Eschatology (Gulp) Matters

This week, I talked with my students about eschatology. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it basically refers to one’s beliefs about how this ol’ world is going to be wrapped up, and what happens to people when they die. Does the world end with a bang? Or a whimper? Or something else?

I used to be one of those people who smartly called myself a “pan-millennialist.” It’s all going to pan out in the end, har har har. I didn’t really think much about it for most of my life, and if I did it was with a frisson of panic. I didn’t buy the whole pre-tribulation rapture thing (the idea that God’s going to snatch Christians up out of the world before things get too bad), so eschatology scared the bejeebers out of me because I figured that if I were around when Jesus came back, my life would have sucked real bad for a long time before that. It was not a happy place inside my head, so I just kind of pushed it to one side, comforted myself with the fact that I believed the Scriptures were true and God was kind, and forgot about it.

And then, a couple years ago, I had to teach about it. So I found a few good resources and some good visual aids and summaries of the four major Christian views, and I realized I already believed something about eschatology, and it wasn’t scary at all!

One of the things that came up in the course of my recent conversation with my students was that some of the views of “end times” (though I shudder to use that term) are very optimistic about the world here and now and where it’s headed, and others are very pessimistic. If you think the Scriptures teach that things are getting worse all the time, and that this world is going downhill and headed for destruction, but that believers are going to be zapped out before things get catastrophic and their souls rushed to an eternity-long worship service in heaven… OR if you think the Scriptures point to an age when the Gospel will go forth triumphantly into the nations, and the influence of Jesus’ kingdom will extend and extend and extend until the whole Earth is filled with the knowledge of God and then Jesus will return to judge the world and reign forever on an eternal throne in a renewed creation… how could that not influence your understanding of everything in this life?

So, what do you believe? Is your eschatology optimistic or pessimistic, and why? I’m putting together a quick overview of the four major Christian views, and I’ll tell you why I basically completely reject two of them and bounce indecisively back and forth between the other two. 😉

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17 thoughts on “Eschatology (Gulp) Matters

  1. I think we are in the Last Days (Acts 2:17, 2 Pet 3:3 etc.), and have been since Jesus ascended into Heaven.

    So far, the Last Days have seen a steady expansion of God’s Kingdom, with some apparent reverses at various times and places. Does that make me an optimist?

  2. I love eschatology. But not in the “let me show you my charts” kind of way.

    I realized how important it was–how much it mattered–when I realized that every eschatological passage in the Bible had an explicit or implicit “Therefore+imperative” attached to it. “Live this way now, in light of the future.”

    When I became a Christian, the Church I attended was Dispensational, so I adopted it not knowing there were other ways. Then I found out there were other ways. And I became each and every one of them.

    I’ve finally settled over the years into tension. I definitely don’t believe, at this point, that there is a gap of time between the second coming, the final judgment, and the ushering in the of the new creation. With regards to optimism/pessimism, I’m definitely much more optimistic about the future. While I do believe their full fulfillment lay in the new creation, there’s a sense in which I can’t deny the progressive fulfillment of the optimistic texts in the “already.” Primarily, the texts such as the glory/knowledge of God will fill the earth as the water covers the sea (Habakkuk and Isaiah), and other such OT Texts, as well as the Gospel’s parables of the kingdom (leaven, mustard seed, etc).

    The “not yet” part comes in as that this expansive Kingdom is progressively expanding, with the appearance of Christ bringing the fulfillment of the absolute global covering. At the same time of the growth of God’s kingdom, I see it always under attack by Satan’s parasitic kingdom–but not in a pessimistic way. How can one be pessimistic about Satan’s attack strategy against the kingdom, when his head has already been crushed? And is continually crushed by the boot of the Church?

    Anyways, this comment became far longer than I intended. Whoops.

  3. I’m a-mill and a-trib, Laura. It’s not that I think all other positions are a load of hooey, but the just don’t seem as well supported overall. I’m completely optimistic, in the sense that Jesus is coming back and we’ll have the New Creation established for eternity. I’m completely pessimistic in the sense of what the world is doing apart from God; I think that’s what Romans 8:22-24 is talking about, the need for God’s coming redemption and renewal.

    Tim

    • Yeah, I agree — I particularly think pre-mil positions depend on a really specific way of approaching apocalyptic literature that’s very different from the way one approaches prophecy, poetry, and wisdom literature.

        • I don’t think it’s intentional, at all — in fact, I think it’s well-intentioned and shows a desire to take God at his word and have a high view of Scripture — but that it tends to overlook the need with apocalyptic literature to interpret metaphorical, poetic language according to its genre. Does that make sense? I mean, I don’t think dispensationalists say, “I’m going to use a different metric on these parts of Scripture,” is what I’m saying.

          • That makes complete sense, Laura. I wonder if it’s a matter of enthusiasm overtaking the reader. It’s almost like some people see the Daniel 9 prophecy and the following history of Israel and figures out that the numbers work out pretty closely for a pre-mil so they get excited that they’ve cracked the code, so to speak.

            Recently I co-taught a Daniel class with a friend (who has a much higher wattage brain than I’ve got) and he’s dispensational all the way, very excited about how the numbers work out and everything. We presented our two takes on it and moved on, no big deal fellowship-wise.

            • YES! That’s awesome. I feel like this is an area where Christians can easily be tempted to be so committed to their own position that they are willing to separate from their brothers and sisters over it. That grieves me, and I’m convinced that it grieves the heart of God as well. I think it’s great to give people a survey of the main positions, explain which you hold and why, and then just move on. It’s not a Gospel issue and we shouldn’t treat it like one.

    • Tim,

      By saying you’re “a-trib,” are you taking an idealist approach? That there’s no “great” tribulation, but that the great tribulation talked about is the tribulation that all followers of Jesus face?

      If so, fantastic. Though, I would probably differ a tiny bit. Other than a specific minority interpretation of Matthew 24 that I hold, I would agree 100%

      If I’m mistaken, then, whoops…again. My mistake. 🙂

      • Cheers, Bryan. I do think there’s a tribulation, but that it coincides with the Church age, just as does the millennium. As for Mt 24, I’m more preterist than eschatologist on that passage.

        Either way, as I said above, these just aren’t issues of fellowship among God’s people.

        Tim

        • Hi Tim. You’re me.

          I, too, take a preterist reading of Mt 24. So it is agreement, 100%.

          And yes, not an issue of fellowship. Lord knows I had to defend my view of the tribulation and the millennium to Dr. Gregg Allison, who pretty much 100% disagree with me, for a final. In Gregg’s grace and mercy, he still gave me and A!

  4. I got burned on this whole thing a long time ago.

    After studying Revelation A LOT — I did my own translation of it from the Greek, and wrote a 300-page expositional commentary, which I never submitted for publication, but instead, preached it at my church over a six month period of time — I came out as being not entirely convinced that Hal Lindsay had it right. In short, I called the charts into question. Shortly after that, a colleague in ministry told me he could no longer fellowship with me because he didn’t sense I was enthusiastically committed to the dispensationalist, pre-trib, pre-mill position. I asked him if he thought that was a major issue and he indicated that he did indeed think that if I didn’t adopt that position then it was obvious I had a very low view of Scripture, and that perhaps I wasn’t, in fact, regenerate. He spread this word among his colleagues, and I didn’t get a lot of fellowship from my brothers in ministry after that.

    I haven’t spent a lot of time studying eschatology since then. That may be why you, Laura, didn’t hear much about from me while you were growing up.

    Sorry.

    • Dad, I tell you what, I am so tired of Christians separating from each other over unbiblical stuff, but even moreso of them separating from each other in an unbiblical MANNER. Did he come to you and plead with you as a brother? Did he show you your fault with grace? No. He just came and announced that he was disfellowshipping you and that is 100% unbiblical.

      And that’s the problem with assumptions, isn’t it? He didn’t say, “Brother, I’m concerned because I think that your questions about this position mean that you don’t value scripture. But I’ve seen evidence that you do in other places. Can you tell me how you fit these things together?” AUGH. HULKSMASH.

      • AUGH is right, Laura.

        Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is sometimes a forgotten priority. Maybe because it’s hard work, gospel-driven hard work, which therefore ALWAYS involves a cross.

        Time for some theological triage, right?

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