With 2020 being as crazy as it’s been, it’s no surprise that there has been a noticeable surge of interest in what the Bible says about the “end times.” People want to know, are we getting near to the end of the world?
Well… yes, we are. But how near and in what way depends on who you ask!
If you ask most climate scientists, we are very near the end of the world as we currently know it because of global warming. When you look to the news, it seems like new viruses, astronomical phenomena, or the threat of nuclear war could potentially wipe us all out.
On the other hand, those of us who look to Scripture and trust what it reveals about Jesus have a different take on how the world will end.
We believe that God’s hand is always steering world events, guiding them toward a resolution that involves Jesus’ return to our world, a final judgment against evil, and the complete establishment of God’s rule over a renewed creation.
Beyond that, though, Christians disagree quite vehemently on the specifics of the “end times.” In fact, there are few areas where you’ll find more widespread difference of opinion than the topic of eschatology (the study of last things/the end).
It’s a subject I bring up only with much trepidation and humility, knowing that I have many brothers and sisters in Christ whose perspective differs from mine, and who often hold their views very dearly and personally. Discussions about end times all too easily devolve into heated arguments and comment wars. But, when it’s been handled well, it’s also a topic that I’ve seen spark enriching conversations and push people deeper into Scripture.
So, when teaching others about Christian eschatology, I try to balance two key principles:
1) Eschatology is important.
We ought to diligently study what Scripture teaches about the future, heaven & hell, final judgment, etc. It’s in there for a reason. And part of that reason is that what you believe about God’s plan for the future and people’s destinies affects how you will live in the present. Your understanding of how our story ends determines where your hope is and what your values will be. But also…
2) When discussing eschatology, there should be very generous room for different opinions!
Interpreting biblical prophecy involves many difficult challenges, and so while eschatology is important, it also (in my opinion) ought to fall a little lower on the spectrum of what’s considered essential vs. non-essential doctrine.
Matters like salvation by grace through faith, the divinity of Christ, the Trinity — these are things worth breaking fellowship over if we disagree on them. Whether the rapture will be before or after the tribulation, probably not so much. It’s an issue of interpretation, not a matter of salvation.
In fact, you won’t find stances on the rapture, the tribulation, or the millennium in any of the early church creeds as matters of essential orthodoxy. What you will find instead are things like belief in Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead, his everlasting kingdom, and the resurrection of the dead. Those are the core, essential elements of Christian eschatology.
In other words, Jesus is coming back, he is going to win, and he is going to judge. And all of that should make us want to be sure we’re following him. Everything else is up for discussion.
A properly-balanced eschatological position will keep the emphasis firmly on those things (and not on fear, speculation, date-setting, politics, academic fascinations, or historical trivialities).
Alright! Now that I’ve stirred up the hornet’s nest, I’m excited to share in the coming posts a little bit of what I’ve learned over the years — and am still learning — about eschatology in general and, more specifically, that most fascinating and puzzling of biblical books, Revelation!
I personally know some people whose hearts beat a little faster when they hear that book’s title, typically due to anxiety over what they’ve been taught about its contents or just the general difficulty many laypeople have with understanding it. I hope to shed some light on what Revelation has to say to the church today and why it should actually be a source of great encouragement, not dread, to faithful followers of Christ. I’ll also share my favorite resources on Revelation/end times for those looking to go deeper in their own study.
For now, I hope that you will take this first post as an appetizer of sorts. And also as a disclaimer. I hold my own eschatological views somewhat loosely, and I try my best to communicate them humbly. Those who feel likewise are invited to comment, ask questions, and learn. Those who cannot disagree charitably, please refrain. Thanks in advance.
See you down the path.