Eschatology 101

I've decided to write a medium-sized dissertation introducing the reader to the subject of eschatology (the end times).
Welcome to Eschatology 101! This article will be presented in the most straightforward and simple manner possible. Before we start, though, I would like to clear up a common misconception that many people have concerning prophetic interpretation. Many of you have heard the "Golden Rule" of prophecy formulated by Dr. Tim Lahaye:
"Take all passages literally whenever possible unless the immediate context indicates otherwise."
or, in the words of Dr. David Reagan:
"If the plain sense makes sense, don't look for any other prophetic sense, lest you end up with nonsense."
Recently I was asked where we dispensationalists get this rule. I puzzled over it for a while, but finally came up with the answer:
Prophecy in the Old Testament concerning Christ's First Coming can almost always be linked to its fulfillment in the New Testament, usually because after the account of the fulfillment the author of the book gives you the prophecy.
If we look closely at the matched prophecies, we see that normally the fulfillment happens through the plain sense of the verse. For example, the boy Jesus returned from Egypt after the death of Herod. The Bible then says: "This was done that it might be fulfilled what was written in the prophets: 'Out of Egypt have I called My Son.' " Most likely the Pharisees before the time of Christ "spiritualized" this passage, saying "This just refers to the Exodus, where God called Israel out of Egypt." We know now that if the plain sense makes sense (like it does here), we shouldn't look for any other sense (like the misguided hypothetical Pharisees) lest we end up with nonsense.
One more thing before we begin: I will not refer to anyone as an authority aside to Scripture. I absolutely hate it when people say "Well, that particular passage was interpreted by St. Joe Smith in 1433 to mean. . . ." Frankly, I don't care what Saint so-and-so said about that passage. God's Word is clear enough to speak on its own.
That being done with, allow me to show you the basic passage that most people use to back up their eschatology.
This passage is called the "Seventy-Weeks" prophecy in Daniel 9:
While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. "At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision:

Daniel has been praying in Babylon, and Gabriel has been sent to give him a vision of the end times.

"Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.

The Hebrew word for "weeks" and the word for "sevens" are the same. This was translated "weeks" here; it really means a set of seven somethings. We know from later in this chapter that it means 7 years (see a little bit lower down in the passage).

"Your people and your holy city" is addressed to Daniel. This, of course, means Israel and Jerusalem (which, incidentally, is what he was praying about).

So Israel has seventy seven-year-periods left, after which all the things Gabriel lists will happen: the Most High (Christ) will be anointed, all vision and prophecy will be finished, everlasting righteousness will be brought in, no more sins will be committed, etc. This is an indication of Christ's Second Return, right?

Here's a chart to illustrate what we've covered:

Start of the 70 wks.}----------------------------------{Christ reigns in glory

"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem So it starts at the decree to Nehemiah to restore Jerusalem in about 440 BC. Knowing this, we can add to our chart:

*445 BC*}------------------------------------------{*End of the World*

Until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.

The street and the wall obviously mean Jerusalem in this context (restore and build Jerusalem). Records show that, indeed, it took seven "weeks" from the command to restore Jerusalem in 445 to the finishing of construction in around 409 BC. Then it took 62 "weeks" before Messiah would come. This leaves one week from Messiah until the end of the world.

*445 BC*}--(7wks)--*409 BC*---(62wks)---*Messiah*-(1wk)-{*End of the Age* And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;

So the sixty-two weeks measures until approx. 28 AD, when Christ was cut off but not for himself.

*445 BC*}------(A total of 69 wks)-------*28 AD*--(1wk)--{*End of the Age*

Here's where it gets tricky:

And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood (explanation: a flood of armies), and till the end of the war desolations are determined.

We don't know anything yet about this elusive "prince who is to come", but we do know that in 70 AD, the Romans under Titus destroyed the city and the temple. Since then, Israel has been desolated by Gentiles.

But like I said, this is interesting. We know that the world did not end 7 years after Christ was "cut off". Look at the first part of this passage where it talks about the 70 weeks themselves: Seventy weeks have been determined for your people (Israel) and your holy city (Jerusalem).

Since God doesn't lie, we conjecture from this passage that the 70 weeks is only "counting off" during the God-ordained existence of the Israelites and their total occupation of Jerusalem. This would mean that the prophetic 70-week "clock" stopped ticking after the Jews rejected Messiah. What does this do to our chart?

*445 BC*}---69 weeks---*Messiah is cut off*-{ Blank space }-1wk-{*End of the Age*

Since the blank space started when the Jews were "broken off" and the Gentiles were "grafted in" (see Romans 11 for explanation), we call the blank space the Church Age.

**}-----------69 weeks----------**-{ Church Age }-1 week left-{**

So what is the deal with the last week? We know so far that:

  • This week ushers in Christ's 2nd return.
  • This week must have Israel holding Jerusalem.

The passage now tells us about this week. I'm including some of the last part of the passage to make it easier to understand.

And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary . . . Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week;

Wait a minute! Who is this "he" who is going to take up the last week? It can't be Christ, for it says later that "he" breaks his covenant. Reading carefully, we notice that it talked about a "prince who is to come". Apparently, "he" is this prince, and he will make a treaty with many nations for the last week.

But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.

So we have this prince who makes a covenant of seven years with many nations, but breaks it in 3.5 years later (the middle of the week), bringing an end to the sacrifices in the temple and desecrating it. This desecration lasts 3.5 years, until the consummation of all things, when Christ returns.

So our chart now looks like this:

*}-69 weeks-{*Church Age}-*3.5 years-DESOLATION-3.5 years*-{Christ's Return

Look familiar? This is where we get the famous "Tim Lahaye style" charts depicting the end times. Seven years, huh?

Second Thessalonians 2 tells us more about this prince. When he is revealed in the last days, he "opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."

Someone who is opposed to Christ is called Anti-Christ. John tells us that "You, children, have heard that THE ANTICHRIST is coming, and even now the spirit of antichrist is in the world".

2 Thessalonians tells us that this "lawless one" will be consumed by the breath of the Lord and the brightness of his Second Coming.

This, my friends, is where we get a chart like this one (click for larger picture):

Chart taken from Lamb&Lion Ministries.

I hope that Dr. Reagan doesn't mind! :-) If you read this, Dr. Reagan, I hope you aren't offended by my using the pic. If so, give me a call (Ben or Linda Rake will give you my number; we live in the same city) and I will take the picture off immediately and replace it with a link to your article.

This, my friends, is the basis of eschatology. In Him, David S. MacMillan III


David Ketter said...

Very nice summation, D3...I have never seen anyone pull this off without having to reference the New Testament concerning the Last Week of Daniel. Takes some talent there...Excellent.


David S. MacMillan III said...

Actually, I do reference the New Testament when I talk about 2 Thessalonians 2, but I try to stick to the main text.

Anonymous said...

d3, you so crazy.

David S. MacMillan III said...

Hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, I see.

Cheryl Schupbach said...

Mr. MacMillan: I have reason to believe Dr. Reagan would find no offense in your usage of the graphic as you have provided an appropriate link and credit to Lamb & Lion Ministries, http://www.lamblion.com/.

Warmest Regards,
Lamb & Lion Ministries, Web Administrator

David S. MacMillan III said...

Thanks Mrs. Shcupback!

I love your ministry! Our family is a prophecy partner, and we love seeing your updates. Rock on!

In Him,

David S. MacMillan III