Grace Institute: Systematic Theology: Eschatology: The Timeline

Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership


Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership

Winter 2006

[Previous: The Scripture]

II. The Time Line

A. The Tribulation & Millennium

Daniel's 70 th week discusses "the prince" who will set up the abomination of desolation. Jesus refers to Daniel's prophecy, calling this time the "Great Tribulation." This seems to correlate with Paul's "man of lawlessness" and John's "beast" seems to have similar characteristics to Daniel's prince. This is known as the Great Tribulation. Following the Tribulation comes a time, known as the Millennium, where Christ rules as King.

Most all Christians agree to these facts. When these events take place, however, are of great debate within the Church.

1. Preterist Views

The Preterist view states that the events of the tribulation were fulfilled in AD 70 when Rome destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. Most preterists see the millennium being fulfilled spiritually in the age of the church (see Amillenialism below), while full preterists would see all the prophesied events, including the second coming as already fulfilled.

Jesus' comments regarding “the generation not passing away,” would suggest the tribulation follows within 40 years of his death.

(Matthew 24:34 NASB) Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Daniel's chronology would seem to indicate the 70 th week closely follows the cutting off of the Messiah.

(Daniel 9:26 NASB) Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.

However, Jesus indicates that the Second Coming would follow closely behind the tribulation, and that the Second Coming would be obvious to all. Therefore, while there seems to be an immediate fulfillment reflected in the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, there are a number of predicted elements that have not happened yet. This suggests a yet future, more complete fulfillment.

2. Amillennialism

Amillennialists do not believe in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ with Israel. Because Israel rejected Christ, the church has replaced Israel and is now inheriting the promises of Israel. Therefore, the millennium is being fulfilled symbolically by Christ's reign over the church in this present age. The Tribulation is viewed either as the struggles of the Church throughout history or is seen being fulfilled in the destruction of the temple in AD 70 (see the preterist view).

This is the predominant viewpoint in Christianity. It was first articulated by Augustine, and remains the viewpoint of Roman Catholics and the reformed church.

The viewpoint is largely an outgrowth of Replacement Theology. The New Testament affirms that the kingdom of God was ushered in with Christ's first advent and is continuing through the Church today.

(Luke 17:20-21 NASB) Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is' or, ‘There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Most scriptures do not show any interval between the coming of the Christ and the judgment, as is necessary in a literal interpretation of the Millennium. Furthermore, the book of Revelation uses many numeric symbols, and the number 1,000 may mean merely “a really long time.”

3. Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism believes that the Church will bring about the millennium prior to the return of Christ. As the Church works to accomplish its mission to bring the world to Christ and thereby brings about social justice and peace, the Church will create the millennial reign of Christ, after which Christ will return. The Tribulation is seen to have already been fulfilled either in the destruction of the temple (preterism) or in the struggles of the church throughout history.

This was a popular viewpoint in the early 20 th century as the Church was refocused on missionary work and social action, and technology was making impact on eliminating disease. This viewpoint all but died out with two world wars and a great depression.

The scripture does indicate that the kingdom of God will continue to grow and eventually transform the entire world (Matthew 13:31-33), and that the Church will continue to be built and not be overcome by Satan (Matthew 16:18). However, this viewpoint was more developed out of an optimistic view of history and the missionary zeal found early in the last century.

4. Premillennialism

Premillennialist believe that the millennium is the literal reign of Christ with Israel over all the earth. This is a time of great peace and prosperity for the entire earth, but in particular in Israel. This is distinct from the New Heaven and New Earth, as both believers and unbelievers will live in this new era. The Church will have already been resurrected and will reign with Christ at this time.

This was the viewpoint of the early church. Today it is held by dispensationalists, Baptists, and most evangelicals. This viewpoint is the plainest interpretation of Revelation 20 and matches with much of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the future of the nation of Israel.

B. The Rapture

The term rapture is found only in 1 Thessalonians 4, and for most of the Church is equated with the return of Christ. The debate of the timing of the rapture is only relevant for the premillennialist, as both amillenialism and postmillennialism believe that the Tribulation is already complete

1. Pre-tribulation

Pretribulationalists believe that prior to the coming Great Tribulation, Christ will have a secret coming, where He gathers His Church and takes them to heaven, leaving only unbelievers to go through the tribulation. This removal of the Church signifies the return to the time of Israel as God's primary focus. Many will be saved during the resurrection, including all of Israel. At the end of the tribulation, Christ returns with His church, raises those who died in Christ during the Tribulation and those who survived the Tribulation will enter the time of the Millennium in non-glorified bodies.

The pretribulational viewpoint, then, sees three resurrections: 1) the saints raised at the rapture, 2) the saints who died in the tribulation raised at the second coming, and 3) unbelievers raised at the end of the millennium.

There are several scriptures that indicate that believers will not experience the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 2:10, Revelation 3:10), which is taken to mean the Tribulation. In addition, after Revelation 3, the Church is not mentioned in the book of Revelation. Finally, the millennium is populated by people who do not have glorified bodies (and actually die!). If the rapture takes place at the end of the tribulation and all those who are saved receive glorified bodies, who then populates the earth during the millennium?

2. Mid-Tribulation

This viewpoint is very similar to pre-tribulation viewpoint, except that the rapture is seen to take place 3 ½ years into the Tribulation rather than at the outset. There is a lot of emphasis on the second half of the Tribulation (Daniel 9:27), and there seems to be some significant events take place at the midpoint.

3. Post-Tribulation

Post Tribulationalists believe that the rapture and the return of Christ are the same thing. There is no overt indication in scripture of a secret return of Christ. One would have to have a preconceived theological system to read-in a pre-tribulational rapture into 1 Thessalonians. This viewpoint has been the longstanding viewpoint of the church, and pre-tribulationalism has only developed since the rise of dispensationalism in the late 19 th century.

The passages referring to the church of God not facing the wrath of God can just as easily be interpreted to mean the final judgment, or that God will provide divine protection for the church in the midst of the tribulation. Furthermore, Jesus, in Matthew 24 seems to indicate that believers will go through the tribulation.

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