In 2012 I was 11 years old and in grade 6. My teacher, we’ll call her Mrs. Rose, a lovely lady and deeply devout in her faith made an outrageous claim that showed pure ignorance. She suggested that we were living in the end times and that she wouldn’t be surprised if Christ came before our 30th birthday. I am now on the verge of celebrating my 25th birthday and I have strong doubts that Jesus will be coming back within the next 5 years. Mrs. Rose was not the only person I have met who espouses such views. It seems that the majority of evangelical Christians I come into contact with on a frequent basis hold opinions such as these. It also appears that eschatology is the one area of theology that everyone has different views about. Academic, practical, and arm-chair theologians alike all hold very strong beliefs when it comes to matters of the rapture, heaven, hell, and eternal judgement. Yet, over time, I have begun to question the majority of these views.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to think ahead or to consider the future implications for our actions. Recently, the MennoNerds group that I am a part of, put out a whole series of vlogs on this very topic. We discussed matters of heaven, hell, and the Second Coming and the majority of us concluded that a healthy view of eschatology can actually benefit the church because it helps put our actions into perspective. When we realize that we are living for something more than just what we see and do in this world, it helps us to focus in on being more accountable for our actions, having a greater sense of evangelism and witness, and thinking more creatively and constructively about how to live out Kingdom Theology in the here and now.
On the other hand, an unhealthy preoccupation with eschatology can also hinder the very work that Christians are called to do. A few days ago, I was reading a short devotional piece which talked about the Christian response to caring for the earth. In this piece, the writer suggested that we often fail to properly steward the land we are given. We may forget the responsibility we have for our ecological systems because we see earth as nothing more than a “resting stop” on our way to glory. Old hymns which speak of “just travelling through” or urging us not to become too enamoured with worldly possessions and belongings also remind us of such a mindset. However, as the writer in this article suggested, this earth is so much more than simply a “pit stop.” God has given us dominion over the land, but He has also called us to care for creation and all who live in it. God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, but as we read in the book of Revelation we see that it is not entirely a new location, but rather a re-creation of the place we are currently in. I have no doubt that God is capable of renewing and restoring the landscape, but I also believe that He wants us to be responsible and not destroy the resources He has gifted us with. I believe it grieves God deeply when we destroy our ecosystems, lakes, forests, and farmlands for no other purpose than to amass more wealth for ourselves. I believe it angers God when we care more about luxurious living than finding delight in the simplicity of the land He has provided us with.
I personally have never been much for eschatology. I hold a belief that we simply do not know enough about the end times and that anything we think of is simply conjecture. I believe we can discover quite a bit about God’s character and His ultimate plan for eternity through His Word, but I also believe that it is foolish to spend too much time making suggestions which may not come to pass. Ultimately, God is in control and His timing is best so nothing we can say or do will speed along His return before He is ready to bring about the final results. Therefore, I prefer to spend my time focussing on what is tangible and knowable and trying to live my life in a way that yields fruits and results rather than focussing on what is impossible for the limited human mind to grasp.
Nevertheless, all Christians are called to have some sort of understanding of eschatology, so how do we find a happy medium between utter preoccupation and blissful ignorance? Here are a few suggestions:
- Get to know the Scriptures. Few things irk me as much as someone who likes to blabber on about their theological viewpoints without having done any major theological work. Note: I do not expect everyone to have a master’s degree in theology. I believe that many people can be incredibly faithful to the text without any formal or academic training. Nevertheless, I do believe that all Christians must become acquainted with their Bibles. Read up about the End Times in the Old Testament prophecies, the Gospels, and the book of Revelation. First get to know what God says about the End Times, and then turn to trusted secondary sources and people with sound wisdom and doctrine.
- Don’t Make Assumptions. Oftentimes people will make unnecessary connections between the End Times and our current world situation. They may take certain verses out of context in order to proof text or support their argument that the end is nigh. However, Jesus Himself said that no one knows the day or the hour of His return (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+24%3A36&version=ESV). When Jesus walked this earth over 2,000 years ago, He mentioned that He would return very soon. We know from Scripture that a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Peter+3%3A8&version=ESV), so it is safe to say that God has a very different understanding of time than our finite human mind can understand. It is neither wise nor healthy to become caught up in an exact date and in fact, it can be quite dangerous to make generalizations of when such a time will be. Christ does not call us to know when His return is, but He is calling us to continue to live faithfully and to prepare for the reality that such a time can occur at any moment.
- Don’t Be a Downer. Sometimes evangelical Christians have a tendency to focus solely on the negatives. This is especially true when they compare a previous generation with our current one. Many Christians disparage the way the world is currently functioning, but I have always thought that this was quite unfair. It is true that children are disobedient to their parents, people are lovers of money, and given to wine – but tell me of a generation in which this was not the case (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+3%3A2&version=ESV). People have always looked out for “number one” just in different ways. It is also true that our world is chaotic, violent, and plagued with natural disasters, but if we focus on these things, we forget about all the positive ways our world is developing. For example, I think about how people with mental illness or learning disabilities were treated in the past and I believe it is safe to say that we have made many improvements in our relationships with those who are different than ourselves. Additionally, we can consider that although we have not reached perfection and although there is still wide spread animosity, racism, and sexism, we are gradually starting to make improvements in the way we treat women and people of colour. We are not quite there yet and we still have a long way to go, but compared to the past, I think we are beginning to make necessary changes. Therefore, I think it is unfair to continue to believe this world is going downhill without first making mention of the ways in which we are working towards equality and freedom in our society.
Lastly, people who disparage the current world system often neglect to realize that we are blinded to other cultures and generally tend to focus in on ourselves. It may be true that in North America or certain European countries we are beginning to see more devastation or more apathy on spiritual matters, but we cannot neglect the fact that in many formerly persecuted countries, people are streaming into churches for the first time to hear the Gospel.
The Bible tells us two things about the End Times that we often tend to ignore. Firstly, it tells us that in the last day people will stream to the house of the Lord (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+2%3A2&version=ESV). It also speaks of a great spiritual revival in which “your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joel+2%3A28&version=ESV). Secondly, it suggests that the end will come during a time of peace (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+24%3A6&version=ESV). Therefore, people who spend too much time lamenting the End Times because of western apathy towards spiritual matters are simply missing the point of what the Bible itself is speaking to us.
Throughout history, there have been few topics of such interest and division to the Christian church than what occurs in the Last Days. We are called to approach this topic responsibly, but also with the understanding that no one alive can know all the intricacies of a topic that holds such depth. Let us continue to journey together as we uncover what Christ says in His Word on this topic, but let us do so with the ultimate understanding that eschatology fuels us for action not for apathy or hearsay.