What is the Difference Between Pre and Post Millennialism?

By Wm. Avery McClure

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


The word "Millennium" comes from two Latin terms, "mille" and "annus," and means a thousand years. As a Scriptural doctrine perhaps the clearest statement of it is found in Rev. 20:i-6 where we read of the binding of Satan, and of the resurrection of the saints to reign with Christ "ta chilia'' i. e., "the thousand years."

While this reference from the Apocalypse is a direct statement concerning the millennium, it is not the source' of the doctrine as has been asserted by some. The period is found in the Old Testament prophets. Hosea, Amos, Joel, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Isaiah and others describe it in glowing colors as the golden age. David has much to say about it in the Psalms. Without it the entire prophecy of the Old Testament is positively unintelligible. John employs the definite article, calling the age, "the thousand years," showing that he was not the originator of the doctrine nor the inventor of the Millennium. He spoke of an age which was familiar to the Jews and which they generally understood and referred to as "the world to come," or more accurately, "the age to come." They anticipated it as the glorious time when Messiah should reign on earth.

This glorious age is to be an age of universal peace and blessedness. It is illustriously displayed by Isaiah as the time when the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. The lame man shall leap, the blind shall see, the tongue of the dumb shall sing, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. (Isa. 35.) But these physical blessings, longevity, fertility, and harmony of the lower orders of creation are not all. The millennial age will be attended by unparalleled spiritual blessings. Israel shall be restored to her rightful place as God's chosen people; and Jerusalem, the capital city, renewed and strengthened, shall be the centre around which the new age revolves. The saved nations having passed through judgment will contribute their wealth and glory to adorn the holy city. In that blessed age war and idolatry will be no more; graft and greed, plagues and earthquakes no more. As one writer has beautifully said, "The halcyon breath of universal benevolence and brotherhood shall salute mankind, and earth itself become an Eolian harp whose only music will be Christ first, Christ middle, Christ last and on every string. Creation's groans will be stilled. The Kingdom now in 'mystery' will then bloom into 'manifestation.' "

Among the adherents of the Christian faith there are two classes of Millennialists, commonly known as Postmillennialists and Premillennialists. Having briefly defined and characterized the millennium, our purpose is to note some of the salient points of difference between these two classes.

First, we consider the difference in their views regarding present world conditions. Postmillennialism believes in a gradual and increasing success of Christianity in the present world until an idealistic condition is realized and the ills of humanity are relieved, "Through the preaching of the Gospel in all the world, the Kingdom of Christ is steadily to enlarge its boundaries until Jews and Gentiles alike become possessed of its blessings, and a millennial period is introduced in which Christianity generally prevails throughout the earth." (Strong's Systematic Theology, p. 1008.) With apologies to Dr. Coue, the doctrine of the Postmillennialists is, "Day by day in every way the world grows better and better." Ever onward and upward, ascending the heights of perfection, each year sees man better, more god-like and more angelic than he was the year before.

But the Premillennialist does not embrace this false, unscriptural optimism. "If 'the Kingdom of Christ,' " he asks, "is 'steadily enlarging its boundaries,' and the world is growing better, ho\v are we to account for the moral laxity which prevails?"

It is reported that Dr. Frederick Lynch, Sec'y. of the World Alliance for International Friendship through the churches, after a five months visit to Europe last year, said, "The status of Europe as a whole, as regards religion and ethics and public and private morals, is lower than before the war. The religious and moral revival predicted and hoped for during the war has never materialized." (Moody Monthly, Dec. 1922.) While these conditions prevail in Europe, lawlessness and crime in our own covmtry are on the increase, and many pulpits throughout the land are vacant. These facts cannot be gainsaid.

Premillennialism therefore, cannot accept the Postmillennial theory of Spiritual evolution, but sees in prevailing conditions the demonstration of the accuracy of the inspired word that

"Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." (II Tim. 3:13.)

Second, let us consider the conflicting views concerning the relation of Christ's second coming to the Millennium. The position held by Postmillennialism is that Christ's second advent is subsequent to the millennial period. "The Scripture foretells a period, called in the language of prophecy, 'a thousand years,' when Satan shall be restrained, and the saints shall reign with Christ on the earth. A comparison of the passages bearing on this subject leads us to the conclusion that this millennial blessedness and dominion is prior to the second advent." (Strong's Systematic Theology, pp. 1010-11.) That is to say, the thousand years period begins and ends before Christ comes. It was to fit this doctrine that the term "Post-millennial" was coined. "Post" means "after"; Christ's coming is after the Millennium.

The Premillennial position, as the word suggests, is diametrically, opposite to this for the reasons that:

  1. There can be no Millennium until after the cessation of Christ's present sojourn in heaven. Acts 3:19-21. The "times" of "restitution" follow the sending back of Jesus from heaven.

  2. Nowhere in the writings of prophecy does the blessed Kingdom on earth come prior to Messiah's appearing in the clouds. Rev. 1:7; 14:14; 19:11.

  3. God locates the Kingdom of glory on earth after the dashing to pieces of the Gentile nations by the Son in the Messianic judgment. "Until" then the Son sits on the Father's throne, "expecting." Ps. 2:8-9; 1 10:1-3; Heb. 9:13.

  4. There can be no Millennium until after the binding of Satan which takes place at the second coming of the Lord. Rev. 21:1-3; Isa. 27:1-6.

  5. In the parable of the tares (Matt. 13:40-43) the Kingdom comes in glory on earth only after the harvest which is at the second coming; only after the return of the nobleman from the far country.

  6. Christ's reign is a visible and personal reign on the earth. He will return "in like manner" as He ascended, i. e., visibly and personally. (Acts 1:9-11.)

To teach and preach a pre-advent Millennium is to contradict the Word of God and do violence to both the Old Testament and the New.

Space forbids further discussion of the difference between the Postmillenarian and Premillenarian doctrines. The differences already cited are perhaps the most outstanding points. There are however, several other points in Postmillenarian doctrine which from the Premillenarian point of view are fundamentally wrong:

  1. Postmillenialism completely negatives the distinction between Israel and the Church.

  2. It substitutes death, providence, great revivals, the destruction of Jerusalem, and Pentecost for the coming of Christ in many passages.

  3. It confuses the ends of the ages, thus doing violence to God's specific instruction to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

  4. It refuses to accept direct statements of God's Word concerning the second coming of Christ, referring to the language of such statements as being "highly figurative," and not to be interpreted literally.

But we are not hearing so much discussion of the "Post" and "Pre" positions today as was heard a decade ago. There is a reason for this. The chasm between the two has widened. The conflict now is being waged between Modernism and Conservatism. Almost invariably it will be found that the Postmillennialist of yesterday has given place to the Modernist of today. Likewise he who was the Premillennialist yesterday is the Conservative today. Postmillennialism is the devil's stepping stone to Modernism.

What is the difference between Postmillennialism and Premillennialism? In the last analysis there is but one answer : the former does not believe God's Word to mean what it says; the latter does. Even the modernistic anti-millennialist admits that the Premillennial theory is inescapable once the Bible is believed and its statements received. Shirley Jackson Case, Professor of Early Church History and New Testament Interpretation in the University of Chicago, says, "The scriptural test is often advanced as a guaranty of the validity of millennarianism. This is particularly true of the propaganda in its present form. May it not be said that the Premillennarians truly reproduce biblical views and are therefore deserving of our full confidence? * * * Early Christians expected soon to behold Christ returning upon the clouds even as they had seen Him ascending into heaven. In times of persecution faith in the return of Christ shone with new luster, as afflicted believers confidently exclaimed, 'Behold He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and the Saints shall reign with Him a thousand years.' So far as this type of imagery is concerned, millennarianism may quite properly claim to be biblical * * * Any attempt to evade these literalistic features of biblical imagery is futile." (The Millennial Hope, pp. 213-14-15.) We heartily concur with Professor Case that the Premillennarian conclusions are inevitable if biblical statements are accepted and believed. We believe the Bible's statements and we are Premillennialists.

Postmillennialism and Modernism are unscriptural ! The leaven is in the meal. So will it be until Jesus comes.