Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Where we begin to explore some eschatology

Wow.  I am terrible at "writing more" on this blog.  One post in March.  One.

That post was about heaven, and when we go there.  I threw out the idea that I would try to explain some eschatology here, in terms that are simple enough for a housewife like me to understand.  Obviously, my posts will not cover everything.

Eschatology:  The study of the End Times.  Specifically, it is the study of what is going to happen at the end of time, according to the Bible, when Jesus returns as the angels promised (Acts 1:6-11) and judges all the people of the world.

Simply speaking, there are three main end time events that the Bible alludes to in various places.
  1. The Tribulation--a time of great trouble, when wars and natural disasters will be rampant on earth.  (See Matthew 24, Revelation 6:12-17, Revelation 8:5-9:21, Revelation 16, etc.)
  2. The Rapture--when Jesus gathers His followers ("the elect" or "brothers") to be with Him.  (See Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.)
  3. The Millenium--a time when Christ will rule on earth for a thousand years.  (See Revelation 20:4-7.)
We will start with the most popular and probably the most familiar interpretation of how this all works:  Dispensational Premillennialism.

Dispensational Premillennialism is popular and familiar, primarily because of the books in the Left Behind series, with which you may be familiar.  If you aren't, you can google them if you are interested.  I am not going to link to them.  They also made a (terrible) movie based on these books.

Premillennialism adopts the understanding that in the end times, the order of events goes like this:

Rapture----->  Tribulation----->  Millenium----->  Last Battle----->  New Heaven and New Earth

Dispensational Premillennialists take a completely literal interpretation of the book of Revelation.  The only time they accept anything in Revelation as a symbol is when the writer (John) specifically defines it as a symbol.  All else is understood to be literal truth.  In addition to understanding all the language literally, they read the book chronologically, as one long sequential thread.  This view and method of interpretation arose in the late 1800's when many scholars were moving to interpret all of scripture as mythology.  In a reaction against liberal scholars who who were teaching that all of the Bible is fable and allegory, from Noah's flood to the miracles of Jesus, Dispensationalists swung hard in the opposite direction.  They were good, God-fearing, scripture-loving people.  However, as with many reactionary movements, they may have swung a bit farther than was right and good.  Revelation is a book of prophecy, and prophecy is by nature poetic, symbolic and allegorical.  While much of the Bible is literal truth, one must take into account the type of writing one is dealing with (history, law, poetry, prophecy, etc).  Jesus Himself taught in parables, which are allegories and useful for pointing us to truths beyond themselves.

I will explain the story of The End, according to Dispensationalist Premillennialism, and with the interjection of my own opinion.

In this view, the first thing that happens is a completely unexpected and surprising rapture of God's people, which is also somewhat a secret event.  I believe that this idea comes from Matthew 24:40-41.  If you have read the Left Behind books or seen the movie, this is where we get the idea that people will suddenly, unexpectedly disappear out of cars, planes, etc. leaving a chaotic and confusing situation across the earth.

The really nice thing about this way of looking at things is that we-who-are-believers can figure that we get safely out of here before all the wars and earthquakes and water turning to blood.  So, if it turns out that these folks are correct, I won't be complaining about it.  However, scripture doesn't seem to suggest that such would be the case, as evidenced by repeated statements that encourage us to remain firm and steadfast until the end, with the promise that "He who stands firm to the end will be saved," (Matthew 24:13).

However, the story continues.  In this interpretation, after the Christians are raptured, horrific events pour out upon the earth where the Bible is still around, along with 144,000 Jews who have not sinned.  Between the Bible and the Jews, more people find salvation during this time, as the earth is battered, bloodied and burned to a crisp at least three times.

Finally, Jesus brings all of us now-immortal saved people back to earth (remember, we've been raptured up to be with Him in the clouds for the past seven years), where He sets up a kingdom and rules for 1000 years, and immortal souls that we are, we reign with Him.  During this time, even more people turn to follow Christ, but not all.  At the end of the 1000 years, Jesus lets Satan out of the pit for one last battle.  Fire from heaven will come down and consume Satan's ranks as they assemble to fight, and the devil and the beast (Satan and his earthly henchman) will be thrown into hell forever.

Then all the dead will be raised and judged, and every individual will be sent either to eternal glory or eternal damnation (Revelation 20:11-15, Matthew 25:31-46).

After the damned are sent away, the New Heaven and the New Earth will be revealed as the perfect, beautiful dwelling place of God's children for all eternity.

I have some serious reservations about this interpretation.

  1. It presupposes that we will escape the tribulation.  While this is a very nice idea, it is not particularly scriptural, and I think it leaves people unprepared in the event that (as scripture suggests) we are going to face persecutions and tribulations before we get to heaven.
  2. What are we doing all the time the tribulations are being poured out on earth?  Are we floating in the clouds?  Are we watching the disasters unfold on earth?  This sounds very scary and very far from the perfect peace we usually trust we will have once we are together with Christ.
  3. Why, once we have all been taken away from earth, would Jesus bring us all back to earth, especially to a not-completely-redeemed earth, but to a still-imperfect earth?  How does a 1000 year reign of Christ over imperfection, leading up to the eventual loosing of Satan, fit with anything else that we read anywhere else in scripture?
  4. How many times does Jesus actually return?  This isn't just a view on the Second Coming of Christ.  He comes halfway here to rapture us, then He comes to rule for 1000 imperfect years, and finally He comes to take the redeemed as His bride.  So depending on how you look at it, we could actually be talking about up to three returns of Christ in this view, which makes four comings when you include the Christmas story.  Wow.
  5. It seriously undercuts the message that is in the rest of scripture:  Be alert and be ready, for there will be a sudden cut-off, when there will be no more second chances for people who have rejected Christ (look into Matthew 25, for instance).  According to the Dispensationalist Premillennial view, if you miss the rapture, you can convert during the tribulation.  And if the tribulation doesn't convince you, you can convert during the millennium.  It's sort of a nice, gracious way of looking at things, full of hope.  However, based on what I see in scripture, it's a very dangerous premise to operate under.

Anyway, that's Dispensational Premillennialism, and those are my feelings about it.

One other thing I want to say, just a seed I need to plant in your head for later:  Dispensationalists, in their literal reading of the scripture, always understand "Israel" to mean national Israel, Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob.  Just bear that in mind.  It is a defining feature of the position.  More on that later.


  1. Really enjoying this series.. I've never truly cemented myself into any of the popular views. Whenever I've been asked about it, I use a line stolen from an old Pastor-friend "I'm a Pan-Millenialist, I believe it will all pan out the way God intended it to, whether I've got it figured out or not" Thankful to read your teaching on the subject...