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Eschatology is Simple
March 14, 2011
Let's be honest: not all theology is simple. One of my sons asked me the other day, "Do I have to love Satan? Because in my school we learned that the Bible says you are supposed to love your enemy." Theological challenges abound.
There are the matters of Calvinism, soteriology, ecclesiology, and epistemology to name just a few. But maybe one of the most challenging is eschatology, the study of the end times or future events. If you have ever read the book of Revelation, a book focused on the end-times, it is more than just a bit confusing. There are dark and foreboding pictures, demons, monstrous beast, trumpets, and various forms of God's wrath. This is clearly not simple to understand. Matthew 24-25 is another text where eschatology rears its formidable head. This passage is a sermon, often called the Olivet Discourse because it was delivered on the Mount of Olives. In it Jesus gives a prophetic vision of what is to come, including the end-times.
Let me give you an example of Jesus' teaching:
Matthew 24:15–28 (ESV) — 15 "So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, 'Look, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out. If they say, 'Look, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
Like Revelation, Matthew 24 and 25 have many confusing parts to it. What is the destruction of the temple about? What is the abomination of desolation? Why can't we know when Jesus is returning? It can give you a headache just thinking about it.
So why do I say in the title of this blog post that eschatology is simple? Because, while the details are difficult to understand, the purpose is not. The purpose of eschatology is to encourage us to live ready for Christ's return. Jesus' teaching on eschatology in Matthew 24 and 25 is difficult to understand at the very least. But then Jesus transitions into the application and he offers parables to encourage us to be ready for Christ's return. There is the parable of the ten virgins, some who foolishly forget the coming of the bridegroom and some who wisely anticipate it. There is the parable of the talents, an illustration of people who will stand before their master and give and account for their stewardship when he returns. Again, the application is clear, we need to be ready to give an account for our lives when we stand before Jesus one day. Last is the most sobering illustration of all: the division of those who inherit eternal life and those who will be sent to hell, based upon their relationship with Christ and the life they have lived.
This idea of being ready also helps us understand why we don't know exactly when Christ will return. This is so we live lives of readiness. Imagine a group of junior high students whose teacher leaves the classroomIf the teacher says she will be back in exactly an hour, you can imagine that they would goof off for 55 minutes and then get their act together. If they did not know when she would return, they would likely work diligently. God doesn't give us an exact time because he wants us to live each moment ready for the return of our King. Jesus says this in Matthew 25:13 (ESV) — "13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." What does it mean to be ready? It means living every moment for Christ. It means things like serving faithfully in the church, growing in Christlikeness, showing mercy to those in need, sharing your faith, and using your gifts for God."
So again, the details of eschatology are difficult, but the purpose is simple: Be ready for the return of Christ. So let me ask the most important question concerning eschatology which has nothing to do with bowls and trumpets and Israel and tribulation: Are you living every moment ready for the return of your King?