Some time ago an occasional visitor to Covenant of Love, Crystal, had left a comment poking fun at her own dispensational view:
“I know we’re kind of viewed as the simple hillbillies of the theology world, with our massive ‘Left Behind’ collections always close by so we can make sure and grab ‘em real quick should we be raptured at any second.”
That just about sums it up. Dispensationalism is the most popular “end times” view but it is not very well respected in Christian universities or among the more “academically minded” lot. I mean no disrespect to dispensationalists, but it is interesting that the average reader of Covenant of Love would fit within the theologically adept category, and the primary view of eschatology held by my readers is amillennialism. (See glossary of terms.)
Of the visitors of Covenant of Love who voted on March’s poll, “End Times, I Believe…”, 44% said they believe in amillennialism, 17% said they believed in dispensationalism and 17% said they believed in historic premillennialism while only 5% hold to the postmillennial view. 16% voted “other”, but most of the comments were ridiculous (“time will end when I want it to”, “the bible”, “nonsense” et cetera).
For my part I voted amillennialism. But I was raised disepensational, and here’s how I changed my views.
First I did not know there where other “end times” options when I was young. I thought that all end times debates revolved around when within the Great Tribulation would the rapture occur. But as a young inquisitive man trying to understand what I was being taught, many of the dots were not connecting for me. I couldn’t understand why if Christ did not return until the end of Revelation that it appeared that he returns in chapter 11. Especially since Paul teaches that the “rapture” would happened at the last trumpet which, incidentally, also occurred in Revelation chapter 11. I could not understand why it is we always speak of Christ’ “second coming” when in reality we were taught a third “secret” coming. I could not understand why we always speak of a “Great Tribulation” as mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24 when the great tribulation which Jesus spoke of is qualified by an “if”. “If such and such happens in the winter or if so and so is pregnant, then it would be a great tribulation…” And no matter how hard I tried, I could not see a seven year tribulation in the bible anywhere. I could not reconcile a reading of Daniel 9:24-27 which would strip seven years out of its 490 year context and throw it to some unknown date in the future. I also couldn’t understand how it was that Jews during the tribulation, after the Church was raptured, get saved. I was taught that God would remove his Church and turn his attention back to Israel as a national ethnic people group. And with the Church would go the Spirit as he has been functioning since Pentecost. This created a problem for me that opened up a whole new can of worms.
If God is going to remove the Spirit and the Church and turn his attention towards national ethnic Israel as he did in the Old Testament, then that begs the question, how were the Old Testament saints saved? This opened up questions about the nature of “Law” in the Old Testament in relation to salvation. If the law or even the legal provision of sacrifices saved no one in the Old Testament as we are told by the writer of Hebrews, then how where they saved in the Old Testament? How could Jesus have expected Nicodemus to have already known about “born again” before ever being taught it in a New Testament context? If the Old Testament was about national ethnic Israel and in the New Testament God turns his attention towards Gentiles, then what of all the Gentiles living in the world before Christ? If the Church “age” is in parenthesis as a result of Israel’s denial of Jesus the Messiah, then what does that say about the purpose of God in redemption history? How can we speak of “two” peoples of God, one saved by faith in Jesus and the other being a national ethnic people-group whom God arbitrarily chose to “save” in a sovereign deterministic fashion (“all Israel will be saved”)? This went against every inclination of my understanding of God’s love in salvation requiring a choice on the part of the recipients of the Lord’s prevenient grace, and that salvation was only through Christ and that there is neither “Jew nor Gentile, for all are one in Christ”. I felt like dispensationalism was saying, “ah, yes there is Jew and Gentile, because all are not one in Christ”. To that end, John MacArthur’s audacious claim that “Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Dispensationalist” has merit (though he grossly misconstrues Covenantal Theology): an arbitrary and wholly sovereign election of one group of people to salvation (Israel) with the arbitrary damnation of everyone else best fits the scheme of Calvinism.
Then I had to deal with all the date setters and doom-sayers who where looking under every rock for the anti-Christ. No matter how many times I read Revelation, Tim Lahaye’s novels, which unambiguously claimed factorial scriptural support in that they intended to indoctrinate people (as they successfully did) to a dispensational view, could not be squared away. The scriptures seemed to be diluted of all credibility more and more with each and every Jack Van Impe episode, Tim Lahaye novel or Grant Jeffrey rant. And then when all of this was said and done, I had to ask: what did this end times view have to do with the rest of the story which the scriptures tell?
While all of this stuff was bantering around in my head I was at the same time, in what seemed to me to be a completely different subject, introduced toward a Covenantal reading of the scriptures. That God’s plan of redemption all along was to call out one man, and in calling out on man God was calling out and establishing a family through which all the families of the earth would be blessed. God did not arbitrarily call out Israel to save Israel for Israel’s sake. God called out Israel so that this family could be a light to the world. But not all Israel were ever Israel, there was always an Israel within Israel. When Israel failed in its mission to redeem creation because of it’s idolatry, God would need a true “Israelite”, a representative of “Israel” (i.e. an “anointed King” or “Messiah”) who would represent Israel who in turn represented the world. The mission all along was to undo the effects of the fall, and so the true Israelite had to be “a second Adam”. A la Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus humbled himself when Adam raised himself up. Jesus became a man when Adam wanted to become a god. Jesus died when Adam sought divine life. Thus God raised Jesus up. So then, in keeping with the representative principle, those who are “in Christ” are also raised with him. He came and bound the strong man.
By this reading there are not two people-groups of God, but one. Salvation in the Old Testament was the same as in the New Testament: by grace through faith. And this, like a large house of cards, tumbled the last remnants of my dispensational thinking, because there will be no turning back to an “Old Testament dispensation of Law” in which God turns back to Israel. God never stopped focusing on Israel because “Israel” is a term which simply means “the people of God” and includes – as it always has – both Jews and Gentiles alike.
The other views of end times I discovered all fall within the framework of Covenant Theology, with the key question being the place of the millennium of Revelation 20. Is it a literal thousand years or not? Premillennialist’s say it is while post- and amillennialist’s say it is a symbolic period encompassing the complete reign of Christ on earth. Considering the apocalyptic nature of the book of Revelation it didn’t make much sense to me to read the book symbolically and then come to Revelation 20 and all of a sudden jump into a grammatical-historical reading. Such a shift seemed terribly inconsistent. Thus I was left with only two views: post- or amillennialism? But I could not reconcile the postmillennial view that everything will get better and better until finally the world will eventually be all but converted (something like 98% give or take) thus establishing the Kingdom of God which it will successfully hand over to Christ when he comes. The scriptures do not seem to portray such a positive end to human history. Rather it seems that things are going to get worse and worse until Christ returns to judge.
Thus I found myself in the amillennial view by default (give or take some details).
Amillennialism is called “Simple Eschatology” for good reason. It is the simplest view of end times. Christ is reigning in and through his Church who are raised with Christ (the first resurrection) in which the devil is bound by Christ’ work on the cross, through the continued work of the Spirit and the power given to the Church by Jesus himself. At an immanent date which no one knows, Christ will return, everyone will be resurrected (the righteous and the wicked) for judgment. Those who are resurrected in righteousness are those who have already been raised with Christ and found being “in Him”, the righteousness of God, and will live eternally in the new Creation – the old earth and heaven being consumed by fire. The wicked will be judged accordingly and – according to Revelation – cast into the Lake of Fire “for ever and ever”.
In this way I find amillennialism to be uniquely bound up in the redemption-historical-narrative of the scriptures involving not just stories about the latter of the last days, but of every element of this Christian life and what it means to be “in Christ”, “resurrected with Christ”, “seated in heavenly places”, having “authority over all the wiles of the evil one”, being declared “the righteousness of God in Christ” and so on.
So that’s the story of how I came to my eschatological view, what about you? How did you come to the view you hold of end times?