Over the years, I’ve learned how connected eschatology and hermeneutics are. “Eschatology” is a fancy word for “last things.” When we talk about the end times, we are talking about eschatology. “Hermeneutics” refers to how a person or group interprets the Bible. A person’s hermeneutic is the lens through which they look at scripture. The connection between eschatology and hermeneutics is obvious. If two people interpret scripture differently, they will reach different views of the end times.
We are more blind to hermeneutics than we think. We want to approach the text with no preconceived ideas. But even new Bible readers have assumptions. Assumptions might change over time. But no one comes to the Bible with a clean slate. The best we can hope for is to understand our assumptions and ask the Lord to correct them when needed.
Back to eschatology. In Revelation chapter 20, we see satan chained and cast into the abyss for 1000 years so that he can’t deceive the nations. Those who were killed for their faith come to life and reign with Christ for 1000 years. This thousand year period is often called the millennium.
Eschatological schools diverge over their understanding of the millennium and when the return of Christ occurs in relation to the millennium. Pre-millennialists believe Christ returns and inaugurates the millennium. Post-millennialists believe the kingdom grows quietly during the millennium and Christ returns at the end. Amillennialists see the millennium as symbolic of spiritual realities and not a literal 1000 year period. Then there are preterists, who believe all prophecy was fulfilled by 70 AD (even the stuff in Revelation). They see the millennium as symbolic of history.
I’ve observed that if someone interprets the Bible literally, they usually embrace pre-millennialism as their eschatology. Even in a highly symbolic book like Revelation, the images symbolize literal events. Revelation 20 predicts a time when satan is chained and the good times roll with Jesus on the throne. And that throne is in earthly Jerusalem because pre-millennialists pull in prophecy from the Old Testament about the Lord reigning in Jerusalem that they also interpret literally.
If, however, you favor a non-literal interpretation of scripture, you will most likely arrive at an amillennial perspective. People in this camp see the millennium as symbolic of spiritual things. Many amillennialists think the chaining of satan is symbolic of the cross; satan’s inability to deceive the nations shows the gospel going into all the world.
These might be generalizations but I think they *generally* bear out. I’ve found this connection between hermeneutics and eschatology helpful. Discussions about the end times can get passionate. I find this ironic because most of what we know about the end is communicated through cryptic imagery. So we get the most fired up about a subject we know little about. (And don’t even get me started about the fact that so much is based on a single chapter of scripture. That in itself is a problem if you ask me!)
When we discuss eschatology, we’re often talking about how scripture should be interpreted without realizing it. When I’m defending my eschatology, I’m (subconsciously) protecting the reliability of God’s word. I think this is true of many subjects: creation, predestination, spiritual gifts, etc. It’s not just my views of a certain subject that are at stake. It’s the word of God. That adds extra energy to these conversations.
Another way it’s helped me to understand the connection between eschatology and hermeneutics is realizing that someone almost can’t help their eschatology depending on how they approach scripture. If I’m dealing with an especially dogmatic pre-millennialist, I remember that it’s almost impossible for them to see the end times any other way without feeling like they’ve violated the scripture. I can respect their consistency and devotion to scripture.
In my next post, I’ll admit my own eschatological predilections, which is to say, I’ll say where I fall in all this mess. If you have a guess as to what camp I’m in, feel free to share it below. Or if you’d like to share which end times school you go to, share that as well 🙂