Many people wonder how the world will end, considering all the terrible things today. The chances are that someone will come across this post with the same concerns and anxieties. It is in our nature to want to know the future. Scriptures about the end only add to our interest, excitement, and imagination when details about these events are encrypted in symbolism.
Perhaps Christianity’s most widely debated major doctrine is eschatology, the branch of theology that deals with the end times. Revelation and other Bible passages about the end times are interesting but often controversial. These passages can create a very intense and heated debate. The end has not occurred yet, so it is difficult to correctly interpret what the Bible says about the future with great certainty.
Eschatology is much broader than the study of the world’s fate before Christ’s return. Heaven, hell, the eternal state of the earth, and the eternal state of humanity are among the subjects of eschatology.
Christians agree on at least four things about the end times:
- The souls of all who are saved in Christ will be present with Him in heaven after death.
- Christ will physically return in the future.
- The resurrection of the dead will occur after the return of Christ.
- Christ will righteously judge the living and the dead when he returns. The saved in Christ will dwell in a restored creation, the “new heavens and earth.” The unsaved will be in hell.
The Church universally accepts these four teachings about the end times. However, it remains divided over how to explain and defend those teachings. The systems are largely defined by how they explain the timing and nature of the millennium kingdom in Revelation 20.
- Premillennialism: Christ will return to establish a future, literal millennium kingdom before the new heavens and earth. The 1000 year time period is usually, though not always, thought to be a literal 1000 year period.
- Amillennialism: The millennial kingdom refers to the present-day spiritual reign of Christ. There is no literal kingdom until Christ’s return. The 1000 years is usually thought to be symbolic of a very long period.
- Postmillennialism: The millennial kingdom refers to the Church’s gradual expansion over the earth before the second coming of Christ. The Church, reigning with Christ, spreads the gospel to the nations through the Great Commission, and Christ’s teachings transform cultures over time. Many contemporary postmillennialists, like the amillennialists, believe the 1000 year time period is symbolic of a long period over which the world is gradually converted to Christianity. However, some have thought that it is a literal 1000 year Christian golden age preceding Christ’s return.
Some people are facetiously called panmillennial, as in “everything will pan out in the end.” So-called panmillennials are not necessarily indifferent to understanding the end times. They choose not to side with a particular system because they see aspects of truth in each of them.
Different schools of thought have formed within these three systems. There are different opinions regarding the timing of the events, particularly the events described in Revelation.
- Futurism: All (or most) of the events will occur in our future.
- Historicism: The events are a prophetic outline of Church history that occur between the first and second coming of Christ. The events, therefore, are unfolding today.
- Preterism: As the Latin-based name suggests, preterists believe the “end times” events have already occurred in our past. Preterists within the scope of sound doctrine (usually called partial-preterists who are either amillennialists or postmillennialists) still believe that the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, and judgment occur in our future at the end of the millennium. Everything else, though, has already (or mostly) been fulfilled.
- Idealism: The end times events do not occur in space or time but are symbolic of what happens to the Church throughout time until the second coming of Christ.
- Eclecticism: The end times events do not neatly fit a particular timeframe. This approach may combine futurist, historicist, preterist, and idealist interpretations.
Furthermore, there are different approaches to interpreting the entire Bible as a whole. These interpretative frameworks play a role in one’s understanding of the end times. Though there are more than two frameworks that Christians hold to, the two most common are dispensational theology and covenant theology.
- Dispensational Theology: God has divided redemptive history into different dispensations. Israel and the Church are distinct groups, and he will deal with each separately. Most dispensationalists today believe that modern Israel is the rebirth of biblical Israel. God is drawing history to a close as He fulfills remaining promises in their literal (or sometimes wooden) sense to the Jewish people. The popular Left Behind book series portrays this view.
- Covenant Theology: Redemptive history can be described in terms of covenants. Since there is one redemptive history that unfolds through these covenants, there is no distinction between Israel and the Church. Today, Israel consists of messianic Jews and Gentiles who have been adopted and grafted into Israel’s family tree through Christ.
So, when we consider all these possibilities, there are four major views that most Christians divide over.
- Dispensational Premillennialism
- Historic Premillennialism
Though only one (or perhaps none) of these is the truth, it is healthy to discuss and debate these issues.