Biblical Views of the Future
In his article, I’ll describe the most prominent views of the future that have been proposed by Bible scholars. That statement itself may come as a surprise to some. Many people are aware of only one possible view of the future. For the first few years that I was a Christian, I was aware of only one view. I initially adopted this view because it was the basis for the Left Behind books, which led to my conversion to Christianity. As time went on, I continued believing this view to be correct, not because I found it unambiguously stated in the Bible, but because the dozens of pastors I followed told me it was true.
In 2008, I began meeting Christians who held different views of the future. My friends implored me to read books explaining these views, but I resisted. I was content to believe that we were living in the last days before the return of Jesus. I was elated at the fact that, at any moment, the rapture would happen, and the church would be removed from this dark and depraved world. But in 2008, everything changed. At least for me.
In 2008, I had a dream (if one could call it that) where I met God, and He asked me to pray for my patients. I happened to be a cessationist at the time. I didn’t believe in miracles. That soon changed, along with some of my other beliefs. Since then, I’ve had a thousand dreams, many of which have portrayed future events. Very few of these dreams showed a world slipping into darkness and judgment. Most of them offered a hopeful glimpse of the future.
One factor that gives rise to different views of the future among believers is the passages of scripture we choose to emphasize and the ones we choose to ignore. A second factor is our mode of interpretation. There are different ways in which the Bible can be read and understood. One is the literal approach, where most passages are taken to be literally true. Another is the figurative approach, where the text of scripture is interpreted symbolically. Some systems of theology impose a symbolic interpretation on most of scripture, even passages where the subject seems to be spoken of literally.
Another difference comes from the way in which we assign significance to historical events. Some believe that most or all of the passages describing the destruction of the earth and God’s wrath on mankind have already taken place. Others see these events as future. There are also differences in how we interpret the fulfillment of prophetic passages from the Old Testament, how we interpret Christ’s prophecies about the end of the age, the timing and nature of His return to the earth, and the role and timing of Christians in reigning on the earth. Another point of debate concerns God’s future plans for the physical nation of Israel and His purposes for the Gentile church.
There are many seemingly contradictory statements in the Bible about God’s plans for the future. These apparent contradictions can be an obstacle to those who wish to view the scriptures in unambiguous terms. It isn’t necessary to take an “either-or” position. The “both-and” view is a suitable alternative. The Old Testament portrayed the Messiah as both a suffering servant and a conquering King. While Jews were unable to resolve these apparent contradictions, Christians found the divine paradox to be a beautiful illustration of God’s multifaceted nature. We should not be afraid to evaluate the individual merits of apparently contradictory views.
Now let’s look at some of the main views of the future. We’ll begin with descriptions of three general views; futurism, historicism, and idealism, and then look at specific views within each of these categories.
Futurism teaches that most prophetic passages of the Bible have yet to been fulfilled. This view generally teaches that a period of tribulation will mark the end of the age, a literal Antichrist figure will appear, and that God has separate plans for the Gentile church and the nation of Israel.
Historicism teaches that most of the Bible’s prophetic passages have already been fulfilled, including most of the book of Revelation. This view does not hold to a period of tribulation, a specific person as the Antichrist, or the belief that God’s plan for Israel is different from His plan for the church.
Idealism teaches that the events described in prophecy are neither past, present, nor future, but are intended to symbolize spiritual principles. In this view, prophetic passages illustrate the battle between the forces of good and evil. This view is associated with amillennialism—the belief that there is not a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth. Amillennialism teaches that Christians are currently reigning with Christ in a symbolic way.
Covenant theology proposes that there have been two main covenants since the creation of man. The first covenant was the covenant of law. Mankind’s representative, Adam, failed to live up to the covenant’s terms and was condemned. The newer covenant of grace was not between God and man but between members of the Godhead. The Son agreed to live in a way that fulfilled the first covenant. He became man’s representative in the new covenant and those who trust in Him for their righteousness are brought into the covenant of grace.
Dominion (Kingdom) theology
Dominion (or Kingdom) theology teaches that the church has been commissioned to establish God’s kingdom rule in the earth during the present age. Dominionism takes the command God gave to Adam to rule over the earth as a literal mandate that was never revoked. This view sees believers as kings, priests, and ambassadors of God, sent to destroy the kingdom of darkness and advance the kingdom of God in preparation for the return of Jesus, who will ultimately rule with them.
In this view, history is divided into periods or “dispensations,” where God tests man’s obedience in different ways. The dispensational periods are usually described as those of innocence, conscience, civil government, promise, Mosaic law, grace, tribulation, and millennium.
The pre-millennial view teaches that most prophetic passages of scripture have yet to be fulfilled. In this view, God has separate plans for the church and the nation of Israel. Pre-millennialism teaches that a 7-year period of tribulation is approaching where an Antichrist figure will be revealed, and the earth will fall into greater darkness before the visible return of Christ to the earth. His return will be followed by His literal thousand-year reign with the resurrected saints. Slight differences exist between several pre-millennial views. These differences are related to the timing of the removal of the church from the earth (the rapture) in relation to the 7 years of tribulation. These views are described as pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation (some theologians include a pre-wrath distinction).
Pre-tribulation adherents believe that the removal of the church from the earth (the rapture) will be followed by seven years of tribulation. During this time, the Antichrist will arise, and a final battle will occur. Jesus will return to earth and reign for a thousand years, followed by last judgment and the creation of a new heaven and earth.
The mid-tribulation view is similar to the pre-tribulation view, except that it divides the tribulation into two three and one-half year periods—the second half being the Great Tribulation. In the middle of the seven years, the church is taken into heaven to escape the Great Tribulation.
The post-tribulation view says that the church will be kept by God’s grace through the entire 7-year period of tribulation. Believers will be given their glorified bodies in order to meet Christ as he comes to earth to defeat the Antichrist at the battle of Armageddon and establish his millennial reign.
The preterist view holds that most of the events of the book of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century A.D. In this view, prophetic passages in both the Old and New Testaments are thought to speak of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Preterism underpins postmillennialism, which proposes that we are currently living in a non-literal thousand-year period of time that began in the first century. The two main schools of preterist thought are called full preterism and partial preterism.
Full preterists believe that the second coming of Christ occurred after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., fulfilling the prediction of Jesus: “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34) That promise included His second coming.
Partial preterism holds that most biblical prophecies, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the rise of the Antichrist, and the Great Tribulation were fulfilled either in 70 A.D. or during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire. However, the Second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead have not yet occurred in the partial preterist view.
There are many biblical views of the future, including ones not mentioned here. Some are extensively detailed. Some leave many subjects open for debate. I’m less convinced today that my original view was correct. As I’ve evaluated other theories, it’s apparent that all the major views have gaping holes in them that cannot easily be reconciled. These problems are why eschatology is not a settled issue.
Twenty years ago, I lived in constant anxiety over the teaching that the world was progressively becoming darker. This idea is not objectively apparent. It’s something I was taught, and in fact, it’s not true at present. During the 20th century, a succession of world wars and the rise of dictators who fit the description of the Antichrist caused people to believe that pre-millennialism was the correct view of the future. The rise of the new world order caused more people to adopt this view.
When you analyze deaths from war and other signs of societal decay, you find a surprising fact. Since the end of World War II, been living in a time of relative peace. While it’s true that there have been almost constant smaller wars since World War II, the death toll from these wars is minuscule in comparison. Since he was elected, President Trump appears to be taking an axe to the new world order. If he manages to dismantle this corrupt power structure and if he can end the wars overseas, it ought to cause Christians to go back to their Bibles and rethink their view of the future.
It’s remarkable how passionate we can be about our religious beliefs—even the point of speaking harsh words toward those who hold different views. It’s common these days to accuse someone who doesn’t share our view of “denying the truth of the bible,” but such accusations aren’t necessary, and many times they’re untrue. All the views presented in this article are biblical. The differences between them are not a matter of “right” or “wrong,” “biblical” or “unbiblical.” Perhaps you’ve found a view that you identify with. Maybe you see validity in several views. I’d encourage you to consider the strengths and weaknesses in all of them and weigh each one carefully.