Eschatology – A Study of the After-Life and Second Advent of Christ as Revealed in the Bible.
Eschatology is the subdivision of systematic theology that is particularly concerned with the last days and the after-life(. Two thirds of the New Testament deals with future prophecy.
In his book ‘The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy’, Dr. Ron Rhodes addresses the following disputes among Christian scholars on the subject of Biblical prophecy:
- Should prophecy be interpreted ‘literally’ or ‘allegorically’?
- Are Israel and the Church distinct – or is the Church the new Israel?
- Which ‘signs’ have been fulfilled, and which are yet to come?
- Will the ‘Rapture’ be ‘Pre-tribulation’, Mid-tribulation or Post-tribulation?
- Which interpretation of the Book of Revelation is correct: Historicism, Idealism, Preterism or Futurism?
- Who is the Antichrist (666): Caesar Nero, Adolf Hitler, or will he be a culmination of all the ‘antichrists’ in history?
- Which view of the Millennium is correct: A-millennialism, Pre-millennialism or Post-millennialism?
- What about ‘date setting’ – If we cannot know the time or season, can we know the generation?
I. Crisis in Eschatology.
- Among Christians there is very little consensus on the topic of eschatology.
- The crisis in our time is the problem of understanding Biblical prophecy.
- The most serious crisis of our generation: the question of the credibility of the Bible and of Jesus Himself.
II. Jesus’ promise:
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” John 16:13 NKJV
- In John 16:13, Jesus promised His disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes He would guide them into all truth. We assume this to mean Scriptural truth and its correct interpretation. The phrase “things to come” also suggests this promise extends to Biblical prophecy concerning end time events.
III. Common and controversial factors in Eschatology.
(Points at which various Christian theologies agree and differ concerning End Times teaching.)
- Common Factors in Eschatology – Points on which the majority of Christians agree:
- Death and Immortality
- Return of Christ
- Resurrection of the Dead
- Controversial Factors in Eschatology – Points on which different schools of Christian theology disagree:
A) The Millennium
- Amillennialism – No literal millennium; prophecies are only “figurative” of conditions in heaven. This view holds a “historical” approach to Revelation, understanding the “Antichrist” to have been Caesar Nero and “the Beast” to be the Roman Empire which persecuted the Church prior to Constantine’s Edict in A.D. 313. Scholars who hold this view approach the Book of Revelation as “apocalyptic” literature and interpret most of what it says “symbolically”. For example, the 1000 year reign of Christ described in Revelation 20:4 is in “heaven”, with “1000” being a symbolic number meaning “a long period of time”.
- Postmillennialism – The climactic period of the Church age after which Christ returns. This view was popular during the Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, and during the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th These were considered optimistic times of increased “reason” and knowledge in the areas of medicine, science and technology. The world was becoming a better place. Soon, the Church would reach every nation with the light of the Gospel. Many who held this view, however, became disillusioned after the outbreak of World Wars I & II.
- Premillennialism – Literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth after His Second Coming. This interpretation is based on a literal interpretation of Old Testament Messianic prophecies, which state that the Messiah would sit on the throne of David and restore the Davidic kingdom in Israel. This view was held even by Jesus’ 1st century disciples who asked Him before His ascension, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” – Acts 1:6. Revelation 20:4 clearly states, “…And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” In the sequence of events that take place in the Book of Revelation, the Millennial reign of Christ on earth takes place after His second coming, the battle of Armageddon and the binding of Satan, yet before the Great White Throne Judgment, the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” and the appearing of the New Jerusalem.
B) The Rapture
- Pretribulation – Occurs at the beginning of the Great Tribulation and preliminary to the Second Coming.
- Midtribulation – Occurs in the middle of the Great Tribulation after the seventh trumpet and the natural catastrophes, but before the bowls of wrath or supernatural judgments. This conforms with 1 Corinthians 15:52, which says “we shall be changed” “at the last trumpet”. Midtribulationalists also think there would have been no need for Paul’s warning about the coming of the “man of sin” in 2 Thess.2:3 if Christians are to be raptured before the Great Tribulation.
- Post-tribulation – Occurs at the end of the Great Tribulation at the Second Coming and is synonymous with the Resurrection.
C) The Great Tribulation
- Futurist view – The 70th week of years of Daniel’s prophecy, therefore 7 years in duration; the first 42 months or 1,260 days marked by rise of Antichrist, persecution of God’s people and natural catastrophes; second half marked by supernatural judgments.
- Historical view – Already fulfilled in history, especially in the fall of Jerusalem, the dispersion of the Jews and persecution of the early Church.
- Figurative view – Descriptive of the sufferings of God’s people in all ages.
D) The Antichrist
- Futurist view – The culmination of all previous antichrists throughout history into one man, the “Man of Sin”; perhaps an incarnation of Satan on earth in his attempt to be “like the Most High”, ie. like Christ.
- Historical view – Already fulfilled in history in the form of the Caesars and/or the Papacy. (Most of the Protestant reformers of the 16th century believed the Pope was the Antichrist. Most Reformed theologians today believe Caesar Nero was the Antichrist (Nero’s name translated from Latin to Greek is equivalent to the number 666).
- Figurative view – Figurative of anyone against or taking the place of Christ.
E) The destruction of the Temple
- Historical view – The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 as recorded by historians such as Flavius Josephus. The Temple will probably not be restored again because of the existence of a Mosque in the area.
- Futurist view – The Temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the past. Israel presently has plans to rebuild the Temple. Futurist resort to “the law of double-reference”* to justify this view.
*An example of the “law of double-reference” in prophetic interpretation can be demonstrated from the birth of Christ:
- Prophecy to King Ahaz – Isaiah 7:10-17 (Note: the Hebrew for “virgin” in verse 14 can be translated “young maiden”).
- Immediate fulfillment as a “sign” to King Ahaz – Isaiah 8:3-4.
- It’s ultimate fulfillment in the birth of Messiah – Matthew 1:18-23.
F) The 144,000
- Conservative view – Based on a fundamental principle of hermeneutics, that “Scripture should interpret Scripture”, the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 14:1-5 are understood to be the same 144,000 described in Revelation 7:1-8, which, according to the text are 12,000 Jews from each of the tribes of Israel. 12,000 X 12 = 144,000.
- Liberal view – A popular contemporary view is that the 144,000 described in Revelation chapters 7 and 14 are “symbolic”, not only of Jews, but also of Gentile believers from every nation, tongue and tribe. Scholars who hold this view approach the Book of Revelation as “apocalyptic” literature and interpret the number as “symbolic” with the following or similar reasoning: 12 Tribes of Israel X 12 Apostles who are the pillars of the Church X All God’s people saved throughout history, represented by the number 1000 = 144,000. This “sounds” clever, however it contradicts Revelation 7:9-12 which describes the Church separately from the 12 Tribes mentioned in verses 1-8.
- Heretical view – The 144,000 are the only “believers” who will be ultimately “saved”, either because of their “works” or having achieved some kind of state of “sinless perfection”. This view has been held by some heretics throughout Church history as well as some modern day cults and sects.
G) The Reality of Hell
In the Hebrew Old Testament –
- “Sheol”, meaning “the grave”; “the place of the dead, whether good or evil”. In Hebrew thought, the dead were “sleeping”.
In the Greek New Testament –
- “Hades”, meaning “the place of the dead, whether good or evil”. In Greek thought, Paradise was a “compartment” in Hades for the good.
- “Gehenna”, was a burning trash heap outside Jerusalem used as an allegory of Hell.
- “Tartaro”, meaning “a place of outer darkness and torment”. From “Tartarus” in Greek mythology which was “a deep, dark abyss for evil dead”.
Four contemporary interpretations:
- Literal (Conservative). – Interprets the Bible, esp. the NT, literally concerning Hell; a place of eternal torment for lost sinners – eternal separation from God (Mark 9:48; Luke 16:19-31).
- Metaphorical. – Interprets the Bible’s descriptions of Hell figuratively. The NT descriptions of “flame”, “fire”, “worms” and “darkness” are figurative of the sinner’s deep remorse and regret resulting from separation from God’s presence.
- Purgatorial (Sometimes a sub-category of Literalism). – Predominantly held by Roman Catholics, this interpretation sees Purgatory as a temporary state in Hades for the righteous that have not made complete penance for their sins. After suffering, and with the aid of prayers and alms given on their behalf by the living, they are eventually released to Heaven.
- Conditional, or, Annihilationalism. – This interpretation teaches that, considering the merciful and benevolent character of God revealed in the Bible, Hell and the punishment of the wicked cannot be eternal. This interpretation is also based on an understanding that “the Lake of Fire” mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19:20; 20:10; 20:14-15; 21:8) must mean annihilation because “death and Hades” are thrown into it and it is called the “second death”. The reasoning is that if Hell is eternal, why throw it into the Lake of Fire? The Lake of Fire is understood to be a sort of cosmic incinerator. Furthermore, since “eternal life” is a gift from God to the believer, and unbelievers do not possess eternal life, therefore their sufferings in Hell must be a temporary state.
IV. Jesus’ End Times Discourse: Matthew 24:3-31; Mark 13:3-27; Luke 21:7-28
- Signs given:
A) The beginning of birth pains.
- False Christs
- False declarations of end of the world (Luke only)
- Wars and rumors of wars
- Pestilences (Luke only)
- Fearful sights and signs from heaven (Luke only)
B) Great tribulation.
- Falling away (apostasy)
- Betrayal among brethren
- False prophets
- Gospel preached to all nations as witness
- Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Luke only)
- Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel
- Great tribulation never before experienced
- More false Christs and false prophets
- False signs and wonders
- Mass deception
- Sun and moon darkened
- Signs in the sun and moon (Luke only)
- Stars falling from heavens
- Powers of the heavens shaken
- Distress on earth caused by roaring sea and waves (Luke only)
- Men’s hearts failing for fear (Luke only)
- Every eye to see Him coming in the clouds