An emerging debate in the world wide church concerns the history that will unfold leading up to the return of Jesus. There is no debate within the church about the fact of His return.
Many Christians are expecting an acceleration of God’s work around the world and there is much evidence that this is happening. Some are looking forward to a coming revival. It is very exciting to be living now! I am firmly convinced as a Christian, that I can live victoriously with Jesus and that churches that follow God intimately are and will live victoriously too. There is no room for “doom and gloom” thinking when we have such wonderful and certain expectation of the hope that lies before us in God’s coming kingdom.
What concerns us in this post is the widely divergent understanding within the church of how this will happen. In some respects, the different views are opposite to each other. How can this be when we all love God, love His word and regard it as totally accurate and an authoritative guide?
I would suggest the reason is obvious. We are basing our end time theology on portions of the Bible which have many different and controversial interpretations and on basic assumptions that are not verified. The main ones are (1) the seventy sevens prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27, (2) the interpretation of “this generation” in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 24, (3) the understanding about the time, times and half a time and the 3½ and 7 years and (4) the assumption that literal interpretation of a passage implies that what is described will occur in the chronological order in which it is written.
Because of this, it is my guess that the vast majority of end time theologies are of the order of only 50-70% correct.
In summary form, the major viewpoints are as follows.
1. On one side there are those Christians who see the church growing so that most nations become largely Christian enabling God’s kingdom to be set up on earth before Jesus returns. In theological terms, these usually hold to a “preterist” or “partial preterist” view, are usually “post-millennial” and may adopt some form of “dominion” theology. The number who hold to this view seems to be growing.
2. On the other side are those who see the church entering into an end time revival followed by the rise of the antichrist, world wide persecution of the church and a world wide time of trouble before Jesus returns. After Jesus returns, His kingdom is set up on earth and He will reign for 1,000 years – the millennium. Some of these believe that true Christians will be removed from the earth seven years, 3.5 years or just before Jesus comes back. In recent times, there is an emerging, growing group of Christians who see the kingdom of the antichrist as being Islamic rather than emerging from within Europe (the revived Roman Empire). Overall, I get the impression that the number in this group is declining as they shift to the opposite view reflected in 1.
3. There is then a third group who adopt a “safer” interpretive approach so that their understanding of the end times is less assertive and less specific. Only general conclusions are made which calls into question why much of the relevant passages were ever written especially as they seem to provide a lot of detail, but the interpretation is unable to say what it means other than in general terms. Some of these have partially overcome this by adopting parts of views 1 and 2.
4. Then there are a huge number of Christians who are confused and don’t know or who avoid looking closely because the uncertainty is unedifying and a waste of time for them.
I believe most of us would agree that this is a most unsatisfactory situation, because God intends that we will be prepared for what is coming on the world. Currently, this uncertainty results from the last major area of unresolved Biblical theology, perhaps representing 20% of what the Bible teaches.
In my view, there are many plausible interpretations especially for apocalyptic literature, but we have to find the best one. The best interpretation will meet the criteria of unifying the whole Bible, cause passages which were previously ambiguous to become clear, explain previously obscure passages and not be founded upon passages whose interpretation is controversial and unclear. To achieve this, the end time theology must not only explain all relevant passages, but it must also show why the alternative interpretations are less suitable or incorrect. Very few existing works, if any, do this.
My own view is closest to the second viewpoint above, but has many differences. I believe we are already in the final revival and have been for more than 100 years, but that there is an acceleration of the outpouring of God’s power. The antichrist will be Islamic and will emerge soon in a world in deep distress because of huge economic decline, water and food security problems and the impact of global warming. The whole church will come under persecution and will be refined and forced underground. We will see amazing things and experience the glory of God and have all things in common like the early church.