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Eschatology

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Eschatology (Greek εσχατος or eschatos the last and λογος or logos a word) is the study of the last things that the Bible predicts will happen to the world and mankind.[1] Jesus Christ made repeated reference to a sorting-out of saved and lost people at "the end of the world." Moreover, most of the prophets whose writings survive today made some reference to prophecies that would not be fulfilled within the time frame of the Bible--including many that, many commentators suggest, remain unfulfilled to this day.

Specifically, the church has historically believed in a personal, visible, sudden, and bodily return of Jesus Christ - called his "second coming" to distinguish it from his first advent two thousands years ago - for which believers should eagerly long. Although enjoying great agreement about the fact of this event, Christians have had significant disagreement over "specific details leading up to and immediately following Christ's return. Specifically, they disagree over the nature of the millennium and the relationship of Christ's return to the millennium, the sequence of Christ's return and the great tribulation period that will come to the earth."[1]

Schools of thought

Eschatology is one of the most difficult and vexing questions for Christians today. At least three different disputes have surfaced over the centuries since the last words of the Bible were written. They concern:

  1. The laws, or economy, under which we live--and particularly the covenants that God made with various people. Does one covenant supersede another? Or does God have but one covenant, originally with national Israel but now with believers in Christ only?
  2. A thousand years of apparent perfect peace. Revelation 20:1-3 Will Jesus Christ return to earth, as He promised He would, before this millennium, or after it--or is the "thousand years of peace" metaphorical only?
  3. Certain prophecies that the author of Revelation and other prophets (including Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Malachi) wrote down, that did not come to pass within the time frame of the Bible. Were they in fact fulfilled before the Bible was fully assembled? Or do these prophecies remain to be fulfilled, perhaps in our time, perhaps in a time even further in the future?

Modes of Millenialism

Amillenialism

Holds that there will be no 1,000-year reign of Christ after the defeat of God's enemies but before the final restoration of heavens and earth. It generally holds that most of the events of Revelation are historical in nature. People go to Heaven immediately after death (provided that's where they were headed). Amillenialism considers the 1,000-year reign of Christ to be a figure of speech rather than strict literal language. It is symbolic of the church age, or what is the time after Christ's death and resurrection until today.

Those who hold this view also regard the vast majority of the book of Revelation as having been fulfilled already. The text of Revelation does not easily lend itself to such an interpretation. For example, Satan is bound in the Abyss for 1000 years during the reign of Christ (Revelation 20:2) . There is no reason to accept that Satan's activity has abated since Christ ascended.

Postmillenialism

The millenium is not literally a 1,000-year period but a future era of increasing Christendom, at the end of which Christ will return and the judgment will commence.

See notes on Amillenialism above. A simple reading of the writings of the prophets calls this view into sharp contrast. We also find that the majority of those who follow this view also adhere to some form of moral relativism and do not hold to the Bible's sovereign authority, especially concerning its inerrancy and applicability to all human thought and practice. Such systems appeal to other areas of thought and philosophy, many of them immersed in evolutionary principles.

The Postmillennial view holds to the notion that the church will become ever stronger as the day of Christ's return draws near. In contrast, (2 Thessalonians 2:3) asserts that as the day draws near, there will be a "falling away". The church will be "pruned" in the days or years leading up to the Second Coming. It will be marked with vast deception, not vast enlightenment (Matthew 24:24).

Historic (or Classical) Pre-Millenialism

This sees Jesus' ending of the sacrifice in Revelation as being what He accomplished during His first coming, and thus may not believe in a tribulation period in the future, but most hold to a literal millenial kingdom in the future.

Dispensational Premillenialism

Most of the end-time prophecies are future events, not historical or metaphorical events. There will be a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ before the final judgment. It seems that most conservatives hold to this view--it requires that Israel be regathered, the AntiChrist comes to power in the East, overcomes many nations through force and subterfuge, declares himself to be God, reinstitutes the sacrifices, persecutes Christians, and kills the Two Witnesses.

In this view, Revelation is regarded as describing real future events in terms that are both literal and symbolic, but not metaphorical (that is, not a example for spiritual application only). For example, when John claims that he "looked" (Revelation 4:1) or "saw" (Revelation 4:4) that John physically sees these things with his own eyes. He is asked to physically measure the Temple (Revelation 11:1). Likewise he relates that the "number of the beast" is symbolic and "understood" (Revelation 13:18). At the same time, the Beast places a literal, physical mark on his followers (Revelation 13:16-17).

Each version has its own strengths, scripturally speaking, though Dispensational Premillenialism appears to involve less hermeneutical hurdle-jumping in order to ascertain the meaning of John's Revelation.[1]

Prophecy, History, or Metaphor

Historical view

The historical view holds that the events of Revelation are symbolic and more or less historical. Many have tried to attach significance to Nero's name, which by applying numerology has the number 666 (or 616 via a different spelling), to indicate that he was the Antichrist that John had in mind--this receives strength from the fact that John lived at that time and would've certainly had the opportunity to make some rather vehement social/political commentary about the state of the world as he knew it, but there is no need to constrain Revelation to this interpretation unless one is unwilling to accept its Divine Inspiration.

Idealist

The idealist view sees Revelation as being symbolic of the struggle between good and evil, without really referring to specific events, past or future. The descriptions in Revelation are not seen to be real events, but artistic depictions with extravagant imagery, purely symbolical(think 12th grade English literature). Idealism, to the Creationist and Biblical Christian, is clearly an attempt to divorce the language of scripture from the scripture--it is dangerous in that it leads to denying inerrancy, inspiration, etc. Seeing the Bible as a creative work of literary fiction results, logically, in not trusting God's Word. If it doesn't mean what it says, how can one pretend to know what it means?

Futurist

The futurist approach is the most common and perhaps easy-to-arrive-at view from a simple reading of the text. It holds that all, or nearly all, of the events in Revelation are future events, due to unfold at an unspecified time perhaps in the near future. See Dispensational Premillenialism above--these two views go together. They also dovetail to the prophecies in Daniel 7,8 & 9 and the words of Christ in Matthew 24.

"This approach interprets the book not as what was future to John and is now past or present to us, but as what was future to John and still future to us."[2]

The futurist approach with potential loose ties to a preterist/historical view seems to be the most Biblical.

Preterist

The preterist view tends to see parts of Revelation as being both historical and futuristic. In this sense, it can certainly symbolically refer to the Roman Empire in the first century AD, but literally to future events that have yet to unfold. Adherents to this view take issue with critics labeling it amillenial and denying Christ literal rule over Earth. The heart of it lies at the word use, partial preterists such as Matt Slick or John Patrick Holding prefer to view Christs reign as literal but from Heaven, and taking place in what can be called the church age.

Relevance

A full discourse on the various schools of eschatology is beyond the scope of this project. Creation Wiki is about beginnings; this subject is about an ending.

However, the Bible asserts (Ecclesiastes 7:8) that "the end of a thing is better than the beginning thereof", and in this case the final chapters of the history of the world fully explain the beginning and the events thereafter.

The "Everlasting Gospel" (Revelation 14:6-7) is proclaimed by angels "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."

At least two major Biblical figures, namely Enoch and Elijah, are held by many to have a further role to play in human history as the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3). Some have held that one of the second witnesses is Moses but he is disqualified for several reasons (a) he was denied entry to the Promised Land and the Two Witnesses preach in Jerusalem (b) The Bible says humans die only once (Hebrews 9:27) but the witnesses are slain in Jerusalem (c) Moses body is in the ground (Jude 1:9) meaning he would have to be resurrected (not resuscitated) to participate as a witness, bnut the witnesses are slain and resurrected together (Revelation 11:7-12) (d) Only two people in Scripture have been translated from their original existence (Elijah and Enoch) and have not seen death. They are the only two humans who Scripturally qualify to be the witnesses. (e) Enoch's testimony is "the coming of the Lord with ten thousands of his saints" (Jude 1:14) but Enoch lived before the Flood. The only time such a testimony is valid for Enoch is in a time-frame prior to the Second Coming but after the Rapture, so as one of the two witnesses his testimony and position in history are accurately placed.

The Bible remembers at least one secular leader Nebuchadnezzar II, who had the privilege, or the burden, of receiving a vision of a future far beyond his time.

The book of Daniel (Daniel 7-9) directly prophesies the birth of Christ, the Crucifixion, the coming AntiChrist and much of the timeline mechanics of the final seven years prior to the Second Coming.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Zondervan, 2011), page 683

External Links

See Also