To read my review of God’s Not Dead 2, check out my new blog on Blogger.
To read my review of God’s Not Dead 2, check out my new blog on Blogger.
To those of you who enjoyed reading my blog posts, I apologize that it has been so long. I have started a new blog with the same title on Blogger. Here is the link: http://bechallengedandchanged.blogspot.com/
Please take a second to check it out and be encouraged. If you enjoy, please subscribe and check back weekly for new posts.
The first actual post will be Monday, March 28: A review of the new movie God’s Not Dead 2.
Well the Christmas season is upon us! You now have less than 20 days to complete your shopping and planning and cooking.
In the midst of all your busyness, hopefully you find yourself at church a time or two singing some good ole Christmas hymns. At the least, you may catch yourself singing along with them on the radio.
That being the case, I reached back into my archives and pulled out something I wrote back in December of 2011. It is about the theology we can find in the Christmas hymns. I call it “Christmas Hymnology.”
The Christmas season is without a doubt one of my favorite times of the year. As most children, I was never able to sleep well on Christmas eve, my mind tossing and turning with anticipation for the day that was ahead. Now that I’m a bit older, I have learned to appreciate giving more than receiving, and what a blessing that is!
Besides the spirit of giving that everyone seems to have around Christmas time, I have always been a fan of Christmas hymns. I always look forward to the month of December so we can start singing the songs that recall the birth of our Savior. To be honest, Bible College has made me a more critical person; not skeptical, just critical. In light of this, I have taken the time to carefully read some of my favorite Christmas hymns in search of the biblical truth I hope they present.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a great place to start, for it was in this small town just outside Jerusalem where the life of Christ began. I believe that the first verse does a good job of depicting the Christmas scene. There were neither wreaths hanging nor homes lit, “Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.” What a great way to depict our Savior, an everlasting light who makes darkness flee. This line brings to mind 1 Peter 2:9, which says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” Describing His light as “everlasting” also reminds me of a passage in Revelation which tells us of the New Jerusalem. Revelation 22:5 reads, “Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light.” It is incredible to realize how the light of Christ has been shining since the very beginning, and even better to know that its glow will never be darkened. It is because of this fact that we can still sing, “O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel!”
“Away in a Manger”
Just for fun, I think you might be interested to know that the wooden manger we usually picture in our minds and in our nativity scenes is probably nothing like the one baby Jesus laid in. Archaeological findings tell us that feeding troughs were not wooden, rather they were made of cement. This means that the Lord Jesus wasn’t placed in a warm, cozy manger, but a cold, hard trough. This is not to say the hymn is faulty, it is simply some food for thought.
What this hymn does is portray for us very accurately the welcoming of the Lord Jesus. The King of Kings was not welcomed by friends, family, and other royalty, but by shepherds and their smelly sheep. He didn’t enter this world in a palace suited for a king, but in a stable used to house cattle. Talk about humility! Consider what Paul wrote about Christ in Philippians 2:6-7, “Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.” This lowliness began at His birth and continued all the way until the point of His death. What an amazing life! And just think…it all began “Away in a Manger.”
“O Come, All Ye Faithful”
It often occurs to me during the Christmas season that some of these hymns should be sung year round. Why can we only sing “O come, let us adore Him” in the weeks leading up to our celebration of His birth? Should we not adore Him all the year long? There is no better praise to give Him than to sing, “Glory to God, all glory in the highest!” That is, after all, the meaning of another popular Christmas hymn, which goes something like “Glo…….ria, in excelsis Deo!”
This hymn also offers us some of the best Christology there is. The last line of the third verse says, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!” This is almost a direct quote from John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” What a great truth this hymn teaches about the nature of Jesus. As the Son of God, He was fully divine. But as the son of Mary, He was also fully human. Jesus Christ was the God-man, sent by His Father to reconcile sinful mankind to Himself (Col. 1:19-20). This is why we should forever sing, “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”
“Joy to the World! The Lord is Come”
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King.” To see Jesus as a king is to see Him as a political figure. For the Romans, under whose rule Christ was born, life was about politics, and Caesar was lord. So for first century Christians, to say, “Jesus is Lord,” was to deny that Caesar was lord. Sounds pretty political to me!
Unlike Caesar and his highest ranking senators, who ruled unfairly to say the least, Christ “rules the world with truth and grace.” It is interesting to note that Caesar no longer rules, but Christ still does. No longer is anyone singing their praises to Caesar, yet for Christ “heaven and nature” still sing, we continue to “repeat the sounding joy,” and we constantly know the “wonders of His love.” How amazing is it that the joy of Christmas still resounds year after year? Jesus was not an earthly king who was born to serve His time, He was and still is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This song was taken from Psalm 98, which reads in verse 4, “Shout to the Lord, all the earth; be jubilant, shout for joy, and sing.” May the joy of Christmas be something we always sing about!
After reading this insight into some Christmas hymns, I hope you will forever sing them in a new way. Not with different music or a different voice, but with a new perspective in mind. These Christmas hymns and others do not only portray the birth of Christ, they also teach biblical truth that is useful for every man, woman, boy, and girl. “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!”
Well, now that we’ve looked at several end-time issues, it’s time to wrap up our study of eschatology. Let’s take a second to remember all we’ve discussed and then tie it all together.
In Part 1 we introduced the series with an overview of the issues.
In Part 2 we focused on the rapture. The three options for the timing of the rapture are pretribulation, midtribulation, and posttribulation. After examining the biblical evidence, we determined the rapture will most likely occur after the tribulation.
In Part 3 we discussed the millennial reign of Christ. The three positions for this event are premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial. As we saw, choosing between these options is tough.
Hell and eternal punishment were dealt with in Part 4. The Scriptures, and especially Jesus, seem to describe hell as a place of literal and eternal punishment, opposed to those who see it as metaphorical or believe in annihilationism.
Finally, in Part 5 we turned our attention to the Book of Revelation. It’s prophecies can be interpreted according to one of three views: (1) Preterist; (2) Futurist; or (3) Idealist. Because Revelation is apocalyptic literature, the best way to interpret it is according to the futurist and idealist approaches.
Having identified and studied the main issues surrounding the end of times and eternity, the question is, “Now what?” What do we do about it? What do we take from it?
No matter where you stand on any of the issues, the main point of it all is this: Jesus Christ will return. And, as the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 4:7a, “The end of all things is near.” Not only is He coming, but He’s coming soon. Peter followed up that statement with a “therefore,” meaning, “Here is what you do since the end is near…”
“Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer. Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-11; HCSB)
In light of Christ’s imminent return, Peter gives his readers four exhortations:
1. Be serious/clear-headed and disciplined for prayer.
Peter calls believers to be sober and alert and to devote themselves to prayer. This is in line with what Jesus said concerning His return in Luke 21:36, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
2. Maintain an intense love for each other.
A previous HCSB translation reads “keep your love for one another at full strength.” Believers need to be constantly stretching their love far and wide. Why? Because love covers a multitude of sins. If we love one another, we will overlook one another’s faults.
3. Be hospitable…without complaining.
Believers have always been called to take care of and meet the needs of others. But this is especially true in light of the end. And whatever we do for others, we better do it with a smile on our faces.
4. Use your spiritual gift(s) to serve others.
As believers, we receive gifts by the grace of God. The key here is to USE your gift(s). Think about it: if you give someone a birthday or Christmas gift, you don’t want them to sit it on their shelf and forget about it, you want them to use it. The same is true with God. He wants to see us using the gifts He has graciously given us. So having these gifts is not a privilege, it is a responsibility.
You might have noticed that each of these four things has to do with our relationship with God and with others. We need to pray to God and we need to use the gifts He has given us to love, serve, and be hospitable to others. And remember, all of this is prefaced by the fact that “The end of all things is near.”
So as believers, what do we do with all we know about eschatology? We don’t need to worry about it. We don’t need to argue about it. Instead, we need to be focused on praying and on serving others.
In conclusion, my prayer is that through this series your thoughts surrounding the end of time have been enlightened and enhanced. And as always, even if you disagree with my eschatological stance, my hope is that you have been challenged and changed by it all!
I think it goes without saying that no book in the Bible has been subject to a more varied interpretation than the sixty-sixth one: Revelation. Those in Christian circles either love it or fear it. They either read it all the time or not at all. But those who have read it (including myself), or have at least tried to, most likely lack a complete understanding. Therefore in Part 5 of this blog series entitled “Eschatological Confusion” we will turn our attention to this mysterious book.
The name of the book is taken from its opening verse: “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His slaves what must quickly take place…” The word translated “revelation” is the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις (apocalypsis), from which we derive the English word apocalypse. According to BLB, the word means to disclose previously unknown truth, or literally to lay bare or make naked (click on this link to see the lexicon: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G602&t=HCSB). So right from the start we know that in this book God is going to reveal truth to those who read it about events that will soon take place.
We can gather more important information from the rest of 1:1 and into v2: “He (Jesus) sent it and signified it through His angel to His slave John, who testified to God’s word and to the testimony about Jesus Christ, in all he saw.” A man named John was used to record this revelation, a revelation which he “saw.” This means he had a vision, or several visions, of these events. In fact, the book of Revelation states fifty-four times that John “saw” something. But who was this John? Was he the same John who authored the gospel and the three short epistles? Some say it was a different John, yet the bulk of recent scholarship suggests that it was indeed John the apostle, who had already penned four other New Testament books. The second century church father Irenaeus considered John the apostle to be the author of Revelation. This is important because Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was a contemporary and a friend of John the apostle.
When it comes to the interpretation of this book, several things must be kept in mind. First of all, these visions were seen and this book was written at the end of the first century AD (ca. 95). Secondly, this book was addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which were located within the powerful Roman Empire. When we combine these two facts, we understand thirdly that these people were under the reign of the emperor Domitian, who advocated and practiced the persecution of believers. John references this persecution in 1:9, where he states, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation…” It is referenced again in 2:9 in the letter to Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty…” As with any other book of the Bible, we must always keep the situation of the original audience at the forefront of our minds when interpreting it.
Though not an exhaustive list, the fourth and final thing to keep in mind when interpreting Revelation is its genre. The sixty-six books of the Bible are composed of several different genres, such as narrative, poetry, prophecy, and epistle. The book of Revelation is a combination of three different genres. First of all, it is an apocalyptic book (remember, the word revelation comes from the Greek word meaning apocalypse). Apocalyptic literature, both inside and outside the Bible, uses numbers, symbols, and figurative language to convey its message. For this reason, it cannot and should not be interpreted literally. And though these symbols and figures may be frightening, it should be understood that apocalyptic literature was actually written to give hope. This book is not attempting to terrorize its readers with nightmares. Instead, it was written to give hope to those experiencing trials and tribulations (then and now).
This book also falls under the genre of prophecy. As we already saw in 1:1, the book was written to disclose things that will soon take place. Also, in 1:3 we read, “Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy…”
Thirdly, Revelation also contains epistolary features. 1:4-8 introduces the author and audience and includes a standard greeting, such as the letters of Paul. Also, the entirety of chapters 2 and 3 contain seven letters, one to each of the churches of Asia Minor (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea).
All of this information (including the author, audience, date, genres, and purpose of the book) should be plenty to get anyone on the right track when it comes to interpreting Revelation. Now, with all of this in mind, let’s look at three ways this book has been understood historically.
A Preterist View
A preterist interpretation of prophecy suggests that the events prophesied have already been fulfilled. So those who hold to a preterist view of Revelation believe that every single prophecy in the book has already occurred. But with all the events that still seem futuristic to most, how do they see them as already fulfilled? First of all, they date the writing of the book earlier than 95 AD. This allows them to say that all the prophecies were fulfilled within the first century and experienced by the original audience. Secondly, they look to the Jewish historians Josephus and Suetonius and see several events they recorded as the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies. Even when it comes to the new creation of chapters 21 and 22, those holding to a preterist view say we are already experiencing it.
In favor of this view is the statement in 1:1 that these events must quickly or soon take place.
A Futurist View
It should be mentioned from the start that there are differing degrees of this approach. Some futurists say that none of the events spoken of in Revelation have been fulfilled, while others say some have and some have not. Understanding that this book was addressed to first century Roman residents, it would be difficult to see everything in the book as future. At the same time it is hard to deny that most of the events do seem still in the future, especially the events of chapters 19-22 concerning the return of the Lord, the judgment, and the new creation.
An Idealist View
This view takes to heart the fact that Revelation is apocalyptic literature. Interpreting it as such, those who adhere to this view see the events as mostly symbolic and as an attempt to lift the spirits of persecuted believers. Instead of looking for the fulfillment of each and every prophecy, the idealist steps back and takes a very wide-angled view. When this happens, Revelation can be summed up in one statement: Christ, and therefore believers, have secured the victory!
Where Do I Stand?
I am a huge advocate of interpreting biblical texts the way the original audience would have understood them, always taking the genre into consideration. When it comes to Revelation, this leads me to believe that a combination of the futurist and idealist approaches are the best way to go. I have no doubt that, even though 1:1 does mention things happening quickly, some of the events prophesied have yet to be fulfilled. At the same time, I don’t look for the fulfillment of every single stroke of every single letter. Revelation is best understood when a broad approach is taken. We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. We don’t want to get bogged down in the details and miss the main point of the book. And what is that? The fact that Christ has triumphed over Satan, evil, and death and that believers will one day share in that victory for all eternity. According to 22:5 the saints will reign with Him “forever and ever.”
Revelation teaches us what the rest of the Bible has already taught us: God is a God of love and justice; He saves those who are His and sends His wrath upon those who are not. Only in the end, these things will happen on a grand scale and will last for all eternity. Those who are His will live with Him in the new creation, while those who are not will be in anguish.
My prayer is that with this information and guidance, you will no longer be afraid to open up the book of Revelation. And when you do, may you be challenged and may you be changed!
Welcome to Part 4 of this blog series entitled “Eschatological Confusion.” So far we have had an introductory post (Part 1) and have dealt with the topics of the rapture (Part 2) and the millennium (Part 3). Today we will turn our attention to hell and eternal punishment.
Who knew there was more than one view concerning hell? Haven’t you seen the imaginative pictures? Haven’t you read Dante’s Inferno? Isn’t hell that fiery place where Satan is and where all the non-believers will go after the judgment? How could anyone believe anything different?
No scholar denies that the Scriptures speak of hell. Finding hell in the Old Testament can be confusing, because the meaning of the word sheol, variously translated as “grave,” “pit,” or “hell,” is hard to ascertain. It possibly refers to a place of punishment for the unfaithful, but could simply be the place of the dead. Whatever the case may be, the concept is undeniably present. When we come to the New Testament, however, there is no such confusion. New Testament authors use three different words to describe the afterlife of the unsaved: hades (11x), gehenna (12x), and tartaros (1x). Here is an example of each:
In Matt. 11:23 Jesus used the word hades when He said, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today.”
In Matt. 5:29 Jesus used the word gehenna (translated “hell”) when He said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for the whole body to be thrown into hell.”
The word tartaros is only used once in the NT, in 2 Peter 2:4, which reads, “For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartaros…”
Even though the scriptural mentions of hell are clear and are not debated, their meanings are. Let’s take a second to sort through the issues…
Literal vs. Metaphorical
This first point of debate centers around what we might call the “furnishings” of hell. When using the terms “literal” and “metaphorical,” I am not referring to the reality of the place (for that is not in question), but rather what that place looks like and will be like. The overarching question goes like this: Should the New Testament descriptions of a fiery hell be understood literally or figuratively?
Let’s see how the New Testament describes hell. The very first mention of hell in the New Testament is found on the lips of Jesus in Matthew 5:22, “…But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.” Another way to translate that final phrase is “the fire of hell.” In this instance, there is no reason to take Jesus’ statement as anything but literal. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, of which this is a part, He did use several metaphors, but this does not seem to be one of them. Here Jesus speaks of hell as a place of fire.
Jesus again refers to a fiery hell in Matthew 18:9, when He said, “And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire.” And in the previous verse, though hell is not mentioned, Jesus speaks of one being thrown into the “eternal fire.”
Within the gospels, hell and fire are also mentioned together in Mark 9:43, 45, and 47. Outside the gospels, James mentions that the tongue is “set on fire by hell” (3:6). The combination is found one final time on Revelation 20:14, where “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”
There are also places where, even though hell is not specifically mentioned, the concepts of fire and punishment are present. Take, for instance, Matthew 7:19, “Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Also, in the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus declares (through the mouth of the landowner), “Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them” (Matthew 13:30).
In each of these instances, as well as a few others, hell is described as a place of fiery judgment. This begs the question, Why would anyone believe it to be anything less?
The answer, in short, has to do with the interpretation of the word gehenna. The term is derived from the Valley of Hinnom, a valley located south of Jerusalem where criminals were buried and trash was burned. Since most of the New Testament references to hell and fire occur when the word gehenna is used, some argue that the word was only used as a metaphorical way to describe the place of eternal punishment. If this is the case, then we shouldn’t understand hell to be a place of literal fire.
So what do you think? Is hell literally a fiery place of punishment? Or are the references to fire only metaphorical?
Eternality vs. Annihilationism
The second point of debate asks this question: How long will unbelievers suffer in hell? Will it be an eternal punishment or will it come to an end at some point?
First of all, it should the pointed out that both the Old and New Testaments speak of an eternity. Psalm 10:16 states that “The LORD is King forever and ever.” One of the prophesied names given to Jesus in Isaiah 9:6 is “Eternal Father.” In Romans 9:5 God is the one who is “blessed forever.” Yet all of these mentions of eternity speak of God’s eternal nature. What about the eternal life of mankind?
John 3:14-16 reads, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Romans 6:22-23 states, “But now, since you have been liberated from sin and become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the end is eternal life! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
These verses, as well as a myriad of others, speak of believers spending eternity with Christ. But does this concept of eternality carry over to hell?
Some, who believe in annihilationism, argue that it does not. They argue that in John 3:16 Jesus does not contrast eternal life with eternal punishment, but rather with perishing. Also, in Romans 6:23 the wages of sin is not eternal punishment, but death. Understanding hell this way suggests that the fiery flames will not eternally torment unbelievers, but instead consume them to the point of death and basically extinction (Clark Pinnock’s view in Four Views on Hell, Zondervan, 1996).
But what about the words of Jesus? Three consecutive times in Mark 9:43-48 He described hell (gehenna) as “the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
In Luke 3:17 (cf. Matt. 3:12) John the Baptist said concerning Jesus, “His winnowing shovel is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with a fire that never goes out.”
Though these words make it pretty clear that the punishment of hell will be eternal, Revelation 20:10-15 makes the best case. 20:10 states that, “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Then, in vv14-15, Death, Hades, and “anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” If the Devil will be tormented “forever and ever” in this lake, then why wouldn’t all the others thrown into the very same lake?
A final argument I will present against annihilationism is this: If believers will spend eternity with God, then why wouldn’t non-believers spend eternity separated from God? It only makes sense.
One final point of discussion is that of purgatory. The concept of purgatory is not necessarily a view of heaven and hell, but rather an explanation of what happens to a person between their death and the final judgment. This understanding of purgatory, held solely by the Catholic church, states that at death most believers are not yet ready for heaven, yet neither do they deserve hell, so they go to a place known as purgatory, where living relatives and friends can pray (and pay) them out of purgatory and into heaven (for further explanation, see Zachary Hayes’ view in Four Views on Hell).
Now have you ever read that in the New Testament??? No you haven’t, because it’s not there.
So where do the Catholics find this doctrine in Scripture. It needs to be understood that the Catholic church has adopted extra books into their canon (on top of the 66 books in the protestant canon). One of these books, 2 Maccabees, is where they find the doctrine of purgatory.
Yet contra Catholic teaching, the New Testament indicates that to be absent from the body is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). There is nothing that keeps a believer from entering the presence of Christ immediately after their passing, meaning there is no reason to believe in a place called purgatory.
Where Do I Stand?
As you can probably tell, I can quickly and easily toss purgatory out the window. I cannot find any mention of it in Scripture and therefore it does not fit into my theology. I also have to do away with the thought of annihilationism. Though the New Testament does, in a few places, contrast a heavenly eternity with death and perishing, it also describes hell as a place of eternal punishment. In my mind, this only makes sense. If the reward for believers is eternal, then the punishment for non-believers should be as well. But how could a loving God punish people for all eternity, you ask? Because that same God is also holy and just, and cannot let sin go unpunished. So for those who never placed their faith in the cross of Christ for the forgiveness of their sin, their punishment will be eternal.
So now the only question I am faced with is the literalness of hell. I grew up, as most children do, understanding hell to be a place of literal fire. Even though I can see and understand the metaphorical view, I remain unconvinced. There are too many statements in the New Testament, specifically from the lips of Jesus, for me to believe that hell is anything other than a place of fiery and eternal torment.
So what does all this mean for you and I? It means that one day we will face eternity. And our eternity will be spent in one of two places: heaven or hell. We will either be with Christ for all eternity, or separated from Him for all eternity.
And what determines that? Faith does. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that “By grace you are saved through faith…” And what exactly are we saved from? From hell. From eternal punishment. From being separated from Christ for all eternity.
If you have never placed your faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, I encourage you to do that right now. It is as simple as confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). Why is it so important to believe? Because your eternity is on the line!
May these thoughts challenge you and may they change you.
In Part 1 we surveyed the issues surrounding eschatology. Part 2 focused on the timing of the rapture. Now in Part 3 we will turn our attention to the millennium.
The “millennium” refers to a one thousand (1,000) year period, more specifically, the 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6.
“1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time.
“4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the people who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years.”
This is the only place in Scripture where the millennium is explicitly mentioned. Scholars find other places they think it might be mentioned, but that is highly debated.
As you can tell from the text of Revelation 20 above, the millennium concerns Satan’s binding and Christ’s and the saints’ reign on earth. The concept of a “reign” carries with it the idea of a kingdom. In this case, that would be the kingdom of God, the good news of which Jesus spent His entire ministry proclaiming (cf. Luke 4:43). Therefore the questions surrounding the millennium are questions surrounding the kingdom of God. The questions are many:
-Have we experienced this kingdom in its fullest sense or is there more to come?
-Is this 1,000 year period literal or figurative?
-When will this period of time begin?
-Could we currently be living in the millennium?
These and more are the questions we will wrestle with in this post.
The Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God has been around since the creation of the world. Adam and Eve had a chance to obey God and make a good kingdom decision, but instead listened to the voice of Satan. Noah did listen to God’s voice and was a part of His kingdom, while the others of his generation were not. In Genesis 12 Abraham was chosen to be the earthly father of this kingdom, eventually leading to the 12 tribes. In Genesis 49:10 it was prophesied that “the scepter will not depart from Judah,” suggesting one from this tribe will be the earthly king over God’s kingdom. This prophecy was realized when King David was installed as king over Israel and it held true as his sons continued to reign over Judah (the southern kingdom) for years to come.
When we fast forward to the New Testament, we learn that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy. Luke 1:32-33 tells us that Jesus (who is from the family line of David) will “be given the throne of His father David” and that “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” God sent Jesus to this earth to be the final and perpetual king of His kingdom. During His earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed this kingdom (Luke 4:43), told parables concerning this kingdom (Luke 13:18-21), performed signs of this kingdom (Luke 7:21-22), and talked of this kingdom’s final and coming consummation (Luke 13:28-29; 22:16).
But when will that consummation be? When will believers experience God’s kingdom in all its fullness? Historically (and to keep it simple), there have been three answers to that question. Premillennialists posit that the end of the seven year tribulation will bring about the millennium, and that after those 1,000 years God’s kingdom will be consummated. Postmillennialists believe we are currently in the millennium, a span of time that will be concluded when Jesus returns and brings the kingdom. Finally, amillennialists suggest that the millennium is not a literal thousand year period, but that it lasts from Christ’s first to second comings.
There are a few differing types of premillennialism, but I will focus on historic premillennialism. Those from this camp understand the 1,000 year reign of Christ spoken of in Revelation 20 to be literal and believe it will occur after Christ’s second coming and prior to the final consummation of God’s kingdom. Most historic premillennialists also believe in a pretribulation rapture, so here is the way they see the end of time playing out: (1) rapture of the church, (2) seven year tribulation, (3) second coming of Christ, (4) millennial reign of Christ, (5) eternity (kingdom of God fully consummated). This position presents the most literal and straight-forward reading of Revelation 20.
The postmillennial position involves the belief that the kingdom of God is currently being extended into the world through the proclamation of the gospel. As a result, the world will eventually be Christianized and enter into a prolonged period of peace and righteousness. As believers fulfill the Great Commission, the kingdom grows and this world is redeemed.
Following this period, Christ will return, setting into action the resurrection, the judgment, and the rest of eternity (the consummation of God’s kingdom). According to this view, the millennium, which involves the reign of Christ over this earth, is not necessarily a future event that will commence after His return, but is something this world may currently be experiencing. As a result, there is no need to believe that the millennium refers to a literal thousand year period.
Postmillennialists have differing views on other events, such as the rapture and the tribulation, but the main thing is that they place the millennium of Revelation 20 before any of them.
Much like postmillennialists, amillennialists do not believe that the 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20 is literal. As apocalyptic literature, the book/letter of Revelation uses symbolism to convey its message, therefore suggesting it cannot be understood literally (as the premillennialist understands it). Here is an amillennialist’s interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6:
Christ’s birth and death is what bound Satan, what secured the victory over sin and death for all believers. Yet that victory is not yet fully realized. Satan still has some say in this world, but he can no longer keep people from believing the good news of Jesus Christ. These earthly events are what Revelation 20:1-3 depicts. Moving on to the next three verses, which take place in heaven during this time period, we see people sitting on thrones and reigning with Christ. In these verses the word resurrection does not refer to a literal and bodily resurrection but to the fact that believers who die are not really dead, for their souls are in heaven with Christ. This first resurrection refers to a believer’s spiritual resurrection immediately following death. “The rest,” who do not come alive until the end of this unspecified period of time, are all the non-believers, whose end will be the second death and the lake of fire. But for all those who experienced the first resurrection, they will also experience the second one (which will be a bodily resurrection), and the second death will have no power over them. This refers to the fact that all believers will be made alive and transformed and will reign with Christ forever.
Because they do not hold to a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ, amillennialists have differing perspectives on other eschatological events.
Where Do I Stand?
I hope that I am never forced to choose between any of these positions because I have difficulties with each of them. They each have elements with which I agree and disagree, or at least question. So instead of naming the view I hold to, let me briefly sketch the conclusion I have come to.
Christ’s first coming, including His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, ushered the kingdom of God onto this earth in a way it had never been experienced before. When He ascended into heaven, He did not take the kingdom with Him. It is still here for you and I and Jesus is still the King, ruling and reigning from the Father’s right hand. Therefore the kingdom is a present reality; it has been realized in some sense. We can experience its power here and now on this earth. Yet there is more to come. The kingdom has not reached its full potential (it has not been fully consummated/experienced). There is no doubt that Satan still has some say in the matter. Christ’s death and resurrection won the war, but there are still some battles to be fought.
At some point, believers will reign with Christ. In my book Revelation 20:4-6 makes that clear. The question, though, is two-fold: how and when will they reign? Will this be a literal 1,000 year reign that will take place after Christ returns? Or is this a symbolic rule taking place now in which living believers serve as Christ’s vice-regents on this earth and sleeping believers reign with Him from heaven? Obviously the answer depends on your interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, which depends on the hermeneutic (method of interpretation) used.
As the amillennial position points out, Revelation is highly symbolic and cannot always be interpreted literally. If I absolutely had to make a decision, I would choose to understand the millennium as symbolic. Satan is currently bound and believers are currently reigning with Christ. At some point Satan will be released (Rev. 20:3, 7-8), which could possibly begin the tribulation. After the tribulation, which will be limited because of the elect (according to Jesus; Matt. 24:22), the Son of Man will return to rapture His children while the current heavens and earth are burned up and the new is created (2 Peter 3:10-12). Then the kingdom of God will be consummated and, according to Revelation 22:5, we will “reign forever and ever.”
As you can tell, my view concerning the millennium is not set in stone. Therefore my purpose in writing this is not necessarily to sway you any certain way. Instead, my goal is to educate you on the issues and inspire you to dive deeper into them on your own. In the end, my prayer is that you would be challenged and changed by God and His Word.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the major issues surrounding end-time events. In Part 2 we will focus our attention on the rapture.
As mentioned in Part 1, the term “rapture” is never actually used in Scripture, but the concept is. While consoling the believers in Thessalonica concerning their fellow church members who had fallen asleep (died), Paul spoke of the time when “we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” (1 Thes. 4:17). In this passage, the “we” refers to Paul and all the believers in Thessalonica (and as an extension, believers anywhere). “Them” refers to believers who have already fallen asleep. Therefore Paul speaks of a day when all believers, whether dead or alive, will be joined together with each other, and most importantly, with Christ. This idea of being “caught up together” is where we derive the concept of the rapture from.
The idea of the rapture is only mentioned a few other places in Scripture. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1, Paul again writes concerning “the coming our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him.” In His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Jesus also seems to mention the rapture. In 24:31 He says, “He [the Son of Man] will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” This meshes well with 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where angels and a trumpet are also mentioned. In fact, there are more than 10 similarities between Jesus and Paul’s discussions of the rapture and other eschatological events that can be found in Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4-5. Paul also mentions trumpet blasts and the raising of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.
As you can tell from the compatible mentions in Scripture, the event of the rapture itself is not in question. The question is not will Christ rapture His people. The question concerning the rapture is when it will take place. This issue is tied up with what we know as the “tribulation.”
The discussion about the tribulation begins in Daniel 9:27. Daniel prophesies that the antichrist will make a covenant with God’s people for “one week,” which equates to seven years. Therefore it is believed that the tribulation will last for these seven years. Daniel also says that in the middle of this week (three and a half years into it), the abomination of desolation will take place in the temple. This seems to speak of a more intensified time of persecution towards Christians. When you fast forward to the New Testament, you find Jesus mentioning very similar things. When asked by the disciples what the signs of His coming and the end of the age will be, Jesus told of persecution, deception, the “abomination that causes desolation,” and even the “great tribulation” (Matt. 24:3-28). Paul also hints at a time of tribulation in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, as does John the Revelator.
Scripture is clear that both of these events, the tribulation and the rapture, will take place. The question is, which will happen first? Will God’s people be raptured before the tribulation, so they will not have to endure it (pretribulationism)? Will they endure the first half of it but be raptured before the last three and a half years of intense persecution (midtribulationism)? Or will believers be present for the entire period and be raptured afterwards (posttribulationism)? There are proponents for all three views…
Those who advocate a pretribulation rapture are certainly the most hopeful. If given the choice, who would want to believe Christians would have to endure the tribulation? This hope is specifically based on two main passages: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Revelation 3:10.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Paul describes the rapture. Then, in 5:1-11, he further explains things, including the mention of “the Day of the Lord,” which possibly refers not to a single day but to the entire seven year tribulation (according to pretribulationists; based on Old Testament texts). In 5:4 Paul speaks to the believers and says, “But you, brothers, are not in the dark, so that this day would not overtake you like a thief.” The pretribulationist takes this to mean that believers will not be overtaken by the tribulation, suggesting believers will be raptured before the seven year period. But is that what Paul said? He didn’t say that it wouldn’t overtake them at all, he simply said it wouldn’t overtake them like a thief. The point is not that believers will be gone before this day, but that this day will not catch them off guard like a thief in the night. They will be well-prepared, for they are in the light; they have been warned ahead of time that this day is coming.
Revelation 3:10 is part of Christ’s letter to the church at Philadelphia, and it reads, “Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” Pretribulationists believe that Jesus is referring to the tribulation when He mentions the “hour of testing.” This, though, is debated. If they are correct, they believe the way Christ will “keep” them from this testing/tribulation is by means of the rapture. Yet there is much debate with this translation. Does the Greek word used mean they will be protected by means of removal or that they will be protected though present? Both are possible, leaving the interpretation of this passage at a stand still.
Combining texts from Daniel and the New Testament, midtribulationists believe that believers (the church) must be present for some of the tribulation, but not necessarily for all of it. As mentioned above, Daniel 9:27 speaks of a seven year tribulation against God’s people, with the abomination of desolation taking place at the midway point (three and a half years). In Matthew 24:15 Jesus indicates that the disciples and other believers will be around to see this abomination that Daniel spoke of, which suggests they won’t be raptured before the tribulation begins. But for the midtribulationist, this doesn’t mean the church will be around for the entire seven years.
In two scenes from Revelation (6-8 and 14-16) depicting God’s wrath being poured out, midtribulationists see the rapture occurring before the worst of it is released. They say this indicates that the church will be present for the wrath of the first six seals of Rev. 6, but not for the seventh and final seal of Rev. 8. Likewise, before the bowls of judgment are poured out in Rev. 15-16, the rapture occurs in Rev. 14. In both of John’s illustrations, the rapture seems to takes place before the wrath of God is fully experienced. Therefore God’s people, the church, may be present when the tribulation begins, but will possibly be raptured before its completion, prior to Christ’s return.
The evidence for believers being present during the tribulation is strong and reliable (which is tough for pretribulationists to handle). After all, why would Jesus, Daniel, Paul, and others all warn believers about the tribulation if they would be raptured before it took place? But still, the evidence for believers to be raptured in the middle of the tribulation is weak. Before making a decision, we should take a look at the final position: posttribulationism.
No believer necessarily wants to hold a posttribulation view and wish seven years of tribulation on themselves. Yet posttribulationists find in Scripture that this might be the case. When Paul mentions the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he does not mention that its purpose is to escape something such as the tribulation. Instead, he says the purpose of the rapture is for all believers, whether dead or alive, to be joined with each other and with Christ, and to be with Him “always.”
Most people understand the rapture to be an event where believers are snatched off the earth and taken to heaven, but Scripture does not explicitly explain it that way. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that the Lord will descend and that all believers, whether dead or alive, will meet the Lord in the air. So Christ leaves heaven above, and believers leave earth below, but obviously everyone doesn’t just remain in the air. The question is: Does everyone return to heaven or to earth? We automatically assume heaven, but we should be careful about this. The Greek word used in v17 explaining believers will “meet” the Lord in the air is a word often used in Greek literature to describe a delegation of people going to meet a visiting dignitary before ushering him back to their (the delegate’s) city. Applying this understanding to the word would suggest that believers go to meet the Lord in the air and then they all return to the earth (most likely to begin the millennial reign).
Jesus also gives evidence that believers will not be taken before the tribulation. As was mentioned above, He said in Matthew 24:15 that believers would be present for the abomination of desolation. He goes on in 24:21 to mention the “great tribulation,” explaining how terrible it will be, but says that those days will be limited “because of the elect” (believers). This suggests that believers (the elect) will be present during the entire tribulation; it is because of their presence that it will be limited. Furthermore, Jesus explicitly states in 24:29 that, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” signs will occur and people will “see the Son of Man coming” and “He will send His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” Jesus clearly states that His people will be gathered (raptured) “after the tribulation.”
Where Do I Stand?
Being raised in the Baptist faith, I grew up hearing about and believing in a pretribulational rapture. How could a loving God make His people go through such an intense time of suffering? Why would He not rapture them before pouring out this wrath? The argument makes sense, and it is hard for me to let go of it, but posttribulationists present a very convincing argument that the saints will be on earth during the tribulation yet will be protected through it.
I have long been aware of the eschatological texts such as Daniel 7-12, the Olivet Discourse, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, and Revelation, but have always had trouble reconciling them. Each position concerning the rapture attempts to do this, but posttribulationism makes the most sense. Everything Jesus says in His Olivet Discourse leads me to believe His people will not be raptured and joined together with Him until after the final period of great tribulation. Jesus is clear that His followers (both then and now) will experience persecution, and that the abomination that causes desolation spoken of in Daniel will bring about a time of tribulation that is even worse. The key is that He says all these things, both the general persecutions and the great tribulation, will take place before He comes to rapture His people (in Matt. 24:29-31).
Outside of Jesus and the Gospels, Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5 also lead me to believe the rapture is posttribulational. Contrary to what I used to believe, Paul isn’t saying that believers will escape the judgement, only that the judgment will not sneak up on them like a thief. Both houses will be broken into, only some homeowners will be prepared and some won’t be. Another problem I always had with a pretribulation rapture that is solved by posttribulationalism is the fact that if the rapture precedes the tribulation, Christ has to return twice. He would have to come before the tribulation to rapture believers, then return afterwards to set up His kingdom. The Bible doesn’t speak of a third coming, only a first and second. For all of these reasons and others, I lean towards a posttribulational view of the rapture.
But what if you don’t? What if I haven’t convinced you? Well that’s OK! Let me make it very clear that this is a secondary issue. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, though. It simply means that whatever you choose to believe concerning this issue will have no effect on your salvation. All we need to believe is that Jesus will return at some point.
But we all want to know when that day will come. We all want to know when we will see our Savior coming to rescue us. The thing is, not even Jesus knows when that day will come. In Matthew 24:36 He said, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father only.” If even Jesus doesn’t know, why should we expect to know? And if we can’t know, then why worry about it?
We have more important things to do than worry. We have a mission to complete. We only have so many days left until Jesus returns, and we need to spend those days sharing the gospel with those who have never received it. In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:6-8. When they asked about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel in v6, He told them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Will you be His witness until He returns?
In the Greek language, the word eschatos means “last.” Hence the theological field known as “eschatology” refers to the study of last things, or the study of the end of time. Now there are many theological issues that create debate, but there is no bigger debate than when it comes to eschatology.
As a Christian, a pastor, and a recent Bible college and seminary graduate, I am obviously interested in eschatology and am always trying to develop my own scriptural understanding of how things will play out at the end of time. Common questions I often ask myself include the following:
-When will the rapture take place? Before, during, or after the tribulation?
-How long will the tribulation last? Will it be a literal seven years, or will it be longer? Could we possibly already be in the tribulation?
-What about the millennium (1,000 years)? Will it be a literal 1,000 years? Have those years began yet, or are they still in the future?
-What exactly does the book of Revelation convey to us about these end-time events?
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church (the son of a pastor), I knew all the “Sunday School” answers. The general Southern Baptist belief is that the tribulation will last 7 years, and then after that, Jesus will return. But, before the tribulation begins, Jesus will rapture all believers so they will not have to endure it. Pretty simple, right? What could be so confusing about that? Why is there even any debate? Let me share with you some of my journey concerning eschatology…
One of the elective courses I signed up for at Criswell College as a part of my Master’s degree was called “Theology Intensive: Eschatology.” The four textbooks for the course were the following: “Three Views on the Rapture” (Blaising, Hultberg, and Moo; Zondervan 2010), “The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views” (Boettner, Hoekema, Hoyt, and Ladd; IVP 1977), “Four Views on Hell” (Crockett, Hayes, Pinnock, and Walvoord; Zondervan 1996), and “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (Gentry, Hamstra, Pate, and Thomas; Zondervan 1998). You see, there isn’t just one view on any of these eschatological topics. Brilliant scholars, individuals who have devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures, cannot agree when it comes to these things. So why should we, pastors and church members, believe that we have it all figured out?
Now I am aware that most, if not all of you who are reading this probably believe the way I described above, the way most traditional Southern Baptists believe, the way I once believed. Before we precede any further, let me say this: I am not saying that I am right and you and wrong. What I am saying is this: When it comes to eschatology, we need to approach the Scriptures with an open mind. This is not so that we can make the Bible say whatever we want it to say (as postmodernists do), but so that we can understand the truth it is trying to convey. We have a bad habit of imposing our thoughts on the text instead of letting the text inform our thoughts. We need to break this habit!
In Part 1 of this blog series called “Eschatological Confusion” I want to lay out for you four major issues, the issues discussed in each of the four textbooks named above. Then, in the following weeks, we will delve further into each of the issues.
Interestingly enough, the word “rapture” is never used in the New Testament. Nevertheless, the word has been used for many years to describe the event Paul discusses in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”
The major issue when it come to the rapture is not if it will occur, but rather when it will occur. Will believers be raptured before the tribulation, halfway through the tribulation, or not until after the tribulation?
The “Millennium” is the name given to the 1,000 year span of time mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6. John the Revelator twice mentions that some will reign with the Messiah “for 1,000 years.”
The major issue concerning the millennium is two-fold: (1) Will this be a literal 1,000 year period, and (2) If so, when will it begin?
What’s so confusing about hell? Isn’t it a fiery place where people will be separated from God for eternity? That’s what the Bible seems to say, but of course, not everyone can agree on that.
There are many debated issues when it comes to hell, including:
-A literal vs. a figurative place
-An eternal vs. a temporary place (annihilation)
-A place of separation/punishment vs. a place of the dead (purgatory)
The Book of Revelation
Jesus, Paul, and others all discussed eschatological issues in their teachings and letters, but when it comes to this topic, Revelation gets the most attention. Because of the nature and subject of the book, there should be no surprise that interpretations vary.
-Have all of the events prophesied in Revelation already been fulfilled? Have some been fulfilled? Have none been fulfilled?
-What do all of the symbols and numbers mean? Do they stand for specific figures in history?
-Will all of the events eventually come to pass? If so, when will this be?
As you can tell, the issues are many, and the answers aren’t simple. Please join me on this journey into eschatology and see what we can learn. As always, my prayer is that we will be challenged and changed by it all!