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Eschatology is a crucial theological issue in our day. The rapture question has particular importance in premillennial eschatology. This volume confronts that question: Does the rapture of the church precede or follow the Great Tribulation? In this book Dr. John F. Walvoord examines the post-tribulationist viewpoint and calls into question its exegetical grounds and hermeneutical validity. The author examines four schools of thought within posttribulationism and challenges point by point the arguments of their ...
Eschatology is a crucial theological issue in our day. The rapture question has particular importance in premillennial eschatology. This volume confronts that question: Does the rapture of the church precede or follow the Great Tribulation? In this book Dr. John F. Walvoord examines the post-tribulationist viewpoint and calls into question its exegetical grounds and hermeneutical validity. The author examines four schools of thought within posttribulationism and challenges point by point the arguments of their leading exponents. This scholarly apologia of the events relating to the second coming of Christ reaffirms the author's conviction that pretribulationism provides the best interpretation of the biblical evidence and demonstrates the most reliable understanding of the Christian's assurance of the 'blessed hope.'
In the history of the church, systematic theology has been a developing science. With this historical development, controversies in various areas of theology have followed, to some degree, the major divisions of systematic theology. In the early centuries the most important theological controversy related to the Scriptures themselves. Some in the postapostolic period, like the Montanists, claimed to have the same inspiration and authority as the apostles who wrote the Scriptures. The early church quickly recognized this as a heresy, and at the Council of Laodicea in 397 the canon was considered closed even though some apocryphal books were later recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.
With the establishment of the Scriptures as the basis of systematic theology, attention soon turned to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Trinitarian controversies occupied center stage. In 325 the approval of the Nicene Creed, recognizing the full deity of Jesus Christ as a distinct person from the Father, set the stage for recognition of the doctrine of the Trinity as it is normally held in orthodoxy today. It was not until the Council of Constantinople in 381 that the Holy Spirit was given His rightful place. Subsequently the church turned to the doctrine of sins and man, although the outcome was less decisive, as evidenced in the findings of the Council of Orange in 529.
Finally, in the Protestant Reformation, the Augustinian concept of justification by faith was restored. With the withdrawal of the Protestant churches from the Roman Catholic Church, not only was soteriology, the doctrine of salvation by grace, firmly established, but important doctrines related to ecclesiology - such as the priesthood of the believer and the right of every Christian to be his own interpreter of Scripture under the guidance of the Spirit - became cardinal tenets of the Protestant Reformation.
In the history of the church, however, eschatology continued to be an unsettled doctrine. Although the early church for the first two centuries was predominantly chiliastic and held that the second advent of Christ would be followed by a thousand-year reign on earth, this interpretation was soon challenged with the rise of the Alexandrian school of theology in Egypt led by Clement of Alexandria and Origen. An attempt was made to harmonize systematic theology with Platonic philosophy. As this was possible only by interpreting Scripture in a nonliteral sense and regarding Scripture as one great allegory in which the apparent sense was not the real sense, much of the literal meaning of the Scripture was lost, including the doctrine of a literal millennium following the second advent.
The early church, as well as orthodox theologians since, regarded the Alexandrian school as heretical and outside the mainstream of biblical theology. The practical effect of the rise of this school of interpretation, however, was to submerge the premillennial interpretation of Scripture.
Nevertheless, in the fourth and fifth centuries, with Augustine, a consolidation was achieved by separating eschatology from other areas of systematic theology. Two principles of interpretation were adopted by Augustine - a literal, historical, and grammatical interpretation of noneschatological passages, and a nonliteral or figurative interpretation of prophetic Scriptures. The result was that while the Roman Church maintained many of the teachings of the Bible, it continued to use a nonliteral method of interpreting eschatology. Thus amillennialism became the accepted doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. With the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers returned to Augustine and built on his method of interpretation of prophecy. The Protestant Reformers accordingly were amillennial and opposed premillennialism.
In the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, with the proliferation of individual churches and denominations, it was only natural that all areas of systematic theology should again be reexamined, including eschatology. Premillennialism, which had formerly included in its ranks some who held extreme views, began to solidify and organize its interpretation of Scripture. This became especially apparent in the last century.
Beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, great prophetic conferences were held, such as the American Bible and Prophetic Conference in America and the Society for the Investigation of Prophecy and Powercourt conferences in the British Isles. Generally speaking, these were sponsored by conservatives in biblical interpretation with the majority promoting premillennialism. Out of this matrix has come a systematic and detailed study of prophecy that has greatly refined the issues and reestablished the doctrine of the second advent of Christ as an important tenet of biblical Christianity. The wide study and discussion of prophecy led to clear understanding of the contrasting views of postmillennialism, premillennialism, and amillennialism.
Major Views of the Second Advent
With the decline of premillennialism after the first two centuries of the early church, amillennialism dominated all major branches of Christianity. Differing explanations were given of prophetic passages that seem to teach premillennialism. The predominant view was that there would be no millennium, or thousand-year reign of Christ, after the second advent, and that the new heavens and the new earth and the eternal state would immediately follow. Passages relating to a kingdom reign of Christ on earth were relegated to the interadvent period and either considered to be a description of the entire period or, as time wore on, of the last thousand years before the second coming of Christ.
In the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation - with the diversity of theological opinion created as Protestantism divided into various denominations and groups - a divergent view of amillennialism known as postmillennialism emerged. Although similar views had been held by various individuals earlier, modern postmillenialism is usually attributed to Daniel Whitby (1638-1726). This new view considered the rise of the church and the preaching of the gospel as eventually being triumphant and ushering in a golden age of a thousand years in which the church throughout the world would flourish. This thousand-year period would climax with the second advent of Christ, much as is taught in amillennialism.
After Whitby, varieties of postmillennialism arose, some being relatively biblical as illustrated in the nineteenth-century theologian, Charles Hodge, and others identifying the optimism of postmillennialism with the organic evolution espoused by liberal theologians such as Albrecht Ritschl, Washington Gladden, and Walter Rauschenbusch. In some cases, postmillennialism became indistinguishable from amillennialism and the terms became almost interchangeable. In general, however, postmillennialism usually adopted a more literal view of the millennium and regarded it as a realistic golden age of spiritual triumph for the church on earth.
During the last century a new variation of doctrine defined the millennial reign of Christ as referring to the intermediate state. This is usually attributed to the Continental theologians Duesterdieck (1859) and Kliefoth (1874). It introduced the new view that the millennium is fulfilled in heaven, not on earth. This interpretation was especially applied to Revelation 20. In the light of various views of amillennialism and postmillennialism, which were evidence of dissatisfaction with these interpretations, premillennialism emerged as a live option.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Darwinian evolution began to penetrate the ranks of postmillenarians. Liberals hailed the theory of evolution, with its easygoing optimism, as the true divine method for bringing in the predicted golden age. Recognizing this as a departure from the faith, more conservative postmillenarians and amillenarians attempted to refute the new evolutionary concept. One of the means used was the calling of great prophetic conferences which were held in the last part of the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth.
Excerpted from The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation by John F. Walvoord Copyright © 1976 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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