Where does light come from?
Are we approaching a Christian “golden age”?
Just after the time of the Reformation a new idea took hold. Some Catholics put forwards the idea that the events described in the Book of Revelation and other places, referred to events that actually took place in the 1st Century AD. This is known as preterism and we actually read earlier of a partial fulfilment of Jesus' Olivet discourse that seemed to refer to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Yet preterism could never hold all the answers because clearly there are events in the Book of Revelation that were never fulfilled at that time, particularly in the later chapters.
Martin Luther and John Calvin may have held to the amillennial view, but also held to a more earthly view of the events of the End Times. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the historicists. These are people of double vision. They fix their eyes both on a period of history and the Bible, particularly the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation and they say, I can see the connection, I know who the antichrist / beast / man of lawlessness / dragon is!
Luther regarded the Turks who were conquering Europe in his day and equated them with the locust army of Revelation 9. Calvin, from his observations of the events of his day, regarded the existing pope as the antichrist. Isaac Newton wrote a book, "The Prophecies of Daniel and The Apocalypse", expounding his historicist views. For Newton, the dragon in Revelation 12 was pagan Rome and the events corresponded with persecution in the early Church.
Of course, there's a built-in corrective filter for the views and conclusions of historicists. If history itself proves them wrong, then that's it, we shrug our shoulders and move on. Yet it doesn't stop Christians right up to the present day from conjuring up dramatic scenarios weaved around the events of the day.
Back to the Protestants, there's a group of them who we've met before in our story: the English Puritans. Now these were serious folk, very intense and driven and wholly committed to the Bible, or at least their interpretation of it. For example, some of them were historicists who believed that the Thirty Years war, between the Protestants and Catholics, corresponded to the latter events depicted in Revelation, culminating in the destruction of the papacy and the Turks, and the conversion of the Jews.
Some Puritans, however, started on a different path. They were optimists and believed that, through a revival of the Christian gospel (with themselves at the forefront, no doubt), the World would be conquered for Christ and that they would usher in the 1000 year Millennium themselves, after which Jesus would return. This view is known as postmillennialism, with the Second Coming after the Millennium and is based on the hope that things are going to continue to get better and better, leading up to this Golden Age, when the gospel (and Christians) would reign supreme. One devotee of this idea was the key American theologian and revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, who saw his own country as a key player in this End Time optimism.
So by the 19th Century we had three completely different understandings of Revelation Chapter 20. The amillennialists, who were in the majority, believed that this referred to the Church age, and the postmillennialists, who were in the minority, believed that things were just going to get better and better, with Revelation 20 describing a time of great revival. The rest of them, the premillenialists, were going to undergo a theological makeover that was going to have significant long-term consequences ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)