THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
Why Eschatology Matters
February 21, 1999
What is going to happen to the world when it comes to an end? What does God’s Word have to say about the climax of history? How can we be prepared for the second coming of Christ? In this four part series, Ben Young will dive deep into Eschatology, the study of the last things, the end of times. He will focus on the millennium and the thousand year reign of Christ. He will also address topics such as the kingdom of God, hermeneutics, and the tribulation.
Why is it that we all yearn for a happy ending? Do you ever wonder if one day you will live happily ever after? Do you wonder if all the junk that happened to you in your past or what is happening to you right now will somehow be reconciled in the future? Are you ready if Christ returned today? In the first message of this series, Ben will define Eschatology and give practical reasons as to why it is important to be engaged in the study of the end times. He will also discuss how doctrines of the Christian faith are formulated and the importance having sound doctrine in our lives.
At this point and time in my life I do not have a lot of time to read fiction. So, when people come up to me and ask me if I have read Grisham’s new novel or Clancy’s new mystery, it kind of ticks me off a little bit because I don’t have time to read fiction right now. The only fiction I’ve been reading for the last several years has been the Three Little Pigs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Barney’s Birthday Party. That’s been my fiction menu recently because about every day, I will get out a book or several books and read one of these stories to my daughters.
You may not know this about me, but I’m part psychic. I can predict, and you probably can to, with ninety-nine percent accuracy, what the final sentence or phrase in most of these stories will be. As we turn to the end, wondering what’s going to happen in this particular adventure, I always know on the last page what the final sentence is going to say, “And they all lived happily ever after.
I don’t know what it is, but for some reason God has placed something in our hearts, a pre-installed software, that yearns for a happy ending. If my wife finds out that a movie has a bad ending or a sad ending she won’t go. So, I’ve asked myself, why is it that we have this longing for happy endings, this longing to live happily ever after?
I think we have this longing because life is difficult. Life is painful. Life is oftentimes confusing. It is disappointing. From little minor irritations to huge, huge catastrophic events like death and loss and suffering. Most of us here love to escape into a story or a movie where everything is reconciled, where the good guy always beats the bad guy, where the prince always marries the princess, and where we all live happily ever after.
Moving away from stories and movies, in your own life do you ever ask yourself that question? Do you ever wonder if one day you will live happily ever after? Do you ever wonder if all the junk that happened to you when you were little or what’s happening to you right now will somehow be reconciled in the future? Do you wonder if somehow you’re going to realize and begin to live out all your dreams? Or do you say, “I’m never going to live happily ever after. I want to find the reason, the meaning as to why God placed me on this planet. What’s my purpose for being here? And how can I live that out?”
Speaking of the planet, what is God’s purpose for the planet, for the earth, for the cosmos? What is God’s purpose for history as we see all the stuff that has happened in the last 100 years, the world wars, the famine, the disease, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust when with the push of a few buttons all of us could be blown into bits? Will we be blown into bits at the end? And will we disintegrate into a trillion pieces and merge into the abyss or drift into a black hole? What’s going to happen to you at the end of your life? What’s going to happen to the world when it comes to its end?
That is why we are starting a new series on the end of times. This series if called, The End of the World as We Know It. We are going to take out God’s Word and we are going to see what He has to tell us about the climax of history, what He has to tell us about the purpose and the meaning of our lives, and how we can be prepared for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Now, to do that we have to study a doctrine in the Scripture that’s known as Eschatology. Eschatology means the study of last things. It is taken from two Greek words, the word Eschatos which means last and the word logy which means to study. When someone is talking to you about Eschatology or asks you your Eschatological view, you are going to tell them what you believe about the last things, about the end of times.
Eschatology as a whole speaks to the multi-faceted dimensions of God’s grand finale for your life and for all human beings around the world. It is God’s grand finale. Eschatology, the study of last things, focuses on what lies ahead. It talks about what lies ahead for you personally. It talks about death, hell, eternal rewards, and eternal punishments. Eschatology also focuses on what happens to corporate humanity. It asks the questions: what will happen to the history of the world and how will God bring redemptive history to a grand climax? Eschatology does not just focus on individuals; it focuses on all of human history. It also focuses on the cosmos – what’s going to happen to the environment, what’s going to happen to the planet, and what’s going to happen to the universe. How does God’s plan transcend all of these things and even transcend the history of planet earth?
In short, Eschatology is an over-arching view of faith. It is a view of faith in which we begin to see the ultimate goal which God’s work in this world has been directed, how that work will be consummated, and how that work is already being consummated through the activities of the church and the activities of other forces in the world today as we know it. That’s a sweep, or a general definition of Eschatology and what Eschatology is all about.
Evangelical Christians agree, and have agreed for centuries now, that the curtain of history will be brought down at the glorious return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We all agree there, but we can go back thousands of years and see that when it comes to the chronological events and the sequencing of these events the church has been debating and conflicting over the details of Christ’s second coming for many, many years.
Before we launch into our message as to why Eschatology matters, it is important to establish why we need to study the end times in the first place. It is important for us to understand how we formulate doctrine in general.
We are going to take a look at how doctrines are formulated in the Scripture. Christians have been formulating doctrines in this manner since the Pentecost. How do we get the great doctrines of the faith? First of all, we collect all the relevant data from Scripture including the different verses and passages that deal with a particular issue. Secondly, we transform Scripture passages into logical propositions (a proposition is simply a truth statement). Look at a passage from I Corinthians 13 and from I John 4 on the love of God. Take the propositions from these verses and transfer them into truth statements – which, for example, would be: God is love.
The third step is to arrange these propositions in correct slots or files. If you want to determine a doctrine, take all the Scripture verses relevant to that particular doctrine, that particular issue, and put it into a “proposition machine.” Put the doctrines in the machine, put the Scripture into that, and then the proposition machine will spit out truth statements. When you apply that to the doctrine of Eschatology, the study of the end times, here is what it would look like. Find all the different verses on the end times, the kingdom of God, the future of Israel, the millennium, and the tribulation (Luke 21, Amos 9, Daniel 7, Revelation, Matthew 24, and I Thessalonians 4). Put these verses into the proposition machine and then arrange the data into categories.
A problem comes when you try to have some resolution resolved about the doctrine of the end of times. The problem is that people will put these verses into the proposition machine and they’ll come up with categories that people agree with, but these categories are interpreted in different ways by different people. Some of the categories you’ll come up with when you study the doctrine of the end of times are the rapture, the anti-Christ, the signs of the end, hermeneutics, millennium, Kingdom of God, the 144,000, and the tribulation.
Before you panic, in the following messages I am going to define these terms. You will see as we study this, that all these sub-categories are inter-related. So, it gets very complicated. If you start with the rapture, then what you believe about the rapture affects your view of the tribulation. Your view about the rapture affects your view of the signs of the end of times. What you believe about the end of times affects your view of the anti-Christ. What you believe about the signs of the end of time also affects your view of the rapture and your view of the tribulation. Your view of the tribulation affects your view of the kingdom of God and it also affects the way you interpret Scripture, hermeneutics. You can go on and on and on, it gets crazy.
As you can see, it will be impossible for me or anyone to be exhaustive when it comes to understanding the end of times. It becomes what I call a rat’s nest. It gets very confusing and very complex. For many Christians over the years it has been very controversial.
What do we do with the rat’s nest? We have a few options. First of all, we can simply flee and run from it. For many years when someone would ask me what I believed regarding the end times I would say, “You know what? I really don’t care – I’m a pan-millenniumist, I believe that everything is going to pan out.” That’s really kind of a coward approach and I think an anti-Biblical approach. One approach would be to flee and just forget about it, let go and let God. But, you can’t do that.
The second approach would be to solve with certainty. There have been many people, many evangelical scholars, who say, “With my reason, my brain, and with all the propositions and Scriptures that I have – I can determine the truth when it comes to the end of times.” For this century, we breathe the air of a certain Eschatological view that many of you simply assume to be true and it is not necessarily true. It is simply a segment of Christianity’s take on the end of times.
We have two extremes. We can flee or we can solve with certainty. I recommend a middle ground and that is to have conviction with humility. We can be convicted about our view of the end of times, but I believe we need to halt our convictions with great humility because no one has the corner of the market on the truth about the end of times. No one knows exactly what will happen. We can hold our convictions strongly and we can discuss them and debate them with others, there’s nothing wrong with that, but we need to hold them with humility. Hold the convictions with humility realizing that throughout church history the church has clung on to different millennial views and different end time views, and that the overall view of the church is constantly changing. So, we can have conviction with humility.
In our study of the end of times, I’m not going to be exhaustive. I’m going to focus on the millennium. The thousand year reign of Christ will be my focus. We will also address topics such as the kingdom of God, hermeneutics (which is simply a fancy word for interpretation), and the tribulation.
If you are like me, you are a practical person. You are thinking, “Ben, if this is so complex, if this is so confusing that the greatest theological minds in the world never have been able to figure it out, and if it’s so controversial that it tends to divide people and divide the church, then why in the world are we spending time on it? Why are we studying it? I have more important things that I’m worried about. I have my school work. I have my career to worry about, I need to get my finances in order, I have to get my taxes prepared, and I have to get the carpool schedule arranged. I’ve got soccer practice, basketball practice, I have deadlines and business deals on the table. Why do I need to worry about the end of times? I simply want to get through the end of the day! I want to make it to the end of the week! Who cares about the end of the world?”
Let me show you briefly four reasons as to why we must study the end of times. Turn to Luke 12:35-36, 40 where we find Jesus Christ referring to His second coming. He says, “Be dressed in readiness and keep your lamps alight, and be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him to when he comes and knocks…You too, be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”
The first reason we should study the end of times is that Christ warns us to be ready. He says, “Be ready for My second coming because no one knows the hour.” Recently, a Gallup poll revealed that sixty-two percent of Americans believe in a literal second coming of Christ. I don’t know about you, but that blows my mind! Sixty-two percent of Americans believe in a literal second coming of Christ. How many people do you know who are actually ready? Ready, if Christ returned today. Christ says that we should dress ourselves in readiness. Do you have an attitude of readiness? Do you have that longing, that yearning in your heart for Jesus Christ to come again? If you don’t have that desire, for Christ to part the sky and return again, then why not? Why not?
Are you ready? Christ says we need to dress up; we need to dress ourselves in readiness. Now, what if tomorrow I decided I’m not going to wear clothes anymore. What if I said, “Tomorrow, I’m going to do life in the nude.” What if you decided to do that yourself? “I’m going to go to work in the nude. I’m going to work out in the nude. I’m going to play golf in the nude!”
What would happen to me? What would happen to you if you did that? They would arrest you! They would throw you in a room with a bunch of other people with padded walls so you couldn’t hurt yourself. I see a lot of people, a lot of people in church, a lot of people outside of church, who do life naked. They do their spiritual life naked, and they’re not dressed in readiness.
If you are here tonight and you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and you want to be dressed in readiness, the only way you can be ready for His return is if you totally trust in Him and turn control of your life over to Jesus Christ. There’s an old hymn that says the only way to be ready, is if you’re dressed in His righteousness alone. That’s the only way. It is the gift of righteousness He gives to us for those who place their faith in Him. Then we can have confidence that we are ready.
If you are a Christian, you should be yearning for the second coming of Christ. You should be ready and you should be busy doing the work that God and Christ has for you right here and now. How would your life change if you discovered that Jesus Christ was coming back next Friday? What would you do? Are there any relationships that you would want to mend? Are there any people in your life who you have never told, “I love you and I appreciate you?” Is there anyone you want to encourage or anything left undone? He is soon to come unexpectedly. Will you be ready?
The second reason we must study the end of times is that nothing affects our present life more than how we view the future. Nothing affects your present life, my present life more, than how we view the future. As one commentator said, “Right now counts forever.” Whether you are a follower of Christ or you are not a follower of Christ, right now counts forever. What you do matters. Everything you do matters. What you do as a student matters. The way you treat other people matters. What you do with your body matters. What you do as a mom, what you do as a teacher, what you do as a banker, what you do as a lawyer, what you do as a waitress – what you do matters eternally.
There was a movie out years ago called Flatliners, I think it was Julia Robert’s first big movie. In this movie a group of medical students discovered how they could have a near death experience, killing themselves for a while, and be transported into the afterlife. When they entered the afterlife, they had flashbacks of things that happened in their life. Some were very small details, while others were things they had done that they knew were wrong, but they thought that it would not have an eternal consequence. They relive these flashbacks, and they realize that what they did in the present affected their life in the future. What we do counts.
I Corinthians chapter 3 tells us that there will be a day of reckoning, a day of judgment, and we’ll be judged by what we have done on this earth. Those who have trusted Christ, received of His grace – the free gift of life – and have followed Him, they will receive heavenly blessings and rewards. Those who rejected Jesus Christ and said, “I’m going to do my own thing, I’m going to roll the dice,” will experience eternal punishment and torment in Hell forever and ever and ever. Don’t forget this, nothing affects your life more than how you view the future, how you view what’s going to happen at the end of your life, and at the end of the world.
The third reason we must study the end of times is found in the book of Revelation. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” Isn’t that fantastic? God promises a blessing to those who will study the end of times, who will study prophecy, and heed – that means obey – the things that are in it. He doesn’t say what the blessing is going to be, but I can’t wait.
Do you remember when you were little and someone would say, “I have a surprise for you, but I can’t tell you what it is or it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore.” Or someone says, “I have a gift for you.” And they don’t tell you what it is. Well, God has a gift, He has a blessing for us in the future if we are diligent to study the end of times and to obey and to heed His commands that relate to this crucial doctrine. There’s a secret bonus in it for you and for me.
The fourth reason that we must study the end of times is that this is the only thing that can give us real hope. Turn to Revelation 21:1-5, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them. And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death, there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain. The first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”
The ultimate happy ending is the grand story, the truest story in the entire universe. That story is Christ coming for His bride. He is going to re-create a new heaven and a new earth and those who are in Christ will live with Him forever and ever and ever.
This is our blessed hope, this is our certainty as Christians, and this is the only thing that can and will give us comfort and peace in our present world.
When my second daughter Claire was born, she suffered complications during birth. She was in ICU for several days. When she was in ICU, the doctors were performing test after test after test. If you have been there or had relatives there, then you know what it’s like. The worst thing about that experience was waiting. The worst fear that I had was the fear of the unknown. Will the test be positive or negative? Will she have permanent damage? Will she live? Is this something we are being hyper-precautious about? The fear of the unknown is one of the greatest fears that we have in life. Praise God, she is in perfect health and doing fine. You know what? It does not always work out that way. Many babies die. Many people don’t make it. Some are killed by drunk drivers. Many people are abused and hurt and raped. Many people are dying of starvation. Everything we see here and now does not have a happy ending.
I listened to a man speak several year ago named Ron Dunn. Ron Dunn is a godly, godly man. He is a prayer warrior and is known as a man of the Word. He wrote a book called When Heaven Is Silent. In that book, he simply tells a story of his life and the life of his son. Ron had a son who at the age of around thirteen was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His son went on medication and took the medication faithfully for two years. On Thanksgiving Day, when he was fifteen, he went off the medication. He disappeared, ran away from home, and killed himself. He committed suicide.
In this book, Ron tells about the pain, the hurt, and the depression that he went through in trying to figure this out. He spoke of the mourning and the grieving he and his wife went though in the loss of their son. He tells a story of a phone call he received from a friend, who was also a minister and who also lost a son to suicide, seven years after his own son’s death. His friend said, “Ron, since my son took his life God has done some phenomenal things. There have been five people in my family that have come to know Jesus Christ since then. There have been around fifteen people in our church congregation trust Jesus Christ for the first time because of his death.” And he said, “You know what, Ron? I praise God for that – I thank God for that. But you know – it is simply not enough. It is not enough.”
No amount of salvation, no amount of spiritual blessings on this earth, no amount of money, no amount of incredible sex, no amount of pleasure, no amount of fame can make up for that. It is not enough. So, why should we study the end of times? Because our blessed hope is that Christ is coming again.
And in His second coming we can know that evil, death, sickness and injustice will be swallowed up in love, peace, joy, and righteousness. Those who love Christ and know Him will be living with Him in the new heaven and the new earth, where there will be no more tears and no more pain. Everything wrong will be made right as God rules and reigns in love, peace, righteousness, and eternal joy. That is our hope, that is our comfort.
Do you want to live happily ever after with Him? If you do, the question to you right now is, are you ready?