The term “eschatology” or “the study of the end times” is the process by which one seeks to understand the parts of Scripture that speak of things to come and the end of time. The more one digs in, the more complicated its study becomes. But I have found that some simple principles help one to categorize and build a structured understanding to this important part or our faith.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:18 the apostle Paul states the reason for building an understanding and then hope for the culmination of history in Christ as we live our lives here and now in anticipation of these events. He states simply “therefore comfort one another with these words”. It is our hope that the next few posts, as we look at end times issues, will be a source of encouragement and hope.
Because the piecing together of ones view of the events of the end times comes from multiple passages in the Bible, I have found that the first step in approaching these Scriptures is to decide on some theological principles of interpretation. This allows one to put these diverse passages into a context for understanding. What are some of these principles?
1. Understand what it means to interpret the Bible literally. My definition for a “literal” interpretation of Scripture is “to interpret each passage the way it was meant to be interpreted”. If the passage is historical narrative or poetry or prophetic or eschatological we interpret it in that light. In their book “How to Read the Bible for all its Worth”, Fee and Stuart describe basic principles to do just that. How to see a passage as historical or allegorical or cultural is doable by applying interpretative principles. The choice of ones “hermeneutic” or method of interpretation at this step is the key issue in how one comes to an understanding of end times events.
2. Define the distinction between the nation of Israel and the current christian church. Is there still a spiritual nation of Israel (and thus prophecies which still need to be literally fulfilled in their spiritual life and history) or has the church now become spiritual Israel (and the prophecies of Israel’s future are now being fulfilled allegorically in the life of the current christian church). Romans chapters 9-11 are crucial in this regard. Do you lean towards dispensational (literal) or covenental (allegorical) theology.
3. Review what are the central passages to the main issues of end times events in Daniel chapters 9-12 and Matthew 24.
4. Determine whether you think the “1000 year” millenium described in Revelation 20 is literal or allegorical.
We will try to break down each of these points in the posts that follow…