There are many different approaches to interpreting end times prophecy. These approaches are largely based on various fundamental assumptions, each of which guides the interpreter to quite different views. Here is one way of categorizing some of the more popular views:
---- Idealist (amillennial)
---- Preterist (historical-postmillennial)
---- Pre-millennialist (futurist)
-------- Pre-tribulational (dispensationalism)
The idealist view takes a purely figurative approach, not even considering literal interpretation. The idealist is free to find an appropriate application of the figurative concepts and symbols to current circumstances. While most serious Bible readers consider the personal and general applications of scripture as well as the literal meaning, the idealist does not believe that end times passages should be interpreted literally to any degree. They instead see such scriptures as a general portrayal of the fight between good and evil with graphic warnings that encourage the Christian to live righteously. The idealist view is also associated with amillennialism, which states that there is not a literal millennial reign of Christ on earth, but rather that Christians are currently reigning with Christ in a figurative sense as we strive to bring about justice and righteousness in the world.
While this approach to interpretation can be very helpful in emphasizing the Christian's ongoing duty to live righteously, the limitation is that it entirely misses the message of judgment and any opportunity for preparation and understanding of specific prophetic fulfillment. If, in fact, end times Bible passages are prophetic, as they claim internally, then this figurative view can lead the idealists astray to the point that they find themselves unprepared for end times events. Christ repeatedly warns against being unprepared at his coming.
The preterist (historical) view holds that most of Revelation was fulfilled
in the first century, and that many prophetic details relate to the fall of
As we move further in time from
Although this interpretation differs significantly from the idealist, the
end result is the same in terms of denying a future end times period. This
results in the belief that we are to lead a righteous life, without needing to
prepare for a rapture or a tribulation period followed by a supernatural reign
with Christ on earth. This view also
completely ignores the role of the Jewish race and nation of
This view holds that end times prophecy has been in the process of being fulfilled since the time of Christ. It sees fulfillments through historical events over the past two millennia, and typically does not hold to a final seven year tribulation period, a specific person as the antichrist, or the special role of national Israel as distinct from the church.
As with the preterist view, the historicist approach can also lead to a lack of alertness to what could be very specific end times events.
The pre-millennial (futurist) views all hold that most of end times prophecy has yet to be fulfilled and that Christ's second coming is followed by a literal thousand-year reign with the resurrected saints. The differences within the pre-millennial approach are primarily in the timing of the rapture of the Church. The pre-millennial view can thus be further broken down into pre-tribulation (based on dispensationalism), mid-tribulation, pre-wrath, and post-tribulation.
Dispensationalism holds that God deals with man differently in successive
covenantal eras, or dispensations, such as innocence, conscience, civil
government, promise, Mosaic law, grace (church), tribulation, and millennium.
This leads to a rigid distinction between prophecies about
Dispensationalism is a convenient tool for organizing scriptural events to compartmentalize God's dealings with man. However, God's ways are not man's ways. They are much less structured and definite, at least compared to our way of thinking. The "doctrine" of dispensations is a contrivance that allows commentators to neatly divide God's workings with Israel and the church. But God sees the church as a fulfillment of Israel's promise, while at the same time seeing national Israel and the church as separate entities. He is not confused by the simultaneous classifications and does not have to have mutually exclusive compartments. After all, the original church was Jewish to a large degree.
Simultaneous classifications that appear to be different are a great stumbling block to scholars and others who want to understand the Scriptures in unambiguous terms. Trying to resolve this ambiguity has caused much of the division in Christianity. We should instead not be afraid to hold what at present appear to be opposing views. This dynamic tension between different surface ideas is the source of great understanding about the depth of God's wisdom and knowledge. We cannot unlock God's mysteries without being willing to investigate such paradoxes and apparent anomalies.
The best example of this was the apparently mutually exclusive views of the Christ as a suffering servant and a conquering national savior. The Jews could not resolve these two views, and as a result chose the more convenient one over the other, less attractive, view. Other modern-day examples include faith vs. works, grace vs. the law, and predeterminism vs. free will.
Therefore, just because we see apparently ambiguous scriptures concerning
the church and
The following are some of the other arguments for a pre-tribulation rapture:
· John being caught up to heaven in Revelation 4:1 as a picture of the Church being raptured prior to any of the other tribulation events
· The 24 elders in heaven in Revelation 4 are from the church, and so must have been raptured before all of the subsequent events take place
· Christ is coming “for” his saints, and then “with” the saints – the interval allows for the judgment of believers and the marriage supper of the Lamb
Tribulation is to punish
· Believers will escape tribulation and be delivered from wrath and judgment
· The church should have a constant expectation of Christ’s (not antichrist’s) coming
· The “restrainer” of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 is the church, or the Holy Spirit living in the body of believers, which must be removed before antichrist is allowed to appear
The other pre-millennial views see different timings of the rapture. These views are not necessarily based on the dispensational scheme, but rather attempt to explain as many scriptures as possible with a particular scenario.
The mid-tribulation view is based on the assertion that the tribulation is actually the three and one-half year Great Tribulation, and that it commences with the revealing of the Antichrist midway through the seven year peace treaty he has made with Israel. At that point the church is raptured in order to escape the Great Tribulation, which is taken to be God's wrath.
The arguments for a mid-tribulation rapture are the same as for the pre-trib, with the following exceptions:
· The “last” trumpet of 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians is the same as the seventh, or “last,” trumpet of Revelation , indicating that the rapture comes between the second and third woes (Revelation )
· The two witnesses in Revelation 11 symbolize the rapture since they are taken up to heaven after three and one-half years of tribulation, before the remaining three and one-half years of God’s wrath on the earth
· The “great” tribulation referred to in Matthew 24:21 is last three and one-half years of Daniel’s seventieth week, starting with the abomination of desolation, which is the revealing of the antichrist as God’s usurper
· The seals in Revelation 6 and 8 are not judgments, but beginning of birth pains referred to in Matthew 24:3-12
· The seals and trumpets are not God’s wrath, which starts in Revelation 11:18
The pre-wrath view says that the church will experience some of the Great Tribulation period after the mid-point of Daniel's seventieth week, when antichrist is revealed. This would include the natural and man-caused disasters, or wrath, but then the church will be taken out just prior to the wrath of God aimed at the unrepentant. In this view God's wrath includes only the trumpet and bowl judgments, which occur after the sixth seal.
The following are some of the arguments for a pre-wrath rapture:
The post-tribulation view sees a single second coming of Christ. It says
that the church will be kept by God's grace through all of Daniel's seventieth
week, and the saints will be given their glorified bodies in order to meet
Christ as he comes to earth to defeat the antichrist at Armageddon and
establish his millennial reign in
The following are some of the arguments for a post-tribulation rapture:
Of course, proponents of all of these views are sincere Christians who have carefully researched the Bible and historical records. Each can bring very convincing arguments to bear, with scriptures to prove their point of view and disprove the others.
How can so many different interpretations come from sincere believers? An analogy can be found in the sciences, where the objective is to develop theories that will explain observable phenomena and then predict future results. This is what we try to do with scriptures. Following the scientific method gives us a feeling of understanding, and ultimately, control.
One of the weaknesses of the scientific method, however, and of this approach to understanding scriptures, is that, in our rush to get results, we often form hypotheses prematurely. Then, we may compound the error by analyzing the data with a view to proving or disproving the hypothesis, not realizing that there are other, more valuable insights to be gained by delaying the analysis.
Often, we simply do not have enough data to formulate valuable hypotheses. This applies particularly to end times prophecy. As with the prophecies about Christ's first coming, much did not become clear until the latter part of his ministry on earth. However, by then, most of his disciples had already formed their hypotheses, and were simply looking for data to confirm them. They consistently ignored any new data to the contrary, confident that they fully understood the Old Testament scriptures, and that events would have to occur according to their understanding.
If we think that we do not have to pay attention to end times events as they transpire, and if we are not willing to adjust our hypotheses accordingly, then we are likewise subject to being deceived.
Copyright 2005 by Clay Watts, Dallas, Texas. All rights reserved.