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Home Special Topics Eschatology Yu Pui Man: Book Report on “A Basic Guide to Eschatology”
Yu Pui Man: Book Report on “A Basic Guide to Eschatology” PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 27 September 2011 14:08

Book Report on “A Basic Guide to Eschatology”

 

Referee: Dr. Benedict Kwok

Anthor: Yu Pui Man

 

 

Introduction

The scope of eschatology is many and there are controversial areas of the eschatological millennium. The different viewpoints of the millennium are named in the contents of the book, and the message is delivered sytemmatically, guiding readers in the understanding of the different thinkings of theologians and scholars followed by a balanced evaluation of each of them. Erickson has presented the subject with a persuasive conclusion of the millennial view which is essentail in Christian eschatology.

As the book’s title implies, it focuses on the millennium in Eschatology.There are three main sections to the book: the Background Views, Millennial Views and Tribulational Views. The doctrine of eschatology has been much discussed in the twentieth century; and in Christian eschatology, life after death depends on one’s spiritual condition; and with Christ’s return, all the dead will be resurrected and consigned to heaven or hell, where they will remain eternally in an unalterable condition. Controversial topics in eschatology centered on the millennium, the great tribulation, and the rapture.

The different millennial and tribulational views are presented in the pattern of “Overview, History, Tenets, Arguments and Evaluations”, thus providing an orderly layout.

1. Part 1

For background views, some popular notions in the last two centuries are given to orient readers to the construction trend in contemporary eschatology. Philosophy, natural science, historical and literary criticism applied to Biblical / traditional doctrines of Christianity have affected Christianity to becoming as a matter of ethics or feeling; and have led to different views of theology including eschatology.

The search for the historical Jesus is an example of the above developments, leading to different thinkings of the significance of the work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God: the timeline, nature, and the role of God and man in God’s Kingdom; while some have disregarded eschatological passages in Scripture or interpreted them non-eschatologically.

The historical Jesus is not product of historical research but a 19th and 20th c. thought. Erickson wrote that the eschatological image of Jesus cannot be ignored as His teachings include the present and futuristic dimensions of the Kingdom. Jesus sends His disciples to warn people that God’s Kingdom is coming and call them to repent.

Erickson gave four views on eschatology: Futurist view believing that most of the events described are in the future; (as in Dispensationalism) the Preterist view having events occurred in time of writing; (in Ammilleniallism and for Dodd) the Historical view having the events in future at time of writing, but they are destined to take place in history of the church; (as in Premillennism) and the Idealist or Symbolic view detemporalizing the apocalyptic, with the events as timeless truths of the nature of human existence. (as in Postmillenniumism)

For realized eschatology and futuristic viewpoint, Erickson responded that Jesus said that the Kingdom has begun, and purely futuristic terms can be mistaken; and as not all have been fulfilled, such as Jesus’ second coming; and the Kingdom, though has begun, has not yet been fully realized.

Bultmann’s (1884-1976) existential eschatology is built on existentialism. Bultmann, a NT scholar, did not accept Biblical eschatological mythology literally, (as in many fundamentalists) or reject them (as liberals do), but he tried to capture the meaning of the writers’ ideas by looking for their existential significance. With this approach Bultmann found the meaning of eschatological references in fulfillment in the believer’s present experience instead of at their time of utterance as for realized eschatologists. Thus one is asking: “am I experiencing in my own existence the truths of which this speaks?” The strength of Bultmann’s teaching is that they are true in the present, but there are Biblical passages that implicitly refer to the future. Also for the first believing community who saw these things happened, the transforming experience was not independent of the truth of the events. (1 Cor. 15:17-19) Erickson commented that one needs to be sure that his hope rests upon reality or things actually happened and not imagination.

Jurgen Moltmann, because of his personal experience and cultural influences, identified the “God of hope” as the inevitable need of man in the modern age; and acknowledged that Christian theology has to be relevant and credible to Christian faith, and not culture-affirming and losing the Biblical truth. In 1960s, Moltmann with the theology of hope regarded eschatology as a framework within which all of theology is to be conducted. Eschaton is the presence of the future exclusively in the crucified Christ, who now lives in the future of God. What happened to Christ is for us all and ahead of us all. Christ’s resurrection is the beginning, anticipating the ultimate liberation. The Gospel announces and brings about the hope in the future of God and the ultimate liberation of the world. Christian hope is not passive waiting, but is creative and militant, transforming the world and bringing the Kingdom into being.

Erickson commented that Moltmann has recognized the organics of theology, which are not just doctrines: beliefs and practice are two aspects of the same truth. Man is motivated to act out what he believes. The negative side of Moltmann’s theology is that the eschatological theme is not the only motif in Scripture, “already but not yet” is equally valid; and Moltmann did not indicate clearly the activity of the church in transforming the world and bringing about the future.

2. Part 2

After the background views on the approaches and understandings on Eschatology by Schweitz, Dodd, Bultmann and Moltmann, Erickson proceeds to provide the different millennial views.

2.1 Postmillennialism: (as for liberals)

Kingdom of God is a present reality: the rule of Christ is in the heart of man, not something introduced cataclysmically in the future. They believe in conversion of all nations before Christ’s return. There will be earthly peace in the millennium, which is a long period of time with no distinct point of beginning. Growth of the Kingdom is gradual with a qualitative difference. (For Premillenialist: there will be different quality of existence) Antichrists, Christ’s return, resurrection of all are end times events; and some also think the Jewish nation will be converted. Postmillennialism started in about 390 A.D., but has declined in popularity in the past 50 to 60 years.

Tenets: For the nature of the Kingdom and millennium, they hold that Revelation 20 is symbolic in nature.

Evaluations: Correct attention to the present dimension of God’s Kingdom; but has neglected Matt. 24:9-14 which speaks of worsened spiritual and moral conditions in end times; and the antithesis between God’s Kingdom and evil is diminished.

2.2 Amillenialism

There will be no earthly 1000 year reign of Christ. They share with postmillennialism that Christ’s second coming inaugurates the final stage; and Revelation 20 is symbolical. Amillenialism also has congruency with premillennialism with a pessimistic outlook of unsuccessful evangelization and people will not hold onto their faith. For postmillennialism, Christ will not return until the Gospel is spread, but for premillennialism Christ returns any time; and they seldom bemoan world’s deteriorating conditions. An early amillenialism type could be indicated in the Epistle of Barnabas; and presently conservative of Reformed groups and Presbyterian are primarily amillenialial.

Tenets: Amillenialism treats the two resurrections in Rev. 20:4-5 as spiritual and similar in nature; bodily resurrection is not mentioned; and there will be no literal fulfillment of the millennium (Rev. 20: 2-4); whereas for premillennialism many prophesies will be fulfilled requiring a millennium.

Evaluations: Recognize symbolism in Biblical prophecy and eschatology handling them accordingly. Hughes’ interpretation and exegesis on Revelation 20 concerning spiritual and physical resurrection is quoted.

2.3 Premillenniallism: popular in evangelical and conservative circle with two distinct varieties.

Earthly reign of Christ is established by His coming. (for postmillennialism, God’s Kingdom is on earth; thus Christ will not have returned bodily) Christ’s coming is preceded by spiritual deterioration and great tribulation, (posttribulation view) and inaugurates cataclysmically; and Satan is bound for a thousand years.

The two resurrections in Rev. 20:4-6 are distinguished on basis of participants and not on their nature. (cf. postmillennialism and Amilleniallism) Both are bodily in nature. Believers involved in first resurrection will reign with Christ in the millennium; and non-Christians resurrect at end of millennium for their judgement.

There is the Pretribulation group among Premillenniallism believing the church will be raptured or removed from the world before the great tribulations, while the Posttribulation believes that the church will remain but will be shielded and Jesus’ coming is a single coming at end of tribulation. (pretribulationism believes in two comings: coming for the church at beginning of tribulation removing it from world and coming with the saints at end of tribulation)

Premillenniallism has its root in the Early Church, and is the dominant belief in apostolic period.(From Justin Martyr and Irenaeus) Chiliasm expects earthly reign of Christ in a new Jerusalem, applying OT prophesies literally as the future glory to the intermediary reign of Christ, and not to the final consummation. The decline of chiliasm is due to reinterpretation of Revelation by Augustine who saw the millennium fulfilled within the church age. The Reformed followed Augustine except Anabaptist who is Premillenniallism. There is great growth for Premillenniallism in the last 100 years among non-Reformed groups; and Dispensationalism is variety of Premillenniallism popular among conservative Baptist and independent fundamental churches.

Tenets: Two resurrections with interpretations by George Ladd and G.R. Beasley-Murray who combines the preterist (events already occurred when book was written) and futurist views. (events primarily occur in end times)

The millennium is a period of righteous rule with Christ having absolute control, and antichrist destroyed. For Dispensational Premillenniallism, there is restoration of OT economy with OT temple worship, Israel restored to the land of Palestine and Jesus sit on the literal throne of David ruling the world. For historical Premillenniallism, OT sacrificial system has passed away because Christ the reality has come. Israel as a nation will be saved and God bless the whole world through Israel.

Evaluations: Has a more adequate interpretation of Revelation 20, not neglecting the age to come. Sparse Biblical reference to millennium; literal interpretation of OT prophesy; earthly millennium is theologically superfluous; The Kingdom to be established by Christ’s ruling with an iron rod contradicts to the quiet invisible Spirit changing the heart of man. Timing of establishment of Kingdom is different from John 18. Dispensationalism believes God has not displaced Israel with the church; and with their interpretation of NT with the Old, progressive revelation might be nullified.

3. Part 3

Gives tribulation views of Dispensationalism, Pretribulationism and Posttribulationism followed by mediating positions.

3.1 Dispensationalism: Involves hermeneutic affecting millennial and tribulation conclusions. It is of recent origin and is seen among conservative and fundamentalist.

Tenets: Bible is interpreted literally; with sharp distinction between Israel and the church. The kingdom for Israel is postponed and will be offered to Israel after time of gentiles is complete. Ryrie was quoted to support the church’s distinctiveness and its substitute for Israel.

The Kingdom of Heaven is Jewish, Messianic and Davidic and will be realized in the millennial; and the Kingdom of God is universal. The purpose of millenniun has very Jewish tone, with restoration of the national Israel to its favoured place in God’s program.

Progressive Dispensationalism: (Darrell Bock an advocate) is a modification in 20th century stressing the unified nature of God’s salvation. The church is the redeemed including Jews and gentiles, but “Israel” is not applied to all God’s people. The literal approach to Scripture is impacted by grammatical-historical methods; but still adheres to literal interpretation of prophesies referring to Israel, with Israel having a unique place for blessings and in the millennium.

Evaluations: Dispensationalism is examined closely.Bible is their supreme authority, and attempt made to integrate entire Bible in idea of progressive revelation. Some equate Premillenialism with their view; and Traditional Dispensationalism comments that Progressive Dispensationalism has modified Dispensationalism hermeneutics that they might become Amillennialism.

3.2 Pretribulationism: Relate Christ’s coming to tribulation events. Pay more attention to eschatology details than Postmillennialism and Amilleniallism.

Jesus will come before tribulation to rapture church out of the world for the seven years of tribulation. (rapture from latin rapere: “caught up “ in 1 thess 4:17, parousia in Greek) In the second phase Jesus comes with the church. (three resurrections; as compare to two for posttribulationism) The doctrine of imminence indicates Christ will return at any time, thus urgency in Christian sevice, as opportunity for labour will be over before one knows it.

Early Christians expected personal afflictions, thus not anticipating deliverance from tribulations; and chiliasm not anticipated by pretribulationism.Irenaeus is premillennialist not believing in pretribulation, but saw Christ coming at end of tribulation to destroy anti-Christ and to deliver His church. In Middle Ages eschatological events are placed within church history; and protestant in Reformation tends to identify antichrist with papal Rome.

Influenced by Bible institutes, many conservative independent, Baptist and “free churches” are pretribulational.

Tenets: Absence of church during tribulation. Posttribulation says rapture of church at end of tribulation, (Matt. 24:31) but church is protected from God’s wrath. Detailed analysis of the word apostasia regarding the church’s removal from the world is given. The Lord’s coming is imminent and pretribulational. (1 Thess. 4)

Evaluations: Any-moment imminency imparts sense of expectancy, thus aggressive approach to church’s mission; and watchfulness for Christ’s coming. For Posttribulational, 1 Thess. 4:16-17 is not referring to Christ’s coming for the church but His advent. For 2 Thess. 2:3, “departure” is possible translation for “apostasia” but is not suggested in context, which is speaking of sin and unrighteousness that will accompany his appearance, thus it is more reasonable to interpret apostasia in the usual sense of apostasy or departure from faith, rather than a departure or rapture of believers.

3.3 Posttribulationism: Church will not be removed from world prior tribulation, but endures it through grace and strength of God. Afterwards Christ will come; and rapture will not follow tribulation. Posttribulationist distinguishes great tribulation and the wrath of God.

The Church, with believers of all times and places, replaces national Israel as God’s covenant people. (Galatians 3 – those with faith of Abraham, rather than blood of Abraham, are true sons of Abraham) God’s Kingdom is present on earth, or in heart of believers; (as postmillennialism believes) and similar to Pretribulational, Posttribulationism sees Kingdom as otherworldly and future, not spreading gradually but comes dramatically when the Lord comes. Kingdom is both present and future. Basileia is reign of God and not a realm over which he is sovereign. God reigns in heart of believers; but Kingdom will be fully realized in future.

Early Christians, such as Justin martyr, (100?-165?) and Tertullian (160?-230?) had strong belief for premillennialism or chilism, with rapture not before tribulation; and antichrist, great tribulation, and Christ’s return were anticipated. Ladd summarised that the church Fathers expected the church to suffer at hand of antichrist, and God will purify the church through suffering. At end of tribulation Christ will return to destroy antichrist, deliver the church, and bring the world to an end to begin the millenium Kingdom; and this are Posttribulational-Premillennial views.

Augustine was not premillennial oriented and his view was dominant in the Middle Ages. Some Reformed are Posttribulational Premillennial, pietism in Lutheran are premillennialist, and Premillenniumism is prevalent in the UK and USA in 18th and 19th centuries.Isaac Newton and Charles Wesley are both posttribulationalist. New evangelicals after World War II challenged Pretribulational rapture. (eg Ladd and Carnell)

Tenets: Church is not spared from tribulation. (qumoV means “violent outburst of anger”, or God’s wrath, occurs 18 times in Revelation 9, is divine wrath striking the wicked. orgh meaning “settled state of wrath” is used for God’s anger 27 times in NT; and Posttribulationist think orgh falls on wicked but not the righteous. (John 3:36); and believers are saved by Christ from the wrath of God. (Rom. 5:9)

qliyiV (noun) and qlibw (verb) denote tribulation, and 47 times out of 55 relate to tribulations endured by saints; only 2 times relate to God’s anger against sinners. (Rom. 2:9; II Thess. 1:6) Thus it is not God’s anger against sinners during Daniel’s 70th week; and tribulation refers to persecution of the saints. (Matt 24:9; Rev.7:14) According to Gundry tribulation is not God’s wrath against sinners, but it is satan, antichrist and the wicked against the saints.

Jesus said believers have tribulation in the world; but believers exult in tribulations. (Rom. 5:3) John said he is fellow-partaker in the tribulation.....in Christ. (Rev.1:9) Church is destined to tribulations; (1 Thess. 3:3) and is persecuted by antichrist. (1John 2:18) Posttribulation do not deny distinction between tribulation in general and the great tribulation though the word for both is the same. There are different degrees of tribulation but not kinds; and the church is not spared from persecution any time including end times.

Regarding “meeting in the air” Pretribulationalist believes meeting the Lord in the air before tribulation when Christ comes to take the saints to heaven for seven years and then Christ will return to set up the Kingdom on earth. But Posttibulationalist believes meeting the Lord at end of tribulation, and will accompany Christ on His triumphant descent to earth. Gundry wrote that apanthsiV (meet) in 1 Thess. 4:17 is used with explicit eschatological reference in parable of wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:6) “come out to meet him”, or come out and accompany him to the marriage feast, not reversing his direction or departing to some other place and then return together. (see also Matt 27:32)

Evaluations: Posttribulationism’s viewpoints are not based on selected proof texts, but on apocalyptic writings, the prophetic book and eschatological teachings of Jesus. And interpretations of Scriptures fit well the natural sense of those passages; whereas Pretribulationism reads preconceived ideas into a text.

After 1918, American Fundamentalist show strong otherworldly tendencies, neglecting present responsibilities and dwell upon hope on heaven, wishing the church will be raptured not undergoing the great tribulation. Posttribulationism pays attention to the realistic demand and cost of Christian life; and is mindful of divine resources to live in hardship. Posttribulationism does not set dates nor explain fully all symbols involved in Biblical eschatology, preserving genuine sense of mystery about Biblical revelation, and they anticipate Christ’s return with joy.

Pretribulationism speaks of millenium as 1000 years and tribulation 7 years. Posttribulationism is not exact in these aspects, but acknowledge that there will be these periods. Like Amillenniumism, Posttribulationism does not have clear meanings for eschatological symbols. Believers have to undergo tribulations, though some appear to have lack of the conviction. Posttribulationism does not stress intensive study of eschatology as pretribulationism does; but is insufficient in emphasizing the glorious and bodily return of Christ.

3.4. Mediating Views

Erickson concludes with three mediating views of scholars: the Midtribulational, Partial Rapture and Imminent Posttribulational views.

Midtribulationism believes church will experience a portion of tribulation, but will be removed before the worst of tribulation.Partial Rapture sees one segment of church raptured which can be pretribulation or posttribulation; and Imminent Postribulationism sees Christ’s coming imminent and postribulational; each supporting their views with their interptretations of Bible passages. Erickson commented that there are both strong and weak points of the different proposals; but of importance is that instructions for watchfulness is not Christ may come at any time, but one is to be watchful so that antecedent signs before Christ’s coming will not slip by unheeded.

Conclusion

Erickson writes that he hopes to stimulate readers to study the Scripture for truth and have better understanding and appreciations of the different eschatological views.The positive and negative aspects are laid out objectively to help readers to have a summary review of various viewpoints, which the author has treated in a fair and balanced way. Readers are told of the different perspectives and options on the theology of the millennium, and can pursue the subject further accordingly, which is important in one’s conviction of faith and understanding of eschatology.

Erickson is convicted on the Postribulation-Premillenium view. Exegetical arguments on Revelation 20 are persuasive and Biblical testimony favors the church being on earth during tribulation, but will be sustained by God’s gracious provision.

The doctrine of the Lord’s return may cause separation in fellowship; but the Lord’s coming is the basis of hope for believers, (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and that they are to comfort one another with this hope. What is central is the great basic truth that the Lord is returning, and Erickson closed by quoting “In essentials unity, in doubtful matters liberty, and in all things charity.” Indeed this is what believers must keep in mind so as not to have the church divided unnecessarily. Erickson has provided the different views on eschatology in a systematic way, guiding readers through their historical backgrounds to their tenets, and evaluation of each perspective. Millard treated the topic of eschatology by covering millennial and rapture options, along with the Kingdom views of Schweitzer, Dodd, Bultmann and Moltmann, but inaugurated eschatology is not reflected. A table format might provide easier reference in comparing and contrasting the different views on the millennium.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 September 2011 14:48
 
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