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Question and Answer

End Times Bible Prophecy

Question:

What are your views and beliefs on end times Bible prophecy, book of Revelation, etc.? Can direct me to a web site or literature about that subject?

I've heard that you believe, like Catholics, that the book of Revelation has already happened with the fall of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Answer:

You've asked a question on which there is a large difference of opinion, even within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I will try to answer according to the differing "millennial" positions first. Then I will give you my own answer as well as some differing views held in the OPC.

Dispensational Premillennialists hold to an "any moment rapture," that is, that (based on their interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) all the prophecies that can be fulfilled have been fulfilled so that Christ may come at any moment. After Christ's coming in the clouds and the raising of the true church on earth to be with him through the great tribulation and the literal thousand years (the millennium), Satan will be released from his prison in the abyss and wage war against Christ and the saints, followed by the "Great White Throne Judgment," at which time the wicked dead will be raised, judged, and cast into the lake of fire (hell) along with the devil and his angels, followed by the eternal state. All the above takes place sequentially after the "rapture" as set forth in Revelation 20.

The Amillennialists hold that Revelation 20 relates to the whole Christian era from Christ's first coming to His second coming. This position holds to one general resurrection of all the dead, which includes the resurrection noted in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, further enlarged upon in chapter 5:1-6 and Matthew 25:31-46 and 1 Corinthians 15. They are called "amillennialists" because they do not hold the thousand years of Revelation 20:1-7 as a literal thousand years, but as symbolical of the sinless and perfect state of the souls of the righteous dead of the present age (from Jesus' first to His second coming) awaiting a general bodily resurrection of both the righteous and wicked followed by the judgment of the wicked and the glory of the righteous.

The Postmillennialists also hold to a figurative, as opposed to a literal, thousand year period before the resurrection and last judgment but with this difference: The Postmillennial doctrine advances the idea (gathered from many Old Testament prophecies, such as in Isaiah and Ezekiel) that before Christ comes the gospel will have universal acceptance in a "golden age" of peace, prosperity, and blessing. Then, following a resurrection and final judgment of all mankind, the eternal state begins. And it is the Postmillennial interpretation of Revelation that says that all those prophecies were fulfilled by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Obviously, for the sake of brevity I have left out much that these three positions include. To my knowledge at the present time, the OPC has no minister advocating the dispensational Pre-Mill position. The reason for that is that our doctrinal standards (the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) teach one general resurrection of all the dead, followed by the judgment of all mankind—saved and lost.

Premillennialism requires separate and distinct resurrections and judgments more than a thousand years apart, but the Bible clearly teaches the opposite. See John 5:28-29 and Revelation 20:11-15. In the former, this two-sided resurrection is said to be a coming "hour"—not necessarily exactly 60 minutes, but one point in time. The latter says "the dead, small and great ..."

Postmillennialists refer to Matthew 24:34 as saying that all Christ's previous prophecies would be fulfilled before "this generation" has passed away. So, the 40 years between the crucifixion and destruction of Jerusalem could fulfil those words. But the whole chapter (with its parallels in Mark 13 and Luke 11) suggests that Jesus also prophesies the end of this age. And the end of this age has not yet come.

I firmly believe that the majority of OPC ministers hold the Amillennial interpretation. This is my firmly held belief. And I think that it is wrong to hold (with the Premillennialists) that, from chapter 4:1 on, Revelation is all future. And I don't think that the Postmillennialists are correct in assuming that it is all history, from the 21st Century point of view.

Indeed it is difficult to understand Revelation because of its high symbolism, but most Amillennialists believe that the book is cyclical: treating the inter-advental period (between the first and second comings) in ever-deepening phases, so that there are many accounts of the last judgment as there are many accounts of the glory of God's children.

As to the possibility of Christ's coming at any moment, we dare not say that it's wrong to look at His coming in that way. The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 and its parallels in Mark and Luke) ends in an earnest appeal for all believers to be ready for His coming. Christ purposely refuses to mention the day or the hour. He even disclaims that He, in his earthly ministry, knew what the Father had kept for himself.

Revelation starts and ends with the statement, "... the time is at hand" (1:3 and 22:10). How can that be true since John heard those words nearly 2000 years ago? My understanding is that each of us, in his/her generation, will die (Hebrews 9:27). Even those living to His coming haven't "all the time in the world" to call upon His name. As we die, so will we be in the day of resurrection and judgment! So ever-readiness is advised!

And another thing: these wonderful prophecies are not always clear as to how and when they will come to pass. One of my seminary professors said, "The only infallible interpretation of prophecy is history." When it comes to pass, then only can we fully know its meaning.

I have omitted giving Scripture for every assertion I have made. It would wear out both you and me. However, if you want more specific Scriptures for particular points, please feel free to return with the questions. I will be only too happy to respond.

P.S. A good book to read on the Millennial Question is The Meaning of the Millennium edited by Robert G. Clouse. It gives four views, argued by those who held those views. There are actually two Pre-Mill views: the "Historical" and the "Dispensational" interpretations. The book is published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 60515. It's been in print for a good many years, but I'm sure it is still available.


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