The End (Part 4): Hermeneutics
In the last post, I threw in a position, preterism, that technically isn’t an end-times view, but is rather a type of hermeneutic (or method) that is used to arrive at an end-times view. However, I mentioned it there because it is often equated with a particular view of the end times. It is one of those times where the way to get to a thing and the thing itself is called by the same name. It’s a little confusing, but hopefully, this post will clear up some of the confusion.
As we saw in that post, generally speaking, views of the last days involve some combination of beliefs about the millennium and the tribulation, specifically regarding their occurrence relative to the return of Jesus. But a person doesn’t arrive at a view of the end times in a vacuum, rather, they arrive at a view of the end times based on how they read the rest of the scriptures – by a certain method or understanding of how it all fits together.
By a hermeneutic.
At least that’s how it ought to work.
But often, it works differently.
All of us bring a map to the scriptures, or lenses through which we read. We call those things biases or presuppositions. And the most important thing to remember is that all of us have them.
Have you ever thought about the fact that your biases, your presuppositions, create a map or a pair of lenses that guide and color the way you read the bible? That they point you down a certain road? And the road winds through history, poetry, proverbs, allegory, and prophecy?
And the road has an end?
Not a dead end, but a living one?
Not all biases are bad, but they are biases, and if you have striven to remain faithful to the text, have listened to the correcting words of the Holy Spirit, and have trusted His understanding of His own word over your own, whatever road your reading method takes you on, you can rest assured that in the main, your road has been straight, your map is trustworthy and true, and your road ends in the right place.
If you have trusted your guide and believed the signposts, you can be assured of a glorious end.
If however, you have relied on your own understanding, you have ignored the signposts, and have left your guide to travel the path overgrown by thickets and brambles, you aren’t on the right road. And you may think you are headed toward a glorious end when your end is actually horrible.
If you haven’t yet trusted your guide, now is a great time to do so!
Anyway, right before the road ends, it winds through some pretty odd things – visions of the end of all things and the ushering in of eternity. We get glimpses throughout scripture, with the most confusing things being found in the prophetic books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation.
How many of you have been caught off guard or sidetracked by reading biblical prophecy with a newspaper in hand trying to ferret out how the current global politic fits into what John was trying to get 1st-century Christians to understand?
But more than that, how many of you have attempted to truly understand what John (and Daniel, and Ezekiel, and even Jesus in places like the Olivet Discourse) were trying to tell their hearers and readers thousands of years ago?
I never did, that is, until someone challenged me on what I believed about the end of all things.
I had a certain understanding of the end times that may have been based on my own reading but not on my own study. I honestly wasn’t even aware of my biases or even of whatever method I was using to interpret scripture. As a young Christian, I adopted the view of the end of time that the people who were discipling me held because I didn’t know any better. It was at a point in my life where the bible itself was new to me, so I my hands were full even trying to understand what salvation was, who God is, and what was expected of me even as a brand new creation in Christ.
My theological hands (however small they were) were pretty full for sure!
And prophecy, because it was so strange to me, was something that I felt could be punted down the road. So I adopted a view and punted it down the road.
And kept punting it down the road.
That is until I was challenged in my understanding of it.
So regardless of how you have arrived at whatever position you hold, see this series of posts as a challenge to you as I was challenged all those years ago. See them as a way to peer into why you have arrived at the position you hold. Ultimately, I’d love it if you could defend your position because everyone should be able to defend what they believe, whatever it is that they believe.
So, given that, here is a summary of the most popular lenses or maps by which we tend to read scripture. Please note that none of them, in and of themselves, are wrong, and some try to harmonize different ones together, and these hermeneutics are not completely independent of each other, there is some overlap, so remember that these are a “most of the time” kind of thing instead of an “all the time” kind of thing.
So, here we go, a summary of the five general hermeneutical lenses through which we read the scriptures, and particularly, through which we interpret biblical prophecy. These summaries are all taken from other places because they did a great job of summarizing and why reinvent the wheel, right?
Preterism (with its sub-views partial and full) is a view in Christian eschatology which holds that some or all of the biblical prophecies concerning the Last Days refer to events which took place in the first century after Christ’s birth, especially associated with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning past, since this view deems certain biblical prophecies as past, or already fulfilled. (Theopedia)
Partial Preterism, the older of the two views, holds that prophecies such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the advent of the Day of the Lord as a “judgment-coming” of Christ were fulfilled circa 70 AD when the Roman general (and future Emperor) Titus sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple, putting a permanent stop to the daily animal sacrifices. It identifies “Babylon the great” (Revelation 17-18) with the ancient pagan City of Rome or Jerusalem. (Theopedia)
Full Preterism differs from Partial Preterism in that it sees all prophecy fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem, including the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ Second Coming or Parousia. Full Preterism is also known by other names, such as Consistent Preterism or Hyper-Preterism (a somewhat derogatory term). (Theopedia)
Historicism teaches that biblical predictions are being fulfilled throughout history and continue to be fulfilled today. The Book of Revelation is a pre-written history of the Church from the time of its writing to the future Second Advent of Christ, which shall usher in the new heaven and new earth. (Theopedia)
Idealism teaches that the symbols in Revelation are not normally thought to refer to specific individuals and historic events but to typical individuals and events. For instance, every generation will have an “antichrist” and a “mark of the beast”—any number of individuals, world leaders, or empires who exalt themselves against God are the “antichrist,” and those who follow those leaders receive his “mark.” Some part of the church is always going through tribulation, and there will be martyrs in every generation. The idealist interprets Revelation as the ongoing struggle between God and His people and Satan and those who follow him. (Got Questions)
Ecelcticism attempts to combine the strengths of several of the other approaches: (Zondervan)
- Revelation seems to address the first-century Christians directly, so we should read Revelation the same way that we read every other book of the Bible—by taking its historical context seriously.
- Revelation also presents timeless truths for surviving the struggle between good and evil. The visions of Revelation challenge us to forsake our complacency and stay faithful during times of persecution.
- Revelation also clearly has something to say about events still to come. Some events it describes await future fulfillment (such as the return of Christ, the great white throne judgment, and the arrival of the holy city).
Futurism considers most of the book related to future events immediately preceding the end of history. (Got Questions)
Now that we have seen the major hermeneutics that guide us toward our interpretation of biblical prophecy, and ultimately the ushering in of eternity, we can peer deeper into the views these hermeneutics result in, and in the next few posts, we’ll fly over each of the main views of the end times.
But remember, even though I would say that some views are more correct than others, none of us have a perfect understanding of it, and I’d venture a guess that all of us are going to be surprised in some way when Jesus returns and shows us where we were wrong!
But even so, one thing we can all understand…we must all understand, is that the battle is over, Jesus has won, and He is returning soon for his bride! And that ought to change how we live the rest of our days.
Regardless of the map you are using, the lenses you have on, or what theological bumps are in the road you are on, everyone will give an account at the end of their days.
And only those (and all of those) whose robes have been washed by the blood of Jesus will spend eternity in glory.
Are your robes washed by grace through faith in the God the Son who died as a payment for sin, who rose in victory over death, and who now lives to intercede for those who by faith have been adopted into His family?
Will your road end in prison or will it end in glory?