25 Jun 2024

Christianity from its beginning has declared wholeheartedly that Jesus will one day return, even soon, for His bride, which is the church, made up of believers from all times and all places.

Matthew 24:29–31 (29) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (30) Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (ESV)

1 Corinthians 15:20–23 (20) But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (21) For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (23) But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (ESV)

Those are merely two of many, many, passages that speak of the Lod returning for His people. The scriptural witness is so great in fact, that I would go as far as to say that if you deny this truth, there is a serious issue with your faith, either a disconnect that needs to be rectified or a stubbornness in disbelieving the clear testimony of scripture that needs to be repented of.

But just because the scripture is crystal clear that Jesus will return for His bride, it’s not so clear as to when. So, when we talk of the end of all things, the question is not normally “is Jesus returning?” but “when will Jesus return?”

We’ll get to it in more detail later, but even the disciples asked that question …

Matthew 24:3 (3) As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (ESV)

It seems that our asking that question today puts us in the same company as the disciples. But we have an answer that they didn’t have when they asked the question …

Matthew 24:33–37 (33) So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (34) Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (35) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (36) “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (37) For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (ESV)

Evidently, nobody knows.

But even more than that – nobody can know!

And yet, that doesn’t mean that God’s word is silent on the return of Jesus, and it also doesn’t mean that God’s word gives us an ironclad understanding of what will happen.

Don’t misunderstand, everything that the bible says will happen will happen. And everything that will happen will happen when the bible says it will. But we often get punchy when we don’t understand, and we really want to understand!

And here’s where two of our terms come into play – millennium and tribulation. In trying to ferret all this out, Christians typically spend most of their time trying to understand what is known as the millennium – the “thousand years” of Revelation 20…

Revelation 20:1–8 (1) Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. (2) And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, (3) and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (4) Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (5) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (7) And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison (8) and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. (ESV)

There is one big issue with this though – it’s right in the middle of a very symbolic portion of Scripture, which makes the interpretation of the “thousand years” interesting.

Is it a literal number?

Is it a figurative number?

Is it allegorical?

The context should help us determine some things about this thousand years, namely that the numbers around it are likely not literal and it is right in the middle of a scene with a lot of symbology and imagery.

But whatever the case, one thing is clear from this passage and the surrounding context – Jesus is coming back, He will establish a kingdom, there will be a final battle between good and evil, and the battle will be no contest – Jesus wins with a word.

Regarding these end times, the most divisive topics are related to the timing of the millennium and the great tribulation as they relate to the return of Jesus. Because this question of the millennium can be rather divisive, it is good to understand the main positions that people take on it. We would do well to remember the words of Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) who wrote while defending his strong premillennial belief against Trypho (a Jew):

“I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.” [1]

Each hermeneutic that drives us to a certain understanding of the millennium and the tribulation results in different understandings of the timing of these terms, not in what they are. All Christians believe that the millennium is a time when Jesus is reigning, and all Christians believe that the tribulation is a time of great suffering and persecution.

Regarding the millennium your hermeneutic address questions like “is it really 1000 years?” and “when is it in relation to the return of Jesus?”, and some even ask “how many times does Jesus return?” There are pre-millennial, post-millennial, and amillennial understandings of this with pre-millennials believing that Jesus will return before the millennial reign, post-millennials believing that Jesus will return after the millennium, and amillennials believing that Jesus has been reigning since his resurrection and we are currently in the millennium.

Regarding the tribulation, the pre-, mid-, post- prefixes don’t refer to the timing related to the millennium, but rather to the timing of the return of Jesus as it relates to the tribulation. Therefore, they don’t address questions like “is the tribulation before or after the millennium”, but rather, “does Jesus return before, during, or after the tribulation?” and “do saints endure through the tribulation or are they rescued from it?” 

This distinction between the tribulation and the millennium is important because they are not the same thing, and this distinction is where we get the various end times positions – each one talks about both the tribuation (pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib) and the millennium (pre-milllennial, post-millennial, amillennial.) 

Of all of the possible combinations of these views, there are three main ones that we will cover in the next few blog posts, and those are pre-millennial (with its pre-, mid-, and post-tribulational positions), post-millennial (almost exclusively post-tribulational), and amillennial (also almost exclusively post-tribulational).

There is one more we’ll walk through called preterism, which, in its absolute form is bordering on being outside of Christianity. The full preterist would believe that all biblical prophecy has been fulfilled, including the return of Christ, the casting of Satan into the lake of fire, even the resurrection of the dead! This position also has a partial preterist view, which if truth be told, everyone holds to some form of – some biblical prophecy has already been fulfilled, and some has not yet been fulfilled. All end-times positions have a vein of partial preterism in them.

Each of the three main views, and the partial preterist view, has scriptural support and methods of interpretation that drive Christians to them, and it is important to remember that none of these positions is bulletproof, but at the same time, remember that we are called to seek understanding of the last days so that we are not caught unaware.

And what we believe about tomorrow ought to inform how we live today.

References:

[1] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (chapter 80) (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.lxxx.html)

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