Eschatology is the study of the end times. It’s a worthy study and we should all understand what the Bible says about it. But it’s also the source of more divisiveness and fear-based theology than just about any other subject.
More Christian cults have been started because of an obsession with eschatology than just about any other subject in Scripture. Especially in America, where freedom of thought and religious liberty are championed, even if those thoughts are errant and dangerous.
I know I’m treading on thin ice here because ‘folk’ get touchy when you disagree with their end-times view, but that’s exactly my point. Why are we so fragile about these things?
I personally went through a period of about seven years where I studied eschatology intensely, and taught on it for about two of those years. I could defend my position pretty adamantly with anyone. I’ve also read books by the best scholars of every eschatological position.
But this is what I’ve found. Whenever there’s an over-emphasis on end-times, the tendency is toward combativeness, divisiveness and manipulation through fear.
I particularly see this in the very popular “Left Behind” brand of eschatology. I’m not saying this view is false, or that it creates cults, but it does tend to breed sensationalism, conspiracy and fear-based Christianity among many of its followers. I’ve already talked about its bad fruit here so I won’t cover it again.
“You know, in the last days there will be false teachers…”
While this statement is true, it’s usually used when someone wants to scare people away from a particular view that they disagree with. They’ll say something to the effect of what Paul warned Timothy…
“Now the Spirit expressly says
that in latter times some will depart from the faith,
giving heed to deceiving spirits
and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim.4:1)
Or, perhaps Peter’s warning…
“knowing this first: that scoffers
will come in the last days,
walking according to their own lusts” (2 Pet.3:2)
But we need to ask the question, who were Paul and Peter talking to? Us? Maybe.
We do know in Paul’s case that he was writing to Timothy. This means it was relevant in Timothy’s day. Also note that he didn’t say “2,000 years from now, Tim, some will depart from the faith, so watch out!” That would be nonsensical pastoral advice that would have no relevance to Timothy.
But this warning certainly was relevant to Paul and Timothy and Peter. They had been fighting against the false teachings of the Judaizers and Gnostics and a growing number of other cults that were already springing up in the early church. This battle over what would define orthodox Christian teaching went on for three centuries until they came up with the Nicene Creed that became the unifying demarcation line of the faith.
What are the “last days?” Fortunately, the Bible defines them for us (bold-type added):
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)
“God…2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son,
whom He has appointed heir of all things,
through whom also He made the worlds.” (Heb.1:1-2)
You can read them all here.
Obviously, these last days started with Jesus and Pentecost, not with the antichrist.
“The “last days” began at the crucifixion of Christ and will end when the new dispensation begins called the “last day,” or “Judgment Day.” (loc.897)
To clarify, there is a “last day” when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, but we are not in that day now. I will talk about the significance of that in another post.
What happens is that we tend to contemporize Scripture. In other words, we interpret it through our modern day lens. Now, Scripture does apply to us, but only in its proper context, considering who it was addressed to in the first place. If we ignore these things, plucking out our favorite proof-texts could have us ending up misinterpreting Scripture.
For instance, do we need to stir up fear by speculating over who the antichrist is, since John said he was already in the world in his day? Maybe we should think about that with fresh eyes of faith. (bold-type added).
“but every spirit that does not acknowledge
Jesus is not from God.
This is the spirit of the antichrist,
which you have heard is coming
and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:3)
My point is not to come against anyone who does focus on eschatology. Good for you. Again, it’s a worthy pursuit. My advice would be to take care on going too far with it. Don’t be dogmatic or divisive about it. And please don’t manipulate people through fear with it!
I primarily don’t focus on eschatology because it doesn’t promote love among the brethren, which is the only way Jesus said the world would know we are His. This was His desire for us (John 13:35; 17:23-24). And since His desire for mutual love and the “unity of the faith”(Eph.4:13) seems to be the goal, shouldn’t this be ours too? Just a thought.
Finally, I don’t focus on eschatology because the Father’s perfect love has cast out all my fear of these things. I’m living as a citizen of heaven now, from which I eagerly wait for His return (Phil.3:20).
You might be asking, what is my eschatological stance? I’ve landed on the Nicene Creed. It’s the only document agreed to by the entire body of Christ. I think Jesus likes it too.
“And he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose Kingdom will have no end”