In his accessible primer on the end times, Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking About the End Times, my colleague at Christ Reformed Church, Kenneth Samples, ably practices the quote “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In his 3rd and 4th chapters, he describes areas of eschatological agreement among Christian historical traditions, what he terms “mere Christian eschatology” (playing on C.S. Lewis’ famous book title), and three key eschatological differences found among those same traditions.
First, the agreements; Samples lists five points of “mere Christian eschatology”:
1.Second Coming of Christ
All Christians anticipate the literal, visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ to Earth at his second advent (Matthew 25:31-32; Mark 8:38; Acts 1:10-11; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:165-17; 2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28; Revelation 1:7). This Second Coming is not merely a spiritual phenomenon. Christ’s climactic and triumphant physical return will impact the entire cosmos and end human history as we now know it…. Mere Christian eschatology draws attention to this critical truth:That the Lord Jesus Christ is going to return is much more important than when and the how.
2. Resurrection of the Dead
Eschatological perspectives may differ over the exact order of events, but historic Christians avow that, following Christ’s second Coming, God will resurrect the physical bodies of all the human beings who have ever lived (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52)…. After the resurrection and final judgment, all people (both believers and nonbelievers) will enter the eternal state in a physical (reembodied) condition.
3. Final Judgment of Humankind
Despite various opinions over exact timing, all historic Christians believe that after Jesus raises humanity from the dead He will judge all human beings (Palm 62:12; 96:13; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 25:32-33; John 12:47-48; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:6-8; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 22:12).
4. Eternal State
In general, Christian thinkers view the unfolding of the eternal state as following the bodily resurrection and the final judgment. At this point, nonbelievers will go away to eternal misery, while believers partake of eternal blessedness.
5. New Creation
After monumental apocalyptic events, God will either destroy or reconstruct this present cosmos (Romans 8:19-22; 2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12; Revelation 21:1) and being forth a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:2-5). By His almighty power and infinite wisdom, God will create a glorious realm of existence free from sin, pain, sorrow, and death…. [T]he new heaven and earth will not be an exact return to the Garden of Eden (though many features of the Garden are depicted in the book of Revelation), and the Bible assures us that there will be no more death or sorrow (Revelation 21:4).
Taken from pgs. 27-31.
But of course, among the traditions that agree with the preceding five points, there are still substantive matters that represent actual – i.e., not just apparent – disagreements. And so the second thing Samples describes are three “challenges” that each tradition must resolve (in one way or another) when self-identifying itself.
Challenge #1: How to interpret the Bible’s apocalyptic literature
Diverse theological traditions within evangelical Protestantism each employ slightly different hermeneutical (interpretive) approaches when deciphering such writings. These varied approaches then result in varied perspectives on what constitutes a literal interpretation of the text and how a literal interpretation accommodates figurative meanings.
Challenge #2: Relationship between Israel and the Church
One of the most important areas of biblical study concerns the association between the Old and New Testaments. Some conservative evangelical traditions see great continuity between the testaments. However, others emphasize their apparent discontinuity.
An offshoot of this theological subject is the nature of the relationship between the nation of Israel (or the Jewish people) and the Christian church (which started out wholly Jewish and subsequently included Gentiles). Is it appropriate to make a distinction between these two groups? Does God have one people – or two? Some beliers assert that little or no distinction exists between Israel and the church; rather, the New Testament church is the new Israel.
Challenge #3: The Nature of the Millennium
The concept of the millennium comes from Revelation 20 and refers to the thousand-year reign of Christ (sometimes called chiliasm). Believers hold a variety of views regarding the nature of this era…. Some view this timeframe as a literal thousand-year period; others view it symbolically. Millennial perspectives also place such events as the tribulation (period of intense earthly suffering), the rapture (the snatching away of the church), and the Second Coming in different chronological order.
Taken from pgs. 33-36.
This is a short and accessible introductory text, one that will be very useful for helping Christians understand the main theological issues surrounding the end times. I look forward to passing copies along to dispensationalist friends who are unaware of the diversity that exists between Christians who have a high view of Scripture. From there, more substantial discussion of which end times schema is most biblically warranted, but a first step is getting people to see that there are other options being held by conservative, evangelical Christians.
(Note: this book is also available here in Kindle format.)
R. Andrew Compton is a minister in the United Reformed Church and serves at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA. This article appeared in The Reformed Reader and is used with permission.