meet the Lord in the air” and “be with the Lord forever”.  Although a small number believe in a Mid or Post-Trib Rapture, the vast majority of Dispensationalists place the rapture before the Tribulation.  In 2Th 2:1-8, Paul writes that Satan is currently being restrained (in the Church Age), and “the one [the Holy Spirit working through true believers] who now restrains it [the spirit of lawlessness / Satan / Antichrist] will continue until he [the Holy Spirit / the church] is taken out of the way” [raptured].  Thus the events of the Tribulation (Rev 4-19) occur when Satan is temporarily allowed to wreck havoc on the earth.

The 7-year Tribulation ends with the Second Coming of Christ (Mt 24:29-31; Rev 19:11-21) at which time the armies of the kings of the earth (all of Satan’s followers) are killed at the battle of Armageddon and thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Satan is bound and the literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth (the Millennial Kingdom) begins (Rev 20:1-6).  After a thousand years, Satan is released, deceives a large number of followers, and stages one final rebellion, but his followers are devoured by fire from heaven and Satan Himself is cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:7-10).  Next, the dead are resurrected and face the final judgment (Rev 20:11-15).  The final event is the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth, and the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Rev 21).  See our graphical timeline representation of many of these events in our 70 Weeks of Daniel article.

We now revisit the distinctions between Israel and the Church. Dispensationalists believe that salvation has always been by grace through faith alone, whether looking forward to the promised Messiah or back at His first advent.  Dispensationalists also reject the theories that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan and that the OT promises given to Israel have since been transferred to the Church.  While there is no doubt that God ultimately had the church in mind when giving many OT prophecies and promises, there are also many that clearly can’t be assigned to the Church (Is 11, Is 66, Dan 2:44, Hos 3:4-5, Mic 4, Amos 9:11-15; Oba 17-24, Zech 14, just to name a few).  In addition, the New Covenant was made with Israel (Jer 31:31-33) but the Gentiles were grafted in (Rom 9-11).

Thus, Dispensationalists believe the remaining OT promises and blessing for Israel will be fulfilled during the Millennium.  Jesus will set up his capital in Jerusalem, and some even believe a literal Temple as described in Ezekiel 40-48 will be rebuilt.  Although we can’t be certain of every detail (unless it’s specifically declared in Scripture), we can be confident that the Jewish people will play a major role in the millennial period.  At His Ascension, His disciples asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Instead of denying that there would not be a future kingdom for Israel, he merely replied that “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Ac 1:6-7).

There’s also the matter of the Throne of David, the Jewish King.  In Isaiah 9:6-7, it is promised that the coming Messiah will “reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (see also Lk 2:30-33).  Some proponents of the other positions, particularly those who equate the millennium with the Church Age in which we’re now living, attempt to explain this by suggesting that Christ is currently ruling from David’s throne in heaven through His church.

As we mentioned in the Historic Premillennialism chapter above, the vast majority of early church fathers were Premillennialists.  The individual elements of the Dispensational theology likewise existed from the first few centuries, but the modern theological system was not actually formularized until the past few centuries.  Prior to that, since it is based on the literal interpretation of Scripture, the various elements were simply accepted as a conservative interpretation of Scripture.

Nonetheless, the theology itself became popularized in the early twentieth century, particularly among conservative protestants, after the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible, one of the first annotated bibles that is now known as the Scofield Study Bible.  In addition to CI Scofield, another modern advocate of this school of thought includes Lewis Sperry Chafer, the American theologian and founder of Dallas Theological Seminary.  As a result, most graduates from DTS are also Dispensationalists, including Dr Charles Ryrie, who published the Ryrie Study Bible and the book Dispensationalism that is considered by many to be the definitive apologetic for the dispensational theological system.  Other well-known proponents are Harry Ironside, long-time Bible teacher and pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, and Merrill Unger, pastor, professor and author of many reference books including his Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Handbook, and OT Commentaries.

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Final Thoughts

As a disclosure, as if it wasn’t already apparent, the author of this article prefers a basically literal approach to the interpretation of Scripture.  As we’ve explained but bears repeating, interpreting the Bible literally does not preclude the use of symbols, metaphors, hyperbole or other natural literary genre.  It means we take everything literal except when the context suggests otherwise.  This is actually a basic requirement for understanding whether we are reading or in a normal everyday conversation with others.  As the old saying goes, “words have meaning”.

Thus we believe that the best hermeneutical approach (method of interpretation) to the Bible is a literal interpretive approach.  If we use a non-literal approach to Bible study, we open ourselves up to using subjective standards of interpretation.  In worst case scenarios, the authority shifts (subjectively) from the infallible divine Author of the Bible to the fallible human reader.

With respect to biblical prophecy, a literal approach also allows us keep a consistent hermeneutic in interpreting both fulfilled and unfulfilled prophecy.  Every prophecy concerning the first advent of Jesus Christ has been fulfilled literally.  Thus we would logically expect the same of prophecies related to his second advent.  Taking an allegorical approach to future prophecies forces the interpreter to use a different hermeneutical approach to fulfilled vs unfulfilled prophecy.

As we’ve noted, a literal approach to Bible interpretation will generally lead to a Premillennialist view while an allegorical approach will usually lead to an Amillennialist view.  Likewise, our approach will also greatly influence our interpretation of other events in Revelation, and in our view of prophecy as a whole.  For example, literalists interpret the judgments of Revelation chapters 4-19 as occurring sequentially during the Tribulation, while those who favor a symbolic approach usually see these as different descriptions of the same events applying to the Church Age.  We’ll have a fuller discussion on the various views of major events in Revelation in our “Views on the Book of Revelation” article linked in our “Related Articles” chapter at the bottom of this page.

One final note regarding interpretation, some will argue for a liberal use of allegory with respect to OT analysis because the NT writers would sometimes find a fuller meaning (sensur plenior) in an OT text.  That is, they would sometimes reveal and additional spiritual meaning or truth that the original OT may have not fully understood and the modern reader would not have otherwise derived from the text.  In these cases, we must remember that, unlike the NT authors, we are not divinely inspired writers of sacred Scripture, but merely illuminated readers.  Unless a passage is clearly identified as a sensur plenior by the inspired author, we are not authorized make the allegorical connection.  We can suggest the possible connection, but not authoritatively.

The fact that even though Scripture is inerrant and infallible but we as interpreters are not should make us humbly approach the more difficult texts of the Bible.  On the other hand, we must avoid the opposite extreme of not even attempting to tackle these issues.  I’ve heard a few pastors state that they avoid all of Revelation except the first three and the last two chapters because “nobody understands it”.  Instead, we should just concentrate on John’s message of comfort for believers.  If this were the case, why did Jesus instruct John to give such a detailed account of the end times?

Even though there are disagreements among the various schools of thought, we should continue to study and realize that the vast majority of those holding differing viewpoints from our own are also honestly seeking the truth.  In addition, there is much that we can learn from those with a differing approach without compromising our core convictions.  For example, one who takes an allegorical approach may uncover a possible underlying spiritual application that a literalist might have missed.  Whatever our viewpoint, we must always continue to study and remain teachable.  Finally, while we should do our best to understand all the details, we should not miss the overall good news of Revelation, and within the entire Canon of the Bible as a whole.

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Related Articles

Introduction to the Book of the Revelation

Interpretation of Daniel’s Visions and Prophecies

Views of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9

Views on the Book of Revelation

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