Eschatology: ES01 An Introduction
Eschatology (Greek: G2274 ἔσχατος eschatos = last – The word appears about 50 times in the New Testament) is the study of the last times. Whilst most studies look at last times only, our studies will include all prophecy that has been fulfilled and all prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. All fulfilled prophecies were future when they were written in Scripture and became history! And as such unfulfilled prophecy shall also become history. God has acted in history and will also, in history, fulfil it. Eschatology has been described as the: “systematic study of eventualities.”1
It is a fact that we are all curious about our own destiny and the destiny of others. There is not a tribe or nation or tongue that does not have an idea about things beyond death. However it is in Christianity that we find the answers to our questions and so find that as there is a beginning there will also be an end, a consummation. The greatest event we are waiting for is the 2nd Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. With this will come the Judgment and the final destiny of individuals and the human race. It will be the end of what we know as time and eternity will be instead which is timeless.
Now I know that many fanatics are also interested in prophecy trying their very hardest with many theories to predict how certain things shall come to pass. There are others who also, with healthy scepticism, read the signs of the times. How do we tell the difference between those who are mad and those who are sane? It is by their level of biblical literacy.
So, in our studies on Eschatology that are going to be comprehensive (for that is what is meant by ‘Systematic’). We are going to take in the whole field from the first syllable to the last in Scripture to get a balanced view.
I do not promise, however, to be systematic in the order that I present the subject! I think that some events may overtake us such as those things that are happening in the Middle East even as I write. Such questions inevitably arise such as: Will Isaiah 17.1 be fulfilled right now where Damascus ceases to be a City and remain uninhabited? Such dramatic times we live in! It is ‘watch this space’ time! But we have to exercise caution for it may not be now…but it will be one day! God has not revealed the timetable for such events; only it is one that is yet to be fulfilled. And we have the guarantee that it will be fulfilled because we know about all the other fulfilled prophecies. It is proof that God keeps His Word.
We have to take this subject seriously taking to heart what is said in:
2 Timothy 2:15 — 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Don’t put your reputation on the line by saying with certitude that something is going to happen at this time or on such and such a date. But put your reputation on the line by saying that what God says will happen will definitely happen for He is never wrong and never lies.
There are some who think that we should not bother with the subject of prophecy because they have no bearing upon our lives, which, by the way, is a fallacy. However since prophecies take up 20% of our Bibles and 25% of the books of the Bible are expressly prophetic in nature we are doing a great disservice to God’s Word. And what becomes of such verses as:
2 Timothy 3:16–17 — 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
All Scripture…even those relating to end times are profitable.
It is also evident that Old Testament Prophets thought prophecy to be so important:
1 Peter 1:10–11 — 10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
This searching is of the sort that indicates that they barely rested from this task, so vital and central did they think it was.
On top of this is the fact that Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught prophecy as something very important:
John 16:13 — 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
Jesus indicating here that one of the main roles of the Holy Spirit is to reveal things that are to come.
The Apostle John declared that Jesus Himself did the same:
Revelation 1:1 — 1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.
2 Thessalonians 2:1–5 — 1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
How long was Paul with them to teach them so many things about the future and put such an emphasis upon these things as well as teaching other essentials? It was for a very short time indeed; probably less than a month. He urges them to remember what was taught.
There are many out there who are making their presence known in Academia, on YouTube, Websites and in Pulpits who should be ashamed. I mentioned Academia and Pulpits on purpose for either they neglect prophecy altogether or they come up with radical alternative understandings ranging from the liberal to the deranged. Let us make sure we do not become as one of those by getting a proper grasp of Scripture neither ignoring nor being consumed by prophecies. The latter is incredibly easy to do and many Christians have got derailed along the way for it is an exciting subject but we ought to be more excited by our Lord Jesus Christ and all that He has done and all that He will do. All is grace and mercy.
Prophecy is in Scripture to reveal our God who both knows and understands history and the future and is in control of it and who is faithful in bringing to pass all that He says. Prophecy is the answer to the liberals who reject God’s Word. Fulfilled prophecies are verifiable and is the reason why these Scriptures are attacked so vehemently as ‘written after the fact’. But it is impossible to overcome some of these prophecies as they have been fulfilled since the canon was put together!
Elsewhere we have looked at hermeneutics (interpretation). However we make clear that prophecies in their plain language are how they are to be read and understood. Where symbols are used these are also plain and indicated and either interpreted within the passage or elsewhere in the pages of Scripture; such is the unity of Scripture. There are few exceptions to this. That is not to say that there are not complications but these often become clearer just before or just after a prophecy has been fulfilled; the complications then are understood in ways we often could not have expected. The proof of this is in the plain statements to His disciples when Jesus was explaining what was going to happen to Him in His death and resurrection. Though it was very clear from our perspective it was only afterwards the disiples understood. If, as many are inclined to do, they try to put other interpretations to Scripture then what it leads to is confusion for who is to say whose interpretation is right?!
On top of this there are other rules of interpretation such as what is called the ‘Law of Double Reference’. There are many times throughout the Old Testament, for instance, where Jesus’ coming is predicted but the verses are speaking about His 1st and 2nd Advent. For example in:
Zechariah 9:9–10 — 9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’
Verse 9 relates only to His first coming; verse 10 only to His second. But it is not obvious that there is a time gap between verse 9 and 10 but history shows that there is.
And as well as other rules of interpretation that follow on from the first is the law of context. It is too easy to take verses out of context and give them a meaning that would not be possible otherwise. The Bible can mean whatever you want it to mean but only if you disobey the above rules.
There are some who think that these rules are a new thing somehow carved out by fundamentalists in our present day but even Irenaeus says: These things are such as fall [plainly] under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures…But to apply expressions which are not clear or evident to interpretations…such as everyone discovers for himself as inclination leads him, is absurd. For in this way no one will possess the rule of truth; but in accordance with the number of persons who explain…will be found the various systems of truth, in mutual opposition to each other, and setting forth antagonistic doctrines,
Whilst he is speaking of parables it is obvious that he would have included prophecy too.
And this is very clearly the case in Academia and in Churches today with their innumerable interpretations. No one seems to have the truth leading to the ridiculous saying today that; ‘You have my truth. Fine and good! I have mine!’
God has purposely revealed to us the future and because He has decided to do that we should make sure we are aware of what is written. Because God fulfills prophecy we can also be sure that the promises He has made concerning our future and the future of the world will come to pass as assuredly as you are reading or listening to these words.
As well as all this it is a subject that is contemporary with all the fears and worries that the world has today about its future whether it be chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or accidents and natural and other man-made disasters whether floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, climate change and so on. Scripture gives hope to those who are God’s and fear to those who are not. It is easy even as God’s people to be fearful but time and time again we are told not to be consumed by worry but to put our trust in God who knows all things before they even come to pass.
God has seen it fit to reveal many things but not everything has been revealed. There are gaps in our knowledge and in formulating a systematic theology we have to be careful not to speculate wildly but within the confines of what has been revealed. We are not able to predict the future with any level of certainty but what God has revealed will surely come to pass.
However when speaking of prophecies fulfilled and unfulfilled it has an effect upon us to make sure that we ourselves are ready; that we are holy as He is holy. Prophecy has a sanctifying affect upon us. And so throughout our studies the end game is to become like Jesus and to know Him all the more till at last we shall indeed, in a twinkling of an eye, be like Him and know Him as we are known.
Eschatology will cover such subjects as Israel and its place, the death of the individual, the Intermediate State, the 2nd Coming, the resurrection, the judgment, and the destinies of all peoples. We will also be looking at the differences found between theologians (we are all theologians) in approaching this subject and will cover such topics such as the millennium and the tribulation. As I have said already; it will be comprehensive.
So, concerning things to come we are not to avoid this subject but instead:
1 Thessalonians 4:18 — 18 comfort one another with these words.
Is it Heaven we look forward to? Is it the pleasures forevermore? Yes, and more. We can look forward to these ‘things’ but really the whole of Eschatology is centred upon Jesus. It is Jesus we are looking forward to seeing. It is Jesus we are yearning for. It is Jesus, the All in all. He is the One who is coming for His own. Indeed, let your Kingdom come!
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
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