This is an addendum to my sermon on September 4, 2011.
AN EVENING OF ESCHATOLOGY
On September 27, 2009, Desiring God and Bethlehem College and Seminary hosted “An Evening on Eschatology” at the Downtown Campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. It was a discussion/debate moderated by John Piper (pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and founder of Desiring God Ministries) about the return of Jesus with Jim Hamilton (professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary in Louisville), Sam Storms (pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City), and Doug Wilson (pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho). I showed two clips from this during my sermon. Click the image below for the video in its entirety:
MAIN BELIEFS ABOUT “END TIMES” PROPHECY
This belief was held by a large percentage of Christians during the first three centuries of the Christian era. The Antichrist first appears on earth and the seven year Tribulation begins. Next comes the Rapture. Christ and his Church return to earth to rule for a Millennium. The faithful will spend eternity in the New Jerusalem which is a gigantic cubical structure, some 1,380 miles height, width and depth, which will have descended to Earth.
Declared a heresy in ancient times, was reintroduced circa 1830. Premillenialism received general acceptance by most Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians after the publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. As in Historic Premillennialism, the Tribulation is believed to precede the second coming of Christ, and the subsequent establishment of the millennial kingdom — a thousand-year golden age on Earth. The Final Judgment follows the millennium. But, theologians are divided over the timing of the Rapture. Many Premillennialists search world events and signs in the heavens for some indication of the Tribulation, which they anticipate will arrive at any time.
Amillennialists believe that the millennium is not an actual physical realm on Earth. They do not believe that it will last 1,000 years. Rather it began at the time of Pentecost and is currently active in the world today through the presence of the heavenly reign of Christ, the Bible, the Holy Spirit and the activities of Christian faith groups. Both good and evil will continue in the world during this time. Lawlessness, a falling away from the Church, and persecution of Christians will increase in magnitude. Finally, the current Church Age will end suddenly at Christ’s second coming. A type of rapture will happen when Christ returns: believers will rise to meet Jesus in the sky. All will then shortly return to Earth. The Day of Judgment will then occur. Events described in The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) and in most of the book of Revelation are seen as occurrences which have already happened, or which are symbolic in nature and not to be taken literally. The Antichrist is looked upon figuratively and not as a real person.
This belief was held by many leaders of the early Christian church during the first and second centuries. Simultaneously, other leaders — perhaps the majority — taught a version of premillennialism that is very different from today’s dispensational premillennialism. St. Augustine (354 – 430 AD), often called the “Father of Amillennialism” was largely responsible for the establishment of amillennialism as the formal church belief. It remained the generally accepted system throughout Christianity until after the Reformation in the 16th century. Many Christian denominations — including the Anglican Communion, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Orthodox, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and some Baptists continue to teach Amillennialism.
This belief arose during the early 19th century. Postmillennialism involves the view of last things which holds that the kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually is to be Christianized, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace, commonly called the millennium. The theory is based on the perception of a gradual movement towards social perfection. The entire human race is converted to Christianity, including the Jews. A millennium of peace and righteousness follows. After the millennium, Jesus returns to earth, resurrects the dead believers, and conducts the last judgment. The Rapture and Tribulation are largely ignored.
This is a belief that the events prophesied in the New Testament have already happened. The great war of Armageddon in the book of Revelation occurred in the late 60’s and early 70’s AD when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, many Jews were killed and the rest were driven from Palestine. 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 (Tribulation, Armageddon, Rapture, etc.) actually took place in the first century.
Most skeptics and liberal Christian theologians largely interpret the contents of the books of Daniel and Revelation as having no prophetic information for our future. Many regard Revelation as being composed of visions, hallucinations or nightmares of the author, of little meaning for Christians today. Some believe that the purpose of the book of Revelation was to stiffen resolve in the early Christian movement to withstand persecution by the Roman Empire. Thus, its purpose was to predict persecutions and other events that were to happen to the early Christian church. They also reject the apparent prophecies in the Book of Daniel. They believe that Daniel was written early in the 2nd century BC, long after most of the events had actually happened. It was history recorded, not their future prophesied.
Some of the above positions contain the belief that the church will be “raptured” or “be caught up” in the air to meet Jesus – but there are different beliefs about when the rapture will take place. Here’s a look at the main beliefs about the Rapture:
The Rapture happens just before the Tribulation, so that believers will not have to experience any of its disruption and pain. The main difficulties with pre-trib are contained in the Olivet Prophecy of Jesus. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, Jesus describes the terrible destruction and loss of life of the tribulation period. The disaster is believed to be so intense that no human (Christian or non-Christian alike) would remain alive, except that God shortens the duration of the disaster for the sake of the believers. Jesus then continues by describing his return towards earth immediately after the terrible devastation. From this passage, it is obvious that the rapture will follow the Tribulation. The supporters of the “pre-trib” position suggest that Jesus will have a total of three comings: the first during the first century; the second at the start of the tribulation, and a third at the end of the tribulation.
The faithful experience the full horrors of the entire Tribulation and are raptured only at the end of the 7 years. The main problem with this theory is that there are many Bible passages which state that Christ’s return will be at a time that cannot be predicted. But the Tribulation period starts with the arrival of the Antichrist and an interval of peace. Precisely 42 months later, a sudden shift occurs, a peace treaty is broken, and devastation begins. These would be well defined dates that would allow an accurate prediction of the end of the Tribulation. There are other weaknesses to this theory.
The Rapture happens 42 months into the Tribulation. Up to that time, the Antichrist brings peace to the world. After 42 months, events take a sudden turn for the worse. Some supporters of the “mid-trib” position suggest that there will be many mini-raptures.
This is a new theory, promoted by Marvin Rosenthal, former director of Friends of Israel, and others. Their view teaches that the church must experience most of the Tribulation, and then be raptured towards the end of the Tribulation period.
This theory teaches that the faithful born-again believers are raptured just before the Tribulation. Newly born again believers are are raptured during or at the end of the Tribulation.