Eschatological Positions - A pre-millennium, pre-tribulation defense.

Whilst the study of the 'end times' is extremely complex and it sometimes appears that no two believers are in full agreement it is generally possible to classify eschatological approaches against two markers: a persons millennial position and a persons tribulation position. I am pre-millennial and pre-tribulation which is probably the largest category in US evangelical circles. I have written upon many of the subjects involved in this decision elsewhere. However the purpose of this paper is to briefly touch upon the reasoning behind my pre-millennial, pre-tribulation stance a macro level.

It is generally true that the differences between believers with differing millennial positions are far greater than the differences between believers with differing tribulation positions. The reason is that there is a direct correlation between your millennial position and the way you read the Bible.

It is unequivocally true that taken literally the Bible predicts a period of incredible spiritual and material prosperity. A time when food will be plentiful[1], the knowledge of God will abound[2], Satan will be bound[3] and the Davidic kingdom restored[4]. Further this occurs after incredible geologic upheaval[5] and the intervention of the Lord Himself[6]. A persons' millennial position essentially correlates to how one interprets these statements.

  1. It isn't going to happen - This is essentially the position of the 'No Millenium' camp. The events mentioned above are purely allegoric descriptions of spiritual events in the Christian life.
  2. It already happened - (Past Millennialism) Usually deemed to be 400-1400AD. Obviously a number of the references have to be 'reinterpreted' to avoid the fact that the relatively extreme claims of the biblical text didn't happen
  3. It is happening today - (Amillennialism, dominant Catholic view) The millennium is a description of the Christian era. Clearly the extremity of the references has to be toned down; for example - is Satan really bound at the moment?
  4. It will happen as a consequence of Gospel growth - (Post millennialism) This view does not have to water down the magnitude of the references; however it does have to re-cast many of the specifically Jewish references into 'church' ones. In practice it does have to skip over or allegorize to avoid the obviously Jewish slants; for example Ezekiel's temple.
  5. It is going to happen after the tribulation - (Pre millennialism) This view essentially says you take the Bible at face value. There is going to be a huge and terrible tribulation followed by a period of a thousand years of untold blessing.

As someone who takes the Bible literally the pre-millennial position is the only one that makes any genuine sense to me. Either the passages that predict the future were wrong; in which case Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah et all should have been stoned[7]. Or they passages that predicted the future were right in which case they must still be future as they have not had a fulfillment that would meet the standard of 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

I suspect the main feature of pre-millennialism that causes people to consider the alternatives is that it has to accept that the church is not God's last word on the subject of His dealings with men. In fact the vast majority of pre-millennialists  hold that there will come a point in history when the church is removed from the earth at a time usually called the rapture. Most also hold that this rapture will occur some time around a seven year period called the tribulation. Exactly when during this seven year period the rapture will occur is the criterion that classifies the pre-millennialists into pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation and the new kid of the block pre-wrath.

Of the four tribulation groups pre-tribulation and post-tribulation are the oldest and have by far the largest following. The first group essentially believes that the church is raptured from the earth at the start of the tribulation; the latter group that they are raptured at the end of the tribulation period. The arguments are many and detailed but the strongest on the 'pre' side is that the church has been promised it will be saved from wrath[8] and the tribulation clearly contains significant amounts of the wrath of God[9]. The post tribulation group usually counter by pointing out that pre-tribulation theory requires a multi-part first resurrection[10] and noting that the church is promised persecution[11] and suggesting the pre-tribulation theory tries to wriggle out of that reality.

I believe both of the post tribulation assertions carry less than adequate weight on further inspection. Certainly the church is promised persecution but we know that has happened and is still happening today. We also note that events do deteriorate significantly immediately prior to the tribulation[12]; and the church certainly will be around for that. The issue of a multi-part first resurrection is valid; pre-tribulation theory does require more than one stage in the first resurrection. However if we remember that at least one person has already undergone the first resurrection[13] that one group of people has been separated to the second resurrection[14] it is not that hard to envisage[15] that the Jewish dispensation and Christian dispensation will have separate times for their part of the first resurrection. Considering that post tribulationism requires the sidestepping of explicit teaching that the church has been saved from wrath I believe the pre-tribulation case to be much the strong.

The distinction between pre-tribulation theory and mid-tribulation theory and the new pre-wrath theory is subtle but important. Mid tribulation theory teaches that the church is raptured at the mid-point of the seven year period. Pre-wrath theory places the rapture after the mid-way point but prior to the end. The essential notion that both of these are based upon is a separation of the tribulation into a period in which Satan's anger is vented and a subsequent period in which the wrath of God is revealed. It then follows, according to these theories that the church hangs around to bare the brunt of the anger of Satan but that it is then removed before the wrath of God is unleashed.

Personally I do agree that the tribulation period will consist of the wrath of Satan[16] mingled with the wrath of God. However we need to ask ourselves why is the tribulation any different from the preceding thousands of years when Satan is already trying to devour who he can[17]. The answer is given in 2Th 2:6-7; the mystery of lawlessness is already at work but it is currently being restrained. The lawless one will not be revealed until He that is restraining him is taken away. The personification here is vital. It is not a restraint that is being taken away; it is the person that is doing the restraining that is being taken. In other words the Holy Spirit[18] is removed from the earth before the wicked one is revealed.

Therefore a mid tribulationist, or pre wrath advocate essentially has to accept that during the part of the tribulation that the church goes through it will be doing so without the indwelling Spirit. Personally I believe this is entirely untenable. The church was formed or inaugurated when the Spirit came and it will be disbanded in earthly form when the Spirit leaves. What will be left behind is a group of people that didn't accept Christianity with the Spirit to convict and is now faced with Judaism, history, law and wrath with which to make their peace.

As I stated at the outset eschatology is a subject that can exhaust volumes and which cannot be adequately described in a few pages. Nonetheless I hope I have been able to provide some insight to the considerations involved. It is quite possible that you did not agree with my conclusions and were not convinced by my arguments; this is fine. I just hope and pray that they have inspired you to research your own beliefs a little bit more deeply to ensure that you have worked through the issues involved.


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