Eschatology, or the study of last things, is to most folks a muddled mess. It is a seemingly chaotic series of fantastical scenes and characters hobnobbing with the wondrous or bizarre. To some degree it is meant to be.
John was writing about what he saw—“a door standing open in heaven,” a voice “like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me,” and a throne standing in heaven with a person sitting on the throne who was “like a jasper stone.” This does not mean what John saw wasn’t real, rather it was inexpressible.
Nonetheless if most scholars and pastors don’t want to broach the subject, what’s a layperson to do? One thing we should not do—“we dare not follow the lead of some who would dismiss this matter as too complicated or as having no real importance.”[i]
As the title indicates, this is a brief; an overview of various eschatological hypotheses extant in the Church today. Hopefully it will clarify some of the confusion the reader might have about the differing premises on millennialism, the timing of the rapture, and dispensationalism versus covenant theology, et al.
This is not meant to be an all-inclusive treatise. That could fill volumes of, well, volumes. On the other hand I will try to touch on the key nuances dealt with in apocalyptic literature.
Amillennialism is the most widely held millennial system in our present day. It has been embraced by all of Catholicism and most Protestants on the reformed side; Presbyterians and Lutherans, et al.
Amillennialism literally means no millennium, although this is actually a misnomer. It is not that amillennialists don’t believe in a millennial kingdom, they do, however, they spiritualize it. It is in fact the “denial of a physical, literal reign of Christ on this present earth.”[ii] To the amillennialists they believe Satan was bound at the first advent of Christ. Thus their millennium is now in this intercalary (church) age between the first and second advent of Christ.
Amillennialists are divided on how amillennialism plays out. Basically those who hold with St. Augustine believe in the Romish concept that the millennial kingdom, which began at Christ’s first advent, is being fulfilled by the Church on earth.
Kliefoth, a nineteenth century Lutheran theologian, had a different hypothesis. Those who stand with Kliefoth believe the millennium is fulfilled by the saints in heaven and the eternal state immediately follows.
Amillennialism and postmillennialism are comparable in many ways. Charles Hodge, a ninth century Reformed Theologian, in his treatise on Christ’s second advent in his Systematic Theology wrote:
The subject [Christ’s second coming] cannot be adequately discussed without taking a survey of all prophetic teachings of the Scriptures both of the Old Testament and the New. This task cannot be satisfactorily accomplished by any one [sic] who has not made the study of prophecies a specialty. The author [Hodge], knowing that he has no such qualifications for the work purposes to confine himself to . . . a historical survey of the different schemes of interpreting the Scriptural prophecies relating to this subject.[iii]
Hodges attitude seem problematic to me. What he says could be said of the Bible in general, so why read or study anything in the Bible?! I don’t think that is the answer.
In writing on the millennium, B. B. Warfield seems quite tangled in his exegesis (interpretation) of Revelation 20:
With the opening of the twentieth chapter [of Revelation] the scene changes (xx. 1-10). Here we are not smitten in the face with the flame and flare of war: it is a spectacle of utter peace rather that is presented to us. The peace is, however, it must be observed, thrown up against a background of war. [?] The vision opens with a picture of the descent of an angel out of heaven who binds “the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan,” for a thousand years. Then we see the saints of God reigning with their Lord, and we are invited to contemplate the blessedness of their estate. But when Satan is bound we are significantly told that after the thousand years “he must be loosed for a little time.” The saints themselves, moreover, we are informed, have not attained their exaltation and blessedness save through tribulation. They have all passed through the stress of this beast-beset life – have all been “beheaded” for the testimony of Jesus. And at the end we learn of the renewed activity of Satan and his final destruction by fire out of heaven.[iv]
To Warfield “Satan bound and then loosed again is a present experience concurrently progressing.”[v] In other words Satan is only bound in his power to the Church, but is still loosed on the world today with developing consequences. But that makes no sense, since the Church is still in the world. Observing the state of the earthly church I find it difficult to agree that the Church is free from satanic sway.
L. Dabney also a postmillennial, reformed theologian was once “asked by a former student whether a certain interpretation of prophecy were correct, he [Dabney] replied, ‘Probably you are right I have never looked into the subject.’”[vi]
This cavalier attitude is not only unwarranted, but dangerous. Indeed almost one-half of the Bible is prophetic. At the very beginning of the book of Revelation God declares “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near” (1:3).
In general postmillennialists are in agreement with amillennialists that there is no literal thousand year reign. It will be by the preaching of the gospel that the kingdom of God will be brought in.
God will increase the world’s morality and spiritually into the “golden age of the millennium.” In other words the world is getting better through these efforts.
The problem here is both amillennialists and postmillennialists incorporate a double standard in interpreting scripture. They use a literal interpretation of scriptures in most of the scriptures and yet they pick and choose certain prophetic sections interpreting them by spiritualizing or allegorizing them.
Clearly this is problematic. For if I am going to interpret Revelation allegorically, why not Genesis. If the millennium is not actually a 1,000 year period as stated in the Bible then why not declare that the bodily resurrection of Christ didn’t occur; it was merely a metaphor for man rising above his circumstances?
Additionally the advocates of replacement theology (supercessionism) argue that the promised seed of Abraham must be understood to be the true Church which has become the spiritual Israel.
Lewis Johnson points out erroneously that “[S]ince the church is the seed of Abraham and Israel is the seed of Abraham, the two entities, the church and Israel, are the same. The result is a textbook example of the fallacy of the undistributed middle.”[vii]
Couldn’t God have two different programs at work?
To be Continued in End Time Brief II The End IS Coming!
 Warfield’s exegesis, really eisegesis, of the events in Revelation 20 is distorted.
 One paying the slightest attention to global current events could not claim that the world is getting better. Take note of 1) the rise of Islam’s imperialism, 2) the state of affairs in America and her polity, 3) the lack of solid biblical preaching, and 4) the theological, doctrinal, and moral apostasy of the Church to understand this cannot be the case. Indeed the scriptures tell us that this is what will happen in the end times (cf. 1 Tim.4:1-2; 2 Tim.3:1-8; 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:3; et al.).
In this example, distribution is marked in boldface: 1) All Z is B; 2) All x is B; 3) Therefore, all x is Z.
B is the common term between the two premises (the middle term) but is never distributed, so this syllogism is invalid. The fact that all Z is B,” but this is irrelevant to the conclusion.
[i] Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2006), 92.
[ii] Ibid., 123.
[iii] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology III (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 790.
[iv] Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Princeton Theological Review, v. 2, 1904, pp. 599-617.
[v] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology vol. 4, “Eschatology”(Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), 256
[vii] S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. “Paul and ‘The Israel of God’: An Exegetical and Eschatological Case‐Study.” Mishkan, 6&7, 1987, pp. 59.