Scenarios of the End Times

Above are some key facts about the future, and Christian opinions concerning the end times must be compatible with them. Over the centuries many biblical interpreters have set forth prophetic scenarios of the end times. Such scenarios are not necessarily bad, as long as we remember the difference between what is factual and what is opinion. Reasonable, well-developed scenarios can help us to understand and organize incomplete information. But they are not infallible.

I think it is noteworthy that while the various scenarios differ on the timing of end-time events, they agree on the "essentials" of the end times. That is, they agree there will be a Second Coming of Christ, a resurrection, a final judgment, and an eternal state.

There are three main scenarios concerning the millennium (Rev. 20:1-4). Premillennialism understands Scripture to teach that the Second Coming will take place before the millennium, after which Christ will personally rule for a literal thousand-year period on earth. Following the millennium will be a resurrection, a final judgment, and the ushering in of eternity.

Postmillennialism understands Scripture to teach that the Second Coming will take place after the millennium, following which there will be a resurrection, judgment, and the ushering in of eternity. In postmillennialism, the reference to 1,000 years in Revelation 20 is not taken literally. Some in this camp believe the "millennium" refers to the interadvent age — that is, the time between Christ's first coming and His second coming. Many believe that during the present "millennial" age the church will progressively "Christianize" the world. In this view, while the church is not the kingdom, it takes part in building the kingdom through the worldwide spread of the gospel.

Amillennialism understands Scripture to teach that there will be no literal thousand-year kingdom over which Christ will rule, but rather that the "kingdom" represents Christ's present rule over the church on earth (though some amillennialists believe the kingdom promises are now being fulfilled in heaven). Generally speaking, amillennialists believe that world conditions will become increasingly worse until the Second Coming, after which there will be a resurrection, judgment, and ushering in of the eternal state.

Premillennialists often make reference to what is called the "Rapture." The Rapture is a word that refers to the instantaneous removal of the church from the world preceding (or at) the Second Coming (1 Thess. 4:16-17). As was true regarding the millennium, there are different scenarios regarding how to understand the timing of the Rapture. Some scholars place the Rapture before the seven-year Tribulation period (pretribulationism); others in the middle of the Tribulation (midtribulationism); and others immediately after the Tribulation (posttribulationism). Each variation on premillennialism is an attempt by interpreters to understand the details of the end times that are not clearly stated in Scripture.

No matter which view you believe best represents the end times, remember that any legitimate view must affirm the clear "essential" teachings outlined above — such as the Second Coming, the resurrection, the final judgment, and the eternal state. And regardless of your particular position on the above issues, we can all join together and rest secure in the knowledge that our eternity with Him is guaranteed through what He has demonstrated already — most notably, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. With a solid foundation in Scripture, we can join Paul in proclaiming: "We wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (Tit. 2:13-14).

Hank Hanegraaff serves as president and chairman of the board of the North Carolina-based Christian Research Institute. He is also host of the Bible Answer Man radio program, which is broadcast daily across the United States and Canada—as well as around the world through the Internet at www.equip.org. Widely regarded as one of the world's leading Christian apologists, Hanegraaff is deeply committed to equipping Christians to be so familiar with truth that when counterfeits loom on the horizon, they recognize them instantaneously. Click here to listen to the Bible Answer Man broadcast at OnePlace.com.

Publication date: November 5, 2009