Small Group Leader Guide

Step 1. Introduce the Session

5 minutes

In this lesson, we unpack the views, ideas and "isms" around prophetic fulfillment. We'll establish a framework for understanding the various lenses on the end times and we'll learn to guard ourselves against the labels.


  • Curb our quickness to apply labels to ourselves and others.
  • Gain a foundational understanding of major and minor prophetic lenses.

Step 2. Watch the Video

22 minutes

CONTENT SUMMARY (with timestamps)

  • Major Lenses: Dispensationalism vs Covenantalism (02:47)
  • Dispensationalism (02:50)
  • Covenantalism (06:16)
  • Minor Lenses: Four Prophetic Lenses (09:05)
  • Futurism (10:13)
  • Preterism (12:12)
  • Historicism (14:04)
  • Idealism (15:57)
  • Surprise! (17:44)
  • The End is Nigh (20:40)

Step 3. Discuss

20 minutes

Leaders: You might like to split into smaller groups at this stage so everyone has a chance to respond honestly. Don't feel like you have to hurry through all these questions; they are simply conversation starters.

Q. What did you find most helpful or most challenging in this lesson?
Q. Between covenantalism and dispensationalism, which one do you indentify with most? Why?
Q. Can you name and summarize the four minor prophetic lenses?
Q. Biblical prophecy (especially the book of Revelation) can be so obscure, people may construct new systems of interpretation just to arrive at an explanation. What problems could this lead to?

(Examples: errant end-of-the-world predictions, date-setting, false teaching, division in the Body, etc.)

Step 4. Report Out [OPTIONAL]

15 minutes

Leaders: If you're a team of leaders taking a class through the course and you broke into small groups in Step 3, regroup at the end and ask each small group to report out on their small group discussion. What were their ah-ha's? What did they struggle with?

Close with prayer.



Lenses vs Labels

(Genesis 17:19, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11)

This may come as a surprise, but not everyone agrees on the meanings behind certain tough-to-grasp Bible passages. Shocking, right?! Ever since the first century, that disagreement has been the source of much debate. In this lesson, we establish a basic understanding of the common prophetic views—the lenses around biblical prophecy. We’ll also make the argument for avoiding the labels that often accompany these views. Finally, I have a little surprise for you at the end. (So exciting!)


  • Curb our quickness to apply labels to ourselves and others.
  • Gain a foundational understanding of major and minor prophetic lenses.


Let’s face it. Biblical prophecy can be ridiculously difficult to understand. When meanings seem hidden, people usually take (or combine) one of three approaches to prophecy: they give up, they study up or they make it up. These different approaches have led to a fog of confusion and competing schools of thought around certain biblical passages.

To make understanding and discussing these varying views easier, human wisdom has reduced these ideas into single-word terms. We also carry the innate tendency to label and categorize our world. Unfortunately, this means we often end up extending these views into labels we apply to ourselves and to others. This can create an “otherness” within a Body that is called to be united, which historically, has birthed division.

So, my word of caution is this: we debate; we don’t divide.

As you study out a troublesome passage and arrive at a position, I encourage you to observe your language as you discuss your opinions. You are not a preterist; you hold a preterist view of a particular passage. You are not a futurist; you hold a futurist position on certain scriptures. You are a son or daughter of God. Our identity is found in Him; not in our eschatology.

In this next segment, we’re going to deal with two major lenses and then four minor lenses for understanding biblical prophecy. The major lenses color how we see through the minor, so each are important to understand.

Major Lenses: Dispensationalism vs Covenantalism


Dispensational theology is the new kid on the block, having only emerged around the 1830s through the Plymouth Brethren and John Nelson Darby. Darby is credited with popularizing dispensationalism, futurism and the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. By the early 1900s, this influence a stronghold in the Church through the fantastic popularity of the Scofield Reference Bible. Published in 1909, this bible sold over two million copies by the end of World War II. The Scofield Bible was one of the very first Bibles to have notes explaining the Scriptures, which made it a great study tool for clergy and lay alike. Unfortunately, this also means any theological errors were also taught far and wide to an eager and accepting audience. While C.I. Scofield’s notes should not be considered infallible, there are many who elevated them to the level of Gospel truth.

The cornerstone of dispensationalism is the idea that God is working out (dispensing) His plan for national Israel in chapters or “dispensations”. Lines are therefore drawn through biblical history to establish these dispensations, but opinions vary as to where and how many lines are drawn. Most folks who adhere to this view say there are between five and seven dispensations, which may carry titles like Innocence, Conscience, Government, Promise, Need for a Savior, Grace and New Heaven and New Earth.

This leads us to God’s people. Because this view places such importance on national Israel, the Church—and it’s almost 2,000 years of history—is considered to be only a parenthesis; God will yet again deal with the Jews. Essentially, God is not crafting one people onto Himself, but two: Israel and the Church. This idea is underpinned by the image of Abraham’s physical descendants (represented by Ishmael through Hagar) versus his spiritual descendants (represented by Isaac through Sarah and pointing to the believing Church). Mind you, Hagar was two generations removed from Jacob (who became Israel) and therefore she was never a part of Israel nor the covenant God promises Abraham in Genesis 17:19. Adherents also believe a few promises made to Israel are yet to be fulfilled and therefore, major covenants like the Abrahamic Covenant and Davidic Covenant were not fulfilled by Jesus.

To this end, dispensationalism says the kingdom of God—predicted to come during the Roman empire by God through the prophets and declared by Jesus Himself—failed to come during the Messiah’s first arrival because the Jews rejected Jesus. This view holds that Jesus will return to establish a future, earthly, physical kingdom.

Finally, dispensational theology places a strong emphasis on a “literal” hermeneutic, though it depends on who you talk to as to when that literalism is applied. Though well-intended, this literalizing of Scripture is often carried too far when it’s applied to the poetic idioms and heavenly imagery that are profuse in the Bible.


In contrast to dispensationalism’s short life, covenantalism has been the predominant view across Church history and only recently began to be eclipsed by dispensationalism’s explosive popularity.

Like dispensationalism, covenant theology sees biblical history in a series of movements, but its list is shorter, pointing to three main covenants: the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption (though this last one continues to be debated as to whether it is even a covenant at all.)

As far as God’s people goes, covenantalism does not place an importance upon ethnic Israel but holds to the idea of a single, unified people of God which includes both Jew and Gentile believers (confirmed in Galatians 4:28-31 and Romans 9:8-9). The covenantal lens sees the Covenant of Grace—established between God and believing Israel at the Lord’s Last Supper and sealed through Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection and ascension—as having been extended to the Gentiles (Acts 10) as was always part of the Old Testament plan. Spiritual Israel is—and always has been—faithful Israel (what we now call “the Church”), descended from Abraham, through Sarah, and will continue generation after generation until Jesus comes again at the end of history. This view holds that all major covenants were fulfilled by Jesus during His first coming or, as in the case of unbelieving Jerusalem, dissolved by their rejection of the Messiah.

The covenantal view regards the kingdom of God as “already and not yet.” “Already” indicates that God’s Word through the prophets came to pass just as He predicted, on time and as planned. The kingdom was successfully inaugurated at Jesus’ first coming and believers are citizens of that spiritual kingdom where Christ rules and reigns in their hearts. The “not yet” points to the recognition that the material world is still under the curse of the Fall; death, disease and decay remain but will be dealt with when heaven and earth flee at the final White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11).

Unlike dispensationalism’s literal hermeneutic, covenantalism places more emphasis on understanding literary genres, figurative language and the surrounding text. However, like dispensationalism, when taken too far, covenantalism can also lead to error, mainly by spiritualizing texts that were not intended as symbolism by their author. This can develop into a kind of “Christian liberalism” to which dispensationalism, and its attempt at a literal hermeneutic, offered a solution.

Minor Lenses: Four Prophetic Lenses

Okay! That was covenantalism and dispensationalism! Those are our two major competing lenses for understanding—not only the whole Bible—but for also making sense of those more challenging prophetic passages. Next, we’re going to discuss four minor lenses for understanding prophecy. Now, when I say these are “minor” lenses, that’s not to minimize their importance. It’s only to say that their focus is more targeted than the larger, more global frameworks we just discussed. For instance, no one has a 100% futurist view of the Bible; we recognize most of its accounts have occurred in the past but some prophecies are awaiting fulfillment.

Whereas we can apply a covenantal or dispensational lens to the entire Word, we apply these next four lenses to specific passages of Scripture. Just a word of caution: Not all lenses here are created equal. Some lenses work in some places and some… well… you’ll see.


Bet you can’t guess what this one is all about! True to its namesake, a futurist view takes the position that a prophetic scripture is waiting to be fulfilled. Today, this lens often gets applied to pieces of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah and other prophets, and in the New Testament, to the Olivet Discourse, 1 Thessalonians, Revelation and more. It is the favorite lens of dispensationalism (as in, many who claim dispensationalism also lean heavily into futurism) but certainly anyone holding to covenantal theology can take a futurist perspective.

Every prophecy is born through the futurist lens, whether in the Old Testament or New. That is, after all, what prophecy is: a foretelling of future events. However, we also recognize many of those once-future prophecies have already come to pass. For those prophecies then, we hold a preterist lens (more on that in a moment.)

Futurist example: Though there could be many examples of futurism, there is also a lot of disagreement on which prophecies are actually still yet to be fulfilled. One outstanding prophecy most everyone can agree on is the final judgment at the end of history, the White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20.

The weakness of this lens is the tendency to literalize misunderstood passages. When a futurist lens is applied to scripture taken out context (usually because we don’t know our history or the old Jewish expressions), all sorts of wild constructs can and do emerge. (And then there’s the charts. Lots of charts.) This wrestling has been happening ever since the Old Testament. An example from the New, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 shows us the church of Thessalonica was concerned they had somehow missed the Second Coming.

The tension between futurism and preterism has been around a long time.


If futurism points to future prophetic fulfillment, preterism (from praeter, Latin for “past”) points to past fulfillment. Like futurism, preterism is a vital lens in understanding biblical prophecy, and also like futurism, people don’t agree on when to apply it. At some point, we realize that all prophecy will be viewed through a preterist lens because this Earth’s history will come to a close. Until then, however, the debate goes on.

Preterist example: If you believe the Jewish Messiah has already come, you have a preterist view of those Messianic prophecies; you believe those prophecies have been fulfilled. If you believe He will come again, you hold a futurist view of the prophecies surrounding His Second Coming. Make sense?

Where futurism may fall into literalizing, preterism can fall into allegorizing. While one of preterism’s superpowers is its ability to connect scripture with history, some folks subscribing to this view take it too far. They conclude events like the resurrection, Second Coming and White Throne Judgment have also already happened, usually in some spiritual way. This is called hyper-preterism or full-preterism and is largely considered to be heretical.

While futurist or preterist lenses are applied to prophetic passages across both the Old and New Testaments, the book of Revelation tends to be the primary focal point for our last two lenses, historicism and idealism. In contrast to our first two minor lenses, these two seem a little more… blurry.


If futurism finds prophetic fulfillment in the future and preterism finds its fulfillment in the past, historicism finds its prophetic fulfillment spread across the ages. It’s important to note the early Church fathers never really ran with this one until Joachim of Fiore in the 1100s. Historicism finally gained its popularity during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s when the Reformers cast the pope as the Antichrist and assumed the Catholic Church was the beast in Revelation 12 and 13, and therefore the driving force behind end-times apostacy.

Historicist example: Most agree Revelation 2-3 speaks directly to actual, local, 1st century churches during John’s time. Not historicism! Historicism spiritualizes these churches and their admonitions into ages of the Church down through the centuries, beginning with the apostolic Church (Ephesus) and extending to today’s Church (the lukewarm Laodicea).

Though historicism remained popular until the 19th century, it largely faded due to its liberal interpretations and lack of agreement between proponents. One of its ongoing flaws: historicist proponents invariably make the final segment in their prophetic timelines their own generation, which has been changing generation after generation for centuries. This view also ignores large swaths of prophetic details in order to fit its fluid scenarios.

Today, Seventh-day Adventists are probably the largest holders of this view, but it is shared by some Lutheran and Presbyterian branches and was also previously favored by the Millerites.


And so we arrive at the last of our minor lenses, idealism. If you thought historicism allegorizes, buckle up! This one allegorizes everything! Idealism is also known as the allegorical, spiritual, or nonliteral approach. While both futurism and preterism recognize prophetic symbology in their own ways, idealism sees everything as symbology. This view holds that none of the prophecies in Revelation will ever find any literal, earthly fulfillment, aside from maybe the Second Coming and the White Throne Judgment. These prophecies are simply figurative language for the tribulations and strife that confront Christianity in every age.

Unlike its more conservative historicist cousin, idealism began to flourish only in the past 200 years. In the 1800s, Swiss Calvinist theologian Karl Barth interpreted eschatology as a collection of existential truths designed to bring the believer hope rather than a series of past-future symbol-rich prophecies. His teachings provided the undergirding for what would be called the “Social Gospel” in America which aims to solve society’s many ails via the expression of the Christian ethic.

Idealist example: This lens pretty well allegorizes whatever it sees. Through idealism, the beast of Revelation has been said to symbolize wealth, the elite, the exploitation of workers, imperialism, materialism and the government. (Yeah, pretty much whatever oppressive system you want it to mean.)

Christian Science, the New Thought Movement and the Unity Church—all metaphysical, transcendentalist organizations—lean heavily upon this lens. Enough said.

Surprise! (Pop Quiz!)

Well, surprise! Just a little exercise to help you think through all these “isms”. Hey, don’t thank me. That’s why y’all are paying me the big bucks.

Which Lens?

1. You believe God is crafting to Himself one people made up of many nations. This began with Abraham and has continued generation after generation until the present day. Your position is…


2. You believe God has a separate plan for national, ethnic Israel and another plan for His Church. Your position is…


3. In regards to the Messianic prophecies, you believe the promised Messiah has not yet come to humanity. Your view of these prophecies is…


4. You believe the Messiah was born, crucified, died, rose and now is seated at the Father’s right hand in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 and other prophecies. Your view of these prophecies is…


5. You believe Revelation unpacks the ages of the Church throughout the centuries. Your view of this book is…


The End is Nigh

That was great! I love me some pop quizzes! If you were unfamiliar with these terms when we started, I know this lesson may have been a bit… thick. As we continue through the Prophecy Course, I do make an effort to keep the high-minded theological lingo to a minimum, but I felt it was important for you to have a basic understanding of these different perspectives. But, don’t worry! There are more “isms” to come! The tribulation and millennial reign of Christ will introduce us to a few more fancy terms. But alas, those are lessons for another day.

I hope this lesson helped you grow in your understanding. Remember: it’s the Truth that sets you free.



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Garland, Tony. April 30, 2020. 2.12 - Systems of Interpretation. Precept Austin. Retrieved by

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Got Questions. What is historicism? Retrieved from

Shores, Matt. Biblical Prophecy: Four Views of the End Times. Explore God. Retrieved by

Trietsch. November 4, 2021. The Four Views of Revelation. Retrieved by Historicist interpretations of the Book of Revelation. Retrieved from Idealism. Retrieved from Idealism (Christian eschatology). Retrieved from John Nelson Darby. Retrieved from