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spacertribulation, rapture, millennium



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Trouble or pressure of a general sort; in some passages a particular time of suffering associated with events of the end time. In this sense it is described as tribulation surpassing any trouble yet experienced in human history (Matt. 24:21 javascript popup window).

Such a reference to ''the great tribulation'' as Revelation 7:14 javascript popup window (NIV) is seen by some (amillennialism) to refer historically to persecution faced by Christians of the latter part of the first century, but also symbolic of tribulation that occurs periodically throughout history. Others (premillennialism) take such a reference to the great tribulation to refer to an end time period.

Dispensational premillennialism connects such a seven-year tribulation with the seventieth week of a prophetic framework taken from Daniel 9:24-27 javascript popup window. A distinction is usually made between the two halves of the seven years. The last half, often called the Great Tribulation, is measured variously as three and a half years (Dan. 9:27 javascript popup window), forty-two months (Rev. 11:2 javascript popup window; 13:5 javascript popup window), 1,260 days (Rev. 11:3 javascript popup window; 12:6 javascript popup window), or ''a time, and times, and half a time'' (Rev. 12:14 javascript popup window). Distinctive to this view is the teaching the church will be raptured at the beginning of the tribulation period.

Historic premillennialism sees the period as a future time of intense trouble on earth prior to Christ's return, but holds the church will go through the tribulation. The church must endure the tribulation, but not God's wrath.
Source: Holman's Bible Dictionary
Since the Bible is the Word of the Living God, it claims to prophetically ''declare the end from the beginning'' (Isa. 46:10 javascript popup window. So it does! But all Christians do not agree as to when certain aspects of God's prophetic Word are to be fulfilled in history. This is no small matter. If large segments of prophecy have already been fulfilled, the future will be quite different than many believers expecting a future consummation suppose. The opposite is also true. You can imagine the surprise if certain events are still future for one who believes that they are past. This would require a major adjustment in the thinking of many about the past, present, and future. It is important to know what the Bible teaches about the timing of the fulfillment of prophecy. And of paramount importance in Bible prophecy is determining whether the Tribulation - including the Great Tribulation - is a past, present, or future event. That is the focus of this book.

When it comes to the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the timing of the Tribulation in history, there are four possibilities. The four views are simple in the sense that they reflect the only four possible ways that one can relate to time: past, present, future, and timeless. When speaking about the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, these four timing possibilities are called preterism, historicism, futurism, and idealism.

The preterist  (Latin for ''past'') believes that most, if not all prophecy has already been fulfilled, usually in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The historicist  (present) sees much of the current church age as equal to the Tribulation period. Thus, prophecy has been and will be fulfilled during the current church age. Futurists  (future) usually believe that almost no prophetic events are occuring in the current church age, but will take place in the following future episodes: the Tribulation of seven years, the Second Coming, the 1,000-year millennium, and the eternal state. The idealist  (timeless) does not believe either that the Bible indicates the timing of events or that we can determine their timing in advance. Therefore, idealists see prophetic passages as teaching great truths about God to be applied to our present lives.

The debate is shaping up as a showdown between preterism and futurism.

Idealism, as an approach to Bible prophecy, is rarely followed outside of liberal scholarship and thus is not a significant factor in the mainstream of current evangelical debate over when prophecy will be fulfilled. Historicism, once the dominant view of Protestants from the Reformation until the middle of the last century, appears to exert little attraction as a system of prophetic interpretation to conservative Christians (outside of Seventh-Day Adventist circles. However, it must be noted that most historicist take a preterist view of the Olivet discourse, disassociating it from the Tribulation as found in Revelation and some New Testament epistles. Within evangelical circles during the last one hundred fifty years, futurism has grown to dominate and overcome historicism. At the turn of the millennium we see arising from evangelical preterism an attemtp to challenge futurism.

D.H. Kromminga has noted that ''the preterist and the futurist methods, or approaches, stand at opposite extremes.'' Perhaps this explains why the historicist and idealist approached have receded into the background, while the futurist and preterist views are in the forefront. Until recently, futurism has enjoyed an unobstructed field. Preterism, the polar opposite of futurism, has arisen at least to provide a challenge to the futurist dominance within evangelicalism. This is why only futurism and preterism are considered in this book.

Before its recent upswing, contemporary forms of preterism tended to be found only within academic circles, providing an occasional commentary here and there. The pretest rise to a more popular visibility likely began simultaneously within the ranks of the Church of Christ as it received renened attention within evangelical conciousness through those within the Reformed tradition by the publishing of Jay Adam's The Time Is at Hand (1996) and J. Marcellus Kik's An Eschatalogy of Victory . (1971) However, the most significant impetus to the resurgence of preterism has to be its widespread adoption and propagation by those whithin the Christian Reconstruction movement. Reconstructionist attraction to preterism appeas to have been adopted by the late Dr. Greg Bahsen and spread through him to many of his disciples who, in turn, helped it to expand.

It is important to realize that there are three kinds of preterism that I have labeled as (1) mild; (2) moderate; and (3) extreme. Mild preterism holds that the Tribulation was fulfilled within the first three hundred years of Christianity as God judged two enemies: the Jews in A.D. 70 and Rome by A.D. 313; but adherents still look for a future Second Coming. Moderate preterism, which is the position of Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., sees the Tribulation and the bulk of Bible propehcy as fulfilled in events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70; but they still hold to a future Second Coming, a physical resurrection of the dead, and end to temporal history, and the establishing of the consumate new heaven and new earth. Extreme of consistent (as they like to call themselves) preterism believes that the Second Coming, and thus the resurrection of believers, is all past. For all practical purposes all Bible prophecies have been fulfilled, and we are beyond the millennium and even now in the new heaven and new earth. They believe that if there is an end of current history, it is not recorded in the Bible. Both Dr. Gentry and I believe that such a position is heretical, for it denies a bodily resurrection of believers and a future second coming of Christ.

Though futurism is currently the dominant view, it is doubtful that most who hold the position have thought through why they are futurists. This is likely for most evangelicals, since futurism has become so dominant. Also, in the absence of any perception of a challenger, the system has been taken for granted, so that effort has been spent expounding futurism, not defending it. Of course, a biblical case can be made for futurism, as I hope to show in my portion of the book.

An interchange between futurism and preterism with respect to the Tribulation is needed because that event is the focus of fulfilment for each system. The place of the Tribulation, or the Great Tribulation, in each system is determinative of the validity or failure of each approach. If the Tribulation is a past event, then preterism would be vindicated. If it is future, then futurism is the scriptural intent.

I am grateful of Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., whom I consider to be a brother in Christ, a friend, and one of the top spokespersons and defenders of evangelical preterism, for his willingness to champion the moderate preterist cause.


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First posted: Nov. 23, 2001
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