Signs of Christ’s Return
The Bible states:
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:9-11]
Many, but not all, Christians believe:
- The coming of Christ will be instantaneous and worldwide. “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” ~ Matthew 24:27
- The coming of Christ will be visible to all. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30
- The coming of Christ will be audible. “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Matthew 24:31
- The resurrection of the righteous will occur. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:16
- In one single event, the saved who are alive at Christ’s coming will be caught up together with the resurrected to meet the Lord in the air. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:17
The following approaches arose from the study of Christianity’s most central eschatological document, the Book of Revelation, but the principles embodied in them can be applied to all prophecy in the Bible. They are by no means mutually exclusive and are often combined to form a more complete and coherent interpretation of prophetic passages. Most interpretations fit into one, or a combination of, these approaches.
Preterism (from the Latin praeteritus, meaning “gone by”) is an approach which sees prophecy as chiefly being fulfilled in the past, especially (in the case of the Book of Revelation) during the first century. Prophecies in general, therefore, have already been fulfilled. Revelation, for example, may be seen as referring to the major players and events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD, or the struggle of Christianity to survive the persecutions of the Roman Empire, as many other interpretations are considered. There are two major views within preterism, Partial preterism and Full preterism.
Historicism says that Biblical prophecies provide us with a broad view of history, as well as an explanation of the religious significance of historical events. Historicists attempt to identify prophetic passages with major events in history.
In Futurism, parallels may be drawn with historical events, but most eschatological prophecies are chiefly referring to events which have not been fulfilled, but will take place at the end of the age and the end of the world. Most prophecies will be fulfilled during a global time of chaos known as the Great Tribulation and afterwards.
In Idealism, also known as “spiritual” or “symbolic“, the events described in prophecy are neither past, present, nor future, but are representative of larger ideals and principles. Eschatological prophecy deals with the ongoing struggle between the forces of light and darkness, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Its message is purely a spiritual one, an allegory of the spiritual path, which is equally relevant in all ages and for all people.
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Major theological positions
There are diverse opinions concerning the thousand years of peace (Millennium) described in Revelation and the events associated with it. Some interpret a literal, future, thousand-year time period in which Christ will rule over the Earth, a time which will be characterized by peace and harmony. Others understand a literal age of peace, but think the “thousand years” is a figure of speech. Still others see the Millennium as symbolic of a spiritual ideal, with no corresponding earthly condition. All of these positions fall into the category of millennialism, a broad term which includes any and all ideas relating to the millennium of Biblical prophecy. The most commonly held viewpoints are usually categorized as follows:
Main article: Premillennialism
Standard premillennialism posits that Christ’s second coming will inaugurate a literal thousand-year earthly kingdom. Christ’s return will coincide with a time of great tribulation. At this time, there will be a resurrection of the people of God who have passed away, and a rapture of the people of God who are still living, and they will meet Christ at his coming. A thousand years of peace will follow, during which Christ will reign and Satan will be imprisoned in the Abyss. Those who hold to this view usually fall into one of the following three categories:
Main article: Pretribulationism
Pretribulationists believe that the second coming will be in two stages separated by a seven-year period of tribulation. At the beginning of the tribulation, true Christians will rise to meet the Lord in the air (the Rapture). Then follows a seven-year period of suffering in which the Antichrist will conquer the world and persecute those who refuse to worship him. At the end of this period, Christ returns to defeat the Antichrist and establish the age of peace. This position is supported by a scripture which says, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Thess 5:9]
Main article: Midtribulationism
Midtribulationists believe that the Rapture will take place at the halfway point of the seven-year tribulation, i.e. after 3½ years. It coincides with the “abomination of desolation” – a desecration of the temple where the Antichrist puts an end to the Jewish sacrifices, sets up his own image in the temple, and demands that he be worshiped as God. This event begins the second, most intense part of the tribulation.
Some interpreters find support for the “midtrib” position by comparing a passage in Paul’s epistles with the book of Revelation. Paul says, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52). Revelation divides the great tribulation into three sets of increasingly catastrophic judgments: the Seven Seals, the Seven Trumpets, and the Seven Bowls, in that order. If the “last trumpet” of Paul is equated with the last trumpet of Revelation, the Rapture would be in the middle of the Tribulation. (Not all interpreters agree with this literal interpretation of the chronology of Revelation, however.)
Main article: Post-Tribulation Rapture
Posttribulationists hold that Christ will not return until the end of the tribulation. Christians, rather than being raptured at the beginning of the tribulation, or halfway through, will live through it and suffer for their faith during the ascendancy of the Antichrist. Proponents of this position believe that the presence of believers during the tribulation is necessary for a final evangelistic effort during a time when external conditions will combine with the Gospel message to bring great numbers of converts into the Church in time for the beginning of the Millennium.
Main article: Postmillennialism
Postmillennialism does not believe in a premillennial appearance of Christ. The postmillennial position is that the millennium began at the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom reign when he ascended to his heavenly throne and happens, not as a result of the coming of Christ, but as the global population converts to Christianity as a result of evangelization. The age of peace is still a progressing work of divine grace, but without the visible presence of Christ to take the place of an Earthly ruler. Christ will appear at the end of the millennium to lead his people into the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem.
Main article: Amillennialism
Amillennialism does not believe in a literal Millennium. The “thousand years” is an expression, a way of referring to the entire period from the first coming of Christ, two thousand years ago, until the future second coming. Many amillennialists believe that during this time period, the church will continue to evangelize and grow as well as suffer declination in periods until Christ’s coming. The Second Coming will be a natural culmination of the process of world evangelization, rather than a revolutionary event that brings sudden and dramatic change.
Interpretive and hermeneutical overviews of the Bible
The hermeneutic method held by an individual or church will greatly affect their interpretation of the book of Revelation, and consequently their eschatological scheme.
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