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Christianity 101

The End

The aspect of Christianity in this last lesson is fittingly titled. We are to study today the end of all things as we know them.

A word of caution is provided first. The subject of prophecy, particularly with regard to the book of Revelation, is a source of hot partisanship. Regrettably, it is not uncommon for personal invective to be a major factor. So, in roughly their order of appearance in the church, here are the three major views of Revelation. It all depends on when you think the millennium happens:

Amillennialism

It sounds very much like this view says there is no millennium. That’s not quite the case; they simply state that we are in that period. This view was first put forth in detail by St. Augustine. Generally speaking, this view tends to emphasize the poetic aspects of the book of Revelation, but does not deny the historical imagery. They are a little vague on what that imagery means. The reason is simply this: very little study will convince you that the city of Rome plays a key role in prophecy. That role is definitely a villainous one. This is the preferred interpretation by the Roman Catholic church—which is obviously not anxious to play that part. The view is held by many scholars.

Post-millennialism

As the name implies, this view says that the return of Jesus Christ (on which more later) happens at the end of the millennium. This view sees most of Revelation as history, and assigns very specific events to various passages. Not all followers of this theory use the same assignments. This method arose during the Protestant Reformation. It is highly anti-Catholic, and assumes that the Rome of Revelation is indeed the Roman Catholic Church. This view was the main view of the Protestant churches up until World War I.

Why World War I? The followers of this system were convinced that a golden age, brought on by the acceptance of Christianity (Protestant, of course) was just around the corner. Seen through the eyes of late Victorian England, this seemed very likely. There had been no war since 1815; technology was viewed as making leaps and bounds with no negative effects; and Christian leadership in the political arena was at its height in dealing with things like child labor. The “golden age” looked very plausible. Then came World War I. The death rate from that war seemed like God’s own rejection of this theory.

Premillennialism

This is the theory most commonly associated with Hal Lindsey, the author of Late Great Planet Earth. Most of the popular writing today on the subject takes this viewpoint. It provides an excellent starting point for fiction writers, as in this view everything in the book of Revelation from Chapter 4 on happens after the Christians leave the planet. Hence Jesus’ return is before the Millennium.

This theory spread rapidly after World War I. One reason for this is that the denominations which espoused it were very forward thinking in their evangelistic efforts. They used the new invention of commercial radio to put forward their ideas. Since that time, this theory has grown in popularity to the point of being the most popular. Its exponents are still highly evangelical, a characteristic unique to this view.

And the winner is…

Which of these points of view is right? That’s a good question. We don’t really know, so we allow all three. Premillennialism is the most popular, but Christian liberty permits polite disagreement. The reason for the “no stress” attitude is simple: it really doesn’t make any difference.

So what does make a difference? Simply this: what the church does to prepare for such events. So to make it clear, we’re going to have a quick review of what happens at the end of time. There are seven things which are agreed upon by all interpreters. These are the things we need to prepare for.

The Seven Last Things

Please note that these are not in any particular order, and that good scholars disagree as to the order. They are placed here in a logical grouping which is not necessarily chronological.

·         The Tribulation. One theory holds that this has already happened, but all agree that there will come a time when the persecution of Christians will become very intense. Some hold this to be a seven year period of trial.

·         Armageddon. The “last battle” to be fought is viewed as being a battle between good and evil. The location for this battle is known; it is in Palestine. The result of this battle will be an immense slaughter.

·         Resurrection of the Dead, or Rapture. All views agree that at the end the dead will rise from their graves. Those Christians still alive at the time will rise into the air with the resurrected ones. This is usually (but not always) associated with the next event. There is vigorous debate as to how many separate resurrections there will be, and for what purpose (e.g., judgment).

·         Second Coming. All interpretations agree that Jesus is returning in bodily form. He ascended into heaven after his resurrection; he is returning the same way.

·         Judgment. Often referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment, this is a time when all will be judged. Those who are true Christians will be rewarded for their deeds; non-Christians will be judged for their sins.

·         Millennium. Literally “thousand years,” it is the time when Satan is restrained. This is often connected with passages which suggest that a golden era for mankind is coming. At the end of this period, Satan is released for a little while.

·         New Heaven, New Earth. At the very end God recreates all things; there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Contact with God will be very close; death will no longer happen.

The immediate reaction to this is something like, “Huh?” After all, this collection of events seems almost unthinkable. Only in the last century did we possess the means to slaughter so many people in one battle as Revelation portrays Armageddon. The rest of these seem kind of far-fetched.

That they may be; but the prophecies concerning the time of the end date back to the time of the Old Testament. Scholars disagree on which passages refer to what, but all agree on this: if you believe in Jesus Christ, you accept his word for the fact that these things are going to happen. It’s likely enough that none of these theories has the scope of things entirely right—but then, our imaginations can’t compete with God’s creative power.

“All well and good,” you say, “and very exciting I’m sure. But what should I do about it?” Good question!

What not to do about it

Don’t become a fanatic partisan of one point of view over all others. Remember that intelligent Christians, reading the same Bible you read, have disagreed about this for years.

What you should do about it

Jesus tells you exactly what to do: “Watch!” By this he means for us to be on the lookout for these things. This is not so that we can impress our friends and neighbors with our prophetic ability. It’s so that when these things happen—especially his return—we will be ready.

The key to this is to be always ready. Jesus often illustrated this idea by telling a parable of a man who went away on a journey—and returned later at a time unannounced. What would he find? Would he find the household servants doing their jobs, and the place neat and clean? Or would he find them slovenly? Once the boss walks in the door, there is no time to catch up!

So what should we be doing? The ordinary, day to day things of the kingdom. Reading the Scripture, prayer, good works, worship—all these things on a regular basis will prepare us. It’s just like your employer: the best way to make sure that he never sees you goofing off—is to never goof off. The best way to be sure you’re ready for his return is to be ready every day.

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