Eschatology (still) matters (even if you’re not sure it does)

hope-for-present

It’s the ultimate “Dad” joke of theology jokes: “I’m a panmillennial—I’m pretty sure it’s all going to pan out in the end!”

(I’m pretty sure I heard you groan through your computer screen.)

Lame though the joke may be, it certainly describes the eschatological position of more than a few Christians I know—including me at one point. I didn’t grow up with any sort of background in Christianity, which means I wasn’t fed a steady diet of pop-dispensationalism, like those who grew up in homes where Left Behind littered the shelves. But when I became a Christian, I was exposed to it pretty quickly at the church I attended. Usually through cheesy videos warning us to be ready, because the Rapture could happen at any minute.

Like right… now.

(Did it happen? You’re still here? Okay, good.)

Changing my attitude toward studying the end

One of the things that turned me off of the study of eschatology was how I saw so many people trying to figure out when Jesus was going to come back—trying to interpret the times, as it were. After a conversation or two in a men’s breakfast, I usually wanted to curl up in the fetal position and ask Jesus to Rapture them so we wouldn’t have that discussion anymore.

But over the years, I’ve challenged myself to rethink that mindset, and not just because it was a bit disrespectful. Part of that was realizing that, as Jeff Purswell described it in a conference message[1. You can download the message in MP3 format here.] a number of years ago, eschatology is not an add-on, or something to be ignored, but it is the crown of our theology—”the study of the consummation of the purposes of God.”

At the same time, I sat down and read the book of Revelation once again, this time not as a book that stands apart from the rest of the Bible (as I suspect many of us do), but in the light of the rest of Scripture. And what I found there was a book that, despite having a number of passages filled with imagery that baffles western readers in the 21st century, is filled with tremendous hope. It is a book that flows directly out of the promise of the gospel—it is the place where we see the promise of our future salvation, the glorification of our bodies and the death of death, realized. And as I did this, I found myself more baffled with some of the explanations I was hearing about the meaning of the millenium and its relationship to the return of Christ.

Eventually, my study led me was toward an amillennial-leaning perspective (although not entirely).[2. By this I mean I’m not entirely certain it’s wise to interpret references to periods of time in apocalyptic literature in a strictly literal fashion.] Many of the books I started reading (and some I still have to finish) did little to refute this seemingly natural bend, The Bible and the Future by Anthony A. Hoekema, Kingdom Come by Sam Storms, and Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, among them. But even as I continue to study the subject, I am trying to read books from differing perspectives, such as The Presence of the Future by George Eldon Ladd (which advocates for the historic premillennial perspective), or attempt to show a balanced perspective on each, such as Timothy Paul Jones’ Four Views on the End Times.

How the end makes a difference in the present

In all of my study, though, what I realized is just how big a difference the end makes in the present. It’s not simply something for later—it’s for right now. What it offers is hope. And more specifically, it offers us a sure foundation for hope, the promise that Jesus is indeed coming, and coming soon. That he will indeed set all that is right wrong. That he will judge justly, and sin and sadness and tears will be no more.

A number of months ago, I wrote a paper for Explore God, offering a look at what the Bible says about hope. What I wrote there, I’ll say again here:

Hope encourages and strengthens us. It causes us to rejoice. “Through [Jesus] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2)… Hope allows us to live godly lives. As the Apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) The psalmist likewise wrote, “May integrity and uprightness protect me because my hope, Lord, is in you.” (Psalm 25:21).

Without hope, godly living is impossible—holiness is impossible. The Christian life is impossible without hope. It cannot be done. We need hope if we are to pursue righteous living. And this is the pattern God has established in his Word.

There is no other hope that compares to what we find in the Bible. There is nothing the world can offer that is not, at best, a pale substitute or a mere shadow. True hope—the hope found all throughout the Bible, including the end—is life-changing. It is a sure hope in God because God is steadfast and sure in his love for his people and this world. It is a confidence that Jesus will indeed return, that his kingdom will come, that the groaning of this world will come to an end, and that redemption will not only be accomplished and applied but completed.[3. Adapted from the conclusion of my paper, “A Deeper Look at What the Bible Says About Hope“.]

This is the hope we need—and it’s the kind of hope that is grown in us as we study subjects that make us squirrelly, like eschatology. Eschatology really does matter, even if you’re not sure it does. So don’t give up on studying the end, because in it there is much hope to be found for the present.

2 thoughts on “Eschatology (still) matters (even if you’re not sure it does)”

  1. Allen Ray Mickle Jr.

    My favorite dad joke is “Malachi, the only Italian prophet” pronounced mal-a-chee. 🙂 Keep in mind, there’s lots of us dispensationalists (I’m a progressive of the Bock/Blaising/Saucy type) that aren’t goofy.

  2. You missed the other “dad joke”: “If you don’t understand eschatology, don’t worry – it’s not the end of the world….”

    On a more serious note – a helpful post, thank you. It’s not something I have studied much myself (although I would, like you note, tend toward rejecting any literal reading of numbers in apocalyptic texts), but it sounds like I probably should…

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