We are a Christian Fellowship meeting in North London with a strong interest in teaching
the Bible and understanding our time in
the light of Bible prophecy
The Rapture and the Millennium
I spend a lot of my time travelling around the country speaking on issues relating
to the end times. I can almost guarantee that after such a talk someone will come
up to me and say, “We never hear about this in our church.” Perhaps one reason why
many pastors do not like to speak about this issue is that they know that there will
probably be a number of different views on the subject in the church and they do
not want to create controversy. But Jesus was never bothered about creating controversy
and if we neglect the subject for this reason, we have given Satan the victory and
have to ignore a large amount of the Bible!
The two major issues, which divide Christians, are the Rapture of the Church and
the Millennium. The questions are:
1. ‘Will the believing church go through the Great Tribulation or be taken out before
2. ‘Will there be a literal 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth after his
I have already raised this question in a previous article. The point at issue is,
‘Does the Rapture of the Church described in 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17 coincide with
the coming of the Lord to the earth or is it separated in time by a period of years?’
In the most common understanding of this view, the period in question is seven years.
In other words, ‘Is the Second Coming of Christ in two stages?’
The view that the second coming is in two stages is known as the pre-tribulation
rapture, because this event is said to precede the final seven years of the Great
Tribulation described in Matthew 24.15-31 and in Revelation 6-19. Critics of this
view say that the second coming is all one event and that the idea of a separation
in time between the two stages of the second coming is a ‘novel idea’, which the
early church knew nothing of.
The usual criticism is that the pre-tribulation rapture theory originated around
1820, ascribed either to Emmanuel Lacunza (1812), Edward Irving (1816), Margaret
Macdonald (1830) or John Darby (1820). Dave MacPherson in ‘The Incredible Cover Up’
stated: ‘Margaret Macdonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that
would precede the days of Antichrist. Before 1830 Christians had always believed
in a single future coming, that the catching up of 1 Thessalonians 4 will take place
after the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 at the glorious coming of the Son of Man
when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His elect.’
However there is evidence of an understanding of the coming of the Lord in two stages
in the early church. I am not claiming that this proves the case, but it does show
that this is not just an idea which has been around only from the 19th century onwards.
The writer Ephraem the Syrian was a major theologian of the early Byzantine Church.
He lived from 306 to 373. In his work ‘On the Last Times, the Antichrist and the
End of the World’, he wrote ‘For all the saints and elect of God are gathered prior
to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion
that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.’
Ephraem’s text shows a literal method of interpreting scripture and teaches the pre-millennial
return of Christ. It reveals a clear statement about the Lord returning before the
tribulation to take his elect saints home to be with him to escape the coming tribulation.
In addition Ephraem declares his belief in a personal Antichrist who will rule the
Roman Empire during the last days, a rebuilt Temple, the two witnesses and a literal
Great Tribulation lasting 1260 days.
Ephraem’s writing concludes: ‘And there will be a great tribulation, as there has
not been since people began to be on the earth … and no one is able to sell or buy
of the grain of the harvest, unless he is the one who has the serpentine sign on
the forehead or the hand. And when the three and a half years have been completed,
the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the
resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know and on
the day which the enemy or the son of perdition does not know, will come the sign
of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and
much majesty, with the sign of salvation going before him, and also even with all
the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints.’
So the teaching that the second coming is in two stages was not unknown to the early
church. It may have been little known and understood, but that is not a bar to it
being true. At the time of the first coming of the Messiah Jesus, it was not understood
even by his closest disciples that there were to be two stages in his Messianic mission,
the first to suffer and die as a sacrifice for sin (in fulfilment of prophecies such
as Isaiah 53), the second to rule and reign over the redeemed earth (in fulfilment
of Isaiah 2.1-4 and other prophecies). After the Day of Pentecost they understood
the truth, that there was to be a time gap between his first and second coming during
which time they were to evangelise the world (see Acts 1.6-8).
The literal understanding of the prophecies also demands that there is a time gap
between the first and second stage of the second coming of Christ. The first stage,
the rapture of the church, happens unexpectedly, as a thief in the night. Even from
the point of view of the writers of the New Testament it could happen at any time:
‘You also be patient, brethren. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord
is at hand,’ (James 5.8). See also 1 Corinthians 1.7, 16.22, 1 Thessalonians 1.10,
Titus 2.13, Hebrews 9.28, 1 Peter 1.13, Jude 21 and Revelation 3.11, 22.7,12,17,20.
If the rule of Antichrist, the Great Tribulation and the Mark of the Beast system
had to come first it would be impossible for Christ to come at any time as was the
expectation of the early Christians.
In 1 Thessalonians 5.3, people are saying ‘Peace and Safety’ at the time of the Lord
coming as a ‘thief in the night.’ They will hardly be saying this after all the plagues
of Revelation have been poured out and as the armies of the world gather at Armageddon.
Also if you take the times given in Daniel and Revelation literally you should be
able to work out the date of the second coming, something Jesus says we cannot do.
Once you get to the peace treaty being signed with Israel you know there are seven
years to go. Once you get to the Mark of the Beast system being set up worldwide
you know there are 3 ½ years to go.
Expecting Jesus to come at any time means that we as believers should keep our lives
in continual readiness for this event as John taught in his epistle: ‘We know that
when he is revealed, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. And
everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure’ (1 John 3.2-3).
This is also a tremendous hope for those who are suffering in this body: ‘For our
citizenship is in heaven from which we eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus
Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious
body. … The Lord is at hand’ (Philippians 3.20, 4.5).
The controversy about the Millennium centres on the question of Chapter 20 in the
Book of Revelation and a number of passages in the Old Testament. The word Millennium
is in fact taken from two Latin words, ‘mille’, meaning 1000 and ‘annus’, meaning
year. According to Revelation 20 this is the 1000 year period when Satan will be
bound (unable to influence the world) and Jesus will reign on the earth (along with
true believers who will be resurrected at this time): ‘Blessed and holy is he who
has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but
they shall be priests of God and of Messiah, and shall reign with him a thousand
years’ (Revelation 20.6).
There are also a number of Old Testament passages which deal with this subject, notably
Psalms 2 and 72, Isaiah 2.1-4, 11-12, Ezekiel 40-48, Daniel 7.13-14 and Zechariah
14. According to these passages Messiah will come in the clouds of heaven with all
the power of God at His disposal to destroy all that opposes His rule. All international
conflicts will cease and there will be world peace in which even the animal kingdom
will be at peace with itself. His dominion will reach to the ends of the earth and
all nations will come up to worship Him and learn from Him at the rebuilt Temple
in Jerusalem. Israel will be regathered and at last know peace and safety as Jewish
people recognise Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah.
The question is ‘Should these passages be taken literally as events which will take
place on earth, or are they allegorical of the life of the believing church on the
earth now or of the future life in heaven?’ The main views on this subject are known
as ‘pre-millennialism’, ‘a-millennialism’ and ‘post-millennialism’. Such words are
no doubt a big turn off to many, but it is not so difficult to understand them. ‘Pre-millennialism’
means that Jesus comes back ‘pre’ (before) the Millennium. ‘Post-millennialism’ means
he comes back ‘post’ (after) it. ‘A-millennialism’ means there is no (‘a’ is the
Greek prefix meaning ‘no’) millennium, but the prophecies about this are now happening
symbolically through the church.
Perhaps the main view in the church today is ‘a-millennialism’. For those who take
this view the second coming is the end of the world and the beginning of heaven and
hell. Therefore there is no time when Jesus reigns in person on the earth.
If one takes this line there are a number of passages in scripture, which have to
be taken allegorically rather than literally. For example the text in Isaiah 2.4
says, ‘Nation will not lift up sword against nation’. Taken literally this means
that there will be a time when conflicts between nations will cease. Clearly this
has not happened since Jesus came the first time. For pre-millennialists this is
not a problem because it will happen literally after the second coming. For a-millennialists
it has to be interpreted symbolically. One way of looking at it is to point out that
former enemies who come to faith in Jesus are often reconciled and become friends,
rather than meaning that all conflict itself will cease. By this logic it can be
said that this is happening now in situations where, for example, an Israeli and
an Arab believer in Jesus have fellowship in the Lord.
According to this view the second coming itself seems to be a bit of a wasted journey
– a walk through the ruins of a shattered world after the time of great tribulation,
only to blow up the planet and make a new one. God could do this without Jesus having
to leave heaven at all.
Another view is called ‘post millennialism’ which means that the second coming happens
after (post) the church has succeeded in establishing the kingdom on the earth through
a great revival which, it is claimed, will convert all the nations to Christianity.
Dave Mansell wrote in Restoration Magazine, January 1991: ‘A new order is emerging
in purity and power - the kingdom of God. The people of God, united in love and submission
to Jesus Christ, will fill the earth as they take the kingdom and as all nations
are brought beneath the feet of King Jesus.’
John Giminez wrote in New Wine Magazine, January 1986: ‘We believe it’s God’s will
that the righteous should reign on this earth, and we’re seeing people preparing
themselves to be lawyers, doctors, generals, admirals, presidents, and congressmen.
The righteous will rule and the people will rejoice.’
The evidence of this happening on this side of the second coming of Christ is thin
to say the least. Jesus taught in Matthew 13.24-43 that good and evil will co-exist
until the end of this age and according to Revelation 13 the second coming will be
preceded by the vast majority of people turning to Antichrist not Jesus Christ.
I believe the pre-millennial view, which means that Jesus comes back pre (before)
the Millennium. Jesus will come back in person to the earth at the time of the Great
Tribulation, and then establish the glorious reign of the true Messiah, showing how
the world should be run under God’s authority.
The pre-millennial view was the expectation of the early church, as is testified
by a number of sources. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of ‘The History of the
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, stated, ‘The ancient and popular doctrine
of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. ...
It was inferred that this long period of labour and contention would be succeeded
by a joyful Sabbath of 1000 years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of saints
and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would
reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection. Though
it might not be universally received, it appears to have been the reigning sentiment
of the orthodox believers.’ Gibbon was a historian trying to uncover the facts and
was not sympathetic to Christianity, so his comments do not come with any bias of
his own belief.
In his writing ‘Dialogue with Trypho’, Justin Martyr, who lived from approximately
100 to 165 AD, stated, ‘But I and others, who are right minded Christians on all
points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand
years in Jerusalem, which will then be adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel
and Isaiah and others declare. ... And further there was a certain man with us, whose
name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that
was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell one thousand years
in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general and in short the eternal resurrection
and judgement of all men would take place.’ Justin’s use of the phrase ‘right minded
Christians on all points’ indicates that this view of the Millennium was the prevailing
one in his day. He also gives as his authority the Apostle John who was ‘with us’
(i.e. known to him).
This view began to lose influence in the third century of the Christian era with
the teachings of the Greek theologian Origen who adopted an allegorical method of
interpreting the prophets. In other words he taught that instead of speaking about
a time when Jesus would literally rule the earth from Jerusalem and swords would
be beaten into ploughshares, the prophecies indicate a spiritual kingdom in which
Jesus would reign from heaven in the hearts of believers and there would be peace
in their relationships with each other. One of Origen’s disciples, called Dionysius,
went so far in opposing the idea of a literal reign of Messiah on earth that he influenced
the Greek Church to remove the Book of Revelation from the New Testament. It was
not restored until the late Middle Ages.
The major influence on the Roman church, Augustine, also rejected the idea of a literal
reign of the Messiah on the earth. In his book ‘City of God’ he wrote that the abyss
into which Satan is cast in the Millennium (Revelation 20.1-3) is not a literal location.
Instead he said, ‘By the abyss is meant the countless multitude of the wicked whose
hearts are unfathomably deep in malignity against the Church of God.’ He said that
the binding of Satan in the abyss ‘means his being unable to seduce the church.’
He was convinced that this binding of Satan in the abyss is a reality in this present
This teaching led into the rise of Roman Catholicism as the Church ruling and reigning
for Jesus in this age and the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth enforcing His
will (i.e. ‘binding’ or preventing the influence of evil). Unfortunately far from
being ‘unable to seduce the church’, by the Middle Ages, Satan was more or less running
the show, with the true Gospel suppressed and real Christians ruthlessly persecuted,
along with Jews and others who stood in the way of the so-called ‘Church Triumphant.’
With the Reformation there came a renewed interest in studying the Bible, but end
time prophecy was not high on the agenda of the Reformers. Many of them tended to
take on board the Roman Catholic view that the Millennium should be applied to the
spiritual reign of Christ in the Church, not a future event to take place after His
second coming. That is why today belief in the literal Millennium remains a minority
view among Christians.
Fortunately what will happen does not depend on what we believe, but on what God
decrees. He is not going to let Satan have the last word in the affairs of this planet
by making the reign of Antichrist and the Great Tribulation the end of the world.
Rather He will show through the glorious thousand year reign of the Messiah just
how wonderful life on this planet can be when God, not Satan and human sin, are in
control. This prelude to the eternal state (Revelation 21-22) is something to look
forward to as the days of this age become darker and the forces of evil become stronger.
Satan will have his brief day in the coming Great Tribulation (7 years), but the
Lord Jesus will rule and reign for 1000 glorious years on earth and then for eternity
in heaven. The choice to the human race is whether to join the loser in his eternal
doom or to get on the winning side.