What is Eschatology and Why Should Christians Care to Understand It?
- Jessica Brodie
- 2020 24 Apr
If the term “end times” makes you think of a dystopian blockbuster film, some far-fetched fantasy fully removed from reality, think again. For the concept of the end times, and God’s hand in it is etched throughout the Bible from start to finish, giving us insight as to how to prepare our souls for God’s kingdom and why it’s so important that we spread the word to others.
What Is Eschatology? The word eschatology stems from the Greek word eschatos, meaning “last” or “final,” and pertains to the study of the last or the end of things—namely, the end times, or the final judgment and destiny of humanity.
What Does Eschatology Have to Do with the Bible?
While the word “eschatology” itself does not appear in the Bible, its themes are woven throughout Scripture, from the Old Testament through the New Testament and culminating with vivid detail in the Book of Revelation. Many scholars would say eschatology has everything to do with the Bible, that the entire history of the nation of Israel is tied up intrinsically with God’s final triumph through His chosen people—including God’s promise to Abraham.
For God promised Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).
The history of Israel and its path toward salvation throughout the Old Testament, its hope for a Messiah that will come from heaven and save the world, and the incarnation of Jesus himself—including his life, death, resurrection, and promises about the Second Coming—are all thought to be elements of eschatology woven throughout God’s Holy Word from start to finish. It is important to note there are two elements of eschatology: the big picture, focusing on the final destiny of humanity, and the small picture, that of the individual. The Bible addresses both, sometimes both at once.
Which Bible Books Deal with Eschatology?
Eschatology has its roots in Genesis. It is hinted at in the “everlasting covenant” God makes with Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:16) and more concretely established in the covenant God makes with Abraham (Genesis 12, 17). God specifically tells Abraham his wife Sarah will bear him a son, Isaac, stating, “I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Gen 17:19).
That concept of an everlasting covenant is echoed throughout the Old Testament, from God leading His people out of Egypt through Moses and their journey toward the Promised Land, as written in Exodus through Deuteronomy and to their entry into the Promised Land under Joshua. Time and again, the people fail God, who turns away from them. But time and again God returns to His people Israel, through kings good and bad, through their exile into Babylon, and through their return to Jerusalem.
“The day of the Lord” is a term used a great deal throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the books of the prophets, who urged the people to return to the Lord before it is too late, for one day God will triumph and the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham will be complete—the climax of the history of Israel’s salvation. This concept of God’s ultimate fulfillment and triumph is repeated throughout the prophets. In Isaiah 2:2, the prophet writes of “the last days,” when “the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains,” and, in Isaiah 60:20, when “your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”
Joel 2:28-32 talks about the Day of the Lord, when sons and daughters will prophesy, wonders will appear in the heavens and on earth, the sun will turn to darkness and the moon to blood, and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Micah 4:1-5 references the “last days,” when God’s temple will be exalted above all and the people “will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” Daniel 7:27 calls it the “everlasting kingdom,” and Isaiah lifts up the utter peace promised, for “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
This triumph is not without pain, we are warned through the prophets. Amos speaks of a day of darkness preceding this (5:18), while Hosea mentions “thorns and thistles” (10:8) and Joel an army of locusts: “It is dreadful. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11b). On that day, Zephaniah warns, the Lord will say, “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth … both man and beast … the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea” (Zephaniah 1:2-3). But God also promises a servant through these prophets—a Messiah who will carry out the hope of the Lord and the fulfillment of His kingdom. That Messiah is Jesus, whom the Apostle John called the Word become flesh (John 1:14)—and the rest of God’s plan and path for the “end times” is thus woven into every book of the New Testament.
Why Is it Important for Christians to Be Aware of Eschatology?
The Messiah, Jesus Christ, is precisely why it is important for Christians to be aware of eschatology, for the entire purpose of the Christ is wrapped up in God’s final plan for humanity. Jesus Christ as part of God’s end-times plan for His people is hinted at throughout the Old Testament, but most strongly in the prophets, where the hope of the Messiah is a recurring theme. Isaiah speaks of God sending His servant who will “bring justice to the nations” (42:1) and be “raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (52:13). This servant will be “despised and rejected by mankind” (53:3) and “pierced for our transgressions” (53:5) to bear our sin and make intercession for us, the transgressors (53:12).
Daniel 7:13-14 called Him the “son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” who will have an “everlasting dominion that will not pass away.”
And then the Gospels and the rest of the books of the New Testament, from the letters of the apostles to John’s glorious vision in Revelation, reflect all of this. Each Gospel depicts how Jesus Christ was indeed despised and rejected, identified as the son of God, crucified, died, and buried, then resurrected from the grave “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In Jesus, we have both the promise of God’s triumph and the salvation for all God’s people, for as He tells the people, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
But God’s plan does not end with Jesus’s initial coming and resurrection but includes His second coming. For there is another age soon to come, Scripture tells us, which will fulfill God’s kingdom (1 John 3:2, Ephesians 1:21). For as Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Jesus spoke about the reality of the end times (Mark 9:1, Luke 9:26-27, Luke 21:27-33, Matthew 16:27), noting that no one will know the hour when He will return and separate the wheat from the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). As He said, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:40-42). And finally, we have the entirety of the apocalyptic Book of Revelation, a vision given to the apostle John by Jesus Christ through an angel, which recounts in vivid detail the final days and the pending showdown between God and Satan. God will ultimately triumph, but believers must stand strong through their testing and persecution. In short, when Christians understand the concept of eschatology as woven throughout the Bible, it helps them better understand the Bible, its purpose, and how to worship and love God fully and with passion—especially during times of trouble or apathy.
How Do I Explain Eschatology Easily to Others?
Sometimes people shy away from talking about the end times, but understanding the timeless nature of God and that His plan for His people not only includes our beginning but also our redemptive end helps us. One way to explain this easily to others is to help them realize the point of the Bible—God’s glory and how we can walk with Him—is rooted in our study of the Bible and our understanding that God wins in the end. It is the context and backdrop by which everything in His Holy Word is written.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Ig0rZh
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team. Learn more at http://jessicabrodie.com.