In Professor Stuart Piggin’s seminal work on the Evangelical history of Australia, The Fountain of Public Prosperity, he argues that it was the rise of ‘pre-millennialism’ eschatology that gave much impetus to the Evangelicals successful evangelism. Evangelical evangelists of the mid-1800’s were preaching that Christ’s return – and the end of the world – was imminent. But their pre-millennial gospel was also ‘pre-tribulational’ – which meant that the urgency to turn to Christ in repentance was even more urgent, otherwise Christ’s “secret return” (‘the rapture’) could leave the unrepentant in the midst of a hell-on-earth “Great Tribulation”. This new evangelistic message gained much traction and many converts. It would be a popular evangelistic message up until the latter part of the twentieth century. Pragmatically, it was a popular because it worked! But like many (unexamined) good ideas, it has had unintended negative consequences.
Much of what is taught by Bible-prophecy teachers about the end-times” is grounded in Paul’s two epistles to the Thessalonians. It is claimed that in First Thessalonians, Paul introduced the notion of a rapture. And it is believed that from Second Thessalonians, he introduces believers to some revelations about the “Antichrist”. The Apostle certainly does share some divinely inspired insights into what was future to his original audience. But the modern reader may not understand how future it was to these Thessalonians – which may mean that it is not future to us.
I’ve just finished teaching on a four-part series on the Apostle Paul. I’m now doing a four-part series on his protégé, Timothy. From a research point of view, Paul is a goldmine. He is one of the most written about people in history. But Timothy isn’t. We don’t know nearly as much about Timothy as we do for Paul. Some of the reasons for this are obvious. These include: (i) the nature of Timothy’s ministry (as the messenger and representative of Paul) meant that he was conveying what Paul wrote to the churches he visited and thus there was no cause for him to write anything (because he was physically present); (ii) Timothy succeeded Paul when the Neronic persecution had commenced in which the Apostle Paul was martyred in early 65 A.D. and tens of thousands of Christians were also martyred as it began; (iii) therefore, many of those who knew Timothy directly were unable to record their memories of him because of this violent period of martyrdom. But in my research I came across one of the most novel explanations I’d ever seen.
Even preachers who claim to have no view on “End-Times” actually do – and usually make it known even if only subtlely. Thus, there are many great Gospel preachers who have built huge churches but who have a lousy eschatology! Then there are some preachers who have dangerous eschatology (such as John Hagee). When those who have some proficiency in the field of eschatology dare to disagree with any of these mega-church “big guns” about eschatology (even in a constructive manner), it is not surprising (but still disappointing) to be called “heretical” by them. To these pop-preachers, Preterism is merely “over-realised” eschatology. Here’s why it isn’t…
Perhaps these preachers have this view because they have accepted a caricaturisation of Preterism and not a well informed understanding of it. This is understandable from those preachers who are generally not careful in their in the research and tend to be more inspirational than exegetical. But when this criticism comes from one of the most popular preachers in the world (and a mega-church pastor) many Preterists are left bewildered for good reasons.
There are some preachers who deserve to be regarded as among the best in the world. Yet, many of these preachers have a false idea about what “Preterism”. More and more of them have been decrying Preterism and denouncing it as it has grown in its appeal. For example, one popular preacher alluded to Preterism as “over-realised eschatology”. Since this preacher has such a huge following, his ill-informed comments about Preterism were even more disappointing. I wish to respond to his claim that Preterism is “over-realised eschatology”.
New Testament epistles are sprinkled with eschatological references which have led to confusion and the belief that the rules of hermeneutics must be re-written to accommodate particular eschatological systems. We will now survey how these Epistles make eschatological references and how we might best understand them.
A Sense of Imminence
¶ The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
First Peter 4:7
The eschatology found in the New Testament Epistles conveys an expectation of imminence. Each of the writers had a sense that something was about to happen very soon. It could be argued that they were misguided and that the Scriptures accurately recorded their misinformed views. We see evidence of this sort of thing throughout the Old Testament where misinformed human perspectives were accurately recorded in God’s inspired Word. This includes such statements like, “from the rising of the sun” (Psalm 50:1; Isaiah 45:6; Malachi 1:11). Of course, we know that the sun doesn’t rise but from the perspective of the human authors it appeared to. But this doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing happening in the Epistles. Unlike the genre of the Psalms or Prophets, these eschatological statements found in the Epistles are not poetic. They are presented as statements of fact – often linked to an injunction (1Peter 4:7; Hebrews 10:24-25). If it is the New Testament perspective is actually just the accurate recording of misguided human opinion, it then makes the linked injunctions (moral commands) redundant.
The End. That’s what the Greek word “eschaton” means. But a question that some are now asking is, “The end of what?” Up until recently most Christians would have said- the world, but now good Biblical scholarship is shedding greater light upon this highly controversial word and revealing that most of us may have been wrong!
When I went to church as a young boy, ‘End Times’ teaching was all the rage. Afterall, there were wars in the Middle East, famines in Africa, natural disasters in Asia, and economic struggles in Europe and America. There were conspiracy theories, global uncertainty, a worldwide fuel crisis, and the emerging cashless society. All of these things were apparently predicted in the Bible many thousands of years ago as being the last signs before the end of the world. As the last three decades have unfolded however, it has become obvious that none of these things have led to the end of the world, and now most people realise that the Bible doesn’t even make reference to them – let alone pinning the triggers for the end of the world upon them! With so much error in this speculation it’s little wonder that many Christians have put eschatology (the study of ‘final things’) either in the too-hard basket or now regard it as not worth worrying about because nobody knows anyway.