Eschatology


Kingdom Come by StormsOne of the topics I have always enjoyed is systematic theology but for many years I avoided eschatology (end times). I avoided it because I was confused. I didn’t, like many other Christians, think eschatology did not matter, I was just scared of it. In seminary I realized I had turn my attention to the subject and began to study it seriously. It is wrongheaded for a Christian to think that eschatology does not matter and just claim the mantra, “In the end Christ comes back and wins and that’s all that maters!” This was not the view of the writers of Scripture or Jesus and it should not be the view of any Christian who takes the Bible seriously. If we want to understand God, Christ, Scripture and our “so great salvation” more, we need to devote ourselves to the understanding of eschatology. The Bible is pointing not only to someone (Christ) but also somewhere – the future coming kingdom of Christ.

There are a lot of books defending the various end times positions. Most people hold to the eschatological view point they were taught by their parents, teachers or church when they were younger. Systems of belief are hard to change and when it comes to Christian theology, eschatology is among the hardest. But it does happen and it happened to well regarded pastor and author Sam Storms. In 1977 Storms graduated with his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary which has been the flagship seminary for Premillennial Dispensational theology for decades. He was taught by some of the greatest Dispensational theologians such as Walvoord, Ryrie and Pentecost.

After graduation, having become enamored with all things eschatology, Storms read the highly influential book The Presence of the Future by George Eldon Ladd. For Storms, like many others before and after him who have read Ladd’s work, this book became the catalyst to setting him on a journey from Premillennial Dispensationalism to Amillennialism. After years of reading, writing and teaching on the subject, Storms has written his own contribution to the eschatological discussion in Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative which was published last year with Mentor.

This is not a complete critical review of the book as it is not warranted given Storms is not necessarily presenting a different case for amillennialism though he does present the case differently. Though Storms work will stand along side others who champion his view such as Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future or more recently Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism, what sets Storms book apart from these and others is that he makes his case for Amillennialism along with presenting the Dispensational view and what he believes to be its weaknesses and failings. While others try to do this in their books to some extent, most of them do so from the outside looking into Dispensationalism and none to the extent of Storms. This does not mean they cannot do it sufficiently. However, Storms has the advantage of having been taught by some of Dispensationalism’s best. He can do so as someone who once was but now is not. Simply dismissing Storms’ change under the rubric of “he must have never really understood Dispensationalism or else he would not have changed,” will not do. It is simplistically dismissive and naive. Rather, contrary to the opinion of some, Storms unique contribution needs to be heard and taken seriously, even for die in the wool Dispensationalist’s who will not change.

Of particular interest to Dispensationalist’s will be chapter two Defining Dispensationalism and chapter five Problems with Dispensationalism in which Storms offers some devastating critiques of Dispensationalism which reveal weaknesses, that, some of which, cannot be overcome. For instance, regarding Dispensationalism’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s vision of the rebuilt temple, Storms says, “It wold be an egregious expression of the worst imaginable redemptive regression to suggest that God would ever sanction the rebuilding of the temple.” (21, emphasis author)  Though admittedly a strongly worded statement, I was jarred when I read it and paused for awhile to mull it over. Or, in response to the Dispensational view that there are two people’s of God Storms states that

Not one single ethnic Jew who believes in Jesus Christ as the Messiah has been ‘replaced’ or lost his/her inheritance in the blessings of the covenant. Rather, every single ethnic Gentile who believes in Jesus Christ as the Messiah has been ‘included’ in the commonwealth  of Israel and grafted into the one olive tree. Thus, the true Israel, the true ‘seed’ of Abraham, which is to say, any and all who are ‘in Christ’ by faith, regardless of ethnicity, will together inherit the blessings of the covenant.” (207)

I myself was brought up under the same teaching as Storms regarding eschatology. On the highway of eschatological views I have exited onto Historic Premillennialism and I am not sure when, if ever, I will get off and move on. As such I am in agreement with a number of Storms interpretations, hermeneutical principles and Dispensational critiques, such as his understanding of Daniel 9, the relationship between Jesus and the OT prophecies, much of his understanding of the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments and the relationship between Israel and the Church. On the other hand, amidst several points of disagreement I have with Amillennialism the greatest that remains is its interpretation of Revelation 20 and the 1,000 years and its attending events. Storms wants to read the 1,000 years in light of the rest of preceding Scriptural understanding of eschatology instead of the other way around. He also points out the symbolic nature of numbers in the rest of Revelation as support for why the 1,000 years does not have to be taken “literalistically”. I am sympathetic to his concerns but I still cannot shake myself of a future millennial kingdom preceding eternity, rather than one that is coexistent with present history.

All in all, Kingdom Come is a worthy read for anyone interested in eschatology and I suspect it will be a go-to-book in defense of Amillennialism and in response to Premillennial Dispensationalism. The writing is clear and well organized. Storms critiques can come across strong and passionate at times but his tone should not distract one from the force of the arguments he advances. Eschatology can be daunting and confusing but Storms has brought some more clarity that will surely help many to come. This is a good book for those interested in eschatology in general and for those who want a contemporary defense of Amillennialism. This is as much a book for Dispensationalist’s who are looking to refine their position in the face of critique and for those who have doubts about their position and are looking for someone who can better articulate what they are thinking.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Christian Focus Publications in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the thoughts and words expressed are my own.

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To some the mere mention of the end times and eschatology turns their stomachs. To others, it is a hot button issue that people will stake their lives on and the faith of others against. Still others cannot even clearly articulate their position on the rapture, millennium or the new heaven and earth. After all, once Christ returns, what will it matter then what we think now?

But these kinds of reactions and thoughts, though at times understandable, should not characterize the Christian. After all, since the beginning of time, with the fall of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3, God’s people have been looking to the end. From Genesis to Revelation, there is a looking to the end and fulfilling of the end throughout Scripture. Eschatology is considered by many theologians to be a unifying theological discipline as it brings together the hopes and expectations of God’s people in a broken world.

40 Questions About the End Times is not your typical book on eschatology. Most books on the end times are intentionally written seeking to present the view of the writer. So, the eschatological view of the writer may be on the cover of the book such as premillennialism, amillennialism or postmillennialism. No doubt there is value to these kinds of books because the author believes their position is what Scripture teaches. In serving the author, they also serve the reader.40 Questions About the End Times is different. Though the author does have his own eschatological position, he does not clearly state it anywhere in the book. Schnabel’s goal is to read “the relevant texts of the Old and New Testaments afresh” (p. 11). So this book is an exegetical, historical, grammatical and linguistical examination of the relevant texts of Scripture that answer the 40 questions Schnabel seeks to answer.

There are five basic principles of interpretation that Schnabel follows. First, though both testaments are the word of God, it is the New Testament that receives the primary voice in the interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies. “The prophecies of the Old Testament must be integrated into the framework of New Testament prophecy. While the Old Testament remains the revealed word of God, it is the New Testament that informs Christians how to read the Old Testament” (p. 11). The New Testament is the churches guide for interpreting the Old Testament. Second, because, though Jesus said that his return was imminent, Jesus said many times that no one knows the day or hour when Jesus would return and that His return would be like a thief in the night, we are to steer clear of date setting. Third, that “the early Christians believed the end times began with the coming of Jesus, in particular with his death and resurrection” we need to take this seriously by allowing it to inform our understanding of end time events. Fourth, because the first century Christians believed that Jesus might return in their lifetime, “this means that the apostles interpreted biblical prophecy concerning the end times as either fulfilled or as about to be fulfilled in the near future” (p.12). Fifth, as faithful interpreters of Scripture we need to interpret prophetic texts the same way we would any other text of Scripture. We need to take into account the genre of the book, the historical, cultural, and literary background as well and the context of the texts and intent of the author. We need to let the text tell us what it is intending to say, whether literally, figuratively or symbolically, instead of telling the text what we want it to say just so it fits our presuppositions of the end times.

40 Questions About the End Times is an even handed approach to interpreting many biblical texts concerning the end times. Because of Schnabel’s first interpretive principle (see above), the New Testament is given the primary voice in answering the questions. However, in answering every question, the Old Testament texts that give birth to the New Testament discussion are brought into the conversation. Schnabel rightly holds to the already-not-yet tension of eschatology in Scripture. The predominate Old Testament text from which Schnabel sees most of the New Testament referring to eschatologically is Daniel 7-12. There is a lot of discussion given to Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation.

One of the guiding beliefs Schnabel holds to is that the coming of Jesus, namely the resurrection, inaugurates the beginning of the end times (see question 1). Thus, the end times have already begun in Christ. The eleven signs of the end times (see question 3) are to be understood as occurring between the first and second coming of Christ (see question 4). This leads to the belief that all of the NT texts that refer to the return of Christ are speaking of the same event, though they mention different aspects, and thus there is no secret rapture of the church before a seven year tribulation (see question 10) and further, Christians will live during (are living in now) the tribulation as discussed in Dan. 12-13, Matt. 24, 1 Thess. 4-5 and Rev. 1, 4, 7 and 12 (see question 8). Many other issues are discussed such as the future of Israel, the meaning of the millennium, the relationship between the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments of Rev. 6-16, many of the events in Revelation and the day of judgment.

I applaud what Schnabel has done here and readers will find it very helpful. If you are unsure of where you are with a number of end times issues, this book is for you. If you are in transition between eschatological views, this book is for you. If you are seeking a fresh (as much as a work can be) approach to the end times passages in the New Testament that does not have a certain eschatological position as its agenda, this book is for you. If you are firm in your conviction about your eschatology, this book is still for you. In short, this book is for every laymen, pastor, student and teacher who wants to gain a better grasp on the end times passages of the Bible.

40 Questions About the End Times is scholarly in research, timely, exegetically based, lucid in presentation and respectful to various end times positions. Schnabel unashamedly affirms what Scripture is clear on, leaves room for disagreement where it is not and does not tread where Scripture does not allow.

NOTE: I received this book for free to review for Kregel and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

There is no other book that has been the subject of the most fanciful interpretations than the book of Revelation. Various interpreters throughout the ages have wrestled with how to understand the many foreign and vivid images let alone present to the average Christian what it might mean for their lives. As such, the discussion of the book of Revelation has been dominated by proper interpretive method at the expense of practical and contemporary significance. Revelation was after all written to seven churches and it is for the church today.

With a desire to let the text speak for itself and a level headed approach, James Hamilton Jr. has written the newest commentary in the Preaching the Word series titled Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. Hamilton is associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of preaching at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

The structure of the books is simple. Hamilton has preached through Revelation twice so this commentary is the fruit of experience and a desire to bring the truth and relevance of Revelation, amidst its hard to interpret sections, to the everyday life of the contemporary believer. Each chapter is written in the form of a sermon with introduction, main point, a preview of the chapter, the overall context of the section in the book of Revelation, the body of the commentary and then a conclusion to bring it all together.

Because Hamilton is concerned with the practical application of the book, he is not wrapped up in the academic discussion of the various views of Revelation though he does mention them by name at points. Hamilton’s position is historic premillennialism but he does not explicitly push this. He sees the 70th week of Daniel as the present church age and the future millennial kingdom as a period of time that does not necessarily have to be a literal 1,000 years. He sees overlap in the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments such that they are describing more different angels of the same thing over against a sequential description of different judgments. Hamilton touches on many of the points of tension in the various views of Revelation without handling it with a debate mentality. Perhaps the only debate point he does not mention is the idea expressed by pretribulationalists that the Rapture of the church happens before 4:1. Hamilton’s silence on this speaks to his disagreement with this (and I agree) but it would have been nice to see his argument for not agreeing with it.

At the heart of the book is the pastoral desire to bring the message of Revelation to bear on the life of the believer. Hamilton steers clear from newspaper interpretations of the book that seek to read into Scripture what is happening in current world events. Much of the referents in Revelation would have been referring to the seven churches historical situation because it was written to them and their situation. However, though Revelation was written to seven churches it is for the church today.  Hamilton rightly contends that all of Revelation is for the New Testament believer and thus speaks to the churches situation throughout time until Christ returns. Throughout his explanation of the text Hamilton weaves practical application into each chapter and is constantly driving at the spiritual life of the believer. Hamilton expresses a deep desire for Revelation to speak to the heart and mind of the believer.

Though this commentary is focused on the practical aspect of Revelation, Hamilton shows he has done his homework and is up to date with current scholarship. Hamilton shows his grasp and knowledge of the Old Testament as he ably shows the OT roots to much of Revelation. Hamilton also shows his grasp of biblical theology as Revelation is the culmination of redemptive revelation within history and serves as the climax to it all.

At the end of the day, Revelation shows that Christ the King will ultimately triumph over sin and Satan and His inaugurated kingdom will overcome the world and rule for eternity. I highly recommend Hamilton’s Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches as it will be both informative and devotional.

Kregel has released its newest book in the 40 Questions and Answers Series with Eckhard Schnabel’s book 40 Questions About the End Times. This book looks like an even handed approach to many questions Christians have concerning the end times. You can read an interview Matt Smethurst did over at the Gospel Coalition Blog.

To celebrate the release of this new book Kregel is hosting a giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card. Enter to win here.

Last week I posted my review of Reading Revelation: A Comparison of Four Interpretive Translations of the Apocalypse by C. Marvin Pate. This week Dr. Pate has agreed to answer some questions about his new book.

Dr. Pate teaches at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas where he is the Dept. Chair for Christian Theology and the Elma Cobb Professor of Christian Theology. Previous to teaching, Dr. Pate was a pastor at which time he earned his MA from Wheaton and his PhD from Marquette University.

Dr. Pate has spent a lifetime of writing books on eschatology some of which include: The End of the age Has Come: The Theology of Paul, Four Views on the Book of Revelation (contributor), Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times (contributor) and Doomsday Delusions: What’s Wrong with Predictions About the End of the World.

1. Share with us what started your interest in eschatology.

Two events drew me to eschatology, both of which occurred when I was 14 years old. First, on a hot July Monday evening in Hampton, Virginia (where I was raised) two U.S, fighter jets collided over the Atlantic Ocean in a practice maneuver and one crashed into the ocean but the other crashed one block from where I lived, in a crowded neighborhood. When it happened, the sky became red, the ground shook, and the noise was deafening. Not knowing what had happened, I thought Jesus was returning! That night made an indelible impression on me about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Second, I preached my first sermon at the age of 14, the same summer the jet crashed and my topic was—you guessed it—the second coming of Christ, based on Matthew 24. And so my interest began that summer and intensified in the years to come. I attended Moody Bible Institute as a student and embraced there dispensational pre-millennialism. But later at Wheaton Graduate School I embraced historical pre-millennialism and have pretty much held that position ever since; though technically I call my approach now “eclectic”.

2. Reading Revelation is a different kind of book. What prompted you to write it?

I wanted to do a book that presented the four major views of Revelation in a way harmonies of the Gospels are laid out. This would give a bird’s eye comparative view of Revelation for the reader . Beyond that, I wanted to translate Revelation according to each perspective for ready to hand use for readers.

3. What was most challenging about writing Reading Revelation

The most challenging tasks of Reading Revelation were to translate the whole book myself (I taught Greek for years) and then to put myself into the mindset of each view and translate Revelation accordingly. To my knowledge the latter had not been done and so I thought it would be helpful for others to do so.

4. Generally speaking, what kinds of sources did you use to accurately present each view?

Since my academic experience from my dissertation days on (some 25 years now) has pertained to the eschatology of the Old Testament, Second Temple Judaism, and New Testament I have been privileged to examine many apocalyptic works. From these and wonderful books like George Ladd’s, A Theology of the New Testament, along with books written representing the various views (for ex., my own edited book with Zondervan, Four Views of Revelation)  I have cultivated my understanding of that literature.

5. What unique contribution does an interpretive translation provide for understanding the text that other books might not?

The interpretive translations that I provide in Reading Revelation hopefully help the reader of the Apocalypse to identify their own reading better while more clearly understanding the other schools of interpretation. And those two goals combine to produce, I hope, humility in how we regard others who take a different view of eschatology from our own.

6. Did writing this book challenge your own interpretation of Revelation? If so, how?

Not really, because I had already come to my own understanding of Revelation (historical pre-millennial with some influence of the other three views) long before I began this book. But of course I continue to grow in the particulars of Revelation (for ex. I now think that Satan and Gog and Magog are sent to hades at Christ’s return and from there will attack the people of God on earth during the millennium; this solves the problem for pre-mils of how non-Christians and Christians can co-exist in the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth—they won’t: one will be in hades with Satan and the other will be on earth).

Thank you, Dr. Pate, for taking the time to answer these questions about Reading Revelation.

There is perhaps no other book in the Bible that has be subject to the most diverse and sometimes fanciful interpretations than the book of Revelation. Its content has left many confused. Even the famous theologian and commentator John Calvin did not write a commentary on it because he could not understand it. For a book that brings to close the whole of God’s written revelation concerning his acts in history for the salvation of man and his glory, the door is wide open as to how the church has interpreted it through the ages.

In an effort to help believers better understand the interpretations of the book of Revelation C. Marvin Pate has written his newest book on eschatology, Reading Revelation: A Comparison of Four Interpretive Translations of the Apocalypse published by Kregel. This book is a step towards clearing the often muddy waters in ones attempt to understand the views of others as well as help the reader better see how their own interpretation looks live in the text.

Reading Revelation is not a commentary but as the subtitle states it is an interpretive translation. A simple translation is the work of a person or persons who have translated the original text into another language and do so according to a specific translation philosophy. An interpretive translation adds the translators interpretation of certain portions of the text so the reader sees how the translator understands/interprets a certain word, phrase, verse or chapter. Reading Revelation is an interpretive translation of four major distinct interpretations of Revelation along with the GNT 4th Ed. and Pate’s English translation.

A Question Posed for the Interpreters

In order to get a taste for how an interpretive translation works with Revelation we will ask each interpretive method to answer this question: Since Revelation is typically interpreted within the events of history (whether past, present or future) how does your interpretation see Revelations relation to history?

The preterist interpretation (also known as postmillennialism) sees the events described in Revelation as having already happened in history at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The address and following comfort were to the churches that existed at the time of its writing and were meant to speak to their current situation of persecution. The preterist position roots the references in Revelation in the unfolding history of the life of the first century church. Postmillennialism prides itself as being an eschatology of hope. Hope that “as the church preachers the gospel and performs its role as the salt of the earth, the kingdom of God will advance until the whole world will one day gladly bow to the authority of Christ (p. 8).” One distinctive of the preterist position is that in order for its interpretation to refer to the history of the first century church it must have a written date before 70 A.D. As such the majority view is that Revelation was written during the time of Nero between 54-68 A.D. Another distinctive of the preterist position is that chapters 20-22 reveal to us how Christ has established his earthly rule in the first century. Thus, all of Revelation refers to the past and the end of the book is similar to the books of Acts in that it is left open to the future until Christ’s kingdom rule has been completed on earth.

The historicist interpretation roots the references in Revelation to the unfolding of history in the life of the church from the first century to the return of Christ. Its major strength has been to “make sense of Revelation for the interpreter by correlating the prophecies directed to the seen churches of Asia Minor with the stages comprising church history (p. 9).” Thus, Revelation is a sort of church history book that is still being written.

The futurist interpretation takes the historical rooting of Revelation a step further removed from the first century and believes that chapters 4-22 are still future in relation to the present church. Within the futurist inperpretation there are two camps that divide on the events of the second coming of Christ. First, the Dispensational camp sees the lack of mention of the church after chapter three as indication that the church has been raptured before the events of chapters 4-18 take place as they deal with the Tribulation period (seventh week of Daniel 9). In great distinction to preterisms hopeful optimistic view of history, Dispensationalism is labeled as pessimistic since the world gets worse and worse right up to the rapture of the church. The second camp within the futurist position is known as Historic Premillennialism. It differs from Dispensationalism in that it believes the church has replaced OT Israel and will therefore go through the Tribulation period and not be saved (raptured) from it. For the futurist interpretation, Reading Revelation follows the Dispensational interpretation since it is the majority view of the two.

The idealist interpretation is the last interpretive school and sees the historical rooting of Revelation quite different that the other three. The idealist view interprets Revelation in a symbolic way. Pate describes this view as “representing the ongoing conflict of good and evil, with no immediate historical connection to any social or political events (p. 11).” Thus, the statements in Revelation are in no means predictive of actual historical events except for Christs final victory over evil at his return. This view is a combination of the Alexandrian school and the amillennial method and was the dominant view from the 3-5th centuries until the Reformation. This view has a strength in that it does not fall prey to seemingly force the text of Scripture into a specific historical event in order to either make sense of the text for the present reader or make sense of the readers situation from the text. On the other side, since there are no historical references to the events in Revelation the door of how it can be applied is wide open to abuse.

An Example

Now that we have a general idea of the four interpretive schools it would be helpful to see an example of how different the four schools can interpret a particular verse and get a real feel for what an interpretive translation looks like. We will use Revelation 1:19 as our example since ones interpretation of it sets the interpretive grid for the rest of the book – “Write therefore what you saw, and the things that are and the things that are about to be after these things.”

  1. Preterist – Write therefore what you have seen (Revb.1), and what is now (Rev. 2-3), and what will take place soon after these things (Rev. 4-22 = the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as a result of Christ’s coming to destroy it).
  2. Historicist – Write therefore what you saw, both the things that are (Rev. 1-3) and the things that are about to become after these things (Rev. 4-22 = the seven periods of church history culminating in the triumph of the gospel).
  3. Futurist – Write therefore what you saw (Rev. 1), and the things that are (Rev. 2-3) and the things that are about to become after these things (Rev. 4-22 and the signs of the times that will begin after the rapture of the church into heaven).
  4. Idealist – Write therefore what you saw (the whole vision of Rev. 1-22), both the things that are(the “already” aspect of the kingdom of God) and the things that are about to become after these things (the “not yet” aspect of the kingdom of God, which awaits the return of Christ).

As you can see from one verse alone there is significant difference in the four methods of interpretation even with the idealist school though it finds no specific historical rooting. Many verses have to interpretive parenthesis but many of them do. You could read the book in one of two ways. First, you could read each column separately from beginning to end to get a fluid feel for the interpretation. I might be best to start this way. The second way this can be read is by reading each view side by side either chapter by chapter or verse by verse. This will really allow for the interpretive differences to shine through to the reader.

Reading Revelation is a fascinating way to read Revelation and a great way to gain a better grasp of each interpretive method. It will truly open your eyes to the text and cause you to pay more attention to what is being said. It will help the reader gain a better appreciation for other interpretations and allow one to see possible weaknesses in their own interpretive line of thought. This is a must have for reading Revelation.

NOTE: I receive this book from Kergel for review and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.