Ask Christians about end times – how will God wrap up this earthly program – and you will get a variety of answers. One answer that I think needs examining is when any response is prefaced with “the Bible clearly says”. I’m going to suggest that such a response ignores the complexities involved in covenant fulfillment, how Old Testament prophecies are related to Christ, Israel and the church, whether Israel and the church are distinct entities, whether there is a literal millennium, how we understand use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, how apocalyptic language is interpreted in relation to covenant fulfillment (however THAT gets interpreted).
We also don’t want to isolate passages and make stringent conclusions without examining how it fits in with the overall fulfillment program. Scott over at Prodigal Thought wrote this piece on the rapture and why he does not believe 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:7 and Matt. 24 speak to a pre-tribulational event. He makes some valid points. But, this passage may get interpreted as a pre-trib rapture depending on how Revelation is interpreted in relation to Old Testament prophecies, depending on how hermeneutics are employed in reading the OT in the NT, depending on how this relates to covenant fulfillment. Craig Blaising has written much on this topic from his progressive dispensationalist perspective and makes good points as well.
I recently took an Old Testament elective, A Theology of Biblical Covenants. Aside from meeting elective requirements for my degree, I was motivated to take the class to assist with the wrestling I’ve been doing related to covenant fulfillment and how Old Testament promises related to Christ and his body. By the time we got to the new covenant this is what the board looked like.
Simple, right? Class discussion and reading, professor’s statements regarding humility in learning and my own wrestling with the text, reinforced the reality that the Bible does not clearly say how all this works together though we can come to some reasonable convictions. I am grateful for good and godly people who have spent years in study and production of literature to help understand this better both from a dispensational and covenantal perspective. They help bring understanding to these complex issues and will spit us out somewhere in either the dispensational or covenant camp.
Although as one stuck in the middle I am warm to progressive covenantalism as an alternate option. I’ve moved towards a more Christo-centric fulfillment in the present and seeing no distinction between Israel and the church in agreement with the Covenant folks but disagree with them related to new covenant continuity and eschatalogical fulfillment (i.e. amillennialsim). That puts me somewhere in historic pre-mill camp but away from dispensationalism.
So I continue to investigate and wrestle. I’m taking the stand expressed by one of my classmates who’s kind of in the same wrestling boat – “I’m a free agent”. I like that because it frees me from being forced to identify with a particular system. I’ve discovered that the more I study and investigate the more complex these relationships are. The one thing we shouldn’t do is to consider these matters superficially or align with camps simply because of identification. That is when we might err in making the statement “the Bible clearly says”. I have found too that hard lines are drawn too hard and too fast, typically because of alignment with one camp or the other and lack of consideration for alternate perspectives. Reading broadly helps.