Many people treat eschatology as an area of theology to be avoided, “Too complicated and what I don’t know or understand can’t haunt me.”
The last days has actually been emerging since the beginning of the foundations of the earth. God is the First and the Last. So the end times have been in motion since the beginning. Though not as crucial for study as other aspects of the faith it is still pertinent to the way someone ultimately lives out their life in expectancy.
Yes, the times are near, they are eminent, ripe and ready.
Eschatology is from two Greek words meaning ‘last’ and ‘study’ – the study of end things, whether it’s the end of the age, the world or the bringing forth of the fullness of the Kingdom of God (the destiny of mankind). And within this often controversial topic comes many differing views and beliefs. Some probably from assumption, conjecture, and estimation. But I venture to think, that there is a lot of wishful hoping involved in many people’s imaginations due to their own personal unease and apprehension of the true reality of the way this will all emerge. The whole of eschatology then helps us to apprehend the Bible’s prophetic passages.
It is good to work through this topic for oneself because there are numerous angles, opinions, and theories abounding, many with very plausible explanations. And maybe you may come across a concept that could trigger a new way for you to interpret or view something, opening doors of revelation.
The main thing we can discern and realize is that Jesus will appear. I do believe this is the crux and therefore the core and center of our eschatology. “He is coming quickly,” has been the message since the Apostles first heard Jesus say He would return.
I have to say, that the book of Revelation is one of my absolute favorite books of the Bible. (And it has the most markings in the margin, in my own personal Bible than any of the other 65 books.) I need notes to remember what I learned. The most significant reason it’s a favorite to me is that it speaks so beautifully of the Lord Jesus Christ in His majesty and glory. I have taught this book in Bible study groups a number of times, not necessarily to follow the current up-to-date end time trends and prophecies but to showcase and highlight the magnificence of the wonder of worship of the most Glorious One of all.
This book is unique in its apocalyptic genre, and therefore different in its purpose and the manner and style in which it communicates its message. It opens telling the reader that they are blessed for reading the words of this prophecy and blessed for hearing it and taking it to heart because the time is near. It is interesting to me that people often refer to this book as ‘Revelations’ adding a ‘s’ to the end. But it is singular for a specific purpose. There was ‘an’ unveiling to John on the island of Patmos as he was in the Spirit and heard behind him a loud voice like a trumpet, which articulated to John to write down on a scroll what he saw in the vision.
This prophecy revealed something otherwise hidden. It was given in sequence as John watched this vision unfold. Yet, it was not necessarily written to establish or set forth a particular chronological order regarding the fulfillment of a sequence of events witnessed.
The book of Revelation is not the only source by any means into end time theology.
We also know that every generation thinks that they are the generation for the return of Christ. That shown clearly and with much anticipation as Matthew 24:36 says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” We do know that there will definitely be the second coming of Jesus. But will there be a rapture first and then a second coming? This is one of the debated questions. The word rapture does not exist in the Scriptures.
No perfect interpretation could possibly exist, and that is the reason there is such confusion circling out there on the differing views. Some favoring one thought and some another. I want to say boldly to encourage you to have an open heart, one that is pliable to see each position. Don’t overlook significant data just because it doesn’t match your current view. Mine has changed, it seems numerous times.
There are obviously three central beliefs regarding the Tribulation period, and they are referred to as pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation. The Tribulation is the time frame of Jesus’ return concerning what the Bible refers to as seven years. Each idea sits inside a wider overall position one takes to approach a foundational hub. Depending on someone’s frame of reference this greatly determines the underpinnings of how they come to conclusions.
The foundational hub is usually nestled into the idealist, the preterist, the historicist, or the futurist views. (But that is like saying a distinguishing personality trait defines someone. No one fits into a ‘mold.’)
1. The idealist view teaches that the description of the book of Revelation is a symbolic language with allegories of the battle throughout the ages between God and Satan and with good and evil. These symbols are not tied to specific events but point to themes throughout church history. An example might be the harlot representing the compromised church or each seal and bowl and trumpet representing natural disasters, wars, famine and the earth groaning. Sinful man goes through catastrophes refusing to repent, but in the end, God triumphs.
Strengths for this view allow for hard to harmonize passages to equate to real relevant history. But its main weakness denies any specific historical fulfillment, so one is left in suspended action throughout the ages with no concrete significance. And this could leave those that are not grounded in the Word to alternative and possibly inaccurate aspects of the truth in scripture.
2. The preterist view teaches that the events have mostly been fulfilled in the ancient past, not long after John wrote the book of Revelation, and that this occurred in AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Written in the future for its author, but in the past from our vantage point in history. Some do however believe that the last chapters of the book of Revelation are still to come as they see that without this aspect of anticipation it would be heretical to the second coming of Christ.
Crucial to this view is the date of the writing of the book of Revelation since it is unique to the church of John’s day with only that particular situation in mind and would have been written to encourage the saints to persevere. However, most scholars believe it was written in 95 AD. Problems with this preterist view arise because the fall of Jerusalem differs from the events portrayed in Revelation chapters 4-19. One of the central contradictions being that there was no set up to an abomination of desolation in the Temple, it was just burned to the ground. Some, with this view, believe that the 144,000 are the true bride of Christ, yet this is separated into two distinct groups in Revelation.
Many metaphors need to be nested into this view for it to hold its weight. And the final battle at the end of this vision was never achieved thus leaving those with this view in ambiguity. The primary support for this view is noted through the often confusing scripture in Matthew 24:34 that says this generation will not pass away until all these things take place, and a generation is usually 40 years, so that would fit the timeline predicted.
3. The historicist view teaches that Revelation is symbolic of church history beginning in the first century AD through the end of the age. That each different era has been fulfilling the various events and that this is still in progress and ongoing. These could include the breaking of the seals in Revelation 4-7 symbolizing the fall of Rome. This approach was made popular during the Protestant Reformation with the coming of the Pope (who’s speculated be the antichrist). And the belief that the true church is struggling against the Catholic Church. An additional theory is thought to be the interpretation of the medieval church’s identification of the Beast from the sea in Revelation 13 with the rise of Islam.
This kind of interpretation allows for a wide variety of deciphering. Some have even attempted to set dates for the end of the world. It would not have been pertinent to the people during John’s era, and it minimalizes the scope for the whole of the world with its focus on the western church. Some people, however, are often surprised to learn that most of the classic commentaries from a century ago are written from this historicist viewpoint. Many of the great leaders held this view – Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley as examples.
4. The futurist view teaches that the majority of the events have not taken place and are awaiting future fulfillment. Usually, everything from chapter four in the book of Revelation on is taken as literal interpretation and is seen as future, including a rapid and brief period of a time of destitution that will occur right before the second coming of Christ. The book of Daniel is woven into the fabric of this approach.
Literal means literal but does not discount the figurative nor the symbolic in most of its adherent’s views. The rules of grammar and language and staying consistent within the historical context of its writing are critical and necessary, for their meanings to be made plain.
This view rose to prominence in our modern age, especially amongst the Evangelicals. Dispensationalism can also be included in this – which holds that there is a sharp contrast between Israel and the church and adds a secret element, that being that the church is removed out of the world before the Great Tribulation thus allowing God to then work with Israel. The critique of this overall view comes to light with how it was relevant to the people of the early church and also how liberally symbolism can be woven in with a literal interpretation.
The greatest controversy related to the end times seems to be over what one takes as their debate about the millennium.
It’s usually not over the identity of the two witnesses, the harlot or the 144,000. Instead, it has been whether you are a millennialist, and if so, of what variety and of what version – Premillennial, Postmillennial or Amillennial. These differences can be summed up briefly in one sentence. It’s all about the timing of Christ’s return in relation to the 1,000-year reign of Christ. (Which none of us could possibly know for certain – sorry.)
In light of this, it is therefore good to establish one’s own understanding so as not to be tossed around by every wave of doctrine. And although I wrote this, I may not be accurate in my own knowledge of each of these myriads of positions. I have purposely left my viewpoint out of this post.
It is such a complicated and intricately detailed lifetime revelation brought forth to each one of us by the Lord Himself. It is nested so deeply inside of our daily doctrine that to write it down in print and make a stance would be impossible and of inconsequence since it is in constant flux. In 1Corinthians 13:9-10 it says, “But we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (which is also a debated verse). In that same chapter in verses 12 and 13, it says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
For now, I am satisfied with – “These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
No matter what happens, the glory and grace of God are enough to hold us into Him.