How should we view the end times?
So where are we now? In terms of prophetic schools, we have the pessimistic premillenialists - mostly in the USA - as futurists, looking for the signs on their own individual prophetic timetables and confident that things are going to get a lot worse before Jesus comes to make things right. There are the amillenialists - the majority view of the British Church - who take comfort in their preterist views or possibly some historicist ideas, and who shuffle along without too many thoughts about End Times. Then there are the eternal optimists, the postmillennialists. Where you see people declaring revivals here, there and everywhere then you see postmillennialists, although this movement has birthed new names, exciting names such as Reconstructionism, Kingdom Now, Latter Rain, Manifest Sons of God and Dominionism. These are hopeful people who have perhaps allowed their earnest expectations to colour their theological discernment. And that's all I'm going to say on that particular matter. So many views, movements, theories and offshoots of views, movements and theories! How can a few words of Jesus and (mostly) two Bible books (Daniel and Revelation) generate such opinion and conflict and differences?
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)
How many are in true danger of these curses? Surely some of them must be, as they can't all be right. Or can they ... to a degree? First we must examine ourselves. How do you view the Bible? How you read the Bible very much depends on your educational and cultural environment and your personal agenda. In other words, none of us is in a vacuum, we are all influenced by others, and how we view End Times in particular is very much determined by our basic agenda. So, for example, those who take a literal view of the Bible would tend to be Christian Zionists, Creationists, futurists and premillenialists. The more liberal Christians would tend to be amillenialists and probably preterists and possibly historicists, or they could view the whole End Time scenario symbolically. Many of today's charismatics, particularly in the USA, would be postmillenialists, though would probably prefer one of the grander names already mentioned.
Doctrines are important to us. Many of us are content to be defined by our Christian labels. I'm a mid-tribulation dispensational premillenialist says one, but I'm an amillenial preterist says another. Does this mean they are out of fellowship with each other? Hopefully not, but sadly sometimes it does. Some of us are single-issue Christians, defined solely by our label and perhaps even making a career out of it. To them I ask this question - what would happen if suddenly you were convicted of an alternative meaning of a foundational Scripture that underpins your label? What would happen if an amillenialist suddenly saw truth in the Scriptures pointing to the Rapture or if a premillenialist was suddenly convinced that Satan is already bound and we are living in the Millennium? Although this is very unlikely, it could happen. We should always find room for promptings of the Holy Spirit. But my gut feeling is that we would probably ignore such leadings, perhaps even attribute them to Satan, and carry on in our own personal agenda. Does this mean that everyone with a label is a natural eisegete, someone who interprets Scripture in the light of their personal agenda? Does this mean that the only true exegetes - those who develop their views in the light of Scripture - are those without a label and an agenda? Can those with a label or an agenda be trusted any more to accept the possibility of alternative interpretations of Scripture that may be at odds with their agenda? It's worth thinking about because there could be another way ... In our Greek way of thinking, absorbed through our educational system, logic rules OK. One plus one equals two ... always. Every action has a cause ... always. Everything in the Bible can only be looked at in one way, because that's how we've been taught; it's logical.
Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end. (Mr Spock, Star Trek)
Perhaps old pointy ears had a point. Logic is good, but it's not the be-all-and-end-all. Logic tells us that, in terms of End Time prophetic understandings, only one of the four positions can be right. Either the preterists are correct, or the historicists, or the futurists or those who believe that the whole book of Revelation (as well as much of Daniel and others) are to be viewed symbolically or as allegory. Even among the futurists there are a myriad of prophetic timelines, with an orderly arrangement of all the events that are going to happen. They can't all be correct can they, that's not logical!? Hebraic thought has a totally different way of looking at the situation. The Greek view has given us prophetic timetables, with a timeline stretching from now to the Second Coming, with points of reference that all need to be ticked off in logical order, determined by one's reading of Scripture. This is the whole premise behind the "Left Behind" books that some have read as if they are holy writ themselves! The Hebrew view, on the other hand, is to concentrate on the actions of God in history, whenever they occur and in whatever order.
The Greek view is to say that either you are a preterist or a historicist or a futurist or an allegorist ... or none of these if you've never really thought about such things, or are afraid to do so because it's a minefield! The Hebrew view is that you can be all four at the same time, because they are just simply different ways at looking at the same situation. Yes, there is some truth in the preterist view that there was some kind of fulfilment of Revelation in early Church history. Yes, there is some truth in some of the historist views inasmuch as certain events in history were a type or a shadow of future events. Yes, there is some truth in the symbolism used in Revelation and there is some room for allegory. Yes, there is much truth in the futurist views of what is yet to happen as an ultimate fulfillment of the Scriptures regarding the End Times. The Hebrew mind says, let's not quibble about the fine print but let's concentrate on the broader sweep, that Jesus is going to return and we need to be ready for that, not in our bickering about who's got it right but in our godly duty to reach those around us before it is too late for them. Maranatha (Come, O Lord) ... and please God we're ready for you!
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)
A Lib Dem candidate who was due to stand in the upcoming election...