Eschatological Confusion Part 6: Review and Conclusion

Eschatology

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!

Advertisements

Eschatological Confusion Part 3: The Millennium

millennium

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.

Premillennialism
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.

Postmillennialism
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.

Amillennialism
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.

Eschatological Confusion Part 1: Introduction and Overview

Eschatology

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.

The Rapture
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
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?

Hell
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?

Conclusion
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!