Amillennialists generally do not like to be classified as “pessimists.” Two leading reasons for their rejecting this designation are: (1) It is negative sounding in itself, and (2) it overlooks the fact that they argue that ultimately Christ and his people win the victory at the end of history. Some amillennialists deny this designation because they call themselves “optimistic amillennialists.”
What do we mean by our categorization of amillennialism as “pessimistic”?
Obviously all evangelical eschatological perspectives are ultimately optimistic: Christ does lead his people to victory in saving them from their sins, resurrecting them from the dead, and establishing them in righteousness in the eternal order. These issues are not debated among evangelicals: Christianity is of glorious, eternal consequence. But neither are they relevant to debate between the millennial views.
Historically amillennialism has tended to be pessimistic in terms of the question of widespread, long-lasting cultural success for the Christian faith in time and on earth. That is, regarding these matters:
First, as a system of gospel proclamation amillennialism teaches that the gospel of Christ will not exercise any majority influence in the world before Christ’s return. They allow that Christianity may enjoy flashes of revival and spurts of growth. Yet, by its very nature the amillennial system cannot allow that Christianity will become the dominant feature of human society and culture.
Second, as a system of historical understanding amillennialism, in fact, holds the Bible teaches there are prophetically determined, irresistible trends downward toward chaos in the outworking and development of history. Though some amillennialists understand the great tribulation in the Olivet Discourse as referring (correctly) to the Jewish War and the AD 70 destruction of the temple, their system necessarily demands a prophetically-determined collapse of society in history.
Third, as a system for the promotion of Christian discipleship amillennialism dissuades the Church from anticipating and laboring for wide-scale success in influencing the world for Christ during this age. In fact, this distinguishes amillennialism and postmillennialism.
Regarding the question of so-called “optimistic amillennialists,” it seems to me that the verses an amillennialist would use to underscore his optimism are those that endorse a postmillennial perspective. Unless, of course, he is optimistic on grounds other than direct biblical revelation. Therefore, he should come out of the closet and be a postmillennialist.