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Eschatology – A Simple Introduction


The End Times – A Simple Introduction

Text.  Revelation 20

In 2020, God willing, at Ballymacashon, we will be spending our Tuesday ‘Tabletalks’ looking at the ‘End Times.’  There’s a lot of different views on this subject, – some of them extremely strange! We will examine what the church has believed about the end times, and to see what the Bible says – for sure. 

We call the doctrine of the end times ‘ESCHATOLOGY.’    There are two ‘types’ of eschatology:-

  • PERSONAL ESCHATOLOGY.  As you can imagine personal eschatology is about me! About the individual.  What happens when the end of my life comes and I die?  Where do I go after I die, what happens when I stand before God, what is my condition in heaven, – or in hell?  Where do believers go to between death and the second coming?  Will we know each other in heaven?  Can we speak to dead people?  Purgatory?  Etc etc.
  • GENERAL ESCHATOLOGY.  The end of the times in which we live.  What are ‘the signs of the times?’ What events will occur when the world ends? And what is the sequence of events afterwards?  What is ‘the Tribulation Period?’ What is ‘The Millennium?’ 

Both these areas of study overlap – simply because we have immortal souls and we will have a place in eternity.


Historical Opinions on Eschatology.

Historical opinions on the second coming are usually described in terms of the chronological position of ‘The Millennium.’  The word just means 1000 years (So, when 1999 ended we were told we were entering a new millennium – a new 1000 year period – and we had the ‘Millenniam Bug’ – or didn’t we?). Now in Revelation there’s a period of 1000 years.  It’s found in Rev 20:1 -2. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

So what is that 1000 years, and where does it fit in, in the sequence of events that are to come and in relation to the second coming of the church?  That is what has basically divided the opinion of Christians on the doctrine of the end times – eschatology.  Here’s the three usual opinions that have been understood throughout the history of the church…

  • Post Millennialism.  THE PURITAN HOPE.  [Reformed Presbyterians, some Presbyterians]. They believe that there will be a long period of peace on earth, prior to the second coming, A PERIOD OF 1000 YEARS, in which the reign of Christ will prevail upon earth, and there would be peace and love among all mankind, for everyone on earth would be a Christian.  After that period, Christ would return, to a world that was fit to receive him as king.  Idealistic?  Perhaps, but it represented a longing in the herts of the Puritans, to see the whole world won for Christ.  They were influenced by verses like, Isaiah 11:“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. 9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.
  • Pre Millennialism.   CLASSICAL PREMILLENNIALISM.  The view that Jesus will return to earth, and the 1000 year millennial reign will then be established upon earth.  Usually, there will be debate about another period, called THE GREAT TRIBULATION, – a period of terrible pain and turmoil, during which the ‘antichrist’ will be revealed and will wreck havoc upon the earth.  The discussion usually centres around when that GREAT TRIBULATION will occur in relation to the second coming.
    • Post-tribulation Pre-Mill.  [Most Free Presbyterians]. They believe that the church will go through the great tribulation, and then Jesus will come bak to earth and establish his earthly kingdom after his return.
    • Pre Tribulation Pre-Mill. [Dispensationalists, Brethren, some Baptists, some Pentecostals, some Congregationalists].  They believe that the Lord will return, and that after he has taken all the church away from this earth, the GREAT TRIBULATION will begin.  It will last seven years, and during it 144,000 will be saved, but only with great difficulty and trial. At the end of the GREAT TRIBULATION there will be a huge battle – the BATTLE OF ARMAGEDDON when the devil’s forces will be defeated, the devil will be bound, and the 1000 years of Christ’s earthly reign will begin.   
  • Non Millennialism.  A-MILLENNIALLISM.  [Presbyterians, some Baptists, some Pentecostals, some Congregationalists, some Free Presbyterians, Lutherans].   The description is deceptive, for non-millennialists believe in a millennium – just not in a literal sense.  They understand the millennium to be symbolic of the church age, between Pentecost and the coming of Christ, a time of great peace, – spiritual peace, the peace between God and mankind – the peace that is beyond all understanding.  In this system, at the end of the church age the Lord Jesus will return, and the world as we know it will come to an end.  The probation of man will come to an end, and God will judge the world, and the believers will give account of their service, and receive their rewards.  The dead will also rise, the wicked dead for judgement and the redeemed for their reward.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth, where the saints will dwell with the Lord for ever.

Now, let’s be really careful with this.  Non of these opinions on the end times are saving matters – holding any one of these views is not a test of orthodoxy.  Being a premilleniallist (or even a dispensationalist) will NOT keep you out of heaven!


Dispensationalism. [Brethren, Baptists, Non-denominational evangelicals, some Pentecostals – very dominant in NI evangelicalism]  THERE IS ONE OTHER VIEW, which some people see as a division or an outcome of Pre Millennialism – but which in reality is much younger, and much broader in its influence on doctrine:- DISPENSATIONALISM.  Many people trace the history of dispensationalism back to one man,

    • J.N. Darby. (1800-1882) Darby was an anglican clergyman, born in Ireland and educated at Trinity College, Dublin.  After a time as a lawyer, he was converted to Christ, and began to witness among RC’s – seeing hundreds of Catholics come to Christ took holy orders, but became disillusioned with the CofE when he was instructed by his bishop that all Catholic converts to Christianity would have to take an oath of allegiance to the King.  Darby left the Church, and began to meet with the Plymouth Brethren.  Darby’s writings on dispensationalism were highly influential in the early period of Brethrenism, and remain so today.
    • The Schofield Bible.   One of the greatest influences in spreading dispensationalism was the Schofield Bible, first published in 1917 and revised in 1967 as ‘The New Scofield Bible’ CI Schofield was an American Christian, civil war veteran, lawyer and Congregational minister, despite that he had no formal theological training.  He wrote his notes for himself, but his annotated Bible notes were published in 1909 and became a best seller.  The Schofield Bible is still in print today, and still used in the ‘open’ Brethren.

Where does dispensationalism differ from traditional Reformed theology? (Covenant theology)

  • ISRAEL/CHURCH. Reformed theologians see OT Israel and the NT Church as being together, part of God’s one, Covenant, chosen people, with the church not replacing Israel in God’s plan, but being ingrafted into the covenant people of God.  Furthermore, not all of national, visible ‘Israel’ are the ‘Israel of God.’ Dispensationalists separate the two.  Dispensationalists believe that God has a distinctive plan for ethnic and national Israel that includes their spiritual restoration and conversion, as well as a specific geographic destiny whereas the church began on the day of Pentecost and will end with the rapture. 
  • The PURPOSE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT (And the law).  The Reformed see the Old Testament ALL pointing us to Christ, for the whole Bible is one book, where God unfolds his saving purpose for all his chosen people, of whatever era.  All of them are saved by GRACE alone, for there is no-one in heaven without Jesus.  Dispensationalists don’t have this unified approach to reading the bible, for they perceive that in seven different ‘dispensations’ God deals with his people in different ways.  Hence their love for charts of the ages, like this one:
  • A LITERAL APPROACH to Bible PROPHECY.  For Dispensationalists a literal reading of texts like Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation is mandatory.  In Reformed Christianity these are often taken symbolically, in the context of apocryphal literature.
  • THE LAND OF ISRAEL.  A very important appeal of dispensationalism was its view about the restoration of Jews to Israel in the last days. Because of Dispensational influences on American evangelicalism, many American Christians are fervent Zionists, who give largely unqualified support to the modern secular state of Israel.
  • The GAP THEORY.  Schofield and many other dispensationalists believe that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, allowing for a kind of ‘theistic evolution’ to creep into theology. 

DANGER – SPECULATION ALERT!  One of the dangers of Dispensationalism has been the number of its advocates who make wild predictions about the ‘time of the Rapture,’ or the Name of the Antichrist’ or the site of the Battle of Armageddon, etc etc.

  1. Thank you! May the good Lord bless you for this study of eschatology! I’m looking forward to learning more.

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