End Times Buffet: Coping with Diverse Perspectives

Posted February 17, 2018 by Amy Wang (Updated February 22, 2018)
Other editions: Chinese(中文)

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Do you feel like you are dining at a seminary buffet?

To give an impression of neutrality, different end times views are often presented in buffet style as if they were equally acceptable. However, some of these views contradict the Bible or use questionable methods of interpretation. To prevent misleading people or causing them to fall away, we can examine these end times views and try to gently correct the errors they contain (1Thess. 5:21, 2Tim. 2:24-26,3:16-17). Below, I will try to summarize and comment on each of the different views.

Does it matter who is right? Are these views equally acceptable?

Certainly, theological correctness on the end times is not as important as theological correctness on how to be saved. Therefore, many believe it does not matter. They jokingly call themselves pan-millennialists, because no matter who is correct, it will all “pan out in the end” [Blomberg and Chung, chapter 4][1]. As Doris Day once sang, "Whatever will be, will be." However, if the end times is not important, why did the Old Testament prophets, New Testament gospels, the book of Revelation, and several epistles, mention it? A messianic Jew, or Jew who believes in Jesus, once pointed out to me that the Old Testament prophets speak more about Jesus’s second coming than His first coming.

David Pawson, a Bible teacher in the UK who favors post-tribulationism, the view that the church will not be taken into the clouds by rapture until after the tribulation, says that churches should still accept fellowship with people of different views. However, he says he would rather forewarn of the possibility of tribulation and find it to be untrue, than to give false hope that Jesus would come to the rescue, only to cause people to be unprepared to stand during tribulation. He mentions the testimony of Corrie TenBoom, author of The Hiding Place, who persuaded him of this. [2] She visited a country where people had been told not to worry about the tribulation, because of the promised rapture. However, they ended up suffering a terrible persecution they had not been spiritually prepared for. [3] For the same reason, the end times views I am most concerned about are those that suggest the church will be spared from tribulation, despite clear bible verses to the contrary. See my other article, "Debunking the False Hope of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture" for more details.

Below, I will comment on each of the different end times views. Correct end times theology can be useful to protect us from deception, warn us to prepare spiritually for Jesus' return, and maintain hope in our final redemption when things get tough. For more on this spiritual preparation, see my other article "Stay Calm and Strong During the End Times." Many were slow to believe what the prophets said about Jesus’ first coming (Luke 24:25). As a result, some failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Hopefully, we will not repeat history.

A. Will the church experience the great tribulation? Or will they be rescued by Jesus in the rapture?

Christians have different interpretations of the great tribulation of the end times. Did the great tribulation already happen (preterism) or is it yet to come? Will the church be raptured before (pre-trib) or after the great tribulation (post-trib)? Lifeway researchers found in a 2016 study that Protestant pastors have widely varying perspectives on the timing of the rapture, the moment when Christians meet Jesus in the clouds, relative to a period of unprecedented difficulty, known as the tribulation (Matthew 24:29-31):

  • 36% adopted pre-tribulationalism, in which the church is raptured before the tribulation.
  • 18% adopted post-tribulationalism, in which the church is not raptured until after the tribulation.
  • 4% adopted mid-tribulationism, in which the church is raptured in the middle of the tribulation.
  • 4% adopted the pre-wrath view, in which the church goes through tribulation but not the period of God's wrath.
  • 1% adopted the preterist view, according to which most prophecies have been fulfilled in the past.
  • 25% did not take the rapture literally. [4]

My own view is the same as that of the early church, the post-tribulation rapture. Based on the order in Matthew 24:27-31, the tribulation is followed by heavenly signs and then at the last trumpet, God's elect will meet Jesus in the clouds.

B. Will there be a millennial kingdom? If so, will it occur before or after Jesus returns?

Revelation 20:4 mentions Jesus' one-thousand year reign. Is this a literal one thousand year kingdom, or is it merely symbolic (amillennialism)? Does Jesus come back after (post-millennialism) or before (pre-millennialism) this kingdom occurs? Regarding the existence and timing of the millennium, Lifeway reports that certain denominations seemed more inclined to hold one or another view:

  • Premillennialists believe Christ returns to set up the millennial reign. (75% of Baptist pastors and 84% of Pentecostal pastors share this view.). This view is further split into (a) Dispensational premillennialism, a view from the 1830s that includes a pre-tribulation rapture and (b) Historic premillennialism, the early church's majority view, which includes a post-tribulation rapture.
  • Amillennialists believe the one thousand year period is not literal. (71% of Lutheran pastors and 52% of Reformed pastors share this view.)
  • Postmillennialists believe Christ does not return until the end of the thousand years. (27% of Methodists pastors share this view.) [4]

Again, my own view is the same as that of the early church, the so-called Historic Premillennialism. According to Revelation 20:4, some Christians who were beheaded during the great tribulation will reign together with Jesus. During the great tribulation, they did not worship the beast or his image. Therefore, I believe the millennial kingdom must be after the tribulation and at the time Jesus comes back. See my article on "Revelation Roadmap: Outline of the End Times" for a more in-depth chronology, which explains the order of events like the great tribulation and the Day of the Lord.

Commentary on the Views related to the Tribulation and Rapture

1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture

The popular pre-tribulation rapture theory of dispensationalism says that Jesus will come for the church before the great tribulation and the church will be raptured to meet Him in the clouds. However, Revelation 6:9,7:9,7:14,13:7 indicate that Christians will go through tribulation-- and not just Jews, but also Gentiles. Some people will ask, didn't Jesus say he could come at any moment? Didn't he say we are not appointed to wrath? Please consult the following article to understand how to correctly interpret these scriptures: "Debunking the False Hope of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture."

2. Preterism

Preterism suggests that the end times events, like the great tribulation, already happened, when it is still yet to come, and so this may be another way to avoid the great tribulation. For example, preterists may claim the abomination of desolation refers to Antiochus Epiphanes' desecration of the temple, but since Antiochus existed before Jesus, and Jesus spoke of this abomination of desolation as a future event (Mark 13:14), Antiochus cannot be the fulfillment of this prophecy (Blomberg and Chung, 73)[1]. Furthermore, we still await the signs in the heavens in Matthew 24:29, Revelation 6:14, and Isaiah 13:9-10 and the gospel has to be preached in all the nations (Matthew 24:14), so many prophecies are still unfulfilled, contrary to preterism.

3. Mid-tribulation Rapture

I believe mid-tribulationism holds that believers will go through part of the tribulation but be spared the worst part of it, e.g., the great tribulation, but Jesus gave instructions, presumably for believers, for the great tribulation, too (Mark 13:18,Matthew 24:15-16).

4. Pre-wrath

The Pre-wrath view claims believers will experience Satan's "tribulation" but not God's "wrath" in the Day of the Lord. However, I believe there are some scriptures that show the Day of the Lord will still include believers who experience tribulation. The saints will still be be in conflict with Satan's kingdom after the bottomless pit is opened, which takes place when the fifth trumpet is sounded (Revelation 9:2,11:3-7), although in keeping with this view, that can be explained as Satan's wrath and not God's wrath. This means there is still persecution during the Day of the Lord, because as I show in another article, called "Revelation Roadmap: Outline of the End Times," the Day of the Lord most likely includes the seven trumpets. Perhaps some believers will even last until Jesus' return at the seventh and last trumpet (Daniel 12:12, 1Thess. 4:17). Until He returns, it seems the "horn" will still be fighting the saints (Daniel 7:21-22).

When the Bible says believers are not appointed to God's wrath, we need to be careful on how the scripture here defines "wrath" and the means of avoiding God's wrath. This does not mean the saints will never experience God's disciplinary action (1Peter 4:17-19, Hebrews 12:4-6). Wrath here most likely refers to the final, eternal punishment, reserved for those who never recognize their sin and repent (Matthew 3:7-12). Additionally, there are ways to avoid God's wrath without leaving the earth in a rapture. God can just avoid pouring out his plagues on specific people. Remember that the Israelites were safe in Goshen during the ten plagues of Egypt. (Revelation 9:4).

5. Post-tribulationism

I personally learn toward Post-tribulationism, which was supposedly the majority view of the early church. It teaches that the church will face persecution during the great tribulation, as the verses mentioned above show.

Commentary on the Millennial Views

Pre-millennialism believers that the millennial reign begins after Jesus returns. It is split into two different beliefs-- Dispensational Pre-millennialism, which includes the pre-tribulation rapture, and Historic Pre-millennialism, which includes the post-tribulation rapture.

1a. Dispensational Pre-millennialism

As for the views on the millennium and its timing relative to Jesus' second coming, I am most concerned with dispensational pre-millennialism, because that is the view that includes the pre-tribulation rapture, and it also has a very odd theory about 7 dispensations, or ages, of God's master plan, and a peculiar way of viewing the Church as a completely separate entity from Israel, which is not a co-heir with Israel to God's promises (Rossing, p.23,28)[5].

1b. Historic Pre-millennialism

Once the majority view of the early church, historic premillennialism differs from dispensationalism because it teaches the post-tribulation rapture in addition to the millennial reign that begins after Jesus returns. Historic premillennialists have not reached the same level of popularity that dispensationalists have through best-sellers, movies, songs, board games, video games, elaborate prophetic charts, and televangelism (Blomberg and Chung, ch.1)[1]. However, popularity does not make a theory true, and the lack of popularity does not make a theory false.

2. Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is too optimistic about the current world in claiming that we now experience earthly peace and that the nations can be converted before Christ's return. It also assumes the tribulation has past, making the same error of the preterists in that regards (Newport, 88-89)[6]. The world, however, is getting worse, not better, and so post-tribulationism has gone out of fashion (2Timothy 3:1,13) (Newport, 92-93)[6]. Additionally, the scripture talks of the beheaded who reign during this period, and I doubt this resurrection of the dead has already occurred (Revelation 20:4). John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Matthew Henry, Hodges, B.B. Warfield, and The Westminster Confession supposedly support postmillennialism (Newport, 90-91)[6].

3. Amillennialism

Amillennialism is the view adopted by St. Augustine in The City of God, in which there is no literal or future millennium. A-millennial advocates wonder why Christ should have an earthly reign at all, preferring to move directly from the second coming of Christ to the general resurrection, judgment, and ultimate destiny of the righteous and unrighteous (Newport, 85,108-109)[6]. Unfortunately, a-millennialism may leave us without explanation for many Old Testament prophecies, such as Zechariah 14:4 and John's mention of the Child (Jesus) who would rule the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:5).



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