The End Times

By Jerry Wierwille

What we have presented so far throughout this class focused on historical events such as the covenants God made and their significance. In this session, we will look at the future and see what things are yet to come from a New Covenant Theology perspective.

“Eschatology” — from Greek eschatos meaning “last” and logos meaning “the study of,” and hence it means “the study of last things.”

Eschatology is a subject that includes such topics as the Great Tribulation, the Anti-Christ, the Second Coming of Christ, the Millennium, the, resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and new creation.

Eschatology entails the interpretation of various parts of the Bible that deal with End Times events or descriptions. Such parts of the Bible include the book of Revelation, the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, sayings of Jesus in the Gospels concerning the future, Second Coming, and the establishment of his kingdom, and certain places in Paul’s letters as well that speak of the return of Christ and the future. There are various views concerning the order of events leading up to and following the return of Christ and what these events signify.

According to Scripture, we are in the last days since the first coming of Christ, his death, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2).

Eschatology has been a subject of intense debate throughout the history of the church. And at one point or another, each of the views I will describe to you has seen prominence and was held and promoted by a large number of churches and Christians.

Approaches to Eschatology

  • Realized eschatology (prophecy fulfilled)
  • Futurist eschatology (prophecy unfulfilled)
  • Inaugurated eschatology (partial-fulfillment awaiting consummation)

The Millennium

The Latin word mille means “a thousand,” and so the Millennium is “a thousand years.” The NT Greek term chiliarch translated 1,000 is used six times in Revelation 20:2-7. In theology, the Millennium refers to a 1,000-year reign of Christ as King. Some eschatological positions take this reference literally, while others view it
more symbolically.

Three Views on the Millennium

  1. Premillennial
  2. Amillennial
  3. Postmillennial

Premillennial

Premillennialism is the view that Christ’s Second Coming will occur before a literal thousand-year reign of Christ from Jerusalem upon the earth. In the early church, premillennialism was called “chiliasm” (from the Greek word meaning 1,000—a word used six times in Revelation 20:2-7).

Amillennial

Amillennialism is the view that argues the kingdom of God was inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection when he won victory of Satan and death, and that the "1,000 years" of Revelation 20:1-6 is a metaphorical reference to the present church age which will culminate in Christ's return. There is no literal 1,000 year reign of Christ physically upon the earth. This present age from the resurrection onward is the millennium, and it will end with Christ’s Second Coming, the resurrection of all believers, the resurrection of the unjust, the final judgment of all humanity, the destruction of the wicked, the new heaven and new earth, and the establishment of the final kingdom of God and blessed eternal state.

Postmillennial

Postmillennialism is the view that the millennium is not an era (a thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth in the future) but rather a current process that is happening now and in the future. Postmillennialism “expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind.”[1]

The emphasis of postmillennialists is on “the present aspects of God's kingdom, which will reach fruition in the future. They believe that the millennium will come through Christian preaching and teaching. Such activity will result in a more godly, peaceful, and prosperous world. The new age will not be essentially different from the present, and it will come about as more people are converted to Christ. Evil will not be totally eliminated during the millennium, but it will be reduced to a minimum as the moral and spiritual influence of Christians
is increased.”[2]

Two Forms of Premillennialism

Dispensational Premillennialism

Dispensationalism advocates for a pretribulation (sometimes mid-tribulation/pre-wrath) return of Christ as part of a two-stage Second Coming. There is a secret coming of Christ to rapture the church away into heaven followed by a 7-year period of tribulation and the rise of the Anti-Christ. Then after the final witness has gone out before humankind and angels, Christ will return visibly to the earth, defeat the Anti-Christ and deliver all those who converted during the tribulation (including the 144,000 Jews who are predicted to convert during the tribulation) and setup his 1,000 year reign from Jerusalem. The temple will be rebuilt and animal sacrifices for sin will once again be offered on the altar.

Historic Premillennialism

Historic premillennialism is so called because it is the classic form of premillennialism which may be found in writings of some of the early church fathers. Historic premillennialism advocates for a post-tribulation rapture where Christ descends from heaven to the earth and setups his millennial reign following the defeat of the antichrist and the Battle of Armageddon.

Eschatological Considerations

  1. Who are the people of God?
    1. The relationship between Israel and the Church
  2. What about Old Testament prophecies?
    1. Restoration of Israel from exile
    2. Temple, Levitical priesthood, and offering sacrifices on the altar
    3. Dwelling in the Promised Land

New Covenant Theology (NCT) doesn’t have a singular eschatological perspective. Individuals who interpret Scripture along a NCT understanding can hold to premillennialism, amillennialism, or postmillennialism. But on account of the NCT distinctives about the one people of God, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people (Israel & the church collectively), NCT is incompatible with Dispensational Premillennialism.

Relationship between Israel and the Church

“The NT presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel and all the OT covenant mediators, for he ushers in the promises to Israel (restoration and return from exile, the land, etc.), embodies their identity, and completes Israel’s role, calling, and vocation. All the institutions (the sacrificial system, tabernacle, temple, Sabbath, feasts, the law), identity markers (e.g., circumcision), offices (prophet, priest, king), and key events (e.g., the exodus) of Israel find their culmination in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.”[3]

Jesus as the “true Israel” typologically fulfills all the promises and anticipated blessings that the nation of Israel looked forward to.

The church is new in a redemptive-historical sense because it is made up of Jew and Gentile believers united with Christ through faith, spirit-empowered, new covenant community, new creation, and new humanity. Therefore, the church is different from Israel in that it is a multi-national, multi-ethnic, believer-only, covenant-keeping, spirit-infused, heart-circumcised, sin forgiven, faith-filled community.

The church doesn’t replace Israel, but as the restored, new covenant community that Israel looked forward to through God’s promises, the church, through Christ, inherits the promises made to Israel.

“The relationship between the church and Israel… is neither one of direct succession nor radical disjunction, but one of mediated continuity. One may describe the church as the ‘true Israel,’ but it’s continuity with the rejected Israel is found in the representative figure of Jesus, who bridges salvation-history even while fulfilling it.”[4]

Dwelling in the Promised Land[5]

  1. Dispensationalists believe that the land promise to Israel still awaits its fulfillment in the millennial or consummated age because God promised it unconditionally to Israel in the Abrahamic covenant. And since God cannot go back on his promise and since the promise has not yet been fully realized in Christ as the Davidic king who must rule the land over Israel and the nations, it still awaits its fulfillment in the future.”
  2. Unless the New Testament explicitly or implicitly overturns Old Testament teaching, then it is still in force, even if the New Testament does not repeat the promise.
  3. The land promise must not be viewed as a typological pattern of something greater. It cannot be viewed as a divinely given pattern/type that God intends to be fulfilled in a greater way that simply one location.

Historic Premillennialism[6]

  • Tribulation: a period of intensified affliction at the end of the age which the church will experience (may or may not be seven years long)
  • Second coming / Parousia: after the seven-year tribulation period, Christ returns physically to defeat the antichrist, fight the battle of Armageddon, and inaugurate his earthly millennial reign
  • Resurrection of the righteous: includes believers from all periods of history
  • Binding of Satan: occurs at the beginning of the millennium and makes possible the general prosperity and peace characteristic of this period
  • Millennium: a thousand-year period of peace and prosperity during which God fulfills his promises; Christ is physically present on the earth ruling from Jerusalem
  • Satan’s rebellion: after the millennium, Satan is released for a brief time to incite a rebellion against Christ
  • General resurrection: after Satan’s unsuccessful rebellion, all the unbelieving dead will be raised to
    face judgment
  • Final judgment: Christ will judge those who have rejected him and consign them to everlasting punishment
  • Eternal state: the new heavens and new earth for the righteous with the eternal kingdom fully consummated and established

Dispensational Premillennialism

  • Secret coming / Rapture: an event at the end of the church age in which Jesus returns secretly to resurrect believers in the church age and to take the true church up to heaven to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive rewards
  • Tribulation: a seven-year period of intensified affliction following the secret rapture of the church and the appearance of antichrist
  • Second coming / Parousia: after the seven-year tribulation period, Christ returns physically to defeat the antichrist, fight the battle of Armageddon, and inaugurate his earthly millennial reign
  • Millennium: a thousand-year period of peace and prosperity during which God fulfills his Old Testament promises to Israel; Christ is physically present on the earth ruling from David’s throne in Jerusalem with a rebuilt temple, Levitical priesthood, and the sacrificial system reinstituted
  • Binding of Satan: occurs at the beginning of the millennium and makes possible the general prosperity and peace characteristic of this period
  • Satan’s rebellion: after the millennium, Satan is released for a brief time to incite a rebellion against Christ
  • General resurrection: after Satan’s unsuccessful rebellion, all the unbelieving dead will be raised to
    face judgment
  • Final judgment: Christ will judge those who have rejected him and consign them to everlasting punishment
  • Eternal state: the new heavens and new earth for the righteous with the eternal kingdom fully consummated and established

Amillennialism

  • Binding of Satan: occurred in some sense during Christ’s first coming and his death, resurrection,
    and ascension
  • Millennium: a symbolic representation in Revelation 20 of the present church age, characterized by a mixture of good and evil as well as the present reign of believers with Christ
  • Tribulation: a period of intensified persecution of the church at the end of the present age; antichrist appears during this period and turns many away from the faith and against Christ
  • Satan’s rebellion: at the end of this present age, Satan is released for a brief time to incite a rebellion against Christ
  • Second coming / Parousia: Christ returns physically to judge antichrist, defeat Satan and his forces, raise the dead, judge the wicked, and inaugurate the new heavens and the new earth for the righteous
  • General resurrection: The just and the unjust dead are all raised
  • Judgment: Christ judges those who have rejected him and consigns them to everlasting punishment
  • Final state: The righteous meet Christ in the air and descend to earth to enter with him into the new heavens and new earth with the eternal kingdom fully consummated and established

Postmillennialism

  • Binding of Satan: Occurs before the beginning of the millennial period, though not necessarily at Christ’s first coming
  • Tribulation: a period of intensified persecution of the church, occurs before the millennium and may feature the presence of antichrist
  • Millennium: A long period of prosperity on this earth at the end of the church age, resulting from the worldwide embrace of the gospel and the positive effect of the Christian faith upon the world
  • Satan’s rebellion: at the end of the millennium, Satan is released for a brief time to incite a rebellion
    against Christ
  • Second coming / Parousia: Christ returns physically to defeat Satan and his forces, raise the dead, judge the wicked, and inaugurate the new heavens and the new earth for the righteous
  • General resurrection: The just and the unjust dead are all raised
  • Judgment: Christ judges those who have rejected him and consigns them to everlasting punishment
  • Final state: The righteous meet Christ in the air and descend to earth to enter with him into the new heavens and new earth with the eternal kingdom fully consummated and established
[1] Robert Strimple, “Postmillennialism” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 13-14.

[2] Elwell, Walter A. (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (2nd Ed.), s.v. “Millennium,” 771.

[3] Brent E. Parker, “The Israel-Christ-Church Relationship” in Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenant Theologies (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 44.

[4] William L. Kynes, A Christological Solidarity: Jesus as the Representative of His People in Matthew (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991), 202.

[5] From Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (2nd ed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 825.

[6] The following summaries are adapted from “Now, the Future: An Introduction to Eschatology” course notes at Bethlehem College & Seminary, Minneapolis, MN.

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