Recently I’ve been struck by the significance of eschatology with regard to biblical interpretation. Some years ago while studying eschatology in greater depth I concluded that the interpretation of eschatological biblical material became the modus operandi for biblical interpretation in general. If, for example, you viewed the millennium of Revelation 20 in more literal terms you were inclined to take a more literal approach to interpretation. If, on the other hand, you considered the millennium to be a figure of speech you would probably be more inclined to spiritualize other texts.
Amillennialists who disregard the idea of a literal millennial reign of Christ upon earth believe that the millennial reign of Christ is already happening through the church and something to be more fully realized when Christ actually returns for the final restoration of all things. Amillennialists do not think in terms of a specific future for Israel as a nation. Prophecies concerning Israel in their view are already being fulfilled in the church. Post-millenialists likewise reject the idea of a literal millennial period and take this as a reference to the effect of the church’s Christianizing influence in the world over time. In this view also, Christ returns at the end of this period for the final restoration of all things.
In my pastoral journey of almost 40 years, I have noticed a significant shift in eschatological views. This shift in itself seems to be the result of socio-political events in the world. Besides being a common view in the early history of the church, pre-millenialism with its emphasis on Christ’s return before a literal millennial period, became more popular again in the late 19th and 20th centuries amidst the large missionary work of the church as well as in the on-slot of major world conflict. In recent decades, however, it appears that this literal view of Christ’s personal reign on earth for 1000 years has given way to more amillennialist and post-millennialist ideas.
One implication of this shift is to view the entire Book of Revelation as something descriptive of the turmoil that afflicts the church throughout its history rather than a picture of future events. It also has meant a greater emphasis on the kingdom reign of Christ in the world at the present time with the view that we should expect to see many of the same things happening in the world now through the church that we saw when Jesus literally walked in Galilee and Judea in His time. Especially recently, I have noticed a huge emphasis, for these reasons, on dominion theology as well as reconstructionism.
Besides spiritualizing texts to mean whatever the proponents of these views may want them to say for their own purposes, it seems to me that they have also given less attention to systematic theology in general and soteriology in particular. While this approach also fits with the relativism of our post-modern times, one can’t help but be concerned about poorer definitions of the nature of the Gospel, evangelism, and disciple-making whose importance so characterized the ministry of St. Paul and the apostles.
In the end I think it speaks to us of the importance of the biblical texts and of a consistent historical-gramatical interpretation in order to get at the proper and best meaning of what the original Author and inspired writers had in mind. While there have been many distortions from the kind of biblical literalism that has been over-simplistic there is a lot to be said for reading and interpreting Scripture in its studied but most natural form, comparing one text with another within the context of the whole Bible.