While Christians agree on certain points of doctrine such as the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, they are far from united where the end times are concerned. End times beliefs vary from one group to the next, and even differ within a single denomination. Many have to do with the "Kingdom of God," believed by some groups to be a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth. Christians are divided into premillennial, postmillennial and amillennial groups.
The Millennium and Christ's Return
The book of Revelation describes a period of 1,000 years during which God binds Satan and Jesus Christ rules over the earth. While this 1,000-year "millennium" reign is mentioned only once, some groups of end-times scholars believe that other biblical passages referring to the "Kingdom of God," such as those found in the Mark 24 and scattered throughout the rest of the Gospels, also apply to this millennium. Views on the end times tend to revolve around this concept and its relationship to Christ's return.
Historic Premillennial Beliefs
Historic premillennialists believe that Jesus will return at the end of this age and institute a 1,000-year earthly kingdom. Some believe that Jesus could return at any moment, while others believe a 7-year "Tribulation Period" will occur before Christ returns. During this Tribulation the Antichrist will rise and take over the world. Early Christian writers such as Papias, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus seemed to hold to this belief. More recent advocates of historic premillennialism include Walter Martin, John Warwick Montgomery and Theodore Zahn. (See Ref 2 and Ref 4)
Dispensationalist Premillennial Beliefs
Other Christians believe that Jesus Christ will return and take away or "rapture" believers from the earth prior to the 7-year Tribulation. The Antichrist will rise during this time, only to be defeated by Christ and the armies of heaven when Christ returns at the end of the Tribulation. Immediately following this return, Christ will set up the millennial kingdom and rule the earth for 1,000 years. This view of the end times is known as "dispensationalism," and divides history into several specific epochs during which God deals with human beings differently. (See Ref 4) For example, God dealt with people differently during the "Dispensation of Law" (the time of Moses) than God deals with people today during the "Dispensation of Grace." This view began with John Nelson Darby in the mid-1800s, and popular advocates today include Tim LaHaye, author of the "Left Behind" series. (See Ref 1 and Ref 4)
Postmillennialists believe that the Kingdom of God will one day take over the earth. They believe Christianity will grow and spread, gradually expanding to cover the entire planet and it's inhabitants. Once that happens, the world will experience 1,000 years of peace - the millennium. It's only after this millennium that Christ will return and judge the living and the dead. Postmillennialism was a favorite belief of some of the Protestant Reformers, including John Calvin. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was also a postmillennialist, as were several Reformed theologians around the turn of the 20th century such as B.B. Warfield. R.J. Rushdooney is the leading modern postmillennialist thinker. (See Ref 4)
There is another group of Christians that believe the Kingdom of God isn't a future occurrence. They believe it is something that is happening now in the hearts and minds of Christians both dead and living. They view Revelation's prophecy as allegorical, referring to the Kingdom of God initiated by Jesus Christ at his resurrection. For these Christians, there is no rapture and no tribulation period. The only end-times event to occur is the second coming of Christ. They believe the second coming could occur at any moment and will be immediately followed by judgement of all humanity and then the end of time. The Roman Catholic Church holds amillennial views, largely based on Saint Augustine's "City of God." Modern amillennialists include R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer. (See Ref 4 and Ref 5)
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