Are We In The End Times?

James Preston Reply 8:26 AM
This week's Blog is a pre-cursor to the release of my first book. I'm pretty excited about it, because, well... IT'S MY FIRST BOOK!!

But I didn't mean for it to be my first book. My first book was meant to be something a lot closer to my heart and life message. This was meant to be a shortish study on the End Times. But after weeks of trying to make it all work, this verbose writer realised the best way for him to complete this work was to just WRITE. It turns out I had a lot more to say than I initially planned. So the study has turned into a bit of a book. More of a booklet, but I will be putting it into PDF format so you can read it on your Kindle etc. Maybe even print it out.

So, this week I have spent much of my spare time writing. Especially this morning. From 4:30am to now (8:21am). This is what I have so far.

I will update this Blog Post later on in the morning with a few final paragraphs (for the day), and some emphases and headlines. The Booklet itself will be finished by Wednesday next week, with chapters and a cover and all.

If you are looking for some liberating End Time theology... READ ON! And please, let me know your thoughts...

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DISMANTLING THE END-TIMES OBSESSION
(My current title - if you have suggestions let me know!)

CHAPTER 1
The Great Tragedy

Ask a Western Christian “Do Christians get raptured before the tribulation or after the tribulation?” and most of them would know what you are talking about. In fact, most would have an opinion for you. But ask a Western Christian whether they are a “Postmillennialist”,  “Amillennialist” or “Dispensational Premillennialist”, and you would most likely get a few confused looks in response.

This is a great tragedy in the Western church. Allow me to explain why.

Christians are obsessed with the End Times. There are two primary reasons for this: Firstly, as Christians we are naturally excited for seeing Jesus in His manifest Glory. This is a good reason! Any Christian in their right mind should long and be excited for the day Jesus returns!

The second reason for our obsession with the End Times is slightly less honourable, and is due to humanity’s natural fear of calamity. The moment Adam and Eve ate of ‘The Tree’ their disposition became one of fear*. And since then, seated deeply within the consciousness of mankind is a fear that something bad might happen. Whether it be while walking in the street, or in the greater expectation of the future.

Combine this fear with Apocalyptic writings like St. John’s “Revelation” and you end up with Western Christianity’s obsession.

Humanity’s predisposition toward fear has skewed its approach to how it interprets the apocalyptic writings of Scripture.

Apocalyptic writings are books and passages based on visions the author had in order to encourage the people of their day during times of persecution. Modern Christianity has so associated these writings (Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation) with tragedy and the end of the world, that society in general now uses the word “apocalyptic” synonymously with great calamity and destruction. This is unfortunate.

John, the author of the book of Revelation, wrote some incredible encouragements in his first epistle. Among my personal favourites is 1 John 4:18 -
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (ESV)

Just think about that for a second…

No fear.

None.

That’s a big deal! If there is no fear in Love, and God is Love, and Perfect Love casts out fear; why is it that so much of Modern Christianity’s message invokes fear? Even if it is around the end times.

Last time I checked, our Lord commissioned us to go and proclaim “Good News”. Something isn’t lining up.

Telling people that a world leader is going to rise to power and take control of all the world’s economy, and isn’t going to treat people very well or fairly, or that World War 3 is soon to break out, or that earthquakes are going to reshape entire cities, just doesn’t seem like good news to me. IE. Doesn’t seem to fit the instruction we were given by our Lord.

Herein lies part of the great tragedy: When it comes to “eschatology” (the study of the End Times), the Scriptures provide strong evidence for four primary theories. Not just one. Each of them as well supported as the other.

Now why is this a great tragedy? For two reasons: One: Of the four theories, the theory that is most popular in Western Christianity today is the most fear-inducing. Two: It is the least supported theory by the church fathers and theologians throughout history. Do you see the tragedy?

Christianity is meant to carry a message of Hope for the world. If our focus shifts from the hope-bringing Savior of the world onto a theory of how He will judge the world , a theory that is one of only three and isn’t even as well supported as the others, and doesn’t provide much Hope for the world but rather induces fear; then we owe it to ourselves to at least re-evaluate our position.

I wouldn’t be writing this if the overwhelming majority of Christian doctrine founded by the church fathers was clear on what should be believed about the End-Times. If the church fathers had agreed on a doctrine that said that many years in the future the world was going to go through a great tribulation so devastating God would have to “rapture” Christians away before it happened, then I would seriously consider this theory as a strong possibility of what could be expected.

But the fact is, the doctrine is not clear. It is not a clear doctrine dogmatically and unanimously decided upon and taught by the church fathers. In fact, it barely came up in their teachings. They were too focussed on what Christ’s work had accomplished and how it affected all of creation. And actually, almost the opposite is true: the church fathers, while clearly not focussed on this doctrine, taught radically differently things about the End Times than what is currently believed by most of Western Christianity.



CHAPTER 2
How I Got Here

Let’s come back to the church fathers’ focus on what Christ accomplished at the Cross. It was here that my journey began. God took me back to what really mattered: The Cross and what it accomplished. The further I delved into just how vast Christ’s Work was, the less I worried about any sideline doctrine. (when I say sideline doctrine, I mean a doctrine that does not affect our salvation, a doctrine that it is of less importance than say the Trinity). As I journeyed further still, I found myself in the disconcerting and humbling position of having to let go of so much of what I had believed for so long in my Christian walk.

The revelation of just how great Christ’s work on the Cross was is the single most important revelation to any Christian. It was here that I began to realise my understanding of the End Times just didn’t seem to line up.

I became consumed with Paul’s writings on the New Covenant. His epistles to the Romans, Colossians, Galatians, Ephesians, Corinthians, I was seeing them in a new light! For the first time in my own life I could see just how powerful and life-changing a revelation Paul had of what Christ accomplished! It changed his life forever! And it had changed mine.

Paul spent 14 years unpacking and studying the revelation he had on the road to Damascus. And those 14 years of deep study come through strongly in his writings. He clearly knew that Christ’s Work changed everything. Everything.

As I, along with many others undergoing a similar renewal around the world, delved deeper into understanding what Christ accomplished, I realised His work was too great to simply get people into heaven and save them from hell.

There was far more to it.

Just have a look at this remarkable statement Paul makes in his letter to the Colossians…

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
~ Colossians 1:19 - 20 (ESV)

Christ’s work on the Cross reconciled all things, whether they be in heaven or on earth.

All things?!

Christ’s work is greater than any of us could ever imagine!

Over and over I kept seeing the theme that Christ’s work infected every area of the very Universe itself.

As I became more clear in my understanding of the “Finished Work of the Cross”, I found myself reading articles in modern Christian magazines or hearing preachers on Christian TV and Radio speaking about the End Times with a strange dissonance in my heart. I could not align a God who “so loved the world that He gave everything He had for it” with a God who was going to destroy that same world with earthquakes and a rain of fire.

Eventually this dissonance became too much. I had to see if there really was more to it than what I had been taught my entire life about the End Times. And I was pleasantly surprised…

Turns out everything I, along with so many of my peers, believed about the End Times had a shakier foundation than a Tower of Pisa! I merely lifted one stone and uncovered a whole new world of End Time interpretation.

It didn’t take long for me to make sense of the dissonance in my heart. There was good reason for it!


CHAPTER 3
Four Biblically-Sound Views On The End Times

Did you know that there are FOUR primary interpretations of the Apocalyptic Scriptures (Daniel, Ezekiel, Matthew 24, Thessalonians, Revelation etc.)? And of the four, the three others do not believe in a “rapture” like much of the modern western church. On that alone, that’s 75% of solid, theological support in favour of an alternative!

That’s right, we are talking, well-respected, often-quoted, highly-regarded, deeply-loved, heroes-of-the-faith men and women who have passed down to us years of Biblical Systematic Theology. These men and women would surprise most of the church with their End Time beliefs. And probably get kicked out if they were to come and speak on the subject at some of America’s great mega churches. Not all, but some.

So, what exactly did they believe?

Let’s find out…

The four views are primarily centred around “the millennium” as described in Revelation 20, and when Christ returns to Earth. That is the one thing all four viewpoints have in common: That Jesus will return in bodily form. But whether this be before the millennium, after the millennium etc. all depends on interpretation.

Viewpoint 1: Amillennialism

St. Augustine (AD 354 - 430) believed that there was no “rapture” as we know it today. He believed that the Millennium was happening here and now. After Jesus ascended into Heaven, He took His place and King of kings, and has been reigning from Heaven through His church in the spirit ever since, affecting and impacting Earth in radically positive ways. He was going to come back in glory, judge the world, defeat evil once and for all, and rule and reign for all eternity. This interpretation is called “Amillennialism”, and is one of the most supported interpretations by the church fathers.

Polycarp, a friend of John the Apostle, held to this view. Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and many other great church fathers taught Apocalyptic Scripture through this lens.

John Calvin and most of the Reformers held strongly to Amillennialism. Most Reformed Theologians still hold to it. Unfortunately, the Reformers were so strong in their opinions (something I need to be weary of) that their theology gave rise to Adolf Hitler’s skewed belief system and his subsequent attempt to decimate the Jewish nation. This is a prime example of religion. Religion will make you do horrendous atrocities in the name of God. God Himself will compel you to love all and sundry.

In more modern times, Amillennialism is still strongly held to by the Roman Catholic Church (don’t you love their new Pope by the way?) as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Anglicans and Methodists still openly hold to it, and the likes of Jay Adams, Herschel Hobbs and the great J.I. Packer all hold to this perspective, as well.

Amillennialists don’t believe in “the great tribulation” as some specific time period set aside for the world to literally go through hell. They believe the great tribulations as spoken about in Revelation 9 refers to the difficulty faced by Christians in a world not yet fully under the control of Christ’s Kingship. This could be radical persecution as faced by the early church and apostles or those in the modern-day Middle East, or any persecution Christians may face for their faith.

There is also a common theme among many of the End Time perspectives that Revelation 9’s seals and trumpets of destruction referred to the Romans’ decimation of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But more on that later.

Because of this theme that much of the apocalyptic Scripture was fulfilled in 70 AD, amillennialists don’t have any specific signs to point to when Christ may return. He could come back at any moment, and it is in the best interest of every man and woman to be ready and expectant.

Viewpoint 2: Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism and Amillennialism are very similar. So much so that the likes of Augustine, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards often get confused as being one or the other.  As the name suggests, the only real difference is that Jesus will return after the millennium.

*** (TO BE COMPLETED…) ***


Viewpoint 3: Historical Premillennialism

The amillennial view on tribulation (and even the rapture) may seem radically different to what you’ve always been taught for so many years, but it is a common theme not only among Amillennialists, but among “Historical Premillennialists” as well. The second perspective of the End Times.

Some forms of Historical Premillennialism hold to a similar understanding of tribulation as Amillennialism. Although some Historical Premillennialists believe there may be a short time of intense persecution toward the end of time. But most believe the tribulation is merely the constant tribulation the church has faced throughout history.

What makes Historical Premillennialism different to Amillennialism is, as the name suggests, the belief that the Millennial reign of Christ as referred to in Revelation 20 will only begin upon His return. But like Amillennialists, they don’t believe in a “rapture”. It will simply be a case of Christ returning to Earth in glory and beginning His thousand year reign on Earth with the saints. After this thousand year reign will come judgment day, and the saved will spend eternity with Him in Heaven. (Remember though that we need to keep in mind the location of Heaven itself is debatable, as we see in Revelation 21 both “a new heaven and a NEW EARTH DESCENDING out of heaven” ~ Revelation 21:1 - 2).

This view on the End Times and apocalyptic Scripture is also strongly supported by the early church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian of Carthage and Papias of Hierapolis who was a first century student of John the Apostle himself. He coined one of my favourite lines on the subject…

After the resurrection of dead, there will be a Millennium, when the personal reign of the Messiah will be established on this Earth… All animals, feeding only on what the earth itself produces, will become peaceable and harmonious, submitting themselves to humanity.”
~ Papia of Hierapolis
“Fragments” (95 - 120 AD)

Like Amillennialism, this viewpoint was also popular among many Protestant theologians, specifically Baptist Theologian John Gill, along with Benjamin Wills Newton, founder of the Brethren movement. Charles Spurgeon was another famous Historical Premillennialist, and more recently Oswald J Smith, Corrie Ten Boom and David Dockery.

The Fourth and final viewpoint, Premillennial Dispensationalism, is so different from the other 3, that I am devoting an entire chapter to it, in order to give you a trail of how it came to be the most widespread End Time belief in the church today.


CHAPTER 4
How a War Started a Movement

Viewpoint 4: Premillennial Dispensationalism  

Let’s come back to Benjamin Wells Newton, founder of the Brethren movement… Here was a man with a passion to do the work of God, like many of us. (Heck, if you’ve read this far you must have a great passion!) But he had a close friend, arguably his best friend, who went on to become one of the most influential people in modern Christianity in the West. All thanks to World Wars I and II, and a chap named Hal Lindsey.

Benjamin Wells Newton and John Nelson Darby both left the Anglican Church in England in the early 1800’s, and went on to establish the Brethren Movement together. But another split was coming… John Nelson Darby became increasingly obsessed with “dispensationalism” - the various ways in which God deals with people throughout the various epochs of history. Newton believed, like many Christians, that there were 3 primary dispensations: The epoch of Adam to Abraham. The epoch of Abraham to Christ. And the epoch of the New Covenant after Christ’s ascension.

Darby on the other hand became engrossed in his study of the nation of Israel, becoming so encapsulated that his beliefs led him to separate God’s modern (post-Cross) dealing with Israel from how God deals with the church. A conundrum which led Darby to question what Christ’s work on the Cross actually accomplished. A conundrum that Benjamin Wills Newton could no longer tolerate. Neither could the world’s most famous preacher at the time, Charles Spurgeon, who published an entire article in response to what, in his eyes, had become a dangerous heresy.

Darby’s strange view on Israel led to his belief that God was going to “rapture” the church away from Earth before the great tribulation of Revelation 9, and begin a final establishment of Israel’s authority on Earth, from where He would eventually reign with all of the church.

It was here, in the mid 1800’s, that the popular “Dispensational Premillennialism” was birthed.

This is the theory we so commonly understand as the “pre-tribulation rapture”. That the church will get raptured, secretly and surprisingly, before the Earth undergoes horrendous tribulation of an anti-christ, natural disasters, and armageddon in Israel.

Although regarded as a heresy by much of the church for the most part of the 1800’s, the theory gained rapid popularity not long after World War II.

The Great Wars, from 1914 right the way through to 1945 (with a break between 1918 and 1939) were the beginning of a shift in the church’s hope for humanity. Humans were committing atrocities on each other on scales never before experienced. And thanks to new film and print technologies, the masses were witnessing these atrocities firsthand, entrenching the fear and depression. Suddenly, the hope that was so prevalent in the church as held out in the Gospel was replaced with an anxious fear of the future. The church no longer knew what it believed.

On an interesting side-note: It was the hope that Christ was still reigning from Heaven, and that the church would eventually rise in victory, that inspired Corrie Ten Boom’s famous help of the Jews in the World War 2 concentration camps.

Unfortunately this hope wasn’t as widespread as it once was in the church, who had become gripped with paralyzing, defeatist fear.

This fear festered within the Western church, and fully gave birth in 1970 with the publishing of Hal Lindsey’s “Late, Great Planet Earth”. The masses couldn’t get enough of it. The book took modern events and aligned them with ancient Scriptural prophecies and at first glance it all seemed to make sense. Despite the fact that these prophecies could even more accurately be aligned with greater calamities, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, Lindsey’s book confirmed the church’s worst fears: that the world was getting worse, and was on course for drastic destruction.

Within only a few years, the message had spread like wildfire throughout charismatic Christianity, with most of the Western church becoming obsessed with the mark of the beast and who the antichrist might be. It gave rise to worldwide home-video hit movies such as 1972’s “A Thief In The Night”, which in itself spurned an entire genre of End-Time-obsessed media, culminating in its climax: the “Left Behind” series of novels and films.

By the time “Left Behind” was released, Western Christianity was so enraptured (excuse the pun) with the Dispensational Premillennial viewpoint of the End Times that it virtually became the foundation of most church’s end time  standpoints, despite there being a vast array of deeply grounded resources offering alternative perspectives on apocalyptic Scripture.

Within only a few decades, mankind’s predisposition toward fear had taken the church down a road it should never have gone, and in some cases, completely shifted its focus off its King’s saving work and onto how He might return and deal with humanity’s depravity; which was the very thing He came to deal with at the Cross!

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