Why is there so much disagreement about the end times in the church? How can we all be reading the same Bible when our views are so different from one another? Charles Spurgeon had this to say on all the different books on the end times:
“I do not find many souls have been converted to God by exquisite dissertations about the battle of Armageddon, and all those other fine things; I have no doubt prophecies are very profitable, but I rather question whether they are so profitable to hearers, as they may be to the preachers and publishers.”
I have written my own views here to try to clear up much of the confusion that exists on this subject. Here are my theses on what Scripture teaches on the second coming of Christ:
1. All believers will be resurrected and glorified at the second coming: Matt 13:30, 39-43, 47-50 / Dan 12:2-3; Luke 20:34-36; Rom 8:19-23; 1 Cor 15:50-54; Phil 3:21; 1 Thess 4:16-17; 1 John 3:2 (denied by pretribulationism: believers during the tribulation will not be glorified at the second coming so that they can enter into the millennium with unresurrected bodies and reproduce).
2. All unbelievers will be damned at the second coming: Isa 13:9-11; 26:21; Mal 4:1; Matt 13:30, 39-43, 47-50; 16:27; 24:38-39, 50-51; 25:10-12, 30-46; Mark 8:38; Luke 12:46-48; 13:23-29; 17:26-30; 20:35; John 5:27-29; 12:48; Acts 17:31; 1 Cor 15:24-26; 1 Thess 5:1-5; 2 Thess 1:5-10; 2:12; Heb 10:12-13; Jas 5:7-9; 2 Pet 3:3-13; 1 John 2:28; Jude 1:14-15; Rev 19:20-21; 22:12 (denied by posttribulationism: some unbelievers will survive the second coming and live on into the millennium and reproduce). The one text that could be used to argue against this thesis is Zechariah 14:16. But I would interpret those who survive “of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem” to be symbolic of Gentiles who are brought to faith in Christ and therefore cease their warfare against the church before Christ’s return (Rev 16:4; 20:8).
3. All dead unbelievers will be resurrected and damned at the second coming: Dan 12:2; Matt 12:41-42; 23:39; 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 11:31-32; John 5:27-29; Acts 24:15; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5; 2 Pet 2:9 / 1 John 4:17; Rev 1:7; 11:18 (denied by premillennialism: unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until the end of the millennium).
4. The age to come begins at the second coming which occurs at the same time as the resurrection of believers and the judgment of unbelievers: Matt 13:39-40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48; 1 Cor 15:52 (denied by premillennialism: the age to come begins at the end of the millennium or at the beginning of the millennium but the age to come includes sin, death, marriage, and childbirth).
5. In the age to come, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage: Matt 22:30; Luke 20:34-36 (there is no way to explain where those who rebel in Rev 20:8 come from apart from seeing it fulfilled at the second coming since all believers at the second coming are given glorified and resurrected bodies which do not reproduce).
6. All who are given to the Son are raised up on the last day: John 6:35-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16 (denied by premillennialism: all those who are given to the Son are not raised up together but over two or three different resurrections depending on one’s view of the rapture and separated by a thousand years).
7. The Bible does not distinguish between the rapture of the church and the second coming: Matt 12:41-42; 13:30; 25:10-13; Luke 11:31-32; John 5:27-29; 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48; 17:15; Acts 3:20-21; Rom 8:19-23; 1 Cor 11:26; 15:52 / 1 Thess 4:16; 5:1-4; 2 Thess 1:7-10; 2:1-3; Heb 10:12-13 / 1 Cor 15:24-26, 52-56; 2 Pet 3:3-13; 1 John 2:28; Rev 6:11; 22:12 (denied by pretribulationism since the rapture takes place seven years before the second coming so that saints living at the time of the second coming can enter the millennium and reproduce with unresurrected bodies). In addition, if the second coming occurs seven years after the rapture, then the date of Christ’s coming could be calculated to the exact day by those living in this tribulation period! But the Bible always teaches that the date of Christ’s coming cannot be calculated and will come unexpectantly (Matt 24:36, 42-44, 50; 25:13; Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thess 5:2-3; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 16:15). In light of the popularity of the Left Behind series, if there is an actual tribulation period after all Christians are raptured from the earth, then the people living in this time would all be able to count down the days until the second coming of Christ. Therefore, an eschatology with a seven year tribulation period cannot be the teaching of Scripture or else the date of Christ’s second coming would be known to man. Also, the term parousia or “coming” of Christ is used interchangeably in both rapture passages and with reference to the second coming: Matt 24:3, 37, 39; 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1, 8; Jas 5:7-8; 2 Pet 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28. The pretribulational rapture was invented in the nineteenth century by John Nelson Darby to explain the origin of those who rebel in the millennium. As Hal Lindsey explains:
“Here is the chief reason why we believe the rapture occurs before the Tribulation. . . . If the rapture took place at the same time as the second coming, there would be no mortals left who would be believers; therefore, there would be no one left to go into the Kingdom and repopulate the earth” (The Late Great Planet Earth, 132).
8. Every enemy will be destroyed at the second coming: Isa 25:8-9; 1 Cor 15:24-25, 54-56; 2 Thess 1:7-10; Rev 20:14 (denied by premillennialism: death and sin will live on for a thousand years after the second coming).
9. Creation will be set free at the second coming: Matt 19:28; Acts 3:21; Rom 8:19-22; Heb 12:26-27; 2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:5 (denied by premillennialism: creation will still be subject to the curse for a thousand years after the second coming).
10. The kingdom of God begins at the second coming but flesh and blood cannot inherit it: Matt 25:34; Luke 21:31; 1 Cor 15:50 (denied by premillennialism: flesh and blood [corruptible bodies] will inherit the kingdom set up at the second coming).
11. Christ’s kingdom which is established at the second coming never ends: Dan 2:44; 7:13-14, 27; Matt 25:34; Luke 1:33 (denied by premillennialism: the kingdom which is set up at the second coming only lasts for a thousand years).
12. The marriage supper of the Lamb is for all of Christ’s bride: Isa 25:6; Eph 5:25-32; Rev 19:7-9; 21:2, 9-10 (denied by premillennialism: the marriage supper of the Lamb does not include believers living during the millennium or tribulation depending on which view of the rapture is taken).
13. There are no more martyrs after the second coming: Rev 6:11 (denied by premillennialism: believers and unbelievers live together for a thousand years after the second coming). And what happens to those who die during this millennial period before the resurrection at the end of the chapter if Jesus is already on earth?
14. In light of these truths, where do “the nations” and unbelievers come from in Revelation 20:3, 8 when the Bible teaches that all unbelievers will be destroyed at the second coming?
15. Revelation 20: The second coming occurs multiple times in Revelation: 6:12-17; 11:11-18; 14:14-20; 16:15-21; 18:2-19:9; 19:11-21; 20:7-15 (progression in Revelation is often thematic rather than chronological). The downfall of Babylon, the beast, and the dragon occur in the opposite order in which they are introduced (12-13-17/18-19-20). They all fall at the same time, but each chapter is devoted to just one to explain in detail how they fall. Because there are still unbelievers around during Revelation 20, this is John’s way of informing us that second coming has not taken place yet in this vision. I would interpret the binding of Satan to be symbolic of Christ’s defeat of Satan on the cross resulting in him being metaphorically cast out of the world so that the gospel can be taken to the whole world or Gentile nations (John 12:31-32). Satan’s gathering of the nations to battle against the church is symbolic of his present work of deception in the world even though he cannot deceive the nations with the same kind of deception that he could before the coming of Christ (Rev 16:13-14). Satan is both bound and not bound at the same time and Revelation 20 is symbolic of this paradox (Matt 12:29; 1 Pet 5:8). The background of Revelation 19:17-21 is Ezekiel 39:4, 17 while the background of Revelation 20:7-10 is Ezekiel 38:18-23 which comes before Ezekiel 39:4, 17. This means that both Ezekiel and Revelation cannot be interpreted in a chronological fashion. In light of Ezekiel, the images of birds eating the bodies of God’s enemies and fire falling from heaven both depict the same event in symbolic language from two different perspectives. Since Daniel 7:9-10 is being quoted in Revelation 20:12 when it says “the books were opened,” the events at the end of Revelation 20 take place at the same time as Daniel 7:9-10. And the judgment of Daniel 7:11 occurs at the downfall of the man of sin which is at the second coming of Christ (2 Thess 2:8).
We should apply the same hermeneutic that we use to understand “the first resurrection” as we do “the second death.” Just as the second death is not literal death, but eternal conscious torment as defined by the context, the first resurrection is not literal resurrection, but the translation of the saints from earth to heaven at death to reign with Christ until the resurrection of the dead. The context must determine whether the term “resurrection” is being used literally or metaphorically (Lam 3:63; Zeph 3:8; Dan 11:20; Luke 2:34; John 5:25; Eph 2:6; 5:14). As the second death is not literal death because of the qualification “second,” the first resurrection is not literal resurrection because of the qualification “first.” The wicked experience two deaths (one literal at death and one metaphorical at the resurrection when they are cast into hell) while the righteous experience two resurrections (one metaphorical at death and one literal at the resurrection to eternal life). The first resurrection and second death are metaphorical while the second resurrection and first death are literal. Though believers participate in the first death as unbelievers do, for them it is a kind of resurrection. While unbelievers participate in the second resurrection as believers do, for them it is a kind of death. The first death for believers leads to the first resurrection while the second resurrection leads to the second death for unbelievers. The first resurrection and first death correspond to those which take place during this age while the second resurrection and second death correspond to those which take place in the age to come.
16. Isaiah 24:21-23: The fulfillment of the promise to “punish” them in verse 21 which takes place on “that day” when Christ returns is what occurs “after many days” in verse 22 when they are “punished” forming an inclusio. Therefore, “that day” when Christ returns in verse 21 when the punishment takes place occurs at the end of the “many days” in verse 22 when they are punished and not at the beginning of it. The “after many days” then would be from Isaiah’s time frame until the resurrection when they are punished by being cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15). Being gathered together as prisoners in a pit and shut up in prison is whenever angels and sinners are condemned to hell before the resurrection of the dead (Luke 8:28, 31; 16:24-26; 2 Pet 2:4, 9; Jude 1:6) Compare this passage to 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 6:12-17, and 20:11 which demonstrate that the astronomical changes of verse 23 occur at the second coming and final judgment immediately before the new heavens and new earth.
17. Ezekiel 40-48: Ezekiel’s temple is a symbolic vision of the new heavens and new earth using imagery that the Israelites could understand. The future is depicted as an idealized present using the language of accommodation. Heaven is too much for us to comprehend as fallen and finite human beings on this side of eternity (1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 12:4). Compare the similarities between Ezekiel 40-48 and Revelation 21-22 (Ezek 47:12 and Zech 14:8 with Rev 22:1-2 for example). Ezekiel’s temple will last “forever” and not just a thousand years (Ezek 43:7). The sacrifices in Ezekiel are sin and guilt offerings, not “memorial” offerings (40:39; 42:13; 43:21-22; 44:27-29; 45:17-25; Zech 14:21). In the vision Ezekiel saw, they pointed forward to the once for all sacrifice of Christ just like the other Old Testament sacrifices did (Heb 10:18). Ezekiel also saw the Levitical priesthood (Ezek 40:46; 43:19; 44:15) and the Jewish festivals (Ezek 44:24; 45:17; 46:1-4; Zech 14:16-19) which have been done away with in Christ (Col 2:16-17; Heb 7:11-28). Ezekiel 44:9 and Zechariah 14:21 say no uncircumcised foreigner is allowed to enter God’s temple. But if interpreted literally, this would overthrow the entire book of Galatians which teaches that Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled in Christ (Gal 3:28; 6:15; Eph 2:11-15). We interpret the Old Testament in light of the New and not the other way around. If Ezekiel 40-48 and Zechariah 14 are describing an intermediate period between the second coming of Christ and the eternal state, then why do they stop at the intermediate period and never mention the eternal state which will last forever?
If you are a Premillennialist (whether Dispensationalist or not), there are several things you must necessarily believe:
1. You must necessarily believe that physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming.
2. You must necessarily believe that the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subjected to the curse imposed by the fall of man.
3. You must necessarily believe that the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.
4. You must necessarily believe that unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return.
5. You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.
6. You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.