Introduction to Eschatology

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1. What is eschatology?

Eschatology is the Biblical teaching of the Old and New Testaments about how the last things will occur so as to fulfill God’s purpose.

Lecture notes:
Eschatology is the biblical teaching…
Eschatology is made up of two Greek words, eschatos (last) and logos (thing or word), which together mean “last things.” There are many eschatologies. Every philosophical system and religion has a view of the last times. It may be pessimistic, or optimistic, cyclical or evolutionary, political or economic, etc. But the Bible has the supreme authority to teach us about the last times. It refers to the last days (Isa. 2:2, Mic 4:1), the last time (1 Pet. 1:20), and the last hour (1 Jn. 2:18).
…of the Old and New Testaments…
Although there are not so many references to the last times in In the Old Testament, Israel hoped for a future worldwide extension of the Kingdom of God (Ps. 145:11, 13; Isa. 11:9; 35:2, 7, 15) by a visitation of God to bring judgment on the heathen and deliverance to the faithful (Obad. 15-16, Joel 2: 1-17; Isa 13; Amos 5:18-20, Mal. 4:5) at the end of time. Old Testament saints also expected the resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous followed by a judgment (Job 19:25-27; Ps. 73:24-25; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; Ps. 50:4-6; Eccles. 12:14; Mal. 3:2-5).
The New Testament is full of references to the last time, as we shall see in our study (Matt 24-25; 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5; 1 Thess 1:10; 2 Thess 2; 2 Tim 3&4; Revelation)
…about how the last things will occur…
We shall look at what will happen and when it will happen. However, the “when” is more about order than timing.
…so as to fulfill God’s purpose.
The “end” is not the end. We are not heading towards a brick wall, but rather the climactic goal of all things. Christ is that goal and He is directing everything towards Himself, in fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15.

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2. What are “the last things”?

“The last things” sometimes describe the period between Christ’s first and second comings but usually refer to the end of life, the end of the world, and the unending eternity.

Lecture notes:
The last things sometimes describe the period between Christ’s first and second comings…
Acts 2:16-17 teaches that the last days/things began with Pentecost. Other verses also teach that the kingdom has already come with the coming of Christ (Lk, 1:32-33; Mat. 3:2; Mk. 1:15; Matt. 11:12; Lk. 16:16; Mat. 12:28; Lk. 11:20; 17:20-21; 22:29). In other words, eschatology has already begun.  We begin to enjoy the end of all things already in this age.
However, the Bible also teaches that the kingdom is yet to come in its fullness (Mat. 6:10; Mat. 7:21-23; Mat. 8:11-12; 19:28; 25:31; 26:29).
…but usually refers to the end of life…
In addition to cosmic (or universal) eschatology, there is individual eschatology. We will look at why we have to die and what happens at death.
… the end of the world,…
We shall look at the end of the world and whether there will be a new world.
…and the unending eternity.
We will study the two eternal destinies, heaven and hell, and who will be where.

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3. What is the history of eschatology?

The history of eschatology is largely one of confusion , denial, neglect, and error, with brief periods of reformation.

Lecture notes:
The Early Church had a basic eschatology. They believed in the bodily second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and everlasting life. The “Apostle’s” Creed says:

He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

The Early Church fathers mixed a lot of confusing error in their eschatology. For example, Origen denied eternal punishment and believed all would be saved. Irenaeus had a mild premillennialism.
Augustine set the church on the right track again. He said Revelation 20 was figurative and spoke of the period of Pentecost to the end of time. Premillennialism had little foothold again until the middle ages.
In the middle ages, the church’s eschatology was corrupted again. Pope Gregory introduced purgatory. Universalism again returned. On the one hand there was a terrifying morbid preoccupation with the terror of the second coming. On the other hand Aquinas’ Summa Theologica was full of cold theoretical speculation.
The Reformation brought eschatology back under the influences of the Gospel and gave believers hope for the end times. For example Heidelberg Catechism 52 asks: “What comfort is it that Christ shall come to judge the quick and the dead?” See also Article 37 of the Belgic Confession.
However, though the Reformation affirmed the truths of the last things, it did not develop them.  Neither Luther nor Calvin wrote on Revelation.
The post-Reformation period was a time of eschatological neglect. Some Presbyterians and Puritans adopted a post-millennial position, but on the whole there was a vacuum. There were very few comprehensive works on eschatology and often eschatology was just an appendix in dogmatic theologies.
The 19th and 20th centuries brought new confusion with a number of liberal eschatologies finding popularity. As most of these liberal eschatologies did not take the Bible seriously, premillennial eschatology began to take a strong hold on believers who did take their Bible seriously and literally.  That prepared the way for dispensational premillennialism which claimed to take the Bible literally. It was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909, and lent great credibility by Dallas Theological Seminary, which was founded by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1924.
Later in the 20th Century, theonomists and reconstructionists promoted an aggressive postmillenialism.


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4. What is the practical value of eschatology?

Eschatology helps us to teach the church, worship God, serve with zeal, hope in the midst of trouble, prepare for judgment, and look forward to heaven.

Lecture notes:
Eschatology helps us to teach the church…
Eschatology is one of the most neglected of theological subjects, especially in the Reformed Church.  This vacuum perhaps partly explains why so many bizarre eschatological schemes have taken hold and spread through many churches.
The Church needs teaching on this subject, not just because neglect is dangerous, but also because eschatology is the capstone and crown of systematic theology. It sheds light on every other doctrine and answers questions which every other subject raises.
Kuyper said it supplies the answers to the questions which every other subject raises.  Berkhof wrote:

In theology [proper] it is the question, how God is finally perfectly glorified in the work of His hands, and how the counsel of God is fully realized; in anthropology, the question, how the disrupting influence of sin is completely overcome; in Christology, the question, how the work of Christ is crowned with perfect victory; in soteriology, the question, how the work of the Holy Spirit at last issues in the complete redemption and glorification of the people of God; and in ecclesiology, the question of the final apotheosis of the church.  source

The Church needs a balanced view of eschatology so that it does not omit thought of the world to come, but also so that it does not become obsessed with the world to come.
…worship God,…
Worship should be the end of all theology, but especially of eschatology. When we think of the resurrection, the defeat of Satan, the judgment, the new heavens and the new earth, and eternal fellowship with Christ and His Church, we surely cannot but amplify our worship of God.  If our eschatology does not result in greater worship of God, we are either in error, or we are approaching the truth in the wrong spirit.
…serve with zeal,…
The fact that the end is nigh should not make us passive waiters for the inevitable. It should not induce a fatalistic inactivity. Rather the New Testament links zealous service with a true belief in the end of all things.
When we consider our great hope, the eternal blessedness of heaven, and the great need of fellow sinners, we should be motivated with greater zeal for lost souls and the glory of God.
…hope in the midst of trouble,…
Sometimes the Christian faces trials from which he will not be delivered here on this earth. In such circumstances, it is vital to have a lively hope of resurrection life.
…prepare for judgment,…
One of the reasons why so few are ready for judgment is that they do not know there will be a judgment. We must prepare ourselves and pray to be used to help others prepare too.
…and look forward to heaven.
Sadly, even for Christians, too often concern for this present world smothers concern for the world to come. Eschatology keeps these vital ultimate truths in our view and encourages us to look forward to heaven and eternal life there.