Systems of Eschatological Interpretation

 

There is a full cafeteria menu of systems used to interpret what the Bible teaches about the end-times.  Part of the reason for this is the events are not all addressed in a single place in a systematic manner.  God has revealed what is to come in bits and pieces scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments.  The generally recognized systems include:

 

Premillennialism: This system teaches that there will be a future literal earthly kingdom that will begin after Christ returns.  Subsets of this include:

 

Dispensational Premillennialism: This system was introduced early in the 19th century and made popular through the Scofield Reference Bible published in 1909.  This is the majority view in western evangelical churches today.  Key elements in this system include:

  • The present church age is a kind of parenthesis that had not been revealed through the prophets.

  • Christ will return and secretly rapture the church prior to the Great Tribulation described in the Revelation.

  • After the Tribulation Christ will bind Satan and establish His millennial kingdom and fulfill all His promises to the Jews.

  • Satan will be released at the end of the millennium.

  • The second resurrection and final judgment will take place and a new eternal order will be established.

 

Historic Premillennialism: This system is what the church has historically held, which does not include a pre-Tribulation rapture.  This system includes:

  • The Church age is the initial phase of Christ’s kingdom.

  • Ultimately, the world become increasingly worse and the Church’s influence will wane.

  • The Church will pass through a period of unparalleled tribulation, called the Great Tribulation.

  • Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation and resurrect the deceased saints and rapture the Church, and bind Satan.

  • Christ will descend, fight the battle of Armageddon, and establish His personal reign for 1000 years.

  • At the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ Satan will be released and lead a massive rebellion.

  • God will intervene, and then the judgment of the wicked will take place, and a new eternal order will be established.

 

Systems of Eschatological Interpretation

 

There is a full cafeteria menu of systems used to interpret what the Bible teaches about the end-times.  Part of the reason for this is the events are not all addressed in a single place in a systematic manner.  God has revealed what is to come in bits and pieces scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments.  The generally recognized systems include:

 

Premillennialism: This system teaches that there will be a future literal earthly kingdom that will begin after Christ returns.  Subsets of this include:

 

Dispensational Premillennialism: This system was introduced early in the 19th century and made popular through the Scofield Reference Bible published in 1909.  This is the majority view in western evangelical churches today.  Key elements in this system include:

  • The present church age is a kind of parenthesis that had not been revealed through the prophets.

  • Christ will return and secretly rapture the church prior to the Great Tribulation described in the Revelation.

  • After the Tribulation Christ will bind Satan and establish His millennial kingdom and fulfill all His promises to the Jews.

  • Satan will be released at the end of the millennium.

  • The second resurrection and final judgment will take place and a new eternal order will be established.

 

Historic Premillennialism: This system is what the church has historically held, which does not include a pre-Tribulation rapture.  This system includes:

  • The Church age is the initial phase of Christ’s kingdom.

  • Ultimately, the world become increasingly worse and the Church’s influence will wane.

  • The Church will pass through a period of unparalleled tribulation, called the Great Tribulation.

  • Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation and resurrect the deceased saints and rapture the Church, and bind Satan.

  • Christ will descend, fight the battle of Armageddon, and establish His personal reign for 1000 years.

  • At the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ Satan will be released and lead a massive rebellion.

  • God will intervene, and then the judgment of the wicked will take place, and a new eternal order will be established.

 

Preterism: This system understands all of the book of Revelation to reference events that took place during the first century.  Some forms of Preterism could reasonably be found in any of the three millennial views.

 

  • Partial Preterism: This system sees some of the material referenced in the Revelation to have been completed during the first century, but some aspects of the book remain to the fulfilled, such as the rapture of the Church.  This system can also be placed as a subset of the Postmillennial view depending on the specific details emphasized.

 

Amillennialism: This system teaches that there will be no literal millennial kingdom, rather this is a spiritual reign of Christ.  This view tends to be most commonly held by those subscribing to Reformed theology, although that is certainly not a universally true statement.

 

Postmillennnialism: This system teaches that Christ will return only after the conclusion of the millennial kingdom.  It teaches that Christ’s kingdom was established during His first coming in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.  This kingdom is essentially spiritual in nature, and over time will transform human culture.  Following this will be an extended period of spiritual prosperity which may last 1000 years, and then Christ will physically return, execute general judgment, and usher in the new eternal order.  Subsets of this system include:

 

  • Pietistic Postmillennialists: This system denies that the transformation of society will take place.

 

  • Theodoric Postmillennialists: This system teaches that the Church will ultimately bring about the transformation of human culture through the application of biblical law.

 

 

Our study of the Revelation will ignore all of these systems, and simply seek to read what the text says.  It is likely that we will find ourselves agreeing with some aspects of each system, but not agreeing with all of any system.

 

Preterism: This system understands all of the book of Revelation to reference events that took place during the first century.  Some forms of Preterism could reasonably be found in any of the three millennial views.

 

  • Partial Preterism: This system sees some of the material referenced in the Revelation to have been completed during the first century, but some aspects of the book remain to the fulfilled, such as the rapture of the Church.  This system can also be placed as a subset of the Postmillennial view depending on the specific details emphasized.

 

Amillennialism: This system teaches that there will be no literal millennial kingdom, rather this is a spiritual reign of Christ.  This view tends to be most commonly held by those subscribing to Reformed theology, although that is certainly not a universally true statement.

 

Postmillennnialism: This system teaches that Christ will return only after the conclusion of the millennial kingdom.  It teaches that Christ’s kingdom was established during His first coming in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.  This kingdom is essentially spiritual in nature, and over time will transform human culture.  Following this will be an extended period of spiritual prosperity which may last 1000 years, and then Christ will physically return, execute general judgment, and usher in the new eternal order.  Subsets of this system include:

 

  • Pietistic Premillennialists: This system denies that the transformation of society will take place.

 

  • Theodoric Postmillennialists: This system teaches that the Church will ultimately bring about the transformation of human culture through the application of biblical law.

 

Our study of the Revelation will ignore all of these systems, and simply seek to read what the text says.  It is likely that we will find ourselves agreeing with some aspects of each system, but not agreeing with all of any system.

 

Source: R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1998), 193-202.