Eschatology weirds a lot of Christians out, nowadays.
For the uninitiated, eschatology is the study of last things. In other words, it is the theology about how the world will end, or what happens when Christ comes back. It is a subject that historically fascinates people. There is a long history of people predicting when it will happen, of people making all kinds of detailed charts about how it will all take place, and people writing books and making movies about it. Everyone knows about (and most roll their eyes at) the Left Behind series, right? Obviously, the Mayans got it wrong and so have all those Bible chart people who thought they had the date nailed down.
I think that may be the reason the word often leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Christians in my generation. For us “sophisticated” Christians, it can be somewhat embarrassing, can it not? All of this doom and gloom talk about the end of time just sounds, well, a little backwards. It reminds us of that guy standing on some city street corner holding a big sign and yelling. We are already afraid people around us think we are crazy, why would we make it worse by talking about Jesus coming back on a white horse? And let’s be honest, all the stuff in Revelation about dragons and Babylon and beasts is just too much to break out around the dinner table. We much prefer the sensible thoughts of Christianity as a religion that calls for justice to the marginalized and freedom for the oppressed, that calls for charity to the widow and orphan. That’s real religion, right? The preoccupation with speculating about the particulars has left a lot of people turned off to discussing it at all, but that is a problem. Christianity is an eschatological faith, and keeping our eyes on the end affects the way we live now.
Living as if Christ is coming back fuels a Great Commission life.
We do not have a Bible that shies away from speaking about the end of times. Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom, and he often spoke of resulting judgement. He promises his return. The theme is prominent in all of the gospels. And when we get to the letters, it takes on special significance. Paul regularly reminds his readers to keep their eyes on what is to come. He speaks of an imminent return. According to Paul, the return of Christ to consummate his kingdom and destroy evil is certain, it is going to happen, and it not something for Christians to sweep under the rug. It should be the subject of our meditation. In fact, Peter writes that we should “set our hope completely” on it (1 Pet 1:13, HCSB).
Then we get to Revelation, an entire book written on the subject. The fact that this topic has a whole book should be instructive to Christians. Our theology is warped if it overlooks the last things. However, we must also be quick to realize the purpose of Revelation is not to provide a roadmap to Armageddon. Revelation is much less concerned with predicting a timeline and far more concerned with how the certainty of Christ’s return and the subsequent reign of God affects who we are right now.
That is, in reality, the very reason Peter tells his readers to fix all of their hope in Christ’s return. Peter writes these words in the middle of a passage dealing with holiness and right conduct before the world. Folks, there is a connection between our confidence in the return of Christ and our effectiveness in the Great Commission today.
Here are three things we get from living with the end in mind.
Urgency in the Mission
There is a time limit on the Great Commission. In Matthew Jesus commands his church to go and make disciples of all nations, and he promises his presence to them for this task until the end of the age. Piper says, “Missions exists because worship does not.” Of course, the reverse is true too. Once worship is rightly restored with Christ’s return, this disciple-making mission is no longer necessary. What is more, Scripture regularly reminds us of our own brevity. We are a vapor in a world that is headed to a new beginning. Christ himself notes the connection between the end times and urgency in mission when he tells parables of unprepared bridesmaids (Matthew 25) and sons who promise to do a task but do not (Matthew 21). We tend to think of these parables in a self-centered way, as though they are merely speaking to our personal salvation. There is more to Christ’s admonition in these stories, however, than making sure you have your fire insurance. These words should goad us to action as we consider that Christ is coming back and expects to find a church busy with his Father’s business.
Clarity of Priorities
The primary task of the church is to bear witness to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do this through word and deed, of course, but there is a reason it is called news. It must be spoken to a world that needs to hear it. There are many good enterprises the church can undertake, and the Bible is abundantly clear the way we live life in society determines our witness. In that same letter mentioned above, Peter goes on to tell his readers to keep their conduct excellent, so that others might see their good deeds and glorify God. In the same verse, however, he lets them know the world will think they are evil doers. It is too easy for us to get our mission muddled in an attempt to make the world around us like us. If we are not careful, we get our priorities out of line and we undertake any number of things in order to gain favor. There is a difference, however, between deed ministry done for God’s glory and a blameless witness and attempting to make people like us. Jesus warns the Pharisees of concerning themselves with minor issues instead of focusing on the weightier matters (Matthew 23). Our task is one of prophetic witness that requires gospel proclamation and lives lived in mercy and righteousness. We cannot forget that very gospel says Christ is coming back to judge the living and the dead, and that is our message to share.
Hope in the Tumultuous Middle
Perhaps the most consistent biblical result of fixing your mind on the last things is the hope that it brings in the here and now. That is, after all, the main emphasis of Revelation. We can have great confidence in what we do now knowing that Christ has this whole thing in the bag. He has defeated death, and with his return, evil will be no more. We await the final fulfillment, the grand consummation, of God’s kingdom when all will truly be on earth as it is in heaven. Christian, reflect on this truth today. No matter what battle faces you, you have an ultimate outcome that is secure. This is the true prosperity of the gospel, not monetary wealth or physical health, but the promise of intimate relationship with the King of the universe in a kingdom that has no end. Yes, we have the promised presence now. Christ is with us. Yet we currently stand at dawn, glimpsing the sunrise of glory. Our hope is in a day when that glory shines brighter than the noonday sun.
Let this hope fuel your witness. Approach the Great Commission with confidence. This is news too good to keep to ourselves.