Debunked: The End Times--Still All About Jesus

By Katie Hill

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand yearsRevelation 20:6 

"I'm a panmillennialist," a friend confided in me once. When he saw my questioning look he didn't wait for me to ask. "It means I believe everything will pan out in the end." I had to laugh at that. From a certain point of view, he was right. After all, we believe in a God who promises to work all things for our good, so of course everything has to work out because it will through His Son, Jesus.

However, we live in an era where there is a great deal of fascination with the end of the world, and not only in our churches. Let's face it: we can probably all agree that 2020 has been a year so far that has caused us to seriously or jokingly grapple with the idea that maybe we are living in the "end times." Aside from that, consider the level of engagement with dystopian literature in our culture: The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, etc. Even George Orwell's 1984 is making a comeback. And of course, while not dystopian, the apocalyptically focused Left Behind series has experienced amazing success, burgeoned into a kids' series, several movies, as well as the Bible study market. My own experience with the Left Behind series was that, while I generally enjoyed reading through some of the novels, I knew going in that the doctrinal foundation of the books' premise was weak at best. And yet many of our evangelical brethren see books and movies like that as sort of a roadmap for the days to come.

So what does the Bible have to say about the thousand years referenced in Revelation 20? Let's take a very general look at the major views of the ends times or more specifically, this

Summary of the Four Views

Probably the most popular view today is called dispensational premillennialism (DP). Formulated officially in the late 19th century, DP asserts that throughout history, God tests the obedience of His people within seven different dispensations or administrations. Right now we are under the dispensation of grace, whereas the nation of Israel was under the dispensation of law. According to DP, the people of Israel will always be God's true chosen people and His end goal is to physically set up His kingdom on earth for His people. Prophecies in the Scriptures are to be taken literally, including those in Revelation. There will be a secret rapture of all of God's people (views differ as to when this specifically happens in relation to the Tribulation—a 7-year period of particular suffering on the earth during which the Antichrist rules) but all agree that it is before a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth wherein Satan is bound and there is an era of peace. The temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and the sacrificial system reinstated.  Eventually Satan will be released for a time, leading to Armageddon (the war to end all wars), followed by the final judgment and finally the new heavens and new earth.

Two less common views are historic premillennialism and postmillennialism. Historic premillennialism is similar to DP, but there is no separate rapture. Postmillennialism does not present a literal thousand-year reign or even a visible reign of Christ but claims there will be a golden age of sorts before Christ comes again, during which knowledge of Jesus increases and evil decreases.

And now we come to amillennialism, which has been the historic view of the church and is currently embraced by Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans and many Reformed denominations.
It is also the biblical view because it understands the millennium in the light of Christ.

Amillennialism asserts that although God has worked through various covenants, they had
the purpose of pointing to Christ. The nation of Israel pointed toward what we know as the church, so all Christians are God's chosen people--the seed of Abraham. The Jew/Gentile distinction is done away with. The thousand years is figurative, and began with Christ's ascension and continues to the end of the age, coming to fruition with Christ's Final Coming, which will be unmistakable. There will be no secret rapture. When He comes, those who have died in Christ will be resurrected first and we who remain will follow, then comes final judgment and the new heavens/new earth.

So why the divergent views on the end times? What it really boils down to is hermeneutics--the keys we use to interpret the Scriptures. These are very important when reading the whole of Scripture, let alone those seemingly bizarre passages in parts of Daniel, Ezekiel, and certainly Revelation. We will just be scratching the surface here but let's very briefly look at some
basic hermeneutics.

Applying Hermeneutics

Read the text in the sense in which it was intended. History is to be read as history, poetry as poetry, etc. Poetry is often filled with lots of rich and symbolic language. The same goes with apocalyptic passages (those focused on impending destruction) like parts of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation. For example, when we read in Amos 9:13 that "wine will pour out of the mountains" we understand that to mean fruitfulness, not a literal wine fountain. For the Hebrews, numbers were very important and symbolic of something deeper, such as the number 1000 meaning "completion." The glorious descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, using precious metal and jewels, are word pictures to help us try to grasp what Paradise will be like. The examples are endless.

Prophecies are often double fulfilled. Many prophecies have an immediate context and a future context. Amos 9:11-12 tells us that David's kingdom will be rebuilt. This was partially fulfilled when the Israelites returned to their land after the Babylonian captivity, but  James tells us in Acts 15:13-18 that God including the Gentiles as His people is a fulfillment of Amos 9 as well. Matthew 24, filled with warnings by Jesus about terrible times to come, saw its immediate fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., yet it clearly points toward a future time as well.

Acknowledge historical context. It's important to not make Scripture say something it doesn't. St. John wrote the Book of Revelation around 95 AD when he was in exile on the island of Patmos. His immediate readers at the time were the seven churches to which he addresses the book, in order to encourage, exhort and warn them as they were enduring severe hardships and trials. Revelation is not some secret code-filled fantasy book into which we are to read our modern understanding of the symbolism. St. John's letter is meant to encourage, exhort and warn us, too, since we are a part of the same Christian Church.

Scripture interprets Scripture. We call this the analogy of faith. The clear passages of Scripture often help us understand the less clear passages. Many New Testament (NT) passages shed light on Old Testament (OT) passages. The book of Hebrews is a helpful place to see where this comes into play. It frequently uses OT passages to explain God's plan of redemption through His Son. In Hebrews 1, the writer quotes from the Psalms, 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles and Deuteronomy, when declaring Christ's superiority over the angels. St. Augustine is credited with summing this up well, "The new (NT) in the old (OT) concealed, the old in the new revealed."

Remember the principle of type and shadow. A type or shadow points ahead to things that have not yet come to pass. And while the OT is packed with types, there are plenty to be found in the NT as well. Key takeaway: The fulfillment of the type is always greater than the type itself. Why is this important? Because we never want to let the type eclipse what it is pointing toward. Ezekiel 40-46, talks about the rebuilding of the temple, clearly pointing ahead to Matthew 12:6, John 2:19-22 and other passages that explain that Jesus is the temple—where God dwells. This is why the idea of rebuilding a physical temple in Jerusalem and reinstating animal sacrifices is just wrong. And there are NT types, too. The Lord's Supper is an example, for it reminds us that there is a greater, eternal feast to come.

How Then Shall We Live?

We live in that "thousand years" right now—the time frame between Christ's ascension and His Second coming. It's okay to look for signs but not focus on them. Listen for your pastor to talk about the "consummation," when we get to enjoy that eternal heavenly feast with our Savior in Paradise. It communicates that all has not been fulfilled yet. Yes, Jesus already has saved us and His kingdom is now, yet there is a final sealing of the deal yet to come. It's an already/not yet tension written across the entirety of the Bible.

If we get too caught up in looking for the signs of Jesus' return, we can miss out on the comforts of the Gospel through His Word and Sacraments that He provides for in the here and now. Inevitably, we will wonder about the end of all things every now and then. Remember that for us, the Day of the Lord, or Judgment Day, is good news because the Judge is Christ and His righteousness is ours so He will not be a condemning judge.

What do we know definitively? Jesus is coming. We will be raised. We will dwell with Him forever in Paradise. Indeed, it will all pan out in the end.

Katie Hill is the managing editor of Higher Things. When she's not silently correcting everyone's grammar, she enjoys fostering and fine-tuning the writing of authors who deliver the sweetness of the Gospel to Higher Things readers and beyond. A Lutheran convert for 15 years now, Katie has been working for HT in some capacity for nearly that same amount of time. She relishes life in a small town in northern Arizona with her husband, Jeff, and five children.

This article was originally published in the spring 2016 issue of Higher Things Magazine and includes a few updates.

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