Here it is in all it’s glory. The long-awaited paper. Keep in mind that the rule regarding usage of first person was suspended for this paper because it is my own personal views.
David G. McDowell
Professor Dan Lewis
April 13, 2004
When a person takes it upon himself to write about his eschatology, it can be a very challenging endeavor. What is written in this paper has not come about by anything less than a serious study of Scripture and a great deal of time. I can honestly say, this has probably been the most difficult paper I have ever had to write in my college career because so much of my theology has shifted very dramatically in the past five years. For all who read this, friends and family (as well as my professor) that may be offended or taken back by my beliefs, I can only be true to what I believe the Scripture says and continually ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. I hope you will understand that this paper is a product of that study.
I became a Christian on October 25, 1994, in the gravel pit parking lot at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. As I began to grow spiritually, one doctrine that I firmly held was the doctrine of eternal security. I just did not see from Scripture how a person could lose their salvation. However, I began to notice that the rest of my theology was inconsistent. I began a long study of Scripture that really has never ended. I began with the doctrine of eternal security (which I later called “perseverance of the saints” which I believed was a more accurate term) and I moved backward to become what has been called a five-point Calvinist.
My struggle from that point began to be with dispensationalism. I realized that dispensationalism was rather incompatible with Calvinism. I also observed that dispensationalism relied very heavily on eschatology. If one accepts dispensationalism, one accepts a very literal view of Scripture and comes to certain inevitable conclusions about matters of eschatology. In other words, how one approaches the interpretation of the Bible as a whole greatly effects the outcome of one’s interpretations of specific passages.
Dispensationalism accepts a very literal view of Scripture. According to one website, “…this means that dispensationalists interpret scripture as normally as possible. If the language is plainly figurative, such as Isa. 40:13, it is interpreted figuratively. But if the language is not figurative, it is interpreted to mean just what it says.”1 Another website says this: “Dispensational theology grows out of a consistent use of the hermeneutical principle of normal, plain, or literal interpretation. This principle does not exclude the use of figures of speech, but insists that behind every figure is a literal meaning. Applying this hermeneutical principle leads dispensationalism to distinguish God’s program for Israel from his program for the church. Thus the church did not begin in the OT but on the day of Pentecost, and the church is not presently fulfilling promises made to Israel in the OT that have not yet been fulfilled.”2 In other words, the promises made to Israel cannot be claimed for the church today. It divides history into a series of dispensations where God reveals new revelation. These dispensations follow in chronological order: Innocence, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace (Church Age), and Kingdom. However, dispensationalists do disagree on the number of dispensations and the name for each one.
The mechanism that provides the evidence for this view is found in the doctrine of progressive revelation. Rogma International’s website says, “A dispensationalist contends that the Bible is not an exposition of a complete revelation but the story of a complete revelation progressively unfolding.”3 A dispensationalist would see each dispensation as a certain amount of time that God chose to reveal himself in a certain way. C.I. Scofield, whose reference Bible popularized dispensationalism in the United States, defines a dispensation as …”a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.”4
Covenant theology does not accept such a literal view of Scripture. Webster’s defines “covenant” as “1 : a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement : 2 a : a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action b : the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract.”5 Based on the immutability of God, it sees history as through one covenant, the Covenant of Grace. This overriding covenant is derived from several other covenants (or sub-covenants to the Covenant of Grace). Just as dispensationalists disagree on the number of dispensations, covenant theologians sometimes disagree on the number of covenants. These covenants include the Edenic Covenant (Genesis 2:15-17), Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14-19), the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3), the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9), the Mosaic Covenant (Genesis 17:1-27), the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7), and finally the New Covenant. Each covenant builds upon the preceding one culminating with the New Covenant fully realized in the death and resurrection of Christ. For instance, in the Edenic Covenant, Adam and Eve are given the entire garden with the exception of the one tree. However, Eve disobeyed and then also Adam. After this, in the Adamic Covenant, women would experience pain in childbirth and man would have to work for food among other things. Also, the proto evangelium or “first gospel” 6 in Genesis 3:15 was uttered promising a seed to restore the Edenic Covenant.
The Noahic Covenant is a covenant that God made with Noah and his descendents. According to a website, “According to the conditions of this covenant, G-d promised never to flood the earth again the rainbow [sic](Gen. 9:11-15). The nations/Gentiles were given animal life as food(Gen. 9:2-3); forbidden to eat blood or flesh from a living animal (Gen. 9:4); forbidden to murder(Gen. 9:5-6); required to administer justice in accordance with G-d’s Law (Gen. 9:5-6);and required to procreate(Gen 9:1, 7).”7
The terms of the Abrahamic Covenant are found in Genesis 17:1-27. The same website says, “This covenant is an ‘everlasting covenant’ (Gen.17:7,13,19), is for all generations of Jews(Gen.17:7, 9,13,19) and is not nullified by later covenants (Gal.3:15-17). According to the conditions of this covenant; every male must be circumcised on the eighth day (Gen.17:10-14); G-d would make a multitude of nations from Abraham (Gen.17:4-6); G-d would have a special relationship with Israel (Gen.17:7-8); and G-d would give Israel the Land of Canaan (Gen.17:8).”8
The Mosaic Covenant (or Covenants, depending on how it is viewed) was given in two stages. The first was at Mt. Sinai and the second was in Moab. This covenant is what we would call “the law” and its conditions can be found in the Torah. In the Davidic Covenant, the throne of David is promised to endure forever. As you can see, each covenant builds upon the one before it and all are rich with messianic overtones. In particular, the Abrahamic covenant is unique because God promises posterity, land, and a blessing for the nations. Not only this, but the writer of Hebrews and Paul, in his epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans, explained that believers were the seed of Abraham.6 Because of the way this is viewed by covenant theology, there is only one people of God. The saints of the Old Testament and the Saints of the New Testament are both the people of God. Thus, the Church is the spiritual Israel. However, the promise of land is not to be viewed as literal for Christians, but rather a symbol of a new country.10
Dispensationalism seems to ignore the genre of Jewish apocalyptic literature, particularly the level of symbolism used in the genre. There are passages that were possibly written sounding literal, but in actuality could be highly symbolic. To accept a literal interpretation as “normal” unless there is no evidence to suggest otherwise seems to be quite an assumption. On many passages that dispensationalists interpret as normal, there is compelling evidence to show otherwise. However, in some instances, dispensationalists do seem to accept symbolism in some areas, such as the seven churches in the book of Revelation, but are often dogmatic on the symbolism, an inconsistency of their position. On the other hand, covenant theology allows for the unknown and is even comfortable with it on many points. This seems to be a much more consistent position and bases its conclusions on the grace of God rather than simply periods of time.
Dispensationalism also seem to offer a sort-of delayed materialism regarding literal riches in heaven. This also leads to belief of the delay of the kingdom of God, pushing it into the literal thousand-year millennium in the future instead of the present time. Covenant theology does not divide time like this and accepts that the kingdom of God is unfolding here and now and will unfold to a greater extent in the coming new heaven and new earth.
In order to fully understand the genre of prophetic and apocalyptic literature and thus come to a proper eschatological conclusion, you must take into account both the Old and the New Testament as well as some apocryphal and pseudopigryphal works. For instance, “the day of the Lord” or “the day of Yahweh” is often referred to in many of these books. It does not always refer to simply apocalyptic events, but rather contains both a near future and a far future meaning. This is called a double entendre. The near future interpretation is often the judgment on unfaithful Israel by the exile, but it probably also refers to a universal cataclysmic judgment on the world by disintegration of the universe, the salvation of God’s people, the victory of God’s armies, and universal peace. In addition, the terms “in days to come,” “in the last days,” and “in that day” are fluid and in Hebrew semantics includes both the near and the far or indeterminate future.
One of the most debated books of the Old Testament is the book of Daniel. There are three views of the book of Daniel. The first is the Maccabean view. This view is held by scholars of a more liberal persuasion. In this view, the book of Daniel was written prior to the Maccabean revolt in the second century B.C. in order to spur on the revolt. The four metals that are in Daniel 2 represent the divided kingdom of Alexander the Great between the Ptolemies and the Selucids. The “little horn” is Antiquis Epiphenes. The seventy weeks of Daniel begin with the first seven weeks beginning at fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The next 62 weeks, which the Maccabeans accept as a symbol of length, begins in 538 B.C. when Cyrus of Persia issues an edict to restore Jerusalem. The final week begins in 171 B.C. with the execution of Onias the High Priest climaxing in the great sacrilege of Antiochus Epiphanes erecting a statue to Zeus in the temple and culminating in the Maccabean revolt in 164 B.C.
Dispensationalists hold to a different view that there is a fifth metal or kingdom, that of a revitalized Roman empire of the future, the government of the antichrist who is the ”little horn.” The ten kings of Daniel 7 are the confederation of ten kingdoms that constituted this government. The first seven weeks begin in 445 B.C. at the edict from Artexerxes. The next 62 weeks begin at the completion of Jerusalem and go until the beginning of Jesus ministry. Then there is a mystery period until the last week which is the literal seven-year tribulation followed by a literal thousand year reign of Christ.11
The classical view, the view that I hold to, is that the book of Daniel was written around 500 B.C. The ten horns are the ten Roman Caesars from Julius to Titus. The little horn is Vespacian, who won the ceasarship over the other three “Caesars.” The Iron/Clay is the spiritual kingdom of Christ and the silver is that of Medo-Persia. The Bronze is Greece and Iron represents Rome. Daniel’s 70 weeks began in the 400’s B.C. at the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem. 12
Using this historical background while moving into the New Testament, one could better understand how the New Testament passages are translated. For instance, another controversial passage regarding the end times is the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 12. The passage begins by the disciples pointing out the temple buildings to Jesus. Jesus then said to them, “”I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”13 The disciples then came to Jesus privately and asked him about what he said. “’Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”14 It is very interesting to note that the disciples asked two questions. The first was when would “this” happen. The second was what would be the sign of the coming age. I believe that the “this” that the disciples are referring to is the moment of time when not one stone will be left on another which is referring to the destruction of the temple. This happened in A.D. 70 when Titus destroyed the temple while crushing a Jewish revolt.
Right in the middle of chapter 24, there is a dramatic shift from what seems like a soon-coming event to apocalyptic language. I believe that this is when Jesus switched from talking about the destruction of the temple to the end of the age. There is also a strong possibility that Jesus could have been using a double entendre.
Of course, the crux of New Testament Eschatology seems to be centered on the book of Revelation or the Apocalypse of John. In addition to be being part of the biblical canon and thus the inspired Word of God, the book of Revelation is a literary masterpiece. Its images and symbols have stumped theologians going on two thousand years and its theological depth has yet to be brought to full fruition. Seeing that eschatological language is highly symbolic, I believe that the book of Revelation should be taken that way. After reviewing many points of view that this book could be taken, and there are many, I believe that the best way to interpret the book of Revelation is as a progressive parallelism. This is opposed to the popular American form of dispensationalism. By definition, this is the “viewpoint that interprets the Revelation of John as the same story repeated 7 times, each with symbols.”15 This “same story” begins in the New Testament era and does not end until Christ’s return. Theologian William Hendriksen is one of the largest proponents of this view of Revelation. The seven divisions are shown in the following chart:
(Amillennial Approach to Revelation)
Chapters 1-3 Vision of Seven Churches
Chapters 4-7 Vision of the redeemed and the seven seals
Chapters 8-11 Vision of 7 trumpets and 2 witnesses
Chapters 12-14 Vision of the woman, the dragon, the beast and the lamb
Chapters 15-16 Vision of 7 plagues
Chapters 17-19 Vision of Babylon
Chapters 20-22 Vision of the Holy City
This is the basic amillennial approach to the book of Revelation. The term “amillennial” means literally “no millennium,” but this perception is not actually true. Because of the progressive parallelism approach, chapter 20 would begin at the beginning of the New Testament era. This would mean that we are currently in the millennium. The only place the millennium is mentioned in the entire Bible is in Revelation 20:1-3. It reads:
1And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
Notice in this passage that Satan is bound, but nowhere in the passage does it say he is powerless. The inevitable question arises about the word “bound..” It also mentions in verse three the words “locked” and “sealed.” If Satan is not powerless, why use these specific words? As mentioned before, amillenialists do not accept an entirely literal view of Scripture. They would say that this is a symbolic view of the power of Satan in the church era. However, the Greek would suggest that not only could the word mean “to bind,” but also “to forbid, prohibit, declare to be illicit.”16 In other words, rather than being physically bound, Satan could be simply forbidden from deceiving the nations. Anthony Hoekema helps to put this in perspective as well as tell us about what is meant by deceiving the nations:
What is meant, then, by the binding of Satan? In Old Testament times, at least in the post-Abrahamic era, all the nations of the world except Israel were, so to speak, under Satan’s rule. At that time the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s special revelation, so that they knew God’s truth about themselves, about their sinfulness, and about the way they could obtain forgiveness and salvation. During this same time, however, the other nations of the world did not know that truth, and were therefore in ignorance and error (see Acts 17:30) — except for an occasional person, family or city which came into contact with God’s special revelation. One could say that during this time these nations were deceived by Satan, as our first parents had been deceived by Satan when they fell into sin in the Garden of Eden.17
According to Hoekema, that changed when Jesus issued the Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28. The Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all nations. Hoekema adds this thought:
At this point one can well imagine the disciples raising a disturbing question: How can we possibly do this if Satan continues to deceive the nations the way he has in the past? In Revelation 20:1-3 John gives a reassuring answer to this question. Paraphrased, his answer goes something like this: “During the gospel era which has now been ushered in, Satan will not be able to continue deceiving the nations the way he did in the past, for he has been bound. During this entire period, therefore, you, Christ’s disciples, will be able to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations.”18
This has by no means been an exhaustive review of amillennial theology, but it is meant to offer a challenging alternative belief to popular dispensationalism. This has indeed been a challenging paper to write. In a very short time, I have watched as my theological views regarding eschatology have shifted to what I believe is a more consistent position. One cannot stress the importance of a consistent position. Indeed, what a person believes regarding dispensationalism and covenant theology will have a dramatic effect on what their beliefs are. One also remember that the Bible is filled with many genres or writing, prophetic and apocalyptic being only two. In order to treat the Word of God with the respect that it deserves, proper attention must be paid to the hermeneutic of each genre. Proper attention also must be paid to the historical context of the writing as well as the participants involved.
Most importantly, when disagreements occur, and they will, Christians must unite under the common ground that Jesus is coming back again. That is the most important eschatological truth.