In my last post, I referred to four different views of eschatology. These particular differences revolve significantly around the various understandings of 1) the implications and timing of when believers are "caught up" to be with the Lord in 2 Thessalonians 4:17 and 2) the interpretation of what has been called "the millennium" - or the 1,000 "reign" referred to in Revelation 20:4. They are 1) dispensational pre-millennialism 2) historic pre-millennialism 3) post-millennialism and 4) a-millennialism. I will say more about each of these four views in future posts.
However, there is also another common way to talk about four additional theological angles on eschatology. (This is one more reason why the study of eschatology can be complicated and frustrating.) The good thing is that each of the four "millennial" positions above generally fit into one of these next four broad interpretive grids. These differing views do not revolve around the meaning of "the millennium", but rather, how to properly interpret the "apocalyptic" passages of the Bible...especially the book of Revelation. These four views are 1) Futurism 2) Historicism 3) Idealism and 4) Preterism. Futurism states that the main apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible are primarily to be fulfilled during the years immediately prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Historicism says that these prophecies are relevant to and progressively unfold across all the years/centuries between the First Coming and the Second Coming of Christ. Idealism posits that these passages are allegories more than prophecies and refer to the classic clash of good and evil...and the ultimate triumph of good over evil...throughout all human history. Preterism holds that the apocalyptic prophecies of the Bible...and Jesus himself...were substantially fulfilled in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem fell to the Romans and the 2nd Temple of the Jews was desecrated and demolished. To Be Continued....
I instinctively avoided taking a clear stance on a particular view of eschatology for many years. This was primarily due to my love for the whole Body of Christ and my awareness that sincere believers hold to quite divergent views of the specifics of eschatology or "matters regarding the very end". Furthermore, I have held the conviction that there is "so much more" to the transforming power and ramifications of the First Coming of Christ that we haven't experienced or explored, that getting caught up in frustrating and potentially divisive disagreements with each other about the Second Coming is counter-productive to our values and mission. I believe that our convictions about the Second Coming are important and have many practical implications for how we live out our faith. However, I also believe that this area of theology, within certain parameters, is secondary to the essential matters pertaining to the Good News of Jesus. As believers, we have so much we can agree upon and the cultures at large are watching if and how well we love one another.
Among "Jesus-loving", "Jesus-following", "Bible-believing" people and groups there are 4 primary views of eschatology that are held and taught. I think it is important for all of us to know the broad strokes of each view and "make space" for empathetic dialogue, discussion and even charitable debate on the various views. One of the reasons I want to write about this topic is to advocate for creating such learning environments in our communities of faith.
In my first blog on this topic, I already referred to the most popular view in American church culture, and revealed a few reasons why I disagree with much of it. It's typically called "dispensational premillennialism". This view has gotten most of the public attention and press regarding eschatology over the last century. Many groups that hold to it, do so with dramatic zeal, thus the publicity, and make its acceptance central to their belief system. Of course, there are other church cultures that do the same with their particular eschatology. Another view is "historic premillennialism". A third view is called "postmillennialism". And a final primary view is usually called "amillennialism". In a future blog, I will outline each of these views and point out some comparisons and contrasts that I believe people need to notice.
We had a great gathering of our cluster groups last evening. It's so great to see the depth of love and friendship that has formed over this last year. People are at ease in each other's presence and Jesus is clearly the central personality within our community! There was a lot of time given to informal fellowship before we entered our musical worship circle.
Terri and I shared just a bit about "Entering God's Rest" from Hebrews 3-4, we prayed together and Steve Ward led us in receiving the Lord's Supper. All very simple and laced with joy.
Here are the broad stokes of the passage in Hebrews 3-4:
1. Jesus is greater than Moses. The "Promised Land", also described in Scripture as our "Inheritance" and God's “Rest” in this passage, that He died and rose again to grant and offer to us is also greater.
2. The children of Israel of Moses' day were not allowed to enter "God's rest' because they believed the "evil report" of the 10 spies instead of the "good report" of Joshua and Caleb. They were more impressed with the "giants" than the "giant grapes" within the land God offered them. Even though they experienced daily miracles, they simply did not agree that God would overcome their enemies who were occupying their promised inheritance. Isn’t it terribly ironic that the main struggle that God’s people have with God is that they can’t imagine that He wants to bless them and give them a better future and hope…that He is actually more “for them” and “bigger and better” than they comprehend?
3. Even though Joshua did lead the next generation of Israelites into the land, this still did not fulfill the essence of the prophetic promised God was making to His children, since King David declared in Psalm 95 (many generations after Joshua) that there is still an even greater promised rest for the people of God to receive that the first one simply pointed to.
4. It's the "greater Joshua" (The Hebrew name for Jesus is Joshua!) who delivers the true rest or promised inheritance to believers who walk in the same hopeful and confident mindset as Joshua and Caleb did. We are called to "dream an impossible dream" and trust that God is more than willing and able to bring it to pass by His grace and mercy.
5. Hearing God’s "voice” in this passage is focused upon “hearing, believing and receiving the great Divine promise of goodness” vs. a more generalized word of God or a word of correction. Psalm 95, from which this passage is quoted, is mostly about magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in His presence and goodness!
6. That there is a promise of entering God’s rest “today” and not only in a future age.
7. This rest is essentially about “ceasing from our own labors” and relying upon the “labor” that God has already accomplished. (It’s akin to how the branches (we) become naturally productive and fruitful by simply abiding in the vine (Jesus) in John 15. The "rest of God" is the new operating system downloaded into us by the Holy Spirit through the New Covenant in Jesus! It’s also like receiving an inheritance from a father or mother who did the hard work and passed the profits and savings on to us to live on. Inheritances and wills are activated when someone dies. In the context of the book of Hebrews (cf. 9:16-17) Jesus died to activate a greater will and testament than anything ever offered to the people of God in previous generations.
8. The Divine promise over us is "living and active” just as the knife of the High Priest who cuts the sacrifice in two halves…exposing what’s hiding on the inside…our innermost thoughts and desires. However, it’s not just exposing our fears, doubts, resistance, resignation and the like, it also exposes the buried desires, deferred hopes and forgotten dreams given to us by God that we once dared to imagine were true.
This passage (4:12-16) reminds us of God and Abraham’s interactions in Genesis 15 where God “cuts a covenant” with Abraham. Abraham was weak due to the delay of God’s promise to him of an heir and God allowed him to vent about it. Then God caused Abraham to “rest” by putting him to sleep and inaugurating an unconditional promise to Abraham and his descendants all by Himself. Our great High Priest, Jesus, sympathizes with our weaknesses and invites us to yet boldly approach God to receive the mercy and grace we need to continue to believe for the impossible.
Where is the spirit of Joshua and the courage of Caleb in our ranks? May we see the better view of things!!
Are you a bit embarrassed through the years as fellow believers, who love the Lord and the Bible, get all stirred up about world events and then rather dogmatically proclaim them to be signs of pending apocalyptic disasters associated with the prophecies of Jesus or St. John and others? The phenomena of the recent “blood moons” seems to fit this mold, even though many thoughtful believers tried to “warn" us all that these “warnings” were “unwarranted"! Unfortunately, these writers didn’t get the same attention from our culture. ("Follow the money" on this point if you need to understand a reason why these kinds of fear-evoking messages gain traction for preachers and their followings!)
One of my recent experiences that sparks my writing about this, is a conversation with Jr. High aged kids regarding their fear that our time/space world is ending very soon. I am rather tired of this kind of thing and, to me, it does the cause of Christ no good in the eyes of the watching world. Isn't the fact that each of us will very soon (even if it's 80 years from now!) stand before Christ face to face to give an account of our lives enough reason to create the right kind of "urgency" into the mix of healthy spiritual motivations? Do we have to believe that He is coming in our lifetime to hold the right kind of zeal in our hearts for His gospel? Too much "urgency" boarders on "panic" and sabotages a long-term and lasting missional strategy in my view. Is is possible that the hype that so easily surrounds a rather immediate return of Jesus could hinder us from laboring faithfully in the earth for the sake of Jesus and future generations of His followers. The apostles referred to the Second Coming, but they deliberately focused on proclaiming the amazing big news, and the practical implications, of the First Coming of Jesus! If this was good enough for them, it should be good enough for us.
Don’t get me wrong…I love all believers and always seek to respect them for their sincere faith. I don’t think that we will all agree, or need to agree, on the details of eschatology (the doctrine of “last things”) in our local churches. (I will still love and respect you if you disagree with this little post!) I don’t think that we should make a certain “end time” view, that stays within the framework of orthodoxy, a point of contention or a basis of joining or dividing our local churches. I do believe though that local church leaders must be free to teach what they believe to their members. I think we should create a culture in our communities of faith that welcomes an open and loving discussion about these various views and allow our friends to make up their own minds. However, many believers do not even know that genuine Jesus-loving people hold to quite different “interpretive grids” for understanding the apocalyptic passages of the Bible. I personally hold to a more optimistic view of what God is doing and will do in His world before the bodily return of Jesus than most of my dear friends…and I believe that I have primarily Scriptural reasons for such a hope.
I am coming to a point in my journey as a spiritual leader and father where I am planning to share more openly the questions and plausible answers that surround what I consider to be a problems with the “Pop Eschatology” that has captivated the hearts and minds of many American Christians, churches and church movements. This is due to the influence of ideas conceived by J. N. Darby in the late 1800’s, codified by C. I. Scofield in the early 1900’s, institutionalized by fundamentalist/conservative seminaries in successive decades, highly popularized by Hal Lindsay in the 1970’s and again more recently filling people’s minds through the best-selling Left Behind books and movies. In my humble opinion, the brightest and best Biblical scholars and teachers of our generation, not to mention the ones from past generations, have very different views on eschatology than this particular, and very complicated, “dispensational premillennial” view. (I do promise to remain gentle and kind!)
I honestly fear that what I’m terming “Pop Eschatology” has been one of the most powerful, but subtle, influences that has caused Christians to live far too far below the privileges and promises of the inheritance that Christ purchased for us through His First Coming, Ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If there is a chance that this is true, isn’t it worth challenging some of the assumptions that have resulted in a fearful “siege mentality” within our ranks, thereby hindering our confidence and effectiveness in reaching people with the news of our beautiful, powerful and loving Lord and King, Jesus Christ?
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.