When adopting a hermeneutical framework for reading the Bible, the standard evangelical method is to try and understand what the original author was attempting to communicate to the original audience. When you do that, the only viable method of interpreting eschatological passages is the method known as partial preterism. Partial because we do not believe everything in the Bible has already been fulfilled, but when looking at the subject objectively, it is clear that the majority of its future-oriented texts have already been fulfilled.
If you have been following along with our more recent episodes, you will know that we have been in a mini-series in the book of Acts, looking at all the eschatological passages within. This is also part of a larger macro-series on the end-times that began in the book of Malachi, crossed the intertestamental gap and looked at the eschatology of John the Baptist, then plunged into the eschatology of Jesus, traversing critical texts in Matthew, as well as the tremendous eschatological prophecy found in the Olivet discourse. Today is our thirty-fourth episode dealing with eschatology.
With that, you may be wondering, out of 84 total episodes of the PRODCAST, why would we devote 34 episodes to eschatology? That question is easily answered. Because your eschatology will dictate the way you engage with culture. To say that differently, what you believe about the destination of human history will shape your thoughts about its direction. If you believe the world is basically barreling over a cliff’s edge, going from bad to worse, ready to implode at a moment’s notice, then you will either try and save as many people as you can before the collapse or you will huddle away in your bunker until the commander returns to rescue you. You will not be interested in fighting any losing battles. You will not put energy and effort into preserving anything or building anything because what moron would waste their time arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship?
No, if that is the destination we are all heading in the eschaton, then you will aim all of your efforts toward making as many converts as you can before the imminent rapture, and you will leave the time-consuming things like making disciples and building the next Christendom to fall by the wayside. And that would be the right approach if the world were moments away from catastrophe.
But, what if, on the other hand, you believe that history is His story of great victory and that over the last two thousand years, He has been building His Church, His Kingdom has been growing, and it will continue to grow until His reign of peace covers the earth with His glory and covenant blessings? If you believe that, and there are good reasons for doing so, then you would not bury your head in the proverbial sand. You would not frantically seek to make a litany of shallow converts. Instead, you would build churches that preach the Gospel and plant new churches that make disciples. You would run like you are running the Iron Man instead of the 60-meter sprint. You, my friend, will get up and build!
This is especially important to me and central to the mission of this show because I began this as a way of invigorating Christians. The tagline that I say before every episode, “to prod the sheep and beat the wolf,” is my admission that the Church in America has been in a state of gross lethargy, and we need to wake up, shake things up, and get on with building the Kingdom we have been commanded to build wherever God has called us to live. Yet, because many Churches and many within the Church have been in full-scale retreat mode, hiding from this culture for the last several generations instead of engaging it, three things have inevitably occurred:
- A legion of savage wolves have multiplied like rabbits without fear of reprisal. This is because weak-kneed pastors, shallow churches, and uninvolved Christians have allowed the hounds of hell to proliferate unchecked in both the Church and throughout this world.
- Because the Church has overwhelmingly abandoned culture, society around us has decayed like a year-old Ribeye, left out on the counter, and now stinks to high heaven.
- Because the Church has focused so much of its energy on making converts instead of disciples, the vast majority of Christians today are spiritually immature and incapable of even lifting the sword of truth, much less wielding it in battle.
This is why a salty little show like this exists, and this is why we focus on a topic like eschatology: because we want to see the Church get prodded into faithful activity and to see the wolves and the enemies of God beaten into submission. But to do that, we need to be focused on the right kind of eschatology.
The Kind of Eschatology Matters
There is no debate on whether Jesus wants us to be engaged with culture. When He told us to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19), He told us to be about transforming them. That work will continue until all the nations bow their knee to King Jesus and joyfully obey Him. Further, by calling us salt (Matthew 5:13-16), Jesus intends on His Church to be the agent of preservation in a culture that would decay and rot without us. In the same way that meat would be packed with salt before the dawn of refrigeration, the nations of this earth must be packed full of Christians who will act for the preservation and renewal of the world instead of hiding from it. “This is why Jesus called us to be lights that shine in crooked generations (Philippians 2:14-16), like a lampstand (Revelation 2:5), set upon a hilltop for all the world to see (Matthew 5:14).
Yet, as we have said before, certain eschatological schools of thought invigorate our cultural engagement and others (the wrong ones), which stifle it. While a full-scale treatment of this is impossible here, I want to break down the primary schools of eschatological thinking into two camps so that you will know where this show comes from and why we are so jolly. We need to talk about eschatology in two particular ways to do this. First, when does the millennium happen? And when will Jesus’ return occur in relation to that millennium? And second, what hermeneutical framework should we use to interpret all of the eschatological passages in the Bible? Let us begin with the millennium.
The Millennial Challenge
If you are still getting familiar with these categories, the millennial Kingdom is the one-thousand-year reign that John speaks of in Revelation 20. It is Jesus’ reign over the whole earth, where the entire planet comes under the banner of His Lordship when Satan is bound for a thousand years, and Jesus’ Kingdom of peace reigns among the nations without opposition. Concerning this passage, there are 3 primary schools of thought.
The first is called premillennialism, which holds that Jesus will return in the future to this earth (rapturing His Church out of it and crushing Antichrist’s 7-year reign of terror) before He sets up His literal and physical one thousand-year millennial Kingdom. According to the premillennialists, Jesus is not reigning at the right hand of God as Earth’s current King but is instead sitting at the right hand of God, awaiting the time when He can return and set up His millennial Kingdom. This punts the reign of Christ into the uncertain future and allows premillennials to view the world pessimistically since they believe it is still under the authority and control of the devil. While it is essential to recognize that various streams and differences exist within the premillennial camp (i.e., dispensationalism, historical premillennialism, etc.), this represents a basic schema.
The second primary millennial position is called amillennialism, which holds that Jesus is in His reign right now. Unlike premillennialism, He is not waiting for it to occur in the future; he is ruling currently in heaven. And, just as the prefix “pre” tells us something about what premillenials believe, the “a” prefix says something about what amillennialists think as well. Generally speaking, when “a” is applied to the front of a word, it is done so as negation. For instance, a theist believes in the possibility of a god, whereas an Atheist does not. The “a” in atheist negates the term theist.