Futurism is an approach to Bible prophecy which interprets most biblical prophecies as having not yet been fulfilled. With regards to the end times, futurism interprets all or most of the book of Revelation as being set to occur sometime in the typically near future.
A popular set of books outlining the futurist interpretation is the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. In this series, LaHaye and Jenkins describe near to future events as follows:
- A rapture of true Christians, resulting in total chaos on earth. This begins a 7-year period known as the “Tribulation;”
- The rise of a totalitarian and satanic one-world government and religion promising “peace” to the world;
- An antichrist figure who heads the one-world government. He makes a treaty with the nation of Israel for 7 years but breaks that treaty after 3.5 years. This figure is at one point killed and then comes back to life to continue his satanic agenda;
- A succession of judgments by God on the world, generally interpreted literally from the book of Revelation. For example, the locusts of Revelation 9 are taken as being literal locusts with women’s heads who torment unbelievers, etc.;
- A rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem from which Antichrist seeks to rule the world. Old Testament animal sacrifices will be re-instituted in this Temple;
- Persecution of true believers who convert after the rapture. Death often comes to these believers by guillotine. Those who aren’t killed generally live in hiding;
- An earthly battle of Armageddon taking place in the Middle East and culminating in the eventual return of Jesus to earth, whereby Antichrist is overthrown and Jesus’s physical millennial reign on earth begins (premillenialism).
In the Left Behind series, the Antichrist is a European politician, although futurists acknowledge he could in reality come from any nation. Some futurists believe that the last pope will be the Antichrist, although he is not currently so. This view is also known as “modified futurism.” Given recent world events, futurists tend to believe that the Antichrist is already alive or will be in the very near future.
In addition, not all futurists believe there will be a rapture of believers before the Tribulation period. However, the rapture view is very prevalent in North American churches today.
Overall, futurism seems to be the view most commonly taught in churches of all denominational stripes.
In order to obtain an understanding of the historicist school of interpretation, we would recommend the following study plan:
- Study the book of Daniel using an inductive Bible study method
- Study the book of Revelation using an inductive Bible study method
- Study other related eschatological passages in the Bible. These would include Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2, for example.
Go through the passages first by yourself so that you are not influenced by any author’s particular interpretation. Then compare your observations and understanding to what others have to say. In particular, we recommend the works of Rev. Dr. F.N. Lee at Historicism Research Foundation and the sermon series by Bill Mencarow as a starting point.
Historicism, or historicalism as it is sometimes called, is an approach to interpreting Bible prophecy that could be described as “prophecy as historical blueprint.” From a historicist point of view, the prophecies of Daniel, Revelation, and other books related to the end times give a blueprint, or roadmap, for much of history. Specifically, the book of Daniel is considered to give a blueprint of history from the Babylonian exile to the first coming of Christ and beyond, while the book of Revelation and related passages are considered to give a blueprint of history from the apostolic era to the creation of the new heavens and earth.
While historicists may disagree on the specific details of this eschatological scheme, they generally agree on the following (based on information from the Historicism Research Foundation):
- In biblical prophecy, the Year-Day Principle applies, meaning that the word “day’ is generally interpreted as indicating a “year” in real time unless the context of the passage indicates otherwise;
- References to “time, times, and half a time,” 3.5 years, 1260 days, and 42 months have already been fulfilled in history;
- The Roman Catholic Papal System, ie. the Papacy, is the antichrist (one who comes in place of Christ or Christ’s stead), man of sin, and beast of Revelation; and
- Revelation 9 applies to the rise of Islam.
When it comes to the book of Revelation, the approach we will be investigating on this website interprets the seal, trumpet, and vial judgments as occurring in successive order in history.
Interestingly, the historicist interpretation was the standard Protestant interpretation of biblical prophecy for a period of about 500 years, from Wycliffe to Spurgeon. It can be contrasted with the Futurist (think “Left Behind”) and Preterist (think “The Last Disciple”) interpretations, which were conceived by Roman Catholic Jesuits (members of the Society of Jesus) during the time of the counter-reformation.