At the end of my last post on this topic I presented the 5 key questions, which when answered, will give a fairly detailed view of the end times. These 5 questions relate to 4 key terms:
- The Tribulation – a time of great difficulty on the earth for humanity in general but for the church in particular (see Matthew 24: 21, 22).
- The Rapture – an event when all those Christians who have died will be resurrected and all those who name the name of Jesus as Lord will be caught up together into the sky to meet Jesus (see Matthew 24: 38-41).
- The millennial Kingdom – the thousand year reign of Jesus’ Kingdom on earth where the earth is restored to Eden like conditions under Jesus’ leadership (see Revelation 20).
- Israel – the nation of Israel and the Jewish people.
Through church history various answers have been arrived at to these 5 key questions. These differences come about primarily because of variances in the way people interpret the Bible. Specifically in relation to the second coming of Christ, these differences can be grouped into 3 main schools of thought: pre-millenialism, post-millenialism and A-millenialism.
- Pre-millenium believers believe that the rapture happens before a literal millennial Kingdom.
- Post-millenium believers believe that the rapture happens after a symbolic millennial Kingdom.
- A-millenium believers believe that most of the things in the Bible referring to events surrounding the return of Jesus are symbolic.
The problem with these three schools is that within them the answers to the 5 questions differ from person to person (this is why I think the study of the end times has been so confusing to many believers). For example, some people in the pre-millenialism camp believe that the rapture happens before the tribulation and some believe it happens afterwards. Every person in each camp holds a slightly different view on how the whole end time picture comes together. So to even say there are 3 main schools of thought is problematic and confusing. It’s for this reason that I think it’s easier to scrap the big complicated pre-mil, post-mil and A-mil terms and focus on searching out the Bible for answers to the five questions.
However, before we can do that we need to decide how we’re going to interpret biblical end time prophecy. The two main options are these: literally or symbolically. Will we interpret passages about Jesus second coming as literal or symbolic? I’d like to make two points on this.
Firstly, when it was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on the foal of donkey was it literal or symbolic?
Zechariah 9: 9 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.
Matthew 21:4, 5 – All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.’
It was literal.
Of Jesus’ first coming there are many prophecies in the Old Testament that He fulfilled literally. In relation to Jesus’ first coming I have never heard of Him fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy symbolically. Every Christians knows this and accepts this. So why would we interpret prophecy about His second coming symbolically?
Secondly, building on the first point, the book of Revelation contains 22 out of 150 chapters in the Bible regarding Jesus’ second coming. Revelation and Daniel are the key books in the Bible relating to this subject. Five times in Revelation (1:3; 22:7; 22:10; 22:18; 22:19) the writer (the apostle John) refers to his book as ‘a book of prophecy’. He warns readers not to add anything to the book.
For these 2 reasons I would like to strongly suggest that, at very least, a good starting point would be to read Biblical End Time prophecy as literal unless otherwise stated in the text.