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Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ
The vast majority of Christian today look forward to the future glorious return of Christ and the realization of the Kingdom of God. This return was promised by Jesus himself, as he told his disciples that he went to prepare a place to which he would take his followers (John 14: 1-4). The surety of Christ's return was so strong that he even promised his disciples that "There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." (Matthew 16:28) However, as just these two verses suggest, there is a great deal of conflict and confusion as to what the precise meaning of these prophecies of a second coming amount. The first generation of Christians in the early church consistently referred to themselves as living in the last days and in the end times -- the same eschatological passion reasserted itself in the middle ages as the first millenia after Christ's death passed. Today, two thousand years later, some sections of the church are once more caught up in fascination with the idea of the end times and the certainty that signs point to the imminent return of Christ. Even the media is saturated with apocalyptic fancy, from the best-selling Left Behind books to popular television shows such as Revelations. However, a closer look at the work of historical and modern theologians, will display the actual complexity of Christian responses to the second coming which are all equally rooted in existent scripture. The degree to which the scriptures will support such a wide range of interpretations goes to show the futility of trying to determine an exact understanding of the end times.
Historically, the church has never had a truly definitive "orthodox" eschatology. During the early years of the church, various ideas competed, and their competition left some marks on the books of the Bible themselves. For example, in 2 Thessalonians Paul has to warn the church not to believe people who say that Christ has already returned. During the first three centuries, a form of historical premillenialism became widely, though not universally, accepted. This belief was taught by authors such as Tertulliam, Ireaneus, Justin the Martyr, and many other who have been very influential in shaping Christian history and theology. This premillenialism taught that the Antichrist would come, bringing a seven-year tribulation, and then the Rapture would lead to the conquering of evil and the earthly millenium, ending in a final judgement and the creation of a new heaven and earth. However, in the fourth century premillenialism of this sort was determined to be heretical and largely disappeared. It was resurrected, after a fashion, in the mid 1800s, under the name dispensationalism. In the meantime, the church had turned towards amillenialism, which was embraced by St. Augustine (one of the most influential of early Christian orthodox writers). When the Rapture finally comes, earth will be abandoned for heaven, according to this idea, and the final judgment effected. This is still the position of the Catholic Church. The 19th century that say the creation of dispensationalism also coined post-millenialism, which theorizes that Christians will eventually create a time of peace and goodwill on earth for a long span (a figurative or literal millenia) and that when this Kingdom of God has come near perfection, Christ will return. This theory spawned both the vital "Social Gospel" movement among social liberals decades ago and the more perverse Dominionism which is currently in fashion among political neo-cons. (Robinson) As this historical overview shows, the idea of a millenial reign of Christ has been hotly contested in church history, and it has also been closely aligned with major social changes in the church. Premillenialism gave way to amillenialism as the church ceased being so actively persecuted. Post-millenialism and the new premillenialism both gave rise to significant political movements. Preterism, which is the belief that the events of Revelations have already passed, has often collided with postmillenialism and amillenialism.
Modern Premillenialism is defended by Craig Blaising in the third part of the book Three Views on the Millenium and Beyond.
In his chapter he argues that the most salient feature of Premillenialism is "The foremost conviction is that Jesus is coming back. All hopes and expectations for the future are focused on…[continue]
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