What Does the Bible Tell Us about the Future?—Part II

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from 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, 2nd ed.
by Robert L. Plummer

Eschatological Issues about which Bible-Believing Christians Disagree

One of the greatest needs in the discussion of eschatology is humility.[1] We should seek to keep a proper perspective on such matters—not elevating a minor issue to a major one, or making a litmus test out of debatable doctrine. This does not mean that we cannot have convictions on debatable matters, but we must recognize our finitude and the lack of explicit clarity in the Bible on some eschatological issues. Below is a brief list of end-times matters on which Christians legitimately disagree.

  1. The Rapture. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, Paul says that believers who are alive at the time of Jesus’s return, along with resurrected saints, will be caught up in the air to meet the Lord. Bible-believing Christians agree on that But then what happens? Do the Christians immediately descend with their Lord to rule and reign (the right view, in my opinion)? Or are Christians secretly raptured out of the world, followed by a period of intense tribulation (a view first espoused by J. N. Darby in the 1830s and that has become quite popular among some conservative Christians)? These are only some of the disagreements that sincere, Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Christians have with regard to the rapture.
  2. The Book of Revelation. Does the book of Revelation give us a blueprint of coming world turmoil (the futurist position)? Or have some of the events in Revelation already taken place throughout church history, with some still to come (the historicist or historical approach)? Or does Revelation report events that were current at the time of writing but are now completed (the preterist view)? Or does Revelation speak in a timeless, symbolic way of the life of the church between the comings of Christ (the symbolic or idealist view)? Or is some combination of these approaches the correct way to view Revelation?
  3. The Millennium. When Christ returns, will he set up a thousand-year (millennium) kingdom that fulfills the literal promises of land and monarchy given to the nation of Israel (the premillennial view)? Or will Christ judge the world and immediately usher in the new heaven and new earth without an intervening millennial reign (the amillennial position, in which the thousand-year reign in Revelation 20 is often taken as symbolic of the interadvent church age)? Or is Christ providentially working through history to bring about a millennial golden age, to be followed by his glorious return (the once popular postmillennial position, which now has few adherents)?
  4. The Nation of Israel. Has the church truly become the new Israel, such that God makes no ongoing differentiation between ethnic Jews and Gentiles? Or does God continue to save a remnant of Jews (and thus they are in some sense distinct), with such saved Jews incorporated into the one people of God, the true Israel, the inheritors of the promises to David and Abraham (the biblical view, I believe)? Or are God’s dealings with the church only a parenthesis in the history of his saving work? Is God going to return to Israel in the future and fulfill in a literal way the promises given to the patriarchs (the dispensational view popularized by books such as the Left Behind series)?

Summary

The Bible speaks of the future, but before engaging in more speculative doctrinal formulation, we should begin with its clear teachings: (1) Jesus will come again in visible, bodily form to consummate his eternal kingdom. (2) Between the time of Jesus’s first and second coming, there will be a period of political, spiritual, and environmental turmoil. (3) One day, all persons will be resurrected, judged, and enter into an eternal, unchangeable state of glory or damnation. Such eschatological teaching is intended to give Christians hope in trial and encouragement to faithfulness. Some more debated end-times is- sues, about which Christians should evince interpretive humility, are: (1) the nature of the rapture; (2) interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation; (3) the meaning of the millennium in Revelation 20; and (4) the role of ethnic Israel in God’s ongoing saving purposes.


[1] Regarding eschatological speculation, T. C. Hammond writes, “Much harm has been done by well-meaning but incautious zealots who have allowed their enthusiasm to run riot in wild and dogmatic assertions upon points where dogmatism is impossible. Still more harm has been done by those who have seized upon certain isolated texts and woven around them doctrines which are inconsistent with the rest of Scripture” (In Understanding Be Men: An Introductory Handbook of Christian Doctrine, rev. and ed. David F. Wright, 6th ed. [Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968], 179).


40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible, now in a revised second edition, probes the most pressing problems encountered by churchgoers and beginning Bible students when they try to read and understand the Bible. Using feedback received from pastors, professors, and Bible teachers, New Testament professor Robert L. Plummer includes updated information about Bible translations, biblical interpretation, and Bible study technology and streamlines previous portions to make room for a handful of new issues.

This second edition, updated regarding Bible translations, biblical interpretation trends, and Bible-related technology, will continue to serve professors, pastors, and Bible study leaders as a go-to guide or textbook. New Testament scholar Robert L. Plummer covers historical, interpretive, practical, and theological matters such as:

  • Were the ancient manuscripts of the Bible transmitted accurately?
  • Why can’t people agree on what the Bible means?
  • How do we interpret the Psalms?
  • How can I use the Bible in daily devotions?
  • Does the Bible teach that God wants Christians to be healthy and wealthy?


40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible
 provides crucial assistance for students ready to engage with biblical scholarship and for teachers eager to lead Bible studies with confidence.


Want to learn more about the 40 Questions Series? Visit the new website 40Questions.net!

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About Author

Robert L. Plummer (PhD in New Testament, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is currently the Collin and Evelyn Aikman Professor of Biblical Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he has taught for over twenty years. Plummer is the author of numerous books in biblical studies, including The Story of Scripture and Understanding the Bible, and is founder and host of the New Testament Greek learning resource Daily Dose of Greek, DailyDoseofGreek.com.

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