There is a broader eschatological matter than the four different views that surround "millennialism" that I have outlined in my previous posts. I think it's kind of sad that the various "millennial" positions have dominated the conversation for Christians regarding the "end times". There is a more basic matter that revolves around how we ought to go about interpreting the apocalyptic literature/passages of Scripture...especially with the hindsight that 2,000 years of Church history provides for us. I am referencing books like Daniel, parts of Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (and the parallel passages in Luke 21 and Mark 13) and Revelation. Yet again, we need to understand that Bible-loving and Jesus-loving believers have embraced all four of these interpretive grids in the long history of our faith. It's very likely that some of your Christian heroes held a different view than you presently have! We should be patient and charitable with one another on this often confusing matter. Whichever grid we choose to embrace can greatly affect our expectations of and convictions about human life, the nature of God and spirituality and the future. We all are the "children" of what we have been taught in our various church movements and most movement leaders/teachers have not clearly shared with their constituencies the various grids of interpretation (and their combinations) that are possible within the pale of orthodoxy. What ministers learned briefly in their seminary classrooms has not typically made it to the believer in the pew. (I'll leave the analysis of both seminaries and pews for another time!) Lord, grant us mercy!
Here are the 4 generalized interpretive views (Note: there are sub-schools of thought that combine elements of more than one view):
1. Futurism - holds that the "apocalyptic" prophecies are primarily to be fulfilled in the years future that just precede and accompany the Second Coming of Christ. This is significantly due to taking a literalist view of the catastrophic astronomical events referred to in these prophecies that will be undeniable when they occur, since they are seen to happen on a global scale and will usher in the end of the time/space world as we know it. Within the scope of this view, there are, among other important differences, various convictions and traditions (pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation and post-tribulation) about when exactly (and for what reason) the children of God, both dead and alive, will be raised (or raptured) to receive glorified bodies and to meet the Lord Jesus "in the air". Many Christians in our culture assume these are the only eschatological differences among true believers. Futurism is the apocalyptic interpretive grid primarily espoused by both forms of premillennialism. (Note: there are some historic premillennialists who are historicists.)
2. Historicism - holds that the apocalyptic prophecies relate to and are being and/or have been progressively fulfilled throughout the entire course of Church history - from the 1st century to the present and beyond. Sometimes these prophecies are viewed as having repeated fulfillment's in various historic scenarios by various personalities, religious movements and governments. In some situations, adherents to historicism have identified individuals and governments (and some that have come and gone), with characters and entities referred to in the book of Revelation. This view has on occasion lent itself, with proper embarrassment and fallout, to failed predictions of the timing of the Second Coming of Christ by some teachers and groups. This view was embraced by many, even most, of the Protestant reformers, including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards and Spurgeon. This view has become much less popular since the beginning of the 20th century.. Some historic premilliennialists, amillennialists and postmillennialits espouse the historicist apocalyptic interpretive view.
3. Idealism - holds that the apocalyptic images of such prophecies are allegorical and symbolic related to the classic conflict of good and evil. Therefore, assigning specific applications to any literal, physical or historic person, event or nation is missing the point of the prophecies. The only exception to this would be the physical and literal return of Jesus Christ at a future point in history and the final judgment. This view lent itself to the rise of extreme expressions of anti-supernaturalism, doubt about the infallibility of Scripture, the "social gospel" movement in America and the over-individualization of the kingdom of God. Still, there were/are respected believers who embraced acceptable forms of this view. Some amillennialists embrace the idealist interpretive grid for apocalyptic prophecy.
4. Preterism - holds that the apocalyptic prophecies substantially came to pass in the 1st century (preterism means "past"). Some preterists hold that some of the specific fulfillment's occurred up into the 3rd century. (There are some significant differences between "full" and "partial" preterists that will require a future post to more fully explain.) The "great tribulation" referred to by Jesus occurred in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was invaded by the Roman army under Titus. This historical event pointed to "the end" of the old covenant and the religious legal system of temple worship. God validated Jesus's claim to be the Jewish Messiah and raised to His right hand in heaven by fulfilling his great prophecy about the destruction of the temple and how his followers should flee from the city before the invasion. The early Christian historians, Eusebius and Epiphanius, reported that the Christians there did flee to Pella and survived the devastation. Orthodox preterists believe that the resurrection, the Second Coming and the final judgment are yet future events. Preterists hold that the book of Revelation centers around a clear and relevant message to the first century believers and churches in Asia Minor that referred to the judgments of God in their era upon the Jews in Jerusalem and/or Rome and the "world" system. It was purposefully written in vivid and rich Old Testament prophetic images and symbols that require a working knowledge of Scripture to properly decode and apply. It was meant to strengthen persecuted followers of Christ to remain faithful to him. It also applies in many ways, by extension, to all believers throughout the centuries. Preterism and partial preterism is the most common apocalyptic grid for amillennialsim and postmillennialism.
In a future post, I will expand on preterism, since I believe that this view needs much more thoughtful and prayerful exposure among and examination by my fellow believers due to some obvious problems that have arisen in our culture and church movements with "pop eschatology".
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