Thursday, May 18, 2006

What the Future Holds (4)

This is part 4 of chapter 10 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

One view of eschatology among Biblical scholars is preterism. Preterists suggest that all or most of the events described in the Book of Revelation were fulfilled in the past. The Book of Revelation, along with other Biblical references to end times events, is interpreted by preterists as literal history that occurred soon after it was written. The preterist position requires considerable conjecture to fit with other Biblical prophetic statements.

For example, Jesus, in Matthew 24, suggested that the end times would include worldwide severe persecution, unlike anything the world had seen since the times of Noah and unlike anything the world would ever see again. This could not have been fulfilled hundreds of years ago, because Hitler’s holocaust surpassed anything previously experienced by either Christians or Jews. Also, as mentioned earlier, the twentieth century included more Christian martyrdom than in the previous nineteen centuries’ combined!

Perhaps the least popular view of Biblical eschatology is historicism, or mythacism, which considers the Book of Revelation to be a general overview of Church history. Some specific details may actually be fulfilled; others may be pure imagery. This viewpoint maintains that all apocalyptic Bible text paints merely a spiritual image of good versus evil. Historicists interpret Revelation symbolically, regardless of its context.
Historicism is dangerous:

The subjective method of interpretation used by historicists opens the door to
an unlimited number of possible meanings for the ‘symbols’ found in the same
prophetic passages. For example, the very same passages [i.e. Babylon and
the prostitute] could be interpreted to be the rise of Islam or the rise of the
Roman Catholic Church.
Finally, the most popular eschatology viewpoint is that of the futurist. Futurists understand that the Book of Revelation and end times events mentioned elsewhere in the Bible will be literally fulfilled in the future, except where the text is obviously figurative. Even when end times prophecy is clearly symbolic, futurists insist the given descriptions still represent actual events, people, and places yet to be realized. Futurists, like fundamentalist Christians, use the normal method of language interpretation when studying the Bible.

This normal method of interpretation is able to take the many prophecy puzzle
pieces from throughout the Bible and put them together in a coherent and obvious
chronological order. The result is a beautiful picture of
‘His-story.’ It is the story of our awesome and sovereign God, Who proves
His authorship of His Word by proclaiming the future and then bringing it to
pass (see Isaiah 41-48). Futurists believe Revelation and other last days
prophecies across Scripture are written to convict, guide, and encourage
primarily Israeli Jews during the Tribulation, who will believe in Jesus as the
Messiah of Israel and the world. They recognize that many Gentiles during
the Tribulation will also come to believe that Jesus is Messiah. Futurists,
therefore, see a clear distinction between national, ethnic Israel, and the
Church, which is the Bride and Body of Christ.

Now all of the above viewpoints agree that Jesus Christ will indeed return. But, regarding Christ’s return, the Bible mentions a period of 1000 years (see Revelation 20:1-10) that has varied the positions of theologians on the subject. The following views often mix and mingle to the point where they vary from their original forms. I am providing information on their original forms only.

To keep it brief, amillennialists believe the 1000 years is simply symbolic; this particular amount of time has no influence on any real events. Though the duration is uncertain, we are currently in the final period of time before Christ’s return. This viewpoint often coincides with historicism.

Many post-millennialists agree with amillennialists that there is no literal 1000 year period of time. Post-millennialists usually believe the 1000 years represents an uncertain period of time during which Christian influence will gradually improve the world, leading to Jesus Christ’s physical return to a pure and spotless bride—a Christianized world. This viewpoint, which is difficult to conceive given the popular worldview of our culture, often goes hand-in-hand with preterism.

The pre-millennialist view falls into two distinct categories, both of which conform to the futurist position explained above. Both pre-millennial positions stress that an actual seven-year Tribulation and an actual Rapture will take place on the earth before the end of time.

The Tribulation is most easily understood as the time of the antichrist. The Rapture is when Christ comes to take up His Church; all living believers will be taken off the earth in the blink of an eye, joining those believers who had died prior to the Rapture and had been resurrected to be with Christ as well. The two distinct pre-millennial views are detailed below:

- The historical pre-millennialist believes the Rapture and second coming of Christ will occur simultaneously, midway through or toward the end of the seven-year Tribulation. The first half of the Tribulation will be dominated by great apostasy under the antichrist, and the Church will experience great horrors. After the Rapture and Christ’s return, the antichrist will be destroyed at the Battle of Armageddon, and Satan will be locked away for 1000 years. The 1000 years, which may or may not be literal, will include a restoration of Old Testament customs, including the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple, which has not existed since 70 A.D. At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released into the world one last time to dredge up an army for the final battle. He and his army will be destroyed by fire prior to the battle’s commencement, and those who had died but not trusted in Christ will be resurrected to face judgment. At this event, called the Great White Throne Judgment, all those who died in unbelief, among other sins, will be sentenced to the second death, eternal separation from God in the lake of fire, where Satan and the antichrist were also disposed to eternal suffering.

The dispensational pre-millennialist believes the Rapture and second coming of Christ will occur separately. This view proposes that dead believers will be resurrected, ascending to meet Jesus Christ in the air, soon followed by a pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church. After these events will be the seven-year Tribulation and reign of the antichrist. The Jewish people will be fully restored to Palestine, and 144,000 of them will convert to Christianity on the testimony of two great witnesses, who will be killed at the hands of the antichrist and resurrected before the eyes of the entire world (perhaps on live television). The Jewish Temple will also be rebuilt under the antichrist’s leadership. A physical return of Jesus Christ will come at the end of the
Tribulation, which brings the destruction of the antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon. Also at the second coming of Christ, those believers who converted to faith in Christ after the Rapture will be raised to eternal life, along with the Old Testament faithful. A literal millennium will begin on earth, over which Christ and His saints will reign. Satan will be bound during this time. Finally, Satan will be unleashed; he and the unbelievers will be judged and sentenced to the second death, eternal separation from God in the lake of fire.
If you have read the Left Behind series of books, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, then you may be familiar with dispensational pre-millennialism. It is on account of the Left Behind series that this viewpoint is the most popular among lay people today. Again, because I have not studied eschatology with great scrutiny, I cannot adequately argue for or against any of the above views of the end times, nor can I fully support that one, if any, has completely occurred or will occur exactly as written above.

I do, however, tend to prefer the dispensational pre-millennialist viewpoint, because it favors the most literal form of Bible study and seems to be widely held by numerous well-respected theologians. I also think theologians must admit to some form of partial-preterism, as all Biblical end times prophecies were speaking of future events when written, and some but not all of them have already been fulfilled, lending further credence to the thought that we are indeed living in the end times.

[The above paragraph (the last paragraph) was true in early 2003, when it was written. Since that time, I'd lean more to the historical pre-millenialism position, for similar reasons. The flaws with dispensationalism in general have only recently become more clear to me; and I continue to learn more about each of these eschatological views.]

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