Eschatology and Ethics

Eschatology (i.e. the teaching on end times) is not mainly about charts and predictions. It is about worship, longing, and hoping. It is about crying out, How long, O’ Lord?! (Rev. 6:10) and “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). Eschatology is about motivation. Motivation to not live for this world that will soon be dissolved but for one that is unfading (cf. 1 Pet. 1:4; 2 Pet. 3:10-12). When we hope in Christ’s return we have motivation to be pure as He is pure (1 Jn. 3:3). Motivation to labor diligently and constantly because our Master is expected at any time (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:1-2). We are to constantly remind ourselves of His nearing advent and of the feast we shall share with Him (cf. Matt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25; Lk. 22:16; 1 Cor.11:26; Rev. 19:9).[1]

I do think it is good to be well-informed when it comes to Christ’s return. We should understand the main arguments for the different views on eschatology. However, I don’t think we should be dogmatic about how and when exactly it will happen (cf. e.g. Mk. 13:32). But that it will happen and will be glorious. And that it should motivate us as we seek to live faithful lives here as exiles waiting for our blessed hope.

“It is a pity that the church’s teaching on eschatology, the last days, has been concerned mostly with arguments about the order of events. In Scripture itself, the primary thrust of eschatology is ethical,” says John Frame.[2] I agree with Frame, although that should not be a cop-out for studying the book of Revelations and all the other relevant passages.

Yet, if we are just concerned with revealing that which Jesus said would be unrevealed until He came back then we are in a fruitless pursuit (cf. Matt 24:36Acts 1:71 Thess. 4:13-5:3). However, I do think it is profitable to have general convictions regarding end times. But, in my opinion, a dogmatic conviction is simply unbiblical and unwise. Most of the Pharisees, for example, were so dogmatic they missed Jesus the Messiah. They were so stuck in their ingrained thoughts (and convictions) that they couldn’t see their long Promised Savior before their eyes. Instead, we should be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). We should know and search the Scriptures; but we should not have every jot and tittle of eschatology dogmatically lined out to a t.

Seven ways the Main Thrust of Eschatology is Ethical[3]:

  1. We live in the “already but not yet.” That is, the Kingdom of God has been ushered in but it has not been decisively established yet. “So while we are risen with Christ, we must seek the things that are above (Col. 3:1-4). We have died to sin (v. 3), but we must ‘put to death’ the sins of this life (v. 5). So the Christian life is an attempt, motivated by God’s grace, to live according to the principles of the age to come.”[4]
  2. Peter reminds us that since the present world will be dissolved we should not then live for this world but the next. And thus have morals shaped by the next Kingdom and not this evil one (2 Peter 3:111 Cor. 7:2629).
  3. We “purify ourselves as He is pure,” why? Because we eagerly await the return of Jesus (Phil. 3:202 Peter 3:121 Jn. 3:3). Thus, we see that eschatology is not about hanging up charts that map out when Jesus will return, we clearly cannot know that, but about being found ready when He does come (Matt. 24).
  4. We can be sure that since Christ resurrected from the grave and was the “firstfruits” that we also will be raised. Therefore,we are told, to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the labor of the Lord, because our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58)! When we remember that we too will be raised and receive glorified bodies and enjoy God forever we are motivated to labor for the Lord.
  5. “We look to the return of Christ as our deliverance from tribulation and thus a source of hope (Luke 21:28).”[5]
  6. We must always be ready to meet the Lord, always! This is a great prod to faithfulness ( 24:441 Thess. 5:1-101 Peter 1:72 Peter 3:14).
  7. We also think of the reward that God will give in heaven and this also encourages us to labor for Him (see for example Matt.  5:12466:1Rom. 14:101 Cor. 3:8-15James 1:12Rev. 11:18).

Take Away

1) We should study end times. We need to seek to accurately handle the Word of truth (I speak to myself!). Yet we should not dogmatically hold to our position on this subject.

2) We need to remember, that the end of the story, and the main point of the Revelations, is to show that God through Jesus the Christ is victorious! This truth encouraged John who was exiled on Patmos and all the churches that were being persecuted to whom the letter went. If we read the letter, especially in that context, we will respond, not so much with a certain view of how everything will happen, but by saying, “Come Lord Jesus, come”! And that is the more powerful takeaway from the book.

3) Thus, we need to understand that all talk of end times does, or should, have a very practical thrust.

Conclusion

A person can have charts on the wall, even fairly accurate ones, and yet not have Christ in their heart and exuding out of their heart. If our study of the second coming of Christ and the future Kingdom of God does not have a very practical thrust, I don’t care how much we think we understand eschatology, we don’t understand eschatology. May we meditate on eschatology, but may it change not merely our view of the end times, but our ethics!

_____________________________________________________

[1] “We are called to be a people of memory, who are shaped by a tradition that is millennia older than the last Billboard chart. And we are called also called to be a people of expectation, praying for and looking forward to a coming kingdom that will break in upon our present as a thief in the night” (James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 159).

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 277.

[3] These seven points are taken from John Frame. 

[4] Ibid., 277.

[5] Ibid., 278.

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