Christian eschatological views
Christian eschatology is the branch of theological study relating to last things, such as concerning death, the end of the world, the judgement of humanity, and the ultimate destiny of humanity. Eschatological passages are found in many places in the Christian Bible, with many being found in the Old Testament prophets, especially in Isaiah and Daniel. Many are also found in the New Testament books, such as Matthew 24, Matthew 25, the General epistles, the Pauline epistles, and the Book of Revelation. This article is currently a general overview of the different Christian eschatological interpretations of the Book of Revelation. The differences are by no means monolithic as representing one group or another. Many differences exist within each group.
- 1 Interpretations of the Book of Revelation
- 2 Interpretive and hermeneutical overviews of the Bible
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
Interpretations of the Book of Revelation
Judgments Chapters 1 - 19: Four views
- Preterism: Many prophecies have already occurred in the past; This view denotes a 1st-century fulfillment concerning the literary text; real events have already transpired. Some events may be symbolic of other fulfillments, thus taking a symbolic interpretation of the text.
- Partial preterism: Most prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in the 1st century. The "thousand years" generally spans from the 1st century up to the second coming and last judgment, thus often applying an allegorical interpretation.
- Full preterism: All prophecies of Revelation have been fulfilled in the 1st century, including the second coming and the last judgment, with many Full preterists already applying an "Eternal State" to this present time.
- Futurism: Many prophecies will be fulfilled in the future, and in some cases might have an imminent fulfillment concerning the literal text; They believe in real physical events; Biblical literalism is emphasized.
- Historicism: Interprets the text as currently being fulfilled during the span of Christian history. Text is sometimes taken as symbolic of real events, rather than being literally true.
- Idealism: Present continual fulfillment of symbolical or literary text; spiritual events; Allegorical interpretation is emphasized.
Millennium Chapter 20: Three views
- Premillennialism: Christ's Second coming before a literal one thousand-year period, known by some as a thousand-year sabbath, is preceded by a gradual deterioration of human society and behavior, and the expansion of evil through an endtime government or kingdom. This school of thought can be divided into three main interpretations: Dispensational, Mid-tribulation/Prewrath and Historic Premillennialism or Post-Tribulation viewpoint.
- Pre-tribulation Premillennialism or Dispensationalist View: The rapture of the church occurs just prior to the seven-year tribulation, where Christ returns for his saints to meet them in the air. This is followed by the tribulation, the rise of the Antichrist to world-rule, the return of Christ to the Mount of Olives, and Armageddon, resulting in a literal 1000-year millennial reign of the Messiah, centered in restored Jerusalem.
- Prewrath/Mid-tribulation View: The rapture of the church occurs in the midst of the seven-year period. Mid-tribulation view holds that the rapture occurs halfway through; Prewrath holds that the rapture occurs some time in the midst of the tribulation in the latter 3.5 years, but before God's wrath is poured out upon the nations.
- Historic Premillennialism or Post-Tribulation View: The rapture of the church (the body of true believers) happens after a period of great tribulation, with the church being caught up to meet Christ in the air and will accompany him to earth to share in his (literal or figurative) thousand year rule.
- Postmillennialism: Christ's Second coming is seen as occurring after the one-thousand years, which many in this school of thought believe is ushered in by the church. This view is also divided into two sub-schools of interpretation:
- Revivalist Postmillennialism: the millennium represents an unknown period of time marked by a gradual Christian revival, followed by widespread successful evangelism. After these efforts is the return of Christ foreseen.
- Reconstructionist Postmillennialism: the Church increases its influence through successful evangelism and expansion, finally establishing a theocratic kingdom of 1,000 years duration (literal or figurative) followed by the return of Christ.
- Amillennialism: Non-literal "thousand years" or long age between Christ's first and second comings; the millennial reign of Christ as pictured in the book of Revelation is viewed as Christ reigning at the right hand of the Father. Therefore, another name for it is "realized millennialism", because it emphasizes an inaugurated future in the first coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit in the Pentecost. It is the view held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches as well as by a number of the older Protestant denominations, such as the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans.
It can be hard to draw a fine line between Amillenialism and Revivalist Postmillenialism, as they agree on much and are both reluctant to make concrete predictions about the future based on Scriptural prophecy. Broadly, though, Amillenialism tends to believe society will, through growing rebellion, continue to deteriorate, while Postmillenialism believes the influence of the Church on the world will increase, producing greater righteousness.
Interpretive and hermeneutical overviews of the Bible
The hermeneutic method held by an individual or church will greatly affect their interpretation of the book of Revelation, and consequently their eschatological scheme.
Supersessionism is the belief that the New Covenant in Christ supersedes, or replaces, the Old Covenant with Israel. In Protestantism it comes in at least two forms: Reformed covenant theology and kingdom theology. It was the predominant teaching of these churches until the rise of dispensationalism in the 19th century.
Hermeneutics: Usually Grammatical-Historical typologised and contextualised. There are three covenants - the Covenant of Works or Law, the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace. This shares much in common with Kingdom theology (see below) but emphasizes the covenants more than the Kingdom of God itself.
Overview: Under the Covenant of Works humanity, represented ultimately in a covenantal sense under Adam beginning from the Garden of Eden, failed to live as God intended and stood condemned. But beyond time the Covenant of Redemption was made between the Father and Son, to agree that Christ would live an acceptable substitutionary life on behalf of, and as a covenantal representative for, those who would sin but would trust in Christ as their covenantal substitutionary representative, which bought them into the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace applies to all who trust Christ for their salvation, regardless of ethnicity, and thus the Covenant covers Jews and Gentiles alike with regard to salvation, sanctification, and resurrection. The Covenant of Grace forms the basis of the later covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant in Christ.
Adherents: Held by many evangelical Reformed Protestant Churches who take a Historical-grammatical and Typological interpretation of the Bible. Adherents would include the Reformed church, most of the Presbyterian church, some low church Anglicans, some Baptist churches, some Wesleyan/Methodist churches and certain Lutheran churches.
Approaches to Revelation:
Judgements: Revelation Ch 1 - 19
- Idealism: the book of Revelation was not designed as a historical document or future prophecy, but instead teaches timeless truths about good and evil, God and Satan, etc., by way of metaphor, allegory, and/or story.
- Futurism: Historic or covenantal futurism, as opposed to Dispensational Futurism or Dispensational premillennialism: the book of Revelation is limited to a specific future period—the tribulation.
- Historicism (See the eschatology of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Joseph Mede, Isaac Newton, John Gill, Matthew Henry, E. B. Elliott, Henry Grattan Guinness, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon; for contemporary cases see especially Ian Paisley and Seventh-day Adventist eschatology): the book of Revelation portrays the span of church history, from the 1st century to the return of Christ: events in Revelation are symbolically interpreted to portray literal events in the life of the Church.
- Preterism: the book of Revelation was prophecy at the time, but all or most of it has already been fulfilled in the very early days of the Church; esp. Centering on the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish nation in AD 70. Differences:
- Full Preterism: All of Christian prophecy was fulfilled in the 1st century, including the return of Christ and the resurrection of believers. The resurrection is interpreted to mean receiving a spiritual body after death, with no promise of a physical resurrection for any besides Christ.
- Partial Preterism: Most of prophecy was fulfilled in the 1st century, except Christ's return then was as a judge of Israel, but not his final literal coming. He is still to return and literally raise the believing dead.
Millennium: Revelation Ch 20
- Postmillennialism (both reconstructionist and revivalist forms)
- Historic Premillennialism, cf. George Eldon Ladd
Hermeneutics: Similar to the covenantal system, but emphasizes the Kingdom of God rather than the three covenants. Exemplified in works such as Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel and Kingdom. The Old Testament is interpreted using typology and the grammatico-historical method. Revelation is read according to the conventions of the apocalyptic genre.
Overview: God's purpose for all time was to redeem for himself a people through the death and resurrection of Christ. The incarnation of Christ is the centrepoint of the Bible and all history. The Old Testament is understood to contain a number of covenants and 'types' which are fulfilled in the past and future work of Jesus.
Goldsworthy schematizes the Kingdom of God as the expression of God's rule over God's people in God's place. In the beginning, God himself ruled over Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After the fall, the rule of God was expressed through the Law, the Judges, the King of Israel and finally the promise that God would write his law on his people's hearts (Jer 31:33). "God's place" came to be the Tabernacle in the wilderness, later the Temple in Jerusalem, and finally the promise of the indwelling Spirit of God (Joel 2, Ezek 37). His "people" were Abraham, the people of Israel, then the faithful remnant of Israel, and finally the promised Messiah (Ps 2).
In the New Testament, God's rule is exercised through Jesus Christ the King, who is also the "temple" of God (John 2:19-21), over his people the Church (of which Israel was a type). Salvation for all people in all times is found by trusting (explicitly or implicitly) in Jesus. Thus, Abraham, Moses, David, and all Christians today are saved by the same faith. The Jews are regarded as special in God's plan (as in Romans and Ephesians) and yet the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel find their fulfillment in Jesus and the Church rather than in a literal restoration of Israel.
Approaches to Revelation: Usually idealist and amillennial. Revelation describes what is happening throughout the Christian era, from Pentecost to the second coming. This view acknowledges that there may be valid preteristic connections (e.g. the seven hills = Rome) but the full understanding comes through an idealistic-historicism (but without necessarily seeing the Roman Catholic Church as the antichrist). The events of the book while not to be tied to particular historical events, still describe the sorts of things that will happen until Christ returns. The book of Revelation is interpreted according to apocalyptic conventions regarding numbers and colours (7 = perfection/completion, white = victory) and the enormous number of allusions to the rest of Scripture.
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Overview: History is divided into (typically seven) "dispensations" where God tests man's obedience differently. The present Church dispensation concerns Christians (mainly Gentiles) and is a parenthesis to God's main plan of dealing with and blessing his chosen people the Jews. Because of the Jews' rejection of Jesus, Jewish sovereignty over the promised earthly kingdom of Jerusalem and Palestine was postponed from the time of Christ's first coming until prior to or just after his Second Coming when most or all Jews will embrace him. There will be a rapture of the Gentile church followed by a great tribulation of seven (or three-and-a-half) years' duration during which Antichrist will arise and Armageddon will occur. Then Jesus will return visibly to earth and re-establish the nation of Israel; the Jewish temple will be rebuilt at Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Christ and the people of Israel will reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years, followed by the last judgment and a new heavens and new earth.
Adherents: Held by groups who believe the scriptures to be inerrant and often more Arminian leaning. Held by many Protestant groups who take what they believe is a more literal interpretation of the Bible, including many, but not most, Pentecostal Charismatic and Baptist churches and Independent and 'Non-denominational' churches as well as a few of the Presbyterian Church and Wesleyan/Methodist churches. Also held by most groups that are labelled Fundamentalists. The more politically active sections within this eschatological view often strongly support the Christian Zionism movement and the associated political, military and economic support for Israel which comes from certain groups within American politics and parts of the Christian right. This view is also held in a modified form by groups such as the Latter Day Saints, Christadelphians and Adventist splinter groups such as the Branch Davidians. One of the main tenets of Dispensationalism is the strict dichotomy that dispensationalists claim exists between Israel and the New Testament Church. This is expressly denied by Covenant Theologians who claim the existence of a relationship via “Spiritual Israel.” A dispensationalist would claim that none of the prophecies pertaining to Israel are or will be fulfilled in or by the New Testament Church. Covenant Theologians would claim that some of the prophecies pertaining to Israel are, will, or may be fulfilled in or by the New Testament Church. see supersessionism.
Approaches to Revelation:
Judgements: Revelation Ch 1 - 19
- Dispensational Futurism as opposed to Historic or Covenantal Futurism.
Millennium: Revelation Ch 20
- Dispensational Premillennialism (See various views on tribulationism - pre-, mid- or post-) as opposed to Historic or Covenantal Premillennialism.
Allegorical or Mythical
Hermeneutics: The Bible may or may not be factually accurate but is designed to teach spiritual lessons through allegory and myth. The Bible is more literary than historical. Typically, this stance is taken by churches and individuals who do not place significant emphasis upon eschatology at all.
Adherents: Held by some Christian groups ranging from those who are Biblically inerrant to those who do not believe in Biblical inerrancy, including liberal scholars who mostly belong to mainline Protestant denominations. Supporters of this position also include high church Anglo-Catholic, Catholic-leaning Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox churches, and traditional Roman Catholic groups. Belief in the allegorical interpretation of the Bible does not exclude belief in praxeological or literal hermeneutics: for example, Roman Catholic hermeneutics holds that there are many senses in which the Bible is true in addition to literal truth.
The Catholic Apostolic Church believed that the Bible should be interpreted allegorically. Some descendants of the Catholic Apostolic Church also known as Irvingism, such as Apostelamt Jesu Christi, Apostelamt Juda, Restored Apostolic Mission Church  and the Old Apostolic Church  also believes in the allegorical interpretation of the Bible.
Approaches to Revelation:
Judgements: Revelation Ch 1 - 19
Millennium: Revelation Ch 20
- Allegorical Amillennialism
- Graeme Goldsworthy. Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Guide of the Old Testament. Paternoster Press, Exeter, 1981. ISBN 0-85364-218-4.
- Goldsworthy, G. "The Gospel in Revelation - Gospel and Apocalypse" Archived 2006-10-13 at the Wayback Machine., Paternoster Press, 1994, ISBN 0-85364-630-9.
- Tattersall, L. "Letters from heaven - Bible talks from the book of Revelation" Archived 2006-08-19 at the Wayback Machine., Perspective Vol. 10 No. 3&4, 2003.
- Flegg.C.G, Gathered under Apostles. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 1992 :p 207 : ISBN 978-0-19-826335-7
- Berkhof, A. De steen scheeuwt uit de muur. Uitgeverij de Kandelaar. 1994. :ISBN 90-807259-1-9
- Cathechism of the Old Apostolic Church
- Pienaar, K. Die openbaring van die dwaalleer van die Ou Apostelkerk. Volhard Verspreiders BK. 2002. :ISBN 0-620-27993-1