By Pete Coker
Many in Christendom view certain world-wide events as the biblical prophetic end-times scenario and the soon return of Jesus Christ to earth. This is not a modern phenomenon. Many generations of believers from the time of the apostles believed they were nearing the end-times depicted in scripture. Considering the historical developments of Christianity as a whole, and some possible interpretive misunderstandings of popular eschatology, an inquiry into general “end-times” dispensational thought seems worthwhile.
As R.J. Rushdoony discerned in his work The Biblical Philosophy of History, Auguste Comte posited an overview of the history of the world as different eras of human thought. Auguste Comte described the main eras of human thought as the “law of three stages” in his work, The Positive Philosophy. Rushdoony noted that since Comte himself denied the existence of God, his view of reality was a materialistic one. The three stages of human thought according to Comte, are: (1) The theological or fictitious, (2) the metaphysical or abstract, and (3) the scientific or positive. Comte’s labels – fictitious, abstract, and positive – reflect the humanistic worldview of his descriptions.
The development of human thought from a Judeo-Christian (biblical) perspective, according to Rushdoony, is divided quite differently. Rushdoony describes the first stage of human thought as the politico-magical worldview (See the article, “A Politico-Magical World”). According to Rushdoony, this perspective, apart from the Hebrews, governed virtually all of antiquity. It also governed the Roman Empire in the Christian era and the non-Christian world thereafter.
The second stage of human thought, according to Rushdoony, has been the religious or Christian one. The religious stage was first realized in part by the Hebrews, before Christ. It was then more fully realized with the coming of Christ which dramatically began to transform human thought. Though the Roman Empire, with its politico-magical worldview tried very savagely to stamp out the spread of Christianity, it ultimately failed. Christianity as a result spread through the world transforming human thought. The Christian worldview has continued to have a profound effect in developing western civilization and progressively moving away from the humanistic politico-magical worldview of antiquity.
The struggle between the spread of the developing Christian worldview and the ongoing attempt to return to a politico-magical worldview has brought about several minor ages of competing thought throughout Christian history. Some ancient ideas have come from within Christendom itself while most have come from those hostile to Christianity. These eras have included: the Medieval period, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment or Age of Reason, the Reformation, the Scholastic, the Modern, and the Post-Modern periods.
Identifying the exact beginning and ending of each particular historic age may be somewhat disputed, but we can roughly observe these periods within generally accepted time frames. Historians identify certain markers which always indicate the end of an age and the coming of a new. Rushdoony identifies “end of age” markers as follows: “The end of an age is always a time of turmoil, war, economic catastrophe, cynicism, lawlessness, and distress. But it is also an era of heightened challenge, creativity, and intense vitality,” (Systematic Theology, pg. 669). Considering that we may be at the end of another historical age, how might that affect pop-eschatology.
In past decades many Bible expositors have identified the end-times one world government in various forms, such as, the United Nations and the European Union. Recently, speculations have even included the so-called North American Union between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In upcoming decades there may well become a South American Union or an Asiatic Union. It may turn out that each major region of the world becomes united in its own regional union before coming under the umbrella of a
Some “end-times” dispensationalists are modifying their previous pre-millennium theories to claim that the “seven churches” of the Book of Revelation are representations of seven different dispensations or “ages” of the church of Jesus Christ. These modifications and newly devised theories concerning bible end-times prophecies certainly seem to screw-up previous pop-eschatology narratives and “secret rapture” time frames.
To further illustrate our possible misunderstanding of prophetic end-times theology and to rethink previously held positions consider these two examples: (1) In popular eschatology, the nation of Israel is a central theme on God’s prophetic timeline. Many would insist Israel is God’s timepiece in history. As a result, many have taught that the generation that witnessed the return and rebirth of Israel as a nation, would likely witness the beginnings of the “tribulation” period or be included in God’s secret rapture of the church. Israel became a nation in 1948. The general biblical time frame agreed on by many bible scholars concluded that a generation was likely a twenty-five to forty year period (Although, some are now saying seventy to one-hundred years). Given the original forty year time period, 1988, should have been a pivotal year for that end-times scenario. But, 1988 came and went while end-time prophetic biblical events didn’t pan-out as expected. New end-time theories then emerged to modify the obvious miscalculations. It was then postulated that 1967 was the actual correct beginning for the nation of Israel. This theory was forwarded as the true beginning of Israel’s rebirth due to the capturing of Jerusalem in the Arab-Israeli War. Recalibrating their original forty year generation theory from 1967 would then put us at 2007 for biblical end-time events to be in fullswing. But 2007 came and went. No rapture. No tribulation. No Antichrist. No rebuilt Jewish Temple. No one-world government. Clearly, something appears to be wrong with our understanding of biblical eschatology!
(2) Here’s another troubling aspect of pop-eschatology posited by R.J. Rushdoony: This appears in Isaiah 19: 18-25.“(23) In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. (24) In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: (25) whom the Lord of hosts shall bless saying, blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.
In this passage Israel is listed as “the third.” Isaiah’s prophecy appears to teach that Egypt and Assyria shall faithfully serve God prior to Israel doing so. This could be supported by chapter eleven of Romans and possibly the parable of the laborers, eg. “…so the last will be first, and the first last…” (Matt: 20: 16). Prior to Israel coming to faith in Christ, it appears the “age of the gentiles” will end with the conversion of the Egyptian and Assyrian territories.
The previous two examples seem to indicate that we are not yet on the verge or at the door of biblical end-times prophecy as we understand it. The dispensational view of eschatology is not without certain theological inconsistencies that need to be addressed. An honest consideration of substantive critiques can only enhance our understanding of eschatology.
Jesus, in describing the kingdom of God, relates the worldwide spreading of the Gospel and His kingdom, in parables. The “parable of the mustard seed” (Matt. 13: 31-32) and the “parable of the leaven” (Matt. 13: 33) both seem to indicate that God’s kingdom will eventually spread throughout the earth before He returns. Likewise, another consideration of the spreading of the gospel and God’s growing Kingdom, appears in the book of “Acts.” The apostle Paul and Timothy were prevented from taking the gospel to Asia by the Holy Spirit. They were also prevented from going into Bithynia by the spirit of Jesus. The Holy Spirit then directed Paul and Timothy to take the gospel to Europe, i.e. the “Macedonian Call” (Acts 16: 6-10). This indicates that the Holy Spirit has a unique future plan for the spreading of the gospel throughout the world. In recent years the gospel has spread dramatically to Korea, China, Africa, and revived in much of South America. Many other areas of the world are also being affected by the gospel in varying degrees. With this in mind, the “age of the gentiles” may continue on for decades or centuries, or include many minor “ages” to come.
The history of the church of Jesus Christ is a developing progressive struggle where the gospel spreads geographically and from generation to generation. As gospel influences spread, cultures and nations are transformed. It appears that God uses the ongoing struggle of Religion vs. humanism to advance His kingdom influence and continually reform His church. It may be that we are facing the end of another “era” or “age” and not the end-times as depicted in pop-prophecy metanarratives.
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself” (Jesus, from
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Jesus, from Matt. 28: 19-20).
If we are merely facing the end of an age of history or passing from one age to another, how then should we be teaching and preparing the next generation of believers to view their place in God’s history?