As I have been studying and preparing to teach Eschatology (the study of “last things”) over the next year, I have been thinking about the question, “Why should we study Eschatology?”
As a general rule, people tend to be fascinated by Biblical Prophecy, especially what the Scriptures have to say about the End Times. For many in times, this topic seems like a mysterious, unknowable set of obscure passages in the Bible. For others, this area of study would fit squarely in the “non-essential,” maybe even “irrelevant” category. I am convinced, however, there are four reasons why the study of Eschatology is essential for developing a Christ-focused, Biblical worldview.
1. The study of eschatology gives us hope.
Our times are marked by apathy, fear, and despair. If the only sources of knowledge we had to understand our world were the stories that populate our various venues of news and information, we would truly despair. In Romans 15:4, Paul says, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Hope is an idea that we cannot live without. As the old saying goes, “A person can live 40 days without food, 3 days without water, but not one minute without hope.” Hope is the confident expectation that our lives will turn out well because of who God is and what He has promised. It is secured in understanding what Father-God has done in the Past as it looks forward in faith and trust to what He is sure to do in the future. Hope is an idea that captivates our thoughts, consoles our emotions, and shapes our desires.
Although founded in the past work of Father-God in Christ, through the enabling of the Spirit our hope looks to the future. As we study both how the promises and prophecies of the past were fulfilled and the promises and prophecies that are still to be fulfilled, we grow in our confidence that the Lord-God is truly in control. There is a King coming who will set all things right. There is a Kingdom coming in which all things will be put in their proper place. There is a new age coming in which mourning, crying, and despair will be no more, wiped away by the power and grace of the One is above all and over all, and yet among us even now as we look forward to The Day of His future appearing.
2. The study of eschatology helps us know the Scriptures better.
The things “written in former days” that Paul mentions in Romans 15:4 refer to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. Paul says, they were given to instruct us and encourage us. The study of eschatology does not begin in Daniel, or Isaiah, or Revelation; it begins in the first chapters of Genesis. There we find the first promises of God that are given as a counterpoint to our rebellion and rejection of God. Our Story will one day come to a conclusion with all things being summed up, headed up in Christ (see Ephesians 1:10). But that story begins in Genesis, as does our hope.
Because eschatology requires us to search throughout all the Scriptures, we are engaged in a unique way to see things that we may not have seen if we were not looking for something in particular. This year, I read through the Gospels asking the question, “What does Jesus actually offer us?” Reading with this focused intention opened the Gospels to me in a new and fresh way. I saw things that I had not seen before.
When we read the Scriptures asking the question, “What does this teach us about the future and the end of this age?” we are sensitized to see things that we may have missed if we were not being intentional. Since the study of eschatology begins in the first chapters of Genesis and concludes in the last chapters of Revelation, as we pursue this study we gain a more holistic understanding of Father-God’s plans and purposes worked out in Christ through the presence and power of His Spirit.
3. The study of eschatology helps us answer our four, core life questions.
There are four core life questions that shape the way we view life and find meaning for life depending on how we answer them. They are: 1. Where did we come from (The question of Origin)?, 2. Where are we heading (The question of Destiny)?, 3. Why are we here (The question of Purpose)? and 4. How Should we live (The question of Ethics)? Those questions have to be asked in that order. One of the “secrets” of good thinking is asking questions in the right order.
The study of Eschatology helps us to find the God-given answers to that second question: “Where are we heading?” It also touches the other three questions because they are all interrelated. When we ask the question of Origin, “Where did we come from?” and link it to the question of Destiny, “Where are we heading?” we have a trajectory that links the Past to the Future and enables us to answer the questions of Purpose and Ethics.
We don’t study prophecy and eschatology to draw charts and try to figure out when things will happen – the Lord almost never answers that question “when” for us! We study the truth about the end of this present age to know how to live with an “eternal perspective.” Our lives are not defined or limited only by the time we have here on earth; our lives will extend past death into an “age without end.” We need to know how to live now in light of this eternal reality.
Several years back I was teaching on the events of the End and the judgment to come. An older saint asked, “Wait a minute, as Christians we will not be judged, will we?” I spent the next several minutes going through some of the basic teachings on this issue: the judgment seat of Christ, His grace and forgiveness, and the evaluation of our motives. When I finished, this dear brother had a stunned look on his face. He said, “Well, that changes everything!”
The study of things to come is not just some esoteric, irrelevant area of obscure Christian doctrine. Our Heavenly Father has revealed truth about our future so that we will know how to live effectively, fruitfully, and wisely in the present.
4. The study of eschatology helps us know Jesus better.
Revelation 19 is one of the most glorious chapters in the Bible. In some sense, it is the culmination of the prophetic narrative of Revelation and of the whole Bible. Here we find two glimpses of great events in the future: the announcement of the wedding of the Lamb to his Bride and the defeat of Jesus’ enemies at His return. As John is instructed by an angelic guide to write about these things, the angel makes a very interesting statement, “Worship God, for the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
In the same verse just before this, the angel says that he is a “fellow slave with you (John) and your brothers (Christians/Saints) who have the testimony about Jesus.” The testimony about Jesus is the all encompassing truth that flows out of The Gospel – the Good News about Jesus. This testimony begins in the Four Gospels, grows in the book of Acts, and finds its fullness in the Letters of the New Testament.
Now take note of what the angel says: the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. What does he mean? I believe he is revealing the basic truth that all biblical prophecy was meant to find its ultimate fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ. In Luke 24, on the day of His resurrection, Jesus meets with two down-cast disciples on the road to Emmaus: “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). A little later, Jesus appears to His other disciples and instructs them: “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). The spirit, the essence, the inspiration that drives biblical prophecy is the testimony, the teaching about Jesus!
Paul, like all the other writers of the New Testament, understood that the Hebrew Scriptures were given to point us to Jesus. They find their ultimate fulfillment in Him, both in what He has done and what He will do. Now, all the Scriptures instruct us, encourage us, and give us hope through the message about Jesus. As Peter says, “He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20–21). As we study the truths related to last things, we find that we come to know our Lord and Savior better—He who stands at the beginning and the end, who holds our future and our hope.