What is Eschatology? The word eschatology is from the Greek word eschatos, translated “last,” and logos, translated “study of.”
Eschatology is a section of theology, usually coming last in a systematic study of theology. Eschatology shows the completion of salvation history, because it shows the restoration of creation from the Fall and the completion of the plan of salvation. Eschatology is the study of final earthly events, the eternal destiny of creation, and the nature of God’s eternal kingdom.
The field of study includes (1) the prophetic parts of the Bible, (2) related theology, (3) relevant historical events, and (4) current international events.
Eschatology helps us understand God’s way of fulfilling his ultimate purpose for his creation.
Christian eschatology is necessary and inevitable because of foundational Christian doctrines. Christians believe that God has absolute power and authority over the universe. They believe that sin exists as rebellion against God. They believe that Christ provided salvation that makes possible the reconciliation of rebels and restoration of fallen creation. They believe that the justice of God cannot tolerate sin forever. These are foundational doctrines. It is therefore necessary that Christianity also explain how Christ will triumph, salvation will be completed, and God’s authority be fully restored. Even without Scriptural predictions, Christianity would develop eschatology. The Bible gives us God’s revelation so that we see the essentials of eschatology accurately. The Bible constantly connects eschatological doctrines to doctrines about salvation and Christian living.
Distribute the following four scripture references to four different students to read to the group: Jude 14-15, Titus 2:1-13, John 14:1-3, and James 5:7-8. After each passage is read, ask the group, “How do these verses make a connection between eschatology and Christian living?
“The bright hope of living with the Lord forever is a strong incentive for faithful living on the part of Christians and a powerful motivating force for witnessing . . . “ (Mendell Taylor, Exploring Evangelism).
The practical usefulness of eschatology is that it teaches the believer to (1) have faith that endures and (2) live a Christian life consistent with an eternal perspective.
Read Colossians 3:1-6.
Spiritually we have already been resurrected with Christ. When Christ appears, we will be with him. Because we expect Christ’s return we kill sin from our lives and live to please God.
What are some reasons that some people don’t like to study biblical prophecy?
Why Some People Don’t Study Eschatology
(1) They don’t understand it.
Biblical prophecy has strange forms of literature, including even visions of animals and strange monsters. These details are not easy to interpret. Scholars disagree about doctrines of eschatology. This makes many people feel that they cannot know for sure what is right.
However, the essential doctrines of eschatology are clear. Other details are not as clear, but we can understand some of them by applying good principles of Bible interpretation.
(2) It scares them.
Many people are disturbed by the biblical descriptions of world-wide disasters and persecution. They worry about the safety of themselves and their children.
However, if these things will happen in the future, a Christian needs to know how to keep his faith during those times.
(3) They don’t want to risk division.
People often disagree about the interpretation of prophetic scripture. The arguments may cause a break in fellowship. Some Christians choose not to discuss prophecy because they do not want to argue.
However, the essential doctrines of eschatology should be accepted by all Christians. Agreement on less important details should not be required for fellowship.
(4) They think it has no practical importance.
It is possible to follow the biblical description of Christian living without understanding much about prophecy. Therefore, some people think that study is not worth the effort, especially since they don’t expect to understand it.
However, certain essential doctrines are important for Christian living, such as the doctrine of the final judgment. People who ignore biblical doctrines about the future tend to become too adjusted and invested in the present world.
Prophetic scripture is misused if the scholar
- Is diverted from emphasis of central truths
- Becomes pessimistic about what ministry can accomplish
- Doesn’t use prophecy for its intended purposes
- Breaks unity with other Christians
- Uses obscure biblical statements to support strange doctrines
ABUSE BY FALSE PROPHECY
THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES PREDICTED THE END OF THE WORLD IN 1975. IN MAY, 1974, THEY PRINTED THIS:
“REPORTS ARE BEING HEARD OF BROTHERS SELLING THEIR HOMES AND PROPERTY AND PLANNING TO SPEND THE REST OF THEIR DAYS IN THIS OLD SYSTEM IN THE PIONEER SERVICE [ADVERTISING THEIR RELIGION]. CERTAINLY THIS IS A FINE WAY TO SPEND THE SHORT TIME REMAINING BEFORE THE WICKED WORLD’S END” (KINGDOM MINISTRY, MAY, 1974).
Reasons to Study Biblical Prophecy
There are many reasons to study Biblical prophecy:
- All Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16).
- A blessing is promised to the readers of Revelation (1:3).
- Jesus preached prophecy (Matthew 24:29-31).
- Prophecy comforts us about believers who have suffered and died (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
- Prophecy encourages us to work for God faithfully (1 Corinthians 15:58).
- Prophecy urges spiritual zeal and carefulness (1 John 3:2-3, Luke 21:34).
- Prophecy is intended to strengthen our faith for the future (Luke 21:28, 2 Thessalonians 2:2)
Levels of Importance
Discussions of prophecy often focus on minor questions instead of major truths. Issues in prophecy are not all equally important. We will not try to cover everything about prophecy in this course.
Sometimes people wonder what the mark of the beast will look like, what country the antichrist will come from, and who the two witnesses will be. These are questions that the Bible does not clearly answer. We may find some evidence in Scripture for those details, but arguing about them is not worthwhile.
There are other topics that the Bible explains more. Some examples would be whether Jesus will come back at the beginning, middle, or end of the tribulation; and whether or not the millennium is a literal thousand years. It is possible to come to a reasonable conclusion, based on Scriptural evidence. However, these doctrines are not essential to the gospel. You should never break fellowship with someone because you disagree with his opinion on one of these questions.
There are some necessary truths in biblical prophecy. These are truths that are so clear that everyone who believes the Bible accepts them. These doctrines affect Christian living and the whole system of Christian doctrine. Examples of these doctrines are the return of Christ, the final judgment, the physical resurrection of all people, and the eternal rule of God.
In this course, we will spend time in the Scripture, so that the Scripture can speak for itself. We will emphasize the most important truths of eschatology. We will study some of the evidence for less important doctrines, but will allow the student to come to his own conclusions. It is most important that the purpose of prophetic scripture be accomplished; that the demonstration of the power and wisdom of God motivate us to trust and obey God.
The Central Themes of Biblical Prophecy
Sometimes the study of eschatology becomes very human-centered. Much discussion of eschatology is about the timing of the Lord’s return in relation to other events, because we want to know what will happen to us.
Study of eschatology may become earth-focused, as we study the biblical predictions and try to guess what events will happen on earth.
When we study the book of Daniel, we should notice that the emphasis is God’s wisdom, power, and eternal kingdom. Daniel is entirely an eschatological book, and its themes are the themes of eschatology. God reveals what will happen. The righteous will understand what is happening, but the wicked will not. God’s kingdom will cover the whole earth and last forever. Christ appears in the book of Daniel and is given the kingdom (7:13- 14).
When we study the book of Revelation, we find the same themes, with more emphasis of Christ. The book is the Revelation of Christ. He is the beginning and the end; the One who began everything and will bring it to its conclusion. He is the Almighty. The worst sin of the Antichrist is that he demands worship. The great test of believers is to remain true to God. All others worship the Antichrist.
The throne of God is central in Revelation. Things happen on the earth as orders go from God. The entire sequence of events that bring in God’s kingdom are symbolized by the seals on God’s book, which Jesus opens one by one.
Throughout the book are passages of praise to God for his power, wisdom, and righteousness.
What primary theme do you see in the book of Revelation?
We do not see clear outlines of future events in order. We do not see many details of events that we can understand for sure. Therefore, to make prophecy into a detailed outline of future events would not be fulfilling its purpose.
Principle for Bible Interpretation: The primary emphasis of a biblical passage or book should guide our use of the Scripture. We ordinarily should not use scripture passages in a way that the writer did not intend.
We see that the glory of God is the primary concern of eschatology. In a world that seems out of control, God is still sovereign. Though the righteous seem to be losing the battle, God will give ultimate victory. We may not be able to interpret some details ahead of time, but we will recognize their fulfillment and know that God knew them ahead of time. Eschatology constantly points our attention to God.
The Need for Humility
If a person claims to completely understand all of the prophetic scriptures, he claims discernment that has not been given to the church in general for its 2,000 years of history. Such a person should not be trusted. Many people have claimed personal revelation and complete understanding, but their views were never accepted by the church in general. Some people succeeded in attracting a group of followers that resembled a cult. Some people have developed strange doctrines and sometimes taught heresy.
The essential truths of eschatology, such as the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, are essential to Christianity. A person should not claim to be a Christian and to believe the Bible if he does not hold the essential doctrines. However, there are many details that are not as definite, and there are many predictions in Scripture that are difficult to understand.
Even the prophet Daniel said, “I heard, but I did not understand” (Daniel 12:8). The angel told him that the words were closed until the time of the end, but at that time the wise would understand (12:9-10). Some predictions will not be understood until the period of time when they will be fulfilled.
John Wesley said of the book of Revelation, “The intermediate parts I did not study at all for many years; as utterly despairing of understanding them, after the fruitless attempts of so many wise and good men . . . I by no means pretend to understand or to explain all that is contained in this mysterious book . . .” (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, Introduction to Revelation).
May God help us to study his word with humility and tolerance of the opinions of others.
The Thessalonian Fear
A student should read 2 Thessalonians 2 for the group. It is not necessary to explain all the details of this passage. We will study it again later.
What were the Thessalonian believers worried about? See verse 2.
Verse 2 shows us how eschatology can be misused. Because of the eschatology that some people were teaching, believers were worried and confused.
Principle for Biblical Interpretation: We should observe the concern addressed by the writer, especially when it is clearly stated.
Look at the conclusion of the passage (verses 15-17). What did the apostle want them to do because of his explanation of eschatology?
Principle for Biblical Interpretation: The conclusion of the writer shows his intention for the passage. A conclusion is sometimes signaled by the word therefore.
He wanted them to continue to live as Christians, as they had been taught. He wanted them to be strong in faith and comfort, rather than being controlled by fear. He wanted them to continue to accomplish good works, rather than thinking only about survival.
A proper use of eschatology will accomplish the same goals that the Apostle Paul had.
Look at the four reasons some people don’t like to study prophecy. Imagine that someone tells you, “I don’t like to study prophecy because . . .” (giving one of the four reasons). Write a few sentences explaining to this person why he should not avoid prophecy for that reason.
Study 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Because we expect the return of the Lord and the destruction of the earth, we live holy lives and do not make earthly things our priorities. Write a summary of the message of this passage.
Full course available at Shepherds Global Classroom.