Tuesday, February 24, 2009

3) Idealism (Esch 304)

Idealism interprets most of the prophecies as being fulfilled throughout the history of the church, but in a general way, not in specific events.

We are not to look for a chronology in prophecy because the purpose of prophecy is to communicate general ideas, not specific events. The great tribulation, the millennium, and the antichrist are being fulfilled throughout church history.

Hence, we ought not look for a specific period of great tribulation. Rather, the entire church age is a period of great tribulation for the church.

Likewise, Idealists believe that Revelation and other prophecies teach general truths about how the church is persecuted. So, rather than looking for a specific person to identify as the antichrist or the beast, Idealists believe that these are general terms for evil and opposition to Christ.

The vivid descriptions of seals and trumpets and bowls are descriptions of the spiritual warfare that takes place in the heavens between angels.

The attractiveness of Idealism is that it focuses on Jesus Christ, rather than obsessing over the latest theories on who the antichrist is. Idealism is the majority position in the PCA and most Reformed churches. Kim Riddlebarger and Michael Horton are two of the most well-known Idealists.

The weakness of Idealism is in over-generalizing the Scriptures and missing the intended meaning of specific referents. While we will not be giving a full critique of Idealism, we will, from time to time, point to some Scriptures that do not seem to fit well with Idealism.

Friday, February 20, 2009

2) Historicism (Esch 303)

Historicism interprets most of the prophecies as being fulfilled evenly throughout the history of the church by specific events. That is, the fulfillment of prophecy is not concentrated in a narrow block of time, either in the past or in the future. Rather, prophecy is fulfilled gradually throughout history.

For example, in Revelation 2-3, Jesus writes letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. Historicists view these seven churches as symbolic of seven periods of church history. Thus, the key is to figure out which of the seven letters describe the church today.

Historicism became especially popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as many of the Protestants interpreted the book of Revelation as describing their struggle against the Roman church. Thus, the great harlot of Revelation 17 is the Catholic church. The pope is the antichrist.

Historicism was the dominant view during the Reformation and Puritan era. In fact, the original version of the Westminster Confession of Faith names the pope as the antichrist. Many of the greatest theologians in church history were Historicists, with Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards being two of such giants.

However, there are very few Historicists today. As the church has grown older, most have realized the arbitrariness of applying specific prophesies to contemporary situations. Thus, Historicism is by far the minority position today. As such, we will rarely interact with Historicism in our series on eschatology.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

1) Futurism (Esch 302)

Futurism interprets most of the prophecies as still awaiting future fulfillment. All prophecy is “future” when it is written, but a Futurist holds that most of the prophecies are still future today. These prophecies will be fulfilled at the end of history.

The great tribulation, the number of beast, the antichrist are all yet to be fulfilled. They will occur near the end of the world.

The uniqueness of Futurism is their belief in a future “millennium.” That is, Futurists expect Jesus Christ to return and to reign on the earth as King for a long time (perhaps exactly one-thousand years). The millennium is not an era of perfection, as sin will still be present. The eternal state takes place after the millennium.

There are actually two main views of Futurism in our day:

a) Some hold that the millennium is a return to Judaism. That is, God will remove the church from the world and re-establish Israel as a nation on earth, with Jesus Christ ruling in Jerusalem for exactly one thousand years. The temple will be rebuilt, the priesthood will be reestablished, and animal sacrifices will resume.

This form of Futurism is called “Dispensationalism,” and is probably best known today by the popular Left Behind series. John MacArthur and Chuck Swindoll are two of the most well-known Dispensationalists.

b) Other Futurists hold that the millennium is a time of peace and tranquility for the church. Jesus Christ will return to earth and reign as King for a long period of time (perhaps exactly one thousand years), at the end of which, many Jews will be converted. John Piper and Wayne Grudem are two of the most well-known Futurists.

Because Futurism is the dominant approach to eschatology in twenty-first century America, we will be interacting with it at various points throughout our series.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Four Approaches to Eschatology (Esch 301)

One of the challenges about studying eschatology is that there are so many details that we can easily drown in a sea of triviality. It helps to take a step back, to look at the big picture. Before we get into specific passages and specific topics, we need to look at eschatology as a whole, in an overview fashion.

Throughout the history of the church, there have been four basic approaches that have been articulated regarding eschatology. Each of these four approaches makes sense within themselves. Intelligent, godly men have held to each of these four positions.

Each approach begins with a set of principles. Often, these principles are not consciously adopted, but they are unconsciously assumed. They function on the level of presuppositions. That is, they are subconsciously or unknowingly adopted.

We will briefly define each approach before taking a look at each one in detail.

1) Futurism interprets most of the prophecies as still awaiting future fulfillment (hence, “Futurism”), with the bulk of the prophetic texts being fulfilled at the end of history.

2) Historicism interprets most of the prophecies as being fulfilled evenly throughout the history of the church (hence, “Historicism”) by specific events.

3) Idealism interprets most of the prophecies as being fulfilled throughout the history of the church, but in a general way, not in specific events (hence, “Idealism”).

4) Preterism interprets most of the prophecies as already fulfilled in the past (prater is Latin for “past”, hence, the name Preterism), specifically in the first century AD.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where’s the Triumphant Kingdom? (Esch 208)

The problem for us today is that we do not see the triumphant kingdom. We do not see the stone becoming a mountain, or the mustard seed growing into a tree, or the yeast leavening the loaf.

We do not see the church conquering all the kingdoms of the world. We do not see the enemies of the church being crushed and turned into chaff.

We look at the world and wonder how we should interpret God’s promises. However, this is not how God’s people should think. This is how pagans think.

We need to look at God’s promises and wonder how we should interpret the world.

Many Christians have this exactly backwards. They look at the triumphant promises of God, then look at the decline of our society, and conclude that the triumphant promises must be for another age (Premillennialism) or another realm (Amillennialism).

We need to interpret history through the Bible, not the Bible through history. We need to trust that God got it right. We need the eyes of faith.

The decline of Western civilization is what it is. We have abandoned God, and now, we are paying the price. However, the church is flourishing in other parts of the world.

For example, in China, there are more Christians than there are people in the United States. More are converting each week than there are members in many of our evangelical denominations. Meanwhile, conservative Episcopalians in America are seeking help from the Anglican church in Africa. We are witnessing a shift in the global center of the church.

However, we must not mistake America for the church. God has blessed America like no other nation, but as we speed towards apostasy, we will likely be cursed like no other nation.

Things are getting worse in America and in the west, but things are not getting worse for the church. From the perspective of two millennia of history, we can see the triumph of the church. The church is now alive and well on every continent and in every country. There are relatively few people groups that have never heard the gospel. And, the best is yet to come.

We can be pessimistic about Europe, pessimistic about America, and pessimistic about Western culture. But, we cannot be pessimistic about the church. We are to be unapologetically optimistic about the future of the church.

Jesus Christ is building his church, and nothing will prevail against it. We expect the triumph of the Kingdom of God. This is the message of Daniel, the message of the Psalms, the message of Jesus and the Apostles. This is the message of the Scriptures.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Second Advent of Jesus (Esch 207)

When this is finished, then Jesus will return.

"For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).

The return of Jesus marks the end of history.

"But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power" (1 Corinthians 15:23-24).

Here’s a summary of the major events in the Kingdom of God:

1) The first coming of Jesus Christ (death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost).

2) The growth of the Kingdom of God and subduing of enemies.

3) The second coming of Jesus Christ.

4) Jesus delivers the Kingdom to God the Father.

We live in the time between the two advents of Jesus Christ. Until his second coming, Jesus Christ is ruling and reigning through the church.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jesus Builds His Kingdom (Esch 206)

Jesus gave a sterling promise regarding the Kingdom of God.

"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus promises to build his church. Jesus uses a play on words saying, “You are Peter (rock), and on this rock (stone), I will build my church.” Remember, that according to Daniel 2, the Kingdom of God begins with a stone. Again, we also encounter the indestructible nature of the Kingdom of God. Not even the gates of Hades, that is death, will prevail against it. The Kingdom of God will triumph over all of its enemies.

Building the Kingdom
How is Jesus building his Kingdom? "

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen." (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus ascended to the right hand of God and is ruling and reigning over the universe through the church. The church’s mandate is to make disciples of all the nations. Become a mountain. Grow into a tree. Leaven the entire loaf.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Esch 205)

Jesus and John came with the same message.

"In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'" (Matthew 3:1-2).

"Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15).

Both said that the Kingdom of God was at hand. This meant that the Kingdom of God was near. It was close to being inaugurated.

In Matthew 13, Jesus told a series of parables about the Kingdom of God. We will look at two which particularly correspond with Daniel.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

"Another parable He put forth to them, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches'" (Matthew 13:31-32).

The idea here is that the Kingdom of God starts out small, in fact smaller than any other seeds, but once it is grown, it is greater than all other herbs and becomes a tree.

Jesus highlights the principle that the Kingdom starts inauspiciously, but it grows surprisingly large. This matches what Daniel said about the growth of the Kingdom. It starts as a stone but becomes a mountain, just as a mustard seed becomes a large tree.

The Parable of the Leaven

"Another parable He spoke to them: 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened'" (Matthew 13:33).

Jesus also compared the Kingdom of God to leaven or yeast. Leaven starts out as a proportionately small ingredient in a loaf of bread, but it effect the entire load, causing it to rise. This matches what Daniel said about the growth and the universality of the Kingdom of God. The stone becomes a mountain which fills the earth, just as a pinch of yeast spreads throughout the entire loaf.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Psalm 110 and the Kingdom of God (Esch 204)

The New Testament writers quote Psalm 110:1 more than any other Scripture. This is another key passage to understanding the Kingdom of God.

"The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool'" (Psalm 110:1).

Translators use small capitals in “LORD” to show that David is using God’s personal name, Yahweh. Thus, David wrote, “Yahweh said to my Lord.”

Who is David’s Lord? Does he have any Lord’s but God? No. This is a reference to a distinction among God. We understand that David’s Lord is Jesus. Yahweh is a reference to the Father.

Thus, David is writing that the Father will say to the Son, “Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.”

What does it mean “till I make Your enemies Your footstool?” This is common battle language to describe the defeat of enemies. The defeated kings would be brought before the victor, and the victor would place his foot on their neck, signifying total victory.

Thus, Jesus will sit down at the Father’s right hand and stay there until the Father has defeated all of Jesus’ enemies.

We learn three significant things from this verse:

1) Jesus will sit at God’s right hand at a certain point in time. This is a reference to the ascension, as multiple passages make clear (Mark 16:19; Acts 23:32-36; Acts 5:30-31; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:1-3; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2).

2) When Jesus first sits at God’s right hand, not all of his enemies are defeated. This was true of Jesus’ ascension.

3) Jesus will sit at God’s right hand until a certain point in time – namely, until God defeats all of his enemies. Thus, Jesus is still at God’s right hand until his enemies are defeated.
This integrates well with what we learned from Daniel 2 and 7.

a) The Kingdom of God is established at the ascension of Jesus: when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7) is also when David’s Lord sits at the right hand of Yahweh (Psalm 110).

b) The Kingdom of God grows: the stone becomes a mountain and fills the whole earth (Daniel 2) as all God’s enemies are subdued (Psalm 110).

This triumphal expectation carries forward into the gospels, yet Jesus adds to our understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Daniel 7 and the Kingdom of God (Esch 203)

In the seventh chapter of Daniel, he sees a vision of four beasts: a lion, a bear, a leopard, and an unspecified beast. These symbols are explained to Daniel.

"Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever" (Daniel 7:17-18).

The four beasts represent four kingdoms, the same four kingdoms which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream.

1. The Lion = Babylon

2. The Bear = Persia

3. The Leopard = Greece

4. The Beast = Rome

However, the kingdom will be given to the saints of the Most High forever. This is described further at the end of the chapter.

"Then the kingdom and dominion,

And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,

Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.

His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

And all dominions shall serve and obey Him" (Daniel 7:27).

Again, the Kingdom of God will be everlasting and universal.

In the midst of his vision of the four beasts, Daniel also has a vision of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man.

"I was watching in the night visions,

And behold, One like the Son of Man,

Coming with the clouds of heaven!

He came to the Ancient of Days,

And they brought Him near before Him.

Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,

That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion,

Which shall not pass away,

And His kingdom the one

Which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14).

The Ancient of Days is God. The Son of Man is Jesus. Daniel saw a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

The Ancient of Days was sitting on his heavenly throne (Daniel 7:9-10). The Son of Man is “coming with the clouds of heaven.” Many think this is a description of Jesus coming to the earth. However, this is incorrect. The Son of Man does not come from the Ancient of Days. He comes to the Ancient of Days.

At this moment, the Ancient of Days gives the Son of Man a kingdom, which is described as universal, eternal, indestructible. This is the same Kingdom of God that has been described throughout the book of Daniel.

Daniel 7:13-14 provides the point in time of the establishment of the Kingdom of God: when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days. This is a description of the ascension. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he ascended to the throne of the universe. He was placed at the right hand of God.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Daniel 2 and the Kingdom of God (Esch 202)

In the second chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a great image made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Daniel explains that these four materials represent four successive kingdoms that will rule the earth.

Daniel then tells Nebuchadnezzar that Babylon is the head of gold, which is the first kingdom. We can easily figure out what the other three kingdoms were.

1. Gold = Babylon
2. Silver = Persia
3. Bronze = Greece
4. Iron = Rome

However, Daniel also speaks of another kingdom.

"And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).

From this statement, we learn a couple of important details about the Kingdom of God.

1) God will set up a kingdom “in the days of these kings.” During the reign of Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome, God will set up a kingdom. Initially, this means the kingdom of God began sometime between 604 BC (the date of the prophecy) and AD 476 (the fall of the Roman Empire).

2) The Kingdom of God will be indestructible, never-abandoned, triumphant, universal, and eternal.

We learn more about the Kingdom of God when we examine what happened to the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw.

"You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35).

From this, we learn a couple of more details about the Kingdom of God:

1) A stone shatters the image. What is this “stone cut without hands”? This is an obvious reference to the Kingdom of God that “breaks in pieces and consumes all these kingdoms.”

2) The stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. The Kingdom of God starts as a stone, then becomes a mountain, filling the earth. Thus, the Kingdom of God begins small (a stone) and grows larger (a mountain) and eventually fills the whole earth.

Thus, from Daniel 2, we derive a globally triumphant expectation for the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Daniel and the Kingdom of God (Esch 201)

The preeminent theme of Daniel is the Kingdom of God. Daniel reveals some absolutely crucial details about the chronology of the Kingdom of God. If you miss these details, then you will completely misunderstand what Jesus and the apostles say about the Kingdom of God.

We are going to look briefly at the second and seventh chapters of Daniel. Each chapter contains some crucial information about the Kingdom of God. We will then examine a few other passages that illuminate our understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What is Eschatology About? (Esch 105)

What is eschatology about? What is the center of Biblical eschatology?

"The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:1).

As Jesus indicates, the book of Revelation is about Jesus Christ. Eschatology is about Jesus Christ. He is the center of everything and all that we do.

An eschatological scheme which focuses on the nation of Israel or current events is off-center. The center of everything is Jesus Christ. Eschatology must be primarily about Jesus Christ and what he has done or will do in the future.

Israel and the Church

One of the major issues that affects eschatology is our view of Israel and the church.

The most popular view in America teaches that God will remove the church from the world and re-establish the nation of Israel on earth. Obviously, this view relies upon making a hard distinction between Israel and the church. However, this distinction is not found in the Bible.

In 2007, we spent eight weeks studying this issue and published the booklet Jesus, Israel, and the Church to set forth the argument that the church is the continuation of what God began with Israel. We are not going to rehash all of this here. If you have never studied this issue, you can find a copy here.

Our working assumption is that Israel was the church and the church is now Israel. There is one people of God throughout history. God made promises to his people before Christ, and God will fulfill these promises to his people.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Our Approach to Eschatology (Esch 104)

Eschatology is one of the most controversial subjects within the church. This does not mean that we should avoid eschatology, but only that we should approach it carefully.

Our main goal is to provide a road map for you, so that as you read the Bible and study, you will be able to understand the Bible more fully.

Thus, our approach is going to be mainly positive. We are not going to spend a lot of time examining and critiquing various eschatological views. The purpose of our study is not to slam other positions.

This means that we are not going to make a balanced presentation. We are not going to present all of the views and make each one sound enticing. We will not be offering an eschatological smorgasbord.

We are going to present one view and when necessary, we will briefly critique other views. For instance, when we get to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we are going to explain why we think that the rapture and the second coming are the same event. We are also going to have to critique the popular view that the rapture and the second coming are different events.

Learning almost always involves replacing existing knowledge with new knowledge. We are constantly correcting our thinking. Very little of our learning is obtaining brand new information. Thus, it will be important to both present positive evidence for our view and negative evidence against other views. However, we will only do this as necessary.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Why Study Eschatology? (Esch 103)

As an answer to the eschatological-agnostic, here are a couple of specific reasons why we should study eschatology.

1) All Scripture is Profitable
Paul gives us the first reason for us to eschatology.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

All Scripture is profitable. As Paul says, it is all important so that we may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

When God breathed his Scriptures, he did not waste any breath. All of the Bible is important. If God told us something, then we should seek to understand it.

We do not have the authority of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we would like to emphasize or ignore. All of Scripture is profitable. This means that the Olivet Discourse is profitable. The book of Revelation is profitable. These are all essential for making us complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Now, most of eschatology does fall into the category of a non-essential. By this we mean that holding to a correct eschatological view will not save you.

However, in no way does this mean that eschatology is unimportant. “Essentials” and “non-essentials” are man-made categories to describe the gospel.

While eschatology does not save us, eschatology does affect our sanctification. The more we understand God’s word, the more we have an opportunity for sanctification and glorifying God.

2) Revelation Promises a Blessing
Seven times in the book of revelation, blessing is promised. This is not surprising since the number seven plays a large roll in Revelation.

Two of these promises of blessing are at the beginning and at the end of Revelation.

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7).

Revelation begins and ends with Jesus promising a blessing to those who hear and obey his book. I often hear people say that Revelation is too confusing and that we should not even try to understand it. This goes precisely against what Jesus says. Blessing awaits!