Eschatology, or the study of end times, can be a source of frustration for believers to comprehend. I definitely include myself in that group. This page will attempt to make sense of the competing views about what is going to happen in regards to Christ's return and the various future events. This page is not intended to favor one view over another, but to lay out the four major views regarding the return of Jesus Christ, the Rapture, the Tribulation and the Millennium. Bible-believing Christians can come out on this topic with a wide range of views. Some doctrines taught in the Bible are very clear and leave no room for interpretation, others like eschatology, leave plenty of room for discussion when it comes to future events, and the order of those events. This can be a friendly in-house debate among all who love the Lord and eagerly await His return.
If you are looking for me to make a strong case for one view over another, that's not going to happen. As I write this, I'm not prepared to be dogmatic, but I lean towards being an "Amillennialist". That could change tomorrow with one convincing opposing argument.
There are three things I can say with 100% assurance -
1) Jesus is coming back. (Revelation 22)
2) We don't know when that will happen. (Matthew 24:36)
3) Be ready. (Matthew 24:44)
Glossary of Terms
Eschatology - The study of the 'last things' or 'end times'.
Millennium - The "thousand year" reign of Christ described in Revelation 20.
Olivet Discourse - Christ's prophetic discourse recorded in Matthew 24-25. It is a reply to His disciples' questions about the destruction of the temple, the end of the age, and His return.
Preterism - An eschatological viewpoint that places many of the eschatological events in the past, especially during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Postmillennialism - The view which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel, and the saving work of the Holy Spirit. Christ will return after a long period of righteousness called the Millennium.
Amillennialism - The word literally means "no millennium", but most advocates of this system refer to the millennium as the period between the ascension of Christ and the loosing of Satan. During the millennium, there will be an advancement of both good and evil. With the loosing of Satan comes a time of intense persecution of the church, followed by the glorious return of Christ.
Premillennialism - The view that Christ will return to earth to establish an earthly, millennial kingdom, over which He will reign from an earthly throne.
Dispensationalism - The view that human history is divided into dispensations(different periods) where God treats humanity according to a governing principle particular to that dispensation. Accordingly, a strong distinction is made between Israel and the Church.
Rapture - The word literally means "to snatch away". It is the raising of those who are alive when the dead are resurrected. According to dispensationalists, this is the coming of Christ in the air for His saints prior to the Tribulation.
The Tribulation - The dispensational belief in a 7 year period of earthly troubles that occurs between the coming of Christ for His saints and the coming of Christ with His saints. This 7 year period is associated with the 70th week of Daniel's prophecy.
The Four Major Views of Christ's Second Coming
Dispensational premillennialists hold that Christ will come before a seven-year period of intense tribulation to take His church (living and dead) into heaven. After this period of fulfillment of divine wrath, He shall then return to rule from a holy city (The New Jerusalem) over the earthly nations for one thousand years. After these thousand years, Satan, who was bound up during Christ's earthly reign, will be loosed to deceive the nations, gather an army of the deceived, and take up to battle against the Lord. This battle will end in both the judgment of the wicked and Satan and the entrance into the eternal state of glory by the righteous. This view is called premillenialism because it places the return of Christ before the millennium and it is called dispensational because it is founded in the doctrines of dispensationalism.
Historical premillennialists place the return of Christ just before the millennium and just after a time of great apostasy and tribulation. After the millennium, Satan will be loosed and Gog and Magog will rise against the kingdom of God; this will be immediately followed by the final judgment. While similar in some respects to the dispensational variety (in that they hold to Christ's return being previous the establishment of a thousand-year earthly reign), historical premillennialism differs in significant ways (notably in their method of interpreting Scripture).
The amillennialist believes that the Kingdom of God was inaugurated at Christ's resurrection (hence the term "inaugurated millennialism") at which point he gained victory over both Satan and the Curse. Christ is even now reigning (hence the term "nunc-millennialism" - nunc means "now") at the right hand of the Father over His church. After this present age has ended, Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked. The term "amillennialism" is actually a misnomer for it implies that Revelation 20:1-6 is ignored; in fact, the amillennialist's hermeneutic interprets it (and in fact, much of apocalyptic literature) non-literally.
The postmillennialist believes that the millennium is an era (not a literal thousand years) during which Christ will reign over the earth, not from an literal and earthly throne, but through the gradual increase of the Gospel and its power to change lives. After this gradual Christianization of the world, Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked. This is called postmillennialism because, by its view, Christ will return after the millennium.