This author will approach this study from a pre-millennial, dispensational perspective. Some space will be devoted to briefly define some of the others systems of interpretation.
Dispensational pre-millennialism can be identified by two basic features:
(1) Literal hermeneutic. In other words, the words and statements in Scripture should be interpreted in their normal way, in the same way we would customarily interpret any other literature, unless of course, the text demands that it be interpreted in some other way. For example, concerning Christ’s first coming, those prophesies that were made about it were fulfilled literally. Why then would we not interpret prophesies concerning His second coming in the same way? Why would we interpret the Bible literally except when it comes to prophecy, particularly when already fulfilled prophecy was fulfilled literally?
(2) Dispensational pre-millennialism maintains a clear distinction between Israel and the Church. Enns states, “The term Israel always refers to the physical posterity of Jacob; nowhere does it refer to the church. Although nondispensasionalists frequently refer to the church as the ‘new Israel,’ there is no biblical warrant for doing so. Many passages indicate Israel was still regarded as a distinct entity after the birth of the church ((Rom. 9:6; 1 Cor. 10:32). Israel was given unconditional promises (covenants) in the Old Testament that must be fulfilled with Israel in the millennial kingdom. The church, on the other hand, is a distinct New Testament entity born at Pentecost (1 Cor. 12:13) and not existing in the Old Testament, nor prophesied in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:9).It exists from Pentecost (Acts 2) until the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18).”
Although the Bible uses the word heaven in three different ways, our focus here will be on the heaven of the eternal state (the “third heaven” – 2 Cor. 12:2).
Peter tells us that the old heaven and earth will be renovated by fire (2 Pet. 3:10). Revelation chapters 21 and 22 tell us about the “New Jerusalem.” We are told in Rev. 21:1 that “a new heaven and a new earth” will be the final eternal abode of believers. In John 14:2 we are told by Jesus that He was going to prepare a place for us, that place is the “New Jerusalem” spoken of in Revelation 21. Revelation 21 also provides us with a pretty detailed description of the “New Jerusalem.”
Ryrie states, “Some of the characteristics of heaven are as follows: It is inhabited (Heb. 12:22-24), it is a place of great beauty (Rev. 21:1-22:7), there will be no reproduction there (Mk. 12:25), it is a holy place (Rev. 21:27), we will serve and worship and fellowship with God there ((Rev. 4-5), and being in heaven will give us a new perspective on everything (see Is. 66:24).”
In speaking of hell, Berkhof states it is, “(a) a total absence of the favor of God; (b) an endless disturbance of life as a result of the complete domination of sin; (c) positive pains and sufferings in body and soul; and (d) such subjective punishments as pangs of conscience, anguish, despair, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:50; Mark 9:43-44, 47-48; Luke 16:23, 28; Rev. 14:10; 21:8).”
The Rapture of the Church
Although the term “rapture” does not occur in the English Bible, it is the word used of an event spoken of by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. “Rapture” comes from a word used in the Latin translation meaning “to snatch away.”
The Rapture is a New Testament teaching because it is something that has to do only with the Church, it was a truth or “mystery” kept from Israel, a “mystery” not taught in the Old Testament (Eph. 3). Paul tells us in 1 Thess. 4:15 that he received this truth by direct revelation and in elaborating about this truth, Paul reveals in his writings that prior to Christ’s second coming in glory, He would first come for the Church.
We learn a great deal about the Rapture from passages like John 14:1-3,
1 Corinthians 15:51-56 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Concerning the time of the rapture, the pre-tribulation view is espoused for four primary reasons (this is the view this writer holds):
(1) The purpose of the tribulation does not pertain to the church (Ezek. 36:18-32; Mal. 4:5-6; Rev. 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:8).
(2) There needs to be a time interval for the church to be with Christ between the rapture and His second coming (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 19:1-8).
(3) The rapture of the church is imminent. Pentecost states, “The church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them in His presence (John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 6:14; James 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:3-4).”
(4) Scripture indicates that the church will be kept from experiencing the punishment and wrath of God that will be unleashed during the tribulation (cf. Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 3:10). Paul tells us, that Christ loves the Church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25).
After the Rapture of the Church and before the Second Coming of Christ to establish His one thousand year reign on earth (millennium), those living on planet earth will go through the Tribulation which will last seven years, more will be said about this later. During those seven years and prior to her return to the earth with Christ, the Church will go through two particular events.
The Judgment Seat of Christ
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that all believers will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. This appearance before Christ is not to determine whether or not we go to heaven, which was already determined on earth when we trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Rom. 8:1). Rather, this is the place where our works done for the Lord throughout our Christian life will be tested or judged. It is the place believers will either be rewarded for their faithful service and their good works and where some with sorrow will see those “good works” and “service” go up in flames and turn to ashes (1 Cor. 3:13-15).
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
After the judgment seat of Christ has taken place, John tells us that another important event will take place prior to the Church’s return with Christ known as The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:1-8). Although Scripture doesn’t provide us with many details, without a doubt, it will be a time of great joy.
The Great Tribulation
As previously stated, after the rapture of the Church, the world will enter into a period of time known as The Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14). It is referred to as The Great Tribulation because even though the world, throughout its history, has experienced times of sorrow, trouble, and tribulation, it has never experienced tribulation to the degree that it will during that seven year period (Matt. 24).
Revelation chapters 6-18 give us a far more detailed description about the events that will take place during that time. The events taking place during that time will be so terrible, that if God in His mercy did not limit this period to seven years (Matt. 24:22), the world would not be able to endure it. Scripture reveals that the last three and a half years will be far worse and intense than the first three and a half years. We can only speculate as to what would be of the world and the human race if Jesus did not return at the end of the seven year period to establish His Millennium Kingdom.
The Bible teaches that the Church will be raptured prior to the tribulation and will be safe with its Lord (1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 3:10). In other words, the rapture will be pre-tribulation. Even though the Church is “kept out of the hour,” God will raise witnesses for Him which will lead to the conversion of many during this period. During this time of tribulation, God will accomplish two things: (1) He will judge and pour out His wrath on the unbelieving people and nations of the world (Isa. 26:21; Jer. 25:32-33; 2 Thess. 2:12), and (2) He will bring about the conversion of Israel (Jer. 30:70; Ezek. 20:37; Dan. 12:1; Zech. 13:8-9).
Christ’s Second Coming
In Matthew 24:29, 30, Christ teaches us that the seven year tribulation will come to an end with His appearing, He will return physically (Zech. 14:4). He will appear first to Israel who will mourn for having rejected their Messiah (Zech. 12:10). When Jesus appears in victory all Gentile opposition to His rule will end (Rev. 19:11-21). The second coming of Christ will occur before the establishment of Christ’s literal one thousand year rule on earth (pre-millennial).
The Millennial Kingdom
Prophetic passages in the Old Testament speak of a time when King Jesus will rule the earth. According to Rev. 20, His reign will last 1000 years. The effects of the curse (Gen. 3:17, 18) will be reversed (Rev. 2:7; Isa. 35:1; 65:25; Rom. 8:19-22) and the earth will once again be very productive (Isa. 35:1-2). This will be the time When Christ will fulfill both to the Jews and the world many of the promises of the Old Testament covenants.
Nations will prosper since crime will be at a minimum, the cost of armies and police will be virtually eliminated, the cost of false religions will be eliminated. There will be no more war (Isa. 9:7), commercialized religion will cease to exist (Rev. 17-18), people will be healthier and live longer (Isa. 65:20), those who survived the tribulation and entered the kingdom will propagate and the earth’s population will increase greatly, those born in the millennium will be given the opportunity to be saved and many will be, but even those who are not will still maintain outward righteousness (Isa. 11:4, 5), Satan will be bound in the abyss during His reign (Rev. 20:2).
Christ will raise Israel to a place of honor among the world’s nations making her the leading nation in the world (Ps. 48:2; Isa. 24:23; 60:12; Zech. 14:10), she will be ruled by Christ and the twelve apostles (Matt. 19:28). Jerusalem will serve as the center of world government (Isa. 2:3).
Although all of the earth’s citizens will obey Christ the King, not all will be born-again believers. During this theocracy, Christ will punish sin (Isa. 11:4; 65:20) and He will judge with perfect righteousness (Isa. 11:3-5). At the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed from the abyss (Rev. 20:3) and joined by all who rejected Christ as Lord and Savior in a final revolt to overthrow the throne of God. This army that Satan will lead will be destroyed by fire from heaven (Rev. 20:9) and Satan himself will be cast into the lake of fire once and for all (Rev. 20:10).
Of Believer’s Works
This judgment was already discussed under the rapture of the church (Judgment Seat of Christ). Passages that discuss this doctrine are 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4.
Of Survivors of the Tribulation
This judgment will occur after His second coming but before the establishment of His millennial kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46) and it will take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:2). Gentiles will be judged on the basis of their treatment of the Jews (“my brethren” – Matt. 25:40) during the tribulation period. Acts of kindness, even at the risk of loss of life toward Jews during that time of intense persecution, will be the evidence that proves those individuals regenerate condition. Their good works towards the Jews will prove that those individuals were saved. Those who were born-again will enter the kingdom as its citizens (Matt. 25:34) and those who were not will be condemned to the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41).
The Jews who survive the tribulation period will be judged (Ezek. 20:34-38) immediately after the His second coming (Matt. 25:14-30). Unsaved Jews will not receive eternal life nor will they enter into the millennial kingdom (Ezek. 20:37; Matt. 25:30).
Of Fallen Angels
At His second coming, Satan will be bound in the abyss during the thousand year reign of Christ. At the end of the millennial, Satan will lead a final revolt and after that he will be cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:2-3, 7, 10). Fallen angels will also be judged at that time which Jude calls “the great day” (Jude 6).
Of Dead Unbelievers
This is the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). As that of the fallen angels, this judgment will take place at the end of the millennial reign and Christ will be the Judge who sits on the throne (John 5:22; Rev. 20:12). According to Rev. 20:6, all believers will have already been judged, so the only group left to be judged are the unsaved of all time. They will appear before the judgment because of their rejection of Christ, once there, they will be judged on the basis of their works (vv. 12-13), and based on their works, and those judged will receive different degrees of punishment in hell (cf. Luke 12:47-48). All who appear before this judgment will be cast into the lake of fire.
John 5:28-29 and Luke 14:14 speak of the resurrection of the just and the unjust. There are really two resurrections because two separate classes of people will be resurrected, the just and the unjust.
The question often asked is, where are the souls of those who have died prior to the resurrection?The Bible clearly indicates that both the just and the unjust exist in a conscious state. According to Paul, the just is in the presence of the Lord
(2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:23) and the unjust, according to Jesus, will be in conscious torment (Luke 16:19-31).
Of the Just
This is the first resurrection and will occur in various stages. Paul tells us that at the rapture of the church, the dead in Christ will be the first to rise (1 Thess. 4:16). According to Rev. 20:4 and Dan. 12:2, believers who died during the tribulation period as well as the Old Testament believers will be resurrected at the second coming of Christ prior to the establishment of His millennial reign.
Of the Unjust
This resurrection will be of all unsaved people of all time. This resurrection will occur at the end of the millennial reign where they will be judged and then cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
The Intermediate State
The question often asked by many is, what happens to the soul after death and before the resurrections?
(1) According to Paul, the believer is with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8; cf. v.6), thus Paul’s statement in Phil. 1:23.
(2) In Luke 23:43, Jesus told the repentant criminal hanging on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(3) Scripture clearly indicates that in the intermediate state, the believer will be alive, conscious, and happy (Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 14:13).
The story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) clearly shows that those who die not having entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, while awaiting the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15), will experience conscious torment during the intermediate state.
The Eternal State
The present universe will cease to exist since it will be destroyed by fire and a new heaven and earth will be created (2 Pet. 3:10-13). John, in Rev. 21:1, tells us of his vision of this new heaven and earth, a place where righteousness will dwell
(2 Pet. 3:13).
In spite of what some believe, all souls live forever. At death, a person doesn’t cease to exist; he simply sheds the body and enters eternity. There is no such thing as annihilation (Matt. 25:46), that teaching is inconsistent with the clear teaching of Scripture. The word that is used to describe the eternity of God is the same word used to describe the punishment of the unsaved (Rev. 14:11 and 15:7). This punishment will be endless; it will be as eternal as the eternal life of believers. The account in Luke 16:19-31 also makes that point.
Believers will be with Christ (Ps. 16:11; John 17:24), they will reign forever (Rev. 22:5), and they will be like Christ (1 John 3:2).
Differing Views on the Rapture
This view states that the Church will be raptured during the middle of the tribulation period. According to mid-tribulationalists, the Church will be on earth during the first three and a half years of the seven year tribulation period, but not during the final three and a half years.
Those who espouse this view teach that the rapture of the Church will occur after the tribulation period, the Church will experience all seven years of God’s wrath. Barackman states, “There are three views of this post-tribulation event: One, the Tribulation age is now past and the Rapture and the second coming of Jesus may occur at any time. Two, the Church is now in the Tribulation Age and the Rapture and the Lord’s coming are still future. And three, the Tribulation Age is still future, with the Rapture and the Lord’s second coming at its close.”
Other Systems of Interpretation
“This viewpoint teaches that there will be no millennium at all in the future. Whatever kingdom there is, is now—it is heavens rule over the church. Conditions in this present age will become increasingly worse until the second coming of Christ at the end of the church age, and the return of the Lord will be immediately followed by a general resurrection and judgment and the commencement of the eternal state.”
“This view teaches that the second coming of Christ will occur after (post) the millennium. Postmillennialists look for a utopian state on earth to be brought about through the efforts of the church, and during this golden age the church, not Israel, will experience the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and David. The kingdom will be on earth, but it will be a ‘church kingdom’ not a Jewish kingdom, and the king, Christ, will be absent from the earth, not present on it, He will rule in the hearts of the people and return to the earth only after the millennium is complete. Then will follow a general resurrection of all the dead, a general judgment of all people, and eternity will begin.”
 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1989), pp. 389-390.
 Charles C, Ryrie, Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody, 1972), p. 183.
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 736.
 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), p. 203.
 Floyd H. Barackman, Practical Christian Theology, Fourth Edition (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), p. 443.