My End-Times Timeline Per My Wife’s Request

This post is per my wife’s request. We both grew up as your typical Conservative Baptist, dispensational, premillennial, pretribulational Christians. I have already shared my “testimony” out of the dispensational/premil part of that, more than once; so, we won’t revisit that now. I persuaded my wife, about ten years ago, to the amillennial position; and it has stuck. We are both committed to that position, but I have done more work on thinking a way out of the dispy past. And so, my wife would like an eschatological ‘timeline’ per an amil understanding (a very dispy way to think 😉). So, for the remainder of this post that’s what I will attempt to do.

The amillennial timeline is quite straightforward, actually. In fact, this is one of its compelling features; i.e. I think it fits well with the spirit of what we find in Peter’s second epistle when he writes:

10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. –II Peter 3:10-13

Peter’s timeline seems to suggest that the next event we should expect biblically-eschatologically is the second coming of Christ, at which time ‘all things will be dissolved,’ and the new heavens and earth will be realized. If we are looking for the simplest explanation (Occam’s Razor) about a timeline of such things, Peter’s seems to be the most compelling. In the interim, between the first and second advents of Christ, the amillennialist maintains that what Revelation 20 refers to—the “1000 years”—is figurative for that in-between time. There is an exegetical case for that, but we won’t attempt to make that here. Suffice it to say, what Revelation does refer to, as Richard Bauckham so persuasively argues, is the book itself should actually be understood as a circuit letter (epistle) to the seven churches. If so, it makes sense to think that all of its referents, while prophetic, have a local context in mind per the original reader’s milieu. Bauckham, in sum, shows how almost all of the prophecies in Revelation (barring chapters 19—22) make the most sense when in reference to the Neronic Roman Empire, and all of its attendant characteristics. While those prophecies have a nearer to the original audience fulfillment, what remains prophetic for us, is that the power of the Beast, and the AntiChrist, are typified by every other subsequent world empires that feature the same sort of attributes that we find shaping the Graeco-Roman empire. So, a power that seeks to enrich itself, at all costs, by military might, built upon the backs of slave labor and its necessary means: human trafficking.

Having noted the above, I still think there can be multiple referents in mind in regard to the book of Revelation. So, while there were literal fulfillments nearer to the original audience, those prophecies could also have a yet future fulfillment. In other words, I am not against the idea that a literal figure known as the AntiChrist (although not by a flashing sign hanging around his neck) could emerge and bring in world-peace, and a Utopian like actualization that meets all of the aspirations that people have to live a healthy and wealthy life. In fact, it seems almost likely that something like that could be upon the globe even now; but who knows, at the moment. I just know that at the first coming of Christ most people missed it. There was no perfectly charted timeline, but there were ‘signs’ that those with eyes to see and ears to hear could identify in relationship to the Messiah’s first coming; the New Testament identifies the few who had that type of insight.

As far as the so-called Great Tribulation (cf. Mt 24) I think, more than likely, we have been in that period ever since Christ ascended (see Keener’s thoughts below). I do believe, along with other amillennialists, that parts of what Jesus refers to in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. That said, I don’t necessarily take the so-called partial-preterist position, per se. Just that the Great Tribulation that the ‘world had never seen’ was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. That said, I am still open to even this having a yet future fulfillment. In other words, just as I noted in regard to the book of Revelation, and its referents, I think it is possible that we could have a climaxing Great Tribulation just prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. This time period, I would take it, won’t have a flashing sign saying: this is it! Just like the AntiChrist (whether that be a single messenger, or a federation of leaders with a figurehead who has the prominent speaking position), he or they won’t have a blinky light overhead; this will all be just as organic as the first coming of Christ. That said, as the Apostle Paul notes in I Thessalonians 5:

But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. –I Thessalonians 5:1-6

Verse 4 drives home the point that, like at the first coming, those with eyes to see and ears to hear (or in the light) shouldn’t be surprised at the coming of Christ. In other words, the Apostle Paul believes that there will be certain characteristics present that the Christian ought to be able to identify; to the point that we should be able to have a general knowledge about the timing of Christ’s second coming. We see Paul, in context, refer to the ‘labor pains’ analogy that Jesus Himself refers to in His teaching on the same topic. The defining feature that Paul tells the Christian to look for is a world that is characterized by the sensation of ‘peace and safety.’ This does seem to correlate to the idea that the AntiChrist, or in the Thessalonian context, the ‘Man of Lawlessness,’ will usher in a time of pseudo-peace wherein the globe believes something magnificent and even miraculous has happened.

Getting back to the Great Tribulation category, let me refer us to Craig Keener’s helpful index for attempting to think about how the Great Tribulation, and all the events referred to in Matthew 24 might play out. You’ll notice that the way I described the Tribulation above fits into the sweep of what Keener describes. And out of the options that Keener describes, I am in full agreement with his personal take:

In Matthew, the tribulation seems to begin with the sanctuary’s destruction in A.D. 66 and concludes with Jesus’ return (24:29). If, as I think most likely, Matthew writes some years after 70, this allows several interpretive options: in Matthew 24 Jesus (1) skips from this tribulation to the next eschatologically significant event, his return (Fuller 1966;  cf. Lk. 21:24; especially compare Mt 24:21, “nor ever shall,” with Dan 12:1; cf. Jos. War pref. 1); (2) regards the whole interim between the Temple’s demise and his return as an extended tribulation period (“immediately” — 24:29; e.g., Carson 1984b: 507); (3) prophetically blends the tribulation of 66-70 with the final one, which it prefigures (see Bock 1994: 332-33); (4) begins the tribulation in 66 but postpones the rest of it until the end time; (5) intends his “return” in 24:29-31 symbollically for the fall of Jerusalem.[1]

Further:

I currently favor (1) or (2) with elements of (3). (Against the view of a “spiritual” coming are the many emphatic statements  about a personal, visible coming in the context — 24:27; Gundry 1982: 491). The third option may in fact deserve more attention than my current inclination has given it: certainly the prophetic perspective naturally viewed nearer historical events as precursors of the final events. Early Jewish texts also telescope the generations of history with the final generation (Jub. 23:11-32). As in Mark, the tribulation of 66-70 remains somehow connected with the future parousia (Hare 1967: 179), if only as a final prerequisite. Further, the context may suggest that Jesus employs his description eschatologically, as in some Jewish end-time texts; in this case, the disasters of 66-73 could not have exhausted the point of his words (cf. Harrington 1982: 96). In any case, the view (circulated mainly in current popular circles) that Matthew 24 addresses only a tribulation that even readers after 70 assumed to be wholly future is not tenable; Matthew understands that “all these things” (probably referring to the question about the temple’s demise — 24:2; Mk 13:4) will happen within a generation (Mt 24:34), language throughout Jesus’ teachings in Matthew refers to the generation then living (e.g., 11:16; 12:39, 45; 16:4; 23:36; cf. 27:25). Further, Luke dispenses with much of the symbolism and lays the emphasis almost entirely on the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, in which Judean slaves were carried among the nations. For Luke, the “abomination” that brings about desolation becomes simply the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, promising desolation (Lk 21:20; A. B. Bruce 1979: 292; Cole 1961: 202).[2]

Summary

Let me attempt a timeline based on all that I have hashed out above: I believe the next event the Christian should be ready for is the second coming of Jesus Christ. I think that Great Tribulation has been upon the world ever since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD; just ask most of the third and developing worlds about that. But I also believe that the Tribulation has been intensifying, like ‘labor pains,’ and at the very end there will be a climaxing intensification of that which will be the final iteration of the Great Tribulation Jesus referred to so long ago on the Temple Mount. In the midst of this there will be an emerging federation (the Beast), potentially with a Messianic-like figurehead, who, with the power of overwhelming military might, and the technological enrichment that entails, among other “riches,” will provide a peace the world has longed for since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden. In the midst of this ‘false’ sense of peace, Jesus will return. This federation, like the original “Babel”-lonyians, would like to think that they have finally reached the heavens and become God Himself. They will be deluded to believe (cf. Rev 20:7-10)[3] the “battle” has finally been won, but just in that moment, Jesus will return, and destroy all those with the ‘mark of the Beast’[4] (i.e. people without the ‘mark of the Lamb’) by the Sword of His mouth (cf. Rev. 19). At this moment, the Great White Throne judgment will occur; the new heavens and earth will come into full consummation; and we will be with Christ forevermore.

Personally, I think it is possible that what the world is currently experiencing, with all of the strange chaos and tumult, could be the time I just described. But we won’t know that, not really, till after the fact. That said, I think with the Apostle Paul, that we ought to imagine, as sons and daughters of the Light, that we might have the capacity to sense just when the second coming of Christ is upon us; such that that day does NOT take us as a ‘thief.’ If a global peace somehow comes out of the current global chaos we are experiencing; if a global federation, and maybe a particularly charismatic figurehead rises up out of that; I think it highly likely that Jesus’ second coming is just upon us at that point. Then again, it just might happen this very moment. We ought to WATCH!

 

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew, 577-78.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. 10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

[4] I take the ‘Mark of the Beast’ to be in reference to those who were born in their sin, born into the kingdom of darkness, and never freely chose to take the ‘Mark of the Lamb’ (i.e. they never repented and came to Christ, being sealed with the Holy Spirit).