Are you Pre, Mid, or Post?
If you don’t know how to answer that question, you’re probably a Catholic. Most
Fundamentalists and Evangelicals know that these words are shorthand for
pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation. The terms all refer to
when the rapture is supposed to occur.
In Revelation 20:1–3, 7–8, we read, "Then I saw an angel coming down from
heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And
he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and
bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and
sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the
thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. . .
. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison
and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the
The period of a thousand years, the writer tells us, is the reign of Christ, and
the thousand-year period is popularly called the millennium. The millennium is a
harbinger of the end of the world, and Revelation 20 is interpreted in three
ways by conservative Protestants. The three schools of thought are called
postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism. Let’s take a look at
According to Loraine Boettner in his book The Millennium (he also wrote
the seriously defective anti-Catholic book Roman Catholicism),
postmillennialism is "that view of last things which holds that the kingdom of
God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and
the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually is to be
Christianized, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long
period of righteousness and peace, commonly called the millennium."
This view was popular with nineteenth-century Protestants, when progress was
expected even in religion and before twentieth-century horrors were tasted.
Today few hold to it, except such groups as Christian Reconstructionists, an
outgrowth of the conservative Presbyterian movement.
Commentators point out that postmillennialism is to be distinguished from the
view of theological and secular liberals who envision social betterment and even
the kingdom of God coming through purely natural, rather than supernatural,
means. Postmillennialists, however, argue that man is incapable of building a
paradise for himself; paradise will only come about by God’s grace.
Postmillennialists also typically say that the millennium spoken of in
Revelation 20 should be understood figuratively and that the phrase "a thousand
years" refers not to a fixed period of ten centuries, but to an indefinitely
long time. For example, Psalm 50:10 speaks of God’s sovereignty over all that is
and tells us that God owns "the cattle on a thousand hills." This is not meant
to be taken literally.
At the millennium’s end will come the Second Coming, the general resurrection of
the dead, and the last judgment.
The problem with postmillennialism is that Scripture does not depict the world
as experiencing a
period of complete (or relatively complete) Christianization before the Second
Coming. There are numerous passages that speak of the age between the First and
Second Comings as a time of great sorrow and strife for Christians. One
revealing passage is the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24–30,
36–43). In this parable, Christ declares that the righteous and the wicked will
both be planted and grow alongside each other in God’s field ("the field is the
world," Matt. 13:38) until the end of the world, when they will be separated,
judged, and either be thrown into the fire of hell or inherit God’s kingdom
(Matt. 13:41–43). There is no biblical evidence that the world will eventually
become totally (or even almost totally) Christian, but rather that there will
always be a parallel development of the righteous and the wicked until the final
The amillennial view interprets Revelation 20 symbolically and sees the
millennium not as an earthly golden age in which the world will be totally
Christianized, but as the present period of Christ’s rule in heaven and on the
earth through his Church. This was the view of the Protestant Reformers and is
still the most common view among traditional Protestants, though not among most
of the newer Evangelical and Fundamentalist groups.
Amillennialists also believe in the coexistence of good and evil on earth until
the end. The tension that exists on earth between the righteous and the wicked
will be resolved only by Christ’s return at the end of time. The golden age of
the millennium is instead the heavenly reign of Christ with the saints, in which
the Church on earth participates to some degree, though not in the glorious way
it will at the Second Coming.
Amillennialists point out that the thrones of the saints who reign with Christ
during the millennium appear to be set in heaven (Rev. 20:4; cf. 4:4, 11:16) and
that the text nowhere states that Christ is on earth during this reign with the
They explain that, although the world will never be fully Christianized until
the Second Coming, the millennium does have effects on earth in that Satan is
bound in such a way that he cannot deceive the nations by hindering the
preaching of the gospel (Rev. 20:3). They point out that Jesus spoke of the
necessity of "binding the strong man" (Satan) in order to plunder his house by
rescuing people from his grip (Matt. 12:29). When the disciples returned from a
tour of preaching the gospel, rejoicing at how demons were subject to them,
Jesus declared, "I saw Satan fall like lightning" (Luke 10:18). Thus for the
gospel to move forward at all in the world, it is necessary for Satan to be
bound in one sense, even if he may still be active in attacking individuals (1
The millennium is a golden age not when compared to the glories of the age to
come, but in comparison to all prior ages of human history, in which the world
was swallowed in pagan darkness. Today, a third of the human race is Christian
and even more than that have repudiated pagan idols and embraced the worship of
the God of Abraham.
Third on the list is premillennialism, currently the most popular among
Fundamentalists and Evangelicals (though a century ago amillennialism was). Most
of the books written about the End Times, such as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great
Planet Earth, are written from a premillennial perspective.
Like postmillennialists, premillennialists believe that the thousand years is an
earthly golden age during which the world will be thoroughly Christianized.
Unlike postmillennialists, they believe that it will occur after the Second
Coming rather than before, so that Christ reigns physically on earth during the
millennium. They believe that the Final Judgment will occur only after the
millennium is over (which many interpret to be an exactly one thousand year
But Scripture does not support the idea of a thousand year span between the
Second Coming and the Final Judgment. Christ declares, "For the Son of man is to
come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every
man for what he has done" (Matt. 16:27), and "[w]hen the Son of man comes in his
glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from
another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. . . . And they [the
goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal
life" (Matt. 25:31–32, 46).
Premillennialists often give much attention to the doctrine of the rapture.
According to this doctrine, when Christ returns, all of the elect who have died
will be raised and transformed into a glorious state, along with the living
elect, and then be caught up to be with Christ. The key text referring to the
rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, which states, "For the Lord himself will
descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with
the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we
who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord."
Premillennialists hold, as do virtually all Christians (except certain
postmillennialists), that the Second Coming will be preceded by a time of great
trouble and persecution of God’s people (2 Thess. 2:1–4). This period is often
called the tribulation. Until the nineteenth century, all Christians agreed that
the rapture—though it was not called that at the time—would occur immediately
before the Second Coming, at the close of the period of persecution. This
position is today called the "post-tribulational" view because it says the
rapture will come after the tribulation.
But in the 1800s, some began to claim that the rapture would occur before the
period of persecution. This position, now known as the "pre-tribulational" view,
also was embraced by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of a Fundamentalist
movement that became known as Dispensationalism. Darby’s pre-tribulational view
of the rapture was then picked up by a man named C.I. Scofield, who taught the
view in the footnotes of his Scofield Reference Bible, which was widely
distributed in England and America. Many Protestants who read the Scofield
Reference Bible uncritically accepted what its footnotes said and adopted
the pre-tribulational view, even though no Christian had heard of it in the
previous 1800 years of Church history.
Eventually, a third position developed, known as the "mid-tribulational" view,
which claims that the rapture will occur during the middle of the tribulation.
Finally, a fourth view developed that claims that there will not be a single
rapture where all believers are gathered to Christ, but that there will be a
series of mini-raptures that occur at different times with respect to the
This confusion has caused the movement to split into bitterly opposed camps.
The problem with all of the positions (except the historic, post-tribulational
view, which was accepted by all Christians, including non-premillennialists) is
that they split the Second Coming into different events. In the case of the pre-trib
view, Christ is thought to have three comings—one when he was born in Bethlehem,
one when he returns for the rapture at the tribulation’s beginning, and one at
tribulation’s end, when he establishes the millennium. This three-comings view
is foreign to Scripture.
Problems with the pre-tribulational view are highlighted by Baptist (and
premillennial) theologian Dale Moody, who wrote: "Belief in a pre-tribulational
rapture . . . contradicts all three chapters in the New Testament that mention
the tribulation and the rapture together (Mark 13:24–27; Matt. 24:26–31; 2
Thess. 2:1–12). . . . The theory is so biblically bankrupt that the usual
defense is made using three passages that do not even mention a tribulation
(John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:52). These are important passages, but they
have not had one word to say about a pre-tribulational rapture. The score is 3
to 0, three passages for a post-tribulational rapture and three that say nothing
on the subject.
. . . Pre-tribulationism is biblically bankrupt and does not know it" (The
Word of Truth, 556–7).
What’s the Catholic Position?
As far as the millennium goes, we tend to agree with Augustine and,
derivatively, with the amillennialists. The Catholic position has thus
historically been "amillennial" (as has been the majority Christian position in
general, including that of the Protestant Reformers), though Catholics do not
typically use this term. The Church has rejected the premillennial position,
sometimes called "millenarianism" (see the
Catechism of the Catholic Church 676). In the
1940s the Holy Office judged that premillennialism "cannot safely be taught,"
though the Church has not dogmatically defined this issue.
With respect to the rapture, Catholics certainly believe that the event of our
gathering together to be with Christ will take place, though they do not
generally use the word "rapture" to refer to this event (somewhat ironically,
since the term "rapture" is derived from the text of the Latin Vulgate of 1
Thess. 4:17—"we will be caught up," [Latin: rapiemur]).
Many spend much time looking for signs in the heavens and in the headlines. This
is especially true of premillennialists, who anxiously await the tribulation
because it will inaugurate the rapture and millennium.
A more balanced perspective is given by Peter, who writes, "But do not ignore
this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a
thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count
slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but
that all should reach repentance. . . . Since all these things are thus to be
dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and
godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of
which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with
fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in
which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be
zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (2 Pet.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have
concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004