When trying to understand eschatology, (biblical teaching of the end times) we need to be aware of the four main views.
First of all understanding it is not only one view will hopefully help us be a bit more humble addressing this subject.
As Christians we all have some kind of relation to eschatology as it is a crucial building brick to the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Some of us afraid even approach the subject, some of us confused not knowing what to believe and then other of us totally confident in what we believe.
Many of us in Pentecostal/charismatic Nordic and American streams have been taught a special form of futuristic view called Dispensationalism, see further explained below.
I myself was growing up with that particular view watching movies like “A thief in the night” and reading books like “Left behind”. It is not unfair to claim that this view has brought a lot of fear into young believers of being just left behind, me included. 15-20 years back when studying theology my mind opened up that there where more big views than the one I was taught. That helped me to position myself in a much more open approach of eschatology. For many years I have not even touched the subject as it tends to be very emotional. But as our view of eschatology will determine how we live our lives on earth I have decided to be much more clear sharing with where I have come to believe and understand this subject.
Let’s look at these four views, to make a brief overview of the landscape of eschatology. (It is much more to this subject, but trying to simplify this as much as possible in this post though).
Before that let me just note that the book of Revelation needs to be read as an apocalyptic literature. E.g. watching a Star War movie or the Lord of the rings and then try to explain what it means. The Book of Revelation is filled with expressions, numbers, codes, symbols that was common in these days, so people of that time knew what the writer meant. But let´s leave it there.
To this four views you can also add Premillennialism, Amillennialism, Postmillennialism that is either or part of below views in mixed ways. E.g some Partial preterists believe in a future millennium and some do not. More in a later post.
The Four views
a. Idealistic View (spiritual view) – uses the allegorical method to interpret the Book of Revelation. The allegorical approach to Revelation was introduced by ancient church father Origen (AD 185-254) and made prominent by Augustine (AD 354-420). According to this view, the events of Revelation are not tied to specific historical events. The imagery of the book symbolically presents the ongoing struggle throughout the ages of God against Satan and good against evil. In this struggle, the saints are persecuted and martyred by the forces of evil but will one day receive their vindication. In the end, God is victorious, and His sovereignty is displayed throughout ages. Robert Mounce summarizes the idealistic view stating, “Revelation is a theological poem presenting the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a philosophy of history wherein Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil.”
b. Preteristic View – Preter, which means “past,” is derived from the Latin. There are two major views among preterists: full preterism and partial preterism. Both views believe that the prophecies of the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24 (Little Apocalypse) and Revelation were fulfilled in the first century with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and/or the fall of the Roman Empire. Chapters 1-3 (Book of Revelation) describe the conditions in the seven churches of Asia Minor prior to the Jewish war (AD 66-70). The remaining chapters of Revelation and Jesus’ Olivet Discourse describe the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. Full preterists believe that all the prophecies found in Revelation were fulfilled in AD 70* and that we are now living in the eternal state, or the new heavens and the new earth. Partial preterists believe that most of the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and/or Roman Empire, but that chapters 20-22 point to future events such as a future resurrection of believers and return of Christ to the earth. Partial preterists view full preterism as heretical since it denies the second coming of Christ and teaches an unorthodox view of the resurrection. The preterist view, particularly the partial preterist view, is a prominent position held by such notable scholars as R. C. Sproul, Hank Hanegraaff, Kenneth Gentry etc. For preterists it is crucial that the book of Revelation is written before AD70. Partial preterism has been growing in popularity lately thanks to the teaching of Victorious Eschatology, by Harold R. Eberle and Martin Trench but also by Bethel Church and other in the same streams.
c. Historical View – teaches that Revelation is a symbolic representation that presents the course of history from the apostle’s life through the end of the age. The symbols in the apocalypse correspond to events in the history of Western Europe, including various popes, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and rulers such as Charlemagne. Most interpreters place the events of their day in the later chapters of Revelation. Many adherents of this position view chapters 1-3 as seven periods in church history. The breaking of the seals in chapters 4-7 symbolizes the fall of the Roman Empire. The Trumpet judgments in chapters 8-10 represent the invasions of the Roman Empire by the Vandals, Huns, Saracens, and Turks. Among Protestant historicists of the Reformation, the antichrist in Revelation was believed to be the papacy. Chapters 11-13 in Revelation represent the true church in its struggle against Roman Catholicism. The bowl judgments of Revelation 14-16 represent God’s judgment on the Catholic Church, culminating in the future overthrow of Catholicism depicted in chapters 17-19. Prominent scholars who held this view include John Wycliffe, John Knox, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon, and Matthew Henry. This view rose to popularity during the Protestant Reformation because of its identification of the pope and the papacy with the beasts of Revelation 13. However, since the beginning of the twentieth century, it has declined in popularity and influence.
d. Futuristic View – teaches that the events of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation chapters 4-22 will occur in the future. Futurists divide the book of Revelation into three sections as indicated in 1:19: “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Chapter 1 describes the past (“what you have seen”), chapters 2-3 describe the present (“what is now”), and the rest of the book describes future events (“what will take place later”). Futurists apply a literal approach to interpreting Revelation. Chapters 4-19 refer to a period known as the seven-year tribulation (Dan. 9:27). During this time, God’s judgments are actually poured out upon mankind as they are revealed in the seals, trumpets, and bowls. Chapter 13 describes a literal future world empire headed by a political and religious leader represented by the two beasts. Chapter 17 pictures a harlot who represents the church in apostasy. Chapter 19 refers to Christ’s second coming and the battle of Armageddon followed by a literal thousand-year rule of Christ upon the earth in chapter 20. Chapters 21-22 are events that follow the millennium: the creation of a new heaven and a new earth and the arrival of the heavenly city upon the earth.
Futurists contend that the literal interpretation of Revelation finds its roots in the ancient church fathers. Elements of this teaching, such as a future millennial kingdom, are found in the writings of Clement of Rome (AD 96), Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), Irenaeus (AD 115-202), Tertullian (AD 150-225) and others. Futurists hold that the church fathers taught a literal interpretation of Revelation until Origen (AD 185-254) introduced allegorical interpretation. This then became the popular form of interpretation when taught by Augustine (AD 354-430). Literal interpretation of Revelation remained throughout the history of the church and rose again to prominence in the modern era.
Dispensationalism (special futuristic view) developed as a system from the teachings of John Nelson Darby(1800–82), who strongly influenced the Plymouth Brethren of the 1830s in Ireland and England. The original concept came when Darby considered the implications of Isaiah 32 for Israel. He saw that prophecy required a future fulfillment and realization of Israel’s kingdom. The New Testament church was seen as a separate program not related to that kingdom. Thus arose a prophetic earthly kingdom program for Israel and a separate “Mystery” heavenly program for the church. In order to not conflate the two programs, the prophetic program had to be put on hold to allow for the church to come into existence. Then it is necessary for the church to be raptured away before prophecy can resume its earthly program for Israel.
From this, we have got the teaching that what happens physically in Israel happens spiritual with the Church and vice verse.
In this teaching we have learned that we are now in a “Paranthesis” or Time-Out sessions when the Church has its Grace period. Then we will be raptured and the church allowing the prophetic clock for Israel to start up again. Then the Jewish remnant becomes manifest through the Great Tribulation that will bring them to Christ.
A personal reflection is that many today are afraid that Antichrist will raise up and a global kingdom will control all people reason, why the vote for more Populistic Nationalists partyn to protect against the Globalism that is the so called Antichrist agenda. I am not one of those though.
Despite the various views, there are some common threads upon which Christians agree.
Agreed views – All views believe that God is sovereign and in charge of all that occurs in history and its ultimate conclusion. Except for full preterism and some forms of idealism, all believe in the physical second coming of Christ. All views believe in the resurrection from the dead. All believe there will be a future judgment. All believe in an eternal state in which believers will be with God, and unbelievers will be separated from Him. All agree upon the importance of the study of prophecy and its edification for the body of Christ.
My personal view
As mentioned earlier I have personally moved away from a futuristic pessimistic view to an optimistic view of an Advancing Kingdom on earth until Jesus comes back to a spotless bride of Christ when all knees will bow (not because they have to but most of them willingly). I see myself as a historical or partial preterist, but more of that in a coming post.
That is how I understand the future. You may not agree, but I have now landed in this view and it has given me great boldness and optimism of a Kingdom without end filling the whole earth with its glory. It is here and it is growing! See my previous posts.
Yes, we might always end up in difficult times during the road that could be times of tribulation, but I do not await a certain time of tribulation, I await a Kingdom that will shake the world back to Christ.