When we speak of eschatology, we must remember that there are a couple of aspects to this doctrine. It both refers to what will happen to the world when Jesus returns and what happens to individuals when we die. My eschatology has developed in both areas.
Growing up Anglican, I had no beliefs about the return of Jesus. If the second coming was discussed at all, it was to laugh at the “fanatics” who thought the end of the world was imminent. In terms of afterlife, I believed that good people who died went to heaven and existed as disembodied spirits. Interestingly, skepticism about this played a major role in my becoming an atheist.
I eventually left the Anglican church and joined the Pentecostal church. If the Anglicans ignored the second coming, the Pentecostals focused on it. I talked to people at my church who were spending their retirement savings because it was so obvious that Jesus was coming back any day.
It was not just that there were strong beliefs, there were specific beliefs. In theological language, my friends and the rest of the church held to what is called premillennial, pre-tribulation eschatology. In plain language, it was believed that Jesus would appear (likely soon) and would rapture the Church (all born again Christians) before the start of a seven year tribulation. At the end of the seven years, Jesus would come again and defeat the Antichrist and the devil and then would start a thousand year reign of Christ.
I accepted these beliefs because it was taught with such passion and conviction. I would read summaries of this belief with lots of Bible references and assumed it was true.
However, study of the Bible and examination of other theories have changed how I see eschatology, both cosmic and personal.
First I would say that I’m agnostic when it comes to the millennium. I would not describe myself as amillennial but I won’t commit to premillennialism. I definitely am not convinced by postmillennialism.
What about the rapture? When I talk about eschatology, I do not think in terms of the category of the rapture. To me, the rapture speaks of a rescue of God’s people from a world going to hell. What I see in the Bible is the focus on the resurrection. The purpose of the resurrection is for God’s people to be transformed into what God wants us to be. In Paul’s language, that we would be revealed as being children of God (Romans 8:19).The purpose of the resurrection is for God's people to be transformed into what God wants us to be. Click To Tweet
This resurrection will take place when Jesus returns. Jesus will return once. Not twice with the first being a secret return. Once. If my understanding had to be forced into a premillennial mould, it would be something like post-tribulation beliefs, but not exactly. I really believe that we should use resurrection language and not rapture language.
Speaking of the resurrection, that is the other shift. I do not see eternity in heaven as a disembodied spirit as being the biblical hope. Rather, the hope of the Christian is to experience the resurrection of the body. After the resurrection, Christians will live on a resurrected Earth, what the Bible calls the new heavens and the new earth. Going to heaven as a spirit at death is only the waiting room. We are really looking for what N.T. Wright calls, “life after life after death.” The resurrection of the body is where the action really is.We are really looking for what N.T. Wright calls, 'life after life after death.' Click To Tweet
If you are looking for a good book on eschatology, I recommend Millard Erickson’s A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium (USA) (Canada). I would also recommend N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (USA) (Canada)