Biblical End of the World
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Eschatology is a Christian term that means the study of the end of the World from a religious perspective. More obscure theological text has been written on this topic than on any other belief in Christendom.
The Bible contains many prophecies about the future. The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) in particular talks extensively about the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
This event is usually called his "second coming," (1) or "parousia." The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 24, is devoted to this topic, as is much of the book of Revelation, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. A literal interpretation of the Bible shows that five important events are predicted:
 The Antichrist An evil world leader arises, invokes martial law, and makes all take his 'Mark of the Beast' in order to buy and sell.
 The Tribulation: This is a 7 year interval when a world religious-political leader called the Antichrist takes power.
 The Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 describes a miraculous event when Christ will descend from the heavens to the Earth. Many conservative Protestants believe that faithful "born again" Christians who have previously died will be resurrected, rise from their graves, and ascend to meet Jesus in the sky. Immediately afterwards, "born again" Christians who had not died will also ascend into the air. They will abandon cars, airplanes, factory jobs, homes, families, friends etc. Since the vast majority of humans are not "born again," most people will remain behind on earth.
 Armageddon is a terrible war provoked by the Antichrist. Most people on earth will die. God's anger, hatred, and wrath are poured out over mankind and the earth at this time. A series of violent events as prophesied in Daniel 9, Matthew 24, and Revelation 4-19 will occur.
 The Millennium: Revelation 20 describes an important interval lasting for 1000 years when Christ rules. This is a golden era; a time of universal peace. The concept was first proposed by the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism.
Unfortunately, these and various other Biblical passages predicting the future are ambiguous. The events themselves are open to many interpretations. There is no clear indication of either their timing or sequence. This leaves the passages open to many conflicting beliefs about the end times.
A lot of intra-denominational and inter-denominational strife has resulted from disagreements about end time prophecy. For example, the Roman Catholic Church and most mainline and liberal denominations do not have expectation that the Rapture will occur.
Belief in the Rapture is mostly confined to Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals.
End times beliefs among Protestants:
Various Protestant denominations and para-church organizations promote one of six main systems of prophecy concerning the "end times"
[I] Historical Premillennialism:
This belief was held by a large percentage of Christians "during the first three centuries of the Christian era, and is found in the works of Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Commodianus, and Lactanitus." (2)
The Antichrist first appears on earth and the seven year Tribulation begins. Next comes the Rapture. Christ and his Church return to earth to rule for a Millennium. The faithful will spend eternity in the New Jerusalem, which will have descended to Earth. New Jerusalem is a.k.a. Celestial city, City of God, Heavenly Jerusalem, Holy city, Shining City on a Hill, Tabernacle of God, Zion, etc. The forces of evil will have been conquered.
The faithful will live during this thousand years of peace in Jerusalem, while occupying spiritual bodies. After this period, all people are judged.
After Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the fourth century CE, this was declared a heresy and suppressed.
Dispensational Premillennialism: (a.k.a. Dispensationalism) Premillennialism, declared a heresy in ancient times, was introduced circa 1830. Most people credit John N. Darby. He was an Episcopalian) minister of the Church of Ireland, a denomination in the Anglican communion, and the founder of the Plymouth Brethren. (14)
Premillenialism received general acceptance by most Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians after the publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909.
As in Historic Premillennialism, the Tribulation is believed to precede the second coming of Christ, and the subsequent establishment of the millennial kingdom -- a thousand-year golden age on Earth. The Final Judgment follows the millennium.
But, theologians are divided over the timing of the Rapture. Many Premillennialists search world events and signs in the heavens for some indication of the Tribulation, which they anticipate will arrive at any time.
All Rapture theories proposed contradict each other in numerous passages in the Bible.
Current conflicting and competing concepts include:
Pre-Tribulation Rapture: (or "pre-trib") The Rapture happens just before the Tribulation, so that believers will not have to experience any of its disruption and pain. Supporters of the "mid-trib" position suggest that there will be many mini-raptures.
The main difficulties with pre-trib are contained in the Olivet Prophecy of Jesus. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, Jesus describes the terrible destruction and loss of life of the tribulation period. The disaster is believed to be so intense that no human (Christian or non-Christian alike) would remain alive, except that God shortens the duration of the disaster for the sake of the believers.
Jesus then continues by describing his return towards earth immediately after the terrible devastation. From this passage, it is obvious that the rapture will follow the Tribulation.
The supporters of the "pre-trib" position suggest that Jesus will have a total of three comings: the first during the first century CE; the second at the start of the tribulation, and a third at the end of the tribulation.bullet
Post-tribulation Rapture: (or "post-trib") The faithful experience the full horrors of the entire Tribulation and are raptured only at the end of the 7 years, as it is indisputably said to be at "The Last Trumpet!"
The main problem with this theory is that there are many Bible passages which state that Christ's return will be at a time that cannot be predicted. But the Tribulation period starts with the arrival of the Antichrist and an interval of peace. Precisely 42 months later, a sudden shift occurs, a peace treaty is broken, and devastation begins. These would be well defined dates that would allow an accurate prediction of the end of the Tribulation. (7)
Mid-Tribulation Rapture: (or "mid-trib") The Rapture happens 42 months into the Tribulation. Up to that time, the Antichrist brings peace to the world. After 42 months, events take a sudden turn for the worse. Supporters of the "mid-trib" position suggest that there will be many mini-raptures.
Pre-wrath Rapture: This is a new theory, promoted by Marvin Rosenthal, former director of Friends of Israel, and others. Their view teaches that the church must experience most of the Tribulation, and then be raptured towards the end of the Tribulation period.
Partial Rapture: This theory teaches that the faithful born-again believers are raptured just before the Tribulation. Newly born again believers are are raptured during or at the end of the Tribulation.
The latter three theories contain some of the weaknesses of pre-trib and post-trib.
All of the Premillennialist beliefs teach that the Tribulation is followed by 1000 years of peace when all live under the authority of Christ. Afterwards, in a brief, final battle, Satan is permanently conquered.
Dispensational Premillennialism contains an internal conflict.
Its advocates generally believe "that the moral conditions of the world and the church are destined get increasingly worse. When they get almost unbearably bad, the Lord Jesus will return in the clouds to 'rapture' the living saints up to heaven." (11)
However, they tend to be very outspoken and active in their opposition to many behaviors that they consider to be extremely sinful: abortion access, equal rights for homosexuals, same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex, adultery, sex education in schools, access to physician assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells in healing, etc.
By their opposition to these "hot" religiously controversial topics, they are delaying Jesus' return to earth, the rapture and the 1000 year millennium.
Amillennialism: (Also known as Nonmillennialism).
Although this belief system was present from the early days of Christianity, St. Augustine (354 - 430 CE) was largely responsible for the establishment of amillennialism as formal church belief. It remained the generally accepted system throughout Christianity until the 19th century.
Many mainline Protestant denominations -- including many Reformed theologians and some Baptists -- still teach Amillennialism. They believe that the Kingdom of God is present in the world today through the presence of the the heavenly reign of Christ, the Bible, the Holy Spirit and Christianity.
Both good and evil will continue in the world until the current Church Age ends suddenly as Christ returns to the sky above the earth.
The Rapture follows.
The Redeemed are transported to heaven where they will adopt spiritual bodies. The majority of humanity will be sent to Hell at this time for eternal punishment. The world will be abandoned. History is no more.
Under this belief system, we are currently living in the Millennium and in the Tribulation period. Events described in The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) and in most of the book of Revelation are seen as occurrences which have already happened, or which are symbolic in nature and not to be taken literally.
The Antichrist is looked upon figuratively and not as a real person. Amillennialism has gone out of favor in most conservative Protestant theological circles.
Postmillennialism is "Kingdom Now" and "Dominion Theology" (Also known as "Christian Reconstruction")
This belief began in the days of Ancient Israel: the Messiah would come as the "Sun rising in the East", slowly, surely, unstoppable and all powerful; dispelling all darkness and exposing all false teaching to the bright light of truth.
In the words of Loraine Boettner, the Messanic Kingdom involves "that view of last things which holds that the kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually is to be Christianized, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace, commonly called the millennium." (12)
The teaching emphasizes a gradual movement towards social maturity, a massive spiritual awakening and purification as the entire human race is converted to Christianity, including the Jews. The last 1000 years is basically a millennium of peace and righteousness follows.
After the millennium, Jesus returns to earth, resurrects the dead believers, and conducts the last judgment. The Rapture is simply the receiving of Christ by His believers. The Tribulation, of which Jesus said there would never be such tribulation ever again, is regulated to the First Century Israel when Rome brutally destroys Israel in punishment of their rejected torture and crucifixion of God's Son.
This belief is being actively promoted today by the Chalcedon Foundation and other groups within the Christian Reconstruction movement.
Preterism is a belief that the events prophesied in the New Testament have already happened.
The great war of Armageddon in the book of Revelation occurred in the late 60's and early 70's CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, many Jews were killed and the rest were driven from Palestine.
When Jesus talked about the end of the world, he did not mean that the physical world would be no more. He taught that the old worldview held by various contemporary Jewish groups was coming to an end, to be replaced by a new concept, the Kingdom of God. Thus, all of the major elements in the book of Revelation (Tribulation, Armageddon, Rapture, etc.) actually took place in the first century CE. (8)
No Millennialism: Most skeptics and liberal Christian theologians reject any literal teahing of Revelation
They largely interpret the contents of the books of Daniel and Revelation as having no prophetic information for our future. Many regard Revelation as being composed of visions, hallucinations or nightmares of the author, of little meaning for Christians today.
Some believe that the purpose of the book of Revelation was to stiffen resolve in the early Christian movement to withstand persecution by the Roman Empire. Thus, its purpose was to predict persecutions and other events that were to happened to the early Christian church.
They also reject the apparent prophecies in the Book of Daniel. They believe that Daniel was written early in the 2nd century BCE, long after most of the events had actually happened. It was history recorded, not their future prophesied.
End times beliefs among Roman Catholics:
Roman Catholics generally follow the teachings of Augustine and the earliest Protestant reformers, and accept Amillennialism. However, they do not generally use the term.
They anticipate Jesus coming to Earth and gathering the Church together. But they generally do not use the term "rapture" either.
According to Catholic Answers, "The Church has rejected the premillennial position, sometimes called 'millenarianism' (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 676). In the 1940s the Holy Office judged that premillennialism 'cannot safely be taught,' though the Church has not dogmatically defined this issue." (13)
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. Links given may or may not still function. NewtonStein.
1. Revelation 20:1 to 7 from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) 2. Lonnie Kent York, "History of Millennialism" at: http://www.restorent.com/ 3. Mike Rouse & James Underwood, "Post Tribulation Rapture - Defined and Refined" at: http://22.214.171.124/ 4. Grover Gunn, III, "Postmillennialism Today" at: http://www.wavefront.com/ 5. Rev. Ralph A. Smith, "The Biblical and Theological Issues", at: http://www.berith.org/ 6. Catholic Answers, Inc., "Are You Pre, Mid, or Post?", at: http://www.catholic.com/ 7. The Bible Prophecy and the Rapture Report lists some weaknesses of the post-trib belief. See: http://www.serve.com/ 8. The Preterist Archive is at: http://www.preteristarchive.com 9. FAS Millennia Monitor at: http://www.fas.org/ This website has many links to Premillennialist, Postmillennialist and Amilennialist resources.
10. The Chalcedon Foundation's web site is at: http://www.chalcedon.edu/
11. P.A. Smith, "Jerry Falwell's eschatological schizophrenia," WorldNetDaily™, at: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/
12. Loraine Boettner, "The Millennium," P&R Press, (1992). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
13. "The Rapture," Catholic Answers, at: http://www.catholic.com/
14. Dave MacPherson, "The Rapture Plot," Millennium Press, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
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