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The Major Prophetic Systems 

by Michael Bugg

Different scholars have different views on just how we should understand the book of Revelation and its related prophecies in the Scriptures, and out of those differing methods of interpretation come the many different and often confusing views on prophecy.  Unfortunately, we humans have a tendency to over-generalize.  For example, many preterist authors confuse premillennialism with dispensationalism, confusing two different systems that deal with two different questions:  "When is the Millennium described in Revelation chapter 20?" vs. "How does God interact with Man, particularly the bodies of Israel and the Church?"  Since an understanding of the different views and what they believe will be useful to the newcomer to Biblical prophecy, let’s take a brief look at them.

The prophetic viewpoints can be summarized by four primary qualities:  Millennial, how they view the Millennium of Revelation 20; Temporal, whether they believe that Revelation was fulfilled in the past or lies yet future to us; Raptural, when the Rapture of the Ekklesia will take place in regards to the events of Revelation; and in Israeology, how they view the relationship of Israel and the Ekklesia.


In Rev. 20:1-5, we read of a period during which Satan will be thrown into the Abyss and the Resurrected saints will reign “with the Messiah a thousand years.”  How one understands this passage is foundational to their understanding of the prophetic Scriptures. 

            Over the centuries, three competing views have developed.

Premillennialism is the view that we are now living in the time before (pre-) the Millennium of Revelation 20.  As a general rule, premillennialists believe that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel and tend to interpret prophecy more literally than those of the other viewpoints.   Premillennialism was unquestionably the first prophetic viewpoint of the early Ekklesia.

Amillennialism (literally, “no millennium”) holds instead that we are currently living within the Millennium, but that the thousand years described in Revelation 20:3, 4, and 5 is simply an idiom for an undefined, but very long time.  Most amillennialists do believe that the Messiah is coming bodily again, but that the Ekklesia has replaced Israel in God’s plans and that there is no place for the latter as an ethnic nation.  Amillennialists correspondingly tend to interpret prophecy allegorically.

Postmillennialism is a position that we can understand to be a subset of amillennialism, and throughout this book, refutations of amillennialism should be understood to apply to the postmillennial view as well.  The major distinction between the two is that postmillennialists believe that Messiah will return to a triumphant Ekklesia that has successfully converted the world.  Some will go so far as to posit that not only should the Ekklesia live in accordance with the Torah, but even seek to impose it on society.[1]  The Dominionist, Reconstructionist, and Kingdom Now movements are all postmillennial in their view.


In prophetic commentaries, we often see discussions or critiques of the various millennial viewpoints.  What are more often ignored are the different temporal viewpoints of Revelation:  Is the whole of Revelation about our past or future?  These views can be summed up as follows:

Preterism is the belief that all, or nearly all, of the Bible’s prophecies of the End Times were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel as a nation in 70 CE   Most preterists still believe in a future, literal Second Coming, but there are those, known as extreme or consistent preterists, who believe that the only Second Coming was the Lord’s “coming” in an invisible form to judge Israel.[2]  Preterisism universally holds to replacement theology (sometimes called “reform” or “covenant” theology), which means that they believe that the Ekklesia has “replaced” Israel as God’s chosen people.  Preterists are nearly always amillennial or postmillennial, and very allegorical in their interpretations.

Historicism is a view that developed during the Reformation that Revelation is a book prophesying the whole of Church history from the time that Yochanan (John) penned it to the Second Coming.  This viewpoint subscribes heavily to both allegorical interpretation and the idea that days in the prophetic Scriptures nearly always stand for years—thus, the 1260 days of the Beast’s reign in Revelation 13 are really 1260 years, nearly always associated in some way with the Roman Catholic papacy.  Most historicists are amillennial and replacement theologians, but there are exceptions.

Futurism, in contrast to both of the above views, states that the vast majority of Revelation is about a specific seven-year period right before Messiah’s Second Coming.  Futurists tend to be dispensational to one extent or another—that is, believing that God has dealt with humanity in different ways at different times—though not all would subscribe to all of what is currently termed Dispensationalism.  The vast majority of futurists believe in a more or less literal interpretation and that the Lord will fulfill all of His promises to Israel exactly as given in the Tanakh.

Idealism is a method of interpretation which removes the book from any real-world application, instead viewing it as an allegory of the Ekklesia’s or even the individual’s struggle to victory in Messiah.  While certainly much of the book has application to the individual and the Ekklesia in its warnings and lessons even outside of the End Times, Revelation itself claims to be a prophetic picture of events in Yochanan’s future,[3] and as we will see, links together all of the other End Time prophecies in the Bible. 


In addition, there are several viewpoints on the Rapture, when Yeshua will catch the Ekklesia up to Himself as per 1 Th. 4:15-17 and 1 Co. 15:51-58.  Will it be before, during, or after the period described in Revelation?  Those of the amillennial camp, whether historicist or preterist in their outlook, view this as a moot issue—since the taking of the Messiah’s Community did not happen in the past, obviously it must come at the end along with the Second Coming.  For futurists, however, this is a very important—and divisive—issue.

Pretribulationism believes that the Rapture is a separate event that will come before Daniel’s Seventieth Week (if you’re unfamiliar with this particular prophetic term, a detailed explanation appears in our first interlude), which pretribs often refer to as the Tribulation Period.  Pretribulationalism is usually associated with Dispensationalism because of the clear distinction it draws between Israel and the Body of Messiah, even to the point of declaring that God will not really deal with Israel until after He removes the Ekklesia from the world. 

Classical Posttribulationism is the opposite view, holding that the Rapture and the Second Coming are one and the same, and both will happen at the very end of the “Tribulation Period” at the battle of Armageddon.  Posttribulationalism was the clear teaching of the earliest fathers of the Ekklesia.  Posttribs see the Ekklesia as passing through but being preserved from God’s wrath, just as Israel did in the days of the Exodus through the ten plagues.

Midtribulationism is an attempt at a mediating position between the first two.  It holds that the Ekklesia will undergo the first half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week, or “the Tribulation,” but be spared from the second half, the Great Tribulation, in which the Antichrist will reign.

Prewrath, the belief held by the author of this book, is a relatively young system, the term having been coined by Marvin Rosenthal and Robert Van Kampen in the early 90s.  However, it can be considered to be a modified posttrib position, and thus agrees with the earliest Ekklesia on the subject.  Prewrath draws a distinction between the Great Tribulation, Satan’s persecution of the people of God, and the Day of Adonai, the time when God will pour out His wrath on the earth, and states that the Rapture and the Second Coming will occur in between the two, sometime within the second half of the Great Tribulation.  For reasons that will become clear as we continue, this event must take place no fewer than six months before Armageddon.


And finally, there are three main views on how we should understand God’s promises to Israel and Israel’s relationship to the Ekklesia.  These positions are:

Supercessionism, called Replacement Theology by its detractors, which is also known as a form of Reform Theology, though the position predates the Reformation by over a Millennium.  This position believes that the Church is the “New Israel,” with all of the promises made to the Jewish people transferred to it.  Since many of those promises speak specifically of the Land God gave to Abraham and a restored Temple service, Replacement Theology tends to regard them as mere allegories of a spiritual reality, and is usually Preterist or Historicist as a result.

Dispensationalism is the other side of the coin.  Dispensationalism teaches that there are several distinct dispensations (usually seven in number) in which God’s way of dealing with Man differed.  It shares with Reform Theology a belief that before Yeshua humans were required to follow the Law, but that after Him we entered a new period of Grace in which the Torah was suspended; however, many also believe that there will be a “return” to the Law during the Millennium.  Dispensationalists also believe that the Ekklesia is a mystery that the Tanakh did not directly prophesy, and is a completely separate entity from Israel.  Most Dispensationalists are Premillennial, and due to a belief that God will not begin again His plan with Israel until the Ekklesia is removed, are Pretribulational as well.

Olive Tree Theology is a term coined by David Stern to describe a new way of understanding the Ekklesia’s relationship with Israel.[4]  It agrees with Reform Theology that the Ekkesia is identified with Israel, but denies that the Ekklesia has replaced Israel.  It agrees with Dispensationalism that all of God’s promises to the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still stand as written, but denies that the Ekklesia is an independent entity from Israel.  It may be termed Adoption Theology, since it views the (predominantly Gentile) Ekklesia as being like a child adopted into a family.  The adopted child does not replace the natural children, even if said children’s relationship with their Father is currently strained, but is rather added to them so that the household becomes all the larger and richer.

I can be categorized as a Premillennial Futurist, an Adoptionist, and a Prewrath Rapturist, but it would be completely incorrect to label me as a Dispensationalist, since I do not believe that the Ekklesia and Israel are meant to be two separate entities, nor do I believe that we now live in an Age of Grace in contrast to a previous Age of Law:  Salvation has always been by God's Grace received by trusting Him (Gen. 15:6), and Yeshua commanded us to continue keeping the whole Torah (Mat. 5:17-19).  Likewise, I know Premillennialists who are also Historicists, and who get highly annoyed when Premill is confused with Futurism, Dispensationalism, or questions of the Rapture.

We should endeavor to be clear about what we believe and what our opponents believe when discussing our views of theology (or anything else).  It is hoped that this article will help to clarify what the differing viewpoints about eschatology believe and will foster clearer communication between the various groups.


[1] In distinction, while Messianics may likewise choose to live under Torah and recognize its eternal relevance, we also recognize that it can be imposed as national, or international, law only by Yeshua Himself.

[2] This extreme form of preterism actually goes far beyond the bounds of what is considered orthodox Christianity, denying the physical Resurrection at the End of the Age, and for this reason, nominal preterists usually dislike having their position associated with it. 

[3] Rev. 1:1 and 19, 4:1, etc.

[4] Stern, Manifesto, pp. 47ff


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