Stylos is the blog of Jeff Riddle, a Reformed Baptist Pastor in North Garden, Virginia. The title "Stylos" is the Greek word for pillar. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul urges his readers to consider "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar (stylos) and ground of the truth."
Image (left side): Decorative urn with title for the book of Acts in Codex Alexandrinus.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
The Vision (1.30.14): A Very Brief Overview of Christian Views on Eschatology (Last Things)
Note:Last week one of our members asked me if I
would give him an overview of the various views on Christian eschatology and
provide some suggested resources for study. I responded by writing him a rather
lengthy email.This week one of the
students from Lynchburg emailed me, making an almost identical request.So, I went back to the first email to edit
and enlarge it.The result is the brief essay
Eschatology refers to the doctrine of last things.In general, orthodox,
Bible-believing Christians hold that we are living between the first and second
advents of the Lord Jesus Christ.We
live in this present evil age looking forward to the glorious new age in which
Christ will finally triumph.
The doctrine of last things can
be divided into two categories:(1)
personal eschatology and (2) cosmic eschatology.
Personal eschatology has to do with what awaits human
beings at the end of their lives on earth.The Biblical view of personal eschatology is succinctly stated in Questions
36-39 in Spurgeon’s Baptist Catechism.
Cosmic eschatology has to do with the end of history
and creation on a cosmic scale.When
most people ask about the Christian view of eschatology, this is the category
they are usually thinking about.
Basic Christian Affirmations on Eschatology:Orthodox, Bible-believing
Christians hold to the following basic teachings regarding last things:
·There will be a final, glorious
second coming (parousia or “advent”)
·At Christ’s coming there will be a
general resurrection of the dead (of which Christ is the first fruit).
·After the general resurrection,
there will be a final judgment.
·At the final judgment all men
will be permanently assigned for eternity to heaven or hell.
·God will create a new heavens and
a new earth.
·God will be all in all, gloriously
ruling for eternity.
All these things constitute the
Christian hope. They are described in chapter
31 and chapter
32 of the Second
London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).
Various views on the timeline of Christ’s coming:As noted, all true Christians
will generally agree in affirming the basic events sketched above.There are differences among Christians,
however, on when and how Christ’s
parousia will take place.Much of
the difference relates to the proper interpretation of Revelation 20, a key passage
where mention is made of a thousand year reign of Christ.This thousand year period is referred to as “the millennium.”
In the history of Christian
interpretation of the Bible, there have been three major views on the timing of Christ's second coming related
to the millennium:
1. Historic Premillennialism: This view hold that Christ’s
coming will take place before
the millennium, reflecting the following general timeline:
literal thousand year rule of Christ on earth;
(3) A last
rebellion and defeat of evil;
(4) The other events of the final consummation (general resurrection,
judgment, assignment to heaven or hell, new creation, etc.).
2. Amillennialism: This view holds that there is nota literal millennium, but
that this term is to be taken figuratively as referring to this present age,
reflecting the following timeline:
present age is the millennium;
(3) The other
events of the final consummation.
3. Postmillennialism: This view holds that Christ will return
only after the establishment
of the millennium.Some take the
millennium as literally lasting a thousand years and others as figuratively
referring to a substantial and extended period of time. This view reflects the
(1) The triumph of the Christian movement eventually results in a
Christian "golden age” (the millennium);
(2) Christ returns;
(3) The other events of the final consummation.
In addition to these three basic
views of Christian eschatology, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century there developed
a variation on the first view (“Historic Premillennialism”) that is called
"Dispensational Premillennialism” which has had a significant impact
within modern evangelicalism.
Premillennialism.This view holds that Christ will return before a literal thousand year
millennium.It holds, however, that
Christ’s coming will take place in two stages.Christ will first come secretly to “rapture” the church. Then, after a
seven year period of tribulation on earth during which some will be converted
and, thus, become “tribulation saints,” Christ will return yet again, this time
publically and universally.This view
reflects the following timeline:
Christ’s secret coming and the rapture of Christians;
(2) A seven
year period of tribulation;
second stage of Christ’s coming which is public and universal;
(4) A literal thousand year rule of Christ on earth which includes the
building of a “third temple” in Jerusalem and the re-establishment of temple
last rebellion against Christ and the final defeat of evil;
(6) The final consummation (though some dispensational schemes also
differentiate between various resurrections and judgments that do not
correspond to the mainstream views).
also has some distinctive additional teachings, particularly with regard to its
views on Biblical hermeneutics (interpretation), including its view that the
Bible teaches that history can be divided into various “dispensations.”This includes seeing the present “church age”
as a “parenthesis” in holy history.This
view leads dispensationalists to reject “covenant theology” and to downplay the
significance of the Old Testament for New Covenant believers.It does not see continuity between Old
Testament Israel and the New Testament church, and it differentiates between
God’s plan of salvation for Jews and his plan of salvation for believers in the
In recent years, there has
movement within the dispensational camp known as “Progressive Dispensationalism.” This view has been put forward by various
scholars in historically dispensational schools (most notably, Dallas Seminary).
It has attempted to modify some of the interpretive difficulties and
peculiarities of historic dispensationalism and to reconcile it with covenant
theology.It has done so by, among other
things, affirming the value of the Old Testament for the Christian life and by
stressing elements of continuity between God’s plan of salvation for Jewish
saints in the Old Testament and in the church today.
Though all should agree on the
basic affirmations regarding eschatology sketched above, we acknowledge that
men of good will may take different interpretations regarding the timeline of
Christ’s second coming.The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith
(1689), for example, does not take a position regarding Christ’s advent in
relation to the millennium.Thus, it
might be affirmed by a Historic Premillennialist, an Amillennialist, or a
Postmillennialist, and persons holding to any of those positions might well be part
of a church holding to the confession.There
are, however significant hermeneutical and doctrinal problems with Dispensational
Premillennialism that place it at irreconcilable odds with Reformed theology
and the confession.
Which ministers and theologians have held or currently hold the various
1. Historic premillennialism: Advocates have included the
church father Justin Martyr; maybe C. H. Spurgeon (his views are sometimes hard
to nail down); and evangelical theologians like George Eldon Ladd and Wayne
Grudem (reflected in his popular Systematic
2. Amillennialism: Advocates include most modern reformed
theologians (e.g., Herman Hoeksema; William Hendriksen, R. C. Sproul, Michael
Horton, etc.), as well as others like the Lutheran theologian Kim Riddlebarger.
3. Postmillenialism: Advocates included Jonathan Edwards and
most Puritan, evangelical, and Reformed theologians and missionaries of the
18th-19th centuries [the book to read here: Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope].The view
has been revived in recent years by a number of Presbyterian and Reformed
theologians including Keith Mathison andJohn Jefferson Davis.
4. Dispensational Premillennialism: The Plymouth Brethren
preacher John Nelson Darby is usually named as the founder of this view.It was popularized by C. I. Schofield through
the notes of his Schofield Reference
Bible.The view has also been
popularly promoted in fundamentalistic and conservative evangelical circles by
ministers and authors like Jerry Falwell (Thomas D. Ice directs the “The
Pre-Trib Research Center” at Liberty University), Tim LaHaye (in the popular Left Behind books), and David
Jeremiah.Preacher and author John
MacArthur is both a Calvinist and a dispensationalist!The view has also been held by scholars like Lewis
Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, and Charles C. Ryrie, all connected with Dallas
Here are a few books that might help get a handle on things: