This is a topic that has been debated since the time of Jesus. There are smart people, deep thinkers, committed Christians and well-known Bible teachers who disagree with one another regarding end times theology. It isn’t likely that our staff all agree on this doctrine, and that is OK. This is what is considered to be a secondary doctrine. This is not something we have to agree on in order to fellowship with one another. This isn’t something to debate with each other. There is Scripture that can be used to support each of the four main viewpoints. As you listen tonight, ask the Holy Spirit to lead your mind. If you don’t come to a conclusion about what you believe at the end of this study, that is totally OK. You don’t have to make a commitment to an end-time doctrine in order to be a faithful Christ follower and to go to Heaven. That said, let me say this: We need to be careful not to read our Bibles in light of the newspaper rather than understand the world through God’s plan that He has already revealed in Scripture.
Let’s not look at things that are happening and try to illuminate Bible passages based on those happenings. We don’t interpret the Bible based on world happenings, but we interpret world happenings based on our Bible. Let’s allow the Bible to be our starting point and allow it to speak to what we are experiencing in the world around us.
On what can we agree tonight?
- Jesus will come again for those who love Him. (John 14:1-3, I Thess. 4:16-17, Revelation 1:7)
- Jesus calls his follows to be ready all the time. (Luke 12:35-40; Matthew 24:44 and 25:13)
- No one knows the day or hour of His return. (Matthew 24:36)
Eschatology-From the Greek, “eschatos” means final and “logos” means word or idea. Simply, eschatology is the study of last things.
Many people turn to the book of Revelation for end times teaching. The book of Revelation was written by John, one of Jesus’ disciples. He tells of a vision he was given from the Lord. The book addressed seven churches in what is modern day Turkey. It encouraged believers who were already experiencing persecution. Basically, in a nutshell, Revelation illustrates that God is in control and that all people were created to love and worship God their Creator.
Some terms in Revelation that are good for us to understand from the onset:
144,000-This number refers to a group of believers who endure a time period called the Great Tribulation. Revelation 7:4ff 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. 5 From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000…and so on and so forth through all 12 Tribes of Israel. Verse 9:
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Now, does this passage literally refer to 12,000 Jewish people from each tribe who have embraced Jesus as Savior and Lord to indicate that only 144,000 Jewish people will be saved? Or does the word, “Israel” and even the 12 tribes refer to all believers after the time of Jesus? Does the number 12 have something to do with the number of Apostles and the preaching of the Gospel through them and the believers that result from those efforts? Does the 144,000 refer to the church in general?
Romans 9:6-8- 6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[a] 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
Galatians 6:16-Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule–to the Israel of God.
Does the number 12, multiplied by 1000, to get the 12,000 groupings simply represent God’s people? Does 144,000 simply symbolize the full number of those who belong to God? You must stop and ask yourself, is this number, 144,000 literal or symbolic? If it is symbolic, then are other numbers, like 666, symbolic as well or do we say that some numbers are literal and some are symbolic?
Antichrist-This term does not appear in the book of Revelation. Does that surprise anyone? This term could refer to anyone who denies what the apostles taught about Jesus Christ.
I John 2:18-22- 18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. … 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.
The idea is that the Antichrist is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ and is described as “lawless” and as a “beast” (II Thess. 2:3-8; Revelation 13:1-18; 17:3-17). Some believe the Antichrist is one specific person who will rise to power during a time of tribulation. Others believe that any spirit who opposes the truth about Jesus could be considered “anti-christ.”
The Fall of Babylon-Some believe the fall of Babylon in Revelation 18 is a symbolic reference to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. After AD 70, Jewish writers often referred to Rome as “Babylon.” Babylon may also symbolize the political and religious powers in every age that attempt to defy God and to persecute His people.
One-world government and Mark of the Beast-Revelation 13:16-18 Some believe that Revelation 13:16-18 teaches that someone called the Antichrist will unite the world under one government, one economy and that every person will be required to take a mark in order to buy or sell goods of any kind. Those who believe that believe it could be an actual brand or some kind of technology like a chip implanted. Many believe that the coin shortage and now cash shortage (at least if you go to Bob Evans) is a sign that we are moving in this direction. Let’s read the text: It (the beast) also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[e] That number is 666.
Folks who don’t believe that Revelation 13:16-18 teaches such in a literal way, believe that if we want to know what the Antichrist and his kingdom are like, you can see such in the Roman Empire and the imperial cult that were already present in the pages of the NT times because they took the lives of God’s people and prevented them from buying and selling. That already legit happened. I’m not say it couldn’t happen again. I am merely pointing out that it did. Folks who also don’t espouse the idea of a literal mark of the beast say it could refer to apostasy, which is denying faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and or confessing that “Caesar or Government is Lord.” That is the “sign” they have sided with the beast. Please also note, that when John used this image, slaves were being branded or tattooed by their owners. That was a thing, and the thought that someone would renounce Christ and worship the government, live to serve the government was viewed as the same kind of thing. For others, graphic illustrations of that kind of “taking of the mark” could be the swastika and the Nazi salute to Hitler, for example.
It is interesting, that in addition to the Mark of the Beast, there is another mark described in the book of Revelation. We’ll just call it the Mark of the Redeemed. Revelation 7:3 talks about receiving a seal on the forehead if you were a servant of God. 9:4 talks about the same. The name of the Father is written on the foreheads of the 144,000 in 14:1 and the same is mentioned in 22:4. You don’t hear folks talking much about that mark, do you? Interesting, right?
Could the mark of the beast on the hand or forehead be symbolic for actions (hand) and thoughts (forehead)? If you read Exodus 13:9 and 16, they seem to carry that kind of symbolism as both are mentioned there. That a mark on the forehead stands for your thoughts and a mark on your hands stands for your actions.
666-6 falls one short of seven, the number of completeness or perfection. The idea is that the beast will mimic Christ but will always fall short. 666 is the idea of always laboring but never fully entering the Sabbath rest of God. The triple 6’s could indicate the beast, who along with the dragon (Satan) and the second beast (or false prophet-we’ll talk about the two beasts in a second) mimics the Holy Trinity but is condemned to fall short. The beast can never rise above humanity to attain the deity it so desires.
Two Beasts-in Rev. 13:1-18
The first beast rises from the sea and has ten horns and seven heads. The seven heads seem to point to Rome, the city known for its seven hills. Some people think of it as a literal reference to a power that will arise from Rome near the end of time. Others view it as a symbolic reference to the powers in every age that defy God’s dominion and persecute God’s people. The beast claims blasphemous names for itself, much like the emperor, Domitian, emperor from 81 until 96, who demanded that he be addressed as “Lord and God.”
The second beast rises from the earth with horns like a lamb and a voice like a dragon-in other words, the second beast is a satanic parody of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Some people believe he is a literal leader who will encourage people to worship the first beast. Others view the second beast as a symbol of any religion in any time period that focuses worshipers on anything other than Christ.
The Millennium-refers to the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth that is described in Revelation 20:4-6. Is it a literal 1000-year reign or is 1000 a figurative and symbolic number? And when did or does this reign of Christ start?
The rapture-This is an event described in I Thessalonians 4:15-17 when Christ returns for his people. Questions surrounding the rapture include, will the second coming of Christ occur at the same time that believers meet Christ in the air? Or are they two separate events? Some Christians believe they are two separate events (Dispensational premillennialists). They believe the rapture will take place before the great tribulation and the second coming will happen after that. In other words, believers will secretly be snatched away while non-believers will be left behind to endure the time of great tribulation and Christ will return at the judgment. Those who hold a different view all feel the second coming of Jesus and the events of I Thessalonians 4:15-17 are one event.
That’s already a lot to wrestle with, and you can already see that scholars don’t even agree on what they all mean. Some questions we need to wrestle with as we consider end time events are:
Will Jesus return physically and reign on the earth for 1,000 years?
Will we treat Scripture figuratively or literally or both when it comes to eschatological passages? It would be hard to make a case to treat it only figuratively or only literally, but if it is both, how do you decide when it is literal and when it is figurative? Like, if the 1000 year reign in Revelation 20 is a literal thousand years, how do you deal with the fact that in Psalm 90:4 we read, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day…” Also, II Peter 3:8 says much the same, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” So which is it? A literal 1000 years or is 1000 descriptive of some extended length of time?
Will Christians go through a seven-year tribulation? Some people believe we will. Some don’t think so. Some believe the church will escape tribulation in the rapture. Hard to be definitive when the church around the world is already enduring intense persecution in many places and has since the day of Christ. Some people, in some countries, are thinking to themselves now, “It can’t get any worse than this.”
What is the role of Israel in the end times? Some people believe it is critical for a Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem and that Jesus will return to rule there. Others believe the church has become the new Israel of God in Christ. In John 2:19 Jesus spoke about Himself when He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Verse 21 of chapter 2 explains He was talking about Himself. According to Matthew 12:6, “Something greater than the temple is here.” And those of us who are in Christ are part and parcel of the divine temple, so that Paul refers to believers as the temple (I Corinthians 3:16-17 and II Cor. 6:16) Ephesians 2:21 says that in Christ “the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” According to Hebrews 9:11-12 we have a perfect high priest and a perfect sacrifice. All of this seems to indicate that before the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in AD 70 we already had a “third” temple in place.
Preterism-is the eschatological viewpoint that suggests some, if not all, biblical prophecies about the end times actually happened in the first century. Preterists believe the great war of Armageddon in the book of Revelation occurred in the late 60’s and early 70’s CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, many Jews were killed and the rest were driven from Palestine. For Preterists, when Jesus talked about the end of the world, he did not mean that the physical world would be no more. He taught that the old worldview held by various contemporary Jewish groups was coming to an end, to be replaced by a new concept, the Kingdom of God. Thus, all of the major elements in the book of Revelation actually took place in the first century CE.
Key Eschatological Passages: Daniel 7 and 9, Zechariah 12, Matthew 24, 1 Thess 4-5, 2 Thess 2, Rev 12-13, 20
Each of the four main eschatological systems takes its name from how they answer one foundational question. When will Jesus return relative to the millennium (1000 year reign) described in Rev. 20?
Here are the names of the four main eschatological views if you want to do your own research on what each espouses:
Premillennialism which is broken into Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism
I want to focus a bit on the Dispensational Premillennialism, and raise some questions and provide some context and scripture that you can use for further study. I want to try to end with what I believe to be true.
Dispensational Premillennialists believe Jesus will rapture His church and that a 7-year tribulation period will ensue. They use Matthew 24 and Revelation 7:14 to defend their position of the tribulation which scholars argue about. They believe Jesus will return after the tribulation, just (pre) before the millennium, so Jesus will come back before a thousand-year reign on earth. They believe God’s Kingdom will be inaugurated at that point, and that He will reign for a literal 1000-year period. They believe that the rapture of the church and the actual Second Coming of Christ are two separate events. Most believe there will be particular signs including disease, famine, wars, rumors of wars, and many looking at the Corona Virus are saying, “The time must be close.”
This is a doctrine based on a literal interpretation of Revelation. Remember, not everyone believes Revelation is meant to be read literally as it contains much symbolic and figurative language.
What we are going to move through next is probably ascribed to by a majority of Christians. Some books that promote this approach would be The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay (70’s and 80’s) Shock waves of Armageddon by Doug Clark, the End of the Age by Pat Robertson, 2001 on the Edge of Eternity by Jack Van Impe are all books on the subject. The “Left Behind” series would fall into this category. These books have done a lot to promote this way of thinking.
Well, even among Dispensational Premillennialists there are lots of variations on this doctrine…
- The Kingdom-They do not believe the Kingdom of God has yet come. They believe when Christ came to this earth the first time, it was His intention to set up a physical earthly kingdom and that OT prophecies point to that. Christ’s Kingdom was to have a physical rule and He would rule over fleshly Israel on this earth. That is what the Jews were looking for in Jesus’ time, right? John 6:15 surely suggests so. So, they believe when Christ returns, after the tribulation that Christ will give the nation of Israel the land described in Genesis 15:18. Yet what did Jesus say in John 18:36, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my Kingdom is from another place.” When the Jews tried to make Jesus a physical, earthly king in John 6:15, He fled into the mountains. Dispensational premillennialists believe that earthly Kingdom didn’t come to pass because the Jews rejected Him, so Christ set up the church as a temporary substitute until He comes again in the future to set up an earthly Kingdom and to restore the land to Israel.
A challenge with this doctrine is that it could imply that Christ came to earth with a mission and failed and that the church became a sort of plan B of sorts. That idea, however, contradicts what Ephesians 3:10-11 tells us about the church. It says there: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus.” That reads to me that the church isn’t an afterthought but was part of the plan of God all along.
Dispensational Premillennialists believe Jesus will come and reign for 1000 years, that His Kingdom is yet to come. How do those folks reconcile that in Matthew 3:1-2, John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom was at hand? It was going to be soon, the way John the Baptist talked. In Matthew 4 Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. In Matthew 10:7 Jesus told the disciples to preach it the same thing. In Mark 9:1 Jesus told the Jews, “Some of you will not die until you have seen the Kingdom come.” Did the Kingdom come then before those people died or didn’t it? Were all of those men mistaken who preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand? Did Jesus make an error when He said the Kingdom would be soon? Were the disciples teaching an erroneous doctrine? Was Jesus wrong about the Kingdom coming while those people were alive? That is a question that dispensationalists have to wrestle with.
It is interesting that in Acts 2, prior to establishing the church, the Kingdom is spoken of as coming and after the establishment of the church in Acts 2 the church is spoken of as being in existence. Is the church the Kingdom?
- The Signs of the Times. Turn to Matthew 24:6-8 “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. National will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of birth pains.” People point to these kinds of current happenings as signs that the end of time is approaching, particularly wars in the Middle East. Is that what Christ was teaching? In Matthew 24:1 and 2, the same chapter we just read from, Jesus spoke about the destruction of the Temple. In Matthew 24:3, after He described the approaching temple destruction, the disciples asked “When will these things be?” “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” These were two separate questions, weren’t they? Jesus told them in verse 2 that the temple would be destroyed, and in verse 3 they asked those two questions. Maybe the disciples presumed that would take place at the end of time, so maybe they didn’t realize they were asking two questions, but they were. Their first question was about destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the other was about the end of time. In Matthew 24:1-34 Jesus dealt with question one, and the temple destruction concluding in verse 34, “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things (the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple) have happened. Then he answered the second question in verse 36, “But about that day or hour (the last day, the day of Judgment) no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, for many, verses 6-8 about wars and rumors of wars is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and not the end times. Those things would take place within that generation, not things yet in the future. They saw everything that Jesus spelled out in their lifetime. They saw the destruction of the temple. They saw the beginning of a great and unique tribulation that started then and has continued. They saw the continuation of natural, political, spiritual and religious upheaval, and they saw the spread of the Gospel empowered by the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit.
- Rapture-Many view this as a secret event where the saints will be caught away and the rest of humanity will be left on earth. Does the Bible teach a separate resurrection for the righteous and years later a separate resurrection for the wicked? Acts 24:15 says there will be a resurrection of the dead of the just and the unjust but does not mention multiple resurrections. II Cor. 5:10 says we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Does that mess with the idea of a secret rapture? John 5:28-29 says the hour is coming at which all who are in the graves will hear His voice, so can we conclude there will be one resurrection, and everyone will be there?
What about Matthew 24:40-41 that talk about someone being taken and someone else being left behind? Does this suggest there is a secret rapture? Let’s read it: Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” Those are the verses dispensationalists use to promote the idea of a secret rapture. Where the controversy quickly comes in is when you read those verses in their context. If you start with verse 37, you can arrive at a different conclusion. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, (oblivious to God’s plans, in order words) up to the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and “took” them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
These verses about Noah’s time precede the verses about one being taken and the other left behind. Those who were taken, were the ones who suffered God’s judgment. Do you see that? He drew an analogy between the ones taken in judgment during Noah’s time and the ones who will be taken in judgment when Christ returns. Have people been misreading this text to support the idea of a rapture? Is it, after all, better to be left behind than “taken” in judgment?
If we need something more to substantiate the possibility that it is actually better to be left behind than to be taken, what if we look at the same subject matter from Luke’s Gospel in Luke 17:34-35 that talks about one being taken and one being left behind and where the disciples basically ask in verse 37, “Well, where are those people being taken?” Jesus said, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” Reading the texts that way more than strongly suggests that those who are being taken will meet their demise and will not be caught up to meet Christ in the air. Furthermore, the Jewish eschatology of the Old Testament never looked for the removal of the righteous from the earth, but they expected to inherit the earth after the wicked would be removed (Prov. 2:21-22 and Ps. 37:9-11). Could it be that this passage that has meant to point people to the rapture is really about the destruction of the wicked when Christ returns? If so, isn’t it better to be the one left behind than the one who is taken?
- The Great Tribulation-Premillennialists say after the resurrection of the saints there will be a 7-year tribulation for those on the earth and that it will be the most intense suffering and persecution the world has ever known. They point to Matthew 24:21 which says, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now-and never to be equaled again” yet we have already talked about how this verse speaks not about the end times, but the destruction of Jerusalem, leaving us to think that the tribulation discussed in Matthew 24:34 already took place in that generation when less than 40 years after Jesus spoke those words, the Roman army attacked the city of Jerusalem.
Some people object to the idea that that verse about great distress, unequaled from the beginning and never to be equaled again, still hasn’t happened saying that more people died in the holocaust than those who died in Jerusalem, that more horrific things have happened than what took place in AD 70 in Jerusalem and that worse is coming. But listen to the ancient historian Josephus who recorded that 1,100,000 Jews died when Jerusalem was destroyed. 97,000 were captured and taken into slavery. Women ate their own babies. Men broke into people’s house and stole food from children. That sounds like a pretty horrific tribulation.
- The Antichrist-Dispensational premillennialists, say that after the secret rapture and during the 7 year tribulation, the Jews will return to Jerusalem and the OT will be rebuilt. They believe a powerful world ruler, the Antichrist, will arise, a powerful political personality who will make a dramatic appearance. He will make a covenant with the Jews to guarantee their safety, but after 3 ½ years he will reveal himself for who he is. He will persecute believers and will break his covenant with Israel. Then the Antichrist will enthrone himself in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and will demand to be worshiped. Anyone who is converted during this time will be persecuted severely. Where this thinking might be challenged is there are only 4 verses that mention an Antichrist, and not one of them is in the book of Revelation. All in John. I John 2:18, I John 2:22, I John 4:3, II John 7
If any passage is to be understood it has to be placed within its context. What is the message in I and II John that talk about the Antichrist? John was living in Ephesus and was concerned about a problem that had arisen there. Some were teaching that Christ didn’t come to the earth in the flesh. They were denying He was the Messiah. They believed that physical matter was impure and refused to believe Jesus took on human flesh. I John 2:22, I John 4:1, II 7, and I John 4:3—John called them deceivers and anti-Christs.
In I John 2:18 says even now many antichrists have come…John wasn’t suggesting that one specific world ruler would come. He said there were false teachers and there were many of them and they existed even in his day, and they were anti-Christ.
- The Mark of the Beast-666 Pre-millennial thinkers believe that during the tribulation, people will be pressured to take a mark/number, the mark of the beast, and whoever takes the mark of the beast will go to hell. This idea is based on a literal interpretation on Rev. 13:11-18. The concept is that after the rapture of the church and during the great tribulation, a man will be identified as THE anti-Christ who will place a literal number, 666 on his followers. As I shared, the Bible uses the term antichrist for those who oppose Christ. If you view the book of Revelation as symbolic instead of literal, you might conclude what we discussed earlier about the number 666 being the number for humanity, with 7 being the number of perfection. You might also conclude that 666 is a symbolic number representing evil in general. Many scholars believe it represents the evil Roman Emperor who persecuted the saints in the late first century.
- The Battle of Armageddon -At the end of the 7-year period of tribulation, when it seems the Antichrist is completely victorious, some believe Jesus will return with the raptured saints and He will slay the Antichrist. Some think this will put an end to the battle of Armageddon. What does the Bible say about Armageddon? It refers to a valley or plain that runs northwest to southeast along the foot of Mt. Carmel. It is also known as the Valley of Megiddo. It was important in Biblical times because it provided a gateway through the mountains of Palestine. Because this was such a key connection point between trade routes, people wanted to possess it. If you controlled Megiddo you controlled the trade routes. It was conquered many times by many different people groups. Many great battles were fought there. Some of the most decisive battles in Israel’s history were fought there. Deborah and Barak conquered Sisera and Jabin’s army. Gideon with just 300 men defeated the Midianites. Saul and Jonathan died there while fighting the Philistines. King Ahaziah was killed near there in a battle. The good King Josiah was slain there. Because so many battles were fought at or near there, it came to be a symbol of war, a place of great loss. Like the Alamo in Texas or Normandy. The word Armageddon only appears once in Rev. 16:16. Read verses 12-16: 12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.15 “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
Notice the symbolism in this passage. John talked about frogs and dragons. They weren’t real frogs. They looked like frogs. They were like dragons. Given this symbolism, is it appropriate to conclude there will be a literal Armageddon? Could it be representative of war or a great battle? It makes sense when you think about the history of Israel in that day. You know, we have an expression in our culture where we say, “He met his waterloo.” That comes from the battle where Napoleon was finally defeated. It is simply an expression that means someone “suffered defeat.” In John’s day, there was an expression, “Gathering at Armageddon,” signaling making a final stand. If Jesus disarmed the powers of darkness on the cross and made a public spectacle of them, will there be another literal showdown? Does there need to be? Or was John speaking symbolically, here?
- 1000 year reign-After Christ defeats the Antichrist, Dispensational Premillennialists say Revelation 20 teaches that Jesus will establish an earthly kingdom and will rule from the throne of King David in Jerusalem for 1000 years. They would further say that all who were converted to Christ during the tribulation and were killed will be resurrected just prior to the 1000 years so they may reign with Christ. They say at the end of the 1000 years the final judgment will take place. The wicked will be resurrected and judged and cast into hell. The righteous will be taken to heaven. Does that go against the idea that the Kingdom is already here?
Guess what isn’t mentioned in Rev. 20? Christ’s second coming. It’s not mentioned. The establishment of Christ’s kingdom. Not mentioned. An earthly reign of Christ. Not there. Christ coming to sit on David’s throne. Don’t see it. We who are alive today. These things are not mentioned there.
The fact that an earthly throne isn’t mentioned in Rev. 20 is important. The Scriptures tells us Christ can’t rule on an earthly throne. Hebrews 8:1 says Christ’s throne is in Heaven. Not on earth. Verse 4 adds, “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.” Zechariah 6:13 tells us Christ would be a priest on His throne. So, Christ is a priest (8:1) While a priest, he will be on his throne (Zech 6:16) If He were on the earth, He could not be a priest (8:4) The conclusion I draw from this is that Christ’s throne isn’t on this earth. His Kingdom is eternal and is on heaven.
There are others who believe Christians will not be raptured but will remain on the earth during the great tribulation. (Rev. 13:7) They believe the tribulation will purify the churches by rooting out false believers and the second coming of Christ will precede the millennium which they believe is a future and literal event. They believe that the church has totally replaced the nation of Israel as God’s covenant people. They believe that God’s promises of land and blessing to Abraham and his offspring were conditional promises, based on their obedience and that Israel’s persistent disobedience violated God’s covenant with them. (Gen. 22:18; II Chronicles 33:8; Is 1:19-20 and Jeremiah 7:6-7) They say God has maintained a covenant of grace through the Old and NTs with all who trusted in Him. These believers, embodied today in the church, are the true Israel (Matthew 19:28-29; Romans 9:6-8-Galatians 6:16) in their estimation. They believe most references to “Israel” in Revelation refer symbolically to the church. This was the earliest view of the end times among Christians who lived just after the apostles and faded.
Historical Premillennialists try to balance symbolic and literal interpretations of Revelation, emphasizing both what the book meant to first-century readers and how it might apply to people’s lives today.
Those who are post-millennialists believe Christ will return at the end of the millennium which they don’t believe is a literal 1000 year time period. They say it represents a long time period and that through the preaching of the Gospel that most of the world will be saved—that it will be a kind of Golden Age of sorts. (Psalm 2:8; Is. 2:2-4; Jer. 31:34; Daniel 2:35; Micah 4:1-4) They believe things are going to get better! Of all of the eschatological positions, they are the most hopeful. They place a big emphasis on the preaching of the Gospel in order for this to happen. (Mark 3:27) During this time when many are being saved, Satan will have no power over the earth and evil regimes will collapse (Rev. 19:19-20:3).
They believe Christ is ruling the earth now through His Spirit and through the church. They don’t believe He will ever rule physically on the earth. They believe the millennium time period began as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, that He now reigns and that His return will signal the end of this millennial period. He will come at the end of the millennium, however long that is, and His coming will coincide with the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment of men and Satan and the beginning of eternal life on a renewed earth. (Rev. 20:7-15)
As a result of what Christ has done and continues to do, they believe the world will experience a progressive movement in the right direction. This is based on the fact that God, Himself, has come to earth, walked in human flesh, and that Jesus has confronted all of the evil in the spiritual realms with His first coming. In other words, Jesus has changed things forever…already.
They teach that the Good News includes that God has reconciled us to Himself, that Jesus has already conquered and disarmed the powers of Hell on the cross (Col 2) and that the Kingdom of God has come with the Savior’s arrival, and that we are now all citizens of Heaven.
When Jesus started His ministry in Mark 1:15 Why are people to repent and believe? Because the time was fulfilled. Because the Kingdom of God was then at hand. It should make sense to us that when the King arrives, His kingdom comes with the King. Christ announced that with His arrival, that the Kingdom came with Him. We know that multitudes have come into the Kingdom because of what Christ has done.
Rev. 1:4-6 is John’s introduction to the seven churches. Here he talks about the throne of Christ, how He is already the ruler of the kings of the earth, and how we have been made a kingdom and priests to serve Him. Peter, in I Peter 2, says we have become a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s possession. This wasn’t share in a future a tense where one day we would become such. Both were speaking about something that has already occurred.
According to Colossians 1, every person who calls on Jesus is transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s Son. So, regarding the idea that Christ’s Kingdom is only future and not now we have to conclude that the Apostles didn’t deceive us with their words. Christ, Himself, didn’t deceive us. We have to bank on what the Apostles and Jesus have told us.
We need to understand where we are in the story as it determines what we will do in the here and now, the mission we will engage in, or not. If Christ is reigning now, and the Kingdom is like a bit of leaven that will leaven the entire loaf, according to the Parables, we can be optimistic and dedicated to advancing the Gospel. The “on earth as it is in heaven” is not merely a prayer, but a principle we are intended to live out. We are to work to see this world look more like Heaven as God continually brings His Kingdom here.
Post-millennialists don’t deny there will be natural disaster or wars or illnesses in a region or even in a global sense. They don’t argue that these things are impossible because the Kingdom is here, but they say those things are inevitable and will occur because still the vast majority of people have yet to embrace Christ by faith.
Post-millennialists would say the redemptive work that God has done has already been more substantial than we can imagine. In the 20th and 21st century, there have been radical revivals, even in places like China and Iran. We may have a myopic vision as we look at our culture in the US and we don’t see people being faithful to the Lord, to the church, but that isn’t true globally. There has been a radical expansion of the Christian faith in other parts of the world.
A-millennialism is the view that Jesus is ruling and reigning now in the hearts of His followers. A-millennialists believe that persecution of Christians (tribulations) have been occurring since Jesus came and the kingdom will continue to expand. So, as they believe the Kingdom is now, they also believe the tribulation is now. When Christ returns, they believe He will immediately defeat the powers of evil, resurrect the saved and the unsaved, judge them, and deliver them to their eternal destinies. In that moment, a new heavens and new earth will be enjoyed by those who have been saved. They don’t believe in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth where folks have an additional opportunity to receive Christ. They believe when Christ returns, the judgment takes place at that moment.
A-millennialists tend to emphasize the historical context of Revelation and what the book meant to first-century readers. They believe the great tribulation represents the disasters, wars and persecutions that have occurred throughout church history.
Revelation is read to be figurative and highly symbolic. For them, most references to “Israel” in Revelation are symbolic references to the people of God on earth (compare Romans 9:6-8 and Galatians 6:16).
They believe that in apocalyptic literature numbers represent concepts and not literal statistics. For example, six symbolizes incompleteness, seven represents completeness, ten indicates something that is extreme but limited, twelve represents the perfection of God’s people, and 1,000 symbolizes a great amount or long period of time. The Bible frequently uses the number 1,000 in a figurative way. (Psalm 50:10; 90:4; 105:8 II Peter 3:8)
They believe the first resurrection mentioned in Rev. 20:4 could refer to the spiritual resurrection, being saved. (Romans 11:13-15 and Ephesians 2:1-5)
The second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the saved and unsaved will occur at the same time (Daniel 12:2-3; John 5:28-29). It is all one event, so for an a-millennialist, there is no secret rapture of the church.
The saints are on earth during the Tribulation (Rev. 13:7) which has been going on since the time of Christ. They believe the Kingdom is the Church of God, that Jesus didn’t fail to make believers out of Israel and then set up the church as a Plan B, but that the church had been His plan all along as we have discussed. They believe the antichrist is anyone or anything that opposes the truth of Christ like is taught in I and II John. This position became popular in the fifth century and has remained fairly widespread. Martin Luther, John Calvin, J.I Packer, Stanley Grenz
I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 contains a simple eschatology:
- The Lord will descend from heaven “with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” (Vs. 16)
- When He appears He will raise the dead in Christ. (Vs. 16)
- Those who are still alive will be “caught up in the clouds to join with them to meet the Lord in the air.” (17)
- We will be with the Lord forever. (Vs. 17)
- Our Lord’s appearance will take those who reject the Lord, by surprise and they will suffer. (5:2-3)
- Before the Lord’s return, those who are “children of the light and children of the day” live holy lives in sober expectancy of the anytime appearance of the Lord. (5:4-10)
II Peter 3:1-13 is another example of a simple eschatology that speaks about the dissolving of the cosmic order as we know it and the establishment of a new cosmic order. Jesus does not return to this cosmic order, but rather with His appearance a whole new cosmic order is established, spoken of as “new heavens and a new earth” (verse 13) or what Jesus in John 14:3 refers to when He says, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” It is what Revelation 7:9 describes as the great multitude before the throne and before the Lamb, and 19:1 simply refers to heaven.
How should we live in light of what Scripture says and whatever conclusions we personally come to about the end times?
- We need to devote ourselves to living the life of the Kingdom of God
- We need to participate in the Great Commission and take the Gospel to the entire world
- We need to live expectantly because Christ could return at any moment
- We need to live confidently, understanding that Satan is bound or restrained from being able to destroy the faithful church (Rev. 20:1-10) I personally believe these verses speak about what Jesus did when He came the first time, what He will do when He comes again and what He is doing in relation to the church between those two comings. You see, John saw a revelation but could only describe things sequentially, just like I could only describe what is happening in this room to you by a sequence of sentences. But the way I am experiencing what I am seeing is all one scene for me. John was given a vision of the all-encompassing work of Christ in one scene, but he had to break it down for us as if it was sequential which creates these periods of time in our minds due to our linear way of thinking.
So that’s all, folks. We didn’t touch on the book of Daniel and there is much more that could be made from eschatology in Revelation, but those are the highlights. It wasn’t my intention to tell you what to believe this evening, but I am sure in some of the teaching you caught of glimpse of my own personal theology. If you want to know what doctrine I ascribe to, send me a private message! And don’t worry if you aren’t any clearer on the subject than you were before you came tonight. The truth is, if you are in Christ, you have nothing to fear. Salvation is built on Christ alone, and if you are in Him, you are secure and good to go!
*Several websites and Youtube videos were consulted to develop this presentation. In addition, work by the late Dr. Gil Stafford and a book, “A Case for Amillenialism” were also referenced.