In my first post, I mentioned that how one approaches the Book of Revelation depends on your viewpoint regarding the End Times. I’d like to look at those viewpoints now, and present my particular take on eschatology, the study of the End Times. This will be a bit lengthy for a blog post, but I found it difficult to shorten, and I didn’t want to break it into two posts.
Theologians note that there are four major viewpoints on End Times prophecies in the Bible. These are the Idealist, Historicist, Preterist, and Futurist perspectives. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Dispensational view, within the Futurist camp, is the dominant one among evangelicals in the U.S.
The Idealist view is that everything in Revelation is symbolic, metaphorical, or allegorical. Under the strict Idealist perspective there is no final victory of, or judgments by, Christ. Most Idealists fall into a modified Idealist camp that recognizes “problems” with the strict viewpoint. Yet, there are a variety of definitions of what “modified” means and little agreement within each group. To their credit, these scholars have pointed out very valid symbolism within the Book of Revelation.
The Historicists fall into two camps. The contemporary historical-critical approach is the dominant academic method of interpretation that came to the forefront in the mid-nineteenth century and continues today. This method seeks to analyze Biblical text in light of its own historical, social, political, cultural, and intellectual setting. In other words, every book of the Bible was written within its own social context—to include all the factors just mentioned—with a specific audience in mind that also lived within that social context. However, one aspect of the method that was condemned by others was its critical and antisupernaturalistic tendencies. Many, such as the Christian Brethren, also known as the Plymouth Brethren, completely rejected this approach as finding things in the New Testament that simply weren’t there—such as there being two authors of Revelation.
In classic historicism, the events of the Book of Revelation have been and continue to take place in what we call the Church Age. In this view, the 1,260 days mentioned in Revelation are symbolic of 1,260 years for the Church Age. However, when Christ didn’t return around 1290 AD, they reset the clock . . . again, and again, and again. This viewpoint became the dominant one in early Protestantism because it dealt with the rise and fall of the Catholic Church and allegorized the papacy as the Antichrist. However, very little in history actually correlated with the classic historicist view and it fell out of favor as they continued to move their goalposts.
The Preterist viewpoint holds that the prophecies of the Bible have all been fulfilled in the past. Full Preterism, which no one today holds to, claimed that Christ returned prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Partial Preterism is the perspective held today. It holds that the prophecies of Revelation were completed in 70 A.D., but that several Scriptures (ex., Acts 1:1-9, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, and 2 Thessalonians 4:16-17) that foretell of the Second Coming and bodily resurrection of believers at that second advent have yet to be fulfilled.
The Futurist perspective holds that the prophecies of Revelation will all occur at some future time. Dispensationalism is the dominant form of Futurism, getting its name from the idea that history has gone, and continues to go, through several eras or dispensations prior to His Second Coming. This is the viewpoint that teaches there will be a seven-year period of intense tribulation that worsens at the three-and-half-year point, that a rapture of the church will occur leaving Jews and others behind to face part or all of this trouble, and that a global despot will arise—the Antichrist—who will lead this persecution. They also teach that the prophecies of Revelation must be interpreted word-for-word. Thus, the confusion so many hold about Revelation as they try to envision what John must have seen about the future. Plus, they believe, along with classic Historicists, that Christ will return to rule in a 1,000-year period prior to the final judgment.
The idea of a millennial rule of Christ forms another way of looking at the End Times. The premillennial perspective holds to this idea of a 1,000-year reign of Christ. Yet, nowhere in the Bible is such a period described unless you read Rev 20:5-6 literally. Going against a literal 1,000-year reign, numerous scriptures talk of the latter days (which we’re in today) and then comes the end (judgment)—Matt 12:32, Matt 24:3, Matt 24:13-14, I Cor 15:23-24, Mar 13:13, Eph 1:21, Rev 2:26, and others—while other scriptures talk about enduring to the end, which seems to make no sense if Christ rules for a millennium before the end. I find it difficult to accept that Christ’s reign is something we have to “endure.” As I stated in my previous post, the number 1,000 is symbolic for a long period of time.
The alternative view is the postmillennial one where there is no literal 1,000-year reign. This camp is divided into amillennial and strict postmillennial views. The latter believe that the church will grow and rise up into a glorious “golden age” that ushers in the Lord upon His return. The amillennial perspective believes that society will continue to deteriorate, and the church will continue to lose influence prior to the return of Christ.
While I go into much more detail about these viewpoints in my study guide, Still Here! Surviving the End Times, this is a thirty-second look at each view. My take on all of this is a bit more eclectic. All of these views tend to put God into a box that matches those beliefs. I can’t do that. I won’t put Him in a box because there are valid arguments within all of these views. Plus, I can’t seem to find a box that’s big enough.
Yes, much, if not most, of Revelation is symbolic (Idealist), and, true, each book in the Bible was written in light of its own historical, social, political, cultural, and intellectual setting (Historicist). Also, many of these prophecies were fulfilled in the past (Preterist), although not always in the ways taught by today’s teachers—Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy being a prime example. And there will be significant tribulation prior to Christ’s return (Futurist), although no seven-year period of any kind is described in the Bible.
Finally, I’ve gone from being a dispensationalist (because that’s what I was taught) to being an amillennialist. I find no mention of a rapture or seven-year period of tribulation anywhere in the Bible. Dispensationalists argue that it’s inferred, but God doesn’t infer anything in His Word. Also, there is no mention of an Antichrist (capital A), only of the spirit of antichrist (little a). And I agree that the 1,000-year period of Rev 20:5-6 is symbolic.
As for the postmillennial view, yes, I would love to see the church grow into the “golden age” anticipated by this viewpoint. However, I simply don’t see that in scripture. Again, there’s the idea of enduring to the end. If the church is growing in prominence, what are we to endure? And Jesus Himself made comments that the postmillennial view doesn’t answer. In Matt 24:22 He states that “. . . if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” In Luke 18:8 He asks if the Son of Man will even find faith in existence upon His return. Take a look at our culture today. In the U.S., 68% of adults claim to be Christian, and yet only 4% actually hold a biblical worldview—down from 6% two years ago. Does this show the church rising up to some “golden age?” Indeed, there appears to be a great falling away from the faith—just as Jesus foretold in Matt 24:10.
Now that you have some idea as to where I stand, I’d like to continue laying some foundational material for this blog. In my next post, I will look at another aspect of End Times prophecy—whether or not we’re supposed to know the time or season of His pending return.