Like Button

Thursday, June 23, 2011

End Times

I've been listening lately to a series of sermons by John MacArthur on why Calvinists should be premillennialists. You know, end times stuff. Now, I've I have a fairly ready grasp of most things biblical. I see Election spread from beginning to end and I believe it. I see the sure hand of God as the Sovereign of the Universe and I believe it. Many of the questions that bother others don't bother me at all. I have no question about God's justice when the topic of evil arises. I don't have a problem with the small seeming contradictions that trip others up. I don't have a problem with God causing calamity. You know ... all that tough stuff seems pretty straightforward to me.

And then there's eschatology. I'm talking about the study of "end times". What's going to happen in the future? Funny thing. Growing up I was unclear on Election and God's Sovereignty and all that stuff, but crystal clear on eschatology. I knew that the Rapture (with a capital "R") would occur prior to the Great Tribulation, a precisely 7-year period divided in half as a time of peace followed by a time of God's wrath. I knew that Christ would return at the end of that time, do the whole Armageddon thing, and establish a 1,000-year reign on Earth (not 500 and not 1,500 or any other nebulous number, but 1,000) at the end of which would come the New Heaven and the New Earth and ... well, it's all pretty straightforward. You know, the "seventy weeks of Daniel" and that whole Matthew 24 thing and Revelation and all. What's to question? But now ... well, it's all turned around and that other vague stuff is clear while this "clear" stuff is vague.

What's the problem? Well, first there is the problem of Scripture. The Bible seems pretty clear that all those end times predictions were supposed to be soon (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 24:33, 34; Mark 1:17; 13:30; 1 Peter 4:7; Rev 1:3; 3:11; 22:7, 10, 12, 20). This concept, in fact, became a sticking point for skeptics who have said, as did the skeptics in biblical times, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." (Of course, modern skeptics discount creation, but you get the drift.) For instance, while the Dispensation Premillennialists are quite sure that Daniel's seventy weeks are clear proof of their view and even have elaborate math to show how it works, there is nothing in Daniel's 70 weeks that includes a 2,000 year gap. What's up with that? There is the biblical problem of language. While the Pre-Trib-Rapture-Dispensational-Premillennialist folks argue that they're taking the Scriptures at their face value, I'd have to say that this isn't at all true. I don't know a single one, for instance, that actually believes that a star will fall to the earth and or that a dragon will sweep away stars or that some literal winged locust creatures with bodies of horses, heads of gold crowns, human faces, women's hair, lion's teeth, iron chests, and scorpion tails will come out of a bottomless pit. No one believes that. But the Dispensational Premillennialists look down their noses at the Amillennialists for "not taking Scripture at face value". Well, apparently, no one does when it comes to eschatology.

The second problem is history. As it turns out, the single dominant eschatological view for the Church through history has been ... wait for it ... Amillennialism, not Premillennialism. (Apparently Postmillennialism didn't even get a boost until the mid 1800's and Dispensational premillennialism didn't show up until then as well.)

And, of course, then there is the problem of variations. There are "full preterists" and "partial preterists" who are quite sure that the others are not taking the Word seriously enough. The Amillennialists believe that there is no 1,000-year reign, but not that there is no reign, and what occurs in that reign is a variable. There are pre-Trib, post-Trib, and pre-Wrath Premillennialists, and Dispensational and Classical Premillennialists. The Postmillenialists can't agree if there is a literal or figurative 1,000-year reign or exactly what form this reign takes (spiritual, political, religious?). It seems like every group has its own shades of meaning and variation while pleading to Scripture and assuring us that their view is correct and all others are heretical or, at least, really, really bad. So I'm stuck with biblical and historical problems as well as a lack of clarity of what the positions really are.

What I'd like to believe is the whole, down-the-line, Pre-Trib-Rapture-Great-Tribulation-Millennial-Reign thing since that's what I grew up with and know best, but I can't seem to settle there. And there is decent historical and biblical support for the Partial-Preterist-Amillennial view, but I frankly can't settle there, either. (I can't go with the Postmil view at all. Sorry.) I know that some of Revelation is figurative (I mean, seriously, is anyone going to really argue for a literal "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" or the like?), but I can't be sure of what is and what is not. Israel, the promises of God for her, and her outcome shift radically in these views. I'm completely lost when it comes to the suggestion that during the (literal) Millennial Reign of Christ there will be a reinstatement of the Temple and the Sacrificial System. (I mean, if Christ is our Pascal Lamb, wouldn't the return of that system be a slap in His face?) So I'm not settled. I tend toward a "both/and" view, an "already/not yet" idea where many of the Matthew 24 prophecies already happened ... and will happen again. It's the only way I can make any sense of the "soon" time references. But there has to be a Return of the King still pending, so there's that. Oh, it's all so confusing to me. I suppose I should just let MacArthur clear it all up for me, right? Or not.


Ryan said...

Wow, Stan...this is exactly my story, as well.

I've never had an amillennialist tell me why God, in His covenant with Israel, would promise them a land, a nation and a ruler, but would fulfill the first two promises literally, and the last one figuratively (Christ ruling now from heaven, as opposed to literally on the throne of David in Jerusalem). On the other hand, I've never had a great grasp of the 'soon' issues, either. I've also seen a lot of things that point to passages some hold to as talking about a rapture, that seem more likely to be talking about the second coming, and vice versa.

What I wonder is, why is this area so difficult? When everything else seems so straightforward, why is this so 'curvedforward?' (I think I just coined a new phrase...will it catch on?)

I personally struggle with current events in the world, because they seem to point toward to what I would think is a more premillenialist view. Non-Christians have said that if we were to have a major world-catastrophe (they said, "like planes being bombed out of the sky simultaneously around the globe," but I heard, "rapture"), we could have a one-world government in about 15 days. The New World Order, George Soros, the tornados in Alabama and Joplin, the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, the floods up and down the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, (now including Minot, ND), the "Arab Spring," all of the Arab world, including Iran, wanting to wipe Israel off the map, renewed anti-semitism, this time globally and not just in one nation...I could go on and on.

I also know that people have been 'seeing signs' for a couple thousand years, so there's no telling when the Lord will return. I used to get frustrated with the people who would call themselves, "'ll all pan out in the end" because I felt, at the time, that premillenialsm was clearly spelled out in Scripture. But the more I try to study it, the more I feel like those 'pan-millenialists.'

I suppose this very well may be exactly what the Lord wants. Us having to rely on Him, watching intently each day, living in a way that awaits His return at any moment.

Stan said...

Ah, a fellow questioner. You get it.

I figure the fact that it's "curvedforward" (don't hold your breath on that becoming an everyday term) is that it's future. The Jews didn't get their own prophecies about the coming Messiah. Was He to be servant or king? Yes! (Another reason why I tend toward the "both/and" side.)

I also know that, on one hand, it's important and, on the other hand, it's not. That is, it's God's truth and it's the end of the story and it does require that we remain watchful and rely on Him. That's all very important. But if we're wrong in the details, I don't see the serious consequences. So I'm not going to die on this hill.

Neil said...

I struggle with eschatology. Too many really smart, sincere Christians with different views. I am a huge MacArthur fan and listen to his Podcasts, but this is one area where I think he is weak. I just don't see the support for the pre-trib bit.

Stan said...

I'm with you there, Neil.

I have several teachers that I like, that I respect, but I don't know a single one with whom I agree 100%.

Dana said...

I'm with you there. I think I agree most with a pastor we had in Texas. He said he was a "pan-millenialist . . . it will all pan out in the end."

I do think it is important to read and think about the end times prophecies, but I also think sometimes we get kind of hung up on it. Especially when you start talking about the tribulation and anti-Christ and I get the feeling whole groups are way more interested in figuring out who the anti-Christ is than learning more about who Christ was.

And that's sort of where the pan-millenialist joke came in. If you know Christ, you'll recognize him when the trumpet blows, no matter what form that takes or how the prophecies all fit together.

Stan said...

I would guess that, since God thought that putting prophecy in His Word was important, I should consider it important. I would also guess that it's possible to take it either too far or too lightly. Balance ... that's what I need.