|How’s it all going to end?
Audio # 1 Introducing the three main systems of interpretation
Eschatology: the study of the last things.
There have been three basic systems of interpretation concerning Eschatology. Each revolves around particular interpretations of the “millennium” (Revelation 20:4-6). The millennium is the period of one thousand years of victorious reign by Christ and his church. The essential questions we must answer are:
a) When will this reign occur?
b) What is the nature of this reign?
We shall see how each of the main schools of thought approaches these questions as they seek to interpret Revelation 20:4-6.
The prefix “A-” negates what follows (e.g. amoral = without morals; atypical = not typical). So A-Millennialism describes the view that there will be no literal earthly millennium. This interprets Revelation 20:4-6 as speaking of the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven. It refers to the spiritual heavenly millennial reign of Christ, in effect during the whole time (one thousand years taken to mean simply “a very long time”) between his first and second comings.
The key points from such a reading of scripture would suggest:
- Satan was bound by Christ at his first coming
- The church age is the kingdom era prophesied in the Old Testament
- Christ rules no spiritually in the hearts of believers
- There will be occasional, short-lived influences of Christianity on culture
- History will worsen as it accelerates toward The Great Tribulation and the Antichrist
- Christ will finally return to:
- End history
- Resurrect and judge all men
- Establish the eternal order
The prefix “Pre-” means “before”. So Pre-Millennialism suggests that Christ will return before (“pre-”) the millennium, which most in this school of thought take to mean a literal 1000 years. His coming will then establish an earthly reign of the kingdom.
There are two main forms of Pre-millennialism which must be viewed separately:
Dispensationalism sees history as being divided into a number of dispensations, periods of time in which God chose to relate to mankind in distinct ways based on covenants that were unique to each era.
According to this view, the kingdom (an earthly, political kingdom) was offered to the Jews by Christ at his first coming, but as they rejected him as king, it was postponed for a future time. Instead, he established the church age thought to be a previously unforeseen parenthesis in the original plan of God (a “mystery”). The Old Testament prophecies are not thought to refer to this unexpected phase of history; rather they are understood to relate to a yet-future Jewish kingdom when Israel does finally recognize her Messiah.
According to this view, the history hinted at in Revelation 20 unfolds with the following key points:
- The church may have some periods of success but will ultimately fail as evil intensifies
- Pre-Tribulation Rapture: Christ will secretly return to rapture the living saints and resurrect the bodies of the deceased saints (“The first resurrection”)
- The Great Tribulation: the removal of the church will lead to 7 years of suffering, mostly for new Jewish believers.
- Christ’s public return to earth, not merely to the sky; “with the saints”, not “for the saints”.
- The millennium: a one-thousand year political kingdom establish with its administration based in Jerusalem, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies and reinstating Temple sacrifices.
- Satan bound during the millennium
- Near the end, Satan will be loosed. Christ will be surrounded and attacked in Jerusalem. But fire will fall and destroy his enemies.
- The second resurrection and the judgement of the wicked will begin the eternal order.
b) HISTORICAL PRE-MILLENNIALISM
This view avoids some of the more fanciful interpretations of Dispensationalism and also has the advantage of a much longer history as a view held by many throughout church history. Dispensationalism only appeared in the nineteenth century. Without needing to break history up into entirely separate dispensations, historical pre-millennialists are able to see the church as the initial pahse of Christ’s kingdom as prophesied by the Old Testament prophets.
According to this view, history unfolds as follows:
- The church will have occasional victories but will ultimately fail in her mission and become corrupted
- The church will pass through an unprecedented time of trouble in the Great Tribulation
- Post-Tribulation Rapture: Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation to rapture the saints, resurrect the deceased saints, and judge the righteous.
- This single phase second coming will be instantaneously complete (“in the twinkling of an eye”) and with it Jesus will:
- Come to earth
- Bind Satan
- Personally establish his kingdom for 1000 years in Jerusalem
- After 1000 years, Satan will be loosed to rebel
- God will intervene with fiery judgement and inaugurate the eternal order.
The prefix “Post-” means “after”. So post-millennialism describes the position that Christ will return after (“post-”) the millennium. In this view the millennium is usually a lengthy, but not necessarily literal 1000-year, period of the righteous influence of the kingdom on earth.
Post-millennialism focuses on the present reality of the kingdom rather than projections of futuristic expectations. The key points of interest in this will be:
- The kingdom was founded at Christ’s firs coming when the church became the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:6) and heir to the Old Testament promises
- The kingdom is essentially redemptive and spiritual (not political, as is the Jewish pre-millennial view) though it has political and cultural implications
- The kingdom will exert a transformational influence on society, because of the power of Christ’s redemptive work (the power of the first coming rather than the second coming)
- Christ will thus reign throughout history as by means of the ministry of the Word and the power of the Spirit the Great Commission is fulfilled.
Different adherents to a post-millennial view may see this growing success in one of two ways:
- Pietistic pos-millennialism: the advance of the kingdom seen primarily in personal terms
- Theonomic post-millennialism: the advance of the in a transformation of culture through an application of biblical law.
Either way, they anticipate a “golden age” of spiritual prosperity in which Christ will be triumphant in the earth. Not that this implies attaining a state of perfection - but after such a period of gospel success, history will be brought to a close by a personal return of Christ (rapture, literal resurrection, judgement) which will introduce the redeemed into the eternal consummation of the kingdom.