September 17, 2013

Eschatology 101–definitions

by Jesse Johnson

Here are some basic definitions of terms to help you make sense of different views on eschatology:

Eschatology: the study of future prophesied events associated with the Second Coming of Jesus, the kingdom, and eternity. Literally it is the study of the “end times,” but much of the study focuses on the rapture and the tribulation, two events that happen at least 1,000 years before the “end times.” Hence, my definition is better than the dictionary’s.

end is near

Millennium: A 1,000 year period where Jesus reigns over the earth. This period sees the restoration of Israel, and the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies given to Israel in the OT. Satan is bound, and the earth is inhabited by both resurrected believers as well as people who were born during the kingdom. It is described all over the book of Isaiah, but especially in Isa 24, 51, 54, 60, 65-66. It is also detailed in Ezekiel 37-48, Daniel 7, Zechariah 8, and Revelation 19-20.  

Second Coming:  A term that refers to the events that take place around the return of Jesus to earth. These events include the rapture, the tribulation, the anti-Christ, the abomination described in Daniel 9 and 2 Thesselonians 2, and the physical return of Jesus to earth.

Post-millennialism: The belief that the Second Coming occurs after the millennium. This is held by Douglas Wilson, R. C. Sproul, and Tim Keller.

Pre-millennialism: The belief that the Second Coming occurs before the millennium. This is held by John MacArthur, John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem.

Amillennialism: The belief that that millennium is not an actual time period, but rather that scripture’s descriptions of that time period should be interpreted as being fulfilled in this age, and often spiritually. In other words, there is no millennium, and the kingdom of God on earth is now. This view is held by Michael Horton (and almost every Presbyterian you have ever met), Mark Dever, and J. I. Packer.

The Tribulation: The final period of this age, before the kingdom. It is a period marked by the wrath of the anti-Christ poured out in the world, as well as by the wrath of God seen through the breaking of the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls described in Revelation. Daniel 9 describes it as a period lasting seven years. Jesus describes it as a time of “great suffering  unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world” (Matthew 24:21).

The Anti-Christ: The religious world leader who is opposed to the gospel, while claiming to be here in Christ’s name. Through history, the Pope has been seen to hold this title, while leaving room for a final anti-Christ to come during the tribulation, and lead the final assault on Israel (2 Thess 2:8, 1 John 2:18.

The abomination of desolation: The time described in Daniel 9 where the anti-Christ reveals himself in the middle of the seven-year tribulation. Daniel refers to this event as coming on “the wing of abominations” with the point of making the temple “desolate” (Daniel 9:27). Jesus takes that phrase and shortens it to “the abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15).

The Rapture: The physical removal of the church from the earth. When Jesus comes in the clouds with the souls of believers who have already died, and they are reunited with their bodies in the air, while Christians who are still alive are physically “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess 4:17). This event closes out the church age, and is described in John 14:3, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 .

There are three main views about the timing of the rapture. But remember that all three of these views only make sense inside of premillennialism. In other words, the timing of the rapture is a debate that doesn’t really make sense to post-millennialists or amillennialists.

Post-tribulational: The belief that the rapture happens after the tribulation. The church is raptured, and then returns to the earth immediately to reign with the Lord in the kingdom. This is held by Piper and Douglas Moo.

Pre-wrath: The view that the rapture happens sometime during the second half of tribulation; This view stresses that the first part of the tribulation is the anti-Christ’s wrath on the world, while the second part is God’s wrath. It is the later that the church is saved from. This view is held by James MacDonald.

Pre-tribulational: The view that the rapture will occur before the seven-year tribulation. The church is removed from the earth for seven years, then returns with the Lord at the end of the tribulation. This view is held by MacArthur, as well as the Apostle Paul :).

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Matthew Manchester

    “This view is held by MacArthur, as well as the Apostle Paul.”

    What the heck? No. Not even close.

    I thought this article had merit in “here’s what popular theologians believe.” That last sentence killed it.

    • Come on Matthew…

      Anyway, I added a smiley face. I hope that helps.

      • Matthew Manchester

        Sorry. I truly didn’t realize that it was a joke. Sadly, I grew up hearing that thinking. Sorry for my off-the-cuff response. I’m back to enjoying the article. 🙂

  • Larry

    I like that last sentence. (lol)

  • Larry

    @jesse……I have a quick “off the blog” question. email addy please?

  • The last line is meant as a joke. I obviously am pre-mil and pre-trib, so I think its true…but I added a smiley face because (apparently and disappointingly) not everyone who reads the blog can also read my mind. We’ll have to work on that.

    • Loved it.

    • Frank

      I snickered 😉

    • Scott Welch

      The more apt poster would be the one that says, “Enough you love bacon or you’re wrong.”

  • Drew Sparks


    Loved the last line.

    I hear the term “optimistic” amillennialism thrown around sometimes but am unable to find a clear definition, or its distinction between regular/”pessimistic” amillennialism. Could you please define this as well.

    My understanding is that it is similar to post-mil because it believes everything will get better, i.e. bringing about the kingdom age. Except, they do not believe in a literal kingdom. Would that be correct? Thanks.

  • I agree, I like that last sentence 😉 Thanks for this blog. I have just finished a Revelation study and all of these words were discussed at length. For the record, I am with the Apostle Paul (and apparently you……)….pre-trib, pre-mil. 🙂

  • For the pre-wrath view: also Robert Van Kampen and Marv Rosenthal. The post-trib view was also held by many 19th century classic premillennialists including S.P. Tregelles and Benjamin Wills Newton (who started with Darby and the Brethren movement but later parted from Darby over the rapture timing issue) as well as Nathaniel West — all futurist premillenialists with future restoration of Israel.

    • Yeah, I was going for living pastors.

      • For Pre-wrath view, Marv Rosenthal is still living. Another for the pre-wrath view is Calvinist premillennialist pastor Ryan Habbena.

        I’m not sure that restricting to only living pastors is the best approach. John Piper and James MacDonald are not the best examples for premillennial post-trib. Character/controversy/other doctrinal issues aside regarding these two, John Piper’s premillennialism (not familiar with MacDonald’s premill view) is quite different anyway, so he’s not the best example of futurist premillennialism (including future restoration of Israel) post-trib. For someone from a background of futurist premillenial with restoration of Israel, the 19th century writers are much better for understanding post-trib than Piper or MacDonald.

        But for additional living post-trib teachers: the speakers with Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony (based out of England) — — are another solid recommendation for understanding the post-trib view.

    • 4Commencefiring4

      I love this “pre-wrath” stuff as though “wrath” meant a tribulation period yet future to the 21st century. C’mon, folks, did John the Baptist say, “Who warned you [the Pharisees] to flee from the great tribulation?” Of course not. He was speaking of the judgment of God, which any unbeliever would eventually face and for which repentance and turning to God was the prescription.

      “We are not destined for wrath” means we will not face the tribulation? Anyone living in Paul’s day certainly didn’t face that “wrath”, true–they are dust now. But that verse contrasts “wrath” with its opposite, which is not “tribulation”, but “the obtaining of salvation.” We are not destined for God’s judgment, but His redemption and salvation. That makes sense. But to assert that believers are awarded a Get Out of Jail Free card? Think again.

  • Matthew Hagen

    “This view is held by MacArthur, as well as the Apostle Paul.” Love that.

  • John Azar

    Thank God this is a topic we can debate, but we don’t need to divide over.

  • Paul Abeyta

    That last sentence is funny and you have me interested. What passage(s) make that clear (feel free to ignore this comment if you are planning on elaborating on these definitions in the coming weeks).

    One other question – I know that MacArthur holds pre-mil, but do Piper, Carson and Grudem all hold to dispensational pre-mil? I’m pretty sure that Grudem mentions that he is historic or classic pre-mil in his systematic theology book. Or maybe – in your opinion, is there not a need to make the distinction?

    • Great ? Paul. There is a distinction, but one that is finer than the 101 points I was making above. I’ll save that for 102.

      • Paul Abeyta

        Looking forward to further posts then. This is already helpful.

  • Tim

    You forgot Jon Edwards under post-mil

    • Calminian

      Also wouldn’t all Puritans and anybody before approximately 1840 believe in a post-tribulation rapture because the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture did not show up in secular or church history until approximately 1840? From my understanding the first time this idea came up was from John N Darby in England. This was right around the time of the industrial revolution. Many people at that time saw the Industrial age as the end-times, so Darby used a pre-tribulation rapture to scare people into his church to get saved.

      • 2 things: first I was only listing living pastors/theologians. 2nd, the whole thing about 1840 Darby is not quite accurate, but we should probably just save that till another time. Except to say that its sort of like saying Tulip can’t be biblical because the first time you hear of it is in the 1600’s. My response is that the term Rapture is in 1 Thess 4, but didn’t get translated effectively into English until the 1800’s.

        • 4Commencefiring4

          “Rapture” is in 1 Thess 4? I see “parousia”, but that word is also in 3:13 and 2 Thess 2:8, verses that are alleged to be the 2nd coming. In fact, the NT consistently speaks of the “coming”, the “appearance”, the “revelation” of Christ as a single, world-wide, open event. Nowhere is any sort of “secret” or “quiet” coming mentioned. Jesus said He would “come again” for us, but never hinted that He would come once again after that. Nor do any NT writers.

      • Dave

        Sorry , but that story of Darby is absolute nonsense. Darby had his flaws, as did Calvin,Luther,apostle Paul, but he didn’t invent a theology from nowhere just to scare people into attending his church. He was a great man of God who has done much for the church of today. But we mustn’t judge doctrine on who believes it or introduced it. We must judge a doctrine by scripture alone.

    • Well, I was going for alive people.

  • Allen

    WAIT!!!!! There is another Apostle Paul?!?!?! LOL!!!! JK!!!!! You forgot to mention post-trib……. SPURGEON!!!! Thanks for the post!!!!

  • Barbara

    Hi Jesse, thanks for this post. As a recovered RCatholic I knew nothing of end times, I heard a 12 Week study from a Preterist view, is that the same as Amillenialism? I appreciate many reformed Teachers, but finally landed with John MacArthur after his several months in Revelation teaching. Also, my own Pastor. Reformed baptist and Presbyterians have me confused a bit on this topic. I wonder Pastor Jesse, how important is it to get this down? Some folks I know who hear “so&so” doesn’t believe in pretrib is considered “off ” so they won’t hear anything else they say.. sorta attitude. I want to be open because I am learning much from reformers out there, like at Cripplegate, ref21 gracetoyou and white horse inn,& James White. I’m a fish out of water at my Calvary Chapel Church, so I am trying to beef up my understanding every day. Will you be delving deeper on these differences? thanks

    • Good to hear from you Barbara. We’ll look more at differences between these in the next few months, for sure. Preterism fits inside of amillennialism, although most amillennialists are not preterists. I hope that helps.

  • MarkO

    you write:
    ‘Daniel refers to this event as coming on “the wing of abominations” with the point of making the temple “desolate” (Daniel 9:27)’

    excellent way of describing it.

    i like.

    …and indeed this did happen to the Temple in AD70.

    Jesus predicted it. it happened. He is a true prophet. His words come to pass.

    • Preterist

      It’s taken me a while to get past the dispensational view of eschatology, though I eventually settled in with James Russell and the Preterists. It seems to me that we have a completed record in the Bible that is left for our benefit, but is certainly not written to us. The events described in Revelation (and elsewhere) seem duly fulfilled in the “Day of the Lord” with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be other times of judgment that we’ve view as a “Day of the Lord,” but anyway, I’m convinced that the things I grew up with were/are quite wrong. The Bible starts with the early beginnings of the nation of Israel (not the beginning of humanity per se), and it ends with the end of ancient Israel’s world. It’s a complete record for us to learn from, but the prophetic events do indeed appear to have been fulfilled, as was Christ’s prediction within His time and was the expectation of the New Testament writers.

      Though for those who can’t see these things, competing eschatologies aren’t the end of the world…

      • MarkO

        Umm. So Jesus isn’t going to return as He said He would? If you believe He is not, then I might easily conclude that such a position is a denial of the Faith once delivered to the saints. Dangerous water you swim in my friend. Come back to shore.

  • MarkO

    apparently the Apostle Paul went to the Master’s Seminary.

    • Ha. Well played Mark.

    • elainebitt

      He taught there.

  • Phillip Allen

    This is a nice summation… though not necessarily unbiased. My personal view is omnitrib waitandseeism. Christ and the apostles said we’d face persecution, so I expect that we will. Everyone will know when Jesus returns (no secret comings), and he will judge the quick and the dead. Christ wins over sin, death and Satan, and I get to forever praise Him while basking in His glory.

    As for the details of how that all plays out… Either it will happen in my lifetime and I’ll get to experience it first hand, or it won’t and I’ll get to watch it from the clouds. I would say something about wanting a bucket of popcorn, but I think that’ll be the last thing on my mind!

  • MarkO

    Would you also provide a definition (or explanation) of the Seventieth Week of Daniel? It seems to me that views is on this matter can be the king pin to certain Eschatology positions. IOW, the 70th Week is not a minor component in the study of Last Things. Agree?

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  • 4Commencefiring4

    Interesting that in the only place in all Scripture where a specific reference to this “1,000 years” appears, there’s not any mention of a host of things typically associated with this period of time. Nothing about…

    The nation of Israel, Jews or tribes, the church, fulfillment of OT covenants & promises (Abrahamic Covenant or Davidic Covenant), Jesus on a throne in Jerusalem ruling the nations, a temple with OT ceremonial sacrifices once again in play, the “knowledge of the Lord” being everywhere, all the nations coming yearly to celebrate the “Feast of Booths”, etc. None of that. It’s as though all those things were somehow forgotten. It’s not the “Millennium” of commentaries, not even close.

    What IS mentioned as being true of this period? A few things, and only a few:

    –Satan is “bound”, but is “loosed” for a short time after its conclusion.

    –The “souls of” those killed for their testimonies come to life and life with Christ.
    –The “rest of the dead” come to life after it’s over.
    –Those over whom “the second death has no power” (i.e., believers) reign with Christ.

    And that’s all. No more, no less. Leading one to suspect that…perhaps it’s not being understood correctly? Does it make any sense that, after all the alleged discussion of this millennium in the OT, God would get to the end of the Scriptures and finally get down to revealing the last chapter of human history that we’ve all been waiting for–the much anticipated “age to come”–and then…decline to provide us with the full picture? Rev 20 looks nothing like the millennium we’ve all come to expect.

    Perhaps what we see in the OT is not a future millennium, but the “new earth” that Peter says we are looking for. Jesus didn’t say to look for a temporary pause in our normal business (which wouldn’t fulfill anything anyhow); He instead told us that when He comes, He will sit on His glorious throne and judge the nations, separating them as sheep from goats, rewarding the righteous and condemning the wicked and assigning them to their respective eternal destinies. That’s a far cry from a returning King who sits and rules for 1,000 years and THEN opens the books.

    I think millennial teaching cheapens the glorious Kingdom that Christ came to establish. It posits that God still owes Israel something, despite Joshua 21:43ff and 23:14 telling us plainly that God’s promises to them were fully met when they were given the land of Caanan. Abraham’s inheritance of “the land” in Genesis had a qualifier: “forever.” The millennium is hardly “forever”, and it still features death and, eventually, still another battle with Satan and his forces. This isn’t victory over His enemies; it’s a pause in hostilities.

    No, this isn’t what Christ promised. We have a glorious Kingdom wherein death, mourning, crying, and pain are “former things” and where our former struggles cease; they are not just put on ice for a time. But the new earth fulfills Abraham’s expectations, as it does ours. God is not about temporary stop-gaps. He’s about doing “beyond what we can ask or think.”

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