Ask Steve: The Importance of Eschatology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I have been to churches that don’t study the end times, and heard of some that do. Why is eschatology important? Is it important to teach in churches? 

Answer: Eschatology is one of the most controversial studies in Christian theology. Though it should not define churches in the same manner as soteriology, Christology, and ecclesiology, it should not be ignored, which can be the case in some denominations because of its desire to avoid tackling the controversial issue. A study of last days has tremendous benefits for the life of the church and the individual Christian, since eschatology is based on the word of God which is given to edify the saints. Though there are many interpretations of the end times in the evangelical world, this should not cause us to be discouraged and to lose hope in finding truth in this area. God has spoken clearly in his prophetic passages, and if we approach these texts with the same open heart and sense of hermeneutical approach that we use with other parts of the Scripture, then we not only understand the theology of the end times, but are blessed and edified by it. This is what the Apostle John meant when he writes, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it…” (Rev 1:3). It is the aim of this section to show how an understanding of eschatology blesses us as Christians and why it is relevant to the life of the individual Christian and the church. 

The first reason why eschatology is important is that it rightly informs us how we read Scripture and conduct church. Do we take a consistently grammatical-historical hermeneutical system when reading the Bible, or do we at times read certain passages figuratively and allegorically based on the prophetic book’s similarities to contemporaneous apocalyptic literature? How we treat Scripture interpretation shows how much we value God’s word. If we tend to ignore the book of Revelation because of its difficult and controversial nature, then we treat Scripture lightly, and lose a tremendous portion of its sanctifying work on our lives. The congregations cannot get blessed (Rev 1:3) by something that they are not taught in church. This shows the practical implications that eschatology can have in the curriculum and mission of the church. This is why it is important to first have a settled, if not right, hermeneutics of Scripture, then to teach prophetic/apocalyptic texts in church so that such lessons can be applied to the congregation.

Another reason why eschatology is important is that it can help us get a clearer focus on what the mission of the church is. For example, if one adopts a preterist, postmillennial understanding of the book of Revelation, then he will most likely see his mission in life as trying to bring the kingdom influences to all parts of society, in a sense “Christianizing” the entire world. Then the focus of the Christian, and the corporate church, would be social justice, active political work, and helping the poor. There may not be as much emphasis on traditional evangelization of the lost, since the program of God is not to merely rescue people out of hell and this world, but to transform this world slowly through the spreading of the kingdom, which men usher in through their works until the Second Coming of Christ.

In contrast, if one adopts a futuristic, premillennial view of eschatology, then he sees that the millennium is not now, and that the kingdom of God is still future. He is not over optimistic about the conditions of this world and will not work so much to “renew” it as much as to simply fulfill the Great Commission, which is to evangelize the lost and disciple believers. He understands the great horrors that are coming upon the word (the 7-Year Tribulation) as well as the judgment and justice of God that will be exercised on unrepentant nations during that time. The Christian realizes that God is not just a God of love and patience, but one who will physically judge the nations of the earth in a way consistent with judgments pronounced in the Old Testament on Israel and the enemies of Israel (Sennacherib’s army, Egyptian plague, etc.). He understands that this can happen at any time because of the imminent rapture of the church (1 Thess 4:17; 1 Cor 5:52). Therefore, he has an urgent mission in life to rescue as many souls as he can through evangelism. This is not to say that he does not care about the poor or about the plight conditions of the world, but rather that he has a consistent focus on the true mission of the church so as not to misuse the church’s time and resources. As you can see, eschatology is pretty relevant because it influences how one approaches Scripture, how one lives his Christian life, and how a church relates to the unbelieving world.

Eschatology is ultimately important because it gives us a clear and grand picture of who God is. We learn from eschatological passages that God is sovereign over history and over the lives of believers and unbelievers. There is nothing that is out of His grasp, and whatever He has decreed in His mind will come to pass, with no human being able to stop it. Not even Satan himself can thwart the progressive and final plans of God for His chosen people and for reprobates. This reminds us that His promises will come to pass, therefore we are given great comfort despite the trials and uncertainties of life.

Eschatology also should motivate us to holy living. With the right view of eschatology in mind, we have a constant awareness that Christ could come back anytime for His church (rapture) and that He could begin His plan to judge the nations of the earth (Tribulation) and to usher in His kingdom (millennium). Being on the alert should make us want to be prepared in holiness so that we will not have to be ashamed at His coming for us. That is why an understanding of the imminency of Christ’s return gives us motivation to live a righteous and holy life in honor of the Lord. Believers who do not anticipate the Lord’s return will have a greater tendency to allow sin to flourish in their lives, since they don’t see any urgency in life.

Eschatology also helps us to establish proper priorities in life. One of those priorities, as I discussed, is the desire to exercise self-control in holiness. Understanding the events of the end times, which includes the reality of the Bema Seat judgment and the everlasting value of heaven, will cause us to have an eternal perspective in the things that we do. With this mindset, we give more focus to things like prayer, evangelism, missions, giving to the cause of the church, and not fooling around with the fleeting pleasures of this world. In essence, we make better choices in this life knowing how our choices are going to factor into the picture of a knowable future.

Finally, eschatology gives hope to the church and to the Christian. Despite the pains and sufferings that on goes through, as well as the injustices of this world and the sin pattern that seems to be going unpunished, eschatology informs us that there is a God of righteousness and justice who will return and set things right, and to render to every man according to his deeds (Romans 2:6). The afflicted and persecuted Christians will be comforted and see the fruits of his labor, realizing by the end that God truly does work out all things for good.

Recommended Resource: Understanding End Times Prophecy by Paul N. Benware