Author's note: Originally published back in the 2013-14 timeframe, I've run this article a couple of times since then. However, with a growing audience, I felt like it was time to update it and bring it back for those who may not be familiar with it.
Several years ago, an Omega Letter member named Ron Maurno delivered to us the ‘Bible Prophecy 101’ letter, which I for one, was tremendously blessed by. He gives a summation of all the major points in the prophetic Scriptures. In a similar manner, what I would like to do now is to just focus on one section of that summation, eschatology.
It’s been said by many Christians to the author, that the study of prophecy is irrelevant to the here and now. I would counter, by quoting the famed comedian George Burns, “I look to the future because that is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.”
While the days darken, and our world seemingly becomes more unhinged each day, we know according to Scripture, that God has a grand plan for us and a future beyond compare. I hope this helps you in your journey.
Bible Prophecy: God’s foretelling of what’s to come. Since God exists outside of time, He is able to see the end from the beginning, and all therein. (Isaiah 46:9-10) 28% of the Bible is prophetic in nature, beginning with Genesis 3:15 (protoevangelium). There were ‘near’ and ‘far’ prophecies. Near being fulfilled in the lifetime of the person delivering the message, and far, would be any of which would come to pass beyond that prophet's life.
Eschatology: the word is a compound of two Greek words, Eschatos, meaning last or final things; and ology, meaning the study of, so it is a part of theology concerned primarily with the study of last things or final events. So while all Eschatology fits into the concept of Bible prophecy, not all Bible prophecy is eschatological in nature. For instance, Bible prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were prophetic when they were given, but are not considered eschatological.
Purpose of Bible Prophecy
Probably the most maligned, and misunderstood theological doctrine in all of Christianity, is that of Bible prophecy. Granted, every major doctrine within Christendom has been abused and/or perverted to some extent, but none as much as Bible prophecy. So why would God give us something that has the potential to receive so much negative attraction?
1. Defends the authoritative power, truth, inerrancy, and divine inspiration of the Bible (Isaiah 46:9-10; Jeremiah 30, 31; Ezekiel 36-39, etc.) “Thus saith the Lord”
2. No other book, religious or otherwise contains the same claims, nor the perfect prophetic track record of the Holy Bible. (Isaiah 55:11)
Ex: Christ fulfilled 109 specific prophecies concerning His birth, life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus used prophecy to confirm that His message was true and did so by telling His disciples ahead of time so that when it happened, they knew what was supposed to happen. (John 14:29; 16:4, Luke 24:25-27)
3. Gives hope in dark days (2 Peter 1:19-21, 1 Thess. 4:13-18)
4. We are commanded to watch and understand the times we live in. (Mark 13:35-37; Luke 12:37; 1 Thess. 5:1-8)
5. Gives a practical purpose for everyday life
a. Prophecy is not meant to tickle the ear, but to turn our feet toward God.
b. Meant to provoke us to holy living. (1 John 3:2-3; 2 Peter 3:11; Titus 2:13)
c. A powerful tool for evangelism. (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9)
d. Serves as a warning that time had a starting point, and likewise, has an end.
e. Revives a sense of urgency in our lives concerning the coming of Christ (Matt. 24:42)
f. Is all about Christ (either directly, or indirectly). (Rev. 19:10; Luke 24:25-27)
Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. It is part of the broader field of hermeneutics which involves the study of principles for the text and includes all forms of communication: verbal and nonverbal. (Source: Wikipedia)
Understanding that Bible prophecy has a ‘value added’ to the Christian walk, we now turn to the differing viewpoints within eschatology. All of these viewpoints come about, by either one of two methods of biblical interpretation, or hermeneutics.
Literal: means the literal, grammatical, historical, and contextual reading of a passage is taken at face value unless the surrounding passages convey otherwise.
Non-Literal: means the passage is not taken in the above manner, but either a spiritual metaphor or simile or an allegorical approach is applied to the text at hand.
Now, two common misconceptions are at play here:
First, taking a passage literally does not imply ‘wooden literalism’, as some would have it. When Jesus says, “I am the door…” (John 10:9), we know that Jesus isn’t literally a ‘door’. He is using a metaphor to convey a deeper meaning that one must enter through Him, in order to receive salvation.
Also, in Isaiah 55:12, when it states that “all the trees of the field will clap their hands”, we understand that to be a personification of a non-human object. It is meant to convey a deeper, poetical meaning to the fact that nature itself will rejoice in God. Having a literal interpretation just means we take the text at face value unless by doing so, makes the passage nonsensical. From Dr. D.L. Cooper:
WHEN THE PLAIN SENSE OF SCRIPTURE MAKES COMMON SENSE, SEEK NO OTHER SENSE; THEREFORE, TAKE EVERY WORD AT ITS PRIMARY, ORDINARY, USUAL, LITERAL MEANING UNLESS THE FACTS OF THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT, STUDIED IN THE LIGHT OF RELATED PASSAGES AND AXIOMATIC AND FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS INDICATE CLEARLY OTHERWISE.
Secondly, a person who takes the non-literal position is not saying they take the whole bible in a non-literal fashion. Rather, they take the non-prophetic passages literally, but then apply a non-literalism (allegorical, metaphorical, etc.) approach in varying degrees, to prophetic passages. So for the most part, they would think they have a literal understanding of the Bible (i.e.…Creation, Noah’s ark, Moses, David and Goliath, and even prophetic passages that pertain to Christ’s first coming), usually are taken in a literal manner. Non-literal interpretation is usually only reserved for passages pertaining to events that have yet to take place.
Three main branches of hermeneutical thought within Orthodox Christianity are based on the framework in which one develops an eschatological viewpoint, and are derived usually, from one of three main views:
Ø Covenant Theology
Dispensationalism; comes from the Greek compound word, oikonomia, which simply means ‘house rules’. It is used some 20 times in the NT and represents the following words; Steward or stewardship, administration, dispensation, or manager. The definition, according to Dr. Charles Ryrie is as follows:
Dispensationalism views the world as a household run by God. In His household world God is dispensing or administering its affairs according to His own will and in various stages of revelation in the passage of time. These various stages mark off the distinguishably different economies in the outworking of His total purpose, and these different economies constitute the dispensations. The understanding of God’s differing economies is essential to a proper interpretation of His revelation within those various economies.
It is based on three simple premises:
A plain, normal, literal, grammatical, historical interpretation of all Scriptures.
A recognition, that Israel is not the Church, and the Church is not Israel.
The overarching plan is God’s glory.
A Dispensational viewpoint is a natural consequence of a consistent, normal, literal interpretation of scripture. Two points upfront to consider: the first is that God never changes. The second is that although the entire Bible is for the Christian, the entire Bible is not to the Christian. Anyone who goes to Church on Sunday with clothes on doesn’t sacrifice small animals, and doesn’t consider themselves under the thumb of the Mosaic Law would have to agree.
We see in the Bible that there are three primary groups of people; the Gentiles, the Jews (Hebrews/Israelites), and the Church. Genesis 1-12 deals exclusively with mankind as a singular group divided either into the righteous, or the wicked. Then, in Genesis 12, God separates one man (Abraham) and is set aside to become a new group. From Genesis 12 - Malachi, the focus is exclusively on the Jewish people. Gentiles then are only mentioned in so much as in how they interact with the Jews.
The New Testament makes mention of a new class of people…the Church; with Matt. 16:16-19 being the first mention. Acts 2 then is what is normally accepted as the birth (or conception) of the Church, with the giving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So from Acts 2 through Revelation 3:22, the focus is exclusively on the Church. Jews and Gentiles then are only mentioned, in so far as how they interact with the Church (see 1 Cor. 10:32). Also, in 70+ times of mention in the NT, Israel is never recognized as the Church, nor vice versa.
The last distinctive of Dispensationalism is God’s glory being the overarching plan for God. This glory supersedes even that of salvation. For example, the fallen angels (of which Lucifer is chief) have no manner or mechanism for redemption, yet, their condemnation, judgment, and damnation, serve to fulfill the purpose of God’s glory. True, God knew from before the foundation of the world how this would all play out, but God’s glory trumps every other purpose or plan that exists.
A Dispensationalist recognizes that God has interacted in differing ways with mankind through the ages. Not everyone has a forbidden tree to eat from. Not everyone has an ark to build. Not everyone has a burning bush to interact with, or a giant to slay. A Dispensationalist also recognizes that the entire Bible wasn’t given to Adam…it was given in varying measures to His chosen spokesmen over a period of 1,600 years. This is known as ‘progressive revelation’. Middletown Bible Church gives a good demonstration of this below:
Adam: “I had no Bible at all, but I walked with God in the cool of the garden.”
Abraham: “I had no Bible at all, but at different times God would appear to me and speak to me” (see Genesis 17:1; 18:1; etc.)
Moses: “My Bible contained 5 books–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy”
David: “My Bible contained the same 5 books that Moses had as well as Joshua and Judges and many of the Psalms which I wrote, etc.”
Ezra: “My Bible contained most of the Old Testament books but not all of them”
John the Baptist: “My Bible contained all of the Old Testament books but none of the New Testament books”
Paul: “My Bible contained the Old Testament books and most of the New Testament books but not all of them”
John: “My Bible contained all of the Old Testament books and all of the New Testament books. Shortly before I died God used me to write the last New Testament book.”
So simply based on the idea that not everyone had a complete Bible (Old and New Testament), how could Moses know all that would be revealed to Paul? He didn’t. He only knew what God had revealed to him at that moment in time, or over the course of his life. To assume anything beyond that is to insert an idea into the text, that simply isn’t there.
Two charges often laid at the feet of Dispensationalism are that it is a new system (Johnny Come-Lately theology) and that it promotes multiple ways of salvation. Neither is true.
Dispensationalism is as old as the Bible itself…because it is the normal understanding one comes to if you take the literal, grammatical, and historical interpretative methods. Going back to the early church, men like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus understood that God has worked differently, in different ages.
Jonathan Edwards (1646-1719), published 2 vol. work– entitled “A Complete History or Survey of All the Dispensations".
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) recognized the dispensations as conditional ages wherein God had certain expectations of men and made conditional promises and prohibitions to them.
It was systematized by John N. Darby in the 1800s, but that is not the same as it being ‘invented’. No one accuses Martin Luther of inventing ‘sola fide’ in the 1500s. He simply rediscovered what the scriptures have said all along. Similarly, men like John N. Darby (and others) were rediscovering the plain, normative, understanding of all Scripture, including Bible prophecy. Charles Ryrie sums it up like this;
The fact that something was taught in the first century does not make it right (unless taught in the canonical Scriptures), and the fact that something was not taught until the nineteenth century does not make it wrong unless, of course, it is unscriptural. Infant baptism and Replacement theology began back as early as the 1st century, and neither are biblical, yet because they’ve been around as long as they have, does that give them credence to persist as mainstream Christian teaching? Clearly, no. So longevity is not an accurate standard in which we measure our orthodoxy on.
Dispensationalism has never promoted multiple ways of salvation. Certain statements by Dispensationalists, when taken in isolation and/or out of context, have been used as fodder to feed this argument. (See a detailed response here). Adherence to the Law never saved anyone (Gal. 3:24)
Question: Since salvation is by grace through faith, how could the OT saints be ‘saved’ prior to Christ’s coming?
Answer: Salvation is the wrong way to frame the question. Salvation is through Christ alone. (John 10:9, 14:6) One has to come to Christ in order to be baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:13), sealing the believer into Christ forever. (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:11-14) Since 4,000 years of human history had transpired prior to Christ’s physical manifestation here on earth as the promised Redeemer, salvation was not yet possible. If it were, Christ need not come.
One was not ‘saved’ before Christ came, in the same sense that we are today (post-Calvary), but they were justified by their faith in God, and when they died, they went to Abraham’s bosom, which is in Sheol (or Hades in the Greek), but separated from ‘Torments’ in a place known as Paradise, awaiting their redemption by the Redeemer. (Luke 16:22-26; 23:43; Eph. 4:8-10; 1 Peter 3:18-20)
In conclusion on the Dispensational view, it is the most accurate attempt by fallen men, to corroborate what Holy Scriptures tell us about God’s outworking in the human race over the course of our common history. It is not perfect, because we simply don’t know certain things, either due to silence in the Word, or because events have not yet played out. We hold that all Progressive Revelation ended with the Apocalypse, as given to John the Beloved on Patmos, in AD95. What we have now, is known as Progressive Illumination, which continues to open our understanding of the how God’s plan unfolds according to His timing and His purpose.
Covenant/Reformed Theology (CT)
Covenant and Reformed theology are terms that are often used interchangeably. They represent the other half of mainstream Protestant thought pertaining to Biblical hermeneutics. Sometimes referred to as Reformed Theology, but distinct in that one could be Reformed and yet not be CT. According to Dr. Richard L. Pratt,
Covenant theology refers to one of the basic beliefs that Calvinists have held about the Bible. All Protestants who have remained faithful to their heritage affirm sola Scriptura, the belief that the Bible is our supreme and unquestionable authority. Covenant theology, however, distinguishes the Reformed view of Scripture from other Protestant outlooks by emphasizing that divine covenants unify the teachings of the entire Bible.
CT Summarized: (Source: Is Covenant Theology Biblical?)
Covenant Theology views the covenants of Scripture as manifestations of either the CW (Covenant of Works) or the CG (Covenant of Grace). The entire story of redemptive history can be seen as God unfolding the CG from its nascent stages (Genesis 3:15) through to its fruition in Christ. Covenant Theology is, therefore, a very Christocentric way of looking at Scripture because it sees the OT as the promise of Christ and the NT as the fulfillment in Christ.
Some have accused Covenant Theology of teaching what is called “Replacement Theology” (i.e., the Church replaces Israel). Unlike Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology does not see a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Israel constituted the people of God in the OT, and the Church (which is made up of Jews and Gentiles) constitutes the people of God in the NT; both just make up one people of God (Ephesians 2:11-20). The Church doesn’t replace Israel; the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church (Galatians 6:16). All people who exercise the same faith as Abraham are part of the covenant people of God (Galatians 3:25-29).
Systemization of CT dates back to the Reformation era with Martin Luther, John Calvin, Westminster Confession, Savoy Declaration, and the London Baptist Confession and claims early church father (ECF) roots (albeit with more ambiguity since CT tends to only view one to three covenants for the entire Bible). CT and Reformed Theology lean heavily on traditional creeds and confessions made by the various Reformers, affirming or denying certain views they hold as Orthodox. Exclusively Calvinistic, but can vary in whether they hold to all five points within Calvinism or some variation thereof.
CT is similar to Dispensationalism in that CT holds to the main, orthodoxical positions on key areas such as:
– The Deity of Christ
– The Triune nature of God
– The Inerrancy of Scripture
– Salvation by Grace through Faith
Where CT and DISP part ways, is in the following:
– CT sees only one people of God, whereas DISP sees two, the Church, and Israel.
– CT sees two to three covenants implied in Scripture;
o A covenant of works (Gen. 2:16-17)
o A covenant of grace (Gen. 3:15)
o A covenant of redemption. (Eph. 1:3-14)
These differ from the stated covenants actually found in Scripture
o Abrahamic (Gen. 15)
Land (Deut. 29-30)
Seed or Davidic (2 Sam 7:12-16)
Blessing or Blessing (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
– CT can accept or reject Pre-Millennialism but primarily rejects it based on the blurring between Israel and the Church. Primary eschatology tends to be either Amillennial, Post-Millennial, or Historic Premillennialism.
– CT can in varying forms, (mild to strong), be considered Replacement theology (i.e.…the Church replaces or supersedes Israel) in the plan and promises of God.
The Roman Catholic Church, believes strongly in the idea of Apostolic Succession, by which they claim to trace their authority, back to the Apostle Peter, via the statement made by Christ in Matthew 16:16-19;
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The Roman Catholic Church wrongly attributes Christ's charge that the rock is Peter, rather than what Peter confessed. Thus, from Peter onward, the Roman Catholic Church claims to trace its right to organize, add, delete, translate, etc. the Holy Scriptures. History shows that the Roman Catholic Church did not in fact, begin to be systematized, until at the earliest, the fifth century. Three things had to happen first:
Emperor Constantine’s legalization of the Christian faith within the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan (AD313). With Constantine’s adoption of the Christian faith, he encouraged the Christianization of pagan beliefs, which they bring into Christianity adding non-biblical practices. Ex: Mithraism, Cult of Isis, Patron saints, etc.
Augustine’s publication of the “City of God” which laid a lot of the theological framework Roman Catholic Theology would later come from. (See here for summarized biography of this influential man)
Emperor Damasus commissioned Jerome to translate the Bible from its original Greek and Hebrew, into Latin beginning in the fourth century. Although Latin was a popular dialect within the Roman Empire at the time, this would come to prevent the common folk (who increasingly didn’t speak Latin) from being able to understand or read the Bible. A clerical class arose (the Priests, Bishops, and Popes) arose to be the mediators between God and man, thus allowing the Roman Catholic Church to completely control the message of what was being taught.
Needless to say, Roman Catholic theology dominated Christendom from the 5th through 15th centuries in a period largely referred to as the “Dark Ages”. When the masses began stirring away from the blatant corruption of the papacy between the 13th through 16th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church began various Inquisitions in Europe to stifle dissent. Heretics (those who disagreed with the RCC) were tortured, burned at the stake, drowned, hung, beheaded, etc. for daring to own their own Bibles, or for belonging to non-Catholic sects. The below are the more famous martyrs in the lead against Catholic theology.
The Four Major Eschatological Views within Christendom
1. Amillennialism: (Source: Wikipedia)
(Greek: a- “no” + millennialism), in Christian eschatology, is the rejection of the belief that Jesus will have a literal, thousand-year-long, physical reign on the earth. Church fathers of the second and third centuries that rejected the millennium were Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian. These men were heavily influenced by Grecian Platonism. Since Augustine was also influenced by this Grecian philosophical thought, he leaned heavily on Origen’s method of allegorizing Scriptural texts in which he became the first to systematize Amillennialism in his book City of God. He considered the idea of a physical kingdom to be very carnal and thus rejected it. Churches within Christendom who hold to this Amillennial position are:
Eastern and Oriental Orthodox
Disciples of Christ
Amillennialism has been the dominant eschatological view over the last 1,500 years, simply because this was the main eschatological view of Roman Catholicism, which dominated Christendom from the 5th through 15th century. Although the Protestant Reformers broke away and returned to a more literal interpretation of Scripture, they brought with them the same eschatological baggage that initially stemmed from Roman Catholicism, and kept Amillennialism as their default view for the study of last things.
As an effort to combat the growing eschatological position within the Protestant Reformers that the Roman Catholic Pope was the Antichrist, a "counter-reformation" began in the early 1600s, by which a sub-strain of Amillennialism emerged...Preterism.
Preterism: (Source: Wikipedia)
The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter which is listed in Webster’s 1913 dictionary as a prefix denoting that something is “past” or “beyond”, signifying that either all or a majority of Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. Historically, there has been a general agreement with non-preterists that the first systematic preterist exposition of prophecy was written by the Jesuit Luis de Alcasar during the Catholic Counter-Reformation movement in the 1600s.
a. Full Preterism: all prophecy has been fulfilled since AD70. Christ returned spiritually and used the Romans to exact His judgment on Israel. (Heretical since it denies Christ’s Second Coming)
b. Partial Preterism: Most of bible prophecy has already been fulfilled (up until Rev. 19), except for the Second Coming of Christ, and the eternal state.
a. Pros: One is able to dismiss Bible prophecy as irrelevant, thus negating the need to study or handle prophetic passages in Scripture as anything other than, historical events.
b. Cons: In order for this view to work, one would have to apply serious allegorical or metaphorical interpretations to large sections of Scripture. Would also require historicism to be applied liberally, to which even adherents differ on fulfillment. Lastly, would require one to dismiss the rebirth of Israel as prophetically significant, and the subsequent signs of the times that we are nearing the end of the age.
2. Postmillennialism (Source: Theopedia)
"The postmillennialist believes that the millennium is an era (not necessarily a literal thousand years) during which Christ will reign over the earth, not from a literal and earthly throne, but through the gradual increase of the Gospel and its power to change lives. After this gradual Christianization of the world, Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked. This is called postmillennialism because, by its view, Christ will return after the millennium." ^^
Postmillennialism is a systemized form of Calvinistic Christian eschatology that can trace its roots back to Daniel Whitby (1638-1726), and the Savoy Declaration (1658). Some would argue that it goes back further to 1620 with the Puritan's arrival to the United States. However, as a religious movement, it gained great traction during the 2nd Great Awakening, Restoration, and Reconstructionist eras in the United States. Groups who held to this would have largely fallen into the "Reformed Theology" group:
Historically, postmillennialism was a view largely held by Reformed denominations
Certain Disciples of Christ
Certain Churches of Christ
After its near extinction following WW1, postmillennialism has largely been resurrected in predominantly certain reforms camps (no longer necessarily denominations), and the
New Apostolic Reformation
Religious groups who embrace a "Kingdom Now" mentality
Post-Millennialism: Christ returns at the end of an undefined period of time (the millennium is thus relegated from one thousand years, to ???) This view was very popular around the turn of the 20th century, but the idealistic and optimistic tenets of Post-Millennialism crashed into the rocky shores of reality with the onset of World War I and World War II. It was largely marginalized over the past 50 years but has found new legs within the Charismatic movements, and to some extent, re-popularizing within Reformed and Covenant theological circles.
3. Pan-Millennialism (it will all pan out in the end) Unfortunately, the usual state of the modern (or post-modern) Christian who hangs their coats in Amillennial, Post Millennial, or Preterist Churches, is that they tend to amalgamate into the vast pool of Pan-Tribbers, or Pan Millennialists.
Since prophecy has either been concluded in the first century, or life will continue on into an undefined and indifferent future, why bother studying? It is the natural state for those who hold to the aforementioned views to end up at. In his article addressing the devastating effects of Amillennialism upon the Churches of Christ over the last half-century, Dr. Lynn Mitchell (Church of Christ member, theologian, and Professor), notes:
“Instead, all we have left is ah-millennialism. We are neither passionately radical nor invigoratingly hopeful. We are only a-, from the Greek term meaning” zilch.” The eschatological character of our popular preaching and teaching ended up becoming the most bland, impotent, paganizing, ahistorical, docetic body-soul dualism to arise out of the theological confusion of frontier-rural America. It was the kind of eschatology that Mark Twain and H. L. Menchen could earn a living making fun of. From our homemade eschatological vision, one would think that the only purpose for our being on earth is to believe the right religious doctrines, do the right religious things, and associate ourselves with the right religious folks so as to induce God to admit our immortal souls, when we shuck our bodies, to a place beyond the blue.”
A sobering commentary indeed.
4. Premillennialism: (Source: Theopedia)
"Premillennialism teaches that the Second coming will occur before a literal thousand-year reign of Christ from Jerusalem upon the earth. In the early church, premillennialism was called chiliasm, from the Greek term meaning 1,000, a word used six times in Revelation 20:2-7. This view is most often contrasted with Postmillennialism which sees Christ's return after a golden "millennial age" where Christ rules spiritually from his throne in heaven, and Amillennialism which sees the millennium as a figurative reference to the current church age.
Premillennialism was the most widely held view of the earliest centuries of the church. Philip Schaff has said, "The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene Age (A.D. 100-325) is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, . . . a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papia, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius." (History of the Christian Church, Scribner, 1884; Vol. 2, p. 614)"
The four camps within Pre-Millennialism are divided largely on where they place the timing of the Rapture. These are:
1. Pre-Tribulation: Christ returns for His bride prior to the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel (aka…The Tribulation). This is executed by the Rapture of the Church. In 1 Thess. 4:16, it is referred to as the ‘catching up’ (Harpazo, Greek-Rapere, Latin, à “Catching up”, English). The Rapture of the Church does not begin the Tribulation but precedes it as a necessity due to the role of the Holy Spirit as Restrainer (2 Thess. 2:7, Eph. 1:14), the wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10, 5:9, Rev. 3:10), and the order of the judgment of the Church at the Bema Seat (1 Cor. 3:9-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Peter 4:17)
2. Mid-Tribulation: Sees Christ returning at the mid-point of the Tribulation. The mid-point is noted in Matthew 24:15, with the ‘Abomination of Desolation’, in which the Antichrist desolates the new Jewish Temple’s Holy of Holies.
3. Pre-Wrath (newest): Sees Christ returning between the Sixth Seal and the Seventh Seal Judgment when the Church is raptured out. They do not see the wrath of God beginning, until the Trumpet Judgments.
4. Post-Tribulation: Sees the Rapture and the Second Coming as the same event, thus the Church goes all the way through the Tribulation.
The main takeaway from all these views is that only the Pre-Tribulation maintains the doctrine of imminence (or that Christ could return at any moment), and maintains a clear delineation from Israel, thus negating the need for the Church to have to enter any portion of the 70th week of Daniel. (See Daniel 9:24; Jeremiah 30:7-11 for more context). The primary problems with seeing the Rapture of the Church and the Second Coming as the same event is, that they are VERY different:
2nd Coming/Estab. Kingdom
Translation of all living believers
No translation of living believers at all
Translated saints go to heaven
Translated saints return to earth
Imminent, any moment, signless
Follows definite predicted signs including the 7- year tribulation
Not explained in the Old Testament
Clearly explained in the Old Testament
Affects all men
Before the day of wrath
Concludes the day of Wrath
No reference to Satan
Satan bound and cast into the abyss
Christ comes for His own
Christ comes with His own
Christ comes to the air above the earth
Christ comes to the earth
Only His own see Him
Every eye shall see Him
After, the 7-year Tribulation begins
After, the 1,000 year Millennial Kingdom begins
The righteous are taken and the wicked left
The wicked are taken and the righteous are left
Earth not judged at this time
Earth judged at this time
This brief does not cover many other movements pertaining to Christian Eschatology, particularly those which fall outside the main orthodoxy of the Christian faith due to their being outside of the boundaries of the true Christian faith on other core doctrines. These are:
Hebrew Roots Movement (primarily Post-Tribulation/Historic Pre-Mill)
Word/Faith Movement (primarily Post-Millennial)
Emergent Church (varied if any)
Seventh-Day Adventist (post-Tribulation)
Pseudo-Christian Cults: LDS, Jehovah's Witness, Universalist (varied)
In conclusion, one can see that many views have begun over the last two thousand years of Church history. We must be cautious in attributing all wrongs to one particular sect or group because, despite faulty theology, many earnestly are seeking God and the truth in Him. Conversely, we should exercise caution in accepting all teachings and beliefs as valid or equal. We must remember that belief systems have consequences.
If one believes that the Kingdom began at the Cross, and we are in the Kingdom now then one could justify the need for a Pope (Vicar of Christ), or Crusades, or Inquisitions. If one group believes they have replaced the Jewish people as God’s chosen, they could justify ignoring national Israel and supporting things like Divestiture or Palestinian terror causes. The Nazis managed to remove the Jewishness from their Bibles, in order to theologically justify the Final Solution.
I’m fond of saying that error begets only more error. And while eschatology is not core to one’s salvation, it is key to one’s understanding of the complete word of God. How you understand the end, will largely drive how you live today. One recommended source for seeing how Christianity began its journey away from the first-century construct, is in “Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology”.