There are three basic systems for eschatology. Rather than elaborate on all of the nuances, I wanted to give the super simplified list to keep things clear. The most popular system has these basic features:
- Jesus is coming back to get the church and judge the world at any time.
- This will be followed by a golden age of his rule upon the Earth while Satan is bound.
- This will be followed by Satan’s release and a final judgement of both the devil and the wicked.
That is called premillennialism. It has several core problems. The biggest one for me is that it basically repeats history. First of all there are two completely separate judgements. After the righteous stand before God, they return to Earth with Jesus and rule over everyone who is left after Jesus judges the world. If you’ve read Revelation, it’s hard to imagine anyone being left, and it’s even harder to imagine that these people are going to repopulate the Earth so we can rule over them and finally have them judged. Then you have three defeats of Satan: Jesus defeated the devil at the cross, he will defeat him again at the end of this age, and then again at the end of the thousand years. So we need another alternative. Hard core Reformed types have proposeed the following:
- Satan was already bound and judged at the end of the Jewish era in 70AD.
- The golden age that the Old Testament prophesied is now. If you look closely you’ll see that things are in fact getting better and better, it’s just taking a long time.
- After the church has literally taken over the world Jesus will return to rule it.
That is called postmillennialism. First, John would have had to write Revelation before 70AD for this to work, and that’s very unlikely. Secondly, it all too conveniently puts everything bad in the past, while leaving a few goodies for the end. Third, it sees Theonomic rule by the church as good, which in reality has always been bad historically. Fourth, a LOT more time may be needed to fulfill it, maybe several more millenia. The final system and one I follow has these features:
- Jesus is currently ruling the world through the church, having bound Satan at the cross.
- The Kingdom is essentially a spiritual reality, so while there are outward signs of it, the primary battle is spiritual.
- After the church has reached every nation, Satan will be released and there will be a final showdown between his kingdom and God’s Kingdom.
- Jesus will return in the midst of this battle and Satan will be finally defeated, the wicked will be judged, and there will be a new heavens and new earth.
This is called Amillennialism. Right off the bat, people have trouble with the idea that Satan is bound. If you look closely at the text it says that Satan was bound so that he could no longer deceive the nations (same Greek word for Gentiles), and that is exactly what you see. We are no longer enslaved by demonic lies, but the Gospel is expanding in the Gentile world wherever it goes. Secondly, people complain about “spiritualizing away” the prophecies of the Bible. If you look at the things that are being “Spiritualized away” like Ezekiel’s temple, and the millennium itself, I think it is pretty easy to see that these are prophecies, intentionally given in images and word pictures. It is actually proper to interpret passages like this “spiritually” rather than in the most literal fashion. After all Joseph didn’t tell Pharoah that his dream about 7 cows was really about 7 cows did he?