In this article we are going to be talking about the subject of Eschatology. That is a Greek word meaning the study of end times. Every religion has its own view on the end times. We are going to be focusing on the Christian viewpoint on end times prophecy using the Bible as our primary point of reference.
All Christian eschatology hinges on the return of the Lord Christ Jesus coming back to establish his Kingdom on the earth.
The Book of Revelation is the book in the Bible best known to cover the greatest amount of information concerning the end times. There are other passages in many other books in the Bible that also talk about the end times.
- Various chapters in The Book of Daniel and especially the passages known as “The 70 Weeks of Daniel”.
- Passages in the Book of Isaiah.
- In the Gospels where Christ speaks of the end times, especially Matthew 24.
- Epistle verses that discuss end times.
- And many other OT verses/passages that discuss end times.
In just about every subject in the Bible, there are multiple opinions on interpretation and differing points of view. Eschatology is no different. There are many different views concerning the order of events in the end times prophecy and the time in which they are to take place.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of the more popular view points.
There are two primary end times eschatological categories
that all the Christian view points fall into: Fulfilled and Futurist.
Preterist: Under the fulfilled category we have Preterism, also known as Fulfilled Eschatology. Preter is from a Latin word that is a prefix. It means past, by, before, more than or beyond.
Preterists claim the Book of Revelation refers only to the events of the first century, such as the struggle of Christianity to survive the persecutions of the Roman Empire, the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the desecration of the temple in the same year. They believe Nero was the Antichrist. Preterists claim all written prophecy as been fulfilled in a combination of literal and spiritual events. When written prophecy appears in the Bible to be referring to a literal event but can not be historically documented or explained then it is said to have been fulfilled spiritually. Preterism seems to holds the most validity according to scriptural and historic accuracy.
Partial Preterists: There are divisions among Preterists. There are Full Preterists and Partial Preterists. Full Preterists say ALL prophecy was fulfilled by 70 AD and further claim there is no such thing as Partial Preterism, that they are actually Futurists. Partial Preterists disagree by claiming they are not futurists and that they belong to the Preterist point of view because they recognize that some prophecy came to pass by 70AD but not all has been fulfilled yet.
Historicist: Also under the Fulfilled category is the Historicist approach. I say fulfilled because they are essentially Partial Preterists. They claim The Book of Revelation provides us with a broad view of history, and passages in Revelation are identified with major historical people and current events.
Historicists believe that mankind has always been in the Tribulation, that the tribulation is not a literal future event; it’s an on going thing. This view holds the position that the church has always been in the tribulation because, during its entire existence, it has always suffered persecution and trouble. Historicists are prone to see prophecy fulfilled down through the centuries and even in today's world.
Historicists believe in a literal future return of Jesus Christ to establish his kingdom on earth. But they always see it as “near future”, happening in their own lifetime or shortly thereafter. For example, Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers saw the Antichrist as a present feature in the world of their own time, fulfilled in the Roman Catholic papacy. In other words, they thought the Pope was the Antichrist.
Under the Futurist category we have those who claim that no end times prophecy has come to pass yet, that all of it is a series of events set to happen sometime in the future at the “end of the age”. Futurism is a mainstream tenet of modern Christianity concerning eschatology even though the concept is filled with contradictions and inconsistencies due to translational errors, misunderstanding of figures of speech and a full disregard of time statements from Christ himself as he told people when and how he will return. It's true that no man knew the exact date and time of Christ's return. However Christ knew that he would return within his generation, during the apostles lifetime. And he told them that face to face in Matthew 24.
Within the Futurist category there are several divisions. We have:
- Pre Millennial Rapturists AKA the Pre Tribulation Rapture,
- Mid Tribulation Rapturists, and
- Post Tribulation Rapturists.
Pre Tribulation supporters claim that Jesus Christ will come back twice: Once in the sky to collect his followers AKA the Rapture and take them to heaven. Then the great 7 year tribulation occurs followed by Christ coming back a second time, this time touching the ground to make war and conquer the earth ushering in his kingdom. This battle is known as Armageddon.
Mid Tribulationists believe pretty much the same thing but that the rapture will occur approximately halfway through the 7 year Tribulation, after it begins but before the worst part of it occurs.
Post Tribulationists believe that Christians will not be taken up into Heaven before the start of the tribulation, but will be received or gathered by Christ into the Kingdom of God on earth at the end of the entire 7 years of tribulation. Scripture shows this is the way it was to happen. History proves it happened as such in 70AD.
Many Futurists are also a hybrid version of Historicist and don’t know it. This is because many Pre, Mid and Post Tribulation believers feel that they are living in the end times today, and that current events prove their claim. This is a very familiar theme tracing back in time nearly 2,000 years. Every generation thought they were in the end times and could find parallels in scripture to back up their claims.
Idealism: Idealists are lumped into the Futurist category. Although Idealists consider themselves to be neither Preterists nor Futurist and in a class of their own, many of them do agree that the coming judgment is a literal future event. Therefore they technically belong in the Futurist category.
Idealism is also known as a Spiritual Approach or a Non-Literal Approach to eschatology. Idealists believe the events of Revelation are neither past nor future, but are purely symbolic or figurative, dealing with the ongoing struggle and ultimate triumph of good over evil. Although they do, however, believe in a literal final judgment. They actually share a lot of beliefs with Preterists as both groups find many scriptures to be spiritually fulfilled rather than literally.
Which One is Right?
Which one of the view points presented is the 100% accurate Biblical truth? If you take the time to study each one in detail, you’ll find that each view has some good solid points, and each of them also contain contradictions and inconsistencies. However, the fulfilled "preterist" eschatological point of view seems to hold closest to scriptural accuracy.
Have you ever known any mainstream Christian view point on a particular subject to be 100% accurate truth with absolutely no errors or misunderstandings? I haven’t. And if any person or group ever claims to have the 100% accurate truth on any one thing then be very suspicious, because they are not acting in a heart of meekness, but one of arrogance. Their arrogance is in their attitude that they can’t be wrong.
There are Only Two Things ALL Christians Can Agree on 100%.
- God is always right, and
- Mankind makes mistakes.
What’s my opinion? The truth is somewhere in the Bible and buried in the annals of world history. With diligent study of both, along with bible study using all the rules of proper Bible interpretation and a solid understanding of Jewish history and culture, we’ll find the true answers we are seeking.
We are commanded to study to show ourselves approved, workmen who need not be ashamed rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Research the scriptures daily to prove that which is good and true. Don’t be led by tradition or by following the crowd. Don’t let people with seemingly good intentions lead you astray from the truth when they say things that “sound” good to you, meet your personal approval or match your chosen lifestyle. God doesn’t care what you think the truth is!
Do your research and diligent study of the scriptures using all the rules of proper Bible interpretation and discover for certain what God really intended to be known as the truth.
What are the Rules of Proper Bible Interpretation?
The Bible will interpret its own meaning in one or more of the following 5 ways:
- In the Verse.
- In its Context through Narrative Development; that which is written immediately before of after the verse. Context can also be the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event or situation.
- Where it is Was Used Before. Verses must be in harmony with other verses on the same subject. (This rule is especially important in Eschatology)
- The Time in Which it Was Written. This can also include figures of speech common during the time but either not in use now or misunderstood.
- To Whom it Was Written. (Closely related to the time it was written.)
We must also be very aware of translational errors and/or misunderstandings. Personally I recommend reading the King James Version from 1611. It’s not perfect, but it seems to be the closest version we have in English.
The second best choice is the NIV or New International Version. It’s off in some crucial areas but overall the readability and comprehension is easier because it’s in modern English rather than the Old Shakespearian English of 1611. The NIV is especially handy for reading the Old Testament.
Always read the Bible wearing Hebrew glasses. Meaning, you can’t read the Bible and interpret the meaning from a Western, modern American point of view.
The Hebrew people approached the world very differently. They had manners, customs, priorities and ways of thinking that greatly differ from our own Western culture in the USA. Many times those original intentions get lost in translation. Then we misinterpret the meaning of a verse, passage or entire concept and form doctrines based on error.
When error creeps in, then we have to twist and contort other related scripture to try and make it fit what we think it means. It’s like trying to cram a square pegged verse into a round hole of related scripture. It always turns into a big confusing mess.
People doing that are responsible for fracturing the Body of Christ into smaller groups and denominations that are so busy fighting amongst each other that they don’t realize what the devil is doing to them. This should no be so. Learn more about reading the Bible from a Hebrew Perspective here.
Let scripture interpret itself in light of the time, manner and customs in which it was written.
If a verse, doctrine or concept in the Bible seems difficult or even impossible to understand, and we have to explain it away by changing scripture, omitting verses or by giving up and saying, “God’s ways are not our ways”, or “God is a mystery”… then that should be a sign to us that maybe we are on the wrong track. Maybe we don’t have the entire truth on that particular subject and need to keep digging.
God gave us his Word that we may know His will. Not be confused and confounded. Sure it was written a long time ago. So what? Let’s figure it out make sure it all fits neatly together like a hand in a glove!
Archaeologists get it. Why can’t Christians? When archaeologists uncover an ancient scroll or tablet, they know that it wasn’t written in English or from a western mind set that didn’t exist at that time. They get to know the culture of the people, in that time they existed, in that geographic place. Then they try to interpret what the writings mean in light of all that other information.
When studying the Bible we need to be acting like archaeologists as we get to know the Hebrew culture in the time the scrolls were written. Understand their geography, what it was like living there and how they viewed their world around them.
Then using all the rules of proper Bible interpretation, uncover what the writings mean in light of all available information. That is when we will know the true meaning of the Book of Revelation and all related end times scripture along with what our future holds for us as the dear children of God Almighty!