Eschatology: the study of the last things – Lesson 1 – January, 3, 2016
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (2 Tim 3:1).
The study of biblical Eschatology brings to the heart of the saved the hope that one day we will be forever with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 24:4, 5, 11-13; 1 Thessalonians 1:10
Matt. 24:4 – Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
5 – For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
11 – and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
12 – Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
13 – but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
I Tess. 1. 10 – and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
To explain the real meaning of Biblical Eschatology.
- To define Eschatology;
- To show man’s concern about the end times;
- To explain some of the different eschatological interpretations.
In this quarter we will have the unique opportunity to study the end times. In this first lesson we will examine biblical eschatology. For those saved in Jesus Christ this is a topic that brings hope, because there is nothing better than to be sure that the Savior will return and we will live with Him for all eternity. However, for unbelievers, the second coming of Jesus does not offer reasons for rejoicing. The biblical predictions for the future of the wicked are appalling: “The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God” (Ps 9:17). However, there is still time for repentance and conversion. Therefore, the Lord’s Church has the responsibility to proclaim Jesus, fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19,20).
I – THE STUDY OF ESCHATOLOGY
- Definition. The word eschatology comes from two Greek words: escathos, “last” and logos, “study”, “message”, “word”. The cognate Greek term is eschata, meaning “last things.” Hence the term “study” or “doctrine” of the “last things.” Therefore, eschatology is the systematic study of things that will happen in the last days or the “doctrine of the last things.” Eschatology studies the following themes: Intermediate State, Rapture of the Church, Great Tribulation, Millennium, Final Judgment and the Eternal Perfect State.
- Eschatology and the return of Jesus. The study of biblical eschatology shows that the believer must always be alert, vigilant, because the return of Jesus can happen at any time, “You also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40). Many despise and disdain the biblical truths, but God watches over His Word and Jesus will soon come back and judge all those who love the practice of sin.
II – THE CONCERN ABOUT THE END OF TIMES
- The disciples of Jesus. Once, Jesus’ disciples asked the Master the following question: “[…] when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your comingand of the end of the age?” (Mt 24:3) Both the disciples and the first-century Christians wanted to know about the end times, because this is a subject that attracts the attention of believers and non-believers. Even in the first century some people no longer believed in the second coming of Jesus, for Peter talks about “scoffers” who say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” Unfortunately, today many also continue to think that God’s Word will not be fulfilled and that the end will not come (2 Peter 3:3,4).
- The false predictions about the future. Man has always been concerned about the end of times, hence the large number of false prophets and false predictions about the future of mankind. There are numerous sects and false prophets who have already set the date for the second coming of Jesus and the end of all things, because they are all wrong.
- False prophets. One pastor, set the Rapture of the Church for the year 1993 and the beginning of the Great Tribulation, considering that the year 2000 would be the end of the sixth millennium. Another “prophet”, based on mathematical calculations, by adding up or subtracting biblical references and by using biblical counting of the times, affirmed that the Antichrist would be revealed on November 13, 1986, at 5 p.m., in Jerusalem! He set the “end of the world” for March 1987. Another false prophet was demoralized.
III – ESCHATOLOGICAL INTERPRETATIONS
There are different eschatological interpretations about the end. We cannot study all of them in a single lesson, but we will study some:
- Futuristic. This interpretation considers that most of the prophecies will yet be fulfilled, starting with the rapture of the Church and other subsequent events. Undoubtedly, it is the most appropriate one to the reality of the prophecies about the end times. This thought, however, is subdivided into:
- a) Pre-tribulationistic. This thought affirms that the Lord Jesus will rapture his church before the seven-years Tribulation (John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4-5). According to Tim Lahaye, those who “interpret the Bible literally find many strong reasons to believe that the rapture will be pretribulational”. The teaching concerning the rapture is a fundamental doctrine, however, the people of God do not need to be divided over such a matter. The important thing is that Jesus will return to take his Church away.
It is important to highlight that the pre-trib thought is more in line with the book of Revelation (Rev 4:1-2). To pre-tribulationists, believers will be kept from Tribulation. According to this thought the purpose of the Tribulation is not to prepare the Church to be with Christ, but to prepare Israel for the restoration of God’s plan.
- b) Pre-millennial. This thought concludes that the coming of Christ will take place before the millennium, when Christ will reign on earth.
Most first-century Christians were pre-millennial. According to Pastor Claudionor de Andrade “this position was hard fought by Origen that, influenced by Greek philosophy, began to teach that the Millennium was nothing more than an allegorical reference to the action of the Gospel in the life of the nations”.
- c) Mid-tribulationistic. Mid-tribulationists understand that the Church will be raptured during the Tribulation.
- d) Post-tribulationistic. Post-tribulationists preach that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation. However, this teaching has no solid foundation in the Word of God. Jesus told the church of Philadelphia, which represents the faithful church, that he would keep it “from the hour of trial, that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Rev. 3:10). The Church will no longer be on earth when the Great Tribulation begins. Paul teaches that we should “[…] wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
- Historical. It considers that Revelation is a historical book whose facts have already been fulfilled for the most part. But this understanding is not consistent with biblical reality.
- Preterist. Preterists understand that Revelation was already completely fulfilled at the time of the Roman Empire, including the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 BC. Nevertheless, the biblical prophecies about the end times indicate that various eschatological events have not yet been fulfilled, as the Rapture of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:17), the Great Tribulation or “the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world” (Rev. 3:10), the coming of Christ in glory (Matt 16:27) and the Millennium (Rev. 20:2- 5).
- Symbolistic. It is also called idealistic or spiritual interpretation. Everything is “spiritualized”, symbolic; nothing is historical, but only an allegory of the struggle between good and evil. In this line of thought, there is the amillennial teaching, according to which there will be no literal period of a thousand years to the reign of Christ. They teach that the Church is living a symbolic millennium, but the references that indicate that the millennium will be literal are many Revelation 20:2-5; Hab 2:14). There are the post-millennialists, who preach that Jesus will only return after the millennium. The biblical texts, however, indicate a different order of eschatological events. The resurrection of the unsaved dead will take place at the coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). The return of Jesus is as literal as was his ascension (Acts 1:9,11).
We advocate the futuristic interpretation, which turns out to be the one that best fits the good sacred hermeneutics, according to which the Bible is interpreted to itself.
In eschatological books, we can identify some prophecies that have already been fulfilled and we also understand that there are symbolic language in them. But, concerning the end times, in the face of the return of Jesus, we believe that this will take place before the Great Tribulation.
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