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Islam Our Future – Appendix
Embracing Biblical Eschatology
In this section the question is addressed: Why study eschatology? But before we address this question, I want to bat around a couple of the reasons why people do not study eschatology.
Reason One: People Who Study Eschatology Are Weird.
I don’t know about you, but I think one of the reasons that a lot of people do not study eschatology is that many of the people that I know who do study eschatology seem weird. Have you personally ever noticed that? Over the years, I have attended several "Home Groups", which are basically a small weekly gathering of Christians that usually meet in people’s homes for the purpose of community and mutual edification. And it seems like it never fails, there is always one person in each group who seems obsessed with the end-times. No matter what the discussion is about, they always seem to want to talk about the end-times. It can certainly be a real party killer. It can really make people uncomfortable. Have you experienced this? Personally part of my fear in writing this book is that I didn’t want to be viewed as "one of those guys". Maybe you are like me and you likewise don’t want to be viewed as an odd bird, and for that reason have shied away from the study of eschatology. That’s understandable. But can I assure you of something? The type of person that we are talking about was a bit different before they started studying eschatology. Eschatology is not responsible for any person’s oddness or poor social skills. If you are the kind of person that doesn’t alienate people now, then you won’t alienate people after you become familiar with eschatology. And besides, decisions based on what other people might think certainly shouldn’t be anyone’s basis for decision-making. (Proverbs 29:25) It was the apostle Paul who once said that if his actions and behavior were motivated by a concern for what people thought of him, then he was no longer a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10) I hope we are in agreement on this point.
Reason Two: Eschatology Is Impossible To Understand.
Another reason that people do not study eschatology is that they feel as though it is so confusing, that it is impossible to understand, so why even bother? Let me say very clearly without any qualifications, that that assumption is a blatant lie. I agree that the world of eschatology can be confusing. But it has really only become such because of the interference of people who don’t like what the Bible clearly says regarding these events and therefore try to devise systems of interpretation to get around the clear meanings. But the speculative theological contortionism of such systems is apparent to anyone who tries to follow such lines of reasoning. There are several very different perspectives regarding the end-times. Some positions take an allegorical or symbolic view of the eschatological portions (and even entire books!) of Scripture while other positions attempt to simply understand the Bible at face value. This is to say that if we read a portion of the Bible that is for instance, historical narrative, we read it as such. If it be poetry, we read it as poetry. If it is a parable, we read it as a parable. But if it is history, we do not read it as allegory. This is only common sense. The book in your hands is not an allegory. It doesn’t take a theologian to explain this to you. God did not put information in His Bible that is impossible to understand. Yes, some things are hard to understand, but difficulty cannot be an excuse to avoid trying. With some diligent study and a prayerful attitude (more on this later) the Scriptures will be opened up to you and even the more complex issues will become completely understandable.
Reason Three: Eschatology Is Irrelevant; There Are Other Far More Relevant Issues To Attend To.
Some people feel as though there are more pertinent and more relevant issues to attend to than studying eschatology. They think that we should be about the work of ministering to the immediate needs of the people around us rather than staring at the clouds, dwelling on some future events, perpetually on the horizon. Some might say that the Gospel message is about the good news of salvation, not about the bad news of the Antichrist and false prophets and persecutions etc. Again, I certainly understand these kinds of feelings. But if we just boil down "biblical eschatology" into its simplest function, what he have is essentially the study of the return of Jesus. The study of such odd and frightening concepts as the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet are not the primary reasons to study eschatology, but are rather simply one of the signs that happen to precede the true focus of a healthy eschatology, namely, "The Return of the King". While Jesus and the Apostles did spend plenty of time talking about everyday issues such as healthy relationships and giving thanks and speaking in tongues and choosing deacons etc, it cannot be denied that eschatology also featured very prominently in their preaching and teaching. And these men lived two thousand years before us. I remember a particular preacher who made the goofy yet very true comment that we are closer to the last-days than anyone ever has been before us. So if Jesus and the Apostles didn’t think that eschatology was irrelevant two thousand years ago, then why should we be any different? If they made these distant future events an integral part of their preaching, then why do we fail to do so? What did they understand that we might be missing?
Positive Reasons To Study Eschatology
Reason One: Eschatology and Hellfire Preaching Saved Me
The first Christian book I ever read was by John Walvoord, a prominent end-times teacher. I can’t remember exactly what motivated me to buy the book. For whatever reason many people who are not Christians are fascinated by eschatology, and I was one of them. A few months later, when I committed my life to the Lord, it was many of the eschatological/wrath of God type of verses in the Bible that I had first encountered in Walvoord’s book that spoke so strongly to me and weighed on my thoughts as I made that most important of all decisions; namely that of repenting of my former patterns of thinking and living in exchange for something far better. The verses that influenced me to do so were not the type of verses that most Christians today would typically use when attempting to share the Gospel message with someone in a sensitive manner. In many Christian circles today, if a preacher said something to the effect of, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" (Acts 2:40), he might be viewed as a radical or an old-fashioned hell-fire and brimstone sort of preacher. What I am trying to say here, is that eschatology is part of the Gospel message. It was part of the Gospel message in the New Testament and it should remain part of today’s Gospel message as well. If it doesn’t seem seeker sensitive enough, then so be it. We have our example in the New Testament. Many pastors need to really ask themselves: Why have I strayed from the New Testament model? As Christians, do we really think we can do better than John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles? So while I understand that there are numerous relevant issues to study and understand within the context of the normal, everyday, healthy Christian life such as relationships and giving and gathering together and so much more, biblically speaking, eschatology cannot be excluded. To eliminate eschatology from evangelism or discipleship or the regular spiritual diet of any believer is to water down the complete New Testament/Apostolic Gospel message. Following are six more very basic reasons to commit to a healthy embrace of biblical eschatology.
Reason Two: Jesus, Our Example Studied Eschatology. (What Would Jesus Do?)
This may sound a bit too obvious, but please do think about this simple fact: Jesus studied eschatology. Of course the eschatological portions of Scripture were not the only portions of Scripture that Jesus studied, but nevertheless He did study them. If you are a Christian, then you have decided to be a follower of Jesus. (Matthew 28:19,20) In the gospels we often see Jesus quoting from the eschatological portions of Scripture. It was clear that Jesus not only knew the eschatological portions of Scripture but that He also understood and rightly interpreted the rich prophetic meanings of them. At the onset of His earthly ministry we see Jesus rising in the synagogue to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:
In one of Jesus’ final messages to His disciples, He answered their questions, "when will this (destruction of the Temple) happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3) In answering their questions, Jesus makes direct references to the book of Daniel the prophet; one of the most thoroughly eschatological books in the Bible:
In the same chapter Jesus also quotes from Isaiah again and makes allusions to the prophet Jonah as well, the simple point being that Jesus had a thorough command of the eschatological portions of Scripture. Let me repeat my point: Jesus studied eschatology. Yet many believers today disregard the eschatological portions of Scripture for various reasons. Unless we think we are somehow more advanced or more in touch with reality than Jesus, then surely we as His followers should likewise be earnestly pursuing a solid command of biblical eschatology.
Reason Three: God Put It In The Bible
Again, I don’t mean to sound like a wise guy here, but hopefully the strength of this point is its obviousness. If the Holy Spirit saw fit to fill the pages of the Bible with abundant (and I do mean abundant) references to the last-days, then why do the vast majority of Christians pass over these portions of Scripture? Why do so many Christians tend to be a bit cynical or dismissive when it comes to, for instance, the Book of Revelation? While God never says explicitly, "thou shall study eschatology", He may as well have said it by simple virtue of the fact that He gave it such a place of prominence in the Bible. We must ask ourselves, "If God doesn’t want me to study and understand this stuff, then what is it there for?" Think about this fact: Over twenty-five percent of the verses in the Bible contain predictive/prophetic content 2 If we disregard that twenty-five percent (along with of course, those infamous and pesky genealogies) then we can significantly whittle the Bible down quite a bit. But before we do that, I suppose we’ll have to first toss out that verse that says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Sorry, I guess I was trying to be a wise guy after all… My apologies.
Reason Four: This Stuff Is Just Too Serious To Ignore.
Anyone who has read the Book of Revelation knows that the events that many of us may live to see are serious. There is the description of literally half of the inhabitants of the earth dying. (Revelation 9:18) We read about plagues, wars, and earthquakes (Rev. 6). There is very little in the way of "your worst nightmare imaginable" that the book of Revelation does not contain. But we don’t have to even venture into the book of Revelation to realize the gravity of these events. When we read the 24th and 25th chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus making one of the most terrifying and tragic statements in all of Scripture. Consider for a minute, the reality and the weight of what is being stated by Jesus here:
If that doesn’t sadden and scare you to no end, then I simply cannot relate to you. I am firmly secure in the love of God. I am confident that Jesus died for my sins. I have no question that there is nothing in the universe that can separate me from the love of God. But I am also fully aware of my sin. I am aware of my propensity to slip into a self-deluded state that can indeed be compared to a state of drunkenness. The expression above does not say, "many will fall away from going to church", but rather "many will fall away from the faith", and "the love of most will grow cold". This is absolutely terrifying. These are people that we know. These are people that we have experienced sweet fellowship with. These are our brothers and our sisters. This stuff is real and it is deadly serious and we simply cannot afford to ignore it.
Reason Five: We Very Well May Live To See These Events.
This point cannot be underscored enough. The events that the Bible outlines are real. Many of us who are alive and read this material may quite possibly live to see the literal return of Jesus. Now you may say, that every generation has believed that they were living in the last generation. While many may argue that this universal feeling of anticipation of Jesus’ return has always been the case in the Church, I completely reject that notion. There have of course been numerous groups, many of them fringe, that have anticipated Jesus’ return in their generation, but far more did not anticipate Christ’s imminent return. In fact a fair argument could be made that this generation that we are in, is the first generation since the apostolic generation, which has had such a universal witness to the imminence of the final hour. Personally whenever I hear someone emphasize the idea that every generation of the Church has universally believed that Christ would return in their generation, I listen to see what they are about to excuse themselves and others from. It never fails that whenever that point is emphasized, it is done for the purpose of making an excuse for a life that is lived in a manner that does not anticipate His return. Again, the question that we all need to ask ourselves, especially those who are leaders in the Church is: Are our attitudes the same as those in the early Church? Or have we adopted an attitude that looks less like the example that we see in the New Testament, and more like the spirit of the age that we now live in?
Reason Six: To Give Us Understanding And Prepare Our Hearts.
One of the primary reasons that we all need to make eschatology part of our regular spiritual diet is that through such, we become prepared. This preparation is not primarily a physical preparation. It is not about the stockpiling of food, or finding a safe route of escape from your city (although, to as degree, it certainly could). It is primarily a spiritual preparation. This preparation or "readiness" occurs for two reasons and neither should be ignored.
The first and most important reason is based on the spiritual effects that the study of eschatology has on our hearts. These spiritual effects affect our actions and the way we live. One of these effects is a desire for personal holiness (Hebrews 12:14). When we read about the events as described in the Bible and the terrible and fearful events that will occur, followed by the glorious appearing of Jesus from Heaven, we find ourselves desiring to throw off all sin and focus on the hope of one day seeing Him face to face. Indeed, "everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He (Jesus) is pure." (1 John 3:3) When we read the description of us as the Bride of Christ we desire to purify ourselves and maintain our chastity for our future Husband:
We will also most certainly develop a deep urgency for prayer and evangelism and maybe even church planting. We may find a deeper felt need for communion and community with fellow followers of Jesus (Hebrews 10:25). And there are many other positive spiritual benefits of studying eschatology as well. All of these effects are part of the greater cumulative effect that will make us "ready" through the great and terrible days ahead, and on until The Day when Jesus finally returns.
The second reason that eschatology makes us prepared is through the foreknowledge and understanding that it imparts. Simply stated, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. If indeed we are the generation that is living just prior to the return of Jesus, then this factor could not be more crucial. The study of eschatology not only prepares our hearts but it also gives us specific descriptions of future events that we are to watch for. There will be literal things that will occur on the earth that we will need to understand mentally in order to escape or avoid them. (Matthew 24:15,16; Rev. 14:9) True readiness comes through both a prayerful, continual communion with Him, and an informed response to the external unfolding of the signs and events all around us. It is the communion that is the "One Thing" that takes priority over all other issues in the Christian life (Mark 12:29,30; Psalm 27:4; Luke 10:42), but He also expects us to not be ignorant. Again, that is why He shared so much information with us. Jesus said, "Behold, I have told you in advance." (Matthew 24:25)
So it is both understanding and spiritual readiness that are combined together in our hearts and lives to make us truly "ready". This state of readiness is described in the Bible with terms like, "sobriety", "alertness", "watchfulness", etc. And we are warned abundantly to always remain in such a state. In Matthew 24 and 25, we find Jesus repeatedly saying such things as, "Be on the alert" (Matthew 24:42, 25:13), "See to it that no one misleads you" (24:4). Whenever we approach the eschatological portions of Scripture we find these types of warnings/exhortations.
We are commanded to remain in a spirit of watchfulness:
We are commanded to always be alert:
Indeed, the Scriptures compare living in ignorance of the last-days to being asleep or drunk:
In fact, drunkenness is the specific state that describes those who have compromised with the "Babylonian Harlot" of the Book of Revelation:
These expressions, "be sober", "be watchful", "be on your guard", "be aware", "be careful" all speak of very deliberate activity. So let us all heed these warnings. Let us all pursue a deeper love relationship and daily communion with our beautiful King, and let us not neglect the information that He has shown us ahead of time in His awesome Word.
Reason Seven: As A Basis For Any Prophetic Office.
Another reason that has, in my opinion, been highly overlooked by most prophetic ministers in the Church is that a proper grasp of biblical eschatology is the essential foundation of any truly prophetic ministry. I say this in reference to any individual who is called to the specific office of prophet as well as to any church that feels called corporately to be a prophetic people. What I mean by prophetic in this case is not merely the gifting or ability from God to speak an encouraging, edifying or even a directional word to another individual. I am speaking of those prophetic ministers or churches that feel called to prophesy to and about specific events from God’s perspective. I am speaking about individuals and churches that feel called to become a relevant force within the earth or in their cities and communities. It is my conviction that as a result of a lack of a clear vision of the future, founded on a proper understanding of biblical eschatology, the church suffers and tends to be far less effective as a truly prophetic people. The same can be said regarding any individual who is called to a prophetic ministry.
Let me try to restate this a bit clearer. The Bible gives us very specific and detailed information about the future of this world. These events will have unparalleled social, economic, religious, and most importantly, spiritual implications for the entire earth. If someone believes himself or herself to be called to be a prophetic voice that speaks with relevance and power from God to the world and the greater lukewarm western Church, (a majority of the Old Testaments prophecies were directed at the lukewarm Israelites) then it is absolutely necessary to first understand the clear prophetic word that is already written.
A good contemporary example to demonstrate my point here is the fact that God himself has reestablished the Jewish people in the land of Israel. He made it clear thousands of years ago that he would do so. The return of the Jewish people to their homeland is unquestionably part of the clear unfolding of biblical prophecy. The rebirth of Israel is a necessary step in God’s plans to fulfill all of his good promises and covenants with the Jewish people. Presently there is a massive renewed surge of anti-Semitism spreading all over the world. This time around however anti-Semitism is not being called anti-Semitism, but is rather disguised under the title of "anti-Zionism". 3 As a result of a lack of understanding of God’s clear purposes for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people as laid out in Scripture, many Christians have unknowingly (or even completely knowingly) supported anti-Semitic causes and theologies. This is a grievous error to fall into. Throughout history the Church has made this same mistake over and over. As a matter of fact it was precisely due to a lack of understanding the nature of the future eschatological kingdom of God and Israel’s part in it that the Christian Church made arguably the most significant errors in its history. The establishment of the Church State under Constantine, and the Crusades were both the direct result of a bad theology regarding the Kingdom of God and the status of the Jewish people based on a false eschatology. Think of how the world might have been different if the Church had not fallen into these errors. The nation of Israel is far from perfect, and is certainly not beyond criticism, (certainly, the same can be said of any nation) but without the foundation of the clear prophetic word in the Bible regarding Israel, many Christians do not know how to properly discern the nature or source of many events that revolve around the issue of the State of Israel and the Jewish people today. This is especially true in light of the growing cloud of misinformation and blatant propaganda that seeks to demonize Israel. This is just one example of how a lack of understanding of the biblical prophetic timeline of events in the last-days can cause a well-meaning, intelligent Christian to miss what is unfolding right before his or her eyes. Rather than being a relevant force in the world, one who is in tune with God’s mind, such a person may instead actually be aiding the plans of those whose inspiration is from Satan. I understand this issue to be very controversial, but I stand very firmly on it.
The revelation that any prophet delivers needs to be built on the solid foundation of the established (capital P), Prophetic word in the Bible. Those who wish to be prophetic (lower case p) without first having ingested and assimilated the Prophetic Eschatological Gospel into their being will be significantly stunted in the effectiveness of their ministry. If someone believed that they could be a truly effective prophetic voice without actually understanding the Gospel message, most Christians would understand them to be delusional. But the Gospel message is the prophetic eschatological message. The Gospel message is not merely that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The cross of Jesus is the foundation of the Gospel message, but the conclusion of the Gospel message is His return. The central crowning element of Biblical eschatology is the return of Jesus to literally reign over the earth from Jerusalem! The Gospel message of Jesus dying for our sins, without His return is not the full gospel. Biblical eschatology completes the Gospel message. "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10). Or paraphrased; the message about Jesus to the world (The Kingdom Gospel message) and biblical eschatology (The spirit of prophecy) are one and the same thing. In order to flow in the spirit of prophecy, God expects his prophets to understand the full gospel message that is nothing short of the full "testimony of Jesus."
How To Study Eschatology: A Biblical Pattern
Like Jesus’ contemporaries, Jesus studied the Scriptures from a young age, but I also believe that He regularly came before the Father in humility and in prayer and asked the Father to open the Scriptures to Him. (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; Matthew 14:23) I think it is a safe statement to make that Jesus came to understand His calling to the world and ultimately to His death on the cross, not solely by virtue of the fact that He was the Word of God incarnate, but also by diligently studying the Scriptures combined with the discipline of spending time with the Father through the Holy Spirit in prayer. And while the Bible does not explicitly state exactly how often Jesus fasted, I am confident that He fasted regularly. (John 4:32, Matthew 17:21, Hebrews 5:7) Jesus lived His life on the earth in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit. (Luke 4:1) If we desire to be true followers of Jesus, and understand what the Scriptures have to say about the future of our world, our country, our cities, our lives and the lives of our families, we need to diligently study the Scriptures with prayer and consistant regular fasting. It is as simple as that. There are no shortcuts. God promises us that if we will diligently seek Him, He will respond:
Prayer and fasting combined with an attitude of desperation will move Gods heart to respond. I believe that in regard to the last-days, this is the pattern that will need to be followed. We find this pattern in the life of Daniel the Prophet. Let’s look at what it says in Daniel 9:1-4:
Notice the pattern. Daniel reads from the Scripture of the former Prophet Jeremiah and discerns that he is living in the times that are spoken of prophetically. His response is our mandate; "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed…"
Daniel had not finished praying when the angel Gabriel appeared to Him:
Awesome! If you feel confused or hopeless in any way regarding ever understanding the last-days, take heart at this story and this pattern. When we do our part by studying, praying and fasting; asking for insight, understanding and revelation, then God has promised to do His part and answer with supernatural assistance. He will come and open up the Scriptures and even enlighten us concerning world events. And it is specifically this type of supernatural enlightenment that we will need in the days to come. But take heart; while the future may look scary, we do not have to face it alone. Jesus has promised that he would be with us. (Matthew 28:19,20) He has promised not to leave us as orphans, that He would be with us to help us:
He has promised very specifically that in the last-days there would be those who would shine with His radiance and give understanding and light to others:
Now unfortunately there is the obvious downside also mentioned here that many will fall and be refined through "purging" and tribulation etc, but the point here is that in the last-days, God has stated that He will raise up those who will "shine brightly". They will lead "many to righteousness" and will "give understanding to the many". We have already discussed the biblical pattern for gaining such understanding: Communion with God, prayer and fasting, and a humble diligent studying of God’s Word. Through this pattern, God will allow many to avoid being overcome or confused by the darkness. Instead, they will "shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever…"
© 2009 – 2011, Matt. All rights reserved.
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