Monday, December 2, 2013

My Eschatological Journey in Understanding what the Bible says about the End Times

So I've decided to start blogging again. However, instead of just blogging about random things. I wanted to talk about something important to me: Truth. In this case, how that pertains to Eschatology, that is, the study of the End Times. (Also, In these blog posts, I will be assuming the reader has some knowledge of the end times terms I use, such as Pre-trib or Preterist. If not, i'll provide a hyper-link on the term the first time it appears with the explanation)

The Bible tells plainly that God's standard of truth: Jesus is Truth (John14:6), Your Word is Truth (John 17:17), and the Law is Truth (Psalm 119:142). So with that said, what does the Bible actually have to say about these matters of the last days? There is so much cultural myth and misinformation out there thanks in part to popular fiction and novels like the Left Behind Series and The Late, Great Planet Earth. Many Christian have read or heard talks in discussions about the last days. They have some ideas about things like the Rapture or the Second Coming of Christ, but ask them to show you the verses for it in the Bible and they can't.

 I'll freely admit I use to be in that camp for a long time. Thus, about 7 years ago after reading many of the Left Behind books I really started to wonder about the events of the last days. As I opened the Bible, and started reading many of the verses they used in the book series, it didn't add up in the broader context of the passage. Now I was just a college student and by no means a pastor, but even I could see the verses weren't adding up very well with Jenkins and Lahaye's explanations from the book series. I told myself well this is just fiction, they probably took some artistic license. I knew at least the pre-tribulation rapture teaching had to be right. I'd had heard dozen of pastors on TV, the radio, and internet podcasts preach on it for years since I became a Christian. But, again as I read the Bible cover to cover year after year, I could find no clear verse ever talking about the Church getting raptured away before Christ's 2nd coming and this period of Great Tribulation that Jesus and his Apostles referred to again and again in the New Testament. For example, the biggest unresolvable issues for me at that time, were the 2nd coming of Christ, the frequent talk of suffering for believers at the hands of the Antichrist and his followers in the last days, and this main end times passage from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. I will talk about these 3 issues in far more depth in my next upcoming blog post. But for now, I'm just giving them as examples now. Today is just background on my journey of how and why I am doing this and one smaller example on the imminent return of Christ and the "thief in the night" analogy.

I am a teacher and historian, i've been reading the Bible cover to cover every day for the better part of a decade now. I've tried to read every end times article and book I could get my hands on from each of the various camps: be they Dispensationalist, Postmillennialist, or Preterist etc. In addition, I have probably listened to hundreds of hours worth of sermons of all digital media types on these matters. There is still a great debate in-house on many things related to Eschatology. However, most mainstream Christian theologians and scholars have agreed on the who, what, where, why, and how with nearly total unanimous support over the centuries about the events of the last days. It's just that pesky 'when' or 'what order of events' they can't seem to resolve. Sticking with this issue about the Rapture for the moment. I still called myself a pre-trib among my Christian friends and church members, but I seriously had my doubts about it, but it was what nearly all of them were believing and talking about when this subject matter came up. So, I felt compelled to play along in all honesty.

 After years of listening to so many points of view on this issue. I got tired of being passive about it, and wanted to know about these things for myself; time to get active I told myself. I am an historian, it was time I put my training to use. So instead of reading new stuff, I went old school. I started reading what the Early Church Fathers had to say on the issue, particularly what Irenaeus of Lyons (b.130AD- d.202AD) had to say about the events surrounding the last days. What makes Irenaeus so interesting is his proximity to the Apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation while he was exiled on the Island of Patmos. John, the last of the 12 original Apostles, had a disciple by the name of Polycarp, who in turn had a student under his tutelage named Irenaeus. Thus, Irenaeus sat at the feet of the guy (Polycarp) who sat at John's feet. John the guy who literally wrote the book of the Bible on the things pertaining to the end times. Thus, Irenaeus was a great resource for getting as close I could about how John would have interrupted his own visions in Revelation and then pass that knowledge onto Polycarp, who likewise would have done the same to Irenaeus. I'll share my findings on what he and the other Early Father taught about these in an upcoming blog. But needless to say, what I discovered is that nearly all the mainstream Early Church Fathers and Great Protestant Reformers from like 100AD to 1800AD had in common was the shared a similar belief about the Church and the Tribulation. About 99% of them believed the Church would go through the 7 year period of tribulation prior to the Second Advent of Christ. They were Post-Tribulationist as we would call them today. 

The idea of a secret rapture and the Saints being whisked away just before the revealing of the Antichrist and the Time of Tribulation is an idea that not only contradicts 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, but was not even in consciousness of Christian teachers until the 1800s. This teaching started and grew in popularity mostly due to two people, a pastor and a teenage girl, who lived in Scotland in the early 1800s. But again, I'll go into more in-depthness on this in an upcoming blog post. For now I am just setting the ground work. Anyhow, back to my story, as I read what past theologians had taught for literally dozens of centuries and about the 'recent' origins of the Pre-Tribulationalist theory, which has become so popular in Western culture and theology, all my questions and concerns we addressed. With respects to the Rapture I am indeed now a Post-Tribulationalist. This view not only satisfies all my intellectually Eschatological questions, but it also addresses all the Scriptural concerns and conflicts that are found under the Pre-Trib belief. Everything. all the verses and prophecies just finally made sense. The Post-Trib explanation calmed my spirit. This Truth that believers would go through Tribulation of God's Wrath made so much sense when one looked at the context of all the end time verses. Now yes the Church will go through that terrible period of time, but it will not suffer any of God's Judgments on the unbelieving world. I think Scripture makes that clear. Again see future blogs for more unpacking of this point of view. :-)

 Now why am I doing this? Why do I want to tell people about this? This is not one of those I think I am right and you're wrong and you need to believe what I think or you're not a Christian and going to Hell kind-of-thing. Far, Far, Far from it. This is just one believer sharing with others, his story about what God has shown him as he has prayed for wisdom and understanding, and poured through so many historical materials about these subjects. The Old Testament say plainly that God's people will suffer greatly if they lack the knowledge of his Word. Moreover, the New Testament warns believers that great falling away will occur in the last days. What are we seeing today? People in the West are leaving the Church in droves. But more interestingly, how many believers and so-called believers in the comfortable safe Western Church, who have placed their hope in a secret rapture teaching, will feel on that day when they notice they the End Time events are starting to come to pass (i.e. the Anti-Christ showing up, or the 7 year treaty between the nations and Israel, or some such) and they haven't been taken away.

How many would fall away or give up on God, if they weren't removed from the trials of the Tribulation? Western Christians, who have never really experienced true persecution for their faith like their brothers and sisters who live in China or North Korea or Saudi Arabia do. How well would we Western Christians hold out if suddenly we were being thrown in Jail or beheaded (Rev 20:4) for being a Christian? Would our faith sustain us when your 1 great hope of being taken away before hand doesn't occur? Or would this be the catalyst for what Paul talks about that will cause the Great Apostasy or Rebellion or Fallen Away (pick your Bible translation) he teaches about in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3. With that said I don't want my fellow Christians to be caught off-guard on walking in darkness. I want us to be prepared and walking in the light of his Truth.

Amen

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