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The End Times and Our Journey to It

With Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation, we encounter for the first time—but certainly not for the last—a glimpse into the end times and the journey to it in the book of Daniel. Earlier in this chapter, Daniel declared to the king, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” (Dan 2:28 ESV). This phrase, “in the latter days,” is used a number of times in the Old Testament to describe the events of history in the distant future. But in some texts, it possesses a more technical meaning that refers to the fulfillment of God’s purposes in history, or you could say, the end times, of which three examples are Daniel 10:14, Hosea 3:5, and Micah 4:1. In Daniel 2, we not only encounter a vision of the end times when the kingdom of God fills the whole earth, but also a sketchy picture of the journey to the end times.

How that picture is filled out, however, depends on how you understand the teaching of the rest of Scripture on the matter of the end of time and our journey to it. Since we’re reading Revelation and I’ll be preaching through more end times texts, I wanted to take this reflection as an opportunity to lay some groundwork for future discussions.

To put things quite simplistically, how you read a text like Daniel 2 depends in large part on how you understand the millennial reign of Christ in Revelation 20. While I encourage you to go read that short chapter before continuing to read, I’ll offer a brief summary here. Satan is bound for a thousand years (vv1-3). At the same time, there is a thousand-year reign of Christ in which the saints participate (vv4-6). At the end of the thousand years, there is a great demonic uprising that is decisively defeated by God (vv7-10). After this battle, the final judgment comes (vv11-15). The main question is how we understand this thousand-year (millennial) reign of Christ, especially as it relates to the binding of Satan, the great battle, and the final judgment.

That said, there are three main views on how to understand the millennial reign of Christ and its position relative to the second coming of Christ: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. The premillennial view argues that Revelation 20 teaches that Christ will come again to establish a literal one-thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, after which there will be a great rebellion and then the final judgment.

The postmillennial view argues that Christ’s second coming will happen after a one-thousand-year reign in heaven. The time period can be literal or symbolic. As world history moves toward the end of the thousand years, there will be a “golden age” of sorts when “the world will largely be Christianized. Christ will return sometime after or toward the end of this golden age. The expectation is for the gospel to triumph more or less universally in the future before the [second coming of Christ].”[1]

The amillennial view is distinguished from the postmillennial view by its definition of the thousand-year reign of Christ as symbolic and covering the entire church age from the apostles to the end times. According to Robert Letham, “convinced amillennialists” are pessimists who “teach that evil will grow worse and worse, the church will have a hard time, and eventually there will be a large-scale persecution, after which Christ will return.”[2] This view does not deny the triumph of the gospel but is far more modest in comparison to the postmillennial view with regards to the visible expression of God’s kingdom as it grows over time.

The differences between the postmillennial and amillennial views are small since both views understand Revelation 20 to teach that Christ will only return to earth after the one-thousand-year period. In practice, the differences really surface in how optimistically or pessimistically one views our journey to the end times. Postmillennials are more optimistic that the church will grow in size and influence as time moves forward and the gospel is proclaimed to the nations. Amillennials tend to emphasize the trials and afflictions that the church will endure until the end. Both views agree that in the end Christ will come again, there will be one general resurrection, and Christ will judge the living and the dead once and for all.

In the end, while discussing these things is important because engaging honestly with God’s word is important, our understanding of the end times and our journey to it is at least secondary. I would much rather meditate on the words of Count Zinzendorf, who contextualized well the personal significance of our millennial views: “Preach the gospel. Die. Be forgotten.”

[1] Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 848. [2] Letham, Systematic Theology, 848.

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