Thanks to Debra for provoking this post earlier than I had thought! 🙂
ANY view of eschatology is about the presuppositions that are brought TO the text. NONE of the views are self-evident (“I just look at my Bible and there it is–Amen!” Aaarrgghh!). How you answer the following questions dictates completely where you end up:
1. Are Israel and the Church distinct from each other, or does the Church replace Israel in God’s program for the ages? If they are distinct, it would seem that Israel might still have a national future, apart from the church. Keeping Israel and the Church distinct is key to any view of a rapture (because the Church is taken, not Israel).
2. Were the covenants given to Abraham and David about the Promised Land and a never-ending dynasty unconditional or conditional? If the latter, then the promises were conditioned by obedience to the Law and, since Israel went into exile, the promises were “sinned away.” They were inherited by the Church in a spiritual sense (cf. Gal 3 – Christians are “Abraham’s seed and heirs to the promises”). There will be no literal kingdom, just the Church. If the former is the case, then it didn’t matter that Israel was wicked–the Land promises are still in effect and a descendant of David MUST sit on the literal throne.
3. Was the Land promised fulfilled under the reign of Solomon or not? If you read the description of Solomon’s kingdom and INCLUDE the areas he had under tribute, the boundaries match the description of the promised Land given to Abraham–hence the kingdom promises are already fulfilled and there is no more to be had. Israel sinned away the kingdom, though, and it was replaced by the church. But should we include the land only under tribute to Israel, but not actually inhabited by Israel? That’s the question.
4. Is there any biblical proof that the 70th week of Daniel = the tribulation period? This is assumed by many, but the fact is that there isn’t a single verse that makes this equation. Sounds right, but is it?
5. When it comes to passages that describe the return of Jesus, should we harmonize them, or separate them? Here’s what I mean. Say a critic of the Bible came up to you and said, “hey, your Bible is full of errors–just look at the gospels; they have differing accounts of the same event–they can’t all be right; at lest one has to be wrong!” I’m guessing your response would be something like, “they can all be right even if they disagree, just like a newspaper story–if you took all the newspaper accounts of 911, they wouldn’t all say the same thing, but they could all be right–they just complement each other — you have to join them together to get the full picture. That’s what we should do with the gospels.” Now, I agree with “joining” and I think just about every Christian would. So why is it, when we come to description of the Lord’s return, that so many people do NOT harmonize them? We take 1 Thess 4 as being different than Zech 14, because in 1 Thess 4 Jesus never touches the ground! That must be a different return–and so we have two returns-one a rapture and the other is the second coming. This decision–to NOT harmonize these accounts is at the heart of the doctrine of a rapture. You really can’t have a rapture if you harmonize, but that’s what we do everywhere else. So…are you a splitter or a joiner? Which one is right? How would we know for sure?
6. Was the book of Revelation written before or after 70 AD? This makes all the difference in the world for holding that Revelation has yet to be fulfilled, as opposed to being fulfilled by AD 70. THere’s evidence for either conclusion. Which is right?
7. Are we to read the book of Revelation in a linear, chronological fashion, or does the book repeat the same several events in cycles? Those who see Revelation as future prophecy assume the book is to be read straight through as a linear chronology. Others see the events of the book “recapitulating.” If it’s linear, you have a literal kingdom aside from the Church when you get to the end. If it’s not linear, you don’t. The Church = the Kingdom.
8. All OT prophecy was fulfilled literally, so the prophecy that’s still left will be as well. Well, this assumes that all OT prophecy was fulfilled “literally” (whatever that means). But is that what how the NT authors see the OT? Do they always see an OT passage fulfilled literally? Maybe a prophecy gets a REAL fulfillment but it isn’t what you’d literally expect. For one example, read Amos 9:10-12 and ask yourself what YOU would expect to be the fulfillment (David’s house is in ruins and will be rebuilt). Then go to Acts 15 and see how James interprets this passage in Amos. Have fun.
There are more fundamental questions, but they become more technical. I think this is enough.
So how does everyone cheat? They make decisions on all these questions, and then act like their view is the “biblical” view–as though they didn’t have to presuppose and assume a whole list of things at the start. They cheat by not telling you that what they believe about eschatology is based on assumptions about verses, not verses themselves. The Bible didn’t come with a handbook with the “right” answers to these questions. The answers are not self-evident. There is uncertainty (to put it mildly).
Now you know why I don’t like any of the views. ALL the views make assumptions and then erect their system on those assumptions. Passages that don’t quite fit are “problem passages” (yeah, right). Each view has its own set of those.
Personally, I think there’s a reason for the ambiguity in the Bible on these issues, which itself is the path to not cheating. But that’s for another time. This is the tip of the iceberg, and I’m already feeling ill over eschatology.