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The End Times, also called the Last Days, generally refers to the end of the world, or the end of time in religion. In Christianity, it refers to the time just before and during the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This period of time is foretold in the Old Testament prophetical books, such as Daniel and Ezekiel, and in the New Testament with the Gospels, several of the Pauline Epistles, and in the Revelation. All theologians agree that the Bible spends a great deal of attention on the subject, but there is very wide disagreement as to the meaning.
Eschatology is the study of the last things: death, judgment, the afterlife, and the end of the world. Through centuries of Christian thought--from the early Church fathers through the Middle Ages and the Reformation--these issues were central importance to theologians. After the Enlightenment of the 18th century, however, many religious thinkers began to downplay the importance of eschatology which, in light of rationalism, came to be seen as something of an embarrassment. The twentieth century, however, saw the rise of Fundamentalism that placed eschatology back at the forefront of religious thought. Furthermore there has been a proliferation of apocalyptic new religious movements.
Views of the End Times
This viewpoint takes a literal interpretation of Biblical events. A few early theologians believed in many premillennial theories. Isaac Newton, the famous scientist who helped discover gravity, and who was also highly religious, had premillennial views. He believed that several occurrences must take place before the return of Jesus, such as the regathering of Israel as a nation. This actually happened on May 1948. However, this view was later popularized under the influence of British theologian John Nelson Darby *1800-1882), in which "Dispensationalism" became a dominant view by 1910 among Premillennialist Protestants. They argue that the following must occur in partial sequence before the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus Christ returns:
- 1. World conditions as specified in Matthew 24 (i.e. lawlessness, wars, famines, etc) must exist.
- 2. General moral decay and spiritual apostasy will increase, while simultaneously, the gospel will be preached worldwide.
- 3. The rebirth of Israel as a nation and the gathering of the jews.
- 4. The construction and re-institution of the Jewish Temple and related religious practices upon the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
- 5. Creation of a united Europe, modeled on the old Roman Empire. A small number of prophecy teachers consider that this revived Roman Empire will be centered in the Middle East.
- 6. Implementation of a seven-year peace treaty in favor of Israel, and brokered by the leader of Europe, who is the Antichrist.
- 7. A horrible holocaust against the jews, christians, and anybody who opposes the antichrist, while demonically supernatural signs will be created by the antichrist to deceive many. Many will be deceived.
- 8. A major war (Armageddon) which is world-wide, ending only with Christ's return.
- 9. Supernatural disasters will plague the unbelievers to let them repent of their unbelief.
- 10. The resurrection, which begins before the Millennial Kingdom.
Premillennialist views became popular around 1900 and to this day dominate the theology of Fundamentalist churches such as the Southern Baptist Convention. There are two major political results: Fundamentalists tend to ignore social reform movements, and they strongly support the state of Israel.
Postmillennialists argue that a "utopia" will be physically set up by man, through evangelical and missionary work and systematic efforts to rid society of evil. Thereby the Millennial Kingdom is established before Christ's return.
Jonathan Edwards, thrilled with the progress of the First Great Awakening in the 1740s was the leading exponent. It gained strength as the Second Great Awakening and the Third Great Awakening made America an intensely religious nation in the 19th century. Postmillennialism energized the mainstream Protestant churches to redouble their missionary work and engage in large scale programs of education and social reform.
Augustine, the early Catholic theologian, created this concept as a result of his failure to try to fit the prophetical events of the Bible to the timeframe in which he lived. His disillusionment caused him to believe that when it came to prophecy, the Bible should be taken allegorically or symbolically, rather than literally (he regarded the rest of the Bible as literal). The Kingdom of God was in men's hearts, he stressed, and not in an actual kingdom in which Christ will establish upon His return.
The term Preterism essentially means "past", clarifying their views. The Preterists believe that many prophecies that Jesus mentioned were only fulfilled in the first century, especially during the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The view can be categorized into two types of the theory: Radical Preterists and Partial Preterists. The Radical Preterists, or Full Preterists, believe that the second coming has already occurred and that we are presently awaiting the eternal state.
Signs of the times
Concerned by Jesus' statement that the Temple would not be left standing, He was asked by his disciples "when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew 24:3; King James Version). Jesus replied that there would be specific signs to look for as to the condition of the world just prior to His second coming.
False Christs and false prophets
- And Jesus answered and said unto them, "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." (Matthew 24:4-5; King James Version)
Wars, famine, disease, earthquakes
- "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places." (Matthew 24:6-7; King James Version)
Massive persecution of Christians
- "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." (Matthew 24:9; King James Version)
Disappearence of natural human love
- "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." (Matthew 24:12; King James Version)
World-wide preaching of the Gospel
- "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." (Matthew 24:14; King James Version)
- John Nelson Darby
- Number of the Beast
- Millenial Day Theory
- Coker, Joe L. "Exploring the Roots of the Dispensationalist /Princetonian 'Alliance': Charles Hodge And John Nelson Darby on Eschatology and Interpretation of Scripture." Fides et Historia 1998 30(1): 41-56. 0884-5379
- Moorhead, James H. "Between Progress and Apocalypse: A Reassessment of Millennialism in American Religious Thought, 1800-1880," Journal of American History, Vol. 71, No. 3 (Dec., 1984), pp. 524-542 in JSTOR
- Sandeen, Ernest R. "Toward a Historical Interpretation of the Origins of Fundamentalism." Church History 1967 36(1): 66-83. in JSTOR
- Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (1970), the standard scholarly history
- Walls, Jerry, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology (2007), 744pp; excerpt and text search, comprehensive guide
- Weber, Timothy P. Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism, 1875-1982 (2nd ed. 1987)
- Rosenthal, Marvin. The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.
- Perry, Richard H. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Last Days. Penguin Group (USA) Inc, 2006.