Introduction to Eschatology

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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In certain parts of Luke's Gospel we begin to tread into the area popularly known as the Second Coming of Christ, Bible Prophecy, and Eschatology. There is lots of controversy about these subjects, and I'm sure I won't please any side of the controversy completely. But to ignore the controversy is to ignore an important part of Jesus' teaching. Please be gentle in your criticisms. :-)

Definitions

Perhaps it's best to start with working definitions of some of the words used when discussing these issues.

Eschatology (es-kuh-TAHL-o-jee). A study of the end times. This is compounded from two words, Greek eschaton, "end," and -ology, a study of something (from Greek logos). The adjective eschatological (es-ka-tuh-LAH-ji-kal) refers to events of the end times.

Second Coming of Christ. The New Testament indicates that Christ came to earth the first time in human flesh to redeem people from sin. But he promises to come again a second time at the end of the age to bring judgment to sinners and vindication to God's people (Hebrews 9:28)

Parousia. A Greek word meaning "presence, coming, arrival," used to describe Christ's Second Coming in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28; James 5:7-8.

Bible Prophecy. A discipline of popular Bible study that seeks to harmonize all the prophecies of the Bible. Of course, there are many different schools of thought and they can't all be right.

Rapture. A word describing the gathering together and catching away of God's people in the air when Christ returns. (It comes from a Latin word raptus, "snatching away," from which we also derive our word "rape.") 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Matthew 13:31; Mark 13:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:1.

Antichrist. A person who appears in the last days and sets himself up as a god. (Matthew 24:5, 23-24, 26; Mark 13:6, 21-22; Luke 21:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7)

Tribulation. A period of great stress and persecution against God's people (Matthew 24:21, 29; Mark 13:24; Revelation 7:14), culminating in the appearance of the Antichrist. Figuratively described as lasting seven years.

Dispensationalism (dis-pen-SAY-shun-al-is-um). A currently popular understanding of Jesus' Second Coming developed by J.N. Darby in the mid-Nineteenth Century, popularized by study notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, Hal Lindsey's book The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), and the current best-selling Left Behind fiction series by Tim LaHay (1996- ). Dispensationalism sees a "secret rapture" of God's people that precedes the tribulation, denies that true Christians will go through the tribulation, but that during this time the Jews will be saved.

Millenium. Describes the thousand years reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:4). People describe their various understanding of the Second Coming of Christ on their understanding of when Christ will return chronologically in relationship to the Millenium:

Rapture (defined above). People also characterize their view of the chronology of the Tribulation in relationship to the rapture of the church:

Confused yet? Just a one more word to define.

Apocalyptic (a-pah-kah-LIP-tic) refers to a type of literature that contains real or alleged revelations of heavenly secrets or events that will attend the end time, from the Greek word apocalypse, "unveiling." Examples of apocalyptic literature in the Bible are the books of Daniel and Revelation. There are also many extra-biblical apocalyptic books in the period from 200 BC to 100 AD

My Own Understanding

God will clear some things up for us when we get to heaven I am sure. But I thought it would be helpful for me to share the outlines of my understanding at this point. My purpose here isn't to prove it to you -- that's a book-length project, and frankly, too many books on this subject have been written by people who don't understand the dim details any better than you or I.

The problem is that some of the details just are not crystal clear. Much of the language is figurative rather than literal, so trying to make a completely consistent chronology out of it requires some "filling in the blanks" with speculation. In addition, the Book of Revelation seems to superimpose one set of events over another, making it difficult to see the precise details. Christ-loving, Bible-believing Christians disagree on these matters. I've found that the most self-assured, dogmatic Bible teachers on the Second Coming of Christ often disagree with each other. And the most popular current theory, Dispensationalism, is little more than 180 years old itself.

Here are the events ordered as I see them. There is much left out, for example, an exact correlation of the prophecies of Daniel with events of the last days. You'll notice a column where I rate "Degree of Certainty". The certainty is not about whether these events will occur, but the certainty of their order in relationship to each other. (5 is high, 1 is low)

Event

Some related scriptures. I make no attempt to be exhaustive

Time & Sequence Certainty

Crucifixion of Christ

 

5

Resurrection of Christ

 

5

40 days with the apostles
Ascension to the Father
Christ in glory (heaven) at the right hand of the Father

Acts 1:3-11

5

Holy Spirit poured out on the Church
Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-41

5

Church Age -- Begins at Pentecost, includes times of victory, defeat, persecution, and glorious advance. Ends perhaps when the "times of the Gentiles" ends.

(Amillennialists put Christ's 1000 year reign here, but I don't because I take Rev 20 literally instead of figuratively.). See Luke 24:24.

3

Great Tribulation. Christians who are alive experience at least some of this tribulation, and are not raptured before it begins.

Matthew 24:21, 29; Mark 13:24; Revelation 7:14. I don't believe in a "secret" rapture because the Scripture teaches that every eye will see him when he comes. There is NO scripture that teaches a secret rapture, only several strung together that could suggest that.

2

Antichrist is revealed. Somewhere in the middle of this seven-year period (literal or figurative?) the Antichrist (the "beast" of Rev 13" is revealed.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

3

Terrible Judgments upon the world

Revelation 15-19

3

Battle of Armageddon
Victory of Christ over the Antichrist and False Prophet
who are thrown into the lake of fire
Satan is bound for 1,000 years

Revelation 16:16; 19; 20:1-3

2

Parousia
Second Coming of Christ
Resurrection of the Righteous Dead
Rapture "catching up" of the living believers
Marriage Supper of the Lamb

All these events seem to take place nearly simultaneously, probably at the middle or the end of the Great Tribulation. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Matthew 13:31; Mark 13:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:1; Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28; James 5:7-8. Revelation 19.

2

Millenium. Christ reigns on earth 1,000 years with his saints

Revelation 20:4-6. Is the 1,000 years literal or figurative? Amillennialists believe that this 1000 years coincides with the Church Age. It is very difficult to find ANY Old Testament verses that surely refer to this period of time. We just don't know much about it.

2

Final conflict with Satan

Revelation 20:7-9

3

Great White Throne Judgment.
Resurrection of the Unrighteous
Lamb's Book of Life
Satan, his angels, unbelievers thrown into the lake of fire

Revelation 20:10-15

5

New heavens and new earth. Destruction and cleansing of heavens and earth by fire
New heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21-22

5

Please don't write me and argue your position against mine or tell me where I'm wrong. I really don't have the time to argue about all this. To the degree that we can agree, great. To the degree that we disagree we'll love each other anyway. :-)

Conclusion

What do we know about Christ's coming? We know that it is in the future and can occur at any time. Few will expect it, and he will come as "a thief in the night."

It is not our worry to figure out all the events. They will happen the way that God orders them no matter what we happen to believe. Instead, it is our job to be aware of the signs of Jesus' coming and to be ready. Again and again Jesus tells us, "Be ready, for I come at an hour you do not know."

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