Eschatology is the study of end times, particularly the second coming of Jesus, the Day of Judgment, the destruction of the earth, and the after life. Christianity in its broadest sense is divided in regards to eschatological beliefs, and this division is largely dependent on how one interprets the reference to the “one thousand year” period (i.e. millennium) during which Satan is bound (Revelation 20:2-3) and Christ reigns (Revelation 20:4-6).
Some believe that this millennium is a reference to an earthly kingdom in which Jesus will physically reign for a literal one thousand years prior to the Day of Judgment. This eschatological stance is called Premillennialism because it teaches that Jesus will return before the millennial reign.
Others believe that this one thousand years is a reference to the gradual, Christianized progress of the world that will result in the salvation of most of mankind as well as the predominance of Christian ethics, and, thereby, usher in the reign of Christ. This eschatological stance is called Postmillennialism because it teaches that Jesus will return after the millennium.
Still others believe that the millennial reign is symbolic of Christ reigning through His church, and, therefore, is a reference to the “church age,” which comprises the time between Jesus’ ascension and second coming. This doctrinal stance is typically called Amillennialism, which means “no millennium,” but a better name for it might by Nuncmillennialism, which means “the millennium is now.”
Historically the Churches of Christ have possessed members and congregations that ascribed to all of these eschatological doctrines. But since the early 20th century, the generally accepted eschatological teaching of the Churches of Christ has been that of Amillennialism or Nuncmillenialism. The reason that Churches of Christ have adopted this theology regarding the end times is multifaceted. In order to correctly understand the millennial reign we must apply the following biblical principles to our interpretation.
First, the Bible teaches that the last days were inaugurated by Jesus’ incarnation and will be consummated by His second coming. In other words, the Bible teaches that we are currently in the last days. This is evident during Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he quoted from the prophet Joel saying, “in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17 emphasis added), and indicated that this prophesy was fulfilled by what happened in the upper room that day. This is also evident when the author of Hebrews started his book with the words, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2 emphasis added). Thus, the Bible indicates that we are not waiting for the last days to arrive but instead are living in the last days. One minister summed it up best when he said, “Nothing has to happen that hasn’t happened yet before Jesus can come back.”
Second, the Bible teaches that the “church” and the “kingdom” are one in the same. In Matthew 16:16, Peter confessed the identity of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In response to that beautiful confession Jesus said, “you are Peter, and on this rock [i.e. a reference to Peter’s confession] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In this response, Jesus referred to the “church” and the “kingdom” interchangeably. In fact, “Peter used those “keys” (a figure of speech for ‘authority to open’) on Pentecost and also at the house of Cornelius (see Acts 2,10) by the preaching of the gospel, to admit baptized believers into the church.” It should also be noted that in the first chapter of Revelation, John wrote that through His death Jesus has “made us [referring to himself and the members of the seven churches in Asia] a kingdom” (Revelation 1:6), and, a few verses later, he referred to himself as “your brother and partner in…the kingdom.” (Revelation 1:9). John’s words imply that the “church” and the “kingdom” are one in the same. If the “church” is the “kingdom” then the kingdom is already established and the figurative millennial reign has already begun.
Third, the Bible teaches that all eschatological events will unfold on one final day rather than over a period of several years. Scripture refers to this day as “the day of the Lord,” “the day of God,” “the day of Christ,” “the day of judgment,” “the day of God’s wrath,” “the day of redemption,” “the last day,” and sometimes simply “the day” or “that day.” More specifically, the Bible indicates that on this last day the trumpet will sound (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), Christ will descend from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Acts 1:11), the dead will rise and the living will be “changed” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:52), all will be judged (Romans 2:6, 16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12-13), the righteous will be rewarded while the wicked are punished (Romans 2:5-9; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 20:15), and creation will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:1). Scripture indicates that all of these events will occur in succession on one last day rather than over a period of several years as is espoused in Premillennial and Postmillennial teachings.
Finally, the Bible teaches that there will be no signs by which we will be able to recognize the coming of “the day of the Lord.” Scripture indicates that Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected, “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2; cf. 2 Peter 3:10). Thus, it will not be preempted by signs and cannot be predicted. Premillennial events such as the rapture and tribulation serve as eschatological signs, and, therefore, contradict this biblical principle.
Based on these biblical principles, the congregations associated with the Churches of Christ in general believe that the millennial reign mentioned in Revelation 20 is a symbolic reference to the period of the church’s existence from the Day of Pentecost until the Day of Judgment, and, thereby, are classified as Amillenniallists or Nuncmillennialists.