Controversial Factors In Eschatology
In conservative theology there are three major views concerning last things: amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. The word millennium comes from the Latin mille, meaning “thousand,” and relates to the statement in Revelation 20:4, “They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Should this statement be understood literally or symbolically? The answer determines in part one’s doctrine of last things.
Enns, P. P. (1997, c1989). The Moody handbook of theology (380). Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.


Introduction. This discussion on amillennial eschatology will concen trate on the view of Reformed eschatology, inasmuch as it is the prevalent conservative position that holds to amillennialism. While liberal theologians hold to a form of amillennialism, they are for the most part unconcerned with eschatology, albeit under more radical forms and designations. (These are discussed later in Part 5, “Contemporary Theology.” )
The a- in amillennialism negates the term; hence, amillennialism means there will not be a literal, future millennium. Amillennialists do not deny the literal return of Christ, but they reject a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. According to amillennialism, the kingdom of God is present in the church age, and at the consummation of the present age, the eternal state is inaugurated without any intervening millennium.28 For this reason some amillennialists suggest a term such as realized millennialism to indicate that they do not deny a millennium but believe it is fulfilled entirely in the present age.29
According to amillennialists, Revelation 20:4–6 to “the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven” while the kingdom of God “is now present in the world as the victorious Christ is ruling his people by his Word and Spirit, though they also look forward to a future, glorious, and perfect kingdom on the new earth in the life to come.”30
Some amillennialists interpret the book of Revelation according to progressive parallelism , wherein the Revelation consists of seven sections running parallel to each other, each depicting the church and the world from the time of Christ’s first advent to His second coming: chapters 1–3 to events of the first century but have present application; chapters 4–7 be the church suffering trial and persecution; chapters 8–11 envision the church avenged, protected, and victorious; chapters 12–14 describe the birth of Christ and opposition by Satan; chapters 15–16 describe God’s wrath on the unrepentant; chapters 17–9 depict the final fall of the forces of secularism and godlessness; chapters 20–22 describe the final doom of the enemies of Christ and the final triumph of Christ and the church.31
Second coming of Christ. Amillennialists understand the second coming of Christ as a single event; in contrast, dispensationalists understand Christ’s coming in two phases. Amillennialists teach that certain events must take place prior to the second coming; hence, the return of Christ cannot be termed “imminent” (meaning that Christ can come at any moment).32 The signs prior to the second coming of Christ are t he following: (1) The calling of the Gentiles (Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10; Rom. 11:25), in which the nations will be evangelized. Some among these will believe and constitute the “fulness of the Gentiles.” (2) The conversion of Israel. “All Israel” in Romans 11:26 does not mean national Israel but rather the elect number of Israelites. (3) Great apostasy and the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:9–12, 21–24; Mark 13:9–22; Luke 21:22–24). These events had a partial fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem but will also have a future fulfillment. (4) The revelation of Antichrist. There have been elements of Antichrist during Paul’s day and in the papal system of Rome, but Antichrist’s identity will eventually be fulfilled in an eschatological person. (5) Signs and wonders. There will be wars, false prophets, astonishing satanic iracles, and signs in the heavens.
Christ will return at the “day of consummation”mdash the end of the world; no one, however, knows the time of His coming. The manner of His coming will be personal, physical, and visible (Acts 1:11); it is not to be equated with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Unlike premillennarians who teach that Christ’s second coming is to establish His earthly kingdom, amillennialists teach that the purpose of Christ’s return is for “introducing the future age, the eternal state of things.”33 This will be a ccomplished by the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment.
Resurrection of the dead. The amillennial understanding says that the Bible teaches a bodily resurrection at the end of the age (1 Cor. 15:35–49). The body of a resurrected believer “will be in a fundamental sense identical with the present body.”34
With respect to the time of the resurrection, the resurrection of believers and unbelievers occurs at the same time.35 This is implied by passages such as Daniel 12:2; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Revelation 20:13–15. Daniel 12:2 mentions the godly and the wicked in the same statement, as does John 5:28–29. The term “hour” in John 5:28 could not be used to denote a thousand-year distinction between two resurrections. In Acts 24:15 Paul uses the singular term “resurrection” to describe the resurrection of the just and the unjust. Revelation 20:11–15 must refer to all the dead, not simply unbelievers, because the term “death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them” must refer to all people.
This resurrection of believers and unbelievers occurs at the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Thess. 4:16), and is also designated “the last day” or the “day of the Lord.” It is at the end of the age and at the advent of the eternal state.
Final judgment. The final judgment according to amillennialists is at the end of the age and is associated with the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of all people, and the inauguration of the eternal state. It will be a general judgment “for the very purpose of judging the living and consigning each individual to his eternal destiny.”36 Three distinct purposes for the final judgment may be delineated:37 (1) “to display the sovereignty of God and the glory of God in the revelation of the final destiny of each person” ; (2) “to reveal the degree of reward and the degree of punishment which each one shall receive” ; (3) “to execute God’s judgment on each person. God will now assign to each person the place where he will spend eternity.”
The details of this judgment should be noted. Because the resurrection is a general resurrection, the time of the final judgment is at the end of the age (2 Pet. 3:7). The judge will be Christ. Because He is the One through whom people have been saved, it is fitting that unbelievers will face Him as Judge (John 5:22; Acts 17:31; 2 Tim. 4:8). Christ will, however, be assisted in judgment by angels (Matt. 13:41–43) and saints (Matt. 19:28;1 Cor. 6:2–3).38 The objects of judgment will be angels (1 Cor. 6:2–3) and all people (Matt. 25:32; Rom. 2:5–6; 2 Cor. 5:1039), which includes both believers and unbelievers.
The content of judgment will involve a person’s “deeds, words, and thoughts.”40 The judgment of a person’s deeds is evident from Matthew 25:35–40; careless words will be judged (Matt. 12:36); thoughts will be exposed (1 Cor. 4:5). Even a believer’s sins will be revealed, but they will be manifest as forgiven sins, covered by the blood of Christ.41
The standard of judgment will be the revelation of God. Those that received the revelation of the Old Testament will be judged according to that revelation; those that received the revelation of New Testament truth will be judged accordingly (Matt. 11:20–22); those who received neither Old Testament nor New Testament truth will be judged according to the light they received.42 As a result, there will be levels of suffering for the lost (Luke 12:47–48). Believers, however, will be justified on the basis of their relation ship to Jesus Christ (John 3:18, 36; 5:24), but will be rewarded variably for faithfulness (Luke 19:12–19; 1 Cor. 3:10–15).
Eternal state. Amillennialists teach that both believers and unbelievers will continue in conscious existence in eternity. Unbelievers will continue in conscious existence in hell, sometimes called gehenna (cf. Matt. 25:30, 46; Luke 16:19–31). Because the same term is used to describe the future
Second Coming
of Christ
Single event; no distinction between rapture and second coming; Introduces eternal state.
Single event; no distinction between rapture and second coming; Christ returns after Millennium.
Rapture and second coming simultaneous; Christ returns to reign on earth.
Second coming in two phases: rapture for church; second coming to earth 7 years later.
General resurrection of believers and unbelievers at second coming of Christ.
General resurrection of believers and unbelievers at second coming of Christ.
Resurrection of believers at beginning of Millennium. Resurrection of unbelievers at end of Millennium.
Distinction in resurrections:
1. Church at rapture.
2. Old Testament/Tribulation saints at second coming.
3. Unbelievers at end of Millennium.
General judgment of all people.
General judgment of all people.
Judgment at second coming. Judgment at end of Tribulation.
Distinction in judgment:
1. Believers works at rapture;
2. Jews/Gentiles at end of Tribulation.
3. Unbelievers at end of Millennium.
Tribulation is experienced in the present age.
Tribulation is experienced in this present age.
Posttrib view: church goes through the future Tribulation.
Pretrib view: church is raptured prior to Tribulation.
No literal Millennium on earth after second coming. Kingdom present in church age.
Present age blends into Millennium because of progress of gospel.
Millennium is both present and future. Christ is reigning in heaven. Millennium is not necessarily 1,000 years.
At second coming Christ inaugurates literal 1,000-year Millennium on earth.
Israel and
the Church
Church is the new Israel. No distinction between Israel and church
Church is the new Israel. No distinction between Israel and church
Some distinction between Israel and church. Future for Israel but church is spiritual Israel.
Complete distinction between Israel and church. Distinct program for each.
L. Berkhof
O.T. Allis
G.C. Berkhouwer
Charles Hodge
B.B. Warfield
W.G.T. Shedd
A.H. Strong
G.E. Ladd
A. Reese
M.J. Erickson
L.S. Chafer
J.D. Pentecost
J.F. Walvoord
existence of both believers and unbelievers (“eternal,” Matt. 25:46) , the suffering of unbelievers will be eternal, just as believers will enjoy heaven for all eternity.
The end of the age will issue in “the regeneration” (Matt. 19:28), in which there will be a “renewal of the present creation.”43 This will be the place the Scripture refers to as heaven—the eternal abode of believers with the triune God. Heaven is not simply a mental disposition, but an actual place (John 14:1) where believers will enjoy fulness of life. “They will see God in Jesus Christ face to face, will find full satisfaction in Him, will rejoice in Him, and will glorify Him.”44 Because believers will have bodies in their resurrected state, there will be recognition of others and social interaction.
Introduction. The postmillennial view was particularly popular in the nineteenth century and was the view held by the major theologians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, among them Charles Hodge, William G. T. Shedd, B. B. Warfield, A. A. Hodge, A. H. Strong, and others. The occasion for this view is noteworthy, inasmuch as it followed a period of optimism and progress in science, culture, and the standard of living in general. It was also prior to World Wars I and II. Postmillennialism declined considerably following the world wars because the conflagrations militated against the optimism of the doctrine.
Postmillennialism may be defined as “that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world eventually is to be Christianized, and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the ‘Millennium.’ ”45
The term postmillennialism means that Christ will return after the Millennium. The present age will develop morally and spiritually until it issues in the millennial age, with Christ returning to earth at the conclusion of the Millennium.
The Millennium. 46 Postmillennialism adopts an optimistic view with respect to this present age, envisioning a golden age of progress in the church age that affects every dimension of life: economic, social, cultural, and political. Postmillennialism envisions a church triumphant, spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth with the result that “evil in all its many forms eventually will be reduced to negligible proportions, that Christian principles will be the rule, not the exception, and that Christ will return to a truly Christianized world.”47
(1) Nature of the Millennium. The millennial age will be similar to the present age in many respects: there will be marriage and childbirth; sin will be present although greatly reduced because of the spread of the gospel; and Christian principles and standards of conduct will be the norm rather than the exception. The present age will gradually give way to the Millennium as a result of the progress of the gospel, but life will continue in its present form. Christ will return at the conclusion of the Millennium.
(2) Progress of the gospel. There are passages of Scripture that seem to emphasize the conversion of a vast number of people. Zechariah 9:10 refers to Christ’s kingdom as being “from sea to sea,” Numbers 14:21 emphasizes “all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Isaiah 49:6 refers to Christ being a “light of the nations.” Psalms 2:8; 47:2–8; 72:7–11; 86:9; 110:1 seem to refer to the same truth. Because Christ died for the world, it must be concluded that a vast majority of the people will ultimately be saved (but this is not suggesting a doctrine of universalism).
The reason for the Christianizing of the world is the progress of the gospel. Revelation 19:11–21 depicts Christ returning to a world that has seen obedience to and fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20); the gospel has been carried to the ends of the earth and Christ, through His servants, is victorious in the world. Revelation 19:11–21 “is a picture of the whole period between the first and the second advents, seen from the point of view of heaven. It is the period of advancing victory of the Son of God over the world, emphasizing, in harmony with its place at the end of the book, the completeness of the victory.”48
(3) Progress in the world. Postmillennialists say that there has been progress materially and spiritually in the world, suggesting the world is getting better. Whereas in the Roman era there were more slaves than free people, today slavery is virtually eliminated, as are other forms of oppression, particularly of women and children. Since World War II the United States has given over 160 billion dollars in foreign aid,49 which does not include many other forms of charitable giving, such as to local churches. In contrast to the pre-Reformation days, the Bible is available in most languages today, with the result that ninety-eight percent of the world’s people have the Bible in their own language. Christian radio and television reach into countless homes with the gospel; Bible institutes, colleges, and seminaries are training more people than ever before. The result is that there are now nearly one billion nominal adherents to Christianity.
Great progress can also be observed in transportation with the advent of the automobile and the airplane. Advances in education and scientific achievements, as well as in health care, can be cited. All this suggests the progress and ultimate triumph of the gospel and the inauguration of the Millennium. The Millennium, however, should not be understood as a literal thousand years but rather symbolic. The Millennium may, in fact, be longer than one thousand years.
Second coming of Christ. In contrast to premillennialism, which state s that Christ returns prior to the Millennium, postmillennialism states that Christ returns following the Millennium. In contrast to premil lennialism and amillennialism, which both state that Christ returns to a world that is getting progressively more sinful, postmillennialism teaches that Christ returns to a world that is getting better. Modern missions and the great revivals of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards are precursors to the second coming of Christ.50 Passages such as Daniel 2:44–45; Matthew 13:31 ,32; 24:14; and Colossians 1:23 suggest the progress of the gospel prior to Christ’s return.
Christ’s return will be a literal, visible return (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 1:7). The time of His coming, however, is unknown.
Resurrection of the dead. Postmillennialists are in general agreement with amillennialists concerning the resurrection. There will be a general resurrection of both believers and unbelievers (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:31, 32; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:12–13) that will take place in conjunction with the return of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23, 24; 1 Thess. 4:16).51
Final judgment. Postmillennialists are also in general agreement with amillennialists concerning the final judgment. At the second coming of Christ there will be a general resurrection and a general judgment of all people (Matt. 13:37–43; 25:32), as well as of angels (2 Pet. 2:4). There will be a judgment concerning the deeds done in the body and people will be judged according to the light they have received (Luke 12:47–48). Those who heard the gospel will be judged according to their attitude toward Christ.52
The eternal state. The judgment by Christ, as postmillennialists teach, will result in the eternal disposition of the righteous to eternal life and the wicked to everlasting punishment. The final disposition of both believer and unbeliever will be unalterable as well as endless. For believers it will be “the fulness and perfection of holy life, in communion with God and with sanctified spirits.”53 There will, however, be degrees of reward in conjunction with the faithfulness exhibited (Luke 19:17, 19; 1 Cor. 3:14, 15).
The believer will spend eternity in heaven, identified as this world in renovated form.54 The wicked will spend eternity in endless punishment (Matt. 25:31–33, 41, 46).55
Introduction. The term premillennialism means that Christ will return before the Millennium to establish His earthly reign of one thousand years. There are, however, two distinct forms of premillennialism, one known as “historic” premillennialism (or nondispensational premillennialism), while the other is known as dispensational premillennialism. Prominent spokesmen for historic premillennialism have been George E. Ladd and J. Barton Payne.
The hermeneutical system of historic premillennialism distinguishes it from dispensational premillennialism. In historic premillennialism a distinction between Israel and the church is not maintained nor is a consistently literal interpretive method demanded.56 Ladd suggests that in its setting, Isaiah 53 is not a prophecy of Messiah yet is seen as such in the New Testament, therefore, the “literal hermeneutic does not work.”57 Furthermore, “the New Testament applies Old Testament prophecies to the New Testament church and in so doing identifies the church as spiritual Israel.”58 An example of this is Romans 9:25–26, which cites Hosea 1:9,10; 2:23. In the Old Testament citation it refers to Israel, whereas in the New Testament citation it has reference to the church. Other examples of this “spiritualizing hermeneutic” are Romans 2:28–29; 4:11, 16 and Galatians 3:7, 29. The application of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:33–34 to the church in Hebrews 8 is a further example. Ladd concludes that “Paul sees the church as spiritual Israel.”59
The aforementioned interpretive method and conclusions are similar to amillennialism as Ladd suggests.60 A distinction, however, between historic premillennialism and amillennialism is the recognition of a literal future for national Israel, which the former acknowledges and the latter denies. Romans 11:26 states, “and thus all Israel shall be saved”mdash a reference to national Israel. From this statement it is clear there is a future for national Israel. However, the details concerning a future national Israel remain unclear. It is not even clear if Israel’s future conversion is in relation to the Millennium.61
The Tribulation. Since the pretribulation rapture is connected to a clear distinction regarding God’s program for Israel and His program for the church, and since historic premillennialism does not accept that distinction, historic premillennialism teaches that the church will go through the Tribulation. George Ladd argues that this was the belief of the early church62 and further argues that the Greek terms related to the coming of Christ (parousia, apokalypse, and epiphany) do not distinguish between two different comings as taught by pretribulation rapturists.63 Upon examination of the key passages used by pretribulation rapturists, Ladd concludes the pretribulation rapture is not clearly taught in the New Testament. He states: “Nowhere does the Word of God affirm that the Rapture and the Resurrection of believers will precede the Tribulation.”64
Arguments that the church will be on earth during the Tribulation may be summarized as follows. (1) Posttribulationism is the historic view held by the early church; pretribulationism is recent.65 (2) Although the church is on earth during the Tribulation, it will experience suffering and trial but not the wrath of God; that is reserved for unbelievers. (3) There is no separate resurrection of church age saints and Old Testament believers; all are resurrected at the same time—immediately prior to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.66 (4) The hope of the New Testament writers was not a secret rapture, but the second advent of Christ. All statements referring to Christ’s return relate to one coming, not a secret coming for the church prior to the Tribulation and subsequent to the Tribulation a visible coming to rule.67 (5) The church includes the saved of all ages, and because Scripture indicates believers will be on earth during the Tribulation (e.g. Rev. 7:14), it means the church will not be raptured prior to the Tribulation.
The second coming. Historic premillennialism says that according to Revelation 19:6–10, at the second coming of Christ, the marriage feast of the Lamb will take place—“the union of Christ with his bride, the church.”68 This is further described in metaphorical language (Matt. 25:1–13; 2 Cor. 11:2). Christ conquers His enemies at His triumphant return, consigning the beast and the false prophet to the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20). The devil is also bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev. 20:2–3), and at the end of the thousand years the devil is also consigned to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
The “first resurrection” describes a bodily resurrection of the saints of all ages (Rev. 20:4–5); there will not be a separate resurrection of the church age saints and the Old Testament saints. The believing dead from all ages will be resurrected at the return of Christ; the unbelieving dead will be raised at the end of the Millennium.
The Millennium. Christ’s reign does not begin at some future event—He is reigning now from heaven.69 Christ is presently sitting at the right hand of God, reigning as Messianic King. “The New Testament does not make the reign of Christ one that is limited to Israel in the Millennium; it is a spiritual reign in heaven which has already been inaugurated.”70 Philippians 2:5–10 establishes that Christ is presently enthroned and ruling (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24; 1 Tim. 6:15). Acts 2:34–35 (which quotes Psalm 110:2) indicates that the throne of David has been transferred from Jerusalem to heaven.71 Thus the rule of Christ does not simply belong to a future millennial age but to the present age as well.
According to 1 Corinthians 15:23–26 the triumph of Christ’s kingdom can be seen in three stages:72 (1) the resurrection of Christ is the first stage followed by an indefinite interval; (2) the parousia of Christ and the resur rection of believers followed by an undefined interval is the second stage; (3) “the end,” when Christ completes the subjugation of His enemies, is the final stage.
Thus Christ’s Messianic kingdom is disclosed in history, not simply in the Millennium;73 in fact, “Christ began His Messianic reign as his resurrection-ascension; but his present reign is invisible...the order of the Age to Come will involve a new heaven and a new earth, and will be so different from the present order that we can speak of it as beyond history.”74
Introduction. Dispensational premillennialism75 can be identified through two basic features: (1) a distinction is made between God’s program for Israel and His program for the church; (2) a consistently literal interpretation of the Scriptures is maintained. Dispensational premillennialists believe that the church will be raptured (1 Thess. 4:13–18) prior to the Tribulation period; God will judge unbelieving Gentiles and disobedient Israel during the Tribulation (Rev. 6–19). At the end of the Tribulation Christ will return with the church and establish the millennial kingdom on earth. Following the thousand-year reign, Satan will be freed once more, whereupon he and his followers will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7–10). The eternal state will follow.
The church from the beginning was premillennial in belief. The Didache (c. a.d. 100), Clement of Rome (a.d. 96 or 97), the Shepherd of Hermas (a.d. 140–150), Ignatius of Antioch (a.d. 50–115?), Papias (a.d. 80–163), Justin Martyr (b. c. a.d. 100), Irenaeus (d. a.d. 200), Tertullian (a.d. 150–225), and other sources indicate that the early church believed in the return of Jesus Christ to personally establish His earthly kingdom.76
Interpretation. There are two basic features that identify dispensati onal premillennialism. (1) Literal hermeneutic. Literal interpretation refers to “normal” interpretation—understanding words and statements in their normal, customary way.77 Because prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, it makes good sense to expect the prophecies concerning His second coming to be interpreted literally. Furthermore, if prophecy can be spiritualized, all objectivity is lost. Dispensational premillennialists emphasize consistency in interpretation by interpreting prophecy literally. In this premillennialists criticize conservative amillennialists and postmillennialists for changing their methodology in hermeneutics by interpreting literally except in the case of prophecy.
(2) Distinction between Israel and the church. The term Israel always refers to the physical posterity of Jacob; nowhere does it refer to the church.78 Although nondispensationalists frequently refer to the church as the “new Israel,” there is no biblical warrant for doing so. Many passages indicate Israel was still regarded as a distinct entity after the birth of the church (Rom. 9:6; 1 Cor. 10:32). Israel was given unconditional promises (covenants) in the Old Testament that must be fulfilled with Israel in the millennial kingdom. The church, on the other hand, is a distinct New Testament entity born at Pentecost (1 Cor. 12:13) and not existing in the Old Testament, nor prophesied in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:9). It exists from Pentecost (Acts 2) until the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13–18). Herein lies the reason for belief in the pretribulation rapture: the purpose of the Tribulation is to judge unbelieving Gentiles and to discipline disobedient Israel (Jer. 30:7); the church does not have purpose or place in the Tribulation.
Covenants. Although Revelation 20:4–6 confirms dispensational premillennialism, that is not the foundation of it; the foundation of dispensational premillennialism is found in the covenants of the Old Testament.79 These covenants were literal, unconditional, and eternal. There are no conditions attached to the covenants and as such they unequivocally promise Israel a future land, a Messianic rule, and spiritual blessings. (1) The Abrahamic covenant. Described in Genesis 12:1–3, the Abrahamic covenant promised a land (v.l; cf. 13:14–17; further developed in the Palestinian covenant); numerous descendants involving a nation, dynasty, and a throne (v. 2; cf. 13:16; 17:2–6; further developed in the Davidic covenant); and redemption (v. 3; cf. 22:18; further developed in the New Covenant).
(2) The Palestinian covenant (Deut. 30:1–10). This covenant guarantees Israel’s permanent right to the land. It is unconditional, as seen in the state ments “God will,” without corresponding obligations. This covenant promises the ultimate return of Israel to the land in repentance and faith (v. 2) in circumstances wherein God will prosper them (v. 3). This covenant will be fulfilled in the Millennium.
(3) The Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:12–16). The provisions of this covenant are summarized in v. 16 by the words “house,” promising a dynasty in the lineage of David; “kingdom,” referring to a people who are governed by a king; “throne,” emphasizing the authority of the king’s rule; “forever,” emphasizing the eternal and unconditional nature of this promise to Israel. This covenant will be fulfilled when Christ returns to rule over believing Israel.
(4) The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–34). This covenant provides the basis by which God will bless Israel in the future—Israel will enjoy forgiveness of sins through the meritorious death of Christ. The unconditional nature of this covenant is once more seen in the “I will” statements of vv. 33–34.
If these covenants are understood according to their normal meaning, then they call for a future blessing of believing, national Israel in the land under Messiah’s rule. These covenants await a fulfillment in the Millennium.
The rapture. The term rapture comes from the Latin translatio n, meaning “caught up,” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The rapture, which is distinguished from the second coming of Christ, is taught in John 14:1–3; 1 Corinthians 15:51–57; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. Prior to the advent of the Tribulation, Christ will descend from heaven, catching up the church to be with Himself while the Tribulation is unleashed on an unrepentant and unbelieving world.
The pretribulation rapture is espoused for a number of reasons.80 (1) The nature of the Tribulation. The seventieth week of Daniel—the Tribulation—is an outpouring of the wrath of God throughout the seven years (Rev. 6:16–17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1; 16:1, 19); it is described as God’s judgment ( Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:5–7; 19:2) and God’s punishment (Isa. 24:21–22). (2) The scope of the Tribulation. The whole earth will be involved (Isa. 24:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 21; 34:2). It also involves God’s chastisement of Israel (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9:24). If this is the nature and scope of the Tribulation, it is inconceivable that the church will be on earth to experience the wrath of God. (3) The purposes of the Tribulation. The divine intentions of the Tribulation will be to judge people living on earth (Rev. 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:8) and to prepare Israel for her King (Ezek. 36:18–32; Mal. 4:5–6). Neither of these pertain to the church. (4) The unity of the Tribulation. The Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel; Daniel 9:24 makes it clear that it has reference to Israel. (5) The exemption of the Tribulation. The church is the bride of Christ, the object of Christ’s love, not His wrath (Eph. 5:25). It would be a contradiction of the very relationship of Christ and the church for the church to go through the punishments of the Tribulation. Specific statements affirming the church will be kept from the Tribulation (cf. Rom. 5:9;81 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rev. 3:10).82 (6) The sequel of the Tribulation. The signs of Matthew 24 (and numerous other passages) were given to Israel concerning the second coming of Christ; no signs, however, were given to the church to anticipate the rapture (which means it will come suddenly, as pretribulationists have affirmed). “The church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them in His presence (John 14:2–3; Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:51–52; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 6:14; James 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:3–4).”83
The tribulation. The Tribulation is the seventieth week of Daniel (Dan. 9:27), a week according to the prophet’s terminology equaling seven years. It is the last of a seventy-week (490 years) prophecy regarding Israel’s future (Dan. 9:24–27), which began in 444 b.c. Sixty-nine weeks (483 years) concluded with the death of Christ (Dan. 9:26). There is a gap between the sixty-ninth week (a.d. 33) and the seventieth week (the future Tribulation period).84 As the seventieth week of Daniel, the Tribulation has particular reference to Israel (not the church), because Daniel was told, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people” (Dan. 9:24). When Jesus detailed the events of the Tribulation in Matthew 24–25, He explained to the disciples what would happen to the nation Israel, indicating the Tribulation has reference to Israel.
The Tribulation will begin with the signing of the covenant by the beast, who promises to protect Israel (Dan. 9:27). Technically, the rapture does not begin the Tribulation; there may be a brief period of time between the rapture of the church and the signing of the covenant. The Tribulation will involve the judgment of God upon an unbelieving world, as detailed in Revelation 6–19. The consecutive series of seals, trumpets, and bowl judgments of Revelation detail God’s judgment upon unbelievers, climaxing in the triumphant return of Christ to earth with His bride, the church (Rev. 19:11–21).
A prophetic year was regarded as 360 days, with emphasis on the last half of the Tribulation period, called the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21) and referred to as 42 months (Rev. 11:2) or 1,260 days (Rev. 11:3).
The nature and purpose of the Tribulation is important in resolving the issue of the church’s participation in it. (1) Nature of the Tribulation. It has already been shown that the Tribulation is a time of the outpouring of the wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 6:16, 17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1; 16:1, 19); it is a time of punishment (Isa. 24:20–21); a time of trouble (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1); a time of great destruction (Joel 1:15; 1 Thess. 5:3); a time of desolation (Zeph. 1:14, 15); a time of judgment (Rev. 14:7; 16:5; 19:2). If the church is the object of Christ’s love, how can it be present during the Tribulation?
(2) Source of the Tribulation. Posttribulationists suggest the Tribulation is a time of Satan’s wrath, not God’s. The emphasis of Scripture, however, is that the Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath poured out in judgment upon an unbelieving world85 (Isa. 24:1; 26:21; Zeph. 1:18; Rev. 6:16–17 ; 11:18; 16:19; 19:1–2, etc.).
(3) Purposes of the Tribulation.86 The first purpose of the Tribulation is to bring about the conversion of Israel, which will be accomplished through God’s disciplinary dealing with His people Israel (Jer. 30:7; Ezek. 20:37; Dan. 12:1; Zech. 13:8–9). The second purpose of the Tribulation is to judge unbelieving people and nations (Isa. 26:21; Jer. 25:32–33; 2 Thess. 2:12).
Judgment seat of Christ. The judgment seat of Christ is mentioned in Romans 14:10, 1 Corinthians 3:9–15, and 2 Corinthians 5:10. It does not denote a judgment concerning eternal destiny but rather rewarding church age believers for faithfulness. The term judgment seat (Gk. bema) is take n from the Grecian games where successful athletes were rewarded for victory in athletic contests. Paul used that figure to denote the giving of rewards to church age believers. The purpose of the judgment seat will be recompense for deeds done in the body, whether good or worthless (2 Cor. 5:10). The believer’s works will be examined (1 Cor. 3:13) whether done by self-effort or whether done by God through the individual. If the believer’s works do not endure, he is saved but receives no reward (1 Cor. 3:15); if the believer’s works are genuine, he is rewarded (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 5:4; James 1:12).
That the rewarding takes place prior to the Second Advent is seen in that the bride has already been rewarded when returning with Christ (Rev. 19:8).87
Marriage of the Lamb. Prior to the Second Advent, the marriage of Christ and the church takes place in heaven. When Christ returns with His bride in Revelation 19:7 the marriage has already taken place.88 The marriage has reference to the church and takes place in heaven, whereas the marriage supper has reference to Israel and takes place on earth in the form of the millennial kingdom.89
Second coming of Christ. At the end of the Tribulation Christ will re turn physically to earth (Zech. 14:4) to render judgment and to inaugurate the millennial kingdom (Zech. 14:9–21; Matt. 25:31; Rev. 20:4). The Old Testament and Tribulation saints will be raised at that time to inherit the kingdom (Rev. 20:4). At the Second Advent Christ will judge Jews and Gentiles. The Jews will be judged on the basis of their preparedness for His return (Matt. 25:1–13) and their faithfulness as stewards of the Word of God (Matt. 25:14–30). The saved Jews will enter the millennial kingdom (Matt. 25:21), while the unsaved will be cast into outer darkness (Matt. 25:30). Unbelieving Gentiles will be judged in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Kidron Valley; Zech. 14:4) regarding their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3:2; Matt. 25:40). A positive response would indicate their belief in Messiah; these will inherit the kingdom (Matt. 25:34), while the unbelieving will be turned away into everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46).
Millennial kingdom. When Christ returns to earth He will establish Himself as King in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David (Luke 1:32–33). The unconditional covenants demand a literal, physical return of Christ to establish the kingdom. The Abrahamic covenant promised Israel a land, a posterity and ruler, and a spiritual blessing (Gen. 12:1–3); the Palestinian covenant promised Israel a restoration to the land and occupation of the land (Deut. 30:1–10); the Davidic covenant promised a ruler for the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:16); the New Covenant promised Israel forgiveness—the means whereby the nation could be blessed (Jer. 31:31–34). At the Second Advent these covenants will be fulfilled as Israel is regathered from the nations (Matt. 24:31), converted (Zech. 12:10–14), and restored to the land under the rulership of her Messiah
The conditions during the Millennium will depict a perfect environment physically and spiritually. It will be a time of peace (Mic. 4:2–4; Isa. 32:17–18); joy (Isa. 61:7, 10); comfort (Isa. 40:1–2); and no poverty (Amos 9:13–15) or sickness (Isa. 35:5–6). Because only the believers will enter the Millennium, it will be a time of righteousness (Matt. 25:37; Ps. 24:3–4); obedience (Jer. 31:33); holiness (Isa. 35:8); truth (Isa. 65:16); and fulness of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28–29).
Christ will rule as king (Isa. 9:3–7; 11:1–10), with David as regent (Jer. 33:15, 17, 21; Amos 9:11); nobles and governors will also rule (Isa. 32:1; Matt. 19:28; Luke 19:17).
Jerusalem will be the center of the world and rule (Zech. 8:3), rising physically to reveal its prominence (Zech. 14:10). There will be topographical changes in Israel (Zech. 14:4, 8, 10).
At the end of the Millennium the unsaved dead of all ages are resurrected and judged at the great white throne. They will be condemned and cast into the lake of fire, their final abode (Rev. 20:11–15). The devil, the beast (the Antichrist), and the false prophet are also cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
Eternal state. Following the Millennium, the heavens and the earth ar e judged (2 Pet. 3:10), because they were the domain of Satan’s rebellion against God. The eternal state, the abode of all redeemed (Heb. 12:22–24), will be ushered in (Rev. 21–22).
28 28. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 708.
29 29. Jay E. Adams, The Time Is at Hand (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1970), pp. 7–11.
30 30. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 174.
31 31. Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” in Robert G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1977), pp. 156–58 ; and William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1939).
32 32. The events that must take place prior to Christ’s second advent are delineated by Berkhof in Systematic Theology, pp. 696–703.
33 33. Ibid., p. 707.
34 34. Ibid., p. 722.
35 35. Berkhof states: “All of these passages speak of the resurrection as a single event and do not contain the slightest indication that the resurrection of the righteous and that of the wicked will be separated by a period of a thousand years.” Ibid., p. 724; and Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, pp. 240–43.
36 36. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 728.
37 37. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 254.
38 38. Ibid., pp. 256–57.
39 39. No distinction is made between the judgment seat of Christ or the great white throne judgment in amillennialism.
40 40. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 258.
41 41. Ibid, p. 259.
42 42. Ibid, p. 259–60.
43 43. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 737.
44 44. Ibid.
45 45. Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1966), p. 14. See pp. 3–105 for the definitive, representative position of postmillennialism.
46 46. See Boettner, The Millennium, pp. 14–62, and “Postmillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium, pp. 117–41 for details.
47 47. Boettner, The Millennium, p. 14.
48 48. B. B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines (New York: Oxford U., 1929), p. 648.
49 49. Boettner, “Postmillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium, p. 126.
50 50. A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1907), pp. 1003, 1008.
51 51. See the discussion by Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Reprint. London: Clarke, 1960), 3:838–44.
52 52. Ibid., 3:849–50.
53 53. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 1030.
54 54. William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3 vols. (Reprint. Nashville: Nelson, 1980), 2:665.
55 55. For a thorough biblical discussion of the doctrine of hell, see Shedd,Dogmatic Theology, 2:667–754. Shedd presents a convincing exegetical study of the eternal duration of the suffering in hell while also refuting the doctrine of annihilation.
56 56. George E. Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium, pp. 19–27.
57 57. Ibid, p. 23.
58 58. Ibid
59 59. Ibid., p. 25.
60 60. Ibid., p. 27.
61 61. Ibid., p. 28.
62 62. George E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 1931.
63 63. Ibid., pp. 62–70.
64 64. Ibid., p. 88.
65 65. Ibid., pp. 19–31; Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ (Reprint. Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International, 1975), p. 19. The suggestions that posttribulationism was the view of the early church and that pretribulationism is a recent view have both been called into question. See Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Dunham, 1957), pp. 52–56, 135–39.
66 66. Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, pp. 34–94.
67 67. Ibid., pp. 125–66; Ladd, The Blessed Hope, pp. 61–70.
68 68. Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium, p. 34.
69 69. Ibid., pp. 29–32.
70 70. Ibid., pp. 29–30.
71 71. Ibid, p. 31.
72 72. Ibid, pp. 38–39.
73 73. Ibid., p. 39. Ladd states: “The New Testament for the most part does not foresee the millennial kingdom…the New Testament nowhere expounds the theology of the Millennium.”
74 74. Ibid., p. 39.
75 75. Dispensational premillennialism will hereafter frequently be referred to simply as premillennialism. It is safe to say that the vast majority of premillennialists are also dispensationalists; by Ladd’s own admission, historic premillennialists are similar to amillennialists in their view of eschatology. It is, in fact, a serious question whether “historic premillennialism” is an apt designation for that eschatological position because it was not, we think, the position of the apostles and because it eliminates the dispensational elements that are historically integral to most premillennialism.
76 76. Charles C. Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1953), pp. 17–26. This is an extremely valuable source in not only tracing the history of premillennialism but also explaining the hermeneutical principles and the biblical foundation of premillennialism in the unconditional covenants of the Old Testament.
77 77. See Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody, 1965), pp. 86–98; and Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), pp. 119–27.
78 78. The only passage that is somewhat debatable is Galatians 6:16. The Greek kai should probably be understood epexegetically as “even.” Israel of God thus refers to believing Israelites who walk by faith and not as the legalistic Judaizers.
79 79. For a detailed discussion of these covenants see J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), pp. 65–128; Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, pp. 48–125; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), pp. 139–220; and Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, 3d ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1980).
80 80. See Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 193–218.
81 81. The statement “wrath” is emphatic in the Greek text, being at the end of the sentence, and additionally is definite by use of the article in tesorges. Both of these factors show that it is not just any wrath that is referred to, but a specific wrath—the wrath of the Tribulation. If God loved us while we were sinners He has promised to deliver us from the wrath to come.
82 82. For comprehensive studies of this subject see John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979); and Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956).
83 83. Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 203.
84 84. See Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), pp. 115–39 where Hoehner discusses the seventieth week and es tablishes the necessity of a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. See also Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940).
85 85. Ibid., pp. 235–37.
86 86. Ibid., pp. 237–39.
87 87. The plural term “righteous acts” suggests the righteous deeds of the believer that have been rewarded.
88 88. The phrase translated “has come” in Revelation 19:7 is the Greek aorist form, elthen, indicating it has already taken place.
89 89. Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 227.
Enns, P. P. (1997, c1989). The Moody handbook of theology (380). Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.