Prequel: An Overview of Orthodox Eschatology

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Prequel: An Overview of Orthodox Eschatology

INTRODUCTION: Eschatology is the study of last things. All doctrinally orthodox eschatological positions believe three essential things:

  1. At the end of history, Jesus will physically resurrect the bodies of both believers and unbelievers through a tomb-emptying resurrection.
  2. Jesus will execute the final Judgment on mankind and quarantine unbelievers in the lake of fire.
  3. Jesus will consummate history by renewing the creation and then personally and physically dwell with His people forever.

To sum up the essentials of eschatology, the Modern Detailed Statement of Faith of my home church states the following:

The Return of Christ

The Lord Jesus Christ shall come again to raise the dead bodily, both righteous and unrighteous (1). The justified shall enjoy everlasting life in the presence of God in heaven, while the unjustified shall eternally endure God’s wrath in hell (2). The Return of Christ (1) John 5:28-29; 14:3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Hebrews 9:28 (2) Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:15; 21:4; 22:3-5

There are two basic types of eschatological views (a) Futurism and (b) Preterism.

  • (a) Futurism holds that the prophecies in the New Testament about the return of Jesus are not yet fulfilled. There are futurist premillenialists, futurist amillenialists, and futurist postmillennialists.
  • (b) Preterism holds that many of the prophecies in the New Testament about the return of Jesus are in reference to His judgment against Israel via the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and are already fulfilled. There are preterist amillenialists and postmillennialists. NOTE: After this prequel, this series on eschatology will focus exclusively on a heretical teaching that has become popular in evangelical circles since the early 1970s called full preterism or “pantelism”. Full Preterism teaches that all the prophecies of the New Testament were fulfilled in the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, including the resurrection, the final judgment, and the consummation of the creation. This view has never been held by anyone in the history of the church and is considered to be a heterodox false teaching.

A. The Three Basic Millennial Views:

1. Premillenialism ‘ The millennium is a literal 1,000 years. The most popular modern form of eschatology is dispensational premillenalism. This type of premillenialism teaches that the church age is a parenthesis in God’s plan between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel’s 70 weeks (Dan. 9:24-25) and that we are awaiting a future secret rapture where living believers will be secretly raptured and given their glorified bodies and dead believers will be resurrected and given their glorified bodies (1 Thess. 4:15-17). After this secret rapture/resurrection of believers, an antichrist figure arises, makes a 7 year covenant with Israel (thus starting the 70th week of Daniel), God starts pouring out His wrath upon the earth, antichrist breaks that covenant 3.5 years into the 7, and at the end of that 7th year, Jesus returns physically to the earth with His saints at the Battle of Armageddon to set up His 1,000 year reign from Jerusalem (Rev. 19:11-19). At the beginning of the 1,000 years, these living believers undergo what is called the Bema or judgment seat of Christ and they enter into the millennium with resurrected bodies, ruling and reigning with him for 1,000 years. Some unbelievers also enter the millennium to be ruled by Christ’s rod of iron (Rev. 20:5-6). During the millennium, unbelievers populate the earth under the iron-fisted control of Jesus and at the end of the millennium, Satan is then released from his prison to deceive some of these unbelievers into waging a direct war against Christ’s throne located in Jerusalem (Rev. 20:7-9). Christ then casts Satan into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10) and the Great White Throne judgment of unbelievers takes place, and then Jesus casts all of these unbelievers into the lake of fire, which is also known as the final hell and the second death (Rev. 20:11-13). Then Christ purifies the earth by fire, creates a New Heavens and New Earth, and the New Jerusalem descends as a literal city out of heaven and Christ abides with his people on the renewed earth forever (2 Peter 3:10ff; Rev. 21-22). Popular Calvinistic adherents and promoters of dispensational premillenialism are Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Master’s Seminary, Shepherd’s Seminary, and Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

2. Amillenialism ‘ The millennium is not a literal 1,000 years but is a symbolic term used to describe a long period of time that constitutes the church age. During this long period of time, Satan is bound from deceiving the nations while the gospel spreads through the earth until Jesus returns (Matt. 12:28-29; Mark 3:27; Luke 10:18; Rev. 20:1-3). Satan is still considered active while bound (1 Peter 5:7). His binding is considered by amillenialists to be that of no longer being able to prevent the oracles of God from spreading into the heathen nations. Jesus rules and reigns through His church during the millennium while His Kingdom steadily grows throughout the earth while wickedness grows in a parallel fashion along side it. As a result, the growing church constantly fights against the growth of wickedness through the ebb and flow of revival and apostasy as history marches on. This is where the phrase the church militant comes from. At the end of the church age, Satan is unbound and causes a massive worldwide deception designed to lead the world into destroying the church (Rev. 20:7-8). Christ physically returns to the earth to destroy these enemies of the gospel, casts Satan into the lake of fire, resurrects the dead, ushers in the final judgment, and casts the unbelievers into the final hell, the lake of fire, which is also known as the second death (John 5:28-29; Matt. 25:41, 46; 1 Cor. 15:54-55; 1 Thess. 4:15-17; Rev. 20:9-15). Christ then consummates His coming by renewing the corrupted creation and then resides with His bride forever in the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21-22). Popular Calvinistic adherents and promoters of amillenialism are Reformed Baptist apologist Dr. James R. White, Dr. Ken Riddlebarger, Dr. Michael Horton, Alistair Begg, Dr. R.C. Sproul Sr., and Michael Yousef.

3. Postmillenialism ‘ This view is similar to the amillenial view in many ways. Again, the millennium is not a literal 1,000 years but is a symbolic term used to describe a long period of time that constitutes the church age. During the millennium, the gospel spreads throughout the world and over a long period of time the Kingdom of God slowly fills up the whole earth and crushes and puts to an end all other kingdoms, but it itself will endure forever, just as the prophet Daniel predicted (Dan 2:35, 44). Like amillenialism, postmillennialism teaches that Christ returns to the earth at the end of the millennium/church age and casts Satan and his demonic host into the lake of fire, and resurrects believers and unbelievers unto the Great White Throne judgment and casts the unbelievers into the lake of fire and the believers live with Jesus for eternity in the renewed creation. There are two types of postmillennialism: (a) Reconstructionist and (b) Pietistic. The Reconstructionists believe that as the gospel slowly spreads, fills the whole earth, and smashes the kingdoms of man, that the influence of gospel preaching through the Church’s mission becomes so dominant an influence through spiritual regeneration and rebirth that this eventually ushers in a golden age wherein human governments will be so strongly influenced by the Scriptures through the Holy Spirit that they will seek to reinstitute a type of theocratic kingdom with the civil and the moral aspects of the Mosaic Law being legislated by the civil magistrate. This view of postmillennialism is what is technically termed theonomic reconstructionism and essentially wants to see portions of the Old Testament law (excepting the sacrificial, ceremonial laws) reinstituted. (b) The pietistic postmillennialists differ from the reconstructionists in that they too believe that the gospel will slowly but victoriously spread throughout the whole earth and crush all other manmade kingdoms, but it will not necessarily result in the reinstitution of significant portions of the Mosaic Law. Like the reconstructionists, pietistic postmillenialists also believe that much of the world will eventually be changed from the inside out as God changes the hearts of people through the preaching of the gospel but this may or may not necessarily involve a civil reinstitution of Mosaic Law. According to all postmillenialists, the church may grow to have a very strong influence on the culture at the end of the church age, but like their amillenial brothers, they know that Satan will be unbound to cause a massive apostasy and seek to destroy the church right before the return of Christ. Popular Calvinistic adherents and promoters of theonomic reconstructionist postmillenialism are Dr. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Dr. Kenneth Gentry, Dr. Gary DeMar, and Dr. Greg Bahnsen, and Christ Theological Seminary. Some pietistic postmillenialists are Lorraine Boettner, apologist and orthodox preterist Dee Dee Warren, and New Covenant Theologian and house church planter Dan Trotter.

B. Rapture/Resurrection ‘ John 5:28-29; 6:39-40, 44; 1 Cor. 15:51-52 & 1 Thess. 4:15-17 ‘ all orthodox eschatologies believe in some type of rapture/resurrection in which believers will be caught up to be with Jesus at His consummating coming.

C. Intermediate State ‘ This is the condition or mode of being of a person between the time of one’s death and the time that Christ returns to give believers new resurrection bodies (Luke 16:19ff; 2 Cor. 5:6, 8; Heb. 9:27; Phil. 1:21, 23).

D. Final Judgment ‘ The two common views are: (1) Only one judgment will occur that will separate the sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. (2) Two judgments will occur ‘ one is a righteous judgment designed for believers only, to test their works of service to the Lord [1 Cor. 3:11-15] and the other judgment is the unbeliever’s judgment of condemnation [Rev. 20:11-15].

E. Heaven ‘ the abode of believers after death (2 Cor. 5:6, 8; 12:1-4; Phil. 1:21, 23; Rev. 6:9-11). Scripture doesn’t give us a lot of details about heaven.

F Hell ‘ the abode of unbelievers after death (Matt. 25:46-48; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:19ff; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:14-15). Scripture describes hell in greater detail than heaven. This is by design of course.

G. The Eternal State ‘ This occurs after Christ has physically returned to the earth, resurrected and judged mankind, and renewed the corrupted creation (cf. Romans 8:18-23). This is also known as the New Heavens and New Earth. It is my view that there are some aspects of the New Heavens and New Earth already present in the true church now (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25; Rev. 21:22-27; 22:1-2). However, we still await the fullness of the consummation at Christ’s return (Romans 8:18-24).

IN CONCLUSION, this overview of orthodox eschatology will provide a doctrinal platform from which to jumpstart a discussion concerning a recent assault upon the church’s orthodox doctrine of Christ’s Final Advent, namely, full preterism/pantelism. Stay tuned!

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