Christian belief systems
Competing theories of eschatology,
Eschatology is a Christian term that means the study of the end of history
from a religious perspective.
Probably more obscure theological text has been written on this topic than on any other
belief in Christendom.
The Bible contains many prophecies about the future. The Christian Scriptures
(New Testament) in particular talks extensively about the return of Jesus Christ to this
earth. 1 This is usually called his "second coming," or "parousia." The Gospel
of Matthew, Chapter 24, is devoted to this topic, as is much of the book of Revelation,
and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. A literal interpretation of the Bible shows that four important events are predicted:
|The Millennium: Revelation describes an important interval lasting for
1000 years when Christ rules. 1 This is a golden era; a time of universal peace.
The concept was first proposed by the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism.|
|The Tribulation: This is a 7 year interval when a world religious-political leader called the Antichrist takes power.|
||Armageddon is a terrible war provoked by the Antichrist. Most people on
earth will die. God's anger, hatred, and wrath are poured out over mankind and the earth at this time. A series of
violent events are predicted in Daniel 9, Matthew 24, and Revelation 4-19.|
|The Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 describes a miraculous
event when Christ will descend from the heavens towards the Earth. Many conservative
Protestants believe that faithful "born again" Christians who have
will be resurrected, rise from their graves, and ascend to meet Jesus in the
afterwards, "born again" Christians who had not died will also ascend into the air. They
cars, airplanes, factory jobs, homes, families, friends etc. Since the vast
majority of humans are not "born again," most people will remain
behind on earth. More details on the rapture.|
Unfortunately, this and various other Biblical passages predicting the future
are ambiguous. The events themselves are open to many interpretations. There is no clear indication of either their
timing or sequence. Some Christians believe that "millennium" does not mean a
time interval of exactly 1,000 years. Rather it refers to a long interval of
time. Some Christians interpret events mentioned in the Christian Scriptures as
descriptions of real happenings in our future; others interpret them
symbolically and/or as events that have already occurred millennia ago.
This leaves the passages open to many conflicting beliefs
about the end times. A lot of intra-denominational and inter-denominational strife has resulted from
disagreements about end time prophecy. For example, the Roman Catholic Church
and most mainline and liberal denominations do not have expectation that a
Rapture will occur in the way anticipated by many fundamentalist and other
evangelical faith groups.
End times beliefs among Protestants:
Various Protestant denominations and para-church organizations promote
one of six main systems of prophecy concerning the "end times"
||Historical Premillennialism: This belief was held by a large
percentage of Christians "during the first three centuries of the Christian era,
and is found in the works of Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus,
Methodius, Commodianus, and Lactanitus." 2 The
Antichrist first appears on earth and the seven year Tribulation begins. Next
comes the Rapture. Christ and his Church return to earth to rule for a
Millennium. The faithful will spend eternity in the New Jerusalem. It is a
gigantic cubical structure, some 1,380 miles in height, width and depth, which
will have descended to Earth. New Jerusalem is a.k.a. Celestial city, City of
God, Heavenly Jerusalem, Holy city, Shining City on a Hill, Tabernacle of God,
Zion, etc. The forces of evil will have been conquered. The faithful will live
during this thousand years of peace in Jerusalem, while occupying spiritual
bodies. After this period, all people are judged.
Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the fourth
century CE. Premillennialism was declared a heresy at the Council of Ephesus
(431). Amillennialism soon became the prevailing doctrine of the Roman
Catholic Church and premillennialism was suppressed.
Dispensational Premillennialism: (a.k.a.
Dispensationalism) Premillennialism, declared a heresy in
ancient times, was reintroduced circa 1830. Most people credit John N. Darby
with its resurrection. He was a minister of the Church of Ireland, a
denomination in the Anglican
communion, and the founder of the Plymouth Brethren. However, author Dave
MacPherson claims that British pastor Edward Irving was the actual person
responsible, and that a conspiracy was organized to give Darby the credit. 14
Premillenialism received general acceptance by most Fundamentalists and other Evangelical
Christians after the
publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. As in Historic
Tribulation is believed to precede the second coming of Christ, and the subsequent establishment of the
millennial kingdom -- a thousand-year golden age on Earth. The Final
Judgment follows the millennium. But, theologians are divided over the timing of the Rapture.
Many Premillennialists search world events and signs in the heavens for some
indication of the Tribulation, which they anticipate will arrive at any time. |
of the theories that have been proposed about the timing of the Rapture appear to contradict some passages in the Bible. Current beliefs include:
||Pre-Tribulation Rapture: (or "pre-trib") The Rapture
happens just before the Tribulation, so that believers will not have to experience any of
its disruption and pain. The main difficulties with pre-trib are contained in the
Prophecy of Jesus. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, Jesus describes the
terrible destruction and loss of life of the tribulation period. The disaster is believed
to be so intense that no human (Christian or non-Christian alike) would remain alive,
except that God shortens the duration of the disaster for the sake of the believers. Jesus
then continues by describing his return towards earth immediately after the terrible
devastation. From this passage, it seems clear that the rapture will follow the
Tribulation. The supporters of the "pre-trib" position suggest that
Jesus will have a total of three comings: the first during the first
century CE; the second at the start of the
tribulation, and a third at the end of the tribulation.|
|Post-tribulation Rapture: (or "post-trib") The
faithful experience the full horrors of the entire Tribulation and are raptured only at
the end of the 7 years. The main problem with this theory is that there are many Bible
passages which state that Christ's return will be at a time that cannot be predicted. But
the Tribulation period starts with the arrival of the Antichrist and an interval of peace.
Precisely 42 months later, a sudden shift occurs, a peace treaty is broken, and
devastation begins. These would be well defined dates that would allow an accurate
prediction of the end of the Tribulation. There are other weaknesses to this theory.
||Mid-Tribulation Rapture: (or "mid-trib") The Rapture
happens hafl-way through the seven year tribulation -- that is: 42 months into the Tribulation. Up to that time, the Antichrist brings peace to
the world. After 42 months, events take a sudden turn for the worse.
Some supporters of the "mid-trib" position suggest that there will
be many mini-raptures.|
|Pre-wrath Rapture: This is a new theory, promoted by Marvin Rosenthal,
former director of Friends of Israel, and others. Their view teaches that
the church must experience most of the Tribulation, and then be raptured towards the end
of the Tribulation period. |
|Partial Rapture: This theory teaches that the faithful born-again believers are raptured just before the Tribulation.
Newly born again believers are
are raptured during or at the end of the Tribulation. |
The latter three theories contain some of the weaknesses of pre-trib and
All of the Premillennialist beliefs teach that the Tribulation is followed by 1000 years of peace when all live under the authority of Christ.
Afterwards, in a brief, final battle, Satan is permanently conquered.
Dispensational Premillennialism contains an internal conflict. Its advocates
generally believe "that the moral conditions of the world and the church
are destined get increasingly worse. When they get almost unbearably bad, the
Lord Jesus will return in the clouds to 'rapture' the living saints up to
heaven." 11 However, they tend to be very outspoken and
active in their opposition to many behaviors that they consider to be
extremely sinful: abortion access,
equal rights for homosexuals,
same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex,
adultery, sex education in schools, access to physician
assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells
etc. By their opposition to these "hot" religiously
controversial topics, they are slowing down their adoption, thus delaying Jesus' return to earth, the
rapture and the 1,000 year millennium.
||Amillennialism: (Also sometimes referred to as
nonmillennialism, nunc-millennialism, or realized millennialism).
Amillennialists believe that the millennium is not an actual physical realm on
Earth. They do not believe that it will last 1,000 years. Rather it
began at the time of Pentecost (circa 30 CE) and is currently active in the world today through the presence of the
heavenly reign of Christ, the Bible, the Holy
Spirit, and the activities of Christian faith groups. Both good and evil will continue in the world
during this time. Lawlessness, a falling away from the Church, and persecution
of Christians will increase in magnitude. Finally, the current
Age will end suddenly at Christ's second coming. A type of Rapture will
happen when Christ returns: believers will rise to meet Jesus in the sky. All
will then shortly thereafter return to Earth. The Day of Judgment will then occur. Events described in The
Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) and in most of the book of
Revelation are seen as occurrences which have already happened, or which are symbolic in
nature and not to be taken literally. The Antichrist is looked upon figuratively and not
as a real person.|
This belief was held by many leaders of the early Christian church during the
first and second centuries CE. Simultaneously, other
leaders -- perhaps the majority -- taught a version of premillennialism that
is very different from today's dispensational premillennialism. St. Augustine (354 - 430
CE), often called the "Father of Amillennialism" was largely responsible for the establishment of amillennialism as
the formal church
belief. It remained the generally accepted system throughout Christianity until
after the Reformation in the 16th century.
Many Christian denominations -- including the Anglican Communion,
Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Orthodox, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and some Baptists
continue to teach Amillennialism.
||Postmillennialism: (Also known as "Christian Reconstruction",
"Kingdom Now Theology" and "Dominion Theology.") This belief
arose during the early 19th century CE. According to author Loraine Boettner,
Postmillennialism involves "that view of last things which holds that
the kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the
preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the
world eventually is to be Christianized, and that the return of Christ
will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace,
commonly called the millennium."
12 The theory is based on the perception of a gradual movement towards social
perfection. They predicted that a massive religious revival, spiritual awakening and
purification would occur. The entire human race would be converted to Christianity, including
the Jews. A millennium of peace and righteousness follows. After the
millennium, Jesus returns to
earth, resurrects the dead believers, and conducts the last judgment. The Rapture and Tribulation are largely ignored. This belief is being actively
promoted today by the Chalcedon Foundation and other groups within the Christian Reconstruction movement whose goal is to convert the U.S. government and those of other countries to a theocracy -- a Christian version of Iran, with the loss of essentially all personal freedoms.|
|Preterism is a belief that the events prophesized in the New Testament
have already happened. The great war of Armageddon in the book of Revelation occurred in
the late 60's and early 70's CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, many Jews were
killed and the rest were driven from Palestine. When Jesus talked about the end of the
world, he did not mean that the physical world would be no more. He taught that the old
worldview held by various contemporary Jewish groups was coming to an end, to be replaced
by a new concept, the Kingdom of God. Thus, all of the major elements in the book of
Revelation (Tribulation, Armageddon, Rapture, etc.) actually took place in the first century CE.
||No Millennialism: Most skeptics and liberal Christian theologians largely
contents of the books of Daniel and Revelation as having no meaningful prophetic
information for our future. Many regard Revelation as being composed of visions, hallucinations or
nightmares of the author, of little meaning for Christians today. Some believe that
the purpose of the book of Revelation was to stiffen resolve in the early
Christian movement so that members could withstand persecution by the Roman Empire. Thus, its
purpose was to predict persecutions and other events that were to happened to the early
Christian church. They
also reject the apparent prophecies in the Book of Daniel. They
believe that Daniel was written early in the 2nd century
BCE, long after most of the
events had actually happened. It was history recorded, not their future
End times beliefs among Roman Catholics:
Roman Catholics generally follow the teachings of Augustine and the
Protestant reformers, and accept Amillennialism. However, they do not generally
use the term. They anticipate Jesus coming to Earth and gathering the Church
together. But they generally do not use the term "rapture"
either According to
Catholic Answers, "The Church has rejected the premillennial position,
sometimes called 'millenarianism' (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church
676). In the 1940s the Holy Office judged that premillennialism 'cannot safely
be taught,' though the Church has not dogmatically defined this issue."
Related essays on this web site:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Revelation 20:1 to 7 from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
- Lonnie Kent York, "History of Millennialism" at: http://www.restorent.com/
- Mike Rouse & James Underwood, "Post Tribulation Rapture - Defined and
Refined" at: http://22.214.171.124/
- Grover Gunn, III, "Postmillennialism Today" at: http://www.wavefront.com/
- Rev. Ralph A. Smith, "The Biblical and Theological Issues", at:
- Catholic Answers, Inc., "Are You Pre, Mid, or Post?", at: http://www.catholic.com/
- The Bible Prophecy and the Rapture Report lists some weaknesses of the
post-trib belief. See: http://www.serve.com/
- The Preterist Archive is at: http://www.preteristarchive.com
- FAS Millennia Monitor at: http://www.fas.org/
This website has many links to Premillennialist, Postmillennialist and
- The Chalcedon Foundation's web site is at:
- P.A. Smith, "Jerry Falwell's eschatological schizophrenia," WorldNetDaily™,
- Loraine Boettner, "The Millennium," P&R Press, (1992).
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
- "The Rapture," Catholic Answers, at:
- Dave MacPherson, "The Rapture Plot," Millennium Press, (2000).
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-DEC-16
Author: B.A. Robinson