This is one fun topic!
Most Christians have an answer for how time and the world are going to end.
Most Christians purport to be using the Bible to construct their position.
Many Christians are ready to fight to defend their position, making their position a test for orthodoxy, for fellowship, and sometimes even for salvation.
2. What are the basic interpretations?
3. Do these interpretations have anything in common?
4. What can we say about theses interpretations?
5. What are the important things we should remember?
1. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS?
The Bible does not have a full and complete description the end times. (Jesus’ Great Eschatological Discourse, Mt. 24, and John’s apocalyptic vision, The Book of the Revelation, are two significant sources but do not offer complete, detailed pictures of the end.)
The language is encrypted and we don’t have the key.
Many people, either fascinated by the end times or worried they will not get it right, have constructed elaborate theories and staked their life and reputation on defending these theories.
All the different views are trying to explain the symbolic language in terms of how it relates to history.
The discussion ranges over the timing of certain events (including the tribulation, millennium, and rapture of the church) as well as the timing of the second coming of Christ. This is a pivotal point of disagreement.
2. WHAT ARE THE BASIC INTERPRETATIONS?
“It happened then.”
Historical fulfillment (Preterist): Revelation was written to and for first century Christians and the events occurred when the book was written
“It’s happening now.”
Ongoing fulfillment (Amillennial): it is happening now, a continuous encounter with Christ in a broken world; we are in the millennium now.
“It will happen in the future.”
Literal interpretation (Dispensational): Revelation should be taken literally and has a strong future fulfillment (including a rapture, tribulation, millennium, a final battle, and final judgment.)
3. DO THESE INTERPRETATIONS HAVE ANYTHING IN COMMON?
Each of them is held by sincere Christians—they are not the wild speculative claims of heretics and unbelievers.
All of these interpretations believe in
The second coming of Christ.
The sovereignty of God
The defeat of evil.
The perseverance of the saints.
Judgment and final reward or punishment.
4. WHAT CAN WE SAY ABOUT THESE INTERPRETATIONS?
None of these models has all the final answers.
Those who have the system all worked out have missed a very simple truth of Scripture; namely, that no one, including Jesus, knew exactly how it would and when it would happen. The how and when are not nearly so important as (1) being ready, and (2) living your life faithfully today.
If you’ve got it all worked out, you know more than Jesus did. You assume you know something that God did not tell Jesus.
None of these interpretations must be believed in order for you to be a
The “correct” interpretation is not a prerequisite for salvation.
None of these interpretations is worth fighting over.
This topic is a great place to exercise patience and respect. It is a good venue to practice the ability to dialogue, and to listen actively. We learn it is OK to disagree on these non-salvific topics. We also learn it is OK to listen to people who have different views and to practice humility—none of us can be sure we have the right and final answer!
This is not an issue that should occupy so much of our attention that we lose sight of more significant issues. We don’t make our interpretation a test of fellowship.
None of these interpretations should be defended to the death!
One’s interpretation should be held with some measure of tentativeness…you just might change your mind as you learn, mature, and grow in the faith and in knowledge of Scripture.
Can we agree on anything about the end times?
All humans must undergo physical death (except those alive when Christ returns.)
All humans go to an intermediate state:
Those who trusted themselves to the saving work of Christ, to blessing and reward.
Those who rejected Christ, to punishment and torment.
At some future time, Christ will return personally, bodily, physically.
All the dead will be resurrected and consigned to an ultimate destination according to their relationship to Jesus the Christ. They will remain in this eternally unalterable condition.
5. WHAT ARE THE IMPORTANT THINGS WE SHOULD REMEMBER?
Jesus was asked about the “end of the age”. His response is recorded in three gospels (Matt. 24:1-25:46; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36). We can identify four instructions from His words.
First, BEWARE. (24:4-5, 23-24)
He said, “Do not be misled.” False messiahs will appear—people seeking fame, fortune and/or power will try to fool you. Don’t get sucked in by their “signs and wonders”. Bearers of a “Christ-complex” will surface, fully prepared to tell you exactly how you should live your life. Beware.
Second, BE CALM. (24:6-12)
Wars, earthquakes, plagues, and famine as well as suffering and persecution are “normal”. These phenomena have come about routinely throughout earthly history and will continue—this is the nature of our world. Even so, their occurrence “is not yet the end—do not lose heart.”
Third, BE PATIENT. (24:13-14, 26, 33-36)
No one but God knows the time of the end. Little is to be gained by devoting much effort to the devising of complex systems, intending to delineate the last days.
Don’t waste a lot of time speculating upon the time of “the end.” Obsessive preoccupation with elaborate “prophetic” timetables and disproportionate attention to supposed “signs of the times” distract you from more important issues and lead to unbalanced evangelism (more emphasis on getting you saved than growing you as a disciple.)
Fourth, BE READY. (24:42, 44; 25:1-13)
Live your life in light of the fact that one day (either at the “end of time” or at the end of your own time; i.e., death), you will meet Him face to face. Reflecting on Jesus’ words, Peter wrote, “Since you are looking forward to that day, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (II Peter 3:14).
The book will always have an aura of mystery.
We are not compelled to make it fit a particular time frame or demand it meet a certain interpretation.
An honest reading of apocalyptic Scripture will always succeed in pointing us to its main subject: the holy God who is in charge and who will ultimately make all things right (Rev. 21, 22).
Live your life as if you genuinely expect someday soon to stand in His presence!
6. HOW DO WE INTERPRET THE BOOK OF THE REVELATION?
The beasts and judgments do sound like they could be right out of Greek mythology! Scholars have interpreted them in different ways. If you ask a preterist, he would say it is encrypted language specifically for the first century readers. If you ask an amillennialist, he would say it is mostly figurative. If you ask a dispensationalist, he would say it is primarily literal.
Quite possibly, whether they are literal or not may lie beyond our knowing . . . and may be an unnecessary argument!
Remember our principles of biblical interpretation:
1. Consider the genre.
We agree that, even though we believe The Revelation of John is part of God’s Word to us, it is not easy to understand. We exercise great care when we try to interpret “apocalyptic” language (a Greek word, meaning “unveiling”, employed to describe the type of writing John used.)
Apocalyptic writing, common in the first century, typically contained an important message in symbolic form. Fantastic beasts, breath-taking images of war, destruction, and death, and incredible scenes of heaven were a means of encouraging his Christian readers to stay faithful to God when facing a seemingly hopeless situation under Roman persecution. God, John assured them, would deliver them.
2. Seek to understand the intent of the original author and the message to the original readers.
This book was written to a particular people in a particular situation. God gave John this vision (Rev. 1:10) that, though mysterious and difficult to communicate, carried a powerful message for his readers. John did his best to write what he saw in the vision, using language with which his readers were familiar. We assume this text made sense to them.
3. Let the Bible say what it says. Don’t rearrange it to make it say what you want it to say.
In some instances, texts are combined to provide support for a particular position. This is risky: conflations of Scripture (for example, tying wide ranging texts from Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation together to build a complex eschatological system) might or might not be true to the original meaning and intent of the text.
In other cases, historical or “dispensational” meanings may be read into a text (for example, interpreting the letters to the churches in Revelation as different eras of Christian history). This may or may not be an accurate interpretation but there is no textual evidence that requires or supports this interpretation. Honest biblical interpretation will avoid speculative interpretations that are not well supported in the Bible as a whole.
Is there a teaching about a “rapture of the church” found in the Scripture? If so, be able to show it clearly. If not, be careful about declaring it with certitude and specificity.
4. Seek the broad principles that underlay the specific details of a complicated or difficult-to-understand text.
Whether or not Revelation is a prediction of future events (which it certainly could be, although most such interpretations include some conjecture), John’s vision does provide us with a powerful picture of a great battle between good and evil (God and Satan.) Note that the outcome is never in doubt—Satan is strong but his time is short. He has already been defeated by Christ. He is destined to destruction, the Church to triumph.
The story presents the ultimate triumph of God and the final reward for those who have kept their faith in Him. It is a message of hope and victory in a dark time. The truth revealed in Revelation was relevant to the original readers—a message of hope that early, persecuted Christians desperately needed.
Today, our world is still dark and struggling with sin and suffering. The promise of the Revelation that in the end God wins and His people will be with Him is just as relevant to us as it was to the original readers.
What time frame was Jesus addressing in His “great eschatological discourse”?
In this passage, Jesus’ words actually addressed two perspectives, one short and one long.
He portrayed a sense of immediacy: “This generation will not pass away before these things happen” (Mt. 24:34). Jesus looked around at His closest friends and told them that in a short time their world would come to an end. The fulfillment of this statement happened, in fact, within forty years (70 AD), when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans as a consequence of Jewish rebellion. Readers of John’s apocalyptic vision (the Book of Revelation) saw firsthand the realization of Jesus’ prediction and the utter destruction and suffering of those times.
He also pointed to future events. We can imagine that Jesus spoke these words with a distant look in His eyes: “One day . . . the Son of Man will return . . .” (Mt. 24:27-31). This prophecy would be fulfilled at some later time, one even He did not know (Mt. 24:36), one that cannot be calculated by the imaginations of men (Mt. 24:42, 44, 50).
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ remarks concerning “His coming and the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3) intermingled these two viewpoints. Alternating between them, He referred to events that were to happen soon and events that would occur afar off. These variations on a theme are what make this passage difficult to sort out and often subject to much misinterpretation.
The entire discourse makes two powerful points:
- Don’t waste a lot of time speculating upon the time of “the end.” Obsessive preoccupation with elaborate “prophetic” timetables and disproportionate attention to supposed “signs of the times” distract you from more important issues and lead to unbalanced evangelism (more emphasis on getting you saved than growing you as a disciple.)
- Make sure you are ready. Live your life as if you genuinely expect someday soon to stand in His presence (II Pet. 3:3-18)!
“If the Book of Revelation is the prophecy of the end times, why aren’t there references to modern technology (planes, guns, tanks, etc.)?”
The book doesn’t address modern technology because that is not consistent with its nature or purpose.
The book was written to first century Christians. The language, apocalyptic in nature (meaning “hidden” or encoded), would be challenging enough for them. Detailed descriptions of machines that might exist two millennia in the future would be completely confusing and would likely derail the purpose for writing to them in the first place.
Furthermore, in spite of the “future” significance so often accorded to the Book of Revelation, it nonetheless possesses a relevance for every generation in which it is read. The power of the message; i.e., “no matter how tough this life is, Christ has conquered and the believer’s ultimate hope is in Him”, should be heard repeatedly throughout the years. References to modern technology would not add anything of substance to the communication of this message.
There is another reason it does not contain “modern” technology. No one knows when the end of the world will take place. Even Jesus did not claim to know the end (Mt. 24:36). The end has not come within the 2,000 years since the book was written. It might not come for another 2,000. In order for the book to accomplish its task of encouraging believers to keep the faith, it has to remain “open ended.” So-called modern technology may seem quite antiquated in the future and utterly irrelevant.