The Lutheran Difference: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

This entry is part 30 of 34 in the series The Lutheran Difference.

I’m starting to run out of stuff to talk about. I’m sure that I’m forgetting something, and it’s probably important. If I do eventually remember whatever it is, maybe I’ll do an addenda. But since this is the final planned post in this series, it seems only appropriate to tackle the subject of eschatology. That’s the fancy, five dollar term for the end of the world as we know it, what will happen when Jesus returns. This could easily be a short post, because Lutherans are officially amillennialists. Again, that’s a fancy term that describes a set of beliefs about Jesus’ second coming.

I could probably do a whole series of posts on this, but I’ll try my best to stick to broad strokes right now. There are three basic eschatological views: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. The whole idea of the millennium itself arises out of Revelation 20. How you interpret that passage determines what eschatological view you hold.

For some people, they believe that after Jesus returns, He will inaugurate a literal thousand year reign based out of a restored kingdom of Israel. This will end when Satan is released from a spiritual prison, ushering in the final world to come. This is the premillennial view. If you go to a Christian bookstore and check the prophecy section, you’re going to find that approximately 99% of the books there hold to this view. For example, the infamous Left Behind series was squarely in this camp.

But here’s the thing: this particular viewpoint is the newest of the bunch. It’s also the loudest. But at the same time, it’s also held by the fewest number of people. It may not seem that way, given the sheer volume of books that have been published. But it’s true. The vast majority of Christianity does not agree with this viewpoint of Christ’s second coming. It’s in the decided minority.

The second view, postmillennialism, teaches that Jesus’ second coming will happen after a literal thousand year golden age. It was the belief that, because of the work of the Church, a golden age of prosperity for all people would break upon the Earth. The world would become more and more Christian until finally, a Christian utopia would be initiated that would last a thousand years. This view was extremely popular in the 19th century, but it kind of fell apart when those two pesky World Wars wrecked everything. There are some stubborn holdouts, but this is an ailing theological viewpoint.

The vast majority of Christian across the centuries have held to the final viewpoint, namely that of amillennialism. We amillennialists interpret that passage from Revelation a bit more figuratively. We see it, not as an event that is to come, but an event that is on-going now. We believe that when Jesus died on the cross, Satan and his ability to deceive the nations was bound. In other words, we are in a non-literal millenial reign of Christ right this second, one that will continue until Christ returns in glory.

For the amillennialist, the end times aren’t the subject of big fancy charts or anything like that. Instead, it’s fairly simple: life will continue as it has until the day and hour that no one knows. When that time comes, Jesus will return without warning, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. And when that happens, we will see the resurrection of all the dead and Jesus will usher in the new heaven and new earth, a restoration of Eden, where we will dwell with God forever.

And that’s it. That’s the way it is. Like I said, we could get into a lot of the nitty gritty, but I think this is a good overview. Lutherans stand with most of historic Christianity and most modern denominations in our understanding of Christ’s return.

And I think we’re done. This wraps up our look at Lutheran theology. Or for the most part. There’s one more thing I want to do before we wrap it up completely. But come back for that next week.

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One Comment:

  1. Augustine in City of God was both Amillennial AND Premillennial (which surprised me until I read it myself, though he saw the millennium and the eternal reign of Christ at his return as essentially the same thing). And he wasn’t the only one. In addition, some Premillennials believe the Kingdom of God is internal (some call it the “mystery form of the kingdom”) for the universal church of this age but will be fulfilled ultimately by a literal return of Christ. So your categories of historical belief don’t actually match church history entirely–nor current belief entirely.

    It is super hard to seriously read any Biblical prophecy and not believe Christ will come back again literally…though some Christians have done so. Expecting a literal return of Christ and his literal reign is the original Christian doctrine, in fact.

    That doctrine was repackaged a bit with premillennialism but that is only a variation on the theme of a literal return and rule of Christ, which is the original Christian concept of Christ in the future (honest). The main difference in the modern doctrine of the millennium is it is seen as separate time period from the eternal literal reign of Christ. While early Christians lumped the eternal reign of Christ with his return and saw no special role for 1000 years. Believing the millennium = Christ’s eternal reign at his return does not equal amillennialism in the modern sense, even though it is a form of amillennialism.

    So you actually wound up misrepresenting what Christians have always believed on this topic. Though I think you did so on accident. It is a common mistake. But FYI.

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