Eschatology

How Would You Evaluate the Three Major Views of Eschatology?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Today, at the risk of receiving a large influx of mail, we answer one of our most frequently-asked questions.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

 

Today we answer one of our most frequently-asked questions.

We frequently receive questions that all fall, to a greater or lesser degree, under this heading: How would you evaluate the three major Evangelical views of eschatology? At the risk of receiving a large influx of mail, we shall attempt an answer.

Non-Negotiables

Let me begin with some non-negotiables. Scripture teaches the following points on which there can be no controversy within the bounds of orthodoxy:

Jesus Christ will come again to earth the second time (Hebrews 9:28), personally (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16), bodily (Acts 1:11; Colossians 2:9), and visibly (Matthew 26:64; Revelation 1:7), to consummate His salvation and judgment (1 Timothy 6:14-15, 2 Timothy 4:1-8, Titus 2:11-14, 1 Peter 5:4, 1 John 2:28 & 3:2).

The creation will be delivered from its bondage at the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:18-25). At the Second Coming of Christ, the bodies of the dead in Christ will be raised and the saved who are living will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). All the redeemed will be transformed into the likeness of the body of His glory (Philippians 3:21).

All mankind of all ages will appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). All those who are in Christ will be welcomed by the Lord to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). All those who persistently reject Jesus Christ in the present life will hear their final condemnation pronounced (Matthew 25:41) and will be cast into the Lake of Fire, there to exist in the state of conscious, endless torment (Matthew 25:46, Revelation 20:10-15). The redeemed will dwell forever with the Lord in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1-27).

Beyond these non-negotiables lie a wide range of views on other elements and details.

As an American baseball player once famously said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." That holds true for tomorrow's weather, to say nothing of eschatology. Because of the very nature of the subject matter, no one can make an airtight case in support of his view of the unfolding of God's plan, if for no other reason than the fact that a myriad of its details are presently unknown to us, and cannot be presumed without the very real risk of adding to or taking away from Scripture (Revelation 22:18-19).

All Views Have Their Flaws

With these things in mind let me address, rather briefly, our readers' and listeners' frequently-asked question. All of the major eschatological views have serious issues which will remain unresolved this side of the final consummation of prophecy.

Historic Premillennialists cannot conclusively answer two major objections of the Amillennialists: 1.) that the Bible indicates in certain places that there is but one concurrent and final judgment of both the saved and the lost (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27), and 2.) that some passages indicate that the Second Coming of Christ to the earth will mark the immediate end of the present world and the advent of the new heavens and new earth (e.g., 2 Peter 3:10-13).

By the same token, classic Amillennialists cannot conclusively answer three major objections of the Premillennialists: 1.) their interpretation of all national features of Old Testament prophecy as spiritual realities, 2.) their view of the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3) as a present condition, and 3.) their view of the thousand years of Revelation 20 as a present spiritual condition rather than a literal time period.

Postmillennialism is, I believe, so seriously flawed as to be rejected outright, for two inter-related reasons: 1.) It defines the Day of the Lord as a coming eschatological kingdom ushered in by worldwide Christianization, rather than defining the Day of the Lord as the Second Coming of Christ. 2.) Its optimistic view of worldwide conditions is clearly contrary to Scripture. The Bible plainly teaches the growth and spread of evil until the end, even within the visible church (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Timothy 3:1 & 13, 4:1-3; 2 Peter 3:3-13). Scripture also teaches that the return of the Lord is the culmination of a time of unspeakable evil, and that the Lord's return will be His means of avenging the elect generally, and a line of martyrs for the faith that will continue to the end specifically (Luke 18:6-8, Revelation 6:9-11).

Dispensational Premillennialism must also be rejected outright, because its teaching of completely separate programs of God for Israel (on earth, with the reinstitution of temple blood sacrifices) and for the Church (in heaven) is Scripturally insupportable. Logically, pure classical Dispensationalism cannot avoid the charge that it teaches two ways of salvation, one for Israel and another for the Church. Most 20th-century Dispensationalists rejected this charge with appropriate horror, although they had immense difficulty explaining how their system of teaching could possibly avoid it. But today a growing number of men who wear the Dispensationalist label openly state that Scripture posits two ways of salvation. Typical of this is a letter we received from a noted Dispensationalist who insisted, without Biblical basis, that there were two different "good news messages" - one for Israel and the other for the Church - with different requirements. The writer was careful not to say "two gospels" although that is precisely what he meant. [1]

I am cautiously encouraged by the fact that some of the present generation of Dispensationalists are moving in the direction of Progressive Dispensationalism, a relatively new and developing school of thought (1970s onward) in which, at least, the Israel/Church distinction is not as strongly held, the teachings that lead logically to two ways of salvation are consciously avoided, and the passion for dividing Scripture into artificial time periods seems to be diminishing.

Why Eschatological Dogmatism Is a Wrong Focus for Believers

The foregoing survey is deliberately brief but I believe it covers the essentials. In view of these things, it is clear that an eschatological position is never something to be held dogmatically. Frankly, although it was a major focus of my attention earlier in life, the older I get the less I feel a compelling "need" to be dogmatic on the subject - except for non-negotiables such as I outlined at the beginning of this article.

Christians in this age live in much the same position as that of believing Jews who lived in the centuries between the end of the Old Testament prophetic revelation and the first coming of Christ to earth. Believing Jews in the inter-testamental period had the complete prophetic revelation concerning the First Advent of Christ, and many prophecies of His Second Coming as well. But many specific details concerning the time and manner of Christ's First Advent were not clear to the Old Testament saints before the manger and the cross, nor was it clear to them that there would be two advents separated by many centuries. Indeed, clarity did not come even for Christ's disciples until He personally taught them after His resurrection (e.g., Luke 24, Acts 1).

Likewise, in the present inter-advent period, the Christian church has both the Old and New Testament prophetic revelations, including the teachings of Christ Himself concerning the end times. But many specific details of Christ's Second Coming are no more clear to New Testament saints than the details of His first coming were to the Old Testament saints. There is much we know, yet there is also much we simply do not know - or do not yet properly discern.

The worst thing New Testament saints can do is to impose what we think we discern, from the daily news reports or the apparent short-term movements of history, upon Scripture. Many have made this mistake throughout the history of the church, but never more often, and to the greater shame of the church, than in recent times. Such thinking has given birth to many cults during the past two centuries, and today it enables literally hundreds of charlatans who make their living off of what is falsely called "Bible prophecy" on radio, television, and the Internet.

Certain things are abundantly clear: Christ is coming again. His coming will be a time of eternal reward for the saved and eternal condemnation for the lost. This world is passing away. A new world is coming. The final outpouring of God's wrath is coming. All of these things draw nearer with each passing day; God's plan moves inexorably toward its culmination. At that culmination, we shall all have had our eschatology straightened out!

Our present task is not to be all-consumed with eschatology, but to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel, calling upon all men to flee the wrath to come, teaching them the Scriptures, while waiting expectantly for our Lord's return at the time of the Father's choosing, and living our lives in the light of His imminent return. I don't know the name of the preacher who first said this, but it bears repeating: We must live as though Christ will come in the next moment, and we must do His work as though He will not return for a thousand years.

References:

  1. For more information on Dispensationalism, see this section of our Bible Knowledgebase: http://www.teachingtheword.org/articles.asp?columnid=6211

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