Friday, August 29, 2003

Comparative Views of the End Times (Lesson 1)

Getting ready for giving this difficult series in adult Sunday School, beginning September 7.


These are the extra-biblical sources I will be using and referring to in the footnotes.

The Millennial Maze, Stanley J. Grenz, InterVarsity Press, 1992.

The Last Days According to Jesus, R. C. Sproul, Baker Books, 1998.

Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God? Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995.

Will Catholics be "Left Behind"? Carl E. Olson, Ignatius, 2003.

Before Jerusalem Fell, Keneth L. Gentry, Jr, American Vision, 1998.

A Case for Amillennialism, Kim Riddlebarger, Baker Books, 2003.

Postmillennialism, An Eschatology of Hope, Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1999.

The Bible and the Future, Anthony A. Hoekema, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979.

Are We Living in the End Times? Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Tyndale, 1999.

The Gospel of the Kingdom, Philip Mauro, Gospel Press, 1927. Also available online.


  1. Introduction

  2. Timelines and other parameters than define the four views

  3. Overview of the four views

  4. Dispensationalism

  5. Dispensational Premillennialism: A Future Kingdom for Israel

  6. Historic Premillennialism: Millennial Blessings for the Church

  7. Covenant Theology

  8. Postmillennialism: Bringing in the Kingdom

  9. Amillennialism: A Golden Age Beyond Time

  10. Partial Preterism

Lesson 1: Introduction

In this class, we will examine four different views of the end times. We begin with some definitions:

• End-times: the time when the present age ends, and the next (and last) age begins.

• Eschatology: the study of the end times or "last things". Eschatology is concerned with: the second appearance of Christ, the general resurrection, the tribulation, the millennium, the rapture, the final judgment, and the ushering in of the eternal state.

• The Millenium: This refers to a thousand year period described in the book of Revelation:

1And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
4I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. 7When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
(Rev 20:1-7, NIV).

• The Second Coming of Christ: This is the glorious event that all Christians long for. In all eschatological views it is associated with the end of this age, the resurrection, the final judgment, and the onset of the eternal state.

10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:10-11, NIV).

• Parousia: A term for the Second Coming.

• Chiliasm: The belief, held by some, that the millennium refers to a time of a literal earthly kingdom ruled by Christ (on earth).

• Futurism: The view that all (or most) New Testament prophesy has yet to be fulfilled.

• Preterism: The view that all New Testament prophesy has already been fulfilled.

• Partial Preterism: The view that some New Testament prophesy, especially that of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13) and the Book of Revelation, has already been fulfilled. Both Preterism and partial preterism require an earlier dating (pre 70 AD) for Revelation than the one that is usually asserted (circa 90 AD).

• Tribulation and/or Great Tribulation: A period of unprecedented physical suffering and political turmoil, resulting from the unleashing of God’s wrath upon the earth. Some tie it to a future seven year period wherein the antichrist has appeared and ascended to a position of great political power. Other views include that the tribulation is over; it refers to the cataclysmic destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Roman legions in 70 AD and the persecution of the church under Nero Caesar.

"For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. (Matt 24:12, NASB).

• Rapture: An event where the church (i.e. all true believers) is removed from earth, meeting Christ in the air. The word rapture does not appear in scripture, but the passage that describes this event is:

16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Th 4:16-17, NIV).

Each of the four major views of the end times which we will examine affirms the "rapture". One view, dispensationalist premillennialism (defined later) places the rapture before the tribulation, seven years prior to the visible second coming. The other views place it post tribulation and coincident with Christ’s second coming. (We most likely will not get to views that place it 3½ years before the second coming, in the middle of the tribulation.)

• Dispensationalism: Along with Covenant Theology (below), one of two (and the more popular) widespread systematic hermeneutic (method of interpreting scripture). It has been defined this way: a system of doctrine which divides the history of God's dealings with the world into periods of time, called dispensations.

An essential aspect of the system that in each dispensation God deals with man upon a plan different from the plan of the other dispensations. Each dispensation is a thing entirely apart from the others, and, when one period succeeds another, there is a radical change of character and governing principles. 2

Perhaps its most important feature is its teaching that the church consists only of those believers between Pentecost and the Second Coming. (Note: throughout this study dispensationalism will refer to classic dispensationalism, not new "progressive" variants. New trends in dispensationalism, however interesting, are not relevant in discussing eschatology.

• Covenant Theology: Teaches that God has structured redemptive history around the biblical covenants. It maintains that the covenantal work of God develops progressively and is unified by God’s promise to redeem a people for Himself. 3

Why study Eschatology?

Because between 1/2 and 2/3 of the bible is prophecy. And the apostle Paul tells us:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Tim. 3:16)

Saying "All I care about is loving Jesus, not doctrine" sounds like taking the high road, but it is in violation of divine instruction found in scripture. The basic gospel message would take less than thirty pages. God didn't inspire the rest of scripture just to justify a $30 price tag for a bible.

This is tied to perhaps our biggest misconception as Christians, namely that we, quite naturally, mix up our priorities. Of paramount importance to us is our salvation. This makes us tend to wash our hands of these pesky and annoying complex doctrinal studies and debates. But God tells us that our salvation is not our top priority, it is His glory. Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made. (Isa. 43:7). Our salvation is only secondary to our call to glorify God. Our duty and privilege is to worship God. One way we do this is to study His word. All of it.

Do we have hope of figuring all this out?

In a word, no.

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Mat 24:44)

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36)

The primary reason we might like to study eschatology, to be able to predict when Christ will return, is clearly beyond our reach. The Old Testament prophets were not able to predict when Christ would come the first time. We'll do no better in predicting His return.

One contentious problem we will face is deciding what passages are to be taken literally, and what passages are written in symbolic manner common in apocalyptic writings.

We should learn from the Old Testament prophets. Consider the following three passages:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel."
(Gen 3:15)

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. (Mal 4:5)

3A voice is calling,
"Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

4"Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

5Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
(Is 403-5)

What do these have in common?

• Each was a prophecy of the first coming of Christ.

• None was fulfilled literally.

As we look back, we are comforted that there are so many (over 140) Messianic prophesies, and it doesn’t bother us that they were not fulfilled in a literal sense. Christ came and defeated Satan on the cross, but as far as we know he didn’t literally bruise him on the head.

This points out, according Loraine Boettner, a wrong headed view of prophesy. Its main purpose is not to give us a glimpse into the future. That is secondary. The primary purpose is to provide comfort and to strengthen our faith when we look back at prophesy that has been fulfilled.

We should keep that in mind when it comes to prophesy that has yet to be fulfilled.

There is some biblical support for Boettner’s view in Peter’s epistle:

10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1Pet 1:10-12).

Here we read that the prophets searched intently for the time and place of the Messiah, but of course they did not succeed, for they were not serving themselves but you, i.e. the church, which can now look back and marvel at what they prophesied.

What won’t this class be?

It won't be a typical class on eschatology that you might encounter in an evangelical church. In particular:

• We will not try to divine any relevance of current situation in the middle east.

• Our source of revelation will be scripture, not the newspaper. We won't attempt to find explanations for current events in scripture.

• We will make no attempt to identify the antichrist.

• We will not discuss how the advent of wireless communications, GPS satellites, and nanotechnology has finally paved the way for a "one-world government and religion".

If you want to believe the ten horns on the beast in Revelation represent the European Union (which now has at least thirteen members) go ahead. I think you are wasting your time, and I won’t be discussing such things in this class.

What will this class be?

An attempt to take a fair, impartial look at the four views. After we introduce the four views in the overview, I’ll let you know my position so you can watch for any bias.

What I hope to do different from most classes on end times, is to connect the views to a systematic view of scripture rather than just enumerate their features. That is why, for example, I will spend some time on dispensationalism. We can quickly list the timelines of the Left Behind (dispensationalist premillennial) eschatology, but by showing its connection to a broader view of scripture we get a firmer foundation.

I will also seek to be gracious to all views. We don’t believe that anyone's salvation depends on their particular view of the end times. This is a subject we should approach with charity.

That is not always the case. We have the sorry examples of televangelist Jack Van Impe, who asserts that those not in alignment with his views are heretics and are lost. And Tim LaHaye (of Left Behind fame) who writes that "only the biblically illiterate are unable to see that these are the last days."

An early hint of my view: Jack Van Impe has condemned me to hell. Stand in line, Jack.

1 Subheadings for the four views in the outline were taken from Grenz, The Millennial Maze.
2 Mauro, p. 17.
3 Mathison, Postmillennialism, p. 13.

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