As a “baby Christian,” I was, by default, indoctrinated immediately into the popular mainstream doctrines of modern evangelicalism; including young-earth creationism (complete with creation “science”), kneejerk anti-Catholic reactionism, and of course, dispensational premillenialist eschatology.
Premillenialism and the idea of a seven-year Tribulation and Pretribulational Rapture are based on a directly literal interpretation of Revelation, alongside certain other eschatologically-oriented passages in Daniel and other Old and New Testament books. Generations of dispensational theology reading too much into this literalism have produced a “prophecy checklist” of events which loosely reads thus:
1. At the time of the End, the kingdom of Israel is re-established, then surrounded and oppressed by its enemies. A war takes place, with enemy troops gathering in the valley of Meggido (hence the name “Armageddon”).
2. Believing Christians, living and dead, are caught up into the clouds to join Christ in the heavens, leaving behind the unbelieving world.
3. God’s wrath against the world commences, with a seven-year period of war, famine, disease, and general global upheaval. Halfway through the seven years, a Satanic figure — the 666 Beast — will establish himself as a world leader, and will defile the temple at Israel. Anyone who does not get barcoded 666 marks on hands and forehead will be excluded from the New World Economy.
4. At the end of the seven years, after earthquakes, plagues, floods, infestations, and other such disasters have ravaged the earth, Jesus will return in power and glory, and establish himself as rightful King over all, ruling from Israel as a visible leader.
5. The kingdom will last a thousand years (this is the Millenium everyone talks about), but will be marred one last time by Satan. At the end of the millenium, there will be a final war, ending with the Last Judgment.
6. At the Last Judgment, all the dead are raised, and the evil are thrown into Hell. Heaven comes down to Earth in the form of a giant pyramidal city, and eternal life for the saved ensues with much joy.
I’m dead serious; these are things I believed — and that many other Christians believe — as dispensational premillenialists. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve come to regard other eschatological alternatives as feasible, given a less sensationalized sense of scriptural hermeneutics.
David Heddle does a good job of summing up those alternative eschatologies: Amillenialism, and Postmillenialism. Though differing in literalness, all scenarios are agreed that events will culminate in the arrival of Christ, the Final Judgment, and the establishment of the Kingdom.
A missionary friend once told me, “I’d much rather be post-trib and wrong, than pre-trib… and wrong.” I’m not yet decided on which path I wish to take, so at the moment, I am a “Panmillenialist.” I rest in the salvation that is through Christ alone, and regardless of which eschatology ultimately turns out right, I will, by His grace, Rapture or no, stand as a firm witness to the faith.