Many good scholars have different viewpoints on each of these issues, but hopefully this summary glimpse may be useful as a point of departure in formulating your own perspectives.
Eschatology is the “Study of the Last Things.” [Or, for many, it is “the Last Thing Studied.”] It is the nemesis of many pastors since it also requires a comprehensive grasp of the “whole counsel of God.” And, as a result, our “myths of eschatology” might as well be labeled “pitfalls in eschatology.”
The Epistemological Cycle
Epistemology is the study of knowledge, its scope and its limits. We discover that if we know one’s hermeneutics (theory of interpretation), we will be able to predict the eschatology that will result. If one is willing to allegorize the Biblical text, he will tend towards the left side of the chart below. If one tends to take the text literally (precisely), he will tend towards the right side of the chart. Furthermore, one’s eschatology will also sharpen one’s ecclesiology (the Church, in its mystical sense). It is interesting to also note that one’s ecclesiology will, of course, also impact one’s hermeneutics—thus, closing a loop which tends to drive the diligent toward an increasingly literal view as one gains perception into the linguistics (see chart, above).
At the center, of course, is the Messiah, the One who is on every page. “The volume of the book is written of Me.”1
Seven Pitfalls in Eschatology
We’ll use precision (specificity) as a discriminator among some of the alternative viewpoints. There are many good scholars who disagree with these viewpoints, but these may still prove useful to both the novice as well as the diligent student. (We don’t insist on these views, but we are prepared to explain why we hold them.)
1) The Rapture?
This, of course, is the most preposterous doctrine in Christianity. (We are amiss if we don’t acknowledge the strangeness of this peculiar belief.) The only thing it has going for it is that it is very clearly described in the Scriptures.2 (Yes, the term “rapture” does appear in your Bible if you are using a Latin Bible.3 )
Expanding on this particular controversy in this brief summary would be out of place; however, we can’t resist suggesting a review of several Old Testament references also, and you be the judge.4
2) Does the Church Go Through the Tribulation?
This, too, is a militantly held perspective by many. For a number of reasons, this requires some architectural gymnastics to support. We lean to the view that there is a sense in which God’s dealing with Israel and the Church appears to be mutually exclusive. When four disciples solicited a confidential insider’s briefing on Jesus’ return,5 He pointed them to Daniel’s “Seventy Week” Prophecy as the key to it all.6
The Seventieth Week of Daniel is the most documented segment of time in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. (And the “Great Tribulation” is 3½ years (not 7) and is labeled as such by the Lord Himself.7
The Harpazo is a prerequisite to the revealing of the Coming World Leader.8 And this leader is the preamble to the event that triggers the Great Tribulation.9
3) Is There a Literal Millennium?
This is a major watershed in any eschatological perspective. Most denominational views—which trace back to the Reformation—are “Ammillennial,” from Origin’s influence on Augustine and the resulting eschatological posture encouraged by the politics of the 3rd century. However, this viewpoint denies the literal application of over 1800 allusions in the Old Testament and over 300 in the New, and for which one must rely heavily on allegorical gymnastics. (There is a proverb in the data processing industry: “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything!”) This also sets the stage for the tragic heresy of Pitfall #4:
4) Does the Church Replace Israel?
“Replacement Theology” is among the most injurious and hateful of the list. Israel and the Church have different origins and distinctive destinies. The rise of anti-Semitism in the early church is a real shock to anyone who has studied it. It leads to unending tragedies for the Jews, and it is also tragic for the Church, as it lost the insights from its Jewish roots.
Furthermore, one can not only trace the abuses of anti-Semitism from Augustine to Auschwitz, it is on the rise again today. (And this will be a major determinant toward the final climax known as Armageddon.10)
5) What Ever Happened to the Davidic Covenant?
Another by-product of Pitfalls #3 and #4 is the virtual ignoring of the Davidic Covenant. There are four unconditional covenants in the Scriptures: a) the Abrahamic Covenant,11 b) the Land Covenant,12 c) the Davidic Covenant,13 and d) the Everlasting Covenant,14 from which the New Testament gets its name.
Each of these is under attack: the Abrahamic Covenant is under attack by the whole world. All anti-Semitism is an attack on this foundational covenant.
The Land Covenant is under attack by Islam. This is a deep, irrational hatred that occupies most of global intelligence reports today.
(And the truth about this sinister agenda is continually, and skillfully, hidden from the uninformed.)
The Davidic Covenant is, surprisingly, also under attack: by the denominational church! A by-product of Amillennialism (and “Replacement Theology”), this is a total disregard of the promises God declared regarding David and the Messianic promises.
This is not just an “Old Testament issue”: it was reconfirmed at the Annunciation,15 at the Ascension,16 and during the pivotal confrontation at the Council of Jerusalem.17 (Jesus even exploits Psalm 110:1 to put His adversaries into confusion in Matthew 22:41-46!18)
6) Is Everyone in Heaven Equal?
This is a surprising, and widely held, presumption that is contrary to many parables,19 is debilitating to our personal walk, and has even given rise to some of the most vicious slander and libel among certain self-appointed critics. It is symptomatic of a lack of basic teaching on rewards and inheritances. All of this simply underscores the most pragmatic Pitfall of all, #7:
7) (Under “Grace”), Does Behavior Matter?
This, along with #6, highlights the foundational value of a “Kingdom Perspective.” (Most Christians have no idea what they are praying for in the “Lord’s Prayer”: “Thy Kingdom Come.” Nothing is more certain. And yet, what does this mean?)
The Christians in China espouse a remarkable perspective. They believe they are presently in what they call “the Kingdom of Preparation.” What we call “the Millennium,” they call “the Kingdom of Inheritance.” They believe their responsibilities and authorities there (then) will derive from their faithfulness and obedience here (now). Devoutly to be wished! We, too, infer a distinction between justification (past tense, completed 100% on the Cross by our Lord Himself), and sanctification (present tense, continuing, as a work-in-progress). We believe our diligence in the present will significantly impact our post-resurrection realities. We believe that our “fruit bearing” will be the primary issue before the “Bema Seat of Christ.”20
I frequently engage in mischief by declaring that I, too, have become a “Replacement Theologian:” I believe that Israel will replace the Church! (References to the Church disappear in Revelation at Chapter 4, verse 1; Israel reemerges distinctively and is conspicuous in subsequent references.)
Again, many good scholars have different viewpoints on each of these issues, but hopefully this summary glimpse may be useful as a point of departure in formulating your own perspectives.
Be diligent and recognize that each element needs to fit into the entire tapestry and should evidence a consistency with “the whole counsel of God.”21
New Foundational Study
Adopting the convenience of an intensely literal viewpoint, we have attempted to assemble a composite sequence of this basic template to explore the interrelationships suggested by various textual references involved—see our new six-hour foundational study, The End Times Scenario, due out August 15th in the K-House Online Store.
Also, some related practical insights to accompany this perspective will be found in The Death of Discernment by Ron Matsen
Good hunting! May your prayerful explorations prove to be fruitful and nourishing in your personal walk with our Coming King!