- Premillennialism is one of three major approaches to eschatology (the doctrine of the last things) in Christian theology. The concept of the millennium, the thousand-year reign of peace mentioned in Revelation 20:6-7, is a key to understanding Protestant thought about the destiny of humankind.Amillennialism, the dominant view within Protestantism, views the verses figuratively and does not look for a literal millennium. Postmillennialism sees humankind as already growing into the millennium, after which Christ will return to bring history to a culmination. very popular in the 19th century, its optimism about the course of human history was essentially destroyed by the two world wars. Premillennialism sees Christ returning in the near future, as human life continues to deteriorate, after which he will establish and rule over the millennial kingdom.Two forms of premillennialism were popularized in the 19th century, the Adventist view initially proposed by William Miller, and dispensationalism as developed by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. While both views retain a large audience, the latter view has become by far the most popular as it was integrated into Fundamentalism in the 1920s.Premillennialism assumes a somewhat literal reading of the Bible and attempts to reconcile all of its scattered eschatological passages. Dispensa-tionalism has assumed that the next event in God's plan for humankind is the rapture, the events described in I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Christ will return to earth and take all living believers to meet him in the air. Following the rapture will be a seven-year period of tribulation (Matthew 24:21-22) in which those left behind will have a chance to come to faith. Of particular importance during the rapture will be the role of the Jewish nation and the end of Gentile times.Following the tribulation, Christ will return to earth to establish his millennial kingdom. He will resurrect the believers who had died prior to the rapture, fight the battle of Armageddon, bind Satan, and establish his throne in Jerusalem. Christ will reign over the earth for a thousand years. Following the millennial reign, a second resurrection of all of the dead will occur, the wicked unbelievers will be judged and consigned to hell, and eternity will begin for the righteous.Dispensationalist premillennialism spread with the Plymouth Brethren movement in the last half of the 19th century. Its acceptance by evangelist Dwight L. MOODY gave it an additional boost. One of Moody's associates, Cyrus I. Scofield, incorporated the perspective into his very popular Reference Bible published in 1909. By the time the Fundamentalist controversy heated up in the 1920s, many Baptists and Presbyterians had come to accept dispensationalism. It developed a growing following among Evangelicals through the last half of the 20th century. Dispensationalism has become particularly identified with several independent conservative Protestant schools - Moody Bible Institute, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (Biola), and Dallas Theological Seminary.As premillennism grew, a variety of alternatives were offered to the dominant view of the future history of humankind. For example, some suggested that the rapture would occur in the middle of the tribulation period and some that it would follow the tribulation. A variety of opinions have also been suggested concerning the role of the modern state of Israel, some seeing its establishment as a key end-time event.Dispensational premillennialism has led some church leaders and writers to specialize in discerning the prophetic meaning of contemporary events. Among the most popular books to explore this theme was Baptist minister Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. Published in 1970, the book described events flowing from the founding of the state of Israel and predicted that the rapture would take place around 1988 (a generation of 40 years after that prophetic event). Lindsey had taken a step avoided by most premillennialists by actually predicting a specific date for the beginning of the future prophetic events. The continual failure of history to conform to predictions in the popular premillennial literature has been a significant factor in limiting its popularity.Further reading:■ Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Pre-millennial Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregal, 1996)■ Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998)■ Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992)■ Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1970)■ Jon R. Stone, A Guide to the End of the World: Popular Eschatology in America: The Mainstream Evangelical Tradition (New York: Garland, 1993).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.