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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Spatha

Apocalypse: A Beginner's Guide to the End

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

The phrase The End Times invokes awe, wonder, fear, confusion, and skepticism. Eschatology has become a divisive subject in the Church due to entrenched doctrinal differences as well as con-men and charlatans who have made dubious predictions and maligned the topic via guilt by association. But the theological implications of eschatology are enormous and the volume of content on the subject in scripture is difficult to ignore. An overview of the apocalyptic scriptures and their implications therefore is vitally important for every believer—even if it is somewhat uncomfortable.

Importance of Prophecy

Many question the importance of the prophetic and apocalyptic passages in scripture. There are several reasons for downplaying both the meaning and the gravity of these warnings, but we must realize that none of them are consistent with biblical teaching. One might argue that some have been led down a problematic path of date setting or mystical theology due to their focus on such passages and therefore claim it is a slippery slope that is best to avoid—akin to the warning against doctrines which produce idle speculation found in 1 Ti 1:3-4. However, this argument ignores the fact that many have been led astray and have developed bad theology and heretical ideas from the rest of scripture as well (2 Pe 3:16). Yet we still teach from those texts and passages, so this is not even a logical argument, let alone biblical one. Scripture is clear that we are to be aware of the prophetic events recorded in its text and be on the lookout for their fulfillment, but Christians are tempted to ignore this command due to fear, ignorance, apathy, or skepticism. We are so engrossed in our daily lives, that Jesus’ return seems distant or irrelevant—but it's important to note that this attitude isn’t just indifference, it’s sin (Luk 12:45-46).

End times prophecy was being recorded thousands of years ago to a generation that hadn't yet even witnessed Christ’s first coming, yet God deemed it pertinent to speak those words to His prophets even at that time. How much more so are these words relevant for us in this day and age? Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven being at hand (near) and He scolded the Pharisees for not being aware of the signs of the times (Mat 16:2-4). Jesus also spoke through many parables about being on the watch and ready for His return (Mat 24:42-51, Mat 25:1-13, Luk 12:35-38 et al). The apostles and New Testament writers were equally clear—hardly a single letter was written that did not include a warning of the end times and a challenge to be ready. Even Jesus’ birth was a lesson in prophetic awareness—the Jewish shepherds who should've been watching and waiting had to be told by angels the Messiah had been born while the Gentile wise men were aware of the signs of the times and were ready.

But what is the practical importance of prophecy? First of all, God is outside of time and sees all events in human history simultaneously. His plan for creation and redemption is always in motion and He, being the relational Father that He is, wants to communicate that plan to us as clearly stated in scripture (Amo 3:7). But the communication is also intended to spur us into action, to partner with God in His plan (Jas 2:26). Jesus didn’t redeem all mankind, He made their redemption possible and then called us to partner with Him in the redemption process (Mat 28:19-20). God uses the very thing that caused death and destruction in His perfect creation—mankind—to redeem it. Not because we are worthy or capable, but because He loves us and wants to share with us the joy of redemption. Christianity is not a spectator sport nor does it foster a fatalistic worldview—the idea that God’s will is done all the time regardless of our actions.

Fatalism is a very Islamic worldview which has probably crept into our faith simply because it’s very convenient as it requires nothing of us. Fatalism places all the onus on God—He does everything and we’re just along for the ride. But this is not biblical Christianity—or even biblical Judaism. Biblical Christianity is a covenant with God, a relationship that requires the bride of Christ moving with her Bridegroom to accomplish His will. This can be seen throughout the biblical texts from Old Testament conditional promises (“if you do that, then I will do this”) to Jesus teaching his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” In other words, God’s perfect will is done in heaven, but not always on earth—we have to pray and partner with God to bring it to pass. Scripture says we are the body of Christ—His hands and feet, His ambassadors, His salt and light. We are working with our Father to redeem all of creation.

But Christians have often accepted a fatalistic, predetermined view of the end times and the return of Christ rather than a dynamic participatory one. They think the clock is set, God has ordained it, and there is nothing they can do to affect His return. Scripture says something quite different however. When asked about Christ's return, Christians often take the “no man knows the day or hour” response as meaning it is set but unrevealed rather than the exact timing is actually unknowable due to dynamic factors. Jesus explained to His disciples of what to be on the lookout for as signs indicating the nearing of His return (wars, famine, earthquakes etc.) but called them all “birth pangs” (Mar 13:8). There is no precise schedule for a birth—a woman can be in labor for minutes, hours or days—but contractions are certainly a sign that a baby is on the way sooner rather than later. But what is telling is that Jesus also gave a very clear response to the question of when He would return saying, “This gospel must first be preached to all nations and then the end will come” (Mat 24:14, Mar 13:10). In other words, we play a dynamic part in determining when Christ returns by being faithful to complete the task which Christ left us. Just like a woman in labor, there are things in which we can do to help or hinder the birth, to speed up the process or to slow it down. Ultimately the baby is going to be born, but we do have some influence on the timing. Jesus said our influence was world missions—get the gospel to every nation and His return would come sooner. Procrastinate, and His return would come later. As Peter says in his second letter, we're not waiting on Christ to return—He's waiting on us.

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” ...The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. -2 Pe 3:3, 4, 9

The Beginning of the End

Before we go any further we need to understand that we are indeed living in the "last days." However, the biblical definition of this phrase is important to define as it relates to the entire period of time between Christ's first and second coming, not just the time immediately prior to the return of Christ. The "last days" are not literal days in apocalyptic texts, but are metaphorical with a prophetic "day" traditionally understood as a year in some contexts—such as in the book of Daniel—but also interpreted as a period of a thousand years. It is this latter usage which applies to the term the latter days as currently two prophetic "days" have elapsed since Christ ascended into heaven and left His church behind to finish the task He began. Many believe that Genesis and the creation week establish the biblical timeline of seven prophetic "days" equaling 7,000 years of human history. Others are skeptical of this claim, but there is certainly an internal logic to this interpretation with the millennial (1,000 year) reign of Christ being the final "day" of history—the sabbath established and foretold in the creation week event in Genesis. This interpretation leans heavily on a premillennial eschatological view—that the 1,000 year reign of Christ mentioned in apocalyptic texts is both literal and has not yet occurred. We'll cover the three major millennial views later, but first let's look at the biblical evidence for the day/millennium argument in the context of prophecy.

Most are familiar with the passage in 2nd Peter which makes the plain text connection between a day and a thousand years (2 Pe 3:8), but it is important to note that the context of that verse is the promise of His return. Indeed the whole of 2nd Peter 3 was discussing the second coming of Christ which was the major theme present in the entire book. So it is reasonable to note that within this prophetic context, the day/millennium connection is important. It also isn't a recent doctrine—it's literally as old as the church itself. The writings of Barnabas (companion of Paul) from the first century clearly establish this doctrine in The Epistle of Barnabas chapter 15 when he writes, "Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, He finished in six days. This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifies, saying, Behold, today will be as a thousand years. Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished."

Of course the early church got this idea from the Jews, who to this day maintain a (reconstructed) Hebrew calendar which differs from our modern Gregorian calendar in several ways. It is a lunar rather than solar calendar, but more importantly it is not broken into BCE and CE timelines, rather it counts each year starting from Adam. The Gregorian year 2020 CE (or AD if you prefer) is the Hebrew year 5780—that is, the supposed 5,780th year since Adam was created. Now this calendar was reconstructed in the 12th century by the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, so though it is the official calendar used today in Israel, it is not necessarily an accurate number. I stress this point to avoid the temptation for some to argue that in precisely 220 years we will enter the beginning of the prophetic 7th "day" and the millennial reign of Christ as date setting is extremely problematic and explicitly unbiblical. That disclaimer aside, it should be clear that the provenance and logic of the day/millennium argument is well established as the classical Jewish sources—the Talmud, Midrash, and even the extreme sectarian Kabbalistic texts of the Zohar—all align on this idea of 6,000 years of human history before the coming age or "day" of the Lord where the Messiah reigns from Jerusalem.

Now the principle of Shabbat—the Sabbath rest—is not just tied to the 7th day of the weekit was tied to cycles of seven. For example, in the 7th month of the Hebrew calendar was a seven day long Shabbat called the Feast of Booths (Lev 23:33-36). The 7th year was also a Sabbath year in the Old Testament, called the Shmita (Ex 23:10-11). This principle extended out to many multiples of seven as well, including the year of Jubilee which was every 49 (7x7) years.

You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field. On this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his own property. -Lev 25:8-13

In the New Testament era, we celebrate Pentecost as the day the Holy Spirit came upon the church, which occurred 49 days, or seven weeks after Christ's resurrection. There are also 490 year cycles alluded to in scripture (70x7), so this Sabbath principle runs deep. Therefore, it is perfectly logical and consistent to view the 7th millennium of human history as a Shabbat, a "day" of blessing where all the earth rests from its turmoil and the final "day" before a new age begins—the destruction of the heavens of the earth and the creation of all things new.

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

Throughout scripture Israel, and subsequently the Church, are spoken of as a bride and the relationship in terms of a marriage. This analogy becomes even more apparent and revealing when you examine the ancient marriage custom of Galilee, which is where Jesus' disciples were from, where the vast majority of Jesus' ministry took place, and where his first miracle was performed—at a wedding. This marriage custom was of course well-understood by Galileans, but as they were also unique to Galileans, the biblical parallels and sequence leading up to Christ's return for His bride are missed by the modern reader.

In Galilee, a marriage was initiated by the groom-to-be, but was a public affair which took place at the city gate with the father of the groom officiating the betrothal. Gifts were exchanged by the families, with the most extravagant reserved for the bride. But while the groom-to-be initiated the proposal, he could not guarantee it would result in a marriage—the bride-to-be had full rights of refusal. The groom would offer her a cup of wine—called the Cup of Joy—and the bride could choose to drink from the cup and accept him, or she could choose to reject the cup. The marriage was not arranged, nor did the fathers or families ultimately make the decision, it was the decision of the woman to accept a suitor's proposal and enter into covenant with him, or reject it. The bridegroom first chose the bride, but his love for her could only result in a marriage if she accepted him. Sound familiar?

If the bride accepted the groom by drinking of the Cup of Joy, he would then respond, “You are now consecrated to me by the laws of Moses and I will not drink from this cup again until I drink it with you in my father’s house.” This custom should also sound familiar as Jesus clearly uses it at the last supper with His disciples. After offering them a cup of wine and telling them it symbolized a new covenant He was making with them, He then said, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on, until that day that I drink it with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mat 26:29). Jesus was speaking as a bridegroom to a bunch of Galileans and when we participate in communion, we also are participating in the symbolic betrothal to Christ, drinking of the cup and saying "yes" to the bridegroom by entering into covenant with Him.

But the wedding doesn't happen immediately after the betrothal in this ancient tradition. Instead, the bridegroom leaves his bride for a lengthy period—often a year or more—in order for him to prepare a place for them in his father's house and in order for her to ready herself for the wedding ceremony. The groom would literally go to his father's house and build a new addition, adding rooms and furnishing it with everything he and his bride would need to start their new life together. The bride and groom would not see each other again until the wedding. Remember Jesus' words in John?

"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." -Joh 14:2-3

But while the groom prepares a place for his bride in his father's house, the completion of his task does not determine the wedding date. In fact, the groom doesn't determine the timing of the wedding at all, his father does. Furthermore, the father doesn't announce that date—he and he alone knows the day and hour which the wedding will take place. Again, this should sound very familiar to Christians as Jesus once again draws from this tradition in the book of Mark.

"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come." -Mar 13:32-33

You see, Galilean weddings were surprise weddings. The groom must prepare a place and the bride must prepare herself, but once everything was ready, the father would wait and then one night, would wake his son and tell him it was time to go get his bride. The groom would leap up, gather his wedding party, and run through the streets sounding a trumpet (shofar) alerting the whole town—and specifically the bride—that the wedding was about to begin. The bride would have to be ready and waiting each night, sleeping in her wedding gown, remaining pure and vigilant so that when she heard the trumpet sound, she and her young bridesmaids (virgins) would be able to receive the groom. Then the groom and his party would lift the bride into the air on a litter (small chair with poles attached for transport, similar to the ark of the covenant) in a procession called "the flight of the bride" and take her away to his father's house for the feast and ceremony. This wedding custom sheds a lot of light on passages talking of Christ's return.

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. -1Co 15:51-52

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. -1Th 5:1-6

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins (bridesmaids), who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the prudent answered, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.' But he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour." -Mat 25:1-13 

The reason the bride, the bridesmaids, and all the guests had to be ready each night for the trumpet to sound and for the bridegroom to come is because once the wedding feast began, the doors to the house were shut, and no one could enter or leave for seven days. We must understand that eschatology is ultimately about the bridegroom coming for His bride. That is the focus of the "consummation of the ages," so we must keep our eye on the prize amidst all the signs, vivid imagery and visions, and interpretations of prophetic utterances.

The Different Views of Interpretation

Now, we must understand that there are different ways to read prophetic, and particularly apocalyptic, texts. There are four main hermeneutical approaches to these passages: the historic view, the preterist view, the futurist view, and the idealist view. Without going into great detail, the historic view of eschatology reads the apocalyptic texts as events which unfold throughout history on a grand timeline. The preterist view reads apocalyptic texts as events which have already been fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD and are therefore only part of church history. Many who hold this view even believe Christ's second coming has already occurred. Due to overwhelming historical and textual evidence that the book of Revelation wasn't even written until decades after the destruction of Jerusalem and zero mention anywhere in church history of Christ's return, the preterist view is the weakest and most difficult to defend. The futurist view reads apocalyptic texts as events which will only be fulfilled around the return of Christ while the idealist view reads apocalyptic texts as not actual events, but rather metaphors which can be recognized as symbolic spiritual truths throughout history. It should be noted that though this article is written primarily from the futurist view, each of these views have some merit depending on the text. Often, multiple hermeneutical approaches can apply to the same text as prophecy often has both near horizon and far horizon implications with types and shadows often setting up the ultimate fulfillment. There are indeed passages which appear to be symbolic, some passages which appear to be fulfilled, some which seem to have an unfolding fulfillment throughout history, and others which appear to be future, unfulfilled events. So be aware of all four of these interpretive tools, and be willing to consider all available evidence to see which one is most applicable for any given text.

Given these different hermeneutical approaches and the fact that not everyone will agree which one is most applicable to any given passage, consequently there are differing views or interpretations of apocalyptic literature. The millennial reign of Christ on earth has been interpreted at least three different ways in the Church as a result. The more literal (and futurist) interpretation, which ascribes the "day" of the Lord as being a thousand year period after He returns as described in Revelation chapter 20, is called the premillenial view—meaning Christ returns before the millennium. That is the premise of this article of course, but it is important to understand the two other views—amillenialism and postmillennialism— which many Christians, historical and modern alike, have adhered to. Each of these frameworks centers on a short passage in Revelation (Rev 20:1-10) and the implications of how one interprets it.


The amillennial framework asserts that the millennium described in Revelation 20 is a metaphor for Christ's current reign in heaven. As such, it began at Christ's ascension and ends at His return. By the time of Augustine (4th-5th century AD), amillennialism had become the dominant view of the church and it is still the dominant view of the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. It is also held by many Protestants as it was the view ported over by many of the reformers, including Luther. This view holds that in the last 2,000 years, Satan has already been bound and defeated and that the resurrection of the dead in Christ isn't a future event, but rather an ongoing process which happens as soon as a believer dies.

And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war. -Isa 2:4

And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed... When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. -Rev 20:2-3,7-8

The main objection with this view is that one of the main attributes the apocalyptic texts describe of the millennial reign is a time of unprecedented peace on earth, and the last 2,000 years simply have not borne that out. Rather than Satan being bound and God's will being done on earth with weapons of war being turned into farming tools and all nations being at peace, we see the exact opposite. Indeed, the bloodiest wars in all of human history have almost all been fought since Christ ascended into heaven. WWII in the 20th century saw over 70 million people killed, the Mongol conquests of the 13th century saw 30-40 million killed, the Manchu conquest of China in the 17th century saw over 25 million killed, the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in the 16th century saw over 24 million killed, the conquests of Timur in the 14th century saw 10-20 million killed, and WWI in the 20th century saw over 17 million killed.

In stark contrast, the casualty numbers of notable wars before Christ's ascension pale in comparison. The conquests of Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC only saw around 100 thousand killed, the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC saw only around 140 thousand killed, and the combined deaths of the first and second Punic Wars of Rome in the 2nd and 3rd century BC saw only around 1.5 million killed. One may argue that war frequency or total numbers of wars are a better metric than war death counts, but this would not cast the last 2,000 years of human history in any more of a positive light—it has been two millennia fraught with bloody conflict. This should not surprise anyone as one of Jesus' warnings of the signs of the times was the increase of wars and rumors of wars. So Jesus' own words really make interpreting the millennial reign of peace as His reign from heaven in the church age questionable.

That is not to say that amillennialism has no merit however—clearly there are some elements which amillennialism rightly emphasizes. Amillennialism points to passages like John 12:31, Colossians 2:15, Hebrews 2:14-15, and 1 John 3:8 which allude to Christ coming to destroy the works of the enemy and establishing the Kingdom of Heaven. I agree that Christ's first coming began that process, I just don't think that process has yet culminated and indeed won't be completed until after Christ's second coming when His enemies will finally be crushed underneath His feet and all the nations will be under His rule and reign. Again, my argument against this position would not be just doctrinal or theological in nature, but rather evidential—it is difficult to observe the world today and conclude the Kingdom of Heaven is fully in authority, the will of God is being done on earth as it is in heaven, and that the power of Satan is not at work. In fact, it's hard to even say any of that about the Church today, let alone the world.


The postmillennial framework asserts that, like the amillennial view, we are currently in the millennial reign of Christ. Where postmillennialism differs is that it believes that during the church age, the Kingdom of Heaven is expanded and therefore the "millennium" will become an increasing golden age of spiritual prosperity with uplifted social, economic, political, and cultural life. In other words, the world gets better and better and will eventually enjoy a state of righteousness and peace never before seen. Once righteousness and peace is established by the Church during this period, only then will Christ return—hence the post-millennial nomenclature. The “arrival” of the kingdom is thus gradual and brought about by the slow, steady advancement of the Church until eventually, all the world’s population will be converted to Christ. This is a very optimistic view which essentially takes Christian Triumphalism from the personal, to the global level.

This framework again runs aground of reality where the last 2,000 years have not seen a decrease in sin and wickedness, nor have we witnessed an increase in righteousness and peace in the world. While the frequency of major wars have decreased over the last two-thousand years, the total bloodshed has dramatically increased. Though Christendom has certainly expanded over the last two millennia, the idea that global righteousness will steadily improve before Christ's return actually contradicts both Jesus' and Paul's warnings in the New Testament which specifically predict an increase of wickedness in the last days.

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”... “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because wickedness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." -Mat 24:3, 9-13

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these... Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. -2 Ti 3:1-5, 12-13

Both amillennialism and postmillennialism seem to suffer from what is often called over-realized eschatology where Christians seek to claim all the benefits in the present age that we will have when Christ returns. Theologians refer to the “already, and not yet” mindset of the New Testament and this is an incredibly important concept to understand. After Christ's first coming we may have all the benefits and privileges in Christ, but they are not yet fully realized until Christ returns. So as believers we are stuck in between advents in a transitional period living with one foot in both the old age, and the other foot in the age to come. This reality is alluded to by Paul when he stated, "When the perfect comes, the partial will be done away... For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known" (1 Co 13:10, 12).

But again, postmillennialism is not without merit. It does acknowledge a biblical and historical reality that God's kingdom and government is growing and expanding in the world (Isa 9:7). So we can acknowledge the kernels of truth in this view while also acknowledging that the framework as a whole appears to be flawed and problematically optimistic. Indeed, any outlook which tends to either remove or downplay the reality of suffering in the life of a believer and creation as a whole until Christ's return is, at best, a rather naive expectation.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. -Rom 8:18-23


The premillennial framework is unique in that it is the only one of the three major views which does not assert that we are currently living in the millennial reign of Christ, but that it is a future reality which we are eagerly awaiting. This framework asserts that the millennium begins at Christ's return and takes a decidedly more literal and chronological approach to Revelation and other apocalyptic texts. Some have argued that this view is a recent invention of the Church and therefore should not be taken seriously, but there is certainly evidence of this view dating back to antiquity. As already shown, clearly the writings of the early church fathers such as Barnabas in the 1st century alluded to a premillennial view. Second century church fathers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus also held a premillennial view. But while the provenance of doctrinal views holds some value, the more important test of any doctrine should be its hermeneutical integrity as ultimately it doesn't matter which idea is older, it matters which idea fits all available evidence better. It is important to note however, that like most doctrines and theologies in the Church, the premillennial view has certainly changed and developed throughout the centuries. As such, there is actually a distinction made between two versions of this view—Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.

As the name would imply, Historic Premillennialism is the older of the two views and the one held by the aforementioned early church fathers. It differs from Dispensational Premillennialism in that it sees no distinction between the Church and Israel and therefore takes on a Replacement Theology flavor where the Church becomes the "new" Israel. Dispensational Premillennialism on the other hand makes a distinction between national Israel and the Church in the end times as well as believing national Israel is at the center of most of the apocalyptic texts. A secondary distinction between the two versions is the placement of the rapture. Historic Premillennialism tends to place the rapture at the end of the 7 year tribulation period while the Dispensational variety tends to place it at the beginning.

Criticisms of premillennialism exist too of course. Besides the odd argument of when it was first proposed in the Church, some criticize the idea that in premillennialism, sin and death still exist after Christ's return and establishment of the millennial reign, which they argue conflicts with 1 Corinthians 15, particularly 1 Co 15:20-25. This is a strange point to take issue with however, as both the amillennial and postmillennial view share this supposed problem as they claim we are currently living in the millennial reign of Christ and yet it is quite apparent that sin and death exist in it. Understanding that Revelation 20 describes that the final judgement and destruction of death itself doesn't happen until after the millennial reign reconciles this supposed conflict.

Another criticism is that at least the Dispensational variety of premillennialism places too much geopolitical emphasis on national Israel in the end times. This is also a strange argument as it has little to do with textual or hermeneutical criticism with the position. What is most odd about this criticism is that if you read all of the apocalyptic texts, it is abundantly clear that the focus of the entire narrative centers on the geographic region of Israel. From the four kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Dan 2:31-45) foretelling of empires which would rule over the the Middle East until Christ's return, to the list of nations which the Antichrist will conquer or war against, to the geographic home of the Antichrist himself which both Isaiah and Micah call The Assyrian, it is very clear where the epicenter of every apocalyptic vision lies. What's more, the Dispensational view was developed in the 1800's—long before the nation of Israel was reestablished in 1948—so it can hardly be argued that this view was political in nature.

One very valid criticism of premillennialism is its penchant for false predictions and date setting. As the only eschatological view which places many of the apocalyptic events recorded in scripture in the future rather than in the past or present, this is somewhat understandable even if it does produce some unfortunate side effects. However, this is like criticizing evangelism because of the guy with a bullhorn ranting on a street corner—bad examples are not good rebuttals. This rather intent focus on prophetic events should not be scorned however—the New Testament is replete with instruction for believers to be aware of, and on the lookout for the signs of the times. It should not however produce a consistent or repetitive state of mass hysteria and constantly be making false or contrived equivalences and crying wolf. This does indeed do a great disservice to the Church. But while the premillennial view may be guilty of making some tenuous connections with the present or future to prophecy, so too is the amillennial and postmillennial views with the past. Trying to paint historical events as fulfillment of apocalyptic texts is often just as dubious and contrived as trying to paint current events as such. If you're straining to shoehorn historical or current events into prophetic contexts, the reality may very well be that the clear and obvious fulfillment is an event which has not yet occurred.

The Issue of the Rapture

There is of course the question of the rapture which is often tied to a premillennial framework. An amillennialist or postmillennialist would question the need for any rapture at all as their views either remove, downplay, or shift the timing of the calamitous events described in apocalyptic texts. Indeed if they either aren't as severe as would seem if taken at face value or if they have already occurred, there is little need for a rapture of the Church. However, if many of the apocalyptic events are truly as described in scripture and have yet to transpire, it would make sense for God to save the righteous from such calamity just as He did with Noah before the judgement of the flood and Lot before the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Another criticism is that the idea of a rapture creates an apathetic mentality in the Church as believing they won't be around for the end times causes them to disengage. This argument has some validity, but it presupposes a pre-tribulation rapture within the premillennial framework, which is not at all a given. What the arguments against a rapture struggle to address are the passages of scripture which definitely seem to allude to such an event.

“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life..." -Dan 12:1-2

And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. -Mat 24:31

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. -1 Co 15:51-52

...and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. -1 Th 1:10

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. - 1 Th 4:16-17

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. -2 Th 1:6-8

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads"... After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands... “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." -Rev 7:2-3, 9, 14

While some assert that the idea of a rapture was invented in 1830 by John Nelson Darby, there are clear historical references that prove the rapture was indeed taught by church fathers long before Darby—in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, the 3rd century by Cyprian, and the 4th century by Ephraim the Syrian. Darby does indeed appear to be the one who developed, or at least popularized the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture, but there are several views as to when the rapture will happen within the premillennial framework. Despite the recent popularity of books like The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series, the pretrib view isn't the only game in town, but rather competes against three other views—a post-tribulation rapture, a mid-tribulation rapture, and a pre-wrath rapture.

While certainly experiencing a surge in popularity among evangelicals, the pre-tribulation rapture isn't necessarily the best fit either for the texts which appear to describe it, or for the greater theological and missiological themes in scripture. As much as we'd all like to get out of Dodge before calamity strikes, scripture does not promise that believers will be spared from tribulation—quite the opposite in fact (Mat 24:9, John 16:33, Acts 14:21-22, Rom 5:3-5, Rom 8:35, Rom 12:10-13 et al). What scripture does promise is that believers will not suffer the wrath of God as Christ bore it in our stead (Rom 5:9, 1 Th 1:9-10, 1 Th 5:9). This is critically important as it is only the events described in the seventh seal of John's Revelation which are stated to be God's wrath—seals one through six are simply tribulations. In fact, seals one through five are really the consequences of man, sin, and the actions of the Antichrist, then the sixth seal is the pivotal moment where God darkens the sun, turns the moon blood red, and causes a great earthquake putting everyone on notice that His wrath is about to be unleashed (Rev 6:12-17). It is here, in the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal where the Angel of the Lord gathers up all the righteous in Revelation 7. This sequence of events directly parallels Jesus' words in Matthew 24 and the apocalyptic vision in Joel 2.

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." -Mat 24:29-31

“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls." -Joel 2:30-32

But a pre-wrath rapture doesn't just fit the biblical sequence better, it fits the overall narrative of scripture better. God doesn't just bring wrath and judgement upon people, He also brings warnings and calls to repentance. Remember that Noah didn't just build an ark to prepare for his own escape from God's judgement, he also preached (2 Pe 2:5) according to Jewish and Christian tradition (recorded by Josephus and Philo), giving anyone who would listen a chance to repent. Likewise God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them of the coming judgement and call them to repentance. So it would seem odd that God, in His redemptive mission through the Church, would remove the Church—and hence His witness to the world—in the hour in which the world will be in its greatest need and potentially in its most receptive state. But with a pre-wrath rapture, there is no break in the presence of God's witness to the world—the Church is here until the seventh seal and the two seemingly immortal witnesses of Revelation 11 are sent during the seventh seal to maintain that witness.

So the pre-tribulation rapture does seem to misplace that event in the biblical sequence and does indeed seem to disengage believers and give a false sense of security. It also tends to produce a fatalistic mentality due to the doctrine of imminence—the idea that Christ could return at any moment—rather than instill an evangelistic and missiological work ethic to save as many souls as possible and complete the Great Commission so that Christ can return. But while a pre-trib view may be a bit hopeful and optimistic, a post-trib view is a bit meaningless. Not only do believers have to suffer the wrath of God meant for unbelievers (specifically the Antichrist and his followers), but the rapture itself is a bit of a non-event (sometimes referred to as the "yo-yo rapture") due to being caught up in the sky only to immediately be brought back down to the earth to reign with Christ—which is one of the reasons why amillinnialists and postmillennialists tend to not believe in a rapture at all. A mid-trib view also doesn't seem to offer a clear purpose, but rather just seems to offer a compromise between the pre and post camps. The pre-wrath view on the other hand seems consistent theologically as well as textually while serving a clear purpose—though certainly no one would complain if the pre-tribulation rapture position ends up being correct. But this seems like a situation where the "hope for the best, plan for the worst" kind of mentality would really benefit the Church.

The Apocalyptic Sequences

As you read Revelation and other passages of apocalyptic texts, patterns begin to emerge and sequences become apparent. However, what often happens in the Church is that particular events mentioned in the prophetic scriptures are viewed in isolation from their context which leads to many false correlations, predictions, and alarm. A good example of this would be the recent focus on the blood moons which caused quite a stir in the Church. The problem with this method of evaluating current events in light of prophetic texts is that it ignores the sequence in which those events occur. Blood moons in and of themselves are not particularly rare or interesting (even four of them). When such an event would be important to take note of is if it happens in conjunction with the sun being darkened and a great earthquake. Has that ever happened before? Then ask, has it ever happened after an intense season of Christian martyrdom, which followed an intense season of war and famine which claimed the lives of nearly a quarter of the earth's population? Because that's the blood moon we need to be looking for.

Therefore, while there is much debate on how to properly interpret apocalyptic literature, what is often lacking in the discussions is looking at the overall prophetic sequence rather than trying to find (or predict) events which line up with specific prophetic warnings. So rather than attempt to make tenuous connections, let's instead zoom out to see the bigger picture, structure, and sequence of Revelation.

As you can see in this first chart, according to the premillennial view the "Last Days" begin at Christ's first coming while the final "day" begins at His second coming and ends at the Judgement of the Great White Throne. There are many, many Old Testament and New Testament apocalyptic texts, but the book of Revelation is certainly the most comprehensive record we have, drawing from and often compiling other prophetic passages of scripture. As such, we can use Revelation as the big picture framework of the Last Days and then see where other passages zoom in, confirm, and bring greater detail and understanding of a particular event in the sequence.

What is both interesting and immediately obvious about the seven seals of Revelation is that they are written very sequentially and therefore one seal often requires the previous seal in order to come into play. But despite this fact, some argue that it is impossible and unwise to develop timetables or chronologies around these events. Certainly setting specific dates around these events is unwise, but the visions are clearly sequential and ordered very specifically just as the seven days of creation were. However, while parts of Revelation appear to be written rather linearly or sequentially, that does not mean that every section of the book of Revelation is—prophetic texts are glimpses into the future and are often fragmented descriptions of a larger panoramic canvas (1 Co 13:9-12). So it is also obvious upon reading Revelation that there are several different visions described in its pages which give insight to different times and events in human history. Fortunately these breaks which shift from one vision and begin another are fairly obvious even to the untrained eye. These segments are broken down into visions about the churches, the seals, the Christs, the bowls, the judgement of the Antichrist, the millennial reign, and the new heavens and earth as outlined in the above chart.

As we read these visions it is quite obvious that the events depicted within them are fairly sequential or chronological, but not necessarily the order of the visions themselves. There are some segments which overlap or seem to occur concurrently with other segments and this is why many doubt that any timeline could possibly be formed—because they are frustrated by the lack of continuity between these different visions rather than looking at the continuity within them. So here we shall give a brief overview of each vision, explain how they overlap, and where they likely fit on the timetable.

The Seven Churches

The letters are obviously an encouragement to the church prior to the tribulation alerting them of the trials ahead as well as the reward for those who overcome (a phrase repeated in every letter). Some argue that each letter is written to the church of a certain age or season in time and that they are chronological. There seems to be some merit to this reasoning as this is definitely a prophetic passage and reads in a particular order. If so, this passage covers the entire church age from Christ’s ascension up to the time of the tribulation beginning with the breaking of the first seal. So the prophetic letters and the seven seals are two segments which appear to be chronological in order, though there may be some overlap between the last letter and the first seal. Assuming the historical framing of these letters, the last letter to the church of Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22) might be of particular relevance to the church today.

The Seven Seals

Revelation chapter 4 then introduces the book with the seven seals and continues on through chapter 11. This vision gives us the biggest overview of the end times period and begins with the first seal either at the end of, or during, the last church age of Laodicea. It ends with the seventh trumpet which ushers in the millennial reign of Christ. It is important to note that the seventh seal itself is simply the beginning of the seven trumpets of judgement (Rev 8:1-2). The seven trumpets are not a separate vision or set of prophecies, they are a detailed account of the seventh seal as Revelation chapter 8 clearly states. The first part of Joel also neatly parallels the vision of the seven seals and then goes on to cover the millennial reign.

The Christ & Antichrist

After the seventh trumpet of the seventh seal concludes in Revelation 11, we are whisked back in time to the birth of Christ in Revelation 12. Here we are given one of the signs in the heavens that appeared around the season of Christ’s birth which the wise men followed. Then in Revelation 12:3 another sign appears—a great red dragon which swept a third of the stars from the sky with his tail. This passage has long been used to calculate how many angels followed Satan and rebelled against their creator. This is because stars are symbolic of, and synonymous with, angelic beings in Jewish literature. This sets up the contrast between the true Christ and the Antichrist who is then introduced properly in Revelation 13. While chapter 13 coincides with the rise of the Antichrist depicted in the first five seals of Revelation chapter 6, Revelation 14 seems to cover the same time frame of the sixth and seventh seals depicted in chapter 7 as it begins with the 144,000 saints with the Lamb’s name written on their foreheads which is most likely the same 144,000 recorded in Revelation 7 in the vision of the seven seals. And just like in chapter 7, which records a great harvest right before the seventh seal is broken, chapter 14 likewise records a great harvest (Rev 14:16-17) before the wrath of God is poured out in Revelation 14:18-20.

The Seven Bowls of Wrath

Revelation 15-16 then detail the vision of the seven bowls of wrath which is an expounded view of the wrath poured out at the end of chapter 14. While some may view them as a separate series of events, it seems clear from the context that they actually take place simultaneously with the seven trumpets of the seventh seal. To really see this synchronization, just look at the similarities between each trumpet and each bowl. As the Wrath Timeline Overview chart below clearly shows, the visions of the seven trumpets and the seven bowls both seem to describe the same events with only minor differences in perspective and detail—similar to the differences found in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Doom of the Antichrist & the Return of Christ

The next section of prophecy recorded in Revelation chapters 17-20 foretells of the Antichrist’s doom and Christ’s victory. As this vision takes place in the time frame leading up to Christ’s return and the millennial reign found in Revelation 20, chapters 17-19 must take place during the same time as the seventh seal of the seven trumpets and seven bowls. Chapter 17 goes into detail of the identity of Babylon and her crimes as well as an explanation of the seven heads and ten horns imagery—the most important being the ten horns symbolizing kings over ten kingdoms that in the period of the seven seals, will give over their authority to the Antichrist. Revelation 18 foretells the fall of Babylon while Revelation 19 foretells of Christ’s return and the marriage supper of the Lamb. Chapter 20 then depicts the millennial reign of Christ from Jerusalem and the final rebellion of Satan and those who follow him at the end of that millennium, after which comes the resurrection of all the dead (minus the righteous who were resurrected at the return of Christ who have already been given their glorified bodies) and the day of judgment.

The New Heavens & Earth

The last section of prophecy in Revelation 21-22 foretells a completely new creation. The current heavens and earth have been destroyed and God’s perfection without the blemish of sin is restored. At this point in time Sheol/Death/Hades, Satan, and all those deceived by him have been cast into the lake of fire—the second death. This is heaven as most Christians use the term, but it does not come directly after one’s death—it is a future place that has not yet been created and won’t be until all the prophecy of the seven seals, Christ's return, the millennial reign, and the day of judgment are fulfilled. For more information on this framework, you can read the article, Understanding the Underworld: Hell, Hades, Death, & Sheol.

Two Theories on the Beast

Before we move on, it should be noted that there are two main theories on the kingdom of the beast or Antichrist and they hinge upon how one interprets a passage in Daniel. The passage of course, is the famous dream of king Nebuchadnezzar of the statue made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and iron mixed with clay found in Daniel chapter 2.

“You, O king, were watching and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary radiance, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its chest and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You continued watching until a stone was broken off without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed to pieces all at the same time, and they were like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the entire earth." -Dan 2:31-35

Daniel went on to interpret the dream and identified the head of gold as Babylon, the chest and arms of silver as Medo-Persia, and the belly and thighs of bronze as Greece. However, Daniel does not identify the kingdom which came after Greece—the legs of iron. He also does not identify the reconstituted feet of iron and clay. Daniel's silence here opens the door to speculation as theologians attempt to find historical kingdoms which seem to fit the description and context given in Daniel. The dominant view in the Western church of course is that Rome was the fourth kingdom of iron and therefore its Western spiritual descendant—particularly the European Union—is the kingdom of iron mixed with clay. As such, the Western church shifted the end-times focus away from the region of the Middle East and on the Western world—which should be rather conspicuous. But with Rome inserted in Daniel, a Western Antichrist is assumed in Revelation with many suspicious eyes on the Vatican.

Many will cite Rome being split into the Western and Eastern empire as correlating to the two legs, but remember that the thighs were made of bronze and the Greek empire was not divided into two. Also, the silver section was the chest and arms of the statue, but we don't claim two arms equate to a bifurcated Persian empire either, so it would be incredibly inconsistent to interpret the legs (knees and shins) of iron in this manner. Daniel did not point out any particular features of each empire here other than the metal which represented them, so we should be careful not to read too much into it. Some may argue we can read into it because the feet of iron mixed with clay have ten toes which aren't mentioned, but which correspond to the ten horns Daniel describes in his vision a few chapters later. That sounds reasonable at first, until you realize the arms of silver also have hands with ten fingers. So again, cherry picking features to read significance into isn't advised—the interpretation either applies to the whole or not at all.

But while Rome is a convenient fit for the Western world as it presumably inserts us into significant events, historically it doesn't align with the epicenter and the main theme of the dream—kingdoms which would come, conquer, and consume the kingdom of Babylon. While Persia and Greece clearly conquered the kingdom of Babylon, Rome never did. Rome did establish an outpost in the city of Babylon for a brief period of less than a year, but it never conquered the entire kingdom of Babylon and even its short-lived outpost was tenuous and quickly abandoned. The vision in Daniel chapter 7 which corresponds to the dream found in chapter 2 however, may provide further clues.

"I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion but had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and set up on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and they said this to it: ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns." -Dan 7:2-7

Again, the first beast is clearly Babylon as winged lions were highly symbolic of that kingdom. The bear then again represents Persia with the three ribs in its mouth being the kingdoms of Babylon (modern-day Iraq and Mesopotamia), Lydia (modern-day western Turkey), and Egypt, which it conquered. The four-winged and four-headed leopard then represented Greece, which splintered into four kingdoms after the untimely death of Alexander the Great. That then leaves us with the fourth beast, which like in Daniel chapter 2, again is associated with iron. This beast Daniel states, was dreadful, terrible, and was different from all the other beasts. It had ten horns (multiple rulers or factions) and devoured, crushed and trampled the beasts before it. This again should rule out Rome as they did not conquer even the territory of Babylon, let alone those of Persia and Greece. But there is a kingdom which came along later in history which was quite different than Babylon, Persia, or Greece and which devoured the territories of all three—the Islamic caliphates.

This theory, notably championed by Joel Richardson in several books, accounts for why the fourth kingdom was not named. Because unlike Persia or Greece which were known to Daniel (and potentially Rome, which was a city-state at the time), Islam didn't even exist or begin its conquests until over a thousand years after Daniel died. It also accounts for the ten horns imagery in that it wasn't a unified kingdom, but a fractured one, led by many caliphs and sultans united only under the banner of Islam—a religious banner rather than a political one like the kingdoms before it. Most importantly, it actually meets the requirement of having devoured all the previous kingdoms. It also has the distinction of being a lost kingdom (defeated and broken up after WWI) which many Muslims have a strong desire to see resurrected and become dominant again. This interpretation puts the biblical end-times focus back on the Middle East and the nations surrounding Israel as is clearly stated by scripture.

With a focus back on the Middle East with a population of Muslims, rather than Europe or the West with a population of secularists, we can then make more sense of the Antichrist's motive and goal to wipe out Israel, desecrate her temple, and blaspheme her God while beheading Christians. And with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel pointing to this future leader coming from "the north" and Isaiah and Micah calling him "the Assyrian," the likely region this "little horn" will spring from is modern-day Syria, Turkey, or Iraq.

It should be noted that the Roman interpretation which shifts the focus on the West, also attempts to interpret the location of the end-times invading army of Magog from Ezekiel 38 and 39, as well as Revelation 20, as another Western entity: Russia. This is a rather conspicuous interpretation however, as the historical Magog was in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey as described by the Roman historian Pliny (1st century AD), the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (~100 years after Ezekiel was written), as well as the writings and official government records of the ancient Assyrians (contemporaries of Ezekiel). Modern scholars agree with these ancient sources and identify Gog as the ancient king Gyges of Lydia in western Asia Minor—a kingdom which was later conquered by the Persians (one of the three ribs in the bear's mouth in Daniel chapter 7). Gog appears to be the Hebrew form of the Greek Gyges and Assyrian Gugu. The Assyrians called him "Gugu of Magugu" and "Gugu, king of Ludu" (Lydia).

How Magog became Russia in this modern 19th-century interpretation is through a very convoluted and selective process, attempting to trace the migrations of people groups through history, using historically incorrect associations of Magog with the Scythians, and word play and false cognates rather than simple geographical correlation. Magog may have been located in Asia Minor at the time Ezekiel was written, but since then the argument goes, his descendants have purportedly migrated and now reside in Russia. To buttress this interpretation, the Hebrew word rosh is supposedly connected to the historical name Rus, which is where we get the name Russia from, and the Hebrew Meshech is supposedly tied to Moscow.

"Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him... Persia, Ethiopia and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer with all its troops; Beth-Togarmah from the remote parts of the north with all its troops—many peoples with you." -Eze 38:2, 5-6 NASB

The problems here are numerous. First, those who use the ethnic migration method to interpret Magog to mean Russia rather than Turkey, do not do the same for all the other nations listed in the passage. For at least Persia, Cush, and Put (Eze 38:5), they use the geographic correlation method to interpret them as Iran and North African nations such as Libya and Ethiopia. Again, such inconsistency in the application of a method should be extremely suspicious as Magog obviously isn't the only group of people in this list who have migrated, intermarried, and have had their ethnic identity muddled over the millennia. For example, Gomer is also listed here and is widely agreed to have become the Gauls (Celts), but no one is suggesting Ireland will invade Israel as a sign of the end-times.

Russia is simply way outside of the highlighted region of conflict here. Gomer's son, Togarmah, is described in Ezekiel 38:6 as coming from the "remote parts" of the north (NASB), "far north" (NIV) or "uttermost parts of the north" (ESV) with all its troops. How far north is remote, far, or uttermost in this passage? Like Gomer, Magog, Meshech, and Tubal, Togarmah was in modern-day Turkey. If Magog was Russia, it would be much more "far north" than Togarmah in this description.

Furthermore, if invoking the ethnic migration interpretation and actually applying it consistently rather than only when convenient, any prophetic text even speaking about Israel would then need to be seriously re-evaluated as the ancient Israelites of course migrated all over the world during the diaspora. Even today more Jewish people live outside of the modern state of Israel than in it and almost as many live in the US as in their ancestral homeland. So which modern geopolitical state does "Israel" refer to in scripture using this confusing ethnic migration method? But the proponents of the Russia narrative don't advertise their selective interpretive process here, so most who accept this view are unaware of the conspicuous inconsistency used to arrive at their conclusion.

Another problem is that rosh is not a proper noun or a name anywhere in Hebrew literature, but a common noun which simply means head or chief. This word has no etymological connection whatsoever to Rus, which was a kingdom established by Norsemen and came from a word referring to rowing (Norsemen being strongly associated with their longboats). So, Gog being the "prince of Rosh" (NASB, Darby et al) clearly cannot mean "the prince of Rus" in Ezekiel as it is actually a translation error—rosh isn't Rus or even a name, but a further description. Most translations (Bishops, Geneva, KJV, ESV, NIV et al) have rendered Ezekiel as saying Gog is "the chief prince" of Meshech and Tubal. This makes much more sense as Gomer, Magog, Tubal, and Meshech—as well as Togarmah—are all found in the biblical table of nations (Gen 10:2-3 and 1Ch 1:5-6), but "Rosh" is nowhere to be found because it isn't a nation or place-name.

Likewise, Meshech has no etymological connection at all to Moscow. Meshech was a son of Japheth, as was Gomer, Magog, and Tubal, and came from a Hebrew word meaning a sowing or possession. Moscow on the other hand was named after the river which flows through it, Moskva, which itself has Norse origins of debated meaning (possibly marshy place, dark waters, or even mossy plain).

Archeologists, historians, and theologians have long known that neither Magog, nor any of the ancient nations referred to in Ezekiel 38 & 39, have any connection to modern Russia. Daniel I. Block, a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in response to these theories said, “The popular identification of Tubal with Tubolsk in Russia (Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth 1970, p.53) is ludicrous...The popular identification of Meshech with Moscow (of Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth p.53) is absurd.” Taking Hebrew words and connecting them to etymologically unrelated words from different languages with completely different meanings just because they sound similar is both historically and linguistically ignorant. Essentially, these Russia/Magog proponents are basing their theory on puns.

Gog is certainly an antichrist figure and universally viewed as the Antichrist in Jewish tradition (note that the Ezekiel 38 war ends exactly as the Revelation 11 and 16 war: with a great earthquake, hailstones, and complete slaughter of the invading army followed by a season of unprecedented peace and prosperity) . He also definitely comes from the north, which is a prevalent theme in biblical apocalyptic literature. But this man of the north is not from the region of Russia, but from the region which used to be the Assyrian kingdom according to Isaiah and Micah—modern Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. Magog was in modern Turkey. Gomer was in modern Turkey. Tubal, Meshech, and Togarmah were in modern Turkey. Notably, all seven churches of Revelation were also in modern-day Turkey. So again, the clear spotlight of biblical end-times prophecy is on the region surrounding Israel—Western nations simply aren't the focus here.

The Accelerating Timeline

As alluded to earlier, there is another pattern we should be aware of in scripture which may give the Church a rough idea of the times they may be living in. Four times in the New Testament Jesus and Paul used the analogy of a woman in labor to describe the series of events which would ultimately lead to Christ's return (Mark 13:8, John 16:19-21, Rom 8:19-23, 1 Th 5:1-3). We tend to look for specific events to call a "labor pain" but again the pattern is more helpful to step back and see. No one knows the exact day or hour a woman will give birth but certainly when the labor pains begin, everyone in the house knows the time is close. Then the labor pains themselves also give an indication of how close to the birth you are. The contractions start relatively mild and spaced far apart, but gradually become more intense and spaced closer together until they are practically happening one on top of another. In other words, there is both an escalation and acceleration of events.

Christ's ascension began the period of time scripture calls the Last Days so the question is, if we look at world history in the last 2,000 years, do we actually see this escalating and accelerating pattern? The answer is yes—in just about every way imaginable.

In the last 2,000 years, many kingdoms of man have been established but only four have risen to prominence to become what is called unipolar powers—empires which control much of the known world and are able to establish periods of relative peace. These four seasons of peace are called the Pax Romana, Pax Mongolica, Pax Britannica, and Pax Americana. What is striking is the pattern which emerges as you plot these empires out on a timeline. The Pax Romana lasted roughly 450 years after Christ, followed by roughly 730 years of a multipolar and bipolar world before the Mongols became the next unipolar power. But the Pax Mongolica only lasted about 150 years before crumbling. It was then only roughly 450 years before Britain came to power, but the Pax Britannica lasted only about 100 years before the world came unglued again with WWI and WWII during the multipolar season, and the Cold War during the bipolar season. But this interim period lasted only about 75 years before Communism collapsed and America rose to global power. All evidence suggests the Pax Americana will be the shortest unipolar moment yet with its collapse likely to happen within the next decade. The timeline is definitely accelerating.

Global Church growth is directly linked to these polarity shifts in world empires as the Church expands during unipolar seasons and contracts during multipolar and bipolar seasons. But again, plotted on a timeline, the pattern which emerges is crystal clear. Each period of growth was both more rapid and more significant than the previous. From a peak of 20% of the world's population during the Pax Romana to a peak of 24% at the end of the Pax Mongolica, to the massive jump to 33% during the Pax Britannica, there is a clear escalation. This reality is so dramatic, that just in a single decade during the Pax Americana (1990-2000), numerically more people came to Christ than in the rest of church history combined. The birth pains are intensifying.

Furthermore, the world population at the time of Christ was around 160 million people. This is a significant detail as we tend to think of Christ coming rather late in human history. But the reality is an estimated 98% of those who have ever lived were born after Christ. By the collapse of the Roman empire over 400 years after Christ's ascension, the world's population had only increased to around 195 million. Nearly a thousand years later at the collapse of the Mongol empire, that number had only risen to 350 million. It wasn't until the 1800's that world population numbers finally reached one billion people, but in the last 200 years or so, we then added nearly another seven billion (we're expected to break 8 billion by the year 2023). The timeline is definitely escalating and accelerating as the majority of people who have ever lived are being born at the same time that access to the Gospel is growing like never before. God's providence is truly at work.

He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist... -Acts 17:26-28

Other metrics include wars, knowledge and technology, Bible translation progress, and unreached people group efforts. We've already discussed how the last 2,000 years have seen the bloodiest wars and conflicts ever and how the 20th century was the bloodiest yet—a trend which is almost certain to continue as we shift from the Pax Americana to the next multipolar season and global conflict. In fact, the devastation of WWIII is likely to be so unprecedented that Albert Einstein was quoted as opining, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

The increase of knowledge and technology in recent history has been almost as dramatic as the increase in population. We have more information at our fingertips today than any previous generation could have dreamed and we can access that information through supercomputers which fit in our pockets. This is an incredible escalation which was actually predicted in scripture within the context of the end times.

"But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.” -Dan 12:4

But the most exciting, and probably most indicative metric to examine is that of the progress of translating the Bible into every language and reaching every nation which speaks it. Never before has the completion of that task been possible... Until now. This generation is the first in human history which could see all 17,426 people groups—every tribe, nation, and tongue—in the world reached with the Gospel. In fact, it could happen in the next 10-15 years.

Preparing the Way

"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." -Mat 24:14

So are we going about our Father's business or are we being the lazy servant? A bit of both actually. The reality is the American church is currently the missions hope of the world as we must remember "to whom much is given, much is required" (Luk 12:48). America is the unipolar power in this season and God has risen it up to be a world leader, not just in geopolitics, culture, and economics, but in the sphere of religion as well. Though America makes up just 4.25% of the world’s population, the American church holds 60% of all global Christian finances, 70% of all global Christian technology, 75% of all global Christian training resources, and provides virtually 100% of all global missions innovation, strategy, and leadership. We are also the largest missions sender by an enormous margin: the US had around 135,000 missionaries on the field in 2020 compared to the #2 sending nation (Brazil) at 35,000 and the #3 sending nation (South Korea) at 30,000. But to complete the Great Commission in this generation, we need to send an additional 200,000 to the field and we need to send them before the Pax Americana ends.

While that number may sound enormous, America is far from being maxed out in her sending capacity—especially in light of the unparalleled resources she has. The US currently sends only 600 missionaries per million church members. For context, South Korea sends over 1,000 missionaries per million church members, while Malta and Ireland send around 2,000 missionaries per million church members. Meanwhile, Palestine sends around 3,500 missionaries per million church members. America would be sending six times more missionaries—over 800,000—if it matched the sending ratio of Palestine, which is a church region with meager resources and ability in comparison. So sending a mere 200,000 additional missionaries is well within not just our capacity, but even our comfort. Sending a total of 335,000 missionaries (135k current, 200k new) would put the US at around 1,500 missionaries sent per million church members which would only be 0.15% of our congregants, or 1 missionary per 667 church members—a very comfortable number indeed.

Until the Great Commission is completed, any speculation of the timing of the return of Christ is a bit moot. Let us focus on the task at hand with an ear to the ground and an eye on the sky—watching and waiting, but active and faithful. Let us be the generation which can stand before Christ and declare the task was finished on our watch, that we were faithful with what we were given. Let eschatology motivate us once again, rather than lull us into a sense of complacency, fatalism, and security. For if the woman is in labor, now is not the time to fall asleep.



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