Victorious Eschatology: a simple summary
A number of years ago, Harold Eberle and myself wrote a book called Victorious Eschatology. Little did we know how many people (especially leaders and teachers) this book would end up impacting.
You can find the book here:
USA customers – click here
UK customers – click here
Canadian customers – click here
Because the book covers a LOT of ground and subject matter, because there are a few sections where myself and Harold hold slightly different positions, and because to many people this is new information, it can seem quite intimidating and complex to many people; but, if you have a simple summary to read first, I think that makes the book so much simpler. So here is my simple summary (it’s long for an article, but only a few pages as opposed to the 300 page book):
The Victorious view of Eschatology.
For the last 2,000 years, the majority of Christians have believed in a victorious eschatology. The word “eschatology” simply means “the study of the last things” – it includes Personal Eschatology (what happens at the end of life – life after death, heaven & hell) it includes Cosmic Eschatology (what will happen at the end of this physical world/universe) and also Covenantal Eschatology (what happened at the end of the Old Covenant)
The Old Covenant came to a full end when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, in AD70, in fulfillment of Jesus prophecy (in Matthew 24). The Old Covenant was rendered “obsolete” by Jesus death and resurrection, but the Jews continued to follow the Old Covenant (the Law code, the sacrifices, the priesthood and the temple worship) for a whole generation. That was 40 years, until it “finally passed away” when it was destroyed in AD70.
The book of Hebrews (written AFTER Jesus death & resurrection but BEFORE the Temple was finally destroyed in AD70), says:
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
So, the Old Covenant was “obsolete” but it didn’t fully “disappear” until AD70. After that there was no more Old Covenant and there is now only the New Covenant, and the Kingdom of God will continue to advance until it fills the whole earth:
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace
Once the Kingdom of God has fully advanced, and all of God’s enemies are made a footstool for His feet, THEN Jesus will return and destroy the last enemy, death:
1 Corinthians 15:23-28
Each one will be raised in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death…. then God will be all in all.
The Rise of the Defeatist View of Eschatology
A man called John Nelson Darby (1800-1882AD) was an evangelist, working mainly in Ireland. He had an accident where he fell off his horse and banged his head on a rock. After this, his family & friends say that he suffered from depression and became increasingly negative and pessimistic. This affected his theology, as he began to emphasize “doom and gloom” and he constantly talked about the world getting worse and worse before Jesus returned.
This wasn’t popular, as most Christians believed that the world will be evangelized before Jesus returns, and the glory of God will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, and God’s Kingdom will continue to increase – and once “all his enemies are a footstool for his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25) then Christ will return. Famous preachers like Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) preached against this “doom and gloom”. Spurgeon said, “The Holy Spirit will never allow the accusation to be made against him, that he was unable to convert the world”.
Darby continued to work on his new theology, and developed it into a system called Dispensationalism. He divided the history of the world up into “dispensations” with each one ending in a disaster or failure – the garden of Eden ended with the fall, the next dispensation ended with the flood etc. So, he expected THIS dispensation (the Church Age) to end with a great apostasy and a terrible world ruled by evil, with only a few true Christians left, who would be raptured away …. seven years before Jesus returns. No one in Church history had ever suggested that we will be “caught up to be with the Lord’ years before he actually returns – the church had always taught that we would be “caught up to meet him in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) when he returns.
Although his doctrines were rejected by most Christians, Darby’s teaching got promoted in the USA. There was a man called Cyrus Scofield. He was a bit of a con artist and a charlatan and had been in trouble for fraud before. He also claimed to be a Christian. He came up with the idea of creating a “study Bible”. He took the King James Version and added into the footnotes the doctrines of John Nelson Darby. He arranged for young men who were graduating from Bible college to become pastors to be given a free copy each – so they started preaching from this Bible and using the footnotes in their sermons. That’s how John Nelson Darby’s teaching got accepted. They inspired every conspiracy theory and end time theory that became popular – ‘Left Behind’, ‘A Thief in the Night’ etc.
The Olivet Discourse – Matthew 24-25
Tribulation within a generation in Judea (40 years)
Jesus predicted that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and “not one stone will be left upon another”. This shocked his disciples, and so they questioned Jesus about it, asking him: “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming and the End of the Age?” (Matt 24:3). Jesus answered that the Temple would be destroyed within one generation (a generation in the Bible is usually 40 years – see Numbers 32:13, Joshua 5:6) and it would happen during a time of tribulation in Judea (not the whole world) which would be accompanied by “signs” (like famine and false prophets) and he told his disciples that “they” would “see the things” (Matthew 24:4ff).
Return “of that day and hour no one knows”
However, Jesus return would be at a time no one knows, at a time no one is expecting him, during a time of peace & prosperity (not tribulation) when people are living life as normal, getting married and working.
Great period of time in between.
Between the time of Tribulation and the final return of Christ, there will be a long time period during which the gospel will be advanced – the church age.
So, Jesus is predicting that:
1. Within 40 years a time of great tribulation would occur in Judea, involving false prophets & messiahs, famines & earthquakes, and the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem and destroying the city and the Temple.
2. Then, there will be a long period of time when we are supposed to discover our talents and put them to use, (parable of the talents), stay filled with the Holy Spirit (parable of the virgins), and advance the Kingdom of God.
3. Then, during a time of peace & prosperity when people are living life as normal (marrying, giving in marriage, working, sleeping etc) Jesus will finally return for the last judgment.
We are living AFTER the time of section 1.
We are living DURING the time off section 2.
We still have to look FORWARD to section 3.
The popular, left-behind, defeatist, Futurist view puts ALL of these prophecies into our future, contrary to what Jesus actually said.
Which generation was the book of Revelation written to?
The book itself clearly says that it is written to a group of seven specific churches – “the seven churches of Asia Minor” (Rev 1:4). These were real, literal churches that existed at the time John wrote his Revelation and sent it to them and it was a warning to them regarding how soon this tribulation period would begin, and how it would affect the Christians in Asia Minor (as well as the Jews in Jerusalem). The book also repeatedly says that its prophecies will be fulfilled “soon” (see Rev 1:1, 22:6). So, it was written to a group of Christians who lived in the 1st Century AD in Asia Minor to warn them about things which would happen soon, within their lifetime. It is not about modern Russia or China or ISIS or any world leaders living today.
Revelation follows the same pattern as the Olivet Discourse. It spends most of it’s sections speaking about what will happen during a time of tribulation, very shortly in the lives of those it is written to (that is in now our past). That will be followed by a long period of time when the gospel will go forth during this present age, and it uses the symbol of “1,000 years” to depict this period (we currently live in this time). It then shows that after this current age, Jesus will return, there will be the final resurrection and final judgment, and new creation.
The Beast – Nero (chapter 13)
Emperor Nero hated the Christians, executed them in great numbers and in very barbaric ways, beheaded many of them, including Paul, set up a huge statue to himself in Rome and many smaller statues of himself in the marketplaces in Asia Minor (the pagan priests – beasts from the earth – used mechanical tricks and ventriloquism to make the statues move and speak) – no one could enter the market places to “buy or sell” unless they had stood before Nero’s statue and wiped incense ash on their forehead and say “Cesar is Lord”. His own subjects referred to him as “the beast in Rome”
The Harlot – Jerusalem (chapter 18)
Israel was supposed to be God’s wife in the Old Testament (similar to the Bride of Christ in the NT). However, numerous times God calls Israel an adulteress and a harlot, and often calls the actual capital cities by name (Jerusalem and Samaria – see Ezekiel 16 & 23). Jerusalem was once a faithful city, but it became a harlot – Isaiah 1:21. In Revelation, the harlot is called “the great city” and is also called “Babylon” and “Sodom and Egypt” and is clearly called “the city where the Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:8) so it can only be Jerusalem who rejected their messiah.
The Bride – the church (chapter 21)
the people of God, who have embraced the “kingdom” – God’s new world and new way of living, which is emerging in our midst; think about the parable of the wedding in Jesus Olivet prophecy, where the “bridegroom” is depicted as Christ, or these verses:
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
The Virgin & Dragon – Mary and Herod
All of these constellations are mentioned in this chapter:
Crown of 12 stars = think 12 constellations of the zodiac
The constellation Virgo – the virgin
Constellation Draco – the dragon, the devil, working through political dictators
Planet Jupiter and star Remiss = a King
Constellation Leo – Judah/Judea
The devil worked through a “head” of state (Herod – who was an Edomite, whose national colour was red, and who tried to kill the baby Jesus as soon as he was born)
The 1,000 Years – the age we are in – the Advancing kingdom
In the Bible, 1,000 years has a symbolic meaning – it means “everything”. So,
1,000 hills = all the hills (the cattle on 1,000 hills belong to God – Psalm 50:10)
1,000 days = all the days (a day in God’s house is better than 1,000 elsewhere – Psalm 84:10)
1,000 years = all the years (all the years from the first coming of Christ until his return)
Satan is bound (restricted) by Jesus first coming (Mark 3:27, Rev 20:2)
Satan will be destroyed by Jesus second coming (Matthew 25:41, Rev 20:10)
The First Resurrection is spiritual – the new birth (Colossians 3:1, Rev 20:5)
The Second Resurrection is physical – the new body (1 Corinthians 15:44, Rev 20:12)
We are seated with Christ in heavenly places now (Ephesians 2:6 & Rev 20:4)
So, most of Revelation, (like most of Matthew 24) has already been fulfilled, we are now living in the days of God’s advancing Kingdom, and the return of Christ, resurrection of the dead, final judgment and new creation have still to take place.
The types & shows and examples that we see in Revelation still apply to us today (just like the Old Testament and the 4 Gospels still speak to us today, even though they happened in the past) but the actual EVENTS they are predicting happened “very soon” after the book was written, in the First century AD.
The Last Days and the End of the Age
We do NOT Live in the “Last Days”. These are NOT the “End Times”. When the Bible speaks of the “End Times” is is ALWAYS speaking about the “End of the Age” – not the end of the world, but of the “Age”. When the Bible speaks of the “Last Days” it is ALWAYS speaking of the “Last Days of the Age” ….. not the Last Days of our current Age, but the Last Days of the Age that was coming to an end THEN. It is very, very easy to prove that this is true – simply go through every New Testament reference to “the Last Days” and read it in context.…. every passage says that Jesus and the first apostles, and early Christians in the first century AD, lived in the “Last Days’.
Acts 2:17 – Pentecost happened in “the last days”
“Peter said: What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.”
Hebrews 1:1 – Jesus teaching ministry took place during “the last days”
“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. But now, in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son”.
1 Peter 1:20 – Jesus death took place during “the last days”
“God chose Jesus as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake”.
2 Timothy 3:1 – Timothy would be experiencing difficult times in the “last days”.
“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.”
James 5:3-4 – James warns people in his day that those were the last days
Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.
Jude v17-19 – Jude said that the people who were THEN troubling the church were the “last days”scoffers who had been foretold
In the last days there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit
1 John 2:18 – John wrote this when he was the last remaining member of the 12 disciples, and by that time it wasn’t just the “last days”, it was the “last hour”!
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
The Rapture and the Resurrection
Sometimes people think that partial preterism (the major eschatology teaching of the whole church over 2,000 years) teaches that Jesus isn’t coming back or that he already came back. That is not true. Jesus will return. Partial Preterism teaches that the “Tribulation” that Jesus predicted would happen in Judea, resulting in the Temple being destroyed, has already happened (in AD70) – and it also teaches that some times when the Bible talks of the coming of the Lord it is not talking about the second coming (for example Jesus said he will come and get us … that’s at death when we go to heaven John 14:3, so not all “coming” verse are about the Second Coming – the context tells us what its about).
The three big events that have still to be fulfilled are the Return of Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Final Judgment. The only things that have already been fulfilled are those things which the Bible said would be fulfilled within a generation, or “very soon”.
Jesus WILL return, and when he does, every eye will see him (we wont be whisked away in secret)
We will be “caught up” to meet him in the air (raptured, if you prefer that word, but it happens AT the second coming of Christ, not years before it).
The dead will rise – all the dead, both saved and unsaved, will be raised at the same time in the general resurrection.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.