I gave the folks in my Wednesday evening class an incomplete list of terms to help with our study of scripture’s clues about the “last things.” Since I have no real intention of addressing any of them or schemes associated with them (I’m planning to stick to scripture instead), I didn’t want to disappoint anyone who might have been there to hear about them. Still, some of these terms are scriptural, and even a quick definition can help explain why there are so many different schemes floating around:
Parousia – means the presence or coming of Christ. In the Greek language parousia usually means “presence,” and in the ancient Greco-Roman world it referred to official visits by royalty. It is used by Christians as a specialized term for Jesus’ glorious presence on earth?primarily his final return at the end of the world, but also his return upon the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Eschatology – is the study of Christian beliefs concerning final events and ultimate purposes (from Gr. eskhatos ,last ). Eschatology studies the conclusion of God ‘s purposes, and therefore the concluding destiny of created things and especially of Man and of the Church, according to the purposes of God.
Rapture – is a term most commonly used to describe an event in certain systems of Christian eschatology (study of the end of the world ) whereby all true Christians are taken from Earth by God into Heaven before other events associated with the end of the world take place. Some teach a ?secret? rapture.
Armageddon – is the site of the final battle between the kings of the earth (incited by Satan) and God. The term is also used for the battle itself.
Apocalypse – term “apocalypse” was introduced by F. Lücke (1832) as a description of the New Testament book of Revelation. An apocalypse, in the terminology of early Jewish and Christian literature, is a revelation of hidden things given by God to a chosen prophet; this term is more often used to describe the written account of such a revelation.
Literalism – a way of looking at scripture which interprets it literally, with little or no symbolism involved.
Futurism – contends that “end things” are yet to happen, in the future.
Historicism – purports that “end things” have already taken place in history, or that the symbols describe events which continue to happen throughout history.
Idealism – views scripture’s description of “end things” as apocalyptic language not to be taken literally as describing earthly events, but heavenly ones.
Tribulation – is a period of immense suffering, greater than anything before in history, which some claim will occur before the end of the world. Some Christians believe that it will last seven years in all, usually divided into two periods of 3.5 years each. This is based on the phrase found several places in the book of Daniel, “time, times, and half a time,” interpreted as “a year, two years, and half a year.”
Millenialism – Some interpret a passage in Revelation concerning the thousand-year (or millennial) rule of Christ on Earth, to be a future goal. Ideas of the kingdom of God which place the beginning of the Messianic kingdom still future, and connect its beginning with the return of Jesus Christ, are called “millennialism”.
- Premillennialism – is a futurist historical interpretation, which anticipates that prior to the final judgment, Christ will return to the earth to establish an earthly kingdom. Many anticipate a partial resurrection, only of the faithful, who will reign with Christ for one thousand years, during which time Satan will be imprisoned.
- Pre-Tribulationism – believes that Christ will return twice. At the beginning he will return to rescue those who are Christians at the time, and then disappear again. This will be followed by a seven-year period of suffering, in which the Antichrist will conquer the world and kill those who refuse to worship him. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return a second time to defeat the Antichrist, and rescue the Jews and those who have converted to Christianity during the tribulation.
- Dispensationalism – is a branch of Christian theology that (1) teaches Biblical history as best understood in light of a number of successive economies or administrations under God, which it calls “dispensations,” and (2) emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and the pre-tribulation rapture view of Christ’s second coming.
- Mid-Tribulationism – believes that Christians will not be removed from the great tribulation, until 3-1/2 years have elapsed, when the Temple sacrifices have been halted and the Antichrist has enshrined himself in the Temple, calling himself God.
- Post-Tribulationism – holds that Christ will not return until the end of the tribulation , which Christians will suffer through along with everyone else.
- Postmillennialism – is sometimes called “optimistic amillennialism “. As in amillennialism, the “thousand years” is an idiomatic expression equivalent to “all time”; i.e.: for the entire period following the resurrection of Christ until His return. Postmillennialists anticipate that prior to Christ’s return, the world will have gradually but entirely converted to Christianity, at least nominally, through the preaching of the gospel. It is of two antithetical varieties, millennial and non-millennial. Some postmillennialists believe that the millennium is a future golden age, when Christian saints will reign over all of the earth, before the return of Christ and the end of the world.
- Preterism – is a past-historical interpretation of “end times” prophecies, most notably the Great Tribulation and the coming of the kingdom of God. This is an historic view that can be traced back to very early proponents. The Preterist view, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, teaches that “the prophecies of the Apocalypse [book of Revelation] have already been fulfilled.” Extreme versions of this belief hold that all of those who are to be saved (mostly martyrs) already have been; the rest can only live pure lives out of reverence for Christ and then perish.
- Amillenialism – is a partial preteristic form of Christian Eschatology which teaches a very symbolic interpretation of the Biblical prophecy of the end times. It teaches that Christ’s kingdom will not be physically established on earth, but rather that the Christian church represents Christ’s kingdom. They teach a spiritual understanding of many of the prophecies of what is to come.
- Transmillennialism® – the belief that the millennial reign of Christ brought about the change, or transformation of the ages, from the Old to the New Covenant in A.D. 70. Also known as covenant eschatology, or a preterist view of Scripture. It differs slightly in that it holds there is still evangelism and other work for Christians to perform.
I tried my best to nest terms under the beliefs with which they’re most often associated, but there’s still a lot of variation.
My next-to-bottom line: Most of these beliefs agree with scripture – to some degree and at some points. Most contradict the others, and it’s usually at those points that they diverge from scripture as well. Believing in any particular one as a theory isn’t necessarily a bad thing … it’s when we pick one and believe it as “the one-and-only-interpretation of the truth” that we get into trouble.
Bottom line: Why not just read what the Bible says and believe it, whether it fully reveals what we want to know – and whether we fully understand it?