Where is human history going? Many people believe that the Bible has not only accurately predicted human history to this point, but that it predicts a coming ‘Golden Age’. This possibly impending event is called: “The Millennium”. But there are very devout Bible readers who think this kind of reading of Scripture is actually a gross misreading of the Bible, and that what the Bible really says about the future may surprise – and even shock people today.
The “Millennium” is the touchstone for how people label themselves when it comes to interpretting Bible prophecy. Depending on how they regard the Millennium, they will classify themselves either as, (i) Premillennial; (ii) Amillennial; or, (iii) Post-Millennial. Within these Millennial categories there are people who take a “fundamentalist” view, generally known as “Dispensationalists” and there are others who take a “Reformed” view, generally known as “Historicists”, or the position I will argue for- “Preterist”.
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.
When we approach references in Scripture refering to the New or Heavenly Jerusalem we are guided by these principles of hermeneutics (The Method of Bible Interpretation). Added to this, we are also guided by our system of Eschatology. Our Eschatological system will give us certain presuppositions which heavily influence our understanding of the Bible. If for example, we have a Futurist Eschatological system, we will regard references in Jeremiah and Ezekiel of Israel being returned to their land after exile as pertaining to a last days regathering of Israel to the Promised Land which we would claim is being fulfilled today. But if we have a Historicist Eschatological system, we would regard the exact same references as predicting the return of Judah from exile in Babylon when the conquering Emperor, Cyrus, issued the decree allowing them to return (as chronicled in the Biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Eschatological systems matter. Here are some of the features that a sound eschatological system should possess-
+ a means to accommodates all eschatological references
+ the ability to identify whether a prophecy is fulfilled or not
+ the capability to make certain testable predictions based on the Biblical text
The Bible’s Prophetic Program Culminates With “a new heaven and a new earth.” What might this mean? What are the implications of this? Does it have bearing on how we live today?
¶ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
But what does this mean? The implications of how we understand this Bible prophecy are slightly enormous. I was recently discussing with another pastor some issue of concern we shared about a potential environmental hazard. I ventured that we needed to take some action. He responded by expressing doubts that a pastor could achieve any change. Then he said, “…besides, this earth will soon pass away soon since the Bible says a ‘new earth’ is coming, so ultimately it doesn’t really matter!” How we understand what the Bible means when it refers to a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ may well determine how we treat our ‘existing’ earth and the type of legacy we will leave for generations to come.