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What is historic premillennialism?

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Historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism are two different systems of eschatology. Here are a few examples of the differences between the two:

• Historic premillennialism teaches that the church was in the fore-vision of Old Testament prophecy, while dispensationalism teaches that the church is hardly, if at all, mentioned by the Old Testament prophets.

• Historic premillennialism teaches that the present age of grace was predicted in the Old Testament. Dispensationalism holds that the present age was unforeseen in the Old Testament and thus is a “great parenthesis” in history introduced because the Jews rejected the kingdom.

• Historic premillennialism teaches a millennium after the second advent of Christ but is not much concerned with classifying other epochs of history. Usually, dispensationalism teaches seven divisions of time. The present age is the sixth such dispensation; the last one will be the millennial age after the second coming.

• Historic premillennialism is posttribulational; dispensational premillennialism usually embraces the pretribulational view.

The premillennial view of the end times is thus advanced in two different ways: historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism. The Bible contains many prophecies about the future, with the New Testament speaking extensively about the return of Jesus to earth. Matthew 24, much of the book of Revelation, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18 are the more salient references to the second coming.

Historic premillennialism was held by a large majority of Christians during the first three centuries of the Christian era. Many of the church fathers such as Ireneaus, Papias, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and others taught that there would be a visible kingdom of God upon the earth after the return of Christ. Historic premillennialism taught that the Antichrist would appear on earth and the seven-year tribulation would begin. Next would be the rapture, and then Jesus and His church would return to earth to rule for a thousand years. The faithful spend eternity in the New Jerusalem.

When Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the fourth century, many things began to change, including acceptance of historic premillennialism. Amillennialism soon became the prevailing doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the most influential historic premillennialists was George Eldon Ladd, an evangelical New Testament scholar and professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. It was through Ladd’s work that historic premillennialism gained scholarly respect and popularity among evangelical and Reformed theologians of the twentieth century. Other well-known historic premillennialists include Walter Martin; John Warwick Montgomery; J. Barton Payne; Henry Alford, a noted Greek scholar; and Theodor Zahn, a German New Testament scholar.

Historic premillennialism is one system of eschatology that has support in the Protestant community. Generally, all of the premillennialist beliefs teach that the tribulation is followed by 1,000 years of peace when all live under the authority of Christ. Afterwards, in a brief, final battle, Satan is permanently conquered. The placement of the rapture in relation to the other events is one of the main differences between historic premillennialism and premillennial dispensationalism.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022