Four main End Times theories.

At some future point, Jesus will return. Mt 24.42, Ac 1.11, 1Th 4.16-17, 2Th 2.1, Rv 22.20 Not maybe, not we really hope he might: Will. It’s in the creeds; it’s considered orthodox Christianity. Any self-described Christian who claims Jesus isn’t coming back, or who describes his return as metaphorical or “spiritual” (by which they mean imaginary) is heretic. Sorry, heretics. He’s literally returning.

But even though Christians are unanimous in our belief “from [heaven] he will come to judge the living and the dead,” we’re not universal as to how it’ll happen. Jesus didn’t give us specifics. He gave us apocalypses, images which represent what God’s up to, but aren’t meant to be taken literally. (Not that some Christians don’t try.) His Olivet Discourse—the bit in the synoptic gospels where he talks about the End Times—and his revelations to John in Revelation are full of such apocalypses. Jesus told us what the End is like, but not what it is. The details are not for us to know.

Acts 1.7 KWL
Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.”

The Father doesn’t set it by anything we do, and certainly not our timelines of End Times events. We have to trust him to be in charge of it, and let things unfold as God chooses.

Since Christians aren’t agreed as to how the End comes, most of us agree to disagree. Most. Some of us are absolutely certain it’ll only happen the way we say it will, and have declared war on any Christian who teaches otherwise. I know I’ve certainly been called heretic by some of ’em. Sure glad those folks aren’t in charge of what’s orthodox and what isn’t.

But as far as End Times interpretations are concerned, there are four major camps we Christians fall into. So I thought I’d introduce you to them. Yes, I’ll admit upfront I fall into the preterist camp. But again, you’re not heretic if you go for one of the other views. Wrong probably, but not heretic.

End of Days.

The most popular and common view is the End of Days. This is the one you’ll find in nearly every secular Hollywood movie. Basically it runs down like so.

  • Evil starts to gather its forces for one big final showdown between them and Christ. Plagues, pestilence, horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Beast, etc.
  • Good people try to fight off evil… and lose. (Because evil’s just so powerful.)
  • Jesus returns and instantly wipes out the Beast and its forces. (Because as powerful as evil might be, Jesus is almighty.)
  • It’s the end of the world. Planet goes foom. Either it’s annihilated in the force of Jesus’s return, or he snaps his fingers and makes it go away. Gone.
  • The righteous suddenly find themselves in heaven, where they’ll live forever.

You’ll notice there’s a lot of End Times imagery missing from this scenario. Where’s the great tribulation? Where’s the rapture? Where’s the resurrection? Where’s the millennium? It’s like the short version of the End Times.

It’s because the End of Days is based on the idea all the apocalyptic visionary stuff is happening behind the scenes. They don’t play out in our human history; they happen in angelic history, in heavenly history. They represent the major events of the angelic war which has been going on since creation. But they don’t have a lot to do with us. We’re minor figures in the cosmic plan, so we don’t see these events play out. We just go straight to heaven.

The whole point of this view is heaven. Apparently all this time when people died, they didn’t go to paradise; they went directly to heaven, and have been alive there. (Got resurrected somehow, so we’re in tangible, physical bodies.) Heaven is what Jesus meant all along by “the kingdom of heaven,” and it’s New Jerusalem, New Earth already. When the End of Days come, Jesus simply takes the rest of his people to heaven. It’s kinda like he killed everybody when he blew up the world. Except he didn’t. Or did he?…

Yeah, very few of these ideas come directly from bible. They come indirectly, through folk Christianity and Christian myths. They’re guesses about the End, made by people who figured Revelation is too confusing, so they skipped it and created an End Times view which puts ’em straight into heaven. Not even New Heaven.

So to these folks, any world-ending event might mean the End of Days. A pandemic, an extinction-level meteorite, a global thermonuclear war, climate change; heck, even a space alien invasion. Anything which might kill every last human on earth… which sorta does Jesus’s work of coming to get us, and they’ll even figure that’s how he pulls it off. Why should the Son of Man appear in the clouds, when a solar flare might end the world and send us to heaven all the same?

As you can tell, this scenario really doesn’t even need God to get involved. It’s probably why so many pagans are okay with it as their End Times scenario too.

Utopia.

The word utopia was coined by St. Thomas More. It’s Latin for “no place,” because his book Utopia is a fictional story about an ideal place, somewhere in the Americas, which really exists nowhere. But the idea of a perfect society has been around since Plato’s Republic and before. And Christians earnestly believed, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we might actually achieve it. For the longest time it was the next-most-popular End Times view:

  • Humans decide to stop fighting and scratching and biting one another, and work together, under God, for the good of the world.
  • We unify our economies, unify our governments, pass laws eliminating bloodshed and poverty and promoting peace and harmony, and people actually follow these laws instead of trying to create loopholes for themselves.
  • We live in comfort and ease, solving every new problem we come across with grace and generosity. What a beautiful world this will be; what a glorious time to be free.
  • Jesus, seeing we’ve finally achieved the kingdom he wanted for us, returns to personally reign over us all.

No tribulation, ’cause the pre-utopian times count as tribulation. The Beast and its minions were defeated back when we finally got serious about sorting out the world’s problems. It’s definitely a postmillennial perspective. And it sounds an awful lot like Star Trek… which stands to reason.

Utopianism and utopian science fiction like Star Trek are based on modernism, the belief humans can re-create or improve our environment through science and technology. It’s the product of the late Enlightenment era, and it’s debatable whether Christian thinkers either invented it or adopted it. Modernists all share the same optimistic vision of the future: If we buckle down and get serious about humanity’s progress (or, for Christian humanists, get serious about Jesus’s teachings) we can actually create heaven here on earth. Isn’t this what Jesus wanted us to do?

After two world wars, the utopian view fell out of fashion. Germany used to be considered one of the more “enlightened” civilizations in the world, and attempted to create a thousand-year kingdom on earth… but turns out they were led by antichrists, and in the process committed some horrific evils. Other attempts at creating utopias, and their spectacular failures, convinced most Christians to realize utopianism isn’t really part of human DNA: Total depravity is. So Christians quit utopianism to seek a more postmodern worldview: One which recognizes human depravity and doubts “progress.” (Sometimes too much, but that’s another discussion.)

There’s still a lot of modernism in American Christianity though. Our conservatives love to claim we were founded as a Christian nation, as a special and chosen people, by God-fearing founding fathers; and if we just returned to biblical standards and principles, we could fix our nation’s problems and turn the United States into God’s kingdom. And y’know, even Christians who don’t believe in utopianism fall for this rhetoric on a regular basis. It just sounds so patriotic… and blind to the fact Germany tried the very same thing, and look where they went. All it takes is a few hypocrites in power to turn a noble idea into hell on earth.

Nope; Jesus has got to rule his kingdom personally. Unregenerate humans can’t. And once Jesus conquers the world, he’s overthrowing every government. Including ours. No matter how “Christian” we make it appear.

Darbyism.

Whenever an End Times scenario claims there’s a rapture separate from Jesus’s return, whether it happens before or during tribulation, we’re talking Darbyism. I wrote a lot about Darbyism elsewhere. If you want details about how many of ’em think tribulation looks, there’s always my old series on There’s a New World Coming, which you can plow through if you want. Or you can just read this summary.

John Nelson Darby believed God turned off the miracles in the present day, and in order to make his view jibe with the bible, adopted dispensationalism, the claim God has multiple plans of salvation. In the present day we’re saved by grace, but before Jesus died we were saved by works. Dispensationalism isn’t a proper interpretation of the bible, but Darby got it to “work” by quoting a lot out of context.

Okay, if God turned off the miracles, what about the End Times? The apocalypses make it sound like it’s full of miracles. Darby’s solution was futurism: Any End Times prophecy (or anything Darbyists claim is an End Times prophecy) takes place during a seven-year hellscape in the future. But Christians will sit out either some of it (“midtribulationism”) or all of it (“pretribulationism”) because Jesus secretly raptures us away from it. ’Cause we’re his favorites.

Goes like so.

  • The world’s Christians (the real Christians, anyway) unexpectedly vanish in the rapture.
  • The Beast takes over the world, promising peace and security, and actually creates peace in the middle east for once. But halfway through the seven years, the Beast breaks the peace to go to war with Israel—whom God miraculously defends.
  • Various plagues and disasters meanwhile smite the world and its wicked.
  • The Beast attempts one big final battle… and Jesus invades, destroying the Beast and its armies.
  • Jesus, his Christians, and Israel take over the world, and run it for a thousand years.
  • Satan tries to raise one more battle, but Jesus easily wins. Then Jesus raises everybody from the dead, judges the world, throws the wicked into hell, and replaces earth with New Earth.

Because Darbyists tend to be very detailed—they claim to know the exact sequence of events during the End Times—they appeal anyone who desperately wants to know about the End. Even if they believe they’ll be raptured out first.

But since no two Darbyists believe precisely alike, each must publicize their own specific views. Hence Darbyists write End Times books like you wouldn’t believe. Go to any Christian bookstore and they dominate the shelf. They have “prophecy conferences” galore, where you can go listen to a bunch of of ’em unroll their timelines and tell you how it plays out. Look up End Times on the internet and nearly all the sites are of the Darbyist persuasion. They even have study bibles, which’ll show you just which verses they cherry-pick to construct their timelines.

Like I state in my New World Coming articles, they’re all wet. I grew up in churches which are totally into their view, which is why I know it so well. But I hang my hat on the preterist view.

Preterism.

Jesus told his students about the End, but primarily about the near future. That future came and went. The great tribulation already happened. The bulk of those prophecies came to pass in our past. It’s history now. The only thing left, which can happen at any time, is Jesus’s return. We call this view preterism.

Not “partial preterism.” A partial preterist believes only some End Times prophecies are in the past, but some are in the future. Fr’instance they might claim the Beast came and went, but there’s still a great tribulation coming. Or some of Revelation’s plague are past, but others are yet to come.

Nor “full preterism.” That’s what we call people who claim Jesus already has returned, and is ruling the world. (If so, he’s really bungling it!) You gotta either be nuts, or have some really distorted views on God, to think Jesus has returned already.

But properly, preterists recognize the only thing we have left to look forward to is the soon, unexpected, and rapid return of Christ Jesus. The skies roll back, the trumpet blasts, the angel shouts, the Lord descends, every Christian (dead and alive) gets transformed, joins him in the air, and the billions of us proceed to Jerusalem where he takes over the world. It’s gonna freak out everyone. But it’s gonna be awesome.

The great tribulation? Happened in the year 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Regular tribulation is the usual state of Christianity; Christians are still the most persecuted religion in the world, and only comfortable, safe Christians in the United States are under the delusion it’s the circumstances of a different dispensation. The Beast? There’ve been a bunch of power-mad world leaders who are decent candidates for the Beast. And so on. Go through all the other prophecies in the bible: Either they’re done—or they don’t have to be done till Jesus returns. Like all Israel getting saved. Once their Messiah arrives, he’ll sort them out. Till then, keep doing as we’re doing: Share him with them. ’Cause we’d all prefer they rejoice at his return, not freak out like the pagans.

Nope, nothing more has to happen first. ’Cause they’ve happened already. They’ve had 20 centuries to happen. You can figure out when they happened, assuming you didn’t skim that part of your history classes. Or if you haven’t already assumed, as the Darbyists teach, that those events can’t be fulfillments, ’cause futurism. But only Jesus happens in the future. Everything else got out of his way.

Some preterists call ourselves historicists, ’cause the End Times events of Revelation describe Christian history. (The horsemen of the apocalypse, Rv 6.1-8 fr’instance: The white horse’s rider, Christ, conquered the Roman Empire, and the other horses describe the backlash ever since against the spread of Christendom.) They reserve the term preterist for the “full preterists,” and mock “preterists” right along with anti-preterists.

Yeah, there are other theories.

I went through the main four theories, which you’ll find among most Christians; probably 99 percent of us. There are of course others. In fact, you might be one of those exceptions, grousing, “You didn’t cover my view.” No, I didn’t.

But I will cover this fifth one: Apathy.

“I’m a pan-millennialist,” a Christian of my acquaintance liked to joke. “I believe it’ll all pan out in the end.” A lot of Christians, fed up with “prophecy scholars” who know nothing about either prophecy or scholarship, have decided this is precisely the way to go. My panmillennialist acquaintance didn’t wanna get into End Times squabbles. He didn’t care which came first, the chicken or the Beast. He just figured Jesus would come for him someday, and he was fine with that.

And of course Jesus will. The reason we Christians fret about the End Times (“What’s gonna happen?” “Who’s the Beast?” “Must stop the one-world government!” “Must fight the New World Order!” “They’re out to kill us all!”) is fear. Since knowledge is power, we figure if we get a little End Times knowledge, maybe we can have some control over our future. But here’s the reality: We have no such control. Jm 4.13-16 Because Jesus has it.

Jesus holds the keys to death and hades, Rv 1.18 not us. It makes not a whit of difference what we know about the End. But because we think it might, Jesus preemptively stopped us from foolishly trying to control or change things… and that’s why he gave us nothing but apocalypses to work with. We get to know the future of a very few things. Jn 16.13 We don’t get to know the future of the world. Anyone who claims they figured it out, is simply trying to sell you a book or conference or video. Or they’re nuts. Either way, there are no experts on End Times prophecy. This stuff remains in the hands of the LORD, and that’s best.

What we do get to know is that in the End, God wins. Jesus reigns. We live again, and live forever. No more tears and sorrow. Evil is dealt with. Faith is rewarded. Let it be enough.

And if anyone, anyone teaches it’s okay to suspend God’s commands because the End is coming—if anyone values their own life above God’s kingdom, if anyone values their own interpretations over God’s grace and power, and if anyone tries to exploit human fears for fun and profit—they’re wrong. Don’t let fear become a justification for evil. Those behaviors put us outside God’s kingdom, Ga 5.17-21 even if we think we’re doing them for the kingdom’s sake. We’re not. They’re not. Don’t stand for it.