A reader of my previous post objected to some of what I wrote. Which of course is fine. I remain grateful that we have the freedom to do that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity it provides me to interact with some of his thoughts and critiques. So, here’s my response…
First, he said he didn’t know what “canceled Christians” means. It is a reference to the “popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures… after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” (dictionary.com). Christians are being shut down from sharing their biblically informed views (especially moral issues on sexuality) on social media and often in general conversation as well.
He said that “we are to invest much energy into this world.” I, of course, agree with that. The Bible is replete with examples calling us to do just that. One of the reasons it calls us to invest in this world is actually because of the coming of the next. Our eschatology (study of last things) is a goad to our ethics (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; Col. 3:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:1-2).
He also said that this world is not a “stinky tent. It’s God’s handiwork.” This world is not literally a stinky tent. The Bible doesn’t say that exactly. The Bible does, however, say that “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened… we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:2, 4, 8). It says, “the creation was subjected to futility… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom. 8:20, 21, 22 see also 2 Cor. 4:16-18). It thus seems to me that the world is a metaphorical “stinky tent.” It is not our final home. We should have a certain amount of longing for our “lasting city” (Heb. 13:14 cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; Jn. 14:2-3).
God’s creation does show His handiwork and it is an “expression of His creativity.” The first chapter of Genesis says six times that God’s creation is “good” and in the seventh and final announcement God says it’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That, however, is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. Something sinister happens. The Fall (Gen. 3). And because of sin all manner of curse and chaos.
We live in a post-Genesis-3 world. So, while creation still attests to the goodness and creativity of God, it is also riddled with ruin because of sin. Jesus as promised in Genesis 3:15 is the one who finally remakes it. And He is the hope of the world.
I really appreciate that he says, “we are called to imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” That is very true. I am not sure why but it seems like he was led to believe that I would disagree with that truth. I am not sure why, however. No writing of any length can say everything, but especially a blog. Yes, we are to “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.”
I actually believe it’s true that unless Christians live as the campers and exiles they are, they won’t participate, they won’t invest, and they won’t forgive as God would have them. It’s being focused on the Kingdom that makes us effective in whatever kingdom we find ourselves in. It’s the person who realizes the value of the treasure (i.e. all the goodness of the new creation) that will sacrifice all to gain it (Matt. 13:44); even if it means loving those who are sometimes unlovely.
That is why we must “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). That, as Peter explains, will help us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (v. 22). It will help us “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” It will help us with creation care and the Golden Rule.
As C.S. Lewis said,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
We can be so earthy minded that we’re no earthly good. And we won’t rightly love our neighbor if we only love ourselves. As we look to Christ and the heaven He’s purchased us we will more and more be drawn to live like Christ, to love and sacrifice ourselves for others (See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:11-14).
Regarding his comment that “most [my] assertions are not contextualized or elaborated” and that what I wrote is “gobbledegook,” I would say that the assertions in his response are also not “contextualized or elaborated.” And had they been his response would have been much longer. I would not say though that as a result what he wrote was “gobbledygook.” I looked up the definition of “gobbledygook” and apparently it means “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.” I’m not sure where my post earned the term “gobbledygook” but that is not a noun I want associated with anything I write. I actually wanted my post to be simple and thought provoking. Ironically, it seems to me that writings that are most contextualized and elaborated are the very writings that have the most likelihood of being gobbledygook.
I want to be clear, instructive, and helpful. And this gentleman’s comments are a spur to encourage me in that pursuit. For that I am thankful.
 Of course, I don’t expect the gentlemen’s brief response to be perfectly nuanced either. Covering every facet is not possible in a brief comment, blog post, or even a book-length treatment. We are both fallible and temporal. Scripture itself, if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is not rightly considered, can seem lopsided. Matthew and Luke, James and Paul, however, are not at odds even if they are emphasizing different things and coming at issues from a different perspective.
Dennis E. Johnson’s book, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, has a lot of important and relevant things to teach us. Here are a few highlights from the introduction…
1. Revelation Is Given to Reveal.
2. Revelation Is a Book to Be Seen.
“One of the key themes of the book is that things are not what they seem. The church in Smyrna appears poor but is rich… What appear to the naked eye, on the plane of human history, to be weak, helpless, hunted, poor, defeated congregations of Jesus’ faithful servants prove to be the true overcomers who participate in the triumph of the Lion who conquered as a slain Lamb. What appear to be the invincible forces controlling history—the military-political-religious-economic complex that is Rome and its less lustrous successors—is a system sown with the seeds of its self-destruction” (p. 9).
3. Revelation Makes Sense Only in Light of the Old Testament.
“The ancient serpent whose murderous lie seduced the woman and plunged the world into floods of misery (Gen. 3:1) is seen again, waging war against the woman, her son, and her other children—but this time his doom is sure and his time is short (Rev. 12; 20)” (p, 13).
4. Numbers Count in Revelation.
For example, “The number seven symbolizes the Spirit’s fullness and completeness” (p. 15).
5. Revelation Is for a Church under Attack.
“Our interpretation of Revelation must be driven by the difference God intends it to make in the life of his people. If we could explain every phrase, identify every allusion to Old Testament Scripture or Greco-Roman society, trace every interconnection, and illumine every mystery in this book and yet were silenced by the intimidation of public opinion, terrorized by the prospect of suffering, enticed by affluent Western culture’s promise of ‘security, comfort, and pleasure,’ then we would not have begun to understand the Book of Revelation as God wants us to… Always, in every age and place, the church is under attack. Our only safety lies in seeing the ugly hostility of the enemy clearly and clinging fast to our Champion and King, Jesus” (19).
6. Revelation Concerns “What Must Soon Take Place.”
7. The Victory Belongs to God and to His Christ.
“Revelation is pervaded with worship songs and scenes because its pervasive theme—despite its gruesome portrait of evil’s powers—is the triumph of God through the Lamb. We read this book to hear the King’s call to courage and to fall down in adoring worship before him” (p. 23).
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Some times people paint with colors and at other times they paint with words. Isaiah here is painting with words and what a wonderful picture he paints.
He starts by saying that “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad” (Is. 35:1). The groaning world, the world bent with the Fall, shall be made right. Even the earth shall be glad. The barren desert, filled with dust and sand, shall beautifully blossom. It shall “rejoice with joy and singing” (v. 2). The whole of the world will unfurl and be in a state of spring. Yes, the desert shall blossom like the crocus (v. 1).
The redeemed shall see the majesty and “the glory of the LORD” (v. 2). Our eyes as of now have a shutter over them, we see through a fog, or as through dirty glass dimly, but then we shall see. We shall see the full wonder of the LORD’s glory and beauty. We know the whisper but we shall hear the wondrous roar!
Some have claimed that all people will be finally saved, even after torment in hell. However, there are all sorts of inherent problems with that view. Here’s a brief list of problems to consider.
1. There Is No (Clear) Scripture That Teaches Universalism
The doctrine of universalism goes against the clear teaching of Scripture and finds no clear teaching supporting what it argues. Yes, I understand that there are a few passages that if you pull out of context and place into a certain system of thought, can seem to support the doctrine but it is not the texts natural meaning in context.
The goal here is not to give an exhaustive commentary on each passage but merely to show that there are very viable interpretations that are faithful to the whole of Scripture and do not lead to universalism.
“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”
In the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) απιστραϕητε is an imperative and means “turn around.” It has to do with changing ones beliefs and ways. It translates the Hebrew word (פָּנָה) meaning “turn” which is also in the imperative. So God here is not asking people to turn to Him, He’s commanding it. And it says that all people (from the farthest stretches of the earth) who turn to Him will be saved. But it implies that all who don’t turn to Him (in space in time before the Judgment) will not be saved. So we see precedence for “all” being saved here, that is, if any turn to the Lord from all over the earth they will be saved. Whosoever believes will be saved, Jew or Gentile. It was (in the OT and NT) an amazing thing for Paul for example that Gentiles can now be welcomed in (he called it a mystery). All the uncircumcised, the Egyptians that enslaved Israel, the Babylonians, all people that turn to the Lord (in space in time before the Judgment) will be saved. They will be saved from the terror of the Messiah’s Second Coming and the Final Destruction.
In the context, this passage would strike fear into the hearers, not comfort. This passage is saying, “repent and turn or else!” Further, v. 25 says “all the offspring of Israel shall be justified,” i.e. all those who have faith (see e.g. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:1-16; 9:6), not all without exception. “Yahweh’s speech ends with a prediction of destructive fire for those who do not submit to his reality and reign (Isa 47:14-15)… There is voluntary submission for some and involuntary submission for others.”
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).
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. 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 24:36; Acts 1:7; 1 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:
- 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.”
- 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 3:11; 1 Cor. 7:26, 29).
- We “purify ourselves as He is pure,” why? Because we eagerly await the return of Jesus (Phil. 3:20; 2 Peter 3:12; 1 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).
- 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.
- “We look to the return of Christ as our deliverance from tribulation and thus a source of hope (Luke 21:28).”
- We must always be ready to meet the Lord, always! This is a great prod to faithfulness ( 24:44; 1 Thess. 5:1-10; 1 Peter 1:7; 2 Peter 3:14).
- 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. 5:12, 46; 6:1; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:8-15; James 1:12; Rev. 11:18).
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.
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!
 “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).
 John Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 277.
 These seven points are taken from John Frame.
 Ibid., 277.
 Ibid., 278.