by J Warner Wallace
Few topics divide the Christian community as quickly as the issue of “end times” (known amongst theologians as the study of “eschatology”). Entire denominations divide over the issue, and many would argue a particular “eschatology” must be adopted if we are going to claim we are “Christians”. There are some essentials Christians must adopt related to “end times” and it turns out these essentials are relatively simple and easy to understand. Let’s take a look at some of the theories and interpretations developed over time as people have tried their best to understand what the Bible teaches, and then let’s offer an the essential truth all of us should hold as Christians.
Let’s start with the basics. All Christians agree (1) Jesus came and appeared to His followers over 2000 years ago, (2) Jesus will eventually return, and (3) Jesus will someday judge the living and the dead. We believe these things based on the clear teaching of Scripture:
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16)
Jesus Will Return:
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3)
Jesus Will Judge:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war (Revelation 19:11)
These are details all Christians affirm and these claims were supported and posited by the first believers. But one more common belief has been proclaimed from the earliest days of Christianity. It is something called “Millennialism”. The New Testament describes a period of time in which Jesus will rule the earth for a millennium (from the Latin word, “Mille”, meaning “one thousand”); a thousand year period of time (whether literally from man’s perspective, or figuratively from God’s perspective). This period is described in the New Testament book most focused on the return of Jesus, the Book of Revelation:
I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Even if we agree on the idea that Jesus came to earth, will someday return and judge the nations, and will reign over the earth for a millennium, there are still a number of unanswered questions. In essence, two questions can still be asked and answered:
1) What will happen before Jesus returns?
2) What, if anything, will occur between His return and His judging of humanity?
The answers to these questions have divided theologians and believers for many years. Let’s begin a quick survey of how people have tried to respond to these questions related to “end times”…
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