Whenever I talk to people about theology, there seems to be two reactions to the subject of eschatology (end times), more specifically about when and how Jesus will return. The first reaction is one of indifference; these people see no practical relevance to eschatology. A common response I hear is: “how does eschatology really inform how I live now?” While I disagree with such indifference, I can nontheless understand the thought behind the statement. They want to focus on the now of the Christian life, which is important. While I want to focus on the now, we must also have a mind for the not yet, to which the Bible seems to give a lot of attention.
The other reaction I commonly get is from those who fixate and glorify eschatology. They love to series’ like Left Behind et al. They fixate (and some become obsessed) on the reality of the antichrist, who he might be, the mark of the beast, the timing of the rapture (at least if you hold to a pre-tribulational rapture), and things like this . And while I can appreciate being specific and detailed in one’s view of eschatology, being fixated on one thing will leave you spiritual unbalanced. Christians need to be holistic in their approach to theology, and while this includes eschatology, this does not mean we only study eschatology.
With that said, I think that the first group is who I talk to most. And this is what prompted me to write this two-part post, because eschatology is important (obviously, it doesn’t have central importance, as I said earlier).
This first post will be concerned with the relevance of eschatology, while the second will cover the different eschatological positions, the one I hold, and why I hold it.
With that said, why is the study of theology important? What is the relevance of this topic in theology?
(1) First, eschatology is important because of the weight of biblical writing that is given to this subject:
Much of the Bible is eschatological (or, concerned with future and end-time events). Most of the New Testament epistles address it to some degree, and even Jesus himself gave much of his teaching to it (Mk 13, Mt 24, Lk 19). As a Christian, I want to be biblical; because of this, I must give myself to the study of eschatology. It is simply not enough to be what some call a panmillennialist, thinking that eventually it will all “pan out”. The reason is because the Bible gives us details about what will happen in history in the future. Shouldn’t we do well to pay attention to the Bible’s focus on eschatology? Shouldn’t we study the Bible for what it says? Of course. And if the Bible covers eschatology, we should study it.
(2) Second, our eschatology affects the way we live right now:
You may disagree with this. You may think that eschatology only informs our future–logically, this is simply untrue; and scripturally, this is absolutely untrue. If I told you that a package was going to arrive at your door step at 5pm today, and that you needed to be there to receive it, does this information not inform how you should live now? This information means that you need to plan (presently) as to how to get to your house by 5pm. If you have something planned at 5pm, you would need to cancel it. If you were away and didn’t have transportation, you’d need to get a ride. What happens in the future affects the way we live presently.
What does the Bible say about how the future affects our present, though?
Paul tells the Thessalonians in 1 Thesselonians 5 that,
2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Apparently, for Paul, the future coming of Jesus Christ should cause us to be aware, and act as children of light. Paul tells the Thessalonians that Jesus’ coming will be a frightening surprise for the ungodly, but for those who are awake, being holy as God is holy, the day will be one of hope and salvation. And, as Paul says, we are to encourage one another and build one another up in hope of Christ’s coming. Eschatology is intensely practical for Paul, is it not?
in 1 John 3, the beloved disciple says that,
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Wow. Intensely practical. John simply says that Jesus will return one day–and, when he does return, he will transform us into his own image. John then says that those who have this hope purify themselves, and ready themselves for the Lord’s appearance. He then spends the rest of chapter 3 talking about sin, and that those who sin don’t understand why Christ came, and why he will come again.
Again, I want to stress that those who believe that eschatology has no present affect on our lives must deal with these types of passages. And there are several others that I could examine (Titus 2:11-15, Mark 13:32-37, Rom 11:11-36).
(3) Lastly, when eschatology is done rightly, it is fixated on Jesus and the cross:
All eschatology, whatever position it may be, is fixated on Jesus’ past, present, and future work on the cross. The gospel is not just an event that happened 2,000 years ago–it is an explosive act that happened in the past, is at work in all believers now, and will be completed when Jesus returns. The gospel, by its very nature, is eschatological.
Paul says in Romans 8:30 that, “those whom [God] predestined he also called,and those whom called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified“. While the gospel is a seed that is blossoming and producing fruit in our lives now, it will flower when Christ comes back and glorifies his people. So, when we study eschatology, we are truly studying the final fruit of Christ’s work on the cross.
I want to be gospel-centered, and so I must give myself to the study of eschatology, right? This means that eschatology is relevant, biblical, and concerned with the gospel.
I hope this helps you get a small grasp of the importance of eschatology. In my second post, I will overview the 3 common eschatological positions, and argue for the position I take, and why.