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The End Times in a Nutshell

Considering how the issues of prophecy continue to be one of the most popular and interest-gaining subjects in theology (not to mention this being the year 2012!), I thought it well worth my time to write a primer on how to look at eschatological schemes. Eschatology refers to the “doctrine of the end times.” To be sure, there is no one “Christian” eschatology. In fact, there is not even one “Evangelical” eschatology. The history of the church has seen and allowed for much diversity concerning these issues due, in my opinion, to the relative obscurity of Scripture on the subject. The central issues, agreed upon by all orthodox Christians over the last 2000 years, are that in the last days Christ will come, there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a judgment will follow. Please keep that in mind.

There are a lot of fancy words used to describe how one might label themselves with regard to end-times issues. Pre-Millennial, Post-Tribulational, historicist, Chiliastic, Preterist, historic premillenialist (which seems to be the most popular these days), and are just some of these labels. My only goal here is to try to clear the cobwebs and help people construct a basic structure of the spectrum of eschatology in a nutshell.

There are two categories that I am going to introduce. Then I will follow by showing how these categories relate to the various positions held. These two categories are “Approach” and “Event.” As you will see there is an approach taken to each event. The events describe broad categories that are separated because of the nature, timing, and interpretation of the events they represent.

Category #1: Approaches to Eschatology

Preterist: Belief that the event(s) (such as the tribulation) happened in the past.

Historicist: Belief that the event(s) happen throughout history.

Idealist: Belief that the event(s) are symbolic or parabolic and are always present.

Futurist: Belief that the event(s) are yet future.

Category #2: Events of Eschatology

Event #1: Tribulation: This describes many apocalyptic happenings described primarily in Matt. 24 and Revelation 4-19. Included in this category is the anti-Christ, bowls of wrath, 144,000 witnesses, the Mark of the Beast, and the like.

Event #2: Millennium: This describes the reign of Christ on the present earth (i.e., before the new creation).

Event #3: The Second Coming and The New Creation: This describes the judgment and the creation of the new heaven and the new earth.

(Please note, I have not included issues of “personal eschatology” due to their lack of relevance to one’s eschatological scheme. Issues of personal eschatology include hell, the state of the soul between death and resurrection, etc.)

With these two categories, you can begin to understand how one’s eschatological scheme is produced. What you do is take an event and relate it to an approach. For example, with regard to the millennium, you can be a futurist, idealist, historicist, or preterist. If you are a preterist, you believe that the reign of Christ happened in the past. If you are a futurist, the millennium is yet to come. If you are a historicist, the events of the millennium are happening throughout history. And the idealist would believe that the millennium is an idealistic or parabolic representation of events that already happened or are always happening.

However, what approach you take here does not necessarily determine the approach that you will take with the other events. For example, just because one is a futurist with regard to the millennium does not mean that they will also be a futurist with regard to the tribulation. In other words, one could believe that the events of the tribulation are ongoing throughout history (historicist approach), yet believe the millennium itself is still yet future (futurist). This is often referred to as ”Historic Pre-millennialism” or “Chiliasm.”

With that in mind, let me give you some of the most common eschatological labels and relate them to what I have said thus far. As you will notice, there will be more than one option for some events, but the primary distinction will be in italic.

Historic Premillennialist

Event #1: Tribulation: historicist, preterist, futurist, or idealist

Event #2: Millennium: futurist

Event #3: The Second Coming and The New Creation: futurist

Dispensational Premillennialist

Event #1: Tribulation: futurist

Event #2: Millennium: futurist

Event #3: The Second Coming and The New Creation: futurist

Amillennialist

Event #1: Tribulation: historicist, preterist, or idealist

Event #2: Millennium:  idealist (normally)

Event #3: The Second Coming and The New Creation: futurist

Postmillennialist

Event #1: Tribulation: historicist, preterist, futurist, or idealist

Event #2: Millennium: historicist (normally)

Event #3: The New Creation: futurist

Full-Preterism (considered heterodox by orthodox Christianity)

Event #1: Tribulation: preterist

Event #2: Millennium: preterist

Event #3: The Second Coming and The New Creation: preterist

There are most certainly other nuances to all of these eschatological schemes, as well as different names they may go by, depending on the topic. For example, those who believe that the tribulation is yet future can be sub-divided into those who believe that Christ will come and “rapture” the church before the Tribulation (pre-Tribulationalists), in the middle of the Tribulation (mid-Tribulationalists), and those who believe that Christ will come after the Tribulation (post-Tribulationalist). As well, the post-Tribulationalist view has overlap and identity with the “Historic Premillennialist,” but not necessarily so.

Yeah, now I have confused you! Oh well, I gave it a shot.

In short, I hope this overview is helpful in giving light to what can be a rather complicated subject by providing a basic structure to the spectrum of beliefs about the end times. Remember, every position has arguments and no matter what position you take (other than full preterism), you are well within the bounds of the historic Christian faith. This does not mean that there is not one right answer, it just means that we don’t need to tear each other’s theological heads off for disagreement!

26 Responses to “The End Times in a Nutshell”

  1. Drum roll please! Is Credo House dispensational or preterist? I haven’t read it yet but I’m going to start now!

    Let’s see if CMP can do as good a job as RC Sproul.

  2. I think it’s important to note the distinction between partial preterists and full preterists (called hyper preterists by the partial preterists). “Hyper” preterists believe that ALL biblical prophecy has been fulfilled while partial (or historic) preterists believe in the future return of Christ, a final resurrection, and final judgement yet to come.

  3. CMP,
    So many nuances, so little space!

    Jeremy is right, partial Preterism is distinct from full Preterism. There also should be a mention of multiple raptures and a category that considers the Lord’s parousia to be a long term event.

    I wonder where you would put these two items in each category: the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment. It would also be helpful to locate the Kingdom and the New Jerusalem in each case. In some of the categories the events in each pair would be considered identical while they would be separated in others.

    It gets really complicated fast doesn’t it. Thanks for giving it a shot. I guess some things cannot be made simple when you consider all the positions taken by large blocks of Christian.

  4. Yeah, you confused me. And darn you, you didn’t state the position of Credo House although “Why I Don’t Teach Preterism” implies that you are trying to present most positions in a fair manner in the Theology Program.

    The Historicist sounds a little like Partial Preterist. I sure hope Fr. Robert jumps in soon. I believe he he said he is Historic Premillenial. But Chilist sounds way cooler.

    I “grew up” dispensational but recently discovered the Preterist (Partial) view. Seeing prophecy being fulfilled by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD (no CE for this politically incorrect heretic) just makes sense. And how much better is to to witness to someone and be able to say “See here are these prophecies and here is how they have already been fulfilled.” No hype, no missed dates of the rapture, no wild interpretations of even wilder Bible imagery.

    I’m still trying to sort out where The Second Coming and The New Creation fit in. And more importantly what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime. (Watch out I may become a Dominionist or whatever that other word that has all the liberals scared that an Evangelical might get elected?)

    Ah, I just jumped over to “Why I Don’t Teach Preterism” and it all comes down to definitions of words again. I apparently don’t understand what “Historicist” means in its subtle difference from “Preterist.” To me Partial Preterists sound like Historicists but some of the comments imply otherwise.

    Since CMP dismisses the Full/Hyper Preterist why didn’t he use Partial Preterism for his example?

    Ackkk! Now I bounced out to “The Forgotten Gospel of the End Times” and have even more cud to chew on.

    Will it never end? I knew I was in trouble when Apple came out with HyperText in the mid 80’s. I’ve been on information overload ever since.

  5. BlueCat: I am myself a partial preterist, but also certainly toward the so-called PD, or Progressive Dispensationalism, as a Historic Pre-Mill, and also post-trib. And yes, I am also a “Biblical” Zionist! I have worked hard on these positions for literally over 20 years also. But, one must always be ready to make changes, and be pliable in the Lord’s Word too.

  6. I guess we could all just fall back on our basic mission:

    Share Christ.

    While we don’t have many records of Christians in the first century it is apparent that by the second century Christians were debating all these issues and more. No wonder the Gospel has not spread to all the world. (Anyone want to debate the meaning of that phrase?};P~) We spend almost as much time discussing the issues while people die in sin as the UN does while people die of starvation and genocide.

  7. I may well be in the minority, but that’s okay. I think the modern church is much too concerned with the end times and looking for signs of it although they are always there today much more than ever. However, it seems to me the church is much less concerned with what we should be doing, according to Christ in the mean time, and that is spreading HIS gospel than we are than proving it right.

  8. What I found appealing with the Partial Preterist view (They really do need to come up with something cooler than PeePee. Sounds like something my niece does.) is that you don’t need to be too concerned or looking for signs.

    From what I can tell Partial Preterists can just live life sharing their faith and being salt and light in the world. Christ will come when it is His time.

    If you are looking for signs there is little chance that you will misidentify something as a sign when it isn’t. You can’t be wrong if it already happened.

  9. Is anyone willing to interpret Matt 10:23 and tell me which side of the argument it supports, preterist or a future one world government?

  10. I guess can is capable of handling the end of the world. He will do, what He will do, and when He wants to do it.

    I’ve got enough stuff to think about.

  11. BlueCat57,

    I don’t think that your eschatological view and how are you live your life sharing your faith and being salt are that tied to each other. As a dispensationalist my goal is to share my life and being salt as well. Do I look for signs of the Lord’s soon return? In general terms I do but most dispensational believers and friends that I know also agree that the Lord will return for His church in His time. By not looking for the Lord’s return a major motivation for holy living is lost. 1 John 3 and Peter both bear this out. It is possible to be looking and living.

    Don

  12. One minor correction on the Pretersit view – we don’t say Jesus’ reign is in the past but rather that it is happening now. His reign is concurrent with the church age.

  13. Here’s the plan. We take all these words, put them on pieces of paper without definitions and then we take turns pulling out two and that’s what we are.

    The problem here is that each word is defined differently by the person who uses it and the person who reads it.

    Since I have read many of Fr. Robert’s posts I know that what he means by “dispensational” is different than what I understand it as.

    Alaskazimm is clarifying HIS (I’m just guessing male) definition of Preterist since there are probably Preterists that say Jesus’ reign IS in the past.

    Don Fisher interpreted what I said as that I was not looking FORWARD to Christ’s return yet I am. What I meant by that comment was that SOME dispensationalists are so focused on the future that they ignore the present.

    In fact, I’ve heard criticism of Dispensationalists that they are anti-Isreal (or at least not PRO-Isreal) yet the Dispensationalist church I grew up in was very pro-Israel and as I recently discovered supported one of the first Jews for Jesus campus ministers. Not only that, the very dispensational Biola U/Talbot Seminary just opened a Jewish outread center in New York City. How’s that for dispensationalists be anti-Jew?

    Vance Marquis – A future “one world government”? I guess you’ve never heard of the Illuminati. (that’s supposed to be a joke but this blog doesn’t have smilies)

    I just started reading the January “Table Talk” from Ligionier Ministries (RC Sproul). It is on the Apocalypse of John. (Did you just pick it up too CMP?) It has a couple of introductory articles that cover similar items to this post.

    The one approach Table Talk added is my favorite: the Eclectic. Which I define as “youse pick yer horses and places yer bets.”

    While at Biola back is the dark ages I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Charles Fineberg (the impetus behind the Biola’s views on Jews). I believe it was he (or was it Dr. Sutherland) that said, “I’m pretrib until it starts, mid-trib until we pass that point, and then post-trib from then on.” (That’s a paraphrase.)

    Point being: We’ll know it when it happens.

  14. @BlueCat: Indeed the PD, or the Progressive Dispensationalism is a radical shift away from classic Dispensational lines, into really a form of and with Covenantal ideas and theology. As I have told people, I am in many ways close to some of theological ideas of Irenaeus of Lyons, who was simply Pre-Mill, but Historically so. And the real issue is not so much the millennium, but the reality of the redemption on this literal Creation, as Irenaeus God is the architect of time and Economy.

  15. Eschatology…. I NEVER go there. I just nod while others express their views.

  16. Seems to me the only sensible way forward is to follow Harold Camping. Everything else is too complicated. At least that way when he gets it wrong again we can blame him, tut, move on and wait for his next re-evaluation. We wouldn’t have to study scripture and use our minds.

  17. Another thing that christians disagree upon. Is God a God of confusion? It certainly appears so. Christians can’t agree on the trinity, end times, eternal security, whether Adam and Eve were real, Noah Ark did it really happen. Taking snakes and donkeys. Really when are you going to start reading the Bible from an unbelievers point of view and see this does not make sense. Critical thinking is one of the most important things humans have.

  18. Well Mary, so your critical thinking tells you that everyone should agree on everything and that will make it all right. My how critically thought out of you. (sorry, sarcasm is my style)

    Christians do NOT disagree about the answer to your question: “Is God a God of confusion?” They probably discuss it, but their consistent answer is NO!

    It sounds like your critical thinking tells you that if you are to believe in salvation through Christ that all Christians have to agree on everything before you do. (How do you like that critical thinking trick of setting up a straw man argument?)

    Well I’m not going to become an atheist, beilieve in global warming, communism or anything else until everyone agrees on everything. Not even Muslims agree on everything.

    If you’ve read this far, then Mary, find someone to talk to about your questions. If you can get past the sarcasm, I’m happy to correspond with you.

    The Parchment & Pen blog will provide many answers for you, but it is a place to discuss issues.

    One important thing that will help you in your seach for answers is to understand that agreement doesn’t make something right. As I’m sure someone has said to you at least once in your life, “If everyone agreed to jump off a cliff, would you do it?” (or something like that. It would make an interesting study to see how that comes out in different cultures. But as usual I disgress.)

    If you are seeking answers, then pick someone to ask. Credo House is certainly a good place to start.

    PS – Contrary to the implication of your final statement, everyone here uses critical thinking to work out their positions. Disagreement does not imply non-critical thinking.

  19. If agreement implies critical thinking then few atheists or scientists use critical thinking since they do not always agree.

  20. Fr. Stephen Lourie February 1, 2012 at 9:13 am

    The statement that you made, quoted below is not historically true.

    Eschatology refers to the “doctrine of the end times.” To be sure, there is no one “Christian” eschatology. In fact, there is not even one “Evangelical” eschatology. The history of the church has seen and allowed for much diversity concerning these issues due, in my opinion, to the relative obscurity of the Scripture on the subject. The central issue that is agreed upon by all orthodox Christians over the last 2000 years is that in the last days, Christ will come, there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a judgment to follow. Please keep that in mind.

    http://christianityinhistory.blogspot.com/2007/10/eschatology-of-early-church.html

  21. Blue cat
    You compare human knowledge (scientist) with the bible that was supposed to have been written by men led by the holy spirit. You would think that if the holy spirit led the men to write the book and the holy spirit leads those who believe in Jesus and have accepted him as lord and saviour would interpret the bible the same way.

  22. It seems to me that there is a bit of an error in the post (probably indicative of Michael’s pre-mil and dispensational outlook).

    The Tribulation cannot be categorized as an event across all systems. It is only an event for some. There is tribulation generally, but THE Tribulation as event is particular only to certain systems

  23. It is interesting that there were several Ante-Nicene Chiristian Chiliasts, of course Irenaeus and his disciple Hippolyus, and Papias, Justin, Tertullian, several others, and I will mention Lactantius also. But it is very interesting too that Irenaeus wrote about the Antichrist, see his: Against Heresies (as too Hippolytus: Treatise on Christ and Antichrist). So the idea and biblical-theological point was early.

  24. We should note too, that Irenaeus sees opposition to his millennial views coming from both orthodox and heretical circles. So there were even then those for and against, but of course Irenaeus saw those real Christians or orthodox, that were against as influenced by the heretical people like the Valentinians. Just a point here.

  25. Mary, (I wish we could reply directly. Hint, hint.)
    I’ll try not to be sarcastic, condescending or insulting; but I’m sure that someone will find all those in what follows.
    1. You show a complete lack of understanding of the how Christians view the Bible. Yours appears to be the popular view propagated by the press.
    2. You don’t get to use logical fallacies to make your point. At best you can state terms and how you define them, but we too get to state terms and define them in our own way. Then if the definitions don’t match we can discuss the terms until we agree on definitions and then move on.
    3. You seem to hold human knowledge and science in high regard. Am I correct that you are a naturist (I’m giving it another try Fr. Robert, I didn’t say I wouldn’t try to be funny.) and humanist? Most here believe in the supernatural.
    4. You probably hold the popular misconception of what is meant by the word literal when applied to the Bible. That to would be a lengthy discussion.
    Bottom line, while our discussion would be valuable this is not the place for it. Again if you are truly seeking knowledge of the Bible then find someone to act as your guide. Depending on your level of interest and knowledge check out Bible Boot Camp and the other programs Credo House has to offer under the What We Do tab above.

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