Tim Challies has produced a helpful diagram to explain the differences between the three most prominent views of the end times—premillennialism, postmillennialism and amillennialism.
I say “helpful”, but “unhelpful” might be a better word for it, for at least three reasons.
First, this sort of presentation perpetuates the idea that New Testament eschatology is a puzzle for the church to solve, a collection of riddles to be decoded. Solutions to the puzzle have no credible relation to the real historical future of the church—the future as we now see it—and are, therefore, only of hypothetical and esoteric interest.
Secondly, while the chart makes reference to both Preterist and “historicist” modifications of the postmillennial and amillennial positions, none of the interpretations is credibly historical. Eschatology is at the heart of New Testament thought, it was a matter of utmost importance both to Jesus and to his followers, and the only way to understand it is to adopt the Jewish-apocalyptic mindset (as best we can) and look at the future from their perspective.
Thirdly, all of the interpretive systems mapped by Challies consign unbelievers to “eternal torment”. It’s in small print, but it still looks deeply incongruous in a swish modern infographic. It’s horribly wrong.
So I offer a postost-millennial supplement (or Double Post-Tribulational Pre-Amillennialism), with some explanatory notes. It was something to do on the train back from Marburg yesterday. I realise these end-times charts are not cool, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Click on the image for a larger version.
1. New Testament views of the future begin with the resurrection, but it is strictly the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God that determines the shape of the main eschatological narrative, which is the story of how the God of Israel would come to rule over the nations of the pagan world. This is the driving force behind New Testament eschatology. It explains almost everything.
2. There are two horizons of political judgment in the New Testament—on Israel and on the Greek-Roman world (cf. Rom. 2:9). Believers bore witness to the resurrection of Jesus and the coming reign of God and experienced violent opposition or ‘tribulation” in both contexts. The distinction needs to be carefully observed. The whole futurist pre-trib/mid-trib/post-trib debate is simply nonsensical and irrelevant for us, though the church in Thessalonica might reasonably have asked Paul a question or two along those lines.
3. The prophetic expectation was that eventually God would step in to judge, Jesus would be revealed (first to the corrupt leadership of Israel, then to the nations), he would vindicate those who believed in him, and the martyrs would be raised to reign with Christ throughout the coming ages, which is the only basis for going to heaven in the New Testament.
5. At the end of the thousand years the rest of the dead—excepting the martyrs—will be raised for a final judgment according to what they have done (Rev. 20:11-15).
6. The righteous, whose names are written in the book of life, will participate in God’s new creation, which is not the “eternal kingdom” of Challies’ schema. The confusion of kingdom with new creation is a common error, typically made by well-intentioned theologians who want to give a modern environmentalist spin to the New Testament. The descent of the heavenly city (Rev. 21:2) represents the coming of God, with the Lamb, the hosts of heaven, and the martyrs, to dwell in the midst of a renewed creation.
7. The unrighteous, along with Satan, death and Hades, will be destroyed (not eternally tormented) in the lake of fire, which is the second death (Rev. 20:14-15).
8. Once death has been destroyed and there are no more enemies to threaten the integrity and security of his people, Christ will hand back the authority to reign to his Father, so that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28).