THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
JESUS' TEACHINGS ON THE SECOND COMING
There are essentially 4 major views regarding the return of Christ. The first view called A-millennialism is actually misnamed because the word literally means "no millennium," that is, no thousand-year reign of Christ. This view though teaches that Christ DOES reign. It teaches that Rev. 1-19 only deals with the persecution of Christians during the days of John. According to this view Rev. 20 deals with the church. The first resurrection of Rev. 20:1-5 is the triumph of the church over the Roman persecutors. The thousand-year reign of Christ then is the age of the church in which Christ reigns over the hearts of Christians from heaven. At the end of the church age Christ returns to judge mankind, all people are resurrected, the earth is transformed, and the holy city of the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven.
This view came from the great Christian thinker Augustine of the 5th century AD. From his point in time you can see how he would come up with this interpretation. By this time Christianity had overcome Roman persecution. In fact by 325 AD the Roman emperor Constantine had made Christianity the official religion of his empire. Even when the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Franks conquered the Roman empire during Augustine's time, they did not persecute Christians. In fact Augustine stated that these invaders killed the pagans instead of Christians, a sure sign that the church was victorious. It would be interesting though to see what Augustine would have written if he had lived another 200-300 years later when the Norsemen were pillaging Christian monasteries and killing Christians in Western Europe, especially in the British isles. If that would not have changed his mind, he probably would have changed his view if he had lived in the 20th century and had seen the millions of Christians who were put to death by totalitarian regimes. Augustine seems to have made the mistake of interpreting Revelation in light of his own experience and not in light of Scripture itself. It must be noted that amillennialism is THE major view espoused by Christians.
This view basically teaches that society is going to get better and better to such an extent that for all practical purposes life will almost be perfect on earth. After this period of perfection Christ will return in judgment, raise the dead, and usher in the holy city of New Jerusalem. The events in Rev. 1-19 are events which occurred from the time of John until the time the 1000-year reign. For example, some of the events will symbolize the Muslim invasion of Christian Europe (according to B. H. Carroll founder of SWBTS).
This view was really in vogue in the 1800's and early 1900's. To be sure society in those 100 years was really improving. The industrial revolution was in full swing and living conditions were getting better. This was the age of "evolution" in which everything--animals, plants, philosophies, etc.--were evolving to a higher life form.
Postmillennialism took a real hit though whenever WW1 broke out. The carnage of this war shook western civilization to its core. From WW1 emerged the Lost Generation, a generation of writers, such as, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Elliot, and Ernest Hemmingway, who despaired over the futile nature of life. Whatever remained of posmillennialism was destroyed by WW2 which was even more devastating than WW1. These 2 wars showed us that man was not getting better, that in fact something was radically wrong with man.
Pre-trib AND Post-trib Premillennialism
Both these views teach that a period of great distress is going to fall upon the world before the return of Christ. This view teaches that human history as we now know it will end in a great apocalyptic, catastrophic event. In fact right before the return of Christ a major conflict will occur called "the Battle of Armageddon." In this battle Christ destroys not only His enemies but also the enemies of his people. After Christ returns, He binds Satan for 1000 years and physically reigns upon the earth during that period of time. After the millennium (1000-year reign) a final battle occurs between Satan and Jesus. Jesus then raises the rest of the dead, comes in judgment, and then ushers in the holy city of New Jerusalem.
Pre-trib premillennialism teaches first that Christ raptures the church before the tribulation, second that the tribulation occurs in which the antichrist persecutes the Jews, especially Jewish Christians, third that Christ returns at the end of the 7 years of tribulation and destroys the antichrist, fourth that Christ then reigns upon the earth for 1000 years, and fifth that a final conflict occurs between Christ and Satan which leads to the final judgment and the coming of the holy city of New Jerusalem. Post-trib premillennialism agrees in every aspect with the pre-trib view except that Christ does not rapture the church until the end of the tribulation.
THE BIBLE TEACHES AN APOCALYPTIC END TO HUMAN HISTORY
Whichever view is right, it must be acknowledged that the Bible itself consistently teaches that human history ends in some sort of major apocalyptic, catastrophic event. This is taught not only in Revelation but also in the OT itself and the teachings of Jesus.
Just a side note here. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis emphasized the notion that human history as we now know it ends in catastrophe. Tolkien stated though (and Lewis would agree) that history ends in a eu-catastrophe (the prefix "eu" from the Greek meaning "good"). In other words human history ends in a terrible catastrophe which produces something good. (The idea of our troubles being labor pangs which bring about something wonderful is the same kind of idea.) Lewis states that the ending for each Christian is "And they all lived happily ever after."
Old Testament Teachings About the End of History
One of the major OT passages regarding the end of history is found in Zechariah 12:1-14:21. According to 12:2-3 what kind of relationship will Jerusalem have with the rest of the world?
According to v. 8 what will the Lord do for the inhabitants of Jerusalem?
What will God do to those who come against Jerusalem (v. 9)?
What will God pour out upon the Jews in those last days (v. 10)?
According to v. 10 why will the inhabitants of Jerusalem mourn?
According to 14:2 what will happen to the Gentile nations?
According to 14:3 what will the Lord do to those Gentile nations?
According to 14:4-8 what are some things which will happen after the Lord returns?
(When you read the Zech. passage, it appears that all the events are jumbled up. Remember that according to 1 Pet. 1:12 Zechariah and the other OT prophets did not understand completely what they were writing. They wanted to know; it's just that God withheld it from them. This helps explain the jumbled-up nature of many of the prophetic writings.) The Zechariah passage represents the view the OT takes towards the end of history. Another OT passage in this vein would be Ezekiel 39:1-29.
Why the attack upon Jerusalem and the Jews since they don't believe in Jesus? The truth is that even though they have rejected God's agenda for them as His people, they are still His people. They have been touched by God. In 2 Cor. 3 Paul compares the glory of the Christian to the glory of the Jew. The glory of the Christian is so much greater than the glory of the Jew that it appears that the Jew doesn't even have God's glory. The truth though is that God's glory does rest upon the Jew, just not to the same extent it rests upon the Christian. The fact that God's glory does rest upon the Jew is what leads Satan to target the Jew.
According to Paul what will happen to the Jews AFTER the period of the Gentiles has been fulfilled (Romans 11:25-26)?
According to Paul why will God once more turn to save the Jews (Rom. 11:28-29; the word "they" in this verse refers to the Jews)?
When it is all said and done, God is going to reach out one last time in a major way to Israel because of His love for Abraham. Abraham is the only man in the OT spoken of as the friend of God. For Abraham's sake and because of His promises to Israel, God is going to give the Jews one last chance to turn to Him before the end of all things. God will be radically successful in this last attempt.
NT Teachings About the End of History
The NT in addition to the OT teaches an apocalyptic, catastrophic end to human history. For example in Matt. 24:21-22 what does Jesus say would happen to all life if He did not return?
The Tribulation in Revelation
Revelation itself emphasizes the stress of these latter days. According to Revelation there are 3 cycles of wrath God pours out upon the earth: the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of wrath. Each cycle will be worse than the cycle before it. First, the 7 seals. According to Rev. 6:7-8 the fourth seal will affect 12%, 25%, 33 1/3%, 50% or even 100% of the earth?
Second, the seven trumpets. According to Rev. 8:10-11 the third trumpet will affect what portion of the fresh waters? 12%, 25%, 33 1/3%, 50% or even 100% ?
Third, the seven bowls of wrath. According to Rev. 16:3 the second bowl of wrath will affect what portion of the sea? 12%, 25%, 33 1/3%, 50% or even 100% ?
Below is a table listing the 3 cycles:
|Number of Plague||7 Seals||7 Trumpets||7 Bowls of Wrath|
|1||Conquest||1/3 of Earth Burned Up||Loathsome Sores Upon All Unbelievers|
|2||War||1/3 of Sea Blood||All Sea Blood|
|3||Famine||1/3 of Fresh Waters Poisoned||All Fresh Waters Affected|
|4||Pestilence||1/3 of Celestial Bodies Affected||Sun's Heat Intensified|
|5||Martyrs||Plague of Locusts||Antichrist's Kingdom Darkened|
|6||Great Earthquake||200 Million Man Army from East||Armageddon|
|7||Beginning of 7 Trumpets||Beginning of 7 Bowls of Wrath||Plague of Hail Upon the Air|
The Battle of Armageddon
One of the last plagues God pours out upon the persecutors of His people is the battle of Armageddon. John introduces the battle in Rev. 16:13-16 as the 6th bowl of wrath and then goes into deeper detail about it in Rev. 19:11-21 According to Rev. 16:13-16 describe the battle of Armageddon.
Just where is Armageddon? There is general agreement among NT scholars that Armageddon refers to the plain of Jezreel near the city of Megiddo. Ray Summers, former chairman of the department of religion at Baylor University (and who was an amillennialist) stated that the plain of Jezreel was an appropriate symbol of the final climatic battle between the forces of God and Satan because of the numerous significant battles which had been fought there. For example, it was on the plain of Jezreel (Armageddon) that Deborah and Barak destroyed the Canaanite forces of Sisera and that Gideon routed the Midianites in Judges. At Armageddon (also known as the plain of Esdraelon) Pharaoh Neco killed Josiah in 2 Kings. Why was this plain so important? The person who controlled the plain of Jezreel controlled the movement of the wealthy caravans between the East and Egypt, and between the northwest (Turkey) and Egypt.
At this point Ray Summers stops his discussion of the historical nature of the Valley of Megiddo. It is as if this place has significance only for the distant past and therefore is nothing more than a symbol of the climatic battle between good and evil. Yet, like Paul Harvey says, "Now for the rest of the story." General Allenby, head of British forces in Palestine during WW1, planned it so that the decisive battle between him and the Turks occurred right at this spot, in the hopes that this final battle would end history as we know it and usher in the kingdom of God. He received the title "Allenby of Armageddon." This plain received further notice during the 6-day war of 1967 when the Israeli and Syrian air forces waged war over the plain of Jezreel. Scripture and history still seem to point to this plain as being of monumental importance for the last days.
Revelation 19:11-21 goes back to this battle and goes into greater detail about its participants and its outcome. Describe briefly this battle according to this passage.