Thursday, February 10, 2011

Overview of Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of last things or the end times. Eschatology includes the study of heaven and hell, as well as related subjects. A primary way of identifying various eschatological beliefs is the use of the term millennium. This is a reference to the 1,000 year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20. The question is when does this reign take place and is it literally 1,000 years. Below are the three basic views of this millennium. These are necessarily simplistic, but should give you a general perspective on each.

  1. Pre-millennialism is the dominant view of the end times in American churches today. This view basically says that the world will be slowly overcome by Satan until eventually all that is left is a remnant of believers. At this point Christ will return and set up His millennial kingdom here on earth. For many pre-mils the ethnic Jews figure prominently, as Christ will return to fulfill all the OT promises to Abraham in a very literal way. Thus Israel will literally dwell in the land and the Temple will be rebuilt. The "pre" means Christ will return before the Millennium.
  2. Amillennialism is the belief that there is no millennial kingdom here on earth. Good and evil will both grow equally throughout time, until the world ends. Christ reigns right now in the Church, but the picture in Revelation 20 refers to Christians ruling with Christ in Heaven, not to any type of ruling here on earth. This is primary view in reformed circles today.
  3. Post-millennialism is the final position. This viewpoint sees the Kingdom of Christ growing in time and history through the preaching of the Word, suffering of believers, and discipleship. This viewpoint says that Christ will return after His Kingdom has already been established on earth. This viewpoint does not see the total eradication of evil, but does see the nations being brought to Christ and there being a glorious kingdom here on earth. Some post-mils see this as a literal 1,000 years at the end of time. Others see the 1,000 years as symbolic.

There are a couple of other ways of looking at this. One way is to ask does a person believe the Kingdom of Christ will eventually cover the earth. Is their eschatology optimistic about the growth of the Church in history? Or does the person believe things will get worse and worse or basically stay the same. Everyone believes Christ wins in the end. The question is does He win in time and history?

One can also use the parable of the wheat and the tares found in Matthew 13:24-30 to illustrate the three views. A pre-mil would say that when Christ comes there will be very few wheat and lots of tares. An a-mil would say it will be around 50/50, an equal number of wheat and tares. A post-mil would say that when Christ returns there will be a whole lot of wheat and a few tares.

The millennium is not an issue to divide over. The Creeds rightly put the emphasis on Christ returning to judge the living and the dead. As long as someone believes Christ is returning they are orthodox. However, one's view of these things will bring a certain tone and direction to their view of the world and the Church.

I believe that he Bible teaches that the Great Commission will be fulfilled. The nations of the world will be put under the feet of Christ before He returns. This will not happen through some sort of "social gospel" or because men are inherently good. It will happen because Christ, through the Spirit and the preaching of the Word, will bring men to Himself and raise them up to maturity.

An excellent short book on the post-millennial perspective is Why the End is Not Near by Duane Garner.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Thanks for going over this again. Many Pastor/teachers will not even mention the other views and many in their congregation will not even know about the other views.

Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8