1. Literal Or Allegorical Interpretation. It is evident that there is much figurative language in Scripture, plus many symbols, types and parables. However, the literal interpreter of prophetic passages takes the ordinary, usual, natural and customary meaning of words to indicate the true sense, without ignoring figures of speech or symbols. Even when the figurative language is noted, the words are not spiritualized in such a way as to ignore literal truth in plain statements. If the normal sense of words makes good sense, then no other sense should be sought. If Messianic prophecies were fulfilled literally in the past, then companion, yet unfulfilled, future prophecies should be taken literally. An example of literal versus allegorical interpretation can be seen in reference to the millennium: Those who believe in a coming earthly millennium ruled by Christ and those who do not differ over whether certain prophecies are to be taken literally or to be “spiritualized.” It is generally admitted that a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecies gives us a picture of a coming earthly, glorious reign by the Messiah. This is exactly what the Jews, in the days of the Lord Jesus, expected. Yet they did not understand that He first must fulfill a coming which was to end in suffering and death before coming to fulfill literally the prophecies of a glorious world reign. In short, there were to be two comings, both involving literal fulfillment. The deniers of an earthly millennium ignore the literal, ordinary and historic sense of passages and assign to them a moral, allegorical meaning. Statements about Mt. Zion, Israel and the promised land become, in their own minds, statements about the church and her spiritual portion in Christ.
2. Distinguishing Israel And The Church Of Christ. The proper order of future events is tangled when Israel and the church are confused. There is a major principle of difference between systems of interpreting prophecy. The common argument is that Israel was God’s people in the Old Testament and the church represents God’s people in the New Testament and that both alike are saved by the blood of Christ. This sounds simple enough. Yet it fails to note that distinction is made in the New Testament between the Jews, the gentiles and the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32). In fact, Jews and gentiles are distinguished continually in Scripture, especially in Romans. These differing groups were brought together in a new unity in the church and this one body is called “a mystery,” something not previously recorded in Scripture (Ephesians 2:11-3:6). One became an Israelite by natural birth. One becomes a Christian by the new birth. Israel had a priesthood. The church is a priesthood. Israel is likened to an adulterous woman divorced by her husband Jehovah (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:1,20). Yet she is promised future restoration (Hosea 1:9-11; Romans 9:26-27; 11:11-27). The church is a pure virgin engaged to Christ and soon to be married after the rapture (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:1-9). Israel is appointed to an earthly kingdom (Ezekiel 37:21-28). The church will be in the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2) and has no promises concerning earthly inheritance (Philippians 3:20). Israel is a branch that was cut off in judgment. The church was grafted into the root as a wild olive tree (Romans 11:15-27). But the natural branches will yet be brought back.
3. Distinguishing The Resurrections And Judgments. Some people teach that Christ will come at the end of all earthly history when there will be both a general resurrection and a general judgment of all mankind, good and evil. Usually this is accompanied by the idea that people will find out whether they are going to heaven or not at this time, based on weighing good deeds and bad. This is contradicted by many Scriptures. First, salvation is determined by our response to Christ and the gospel in this life, not at a future judgment. Weighing of good against evil works is not the way of salvation. Second, there are many resurrections over a long period of time, not one. The clearest evidence of differing resurrection times is in Revelation 20:4-5 where the martyrs are raised at the beginning of the millennium and the wicked are raised at the end. The first to be raised to die no more was Christ, in the order of resurrections (1 Corinthians 15:23). Shortly after this, there were other saints raised (Matthew 27:52-53). The saints of the Bride of Christ will be raised at the rapture. “Daniel’s people” (Israel) will be raised at a differing time (Daniel 12:1-3).
There is no single judgment day in Scripture, any more than a single resurrection day. Scripture sometimes uses “day” as in “day of the Lord” to cover an extended period. God’s judgments are varied as to purpose, people and time. There are at least five future judgments mentioned in Scripture. (1) The Judgment Seat of Christ occurs after the rapture and surveys believers’ lives and works on the foundation of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). (2) The Judgment of the Great White Throne deals entirely with the unsaved and their sins (Revelation 20:11-15). (3) The judgment of fallen angels seems to occur at the same time (Jude 6; Revelation 20:10). (4) The judgment of the nation of Israel is prior to the beginning of the millennial kingdom (Ezekiel 20:33-44; Zechariah 13:8-9; 14:4). (5) The judgment of the gentiles, or heathen peoples, will involve those surviving the Tribulation and will concern their treatment of God’s people, especially the saved of Israel (Joel 3:11-16; Matthew 25:31-46).
4. Millennial Views. There are three major beliefs about a future, earthly kingdom of Christ.
a. Premillennial means “before the millennium.” Advocates of this view teach that Christ will return to earth to punish His enemies and establish the Messianic kingdom here. The mention of 1000 years six different times (Revelation 20:2-7) is taken literally to be fulfilled, as also the Old Testament promises of coming peace, prosperity and universal knowledge of the Lord. Only the Lord, in a personal, visible and powerful manifestation of Himself, could accomplish the task of bringing the earth to be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). This was the view of the early church.
b. Postmillennial means “after the millennium.” Postmillennialists believe that Christ comes after the gospel has triumphed throughout the world and brought peace, prosperity and spiritual glory. The millennium is spiritualized and is seen as a term for an indefinite period of time when Christ reigns spiritually in the hearts of His people preceding His second coming. The church is the Israel of the new covenant. The world is seen as getting better all the time, becoming gradually converted. As a leading advocate L. Boettner puts it: “Postmillennialism is the view of last things which holds that the kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals that the world eventually is to be Christianized and then the return of Christ.”8 This will also be followed by a general resurrection and general judgment. Needless to say, this view has few followers today since historic conditions so clearly contradict it. Those of this view, largely liberals, have either converted to amillennialism or abandoned any belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture at all.
c. Amillennial means “no millennium,” or no literal, earthly reign by Christ. This view arose in the church during the time of Augustine in the Fourth and Fifth centuries. It became dominant in the Roman Catholic church and is held today by many Protestant denominations. Fulfillment of millennial prophecy is seen as Christ reigning spiritually in the hearts of believers on earth between His resurrection and second coming. The 1000 year period is spiritualized into an indefinite period. According to Matthew 12:29, Satan is thought to be bound on earth in his ability to deceive and prevent the spread of the gospel. Amillennialists give no explanation for problem verses as 2 Timothy 2:26; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9; and Revelation 2:10. Demonic activity which shows no evidence of any satanic restriction within the meaning of Revelation 20:1-3 is not accounted for. Passages like Isaiah 11:6-9, concerning an idyllic age, are to be fulfilled only in the new earth, they say. Christ is to return in glory, with no prior rapture of believers, to raise the dead and conduct a general judgment before entering the eternal state. The kingdom of God is now being extended to the world through the preaching of the gospel. The amillennialist denies any national future for Israel. Promises to her of a golden age are spiritualized and made to apply to the church now. The promised judgments, however, are left to her as being literally fulfilled.
5. Tribulation Views revolve around the question of when Christ will come with respect to the period of worldwide upheaval predicted in such passages as Matthew 24:3-30; Revelation 7:14; and Daniel 12:1.
a. Pre-Tribulation advocates believe that Christ will come for the church before the tribulation period. The Bride, being translated as was Enoch and removed from the judgment as Noah, will be spared the wrath of God which is coming upon a Christ-rejecting world. They believe there is a distinction in the New Testament between Christ coming for His saints and Christ coming with His saints. These two phases bracket the seven-year Tribulation period which constitutes the final week of Daniel’s Seventy Week prophecy (9:25-27). The Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:1-30, dealing with the period immediately prior to Christ’s second coming, speaks of “the abomination of desolation,” those in “Judea” and flight upon the “Sabbath.” The context refers to Jewish believers, not the church. Chapters 4 to 18 of Revelation cover the same period and do not mention the church by name. References to believers abound in terms applicable to Israel, not the church (cf. chapter 7). Hence the church is not seen on earth during this time.
b. Mid-Tribulation advocates believe that Christ comes with the sounding of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11, at the end of the first 3’/2 years, or middle, of the seventieth week of Daniel. Most of its arguments follow those of post-tribulationism (see below). The timing of Christ’s coming is related to equating “the last trump” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 with Revelation 11:15 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
c. Post-Tribulation advocates believe that Christ will return after the Tribulation. There are several variations of this view and no one system is apparent. In general, the following arguments are used: (1) the church has always had tribulation so why should this be any different? (no distinction is made between general tribulation and the Great Tribulation); (2) the pretribulation view is novel, only coming into being in the 19th century; (3) imminence of Christ’s coming is denied; (4) all the dead are resurrected only at the second coming of Christ, not prior to it, and takes place in one day; (5) the Scripture does not distinguish explicitly between Christ’s coming for and coming with His saints. Many post-tribulationists are also amillennialists.
d. Partial Rapture advocates, using verses like Luke 21:36 and Hebrews 9:28 as proof, believe that only the believers who are watching and waiting for Christ will be translated at the rapture. Thus part of the body would be left on earth while the rest was in heaven. This view seeks to encourage holy living and watchfulness for Christ’s return but has the disadvantage of denying the unity of the body of Christ as taught in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 and Ephesians 5:30.
Outlining The Gospel
Is there interest?
1. OFFER MADE
ETERNAL AND ABUNDANT LIFE John 10:10b; John 5:24
LOVE OF GOD John 3:16; Romans 5:8
Is There A Sense Of Need?
2. OFFER NEEDED
WHAT IS SIN? Romans 3:23; Isaiah 53:6
DEATH AS CONSEQUENCE (SEPARATION) Romans 6:23;
NEED TO REPENT Acts 3:19; Isaiah 55:7
Is There Understanding ?
3. OFFER IS JUST
CHRIST’S SUBSTITUTIONARY DEATH AND RESURRECTION
1 Peter 2:24; 3:18
THE GOD-MAN 1 Timothy 2:5; John 1:1,14
GRACE NOT WORKS (A GIFT) Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5
Is There Willingness To Have Jesus Reign Over Them?
4. OFFER MUST BE ACCEPTED
UNDERSTAND GOSPEL CONTENT 1 John 5:11-12
2 Corinthians 15:3-4
TRUST, RECEIVE CHRIST Revelation 3:20; John 1:12
SUBMIT TO LORD AND SAVIOR Romans 10:9-10;
Do They Understand The Consequences Of Rejecting The Gospel?
5. OFFER REJECTED
WARNING TO REJECTORS John 3:36; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
8 “There’s a Wax Back to God” (Kansas City, Kan.: Walterick Publishers, 1967), p. 19.