Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth popularized the idea that mankind’s future is all laid out in the prophetic portions of the Bible. This is called Futerism, and for many of us Christians it’s the only paradigm we know. From there we try to figure out if we are Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, or Post-Trib regarding the timing of the Rapture, and try to figure out if we are Pre-Millennial or Post-Millennial regarding the timing of the return of Christ. Whichever we conclude, we assume it’s all about the future, and quite possibly about our own future, if we are reading the signs of the times.
There are other paradigms such as Preterism and Historicism that put the fulfillment of End Times prophecy in the future of the authors of the Bible but in our past. These competing interpretations are scarcely known among proponents of Futurism and may seem quite foreign.
Without laying out a comprehensive alternative to Futurism here are but a few assumptions we make that either lead us to adopt Futurism or lead us to confirm our bias towards that paradigm, and why those assumptions are wrong:
End Times prophecy will be fulfilled in the future.
This is probably the single most common assumption and there are many reasons for it, not the least of which is that we have never heard of any other way of thinking about it. Or we take symbolic language literally (another assumption) and so can’t see how something like the stars falling from heaven has already been fulfilled. By putting Jesus’ return off into our future we make Jesus and his apostles either out to lunch with their expectations of Jesus returning in their lifetime or have them lying to the followers nearly 20 times about the soon return of Christ in order to get them motivated toward godly living.
The End Times refer to the end of the world.
The Bible doesn’t really have anything to say about the end of the world. The eschatos – the Greek word from which we get eschatology – is about the end of an age or an era. Both Paul and John said they were already in the last hour or last time as was evidenced by the many mockers and antichrists. (1 Jn. 2:18, Jude 1:18) For them, the last hour was the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant, not the end of the world.
The Antichrist is a person.
The Greek word antichristos means anything that is opposed to Christ, like a teaching or philosophy that is contrary to the sound doctrine of godly living associated with Christ, and the people teaching those doctrines. John in two of his epistles gives us some information about this philosophy and its teachers, saying they were already in the world, which was one of the signs that they were in the End Times. John said the spirit of antichrist is one that denies that Jesus is the Messiah and that he came in the flesh. This is a direct reference to Gnosticism which was a popular dualistic philosophy of their time that said that matter is evil so Jesus could not have been a real human person, (1 Jn. 2:18,22, 4:3, 2 Jn. 1:7) only a ghost of sorts. Since they believed that only the spiritual realm was “real” and the physical realm was not real, they were given over to extremes of either debauchery or Asceticism.
The Man of Sin of 2 Th. 2:3 was the Antichrist.
There is nothing in the bible that connects the Man of Sin with the Antichrist. The Christians of Paul’s time would have recognized the Man of Sin, also called the Man of Lawlessness, to be Nero Caesar after he ascended the throne, who also is the Beast of Revelation, as a number of Church Fathers believed. When Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians the Emperor was Claudius Caesar who upheld the Roman laws that protected the Christians as a sect of Judaism. When Nero came to power he dispensed with those laws, and sat in the temple declaring himself to be God, just as Paul predicted.
The Great Tribulation of Matthew 24:21 was to involve the whole world.
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” The Greek word kosmos translated as “world” means a harmonious order of things, like a society or a nation, and has a huge variety of uses in the Bible. For example, the Gentiles are called a kosmos. When we see the English word “world” we think of only one thing, and think (i.e. – assume) that English word has the same meaning when we see it in scripture, but it doesn’t. Readers of scripture must always ask, “What kind of kosmos are we talking about here?” I suggest that the kosmos Jesus is referring to was the Jewish society as it existed under Roman rule. Notice in Matthew 24 Jesus tells his audience “woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day:For then shall be great tribulation.” He’s obviously prepping the people standing right in front of him for something that would happen in their lifetime. This was fulfilled in 70 AD when Rome sent armies to Jerusalem to destroy the city and the temple. To put it the way we would say it today, Jesus was saying, “Don’t get complacent. This place is going to be destroyed and it’s going to happen very quickly.” And that’s exactly what happened.
Jesus’ millennial reign is literally 1000 years.
Yes, Revelation chapter 20 mentions a 1000 year period several times, but it’s used in the way we use a million when we say something like, “I’ve told you a million times not to…” It’s just a big number that means, “a lot of”. We shouldn’t expect the 1000 year period to be any more literal than we take Psalm 50:10 to be literal: “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” Doesn’t God own the cattle on every hill on the earth, and aren’t there literally way more than 1000 hills on this planet that have cattle? Are we to think God only owns the cattle on 1000 hills but the cattle on hill number 1001 belong to some other god? Why then would we insist the Millennium is a literal 1000 year period?
Since we don’t know what John was talking about his audience didn’t know what he was talking about.
For example, we have no idea what John meant by “lukewarm” in “because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth,” (Rev. 3:16) so we look for Christians who we think are lukewarm in their love for God, like the Liberals who condone homosexual marriage or the Lukewarm Lutherans who just don’t care much about the things of God, and think the spewing out of them means they will miss the rapture or get sent to Hell at the Judgement. After hearing several sermons over the years about not being that lukewarm Christian that Jesus will spew out of his mouth I have yet to hear one that explains what the church to whom it was addressed in Laodicea knew about lukewarm water or a reasonable explanation of why Jesus would want them to be cold rather than lukewarm. But the church in Laodicea knew exactly what John was talking about because hot water from geothermal springs was brought into town with aquaducts and by the time it got to town it was lukewarm which made it unsuitable for any practical use. If you drank it you would vomit it out due to its high sulfur content. It was a public works project poorly conceived. The symbol represents distasteful, useless Christians, and the Laodiceans would get that meaning as soon as they heard the message. Better to be like hot water which was good for bathing or cold water which was good for drinking, rather than lukewarm water which was good for nothing.
Soon doesn’t mean soon.
- “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” – Rom. 16:20
- “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to make known to his servants the things which must soon come to pass.” – Rev. 1:1
- “Behold, I am coming soon!” – Rev. 22:7
We assume, because Bible teachers better than ourselves have told us, that God gave us a clue about what “soon” means, and it doesn’t mean “soon”. It means the opposite. We are told that clue is in 2 Peter 3:8 – “A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.” See, it says right there! Soon to God isn’t soon to us. But wait, is that what Peter was trying to say? That “soon” means 2000 years, and counting? Why not just read the verse in context and see why Peter said that and we can see that it wasn’t meant to be a hermeneutic (method of interpretation) for the three verses quoted just above. It was meant to give patience to the believers when the atheist scoffers ridicule them for believing Jesus would return. It was meant to reinforce the idea that Jesus would return in their lifetimes, because God is not slack concerning his promises. He’s just biding some time to give people a chance to repent. The scoffers had their own timetable for when they thought God should act, if in fact God was going to act, and it wasn’t soon enough for them. Peter’s point was that God wasn’t on their timetable. He was still on schedule, God’s schedule, and the faithful who were reading Peter’s letter would see it done in their lifetimes.
Once these assumptions are recognized for what they are – assumptions – then we open ourselves up to alternative interpretations. It’s beyond the scope of one blog article to provide a comprehensive view of any competing interpretations but I would like to suggest my article Were Jesus and His Apostles Mistaken About Jesus’ Soon Return? as a starting point.