Dr. Michael J. Vlach
Premillennialism is the view that there will be a kingdom of Jesus between the second coming of Jesus and the eternal state. This millennium is both future from our standpoint and earthly in nature. Yet while many premillennialists have focused on the fact that there is a coming earthly kingdom of Jesus (see Revelation 19-21), it is also important to explain why there must be such a kingdom. It is one thing to know something is true, it is another to know why something is true. What is the rationale for premillennialism? In this entry I address the "Why?" question. I offer four reasons why there must be a future earthly kingdom of Jesus and why this perspective is so important to the Bible's storyline.
First, Jesus, the last Adam, must successfully rule from and over the realm where the first Adam failed—earth
This point draws a strong parallel between Adam and Jesus and the roles that God expected them to fulfill. So the rationale for premillennialism starts in Gen 1:26-28. Genesis 1:26-28 reveals that God created man to "rule" and "subdue" the earth on His behalf.
Adam, though, failed this kingdom mandate. He sinned and the consequences were death and a curse upon the earth. However, passages like Ps 8:4-6 and Heb 2:5-8 show that God has never revoked man's right and responsibility to rule the world. Psalm 8 is largely an inspired commentary on the mandate of Gen 1:26-28 and the writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 and in doing so takes us back to the truths of Gen 1:26-28.
Yet as Heb 2:8 states, "But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him [man]." The writer tells us that man currently is not ruling over the earth successfully for God's glory. If man's reign over the earth has not been fulfilled yet it must in the future. So how will the earth ever be ruled over as God intended?
Jesus is the answer to the problem. Jesus as the Last Adam (see 1 Cor 15:45) will rule and succeed where Adam failed. Thus, Jesus' kingdom reign must be from and over the earth. He must complete the kingdom mandate of Gen 1:26–28. To compare:
Adam → tasked to rule from and over the earth → FAILURE
Jesus (Last Adam) → tasked to rule from and over the earth → SUCCESS
Since a kingdom reign over the earth by man has not been accomplished yet, Jesus must do so at His return. The millennial reign of Jesus will be the fulfillment of the Gen 1:26-28 mandate.
Second, there must be a sustained visible reign of Jesus in the realm (earth) where Jesus was rejected at His first coming
This is a Christo-centric argument for premillennialism. At His first coming to earth with His incarnation, Jesus was scorned and rejected by those He came to save. As John tells us, "He came unto His own and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). So then, there must be a sustained time in history where Jesus the Son receives honor and glory with a kingdom reign that occurs in the realm where His humiliation and rejection took place. Since this has not occurred yet, it will happen with the millennial kingdom on earth. To compare:
Jesus' first coming → Rejection of Jesus on earth
Jesus' second coming → Vindication of Jesus with glory and honor on earth
While Jesus is currently exalted at the right hand of God, God the Father will establish His Son as King in the realm where the rebellion of man occurred and where His Son was rejected (see Ps 2:6; 110:2). And this reign will be recognized by everyone. As Zech 14:9 states—"the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one." Note that when the kingdom arrives it will be on "earth" and there will be no other religions or worship of any other God. That clearly anticipates a future time since these conditions have not occurred yet.
While millions in history have worshiped Jesus as Lord and Savior, the vast majority of the world has not. Just survey the nations of the world today on a map and observe which ones are bowing the knee to Jesus. There are none. The nations with their leaders are still in active rebellion against God's "Anointed One" (see Ps 2:2). We see this in the myriads of false religions and philosophies along with overt acts of rebellion that characterize what Paul called "this present evil age" (Gal 1:4).
All Christians agree that honor will be given to Jesus when He returns to earth. When Jesus comes again in glory every eye will see Him. He will slay His enemies, and there will be no doubt as to His power. But certainly the recognition of Jesus will involve more than the event of His second coming. It includes a kingdom reign, a reign that Paul says must occur before Jesus hands His kingdom over to God the Father according to 1 Cor 15:24-28. Thus, the millennial kingdom on earth is special period where the Father establishes His Son as King over the entire world and the Son receives the glory He deserves.
In sum, Jesus must be honored with a sustained kingdom reign that is visible to all. God's intent is for His Son to rule the nations from Jerusalem and a restored Israel (see Ps 110:2). Before the perfect eternal state comes, Jesus must rule over this planet that rejected Him at His first coming. He will rule with righteousness but also with a rod of iron (see Psalm 2; 110; Rev 2:26–27). At His coming Jesus will sit on His glorious throne (see Matt 19:28 and 25:31), and He will rule over this world to the glory of God. When this phase of the kingdom program is completed the Son will hand the kingdom over to God the Father (see 1 Cor 15:24-28).
Third, there must be a reward and vindication of the saints in the realm where they were persecuted
We can learn much about the kingdom by studying how it relates to the saints of God. The Bible reveals that this age before Messiah's kingdom is one of persecution and opposition of the saints of God from both the world and Satan (see Revelation 2-3). The blood of the martyrs throughout history and the abuse of God's people in many lands confirms this fact.
In addition to looking at how the millennium relates to Jesus and the glory He deserves, it is also important to look at what the millennium means for those who are servants of King Jesus. The reign of the Messiah is closely linked with the reign of His saints. When He reigns the saints reign.
Thus, the millennium will be a time of vindication and reward for God's people in the realm where they were persecuted. There will be an ironic reversal of roles. God turns the tables on His enemies and flips the situation of believers. God's people, who now are persecuted by Satan and the nations, will be rewarded, vindicated, and given authority over the nations. They go from being the persecuted to those who reign.
In Rev 2:26-27 Jesus promised the persecuted church: "He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron..." Paul also declared, "If we endure, we will also reign with Him" (2 Tim 2:12). In both passages, faithful service now in a hostile world leads to a kingdom reign later. That this reign is on earth is explained by Rev 5:10 which declares: "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
Thus, a future millennial kingdom on earth is necessary for the reward and vindication of God's people.
This truth is also taught in Daniel 7. This chapter tells of a figure called "the Son of Man" who is presented before the "Ancient of Days" and granted "dominion, glory, and a kingdom" (see Dan 7:13–14). The Son of Man represents Jesus and the Ancient of Days is God the Father. We are then told of the evil ministry of a "horn" who appears to be a world leader rising from the midst of ten other leaders ("horns") (see Dan 7:20). This "horn" offers great boasts and persecutes the saints of God on earth. But this persecution is only for a time until God intervenes:
"I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom" (Dan 7:21–22).
This enemy of God's people prevails overs the saints for a while. He is "overpowering them," but God intervenes on the saints' behalf. When God does this "judgment was passed in favor of the saints," and they "took possession of the kingdom." This reverses the previous situation. Persecution on earth dramatically leads to vindication on earth. To use a boxing analogy, just when the people of God seem on the ropes and destined for defeat, a knockout of the enemy occurs and God's people are the victors. The saints were not reigning when the "horn" was waging war against them. But when God intervenes with judgment and His kingdom comes, the roles are reversed, the enemy is defeated, and God's people are the ones in power.
The major point is that God's people are persecuted for a time, but when Messiah's kingdom comes, reward and vindication come with it and the enemy is destroyed. This is not occurring now but it will in the coming kingdom. Or to put another way:
Present age → Saints are persecuted on earth as they remain faithful to Jesus
Millennial Kingdom → Saints are rewarded on earth for faithful service
Fourth, there must be a period when all yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies and promises will be literally fulfilled
The two comings of Jesus have important implications. His first coming brought His sacrificial death. Jesus' first coming also brought messianic salvation to believing Jews and Gentiles and the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit. Many promises and prophecies were fulfilled with Jesus' first coming.
Yet the Bible also indicates that there are major aspects of prophecy that still need to be fulfilled. For example, in Acts 1:6, the apostles asked Jesus, "Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul explains that the Day of the Lord had not started yet. Also, the dimensions of Israel's promised land as described in Gen 15:18–21 still need to be fulfilled. The restoration of the city of Jerusalem has not happened (see Jer 31:38-40; Luke 21:24). Harmony among nations needs to occur (see Isa 2:2–4). Restoration of animals needs to be realized (see Isaiah 11). In sum, many of the national and physical promises of the Bible are unfulfilled currently and look forward to future completion.
So then, unfulfilled prophecies and promises are a major reason why there must be a millennium. The millennium is the ideal time period when unfulfilled prophecies and promises will be fulfilled on earth under the direct reign of the Messiah. To compare:
Jesus' first coming → many prophecies and promises were literally fulfilled
Jesus' second coming → prophecies and promises not fulfilled at the first coming will be literally fulfilled
But why must fulfillment take place during a coming millennium and not the present age or the coming eternal state? If we claim that all the kingdom prophecies and promises are being fulfilled in this present age then we would have to spiritualize many of the promises and prophecies since many of these have not literally occurred. But can we spiritualize the restoration of creation to this age? Can we spiritualize harmony among the animal kingdom? What about the restoration of Israel and physical/land promises to Israel? If we do so, we set up an inconsistent paradigm in which promises connected with Jesus' first coming were fulfilled literally but others will be fulfilled spiritually or non-literally. This is not a correct approach.
On the other hand, if we claim that unfulfilled prophecies will be fulfilled in the coming eternal state, we disconnect fulfillment with the direct mediatorial reign of Jesus the Messiah. Remember that after Jesus completes His kingdom reign He hands His kingdom over to the Father (see 1 Cor 15:24-28). It is unlikely that fulfillment of key promises and prophecies of the Old Testament would not come under the direct reign of Jesus and His mediatorial/messianic kingdom. So the coming millennium is the perfect place for unfulfilled prophecies and promises to be fulfilled.
Premillennialism fits well with the Bible's storyline and connects the beginning of the Bible with the end. There will be a time when mankind will fulfill the kingdom mandate of Gen 1:26-28 through the ultimate man, Jesus, and those who identify with Him. Premillennialism also means that Jesus will receive honor and glory in the realm where His humiliation and rejection occurred. In addition, premillennialism entails that persecuted saints will receive reward and vindication in the realm where their persecution occurred. Premillennialism also means that all unfulfilled promises and prophecies will find fulfillment. These are great truths that should be embraced.
But what would be lost if premillennialism were not true? First, the kingdom mandate of Gen 1:26-28 would go unfulfilled as there would be no successful rule of man from and over the earth. Second, there would be no sustained period in history where Jesus receives the glory and honor He deserves before the eternal state. Third, there would be no vindication and reward of the saints in the realm where they experienced persecution. And fourth, there would be no literal fulfillment of all the promises and covenants under the reign of the Messiah, where these promises are to be fulfilled.
This brief entry is not all that could be said about premillennialism. But it is an attempt to explain why premillennialism is necessary and why it is such an important part of the Bible's metanarrative.
- Who Enters the Millennial Kingdom? • BPB (Tony Garland)
- The Kingdom Program in Daniel 7 • BPB (Michael Vlach)
- The Coming Kingdom (Series) • BPB (Andy Woods)
- International Harmony under the Messiah According to Isaiah 2:1-4 • MikeVlach.com
- The Future Destiny of the Universal Church • BPB (Arnold Fruchtenbaum )