Welcome to another Theology Thursday! This is the first of a series on the promises the Lord has made to His people, to set everything to right in this world, and to re-create it unspoiled by sin. Theologians call this broad category of prophecy “eschatology.” And though I have written on this topic before, my remarks were limited to criticism of the single school of eschatology that has become the majority report among evangelical Christians in our time. This time I want to expand to the other schools of thought, to explain them, and to expose the “mongrel” forms of eschatology that have gained ground in recent years. While I lean towards one, I am by no means certain of it, nor would I make any one of the three historic schools of thought a test of orthodoxy.
Is Eschatology Important?
Inasmuch as one’s eschatology results from one’s hermeneutics (their way of interpreting Scripture) and on one’s view of the nature of God’s Kingdom, it matters a great deal! It is not, however, a primary test of orthodoxy (right doctrine) unless it omits or denies any or all of these three essential points:
The future, physical, bodily return of Jesus Christ to Earth;
The resurrection of all the dead, both righteous and unrighteous, along with the living, to face the judgment of God;
The future and physical destruction of this planet, and it’s re-creation by God into a perfect world, unstained by sin and forever free of it’s effects.
It matters how one interprets Scripture:
If one’s hermeneutic demands literal interpretation of all Scripture, then one’s eschatology will demand a very literal 1,000-year period of time, a “golden age” on Earth prior to it’s destruction and re-creation, during which Christ will reign literally from a literal throne in Jerusalem, and the Earth will be subdued. Literal interpretation of 1,000 years of peace is called “millennialism,” and takes two distinct forms – one historical and orthodox, the other recent and heterodox (unorthodox at least, if not heretical).
If one’s hermeneutic follows the historical-grammatical method, it does not necessarily follow that a “golden age” lasting a literal period of 365,000 24-hour days is required by Scripture. This is “non-millennialism” and also takes two forms, with historical-orthodox and modern-heterodox versions.
If one interprets the Scriptures according to one’s own imagination and “whatever it means to me at the time,” who knows what you believe anyway.
It matters how one sees the kingdom of God:
Is His kingdom political? Physical or spiritual? Of this world or the next? What is our role in His kingdom?
Some schools of eschatology (the study of future things) require that the kingdom of God is – or is to be – a physical and geopolitical one set up here on Earth. Others teach that the kingdom of God is spiritual and alien to this world, but that it’s influence will overcome the world and usher in that “golden age” where it becomes a physical and geopolitical reality in this world. And still another teaches that the kingdom is not destined to overcome this world, but to be in it and to rescue a remnant of it’s citizens (by means of the gospel) until the Lord returns, judges, and destroys the present creation.
It matters how we interpret Scripture! It matters how we view the King, His kingdom, it’s nature, and our role in it!
But it is not a test of whether or not a person is truly a Christian, unless, as I said above, it omits or denies any or all of those three essential points above.
In the next few thrill-packed episodes of Theology Thursday, we’ll look at the three basic schools of eschatology, what they teach, and warn against heretical forms of them that defy the clear teaching of Scripture. We’ll look one at a time at Postmillennnialism, Amillennnialism, and Premillennialism.