Post by Mike Miller on Apr 21, 2008 8:36:41 GMT -5
Gail, thanks for asking a very simple question about a very simple topic. Of course, you know I'm just kidding. End times issues are some of the most debated and misunderstood issues in the church today.
I'm sorry I haven't responded yet, but I've been quite busy, and I'm swamped today. I will post an answer within the next couple of days. Thanks for your patience.
Post by Mike Miller on Apr 22, 2008 7:38:19 GMT -5
Ok, here we go. But first I must make some preliminary remarks--for my own explanation as well as for the sake of others reading.
To begin with, when it comes to issues concerning the end times, we need to be careful in our dogmatism. There are many different beliefs, and the primary ones I will mention below. However, because the issues are so hotly debated, and because competent biblical scholars can fall into various camps, whatever position we take needs to be held to loosely and with great humility, understanding that the doctrine of last things (the theological term is eschatology) is not a core doctrine of the faith (such as the virgin birth, the trinity, the exclusivity of Christ, etc.). With respect to the return of Christ, I believe there are 3 things we can know for certain:
1. He is coming back. 2. Nobody knows when 3. We need to be ready.
Aside from those 3 bedrock truths, I am very careful in my other positions.
Now, for defninitional purposes, the question has to do with the belief that the Bible teaches a literal seven year period of disasters, wars, plagues, and other tragedies. This is referred to as "The Great Tribulation." Also, there are various millennial beliefs. What this means is that Revelation 20 refers to a 1000 year time period when Satan will be bound and the Kingdom of God will prevail on earth, after which time Satan will be temporarily released to wreak all kinds of havoc, gathering the nations for a fierce battle against the saints (Christians).
Some believe that Christ will return either before, half-way through, or after the Great Tribulation. These beliefs are referred to as pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation, respectively. Also, some believe that Christ will return before a literal 1000 year reign on earh, during which time the saints will rule the earth with Him. This is called a premillennial position. Those who believe that there will be a literal 1000 years of unusual prosperity for the church before the return of Christ hold to a position called postmillennial. The third position is called amillennial, but those who hold to it do not believe that there isn't a millennium. They just believe that the number 1000 is symbolic of a great length of time (since Revelation, and all of what is called "apocalyptic" literature is filled with symbolic language). This period is the time between the first and second comings of Christ. Those who hold to an amillennial position also don't see a literal seven year Great Tribulation, but instead believe that just before Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, there will be an intense period of persecution.
Now, this is a very brief and general description, but let me give a brief synopsis below of the four most common beliefs (though remember, there are those that will vary even in their respective camps).
1. Historic Premillennialism. This holds that Christ will return before the millennium to reign over an earthly kingdom. The antichrist will arise and rule during the seven-year Great Tribulation, then Christ will rapture the saints (post-tribulation), the antichrist will be judged, Satan will be bound, and the saints will return to earth to reign with Christ for 1000 years. At the end of the 1000 years, Satan will lead a brief rebellion against God, then he'll be defeated, and then the last judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) will occur. This view was poplular (though not called premillennialism) in the second and third centuries. For example, Justin Martyr, Tertulliun, and others were in this camp.
2. Dispensational Premillennialism. This holds that Christ will return before the millennium to reign over an earthly kingdom. However, He will rapture the church before the Great Tribulation. During the Great Tribulation, the antichrist will rule, and the Jerusalem temple will be rebuilt by the Jews. At the end of the Tribulation, the battle of Armegeddon will occur, Jesus will return with the saints, and Satan will be bound for 1000 years. After the 1000 years, Satan will be released, there will be a final battle, and then the last judgment will occur. This is the belief of the authors of the Left Behind series, Hal Lindsay, and many evangelicals today. Interestingly, it is a rather new kind of theology, having been formulated in the 1800s by a man named J. N. Darby, then popularized by C. I. Scofield in his popular reference Bible.
3. Postmillenialism. This holds that Christ will return after the 1000 year period--a period during which Christ will reign from heaven. Unlike premillennialists, who believe the world is getting progressively worse, postmillennialists believe it is getting progressively better. At some point in the future, the influence of the Gospel will defeat evil, ushering in the millennium. Satan will be bound, then loosed after 1000 years, and his rebellion will be ended by Christ, followed by the last judgment. This view was articulated by some as early as the 17th century (Cotton Mather, for one), but it really didn't become popular until the 18th century, especially in England and America. Jonathan Edwards was a postmillennialist.
4. Amillennialism. Amillennialists believe there is no future reign, but that Christ presently reigns spiritually. The millennium is the age of the church, during which time, Satan has been severely limited in his influence, as seen in the global spread of the Gospel. The Great Tribulation is really this same time period, as Satan has waged war on the church ever since its inception. There will be an intensification of persecution (of an indefinite time period) preceding the return of Christ. When Christ returns, He will defeat Satan and initiate the final judgment. This view was articulated by Augustine and was the main view of the church until the rise of postmillennialism in the 18th century and the rise of dispensational premillenialism in the 19th century. Before Augustine, though no formal explanations were articulated, this seems to be the view of Polycarp (a disciple of the apostle John's) and Clement and Ignatius (who both knew the apostles). This is also the historical viewpoint of Baptists. Our Baptist forefathers were amillennialists, and it was the predominant Baptist position (though no position has ever been in an SBC statement of faith because it is not a core doctrine) until dispensational premillennialism started gaining popularity in the 1980s. Since then, Baptists have been sort of a mixed bag in our eschatological viewpoints.
Now, having said all that (I know I've made a lot of generalizations, and if I've misrepresented a viewpoint, please let me know, but please be kind to a brother , I will now give you my position. Until recently, I would have pled ignorance, but would have leaned toward a the dispensational premillennial position (which, for those of you who know about it, is not the same as dispenationalism--I've never been a dispensationalist). However, since I've been studying the book of revelation for about six months, I'm finding myself pretty firmly planted in the amillennial camp. Again, I state my position with humility, not pretending to have all the answers, but I'm finding that the amillennial position is the only one that makes sense with Revelation.
Let the questions begin, but remember, I'm pretty much a beginning student in the subject myself.
Hey Brother Mike, I hear the sense of humility in which you share your view and with that I am grateful. I know I probably opened a can of worms. I find that most people won't take the time to study eschatology, but rely on the studies of other commentators or preachers/teachers. It def. is a difficult study and does take more time than I think the average person can "muster" up. From the few pastors that I have asked this question to, it seems that the pendulum is swinging from dispens. premill. pre trib rapture to the ammil. like you shared. I wonder why that is over the 29 years since I have been saved. Is that what is being taught in the seminaries of Southern Baptist? Like you said, it is not one of the doctrines to part fellowship over, but I am just curious in the change of views. Again, maybe it's just the preachers and teachers I have sat under over the years as a believer. I also humbly share that after studying Revelation for a two year period in a Precept study, I believe I am somewhat of a dispensat. premillen. (That study was almost 8 years or so ago, so I would have to go back to check my Scripture references.) I am not as dogmatic as some perhaps in that I believe according to many Scriptures that the church will be raptured out either pre or mid trib. I do believe in a literal 7 year tribulation period and a literal 1,000 year reign. Look forward to more discussion as you continue your study of Revelation. It is a fascinating study with the promise of a blessing to those who read Revelation. Thanks Brother Mike for your candor on this topic and for sharing your views. Gail
Post by Mike Miller on Apr 22, 2008 10:34:48 GMT -5
Gail, as to the reason for the pendulum swing, all I can do is speculate. My opinion is that a lot of people started holding to the dispensational premillennial view in the early- to mid-20th century becaue of the Scofield Reference Bible. It really took hold for a lot of evangelicals, however, with the 1970 publication of Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, which marketed this view to the popular audience--and at a time when there was a great moral decline taking place in our country. Lindsey was saying, in effect, "These are the signs of the end times," and people bought into it. The New York Times called the book "the number one non-fiction best seller of the decade." Since eschatology had never been a significant focus of Southern Baptists (see our 1925, 1963, and 2000 editions of the Baptist Faith and Message), and since most pastors had never studied eschatology, a book like this was a significant influence. I really don't think I can overstate its effects.
Then, in 1995, Left Behind came out, followed by the numerous sequels, and jumpstarted a fascination with the end times. My opinion, based on my own limited experiences, is that this increased fascination, along with the conservative reorientation of our seminaries (since the early 1990s), caused theologians and seminarians to start studying eschatology more seriously. As that has happened, my perspective is that the amillennial position has won the day. Not only does it have the historical precedent, but I believe it has the biblical support as well (again, I say that with all humility). Since I have begun studying Revelation, I have engaged several professors and other students of the Bible whom I respect, and I've found that many of them have had the same journey I'm having.
I actually read the first 6 or 7 Left Behind Books when they first came out, and I had many, many people in my church in Maryland really buying into the theology in them. I too saw the validity of that theology, but I continually cautioned people to get their theology from the Bible, and not from works of fiction (even though works of fiction can indeed have sound theology). However, it wasn't until recently that I began my own study. I've actually been quite surprised to find myself becoming amillennial, and I have also been surprised to find how many professors, pastors, and seminary students are.
So, as another long answer to a short question wraps up, let me just reiterate that the opinion I just gave is only based on my limited observations. I refer back again to the 3 bedrock truths we know for sure about the return of Christ, and I hope that on all other eschatological issues we (all Christians) can interact with grace and charity.