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Developing a Systematic Eschatology

Posted by Matt Postiff December 8, 2016 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology  Dispensationalism  Eschatology  Bible Texts 

Since I have been asked recently about eschatology, I thought I would write on how to develop a simple, Biblical, systematic approach to eschatology, the study of last things.

The system of thought that comes out of this approach is called pretribulational premillennialism. It is sometimes called dispensational premillennialism, to distinguish it from historic premillennialism.

I start with the principle of literal interpretation, in which words are understood according to the plain meaning. I argue that the literal interpretation is key to understanding any portion of the Bible. Literal interpretation is feasible and much easier than a spiritualized or allegorical interpretation. It presents no impossible difficulties.

So, how do you develop a system of eschatology? Besides using literal interpretation, we also rely on clear texts to develop our framework, and then we fit less clear or harder-to-understand texts into that framework. All will admit that there are easier and there are harder texts to interpret and assimilate into our system of understanding the Scripture. I believe it is valid to read through Scripture, and build an understanding bit by bit from portions that are easier to understand, and to add in other portions as I go. As a finite creature, I'm not sure how else it could be done. Of course, later data may and certainly should shape and re-shape my earlier conclusions, but clear texts cannot be overridden by less clear, more difficult ones.

We will use as our starting point the same text that Challies mentioned above, Revelation 20:1-6. Somewhat surprisingly, the apostle John departs from the highly symbolic and figurative approach of the prior chapters in the Apocalypse and drops into some very normal prose.

For my amillennial friends, let me ask you to, just for a few minutes, suspend disbelief and suppose that God's program could be what the literal reading of this text suggests, namely:

19:11, Christ returns to the earth after a terrible time of tribulation upon the earth and executes His enemies and those who oppose His people. This time of Tribulation is one that has not been previously experienced in world history and thus is yet future.

20:1-3, An angel is comes down from heaven to incarcerate Satan. This imprisonment lasts 1000 years and its purpose is to prevent Satan from deceiving the nations during that 1000 year time period.

20:4, Believers who had been martyred during the terrible time of tribulation re-appear, seated with Jesus upon thrones from which they rule the world. Their re-appearance occurred because they were resurrected. The text says that they had been beheaded, but now lived. They did this for 1000 years.

20:5, The rest of the dead, which I believe refers to those who do not believe in God, were not resurrected until the end of the 1000 years. The resurrection which occurs prior to the 1000 years is the first resurrection. The second resurrection happens after the 1000 years. This proves that there are at least two resurrections.

20:6, A special blessing is pronounced upon those who take part in the first resurrection. The blessing has to do, among other things, with participating in the kingdom of Christ in the prior verse. The blessing also has to do with the fact that the second death has no power over them, but rather they will be priests of God and Christ, and will reign with Christ for 1000 years. 20:14 defines the second death for us, namely that which occurs when someone is thrown into the lake of fire.

There shouldn't be any question that God could do all of the above. I don't think there is any question that He is intending us to understand Scripture to say exactly that. I wonder how He could or should have been more clear if the above is not what He meant. The sequence of John's presentation makes it clear that he saw these things in his vision in the order they are recorded. The time words as to the 1000 years, and events before and after, make it clear that it is not only the order of the vision, but also the order of events are portrayed by the vision.

To be continued...

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