The following article is by Michael J. Vlach, Professor of Theology, at The Master’s Seminary. The Master’s Seminary opened its doors in 1986 to provide post-graduate theological training on the campus of Grace Community Church. He specializes in the areas of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Apologetics, and World Religions.
It is concerning that some churches today don’t take eschatology seriously. The very fact that God has revealed so many details about events to come in both testaments tells us that it is important. At the center of biblical eschatology is the blessed hope of the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). Not only should we be interested in prophetic events to come but, we are also looking for our Savior, with whom we will spend eternity.
Why do some churches neglect serious study of eschatology? One issue is complexity. There are many eschatological details in the Bible to work through and harmonize. So there is hard work to do in this area. Also, when we see godly men disagreeing on prophetic issues, it can be disheartening. Another reason might be that some don’t want to be linked with those who have abused eschatology. There are those who have become obsessed with the end times by offering a date for Jesus’ return, or treating many current events as fulfillments of biblical prophecy. Thus, some have swung from the abuse of eschatology to no interest whatsoever.
But these are not good reasons to avoid the study of eschatology. Here are 7 reasons churches should take eschatology seriously:
1. Eschatology is a major part of the Christian storyline
Eschatology is a major part of the Bible’s story. By “story,” I’m not talking about fiction. I’m talking about the narrative of the Christian worldview. Since Christianity is rooted in history and real historical events, God’s story includes past, present, and future events. All should be taught. We simply should not ignore prophetic events that are future from our standpoint—events such as the Rapture, the Day of the Lord, the Second Coming, the Millennium, and the Eternal State. We must also talk about heaven and hell, and the coming New Earth. To avoid discussion of eschatology is to avoid an important part of the Christian worldview.
2. We are called to preach and heed the whole counsel of God
There are large sections of Scripture devoted to prophesy, many of which still need to be fulfilled from our current standpoint. For example, the events of Ezekiel 36–48 still need to occur. In the New Testament, passages like Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, much of Luke 21, 1 Thess. 4-5, 2 Thess 1-2, 2 Peter 3, and Revelation 6-22 describe events that still need to happen. We cannot ignore these passages. Paul says in Acts 20:27, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
If your church does not teach what the Bible says about the future, the whole counsel of God is not being taught.
3. People are interested in the future
Christians are interested in what the future holds. But if we do not teach eschatology, we are denying important biblical information for those who want to know what the Bible has to say about the future. We are also withholding a major source of the hope that the Scripture wants us to have.
4. Eschatology is a motivation for believers
Eschatology changes our lives because what we do now impacts our future. Paul viewed everything he did in light of his standing before Jesus someday. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8 Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
5. Eschatology has a purifying effect on the believer
Eschatology is meant to transform our lives in the present. Why should we live sensibly, righteously and godly? Because Jesus is coming again. 1 John 3:2-3 states, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
James 5:8-9 also says, “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord, is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
The study of biblical eschatology is a motivation for godly living
6. Eschatology gives perspective to the troubles and trials of this age
We live in a fallen and tragedy-soaked world. We are all physically decaying and dying. Evil seems to triumph. Without Jesus, there is no hope, only despair. But for the Christian, there is the hope of resurrection and the restoration of all things (1 Cor. 15:20-28; Acts 3:21). Romans 8:18 states, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The sufferings of this present time are real, but they are not comparable to the glory that is to come.
2 Peter 3:13 says, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”
The coming of Jesus and the restoration of all things are future realities that give Christians hope and the joyful realization that the turmoils and trials of this age will not last forever. Righteousness and goodness win in the end. Christians need that message.
7. Eschatology warns the unbeliever of coming judgment
Biblical eschatology does not teach that the story ends well for everyone. It exists as a frightening warning to those who have not believed in Jesus. Eschatology warns all people that there is eternal punishment and banishment from God’s kingdom and the presence of God for those who do not repent. We should do what John the Baptist did—warn people to flee the wrath that is to come (Luke 3:7-8). Just as there is both judgment and resurrection for the righteous, there is also resurrection and judgment for the unbeliever.
In sum, biblical eschatology is an important part of Christianity. For these reasons, all true churches should embrace the importance of biblical eschatology and share its truths with Christians and unbelievers alike.
8. I would add to Michael’s reasons, an eighth, Apocalyptic Evangelism.
There are more prophecies about Jesus second coming than there were of His first coming and yet there were many of those. Christians who understand the prophetic events that are to unfold prior to Jesus return, first to rapture the church, and then after God’s wrath has been poured out on the earth with the Scroll, Trumpet and Bowl judgements, He will return to this earth and rescue Israel. He has unfinished business with His nation. All the O.T. prophets prophesied their Messiah would rule the nations from Jerusalem. Jesus will rule and reign with the resurrected saints on this earth for 1000 years. Obviously, we are in a unique position to use this knowledge in evangelism. To explain to unbelievers what is unfolding in our day and to warn the church of the coming tribulation, even great tribulation. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:8-13. Jesus spoke these words and Mark recorded them as follows ” For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. Mark 13:19-20