Theories of Understanding End Times and Revelation

There are a great number of ways people think about the end times. Much of the discussion is based on how we interpret the book of Revelation. Since it is easy to get lost in all these confusing philosophies, I thought I’d give a very brief run down on some of the more popular views about what is called “eschatology,” especially in regards to Revelation. Forgive me if in pursuit of brevity, I lack in precision.

  • Preterism
    Everything in this book is about events that have already happened. It could be that Revelation is all about persecution of the early church, Rome, and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

  • Historicism
    Biblical prophecies line up with historical events, but these parallels are still ongoing.

  • Futurism
    Prophecy can match up with history, but a book like Revelation is more about future events.

  • Idealism
    Revelation is not a historical book, but its imagery is symbolic of the struggles and good and evil, and of God’s ultimate victory.

Much conversation centers around a thousand year reign of Christ–a millennium. It is only mentioned in Revelation 20, but has garnered a lot of attention. The views on this are as following, again briefly, with a warning about unnecessarily long words:

  • Premillennialism
    Christ comes again and begins a literal thousand year reign on earth. Within this view there are differences about a rapture of God’s followers as to when it happens-before a seven year tribulation, in the middle, or afterward.

  • Postmillennialism
    Christ comes after a thousand year reign that takes place on earth, either one that has begun already or that is still to come in the future.

  • Amillennialism
    There is no literal thousand years. Christ is already reigning at the right hand of God and he will return at a time unknown.

That is just a brief hint of the discussion that can consume your entire day if you let it. But if you would like a few more sentences on it you can read more here and here.

Several Announcements and Questions

You sticking with it?

Revelation can be a tricky little book, but I hope (for those who’ve heard recent sermons here at church) that you’ve benefited from the preaching the last two weeks. Keep on going, just two more weeks and it’s a happy ending.

I was wondering how many of you have plans for what you’ll do when these two weeks are up? What will you read next? Are you looking for another plan? Might you repeat this one? Was it good to have assigned readings in order to keep you on the ball, or are you now going to read a bit more randomly or as “the Spirit leads you”? I’m curious what the plan is–if there is one. As I’ve said before, we didn’t do this so that we finish reading the Bible, but that in reading it completely we’ve built up habits that will serve us for a lifetime.

Last little announcement: RSVP if you’re coming to our celebration dinner at Triangle Pres. on March 24, 6pm. I need a a head count to figure out the foods.

Learning to Prayer from Psalm 141

As we’ve read through Psalms, there is a desparation that comes through for God to act on our behalf. In Psalm 141, the psalmist asks for God to manage his speech and protect his heart.

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds…

I love the understanding that such deeds are not accomplished on our own. We cannot just will ourselves to be better. Rather our hearts naturally incline toward the evil, and as we read in James, our tongues are uncontrollable. We need outside help. If we don’t look for it and accept it, yet still try on our own, it will lead to both failure and then to something like depression or self-pity.

Thankfully we are not alone. We have a God who does listen to our prayers and who–with such grace–wants to help us. This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

How much of this prayer is about God’s action? It gives glory to God, calls for his kingdom and his will, and asks for God to provide for us. We need God to give us our daily bread and for him to forgive us. Like in Psalm 141, we need God to lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil. These aren’t just nice words. We confess what it is true when we pray that way. In every way at every moment, we need our God to take mercy on his people.

Help in Understanding the Framework of Revelation

I’ve shared this quote a few times this week in talking about Revelation, so why not share it here, too? I’ve been reading from NT Wright’s commentary on Revelation and he describes the view he has on the events that take up a large segment of the book. This quotation comes as he describes chapter six, with its seals, but it applies to where we are now and what is to come. He thinks that the events in Revelation aren’t all chronological and can be understood as restatements from a different perspective. Beyond describing this view, he confronts the issue of evil and its role within God’s plan, which he sees as having been given its chance to rule so that when God defeats evil, he will do so completely with no doubt to the sufficiency of his victory.

This is one of the differences between writing something with words and writing it with music. In music, you can have several lines which all happen at the same time; but with words you have to say everything in sequence. This sevenfold sequence (four down, three to go, so far) is not chronological. It is an exposition of a sevenfold reality.

In the same way, we should not suppose that this sevenfold sequence of ‘seals’ being opened is supposed to take place before the subsequent sequences of the trumpets (chapters 8—11) and the bowls of wrath (chapter 16). Rather, each of the sequences – and the material in between, too – is a fresh angle of vision on the same highly complex reality. If we look at the problems and pains of the world from this angle, God’s answer is to draw out the arrogant wickedness of humans to its full extent and show that he is bringing his people safely through (chapter 7). If we look at those same problems and pains from the next angle of vision, God’s answer is to allow the forces of destruction to do their worst, so that he can then establish his kingdom fully and finally over the world (chapters 8—11). And if we take a deep breath and begin the story again from yet a third angle of vision (chapters 12 and 13), we see the full depth and horror of the problem, to which God’s answer will be to inflict on the rebellious world the equivalent of the plagues of Egypt, before finally rescuing his people and judging the dark powers that have for so long enslaved them (chapters 12—19).

Then and only then can the darkest power of all be dealt with (chapter 20). And then and only then can the new heaven and the new earth be established, without any fear that there may be lingering sicknesses still unhealed, buried sadnesses still to produce grief. Revelation 6—20 is not what we wanted to hear, just as the news from the doctor or the pastor may not be what we wanted to hear. But it is what we must hear if the world is to be healed.

Wright, N. T. (2012-05-22). Revelation for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 63). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

The HESED of God in Psalm 136

  • NIV – his love endures forever
  • KJV – his mercy endureth for ever
  • ESV – his steadfast love endures forever
  • MESSAGE – his love never quits
  • NLT – his faithful love endures forever
  • NASB – his lovingkindness is everlasting
  • HCSB – his love is eternal

All these are translations of the phrase, kiy l’olam hesedo, which creates the refrain of Psalm 136.

It is hard to take a robust word like hesed and condense its meanings to one word in the English language. There are parts of the word with which these different translations do well. Hesed involves kindness, and surely when it is described of God, his kindness to us, a sinful creature, must involve mercy and we know its motivation is his love for us. There are examples of its use in the Bible that relate to its enduring quality, which is fitting here given that it is coupled with the word olam, which means everlasting or without end.

It is kindness, but it is more than that. It is love, but more. There is more than just the action and orientation, it brings in a commitment, such as the covenant God has made with us. When speaking of God it conveys the steady faithfulness he has to his undeserving people, and is descriptive of one who has done so much to save and shepherd his own. We could never remain faithful as he has, nor could we maintain the covenant. But God, with his great hesed, goes beyond what we deserve to forgive us and lavish his love upon us.

Idolatry Leads Us to Death, Worship of God Transforms Us

Psalm 135:15-18
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Idolatry is one of the themes that I’ve tried to pay attention to as we’ve read through the Bible, and this passage has been one that says so much succinctly. Idolatry is not harmless. Idolatry first is stealing the worship that God alone deserves. Beyond that we need to understand that our worship does something to us. In the case of idolatry, we become like what we worship. Look in Psalm 135 and ask yourself what that means. These idols are silver and gold, meaning they are dead. They cannot speak and cannot see and cannot hear. That is a bold warning. Worshipping a false god changes us, too. We can grow dead inside, handing ourselves over to such sin. And this still applies if your idol is power or money or any other more contemporary idol. We can follow that path or we can worship our living God, and can be transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3).  

Revelation: A Vision of Tomorrow that Matters Today

Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei, c. 1635
Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei, c. 1635

I had the privilege to preach this last Sunday on chapter five from the book of Revelation. In it Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, steps up as the only one worthy to open the scroll of God. I thought I’d share the cliff notes version of the sermon, as I didn’t write too much on the book for last week.

One concern of mine in regards to this book is that we see it as just an extended forecast–something that shows us the future, but has no real bearing for how we live today. Revelation does show us what is to come, but I believe it also reveals a vision that breaks into our life in the here and now. Here is a summary of three takeaways for how we should live today.

  • Worship and Praise

    Revelation pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of one so worthy, so glorious that he deserves our praise now and through eternity.

  • Perseverance and Hope

    Revelation pulls back the curtain and shows us the truth that although this world appears to be in chaos, God has a plan, a plan that Christ accomplishes, and it is a plan for his victory, so let us persevere with hope.

  • Royal Priesthood

    Revelation pulls back the curtain and reminds us that the God who reigns has called us into that family business. We reign with Christ and live as a part of his kingdom, serving right now, as a royal priesthood in this world.

Hope Fulfilled Around the Throne of God

We see a powerful image of what life with God will be like, and in these verses are wonderful promises of Jesus truly fulfilled. Jesus, the bread of life, told us that if we come to him we won’t hunger and if we believe, we’ll never thirst. He said that he is our good shepherd. He offers us living water. Our lives are hidden within him, finding shelter there. Such hope is wrapped up in the scene around the throne in chapter seven:

They are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.