Brb_WHY studyEndTimes

How to Decide Your View of the End Times – A Five Step Study Process

Posted On March 26, 2021 By Peter In

Why is it so stinking hard to study the end times?  The truth is: It’s NOT hard. But it can feel that way when we’re doing it with the wrong resources. As a result, many Christians either avoid the subject altogether or they study it for all the wrong reasons with all the wrong resources.

After reading hundreds of books on the subject, I wish I could go back in time and give myself advice on how to study this in a way that’s more fruitful and fulfilling. And if that’s something you’re interested in, then keep reading! Because I’m going to give you a five step process for developing your own opinion on eschatology (the study of the end times). But before we dive in, it’s important you understand some of bias that may affect your discernment process.

THREE PRESSURES THAT IMPAIR JUDGEMENT:

(1). SPIRITUAL POLITICS OR PEER PRESSURE:

Many churches and denominations get super dogmatic about these doctrines. If you were raised in Reformed circles, you were probably chided as being foolish and unintellectual for even reading a Tim LaHaye book. If raised in Dispensational circles, many are often threatened “you are literally under a curse if you don’t support this modern Israeli political party.” You see, elitism and legalistic peer pressure can be found in almost any group.

As I share in my book Pharisectomy, the motive behind this legalism is usually well intentioned. Somebody wants to protect people from making mistakes. But these practices don’t often create well-informed students of the Bible. To put it another way: Many are indoctrinated, but few are discipled. In other words, people ask me: “why do you teach all of the end times positions if you know that only one of them will ultimately be right?” And the answer is simple: (1). I could be wrong; and (2). Indoctrination gets people addicted to experts while theological tension gets people addicted to God’s word. I want people to fall in love with Jesus, not me. Even more, theological tension is what drives us deeper into the Scriptures.

But if the pressure to make the decision doesn’t come from the outside (friends, denominations, or pastors), then it often comes from the inside:

(2). THEOLOGICAL INSECURITY:

A lot of people study theology, not because they love God, but because they feel afraid or want to feel a sense of intelligence or control. Remember, the source of all sin was the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:1-6). Even good knowledge, apart from the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, can lead to sin, rape, genocide and misery. The whole point of that Bible lesson was to prove: Trying to acquire knowledge or godliness apart from the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus equals death (Rom 8:1-2). Knowledge puffs us up (1 Cor. 8:1) – which is why there are so many arrogant and legalistic books on the end times.

So, remember, the ultimate goal in studying eschatology isn’t to get a perfect roadmap for the end times; rather, it’s to look more like Christ during the end times. And I can promise you: Even the smartest theologian on earth will enter heaven saying: “Wow, I was wrong on a million things! Thank you Jesus that salvation is based on grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9)!” Thus, if we don’t take care of these first two problems (peer-pressure and insecurity), it’s likely to lead to the third problem:

(3). CONFIRMATION BIAS:

Many people read theological books to confirm their biases rather than uncover truth. And here’s a few possible indications you have confirmation bias: (A). Did you take a few years to make a quality decision (perhaps, you took even 5-10 years)? If not, you might be rushing the process a bit. (B). Can you make a good Biblical argument for each model? (C). Do you understand some of the fundamental debates like Progressive Dispensationalism and Covenantal approaches to Israel? Could you give both a Preterist and Futurist interpretation of a few dozen prophet chapters? If not, you’re probably still missing some of the fundamentals. To put it another way: If my kids took a theological stand on a particular view of the end times without checking these boxes, I’d encourage them to simmer the heck down.

So, don’t be quick to allow theological positions to become a part of your identity. Don’t be quick to declare: “I’m a progressive covenantal theonomist Postmillennial.” After all, here’s what is going to happen as you study this more: With each amazing book I’d read, I’d want to switch sides! It’s similar to Proverbs 18:17 “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.” (NIV) Yet, the more scripture I’d memorize, I’d start to see: “There’s no way that one clever theologian could be right in light of this other passage.” Over time, scriptures would begin to balance out other scriptures. And with each new book, I’d start to remove more biases and filters – many of which, I wasn’t even aware I had.

So, here’s the advice I wish someone would have given me: Do not decide this in a month. Do not decide this after reading 5 books either. Rather, see yourself as a Do-It-Your-Selfer building a multi-story home: You aren’t merely building a house; but, you’re acquiring and mastering the individual skills required to do so. Ie. If your eschatology was a tower, then the pillars might be things like mastering the book of Daniel… then mastering the Olivet discourse… then mastering Revelation and so on.

So, with this construction metaphor in mind, allow me to suggest a FIVE Story process that will give you a blueprint for success:

The FIRST FLOOR:    Get To Know the 4 Main Positions –  Read Comparative Books

Throughout history, there have been four main positions that scholars have taken on the end times. They are, in chronological order: Historic Pre-millennialism,[1] Amillennialism[2], Postmillennialism,[3] and Dispensational Premillennialism.[4] Thankfully, there are many theology books which attempt to compare and contrast these views without being overly biased.

My current recommendation for beginners is the Rose Guide to End Times Prophecy by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones. And my second favorite is: A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium by Millard J. Erickson. (And if you’re interested in building out an End Times Library – just admit it, you’re a nerd – then be sure to read my blog on the “Four types of End Times books, and the order in which you should read them!”)

However, if you’re not quite ready to dive into books, simply watch the first three video teachings from my teaching series: BRB: Tough Questions about the Return of Christ. I hit a lot of the basics like, Revelation 20 (the passage that introduces the concept of the Millennium) and then move through all the major interpretations of it that have resulted in so many opinions.

But don’t be in a hurry to commit to a certain system yet. And be sure to absorb all of the major arguments before moving to round two.

The SECOND FLOOR: Do an Eschatological Bible Reading Plan:  An overview of the Key Passages

Every good student of eschatology needs to do a serious Bible study of Revelation, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, 2 Thessalonians and the Olivet Discourses (Matthew 24-25) – to name a few. But keep in mind: The vast majority of debates come down to a smaller number of chapters. So below, I listed a few of the key chapters that you will be reading over and over again! But I also believe that it helps to study these passages in a particular order.

Think of it like a puzzle: You start with the edges first; then start matching-up clumps; and over time, the other pieces start falling into place. So, in my opinion, the following chapters form the “edges of the puzzle.”

Always start with the backbone: Daniel 9 (the prophecy of the 70 weeks); it’s the prophecy that heralded the first coming of the Messiah with insane accuracy. Thus, most scholars believe it’s the hermeneutical key to the second coming. (And if you haven’t read my blog on Daniel’s 70 weeks, you can find it here). But Daniel 9 & 12 are where we get the concept of the 7 year Tribulation and the “abomination that causes desolation.” So, it’s often helpful to read this in parallel to the other chapters that talk about this (like Mt. 24; Rev. 11 & 13; and 2 Thess. 2).

Hence, after you tackle Daniel 9, move onto the New Testament backbone known as the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24, Luke 21; Mark 13). Jesus gives us numerous signs of his coming and gives us some powerful clues for reinterpreting Daniel 9! So, after you absorb Mt. 24, go back and re-read Daniel 9, (except, this time, add chapter 12); and Finally: Go onto to read Revelation 11 & 13. Pay special attention to the consistent theme of 3.5 years (aka., 42 months; 1260 days; half of a seven). Notice the consistent theme about the abomination in the temple. Notice every detail about the person who sets up the abomination.

Finally, read Revelation chapter 6 & 8. And then, go back and notice all of the parallels to Matthew 24. I realize that this recommendation might sound ridiculous; but, all of these passages comment on one another. And if you really chart it out, you’ll suddenly see the puzzle picture emerge.

And why this unique Bible reading plan? I am convinced that most people come up with dumb ideas about the end times simply because they aren’t studying all of these passages in parallel! A lot of scholars attempt to interpret Daniel 9 on its own – divorced from the New Testament passages that comment on it. Thus, they come up with all sorts of convincing sounding arguments – disregarding the fact that both Jesus and Paul explicitly tell us how to interpret Daniel. And the more you know these passages (perhaps even memorize them), the more they mutually exclude certain interpretations. Think of these chapters like the guardrails on a precarious mountain road. They’ll keep you on the path towards truth.

The THIRD FLOOR: Work through your “Theology of Israel”

As you’re studying this, you’ll start to expose yourselves to a lot of debates – things like, Pre-Tribulation Rapture vs. Post-Tribulation rapture, or Preterism vs. Futurism. But, once again, there’s an order to these debates. It’s like building the foundation of the house before the second floor: You can’t solve the debate on the rapture until you first solve the “Israel vs. the Church debate” known as Dispensationalism vs. Covenentalism. But what’s this debate all about?

When you study Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, you’ll eventually ask the question: Did God specifically make these end times promises to Israel or was God making it to Spiritual Israel (a.k.a., the Church). I.e., When we use the term Israel, it could refer to several things: (A). The Land (a geographical location); (B). The Ethnic group of people who descended from Abraham (the Jews); (C). The nation (a government); or (D). Spiritual Israel (the Church). And there are a lot of end times prophecies related to “Israel.”

To put it another way, in the Old Testament, God made a covenant with Abraham. And God promised Abraham three things: (1). To make him into a great nation (Gen. 12:1-3); (2). To give him a land (Gen. 15:18-21); and (3). To make him into the Father of many nations (Gen. 17:2-9). And thus, there are many theological debates that stem from this.

Covenantalists believe that God fulfilled all of these promises through Jesus and the Church. Paul said, “Know then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). Hence, the church is a part of Israel. As, Paul put it: “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.” (Gal.3:16). Thus, anyone with faith in “the seed”Jesus Christ, is entitled to a portion of Abraham’s inheritance (vs. 18). Thus, there is a sense in which, when God speaks to “Israel,” it means his church.

On the far side of the Covenental continuum, there are those who argue that God replaced Israel – a view called Supersessionism (or Replacement Theology). I.e., Were His promises to Israel conditional? Some argue, “Yes” (Deut. 9:5; Joshua 23:15-16; Deut. 4:26). But here’s the other side of this debate (and ultimately, why it matters).

The Bible also teaches that God isn’t done with the “ethnic descendants of Abraham.” Paul wrote to the Roman Gentiles, “Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people who he foreknew” (Romans 11:1-2). Indeed, this is a temporary shift: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). Thus, we see these contrasting ideas where: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). And yet, Paul still spoke to the Romans about God’s plan to arouse Israel to jealousy (Romans 11:14).

Thus, just like Covenentalists have adherents with more extreme views (Supersessionists), the Classic Dispensationalists also have those who take strong positions, saying: the “Church” was never God’s intension. Indeed, it was an “unexpected and unpredicted” decision of God that was only activated when the Jews rejected their messiah. As many Dispensationalists often put it: “The church was never foreseen anywhere in the Old Testament.” Indeed, they argue that the Millennium is when God will shift back to a Jewish-centered kingdom – including a physical temple with physical animal sacrifices again.

Now, when you study this, you will find there are less extreme versions of both of these two positions (called Progressive Dispensationalism vs. Progressive Covenentalism.) And if you’re curious, I did an entire video teaching on how Progressive Covenantalists see the Old and New Covenent: LINKED HERE. And I also cited my favorite comparative book on this here.

But here’s WHY it matters for your eschatology: Dispensationalists often argue for a Pre-tribulation rapture; they often argue that God hasn’t fulfilled his “Land Promise” to Abraham; thus, the Millennium is where God fulfills this. Dispensationalists also believe that, just like God switched to “the church” in the New Testament, he will switch back to “Israel.” The ethnic descendants of Israel (who accept their Messiah) will lead us (the church) from the literal land of Israel as foretold.

On the other hand, Convenantalists are often Historical Premillennialists (Post-Tribulation rapture) or, are Amillennialists or Postmillennialists. They believe that the Millennium is not a reversal back to Judaism; rather, it’s an integrated church and Israel.[5] Hence, they teach a slightly different purpose to the Millennium.

And these two groups also see differing purposes for the Tribulation too: Dispensationalists believe the purpose of the Tribulation is to turn up the heat on ethnic Jews until they finally receive their Messiah – which supposedly can’t be done without removing “the church” through a rapture. Whereas for Covenantalists, the Tribulation is more about the forces of Satan throwing their last big tantrum against the plan of God before the return of Christ.[6] Both have very different ideas about the “ethics of suffering.”

THE FOURTH FLOOR: Work through your “Interpretive Positions” – Preterism & Futurism

Now, by this point, you’re starting to understand why I mentioned in the beginning, “You won’t decide this in a month. And you won’t decide this after reading five books either.But don’t get overwhelmed! This is a process! And remember, the goal isn’t to “decide your position” on the four Millennial approaches (First floor) or the Four views of Israel (Third Floor). Rather, it’s to expose you to the big ideas and scriptural arguments behind each. And naturally, this will lead you to the Four Apocalyptic interpretive styles. And I know what you’re thinking: “Are you seriously telling me there are 4 views of the Millennium, 4 Views of Israel, and now, four interpretive styles? What the heck!?” I promise you, I’m not in love with the number four!

Throughout history, there have been four main “Interpretive styles” – Futurist, Historicist, Idealist, and Preterist. But for simplicity, I’m going to skip two of them, [7] and only introduce you to the two most popular: Futurists: read books like Daniel and Revelation as road-maps for the future. And Preterists: read these prophecies as already fulfilled… often before 70 A.D.

Keep in mind, most people aren’t exclusively one vs. the other. I.e., You can take a “Preterist approach” on one Bible passage, and a “Futurist approach” on another. So, these approaches aren’t “all or nothing.” (Although, there are some Dispensationalists who take an extreme “futurist” approach to certain books like Revelation). But, if you get confused, the Rose Guide to End Times Prophecy, does a great job summarizing all of these interpretive positions for all the major passages – which is extremely helpful.

And finally…

THE FIFTH FLOOR:  Dive into the Exciting Weeds!

Who is the anti-Christ? What is the exact timing of “Ezekiel’s war”? What does the Tribulation Temple look like? When is the rapture?  Who is the “Restrainer?” These debates are only overwhelming when you try to jump into them without first exposing yourself to Levels 1 through 4. Unfortunately, if you’re reading the wrong books, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to you!

 

  But remember this: The goal is not to be an End Times expert who “rightly divides the Word” into the perfect road-map of events. People who think like this often end up like the Pharisees: They think that “life” comes from the “knowledge of Good and Evil” (Gen.2:16). Yet, Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders saying: You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Jn. 5:39-40). In other words, the real goal is to grow closer to Jesus – not to gain a “sense of control” through knowledge. The goal is to have intimacy with the “Blessed Hope!” (Titus 2:13).

After all, the more I study the End Times, the more I thank God that, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, [or because we believed all the right things about the end times], but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5).

So, with every day that you study this, take a deep breath of humility and ask God for his wisdom and revelation (James 1:5). He is a God who loves to reveal himself. Prov. 25:2 teaches us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”

And indeed, THAT’s what God is training us for: To be kings and queens of a soon coming Kingdom! So let’s study to receive, “the crown of righteousness” which he will award to all who’ve “have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

 

For More Videos and Blogs on the End Times, visit the BRB landing page for more on the History of the End Times ViewsDaniel’s 70 Weeks, the Antichrist, the Mark of the Beast, Blood Moon conspiracies, and some End Times Book Recommendations!

 

CITATIONS & ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:

[1] Historic Premillennialism believes in a literal future 1000 year reign of Christ from Jerusalem. This utopian rule will come cataclysmically upon the earth after a world-wide seven year tribulation. Historic Premillennialists generally believe that the church will go through the tribulation as opposed to being raptured before or during it.

[2] Amillennialism is quite simple. It takes a more symbolic approach to the Book of Revelation. The millennium began around Christ’s ascension into heaven. It is a literal millennium from heaven but not a literal 1000 years. And the tribulation isn’t a seven year event but a metaphor for the ills of sin that afflict every generation of Christians. Yes, the world will get worse before the return of Christ. But, after His return, we will be judged and enter eternity.

[3] Postmillennialism is similar to Amillennialism in that it takes a symbolic approach to the Book of Revelation. The millennium began around Christ’s ascension into heaven. It is a literal millennium from heaven but not a literal 1000 years. And the tribulation isn’t a seven year event but a metaphor for the ills of sin that afflict every generation of Christians. But it differs from Amillennialism in that, the world will get better and better as the gospel slowly infiltrates the world. Christianity is an unstoppable invasion of kingdom progress. And when we proclaim His gospel, the bride of Christ will mature until the wedding day. Christ will return, judge the world, and eternity will ensue.

[4] Dispensational Premillennialism believes in a literal future 1000 year reign of Christ from Jerusalem. This utopian rule will come cataclysmically upon the earth after a world-wide seven year tribulation. Contrary to Historic Premillennialists, Dispensational Premillennialists generally believe that the church will be raptured before the seven year tribulation. Indeed, they argue that the tribulation is God’s tool to win back the hearts of Israel. And the Millennium is where God finally fulfills his land Promise to Abraham.

[5] To be specific: There are five “sub-categories” of Covenentalists: (1). Those who believe the “Land Promise” was fulfilled during Solomon’s reign (see 1 Kings 4:21); (2). Those who feel God’s promise to Israel was conditional (see Joshua 23:15-16). (3). Those who believe God fulfilled his promises to Israel through the church (superseded Israel) (see Matthew 21:43). And then there are milder positions called “New” or “Progressive Covenentalism” that believe (4). The church doesn’t “replace Israel;” but, Israel was primarily a “temporary picture” of a greater plan that God was orchestrating through “the Seed” (Jesus) (See Hebrews 3:5; 8:5-13; 9:8-10). And finally, (5). God fulfilled his promises to Israel through Jesus (as opposed to the church); I.e., The church didn’t replaceIsrael. But Jesus did. And all who trust in him are now a new creation: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything. What counts is the new creation” (Gal. 6:15).

[6] One of the lesser debates that stems from this: Is the tribulation about God’s wrath or Satan’s wrath? Dispensationalists say: “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath” (1 Thess 5:9). Hence, there must be a rapture. Yet, Post-trib Covenentalists often say: There’s a huge difference between tribulation & wrath. (ie., what Satan does to God’s people vs. What God does to all humans to provoke repentance). Hence they argue, “God’s wrath (the trumpets & bowls) won’t happen until immediately after the 7 year Tribulation.” Some even argue that, God’s wrath & his return will be visible and synonymous for over 5 months (according to Rev.9:5) and will include a mid-wrath rapture (75 days after the 7 year Trib – see Dan.12:12) and 75 days before Christ officially “touches down” – causing unbelievers to mourn (Mt. 24:29-31).

[7] The other two are called, the Historicist position (which interprets prophetic books as non-linear snapshots of history from God’s perspective). I.e., They aren’t necessarily past or future. Rather, they are lessons from God about how he’s overcome the devil all throughout non-linear history. And the Idealist view interprets prophetic books like allegories for all times and places.

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