Eschatology, which is the study of the end times, can be one of the more controversial topics in the church and unfortunately that causes some believers to nearly entirely neglect the study of this subject and the key passages related to it. However, the real problem with the study of eschatology is not the topic itself, but our response to it. Some people have responded in unbiblical ways such as trying to guess the day of Jesus’ return or withdrawing from building the church to wait for a secret rapture. These responses are unbiblical and the answer is not to avoid the subject, but rather to respond to it in a biblical way. A proper response to study of eschatology causes us to love Jesus and love His church and to labor faithfully to see the church love Jesus more. Because so many have neglected the study of eschatology, it is important to identify a few key reasons why this subject is so important and why we should study the subject of eschatology.
The first reason we should study the end times is because we love the Bible. There is a tremendous amount of material in the Bible that describes or refers to the return of Jesus. There are over 150 chapters where the primary subject in the chapter is the time of Jesus’ return. To put that in perspective, there are 89 chapters in the gospels. In other words, there are more descriptions of the time of Jesus’ second coming than His first. Because God gave us this much information it is important that we do not neglect it, but that we examine these passages and ask why God gave us this information and how we should apply it to building the church.
The second reason we should study the end time is because we love Jesus. The end of the age is ultimately His time and His day (Revelation 1:1). It is not primarily the day of the antichrist or the time of the triumph of evil. It is the time when He returns to take His inheritance and rule the nations. It is a day that Jesus and the Father are both looking forward to with great anticipation, and if we are connected with their emotions it is a day we should long for as well. This is I suggest emphasizing the study of the end not as the study of the “end times” but as the study of the return of Jesus.
Once we understand that the primary focus of the end times is the person of Jesus, we can recognize that a believer who is not interested in eschatology is like a bride not interested in her wedding day – it’s not normal. If He is the one we love above all others then the fact that He is not here present with us on the earth should feel abnormal. It’s not right. It is not how it should be. We are called to actively miss him. Jesus actually predicted that we would fast because we missed Him (Matthew 9:15).
Most of the church lives like a married woman remembering her wedding day. A married woman remembers her wedding with great fondness. She can tell the story and pull out the pictures and describe the day. It moves her deeply and she loves to talk about it. It has shaped her life, but it doesn’t drive her life. Most Christians tend to think of Jesus that way. We remember what He did for us. We love Him truly and authentically but we spend more time remembering what He has done than anticipating what He will do.
Biblically, we are called to live, not like a married bride, but as an engaged bride. The Bible presents the end of the age as a wedding (Revelation 19:9; 21:2, 9), and our present condition is the condition of an engaged bride. Jesus has entered into covenant with us and made huge promises to us however most of those promises are not yet fulfilled. We do not yet know the fullness of who Jesus is. There is far more for to anticipate about who He is. We barely know Him. We are like John in Revelation 1. John knew Jesus intimately as one of the most prominent disciples, but when John encountered who Jesus was in the context of His return, John fell at His feet as though dead (Revelation 1:17). John’s encounter in Revelation 1 is a message to the church – we barely know Jesus. There is much more to come.
When we recognize who Jesus is and our relationship to Him, we will live like a bride engaged. A engaged woman lives with focus and zeal. Conversations tend to drift towards one subject – the day of her wedding. Plans are made and her emotions are set on a future day. She still has to do the things of life, but she does them with a precise focus. Everything is secondary to the preparation for that day. All her hope is set on that day. That is precisely how we are to live. That is what puts everything into perspective. That is what enables us to not become ensnared in the things of this age, and that is precisely what the study of eschatology is meant to produce in us.
The cross is an unparalleled act and perhaps the deepest revelation of the nature of God, but in terms of the redemptive story it is the engagement, not the wedding. It is not the most dramatic transition. The cross changed everything and made redemption possible, but the first century was not the time of the resurrection, the judgment of the nations, and Jesus’ rule over the earth. The most dramatic transitions on the earth are still in front of us.
The third reason we study the return of Jesus is to proclaim a complete gospel. If we are going to declare the complete picture of who Jesus is, we have to remember that the gospel is not just what Jesus has done it is also what He will do. Our gospel is not just that Jesus offered Himself for us, our gospel, or “good news,” is that He is coming back. He will fulfill His promises. Wickedness will be judged. The righteous will inherit eternal life. The terror of His second coming for the wicked is what puts redemption in focus. This is why the apostles declared the kingdom and a coming King, and set the hope of the church on the day of His return. We are called to do the same. If we do not understand the main themes of eschatology well enough to proclaim the return of Jesus with power then our gospel is ultimately incomplete. It is still good news and can still call men and women to repentance and new birth, but it is incomplete. It is not the full story of who He is.
The avoidance of the subject of eschatology actually creates a lack in the church, because we are missing something that God wants us to have. When you look at Matthew 24-25 you can see that Jesus intended the church to live in constant anticipation of His return. Jesus begins Matthew 24 by predicting the events of His return, but then tells several parables that all emphasize three key themes: we should be prepared for His return, the time of His return will not be known ahead of time because it will come suddenly, and when the time for His return comes it will be too late to prepare for it.
We are to live in the tension of delay and anticipation.
When we consider Jesus’ teaching it becomes clear that He expects every generation to live in preparation for and anticipation of His return. His parables warn us that it will take longer than we expect, but that it will also come suddenly therefore we are to stay in a constant state of preparation. Jesus puts anticipation of His return front and center in the discipleship of the local church. This is why the issue is not the study of eschatology itself, but rather our response to it. A biblical response to eschatology will produce a church that is longing for the return of Jesus and preparing to stay faithful to Jesus during the reign of the most wicked man in history. This is incredibly valuable for the church in any generation.
Not only is the subject of eschatology vital for the life of the church, as persecution increases for believers across the earth it will become an even more important subject. The return of Jesus tends to be neglected when the church is comfortable and feels accepted. However, when the church is rejected, marginalized, and oppressed it is forced to set its hope on the return of Jesus which is ultimately where our hope is to be. Because of a predominantly Christian culture, the western church in particular has been able to ignore the subject of eschatology for several decades, but as the context slowly shifts and changes, the church will return to the study of eschatology because our great hope ultimately rests not in the present prosperity of our nation, but in the return of our King.