End Times Poll Results

Derek Ouellette —  April 3, 2011

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?

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://sermonsbytom.blogspot.com/ Tom Eggebeen

    Thanks for sharing your story … makes for a fascinating read.

    Having grown up in the Reformed Church in America and having been a Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor for 41 years, I’ve always been A-millennial.

    I’ve always thought that the “rapture” interpretation was an effort to get on top of things, so to speak, to find the secrets of history and God’s purpose. I’ve always wondered why, and have always suspected that such “knowledge” could only be a poor substitute for trusting God!

    I think, too, it fulfills a certain hubris that emerges in full light when folks pat themselves on the back for being in the “in-group,” while the rest of the poor slobs will be “left behind.”

    What better way to feel important in a world where maybe you weren’t so important, and in world where powerful people who made life difficult would be left behind, once and for all. I think there was a lot of sociological/psychological energy at work in rapture congregations.

    For me and my house, a-millennialism reflects a great deal more of Scripture than does the rapture interpretation which tries to build an entire eschatological schema on just a few verses – always a dangerous and difficult thing to manage. The sheer instability of such an interpretation is a good clue that it’s questionable, at best.

    Anyway, thanks for your story (we all have one, don’t we?) and the poll information.

  • Jeffrey Heimann

    Great stuff Zeke. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I too voted the big “A”. (Does that make me a part of the “A-Team”?) I took a very similar journey to this eschatological place. I wish I would’ve known we were both taking this trip. We could’ve car-pooled and saved on gas. :)

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      HA! That’s great, we could have car-pooled! :)

  • http://www.arnizachariassen.com/ithinkibelieve Arni Zachariassen

    Thanks, Derek! Really good post. My story is very similar, though I’ve yet to do an adequately deep study of the issues. I’ll have to do it one day, sooner rather than later. Which books would you recommend in that regard?

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Arni, I’ll recommend the path I took:

      O Palmer Robertsons: Christ of the Covenant
      N.T. Wright: Climax of the Covenant (especially this one!)
      Oscar Cullmann: Christ and Time
      (Also, End Times Delusion by Steve Wohlberg and The Apocalypse Code by Hank Hanegraaff – but these latter two are more polemical and less academic. Still, they offered many helpful thoughts.)

      These three (Robertson, Cullmann and especially Wright) will help you read the bible from a Covenantal view which intrinsically opposes dispensationalism. If you are a consistent thinker you’ll either accept a Covenantal reading and reject dispensationalism or you will accept dispensationalism and reject Covenantalism.

      As for end times exclusively, I’d recommend: “A Case for Amillennialism” and “A Case for Historic Premillennialism” and “An Eschatology of Hope”. That will cover the three Covenantal views of end times. From there you can choose which one you believe squares best with scripture.

      For my own part, I never became an amillennialist by researching the system. It more or less happened by default. Sometimes I read amill books and find myself disagreeing with some of them in the fine points.

  • http://treasurecontained.wordpress.com Crystal

    Oh lovely. I guess you never know what comments will come back to haunt you. :)

    “If you are a consistent thinker you’ll either accept a Covenantal reading and reject dispensationalism or you will accept dispensationalism and reject Covenantalism.”

    This is certainly true…and it is why, even though you make some points worth considering, nothing but a major shift in hermeneutical convictions could lead me down a covenantal path.

    Funny, I do believe Calvinism enjoys the same exalted position among the “academically minded” as does Amillennialism.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      No haunting Crystal, only admiration. Bloggers like yourself give dispensationalism credibility in my eyes. 😉

  • http://www.natlewis.co.uk Nathanael Lewis

    Fascinating reading. I come from a background where those who talked about end times were dispensationalist and pre-trib people. There was so much back and forth between pre-trib and mid-trib (I opted for the latter but acknowledged that there really wasn’t much in it between the two – you can easily make a case for either – it’s a theological pinyata – pin the rapture on a point in Daniel’s final week!’) that eventually I gave up and moved on. I remained, and still remain, a pre-millenialist, but emphatically not a dispensationalist. It took the sinking in of the implications of the excellent Wenham book :’ Paul, Follower of Christ or Founder of Christianity’ before light dawned. There was no reference to the rapture in Daniel. Paul in his two references to a rapture event, was being true to his rabbinical Jewish training – he was deliberately alluding to Jesus’ end time teaching in Matthew 24 – by using the same elements – trumpet calls, gathering in the clouds, the shout of an archangel, gathering – showing that he was teaching these (primarily Gentile) churches that they share in the event Jesus promised his Jewish disciples – a universal ingathering at his visible appearing. Once I had escaped the incessant brainwashing of the ‘secret rapture’ view, it became clear that the one rapture option I had dismissed – post-trib, was actually the biblical one. I noticed many things – all the dispensationalist books I read, in their chapters on the rapture, started out by painting the familiar dramatic scene – millions of people vanishing, leaving cars and planes crashing and chaos behind – and only then cited a few verses out of context without detailed examination, to fit the vivid picture they had created. Not only that, but they called this ‘secret rapture’ ‘the blessed hope’ – meaning the raptured get to escape the tribulation, when that phrase appears in the bible once only, where the hope is the visible and glorious appearing of Jesus Christ. Notice that the rat-like sneaking secret invisible rapture is totally different to this verse – a furtive Jesus sneaking poacher-like to steal people away is very different from the glorious public return of the reigning king the bible describes. And also, notice the change in emphasis. The glorious hope is the hope of the restoration of God’s rule and creation – it is focused on King Jesus returning to put the whole world to right, whereas in the secret rapture doctrine the ‘blessed…

  • http://www.natlewis.co.uk Nathanael Lewis

    ….hope’ – meaning the raptured get to escape the tribulation, when that phrase appears in the bible once only, where the hope is the visible and glorious appearing of Jesus Christ. Notice that the rat-like sneaking secret invisible rapture is totally different to this verse – a furtive Jesus sneaking poacher-like to steal people away is very different from the glorious public return of the reigning king the bible describes. And also, notice the change in emphasis. The glorious hope is the hope of the restoration of God’s rule and creation – it is focused on King Jesus returning to put the whole world to right, whereas in the secret rapture doctrine the ‘blessed hope’ is us escaping trouble – hardly Christlike, and very human and me-me focused.

    Succinctly put about the theological problems of the rapture re post-rapture salvation.
    I can sympathise with your comments about gaps in the 70 weeks of Daniel – it does seem very arbitrary, but here some Dispensationalists have a very good point – even if you have to eat the meat and spit out the dispensationalist bones. The context is the prophecy of Jeremiah that the exile to Babylon would last 70 years, and 2 Chronicles 26 specifically says the exile of 70 years was so that the land could have the sabbath year rests. 70 years x 7 = 490 years – but if you tot up the years from the conquest to Jeremiah, it is clear that if the sabbath year was never observed, there would be a lot more than 70 sabbath years rest needed to make up for it. So there has to be a gap or gaps in the original Jeremiah prophecy. And if so, then it was quite logical that there could be a gap in the 490 year prophecy of Daniel about AFTER the exile, just as there was in the implied 490 years BEFORE the exile. Context is everything! And then there is the fact that the ‘weeks’ are divided up into different periods – and the text clearly implies a gap between the end of the 62 ‘7’s and the final seven. AFTER the 62 sevens the Messiah is slain, and then the people of the prince WHO IS TO COME destroys the city and the sanctuary, and then it says wars will continue ’till the end’. This surely implies some considerable passing of time, and it is only when ‘he’ – which by linguistic necessity must be the prince who is to come’ makes a covenant in the final ‘7’.
    Now I know that the whole pin the rapture in the final Daniel week ferrago can put you off any associated ideas, but in actual fact the case for a gap in the 70…

  • http://www.natlewis.co.uk Nathanael Lewis

    …70 weeks is very strong….

    Oh this last little snippet was so worth it!

  • http://www.natlewis.co.uk Nathanael Lewis

    Oh, sorry, should have been 2 Chronicles 36….

  • Larry

    [Found the following on the web!]

    Type in “Joe Ortiz’s End Times Passover (April 9)” on Google etc. Media personality Ortiz has managed to find a way to expose historian Dave MacPherson! After what you may have heard about him, you may discover that MacPherson is a horse of a different color. It’s true, as Rapture Ready revealed in an article entitled “Who’s Who of Prophecy”, that MacPherson bought the first ticket ever sold at Disneyland on July 18, 1955. Whether this means that MacPherson has “Goofy” theology or lives in historical “Fantasyland” is for you to decide. Be careful when you are checking out the “End Times Passover” blog because there is important material to evaluate (handle with care!) such as a facsimile of part of Margaret MacDonald’s handwritten “pretrib rapture” revelation of 1830 that MacPherson says he found in the British Library in England – Google “Joe Ortiz’s End Times Passover (March 9, 2010).” This information is for mature Christians only.