Eschatology Part 4

Eschatology Part 4


When Jesus stood with His disciples at His ascension they dialogued with Him regarding His return: “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”[5]

By way of illustration, let’s suppose we were present with the disciples, and after Jesus’ Ascension we invited them to join us at a restaurant for a cup of coffee. While together, we asked them, “How long do you think it will be before Jesus returns, especially in light of what He said regarding the end times?”[6] What answer could we have expected from them? Remember, we are asking what their perception was, not whether they were correct in their perception.

In Matt 24:15-16 Jesus said: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:” If we asked them if Jesus would return before or after the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, and they answered “after,” then they could not have believed in the imminent return of Christ, for the earliest the disciples could have considered this fulfilled was in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple by the Roman general Titus.

If we conclude, however, that the disciples most probably believed in the speedy return of Christ, as seems to be indicated from their writings, then He would have to return before Daniel’s prophecy of the tribulation, and for sure before the completion of the millennium.


The last book in the Bible begins:

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:” Revelation 6-19 record the events of the tribulation, a seven year period during which time God judges the world with the seals, trumpets, and bowls, culminating in the great battle of Armageddon.

Revelation 20 records the thousand-year reign of Christ[7] followed by the Judgment of the Great White Throne. This is the only reference in Scripture to a thousand-year reign of Christ, mentioned six times in this one passage. During this millennium Satan is bound. At the heart of the eschatological debate is whether this is a literal period of time and whether it refers to a time set aside for Israel or the Church.[8]

Revelation 21-22, the last two chapters in the book, deal with the new heaven and earth. Three times in Revelation 22 Jesus says, “Behold I come quickly.”[9] If we were with John on Patmos[10] and asked him, “When will Jesus return in light of His promise to you in Revelation 1:1 and 22:7,12,20? Will it be before the seven year tribulation, in the middle of it, after it, or after the millennium?” what do you think he would say? Keeping in mind that Jesus said He would return “quickly,” it is hard to conceive of John saying, “After the thousand year reign of Christ, which of course follows the tribulation and is an indefinite period of time symbolizing the age of the Church.”


Again, the weight of the evidence seems to suggest that the apostles of Christ believed in His imminent return. This means they thought it would occur before the millennium, and in all probability before the tribulation.

Earlier we saw that the original apostles believed that the period between the two advents would be short and that the preponderance of Gentiles would be saved after Jesus’ return when He “restore(d) again the kingdom to Israel.”[11] They, the remnant that followed Jesus, were the true Israel, but with Messiah sitting on the throne of David[12] Israel’s future was bright.

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, understood that Gentiles need not keep the law when embracing Jesus Christ. But he did not abandon hope in a future for Israel, as is clear in Romans 9-11. At the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 he may have dealt the death blow to Jewish evangelism, but he too saw a bright future for Israel.


Jurgen Moltmann, a contemporary German theologian and not necessarily a friend of evangelicals, argues for a future for the nation of Israel. This is not based on his interpretation of Revelation 20, but rather on what the overall teaching of Scripture says on the subject. He articulates this in a dialogue with the Jewish scholar, Scholem Ben-Chorin.

In part, Moltmann argues that the Old and New Testaments differ in that the former sees redemption publicly played out on the stage of history through the Jewish community, while the New Testament sees redemption taking place in the soul of the individual. In the Old Testament the transformation of redemption is corporate, changing society; in the New Testament it “is individual, and effects a mysterious transformation to which nothing external in the world necessarily corresponds.” To take the Old Testament promises and reinterpret them to apply to the sphere of “the heart” is an “illegitimate anticipation” of an event that must follow the Old Testament fulfillment of national promises.

“Scholem rightly points to the fateful role played by Augustine in this development. This reduction of eschatology is generally explained by the alleged experience of disappointment over the delay of the parousia….But the historical process was in fact quite different. What internalized eschatological redemption was not ‘disappointment over the course of history.’ It was the ‘political realization’ of Christ’s messianic kingdom in the Christian imperium of the emperors Constantine[13], Theodosius[14] and Justinian[15]. If this Christian imperium is interpreted as the ‘thousand-year Reich,’ then the saints must reign with Christ and judge the nations. In the millennium, resistance to Christ cannot be tolerated. So in the Christian imperium sacrum there was no justice for dissidents, people of other beliefs – and Jews. Enforced political Christianization solved the problem of the heathen. The mission to the Jews was suppose to solve ‘the Jewish problem.’ Later on the Inquisition was designed to solve the problem of the heretics. The appalling ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question was projected by ‘the thousand-year Reich’ under Hitler’s pseudo-messianic leadership….

Moltmann continues by pointing out that Augustine’s application of the Old Testament theocracy to the church “still dominates all notions about the Christian West,” is anti-Jewish, and is not a Christology of Jesus, but a “Christology of empire and domination.”

“This ancient chiliastic political theology has assumed continually new forms in the history of Christendom. But down to the present day, it still dominates all notions about the Christian West, ‘Christian civilization’ and ‘the age of Christendom.’ The Christologies that are developed in theocracies like this are anti-Jewish, because these political theologies themselves are anti-Jewish. It is not in the Christologies for Jesus’ sake that we find anti-Judaism, as the other side of the coin. It is in the chiliastic Christologies of empire and domination…

“There can be no question of God’s having finally rejected the people of His choice – He would then have to reject His own election (Rom. 11:29) – and of His then having sought out instead another people, the church. Israel’s promises remain Israel’s promises. They have not been transferred to the church. Nor does the church push Israel out of its place in the divine history. In the perspective of the gospel, Israel has by no means become ‘like all nations.'”[16]

Practical considerations, or theological presuppositions, influence eschatology. The desire to create “The City of God,” using Augustine’s a-millennial term, led to appropriating Israel’s Old Testament promises to the Church. It is as Moltmann says, “in the chiliastic Christologies of empire and domination…” that the Church embraces a theocratic mission, replacing evangelism with conquering culture, and creating in its wake anti-Semitism, which can still be seen in some segments of the Church today. Your eschatology determines your definition of the mission and ministry of the Church .

Much of the energy of the Church in the United States is directed toward creating the sacred empire or imperium sacrum mentioned by Moltmann. Efforts to correct the ills of society, bringing the nation under the authority of God’s expectations, is Old rather than New Testament. It requires rejecting any future for Israel in God’s economy, and is the fount from which anti-Semitism flows.

His . . . . . Yours,

[1] For other related passges note I Cor.1:8, I Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 5:23, II Thess. 2:1. These are not exhaustive of Paul’s teaching, but rather illustrative.

[2] James 5:7-8.

[3] II Peter 3:12.

[4] I John 2:28.

[5] Acts 1:6-7.

[6] A careful reading of Matt. 24, especially v. 34 is essential in grasping what must have gone through the minds of the disciples at the Ascension.

[7] From this we get the word millennium, which is “thousand” in latin, and chilism, which is the word for “thousand” in Greek.

[8] Why anyone cares, or how it is relevant for us today, will be developed throughout this series.

[9] Rev. 22:7,12,20.

[10] Cf. Rev. 1:9.

[11] Acts 1:6.

[12] Luke 1:32.

[13] Constantine (c. 274-337) was the first Christian emperor of Rome. In 313 he gave full legal toleration for Christianity in the Edict of Milan, after which he sought to incorporate the Church under the authority of the emperor. The Church saw this as opportunity to establish the “City of God” along OT Theocratic lines. In 330 he moved the imperial thone to Byzantium on the Bosporus, naming it Constantinople.

[14] Theodosius I (c. 346-395) and Theodosius II (401-450) sought to consolidate the gains of Constantine, calling the first Council of Constantiople and the Council of Ephesus, which defined orthodoxy and condemned heresy.

[15] Justinian (483-565) was the greatest of the Byzantine Roman emperors. He built the church of Sophia, forced pagans to accept Christian baptism, and persecuted sectarian movements.

[16] Moltmann, Jurgen, The Way of Jesus Christ, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1990, excerpts in an article “Israel’s No: Jews and Jesus in an Unredeemed World” in The Christian Century, Nov.7, 1990, pp. 1021-1024.