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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 26

[Continuing a discussion on interpreting Bible prophecy:]

The above analysis is meant to raise cautions about prophecies of end times, so popular in our own day. We don’t know how those prophecies will be fulfilled, because they haven’t been fulfilled yet, and most of them are no clearer than the prophecies discussed above.

What we do know about end times
Here’s what Jesus said: Luke 12:35 “Let your waist be dressed and your lamps burning. 36 Be like men watching for their lord, when he returns from the marriage feast; that, when he comes and knocks, they may immediately open to him. 37 Blessed are those servants, whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them. 38 They will be blessed if he comes in the second or third watch, and finds them so. 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not allowed his house to be broken into. 40 Therefore be ready also, for the Son of Man is coming in an hour that you don’t expect him.” [All quotations from the World English Bible, public domain.]

So here’s what we do know, for sure, about Christ’s return:

1) His coming will be unexpected.

2) We need to be ready.

These two facts ought to be enough, but human curiosity drives us to try to want to know more.

Different views of eschatology

The study of end times is called eschatology. For more information, see the Wikipedia article on Christian eschatology:

“The major issues and events in Christian eschatology are death and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Rapture, the Tribulation, Millennialism, the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth of the World to Come.”

(Each of the capitalized terms has its own article.) Many Bible scholars believe that each of these events and issues are described in the Bible. Some disagree. For example, some Bible scholars don’t believe that there will be a rapture.

The Wikipedia also tells us that there are four main schools of thought on eschatology, as follows:

Preterism is the belief that most or all of the events in the above paragraph have already happened.

Historicism is the belief that many of the events listed above have happened, since the time of Christ.

Futurism is the belief that most of the prophecies concerning the above list of events are yet to be fulfilled.

Idealism is the belief that the descriptions of coming events in the Bible are symbolic, mostly of the battle between good and evil, rather than of actual observable events.

I quoted Luke 12 above. Here are two other passages, also telling us what Jesus said to His disciples about His return.
Matthew 24:29b the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 30 and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 He will send out his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Matthew 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36 I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

Matthew 24 and 25 are apparently part of the same discourse by Jesus.

These descriptions (which are prophecies) don’t seem to be compatible with a preterist, historicist, or idealist view. They seem to be describing events so momentous that, if they had already occurred, we would know about them. That supports the futurist view. Again, such support must be flavored with the same kind of caution mentioned above about prophecies about Christ’s first appearance on earth. Nonetheless, I won’t discuss the other schools of thought any further. Futurism is the prevailing view among “conservative” Christians. (Conservative in regard to Bible interpretation, not necessarily in regard to politics.) However, some common futurist ideas are not firmly supported by scripture.

Futurists mostly believe in a rapture, wherein believers are removed from the earth, and in a tribulation, generally a seven-year tribulation. There are several varieties of futurists. These include pre-tribulationists, mid-tribulationists, and post-tribulationists. These differ on the timing of the rapture and the tribulation. A pre-tribulationist believes that there will be a rapture before the tribulation.

The above is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series is here. God willing, the next post in this series will continue a discussion of this topic, prophecy. Thanks for reading.

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