Unlike many of my fellow believers here in the USA, I no longer believe in the traditional understanding of a coming tribulation or rapture, and in this post I’d like to show some of the many reasons why my belief about the “end times” has changed and what I now believe. I certainly understand where those who are looking for a rapture or tribulation are coming from, as I believed that way myself just a few years ago. My belief, put very basically, is that nearly all of the scriptures which are frequently used to support a future rapture, tribulation, persecution, and destruction of earth are either referring to things that happened in the past, at the end of the Old Covenant “age” which culminated in the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, or are speaking of spiritual things. I believe that now, we are living a different age, where the Kingdom of God is and will be growing on earth. Maybe that sounds crazy, but all foreign ideas sound crazy at first, and it’s not as crazy as it might seem – many devout believers, past and present, believe similarly. I don’t ask or expect you to take my word for it – I intend to give you some substantial meat to chew on.
I fully admit I’m not an expert on the end times, there are still things I don’t understand, and there are probably things I’m still wrong about. But I remain not only willing, but eager to adjust my understanding according to truth. In writing this post, I’ve learned by experience that it’s a lot easier to criticize a viewpoint than it is to coherently present your own, but I’m happy I’ve at least made a genuine attempt to do so. Below, I’ve divided the broad topic of the “end times” into various categories, with reasons given for my optimistic view under each one. I’ll genuinely try to be brief, but this is a big subject. I’ll also give resources at the end of this post for further study, as there are many people smarter than me who have spent a lot more time studying and writing about these things.
I truly thank you for reading, and I welcome questions or (respectful) feedback or criticism in the comments section at the end of this blog or at my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many scriptures that people assume refer to future end-times events actually state WHEN they were going to happen, and their occurrence is always clearly in the past! For instance:
- Revelation 1:1,3,7. Revelation 1:1 says this: “This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John…”
- In Revelation 1:3, John wrote: “the time is at hand,” and Revelation 1:7 says that “those who pierced him” will see Jesus’ coming in the clouds! This wouldn’t make sense if the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies was thousands of years later.
- A common explanation given by those who see Revelation as future is to say: “With God, soon can mean thousands of years; even Peter wrote that to God a day is like a thousand years.”
- My Response: Revelation was written TO and FOR people who were alive at the time it was written, nearly 2,000 full years ago. This is plainly seen in Revelation 1:4, which says John wrote the book of Revelation: “to the seven assemblies (churches) that are in Asia…” So, if I were to write you a letter about something to happen “soon,” there’s no way you’d think I meant it was going to happen sometime after the year 4015!!!! You would know the letter was to you, and that the things in the letter would be relevant in your lifetime. Also, it makes no sense that Jesus, through John, would tell these churches about specific things that were going to happen to them (like being put in prison and oppressed for precisely “ten days” in Rev. 2:10), if they were going to be long dead before they happened. There’s no good reason to think that Revelation 1:1 doesn’t refer to the entirety of the book, and there are many good reasons to think it does.
- The New Testament in the Bible consists mostly of letters addressed specifically to various congregations of people, or even specific individuals, in a specific location, all of whom were alive at the time these letters were written. These letters contain many things that are very obviously meant for that time and place, such as Paul asking to be sent a cloak and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13), and encouraging “Euodia and Synteche” to quit arguing (Philippians 4:2). Those things are obviously not meant for you and I, thousands of years later. Likewise, there are other, less obvious things in scripture which were meant for “then and there,” but are mistakenly thought to apply to us today.
- It’s true that God and His son Jesus Christ are the same yesterday, today, and forever, so the letters which are in the New Testament contain valuable, eternal, unchanging truth about God, His son, and even prophecy. That doesn’t change the fact that we MUST keep in mind the original audience and timeframe of these letters. We don’t need to be afraid that somehow it’s spiritually dangerous or disrespectful to scripture by doing so. The opposite is actually true, as the meaning of the scriptures and God’s will will actually become clearer!
- Matthew 24:34. This is a verse that absolutely must not be overlooked or explained away. In this famous chapter, which so many Christians believes refers to future events, Jesus describes a coming persecution, tribulation, and arrival of the Son of Man in the clouds. After describing these things, he says this: “Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away, until all these things are accomplished.” “This generation” means the generation he was in and speaking to, therefore what he said wasn’t meant for us. As I’ll show later, things happened exactly as he said they would.
- Common Objection: “Jesus actually meant “that” generation, as in the generation who would be alive when these things happen.”
- My Response: That’s so obvious, it wouldn’t need to be said! That would be like saying: “the generation alive when these things happen will see these things happen,” which is obviously nonsensical. Plus, the Greek word for “this” in “this generation” means “THIS,” as in something present, current, right then and there. Jesus clearly meant that the generation he was in, almost 2,000 years ago, was going to see the fulfillment of ALL the things he had described. If you take this one, plain statement as a basis, then you have to start looking at some of the other things Jesus said in Matthew 24 in a spiritual or symbolic sense, which I believe is exactly how he meant them.
- Common Objection #2: Jesus said he didn’t know the day or the hour of these things happening, so how can we?”
- My Response: Jesus Christ was not mistaken. He didn’t know the day or hour, but he knew it would be in that present generation (probably a 40 year period, roughly from 30 AD to 70 AD). This objection isn’t much more complicated than that.
- Matthew 10:23. This is another time-sensitive statement made by Jesus, after describing the persecution of his disciples prior to “the end” (more on what “the end” refers to in a bit). Jesus said: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come.”
- Common Objection: Some say Jesus’ coming wasn’t referring to the same thing as Matthew 24, that maybe it refers to Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. But Jesus was answering a question about the time of “the end.” Some also have tried to say that “going through the cities of Israel” somehow means “evangelize the world,” or they add to Jesus’ words and say that this statement somehow applies to all believers for all time, who will minister to Israel. But again, the preceding verses make it very clear that Jesus was speaking about “the end,” speaking specifically and only to to his 12 disciples, and he was telling them that he would come before they went through all of Israel.
Spiritual Nature of Scripture:
The Bible is a spiritual book, and the apostles who wrote it were what are sometimes called “mystics” – deeply spiritual men who went into trances, had visions, and at least one who even went to what he called the “third heaven” in an experience that was so profound he wasn’t even sure if he was in his body or not! It makes sense, then, that the apostles’ writings are often spiritual and symbolic in nature. Similarly, Jesus’ said his words were “spirit and life” (John 6:63) and that he spoke in parables and hidden meanings (Matthew 13:34). Not everything is as simple or straightforward as we like to think, and there are many things in scripture that remain confusing and mysterious to even the most devoted believers and scholars.
The book of Revelation is the most obviously symbolic book in the Bible, describing many fantastical events and strange beasts. One thing I’ve noticed, which I feel is a mistake, is people seem to “pick and choose” parts of the book to read symbolically, and parts to read literally. For instance, everyone realizes Revelation’s description of a multi-headed beast and the “harlot” who rides it aren’t literally and physically referring to a sexually immoral woman riding around the earth on a monster. But, other things which are mentioned in this same book as these clearly symbolic descriptions are taken literally or made to fit a certain interpretation without much basis.
I am totally convinced, beyond any doubt, there is absolutely NOT a past or future person known as the “antichrist.” Are you as surprised as I was to learn that no form of the term “antichrist” is found anywhere in the book of Revelation!? That alone should make us start to reconsider the popular notion of this figure, who is presumed to play such a large role in the “end times.”
The word “antichrist” is used in the Bible in only four verses: three in 1 John and one in 2 John. Below I have listed all four of these verses, with some of my own commentary in blue. I want you to notice that in each case, the word “antichrist” is speaking of something or someone past or present, but never future!!! Also, any time the word is capitalized, that is simply something the translators did to try to help the passage fit their understanding better. There was no capitalization in the original text, and some translations today probably don’t have it capitalized still.
- 1 John 2:18: “Little children, these are the end times (!!!), and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour.”
- First of all, notice that the “end times” and the “final hour” were both at the time John wrote this, almost 2,000 years ago!
- What John is saying is that “the Antichrist” his readers had heard was coming, was already there in the form of “many antichrists.” So “the Antichrist” is somehow a group of people, not one single person.
- 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.”
- In verse 18 above, John wrote that his readers had heard of a coming “Antichrist,” but he corrected their understanding and told them that many antichrists had already come. Here, he tells his readers who the antichrist was: whoever “denies the Father and the Son!” He never said that antichrist was future, but both here and four verses earlier, he says this antichrist was present already.
- 1 John 4:3: “and every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already.”
- John again says here, very plainly that the spirit of the antichrist was “in the world already.” Not a future person. Notice also, the antichrist is denoted as a “spirit,” meaning it’s not a person, but a mind, an influence, a spirit.
- 2 John 1:7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who don’t confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist.”
- He again defines who the antichrist is here, plain as can be. “The antichrist” refers to a group of people, who were alive around 2,000 years ago when John wrote these letters, who “don’t confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.” The idea that this somehow means a future leader is totally a wrong understanding that needs to go away. Some say John wrote 1 and 2 John (again, the only letters to mention antichrist), to refute a teaching known as “gnosticism” which was gaining steam at that time, which said that Jesus was not a physical person, and that he didn’t rise from the dead. According to some, it was specifically these gnostic teachings and their followers John referred to as antichrist.
This number is often thought of as associated with the “Antichrist,” who is presumed to be who the 666 beast represents in the book of Revelation. Here’s the passage which this famous number comes from:
“He causes all, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, and the free and the slave, to be given marks on their right hands, or on their foreheads; and that no one would be able to buy or to sell, unless he has that mark, the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is six hundred sixty-six.” (Revelation 13:16-18 WEB (R))
Remember, Revelation was written to people in seven churches which existed in John’s day. John tells these people that with wisdom and understanding, they could calculate who the beast was, thus showing that he was someone alive in their time. The clues John gives are that this beast is a man, and his number is 666. What does this mean? I believe, like many do, that this beast was the Roman Caesar Nero, who was in power at the time and persecuted Christians horrifically. The number 666 isn’t really mysterious or evil. It’s derived by a fairly common (so I’m told) first-century practice known as “gematria,” in which words are converted into numbers by assigning a certain value to each letter. For instance, a=1, b=2, c=3., etc., The number of the word “cab” would then be “6” (3+1+2). Using this method, the name Caesar Nero, when converted to Hebrew, = 666. (Interestingly, some ancient manuscripts record the number of the beast as “616,” which is the gematria value of Nero’s name in Latin). The Bible says that when John wrote Revelation, he was living on the island of Patmos, where he had been banished by Rome. I think it is very possible John knew when the book of Revelation was delivered by his Roman captors to the churches in Asia, it would be examined closely, and if he had mentioned Rome or Nero by name, it would have never been allowed off the island, so he used a simple “code” which would not be understood by those screening the letter.
Jesus’ Vineyard Parable and Warnings:
Jesus told at least one parable aimed directly at the religious leaders of Israel, describing the judgment and wrath that was coming to them, and why. It’s found in Luke 20:9-19 and Mark 12:1-12. I’d encourage you to read it yourself, but to keep this shorter I’ll summarize it: A man built a vineyard, then went away on a journey and leased the vineyard to some tenants to care for it. While away, the owner of the vineyard sent His servants to check on His vineyard’s fruit, but the tenants either beat or killed these servants, giving them no fruit to take back to the master. Finally, the master sent his own son in hopes the tenants would treat him better. But the tenants selfishly killed the landowner’s son, hoping to obtain the vineyard for themselves. Jesus says the landowner, upon his return, will destroy these tenants and give the vineyard to others.
The Bible says Israel’s religious leaders “perceived that he had told this parable against them.” They realized they were the tenants God gave to care for the land, but who persecuted and killed those who the master sent to see how his land was doing. And just as Jesus foretold, the system of law, ordinance and temple worship which they represented, used as a means for their selfish desires, and trusted in instead of the God above all, was destroyed along with Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD. If you’re interested, I wrote about this parable in more detail a couple of years ago, here and here. There’s probably some better studies on it elsewhere on the web, as well.
In Luke 11:47-52 (WEB), Jesus basically says the same thing as in this parable, plainly saying that it was the generation he was living in that was going to experience God’s wrath, saying to the religious leaders of Israel: “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. So you testify and consent to the works of your fathers. For they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles; and some of them they will kill and persecute, that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zachariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.’ Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you took away the key of knowledge. You didn’t enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in, you hindered.”
Matthew 24 (along with Mark 13 and Luke 21, which all give an account of the same speech of Jesus), which I briefly mentioned earlier, contains what is probably the most famous “end times” speech of Jesus in the Bible. It’s often referenced by people when earthquakes or wars or famines happen, to support their belief that the rapture and return of Jesus are imminent. However, to understand what Jesus meant in this chapter, we MUST understand where he was coming from and the question he was answering!!! These things are plainly seen in the first 3 verses:
“Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way. His disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all of these things, don’t you? Most certainly I tell you, there will not be left here one stone on another, that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mat 24:1-3 WEB (R)) So, Jesus’ entire discourse in Matthew 24 is in reference first of all to the destruction of the temple, which also somehow was connected with the signs of his coming, and of the “end of the age.” It is the destruction of the temple and the end of the Old Covenant, Jewish “age” that Jesus was talking about in the entirety of Matthew 24.
This chapter is particularly confusing for a futurist viewpoint, because it contains things that were plainly meant only for people who heard Jesus and lived in his time, but it also mentions things that seem not to have happened yet and are therefore future. For instance, in verses 16-20, Jesus says that those who are in Judea should flee to the nearby mountains, that no one on their housetop (houses in that time and place were built with flat roofs for sitting and storage) should even take the time to gather their belongings, and tells them to pray their fleeing doesn’t happen in winter or while pregnant. This isn’t meant for 2015 America! Luke 21 gives Luke’s account of this same speech of Jesus. He mentions that Jerusalem being surrounded by armies is the sign to Jesus’ listeners to flee. History apparently records that only those who listened to Jesus and fled Judea survived the destruction of Jerusalem. Also worth mentioning from Luke 21 is verses 34-35, in which Jesus says: “So be careful, or your hearts will be loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day will come on you suddenly. For it will come like a snare on all those who dwell on the surface of all the earth.” The word “earth” there is the Greek word “ge,” which can and in other places does also mean a specific place or a certain land, rather than the entire globe.
Other things in Matthew 24 seem to be so incredible that they surely haven’t happened yet, like Jesus appearing in the clouds, the “powers of the heavens being shaken,” etc. I believe these statements are metaphors for spiritual things. The “powers of the heavens being shaken” doesn’t even make sense if you try to make it literal. Maybe that refers to the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus taking dominion over the law of Sin and Death (Romans 8:2), which was so powerful that even the veil in the temple was torn!? I must also reiterate the importance of Matthew 24:34, in which Jesus says “this generation will not pass away, until all these things are accomplished.” “This generation” meant the generation Jesus was in and speaking to. It’s a crucial point.
The End of the Age:
Another difficulty that arises regarding understanding Matthew 24 and similar passages is that we don’t believe the “end of the age” has happened, because we think that means basically the same thing as the end of the world. However, the word “age” doesn’t mean world, it means a period of time, an era. The age that was ending, which Jesus said was going to go out with tribulation, wrath, gnashing of teeth, and destruction, was the age of the Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, temple worship, and all the other components of the old covenant system of Judaism. This system had to end, as the new covenant began. I believe this happened in the generation Jesus said it would, and how Jesus said it would, in the years leading up to and culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD.
The apostles also knew they were living at the end of an age, as verses like these show:
- 1 Corinthians 10:11: “Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”
- Hebrews 9:26: “But now once at the end of the ages, he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
- 1 Peter 4:7: “But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer.”
New Covenant Changes:
In some ways, the nature of the “new covenant” that began with Jesus is probably the most important reason of all to not look for an imminent tribulation or wrath on the earth. Though the nature of the New Covenant is one of the most important things for a believer to understand, I think very few understand just how radically different is is from the Old Covenant of law and wrath. I feel I’m just beginning to grasp the significance of this change myself. As many of you know, the Bible is divided into two sections, called the Old Testament, which describes God’s dealings with His people under the Old Covenant, and the New Testament, which describes God’s dealings with His people under the New Covenant.
To describe these covenants in a nutshell really can’t do them justice, but for the sake of space I’ll try. The Old Covenant was made between God and Israel, and it basically was: “follow these laws and ordinances, or face curses and punishment.” (By the way, punishment is the very essence of the law. Law never rewards good behavior, it only monitors and punishes bad behavior). Paul understood and wrote extensively about the transition and difference between the old and new covenants, and understood that the Old Covenant was one of wrath. In Romans 4:15 he said: “the law worketh (produces) wrath, for where there is no law, neither is there disobedience.”
The New Covenant, which is described in the Bible as a “better” covenant, isn’t based on the keeping of laws or ordinances, but is based on a promise God made to Abraham, which was fulfilled and settled in and by Jesus Christ.1 The New Covenant basically is: “deny yourself, receive Christ’s life as yours, and walk according to the leading of the spirit.” Because the New Covenant isn’t based on behavior or performance but on a promise God made and fulfilled Himself, this covenant produces only blessings and life. Because the New Covenant isn’t associated with law, it carries with it no wrath.2 The new covenant “law” is in one place called “the law of the spirit of life,” which is in Christ Jesus. It isn’t on us to keep any law – Christ kept it already and we are in him.
Once again, I admit I could still be wrong, and there are things I still don’t understand. However, as one who has believed both ways and genuinely tries to be impartial, a mostly “fulfilled” version of end-times events makes much, much more theological, scriptural, and historical sense than a mostly “futurist” view. I could have given even more reasons I believe what I do, along with many more supporting scriptures, but I’ll leave further study to others in the references below. There are some things I believe haven’t happened yet, such as prophecies about the fully manifested Kingdom of God on Earth (Revelation 21 and 22, for example) and the sons of God being manifested on earth (Romans 8). While I think these things arrived in Christ in the form of a seed or potential, I don’t believe the church has yet walked in them as she one day will.
When I explained some of these things to a close friend who has been raised in a “futurist” church and viewpoint, their first question was “so what are we living in now?” In other words, if the “end” isn’t imminent and many of the verses about the end are referring to past events, then what is our current situation and what is coming in the future? I believe that we’re in what could be called the “Kingdom age,” and what’s coming is the growth and expansion of God’s government and Kingdom (His will and character being conformed to and shown) on earth, until the earth is subdued and Jesus returns. It may take a long time, and there will continue to be disasters and evil before it is fully manifested, but one day the “darkness” and confusion are going to be removed from the people of God, believers all over the world will walk like Jesus did when he was on earth, and by the power of God the earth will be healed, restored, and brought into subjection to life instead of pain and death! Be encouraged and be optimistic, because there are good reasons to believe the future of both heaven and earth is glorious, not terrible.
- Hebrews 7:22, 8:6, 2 Corinthians 3:9
- I know that’s a radical statement, and it’s taken me time to see it myself. But it’s true. The losing of our own life and the denying of our selfish nature to follow the nature of Christ can be painful and hard, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no wrath from God in the New Covenant. God is satisfied in Christ, He’s not concerned with what the world is up to. He wants His sons and daughters to begin to walk in their inheritance and bring life and light and dominion to the earth again, as Adam did before he fell, and as Jesus did when he was on earth. Jesus didn’t condemn or doom the world, and because he was an exact representation of God’s heart, we can know God isn’t doing so either. The one thing Jesus opposed was religion and those who promoted it. Religion is the most spiritually dangerous thing there is, because it convinces men it is a bearer of light (truth, revelation from God’s heart), but is actually darkness (a creation of the mind and heart of natural man). Religion is so dangerous because it defiles with good, instead of with bad (both are from the wrong Tree – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). As Jesus said in Luke 11:44: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like hidden graves, and the men who walk over them don’t know it.” To walk over a grave made you “defiled” according to the law, and you would have to leave the city and go through a purification ritual. What Jesus meant is that the scribes and Pharisees, those who perpetuated the religious system among God’s people, made these people defiled without them even realizing it, just like a hidden grave would do to someone who walked over it unaware. That’s what religion does then, today, and forever – it spiritually “defiles” people with good, so they don’t even realize it.