What Happens Next? An Intro To Eschatology

We will discuss the specifics of each of the major end times views in upcoming weeks, but this week I think it would be important to gain an understanding of some basic terminology regarding the last things and also talk about what the vast majority of believers hold in common regarding these upcoming events.

Coming To Terms (Important Words To Understand)

Have you ever been to a doctor for some type of ailment, and when he comes in to the patient room you’ve been waiting in for 35 minutes he starts using these big words, and you have no idea what they really mean.

This recently happened to me. My daughter, who has primary ciliary dyskinesia, had a scheduled bronchoscopy. After the procedure, she complained of some pain in her right side. So I called a Doctor friend, who informed me that she may be experiencing a pneumothorax! “WAIT!, I said, Give that to me in simple man’s language.” There were way too many big words, being thrown around and I was lost.

Sometimes theology can be a little bit like medicine, the language can be quite difficult to wade through, often times, it’s down right intimidating. Let’s define a few terms here so that we’re all on the same page.

Eschatology – from the Greek eschatos, meaning “last.” Thus, the study of “last things”, or the end times. To answer with a question, What’s going to happen when Jesus comes back?

Millennium/Millennial Reign – transliterated from the Latin millennium, meaning “one thousand years.” Generally speaking, referring to the reign of Christ, or the Kingdom of God, just before the final judgment and creation of the new heaven and new earth or final/eternal state. People use the term “millennial” usually in reference to the time of Christ’s physical, earthly return. Thus you will hear people refer to themselves as premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. – Rev. 20.4-6

Resurrection – the redemption of the physical body at the return of Christ, where the physical body is raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15). Our physical resurrection is guaranteed because of Christ’s physical resurrection. Our redemption is incomplete until the resurrection.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. – 1 Cor. 15.20-22

Tribulation/The Great Tribulation – a period of great suffering which will be encountered just before the physical, earthly return of Christ.

Rapture – the moment in which believers who are alive are “caught up” to be with Christ and receive the glorification of their physical bodies. People most often describe the timing of the rapture in relationship to the tribulation. Thus you will hear people refer to themselves in an abbreviated fashion as “pre-trib”, “mid-trib” or “post-trib.” Meaning the rapture occurs before, during, or after the tribulation.

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. – 1 Cor. 15.51-52

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. … 1 Thess. 4.13-18

Coming To Terms With One Another (Dogma Vs Doctrine)

Dogma = Primary doctrines = theology explicitly taught in scripture, in which we should not consider compromising, without rejecting the authority of scripture.

Doctrine = Secondary or tertiary doctrines = theology gathered from scripture, which may lead to a variety of theological positions, disagreement is allowed because of the openness left in interpretation.

Much of the disagreement found in the various eschatological views falls under issues of secondary and tertiary doctrines.

Things We Can All Amen (Dogma)

In addition to the events we’ve covered already, scripture lists several “signs” which will accompany the second coming of Christ. (listed from W. Grudem)

There will be…

  • a personal, physical, visible, unexpected, bodily, earthly, triumphant return of Jesus (Acts 1.11).
  • a future, bodily (physical) resurrection.
  • a rapture of the church.
  • a millennial reign (Though there are great differences in how this is interpreted).
  • a period of tribulation (Again, variances in interpretation. Some already see this event as being accomplished already).
  • an increase in false teaching/teachers (Mark 13.22).
  • the appearance of the antichrist/man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2).
  • a global spreading of the gospel (Matt. 24.14)

Although we cannot know everything about the future, God knows everything about the future and he has in Scripture told us about the major events yet to come in the history of the universe. About these events occurring we can have absolute confidence because God is never wrong and never lies. – W. Grudem

This same Jesus is coming again. And His coming will be right on schedule-at the right place, in the right way, accomplishing the right things. – M. Rosenthal

Points Of Personal Application

Be ready.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, – Rev. 1.1

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. – Rev. 3.11

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. – Rev. 22.12

42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. – Matt. 24.42-44

Ultimately a study in eschatology should give us comfort, encouragement, and hope. Thus we study not in order to worry about what will happen, but we study to help us be prepared and ready for what will happen and to have faith in a sovereign God during uncertain times.

Don’t worry so much about the end times that you forget the meantime.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant,[c] whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants[d] and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matt. 24.45-51

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1.6-11

Two objectives as we await the return of Christ.

  1. Glorify God in all you do (1 Cor. 10.31).
  2. Share the gospel as we go (Matt 28.18-20).