Here’s an experiment – drop the word ‘eschatology’ into a sentence the next time you’re talking with someone. I’ll bet you have one of two reactions – either they’ll look at you like you’ve just shut the dictionary cat-style, or if they’ve heard of the word, they’ll think of people being secretly raptured while nobody else is looking, antichrists, armageddon, dragons, war, pestilence and so on.
So many Christians tend to shy away from thinking about eschatology. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing up why I think that every Christian should be interested in eschatology, and what the Bible has to say about it.
Ok, Vaughan – that makes sense. But what the heck is eschatology?
Thanks for asking.
Most simply, Christian Eschatology is studying what the Bible has to say about the future. The word itself just means “the study of the last things”.
It turns out, Jesus had a lot to say about the future
, as did the apostles. Eschatology is the way that we, as responsible readers of the Bible, take all the things God says about the future and attempt to put them together.
When we do that, we ask questions like “what is this passage attempting to tell the original reader?”, “is this passage talking about an event far in the future, or an event that has already happened?”, “what is this passage attempting to tell me, a Gentile Christian living in the 21st Century?”
The most important thing to remember when we talk about eschatology is that when God tells us what is going to happen in the future, he does it to comfort us. In a beautiful New Testament passage on eschatology, Paul writes this:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV, emphasis added)
Verse 18 is the key here – while reading books like Revelation and Daniel can sometimes be scary, with terrifying images of war, plague, and judgement, God tells us about how the story is going to end because he wants us to be encouraged. He’s in control, and history unfolds according to his will.
Next week I’ll look at five reasons that Christians should be interested in eschatology.