Studies In New Testament Eschatology: No. 1: The Doctrine of Final Things
Eschatology is a term which denotes things that are to take place at the close of man's earthly existence. All of the events centered around the second coming of Christ and the judgment would come under this heading. "Eschatology" is pronounced "es-ka-tol'o-ji," and as far as modern theology is concerned, the doctrine contained therein forms the "crown and capstone" of the thinking of the religious theologians. Since the word comes up rather frequently in religious circles and since there is much error taught under this heading, it is well for those who love and respect the authority of Scripture with reference to final things, to know something about the term as it is used by our denominational friends.
"Eschatology" is from two Greek words: eschatos, meaning last, and logos, which in this instance means a discourse. Hence, "eschatology" is simply "a discourse or doctrine about last things, or the consummate state of the future." Under "New Testament Studies in Eschatology," we will be presenting a series of articles dealing with such subjects as "The Judgment," "Death," "Immortality," "Hell," etc., all of which have to do with man's eternal destiny. There is widespread difference of opinion on certain phases of the last things to occur and much of these differences of opinion are due to the fact that man is inclined to speculate instead of remaining with what is taught in the Bible. This writer is concerned only with what the Bible teaches on last things.
Final Things Of The Old And New Testament Periods
There is an "eschatology of the Old Testament" and an "eschatology of the New Testament." Though we are not primarily concerned with the former, our readers should realize that the work of Christ during His earthly ministry and the establishment of the Church (or, Kingdom) on earth is part of Old Testament eschatology as much as "the new heavens and new earth," "hell," etc. (2 Pet. 3:12; Isa. 65:17; 66:22) is of New Testament eschatology. In one sense we are now living in the "last days" which had their beginning as a result of Divine interposition in the process of history. Though this occupies a legitimate place in God's scheme of things, New Testament eschatology (based solely on the New Testament and not on man's speculative and uncertain indulgences) does not follow these lines in that it does not expect a temporal Messianic Kingdom to be established on earth at some future date (Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth notwithstanding).
As far as these last days are concerned, there are two successive ages: this present age and the age to come. Various terms are used to describe these terms, namely, "this present world" (Matt. 12:22), "this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4), "the world to come" (Lk. 18:30), and "ages to come" (Eph. 2:7). The distinction between the two is this: "this present evil world" is transitory, while the "world to come" is abiding and endless. "Eschatology" is, therefore, a study of the close of man's earthly existence which centers around the events immediately preceding and following the judgment of all races. It has to do with the things that will transpire at the end of the last days, as well as things in the age to come.
Individual And General
When we think in terms of things preceding the judgment and the things that are to follow thereafter, we cannot get away from the fact that the end involves the nations of the earth as a whole (Matt. 25:32; Rom. 14:12). These things also affect us individually (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). The importance of "last things" on us as individuals is seen in the stress that this aspect gets from the New Testament writers. All who are in the graves (Jno. 5:28-29), and all who are alive shall be called up together to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). On an individual basis, however, will these people of the world be judged. At the second coming all will be judged for things done in this life. This is why so much devoted space is given to the ultimate destiny of the individual. One might say in comparison that the emphasis placed upon the individual in the present life, and the individual's state throughout eternity, makes all that is said about the intermediate state seem almost insignificant.
Why Study The Doctrine Of Final Things?
Neither the individual Christian nor the church established on earth (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 5:23) attains its destined perfection in this life (Rom. 8:24). Perfection is reached only when the church is glorified (Rev. 21) and the individual is changed into the likeness of our Lord (1 Jn. 3:2-3). Three things are therefore certain about final things: (1) The triumph of the church, or Kingdom. (2) The victory of life over death (1 Cor. 15:20-58). (3) Judgment involving rewards and punishments in the world to come. While inspiration leaves out minute details about the consummation of all things, it does give us a general outline of what is to take place. What is revealed is sufficient for our understanding (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:12-16).
One can live only one life at a time. This is what the Lord would have us do (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34). However, a study of the last things can become a mighty stimulant for a righteous life on earth and should in no way take us from duties imposed upon us by the Word of God. This is illustrated in 2 Peter 1, where the Apostle Peter reminds us of "great and precious promises" (v. 4), as well as an entrance into the eternal Kingdom (v. 11). Peter's use of these things to take place in the last days was such that he sought to arouse his readers to a sense of urgency in fulfilling present spiritual tasks (vv. 4-11). The nature of the events to take place in the last days is such that we ought to "make our calling and election sure . . . for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord" (2 Pet. 1:11). The following things point out the importance of studying eschatology:
(1) There is an eternal reward offered to all who would live godly in this present world. Be this called a "crown of life" (2 Tim. 4:8), or "an everlasting inheritance" (1 Pet. 1:3-5), it is still a coveted blessing. This is the very hope of life itself! The hope before us encourages us to so live as to see the realization of these promises in our lives.
(2) The conviction that there is a hell and that it is Satan's sinister purpose to devour people as a roaring lion devours its prey is an incentive to steadfastness in the faith (1 Pet. 5:8-9; 1 Jn. 3:3). No man wants to spend eternity in hell with the devil and his angels.
(3) Knowledge of what the Bible teaches about heaven's reward as compared with hell's punishment is one of the greatest stimuli for personal evangelism known to man. When saints reach the point that the doctrine of last things becomes real to them, they will seek the salvation of the countless thousands who are lost in sin and are without hope for everlasting life (1 Tim. 4:16).
The study of last things is timely and of universal interest. Man has a soul created for eternity and a body created for this life only. This life is but a stepping stone to a never ending vista of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This is why there are warnings and admonitions as well as encouragements to live now in anticipation of eternal life. May each person see the sharp contrast between the ultimate end of the wicked and the end of the righteous.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 43, pp. 694-695