Eschatology - The Study of End Times
Updated: Nov 22, 2021
The "end times" discussion is a very robust one that comes with a lot of theological debate. Two important things when engaging in this discussion are hermeneutics and eschatological terminology.
First, is to apply proper hermeneutics. When studying any aspect of theology, Scripture should always be interpreted by Scripture. Even the "crazy" apocalyptic language in Revelation needs to be considered within the Meta-narrative of the Bible. With that said, the bulk of the eschatological debate does revolves around the book of Revelation. Other passages that are used in the eschatological discussion include but are not limited to Matthew, 1 + 2 Thessalonians, Daniel and Isaiah.
Second, is to define the eschatological terminology. There are a lot of terms in this aspect of theology and they revolve around 1. interpretation of the Book of Revelation and 2. the millennium, or the 1000 year reign of Christ found in Revelation 20:1-6.
Let's start with the definition of eschatology.
According to Merriam Webster, eschatology is
1: a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind
2: a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment
I would add to this definition, that eschatology also heavily pertains to the view of the Church's role leading up to all these final events. A believer's eschatological position informs how they engage in this present life. That's why eschatology is such an important topic! It's not just a discussion about what happens "one day" in the future. What you believe about the end will inherently inform how you act in the present. Let me show you what I mean. If you had to go play a basketball game, but before stepping onto the court, your coach huddled up the team and told you to play as hard as you can but ultimately the team would loose. How would you play that game when the going got tough? What if the coach said the opposite, to give it all you've got because they knew for a fact the team would win? Knowing the end, inherently informs how you play the game. So, let's keep studying!
Within the broad discussion of eschatology there are four major views for interpreting the Book of Revelation. These interpretations differ in when they believe John wrote Revelation, which impacts each view's proposed purpose of Revelation and how they interpret time-texts and apocalyptic prophecy. These four views and a brief description are as follows:
Preterist - most of the prophecies in Revelation were fulfilled shortly after the book was written
Idealist - the prophecies in Revelation are not literal and can have multiple spiritual fulfillments but do not relate to specific historic or futuristic events
Classic Dispensationalist/Futurist - the prophecies in Revelation were to be fulfilled in the future and are still to be fulfilled in the imminent future
Progressive Dispensationalist/Historicist - the prophecies in Revelation were all futuristic when written but have been fulfilled and are still or progressively being fulfilled as history unfolds
This video is a defense of postmillennialism, which is defined below, but it does an excellent job of briefly and clearly explaining each of the four views of the Book of Revelation. Skip to minute 5:48 and stop at minute 8:05 if you don't want a further explanation of the preterist view.
If that video seems at all biased to you or you'd like to read a defense from scholars of each of the four perspectives themselves, pick up a copy of the book Four Views of the Book of Revelation on Amazon for less than $15.
The second major category of terms in eschatology is focused on the millennium, as stated in Revelation 20:1-6.
Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. - Revelation 20:6 ESV
There are three major perspectives on this thousand year reign which are categorized by when they believe Christ will return in the Second Coming.
Premillennialism - As one might imagine, the premillennial perspective holds that the Second Coming of Christ will happen before the millennial reign of Christ for a literal 1000 years. This view of the millennium is the only view that claims a literal interpretation. There are two types of Premillennialism: the Historic view and the Dispensational view. There are also terms that define when the rapture of the Church will take place in correlation to Christ's return. This includes three separate views of the rapture: pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation and post-tribulation.
Amillennialism - The Amillennial perspective asserts that the millennial reign of Christ is symbolic. Because amillennialism holds to a symbolic view of the reign of Christ, it claims that the millennium was inaugurated at Christ's coming. The Church is currently living in that reign but it is not a physical, earthly or worldly reign. The Second Coming of Christ for the amillennial will be at the end of the symbolic millennium.
Postmillennialism - The Postmillennial perspective, similar to the amillennial, asserts that the millennium is symbolic, that it was inaugurated at Christ's ascension and that the Church is presently living in the millennium. Although the postmillennial perspective shares the symbolic view of the millennium, it is distinctive in its view of the nature of the millennium. The postmillennial asserts that the inauguration of the reign of Christ affected an optimistic, physical, earthly and spiritual reign. Therefore, the Second Coming of Christ will come in the peak of a Christianized society at the end of the symbolic but affective millennial reign of Christ.
Here are some popular current advocates for each perspective:
John MacArthur Mark Hitchcock John Hagee
James M. Hamilton John Piper Craig Blomberg
Greg Beale J.I. Packer Sam Storms
Douglas Wilson Gary DeMar Jeff Durbin
Resources if you're interested in diving in:
Here is an academic article that gives brief definition of the eschatological terms, including each of the positions on the tribulations and what the tribulation is. It also has an excellent works cited section with tons of resources to check out too.
If you're more of a visual/auditory learner, below is a link to an eschatological debate between pastors from the three major perspectives hosted by John Piper. It is a little long but so good! (dispensationalism is not represented)
Ultimately, this is a big topic to tackle and it takes time. But it's important, it matters and I would love to dialogue with you about it. Please email me through the contact tab at the top and tell me your thoughts, experiences and questions about eschatology! Let's keep sharpening each other and spurring one another on to maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
With hopes to hear from you soon,